Italy dips down out of Europe and into the Mediterranean like alady's leg firmly planted in a sleek stiletto, so it's hardlysurprising that Italians are known for their impeccable style andfashionable dress sense. Italy once had an empire that stretchedacross the globe. Today, it is home to the most spectacularchurches, frescoes, sculptures, and Renaissance paintings in all ofEurope.
More than 3,000 years of history are spread across landscapesranging from quiet, pastoral hillside olive farms and seasidefishing villages, to the Armani-wearing, scooter-driving,espresso-drinking buzz of the big cities. Italy is also home tomore UNESCO World Heritage Sites than any other country on earth,with an incredible 54 sites of global historical significancedotted around the country.
Italy's cities reveal awe-inspiring architecture from the curvedarches of the Ponte Vecchio in Florence to the crumblingmagnificence of the Colosseum in Rome. Home of da Vinci,Michelangelo, Caravaggio and Botticelli, its artworks are a visualfeast.
Nestled into the outskirts of Rome is the independent VaticanCity, seat of the Pope and home to the famous St Peter's Basilicaand Sistine Chapel. The influence of the Holy Catholic Church onthe people of Italy is still evident today, with holy festivals,carnivals, and parades in almost every city, town and village.
From the twisting canals of Venice, to the beaches of theRiviera, and the rocky crags of the Alps, Dolomites and Apennines,Italy offers unique experiences to every kind of tourist.
Littered with more than 3,000 years of history, Italy is asightseer's paradise. Spend some time in Rome taking in famoussites like the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps,and the Pantheon. With artworks on display from the likes of DaVinci, Caravaggio and Botticelli, it's a visual buffet for allvisitors.
Head north to explore the canals of Venice by gondola, orindulge in the wonderful shopping in the fashion capital of Milan.A little further south is the magical city of Florence, teemingwith culture and Italian flair. Continue south past Rome to Naplesand explore the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum, destroyed byMount Vesuvius, which can be seen standing sentinel over the city.Italy takes a lifetime to explore properly because there is so muchon offer for visitors. From the gondola-lined canals of Venice tothe white sandy beaches of San Remo, to the Alps, Dolomites andApennines, Italy has everything from beach holidays to luxurymountain ski resorts and a whole lot more in between.
The most popular time of year to visit Italy is during thesummer months when most of the country can be enjoyed like a fineItalian wine - slowly. A trip to the rolling hills of Tuscany is inorder to sample some fine wine and olive oil, as well as plenty ofold style Italian cuisine, while taking in the scenery of cypresstrees, lush vines and olive groves. The more adventurous travellerscan head to the Italian Alps and visit the resorts of Courmayer andBrevil Cervinia for some world-class skiing.
Separated from central Rome by the Tiber River, Trastevere is apicturesque medieval neighbourhood characterised by a quirkyBohemian atmosphere. Its narrow cobblestone streets are lined withoverhanging flower boxes and washing lines and are home to numerouscafes, boutiques, pubs and restaurants. The area has long attractedartists, famous people and expats, and is a charming place toexplore, having escaped the grand developments of central Rome.Trastevere looks like most foreigners expect an Italian village tolook, which is partly why tourists find it so enchanting; thephotographic opportunities are endless! There are some glorious oldchurches in the area, perhaps the most lovely of which is theBasilica of Santa Maria, which has wonderful mosaics and draws manyvisitors into the area for the first time. The best way to exploreis just to wander aimlessly and see where your feet take you. It isquite different at night time, when it seems more elegant, and itis worth visiting more than once. As a result of the areaspopularity and bohemian atmosphere beggars and scam artists can bea problem and travellers should be wary of unwanted attention.
Palermo's largest art museum, devoted to medieval works, ishoused within the Gothic-styled Palazzo Abbatellis (built in 1488).The collection is fascinating and includes several particularlyinteresting works. The Bust of Eleanor of Aragon by FrancescoLaurana, for example, dates from 1471 and is considered to be theepitome of Renaissance Sicilian sculpture; while the beautifulmasterpiece painting Our Lady of the Annunciation is consideredAntonello da Messina's greatest work. Also renowned is the chillingTriumph of Death fresco by an unknown 15th-century artist thatcovers an entire wall. The art is wonderful but so is the building,and you get a good sense of the layout of the palace as you wanderfrom room to room. Unfortunately, there are no audio guides andscant information at the gallery so it is best to bring your ownresearch with you to appreciate what you are seeing. There is alibrary and a bookshop at the palace, and guided tours are usuallyavailable, but they tend to be in Italian only. No photography isallowed.
Capitoline Hill was the original capital of Ancient Rome andcontinues to serve as the seat of the city's government. It is thesmallest, but also the most famous, of the Seven Hills of Rome, andonce housed the Senate. The main feature of the area isMichelangelo's Piazza del Campidoglio, a testimony to thesuperiority of Renaissance town planning. The piazza is bordered bythree palaces: the Palazzo dei Conservatori and the twin structuresof the Palazzo dei Senatori and Palazzo Nuovo, which house theMusei Capitolini, containing the largest collection of Classicalstatues in the world. Among the notable statues found here are theDying Gaul and the Satyr, the Capitoline Wolf with Romulus andRemus, and the Spinario. Paths cut along the side of the hill fromthe Campidoglio allow visitors to enjoy breathtaking panoramicviews of the ancient sites of the Forum and Colosseum. Exploringthis historic area is a must for anybody interested in ancient Romeand the sense of age and power is thrilling. Although the buildingsare not all old the hill gives an amazing sense of what it musthave been like during the peak of the Roman Empire. The steps tothe top can be a bit daunting but the climb is well worth theeffort, and there is access for disabled visitors.
The site of Ancient Rome's commercial, political and religiouscentre rests in the valley between the Capitoline and Palatinehills. The Forum's main thoroughfare, Via Sacra, slices through theold market square and former civic centre. To make sense of theruins and relics of the old Republic, it is helpful to consult amap of the area. Some of the best-preserved and most notablemonuments include the impressive Arch of Septimus Severus - aconstruction designed to celebrate Roman victory over theParthinians - and the former atrium of the House of the VestalVirgins, and the Temple of Vesta. Also of note are the Temple ofAntoninus and Faustina, and the Arch of Titus, built to celebrateTitus' destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. To the right of the archare stairs snaking up the Palatine Hill, through a series ofterraces to the Farnese gardens. The scented avenue, festooned withroses and orange trees, gives way to a magnificent vista over theForum. Negotiating your way through the ruins is thrilling but canbe confusing and this attraction is best tackled with a guide or atleast a good map. There are some really wonderful guides availableand they enrich the experience with information and context.
Known to be one of the most impressive buildings of the RomanEmpire, the Colosseum was the largest structure of its era. EmperorVespasian, founder of the Flavian Dynasty, started construction ofthe Colosseum in 72 AD and it was completed in 80 AD. This enduringsymbol of ancient Rome, which used to be called the FlavianAmphitheater, tenaciously clings to its foundations as the site offormer gladiatorial conquests and brutal public entertainment. Itsarchitecture boasts an impressive array of Doric, Ionic andCorinthian columns and an underground network of cells, corridors,ramps and elevators that were used to transport animals from theircages to the arena. It could once hold a crowd of 55,000 spectatorsand had 80 entrances. Emperors staged days of free publicentertainment in this vast building, and not all the games werebrutal and blood-thirsty - they often began with comedic acts andexotic animal displays, but did invariably include gladiatorialfights to the death. The magnificence of the original structure hasbeen eroded through the years by pillaging and earthquakes so thatonly a skeletal framework remains; however, the sense of historythe Colosseum is still able to evoke is truly awe-inspiring and itremains one of Rome's knock-out attractions, featuring on thebucket lists of many a traveller.
The stately Pantheon is one of the world's most inspiringarchitectural designs; almost two thousand years after it wasbuilt, the Pantheon's dome is still the world's largestunreinforced concrete dome. Built as a temple to the Roman gods byHadrian in 120 AD, its perfectly proportioned floating dome restsseductively on sturdy marble columns. The only light source is thecentral oculus, which was used by the Romans to measure time (withthe aid of a sundial) and the dates of equinoxes and solstices. Thesunlight pouring through the oculus and illuminating the floor inthe otherwise dark church is quite a sight. The south transepthouses the Carafa Chapel and the tomb of Fra Angelico rests underthe left side of the altar. The Pantheon is still an active placeof worship and Christian services are conducted regularly. Visitorsshould show respect and keep their voices down; this is notdifficult as the interior inspires awe and humility which isperhaps why the atmosphere is almost always peaceful and quietdespite the crowds of people that visit. Photography is allowed andthere are audio guides available for hire. One of the most iconicbuildings in the world and certainly among Rome's most famousattractions, the Pantheon is a must-see which seldom leavesvisitors unaffected.
The graceful Spanish Steps, built in 1725, elegantly curve theirway from the Piazza di Spagna to the Church of Santa Trinit deiMonti, a pastel-tinted neoclassical building. The shopper'sparadise of Via Condotti leads back from the Spanish steps to Viadel Corso, and during spring the steps are decorated with pinkazaleas. At the foot of the steps lies Bernini's boat-shapedBarcaccia Fountain, and to the right is the unassumingKeats-Shelley Memorial House. For lovers of the Romantic poets thesteps have become a sort of pilgrimage site as a result of theMemorial House. The steps and piazza can get really crowded but thebustle is actually part of the attraction in this case: the SpanishSteps are perfect for settling down to some people-watching andsoaking up the atmosphere of the city. The steps are iconic and ifyou do walking tours of Rome you are almost guaranteed a stop here.Lots of artists and musicians perform in the area which gives it afestive feel, but beware of tourist scams, like men approachingpretty women to give them flowers and then demanding payment. Ifyou want to take photographs it's best to arrive early in themorning before the crowds do.
The tiny Piazza di Trevi has been immortalised through thisfountain, built for Pope Clement XII. Arguably the most famous andmost beautiful fountain in all of Rome, and the largest Baroquefountain in the city, the statues adorning this watery displayrepresent Abundance, Agrippa, Salubrity, the Virgin and Neptuneguided by two Tritons. The fountain marks the terminal point of anancient aqueduct that supplied Rome for more than four hundredyears. The story of the discovery of the spring of fresh waterchannelled into this aqueduct is represented on the fountain'sfacade. Tossing a coin into the fountain (over your shoulder, withyour back turned to the water) is supposed to guarantee a returntrip to Rome. This well-known myth has ensured that thousands ofeuros are thrown into the fountain every day by tourists desperatefor a chance to return; the money is used for charitable projectsso visitors are at least supporting a good cause, although oftenunknowingly. There are regular attempts to steal money out of thefountain as well! The Trevi Fountain has been immortalised in manyfilms and has become a top attraction in Rome. The best time tovisit is at night when it is stunningly lit up.
The Basilica lies above the reputed site of St. Peter's tomb. Ithas an overwhelming interior, containing notable sculpturesincluding Michelangelo's Pieta, which is protected by bullet-proofglass since the damaging attack on it in 1972. In the central aislestands Arnolfo da Cambio's bronze statue of St Peter, its foot worndown by the constant flow of pilgrims' kisses. Proudly restingabove the papal altar is Bernini's Throne of St Peter. The VaticanGrottoes, containing papal tombs, can be reached by steps from thestatue of St Longinus. The Necropolis is located one level belowthe grottoes. This is the legendary site of St Peter's tomb andadvance permission has to be obtained to view it. Tours of theNecropolis, called the Scavi Tour, take about 90 minutes and arefascinating but must be booked well in advance. Children under 11are not permitted on the tour. A strict dress code is in place forSt Peter's Basilica and no shorts, bare shoulders or miniskirts areallowed (for men and women). There are frequent religious servicesat the Basilica which may disrupt visiting times. St Peter'sBasilica is one of the most famous religious attractions in theworld and even from a secular perspective is breathtakinglyimpressive, with enough art and history on offer to impress eventhe most experienced of travellers.
The Vatican City is a remarkable entity in that it is anindependent state administered by the Roman Catholic Church, andone of the world's richest countries. The population of thisenclave doubles during the working week as residents from Romecross into the Vatican City to work within its boundaries. Scandaland intrigue has somewhat tarnished the papacy's image over theyears, but this does not detract from the magnificence of the artcollections housed within its buildings, or the passion the cityinspires in the many pilgrims who flock to its holy sites. PopeFrancis has brought the Vatican back into the limelight in manypositive ways. The must-see attractions when on holiday in theVatican City include St Peter's Basilica, the Vatican Museums, andthe Sistine Chapel.
The Sistine Chapel, one of Italy's most popular attractions, isknown for the famous ceiling, painted by Michelangelo, which loomsabove the frescoes on the side walls, painted by an illustriousteam of artists that included Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, Roselli,Pinturicchio, Signorelli and della Gatta. The altar wall is coveredby Michelangelo's Last Judgement, revealing the figure of Christhovering above centre and flanked by Mary and other saintlyfigures. The chapel is justified in its fame and leaves travellersbreathless; it is a profoundly special place to visit.
The Vatican Museums provide access to one of the world'sgreatest collections of art. The galleries stretch over four miles(6km), and include the magnificent Raphael Rooms, the EtruscanMuseum, and the Pio-Clementino Museum, which boasts the world'slargest collection of Classical statues.
The Uffizi is one of the world's greatest art galleries, with acollection of Renaissance paintings that includes the works ofGiotto, Masaccio, Paolo Ucello, Sandro Botticelli, Leonardo daVinci, Michelangelo, Titian and Caravaggio. The collection ishoused on the top floor of a building designed as the offices(uffizi) of the Medici, commissioned by Duke Cosimo I. From 1581,Cosimo's heirs used the upper storey to display the Medici arttreasures. Ancient Greek and Roman sculptures line the innercorridors of the gallery and a series of rooms jut off from here,showcasing the chronological development of Florentine art fromGothic to High Renaissance and beyond. The scale and magnitude ofthe collection may need to be enjoyed over two visits. Rooms 1-15(Florentine Renaissance) could be explored more thoroughly on thefirst trip and on the next visit one could concentrate on rooms 16to 45 (from High Renaissance to later Italian and Europeanpaintings). The Uffizi is a must-see attraction in Florence if youhave any interest in and appreciation for art, and many would arguethat if you only visit one gallery in Italy this should be it. Thequeues can get frustratingly long so it is best to arrive as earlyas possible.
Santa Maria del Fiore, the Duomo or Cathedral of Florence, isset in the heart of the city and perches above the metropolis likean emperor before his subjects. Its most distinctive feature is theenormous dome, designed by Filippo Brunelleschi and built between1420 and 1436. Visitors can climb between the two shells of thecupola for an unrivalled panorama of the city.
The original Gothic exterior was destroyed in 1587 so that itcould be replaced by the styling of the High Renaissance. However,this vision died prematurely with its patron, the Grand DukeFrancesco de Medici, and the funding to build the neo-Gothic façadethat we see today was not found until the 19th Century. TheCampanile (bell tower) was built according to Giotto's designs in1334, and is an elegant prop to Brunelleschi's stout Cathedral. Thetower is decorated with two garlands of bas-reliefs, strung aroundits pink, white and green marble façade. Above, sculptures of theProphets and Sybils, carved by Donatello, look down upon the citybelow.
