The Hotel Windsor

Our wonderful trip to Victoria was coming to an end and one of the things we had planned for our last day was Afternoon Tea at The Hotel Windsor. Established in 1883, this magnificent building was then known as The Grand Hotel and soon became recognised as the most stylish and luxurious accommodation in Melbourne.

The property changed hands in 1886 and soon after, under the influence of the temperance movement’s teetotal ideals at the time, became The Grand Coffee Palace. Apparently, serving coffee isn’t quite as profitable as serving alcohol and ten years later, the liquor license was reinstated and The Grand Hotel was reborn. The name was changed to The Windsor following a luncheon attended by The Prince of Wales in 1923. Expansions, renovations and changes of ownership have ensued over the years and, under threat of demolition in 1976, the Victorian Government bought the hotel. As we stepped into the foyer, we were instantly transported to a time of elegance and etiquette.

The arched entrance to The Grand Ballroom features etched glass panes and cut ruby glass

and the cantilevered Grand Staircase, built of Stawell stone, rises 75 feet above the lobby.

Even the Ladies Powder Room has an air of grandeur.

The sumptuous One Eleven lounge is the setting for The Windsor’s Afternoon Tea, a Melbourne institution served since 1883.

The custom of afternoon tea is said to have originated around the time gas lighting was introduced in the 1800s in Britain. This meant people could stay up later and eat their evening meal later, leaving a longer gap without food. One of Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting is credited with the innovation when, in 1840, she began inviting friends to join her for afternoon beverages and delicious snacks. By 1880, the trend had spread to the homes of the upper classes and tea shops appeared across the country. After years of believing this to be called ‘High Tea’, I have discovered this is not the case. ‘High Tea’ was a substantial meal eaten at a high table by the working classes at the end of the day, around 5pm. What we were about to experience is known as ‘Low Tea’ in reference to the low drawing room tables the tea and delicacies were served from in upper class homes. By that definition, ours was probably ‘Middle Tea’. Greeted with a flute of sparkling wine, it wasn’t long before a three-tiered cake stand laden with mouthwatering morsels arrived.

The menu changes seasonally, our winter warm savoury appetisers were roasted Jerusalem artichoke tart with ricotta, thyme & fine herbs and parmesan crusted gougere with a delicious Gruyere filling.

There were three varieties of melt-in-your-mouth ribbon sandwiches; free range egg with saffron aioli & mustard,smoked chicken Waldorf salad with Victorian walnuts and cucumber with peperonata & Yarra Valley fetta.

The patisserie presentation was exquisite, we couldn’t decide which to devour first; the pistachio macaron with roasted pistachio & Sicilian pistachio ganache, the vanilla and yuzu religieuse with vanilla bean mousse, yuzu sauce, cremeux & almond sponge or the longchamp with milk chocolate mousse & crispy hazelnut praline.

On arrival, we were asked to choose from a selection of eleven teas which were now served in individual silver teapots with an accompanying pot of hot water for those of us who enjoy our brew on the weak side. Freshly baked traditional and raisin scones with housemade jam and double cream completed the indulgence.

The two hour session seems ample when booking but we could happily have lingered all afternoon.

Orvieto underground

While in Orvieto, we signed up for the tour underground, a fascinating insight into the lives of the inhabitants thousands of years ago. At the end of the 1970s, a landslide opened up a large hole a few hundred metres from the duomo, tempting a number of speleologists (a new word I have learnt meaning someone who studies caves) to investigate. They found an incredible underground world, dug by hand out of the tufa beneath the town, that had been forgotten. The beautiful Umbrian countryside accompanied us as we made our way to the entrance of the caves.

1.Orvieto

We found ourselves at the centre of medieval olive oil production, complete with millstones, a press, furnace and mangers for the animals working the grindstones.

2.grinding stone

3.olive press

Intriguing tunnels led in all directions, beckoning us to investigate further.

The Etruscans created cisterns for holding rainwater and very deep narrow wells in search of underground springs. There are small notches on the two longest sides called pedarole, footholds to enable someone to climb down and out again.

10.well

The tour continued, revealing more grottoes that had a variety of uses such as wine storage and pottery kilns, over twelve hundred have been discovered.

11.caves

The walls of some were covered in small cubic niches created to breed pigeons, now a classic dish of the local cuisine.

