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Ravenna and Faenza

Claire from NY (Copley)

We are centered in Todi, Umbria and like to make short trips out. This time we decided to go to Ravenna, which I have always wanted to visit, to see the renowned mosaics.

We left early Saturday morning, stopping in Monterchi, just west of Sansepolcro, to see Piero della Francesca's Madonna del Pardo (the pregnant Madonna). Interestingly I didn't see this Mary the way all the guide books, and presumably art historians, did. She seems to me to be quite pensive, even troubled by her obligations to her supernatural child. She is at once adoring, respectful and weighted by the huge double burden of motherhood and faith. She is truly a sight to behold, and seeing her was a wonderful treat.


Arriving in Ravena about 1pn we checked into a lovely hotel just down the street from San Vitale, see the review below which I lifted from the SlowTrav web site and thoroughly appreciated!  We unpacked and immediately hit the streets. We headed for the the tourist information office off of the Via Cavour first where a lovely woman gave us a map and circled all the key mosaic sites. This helped enormously.

We had a quick salad at a cafe off the via Cavour then headed for San Vitale, which was to be the first stopping point on our tour of Ravena's mosaics. No words can describe the mosaics of San Vitale, nor for that matter of any of Ravena's six or seven key sites. The strange mixture of early Christianity and mystic vision is amazing, and the artistry of the mosaics is truly astonishing. It is all doable on foot and you get to know Ravena quite quickly.

After San Vitale we visited as many of the other mosaics as we could on foot. It was very hot but the whole "giro" could be done at a slow pace and still had us back at the hotel by seven. We rested and met friends for dinner.

We ate at Trattoria del Chilo, which we found in the book "Italy for the Gourmet Traveler" by Fred Plotkin. I don't know if my reaction to the restaurant was due to exhaustion or misguided ordering or if the restaurant was simply not up to it's recommendations. I wouldn't go there again, but we did see a very lively happy crowd at another on the corner of via Maggiore just outside the gate to the old city.

In the morning we had a lovely breakfast in the garden at the S. Andrea and drove out to see the Basilica di S. Appolinaire which is the only mosaic site you need a car to get to. I think this basilica is the second most beautiful church I have seen in Italy, the first being Orvieto, but I may have skewed taste and I certainly have not seen all that many churches in Italy relative to the number of churches that exist here. I prefer simple, grand churches which feel like sacred spaces and have fabulous art. This is one such place. The mosaics in and above the Apse of the church were even more beautiful than those we had seen the day before, or at least we thought so at the time. The morning sun helped, as did the music and smell of incense as we arrived just after mass on Sunday morning. All in all S. Appolinaire was a heady experience.


The heat was rising as we left Classe to find our way to Faenza. Our goal was the Ceramic's museum there. Finding our way back through Ravena and on a road which went in the right direction was very difficult and, unfortunately, time consuming.  If I were to do it over I would get very explicit directions from the nice young woman at the hotel before setting out. Anyway we finally found a road for Faenza and arrived about 12:15pm knowing that the museum would close for lunch. We bought our tickets and asked the ticket seller for a restaurant recommendation which might be open on Sunday. She sent us to Marianaza, on the Via Torricelli which was wonderful. The open fire grill and low key atmosphere, and a menu full of homemade pastas, grilled vegetables and local specialties was perfect for us and we ate a spectacular lunch and headed back to the museum.

On the way we thought we would stop at an open exhibition hall where the possibility of actually purchasing some ceramics lured us. Remember it was Sunday and the stores which would ordinarily be beckoning were all shut tight and their proprietors presumably at the beach where any sensible person would be on a Sunday in July when the temperature hovered around 100. Anyway, this stop was entirely useless as everything in the hall was completely forgettable.

Back at the museum we attempted to see it all but were driven out by the heat at around five o'clock. The collection is remarkable and entirely the best of it's kind anywhere. Any self respecting ceramics lover absolutely must spend a day at this museum, preferably in a cooler month.

The return to Todi took only about two hours and is a very easy drive on the E45.  Make this trip if you can - it is truly remarkable.

Ravenna Hotel Review

If you are looking for a wonderful hotel in Ravenna, look no further. This is it. The hotel is Hotel S. Andrea. It has only been open a month and so no one really knows about it yet. It is in the old section of Ravenna and thus well-located. It is beautiful. It was a 17th century residence. The owners recently sold it and the new owners completed renovated the inside and made it into a lovely, airy, 21st century hotel but not plastic or "big-time." There is a lovely outside lawn/garden area where they serve breakfast and have lounges, etc. There are two sizes of rooms plus 2 bedroom suites. Be sure to get a larger room as the smaller one is too small--at least I thought so. It was beautiful but small. The larger rooms are wonderful. It has a/c. Rates range from 120- 180 euro.

Hotel S. Andrea
via Carlo Cattaneo, 33, 48100 Ravenna
Tel: 39-0544-215564, Fax: 39-0544-33275

Claire has a vacation rental in Umbria, near Todi: www.rentlerondini.com

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