22 Dec 2014

5 Best Christmas Markets in Vienna, Austria

I have always been fascinated with white Christmas, and visiting Europe during Christmas was high on my travel to-do list. And while it didn't snow, I did get a chance to see the gorgeous city of Vienna, all dressed up in glittering festive lights for Advent. Last week, the Tourist Board of Vienna invited me to come and experience the traditional Christmas markets of the city, so I hopped on the plane for a (too) short visit! I had visited Vienna in summer last year, and fallen in love with its elegant streets lined with statuesque buildings, its parks and the sheer sense of history and culture that is all-pervasive, not to mention its historic coffee houses and their sweet delights

Vienna is in its element in winter, with the Christmas markets and decorative lights transforming it into a shimmering fairyland. I was quite lucky weather-wise; though the temperature was in the range of 3-6°C, it didn't rain and the fog was minimal as well. Of course, this Mumbai girl was wrapped up in several layers of warm clothes, and it certainly made my Christmas market hopping easier!

Here are the 5 best Christmas markets in Vienna that you should definitely visit. 

The Largest One - at Rathausplatz

Vienna's (and Austria's) largest Christmas Market is set against the backdrop of the imposing City Hall (Rathaus) in Rathausplatz. This market is home to the tallest Christmas Tree in the city, usually standing some 30 feet tall. The market also has many other decorated trees - some with hearts, some with gift boxes; there was even one with cupcakes! Huge butterflies adorned the market, and in the evening when the lights came on it looked pretty festive. Over the past few years Vienna has replaced more than 75% of its Christmas lights with eco-friendly LED lights, and the tree in Rathausplatz is completely bedecked with these. 

11 Dec 2014

Ascoli Piceno - City of 100 towers (& faded marble glory)

As we drove around Le Marche, I was beginning to sink into the rhythm of "Slow Italy" - wandering around medieval towns, gaping at some real gems of Renaissance art, the mandatory evening passeggiata, followed by a local liqueur at the corner cafe - life in Le Marche is all about slowly savouring the moment, and then some more. One of my favourite places in the region was Ascoli Piceno, known as the city of 100 towers. While historical records show that the city had some 200 towers, today about 50 of them still stand - quiet sentinels, presiding over this medieval city built in marble.

Ascoli Piceno's foundations pre-date those of Rome's by several centuries; the city was established by the Italic tribe of Piceni on the important salt trade route known as Via Salaria. Ascoli has a long, proud history - from being a federated city in 268 BC to revolting against Rome in 91 BC, from being ruled by the Lombards and the Franks in the Middle Ages, to finally becoming a part of Le Marche and unified Italy in 1860. 

4 Dec 2014

These beautiful small towns in Le Marche will charm you

We walked through a tall arched gate into the sleepy town of Montelupone, and it was like taking a step back into time. Actually, a lot of Le Marche region in Italy seems like it was frozen in time. But its pretty hilltop towns really reinforce that image. If you have seen pictures of a small Italian town with steep cobbled streets, lined with biscuit-coloured houses with green venetian blinds and perhaps a box of brightly coloured flowers in the window, it's likely taken in Le Marche - the region boasts of 18 villages that have been conferred the orange flag, proclaiming them amongst the most beautiful villages of Italy

On my recent trip to Italy, I explored two of these picturesque hilltop towns in Le Marche - Montelupone and Grottammare, both of which are an easy drive from the region's capital Ancona (43 & 85 km respectively). You can even combine both the towns as a day trip from Ancona (115 km from Urbino, Le Marche's Renaissance gem). 

28 Nov 2014

An Italy waiting to be discovered, in Le Marche

What images does Italy conjure up in your mind? The mighty Colosseum in Rome, the Renaissance masterpieces in Florence, the gliding gondolas of Venice, the vineyards of Tuscany, perhaps the leaning tower in Pisa, maybe the glamorous Amalfi Coast... Beautiful places all, and certainly worth a visit (or more). But allow me to paint you a different picture. 

Rambling around tiny hilltop towns (still stuck in the Middle Ages), walking down pristine beaches with only the waves (and a few seagulls) for company, driving down country roads flanked by miles of vineyards, descending into the depths of the earth to explore one of the largest subterranean caves in Europe, sitting in the caffè in the piazza, sipping the local liqueur and watching the nonni on their passeggiata - yes, there is another Italy waiting to be discovered, places still off the tourist radar, minus the touts that you might encounter in Venice, Rome or Florence... Don't get me wrong - I love the 'grand tour' cities as well and I have already visited them twice (I cannot get enough of Venice!). But, there is so much more. So whether you're a first time visitor or have already 'done' Italy, consider one of the lesser known regions. 

14 Nov 2014

Travel Bloggers You Should Follow - A #TBDI2014 Round-up

Ciao!! I have just returned from my month-long #AutumnInItaly tour, and boy, did I have a ball!  

Beginning with TBDI2014 - the travel blogging conference that I was invited to in Rimini. 3 days of talks, meetings and networking, not to mention several aperitivi!! So before I regale you with tales of all the places I visited in Italy, I thought I'd do a little blog roll of some of the wonderful bloggers I met at TBDI2014 - travel blogs that I love reading and I know you will too. 

Here they are - in no particular order :)