12.columbarium

16.columbarium

There are narrow tunnels at the back of the walls, just big enough for a person to pass on all fours. Unfortunately, their destinations remain unknown, the mystery secured by centuries of landslides.

Every so often, light streamed in from openings in the cliff and we were treated to another glimpse of the spectacular vista.

19.view

There seemed to be an endless labyrinth of tunnels, stairs and passageways intersecting in all directions.

25.tunnels

Thank goodness we had a guide, we may never have made it back.

26.view

Grotte di Castro

On our way to Bolsena for a lakeside lunch, we stopped to explore the town of Grotte di Castro. The Etruscans lived here quite happily, even after the Romans conquered in the 3rd century BC. That all changed when the Lombards invaded in the 8th century and the inhabitants, deprived of all their possessions, were forced to live in the many caves around the cliffs. Fast forward to 1537 when the town was bought by the Farnese family and became part of the Duchy of Castro. Hence the name, meaning Caves of Castro. We parked on the outskirts and wandered along Via Vittorio Veneto

to the main square, Piazza Cavour. The colourful buildings added some brightness to the overcast day and the war memorial stands proudly as a centrepiece.

5.Piazza Cavour6.Piazza Cavour

We caught glimpses of Lake Bolsena between the houses,

10.Lake Bolsena

some of which must have magnificent views.

11.Grotte di Castro12.Grotte di Castro13.Grotte di Castro

This is the best way to traverse the narrow, cobbled streets.

We continued on foot through the older part of town

20.Town Hall

21.Grotte di Castro

before returning to the car for the short drive to Bolsena.

22.Grotte di Castro

The vision of Grotte di Castro from the road as we left was stunning

23.Grotte di Castro24.Grotte di Castro25.Grotte di Castro26.Grotte di Castro27.Grotte di Castro

along with another enticing scene of Lake Bolsena.

28.Lake Bolsena

Liquid Light

While in Melbourne last year, we were fortunate to see the Liquid Light: 500 years of Venetian Glass exhibition at the NGV. The island of Murano in Venice has been home for hundreds of years to local artisans who have created the world famous Venetian glass. Evidence of glassmaking in Venice has been found as early as the 7th century but it wasn’t until the mid 15th century that Murano glassmaker Angelo Barovier produced a new glass formula, named cristallo, for its resemblance to rock crystal. The elaborate designs and vibrant colours have changed over the years but the exquisiteness is a constant.

1.installation

A new form of decoration called vetro a filigrana (filigree glass) emerged in the mid 16th century. Canes of white glass are embedded into the cristallo, the result is stunning.

4.wine glass & decanter 1880

Another process that was developed around this time produced an opaque white glass, known as lattimo. It became popular in the 18th century when it was used to imitate porcelain.

5.bottle & bowl

The earlier wine glasses weren’t a lot different to those we use today,

8.goblet 1880

except for the goblets with the ornately embellished stems. I would be very nervous drinking my wine from one of these.

The Venetian glass industry suffered a decline in the 17th century in the wake of a financial crisis following the Italian plague of 1629-1631. A less expensive version of Venetian-style glass emerged and undercut the market for the authentic cristallo. Things went from bad to worse with the Napoleonic Wars and the industry all but collapsed by the mid 19th century. Fortunately, in 1866, The Venice and Murano Glass and Mosaic Company Ltd. was established and the glass making techniques of the 16th and 17th centuries were revived. It seemed that vases and jugs took on a simpler form

16.ewer 1880

although the same can’t be said for this candelabrum.

17.Candelabrum 1880

Moving into the 20th century, the same techniques were used to produce some beautiful, elegant pieces. Designed by Swedish Tyra Lundgren in 1938, this leaf dish is made with very fine vetro a fili decoration (white glass threads).

18.Venini & Co leaf dish 1950

In the 1960s, Dale Chihuly was one of the first Americans to study glassmaking in Venice and in 1969, established the Pilchuk Glass School in Washington where he worked with Toots Zynsky and Richard Marquis. Chihuly began his Macchia series in the 1980s, named for the speckled effect of colours in the shell-like forms (macchia is Italian for spot).

19.Macchia series 198220.Macchia, Dale Chihuly 1993

The vivid colours of the fine glass canes in this fascinating piece by Toots Zynsky were inspired by the plumage of exotic African birds.

