Hanoi – Shining Ritual

Hanoi – Shining Ritual

I do love a bit of tradition, especially tradition that has a gentle message. Recently while staying at the elegant Metropole Hanoi hotel (Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi), just strolling through the corridors of the original building (built in 1901 by the French colonists) you can see and feel the essence of Indochine and hope to understand this (first) luxury hotel built in the city.

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The hotel has a few famous ghosts that shuffle through the corridors when the lights go off and guests are tucked between their immaculate cotton bed linen. Rich dark brown timbers creak mildly underfoot in the rooms and the walls wear the patina of stories told and sold.

Author of many fine books, Graham Greene including The Quiet American spent time here (Suite 228)working on his books and watching the last days of the decline of French colonisation and CIA intrigue. This book and the film has endured and like the French (here from 1887-1954) has left its mark on Hanoi.

The hotel has also outlived its original owners, the colonisers, the CIA, the Japanese, the Chinese, Americans, Australians and all others who came to snatch a slice of Vietnam.

The Metropole Hanoi is a much-loved hotel and I met a man who had been staying here annually since the early 80s. He recalled then that there was a food shortage, and the staff of the hotel were too shy (call that scared) to talk to guests because of the culture of spies that flitted in and out of the shadows as Vietnam began to consolidate as a communist country after a bloody and bitter conflict that lasted from 1955-1975.

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There’s a short tour to be had at the hotel where much of the past is recorded in panels. There’s the famous image of Jane Fonda and her visit here with an anti-war message and also Joan Baez stayed here and was present during a hideously long bombing raid across Hanoi over Christmas in 1972. The United States Airforce unleashed Operation Linebacker II, its most intensive bombing campaign since WWII.

Baez and the hotel staff spent 11 nights of the bombardment in an underground bunker crammed with 40 people.

This small network of cells (below) is under the hotel’s back courtyard and was only unearthed during renovations in 2011. Now there’s a new and sad tradition that invited guest into the bunkers narrow rooms where they listen to a crackly, fuzzy tape recording of the bombing and the screams of a mother calling for her son.

Baez based her famous anti-war song Where Are You Now My Son on this incident and partly recorded it in the shelter. The music is punctuated by the thumps of bombs hitting the ground.

Vietnam has weathered many a squall and indeed centuries of storms – and lives and thrives to move on.

The Metropole Hanoi has withstood much and has kept its sense of style, its good manners, and is a shining example of what true hospitality is.

The Shining Ritual

And talking of shining, one of the charming traditions carried out every day at the hotel is the Shining Ritual.

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The Shining Ritual indicates Sofitel’s refinement and unveils the secret of excellence through recurrent cleaning and polishing of the Sofitel Legend nameplate located at the hotel entrance.

Every day, hotel staff perform the Shining ritual using a red velvet towel and green tea to clean the brass plate and the bronze gong. In the past, only Royal families had access to velvet, a material symbolising luxury, elegance, quality and beauty. Red is the colour of luck, happiness and success. Green tea, besides having healthy benefits is also a cleaning agent in Vietnamese households.

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The Gong, a musical instrument used by most highland ethnic groups in Vietnam, is believed to link people to the spiritual world and is also representative of Vietnam culture as a whole.

Writer Bev Malzard, stayed two nights in the divine Metropole, enjoyed a feast of a breakfast and an afternoon tea to write home about – which she will do as soon as she has shed the three kilos that curiously attached to her body after a three-hour High Tea. Mon dieu!

He insisted he was the most handsome of the two? You choose. I know I made my choice.

 

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ART – seeking silos

ART – seeking silos

Silo, so high, so far

Outdoor art is the art of the 21st century. Graffiti has graduated!

The Silo Art Trail that snakes through the wheat belt of Victoria is an inspired outdoor gallery. A couple of hours outside Ballarat and you are on your way.

The concept of having the towering (up to 27m), cylindrical concrete towers as the canvas for murals started with Guido van Helten’s stupendous ‘Farmer Quartet’ in the tiny town of Brim. Wheat silos define the landscape here and honouring the farmers and the history of the silos engaged the entire community – and it was lift off.

