Italian tour for opera lovers and foodies (Part 2)

1 Jul 2019

We continue our journey through Italy and the cities that played a significant role in the lives of composers Bellini, Rossini and Donizetti. Read Part 1 here.

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Trevi Fountain, Rome

Rome

Live la dolce vita (‘the good life’) in The Eternal City. Italy’s exhilarating capital heaves with contemporary energy and over two thousand years of history. Around every corner are awe-inspiring sights – Roman ruins, ornate churches, mind-blowing museums, baroque fountains and buzzing piazzas.

Sights

You will need days if not weeks to explore Rome properly, but a good place to start is where Rome began: Capitoline Hill and its two museums. Continue to the monumental glories of ancient Rome – the Colosseum, Forum and Palatine Hill, and Pantheon. Be dazzled by baroque treasures Villa Borghese, St Peter’s Basilica, Piazza Navona and the Trevi Fountain. Allow at least half a day for the staggering collections in the Vatican Museums, culminating in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. Chill out on the Spanish Steps.

For opera lovers

Take a tour of Castel Sant’Angelo, the setting for Puccini’s Tosca, and gaze out over Rome from the roof terrace where Tosca leapt to her death.

Teatro dell’Opera and Teatro Argentina (which hosted the premiere of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville) are just a couple of the venues where you can experience opera in Rome. Opera singers also take to the city’s churches and palazzi for performances. In summer, you can experience open-air performances against the stunning backdrop of the Roman Baths of Caracalla.

For foodies

Start your day the Roman way with a cappuccino and a cornetto (a filled croissant). For a snack on the go, grab a slice of crispy wood-fired pizza or supplì (deep-fried rice balls with a centre of gooey mozzarella).

Avoid the tourist traps next to major landmarks and find a traditional trattoria serving authentic Roman fare such as: pasta alla cabonara (creamy, eggy sauce with pork) or cacio e pepe (pecorino and ground pepper), carciofo alla Romana (artichokes stewed with mint and garlic), saltimbocca (veal topped with prosciutto and sage), and coda alla vaccinara (rich oxtail stew). For dessert, indulge in tartufo (ice-cream covered in chocolate), tiramasù (layered coffee and cream slice) or simply stroll the streets with cone of gelato.

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Neapolitan pizza

Naples

Set on a beautiful azure bay with Mount Vesuvius looming in the background and the rugged island of Capri on the horizon, Naples is one of Europe’s oldest cities. Chaotic, gritty and surprising, it is a place where the modern and historical collide, where palaces and castles stand alongside ramshackle alleyways.

Sights

If you only visit one museum in Naples, it must be the Museo Archeologico Nazionale with its collection of Greco-Roman art and ancient artefacts, including exquisite mosaics from Pompeii and Herculaneum. Examine moody canvases by Caravaggio at Capodimonte Gallery, sculptures and frescoes at baroque Cappella Sansevero, and the beautiful circular towers of Castel Nuovo.

Just beyond Naples are the ancient cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum preserved under ash after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD.

For opera lovers

Naples was the operatic capital of Italy until the mid-19th century and its Teatro San Carlo is the oldest working opera house in the world. Rossini and Donizetti were both artistic directors there. If you can’t catch the opera season, take tour of its glamourous interior and visit the theatre’s museum MeMUS next door in the Palazzo Reale.

Hang out at Piazza Bellini, named after the composer, where university students and bohemians meet over espresso or aperitivo under the watchful eye of his statue. You might even stumble upon live music or a poetry reading.

Food

Naples is the birthplace of pizza and here is your chance to taste some of the best in the world; characterised by a crispy, charred crust and thin, chewy dough topped with mozzarella, tomato sauce and just another topping or two.

Beyond pizza, fantastic seafood awaits in this seaside town including spaghetti alle vongole (spaghetti with garlicky clams) and impepata di cozze (mussels steamed with tomatoes, pepper and white wine) and other celebrated dishes such as spaghetti puttanesca and eggplant parmigiana. Neapolitan pastries are famous across Italy. The multi-layered shell-shaped sfogliatelle pastry and the rum-soaked babà are synonymous with Naples.

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View down Via Etnea, Catania

Catania

At the foot of menacing Mount Etna sits Sicily’s second largest city, with charming historical buildings, vibrant cultural life and chic bars. Picturesque, buzzing Catania was rebuilt in Sicilian baroque style using the very lava which destroyed it in the 17th century, giving it its characteristic charcoal palette, ornate churches and sweeping piazzas.

Sights

In the centre of the town is the UNESCO-listed Piazza del Duomo, featuring the grand cathedral dedicated to city’s patron saint St Agata, and the Fontana dell’Elefante, believed to curb Etna’s power. Behind the square is La Pescheria, a raucous fish market where customers loudly haggle for the freshest seafood. Entry to the Norman fortress of Castello Ursino includes the civic museum with an archaeological collection and paintings from Italian masters. For those into more ancient sights, the Teatro Romano dates back to the second century BC.

Take a day trip to Etna for hiking or a 4WD tour to the crater. Marvel at its gaping caldera and spectacular views over Sicily.

For opera lovers

As the birthplace of Vincenzo Bellini, Catania is full of locations named after the city’s favourite son, including the airport and a lush park at the end of Via Etnea. His home has been converted to the Museo Belliniano, which has collection of original scores, pianos played by Bellini and even his death mask. You can visit the final resting place of ‘the Swan of Catania’ in the cathedral of St Agata.

The crowning glory of the Bellini monuments is the lavish Teatro Massimo Bellini with its extravagant stucco-and-marble foyer and ceiling paintings depicting scenes from Norma, La Sonnambula, I Puritani and Il Pirata.

For foodies

With its fertile soils and proximity to the sea, you cannot help but eat well in Sicily. Distinctly Sicilian ingredients include citrus, pistachios, almonds, olives, sardines and swordfish.

The iconic dish of Catania is pasta alla Norma (fried eggplant and ricotta in a rich tomato sauce) dedicated to Bellini. Try it with a glass of Etna DOC wine from vines grown in the volcanic soils. Street food specialities include pointy arancini (deep-fried rice balls stuffed with meat or cheese) and cartocciate (pastry stuffed with ham, mozzarella, olives and tomatoes). Cool down on a hot day with an icy granita, served with a brioche bun. Sicilians love their sweets and cannoli (crispy pastry tubes filled with creamy ricotta) are ubiquitous, while minne di Sant’Agata (marzipan domes topped with a cherry to represent Saint Agata’s breasts) are unique to Catania.

Have you visited any of these cities or sampled any of these dishes? Share your experiences in the comments below.

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Teatro Massimo Bellini, Catania