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Italy dips down out of Europe and into the Mediterranean like a sleek stiletto, so it's hardly surprising its citizens are known for impeccable style and fashion. Once containing the great Roman Empire empire stretching across the globe, it now boasts some of the most spectacular architecture, frescoes, sculptures and Renaissance paintings in all of Europe.
More than 3,000 years of history are spread across landscapes ranging from quiet, pastoral hillside olive farms and seaside fishing villages to the Armani-wearing, scooter-driving and espresso-drinking buzz of the big cities. Italy is also home to more UNESCO World Heritage Sites than any other country on earth, with an incredible 54 places of global historical significance dotted around the country.
Italy's cities reveal awe-inspiring architecture from the curved arches of the Ponte Vecchio in Florence to the crumbling magnificence of the Colosseum in Rome. Home of da Vinci, Michelangelo, Caravaggio and Botticelli, its artworks are a visual feast.
Nestled into the outskirts of Rome is the independent Vatican City, seat of the Pope and home to the famous St Peter's Basilica and Sistine Chapel. The influence of the Holy Catholic Church on the 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 the Riviera, and the rocky crags of the Alps to the slopes of the Dolomites and Apennines, Italy offers unique experiences to every kind of tourist.
Littered with more than 3,000 years of history, Italy is a sightseer's paradise. Spend some time in Rome taking in famous sites like the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps, as well as the Pantheon. With artworks on display from the likes of Da Vinci, Caravaggio and Botticelli, it's a visual buffet for all visitors.
Head north to explore the canals of Venice by gondola or indulge in the wonderful shopping in the fashion capital of Milan. A little further south is the magical city of Florence, teeming with culture and Italian flair. Continue south past Rome to Naples and explore the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum, destroyed by Mount Vesuvius, which can be seen standing sentinel over the city.
Italy takes a lifetime to explore properly because there is so much on offer for visitors. From the gondola-lined canals of Venice and the white sandy beaches of San Remo to the iconic Alps, Dolomites and Apennines, Italy has everything from beach holidays to luxury mountain ski resorts and a whole lot more in between.
The most popular time of year to visit Italy is during the summer months when most of the country can be enjoyed slowly like a fine Italian vintage. A trip to the rolling hills of Tuscany is in order to sample some fine wine and olive oil, as well as plenty of old Italian cuisine, while taking in the scenery of cypress trees, lush vines and olive groves. The more adventurous travellers can head to the Italian Alps and visit the resorts of Courmayer and Brevil Cervinia for some world-class skiing.
Separated from central Rome by the Tiber River, Trastevere is a picturesque medieval neighbourhood characterised by a quirky Bohemian atmosphere. Its narrow cobblestone streets are lined with overhanging flower boxes and washing lines and are home to numerous cafes, boutiques, pubs and restaurants. The area has long attracted artists, celebrities and expats, escaping the grand developments of central Rome. There are some glorious old churches, perhaps the most lovely being the Basilica of Santa Maria, which has wonderful mosaics and draws many visitors into the area for the first time. It is quite different at night time, when it seems more elegant, and it's worth visiting more than once.
Palermo's largest art museum is housed within the Gothic Palazzo Abatellis, built in 1488. The collection is fascinating and includes several particularly interesting works. The Bust of Eleanor of Aragon by Francesco Laurana, for example, dates from 1471 and is considered to be the epitome of Renaissance Sicilian sculpture; while the beautiful masterpiece painting Our Lady of the Annunciation is considered Antonello da Messina's greatest work. Also renowned is the chilling Triumph of Death fresco by an unknown 15th-century artist that covers 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 wander from room to room.
Capitoline Hill was the original capital of Ancient Rome. Once housing the Senate, it's the smallest but also the most famous of the Seven Hills. The main feature of the area is Michelangelo's Piazza del Campidoglio, which is bordered by the Palazzo dei Conservatori and the twin structures of the Palazzo dei Senatori and Palazzo Nuovo. Boasting the largest collection of classical sculptures, notable statues include The Dying Gaul, the Resting Satyr and The Capitoline Wolf. Paths cut along the side of the hill from the Campidoglio allow visitors to enjoy breathtaking panoramic views of the Forum and Colosseum, with the Hill giving an overawing sense of the Roman Empire's peak glory.
The site of Ancient Rome's commercial, political and religious centre rests in the valley between the Capitoline and Palatine Hills. The Forum's main thoroughfare, Via Sacra, slices through the old market square and former civic centre. Some of the best-preserved and most notable monuments include the impressive Arch of Septimus Severus, the former atrium of the House of the Vestal Virgins and the Temple of Vesta. Also of note are the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina, and the Arch of Titus, built to celebrate Titus' destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. To the right of the arch are stairs snaking up the Palatine Hill, through a series of terraces to the Farnese gardens. The scented avenue, festooned with roses and orange trees, gives way to a magnificent vista over the Forum.
Known to be one of the most impressive buildings of the Roman Empire, the Colosseum was the largest structure of its era. Once holding crowds of 55,000 spectators entering via 80 entrances, this enduring symbol of ancient Rome tenaciously clings to its foundations as the site of former gladiatorial conquests and brutal public entertainment. Its architecture boasts an impressive array of Doric, Ionic and Corinthian columns and an underground network of cells, corridors and elevators used to transport animals from their cages to the arena. The magnificence of the original structure has been eroded through the years by pillaging and earthquakes so that only a skeletal framework remains, but it remains truly unforgettable and awe-inspiring.