The Campanile can also be climbed for the magnificent views overthe square and the adjacent cathedral. The neighbouring Baptistry,with its famous doors designed by Lorenzo Ghiberti, is one ofFlorence's oldest buildings and was originally a pagan temple. Thegilded brass doors, dubbed the 'Gates of Paradise', werecommissioned in 1401 to mark Florence's deliverance from theplague. The original panels are in the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo(the Duomo Works Museum), which exists largely to safeguard thesculptures removed from the doors and niches around the Piazza delDuomo. The museum also contains the machines used in theconstruction of the cathedral's dome, and has displays devoted tothe problematic construction of the cathedral's façade. A roomcontaining Ghiberti's baptistry doors provides an opportunity toclosely examine the stiacciato relief technique used.
Other noteworthy artefacts found in the museum includeMichelangelo's Pieta, the carved figures of Donatello's Prophets aswell as his Magdalene sculpture. In the anteroom are AndreaPisano's panels from the first few levels of the bell tower.
This Gothic Palazzo shelters a treasured national collection ofRenaissance sculpture. Before its renovation to become Italy'sfirst national museum, the building, constructed in 1255,functioned as a town hall, private residence and prison. It is oneof the oldest buildings in Florence and has been the setting forsome important episodes of civic history over the centuries,including sieges, fires and executions; the most famous being thatof Baroncelli, who was executed for his involvement in a plotagainst the Medici, an execution witnessed by Leonardo da Vinci. Anextensive collection of decorative art is on display, in additionto the magnificent sculptures of Michelangelo, Donatello,Giambologna and Cellini. The Palazzo's inner courtyard isornamented with numerous coats of arms and the grand stairwellleading to the second-story loggia overflows with bronze birdscreated for the Medici's gardens. Other notable displays include anIslamic collection, an assortment of ivories (the largestcollection in the world) and 16th-century majolica porcelain fromUrbino, Faenza and Florence. The Bargello is one of the most famousand popular museums in Florence and seldom fails to impress and awevisitors.
Santa Croce, a magnificent Gothic church built in 1294, containsthe tombs of many celebrated Florentines, such as Michelangelo,Galileo, Ghiberti and Machiavelli. The Gothic interior is graced bythe radiant frescoes of Giotto and his pupil Taddeo Gaddi, andintegrated into the cloister next to the church is Brunelleschi'sPazzi Chapel (Cappella de' Pazzi). The tomb of famous composerRossini is also a great favourite with visitors. When Lord Byronfirst laid eyes on the church he declared himself 'drunk withbeauty'; a feeling shared by many visitors today. There is such awealth of historic art and so many notable people buried at thechurch that tours are a great way to experience Santa Croce, but asit is a place of worship and they try to keep noise to a minimumheadsets are compulsory for guided tour groups and must berequested at the Ticket Office by the tour leader. There are alsodetailed audio guides in English and other languages if you want toexplore alone, but you will have to leave some form ofidentification at the desk when you collect one. The large squarein front of the church is a great meeting place and there are somelovely restaurants and cafes about for refreshments.
The Ponte Vecchio's status as the oldest bridge in Florencesaved it from destruction during the Nazi retreat from Italy in1944. They defied orders to blow up the stately bridge straddlingthe Arno River and bombed the ancient buildings on either side ofit instead. The Arno Flood of 1966 also tested the bridge'sresilience, and swept parts of it away in its powerful current. Themost affected sections were the iconic overhanging shops belongingto the gold and silversmiths. In 1593 the original tenants -butchers, tanners and blacksmiths - were evicted from the workshopsbecause of the noise and stench they created, to make way for morerefined merchants and craftsmen. To one side of the bridge is themajestic bust of the most famous Florentine goldsmith, BenvenutoCellini. Perched above the shops is a secret passageway, the VasariCorridor, providing an elevated link to the Palazzo Pitti via theUffizi. It was the private walkway of the Medicis who could movebetween the various residences without having to rub shoulders withthe riff raff. The Ponte Vecchio is charming at night, when it islit up and the bright shops beckon in visitors. It is an icon ofFlorence and an enduringly popular attraction.
Originally owned by the wealthy banker Luca Pitti, the Palazzolater became the property of the Medici family and was the one-timeresidence of the Italian king. It is a grand structure that nowboasts no less than seven museums. Among these are the Medicitreasures that are showcased in the Museo degli Argenti, the Museumof Costumes and the Porcelain Museum. The Galleria d'Arte Modernaprovides a fascinating display of works from the Macchiaioli school- early 19th-century proto-impressionist paintings - as well as acollection of Neoclassical and Romantic art. The collections in thePalazzo Pitti can keep visitors captivated for hours.
Extending behind the palace are the elaborately landscaped andbeautifully maintained Giardino Boboli (Boboli Gardens), one of theoldest gardens in Italy and well-known for its fountains andgrottoes. The most celebrated aspect of the gardens is the Grottadel Buontalenti, located close to the entrance. In the deepestrecess of the cave is the sculpture Venus Emerging from her Bath,attended by curious imps. Another notable structure is the enormousamphitheatre designed on a scale to serve the Medici's tastes.
Attracted by the mineral wealth found in the regions of Tuscany,Lazio and Umbria, the Etruscans made their way to Italy around 900BC. Traces of Etruscan civilisation can be found in their burialsites and in the artefacts found in their tombs. They werepreoccupied with the afterlife and dedicated much effort tobuilding burial sites carved into rock, or constructed from stoneslab and reached by purpose-built rock-cut roads.
For an exploration of Etruscan artefacts start at Grosseto. TheMuseo Civico Archeologico in Grosseto contains a selection ofEtruscan artefacts that were found in tombs nearby. Head north fromhere to Roselle, the most important excavated Etruscan and Romanremains in Tuscany. From here, follow the road leading east for 34miles (54km) to the Etruscan village of Saturnia to explore itsrock-cut tombs and then on to Sovanato to see the famous IldebrandaTomb.
The town of Pitigliano is peppered with Etruscan tombs andtunnels. The town itself is a spectacular vista of houses juttingout over soft limestone cliffs and caves bordering the River Lente.The cliffs contain numerous caves that have been used to storelocal wines and olive oils and the town itself is a labyrinth ofmedieval streets that have carried the passage of many a traveller.From this quaint town, head west to the extensive necropolis on theoutskirts of Marsiliana. Complete the trip with a stop at Talamoneand Maremma, for a visit to the Etruscan temple, Roman villa andbaths.
In addition to these more famous examples, the region isscattered with evidence of the Etruscans - look out for signpostsas you explore!
A circular route from Siena through the Chianti hills providesvisitors to Tuscany with a wonderfully scenic and sensory travelexperience. The route covers the villages of the Chianti Classicowine region, garnished with ancient castles and ramblingfarmhouses. The vineyards and wooded hills of the Chianti are bestexplored along its winding back roads or from within its sleepyhamlets. By car, visitors should keep a lookout for signs marked'vendita diretta' ('direct sales'). The first stop is at Castellodi Brolio, a magnificent vineyard owned by the Ricasoli familysince 1167. The SS484 will take you south of Brolio and north pastthe hamlets of San Gusme, Campi and Linari before rejoining theroad for a diversion to the Meleto castle. Another worthwhile stopis at Badia a Coltibuono, for its restaurant and Romanesque church.The winding road west to Radda, in Chianti, is especiallypicturesque. A further nine miles (15km) from here is the hamlet ofVolapia, a delightful place which makes you feel as though you'vetravelled back in time; as does a visit to sleepy Castellina.Within the ramparts of this walled village is the Bottega del VinoGalla Nero, at Via della Rocca 13, showcasing the region'sdelectable wines and olive oils. There are many potential detoursand attractions in the region and although it is a good idea topick a few desired stops in advance it is a joy to just get lost inthe area.
Montepulciano is Tuscany's highest hilltop town, built along anarrow limestone ridge at 1,950ft (605m) above sea level. Althoughnot quite as well known as some of the other historic hill villagesin Tuscany, Montepulciano is fast being 'discovered' by touristsseeking out the best of the region, and it benefits from not beingthronged by visitors, retaining its mystery and authenticity.Sheltered within the town's fortified walls are charming streetspacked with Renaissance-style palaces and churches. Within theincredibly intact historic centre no major building work has beendone since 1580, making it one of the best-preserved historiccentres in Italy. Montepulciano's most celebrated achievement isits Vino Nobile wines. Also of interest is the Madonna di SanBiagio, a delightful pilgrimage church on the outskirts of thetown. For a dip into Etruscan reliefs and funerary urns collectedby Pietro Bucelli, visit his Palazzo on Via di Gracciano del Corso73. For splendid views, take a stroll to the Palazzo Communale andclimb the tower. The village also boasts some lovely Tuscanrestaurants and is wonderfully picturesque, with a backdrop ofvineyards, corn, sunflowers and distant forested hills. It would bedifficult to be bored or unimpressed in this special village.
This fascinating, world-class museum houses the Farnesecollection of antiquities from Lazio and Campania and theincredible treasures of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Notable amongthese collections are the Farnese Hercules and the Farnese Bull,the largest known ancient sculpture. On the mezzanine level is theAlexander Mosaic and at the furthest end of the mezzanine floor isthe Secret Room (Gabinetto Segreto). The intriguing collectioncontained here showcases erotic material found in the brothels,baths, houses and taverns of Pompeii and Herculaneum. The topsection of the museum houses the Campanian wall paintings,well-preserved creations attesting to a mysterious past world.These are supported by a range of artefacts, in the form of glass,silver, ceramics, rope and even foodstuffs surviving from theCampanian cities of yesteryear. The remarkable collection is housedin a 17th-century building interesting in itself. Visitors shouldcheck ahead whether all the exhibits in the museum will be open toavoid disappointment as the most popular exhibits are subject toclose at any time for restoration and maintenance work. Although apopular attraction in its own right, the museum is also aworthwhile stop if you plan to visit Pompeii as so many of itstreasures are stored here.
The Chapel of San Gennaro is accessed from the south aisle ofthe Cathedral of Naples. This 13th-century Gothic building isdedicated to the patron saint of the city. Tradition tells thestory of how two phials of San Gennaro's congealed blood liquefiedin the bishop's hand after his martyred body was transported to thechurch. Legend has it that disaster will strike if the blood failsto liquefy on specific festival days - the first Saturday in May,on September 19 and December 16. The liquefaction ceremony, knownas the Miracle of the Blood, takes place during a special Mass infull view of the congregation. The first chapel on the right uponentry into the cathedral is dedicated to San Gennaro (also known asSaint Januarius) and holds the famous phials of blood and a silverreliquary containing his skull. Beneath the Duomo are theexcavations of well-preserved Greek and Roman roads that stretchbeneath the modern city. Special tours of the excavations can bearranged. Generations of wealthy Neopolitains funded the cathedraland it is a treasure trove of local history and religiousiconography.
Visitors should be aware that there have been some incidents ofpickpocketing outside of the cathedral. Entry to the cathedral isfree, but there is a charge to visit the archaeological site.
This museum occupies a restored 18th-century palace perched onthe city's hills, and its artworks are arranged by collections andnot chronology. The Farnese and Bourbon rulers amassed impressivecollections of Renaissance paintings and Flemish masterpieces thatcan be viewed along with other great works. Notable among these areMasaccio's Crucifixion, Filipino Lippi's Annunciation and Saints,Raphael's Leo X, Bellini's Transfiguration, Michelangelo's ThreeSoldiers and Breughel's The Allegory of the Blind.
The palace is an attraction in its own right and the royalapartments are beautifully decorated and preserved with their18th-century furnishings. Capodimonte is a pleasant neighbourhoodin Naples, and the park surrounding the gallery is great for apeaceful stroll after ogling the art and finery of the museum.Various rooms and sections of the museum are closed to the publicperiodically for maintenance but the collection is so vast thatthis usually hardly matters; however, to avoid disappointment,check ahead how much of the museum is open, or ask at the entrancebefore buying your ticket. Although the collection is fascinating,the audio guide is not amazing and perhaps not worth the additionalcost.
Venice's main waterway splits the city in half, with sestieri inequal parts to the west and east of it. It is the hub around whichmuch activity in Venice is concentrated and is encircled with theelegant facades of the palazzi, which testify to the city's pastopulence. Many of the picture-perfect scenes that make Venicefamous can be discovered along the Grand Canal.
The best way to explore the architectural splendour of theseRenaissance buildings is on board a vaporetta. Pedestrian accessacross the canal is only provided along three bridges situated atthe station, Rialto and Academia. Gondolas cross the canal atregular intervals and provide a romantic interlude to thesightseeing itinerary. Although a gondola ride along the GrandCanal is glorious, it is often better to explore the smallerwaterways by gondola, as the Grand Canal can become crowded andstressful in peak season.
Grand Canal palaces and buildings to look out for include the Cada Mosto, with its rounded arches in low relief; the 'House ofGold' (Ca d'Ora), a beautiful Gothic building constructed between1424 and 1430; and Palazzo Corner-Spinelli and Palazzo VendraminCalergi, which combine classical and Byzantine elements designed byMauro Codussi. Architect Jacopo Sansovino was inspired by Codussi'sstyle and infused this in his creation of the Palazzo Corner (CaGranda). Another notable Palazzo is the Grimani di San Luca,designed by Michele Sanmicheli.
St Mark's Square (Piazza San Marco) has always been the nucleusof Venice. The city's first citadel and church were erected on itsstony foundations: the Palazzo Ducale and the Basilica di SanMarco, respectively. The Basilica di San Marco is a uniquejuxtaposition of Byzantine, western European and Islamicarchitectural styles. The Basilica's most precious relic is thePala d'Or, a Venetian-Byzantine gold relief adorned with preciousgems. Travellers and pigeons flock to the Piazza with equal zeal.It is the tourists, however, who pay dearly to eat or drink at theelegant cafes that spill onto the pavements. The pigeons are anattraction in themselves for children, and if you are travelling toVenice with kids they will relish the chance to feed the birds inthis romantic place. Designer shops line the streets that radiatefrom the square. There are worthwhile places of interest to explorebeyond the square that include the Museo Correr, the ArchaeologicalMuseum and the Museo del Risorgimento, which are housed within theProcuratie Nuova. Attached to the Procuratie Vecchie is thetriumphal Torre dell'Orologio. The adjoining archway guides onethrough to the Mercerie, Venice's main commercial street, thatstretches to the famous Rialto Bridge.
One of Venice's most iconic landmarks, the Rialto Bridge haslong been the commercial core of Venice and is often described asthe heart of the city. It is the oldest bridge spanning the GrandCanal, and is one of only four that do. The structure standingtoday is over 400 years old, but it isn't the original bridge: theoriginal wooden bridge collapsed under the strain of crowdsgathered here to admire a wedding procession long ago, legend hasit; it was replaced by the (sturdier) single stone arch design ofAntonio da Ponte, built in 1588. Whether you're sailing under it,or walking over it, the Rialto Bridge is a must-see in Venice.Today the Rialto area still resembles the bustling fruit andvegetable market of former times, but is additionally swamped withtourists and accompanying souvenir shops and gift kiosks, and it ispossible to find almost anything in the markets these days. It getsvery crowded but is definitely worth a visit and will delight thosewho enjoy bustling markets with surprises round every corner. Ifyou are visiting Rialto to take pictures of the bridge or explorethe area for the first time it is best to go early in the morningwhen the throngs of visitors won't disturb you. There are lots oflovely restaurants and cafes in the area as well.
