Hidden Mosaics in Italy – Aquileia


Hidden Mosaics in Italy

I have written this many times, Italy is my favorite place to visit and every time I do, I discover a new place!

The other summer, I visited the lovely city of Trieste which sits on the Adriatic Sea at the top of Italy. To read more about what to see in Trieste, click here for part one of the three-part travel series.

On the way to Trieste, I stopped at Aquileia, a small area that has an abundance of Roman ruins and a basilica with a recently revealed mosaic floor!


What is the Story?

The Basilica of Aquileia sits in the center of this ancient Roman city which once held a population of one-hundred-thousand and was one of the largest cities in the 2nd century! Now you see Roman ruins that evoke that once grandiose city with remnants of streets, houses, walls, an amphitheater and more. The town and Patriarch is a UNESCO site and listed as one of the “greatest archaeological reserve[s] of its kind.”

The Basilica of Aquileia is the jewel of this city. The site of the church dates back to 313 AD while the current structure is a Romanesque-Gothic style, the real treasure is the floor! The entire floor of the Basilica is a 4th century mosaic, one of the largest Paleo-Christian mosaics in the western world!

The mosaic was covered for years and only recently discovered and unearthed between 1909 and 1912. The scenes on the floor are rich in color and charming in their depictions of man and animal. You will see a fishing scene, portraits of benefactors of the basilica, biblical stories and more. There is also a crypt, entered from the side of the main entrance, that surrounds the bell tower. The crypt has three levels of mosaics from the 1st, 3rd, and 4th centuries!

For archeology enthusiasts, those interested in Roman ruins and art history lovers, this is an ideal site. The range of history and art represented in the church covers one-thousand years! Don’t miss it on your next trip to Italy!


Where is Aquileia & How to Get There

Aquileia is a main archeological site in Northern Italy, about 10 kilmoeters from the Adriatic. The town does not have a train station, so it is best reached by car. From Trieste it is about 40-45 minutes by car. The closest train station is in the town of Cervignano which is 35 minutes from Trieste or 1.5 hours from Venice. From Cervignano you could reach Aquileia by car, taxi or bus.


To see more photos, click here for my travel photography of Trieste and Aquileia.

Read about what to see and do in Trieste, Italy (which is less than an hour from Aquileia) by clicking here for part one of my travel blog on Trieste.

To read more about the official UNESCO site, click here.



Castles and Birds of Prey in Italy

South Tyrol Italy

Castles and Birds of Prey in Italy

If your traveling through the lovely Tirolo Valley in Northern Italy and want to visit a castle and see a bird show at the same time… visit the Gufyland Bird Sanctuary in Dorf Tirol near Merano, Italy.

Gufyland, yes that is the name, is a bird sanctuary. Gufo in Italian is owl, hence the name.

The Bird Sanctuary is just that, provides sanctuary to injured birds and also rehabilitation, releasing birds back into the wild. Gufyland has been in operation since 1989 and still has the primary focus of treating injured birds and releasing them if possible and to provide information to the public about birds of prey.

The Gufyland Bird Sanctuary has two shows daily, 11:15am and 15:15pm (15:00 in the winter). The shows create quite a crowd, so arrive early to get a seat. The spectacular setting with the Triolo Valley providing the backdrop, mountains, castles, and small villages, it really is ideal. The shows are given in Italian and German (Austria is just to the North) and even if you don’t speak either language, go anyway! Seeing these amazing birds in flight is not to be missed.

You can also walk through the sanctuary to see all of the birds. Note that seeing the birds requires good walking shoes as the path leads down the side of a steep mountain.


See more photographs of South Tyrol (Tirolo Valley) in Italy by clicking here for my photography which you can also buy as prints, canvas prints, framed photos and more.


Hours & Ticket Prices:

Admission to the Sanctuary is 9 Euros for adults and 7 Euros for kids (ages 9-13). Prices are as of Summer/Fall 2015. Closed on Mondays.

Open 9:00 to 17:00.

For more information click here for the official website: http://www.gufyland.com/en/


How to Get There:

If your visiting Merano, Italy (known as a spa town) this is the closest town to the Tirolo Castle and Bird Sanctuary.

From Merano you can hike up to the castle and bird sanctuary. Since I drove up to the castle, I do not know how the long hike would take. However, once your in the town of Tirolo, you have to park and walk to the castle – takes about 20 to 30 minutes and you pass through apple tree groves and have impressive views of the castle all along the way. Once you reach the castle the bird sanctuary is to the right, you’ll see signs.

Merano, Italy is slightly hard to reach as it is in a valley… but from Milan you would take a train to Verona (an hour and a half train ride) and then take a train to Bolzano (another hour and half) and then a 45 minute train ride to Merano. You can also reach Merano from Munich, Innsbruck, Bressannone, and Salzburg with train transfers along the way.


