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Catherine Sweeney brings you the best of Europe and North America travel destinations by seizing every travel opportunity she can. She's a boomer woman travel enthusiast with a lifelong passion for going places.
A day in Parco Naturale Regionale Dune Costiere (Regional Nature Park of Coastal Dunes)
Many places throughout the Puglia region of Italy have vistas of vast landscapes of ancient olive trees on the plain with the blue Adriatic Sea beyond. It is an area of pastoral beauty that holds rich agricultural, recreational, cultural, and historical attractions. On a day trip organized for us by Parco Naturale Regionale Dune Costiere (Regional Nature Park of Coastal Dunes), Mr. TWS and I got to enjoy a tour of some of the highlights of this large park and learn about its mission and activities. I previously included the activities during our day at the park in my post about visiting Puglia in the off season, but I’d like to share more photos and information as the park is such an important part of the region’s character, natural beauty, and ecosystems.
We had a full day of seeing sights within the park visiting the coastal dunes, organic fish farms, working mills, and farmhouses that respect the location’s environmental and cultural resources.
Examining the flora with Elena Benassi and Gianfranco Ciola at Antica Brancati — Photo by Federica Donadi
“Live your park”
Visitors to Parco Naturale Regionale Dune Costiere are encouraged to “Live Your Park”, to fully experience the area taking advantage of tours, workshops, and environmental education activities that are available through the park and its local partners. The park and its associated farms and business entities aspire to help tourists and visitors to the area gain a deeper understanding of the area’s attractions and its natural bounty.
Led by Dune Costiere Director Gianfranco Ciola, the park has striven to educate the public and promote good practices of environmental sustainability, particularly those regarding tourism. Parco Naturale Regionale Dune Costiere’s mission is to protect the natural resources, agricultural bounty, and archaeological sites from the coastal dunes to the wetlands to the inland plains farms and olive groves while promoting and enabling their use by the public. Their aim is to encourage enjoyment of their beautiful and rich natural areas while respecting the rich resources and traditions and being in harmony with nature. The park offers many opportunities to enjoy the bounty of Puglia and plays an important role in the area’s environmental protection and sustainable economic development.
A walk in the park with Elena Benassi, Valerio Palasciano, and Gianfranco Ciola — Photo by Federica Donadi
With a network of cycle paths connecting the environmental and cultural resources of the park, slow tourism is a focus year-round with hiking, nature walks, bicycles, electric cars, horseback riding, and canoes. The park’s tourism partners provide tours that take bicyclists on paths and quiet side roads alongside or through olive groves and fruit orchards (of fig, almond, and pomegranate trees). The tours also feature stops at farmhouses to sample delicacies or purchase products of the region, such as extra virgin olive oils. We visited on a rainy November day, so we didn’t take a bike tour around the park, but that is something I would love to do next time.
Albergabici at Dune Costiere Park
The park offers bicyclists many services, day tours, rentals, and accommodations for bicyclists. The Albergabici is a hostel with 18 beds. It offers bike rental and repair services for bike tourists on the area’s extensive trail system or those passing through the park on longer journeys. There are 14 long distance cycle routes in Italy, with 15,000 km of the roads in Puglia. The old Roman road, Via Traiana, that runs through Parco Naturale Regionale Dune Costiere is part of Cycle Route No. 6 of BicItalia (also called the Adriatic Way).
Ancient olive trees in the groves of Dune Costiere
Parco Naturale Regionale Dune Costiere develops and maintains cooperation with the farmers at masserie (plural of masseria, a self-sustaining, fortified farm estate established between the 16th and 18th centuries) within the park’s boundaries. The park and the masserie cooperate in their efforts of sustainable production and promoting tourism and share the mission of protecting the area’s biodiversity and culture.
Antica Masseria Brancati
With our park guides, we strolled the olive groves of Antica Masseria Brancati, where ancient trees (some over 3,000 years old like the one shown below) still produce olives alongside the younger trees on the property’s 30 hectares (about 74 acres). We also got to pick some olives right off the trees. (I could have done that all day once I got a rhythm going.) The old gnarly trees grow twisting their trunks (where we were told they keep their energy) are a real sight to see up close.
Over 3,000-year-old olive tree still producing olives at Antica Masseria Brancati — Photo by Federica Donadi
As you can see from the photo below in which I’m standing inside of an olive tree trunk, some of the trees are enormous.
Hugged by an ancient olive tree at Antica Brancati
At the masseria, we also sampled their delicious extra virgin olive oils. It’s interesting how similar to wine tasting this process can be, with each oil having its own aromas and flavor — some subtle, others quite pronounced.
Corrado Rodio of Antica Masseria Brancati; olives and olive oil tasting — photos on the right by Federica Donadi
A must see at masseria is the ancient underground mill where the remnants of olive oil production methods from Roman times through present day are on display (as well as other artifacts of old times), such as shown below. The stables and workers’ sleeping quarters of centuries ago were also located here. There were many of these underground mills in this area because of its proximity to the Via Traiana for transportation of the oil to commercial ports.
Left — Old masseria artifacts; Right — Inside the underground olive mill
A gastronomic part of tour was a typical southern Italy Mediterranean lunch at Azienda Agricola di Vita Pugliese, a family-run agricultural company, at Masseria Difesa di Malta. Vita, the family matriarch founded the company in 1994 with her husband and has since been using natural foods and recipes handed down through several generations. Two generations of the family own and operate the business preparing and selling traditional Pugliese dishes and food products grown on their 25 hectares of land. The special methods for preparation take place in the masseria’s “laboratory” and produce delicious products distributed among local restaurants, including durum wheat pasta and a wide variety of fruit and vegetable items, particularly tomatoes, olives, and fruit marmalades, all organically produced focusing on water-saving cultivation practices.
Olive, tomato and pasta products of Azienda Agricola Pugliese
Our lovely lunch consisted of orecchiette (traditional Pugliese ear-shaped pasta), handmade by Vita, and other olive, vegetable, and fruit specialties.
Lunch at Azienda Agricola di Vita Pugliese — Photo by Federica Donadi
A big surprise for us was the Bronze Age Dolmen (“stone table”) of Montalbano on the Via Traiana in the park which dates back to the 3rd – 2nd century BC. It’s said it was used to the worship the dead and for other ceremonies of those times.
Bronze Age Dolmen of Montalbano
The wetlands of the Morelli River include ponds and reservoirs that have been used for fishing since the 1800s. The river, fresh water springs, and fossil dunes (formed thousands of years ago) of the park’s coastal wetlands are also home to rare and endangered species of migratory birds who stop here to reproduce.
The wetlands of Dune Costiere
The old fish farming plant in the park has been restored by area families who operate traditional farming of eels and grey mullet through organic methods of fish farming. The fishing is done only in December using gill nets and fish traps. During fishing season, the park offers guided tours of the plant and wetlands.
Fishing farm and plant building n the Morelli River — Photo by Federica Donadi
Looking dramatic on this mid-November day (shown below), the sandy beaches of the Adriatic coast are filled with vacationers enjoying sun and surf in summer. Gianfranco and his staff work diligently to educate about sustainable tourism and implement programs to protect the ecosystems of the wetlands and keep the beaches free of debris and damage.