This great Gothic Franciscan church was constructed in the 14thcentury, and is primarily known as the burial place of Titian andthe Venetian sculptor Antonio Canova. Titian's tomb in the southaisle watches over the large marble pyramid created for Canova. Theinterior of the church is adorned with the works of a number offamous artists. These include Donatello's St John the Baptist,Giovanni Bellini's triptych of the Madonna and Saints, Titian'sfamous Assumption of the Virgin and his Madonna of Case Pesaro.There is an audio guide available for a small additional cost, andfor those interested in the art and architecture this is a greataddition to a visit. Look out for lovely little details, like theindividually designed choir stalls.
Venice is packed with impressive churches and it can be ratherhard to select which are worth seeing - the Basilica dei Frari (StMary of the Friars) is well worth the effort for art lovers andanybody interested in Gothic architecture. The church receives ravereviews from tourists and is consistently one of the top ratedattractions in Venice according to visitor reviews. Despite this,the church is seldom crowded and it is usually possible to soak upthe special atmosphere and incredible art work in peace andsilence.
A 'scuola' in Venice was a mixture of guild and religiousfraternity, where members paid annual fees to support fellowmembers and to decorate the school's premises. The School of StRoch is known for the canvasses of Jacopo Tintoretto that adorn itsinterior. Tintoretto was commissioned to decorate the School in1564, and dedicated 23 years to this task. The paintings arearranged in chronological order that can be followed by beginningon the second floor in the Sala dell'Albergo. Notable among hisworks are the scenes from the Life of the Virgin and theCrucifixion. San Rocco, as the school is known, is one of the topranked attractions in Venice on tourist review sites and a visit isguaranteed to impress. Although much of the amazing art inside isnot labelled or accompanied by much information there is a goodaudio guide included in the admission price which tells you all youneed to know. Many of the rooms are full of mirrors to helpvisitors see the intricate detail of the art which covers theceilings and walls without craning their necks. The interior isornate and quite overwhelming in its artistry and you would be hardput to find somebody who doesn't rave about the experience ofexploring San Rocco.
This famous gallery was established in 1807 to house the artworkremoved from Venetian churches and public buildings on Napoleon'sorders. It is housed in three old religious buildings: the ScuolaGrande di Santa Maria della Carità, built in 1344; the Church ofthe Carità; and the Convento della Carità, a monastery begun in1561 but never quite completed. The Gallerie dell'Accademia housesone of Europe's finest art collections. Its display follows theprogression of Venetian art from the 14th to 18th centuries.Notable works in the gallery include Paolo Veneziano's Coronationof Mary, Carpaccio's Crucifixion and Apotheosis, Giovanni Bellini'sMadonna with Child between Saints Catherine and Mary Magdalene,Giorgione's Tempest, Lorenzo Lotto's Portrait of a Young Gentlemanin His Studio, Paolo Veronese's Feast in the House of Levi, andTintoretto's Theft of St Mark's Body and Crucifixion.
Unfortunately, art lovers may find that the gallery hasinsufficient information on all its treasures, and most of whatthere is is in Italian; it is a good idea to hire a tour guide,especially as the amount of art can be overwhelming and it isuseful to have someone to point out the highlights. The collectionalso marks many historical events for Venice and a local guide canexplain the subject matter and significance of the work.
The Peggy Guggenheim collection is housed in the former Palazzoof the wealthy American heiress, the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni,situated on the Grand Canal, and has become one of the mostillustrious collections of modern art in Italy. It spans theartistic movements of Cubism, European Abstraction and Surrealism,with notable works by Brancusi, Marino Marini, Kandinsky, Picasso,Magritte, Rothko, Max Ernst, Dali, Jackson Pollock and many more.The impressive permanent collection is further enriched bytemporary exhibitions of high quality. Guggenheim built up hercollection between 1938 and 1947, and bought the Palazzo Venier deiLeoni in 1948, where she lived until her death in 1979. Thisexciting, prestigious and often bizarre collection is a greatdeparture from the overwhelming amount of Gothic, Byzantine andRenaissance art and architecture in Venice, and exploring themuseum is a fun and atypical sort of way to spend a few hours inthe city. There are wonderful views of the Grand Canal from theterrace and there is a good little gift shop and popular cafe atthe palazzo. The small outdoor area showcases a number ofsculptures and has some pleasant spots to rest and take in thesurroundings.
The looming Duomo, one of the world's largest Gothic cathedrals,presides over the Milanese Piazza that bears its name. Itsconstruction began in 1386 and continued sporadically untilNapoleon ordered its completion in 1809. Its lengthy creationbestowed on it 3,400 statues, 135 spires and 96 gargoyles. It isbest visited in full sunshine when the interior is illuminated bythe colourful mosaic of its stained glass windows. The church is afive-aisled cruciform seating 40,000 worshippers. The 16th-centurymarble tomb of Giacomo de Medici lies in the southern transept, andlying buried at its heart is St Charles Borromeo, the cathedral'smost important benefactor. Every year in May and September a nailfrom the cross of Christ is displayed to worshippers, retrievedfrom its resting-place by the bishop who is hoisted to the nivolato reach it. Across the piazza, in the Palazzo Reale, is the Museodel Duomo that displays the treasures from the cathedral. It alsohouses the Museo d'Arte Contomporanea, showcasing a collection ofItalian Futurist art. The cathedral is the centre of Milan, bothliterally and figuratively, and the square is a wonderful meetingplace and landmark - the city's roads radiate out from the squareand it makes a glorious starting point for explorations ofMilan.
There are admission charges for certain parts of thecathedral.
This world-famous opera house rests on the site of the Church ofSanta Maria alla Scala, its namesake. For opera fanatics seeing aperformance at La Scala is the experience of a lifetime. Check theofficial website below to see what is showing during your visit.Ticket prices vary depending on seating and show but should bebooked far in advance.
The La Scala Museum is also well worth a visit and provides awealth of mementos from the opera house dedicated to the nation'sbeloved composers and performers. These include Rossini, Pucciniand Toscanini. Two halls are devoted to Verdi alone, and containmemorabilia such as the spinet on which he learned to play,hand-written scores and the baton given to him after the momentousreception of his best-loved work, Aida. There are also exhibitionsfeaturing some of the elaborate costumes worn in the theatre overthe years, and mementoes from the plays and performances. Themuseum is a delight for those familiar with the composers and theiroperas, but probably a bit dull for the uninitiated; however, ifthere aren't rehearsals on visitors are permitted to go into one ofthe boxes and see the theatre and this is thrilling for all loversof the arts.
The church and convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie is a UNESCOWorld Heritage Site and one of the most popular attractions inMilan. Located next to the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, inthe former monastery's refectory, is Leonardo da Vinci's famouspainting The Last Supper (Cenacolo Vinciano) and although thechurch is an attraction in its own right it is this iconic paintingthat draws so many admirers. The fresco depicts the moment ofChrist's revelation of the betrayal. Judas hovers to the right ofthe painting, with his hand placed protectively on the bag ofsilver. Scaffolding covers the bottom of the painting (an ongoingrestoration project), leaving the rest in full view. Controversyhas erupted over the removal of layers of corrective over-paintingcompleted in the 18th and 19th-centuries. The painting has enduredmore than hot debate, however, as it managed to escape the bombingduring WWII that destroyed the roof of the refectory. There areother notable art works and frescoes at Santa Maria delle Grazieand the architecture is amazing - make sure you explore the churchas well as see The Last Supper. You have to book in advance to seethe painting and can do so online.
The gargantuan Sforzesco Castle, built in the 15th Century, isone of Milan's foremost monuments. It was restored after beingbombed in 1943. The vast interior, which is broken here and thereby smaller courtyards, contains three museums, the most notable ofwhich is the Museum of Historic Art (Museo d'Arte Antica delCastello Sforzesco). Within its collection of sculptures is thefamous Pieta Rondanini, Michelangelo's final work. The picturegallery features paintings by Mantegna, Bellini, da Vinci and FraFilippo Lippi. The two other museums within the Castle's rampartsare the Museum of Applied Arts and the Archaeological Museum andthere are lots of unusual little exhibitions showcasing musicalinstruments, Egyptian art and other unexpected things. There isalso a quaint little furniture museum. The castle is vast and toexplore it properly you will need a few hours. It is convenientlylocated in the centre of Milan and the relatively cheap admissioncost and amount of material to see encourages repeat visits. Thecastle grounds are big and lovely for a stroll; visitors can enterthem free of charge so it is a good place to come for some freshair. Castles never cease to captivate the imagination and thisancient fortress is rather unexpected in Milan, making it anexciting attraction.
This remarkable museum is a popular tourist attraction and afitting tribute to one of the world's greatest minds. Within theLeonardo Gallery of the museum is a collection of da Vinci'singenious designs, detailing everything from plans for war machinesto architectural visions. Applied physics is the focus of anotherroom, in keeping with the museum's tribute to the history ofscience, and there are departments for energy, communication andtransport as well. The museum is very well-organised andmaintained, with a lot of interactive exhibits and scientificexperiments to actively participate in. Activities are scheduleddaily in the interactive science labs and the admission cost coversall these activities. Children will be enthralled and should learna lot in this exciting and stimulating environment, experimentingwith food, electricity and much more in carefully supervisedactivities. Adults will also enjoy the museum, particularly thesection on da Vinci which is intriguing. There is a bar and acanteen at the museum, as well as a shop for souvenirs. If you areat all interested in science, or Leonardo da Vinci, or if you aretravelling to Milan with kids, be sure to include a stop at theLeonardo da Vinci Museum of Science and Technology in your Milanesetravel itinerary.
One of Palermo's most unique attractions is the engaging MuseoInternazionale delle Marionette, a museum dedicated to the art ofpuppetry, an age-old Sicilian form of entertainment. The Opera deiPupi of southern Italy is famous and Palermo, Catania and Naplesall have distinct marionette traditions which are fascinating towitness. Free shows are often put on in summer, but the museumcollection itself, the greatest of its kind in the world, isentertainment enough. The museum was opened in 1975 to preservelocal traditions and the collection consists of more than 3,500puppets. Adjoining the museum is the library of Guiseppe Leggio,which houses about 3,000 books on puppetry and folk traditions;there is also a video library documenting theatrical folkperformances and puppet shows from different cultures. Most of theantique puppets on display evoke Norman Sicily, representingchivalrous heroes and Saracen pirates, knights, ladies andtroubadours. The collection includes puppets from all over theworld, including the Far East and even some English 'Punch andJudy' dolls. The museum will delight children and interest adultsand is a great attraction for those travelling to Palermo withkids. Try to catch a show to see the puppets come to life!
The town of Amalfi sits elegantly against a backdrop of steepcliffs and thickets of lemon trees. Terraced buildings climb downto the shoreline, their pastel hues enhancing the fairytale allureof this Italian seaside retreat.
A centre of rich historical significance, Amalfi was once one ofthe great maritime republics which thrived off trade and rivalrieswith Pisa, Genoa, and Venice. The Piazza del Duomo (the CathedralSquare) is the main hub, and is dotted with cafes, gorgeousboutiques, and romantic restaurants. A promenade allows visitors togaze over the picturesque marina and beyond to the memorableemerald waters.
The main beach is the Marina Grande, a sheltered beach at thefoot of the town. It's a shingle beach, as is common along theAmalfi Coast. Those seeking sand must head out to the villages ofMinori and Maiori.
While for many visitors a trip to Amalfi is all about soaking upthe sun with a drink in hand, there are also some attractions forthose looking for a more cultural experience. The 9th-centuryAmalfi Cathedral is a breathtaking example of Arab-NormanRomanesque architecture. The town is also home to a couple ofmuseums, including the fascinating Museo della Carta and theArsenal of the Maritime Republic.
Cagliari is Sardinia's capital, a favourite with holidaymakers,and the biggest city in the region, with a busy industrial port.Despite its size the old centre is charmingly compact, containedwithin the city walls and Pisan fortifications. The mainattractions are the National Archaeological Museum, which containsprehistoric tombs and other significant artefacts from the Punicand Roman periods, the impressive cathedral, and a smattering ofRoman ruins. The suburb of Poetto has a four mile (6km) stretch ofsandy beach with some small bars nearby. The famous nuraghe of SuNuraxi near Barumini are within easy reach of the town.
Sardinia's history and culture is conveniently packaged in theCitadel of Museums complex in the centre of Cagliari. Here theNational Archaeological Museum, the National Picture Gallery, theCardu Siamese Museum and a collection of anatomical waxes byFlorentine sculptor Clemente Susini are situated, all administeredby the University. The Archaeological Museum houses artefacts fromall the ancient cultures of the island, including ceramics fromPhoenician tombs, Punic jewellery and Nuragic bronzes. The PictureGallery contains a collection of contemporary art and sculpture,while the Siamese museum exhibits fascinating items from the East.The unique Collection of Waxes consists of 23 models of parts ofthe human body, created by Clemente Susini from waxes, resin,tallow, pitch and balsam.
The mysterious Nuragic people, who arrived in Sardinia around1500 BC, festooned the island with about 30,000 circular fortifiedstructures. Today about 7,000 of these remain standing to bemarvelled at by tourists. The complex of Nuraghe in Barumini hasbeen added to UNESCO's World Heritage List and is the finest andmost complete example of this prehistoric architecture. TheBarumini site can be reached from Oristano or Cagliari on route131, turning off onto route 197. Other well-preserved Nuraghe canbe seen at Sant Antine. At Nora, on the very southern tip of theisland, are the remains of an extensive Nuragic village includingan amphitheatre, forum, baths, temple and Kasbah. Other goodNuragic sites are near Villanovaforru, Alghero and Abbasanta. Thepurpose of the beehive-like buildings remains unknown butarchaeologists assume they were used as religious temples andmeeting halls as well as military strongholds. Exploring theancient sites indulges ones inner Indiana Jones and feels like agreat adventure. For anybody interested in archaeology, or theancient history of the region, visiting Nuraghe is a must. You canonly explore Nuraghe on an official tour, but these usually departevery 30 minutes; bigger groups are advised to pre-book.
Sardinia has an unforgettable coastline, but the interior of theisland is equally as beautiful. A fun way to explore it is aboardthe Trenino Verde (Little Green Train), a vintage steam locomotivethat puffs its way through forests, over bridges and throughtunnels into some of the island's most scenic mountain areas. Thenarrow-gauge train tracks were laid in 1888 to serve the moreisolated areas of Sardinia, and the picturesque restored train andlocomotive is just as old. The train runs on scheduled routes,connecting Nuoro and Bosa, Sassari and Alghero, Sassari and Palau,and Cagliari and Arbatax. Most popular is the Cagliari to Arbataxroute, which departs each morning in summer at about 6:45am. Thetrain is small and tickets are limited so it is best to book inadvance. The train sometimes stops at scenic spots so thatpassengers can stretch their legs and take photographs. It is bestto face forwards - the direction that the train is moving in - tocatch the best views. Food is not served on the train but it ispossible to buy snacks and refreshments during stops, especially onthe longer routes. If you are travelling in Sardinia with kids thisis a fantastic activity for the whole family.