Visiting Lake Maggiore


Visiting Lake Maggiore – Part one of three


Rocca di Angera – Castle on Lake Maggiore

Italy is full of castles that you can tour, and one impressive castle is at the Southern tip of Lake Maggiore, Rocca di Angera.

The Rocca di Angera castle was purchased in the late 14th century by the Visconti family and was later sold to the Borromeo family in the late 15th century. The Borromeo family still owns the castle today! The castle has five main areas built from the 12th to 14th centuries. Climb the Main Tower to see panoramic views of the lake. You can explore all areas of the castle and lastly you should visit the Toy Museum for an exhibition of dolls, toys, books, and games from the 18th century to today.

To read more about each section of the castle click here for the Rocca di Angera tourism website.


* Click here to see more travel photos of Lake Maggiore by Monica Goslin on PhotoShelter.


Hours and times for visiting the Rocca di Angera castle on Lake Maggiore: The castle is open from late March to late October from 9am to 5:30pm. Tickets are 8 Euros for Adults and 5 Euros for kids (prices as of summer 2012).


How to reach the Castle on Lake Maggiore and ferry schedule info:

You can reach the castle by car. From Milan airport it is about an hour drive to the town of Angera where you will see the castle and road signs. There is a good deal of parking at the foot of the castle.

You can also take the train from Milan to the Arona station and then a ferry boat to Angera. Arona is the town across the lake from the castle and Angera is the town below the castle.

For the ferry schedules on Lake Maggiore, the best website to use is the official navigational website where you can look up schedules for Lake Como, Lake Maggiore, and Lake Garda – click here for the website that is available in English.


The Soave Castle in Italy

The Soave Castle in Italy by Monica Goslin

Visiting the town of Soave, Italy and seeing the Castle

Soave is a small town in Northern Italy, not far from Venice. The area is dense with vineyards and small rolling hills dotted with castle ruins.

The town of Soave is very charming and still a walled city (the wall was built in 1379!). The town passed through numerous main Italian families from the Scaliger family to the Visconti and the Carraresi, and was even under French rule for a few years until officially becoming a part of Italy in 1866.

** For more photos of Soave Castle by Monica Goslin click here.


The main sight is the Castle of Soave

–  The castle is at the top of a small hill overlooking the walled city. You can reach the castle by foot or by car.

–  Three different walls enclose the castle; the outer wall with the gate and drawbridge were built in the 15th century.

–   You can walk freely around the castle, entering three different courtyards and visiting the “house” which has been carefully restored. The house includes artifacts and frescos; one of the frescoes is from the 13th century, depicting the Crucifix between Magdalene and the Madonna.

–  You can climb on a portion of the castle wall and up one of the towers which gives you a great view of the walled city below and the surrounding wine country.

You can also visit the Santa Maria dei Domenicani church on the way to or from the castle. The church was built in the 15th century and has some interesting frescos.


The town has a lovely main street as well and some of the best gelato I have tasted at the main gelato/café!

*If you like castles this is a great stop to make (good for kids too)! Also if you are a wine aficionado the general area might be of great interest to you as well.

– Soave can be reached by car. Soave does not have a train station.

Gravedona on Lake Como, Italy – Part Two

What to see and do in Gravedona on Lake Como, Italy – Part Two

Livo, town in the mountains above Lake Como, Italy

As you read in the previous post, Gravedona is a most interesting location on Lake Como. Part Two of Gravedona is actually going above the town and into the mountains, to hidden locations and out-of-the way spots which few tourists see.


Sant’Eusebio e Vittore in Peglio

This church stands on its own overlooking the valley and the lake. You can walk around the entire church perimeter for wonderful panoramic views, these are the most dramatic on a rainy day when the clouds sit low and hug the mountains.

Inside the church you will find an interesting array of frescos, paintings, and statues. Notice how some of the Saints, especially around the altar, have a 3 dimensional look with an entire arm protruding from the painting. But most interesting are the large paintings within the altar depicting salvation and hell. The famous paintings are by Giovanni Mauro della Rovere in the 17th century. The devil swallowing people on the left wall is most notable. Personally I was not able to look at the painting of hell on the right for very long as the images are gruesome to say the least – certainly would scare anyone into confession as I am sure was the intention.


Again, this is another hard church to visit as the days and times are odd.

When to visit the Sant’Eusebio e Vittore church in Peglio from July 3rd to August 31st on Wednesdays from 10AM-12:30PM and 3:30PM-6:30PM and Monday, Saturday, and Sunday from 3PM-6PM.  (Based on information from Summer 2010)

* The church attendants are happy to not only answer questions but give the history of the church and explain the paintings as well.