21.Toots Zynsky 1990

The name of the Marquiscarpa series is a combination of Richard’s surname and that of Carlo Scarpa to pay homage to the Italian architect. The footed platters have an intriguing mosaic appearance, created using glass canes sliced into cross sections.

22.Marquiscarpa #9, 1991

In the 21st century, the Venetian glass industry has to compete with the incursion of cheaper imports. Hopefully, ongoing collaborations between Muranese workshops and outside artists will secure its future.

Orvieto

A scenic thirty minute drive from Montepozzo, the Etruscan hilltop town of Orvieto was the perfect destination for a day trip. Vertical tufa cliffs support the ancient buildings in spectacular fashion and the remains of original defensive walls are still standing.

1.Orvieto

After parking the car in Piazza Marconi, we walked a short distance to Piazza del Duomo, a huge square dominated by the magnificent Orvieto Cathedral. Not surprisingly, the construction lasted three centuries from the laying of the flagstone in November 1290.

2.Duomo di Orvieto

The design and style evolved from Romanesque to Gothic as it progressed, the side walls are a striking contrast of white travertine and grey basalt stone.

3.Duomo di Orvieto

The golden façade is stunning with intricate designs and detail and four bronze statues of the Angel, the Lion, the Eagle and the Ox symbolise the Evangelists. The three bronze doors, depicting mercies from the life of Christ, replaced the original wooden doors in 1970. Above the middle door, the sculpture of the Madonna and Child was created in 1347.

4.Duomo di Orvieto

13.Duomo di Orvieto12.Duomo di Orvieto

We didn’t go inside the cathedral, we had tickets for a tour underground instead but that’s another story. Orvieto has a strong papal history with five popes taking refuge there during the 13th century. Palazzo Soliano was built in 1297 and once a papal residence, is now home to the Museo Emilio Greco, dedicated to the artist who designed the cathedral doors and showing 100 of his works.

14.Palazzo Soliano

The small Church of San Giacomo all’Ospedale is now used as a venue for exhibitions. The building behind the church was a hospice for poor people and pilgrims established in 1187.

15.Chiesa di San Giacomo Maggiore

On the opposite side of the piazza are a row of houses where priests used to reside

16.Piazza del Duomo

and a fascinating clock tower. Built as a time clock for the cathedral construction site, it was originally a sundial in 1347 because there was no mechanical clock available. The bronze automaton on top, the earliest documented clock in Europe, was added two years later. The figure swings its body and strikes the bell with its hammer on the hour to let the workers know when it is time to knock off. The medieval word for a construction site was muriccio, hence it is now known as Maurizio Tower.

17.Maurizio Tower

We left the piazza and wandered along Via del Duomo past vibrant shops and intriguing alleys.

23.vicolo

27.vicolo31.Via del Duomo

After quenching our thirst

we ventured on. Torre del Moro stands 47 metres high exactly in the city centre. Built by the Della Terza family at the end of the 13th century, we would certainly have climbed the 250 steps for a 360° view had we known.

35.Torre del Moro

The Church of Sant’Andrea on the Piazza della Repubblica dates back to the 12th century and has a unique dodecagonal bell tower.

Adjacent to the church, the Town Hall is from the same era but has been enlarged and restored up until 1600.

38.Palazzo Comunale

We walked through the central arch onto Via Garibaldi, it seems no road is too narrow for the local buses.

On the other side of the arch

42.rear of Palazzo Comunale

we couldn’t resist lunch at Ristorante Il Cocco and the opportunity to sample one of Orvieto’s specialties, pigeon.

43.Ristorante Il Cocco

Deliciously sated, we continued along Via Garibaldi

47.Via Garibaldi

and wended our way down narrow, stone streets

48.Orvieto

to the ancient church of San Giovanni and the piazza of the same name.

49.Chiesa di San Giovanni50.Piazza San Giovanni

Just past the church, we followed the Vicolo Malcorini,

51.Vicolo Malcorini

rewarded with stunning vistas to the left

57.Orvieto58.Orvieto

and a tumble of homes to the right.

59.Medieval Quarter

The Medieval Quarter is a maze of steep, narrow streets and houses seem to defy gravity atop rocky cliffs.

61.Medieval Quarter

65.Medieval Quarter

We explored further with the feeling we had stepped back in time, having both fallen in love with Orvieto.