Dramatic off-season Adriatic Sea
I highly recommend visiting the park and their partners when you visit Puglia. Enjoy tastes and activities of the region, meet some wonderful people, and “live your park” with respect for nature.
With Elena Benassi at the Dune Costiere fish farms — Photo by Federica Donadi
Mr. TWS and I found gemütlichkeit (a word that relates to the feeling of well-being and comfort that comes with good company and good food) many times on our Viking “Romantic Danube” cruise, especially during our time in Vienna, Austria.
Heurigen Evening excursion in Vienna with fellow passengers
For numerous reasons, including Vienna’s cozy cafes, elegant architecture, captivating Hapsburg history, cultural venues, and romance, Mr. TWS and I particularly looked forward to returning to Vienna, a city that captured our hearts on a trip a few years ago. We expected romance again on this trip, but we also thoroughly enjoyed gemütlichkeit in the conviviality and high spirits at Christmas Markets, restaurants, wineries, and on board our ship, the Viking Gullveig.
A lively “Heurigen Evening”
An optional Viking excursion in Vienna, the “Heurigen Evening” provided a high-spirited authentic Viennese gemütlichkeit experience. A shuttle from the ship took our small group of five couples and our guides to the city’s 19th district where numerous vineyards are located with their wine taverns called Heurigen. The Heuriger became part of Austrian culture in the 18th century when Emperor Joseph II proclaimed that anyone who made their own wine could sell it to the public in their establishments.
Getting cozy with Mr. TWS at Heurige Wolff
These family-owned wine taverns open their doors to guests to sample their newest wines and celebrate the new vintages. At a Heuriger, the wines are accompanied with Viennese dishes such as brettljause (a selection of cheese, sausages, smoked meat, pickled vegetables, horseradish, and other local specialties) commonly served on a wooden board. Live music with traditional tunes played on an accordion and a violin add to the Heurigen experience.
Viennese specialties and local wine at Heurige Wolff, an old-style Viennese Heuriger
Our group, including the Gullveig’s hotel manager Jürgen Purgstaller, talked and laughed as though old friends while enjoying the good wine, delicious food, and the lively musical entertainment at Heurige Wolff. Our glasses were never empty as our hosts presented several carafes and bottles of their own white and red wines. My favorite was the Weissburgunder, a light dry white wine, while Mr. TWS enjoyed each of the reds.
Festive spirit of Vienna
Holiday shopping and festive Christmas markets were in full swing during our mid-December visit.
Holiday shoppers in Vienna
Vienna has some of my favorite markets, especially the one at Rathausplatz (below). The market at Schönbrunn Palace (a little further afield) is also beautiful. I also enjoyed smaller markets like that at Stephansplatz around St. Stephen’s Cathedral and the very small ones you come across by chance in the city.
Toasting with Glühwein and posing as an angel,at the festive Rathausplatz Christmas Market
At the Rathausplatz Christmas Market, the largest in Vienna, I enjoyed a cup of warm and aromatic Glühwein, the mulled wine holiday treat that is a must at any European Christmas market. By the way, I’m not really an angel, but I liked pretending at the market (top right above).
Coffee and cake — a must in Vienna
Vienna is known for its coffee culture, an important aspect of the city begun centuries ago. Meeting with friends at a place with good coffee and pastries while sharing amusement and music, discussion of literature, politics, family — anything and everything — is a cherished social activity. I was looking forward to spending some time again at cafes as we did on our previous trip sipping coffee and indulging in decadent pastries like those chocolate cakes shown below. Vienna is also well-known for the Sachertorte, a rich chocolate cake coated with apricot jam, topped with chocolate icing and whipped cream.
Coffee and pastries in Vienna cafes
After strolling the Christmas Markets and sightseeing on a cold, windy day, the cafes offer a warm and cozy break. My coffee drink of choice is usually Schwarzer (strong black coffee, espresso) while Mr. TWS always chooses the frothy Mélange (coffee with an equal measure of steamed milk). There was also that wonderful sense of gemütlichkeit as we chatted with other guests and were warmly welcomed by cafe servers.
A step back into old Vienna
On a cold and very windy December day, we searched the web for a restaurant near St. Stephen’s Cathedral, where we ended our morning city tour and serendipitously found Griechenbeisl, one of Vienna’s oldest restaurants. The first mention of the inn found in old documents was in 1477 when the place was known as Zum Gelben Ader (The Yellow Eagle). It has several rooms reflecting its long history in decor and artifacts.
Stepping into Old Vienna at Griechenbeisl
Our favorite historical aspect of the inn was on the ceiling and walls (shown in photos on the right above) of the Mark Twain room with autographs of famous writers, composers, musician, politicians, and other notable guests such as Beethoven (shown with the pointer top right above), Mozart, Strauss, Brahms, and of course, Mark Twain. Since it is Vienna, composers were in the majority. But there were other cultural and popular signatures, including more current ones, such as Luciano Pavarotti, Johnny Cash, and Phil Collins.
Mr. TWS in the Zither Room enjoying pumpkin soup (top right); Griechenbeisl goulash (bottom right)
I was tempted by Wiener Schnitzel on the menu, but I can rarely resist beef goulash. The Griechenbeisl goulash was delicious and came with a tasty side of potatoes. Mr. TWS had a real craving for pumpkin soup and he was delighted to find it on the menu. We dined in the Zither Room where zither and accordion music is played in the evening. At lunch, it was quiet, warm and cozy, and romantic.
Viking Gullveig gemütlichkeit
And back on board the Gullveig, we enjoyed gemütlichkeit in the lounge with the wonderful staff, fellow passengers, and new friends. When we took our first Viking cruise on the Douro River in Portugal, we seldom spent time in the lounge at night. On this cruise, after a day of fun tours and Christmas Market merriment, we often stepped into the lounge for a nightcap. We ended up making new friends over drinks and having a great time talking and dancing. No, I am not posting pictures of my dancing.
In the lounge for a daily activity briefing with the Viking Gullveig crew (from left: Captain Jaroslav Krizan, Hotel Manager Jürgen Purgstaller, Program Director Anthony Papandrea
Vienna is one of our favorite European cities. The architecture and historical buildings are so numerous and there are so many things to do and see that even a one-week stay would not be enough. We’re glad we took the city tour included in the cruise that enabled us to see new sights while revisiting favorite places we’d seen previously. As with all of the tours we’ve taken so far with Viking, our guide was knowledgeable, friendly, and full of interesting and entertaining anecdotes. It was a joy to see this city again and I hope we’ll be back for more romance, culture, and gemütlichkeit.
Vienna optional excursion note: There were four optional (not included in cruise price) shore excursions available while at port in Vienna. We chose the Heurigen Evening as we had previously enjoyed the other experiences — a concert of Mozart and Strauss in a Viennese palace; a tour (by both horse-drawn carriage and on foot) with a visit to the Museum of Fine Arts; and a tour of Schönbrunn Palace.
