Italy is utterly charming with seemingly endless cosmopolitan cities, fabulous food, amazing architecture, world famous cultural sights, cutting edge fashion and an abundance of outdoor adventures. To really get into the Italian way of life you need to spend several weeks in Italy – which is also a great excuse to return time and time again!
This capital of the Tuscany region buzzes with modern activity among its medieval backdrop and is the original birthplace of the Italian Renaissance period. The world’s largest dome built out of brick and mortar rests atop the Santa Maria del Fiore, a beautiful cathedral open to visitors. The Uffizi art museum in Florence is home to some of the world’s most famous art exhibits from great artists such as Michelangelo. Climb the Duomo for fantastic views over the city, relax in the Boboli Gardens and take in the view at the Piazzale Michelangelo. The whole historic district of Florence is closed off to vehicle traffic, so most sightseeing is to be done on foot. Due to the abundance of famous art, historic buildings and architecture, long lines can be expected when trying to experience them during Italy’s peak tourist season (spring and summer months). The Historic Centre of Florence has been UNESCO listed for 30 years now.
This beautiful set of five villages – Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso – is located amongst the vineyards and farms terraced out of the northern Italian Riviera coastline in the Liguria region. Car travel is impossible past a certain point, but hiking, taking the local train, and travelling by water are all great ways to experience Cinque Terre’s amazing scenery. Incidentally Cinque Terre means ‘Five Lands’ and the whole area is listed with UNESCO as an important region. Wine tasting and sampling the local seafood cuisine is a must. Picking up bottles of the local wines, the Cinque Terre white (dry) and sciacchetrà (sweet dessert), is a great way to bring back something special from this beautiful location.
The Cinque Terre region is known the world over for the fantastic hiking trails along the coastline. The routes are more special as they are off the beaten track – cars are strictly forbidden. Travellers must obtain a pass to hike the various routes. To get the most out of your visit use a local guide for your walking adventure or get a reliable self-guided itinerary. There are ‘easy’ walks suitable for all the family such as the Riomaggiore to Manarola path and the Manarola to Corniglia track. Corniglia to Vernazza is a little more demanding and the Vernazza to Monterosso trail is steep and recommended for fit experienced hikers.
This famous capital, headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church in the Vatican City, within a walled enclave in the center of Rome, is famous for its ancient Roman beginnings and the enormous amounts of churches, art, famous architecture, and its special religious significance. In the Vatican is the famous Pieta statue dubbed a must-see work of art, by Michelangelo Buonarroti, Rome is home to the ancient, medieval, baroque and modern. Some of the most famous paintings in the world are located in the Sistine Chapel. The Colosseum and other ancient monuments are grand reminders of the power the Roman Empire once held. Try tossing a coin into the famous Trevi Fountain for luck. The most comfortable time to visit is in the spring and fall, when the heat of the city is less oppressive. During important religious holidays, the city can be flooded with pilgrims. The Historic Centre of Rome has also been a World Heritage Site for over 30 years.
Try to time your visit with one of Rome’s cultural festivals such as the Roman Summer Festival which runs from late June to early September with plenty of music on offer such as rock, jazz and classical music. During September the White Night Festival is a must, with events, museums and shops open almost 24/7 with staged music, theatre and dance from the Roman Notte Bianca. Rome is a great place to spend Christmas as it really comes alive.
The City of the Canals which was founded in the 5th century is home to interesting architecture located on the Venetian lagoon. Hiring an iconic gondola, sampling the local cuisine, and viewing the elegant decay of the medieval Venetian architecture is a once in a lifetime experience. Venice most famous church St. Mark’s basilica is a beautiful example of opulent Byzantine architecture nicknamed the “Church of Gold”. When planning your visit to Venice, it is important to note when international festivals are going to take place as finding lodging and accomplishing your sightseeing can be impossible. Floods are a normal part of Venetian life and occur mostly in fall, though they can happen at any time. And if you’re here in February try to catch the Venice Carnevale which is a riot of colour, food and tradition. The 118 islands that comprise Venice are protected by UNESCO and the local artists such as Giorgione, Titian, Tintoretto and Veronese are highly revered. Venice is sadly also under threat and one of our must-see before it disappears locations.