The Pantheon is one of the world's most inspiring architectural designs. Almost two thousand years after it was built, the Pantheon's is still the world's largest unreinforced concrete dome. Built as a temple to the Roman gods by Hadrian in 120 AD, it's perfectly proportioned floating dome rests seductively on sturdy marble columns. The only light source is the central oculus, which was used by the Romans to measure time, and the dates of equinoxes and solstices. The sunlight pouring through the oculus and illuminating the floor in the otherwise dark church is quite a sight. The south transept houses the Carafa Chapel and the tomb of Fra Angelico rests under the left side of the altar.
The graceful Spanish Steps elegantly curve from the Piazza di Spagna to the Church of Santa Trinit dei Monti, a pastel-tinted neoclassical building. The shopper's paradise of Via Condotti leads back from the Spanish steps to Via del Corso, and during spring the steps are decorated with pink azaleas. At the base lies Bernini's boat-shaped Barcaccia Fountain, and to the right is the unassuming Keats-Shelley Memorial House. The steps are iconic and if you do walking tours of Rome you are almost guaranteed to stop here, with lots of artists and musicians performing in the area which gives it a festive feel.
The tiny Piazza di Trevi has been immortalised through this fountain built for Pope Clement XII. Arguably the most famous and most beautiful fountain in all of Rome, it's also the largest Baroque fountain in the city. The fountain marks the terminal point of an ancient aqueduct that supplied Rome for more than four hundred years. Tossing a coin over your shoulder into the water with your back turned is supposed to guarantee a return trip to Rome. This well-known myth has ensured that thousands of euros are thrown into the fountain every day. The money is used for charitable projects so visitors are at least supporting a good cause.
The Basilica lies above the reputed site of St Peter's tomb, containing notable sculptures including Michelangelo's Pieta. In the central aisle stands Arnolfo da Cambio's bronze statue of St Peter, its foot worn down by the constant flow of pilgrims' kisses. Proudly resting above the papal altar is Bernini's Throne of St Peter. The Vatican Grottoes, containing papal tombs, can be reached by steps from the statue of St Longinus. This is the legendary site of St Peter's tomb and advance permission has to be obtained to view it. Tours of the Necropolis, called the Scavi Tour, take about 90 minutes and are fascinating.
Scandal has somewhat tarnished the Vatican over the years, but this does not detract from the magnificence of the art collections housed within its buildings or the passion the city inspires in the many pilgrims who flock to its holy sites. The Sistine Chapel is known for its famous ceiling painted by Michelangelo which looms above the frescoes on the side walls, while the altar wall is covered by The Last Judgement. The chapel is justified in its fame and leaves travellers breathless; it is a profoundly special place to visit. The Vatican Museums provide access to one of the world's greatest collections of art. The galleries stretch over four miles (6km) and include the magnificent Raphael Rooms, the Etruscan Museum and the Pio-Clementino Museum, boasting the world's largest collection of Classical statues.
The Uffizi is one of the world's greatest art galleries, with a collection of Renaissance paintings that includes the works of Giotto, Masaccio, Paolo Ucello, Botticelli, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Titian and Caravaggio. The collection is housed on the top floor of a building designed as the offices of the Medici, commissioned by Duke Cosimo I. From 1581, Cosimo's heirs used the upper storey to display the Medici art treasures. Ancient Greek and Roman sculptures line the inner corridors of the gallery and a series of rooms showcases the chronological development of Florentine art from Gothic to High Renaissance and beyond. The queues can get frustratingly long so it is best to arrive as early as possible.
Florence Cathedral is set in the heart of the city, its most distinctive feature being its enormous dome designed by Filippo Brunelleschi. The Campanile was built according to Giotto's designs in 1334, serving as an elegant prop to Brunelleschi's stout Cathedral. The tower is decorated with two garlands of bas-reliefs, strung around its pink, white and green marble exterior. Above, sculptures by Donatello of the Prophets and Sybils look down upon the city below. The neighbouring Baptistry is one of Florence's oldest buildings, the gilded brass doors marking Florence's deliverance from the plague. It also contains the machines used in the construction of the cathedral's dome. Other noteworthy artefacts found in the museum include Michelangelo's Pieta and Donatello's Magdalene. In the anteroom are Andrea Pisano's panels from the first few levels of the bell tower.
This Gothic Palazzo built in 1255 shelters a treasured national collection of Renaissance sculpture. It's one of the oldest buildings in Florence and has been the setting for some important episodes of history, including sieges, fires and executions: the most famous of these being that of Baroncelli, who was executed for plotting against the Medici and whose execution was witnessed by Leonardo da Vinci. An extensive collection of decorative art is on display, in addition to the magnificent sculptures of Michelangelo, Donatello and Giambologna. The inner courtyard is ornamented with numerous coats of arms and the grand stairwell leading to the second-story loggia overflows with bronze birds created for the Medici's gardens. Other notable displays include an Islamic collection, an assortment of ivories and 16th-century majolica porcelain from Urbino, Faenza and Florence.