Barbara Nelson Photography presents …
A PHOTOGRAPHY WORKSHOP IN NORTHERN PORTUGAL
Editor’s note: I am pleased to share with our readers this information about an upcoming photography workshop on location in northern Portugal. It is produced by Barbara Nelson, an accomplished photographer and journalist who has traveled the world to capture the essence of the places she visits with inspiring photographs of natural beauty, urban landscapes, street scenes, iconic landmarks, unexpected events, and ordinary people going about their daily lives. I had the pleasure of meeting Barbara a few years ago when our paths crossed in Italy as she led a workshop through Emilia-Romagna.
Lisbon street scene — Photo by Barbara Nelson
Here are some highlights you can expect to experience if you join Barbara and international photography educator, Terry Abrams, in their Portugal Photography Workshop.
Capturing the essence of northern Portugal
By Barbara Nelson
Workshop dates: June 17 – 28, 2018
Iconic Lisbon tram — Photo by Barbara Nelson
Join us to be inspired by the sights and scenes of northern Portugal and be challenged to capture your perspectives in photographs during the workshop. We will often have unique access to people and places as we travel from Lisbon to Porto, ending our workshop in Santiago de Compostela (in the Galicia region of Spain)
Lisbon street performers — Photo by Barbara Nelson
We will meet in the capital city of Lisbon, staying for 3 nights in the historical section of the city (the only part that was left standing after the 1755 earthquake). This district still retains its Kasbah-like layout with winding and steep lanes and stairways. Here you will also see captivating street life scenes and wonderful views of the Tagus River.
Boats on the Douro in Porto — Photo by Barbara Nelson
From there, we move north to Porto, whose picturesque historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There will be many photo opportunities here, but the city is also a wonderful base for our side trips that include:
Terraced vineyards of the Douro Valley — Photo by Barbara Nelson
the intricately terraced vineyards of the Douro Valley (the birthplace of port wine), visiting vineyard owners, old villages and the people who live there, and a 9th-century monastery
the Alto Minho area to visit at least one of the old transhumance villages
an traditional village of indigenous people with a large weekly market featuring local handicrafts and products
Barcelos Market, visiting fishing villages on the Atlantic coast along the way.
Portuguese woman at the market — Photo by Barbara Nelson
On our way to Santiago de Compostela, we will spend time photographing around Viana do Castelo.
The workshop ends in the historic, medieval town Santiago De Compostela, famous for the destination of all who are walking the Camino de Santiago (The Way of St. James). Workshop participants are free to spend personal days here or return home.
Santiago de Compostela Cathedral — Photo by Barbara Nelson
In this photography workshop we learn new skills and practice known techniques for capturing the essence of places and people in this beautiful and historical region. This workshop is for students who can operate their cameras on manual exposure and who want to go further with their photography. The class will learn how to work with minimal equipment and maximum adaptability. We will work on analyzing the quality/direction of light, frame/compose the image, and anticipate the unfolding activity. We will practice in-camera techniques such as multiple-exposure in camera, black & white, HDR, and more.
The class is built on a schedule of photographing and critiquing with some downtime planned for organizing your images for review. We will be together photographing on some mornings from sunrise till late morning as well as afternoons, through the sunset, occasionally past twilight and into the early evening. The class will meet daily for discussions, to review work, and critique each student’s photographs — individually and as a group. The schedule will be flexible for special events, weather changes, and such.
A list of suggested equipment and other travel needs will be emailed to all in the class.
Restaurant in Lisbon’s old district — Photo by Barbara Nelson
Matera: From the “shame of Italy” to European Capital of Culture 2019
Once called “the shame of Italy”, Matera continues its rebirth attracting worldwide attention for its history, culture, and extraordinary architecture and terrain. We spent several hours there on a recent trip to Southern Italy. Take a walk with us through Matera, European Capital of Culture 2019.
Imagine the cities of biblical times and you’ll probably come close to a vision resembling much of Matera in the Basilicata region of Italy. It’s not surprising that the city has been chosen as a location for a number of biblical movies, including The Gospel According to St. Matthew, King David, The Nativity Story, and the 2016 remake of Ben-Hur. In fact, I first heard of Matera because it was the location for key scenes in Mel Gibson’s movie, The Passion of Christ.
View of Matera Cathedral above the ancient dwellings of Sasso Caveoso built into the limestone caves
More recently, I’d seen articles about this fascinating city including Lonely Planet’s list of top cities to visit in 2018. Matera, first inhabited in the Paleolithic Age, seemed a city like no other that we’ve visited in Italy. So when we planned our second visit to the Puglia region, Italy’s “heel of the boot”, we decided to make this a day trip from our holiday rental in Ostuni. We expected to be impressed with Matera, but we were actually enthralled — by both ancient and contemporary aspects of the city.
Something old, something newer, something unexpected
A walking tour arranged by local tourism agency, Agenzia Viaggi Lionetti, with expert and engaging guide Nicola Taddonio, an archaeologist born and raised in Matera, was a perfect introduction to the city. These are just a few of the highlights of the tour.
Our first view (photos top and below) of the Sassi (Italian for the “stones”) di Matera, two districts of the ancient city Sasso Caveoso and Sasso Barisano, was from the panoramic viewpoint (Belvedere Piazzetta Pascoli) next to the Palazzo Lanfranchi. The view from here of the over 1,500 stone facade cave dwellings (including over 130 cave churches) cut out of the limestone hillsides was striking. As we gazed across the panorama, I was taken by the size of the old city and the uneven layers of dwellings built into the rocks in what appeared a helter-skelter fashion conforming to the natural hillside.
Visitors exploring Sasso Caveoso
“Anyone who sees Matera cannot help but be awestruck, so expressive and touching is its sorrowful beauty.” — Carlo Levi, Italian artist, author, and anti-fascist activist (1902 – 1975), said of Matera in the mid-twentieth century
The dramatic scenes of crude dwellings built one on top of the other, particularly in the less-developed Sasso Caveoso (below), are reminders of the past when a century ago the city was known as “the shame of Italy”. In those days, the residents of the Sassi, often with large families as well as their animals, were living in conditions of extreme poverty and disease in their damp limestone cave houses. In the 1950s the Italian government displaced about 16,000 people of the Sassi into more modern housing in another part of the town where many had difficulties adapting to the social changes. The abandoned cave buildings in these sections of the city became the secret playgrounds for local children including Nicola who related his own stories.
Crude cave dwellings make up the landscape of the less-developed district of Sasso Caveoso
It wasn’t until 1986 that people came to live in the Sassi again. Then in the 1990s, modernization of the Sassi was actively encouraged by the Italian government to promote tourism. This was aided by the designation in 1993 of the Sassi di Matera as a UNESCO World Heritage Site based on its being “the most outstanding, intact example of a troglodyte settlement in the Mediterranean region, perfectly adapted to its terrain and ecosystem.” Entrepreneurs and developers continue to transform the cave dwellings into homes, shops, accommodations, and restaurants bringing progress while aiming to maintain the essence of the city’s unique appearance and history.