One of the most famous fashion centers in the world, Milan is home to more than just the headquarters of many important designers. Opera buffs will be taken aback by the famous La Scala Opera House which holds guided tours (booked in advance) that offer a behind the scenes experience of this famous opera house. Fabulous shopping and unique dining experiences different from the stereotypical Italian cuisine can be found in Milan. Leonardo da Vinci’s famous Last Supper mural can be found at the Santa Maria della Grazie, the centuries-old church and Dominican convent. Explore the impressive gothic Duomo de Milan church which is one of the most beautiful churches in the world. The quadrilatero della moda is the section of Milan devoted to fashion and design, home to many Italian and International fashion houses. Milan’s climate is very humid, so visiting during the summer is only for those who enjoy hot sultry weather. Milan also plays hosts to the annual Monza Grand Prix, where the race circuit is just outside the city.
Naples is the one of the most internationally famous food capitals in Italy. Pizza, gelato and their distinct coffee can be found all over the city. Food is not the only thing to enjoy in Naples. The city is surrounded by the beautiful Amalfi coast. Naples is home to the oldest operating opera house in Europe, the San Carlo where tickets can be bought to view the latest performances. Though home to ancient tradition and famous shopping institutions, Naples is an up and coming place to come view Modern art. Two museums, Palazzo delle Arti Napoli, and the Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Donna Regina Napoli are home to renowned modern artists’ works and exhibits.
Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius
Located across from Naples, ancient Pompeii and Mt. Vesuvius offer a completely unique look into the lives of the people who perished after Mt. Vesuvius’ eruption in 79 AD. Today you can walk along roads the ancients did, gaining insight into how and where they lived. You can walk or rent a bike, but it is a good idea to plan out what you want to see when you visit due to the amount of walking over uneven cobblestone. During the summer months it is even more important to carry water, use sun protection and wear sensible shoes when exploring.
We’ve explored Pompeii and have posted our photos of Pompeii’s baths, ancient streets, monuments and artefacts on Flickr – please take a look.
The city of Ravenna near San Marino in Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region is worth a trip for the spectacular early Christian and Byzantine mosaics. Emperor Honorius set up home here in 402 to create his capital of the Western Roman Empire and Ravenna became one of the most glamorous and important cities in the Mediterranean. Today impressive Byzantine-era art, architecture and mosaics can be viewed whilst Ravenna retains its chic air.
Siena in the heart of Italy has a long held rivalry with Florence and it’s up to you, the traveller, to decide in which city your heart lies. Whilst Florence is rich in Renaissance culture, Siena positively brims with Gothic influences. The city itself is thoroughly enchanting with a medieval center with plenty of museums and churches to keep visitors happy. The influences of Duccio, the Lorenzetti brothers and Simone Martini had a huge impact on the city. In fact the Historic Centre of Siena is listed with UNESCO World Heritage. For superior wine tasting take a day trip to Chianti, located between Siena and Florence which has a well-deserved reputation as one of the most superior wine regions in the world.
The Lakes are many and varied within Italy with the well-known Lakes that trip off the tongue; Lake Garda (the largest Italian lake), Lake Maggiore (second largest situated beside the Alps), Lake Como (deepest lake in Europe popular with celebrities). As well as some not so well known as Lake Orta, Lake Lugano and Lake Trasimeno. In fact there are 14 larger Lakes in total. Many celebrities, such as George Clooney, Madonna and Richard Branson all have holiday homes in Lake Como. Depending on your chosen location, the lakes aren’t always packed with tourists. The Italians tend to visit for a few days or a weekend only, leaving the stunning landscapes, local restaurants and chic boutiques relatively quiet. The lakes are great to walk, hike and enjoy watersports on but cycling is not recommended as the surrounding roads can be narrow and carry a lot of traffic. Research the best Lake district for you as they all have their own unique character.
And if you’re looking for an amazing ski resort this winter, check out Cortina d’Ampezzo, which is one of the oldest ski resorts in the world, yet isn’t overun with ski-tourists.