Shaun Hossach of Juddy Roller Studios proclaims himself as a ‘one-man unionist’ and does the leg work, negotiating and planning for the casual collective of Australian artists. He originally worked with GrainCorp (major sponsor), Taubmans Paints (the paint supplier), Creative Victoria and got the Government Drought Communities involved in the silo project.

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Silo mural by Julia Volchkova on the Silo Art Trail in Rupanyup, Victoria

GrainCorp’s Luke O’Donnell says that the company is proud to sponsor the Silo Art Trail and more. “GrainCorp supply the decommissioned silos as the canvas, and regard the whole process as a perfect way to hold on to the important legacy that the structures represent and reinvigorate these towns”, he says.

First stop heading north on the 200km trail is at Rupanyup with a double modern silo decorated by Russian artist Julia Volchkova. Seeing the scope of breadth of the art works it’s obvious that this type of work is not for sissies. Cherry pickers have to be ‘driven’. The artists work in all weather, alone, and at a great height at the top of the canvas.

Next stop at Sheep Hills is a four-silo effort by Adnate of children of the local indigenous clan. To be dwarfed by the four lifelike faces is a privilege.

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Mural portraits by Adnate in Sheep Hills, Victoria, on the Silo Art Trail.

And next at Brim is the extraordinary Farmers Quartet. The vision is almost overwhelming with the subtle hues of the landscape blossoming into four characters of the region humbly portrayed. Real people modelled for this and are the modest celebrities of the shire.

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Silo mural of four locals by Guido van Helten in Brim, Victoria. Used as backdrop for episodes of 2017 Masterchef.

Further into The Mallee, in Lascelles is the two-silo artwork by Rone. Here is a man and a woman, fourth generation farmers curving around the soaring towers and as part of the landscape as the mallee root tree.

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Top of the trail is at Patchewollock – a town to dwindling prominence that is the most isolated on the trail. Fintan Magee chose a subject from the only pub in town on his first night in Patchewollock: farmer Nick Hulland who is a reluctant pinup. But he says if it helps the town – he’s happy.

Other work is in preparation for the Silo Art Trail and silos in other states have put their hand up for attention.

We wonder what Norman Mailer (see reference below) would say if he had the good fortune to witness this original and exciting art.

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Now, here’s a silo that could do with a good lashing of paint!

Visit: http://www.siloartrail.com

ART seeking silos

 

THE NEW, OLD ART

Guerilla art is now great art. Walls become artworks and silos the grand canvasses of rural towns. Once was graffiti, is now urban engagement and licence to paint the town red.

It probably began 45,000 years ago in Australia; community minded fellas worked their magic art on to the walls of caves to let passing nomads see what food was available, attractions in the region and objects to be found or maybe just to show off their talent. Rock art galleries started it all.

For thousands of years, human beings have made their mark upon plain surfaces, from stick men to tag-style graffiti.

And when someone criticized the wall vandals of the 80s with the sentence “Punks can’t spell Cappuccino”, that phrase became official graffiti and the wall expression medium had arrived, evolved and gained acceptance by the less-than-art- critical-public.

Pre ‘acceptable’ wall art in New York City, of the 70s gave birth to excessive public graffiti – think subway trains. In one of his essays back in the day, Norman Mailer said New York subway graffiti is “the great art of the 70s”. And it burned brightly until Mayor Ed Koch. elected on a clean-up-the-city every which way platform, scrubbed clean the city. By the mid-80s NYC graffiti had faded quietly and what was left or came later became the acceptable norm.

Across the Atlantic, enigmatic artist Banksy launched his wall art career in his home town, Bristol. Stencils became his medium as his art gained notoriety on a big scale in the late 1990s.

Banksy’s work (below) sneaks up on you. Characteristic of the works are the obvious digs at hypocrisy, violence, greed and authoritarianism but pathos and whimsy are in the creative makeup too.