A restaurant offers dining al fresco amid the ancient cave dwellings
Designation as a European Capital of Culture brings with the title many opportunities for a city’s development, cultural enrichment, and international exposure. Matera, Italy, awarded the title for 2019, joins more than 50 European cities that have been awarded this title since 1985. Mr. TWS and I have visited other cities, such as Marseille, France and Guimarães, Portugal where this important recognition spurred pride in the people of both the city itself and the entire country and enabled many cultural programs and building initiatives.
Matera is now in position to have similar cultural developments and expected benefits. However, Nicola spoke about the concern some of the local residents feel about Matera’s new status as they are now seeing a significant increase in visitors as a result of the media attention and international recognition from being awarded the European Capital of Culture 2019 title. While most of the Matera residents are excited about the proposed developments, they also want to ensure that their city does not lose its soul as a result.
A walk through the Sassi of Matera with Nicola Taddonio
As we explored Matera on foot we were amazed as we wound our way in a sinuous maze of streets that seemed to be transported out of old Jerusalem. I also found fascinating the swatches of color against the raw stone backgrounds — shutters, doorways, pots, and flora.
One of many ancient stone stairways leading to homes in the Sassi
From several vantage points at the panoramic viewpoint and throughout the Sassi we were able to view the stunning sight of the Rupestrian (“built into rock”) Church of Santa Maria de Idris (shown below).
Church of Santa Maria de Idris
Stunning on the outside, the church has beautiful frescoes on the walls of its cavernous interior. With archaeological work that was performed, the layered frescoes display the styles of the various periods in which they were created. The layers resulted from the frescoes of previous ages being covered during renovations with fresh plaster and new frescoes of that age. (Photos were not allowed inside.)
Gravina River below the Sassi di Matera
Along our walk, there were many sweeping vistas of cave dwellings and churches on either side beneath the plateau above the deep ravine carved by the Gravina River, which today is a mere trickle.
Ancient cave dwellings dot the hillside of the Murgia Timone across the ravine
Nicola suggested that the next time we visit Matera, we must drive to the Murgia plain across the ravine from the Sassi where it is possible to hike down to the river, explore the caves, and get additional spectacular views of the Sassi.
With Nicola Taddonio in the cistern of Matera
At the end of our tour with Nicola, he had yet another surprise for us hidden beneath Piazza Vittorio Veneto — an ancient cistern (called Palombaro Lungo), the second largest in the world. Istanbul has the largest. We took many steps deep down into the cistern which was carved by hand in the 1700s to provide water collection for the city. The cistern is part of a wider complex water collection system beneath the city including a number of smaller cisterns. It had been forgotten for several decades in the twentieth century until rediscovered in 1991. Mr. TWS (always the movie buff) said he felt like he was viewing one of the water cisterns within the “sietch”, the cave communities where the Fremen lived in the Dune.
Vibrant and modern Matera
From the depths of the cistern, we once again emerged onto Piazza Vittorio Veneto and modern Matera’s shops, cafes, and restaurants.
Piazza Vittorio Veneto
Piazza Sedile (shown below) was quiet on this cool November afternoon. Nicola said that it is often a lively square and his favorite in Matera for enjoying sunshine, coffee, and music. It is anchored by the 16th century Palazzo del Sedile, previously municipal offices and now the Egidio Romualdo Duni National Conservatoire, a national conservatory of music named for a composer from Matera.
Piazza Sedile, quiet on a November afternoon
Tourists and shoppers in Matera
Via Domenico Ridola with the Church of the Purgatorio on the left
Cool and unpredictable Matera
Tucked away adjacent to Palazzo Lanfranchi on Via Casalnuovo, is Area 8, a truly unusual and extraordinary venue for cocktails, food, entertainment, relaxation, and unexpected experiences. Warm and welcoming with its eclectic décor, it feels more like visiting someone’s home. It is a popular place for locals and visitors from all over the world to relax and feel at home.
Feeling at home at Area 8 — Photo by Federica Donadi
In the photo above, our Ostuni host Elena, Mr. TWS, and I look quite at home, don’t we? During the day, the space is a tourism agency and media production house operated by Area 8 owners, Gaetano Lionetti and Mikaela Bandini. At night, the lights dim and it is a cafe, theater, gathering place, and creative events venue. Gaetano and Mikaela were very enthusiastic hosts and we were able to share a fascinating conversation with Mikaela over dinner and wine. Gaetano and she are very passionate about Matera, and important forces in its evolution to a world travel destination.
The unexpected at Area 8: Van in wall, opening my fortune cookies — Photos by Federica Donadi
Mikaela chose the Area 8 name after learning about Korbinian Brodmann, a German neurologist who became famous for his definition of the cerebral cortex into 52 distinct regions. Area 8 is a region of the human brain responsible for the management of uncertainty according to his studies. There was much I didn’t expect such as the eclectic decor, the van protruding through a wall, the many interesting activities and events they schedule, the somewhat addictive Tschips (one of Area 8’s signature dishes made with toasted Matera bread slices, olive oil, gazpacho, sun-dried tomato paste, and stracciatella cheese), or the 4 cookies presented by Mikaela that held fortunes for Mr. TWS and me (see below).
Te la stai cavando bene (You are doing well)
Fa’ qualcosa di nuovo (Do something new)
Apriti al piacere (Be open to pleasure)
I’ll keep you guessing about those.
Campari bottles add a cool red effect in Area 8 kitchen
Before heading back to Ostuni for the night, we took another look over the rooftops of the Sassi from the panoramic viewpoint. At night, Matera takes on an even more mysterious look particularly on this night as a light fog hovered over the Sassi.
Happy Holidays! Mr. TWS and I wish you all the best as you celebrate your holiday traditions and look forward to a brand new year. We have a tradition of kicking off the season with a trip to someplace wonderful and festive. This year, we cruised on the Danube River through Germany, Austria, and Hungary with Viking River Cruises on their “Romantic Danube” itinerary. There’s much more to share about the cruise and the places we visited, but let’s start with a selection of 10 of our Instagram highlights of the trip.
I was really impressed with the quality of the ornaments at the Christmas Market in Nuremberg, Germany. It was a very pretty market and we were lucky that it started snowing while we were there — perfect for the Christmas spirit.
There are just a few of the special varieties of traditional gingerbread cookies of Nuremberg, Germany. We saw lots of these tempting treats as we strolled around the Christmas Market. Of course, we sampled some, too.
… “as the shoppers rush home with their treasures” — (from “Silver Bells”) Silver Bell decorations hang across a busy shopping street in romantic Vienna, Austria. I wonder what’s in those red shopping bags. Don’t you?
Vienna was decked out for the Christmas holidays with decorations and lights all over the city center. This giant red ball looks suspended in midair in front of one of Vienna’s many elegant buildings.
St. Stephen’s Cathedral is a dramatic background for the Christmas Market in Passau, Germany. I loved Passau — it’s history, architecture, picturesque location on the Danube, old world ambiance, this wonderful market,
Imagine listening to the powerful tones of this organ during a Christmas service. When we visited St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Passau, we got to hear someone doing a tune-up on Europe’s largest pipe organ (and world’s largest cathedral organ) — quite impressive.