San Giacomo Vecchia in Livo

Livo is a village of stone houses in a valley among the mountains! Livo is an interesting town to take a walk through. Most of the houses look abandoned but people still live in the town. I honestly wonder how they survive the winters…

But the jewel of the town is a bit outside the town and on the edge of the valley, the church of San Giacomo Vecchia. Vecchia means old, as the church was built in the 16th century and the “new” church was built directly in town in the 17th century. Gotta love the irony there!

San Giacomo Vecchia is a in a fairytale location. There is a small cemetery bellow the church, still visited and attended to by the locals as you will see from the fresh flowers on the graves. Walk through the path between the trees and you come out onto a little green slope with what appears to be a rather dull church, but just wait until you enter. The frescos in this church are magnificent. Take the time to look at each and every painting, done by different artists. I love the stripes on the vaulted ceiling as well.

After visiting the church you might be lucky to find a troop of goats in the fields across the way, as I found one day.


When to visit the San Giacomo Vecchia church (based on information from Summer 2010):  From July 3rd to August 31st the church is open on Wednesdays from 10AM-12:30PM and 3:30PM-6:30PM and Mondays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 3PM-6PM.

* The church attendants are happy to not only answer questions but give the history of the church and explain the paintings as well.

Side Note:  I tried to visit the church of San Giacomo in Livo, the “new” church and believe it is only open during services as it is still in use by the townspeople.


I highly recommend taking the time to see these churches if you are an art history lover, religious, or even just curious. If you have extra days and are looking to see sights beyond the tourist route, make these stops!

To see more photographs of these hidden churches in the Lake Como area visit my photography site, Monica Goslin Photography.


How to reach these sights:

– You can drive which again, involves a lot of guts and a good driver and at least two backseat drivers to act as extra eyeballs. The road up is very windy, so those who get car sick will get car sick (no way around it on this road).

– You can also take the bus, although you have to check the timetable for the schedule.

Travel tips for Lake Como, Italy – seeing small towns – part 2

Nesso on Lake Como, Italy by Monica Goslin

Small town of Lake Como, Italy – Part Two

Lake Como, Italy is full of small towns that are often missed by tourists who only have a few days and see the main locations: Como, Bellagio, Varenna, and Villa Balbianello (all of which you can read about on this blog). But if you have the time and enjoy seeing charming Italian villages then read on.

I have spent a lot of time exploring Lake Como, Italy and I have seen the main attractions and continue to explore the smaller, less-known areas as well. Continuing part two of the small towns to see in Lake Como with the area between Como and Bellagio.


The towns to see between Como and Bellagio on Lake Como, Italy

This past summer I made a point of finally exploring some of the smaller towns between Como and Bellagio. Most of the towns are right on the water as the mountains on that side of the lake are very steep. I did try to drive up to a town mid-way up the mountain but the road proved to be just too terrifying.

Blevio — The main road through Blevio is at the top of the town. The town scales the mountain right to the waters edge where you will find mostly large villas and hotels. I believe this town is more of a secluded resort town, perhaps for the rich and famous.

Torno –This is truly a lovely little town with a very nice square that is actually centered around the ferry stop and boat marina. Torno is pretty flat, other then one main path down to the square on the water.



Nesso is a picturesque town full of stone houses and colorful shudders. This is another town that scales the mountain right down to the water and involves very steep cobblestone paths. I made my way down to the bottom of the town, finding a local beach past the remains of a church (which appears to be a private home now) and a nice café/restaurant before the ferry dock. On my way back up the mountain I came upon two little boys with their grandmother, coming back from the beach; honestly, the elderly people in this town must be in great shape to go up and down that steep path everyday! The town looks to be benefitting from the investment of foreigners who are buying the old stone houses and fixing them up for vacations homes.


These were the towns the sparked my interest. I do recommend stopping in Torno and Nesso for sure!

** To see photos of these small towns on Lake Como, Italy click here for Monica Goslin Photography where you can browse photos and buy prints.


How to get to these small towns:

Most of these small towns do have ferry stops but not frequently so you really have to check schedules, or you could be stranded in one very small town for hours. Renting a boat and seeing the towns from the water is another nice way to travel and see more of what the lake has to offer.

And of course you can always rent a car, but in order to rent a car and drive around Lake Como, let alone Italy, you have to be prepared for very narrow and very windy roads.

For ferry schedules for Lake Como click here for the official website.


A note on driving around Lake Como, Italy

 Driving along Lake Como is a unique and mostly teeth clenching experience. While driving along Lake Como you have to be extremely vigilant of motorcycles darting in and out of cars and the packs of bike riders in their sleek gear and colorful uniforms that you will encounter all throughout the day and on every road and at every turn. Not to mention that driving through the towns on Lake Como means narrow streets between houses where really only one car can fit.