Santa Croce, a magnificent Gothic church built in 1294, contains the tombs of many celebrated Florentines, such as Michelangelo, Galileo and Machiavelli, as well as the famous composer Rossini. The interior is graced by the radiant frescoes of Giotto and his pupil Taddeo Gaddi, and integrated into the cloister next to the church is Brunelleschi's Pazzi Chapel. The large square in front of the church is a great meeting place and there are some lovely restaurants and cafes about for refreshments.
The Ponte Vecchio's status as the oldest bridge in Florence saved it from destruction during the Nazi retreat from Italy in 1944. To one side of the bridge is the majestic bust of the most famous Florentine goldsmith, Benvenuto Cellini, while perched above the overhanging shops is a secret passageway named the Vasari Corridor, providing an elevated link to the Palazzo Pitti via the Uffizi. It was the private walkway of the Medicis who wanted to move between the various residences without having to rub shoulders with the commoners. The Ponte Vecchio is charming at night, when it's lit up and the bright shops beckon visitors closer. It's an icon of Florence and an enduringly popular attraction.
Once the property of the iconic Medici family and the one-time residence of the Italian king, the Palazzo is a grand structure boasting no less than seven museums. Among these are the Medici treasures showcased in the Museo degli Argenti, the Museum of Costumes and the Porcelain Museum. The Galleria d'Arte Moderna provides a fascinating display from the Macchiaioli school, as well as a collection of Neoclassical and Romantic art. The collections in the Palazzo Pitti keep visitors captivated for hours. Extending behind the palace are the elaborately landscaped and beautifully maintained Boboli Gardens, well-known for their fountains and grottos. Their most celebrated treasure is the Grotta del Buontalenti, in which rests the sculpture Venus Emerging from her Bath. Another notable structure is the enormous amphitheatre 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 900 BC. They were preoccupied with the afterlife, dedicating much effort to carving burial sites into rock or constructing them out of stone slabs and filling them with artefacts.
The Museo Civico Archeologico in Grosseto contains a selection of Etruscan artefacts found in nearby tombs, while the most important excavated Etruscan and Roman remains in Tuscany are in Roselle. At Saturnia, explore rock-cut tombs, while the famous Tomb of Ildebrando is found in the Necropolis of Sovana.
The town of Pitigliano is peppered with Etruscan tombs and tunnels. The town itself is a spectacular vista of houses jutting out over soft limestone cliffs and caves bordering the River Lente. From this quaint town, head to the extensive necropolis on the outskirts of Marsiliana. Finish at Talamone and Maremma, for visits to the Etruscan temple, Roman villa and baths.
A circular route from Siena through the Chianti Region provides visitors to Tuscany with a wonderfully scenic and sensory travel experience. The route covers the villages of the Chianti Classico wine region, garnished with ancient castles and rambling farmhouses. The vineyards and wooded hills are best explored along its winding back roads or from within its sleepy hamlets. The first stop is at Castello di Brolio, a magnificent vineyard owned by the Ricasoli family since 1167. The SS484 will go south of Brolio and north past the hamlets of San Gusme, Campi and Linari, before a diversion to the Meleto Castle. Another worthwhile stop is at Badia a Coltibuono, for its restaurant and Romanesque church. The winding road west to Radda, in Chianti, is especially picturesque. A further nine miles (15km) from here is the delightful hamlet of Volapia and Castellina. Within the ramparts of this walled village is the Bottega del Vino Galla Nero, at Via della Rocca 13, showcasing the region's delectable wines and olive oils.
Montepulciano is Tuscany's highest hilltop town, built along a narrow limestone ridge 1,950ft (605m) above sea level. Montepulciano is fast being discovered by tourists seeking out the best of the region, while still retaining its mystery and authenticity. Sheltered within the fortified walls are charming streets packed with Renaissance-style palaces and churches. Within the intact historic centre, no major building work has been done since 1580, making it one of the best-preserved historic centres in Italy. While Montepulciano's most celebrated achievement is its Vino Nobile vintages, other attractions include the pilgrimage church of Madonna di San Biagio; a treasured collection of Etruscan reliefs and funerary urns; and the views from the tower at the Palazzo Comunale.
This fascinating, world-class museum houses the Farnese collection of antiquities from Lazio and Campania, as well as the incredible treasures of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Notable among these collections are The Farnese Hercules and The Farnese Bull, the largest known sculpture from antiquity. On the mezzanine level is The Alexander Mosaic and at the furthest end is the Secret Room, showcasing erotic material found in the brothels, bath houses and taverns of Pompeii and Herculaneum. The top section of the museum houses the Campanian wall paintings, supported by a range of Campanian artefacts in the form of glass, silver and ceramics.
The Chapel of San Gennaro is accessed from the south aisle of the Cathedral of Naples. Tradition tells the story of how two phials of San Gennaro's congealed blood liquefied in the bishop's hand after his martyred body was transported to the church. Legend has it that disaster will strike if the blood fails to liquefy on specific festival days - the first Saturday in May, on September 19 and December 16. Known as the Miracle of the Blood, the ceremony takes place during a special Mass in full view of the congregation. The first chapel on the right upon entry holds the famous phials of blood and a silver reliquary containing his skull. Beneath the Duomo are the excavations of well-preserved Greek and Roman roads that stretch beneath the modern city.