There is much about the Puglia region of Italy to engage the senses. In the beautiful hilltop city of Ostuni, we indulged in stunning and compelling sights at almost every turn. Whitewashed buildings, winding staircases, narrow alleys, and vistas of the sea created many photo opportunities for us. I’d like to share some of our pictures from our recent trip there in November to give you a visual sense of the city as we saw it.
Panoramic view of Ostuni from Via Panoramica
Selected photos of Ostuni, Puglia’s “White City”
One of the most picturesque spots in the city center is the Scoppa Arch connecting Palazzo Vescovile and an old seminary.
At the Scoppa Arch on a windy day in Ostuni
Nearby the arch on the hilltop is Ostuni’s crowning jewel, Cathedral of Santa Maria dell’Assunzione. Inside the 15th-century cathedral, we feasted our eyes on its intricate architectural design and gorgeous ceiling paintings depicting the life of Christ.
Gorgeous paintings on the ceiling of Cathedral of Santa Maria dell’Assunzione
There are lovely sights of old world beauty to see everywhere. I loved arched doorways, floral touches, and the winding staircase in the alley shown below.
Lovely sights upon every turn
Views of the Adriatic Sea to the east can be seen from vantage points of the city center’s perimeter. In the photo below, I was admiring the beauty of the sea from the top of a staircase leading into one of Ostuni’s secluded neighborhoods.
Views to the sea through the flora
Floral touches among the white buildings of Ostuni
One of the narrow alleys with a view of the sea
Wouldn’t you like to knock on one of these doors in the photo above, take a look inside, and meet the people who live there?
A woman gazes over the countryside to the sea
As we turned from an alley, we were taken by the sight of an Ostuni woman gazing over the countryside to the sea while her laundry hung nearby. She briefly glanced at us hearing our approach, and then she quickly turned back to her thoughts and the sea.
Wet streets reflect the lights
Since this was November in the off-season, it felt at times that we had the city to ourselves as we strolled the lanes on a rainy evening. When we visited Ostuni in the summer a few years ago, these streets shown above and below were filled with people enjoying one of the region’s many summertime festivals.
Lovely passageway leading to L’Arco dei Sapori
On the first night of our visit, we made our way down this lovely passageway leading to our dinner spot, L’Arco dei Sapori where regional, homemade pastas are a specialty.
Mr. TWS and our host Elena on our night stroll through the city center after dinner
All was quiet late night in the city as we walked by to the car park
Up a few steps to Osteria Monacelle for dinner
A few nights later, we had dinner at another restaurant that had been recommended to us by locals, Osteria Monacelle. We thoroughly enjoyed both the ambiance and the delicious pasta of this small and busy place.
Meeting up with photographer Federica Donadi in Ostuni
On this sunny morning, our friend, professional photographer Federica Donadi, was also capturing scenes of beauty and daily life in Ostuni for our EsteVillas Elena Retreats host.
Under the archway and over the cobblestones into another intriguing Ostuni neighborhood
It was tempting to walk down every staircase into every little neighborhood. Through the archway shown above, we entered another hidden neighborhood.
Prickly pear cactus adorn stairway in Ostuni
I took note of how common it was to see cacti, particularly prickly pears, in Puglia reminding me of our home in the Arizona desert. In the photo above, stairs lead to another section of lovely homes.
Touches of color in the White City
Doors and shutters add colorful touches to the whitewashed homes of Ostuni. It’s not surprising the color seems especially prominent when so much of the city is painted in white.
Espresso time at Caffè Centrale on Piazza della Libertà
Caffè Tip: For an espresso and pastry during your walk around Ostuni, stop at Caffè Centrale on Piazza della Libertà. From there, you can access the streets leading to the locations in the photos.
Getting there tip: The nearest airport is in Brindisi about 30 miles away with airlines operating flights to and from other European cities. However, we arrived in Puglia by train from Rome, getting off in Bari to meet our host and pick up our rental car. It was about an hour’s drive from Bari to Ostuni. Train service continues from Bari to Ostuni’s station if that works better for your itinerary and transportation needs.
Driving tip: I recommend having a car to get around and see as much of Puglia as possible. However, driving in historic centers like Ostuni’s can be challenging and parking is limited, so rent a small car and try to find parking in a lot (or at metered parking) outside the center or off of main streets in town. You don’t want to unintentionally find yourself heading up a narrow lane in a pedestrian zone!
Puglia touring tip: Ostuni is a nice location for exploring much of the Puglia region as well as Matera in neighboring Basilicata. We’ve written about some of the highlights to see and do in the Puglia region in previous posts, including Puglia: A Region for All Seasons and A Secret Revealed: Puglia, Ti Amo, and there will be more to come.
Festivals and parades, long days at the white-sand beaches, and sultry nights — these are a few of things that make the Puglia region of Italy a popular vacation destination for Europeans and others seeking summertime la dolce vita. But, as you may know, Mr. TWS and I are fond of discovering the best of top travel destinations during their off-seasons, too. With great memories of our trip to Puglia in summer a few years ago, we set out to explore more about this region we love.
Strolling through Alberobello on a rainy day
In late fall, one can expect cool temperatures and some rainfall in Puglia and we were prepared for this. The weather can also be very nice in November, which it was the week before we came and the week after we left. However, we experienced an unusual number of overcast days and rainfalls for Puglia during our visit. This meant carrying an umbrella and donning the raincoat for much of our trip, but it did not detract from our enjoyment of experiencing new as well as familiar activities and sights.
Located in Italy’s “heel of the boot” and areas along the Adriatic Sea north of it, Puglia is a region for all seasons with hiking, biking, historic sites, compelling art and architecture, museums, crafts shops, food, wine, and cultural surprises. There will be more to share about our favorite experiences, but in this post let’s get started with a quick look at what we found and enjoyed, to help with your plans to visit Puglia in any season.
Fall in love with the hillside towns
A romantic moment with Mr. TWS in Ostuni — Photo by Federica Donadi
Some of my favorite memories of Puglia were and continue to be just walking around and dining in the many beautiful hillside towns. I like to step inside the cathedrals to admire the frescoes and have a few moments to reflect. I also like to visit the museums, galleries, and small family-owned shops in the towns. We revisited Cisternino, Martina Franca, and Ostuni — enjoying the familiarity of the winding streets and whitewashed buildings (including the trulli which continue to fascinate and delight us), noticing new alleys and passageways, people-watching, and dining in new restaurants.
Feel romantic on the seaside
In summer, Polignano a Mare is vibrant, busy, and filled with sun-loving crowds. In fall, we found a quiet piazza for a romantic dinner al fresco and reveled in the dreamy views of the city lights from the shore (shown below).
Night falls on romantic Polignano a Mare
You might be surprised to learn of the extensive network of caves in the Puglia region. I know that I was. We were thrilled to tour the amazing caves of Grotte di Castellana less than one hour from Ostuni and near other towns of the Valle d’Itria such as the trulli village of Alberobello.