A popular sightseeing expedition from Alghero is a boat ride toNeptune's Grotto, an impressive deep marine cave at the bottom ofthe sheer cliffs of Capo Caccia. The boat ride takes about 45minutes, and goes past the pretty Bay of Porto Conte. At the cavevisitors can take a 45-minute tour entering through the longsnaking passage that delves into the rock, to view dramatically-litstalagmites and stalactites. The contrast of the sun sparklingbright on the sea and the orange cliffs with the mysterious darkdepths of the cave is magical and sailing in through the gap in thecliffs is the best way to explore it; however, the grotto can alsobe reached by bus from the main terminal in Alghero, or by car,which on arrival necessitates climbing down 650 steps to the caveentrance. The cave entrance, from the sea, is only about a metreabove the water level, so it can only be accessed when the sea iscalm. Boat trips into the cave run regularly in summer and are verypopular, but they are less frequent during the rest of the year.The cave takes its name from the Roman god of the sea, Neptune, andwas discovered by local fishermen in the 18th-century. There aremany underwater caves in the area, which makes it popular withscuba divers.
The famous Italian revolutionary, general and politicianGiuseppe Garibaldi lived the last third of his life on the woody,undeveloped island of Caprera, a short ferry-ride from Palau onSardinia. Garibaldi was a central figure in the Italian Revolutionas he commanded and fought in many military campaigns thateventually led to the formation of a unified Italy. He famously led1,000 Red Shirts on his campaign to conquer Sicily and Naples fromCaprera in 1861. He is considered one of the 'father's of thefatherland' by Italians, and is also famous for his militarycampaigns in South America.
The trip to view Garibaldi's house and museum is very popular inseason, with visitors queuing to catch one of the regular ferriesto Caprera. Garibaldi came to live in Caprera in 1855 after a20-year exile from Italy. The elegant homestead has been preservedas he left it and visitors can learn a lot about his lifestyle fromexploring the farm; on Caprera he lived a simple, peaceful lifetending his gardens and orchards. Tours of the property end withhis tomb in the garden. There is a relic room filled with some ofhis personal belongings and historical artefacts. For many Italiansand foreign visitors Garibaldi's house and grave are a sort ofpilgrimage site, a place to pay homage to a national hero.
Of all the many architecturally beautiful and fascinating placesof worship in Palermo, the most renowned is the 12th-centurycathedral in the suburb of Monreale, high on the mountain slope,about five miles (8km) from the city centre. This dazzlingcathedral is a mixture of Arab, Byzantine and Norman artisticstyles, a blend of medieval Christian and Muslim architecture. Themagnificent mosaics that cover 68,243 square feet (6,340 sq m) ofthe cathedral's dome and all of the walls on the interior areunsurpassed and people travel from far and wide to study and admirethem. The adjacent Benedictine abbey features a cloister with 228carved stone columns, many inlaid with mosaics depicting scenesfrom Sicily's Norman history. For a small fee you can buy aschematic of the mosaics from the stall at the main entrance, whichexplains the biblical and historical scenes depicted; having thisguide, or doing some research before arriving, is advised becausethere is so much of interest going on in the intricate andextensive mosaics - some visitors even make a point of bringingbinoculars to examine them properly. Entrance to the breathtakingcathedral is free, but there are small admission charges for theTreasury, Cloisters and Terraces, all of which are well worthexploring.
The subterranean catacombs that contain the mummified remains ofabout 8,000 ancient inhabitants of Palermo may be macabre, but arefascinating to visit. The Capuchin friars began mummifying andembalming the bodies of the city's nobles back in 1533, and thetradition continued for centuries with the last body (aseven-year-old girl named Rosalia) being embalmed in 1920. Afterembalming, the corpses were hung along the walls of the catacombsdressed in their best, which they still wear proudly, like themilitary officer in an 18th-century uniform complete with tricornhat. The bodies are arranged according to profession, sex and age,with separate sections for virgins, children and lawyers, amongother things. The tunnels are spooky and the experience can bequite emotional; the catacombs are cool and dimly lit and theatmosphere is one of respect and care for the ancestors, butalthough fascinating, this attraction will be disturbing for some.It is very interesting to learn about how the monks embalmed thebodies and the reasons why everything is so well-preserved, and theoutfits are authentic reflections of local history. Photography isnot allowed at all and visitors should treat the place withrespect, keeping noise to a minimum.
The excessive opulence of the Baroque period is nowhere betterdemonstrated than in the magnificent Palazzo Mirto, one of the fewaristocratic homes of Palermo that is open to the public, offeringvisitors a glimpse into the lifestyle of Sicily's noble19th-century families. The palace was the residence of the LanzaFilangeri family, whose last heir left the estate to the Ministryof Cultural Assets in 1982. Most of the princely rooms and salonsare furnished with original items that once belonged to the family.Apart from the luxurious rooms and many antiques visitors can seethe old stables and wagons used by the family. Unfortunately, allthe signs and information given are in Italian, and as a resultsome personal research into what you are seeing may be necessaryfor enthusiasts, but the real joy of this attraction is the feelingthat you are wandering around somebody's home and the lack ofinformation won't bother many visitors. There are guided toursavailable. The feeling of visiting a home is amplified by the factthat the palace is not thronged by tourists, many of whom don'tknow it exists. Opening hours seem to be irregular, with somerecent visitors complaining as much, so it is best to check whetherit is open in advance. Photography is not allowed.
An underwater city and a landscape of petrified black lava arethe characteristics of the unusual little island of Ustica in theTyrrhenian Sea, just a short ferry ride of 36 miles (57km) fromPalermo. The ancient volcanic island was once inhabited by thePhoenicians and often fell prey to pirate raids during the MiddleAges; there is evidence of many shipwrecks off the island and theGreeks believed it was inhabited by sirens that lured ships totheir doom on the rocks. Ustica has been inhabited since thePaleolithic era and notable archaeological remains have beenuncovered. The Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians and Romans allleft their mark on the landscape. In the 20th century Ustica becamea penal colony but in 1961 tourists officially replaced prisoners.Today, the island is a designated national marine park and itscrystal-clear waters and undersea treasures, particularly thesubmerged ancient city of Osteodes, attract divers from all overthe world. The snorkelling is also brilliant, as the waters aroundthe island teem with marine life. Every year in July the island isthe venue for an International Underwater Activity Show. Ustica isa delightful excursion which can occupy visitors happily for one totwo days, but unless you are an avid diver, you won't need moretime than that to explore the island.
The Roman ruins at Solunto overlook the coast near Santa Flavia,on the slopes of Mount Catalfamo. The site was originally aPhoenician village that was expanded by the Greeks who conquered itin 396 BC. By 255 BC it had fallen to the Romans, who rebuilt muchof the original town. No complete structures remain and the ruinsconsist mainly of floors and the lower portions of walls andcolumns. Portions of mosaics and paintings are still visible andreally exciting to stumble upon. An impressive view of the Gulf ofPalermo can be had from the hilltop above Solunto, and there is asmall archaeological museum at the site, although most of theartefacts from Solunto are in Palermo's Regional ArchaeologicalMuseum. The ruins are picturesque and interesting and they arebeautifully situated. Solunto usually doesn't get a lot of coveragein guide books which means that this breathtaking site can often beexplored in relative solitude. It can get hot on the slopes so itis best to avoid the heat of midday, and be sure to bringcomfortable shoes as you will need to do some walking if you wantto see everything. Even without the exciting archaeologicalremains, the area would be wonderful for a hike, and worth visitingfor the views alone.
The Ponte Nuova (New Bridge) connects the mainland city ofSyracuse to the island of Ortygia, where most of the area's worthysights are located. The island was fortified by Greek colonists andthe remains of the Temple of Apollo can still be visited in thePiazza Pancali: this is the oldest Greek temple in Sicily, built inthe Doric style around 565 BC. The cathedral in the nearby PiazzaDuomo is uniquely made up of the original walls of a 5th-century BCGreek temple known as the Athenaion, and near the sea, reachedalong Via Capodieci, is the mythical Spring of Arethusa. There aremedieval relics on the island too, including Maniaces Castle,dating from the 11th century. Apart from the many historic sights,the island of Ortygia also offers numerous boutiques and craftshops, and restaurants and cafes galore. The winding streets arecharming and there are treasures to be found around many corners.Walking is the best way to get around on Ortygia as the narrow,winding streets can be difficult to navigate by car and parking isoften scarce. Several hours are required to explore the islandfully. Be sure to bring along the camera as the island isdelightfully picturesque.
Catania is an ancient city, founded in 729 BC. The secondlargest city in Sicily, Catania sits in the shadow of Europe'shighest volcano, Mount Etna, on the east of Sicily between Syracuseand Taormina. It was once called the 'city of black and white'because of the use of white marble and black lava to construct itselegant buildings, many of which have since fallen into ruins orbeen destroyed by war, earthquakes and lava flows.
Catania boasts some interesting historical relics. There are twoRoman amphitheatres, one reminiscent of Rome's Colosseum, and a13th-century fortress, Ursino Castle, which is now a museum. Thecity's cathedral contains some royal tombs and was built in the11th century. The historic downtown area, much of which dates backto the 17th-century, is a UNESCO-listed site. The city is also agreat transport hub and has an active nightlife.
Visitors will find plenty to do in Catania and the citycertainly has attractions, but in summer tourists should beware.Catania is regarded as the hottest city in Italy, with temperaturesoften soaring to 104ºF (40ºC).
Sicily's greatest natural attraction is the (very) activevolcano, Mount Etna, which has been spewing lava and shaking theearth for centuries, most recently in 2008, while ash eruptionsoccur almost continuously. About 20 miles (32km) from Catania, thecraters below the summit can be reached from the town of PianoProvenzana at the base by bus or on foot. This town also serves asa ski resort in winter, and during summer is a base camp for hikersintent on enjoying the wooded scenery and exploring the interestingcaverns in the area. Various species of oak and stone pine, birchand beech trees cover the lower mountain slopes, while frogs,toads, tortoises and Sicily's ubiquitous lizards hide in the foreststreams. Foxes, weasels, squirrels and other small mammals stalkthe forests and a plethora of bird species fill the trees and theGurrida Lake area. The lovely flora and fauna are an extra bonusfor hikers exploring the area, and the volcanic activity attractsphotographers. Mount Etna features rather prominently in Greekmythology and has been captivating people for centuries; it is oneof Italy's most famous natural features and a playground foradventurers of various kinds.
The medieval fortress town of Orvieto is perched on a hilltopoverlooking the Umbrian countryside, just over an hour north ofRome by car and also accessible by train. The dramatically situatedtown, with ancient fortifications that seem to grow out of thecliffs, has been permanently inhabited since the Etruscans. It isthought to have been an important centre for Etruscan civilizationand many impressive artefacts can be viewed in Orvieto'sarchaeological museum. Situated as it is on the route between Romeand Florence, Orvieto has been a vital defensive outpost at variouspoints in its long history. The famous Christian philosopher,Thomas Aquinas, once lived and taught in Orvieto. The town remainsalmost unchanged since medieval times, and even in summer is nottoo packed with tourists. The 13th-century Duomo of Orvieto, withits magnificent facade and frescoes, dominates the skyline. Thecathedral is Orvieto's must-see attraction, but visitors shouldalso take time to wander around the town's backstreets to findhidden gems and amazing views over the city walls and battlements.The best restaurants are tucked away in the side streets off themain square.
Despite the invasion of tourists over the summer months,Positano retains the authentic character that enamoured artists andwriters, including Picasso, Escher, and Steinbeck. Pastel-colouredhouses and bougainvillea-draped hotels are connected by steep roadsand steps to a boat-filled harbour below. In the town centre is thecobbled Flavio Gioia square, which is surrounded by boutiques,bars, and restaurants. Rising above is the 11th-century Basilica diSanta Maria Assunta, with its beautiful golden dome.
There are two main beachs in Positano. Just below the towncentre, Spiaggia Grande is the most popular. Its expanse of darksand is packed with deckchairs and sunbathers. Boat trips andwatersports can be arranged at the harbour. Spiaggia del Fornillois Positano's second beach, and is worth the easy ten-minute strollfrom the centre. The pebbly shore slopes gently into the beautifulwarm, azure waters of the Mediterranean.
Those looking for more than a beach holiday can explore some ofthe lovely hiking trails found in the surrounding Monti Lattarimountain range. Sorrento and Amalfi are a short drive away, andthere is a daily ferry to Capri from the harbour.
Typical of the picturesque towns along the Amalfi Coast, thesmall hilltop village of Ravello clings to the coastal foothillsand steep rocky cliffs above the town of Amalfi. Houses climb rockyslopes, green with olive trees and lemon orchards, while emeraldwaves lap against the sands of Castiglione Beach.
Much of Ravello is catered towards tourism, so foreign visitorswill not struggle or feel out of place. Reached mostly from Amalfiby driving along the winding bends of the Valle del Dragone, itreally comes into its romantic own during the evening when goldenlights brighten the darkening hills. Its views are some of the bestin the Mediterranean, with famous American writer Gore Vidalpraising the vistas from his perch at the classically stunningVilla Cimbrone. Here, visitors can explore its gardens andvineyards, as well as gaze out from the famous Terrace ofInfinity.
As mentioned, it's close enough to the town of Amalfi to makefor a comfortable holiday base. While perched a little way up fromthe beaches, they've never further than a short drive away. Time isspent strolling around its old avenues and buildings, admiring theverdant gardens or sipping on Ravello's beloved white wines.
Villa Rufolo serves as the unofficial town centre, itscenturies-old windows and domed towers looking out onto thecathedral square. Ravello cuisine is dominated by fresh ingredientsfound either in the hills above or the waves below, typicallyItalian and offering pasta, pizza, gelato, and a host of dishescontaining the area's famous lemons and limoncello, a lemonliqueur.
Lacking the glamour and crowds of its more famous neighbours,Maiori is instead famous for having one of the largest beaches onthe Amalfi Coast. The beachfront hotels make Maiori ideal for thosewho love the sea, while the fishing town's long history meansthere's plenty to discover and explore. History buffs should visitthe dominating Castle of San Nicola de Thoro Plano, for a personaltour by the castle's owner.
Maiori is a great spot for foodies, and some wonderfulrestaurants line the promenade and the main street, Corsa Reginna.Depending on the time of day, visitors can enjoy a cappuccino,gelato, or the locally produced limoncello liqueur.
The tiny nearby town of Minori basks in history, being theoldest town on the Amalfi Coast. It has numerous historic sites,most notably a 1st-century Roman maritime villa.
Maiori and Minori are both good bases from which to explore theAmalfi Coast. Amalfi and Ravello are a short drive away, andPositana can be reached in less than an hour.