This museum occupies a restored 18th-century palace perched upon the city's hills. The Farnese and Bourbon rulers amassed impressive collections of Renaissance paintings and Flemish masterpieces. Notable among these are Masaccio's Crucifixion, Filipino Lippi's Annunciation and Saints and Raphael's Leo X, as well as Bellini's Transfiguration, Michelangelo's Three Soldiers and Breughel's The Allegory of the Blind. The palace is an attraction in its own right and the royal apartments are beautifully decorated and preserved with their 18th-century furnishings. Capodimonte is a pleasant neighbourhood in Naples, and the park surrounding the gallery is great for a peaceful stroll after ogling the art and finery of the museum.
The Grand Canal is a hub of activity in Venice, encircled by the elegant facades of the palazzi testifying to the city's past opulence. The best way to explore the architectural splendour of these Renaissance buildings is on board a vaporetto. Although a gondola ride along the Grand Canal is glorious, it is often better to explore the smaller waterways by gondola, as the Grand Canal can become crowded and stressful in peak season. Palaces and buildings to look out for include the Ca da Mosto; the House of Gold; and Palazzo Corner-Spinelli and Palazzo Vendramin Calergi, which combine classical and Byzantine elements. Architect Jacopo Sansovino was inspired by Codussi's style and infused this in his creation of the Palazzo Corner (Ca Granda). Another notable Palazzo is the Grimani di San Luca, designed by Michele Sanmicheli. Pedestrian access across the canal is only provided along three bridges situated at the station, Rialto and Academia.
The city's first citadel and church were erected on the Piazza San Marco: the Palazzo Ducale and the Basilica di San Marco, respectively. The latter is a unique juxtaposition of Byzantine, western European and Islamic architectural styles. Its most precious relic is the Pala d'Oro, a Venetian-Byzantine gold relief adorned with precious gems. Tourists pay dearly to eat or drink at the elegant cafes that spill onto the Piazza. Designer shops line the streets radiating from the square. There are other worthwhile places such as Museo Correr, the Archaeological Museum and the Museo del Risorgimento, housed within the Procuratie Nuova. Attached to the Procuratie Vecchie is the Torre dell'Orologio, its adjoining archway guiding one through to the Mercerie, Venice's main commercial street stretching to the famous Rialto Bridge.
One of Venice's most iconic landmarks, the Rialto Bridge is often described as the heart of the city. It is the oldest bridge spanning the Grand Canal, and is one of only four that do. The structure standing today is over 400 years old, but still isn't the original structure. Today, the Rialto area still resembles the bustling fruit and vegetable market of former times. If you are visiting Rialto to take pictures of the bridge or explore the area for the first time, it's best to go early in the morning when the throngs of visitors won't disturb you. There are also loads of lovely restaurants and cafes in the area too.
The Basilica dei Frari was constructed in the 14th century, and is primarily known as the burial place of Titian and the Venetian sculptor Antonio Canova. Titian's tomb in the south aisle watches over the large marble pyramid created for Venetian sculptor Antonio Canova. The interior of the church is adorned with a number of famous pieces, such as Donatello's St John the Baptist, Bellini's triptych of the Madonna and Saints and Titian's Assumption of the Virgin. This great Franciscan church is well worth the effort for art lovers and anybody interested in Gothic architecture. The church receives rave reviews and is consistently one of the top rated attractions in Venice according to visitor reviews.
San Rocco is known for the canvases of Jacopo Tintoretto adorning its interior. Tintoretto was commissioned to decorate the School in 1564 and dedicated 23 years to this task. The paintings are arranged in chronological order that can be followed by beginning on the second floor in the Sala dell'Albergo. Notable among his works are the scenes from the Life of the Virgin and the Crucifixion. The interior is ornate and quite overwhelming in its artistry and you would be hard put to find somebody who doesn't rave about the experience of exploring San Rocco.
This famous gallery was established in 1807 to house the artwork removed from Venetian churches and public buildings on Napoleon's orders. It's housed in three old religious buildings: the Scuola Grande di Santa Maria della Carita, built in 1344; the Church of the Carita; and the Convento della Carita, a monastery from 1561. The gallery's display follows the progression of Venetian art from the 14th to 18th centuries. Notable works in the gallery include Paolo Veneziano's Coronation of Mary, Carpaccio's Crucifixion and Apotheosis, Giovanni Bellini's Madonna with Child between Saints Catherine and Mary Magdalene, Giorgione's Tempest, Lorenzo Lotto's Portrait of a Young Gentleman in His Studio, Paolo Veronese's Feast in the House of Levi, and Tintoretto's Theft of St Mark's Body and Crucifixion.
The Peggy Guggenheim Collection is housed in the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, becoming one of the most illustrious collections of modern art in Italy. It spans the artistic movements of Cubism, European Abstraction and Surrealism, with notable works by Kandinsky, Picasso, Rothko, Ernst, Dali, Pollock and many more. Guggenheim built up her collection between 1938 and 1947, and bought the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni in 1948, where she lived until her death in 1979. This exciting, prestigious and often bizarre collection is a great departure from the overwhelming amount of Gothic, Byzantine and Renaissance art pervading Venice.