Inside the caverns of Grotte di Castellana
The caverns are enormous, beautiful, and accessible. We took the two-hour tour that takes you underground to about 60 meters deep through the caves which began to form 19 million years ago! I was a bit apprehensive about this activity since I’m a bit claustrophobic. But I was told it wouldn’t be a problem and I had no trouble at all. The caves are huge and the few closer spots are short. This is a must see for Puglia even if you’re there during the high season, but be prepared for crowds. After all, 15 million people from all over the world visit the caves.
“Hell in the Cave” at Grotte di Castellana
We had a unique experience with a performance in the cavern at night, Hell in the Cave. Sounds scary, doesn’t it? It’s an excellent, intense program based on Dante’s Inferno, the first part of his Divine Comedy, in a stunning and perfect venue. I was not particularly comfortable when cast members portraying the tormented of Hell moved around us in the audience from time to time. In fact, I uttered the only shriek we heard in the entire performance as one of the actors startled me by crawling among us during our entry down into the cave along a long stairway illuminated with red lights. But that’s just me. It seemed that everyone else, including kids, seemed quite calm about it.
Explore and respect the land and sea
Before my first Puglia visit when we had the chance to drive through Gargano National Park in the Foggia province of Puglia, I didn’t think about there being such diverse parks in southern Italy. There are two national parks and 19 regional parks in Puglia.
During this visit, we had a fantastic tour with Gianfranco Ciola, Mari Pinto, and Valerio Palasciano of the Coastal Dunes Regional Nature Park that exposed us to the area’s natural beauty, agricultural bounty, recreational activities, and historic and archaeological sites.
Touring Coastal Dunes Regional Park — Photo by Federica Donadi
We had a full day of seeing sights within the park visiting the coastal dunes, organic fish farms, working mills and farms that respect the location’s environmental and cultural resources. The park has also opened an Albergabici, a hostel with 18 beds and bike rental and repair services for bike tourists on the area’s extensive trail system. The park system promotes appreciation of and cooperation with nature by producing education, marketing, and tourism programs. We were impressed by the array of things to do and see and even with a full day just got to the highlights.
Autumn on the Adriatic coast in Puglia
Mr. TWS has a special affection for the sea in any season in any place. On this trip to Puglia, instead of sipping cool drinks under the hot sun on the beach as we did in summer, we contemplated the beauty of the sea as brisk breezes brought waves crashing to shore.
Indulge in Regional Food
We were told that traditional thinking in Puglia was that a woman could not get married until she knew how to properly make orecchiette, an ear-shaped pasta that I remembered fondly and looked forward to indulging in more on this trip. I was not disappointed. Mr. TWS was also able to get some of the fantastic fresh seafood for which Puglia is famous, but orecchiette is the highlight for me!
Orecchiette for lunch at Taverna Della Torre in Cisternino
Part of the tour with our Coastal Dunes Regional Park guides was lunch at Nobile Tradizione Pugliese, a family-run agricultural company, at Masseria Difesa di Malta. Vita, the family matriarch founded the company in 1994 with her husband and has since been using natural foods and recipes handed down through several generations. Two generations of the family currently own and operate the business preparing and selling traditional Pugliese dishes and food products grown on their 25 hectares of land. The special methods for preparation take place in the masseria’s “laboratory” and produce not only delicious but beautiful products distributed narrowly among local restaurants. Our lively lunch with our tour group consisted of orecchiette handmade by Vita and other olive, vegetable, and fruit specialties.
Regional products at Masseria Difesa di Malta
Tour and taste at an olive mill
Also with our Coastal Dunes Regional Park guides, we strolled the olive groves of Antica Masseria Brancati, where ancient trees (like the gnarly, twisted one over 3,000 years old supported only by huge stones shown below) still produce olives alongside the younger trees on the property’s 30 hectares. We were able to visit the masseria’s ancient underground mill where the remnants of olive oil production methods from Roman times through present day are on display. The stables and workers’ sleeping quarters of centuries ago were also located here.
Underground olive mill, ancient olive tree, and harvested olives at Antica Masseria Brancati in Ostuni
Not only did we get a tour of the groves and olive mill at Antica Masseria Brancati, we sampled their delicious extra virgin olive oils. It’s interesting how similar to wine tasting this process can be, with each oil having its own aromas and flavor — some subtle, others quite pronounced.
Olive oil tasting at Antica Masseria Brancati in Ostuni — Photo by Federica Donadi
Take a side trip to Matera
Matera is a fascinating city of ancient cave dwellings in the Basilicata region and is a must-see side trip easily reached from many places in Puglia. It was about a 1-1/2 drive from our place in Ostuni. Expect to see this newly designated European Capital of Culture for 2019, once under the radar of many travelers to Italy, become a much more high-profile destination.
Our tour of the town by expert guide Nicola Taddonio was arranged by Agenzia Viaggi Lionetti. Nicola provided a fascinating walking tour of the city, describing the history from ancient days to current times, brought us to key sites and structures, led us to many of the amazing vistas within the city, and even discussed the movies made in Matera. We’ll share more photos and information about our day in Matera in a future post.
Stay in a masseria
Masserias are countryside lodgings in former farm houses and farmhouse communities (often fortified for protection from attacks during the 16th – 19th centuries) that are unique to the Puglia region. Many provide accommodations and dining while still being working farms with olive groves, vineyards, gardens, and sometimes farm animals. Other have been restored solely as holiday rentals.
Elena’s masseria in Ostuni
Our EsteVillas Elena Retreats masseria accommodations were in Ostuni, about 15 minutes from the city center in the Contrada Lamatroccola neighborhood. It’s a great location for exploring much of Puglia’s Valle d’Itria, coastal towns, and attractions farther afield. The serene property has beautiful olive trees and gardens. It is located in a very quiet location in the hills, accessed by a long road lined with old stone walls. The masseria sleeps up to 8 people in four apartments (ours had a kitchenette) with a separate main kitchen accessible to all. We loved the country chic touches of the decor in our apartment and other areas of the masseria. It was a great place for our stay and will get even better in the near future as plans are in place for a beautiful swimming pool and a new larger common activity area to be added in time for the 2018 summer season.
Get to know the people
Another reason to visit Puglia is the opportunity to meet its warm people. We are fortunate to have met many wonderful people there who were open, sincere, enthusiastic, charming, and consistently passionate about their region. Time after time, we found helpful assistance from locals as we took wrong turns on the roadways or who patiently tried to understand our minimal Italian phrases as we asked questions in shops and restaurants. No matter the particular situation, we felt welcome in this region making it a place to which we hope to return again.
A lively lunch at Masseria Difesa di Malta in Ostuni — Photo by Federica Donadi
Thanks to Elena, our host in Ostuni, for her hospitality and enthusiastic assistance in organizing many of our activities.
As soon as the temperatures began to cool in the mornings after the hot desert summer, Mr. TWS and I put on our hiking boots and got back to hiking McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale. I’ve got two more trails to add to our list of favorite Scottsdale hikes … so far. We’ve got much more to explore since the preserve, the country’s largest urban preserve, has 182 miles of Scottsdale’s trails.