The Basilica of St John Lateran was built in the 4th century byConstantine the Great and was the first church built in Rome. It isthe cathedral of the Diocese of Rome, and as such ranks above allother Roman Catholic churches, even St Peter's Basilica in theVatican. It is the official ecclesiastical seat of the Pope, and itis here that he celebrates Mass on certain religious holidays. Thebuilding has suffered much damage in the past and has been rebuiltseveral times, leaving only fragmented parts of the originalchurch. The present building is characterised by its 18th-centuryfaçade and contains several important relics, a 13th-centurycloister and an ancient baptistery.
Inside are numerous statues, paintings, the High Altar that canonly be used by the Pope, and a cedar table that is said to be theone used by Christ at the Last Supper. Across the street is one ofthe holiest sites in Christendom, visited by pilgrims from aroundthe world: the Palace of the Holy Steps, believed to be the 28marble steps originally at Pontius Pilate's villa in Jerusalem,that Christ climbed the day he was brought before Pilate. They havebeen in Rome since 1589.
The picturesque hill town of Assisi, to the east of Perugia, isfamous as the birthplace of St Francis, a 12th-century monk whofounded the Franciscan order, devoted to achieving an 'abundance ofthe divine' through the practices of ascetism, poverty andchastity. Tourists and pilgrims flock to the bustling town forinspiration and worship, and a multitude of annual conferences,festivals and other religious activities. Assisi is a visualspectacle of shimmering white marble buildings perched halfway upMount Subasio. The town is set against the backdrop of the towering14th-century hill fortress of the Rocca Maggiore, a landmark withwhich to orientate oneself from inside the city's medievalramparts.
One of the most loved and visited churches in Italy is the13th-century Basilica di San Francesco, containing frescoes byGiotto commemorating the life of St Francis. Other notable worksinclude paintings by Pietro Lorenzetti, and Simone Martini'sfrescoes based on the life of St Martin. St Francis' tomb restsbelow the lower church, also worth visiting when on holiday inAssisi. Almost all of the four million tourists who travel toAssisi each year come primarily to see the Basilica di SanFrancesco, but other popular sights include the 13th-centuryBasilica di Santa Chiara, the 12th-century Romanesque Duomo di SanRufino and the Eremo delle Carceri monastery, situated in thewoodland outside the walls of Assisi.
Assisi is a beautiful city with winding streets, Roman ruins andmagnificent churches, and it feels like it has changed little sincemedieval times. The greatest gems are the small medieval treasuresand glorious views to be found all over the small city. It isconsidered a highly spiritual place and attracts many pilgrims - itis common to see nuns in the streets and there is a peaceful,ancient atmosphere.
Housing one of Italy's finest collections of medieval andRenaissance art, the 17th-century Pinacoteca di Brera is by far thebest collection of northern Italian paintings. Many of themasterpieces here were secured by Napoleon, who used the Palazzo asa storeroom for all the art he confiscated from public and privateholdings. An imposing bronze sculpture in his likeness greetsvisitors as they enter the courtyard. Three of Italy's greatmasterpieces can be found here, namely Andrea Mantegna's , Raphael's , and Piero della Francesca's (the ). The collection also includesnotable works by Caravaggio. One of Milan's most popular touristattractions, the Pinacoteca di Brera houses mostly religious artand will impress even the uninitiated with its vast collection andthe stunning building, which is an attraction in its own right. Thepaintings and sculptures are well arranged and, unlike somegalleries in Italy, there is a decent audio guide in English tosupplement the information mounted for each painting, the majorityof which are in Italian. There is a student cafe off from the maincourtyard where visitors can get refreshments.
The Orto Botanico di Brera is a botanical garden located behindthe Pinacoteca di Brera in the centre of Milan, and is operated bythe Istituto di Fisica Generale Applicata of the University ofMilan. The garden was established in 1774 under the direction ofMaria Theresa of Austria, transforming an existing Jesuit gardenused by students of medicine and pharmacology. The garden hasgreenhouses from the 19th century that are now used by the Academyof Fine Arts, as well as flowerbeds and elliptical ponds from the18th century. Orto Botanico di Brera is home to one of the oldestginkgo biloba trees in Europe, and various other mature botanicalspecimens can be found within the grounds. It is a trueplant-lover's paradise and a wonderful place to take a stroll andadmire the romantic features. The Orto Botanico di Brera is smallby botanical garden standards but is well worth visiting for itshistorical charm and the originality of the mixture of art andnature that often results from the influence of the Academy of FineArts. Locals enjoy reading, relaxing and soaking up the sun in thislovely green area and the fact that most tourists never discoverthe rather well-hidden garden is probably a blessing, as it remainsa peaceful and beautiful refuge.
The Basilica of Sant'Ambrogio is one of the oldest churches inMilan, built by Bishop Ambrose between 379 and 386 AD. Located inan area where numerous martyrs of the Roman persecutions wereburied, it was originally called Basilica Martyrum. In 1099 thechurch was rebuilt in the Romanesque architectural style but thebasilica plan of the original edifice was maintained, including aportico with elegant arches in the front entrance. In keeping withthe Lombard style of medieval architecture, the hut-like façade hasa typically flat appearance. Of the two bell towers, the left andhigher tower dates back to 1144 AD. Inside there is an apse mosaicfrom the early 13th century that portrays the Christ Pantokrator(Ruler of All), an inspirational religious and artistic artefact.The church also houses the tomb of Emperor Louis II, who died inLombardy in 875 AD. There are mummified bishops in the chapels ofthis interesting and ancient church and it is one of the bestchurches in Milan for religious art and artefacts. Despite itsnotoriety as one of the oldest churches in the city, the basilicais not overrun by tourists and the place has retained itsatmosphere of peace, silence and history; the pleasure of a visithere is seldom marred by crowds.
Originally built in the 9th century, this 318-foot (97-metre)bell tower is the highest structure in Venice and offers visitorsbreathtaking views of the cupolas of St. Mark's, the lagoon, itsneighbouring islands and the red rooftops and church domes ofVenice. When the air is clear, one can even spot a snow-capped peakof the distant Dolomite Mountains but, strangely enough, not onecanal can be seen from this bell tower. Despite the fact thatVenice appears to be a dry city from this vantage point, the toweronce served as a kind of lighthouse to assist navigation on thelagoon, and the views of this piece of water are magnificent. Thetower collapsed unexpectedly in 1902 and was rebuilt exactly asbefore, even rescuing one of the five historical bells that arestill in use today (each bell was rung for a different purpose,such as war, the death of a doge, religious holidays, etc). Thebell tower is extremely popular, for good reason, and queues forvisitors can get very long, especially on weekends, so it is bestto visit during the week if possible and to arrive early to avoidthe crowds. Be sure to take along your camera! Kids will love thisattraction as well, so it is a great outing for the wholefamily.
The jet-set strip of Sardinia, Costa Smeralda is a six-mile(10km) stretch of coastline between the gulfs of Cugnana andArzachena on the island's northeast coast, which has become adeveloper's paradise and extremely popular with holidaymakers.Legend has it that a fabulously wealthy consortium of businessmenfirst exploited this beautiful wild coastal strip in the 1960s,backed by the Aga Khan. Today the local villages and towns aroundCosta Smeralda have become discreet upmarket resorts crammed withprivate villas, luxurious holiday villages, contrivedMediterranean-style shopping malls, low-rise high-priced hotels andhuge yachting marinas packed with gleaming yachts.
The main town of the area is Porto Cervo, a crime andlitter-free playground of the rich with its ranks of pale pink andred villas climbing the hill from the busy marina. The otherfavourite retreat for celebrities is the town of Porto Rotondo,situated on a natural cove about 10 miles (16km) from Olbia, siteof the international airport. The town offers a wealth of beaches,nightclubs, bars and restaurants, most clustered around its PiazzaSan Marco, and the marina. The main attractions of the CostaSmeralda are the numerous sequestered beaches, none signposted,which can be discovered simply by following a dirt track downtowards the sea. Among the most scenic are Cappriccioli, RenaBianca and Liscia Ruja, all south of Porto Cervo.
Rome is a busy, crowded city and it can be difficult to findsome peace and quiet, or open spaces for exercise. The best placeto go to get some fresh air and a break from traditionalsightseeing is the Villa Doria Pamphili, which is the largestlandscaped public park in Rome and a wonderful place to spend a fewhours. The park is huge with streams, a lake, lots of shaded areasand plenty of open grassy spaces; perfect for an early morning jogor stroll. The park is also ideal if you are travelling to Romewith kids because it provides a lovely natural outdoor area forfamily picnics and games, allowing children to blow off some steam.There are playgrounds, a skating rink and soccer fields to enjoy,and pony rides around the Villa Doria Pamphili are also great fun.There is a little restaurant for refreshments as well. The17th-century villa, which gives the park its name, and featureslandscaped gardens, is not usually accessible to tourists but isinteresting to see from the outside. The park is actually lovelyall year, even in winter, though it is obviously at its best ingood weather. Playgrounds and parks are hard to find in Rome whichautomatically makes Villa Doria Pamphili a big hit with familiesvisiting the city.
Also known as the Castelvecchio Bridge, the Ponte Scaligerospans 160 feet (49m) across the Adige River, the largest span inthe world at the time of its construction. Originally built between1354 and 1356, the bridge was completely destroyed during World WarII by retreating German troops in April 1945, but was reconstructedfaithfully, using as much of the original materials as possible,between 1949 and 1951. The bridge's upper part was built with redbricks, as are all Veronese landmarks from the Scaliger era, whilethe lower part of the bridge is made up of white marble. The bridgeis open all day, every day and is one of the best places to enjoyspectacular views over the city of Verona, as well as views of theadjoining Castelvecchio Castle, a 14th-century red-brick structureof considerable grandeur. The bridge can get very crowded, atestament to its popularity and appeal, but also an annoyance tosome visitors, particularly photographers; it is a good idea toarrive early or late in the evening to avoid crowds. There arebenches on the river banks where you can enjoy views of the bridgeitself. On weekends there is often a delightful market spanning thelength of the bridge.
The Piazza delle Erbe is a square in Verona which was once hometo the city's Roman Forum during the days of Empire. The piazzacontains the Britney Verona fountain, the ancient town hall, theLamberti Tower (which affords breathtaking views over the city forthose willing to climb the stairs), the 14th-century GardelloTower, the Baroque Palazzo Maffei, adorned with statues of Greekgods, and a pretty daily market that draws tourists by the busload. The markets are famed for their fresh fruit and vegetablesbut there are other things on offer, like Venetian masks andbeautiful shawls, and some wonderful bargains can be found. Despitethe crowds, the square is still worth a visit for its marketplaceand its lovely eateries, where weary tourists can grab a bite toeat and dine al fresco in the picturesque Roman Court. The Piazzadelle Erbe is the heart of Verona and its central gathering place.Street artists add to the festive atmosphere and the clash ofancient and modern is interesting and picturesque. Be sure to takeyour camera along, and to look up at the buildings surrounding thesquare rather than just at the bustle of life that surrounds you.The piazza is also lots of fun at night, when its numerous barsbeckon visitors.
This enormous Ancient Roman theatre dates back 2,000 years, isthe third-largest surviving theatre in the world, and is Italy'slargest opera theatre. The exterior may be crumbling, but it onlyadds to the character and authenticity of the place. The very factthat this theatre is still fully functional after 2,000 years andhas withstood a devastating earthquake makes it an attraction notto be missed while on holiday in Verona. In recent times, theVerona Arena has played host to popular music artists such as TheWho, Kiss, Pearl Jam, Muse, Elton John and Tina Turner. Seating upto 15,000 people, the best time to visit the Arena is during thelyrical season, in the summer, when operas take place inside thisancient theatre on balmy summer nights. For details on what isshowing and ticket bookings check the official website listedbelow.
You can visit the Verona Arena as a tourist attraction withoutseeing a show and for a small admission cost explore the ancientstructure. There is very little information available at the siteunfortunately but there are some wonderful views from the toplevels of the theatre and it is a thrill to be in such an oldstructure. Catching an opera or concert is first prize, butstrolling around when it is empty is still exciting andworthwhile.
One of Italy's most renowned wine regions, the valley ofValpolicella is located just east of Lake Garda, and makes afabulous day trip for those visiting Verona. Ranking just afterChianti, Valpolicella wines are made from three grape varietals,namely Corvina Veronese, Rondinella, and Molinara. Winemaking herehas existed since at least the time of the ancient Greeks and theregion is famed for its Recioto, Ripasso and Amarone wines. A visitto Valpolicella will reward you with not only some of Italy'sfinest wines, but also fine food and dining in the quaint,picturesque villages of San Pietro Incariano, Fumane and Negrar.Tourists should note that Valpolicella, despite its wine pedigree,doesn't have as many tasting rooms and wineries open to the publicas one might expect having explored other famous wine regions, butwhat they do have rewards a visit. If you feel the need to work offsome of the good food and wine you've sampled in the valley, orwant to see more of the natural landscapes of the region, thenearby park of Cascate di Molina showcases Italy's countryside atits best, and boasts beautiful natural waterfalls and hikes foradventurous visitors to enjoy.
The beautiful town of Spoleto was established by the Romans inthe 3rd Century BC, and many Roman buildings, ruins and artefactsremain, including the Coliseum and the Church of San Salvatore,which dates from the 4th Century, making it one of the oldestchurches in the world.
The Lombards made Spoleto their capital in the 8th Century, andfrom here ruled most of central Italy until the town fell intopapal hands in the 12th Century. The medieval castle and thecathedral dominate the well-preserved Upper Town; the Lower Townwas badly damaged in World War II and has had to be extensivelyrebuilt. The Duomo di Spoleto has a lovely facade with eight rosewindows, while inside there are beautiful frescos by Filippo Lippi.Another popular attraction in Spoleto is the impressive Tower'sBridge, or Ponte delle Torri, which was built in 1350 AD and isstill traversable today. The bridge provides access to some greatwalking trails and the views are gorgeous.
The church of San Pietro can be found in the wooded hills ashort trip out of town. This church served as the cathedral ofSpoleto until 1067, and sports some of the best Romanesque carvingsin Italy.
Cortona is a richly historic city that enjoys a scenic positionabove Lake Trasimeno and the plain of Valdichiana, dotted witholive groves and vineyards. It is one of Tuscany's oldest cities,and home to some of its best-preserved Etruscan buildings. Cortonaalso has a strong artistic pedigree, reflected in its status as a'City of Art', and was home to Luca Signorelli and Pietra daCortona. The ancient city has become even more popular due to beingthe location for several much loved books by Frances Mayes.
Most of the Etruscan city is hidden in basements but part of theoriginal 4th-century BC walls can be seen at the base of PortaColonia's outer side. Climbing the city's cut-stone staircases andmeandering along its cobbled streets guides one back through thepast from the Renaissance to the Middle Ages and beyond. Themedieval houses along Via Janelli are the oldest in Italy; massivetimber beams support their overhanging upper stories. Other placesof special interest for people on holiday in Cortona include thePalazzo Comunale, Museo dell'Accademia Etrusca (containing a numberof major Etruscan artefacts) and the church of San Francesco, thefirst Franciscan church outside Assisi.
San Gimignano is a popular village on the tourist trail whichattracts many with its charm and history. The distinctive skylineof the charming medieval village of San Gimignano is redolent of amodern cityscape with its many towers, hence its nickname the'medieval Manhattan'.
