Laura McKenzie's Traveler Episodes

Italy: Amalfi Coast, Fiuggi and Venice

One of the most beautiful and relaxing places to visit in all of Italy is the Amalfi Coast, and the best place to visit on this coast is the little village of Positano, famous for its square, little houses and hanging gardens overlooking the ocean.

In the heart of the Sorrento Peninsula, with its panoramic views and charming houses perched along the cliffs, Positano is as glorious a paradise as you can imagine. The dazzling colors of bougainvillea, the dizzying aroma of jasmine and the blissful rush of the ocean waves are a delight for any of your five senses.

Once a tiny fishing village, life in Positano revolves around the sea. All of the buildings face it and all roads (or should I say the one road?) in town lead to it. If you listen closely, you'll hear the waves beckoning you down to the waterfront and that is where the action is.

Secreted from intrusive gaze by a golden bluff, Positano has long been a celebrity hideout for fashion models, film and rock stars. Author John Steinbeck was the first to discover the allure of Positano, starting the trend of artists and celebrities descending upon the village when he built a villa here on a neighboring hillside. Today, artists continue to thrive, inspired by the natural beauty of the village. Here, the enchanting array of colorful houses, pleasant shops and quaint fishing boats provides unlimited inspiration year round. Artists are on the streets, painting the sea scenes daily, it usually takes five to six hours to complete one and they are available to visitors for sale. Usually 100 Euros will secure a small one to take home.

If the art scene doesn't inspire you, perhaps the shopping scene in Positano will. It's a shoppers dream and you won't believe the amazing stuff you can buy here.

So many colors, so many choices, so many ceramics. There are tiles for tiling or to use as coasters and trivots, spaghetti bowls, soup bowls, vases. Don't worry if it's too big or too breakable, they'll ship it home for you. Have you heard of the Moscow rule of shopping? You see it, you buy it, because you may not ever see it ever again. Well, that's not true in Positano. The ceramic-ware here is well-known. It's in all the shops and all the patterns are here; so you don't have to worry about not going home with your favorite piece.

A refreshing change from some of the larger European cities, most of the shops here feature local arts and crafts, as well as locally designed clothes and shoes. Positano is also known for fashion and it is a big industry. The Capri pants of the 50's and 60's started in this area. Color is still big - linens, cottons, anything with bright colors, and flowers.

And speaking of color, one of the colorful plants here makes a local specialty in this part of Italy. It's the lemon flavored liqueur called lemoncello. It's sweet, refreshing and deadly potent, and it will definitely unplug your arteries.

Diving along the Amalfi coast is one of the most beautiful drives in the world. They say this is one of the highlights of your visit to the Amalfi coast, to actually take the drive. The road is really easy to navigate because there's one road between Positano and Amalfi. You just pay attention, watch the curves, and definitely watch the guys coming in front of you.

What is it about a road trip? You get in the car, you, you drive ten minutes, you get hungry. We could go to a trattoria for a sit down meal, (word has it they have really good Italian food here) but why eat pasta when you can have gelati.It tastes like a real fruit with tons of sugar on it. It is so good. That's another thing I love about Italy, this creamy ice cream you find everywhere.

One of the great things about driving the Amalfi Coast are the discoveries you make, the little secrets of the Mediterranean. Set in the bay of Conca dei Marini, about halfway between Positano and Amalfi, the Emerald Grotto is a charming and unexpected pleasure.

You can see it on a tour, given by some of the locals who also speak English. Discovered by a sailor in 1932, the grotto measures about 200 x 100 feet and goes to a depth of about 80 feet at its deepest point. Named for the dazzling color reflected in the water, the Emerald Grotto has fascinating geologic structures, like stalagmites rising from the sea, indicating the cave had been on dry ground at one time. Also in the grotto is an underwater ceramic crib, resembling a scene from the nativity. The cave can be reached by road using an elevator, or by a boat ride that allows you to see Positano and the nearby town of Praiano from the sea. It's a nice diversion from your drive, and a great way to cool off for an hour or two.

Fiuggi

They say that all roads lead to Rome, but they also lead out of Rome, too. There's a beautiful area outside of Rome, between Rome and Naples, called Lazio in the Italian countryside. It's filled with wineries, hot springs, and beautiful little medieval villages.

This 1,000-year-old land area is known as the historical area of Ciociaria, named for the ancient footwear worn by local shepherds. The history and spirit of Ciociaria was shaped during the first centuries of the middle ages from all of the attention it received from the Roman Catholic Church and its popes.

Located in the heart of Ciociaria is a charming spa town called Fiuggi. Known for its restorative waters, Fiuggi is an ideal vacation destination, just a short drive from Rome. While it boasts world-class hotels and tourist facilities, it never feels like an over-crowded resort. Fiuggi is still a little medieval town in the heart of the Roman countryside, with old-fashioned rural traditions that celebrate culture, nature and a love of life.

But Fiuggi is most famous for its natural spring, whose water is said to cure kidney stones and liver disease. This "water cure," was made popular by Michelangelo, who accidentally discovered it while looking for a new marble quarry. His kidney stones were supposedly dissolved after drinking water from the spring. Later, Pope Boniface VIII, reputedly, had gallons and gallons of Fiuggi's curative waters shipped to the Vatican and the "water cure" was born.

Today, the spring remains the big draw in Fiuggi. While not as miraculous as Lourdes, visiting the natural spring, and drinking its water, has become a pilgrimage for thousands of visitors annually.

Two springs, Fonte di Bonifacio VIII, the more ancient of the two, and Fonte Anticolana, have earned Fiuggi the distinction of being the most famous spa in Lazio and one of the most internationally celebrated places in the world. They say the waters in the fountains are healing because they're volcanic and slightly radioactive. Good for kidney stones and liver.

