A great museum for families with kids

A model railway museum in Florence? A friend took her grandchildren and can’t recommend the new HZero museum enough. All of them simply loved it.

One of Europe’s largest model railways is located in a former cinema only a few steps from the Santa Maria Novella train station in Florence.

The museum was initiated by Giuseppe di San Giuliano, who was the owner of one of our villas in Sicily. At Villa San Giuliano he created a mesmerizing Mediterranean garden. For his model railway he also created landscapes, but miniature ones, inspired by the Dolomites, the island of Elba or the streets of Berlin.

The spacious former cinema is an excellent location for the model. Observing the detailed miniatures is a bit like seeing a cartoon come to life. This is a fun visit for young and old, and in summer an excellent way to escape the heat for a few hours.

HZero Museum: www.hzero.com/en

Piazza degli Ottaviani, 2, 50123 Firenze

10 AM – 7 PM. Last admission at 6 PM. Closed on Tuesdays.

TICKETS: € 12, Children € 6, Teenagers and pensioners € 8.
Free Entrance for children under 4 years.


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The isle of Montecristo off the Tuscan coast

I finally visited the isle of Montecristo, the tiny Mediterranean island where Alexandre Dumas’ count got his name and treasure. Today the island is a nature reserve and visits are strictly regulated. No more than 1725 people can visit each year. Every January the Parco del Arcipelago puts the available tickets up on their website. They sell out immediately.

Alexandre Dumas actually never visited the island himself. He spent time on the nearby islands of Pianosa (a prison island) and Elba where he heard all the stories about the treasure that supposedly lay hidden there. Composer Giacomo Puccini tried to sail to Montecristo but never made it due to nefarious south winds.

I also got close to abort our mission. The freezing March morning I got on a boat in Piombino there was mare mosso, rough sea. Ten minutes in, I had already started to count the safety vests on board. Some of our fellow adventurers were similarly inclined and decided to leave ship at Porto Azzurro, our first stop on the isle of Elba.

I wanted to join them, but my travel companion reminded me that we had paid 130€ for the rocky privilege and that there was no meteorological condition that would get her off the boat an island too early. A Mediterranean sea goddess must have overheard our conversation. She rewarded our bravery and half an hour later, the waves calmed down a bit. We climbed on deck and watched the mysterious mountain appear in the middle of the sea.

Two carabinieri, who permanently live on Montecristo, welcomed us. A guide looking like a modern-day version of the count took us on a steep hike up to the old monastery. For centuries, pilgrims came bearing gifts, which may be the factual base for the rumors about a treasure hidden on the island. With the monks gone, the island paradise was supposed to become an exclusive yacht harbor. Luckily, the Italian government intervened. In 1971, Montecristo became a nature reserve.

When I now spot Montecristo’s rugged silhouette from the Tuscan mainland, I think of the two carabinieri on the solitary island. Surrounded only by goats and Sicilian vipers (it’s still not clear how they got there). From March to October, their solitude is punctured by a weekly day-trip of intrepid travelers on the traces of the count of Monte Cristo. A couple of years ago one of them was arrested as he was trying to leave the group, treasure map in hand.

It takes three hours from Piombino to get to Montecristo. Six hours on a rocky boat is a long time for a day trip. At villa La Corvetta on the isle of Elba, you can watch the isle of Montecristo from the pool. I highly recommend admiring it from afar, while reading the Count of Monte Cristo propped up on a comfortable and steady deckchair.


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Museum Palazzo Fortuny

At the end of the 19th century, Mariano Fortuny acquired palazzo Pesaro degli Orfei, a 15th century Palazzo in the center of Venice. The eclectic Mariano Fortuny was a painter, photographer, stage set designer, inventor and business man. With his wife Henriette Nigrin he founded Fortuny textiles. They used their home as a laboratory where local artisans would work in ateliers and on printing presses, turning the couple’s visionary designs into reality.  

Eleonroa Duse and Isidora Duncan used to wear the Fortuny Delphos silk dress and Marcel Proust wrote about it In Search for Lost Time.  

Many of the couple’s inventions can be admired at the beautiful palazzo. The Fortuny museum is one of Venice’ more quiet sights and a wonderful way to delve into the city’s rich history.  

Website: https://fortuny.visitmuve.it/en/il-museo/museum/building-and-history/

Opening time 10am-5pm. Last admission 4pm
Closed on Tuesday 


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Artemisia Gentileschi Unveiled

Art, theater, film – who doesn’t love a peak behind the scenes? Which is exactly what the Florentine museum Casa Buonarroti provides during the Artemisia Svelata (Artemisia Unveiled) restoration project.

Artemisia Gentileschi achieved great success as a painter in her lifetime in the early 1600s—a rare thing for a female artist of her era. She became one of the most desirable portrait painters in Italy.

Commissioned by the great nephew of Michelangelo, Artemisia Gentileschi’s ‘Inclination’ has been removed from the ceiling and is being restored at the museum where visitors can observe every step of the repair process up close. If you’d like to ask questions, visit on Fridays, when the wonderful conservator Elizabeth Wicks will answer them in detail.

The restoration of the Inclination is supposed to last until April 2023 and will be followed by an exhibition about Artemisia’s works during her years in Florence.

Museo Casa Buonarroti

Via Ghibellina 70 (2 minutes from Piazza Santa Croce).

Museum opening hours from 10.00 a.m. to 4.30 p.m. Closed on Tuesdays.