There have been plaintiff cries of outrage that some of Banksy’s work has been painted over by other artists. No worries. His works and the art of most wall art specialists are not forever, just a fleeting expression from the artists and the topic de jeur.

And at home wall art has changed the urban ‘artscape’ and rural regions. Australia is engaged with a stunning variety of wall/outdoor art that crept in stealthily during the late 90s too. Melbourne had the wall art advantage first up because of the surviving laneways in the inner city. And some of the most creative artists have emerged from the southern capital.

Sydney was a slow starter but every week another piece of excellent art appears on the walls in and around the inner west and on the edge of the CBD. Without a lot of laneways remaining due to concentrated development, the older suburbs snatched the prize.

                      Melbourne.

The big winners for wall art are the small cities and rural towns of Australia with their untouched walls. Professional wall artists including Matt Adnate, Guido van Helten, Kaff-eine, Resio, Rone, Cam Scale and Makatron are working on walls way out of the city and enriching the life of country towns.

The south east Queensland ‘garden city’ of Toowoomba has held the First Coat festival for four consecutive years and through the laneways and backstreets, artists from near and far and embellished blank spaces. Toowoomba has created a home for beautiful works and the weekend festival is now on the party calendar.

       Toowoomba.

Victoria’s Benalla (Rural Street Art Capital) has had monumental success with its Wall to Wall festival since inception in 2015. See blog post from July 3 on the report on the Benalla Wall to Wall festival.

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Writer, Bev Malzard hanging about in Melbourne, the Chrissie Amphlett Lane.

Copyright Bev Malzard (Sections of this article have been published previously in the Financial Review Weekend and Travellers Choice Discover magazine.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vienna – can I have this dance?

Vienna – can I have this dance?

A museum of the waltz king

Johann Strauss-Denkmal, Stadtpark

Only Vienna could do a museum like this justice. The Johann Strauss Dynasty Museum in the ninth district is the first museum in the world to focus on the history and artistic output of the entire Strauss clan: from Johann Strauss the Elder and the waltz king Johann Strauss the Younger to his two brothers Josef and Eduard. Visitors can also look forward to an impressive range of pictures and documents that bring Biedermeier-era Vienna to life. Audio stations dotted throughout the museum give fans a chance to listen to popular and less well known pieces from the family canon as often as they like, without interruption.

Tanzszene in Dommayers Casino

Johann Strauss (1825-1899), known to family and friends as Schani, his father Johann and his brothers Josef and Eduard took the world by storm with their music. With 1,500 works between them, from Die Fledermaus and The Radetzky March to the Blue Danube Waltz,  they embody Viennese music like no others. Their waltz and operetta melodies can be heard in the capital’s concert halls throughout the year as well as at the traditional New Year’s Concert which is broadcast all over the world from the Golden Hall of the Musikverein.

Strauss, Karikatur Josef und seine Brüder

It goes without saying that there is a Johann Strauss monument in Vienna. This golden statue of the waltz king playing his violin can be found in the Stadtpark, a short distance from the Kursalon. The Vienna Philharmonic played at its unveiling in 1921 and today it is one of the most photographed sights in the city. Johann Strauss II composed Vienna’s unofficial anthem The Blue Danube in an apartment at Praterstrasse 54 in the second district in 1867 where he lived with his first wife Jetty from 1863-1870. In addition to original furnishings and period instruments, exhibits include everyday objects from the great musician’s estate as well as portraits, photos, and documents on his life and work. The waltz king was laid to rest at Vienna’s legendary Central Cemetery, near the graves of Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms and Johann Strauss the Elder.

Hofball-Musikdirektor Johann Strauss mit seiner Kapelle

Visit: www.austria.info

 

First steps

The waltz began as a dance of rebellion, embraced by teens and sneered at by conservative parents. When the dance first whirled through the ballrooms of Vienna, it caused an outrage and marked a decisive shift in European social customs.