Only 14 of the original 72 towers remain, however, which isunsurprising as their dual role as status symbols and defensivestructures saw them caught in the middle of the many feuds andbattles that eventually caused the town's downfall. Nevertheless,these 14 towers are among the best-preserved in Italy, and are theenvy of Florence and Bologna whose towers have long since beendestroyed. San Gimignano enjoyed an ideal position on the mainpilgrimage route connecting Northern Europe and Rome and prosperedduring the Middle Ages. In modern times, its fortune stems fromtourism and wine production.
The ideal starting-point for a visit to San Gimignano is thePiazza del Duomo, which is the centre of the town and framed byhistorical buildings. Nearby is the Collegiata, a church datingfrom the 11th-century and famed for its frescoes, which include TheCreation by Bartolo di Fredi. For shopping and souvenirs, head toVia San Giovanni.
The holiday destination of Pisa is most famous for its leaningcampanile; yet its other equally notable coups include its longmaritime legacy, dating to 1000 BC, its prized university, and itsstatus as the birthplace of the world's greatest physicist andastronomer, Galileo Galilei. The Pisans also created one of themost beautiful squares in the world in the Campo dei Miracoli(Field of Miracles).
Pisa's key component is the famous Leaning Tower, an essentialholiday attraction, whose layers of heavy marble were constructedon a shifting subsoil foundation that has been the bane of Pisanengineers for more than 800 years. It seems that the tremulous soilunderneath the Field of Miracles has exacted its price on the otherbuildings too, most notably San Michele dei Scalzi. Otherattractions of interest in Pisa include the Museo delle Sinopie, amuseum containing a display of sketches from the frescoed cyclethat decorated the walls of the Campo Santo cemetery; and the Museodell'Opera del Duomo, in which exhibits of arabesque panels andCorinthian capitals reveal the influences of Rome and Islam onPisan architects. The Museo Nazionale di San Matteo displays arange of Florentine art from the 12th through to the17th-centuries.
Pisa is a popular daytrip from Florence, and a beloved Italiandestination in its own right.
The charming city of Lucca is laid out on ancient Roman roadsand framed within well-preserved and photogenic medieval ramparts.It is an ancient city, founded by the Etruscans and a Roman colonyfrom 180 BC, and still boasts many fascinating old buildings. Thecity walls are one of the main attractions as they are stillperfectly intact despite the expansion of the city and their greatage.
The city is also famous for being the home of Puccini and has anappropriate reputation for wonderful chamber music. Casa di Pucinimakes an interesting visit for opera lovers on holiday here, asthis 15th-century house is a shrine to the composer who lived andworked here. Lucca is also celebrated for its museums, monumentsand splendid Romanesque churches. With its flat terrain and narrowlanes, Lucca is perfectly suited to explorations on foot or bybicycle, the same methods local people use to commute.
Key sights on a visit to Lucca are the Duomo, San Michele, SanFrediano, Museo Nazionale Guinigi and Torre Guinigi. The remains ofan ancient Roman amphitheatre can be found on Piazza del Mercato,lined by buildings dating from the middle ages.
Genoa is home to the Acquario di Genova, which is thesecond-largest aquarium in Europe and the best in Italy. Built in1992, it welcomes more than 1.2 million visitors each year. Theship-like building on the promenade houses no fewer than 50habitats, ranging from the Amazon basin and Red Sea coral reefs toAntarctic penguin pools. Hundreds of species that call the aquariumhome include seals, dolphins, caiman, piranhas, jellyfish, seaturtles, and sharks - the penguins are very entertaining and areparticular favourites with visitors. The aquarium is extremelywell-maintained and has good English-language facilities. It is afantastic family attraction in Genoa, and gives kids a fun breakfrom traditional sightseeing. Unexpectedly, the aquarium also has ahummingbird sanctuary.
Due to its popularity the aquarium can get crowded in the summermonths and it is a good idea to arrive early to avoid queuing.There have been complaints about scams and petty theft outside ofthe aquarium - the most commonly reported scam involves salesmentying bracelets tight onto visitors wrists and then demandingpayment once they cannot be removed. These hawkers are sometimesjust a distraction so watch out for pickpocketing.
Formerly Genoa's City Hall, the Palazzo Tursi is the largest andmost majestic of all the magnificent buildings on the ViaGaribaldi. Built in 1565, the building is now a museum and housesunique artefacts like the violin of Nicolo Paganini, and ashes thatare said to be the remains of Christopher Colombus. The museum alsocontains numerous decorative artworks, like tapestries, furnitureand Ligurian ceramics, as well as historical artefacts like ancientcoins and medical devices. The collection is varied and unexpectedand although some may feel it lacks cohesion, others love theunusual nature of the exhibits. On sunny days, you can break fromthe museum's collections and just enjoy the beauty of thebuilding's many-columned interior courtyard.
The museums along the lovely Via Garibaldi are knowncollectively as the 'Musei di Strada Nuova' and the individualbuildings are the Palazzo Bianco, Palazzo Rosso and Palazzo Tursi.All the museums are worth a visit and you can buy a joint ticketvalid for all three from the bookshop between Bianco and Tursi.There is a popular cafe at Palazzo Rosso if you feel the need torefuel between collections.
The 13th-century church and monastery of Sant'Agostino, once aplace of retirement and seclusion, is now open for visitors to viewthe amazing collections within. The church itself was built by theAugustinians in 1260, and is one of the few Gothic buildingsremaining in Genoa. Today, the cloisters are a museum housing morethan 4,000 works, including metal and stone sculptures, frescoes,and many architectural artefacts and fragments. One of the mostpopular attractions in Genoa, the museum is a must-see for visitorsto the region. Although not large, the museum receives rave reviewsfrom visitors. One of the only drawbacks is that, like many museumsin Genoa, Sant'Agostino has very little information in English andthose who don't speak Italian should try to bring some materialswith them. The museum is gradually linking its artefacts to mobilephone guides in English and Italian but this project is in itsinfancy. Photography is allowed in the museum but only non-flashand only in certain sections; visitors may be required to fill outa form stating that they won't use the photographs taken forcommercial purposes.
Although not technically a 'valley', but rather a ridge locatedjust outside the Sicilian town of Agrigento, the Valley of theTemples (Valle dei Templi) is one of Italy's oldest and mostinteresting archaeological sites. Declared a UNESCO World HeritageSite in 1997, the Valley of the Temples is filled with some of themost outstanding examples of Magna Graecia architecture in theworld. The Doric-styled structures, built in the 5th century BC,are dedicated to gods and mythological characters, including, quiterarely, an imposing structure dedicated to Vulcan. There are alsosome fascinating commemorative structures, built in celebration ofRome's victory over Carthage, and in memory of Roman soldiers whowere killed in the Second Punic War. In the tradition ofGreco-Roman architecture of the period, all the structures faceeast to be illuminated by the rising sun. The 'valley' is actuallydivided into two distinct sections: the Hill of Temples and, on theother side of the parking lot, another grouping of templesincluding the Temple of Zeus, but the admission charge coverseverything. A must-see tourist attraction in Sicily, the site ofthe Valley of the Temples commands great views of Agrigento andmakes for a wonderful half-day adventure.
Located just 50 miles (80km) from the region of Umbria, the cityof Genga's Frasassi Caves complex is considered to be one of themost wondrous in Italy. A remarkable karst cave system - that is, asystem comprised of limestone that has been dissolved overmillennia - the site has been well-prepared for visitors over theyears. Known as a 'show cave', the complex is fitted with safe,comfortable walkways and theatrical lighting to bring theotherworldly stalactites and stalagmites into even greater relief.The walkways are easy to traverse and you don't have to beparticularly fit to manage it. You will experience a genuine thrillas you make your way down into the 'centre of the earth', as thetemperature drops and your breath begins to mist, and theoverwhelming silence is broken only by the resonant sound ofdripping water. Tours are in Italian but audio sets are usuallyavailable for foreign visitors. Note that, despite the many photoson the internet, photography is not allowed in the caves andcameras probably won't be allowed in. One of Italy's mosttalked-about tourist attractions in recent years, tourists stoppingoff in Umbria should be sure to make the short trip to the FrasassiCaves.
Surely one of Italy's most iconic images is that of gondolasbeing oared through the narrow canals of Venice by stripe-shirted,serenading gondoliers. These flat-bottomed boats are unique to thecanals and waterways of Venice, and taking a ride in one isconsidered by many to be an obligatory tourist activity while onholiday in Italy. Although you will pay dearly for the experience(roughly €80 - €90 for a 40-minute trip), taking a gondola ride inVenice is sure to leave you with a warm and lasting memory of yourvacation in Italy. Tourists are encouraged to make the most of theinvestment, however: take a trip down the back canals of Venice,and not the Grand Canal which is too crowded and impersonal; pickan ornately-carved gondola, with a comfortable seat and blankets ifit's cold; and be sure to ask your gondolier if he is of thesinging variety before getting into the boat - although it iscompulsory for them to wear black pants, striped shirts, closedshoes and (weather-permitting) their straw hats, they are notactually required to sing.
Gondolas are available throughout Venice and can be hailed asone would an ordinary taxi. If you book one through a hotel or tourcompany, you will probably end up paying a surcharge.
The flourishing fishing port of Alghero, situated on thenorthwest coast, is Sardinia's tourist centre and attractsthousands of holidaymakers each year. It consists of a picturesqueand well-preserved old town enclosed in a stout girdle of walls.Outside, the new town sports a grid of parallel streets filled withhotels and restaurants. A favoured package tour destination,Alghero offers beautiful beaches and year-round holiday amenitiestogether with numerous places of interest to visit. The town isvery Spanish in flavour, having been invaded by Pedro IV of Aragonin 1354.
The narrow cobbled streets of the old town are lined withflamboyant churches and wrought-iron balconies, boutiques andcafes, as well as the workshops of craftsmen working the famedcoral of Alghero. The local cuisine hints of Spain too, and thetown is renowned for its excellent seafood. Authentic Spanishpaellas, lobster alla Catalana and tasty fish soups abound, withdelicious sea urchins on sale from stallholders in the port. Aroundthe town the coast offers many secluded bays, small inlets borderedby pine forests and high, jagged cliffs washed by the sea. Inland,luxuriant vineyards produce some of the most aromatic wines on theisland. Nightlife is sedate, tending more toward sipping cocktailsat a sidewalk café and watching the sunset from the seafront thanfrenetic nightclubbing.
Visitors to Syracuse may be forgiven for wondering whether theyare on holiday in Italy or Greece. This city on the southeasterncorner of Sicily's Ionian coastline once rivalled Athens as themost important city in the ancient Greek world. Its Greek heritagecan still be found in abundance in both the ruins of buildingsolder and more splendid than the Parthenon and in the myths andlegends centred particularly on its oldest quarter, the island ofOrtygia.
Archimedes once strode the streets here and today tourists whostroll around the Neapolis Archaeological Park on the TerminiteHill can still get a feel for Syracuse's golden age of power andprosperity. As well as the Hellenic relics, Syracuse also boastsmore than its fair share of Roman ruins and some fine medievalGothic architecture and art, all treasures to be singled out fromamong the uninspiring high-rises and motorways that make up themodern city. Parking is a problem in the city, particularly onOrtygia where most of the medieval sights and the best shops arelocated, and the heat can become unbearable in the height ofsummer; however, no holiday in Sicily is complete without exploringthe antiquities of Syracuse. Most visitors prefer to make day tripsto the city from the more comfortable resort areas nearby, wheresoft white beaches and fine wines can be enjoyed on the shores ofthe Ionian Sea.
Sicily's most famous holiday resort town, Taormina, was the19th-century haunt of British aristocracy and the place chosen by DH Lawrence to write his erotic novel, Lady Chatterley's Lover. Thetown boasts what is surely the most photographed view in Sicily,across the beautiful ancient Greek amphitheatre to the sea withMount Etna in the background. Inhabited since before 734 BC, whenthe Greeks arrived on the Sicilian coast, Taormina is an ancienttown.
Taormina today remains Sicily's favourite holiday destinationwith its winding medieval streets and tiny passages hiding somegreat restaurants, cafes and ice-cream parlours, some hidden insecluded gardens and others in pleasant squares or on terraces withsea views. It is a great place to shop, too, with thousands ofboutiques selling crafts, fashion, jewellery, ceramics, mosaics andporcelain dolls. A popular beach is at Giardini-Naxos, a few milesaway, and a funicular connects the old town to the coastal area ofMazzaro below. The stone walls of the old city, situated on aplateau, enclose some fascinating archaeological monuments andmedieval palaces, including the Palazzo Santo Stefano. Popular formany decades, as a holiday destination Taormina still has it all:stunning surroundings, lovely nearby beaches, medieval charm, greatshops and restaurants, and interesting archaeological remains.
Siena is one of Italy's best-preserved medieval cities, and oneof the major drawcards for visitors to the popular regions ofUmbria and Tuscany. The city's historic centre is a UNESCO WorldHeritage Site and is only accessible on foot. Siena's peak as awealthy city-state dates back to the 13th-century, when the Duomodi Siena was completed along with the distinctly scallop-shapedPiazza del Campo, regarded as one of the finest public spaces inEurope. The town's university was founded in 1240, and to this dayranks as one of the most prestigious in Italy, while its studentpopulation enlivens the traditionally conservative localpopulation.
Amid the winding lanes of the medieval city are many gorgeouschurches and museums, filled with artistic riches. Chief amongthese are the 13th-century Gothic-styled Chiesa di San Domenico andthe imposing Fortezza Medicea; while the Sanctuary of St.Catherine's of Siena is a pilgrimage site for many seeking benefitsfrom the reputedly miraculous crucifix it houses.
All of Siena's streets are a delight to explore while on holidaybut some of its most notable landmarks include the Torre de Mangia,Palazzo Pubblico, the Duomo, Palazzo Piccolomini, PinacotecaNazionale and Museo dell'Opera. Torre del Mangia is the bell towerto the left of Palazzo Pubblico which stands at 330ft (102m), thesecond highest in Italy. It is named after the first bell ringerwho was known for his infuriating idleness. The Palazzo Pubblicostill serves as Siena's town hall although sections of it are opento the public. The Palazzo Piccolomini, built in 1460 for theprosperous Piccolomini family, contains Sienese state archives andfinancial records. The Pinacoteca Nazionale gallery is noted forits collection of works by artists of the Siena School. Siena'sspectacular Duomo is unsurpassed amongst Italy's churches, built infull Gothic style. The carved pulpit panels, by Nicola Pisano, aremagnificent depictions from The Life of Christ. Many of theoriginal statues on the church's façade are copies; the originalsare in the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo.
This sophisticated seaside resort is in the heart of theNeapolitan Riviera, on the South West coast of Italy, and is alivewith holiday makers over the summer months. Lively bars andrestaurants, and chic boutiques line the cobbled streets.
The town is perched on a clifftop, and is not famous for itsbeaches. Although there's a small beach at the harbour, MarinaPiccola, most bathers swim off the rocks or from wooden jetties, orlaze around their hotel swimming pool and enjoy the stunning viewsof Naples and Mount Vesuvius.