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The new Mulinum mill and bakery in Buonconvento

Tuscany’s unsalted bread is not for everybody – some love it, some don’t. A new mill and bakery south of Siena is making everybody happy. The Mulinum Buonconvento encourages farmers to organically grow ancient grain varieties. The flour is then ground and transformed by the local Mulinum.

You can order the Mulinum flour, bread, crackers, pasta and biscuits online or taste it in form of the locally produced bread or pizza at the mill near Buonconvento.  I tried a pane di segale (rye bread) this summer. It tastes great and keeps fresh for a long time.

Stefano Caccavari opened the first crowd-funded mill in 2017 in Calabria. Thanks to the support of the owners of Villa Tancredi – a historical estate we work with – the young entrepreneur was able to open a Mulinum mill in Tuscany. His ambition is to have one Mulinum in each of Italy’s 20 regions.

More information about this exciting project on mulinum.it. The section about the mill in Buonconvento will be online soon. In the meantime, you can find its current opening times and exact location on Google Maps.


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On turtle watch on the Italian coast

Have you ever noticed strange animal tracks on a Mediterranean beach? Along Italy’s shore, the sightings of sea turtles have become more regular in recent years. Caretta caretta, the protected loggerhead turtle, arrives at night looking for a place in the sand to lay her eggs. After depositing around 100 eggs, she uses her fins to cover the nest with sand. The procedure takes up to three hours. But by the early morning, the turtle is in the water again.

I learnt about this while accompanying a friend on turtle track watch in the Maremma nature park. We left at dawn, as it is easiest to spot the tracks early in the morning. Sea turtle tracks are large and make one think of a motor vehicle first. However, they do not run parallel to the shore but lead out of the water and back into it.

If you find tracks like that, make sure to call the Italian coast guard immediately:

 1530 (24h toll-free number).

The coast guard will ask you to mark your exact position on Google Maps. If possible, wait for them or leave a sign to make sure nobody walks across the presumed hatching ground until a guard, park ranger or WWF can verify the situation.


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Sneak Peak of our travel app Inside Italy

I am very excited about the launch of our Trust&Travel-Inside Italy app. The travel app takes our blog one step further and allows us to share all the Italy insight we have discovered over the years: the tiny vineyards, unknown artisans, quiet chapels, and family-run restaurants that make this country so special.

Inside Italy is currently available in beta for download from the Apple Store and Google Play.

You can use it on your phone or on your tablet while in Italy or as a resource while preparing your trip. Have a look, try it out and let us know what you think!

The illustrations in the app are by Paolo Fiumi, a dear friend in Florence. You might remember Paolo’s wonderful sketches and interior design from his collaboration with us at Palazzo Ca’nova’s Lipparini apartment.

To start with, the Inside Italy app will be in English only and focus on Venice, the Veneto and Tuscany.

We hope it will make a real difference to your travels in Italy.


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INFIORATA – The Italian flower carpet procession

I am just back from the small town of Lubriano in northern Lazio. I went for the Infiorata, the flower carpet procession held for the Ascension.

Food stylist and cookbook author Alice Adams Carosi has a home in Lubriano. I was lured there by her blog post about the Infiorata: “From the church of the Madonna del Poggio all the way to the end of the village, the road is covered with a myriad of petalled plots, some larger, others smaller, some intricate, others geometric blocks of colour and religious symbols, the velvety yellow of the Ginestra, poppy red, and a million hues of local roses, carted onto the street in buckets, baskets and crates.”

Many Italian towns celebrate Ascension or Corpus Domini with an Infiorata. Spello in Umbria and Noto in Sicily are famous for the tradition. Lubriano’s Infiorata is a much more local event, so beware – it’s a truly ephemeral experience: as soon as the people taking part in the procession have walked across the flower carpets, the petals are swept away. Best make sure to be in town by 10.30am.


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Cheese & Wine at the ‘Corzano e Paterno’ farm

Halfway between Siena and Florence, there is a little farm that seems to have been sitting on its hill forever. Fattoria Corzano e Paterno produces excellent wine and olive oil, and a variety of Tuscan sheep cheeses that I can never resist.

The history of the farm is interesting. It was founded by the Swiss architect turned farmer Wendel Gelpke in the early ‘70ies. Today Corzano e Paterno is run by two of his daughters, the sisters Sibilla and Arianna, his nephew Aljoscha and their respective families.

I usually stop at the farm shop for the delicious Buccia di Rospo, but never manage to leave without some fresh ricotta and a serving of Rocco, an excellent fresh goat cheese.


The shop is open from Monday to Friday 9am to 6pm, and Saturday 9am to 1pm in summer and from 9am to 1pm during the rest of the year.  Book ahead for tours, wine and cheese tastings and light lunches.


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Canoeing on a Tuscan river

The Italian coastline does not need an introduction. But have you ever explored one of the country’s rivers? After 30 years in Italy, I finally ventured onto the Ombrone River in Southern Tuscany.

The Ombrone crosses the Parco della Maremma nature reserve before joining the Tyrrhenian sea south of Grosseto. The park is a bird watching paradise, but also a place to spot wild boars and deer, and the local guides are happy to point out all the lesser known fauna and flora.

The canoes – joined together in pairs – are very stable and make for a safe activity for families with children. The Silva cooperative organizes different types of tours at dawn, in the afternoon and during full moon. My favourite one is, of course, the sunset paddle that includes a glass of white wine. The canoes are equipped with an electric motor if your group gets tired of rowing back upstream.

CANOE TOURS in the Maremma Park

Prices range from 20 to 35€ per person depending on activity (reduced rates for children up to 12 years).  Bring a hat, sunscreen and bottled water, and combine it with a bike ride or a swim.


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