The dance’s origins are probably humble. Its name comes from walzen— “to turn” in German—and may have developed out of the folk music of Austria’s western Tyrol region (although some authors associate its choreography with the volta, a 16th-century couples dance). Whatever its exact origin, by the late 1700s the waltz spread throughout Europe. The dance craze was particularly popular among young people from the wealthy middle classes, the perfect expression of a new, confident bourgeoisie, who were discarding the aristocratic customs of their elders.

A scene from 1774 novel The Sorrows of Young Werther, by J. W. von Goethe, describes a ball that begins with stuffy minuets until a new tune is struck: “When the waltz commenced, and the dancers whirled around each other in the giddy maze . . . Never did I dance more lightly. I felt myself more than mortal, holding this loveliest of creatures in my arms, flying, with her as rapidly as the wind, till I lost sight of every other object.”

In 1833 a British manual of good manners recommended only married women should dance it, as it was too immoral for the unwed.

SPAIN: Mad for Madrid

SPAIN: Mad for Madrid

It seems that travellers are mad for Spain at the moment, and why not, cities brimming with history, aromatic with the scents of flowers and amazing food and the time-honoured hospitality of this grand old country that is so much more than the sum of its parts.

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Following is a short trip down memory lane from a couple of years back and a short but sweet 48 hours in Madrid.

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Platea Madrid.

Arriving in Madrid on a pleasant end of a summer day, we drove along tree-lined streets and were delivered to the hotel Villa Magna in the elegant Salamanca barrio (precinct). This is the time when jet-lag kicks in but it’s too exciting being in a new city and it’s afternoon – lunch time, yay.

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The fabulous Mercado de San Miguel where all sorts of divine food is at your disposal.

And this is how the eating frenzy began. First stop was a five-minute walk from the hotel to the beautifully restored and beloved Platea Madrid. The old art deco theatre has had new life breathed into it and has become a fragrant complex of tapas bars, Michelin starred restaurants and snack bars with rustic market-style décor. A cooling ale and a plate of potatas bravas (fried chunks of potato with spicy, paprika ridden tomato sauce), small bites of battered cod and some succulant slices of jamon iberico – I was hooked.

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Jamon Iberica.

And an early dinner eschewed. This was the funny part of the trip – our timing was not always conducive to being ‘hungry’. Breakfast isn’t a big deal here. Coffee and a little pastry maybe or two coffees. Lunch is from anywhere between 2pm and 4pm and if you are on a schedule, you’ll find yourself having dinner within a couple of hours after a banquet of a lunch.

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Normally, a little tapas bar has one or two specialties – this one featured grilled or stuffed mushrooms and fried chillies – and of course slices of jamon . . .

So after a quick change in my room and a serious count of the threads in the cotton sheets, we were off to  nearby Tatal, a fancy restaurant owned by Rafael Nadal and Julios Ingelsias (both of then stood us up for a shared plate). The restaurant started filling up and by the time we left at 10pm (early by local standards) the place was packed with well-dressed patrons – and a week night too.

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The following day was a series of long walks through the beautiful Buen retro Park, a visit the famous Museo Nacional Del Prado to view extraordinary paintings and sculptures by Spanish artists (Goya, Picasso, Velasquez for starters, shopping for espadrilles, finding just the right cake for afternoon tea and a final jaunt around town on a Tapas Tour – a definite must for food lovers.
Ah, Madrid, it was short, it was sweet but oh, so fine!

DSC01010With more espadrilles than you can tip toe around, they are the authentic design and made here in Madrid. Writer Bev Malzard struck it lucky when her sandals broke and she just HAD to buy three pair of espadrilles – as you do!

Where the art is – try a country town

Where the art is – try a country town

What was guerilla art is now great art. Walls become artworks and sleepy lanes and behind the scene walls and silos the grand canvasses of rural towns. Once was graffiti, is now urban engagement and licence to paint the town red.

It probably began 45,000 years ago in Australia; community minded fellas worked their magic art on to the walls of caves to let passing nomads see what food was available, attractions in the region and objects to be found or maybe just to show off their talent. Rock art galleries started it all.

