Today we have an interview guest who is just one of those people you can’t help but find fascinating. Alexandra has a multitude of backgrounds and interests – in fact, as you’ll see, she’s got a lot of titles to her name. Her perspective on art + travel is refreshing and I love how she is discovering new destinations, and in the process, rediscovering herself.
Could you introduce yourself?
I’m Alexandra Korey and I’m a travel blogger. Or an art historian. Or an art blogger. It sounds like a confession, and for me in some way it is. After years of graduate school and a short stint at being a professor, I finally revealed my name on my personal blog about art and travel in Italy, and then I moved full time into the travel writing business here in Florence, where I’ve lived for the past ten years or so.
Andy: Titles are overrated. I think you’re awesome. That’s enough.
You have a background in art, which must colour your view of travel. We’ve also featured travel and art before. Tell us more how you see these two intersect.
Art (or what we now consider art – sometimes it wasn’t intended as such in the past) is a reflection of the culture that produced it, and we encounter it just about everywhere we go. I tend to choose destinations that have a strong artistic heritage because I find the visual, in its many manifestations, to be highly instructive about the culture and space I’m exploring.
Where are the best places in the world to enjoy art?
I’ve traveled a fair amount in Europe and it’s always been a learning experience for me; I developed my passion for art history at a young age when my parents took me to France and I loved the Gothic Cathedrals. While later studying abroad in Italy I found my area of specialty, Italian Renaissance. I did a masters and a PhD in this field, and Florence, Italy is of course the best place to be when you want to be surrounded by Renaissance art! Not only do churches, painting, and sculpture abound, but the city has excellent primary documentation of their creation and of the people who lived here in that period.
There’s so much art in Florence that sometimes we get dazzled by the obvious things, the large works of architecture or the important paintings. I always suggest that people take the extra time to poke around in minor museums, like Palazzo Davanzati or Museo Bardini, which focus more on domestic art – i.e. things that might have been found in a patrician Renaissance home. Take a close look at the small things like a box or a knife and you’ll see that they are decorated as well as functional; it’s these objects that made me realize just how important the visual was for this culture… and still is. The same attention to detail still shows in some aspects of modern life, namely food preparation and artisan crafts.
On the other hand, I want to say that you can enjoy art wherever you are, even in your home town. The way we travel and see the world can and should influence the way we see “home”, wherever that is. Check what education programs are offered at your local gallery; you’ll find you can enrich your life through art without leaving home.
Andy: I couldn’t agree more – Florence and art go hand-in-hand.
You’re one of the “official” bloggers in Tuscany’s social media-based tourism campaign. I think Tuscany tends to be viewed in only one light (the Under the Tuscan Sun one, of course). Tell us, what is the real Tuscany to you?
You know, Under the Tuscan Sun is emotionally idealized (the self discovery, the ramshackle villa, the sexy men) but it’s otherwise not entirely untrue. It’s set in Cortona and the town really looks like that! Rolling green hills all around, quaint buildings and bars, friendly people. The only totally fake thing is the fountain in the piazza – there’s no fountain in Cortona, it was constructed for the film. Cortona has done a fantastic job dealing with its new-found fame; for a town of 1000 residents it’s got a good cultural offering and it hasn’t become terribly touristy, even if it can be crowded in the summer months.
To me, the “real” Tuscany is multi-faceted. It has four important art cities – Florence, Arezzo, Pisa, and Lucca – but just as important is the countryside that surrounds these cities. Tuscany is divided up into territorial areas of which the most famous is Chianti (namely for their famous wine). Others like the Val d’Orcia, Valdarno, Mugello, or Maremma are not household names. Each of these areas has its own characteristics, often linked to its geography, and each of them offers a different facet to be explored, be it through unique culinary traditions or through the stories of the people who live there. I’ve recently been exploring the Maremma area (west of Siena from the Amiata mountains to the coast), very slowly getting to know the towns, traditions, and people, and I must say it feels like a new discovery even though I’ve been in Tuscany for ten years.
Do you have any other suggestions for hidden, off beat spots in Italy outside of Tuscany that you can recommend?
Friuli is really off the tourist radar but the people are friendly and it’s an area with amazing natural beauty (Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, see their official tourism website). It is a border region through which you can access Slovenia or Austria. The town of Pordenone has a jewel of a historic center with painted house facades (there’s a 16th-century artist by the same name, he was from there of course); Udine and Trieste are also very unique, and San Daniele is where the best prosciutto comes from. Artistically, in the Renaissance this area developed a painting style that is quite different from the dominant Roman and Florentine trends due to its geographical isolation, so there are some parish churches with fabulous and not-very-Italian-looking frescoes.
What’s been your most inspirational travel experience?
This is a hard question to answer because I don’t tend to react to art or travel very emotionally (they train it out of you in grad school). But perhaps my most inspirational moments have been in places beyond my book knowledge. In a strange parallel, the Byodoin temple outside Kyoto (Japan) and the Megalithic mound at Newgrange (Ireland) both struck me in their simple beauty and ancient spirituality. Sometimes a place just gives you a feeling – in these two cases for me it was a one of release – that has nothing to do with everything you could learn from a book or website. And that’s why we travel.
Wow. I couldn’t agree more. That’s exactly why people should travel more: some things you just can’t learn at home. Thanks Alexandra for all these tips and Italy travel suggestions – I’m now dying to book a flight to Italy!
Folks, if you’d like to learn more about Alexandra you can visit her site, arttrav.com. You can also learn more about her Tuscany travels on the official blog for arts in Tuscany – they’re on Facebook too.
Photo copyright Alexandra Korey except sky vista (fotoyong,