If you get stuck behind a tour bus, you are in a for long and slow ride as that bus tries to scrape between buildings and by cars (literally). Note other driver’s expressions as they see a tour bus or truck coming towards them. In fact some cafes in these small towns open right onto the main street and if they can squeeze a few tables right by the road they do. I honestly think the road side cafes are for the locals to watch the traffic and look for the terrified expressions of the tourist drivers; local entertainment for sure!

What to see and do in Varenna, Italy

What to see and do in Varenna, Italy – a beautiful town on Lake Como

Varenna, Italy is simply a lovely town on Lake Como. Varenna sits just opposite of Menaggio and has a view of Bellagio. The three towns (Menaggio, Varenna, Bellagio) create a constant triangle of ferry traffic and consequently are some of the biggest tourist towns on Lake Como.

All of the towns on Lake Como are unique; Varenna, as a small fishing village has a more relaxed atmosphere.


1 – Ferry and Walk into Town – Arriving by ferry is the best possible way to really appreciate the town’s location. From the ferry you will have great views of the town, seeing how it juts out into the water, admiring the brightly painted houses, and getting a glimpse of the castle at the top of the hill (hard to see at first). Plus the ferry ride gives you ample time to get at least a few dozen photos of Varenna, (Note to photographers, the light is best at sunset as the town sits on the east side of the lake).

From the ferry stop you can walk along the footpath that takes you right over the water and into the heart of the town.

* Ferry schedules can be a bit confusing but you can always be sure you are going to the right place because the stops are always announced and tickets are always checked before you board. – Ferry ticket prices are more then reasonable and round trip is always cheaper. Click here for a link to the Lake Como ferry website for more information.


2 – I suggest taking a seat at one of the cafes and enjoying the view with a good cup of cappuccino. There is always a lot to watch while seated at the cafés in Varenna – from the constant boat activity to the ferry traffic to the occasional wedding party traipsing by to get to the next photo spot (popular wedding photography town). All of the cafes are good with pizza being the best thing to order and the last gelato stand is highly recommended (by me!).

3 – From the little cluster of cafes you can continue walking through the lower part of town which will eventually lead you to stepped path. The square at the top of the town has two churches – both have incredible frescos to see. The smaller of the two churches is at the end of the square, past the hotels, at the end of the parking area.


4 – Villa Monastero – From the square, if you walk along the road going south you will reach Villa Monastero and gardens. You can walk through the gardens and tour the villa, I recommend both! Villa Monastero was built in the early 13th century and was a Cistercian convent dedicated to St. Mary Magdalen. The garden is very extensive and can take a couple of hours to see.

—–>Ticket Prices for the Villa Monastero in Varenna, Italy:

– To just see the gardens it is 5 euros, while to see both the villa and gardens it is 8 euros. – There are discounts for senior citizens, children, and groups of ten or more. – Summer hours are 9-7 from May to September. – October to November, and during April, the hours are 9-6.

For more information on Villa Monastero in Varenna, Italy click here for the official website (although the English translation is a bit off).

5 – Castle Vezio – Castello Vezio – The castle ruins at the top of the hill date back to the 7th century. Reaching the castle can be a challenge only because it is hard to find the signs that point the way. The castle has changed a lot over the last ten years! When I first visited the castle in 2002 it really was just a ruin that you could walk around and now it is more of a complex with a formal pathway through olive groves, an admission fee (just 4 euros), and events and a birds of prey show. If you have time and you are up for a small hike, you will get great views as you can climb up one of the towers!

—->  How to get to the Castello Vezio above Varenna, Italy:

– From the ferry stop, go straight ahead and up a little cobble stop path until you reach the street. Cross the street (if you look hard enough you will see a little yellow sign to the castle) and continue on the cobblestone path. You won’t feel like it is a correct path but if you make a sharp turn on it to the left and continue to climb up you will eventually reach a very shady path in the middle of small forest. The path goes right into the small town at the top of the hill and you have to continue through the town (following those yellow signs) to the castle. The walk up should take about 45 minutes.


On the whole, Varenna, Italy is a lovely town to visit! You can simply go to Varenna to sit in a café along the water and just admire the view. I do highly recommend seeing the Villa gardens and of course having that daily gelato!

Hope you enjoyed this post and found it helpful. Please feel free to leave a comment and let me know of your trip to Varenna or anything that shouldn’t be missed on a visit there!


For more photos of Varenna, Italy click here for my stock photography website with photoshelter.

And for framed photos, canvas prints, books, and more on Lake Como, Italy click here for The Monica Store.