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For thousands of years, human beings have made their mark upon plain surfaces, from stick men to tag-style graffiti.

And when someone criticized the wall vandals of the 80s with the sentence “Punks can’t spell Cappuccino”, that phrase became official graffiti and the wall expression medium had arrived, evolved and gained acceptance by the less-than-art-critical-public.

Melbourne art works.

Pre ‘acceptable’ wall art in New York City, of the 70s gave birth to excessive public graffiti – think subway trains. In one of his essays back in the day, Norman Mailer said New York subway graffiti is “the great art of the 70s”. And it burned brightly until Mayor Ed Koch. elected on a clean-up-the-city every which way platform, scrubbed clean the city. By the mid-80s NYC graffiti had faded quietly and what was left or came later became the acceptable norm.

Melbourne outdoor art.

Across the Atlantic, enigmatic artist Banksy launched his wall art career in his home town, Bristol. Stencils became his medium as his art gained notoriety on a big scale in the late 1990s.

Banksy’s work sneaks up on you. Characteristic of the works are the obvious digs at hypocrisy, violence, greed and authoritarianism but pathos and whimsy are in the creative makeup too.

And at home, wall art has changed the urban ‘artscape’ and rural regions. Australia is engaged with a stunning variety of wall/outdoor art that crept in stealthily during the late 90s too. Melbourne had the wall art advantage first up because of the surviving laneways in the inner city. And some of the most creative artists have emerged from the southern capital.

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Sydney was a slow starter but every week another piece of excellent art appears on the walls in and around the inner west and on the edge of the CBD. Without a lot of laneways remaining due to concentrated development, the older suburbs snatched the prize.

The big winners for wall art are the small cities and rural towns of Australia with their untouched walls.

In previous blogs I have attended the amazing First Coat Festival in the Queensland tidy town of Toowoomba. I’ve followed wall art festivals to Wollongong south of Sydney, wandered the lanes of Melbourne and followed the fabulous Silo Art Trail in Victoria.

And once you get an interest in wall art/outdoor art there’s no turning back – you see it everywhere and become fans of certain artists. And when you see them at work and converse with them, you’ll find a group of young people who are modest, amiable and happy to share the love of this medium.

My last excursion into the rural artistic enclaves of Australia was to Benalla in Victoria for the /Wall to Wall’ Festival last March, the second one held there.

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Benalla is a small city located on the Broken River in the High Country north-eastern region of Victoria, Australia, about 212km north-east of the state capital Melbourne. At the 2016 census the population was 9,298.

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We drove from Sydney and overnighted at the pretty town of Rutherglen just over the border after driving through Albury.

Benalla is a town of character with great coffee shops a bakery that boasts numerous wards for having the best Vanilla Slice in Australia, good restaurants, beautiful Botanic Gardens and a splendid regional art galley.

We hit the street running to take in as many artworks as possible. Best view was watching the artists at work. They seem so small against the large canvasses they work on.

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Benalla Art Gallery.

Outside of Benalla is a slip of a siding town called Goorambat where there a silo has been painted and in a wee Uniting church Matt Adnate has created the portrait Sophia’ which has become a local attraction.

‘Sophia’ by Matt Adnate.

I would encourage anyone to take the time out to get outta your city and explore our wonderful country towns as they are leading the way to colour in the bland residue of the dusty past. The towns are coming back to life and with the extraordinary support of the locals and visitors, they are more than an Aussie country town – they are performing on the world stage where art trails and maps are exposing the talent of the new breed of artists painting the town red!

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Writer Bev Malzard nearly expired in the heat of the Benalla Wall to Wall weekend and hopes it might be a little later than March next year. BUT find out for yourself and keep in touch with what’s going on throughout the year in the town of the great vanilla slice – and yes, of course she ate one.

Visit: http://www.enjoybenalla.com.au Wall to Wall

 

Sydney: gets its glamp on!

Sydney: gets its glamp on!