One of the world's largest Gothic cathedrals, the Duomo presides over the Milanese Piazza bearing its name. Construction began in 1386 and continued sporadically until Napoleon ordered its completion in 1809. Its lengthy creation bestowed on it 3,400 statues, 135 spires and 96 gargoyles, as well as a colourful mosaic of stained glass windows. The 16th-century marble tomb of Giacomo de Medici lies in the southern transept, and lying buried at its heart is St Charles Borromeo, the cathedral's most important benefactor. Every year in May and September, a nail from the cross of Christ is displayed to worshippers, retrieved from its resting-place by the bishop who is hoisted to the nivola to reach it. Across the piazza is the Museo del Duomo, displaying the treasures from the cathedral, and the Museo d'Arte Contemporanea, showcasing Italian Futurist art.
This world-famous opera house rests on the site of the Church of Santa Maria alla Scala. For opera fanatics. seeing a performance at La Scala is the experience of a lifetime. The La Scala Museum is also worth a visit, providing a wealth of mementos from the opera house dedicated to the nation's beloved composers and performers, such as Rossini, Puccini and Toscanini. Two halls are devoted to Verdi alone, containing memorabilia such as the spinet on which he learned to play, hand-written scores and the baton given to him after the momentous reception of his best-loved work, Aida. There are also exhibitions featuring some of the elaborate costumes worn in the theatre over the years, and mementoes from the plays and performances.
The church and convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most popular attractions in Milan. Located in the refectory next to the church is Leonardo's famous painting The Last Supper and although the church is an attraction in its own right, it's this iconic masterpiece that draws so many admirers. Controversy has erupted over the removal of layers of corrective over-painting completed in the 18th and 19th-centuries. The painting has endured more than hot debate, managing to escape the bombing during WWII that destroyed the roof of the refectory.
The gargantuan 15th-century Sforzesco Castle is one of Milan's foremost monuments, conveniently located in the centre of the city. It contains three museums, the most notable of which is the Museum of Historic Art. Within its collection is the famous Pieta Rondanini, Michelangelo's final sculpture, as well as paintings by Mantegna, Bellini, da Vinci and Fra Filippo Lippi. The two other museums within the Castle's ramparts are the Museum of Applied Arts and the Archaeological Museum, offering unusual exhibitions showcasing musical instruments, Egyptian art and other unexpected things. The castle grounds are big and lovely to stroll, with no entry fee meaning it's a great place to come for some fresh air.
This remarkable museum is a popular tourist attraction and a fitting tribute to one of history's greatest minds. Within the Leonardo Gallery of the museum is a collection of da Vinci's ingenious designs, detailing everything from plans for war machines to architectural visions. Applied physics is the focus of another room, in keeping with the museum's tribute to the history of science, and there are also departments for energy, communication and transport. There are loads of interactive exhibits and scientific experiments to actively participate in.
One of Palermo's most unique attractions is the engaging Museo Internazionale delle Marionette, a museum dedicated to the age-old Sicilian art of puppetry. The Opera dei Pupi of southern Italy is famous, with Palermo, Catania and Naples all having distinct marionette traditions. The museum was opened to preserve local traditions and the collection consists of more than 3,500 puppets. Adjoining the museum is the library of Guiseppe Leggio, housing about 3,000 books on puppetry and folk traditions; there is also a video library documenting theatrical folk performances and puppet shows from different cultures. Most of the antique puppets on display evoke Norman Sicily, representing chivalrous heroes and Saracen pirates, nobles and troubadours. The collection includes puppets from the Far East and even some 'Punch and Judy' dolls.
The town of Amalfi sits elegantly against a backdrop of steep cliffs and thickets of lemon trees. Terraced buildings climb down to the shoreline, their pastel hues enhancing the fairytale allure of this Italian seaside retreat. Amalfi was once one of the great maritime republics which thrived off trade and rivalries with Pisa, Genoa and Venice. The 9th-century Amalfi Cathedral is a breathtaking example of Arab-Norman Romanesque architecture, while museums include the fascinating Museo della Carta and the Arsenal of the Maritime Republic. The Piazza del Duomo is the main hub, dotted with cafes, gorgeous boutiques and romantic restaurants. A promenade allows visitors to gaze over the picturesque marina and beyond to the memorable emerald waters. The main beach is the sheltered Marina Grande, with sandier beaches found at the villages of Minori and Maiori.
Cagliari is Sardinia's capital. The biggest city in the region and a busy industrial port, its old centre is charmingly compact and contained within the city walls and Pisan fortifications. The main attractions are the National Archaeological Museum, containing prehistoric tombs and other significant artefacts from the Punic and Roman periods; the impressive cathedral; and a smattering of Roman ruins. The suburb of Poetto has a four mile (6km) stretch of sandy beach with some small bars nearby. The famous archaeological site of Su Nuraxi near Barumini is also within easy reach of the town. Sardinia's history and culture are found in the Citadel of Museums complex: the Archaeological Museum houses artefacts from all the ancient cultures of the island, such as ceramics from Phoenician tombs, Punic jewellery and Nuragic bronzes; the Picture Gallery boasts contemporary art and sculpture; the Siamese Museum exhibits fascinating items from the East; and the university houses sculptures by wax artist Clemente Susini.