Both of these trails highlighted in this post are ones I would recommend for short hikes or as just a part of longer hikes on trails that connect with them.
Gateway Trailhead (18333 N. Thompson Peak Parkway)
Cholla on the Paradise Trail with view of Camelback Mountain
The Paradise Trail is a fun, mostly easy trail connecting the Gateway Loop Trail and the Quartz Trail. The main access points are from trails from the Gateway Trailhead. Although it is classified as an easy trail, there are a few spots with inclines that some may consider a little more difficult. The terrain is rocky, so watch your step!
A large saguaro towers over Mr. TWS on the Paradise Trail
A portion of this trail weaves through McDowell Mountain Ranch residential area, but you never feel too close to homes. I love the scenery along this trail as you walk through heavy vegetation with the McDowell Mountains towering above you nearby. From some vantage points, you’ll also see vistas of the valley and the iconic Camelback Mountain. We’ve seen several bicyclists on this path, but most of them didn’t seem to having much fun with the rocky obstacles. The distance is 1.5 miles one way, but keep in mind that you’ll have already traveled on another trail before you get here, so plan accordingly.
Brown’s Ranch Trailhead (30301 N. Alma School Parkway)
We decided to go a little farther afield trying one of the many diverse trails accessed at the Brown’s Ranch Trailhead. We chose this easy two mile trail for our first visit, although it is a primary access route from the trailhead to the Brown’s Ranch trail network.The path is mostly wide with smooth, flat terrain. When you first start out from the trailhead, power lines are visible, but they are quickly gone from sight as you head further north into the desert.
Brown’s Summit seen from Brown’s Ranch Road Trail
The mountain and desert scenery is beautiful with the imposing Brown’s Summit in view most all of the way. On our soon-to-do-list is Brown’s Summit Spur Trail that takes you to the top of the summit. It is designated as moderately difficult with a short, steep climb.
More Scottsdale hiking tips to come!
Be sure to check out our previous posts with our other recommendations:
Don’t miss these Scottsdale art museums and venues
Many pleasant surprises await those who may only think of Scottsdale, Arizona, as a golf and spa destination for escaping winter. After one year of living in Scottsdale, I continue to be surprised by this city in the Sonoran Desert and what it has to offer. I’ve written about some of the unexpected highlights that Mr. TWS and I have come across such as the extensive network of hiking and biking trails, many first-class hotels and restaurants, and diverse cultural attractions and events. We’ve also had chances to enjoy Scottsdale’s art venues and have these suggestions for art lovers who visit Scottsdale and the Valley of the Sun.
Public art along the Scottsdale Waterfront
Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art
7374 East Second Street
The exhibits at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art change frequently (9 – 12 rotating exhibitions per year) giving visitors and residents plenty of incentive to keep coming back. So although the works that I saw when I visited may no longer be on exhibit, I know there will be new and equally eye-opening, and thought-provoking art at any time you visit. The ambiance is vibrant and knowledgeable docents in the galleries enthusiastically point out must-see works and share information as well as their own perspectives.
“Ocean of Light: Submergence — A Squidsoup Project”
One of my favorite exhibits was Ocean of Light: Submergence — A Squidsoup Project (ran through September 24, 2017) by Squidsoup, a U.K.-based collective. This installation was an interactive LED light installation representing the enormous amount of data in our lives. There are more color transformations than shown in the photos above and top left in the collage below. Look closely at each of the photos and you’ll see people walking among the lights. Later that day, this exhibit was scheduled for a special event for 100 people. As interesting as the exhibit was with just a few people walking around, I thought how fun it would be as a party location.
Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art — selected works September 2017
Be sure to see the outdoor sculpture Garden where James Turrell’s “Knight Space” is one of the artist’s public “Skyscape” enclosures. Visitors look up through the opening in the ceiling at the sky, but with illusions created by the edges of the elliptical opening. The effects were not quite so evident during the early afternoon when we visited. They say that the most dramatic effect is seen at sunrise and sunset.
Knight Rise at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art — Photo courtesy of Experience Scottsdale
Admission tip: Admission is free on Thursdays and after 5 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays!
Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West
3830 N. Marshall Way
Paintings and sculptures of the American West at Western Spirit
During our visit to Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West it became clear to me why this museum is highly recognized and includes among its accolades its designation as the 2016 “Best Western Museum” in the country by True West magazine. The extent and quality of the exhibits, including wonderfully surprising collections of fine art and rare artifacts was greater than I expected.
Keep your eyes open for Scottsdale’s diverse works of public art in its vast outdoor gallery throughout the city. There is an interactive map to guide you to the 70 permanent, 30 temporary works, with many more in progress.
Soleri Bridge — Photo by Tom Dekyvere courtesy of Experience Scottsdale
The Soleri Bridge is a major public art pedestrian-only bridge across the Arizona Canal designed by Italian architect and artist, Paolo Soleri, and completed in 2010. It was the first of his more than 60 bridge designs that have been constructed. It connects the Scottsdale Waterfront area with Fashion Square Mall and other parts of downtown Scottsdale. In the photo below, the bridge is illuminated during Canal Convergence, an annual interactive public art event. The 2018 event will be from February 23-24 & March 2-3 2018.
Goldwater Bell at the Soleri Bridge and Plaza
At one end of the bridge in the adjacent Soleri Plaza is the beautiful Goldwater Bell assembly, designed by Soleri in 1969.
Scottsdale Downtown Arts District
Main Street and Marshall Way
Take a stroll around downtown Scottsdale’s Arts District where you’ll find many of Scottsdale’s 70 galleries and museums. The Fifth Avenue Shops and the Marshall Way feature Southwest and Native American arts and crafts as well as wide selections of handcrafted textiles and decorative arts in the area’s shops and galleries. Art appreciation tip: The Scottsdale ArtWalk, “America’s Original ArtWalk” started 40 years ago, takes places every Thursday night from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. along Main Street and Marshall Way offering a fun and casual opportunity for people to browse the galleries while enjoying refreshments and listening to street music.
Art beyond (but very close to) Scottsdale
6433 E Doubletree Ranch Rd
Paradise Valley, AZ
Cosanti Showroom — Photo courtesy of Experience Scottsdale
In addition to the pleasure of seeing Paolo Soleri designs in public spaces in and around Scottsdale, you can get a first-hand look at the production of his famous wind bells on a tour at Cosanti Gallery in Paradise Valley. This was Soleri’s studio and gallery as well as his home up to his death in 2013. There are bronze and ceramic wind bells designed by Soleri and his staff available for purchase in the gift gallery in a range of sizes and prices.
2301 North Central Avenue
Downtown Phoenix is easily accessible from all areas of Scottsdale, so put the Heard Museum on your itinerary. Since its opening in 1929, the Heard Museum has been showcasing unique and diverse collections of American Indian art and artifacts and currently has 40,000 objects in its 12 galleries.