Sorrento is a popular base for exploring the local area. It's anhour's drive from Naples and a short distance from the stunningtowns of Amalfi and Positano, both easily accessible by bus orferry. Many visitors will also make a boat trip to the island ofCapri, the mythical home of the Sirens, or to expore the ruins ofPompeii, 40 minutes away by train.
Capri has long been a favoured destination for celebrities andthe super-rich. It is believed to be Homer's mythical land of theSirens, and was home to the Roman Emperor Tiberius, who ruled hisempire from a cliff top villa. Visitors can still see itsruins.
The island is now most famous for its dramatic landscape, smarthotels, and the expensive boutiques and restaurants of Capri Town.Visitors can escape the crowds by heading up Mount Salero, an houror two's walk or a 12-minute ride on a chairlift. A boat trip isalso a wonderful way to enjoy the island. Most tours stop at thefamous Blue Grotto, where visitors pass through the caves in smallrowing boats.
The island of Capri sits in Italy's Bay of Naples and is apopular day trip from Sorrento and Positano. It's best visitedoutside the peak summer months.
Italian Phrase Book
|per favore||please||por fa vor|
|il mio nome �||my name is||ill mee-oh nohm eh|
|dove �||where is||dohv eh|
|parlate inglese?||do you speak English?||pahr laht eh in gles eh|
|i don\' la t capisce||I dont understand||ee dohn la cup eesh|
|ho bisogno di un medico||I need a doctor||hor bee sog no dee uhn medico|
Italy has a largely temperate climate with regional variations.In summer the northern parts of Italy are warm with occasionalrainfall, the central region is somewhat stifled by humidity, andthe south scorches under the dry heat. In winter, conditions inMilan, Turin and Venice are dominated by cold, damp and fog andTuscany's winter temperatures approach freezing, while temperaturesin the south of the country are more favourable, averaging 50 to60ºF (10 to 20ºC). Most people visit Italy in the summer monthsbetween June and August; however, the best time to visit is inspring (April to May) and autumn (September to October) when theweather is good and there are fewer tourists. Travel is alsocheaper off-season. The sea is warm enough for swimming betweenJune and September. Visitors should note that most Italians taketheir vacation in August and many shops and restaurants are closedduring this period. It also means that during August the coastalresorts are crowded with locals. The ski season runs betweenDecember and April and the best time to walk in the Alps is betweenJune and September. The best time to visit Italy will varydepending on region and desired activities.
Possibly the best seafood restaurant in Rome, the cuisine at LaRosetta is world-class. A selection of marinated seafoodappetizers, such as squid with ginger and French beans, is the bestway to appreciate the flavours, followed by one of the superb pastadishes dressed with fish or seafood. The menu includes almost everytype of Mediterranean fish, grilled or roasted to perfection, anddesserts such as the ricotta cheesecake with honey are worth savingspace for. Reservations essential. Open for lunch and dinner Mondayto Saturday.
This sophisticated rooftop restaurant boasts a spectacular viewof the city below, and has an elegant setting with candlelit tablesand impeccable service. Many Roman food critics claim it is thebest restaurant in the city, which is attested to by a list ofregulars that includes Prince Rainier of Monaco, Bruce Springsteenand Glenn Close. Food is the very best of Mediterranean hautecuisine and each dish is a work of art in presentation and taste. Asundowner at the chic cocktail bar is a fine way to start theevening. Reservations essential. Closed Sunday and Monday. Dinneronly.
Small, unpretentious and serving top-quality Roman cuisine, AiTre Scalini is one of the nicest restaurants in the area close tothe Colosseum. The small menu is a gourmet experience, from thecheeses and salamis to porchetta, complemented by the wide varietyof wines on offer. Reservations required. Closed Mondays. Open from6pm.
Oozing with old-fashioned romance and elegance coupled withbreathtaking views across St Mark's Square, Ristorante Quadri laysit on thick when it comes to fine dining and style. Try the steamedSea-bass in rosemary flavour with vegetable ratatouille or the lambcutlets and loin flavoured with thyme and parsley and seved with afoundant of potato and eggplant. This restaurant might be perceivedas being kitsch, but it definitely doesn't disappoint. Open daily,closed on Mondays between 1 November and 31 March. Reservationsessential.
Enjoy sitting outside on a starry night, taking in a beautifulview of the Giudecca from the deck at Lineadombra, one of Venice'smost modern restaurants. The bass fillet with potatoes and vanillaperfume comes highly recommended.
Popular with tourists and featuring grand paintings that occupyentire walls, Persian carpets and beautiful views onto the squareof the Fenice Theatre, Antico Martini is one of the oldestrestaurants in Venice, steeped in almost 300 years' history. Thesuperb cuisine will not disappoint and is always made from thefreshest ingredients. Open daily from 11.30am to 11.30pm.Reservations essential.
This bustling seafood eatery serves some of the most authenticVenetian cuisine and for the right price. Locals and tourists alikeflock to this restaurant for delicious pastas, seafood and othermouth-watering Italian fare. Even in off-season there can be awaiting list. Open from Tuesday to Sunday for lunch and dinner.Closed Mondays. Reservation recommended.
Located away from Venice's tourist hubs, you know Alla Vedovamust be good because this is where all the locals eat. With marblecounters, charismatic furniture, a cosy atmosphere and some of thetastiest Venetian cuisine in town, diners can feast on dishes suchas the delicately grilled cuttlefish , (lasagna with sausage, radicchio,and béchamel sauce).
Located in Calle Vallaresso, this elegant restaurant belongs tothe Hotel Monaco and Grand Canal, and serves traditional Venetiancuisine, including seafood and fresh vegetables. Celebrities suchas Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have been spotted dining here and,only a few metres from the Vaporetto stop, the location is bothconvenient and appealing, with a very romantic terrace to siton.
The airy spaciousness of this Venetian restaurant, owned by thelocal Rossi family, coupled with its wonderfully varied menucreates a wonderful dining experience. Located in the heart of thecity's Jewish 'Ghetto' of the Cannaregio district, this eatery ispopular with both locals and tourists alike. Try the delicioushomemade pastas with mouth-watering sauces, or the fish baked with tomatoes, olives, capers, potatoes,and white wine in parchment paper and then folded to look like agondola. Indoor and outdoor dining available. Open daily for lunchand dinner.
With small tables dotted along the banks of a canal, thistrattoria serves simple, hearty and unfussy fare. Guests can samplesome Triestino cuisine by starting off with a mixed platter ofcured meats called from the region famous for the mostdelicate prosciutto in Italy and the minestrone soup is to-die-for.Other favourites are Triestino (vinegar-kissed fried sardines) and for thecarnivores, the (beef in a herb sauce). Closed Sundaysfor dinner. Reservations recommended.
One of Milan's most popular pizzerias is bustling from earlydinnertime until the night owls pop by for a late-night snack. Therestaurant exudes a wonderfully rustic ambience with exposed copperpipes tracing across the ceilings of rooms overflowing withlaughter and long, raucous tables. The wood oven pizzas areexcellent while the menu of pastas and meat dishes is equallyappetising. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Reservationsrecommended.
Giorgio Armani and other trendy fashionistas frequent Da Giacomorestaurant, and its elegant dining area was put together byworld-famous interior designer Renzo Mongiardino. The menu featuresa selection of traditional Tuscan cuisine such as grilled turbot,or linguini with scampi and zucchini flowers. Open for lunch anddinner daily, reservations essential.
Established in 1933 and located down a narrow lane in one of theoldest sections of the city, the Trattoria Milanese has athree-beamed ceiling sheltering its long, communal tables. Servingtraditional local cuisine such as risotto alla Milanese, withsaffron and beef marrow, and an excellent minestrone soup, this isa favourite with locals. Open Tuesday to Sunday for lunch anddinner, and Monday for dinner only, reservations essential.
Linked to the Peck Store, adorned with beautifully modern décorand with masterchef Carlo Cracco at the helm, this is a fantasticchoice for a night of fine dining. Serving first class starters andmouth-watering mains, this restaurant was voted one of the world'stop 50 by Open for lunch and dinner from Monday toFriday. Saturday the restaurant is open for dinner only. Closed onSundays.
This eatery is the place to be seen! As part of a worldwidechain of exceptional restaurants, this is where food fanatics cansample such famous dishes as black cod in misu sauce, as well assushi and sashimi, while sipping on sake with gold leaf. Closed forSunday lunch. Reservations essential.
Famous for its Neapolitan pizzas topped with the freshestselection of seafood, such as clams, mackerel, mussels andsardines, Anema e Cozze is a firm favourite in this neighbourhood.It may not be Milan's most stylish restaurant, but it serves tastyaffordable food and the fish infused pastas and other antipasti arealso delicious. Bookings advisable.
This authentically Venician restaurant is famous for its greatwine selection from the Veneto region and for its flagship dish, (Italian tapas) made up of wedges ofMortadella sausage speared with curly, piquant Tuscan peppers andcrostini topped with creamy tuna and shredded leeks. Cantinone-giàSchiavi's lively atmosphere and warm and friendly locals is whatVenice dining is all about. Travellers will love the food, pricesand authentic Italian cuisine at one of Venice's best kept secrets.Closed on Sundays.
Not somewhere many tourists would know about, unless escortedhere by a local, La Cantina is run and owned by the passionateFrancesco who is temperamental yet obsessive about food. Come herefor some indulgent and lip-smacking crostini piled with tongue,chopped pickle, smoked ricotta and layers of fresh horseradishshavings, washed down with a glass of local wine. Open when theowner feels like it - usually closed on Sundays and Mondays.
This cosy pizzeria is located alongside the canal where dinerscan pull their boats in, sit under an umbrella at a shady table andfeast on homemade crusted pies filled with roasted figs andprosciutto, among other exotic flavour combinations. Open for lunchand dinner from April to October. Closed for lunch on Mondays.
Widely recognised as Florence's most famous restaurant, thestylish décor and innovative Tuscan cuisine intertwined with subtlenotes of French cuisine make dining here an experience to remember.Start with a poached egg with cauliflower, crispy bread andpancetta with black truffle before moving on to a mouth-wateringrack of lamb with garlic and herbs served with Jerusalem artichokesand mint. Open for lunch and dinner Tuesday to Saturday. Bookingsrecommended.
One of Florence's little treasures, this family-run trattoriahas been serving local Florentines for over 30 years. Try the pestospaghetti or spinach ravioli to start, before diving into the tastybeef stefado with potatoes and Osso Buco (veal crosscut shin)cooked in tomato and served with mashed potato, or the tenderstewed rabbit with a side of grilled vegetables. Open daily forlunch and dinner.
A fabulous place in central Florence, Ristorante Celestinoserves a mouthwatering array of traditional Tuscan dishes. Withcandlelit dinners in a picturesque courtyard, this restaurant is amust for any visitor to Florence. Start with the Tuscany Salami andpolenta canapés or a tortellini soup before moving on to freshlymade pasta or Florence style crepes with buffalo mozzarella. TheRisotto with champagne and porcini mushrooms is delectable, and theoption of adding a truffle to your meal is not to be missed. Theirmenu has a wide selection of meat and fish dishes and a whole pagededicated to cheese as well as desserts such as chocolate truffle,green apple sorbet or gelato. Closed on Sundays.
No trip to Italy is complete without pizza. Florence has a wideselection of pizzerias but Da Tito I Peccati di Gola Pizzeria takesthe cake. This funky restaurant has a vast selection of pizzas anda piping hot clay oven. Be sure to try the simple Amon with porciniand prosciutto or the Caprese with buffalo mozzarella and rocketleaves.
The Euro (EUR) is the official currency, which is divided into100 cents. Those arriving in Italy with foreign currency can obtainEuros through any bank, ATM or bureau de change. ATMs arewidespread. Credit cards are accepted in upmarket establishmentsand shops around the cities. Banks are closed on weekends, but tendto have better rates than foreign exchange houses.
The official language of Italy is Italian. English isunderstood in the larger cities but not in the more remote parts ofthe country.
Electrical current in Italy is 230 volts, 50Hz. Avariety of plugs are in use, including the European-style two-pinplug.
US citizens must have a passport that is valid for at leastthree months beyond their intended stay in Italy. No visa isrequired for stays of up to 90 days within a 180 day period.
Passports endorsed 'British Citizen', 'British Subject'(containing a Certificate of Entitlement to the Right of Abodeissued by the United Kingdom), and 'British Overseas TerritoriesCitizen' issued by Gibraltar, must be valid on arrival. Britishpassports with other endorsements must be valid for three monthsbeyond the period of intended stay in Italy.
A visa is not required for British passports endorsed 'BritishCitizen' or 'British Subject' (containing a Certificate ofEntitlement to the Right of Abode issued by the United Kingdom),nor for holders of identity cards issued by Gibraltar, and endorsed'Validated for EU travel purposes under the authority of the UnitedKingdom'. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days within a180 day period for holders of British passports with otherendorsements.
Canadian citizens must have a passport that is valid for atleast three months beyond their intended stay in Italy. No visa isrequired for stays of up to 90 days within a 180 day period.
Australian citizens must have a passport that is valid for threemonths beyond their intended stay in Italy. No visa is required forstays of up to 90 days within a 180 day period.
South African citizens must have a passport that is valid forthree months beyond their intended stay, and a valid Schengen visa,to enter Italy.
Irish citizens must have a passport that is valid upon theirarrival in Italy. No visa is required.
US citizens must have a passport that is valid for at leastthree months beyond their intended stay in Italy. No visa isrequired for stays of up to 90 days within a 180 day period.
New Zealand citizens must have a passports valid for threemonths beyond period of intended stay in Italy. No visa is requiredfor stays of up to 90 days within a 180 day period.
The borderless region known as the Schengen Area includes thefollowing countries: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark,Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy,Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, The Netherlands, Norway,Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden andSwitzerland. All these countries issue a standard Schengen visathat has a multiple entry option, and which allows the holder totravel freely within the borders of all the aforementionedcountries. Furthermore, all foreign passengers to Italy must holdvisible proof of financial means to support themselves while in thecountry, return/onward tickets, and the necessary traveldocumentation for their next destination. Note that visitors may berefused entry, either for public security, tranquillity, order orhealth reasons. Extensions of stay in Italy are possible, byapplying to local authorities. NOTE: It is highly recommended thatyour passport has at least six months validity remaining after yourintended date of departure from your travel destination.Immigration officials often apply different rules to those statedby travel agents and official sources.
There are no specific health risks associated with travel toItaly and you should be able to travel without special vaccinationsand medications. Medical facilities in Italy are good but travelinsurance is still recommended for non-EU citizens as medicalattention can be expensive. EU citizens can make use of Italy'shealth services provided they have a European Health Insurance Card(EHIC). Although it should be possible to get most medication inItaly, travel authorities always suggest that you take anyprescribed medication that you require with you, in its originalpackaging, and with a signed and dated letter from your doctorexplaining what it is and why you need it.
Tipping is customary in Italy and 10 to 15 percent of the billis acceptable in restaurants (unless, as is increasingly the case,a 15 percent service charge has already been added to the bill).Hotels add a service charge of 15 to 18 percent, but it iscustomary to tip the service staff extra. Italians rarely tip taxidrivers, but a 5 to 10 percent tip is always appreciated.