Having arrived in Sardinia around 1500 BC, the mysterious Nuragic people festooned the island with about 30,000 circular fortified structures, of which 7,000 remain standing today. The complex of Nuraghe in Barumini has been added to UNESCO's World Heritage List and is the finest and most complete example of this prehistoric architecture. Other well-preserved Nuraghe can be seen at Sant Antine, while at Nora are the remains of an extensive Nuragic village including an amphitheatre, forum, baths, temple and kasbah. Other good Nuragic sites are near Villanovaforru, Alghero and Abbasanta. The purpose of the beehive-like buildings remains unknown but archaeologists assume they were used as religious temples, meeting halls and military strongholds.
Sardinia has an unforgettable coastline, but the interior of the island is equally as beautiful. A fun way to explore it is aboard the Trenino Verde (Little Green Train), a vintage steam locomotive that puffs its way through forests, over bridges and through tunnels into some of the island's most scenic mountain areas. The train runs on scheduled routes, connecting Nuoro and Bosa, Sassari and Alghero, Sassari and Palau, and Cagliari and Arbatax. The train is small and tickets are limited so it's best to book in advance. The train sometimes stops at scenic spots so that passengers can stretch their legs and take photographs.
A popular sightseeing expedition from Alghero is a boat ride to Neptune's Grotto, an impressive deep marine cave at the bottom of the sheer cliffs of Capo Caccia. At the cave, visitors take a 45-minute tour entering through the long meandering passage delved into the rock to view dramatically-lit stalagmites and stalactites. The contrast of the sun sparkling bright on the sea and orange cliffs against the dark depths of the cave is truly magical. But the grotto can also be reached by bus from the main terminal in Alghero, or by car, which on arrival necessitates climbing down 650 steps to the cave entrance.
The famous Italian general and politician Giuseppe Garibaldi lived the last third of his life on the woody, undeveloped island of Caprera. Considered a 'founding father' by Italians, he's famous for his military campaigns in South America and during Italy's unification period. The elegant homestead has been preserved as he left it and visitors can learn a lot about his lifestyle from exploring the farm; on Caprera he lived a simple, peaceful life tending his gardens and orchards. Tours of the property end with his tomb in the garden, as well as a relic room filled with some of his personal belongings and historical artefacts. For many Italians and foreign visitors Garibaldi's house and grave are a pilgrimage of sorts, a place to pay homage to a national hero.
Of all the many architecturally beautiful and fascinating places of worship in Palermo, the most renowned is the 12th-century cathedral in the mountain suburb of Monreale. This dazzling cathedral is a mixture of Arab, Byzantine and Norman artistic styles, blending medieval Christian and Muslim architecture. The magnificent mosaics cover 68,243 square feet (6,340 sq m) of the cathedral's dome, and all of the walls on the interior are unsurpassed. The adjacent Benedictine abbey features a cloister with 228 carved stone columns, many inlaid with mosaics depicting scenes from Sicily's Norman history. Entrance to the breathtaking cathedral is free, but there are small admission charges for the Treasury, Cloisters and Terraces, which are worth exploring.
The fascinating subterranean world of the Capuchin Catacombs contain the remains of about 8,000 inhabitants of Palermo. The friars began mummifying and embalming bodies of the city's nobles back in 1533, a tradition persisting for centuries until 1920. After embalming, the corpses were hung along the walls of the catacombs dressed in their best like the military officer in their 18th-century uniform complete with tricorn hat. The bodies are arranged according to profession, sex and age, with separate sections for virgins, children and lawyers, among other things. Cool and dimly lit, the atmosphere is one of respect and care for the ancestors. While quite emotional for some, it can be disturbing for others.
The excessive opulence of the Baroque period is best demonstrated in the magnificent Palazzo Mirto, offering visitors to Palermo a glimpse into the lifestyle of Sicily's noble 19th-century families. Most of the princely rooms and salons are furnished with original artefacts, while visitors can also see the old stables and stagecoaches. The feeling of visiting a home is amplified by the fact that the palace is not thronged by tourists, many of whom don't know it exists. Signage and information is in Italian, so it might be worth getting a guide.
An underwater city and a landscape of petrified black lava are the characteristics of the unusual little island of Ustica, just a short ferry ride from Palermo. The ancient volcanic island was once inhabited by the Phoenicians and often fell prey to pirate raids during the Middle Ages. There are many shipwrecks off the island and the Greeks believed it was inhabited by sirens that lured ships to their doom on the rocks. The Greeks, Carthaginians and Romans all left their mark on the landscape too. Today, the island is a designated national marine park and its crystal-clear waters and undersea treasures, particularly the submerged ancient city of Osteodes, attract divers from all over the world. The snorkelling is also brilliant, as the waters around the island teem with marine life.
The Roman ruins at Solunto overlook the coast near Santa Flavia on the slopes of Mount Catalfamo. The site was originally a Phoenician village, expanded by the Greeks who conquered it in 396 BC. By 255 BC it had fallen to the Romans, who rebuilt much of the original town. The ruins consist mainly of floors and the lower portions of walls and columns. Portions of mosaics and paintings are still visible and really exciting to stumble upon. An impressive view of the Gulf of Palermo can be had from the hilltop above Solunto, and there is a small archaeological museum at the site, although most of the artefacts from Solunto are in Palermo's Regional Archaeological Museum.