Mmmm, damn traffic first thing in the morning. It’s only 7am. I open my eyes, crawl out of bed and check what is outside my accommodation. It’s a hydrofoil gliding past me on Sydney Harbour.
Waking up on an island in the harbour is a world away from one of the great cities of the planet. I’m on Cockatoo Island a mere ferry ride from the ‘mainland’ and the gateway city to Australia, Sydney, and sitting in a tent on an island that is chock full of history, a multi-layered past, a modern invitation and the odd ghost or two.
It is the largest island in the harbour (UNESCO World-Heritage- listed) that is up for a visit, a stay and the past and present to explore.
I’m in a cool little two-person tent on stretch bed, covered in a fluffy Donna, windows / flaps up to let the sunshine and the moonlight in. I’m ‘glamping’.

Cockatoo Island glamping sunset
With winter almost upon Sydney, it’s the perfect time to come glamping on Cockatoo Island. Cool nights and sunny, blue sky days lend themselves to walks around the island to see each site where the history is on display. Nights are spent around the fire pit meeting new friends before zipping up for the night.


There are lovely apartments to stay in too up on the top of the island and a home for families to fill.
Cockatoo Island was called Wareamah by the original people, of the Eora Nation.
The Eora people would paddle canoes from the mainland to the island to perform sacred ceremony. After colonisation the indigenous people were relegated to remote parts of the mainland.

Cockatoo Island campground
During the years of early colonisation the island was a convict precinct with an horrendous prison history and you can see the amazing work done on the huge sandstone cuts done by hand by prisoners living on water and one meal a day between 1839-1869. Explore the sad, solitary cells and be grateful you weren’t around then – especially as a villain.


The precinct also housed some unfortunate girls in the reform school. The Biloela site is where you might meet your first ghosts.
The island was a productive and important as a major shipbuilding centre. There are fascinating tales to be read here of the dockyard workers.
The industrial, colonial and maritime history are part and parcel of the wonderful Cockatoo Island experience.

Enjoy Lunch at Societe Overboard
It’s also a fab venue for special events and festivals ( check out the website).
Visit the Dog Leg Tunnel Cinema and see historical videos of Cockatoo Island; activities for hire include tennis, basketball, quoits and croquet; you can watch volunteers bring the island’s machinery back to life at the Restoration Workshop; get your camera or your phone out to capture the gritty and grunty industrial buildings and the beautiful vistas of the surrounding harbour – share the images #cockatooisland; enjoy cafe life in one of the cafes and there are free electric barbecues near the Visitors Centre.


It’s free to enter the island and the ferry is caught at Circular Quay.
So what do you fancy? Cosy glamping or perhaps luxury accommodation in a heritage house or apartment. Maybe a night in each . . . . for a million dollar view.

Writer Bev Malzard was a guest of the Harbour Trust’s Cockatoo Island. She walked the island during the day but was a scaredy cat and didn’t do the ghost walk.
FACT There are no cockatoos on Cockatoo Island.

Visit: Cockatoo Island

NSW transport

Inside the glamping tent, Cockatoo Island Credit - Geoff Magee

How to explore Umbria, Italy

How to explore Umbria, Italy

If it wasn’t for the Etruscans, there might not be olive oil or wine in this region of Italy. Let’s head to the hilltop fortress towns of Umbria and enjoy the legacy of the ancient invaders.

It had been a carb-overload lunch hosted by chef and pastamaking teacher Lorenzo Polegri, a showman and a man of smiles and passion as he demonstrated how to perfect the art of pasta making. None of us in our group were very talented but who cares? We enjoyed our repast in Ristorante Zeppelin in the quiet midday ambience of the mediaeval Umbrian town of Orvieto.

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This town, a natural fortress, is one of the many glorious fortified towns and cities of the Umbrian region, which includes the spiritually robust Assisi, the glorious mystery of Perugia and this elegant site of Orvieto, all founded by the very late, lamented Etruscans who disappeared into the emerging Roman empire in the third century BC.

After eating food fit for Etruscan epicureans, we scattered to waddle into the narrow curved streets of this city bathed in autumnal afternoon light.