Tourists are vulnerable to pickpocketing in the bigger cities,particularly on public transport, in crowded areas and aroundtourist sites. It is advisable to be careful when carrying largeamounts of cash and valuables. Make intelligent use of hotel safesand split valuables between people, bags and pockets to limit thedamage of being pickpocketed. Be particularly careful around themain train station, Termini. Visitors should be wary of groups ofchildren, some of whom will distract attention while the others tryto steal what they can.
Strikes by transport workers take place regularlythroughout Italy and delays are possible.
Italy has declared a state of emergency in the wake of the worstfloods to hit Venice in decades, with as much as 80 percent of thecity having been under water during the current disaster. UNESCOWorld Heritage Centre is working with the State Party and advisorybodies on issues that threaten the World Heritage site and itslagoon, and has scheduled a visit for early 2020.
In Italy, it is an offence to sit on steps and in courtyardsnear public buildings, including the main churches in Florence;eating and drinking in the vicinity should also be avoided. Shorts,vests or any other immodest clothing should not be worn insidechurches.
Italians can be very formal and old fashioned, but are also warmand welcoming. Face to face communication is best, and often athird party introduction can speed initial negotiations. Businessattire is formal and very stylish, and handshakes are the norm.First impressions count for a lot in Italy. Expect plenty ofgesticulating and interruptions, or people talking over each other.Business cards are used. Unfortunately the bureaucracy in Italy canslow down deal-making.
Business hours are usually 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday, but canvary according to season and region.
The international access code for Italy is +39. City/area codesare in use, e.g. 02 for Milan and 06 for Rome. There can be highsurcharges on calls made from hotels. Hotels, cafes and restaurantsoffering free wifi are widely available. As international roamingcosts can be high, purchasing a local prepaid SIM card can be acheaper option.
Travellers over 17 years from non-EU countries do not have topay duty on 200 cigarettes, 50 cigars or 250g of tobacco. As wellas this, travellers do not have to pay duty on 4 litres of wine, 16lires of beer or 1 litre of spirits over 22 percent volume, or 2litres of alcoholic beverages less than 22 percent volume. Othergoods up to the value of €430 is also permitted (reduced to €150for children under 15).
Travellers from EU countries travelling within the EU arelimited to 110 litres of beer, 90 litres of wine (of which 60litres may be sparkling), 20 litres of fortified wine, 10 litres ofspirits, 1kg of tobacco, 800 cigarettes, 200 cigars, 1kg of tobaccoand 400 cigarellos, perfume up to 50g or 250ml eau de toilette, andother goods for personal consumption to the value of €430 per adultor €150 for children under 15 years. EU citizens are also able toclaim tax back if the VAT rates in Italy are higher than those intheir country of residence. Prohibited items include narcoticdrugs, medicinal products, arms and weapons, explosives andprotected animal and plant species.
Italian Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 6124400.
Italian Embassy, London, United Kingdom: +44 (0)20 73122200.
Italian Embassy, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 232 2401.
Italian Embassy, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 (0)12 423 000.
Italian Embassy, Canberra, Australia: +61 (0)2 6273 3333.
Italian Embassy, Dublin, Ireland: +353 (0)1 660 1744.
Italian Embassy, Wellington, New Zealand: +64 (0)4 473 5339.
United States Embassy, Rome: +39 06 46741.
British Embassy, Rome: +39 06 4220 0001/ 4220.
Canadian Embassy, Rome: +39 06 85444 2911.
South African Embassy, Rome: +39 06 852 541.
Australian Embassy, Rome: +39 06 852 721.
Irish Embassy, Rome: +39 06 585 2381.
New Zealand Embassy, Rome: +39 06 853 7501.
In the year 79 AD Mount Vesuvius erupted, burying the Roman cityof Pompeii in volcanic lava and ash. The most evocative testimonyto its victims is the 'frozen people', plaster casts of the victimswhose anguished contortions and facial expressions reveal thehorror of their untimely deaths. The excavation of Pompeii, whichstarted after its accidental rediscovery in 1749, is an ongoingprocess and every decade has brought to light new finds thatprovide insight into daily Roman life. A comprehensive tour ofPompeii's attractions will take approximately five hours. Guidedtours are available but are pricier alternatives to doing it alone.There is an informative 'How to Visit Pompeii' guidebook for saleoutside all the site entrances.
Pompeii is one of Italy's most popular tourist attractions,seeing nearly 2.5 million visitors every year. It is one of themost intriguing ancient sites in the world and a full day ofwalking barely covers the many sights of interest. The Pompeii sitehas been plagued by mismanagement but has recently been granted ahuge injection of funds which should improve maintenance; however,the place is so captivating that no amount of mismanagement candeter visitors from travelling to Pompeii, and the four associatedsites of Herculaneum, Oplontis, Stabia and Boscoreale.
The well-preserved Greek temples of Paestum are arguably thebest of their kind in the world, easily rivalling those of Sicilyand Athens. The city was founded by its Greek colonists in the 7thCentury BC, and later fell under Roman rule (until it was no longercommercially successful and its inhabitants fled for greenerpastures). The north-south axis of the city is marked by the pavedVia Sacra and most guided tours begin at its southern end. A guideto the excavations and Archaeological Museum can be bought at anyof the roadside shops. Notable among the remains are three Dorictemples, the best-preserved of their kind in the world. Builtwithout the use of cement or mortar, these remarkable structurescomprise the Basilica, the Temple of Poseidon and the Temple ofCeres. Heading north along Via Sacra will take one to the RomanForum, gymnasium and amphitheatre. Finally, Paestum's Museumcontains a fascinating collection of pottery and paintings found inthe tombs of the area. The main temples are fenced off so you can'twander through them, but many other ruins can be explored withouthindrance and the site is often pleasantly devoid of tourists,leaving visitors to explore at their leisure in peace and withremarkable freedom.
Nestled in a sheltered inlet within the stretch of the ItalianMediterranean is the coastal fishing village of Portofino which isfamous for its picturesque harbour and has become an upmarketresort. It has long been the playground for the rich and famous,attracting the likes of Humphrey Bogart, Sophia Loren, RichardBurton, Elizabeth Taylor and Princess Grace. It is not surprising,therefore, that its prices rose to match the exclusivity demandedby its holidaymakers. The scenic surrounds can be explored from theoutlying nature reserve, graced with cypress and olive slopes. Setoff from here on a 90-minute trek to San Fruttuoso, or atwo-and-a-half hour hike to Santa Margherita. Other sights aroundPortofino include its castle and the lighthouse (faro), with itsbreathtaking view of the coastline. The most famous beach in thearea is the beautiful Paraggi Beach, which is a few minutes up thecoast. Other popular beaches nearby include Camogli, Chiavari,Lavagna, and Sestri Levante. Portofino is sometimes a victim of itsown popularity and can get uncomfortably crowded in the summermonths, but it is well worth the effort to spend a few hoursexploring this famously scenic and famously celebrity-packedvillage.
Strung along just over 11 miles (18km) of rugged cliffs betweenLevanto and La Spezia, the UNESCO-listed Cinque Terre is one ofItaly's greatest treasures. Cinque Terre means 'Five Lands'. Theseare the five related fishing villages that nestle precariously onthe cliffs, overlooking the azure ocean of the Italian Riviera, offthe country's northwestern coast. Cinque Terre is a picture-perfectdream of sparkling clear waters and dramatic vistas, containedwithin the tranquil embrace of the villages that are connected toone another by a scenic pathway that curves through the hillsideamong olive groves and vineyards.
Monterosso is the largest of the towns and is recognisablethrough the huge statues carved into the rocks facing its shores.The village of Riomaggiore is quickly identified through the myriadfishing boats festooning its shores and is linked by the 'loverslane' to the charming town of Manarola. Corniglia perchesprecariously on the mountainside and is accessed through a steepclimb, and Vernazza's promenade and piazza have beautiful seavistas. A stroll along these dramatic cliffs is one of the mostsplendid walks in the country, and photographers will be captivatedby the camera fodder. Cars and motorbikes are not allowed in thevillages and Cinque Terre is part of a national park.
On the Lido de Jesolo is Aqualandia, an extremely popular waterand theme park that has been earning rave reviews from visitors toItaly. Aqualandia is situated on an island near Venice, and juststrolling around the place and lounging on the beaches is anadventure. Much more than a water park, Aqualandia has somethinglike 26 attractions, including one of the highest water slides inthe world and one of Europe's highest bungee jumping towers. Allthe expected, tried and tested water park attractions can be found,as well as lots of extra entertainment.
A huge central pool is the hub for swimming and relaxation onthe many comfortable loungers, and there are some fun shows andmusic events as well as lots of restaurants and shops, and thepopular Vanilla Club for those who want to party. There is plentyto entertain people of all ages. A fun day at a water park is agreat treat for children and a nice break from traditional culturalsightseeing. All attractions, shows and activities are included inadmission, except bungee jumping. In the peak summer periodvisitors should be prepared for long queues; it is best to arriveearly to avoid a long line at the entrance.
Padua is often tragically overlooked due to its close proximityto Venice; it is also almost always described in terms ofcomparison with Venice. Luckily, Padua, once second only to Rome interms of wealth, is a gorgeous city with lots to offer visitors andplenty of charm all of its own. The fabulous architecture of theold town, dating back as far as 1,000 AD, is a magnificent backdropfor the wealth of culture the city contains. The main attraction isthe cathedral dedicated to St Anthony. The high altar is decoratedwith bronzes by Donatello, who is also responsible for the proudequestrian statue of General Erasmo da Narni (il Gattamelata) thatstands in the Piazza del Santo. Padua also has picturesque canals,a number of interesting markets, and many impressive landmarks. Itis a city seemingly full of beautiful frescoes, with many lovelychurches to house them. It also boasts Europe's oldest botanicalgarden, established in 1545. Some people argue that the city alsohas a more fun and festive nightlife than Venice, due to itsyouthful population - the University of Padua is Italy's secondoldest, established in 1222. Padua is situated just 21 miles (35km)west of Venice, and is a very worthwhile daytrip destination.
The Venetian Islands of Murano, joined by several bridges, makefor a great trip for the whole family and the perfect place to seekout special Venetian souvenirs. In 1291 all the glass makers inVenice were sent to the islands for fear of fires starting in thewooden buildings of the city, and Murano has been a centre of glasscrafts ever since. Visitors can enjoy watching the local art ofglass-blowing, developed over the centuries in the place that madeVenetian glass so famous and sought-after, and be amazed by theproducts that are created. And since glass-blowing is the thing todo on Murano, there are plenty of glassware shops and factories,most of which can be visited free of charge and where visitors canget some souvenirs to take home, or else simply enjoy lookingaround. The Museo Vetrario is another great place to admireglassworks.
Murano has more than just glassware on offer: it is apicturesque mini-Venice with its own Grand Canal, colourful oldbuildings and great restaurants. It is small and best explored onfoot or by boat. There are also some interesting churches to visit:the Basilica dei Santa Maria e San Donato has stunning 12th-centurymosaics; and the Church of Saint Peter the Martyr, built in the12th-century, houses two art works by Bellini.
Italian National Parks may be different to what some foreignersexpect in that they are not fenced in, pristine wilderness areas,but large inhabited swathes of land deemed worthy of environmentalprotection. The vast Po Delta, a flatland along the Adriatic coast,is one of the most stunning natural landscapes in Italy. The PoDelta is divided into two regional parks, the Emilia-Romagna andVeneto. The latter, easily accessible from Venice, encompasseswoodlands, extensive farmlands, marshes, lagoons, beaches andrivers, as well as historical monuments and even cities.
Visitors to the Po Delta Natural Park can enjoy a day exploringthe great outdoors. Discover the park by bike, boat, canoe,horseback or on foot. Tours are also available for those who wantto visit the more protected areas of the park, and avid fishermancan enjoy the fishing lagoons, where bream, bass and grey mulletare plentiful. There are great bird-watching opportunities heretoo, so pack your binoculars. There are many areas to camp andwonderful walking trails. Travellers exploring Venice, who feelthey would like some experience of the natural wonders of theregion, will be delighted with Po Delta, and it is a greatexcursion for those travelling with kids.
For anyone with even the smallest interest in human history, theSassi de Matera - located in the region of Basilicata, about 156miles (250km) east of Naples - are a must-see tourist attraction.The unbelievable cave-dwellings of Matera were inscribed inUNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites in 1993, and have beenastonishing visitors to the region ever since. Dug into the tuffrock of the region (rock comprised of consolidated volcanic ash),the 'houses' are often little more than caverns, and remain astestament to a troglodyte population believed to be the first humansettlement in Italy. Some of the streets of present-day Materadouble as rooftops to the underground dwellings, and beneath thesurface, a network of labyrinths and caverns once traversed by theprehistoric civilisation can still be observed. As has been noted,the inhabitants of Matera's Sassi are the only people who can claimto live in the same houses as their ancestors did 9,000 years ago -making these amazing structures compulsory viewing for all touriststo Italy who are keen on historical sightseeing. It's fun to hirebikes and ride to the caverns further afield and there are manygood local guides to hire.
An emblematic tourist attraction, the Blue Grotto (GrottaAzzurra) is reason enough for any visitor to Naples to make theshort trip across to the island of Capri. A world-famous sea cave,the Blue Grotto is perpetually filled with brilliant sapphirelight, caused by sunlight entering through an underwater cavity andshining through the seawater from beneath. The cave also contains asmaller opening right at the level of the waterline, through whichbright sunshine pours, and through which tourists are admitted byrow-boat. Gaze in wonder at the spectral water, more light-filledthan the air in the cave, and be sure to dip your hands and watchthem glow an eerie silver-blue. Since row-boats entering the cavecan only take a maximum of three passengers, you are ensured aprivate and truly unforgettable experience in the Blue Grotto, onewhich you will treasure for the rest of your life.
Blue Grotto Tours is a popular tour company which guides tripsinto the mystical blue cave and has earned rave reviews fromtourists. Of course, the island of Capri is beautiful and a hopacross the water from Naples is worthwhile just to see the lovelylandscape and experience the atmosphere of this famous island.
Exploring the beautiful Dolomite Mountains and Renon Plateau isa popular excursion from Milan, and quaint mountain villages likeBolzano and Collalbo complete the package for day-trippers. TheDolomite mountains are famously picturesque and are listed as aUNESCO World Heritage Site. Some interesting and unusual rockformations, or 'pyramids', dot the landscape of Renon Plateau.Hiking is naturally a popular activity in the region andphotographers will be in their element.
Most tourists travel first to Soprabolzano, a two to three hourdrive from Milan, where they can get stunning panoramic views ofthe Dolomite landscape either by taking the Renon Cable Car up themountain to Bolzano, or hopping aboard the hundred-year-oldelectric train, the Ritten Railway, to Collalbo. Bolzano is aninteresting town with a distinctly German atmosphere - it wasGerman until World War Two - and Collalbo is a charming, tinyvillage perched high on the plateau, and a great base for thosewanting to do walking trails as it is surrounded by pristinecountryside. The Dolomites are best visited in spring and summerbut autumn is still a pleasant season in the mountains. Winter getsvery cold! Although there are a number of guided package toursavailable, it is easy and fun to drive yourself around theregion.