The Ponte Nuova connects the mainland city of Syracuse to the island of Ortygia, where most of the area's worthy sights are located. The island was fortified by Greek colonists and the remains of the Temple of Apollo from 565 BC can still be visited in the Piazza Pancali. The cathedral in the nearby Piazza Duomo is uniquely made up of the original walls of a 5th-century BC Greek temple known as the Athenaion, and near the sea, reached along Via Capodieci, is the mythical Spring of Arethusa. There are medieval relics on the island too, including Maniaces Castle, dating from the 11th century.
Catania is ancient, having been founded in 729 BC. The second largest city in Sicily, Catania sits in the shadow of Europe's highest volcano, Mount Etna. Its elegant old buildings were constructed from white marble and black lava, many of which have since fallen into ruins or been destroyed by war, earthquakes and lava flows. There are two Roman amphitheatres, one reminiscent of Rome's Colosseum, and a 13th-century fortress and now museum, Ursino Castle. The cathedral contains some royal tombs and was built in the 11th century, and much of the historic downtown dates back to the 17th-century and is a listed heritage site. Catania is regarded as the hottest city in Italy, with temperatures often soaring to 104ºF (40ºC).
Sicily's greatest natural attraction is Mount Etna, an active volcano which has been spewing lava and shaking the earth for centuries. The craters below the summit can be reached from the town of Piano Provenzana at the base by bus or on foot. This town also serves as a ski resort in winter, while during summer it's a base camp for hikers intent on enjoying the wooded scenery and exploring the area's interesting caverns. Various species of oak, pine and birch grow over the lower mountain slopes, while toads, tortoises and lizards hide in the forest streams. Foxes, weasels and other small mammals stalk the forests as a plethora of bird species fill the trees and the Gurrida Lake area.
The medieval fortress town of Orvieto is dramatically perched on a hilltop overlooking the Umbrian countryside. It's thought to have been an important centre for Etruscan civilization and many impressive artefacts can be viewed in its archaeological museum. The town remains almost unchanged since medieval times, and even in summer is not too packed with tourists. The 13th-century Duomo of Orvieto, with its magnificent facade and frescoes, dominates the skyline. Visitors should also take time to wander around the town's backstreets to find hidden gems and enjoy amazing views over the city walls and battlements. The best restaurants are tucked away in the side streets off the main square.
Positano retains the authentic character, endearing itself to artists and writers like Picasso, Escher and Steinbeck. Pastel-coloured houses and bougainvillea-draped hotels are connected by steep roads and steps to a boat-filled harbour below. In the town centre is the cobbled Flavio Gioia Square, which is surrounded by boutiques, bars and restaurants. Rising above is the 11th-century Basilica di Santa Maria Assunta, with its beautiful golden dome. There are two main beaches in Positano. Just below the town centre, Spiaggia Grande's expanse of dark sand is packed with deckchairs and sunbathers, while Spiaggia del Fornillo is a ten-minute stroll from the centre. There are also lovely hiking trails found in the surrounding Monti Lattari mountain range. Sorrento and Amalfi are short drives away, and there is a daily ferry to Capri from the harbour.
Typical of the picturesque towns along the Amalfi Coast, the small hilltop village of Ravello clings to the coastal foothills and steep rocky cliffs above the town of Amalfi. Houses climb slopes green with olive trees and lemon orchards, while emerald waves lap against the sands of Castiglione Beach. Its views are some of the best in the Mediterranean, with famous American writer Gore Vidal praising the vistas from his perch at the classically stunning Villa Cimbrone. Here, visitors can explore its gardens and vineyards, as well as gaze out from the famous Terrace of Infinity. Villa Rufolo serves as the unofficial town centre, its centuries-old windows and domed towers looking out onto the cathedral square. Ravello cuisine is dominated by white wine and fresh ingredients found in the hills above or the waves below, offering pasta, pizza and gelato, and a host of dishes containing the area's famous lemons and limoncello, a lemon liqueur.
Lacking the glamour and crowds of its more famous neighbours, Maiori is instead famous for having one of the largest beaches on the Amalfi Coast. The beachfront hotels make Maiori ideal for those who love the sea, while the dominating Castle of San Nicola de Thoro Plano and the fishing town's long history means there's plenty to discover and explore. Maiori is a great spot for foodies, and some wonderful restaurants 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 the oldest town on the Amalfi Coast. It has numerous historic sites, most notably a 1st-century Roman maritime villa.
The Basilica of St John Lateran was built in the 4th century by Constantine the Great and was the first church built in Rome. As the cathedral of the Diocese of Rome, it ranks above all other Roman Catholic churches. The official ecclesiastical seat of the Pope, it's here where he celebrates Mass on certain religious holidays. The building is characterised by its 18th-century façade, containing several important relics, a 13th-century cloister and an ancient baptistery. Inside are numerous statues and paintings, the High Altar that can only be used by the Pope and a cedar table that is said to be the one used by Christ at the Last Supper. Across the street is one of the holiest sites in Christendom: the Palace of the Holy Steps, believed to be the 28 marble steps of Pontius Pilate's villa. They have been in Rome since 1589.