Phoenix Airport Museum
Sky Harbor International Airport
Phoenix Deer Valley Airport
Phoenix Goodyear Airport
Gallery in Terminal 4 at Sky Harbor Phoenix International Airport
Whether you’re flying in or out of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, take note of the art exhibits displayed throughout the terminals, parking garages, Sky Train station, and rental car center. The Phoenix Airport Museum is exceptionally curated with close to 900 permanent and changing works. As someone who always appreciates the art displays in airports, I was impressed to learn that Phoenix Airport Museum is one of the largest airport art museums in the United States. The museum also includes art at the Phoenix Deer Valley Airport and Phoenix Goodyear Airport.
Planning tip: It’s possible to visit more than one of the Scottsdale’s museums and public art sites in just one day. Mr. TWS and I spent a morning at Western Spirit and the afternoon at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art with time in between for lunch and time afterward for a winery visit — all within walking distance.
Art and dine tip: We often enjoy brunch or happy hour at restaurants on the Scottsdale Waterfront. That’s a great opportunity to stroll the promenade and Soleri Bridge to admire public art.
There’s more to discover about art in Scottsdale and the Phoenix Metro area, so we’ll be adding more ideas for art lovers. Stay tuned.
The spirit of Western art and culture in the “West’s Most Western Town”
As a little girl, I had an Annie Oakley cowgirl outfit that I wore around the house and out to play with my neighborhood friends. Mr. TWS had a cowboy outfit as a boy as did many children of our generation. I was enthralled by the American West from the many Western television programs and movies of the time and the road trips across the western states that I was fortunate to take with my family. So I looked forward to a visit to Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West, a Smithsonian affiliate museum, expecting a step back in time with exhibits of Old West memorabilia and antiques.
There was all of that, but so much more! It’s now clear to me why Western Spirit is highly recognized and includes among its accolades its designation as the 2016 “Best Western Museum” in the country by True West magazine. The extent and quality of the exhibits, including wonderfully surprising collections of fine art and rare artifacts was greater than I expected. It seems fitting that the museum is located in a city nicknamed in 1947 “The West’s Most Western Town” even though Scottsdale’s lush golf courses and high-end shops, dining, and real estate have replaced much of the Old West ambiance of times past.
“Spirit of the Buffalo Medicine” by Paul Dyck
A first-class museum and gallery
Western Spirit is a first-class museum celebrating the art, culture and history of the American West in its galleries in the 43,000-square-foot two-story main building . From antique artifacts to fine art, its exhibits are extremely well done, presenting detailed information, compelling art and visuals, interactive displays, and more.
“Honeymoon at Crow Fair” by John Coleman in museum lobby — Photo courtesy of Experience Scottsdale
Western Spirit’s exhibits, permanent and changing, capture the essence of the American West from the perspectives of many different people — mountain men, early explorers, Native peoples, and pioneers. Here are some of the highlights from our visit.
“Art is to be shared” — inside Scottsdales’s Museum of the West
Spirit is …
After a nice chat at the ticket counter with cheerful and helpful museum staff, we started our tour in the 135-seat Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust Theater/Auditorium just beyond the lobby with a 10-minute film called “Spirit Is”. The film presents a story of the American West, one that sets the tone for the museum experience and conveys a message of “spirit matters” and the importance of having respect for the land, people, the journey of human beings, and all things.
John Coleman bronzes
The museum has a wonderful collection of 20 bronze statues by John Coleman, one of the most renowned artists of the American West, in the “Of Spirit and Flame” exhibition I enjoyed them as works of art but also appreciated the detail of the Native American portrayals and the stories they told.
Sculptures by John Coleman
An Arizona art pioneer
I was pleased to learn about early Scottsdale resident Marjorie Thomas (1885 – 1978), a true pioneer in Western art who was an eye-witness to many events in Arizona history. About 40 of her paintings of desert landscapes, Native peoples, and scenes of daily life on the ranch are on exhibit depicting early Western history.
Paintings of Marjorie Thomas, Arizona Art Pioneer
Western film history
The Rennard Strickland Collection of Western Film History exhibition (running through September 30, 2018) has over 100 Western film posters and lobby cards from the 1890s to mid-1980s. It was a fun exhibit for both of us, but particularly for film buff Mr. TWS, who has probably seen most of these movies — many more than once!
Rennard Strickland Collection of Western Film History
Old West artifacts
The Abe Hays Family Spirit of the West Collection has an impressive and diverse number of antiques and objects as you’ve seen them in the movies — saddles, riding gear, saloon and gambling artifacts, items from Wild West shows and rodeos, and much more. It’s a fun look at the rough, rugged, and exciting Old West times.
Abe Hays Family Spirit of the West Collection
Did you know that there was fine wine back at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona? Kelly’s Wine House there in the Old West served 26 wines imported from Europe. This and other interesting bits of trivia and unexpected information are found in a series of “A True West Moment” displays. This was part of the “Spirit of the West” exhibition mentioned above. The stories were intriguing, often humorous, and left us wanting to learn more about each surprising tale.
Interesting bit of Western life in “True West Moments”
Courage and Crossroads Exhibition; Meriwether Lewis tomahawk (top right)
In the “Courage and Crossroads: A Visual Journey through the Early American West” exhibition, there are over 100 paintings and sculptures capturing the American West of the 19th and early 20th centuries by famous artists such as Frederic Remington and Thomas Moran. There are also vintage photographs, Native American textiles, Kit Carson artifacts, and more representations of the early West. A must-see item in this gallery is a pipe tomahawk that belonged to Meriwether Lewis of the Lewis and Clark Expedition (shown above).
Upstairs gallery with fine Western art, Museum of the West — Photo courtesy of Experience Scottsdale
In the “Confluence of Cultures in the American West” exhibition there are intriguing portrayals of mountain men and Native Americans, including themes of the friendships and disputes between them.
“Evening Chat” by Doug Hyde
The museum includes a pleasant sculpture courtyard with works by several prominent Native American artists, including Doug Hyde whose work I’ve also seen at the Heard Museum in Phoenix. The courtyard has a “weeping wall” (shown below) that collects rainwater from the roof and condensation from the air conditioning system. That water is transported to the planters and desert landscape on the property.
Sculpture Garden at Scottsdale’s Museum of the West — Photo courtesy of Experience Scottsdale
I appreciate appealing and innovative architecture and find that with many museums and galleries the building is part of the attraction. So is the case with Western Spirit. The building has many artistic aspects and there was an easy flow between the galleries and exhibit spaces. The museum has been certified LEED Gold for its environmentally-conscious design and construction (as seen in the “weeping wall” above, for example). While the design is contemporary, it reflects Western concepts and conveys the overall theme of the Western spirit.
Visiting tip: Although you see the highlights in about two hours (as we did), allotting at least 4 hours is a good idea so that you can spend more time exploring the items of most interest to you.
Special exhibit tip: If you visit before December 17, 2017, be sure to see over 100 gorgeous and compelling paintings and prints from the 1850s – 1950s of the Grand Canyon in the “Grand Canyon Grandeur” exhibit.
Locals tip: On Thursdays November through April, Scottsdale residents get free admission!
Food and drink tip: There are several restaurants within walking distance of the museum. We can recommend AZ88 for American fare and an artistic ambiance, and Los Olivos for Mexican food and delicious margaritas.