The town of Fiuggi is comprised of two parts, the upper and lower. The area where the springs are located is called new Fiuggi, or Fiuggi Fonte, at the base of the hill (it was developed during the middle ages so it's not all that new). The upper part or old Fiuggi, is located 2500 feet above sea level. The natives call it "Fiuggi Citta"

Fiuggi Citta is a medieval fortified village, which was around even before Roman times. If you like old stone villages, you're in the right place! This whole area is dotted with these little medieval villages. You know, they all have something in common. They're all built on a mountain top, they're all made out of stone, and they all involve a lot of walking. Whew.

Speaking of walking, in olden times, most residents reached their homes by climbing hundreds of steps, most of which are still intact today. And since cars are prohibited in most parts of the old town, you can walk around freely like you own the place! It's so picturesque, it seems everywhere you look is a photo op.

It's like walking into a painting. No wonder Italy inspired so many great artists. As you're walking around the old town, you'll see signs up on the wall that'll tell you what the building used to be.

Can you imagine living here? Walking out of your house every morning and seeing this natural beauty. It's almost like living a fairy tale. Wow, and if you think this is pretty wait 'til the sun goes down. Once the sun sets, the old medieval walls of Fiuggi are transformed into something almost magical. The evening, when all the shadows are out. The lights are on. The people are inside having dinner and you have the village to yourself.

Venice

No visit to Venice is complete without a gondola ride. It's a city that is totally unique and nowhere else will you find one that even resembles the lifestyle here. There are no cars or traffic, making it look almost exactly as it did a couple of hundred years ago.

This has to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world. And while Bangkok is referred to as the Venice of the East and Amsterdam is called the Venice " of the North, nothing compares to the real thing. This is a city that's so romantic, so cultured and so beautiful that no other place in the world comes close. Venice has also been described as a visual masterpiece, and it's often been painted as such. It's as if a virtuoso orchestrated the city as a harmonious mix of sights, sounds and incredible sensations. There's so much to see and one of the best ways to soak in all the history and culture of Venice is on the water.

When it comes to navigating the canals, there are several options: You can hop on a water taxi, rent a boat and drive, glide en mass on a water bus, or you can choose Laura's favorite mode of transportation and go for the gondola. The tour will set you back about 60 Euros, which is a lot more than the other options, but it's worth it. Chalk it up to having a unique cultural experience.

The gondoliers will give you a running commentary on what you're seeing as they navigate through the canals. The green line a layer of algae which lines the canal walls and marks the water level at high tide. And when the water goes even higher than the line, the Venetians are prepared. They only live on the second floor or up, because the water comes in.

All the gondolas aren't exactly the same. At first glance they look the same, but each one has its own carvings, its own decorations and definitely its own gondolier. And, if you're willing to pay a little more, you can be serenaded on your tour.

No tour of Venice would be complete without a trip down the Grand Canal, the largest in Venice. This is the main drag and has been described in the past as "the finest street in the world." Unfortunately if you're in a gondola, your entrance to this famous waterway won't match its grandeur, but you have to give and take no matter where you go.

There are three bridges, including the famous Rialto Bridge, 15 churches, bell towers and the gorgeous palazzos. The Grand Canal is the best place to discover the essence of Venice. It's also the place to find a lot of those other sea faring options, the water taxis and water bus.

It's difficult to soak in all this beauty in just one trip. For a little extra fun, plan one of these trips for right after sunset when the palazzo's are all lit up. You'll get a few glimpses of the interiors before they close up for the night.

Piazza San Marco

Once you've explored the city by boat, it's time to see it from a whole new angle: on land. But, there aren't any cars in Venice, so you're going to have to rely on your feet. Don't even think about wearing high heels in Venice. You will want to wear tennis shoes for your exploration and your feet will thank you.

Venice is basically a bunch of little islands, separated by canals and connected by bridges. You'll spend the day going up and down, and up and down. With no wheelchair, this is one city that is not very handicapped accessible. But there is one thing you have to see, and it's at the top of the Rialto Bridge. The little streets around the Rialto Bridge are great for walking. Just remember, outdoor restaurants are usually on the water and the best shops are inland.

Piazza San Marco, or St. Mark's Square, is huge, with a cathedral at one end, and the rest, lined with shops and cafes. The other square that connects to it is the Piazzetta that sits on the water front. And what both squares have in common, besides the fact they connect is they are overrun with pigeons.

The reason the squares are packed with these birds is because of a centuries-old tradition. The doge used to release the pigeons in the square every Palm Sunday as a gift to the people and the people would eat them. The pigeons that survived this yearly massacre were deemed worthy of finding protection in St. Mark's domes. As the tradition continued, the protected number of pigeons in the city multiplied and they are still increasing to this day.

Segment 1
Amalfi Coast
Amalfi Coast
One of the most beautiful and relaxing places to visit in all of Italy is the Amalfi Coast, and the best place to visit on this coast is the little village of Positano, famous for its square, little houses and hanging gardens overlooking the ocean.
Watch Segment
Segment 2
Fiuggi
Fiuggi
Located in the heart of Ciociaria is a charming spa town called Fiuggi. Known for its restorative waters, Fiuggi is an ideal vacation destination, just a short drive from Rome.
Watch Segment
Segment 3
Venice
Venice
No visit to Venice is complete without a gondola ride. It's a city that is totally unique and nowhere else will you find one that even resembles the lifestyle here. There are no cars or traffic, making it look almost exactly as it did a couple of hundred years ago.
Watch Segment
Segment 4
Piazza San Marco
Piazza San Marco
Piazza San Marco, or St. Mark's Square, is huge, with a cathedral at one end, and the rest, lined with shops and cafes.
Watch Segment

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