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Curving past small shops, drifting along, I lifted my eyes and saw the most confoundingly beautiful structure – a green and white striped cathedral – a bold statement against the stark blue sky – with intricate, delicate relief carvings on the capitals with sumptuous cornerstones. The bold marble panels adorn the façade and are respected as one of the masterpieces of the late Middle Ages. It may not be the biggest and the best in the world – but this striped beauty captured my heart.

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Orvieto Cathedral is one of Italy’s most celebrated cathedrals. The 14th century edifice was built between 1290 and 1500 and she shines as brightly as ever. Built under papal direction, the building is famous for its mosaic inlay facade.

Duomo di Orvieto is widely considered the most glorious example of Italian Gothic. A miracle is said to have occurred in 1263 in the nearby town of Bolsena, when a travelling priest who had doubts about the truth of transubstantiation found that his Host was bleeding so much that it stained the altar cloth. The cloth is now stored in the Chapel of the Corporal inside the cathedral.

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Next stop along the way on our escourted journey is the jewel of Umbria, Perugia. Perugia is the capital city of the region of Umbria and covers a high hilltop around the area. Another Etruscan beauty, Perugia is known for its universities (the first founded in 1308) and is celebrated for its culture and artistic pursuits.

The city has centuries of tumultuous religious and political (same thing then) history and all of it immersed in the stone here.

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The Rocca Paolina was the ‘underground’ city, built in 1373 at the then highest part of the town. The richest merchants of 16th century Perugia lived here but it was destroyed by local citizens in an uprising provoked by the Pope. The town disappeared but the streets have been uncovered and the mediaeval homes that were a platform for the new fortress are now on show.

The stone houses with Gothic doorways and tunnels look as if they are waiting for people to go about their daily business. The atmospheric route through the fortress by escalators take you through Rocca Paolina under the portico of Palazzo del Governo.

We headed out into the night and into the strange and curious labyrinthine streets underground. After ascending to ‘uptown Perugia’ to the historic centre, in a state of wonderment we found ourselves in the vigorous city of Perugia, with its night lights on and aromas enticing us into a 21st century pizza house.

Next stop across the Umbrian Valley is the mother ship of holy hilltop fortress cities: Assisi. Birthplace (in 1182) of Italy’s favourite saint, Francis, the city is always buzzing with pilgrims.

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Saint Francis and female favourite Saint Clare are the drawcards for the fans. The bodies of both saints were discovered in 1818 and luckily they hadn’t been tampered with by grave robbers. For centuries, holy relics had done great business across Europe.

So what is left (bones of Saint Francis) and preserved remains of Saint Clare is on show as the faithful and curious pass by in snaking queues through Basilica di Santa Chiara (where Clare is) and the Basilica di San Francesco.

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There are fine examples of Giotto’s frescoes and Cimabue’s painting to be viewed and other cultural attractions includes many little pottery statues of chubby monks and waving popes. And for fans of Norberto, the famous Umbrian painter, there’s a small gallery with an excellent variety of fine prints to aquire.

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It feels like we’ve ticked off the holy trinity of hill towns in Umbria and look forward to the next stop in Tuscany. More and more I appreciate the fact that we enjoy these splendid visits, and afterwards hop back on to a comfy coach which takes us to our next stop. So far we have been transported from Rome, taken to ‘secret places’, had intimate meals with welcoming local folk, and been invited into authentic experiences. Each night we have been put to bed, well fed and happy, in lovely hotels.

As we anticipate lunch and tastings of the local olive oil, and a meal of regional cooking in another handsome hill town – this time Spello, with its historic centre still enveloped by Roman walls. We stretch our legs in the coach, chat about the marvellous day we have had and agree that those Etruscans knew a thing or two about leaving an amazing legacy in Umbria.

Writer, Bev Malzard was hosted by Insight Vaations insightvacations.com.au and found the itinerary exciting and edifying. She recommends sampling gelato at every stop along the way. You will not be disappointed.