Travel + Leisure's Unexpected Italy
Nancy Novogrod (Introduction)
January 2008, 192 pages, $24.95
From the well-traversed urban centers of Venice and Rome to out of the way and rarely visited vineyards producing incredibly robust wines in the northwest Le Langhe region, every reader will come away with a new destination atop their travel list.
As with Unexpected France, the reader is quickly drawn into this fascinating collection of articles from Travel + Leisure magazine. Useful maps, suggestions for lodging, dining, and occasionally, reading material (such as poetry from a famous writer native to the Le Marche region on the northeast coast, or world-class literature inspired by visits to Naples) accompany each section. The focus of each traveling journalist is different, from experiences centering around a single city to the wearying journey around an entire region in search of the boldest Borolo.
Michael Gross describes his quest to find an island getaway more satisfying than touristy Capri, and encounters the Madonna sott'acqua off Lampedusa, an island so far south as to be nearly in Africa. He writers, "We dive down to the ghostly yet benevolent Virgin, who is gazing up from her silent blue sanctuary." The statue is set in a stone arch nearly fifty feet below the surface of the water.
A journey through "hidden Rome" reveals more than any vegetarian (and possibly most carnivores) would ever want to know about the old slaughterhouse district of the city. True epicureans will revel in the descriptions of various traditional and modern recipes for the "fifth quarter" of certain farm animals.
I noted with curiosity that the entire "Places to Stay" section was contributed by the same Christopher Petkanas, but quickly became enamored of his quick-witted observations and inclusion of unusual elements, not to mention his willingness to be rather critical of service if warranted. Observing historical villas with an artist's eye, both flaws and impeccable details are pointed out.
And for those wishing to truly commune with great art, a section on Florence details how it is possible not just to observe, but to sign up for amateur figure sketching classes and draw (so to speak) on the inspiration of centuries of painters. The hands on style of this entire book helps it stand out from the normal rank and file of travel guides. Turning a mundane trip into the experience of a lifetime just got a bit easier for those not totally comfortable with venturing into totally undocumented territory, yet wanting to avoid the well-worn pathways of major cultural centers.
With such a promising start to this series of books in Unexpected France and Italy, the first ever compiled and released by the magazine, I definitely hope to see more of these country-specific collections of inspirational articles and stunning photographs.