The picturesque hill town of Assisi is famous as the birthplace of St Francis, a 12th-century monk who founded the Franciscan order, devoted to practices of asceticism, frugality and chastity. Tourists and pilgrims flock to the bustling town for inspiration and worship, and a multitude of annual conferences, festivals and other religious activities. Assisi is a visual spectacle of shimmering white marble buildings perched halfway up Mount Subasio. The town is set against the backdrop of the towering 14th-century hill fortress of the Rocca Maggiore, a landmark with which to orientate oneself from inside the city's medieval ramparts.
One of the most loved and visited churches in Italy is the 13th-century Basilica di San Francesco, containing frescoes by Giotto commemorating the life of St Francis. Other notable works include paintings by Pietro Lorenzetti and Simone Martini's frescoes based on the life of St Martin. St Francis's tomb rests below the lower church, while other popular sights include the 13th-century Basilica di Santa Chiara, the 12th-century Romanesque Duomo di San Rufino and the Eremo delle Carceri, a monastery situated in the woodland outside Assisi.
Assisi is a beautiful city with winding streets, Roman ruins and magnificent churches, feeling like it has changed little since medieval times. The greatest gems are the small medieval treasures and glorious views to be found all over the small city.
Housing one of Italy's finest collections of medieval and Renaissance art, the 17th-century Pinacoteca di Brera is by far the best collection of northern Italian paintings. Many of the masterpieces here were secured by Napoleon, who used the Palazzo as a storeroom for all the art he confiscated from public and private holdings. Three of Italy's great masterpieces are found here, namely Andrea Mantegna's Dead Christ, Raphael's Betrothal of the Virgin and Piero della Francesca's Madonna with Saints. The collection also includes notable works by Caravaggio. One of Milan's most popular tourist attractions, the Pinacoteca di Brera houses mostly religious art and will impress even the uninitiated with its vast collection and the stunning building.
The Orto Botanico di Brera is a botanical garden located behind the Pinacoteca di Brera in the centre of Milan. The garden has greenhouses from the 19th century that are now used by the Academy of Fine Arts, as well as flower beds and elliptical ponds from the 18th century. Orto Botanico di Brera is home to one of the oldest ginkgo biloba trees in Europe, and various other mature botanical specimens can be found within the grounds. The Orto Botanico di Brera is small by botanical garden standards but is well worth visiting for its historical charm and the originality of the mixture of art and nature that often results from the influence of the Academy of Fine Arts.
The Basilica of Sant'Ambrogio is one of the oldest churches in Milan, built by Bishop Ambrose between 379 and 386 AD. Located in an area where numerous martyrs of the Roman persecutions were buried, it was originally called Basilica Martyrum. In 1099, the church was rebuilt in the Romanesque architectural style but the basilica plan of the original edifice was maintained, including a portico with elegant arches in the front entrance. Of the two bell towers, the left and higher tower dates back to 1144 AD. Inside there is an apse mosaic from the early 13th century portraying the Christ Pantokrator, an inspirational religious and artistic artefact. As well as the tomb of Emperor Louis II, there are also mummified bishops in its chapels.
Originally built in the 9th century, this 318 feet (97m) bell tower is the highest structure in Venice, offering visitors breathtaking views of the cupolas of St Mark's, the lagoon and neighbouring islands, as well as church domes and red rooftops. When the air is clear, one can even spot snow-capped peaks of the distant Dolomite Mountains. Once a lighthouse to assist navigation on the lagoon, the tower collapsed unexpectedly in 1902 but was rebuilt exactly as before, even rescuing one of the five historical bells that are still in use today. Each bell was rung for a different purpose, such as war, the death of a doge or religious holidays.
The jet-set strip of Sardinia, Costa Smeralda is a six-mile (10km) stretch of coastline between the gulfs of Cugnana and Arzachena. The local villages and towns around Costa Smeralda have become discreet upmarket resorts, crammed with private villas, luxurious holiday villages and huge yachting marinas packed with gleaming vessels. The main town of the area is Porto Cervo, a playground of the rich and famous with its ranks of pale pink and red villas climbing the hill from the busy marina. Another favourite retreat for celebrities is the town of Porto Rotondo, offering a wealth of beaches, nightclubs and restaurants, most clustered around its Piazza San Marco and the marina. But the main attractions are the numerous sequestered beaches, among the most scenic being Cappriccioli, Rena Bianca and Liscia Ruja.
The best place to go to get some fresh air and a break from traditional sightseeing is the Villa Doria Pamphili, the largest landscaped public park in Rome. It's extremely large, boasting streams, a lake, lots of shaded areas and plenty of open grassy spaces. There are playgrounds, a skating rink and soccer fields, as well as pony rides, along with a little restaurant for refreshments. The park is lovely all year, even in winter, though it's obviously at its best in good weather. Playgrounds and parks are hard to find in Rome which automatically makes Villa Doria Pamphili a big hit with families visiting the city.
Also known as the Castelvecchio Bridge, the Ponte Scaligero spans 160ft (49m) across the Adige River, the largest span in the world at the time of its construction in the mid 14th century. The bridge's upper part was built with red bricks, as are all Veronese landmarks from the Scaliger era, while the lower part of the bridge is made up of white marble. It's one of the best places to enjoy spectacular views over the city of Verona, as well as those of the adjoining Castelvecchio Castle, a 14th-century red-brick structure of considerable grandeur. On weekends, there is often a delightful market spanning the length of the bridge.
The Piazza delle Erbe is a square in Verona once home to the city's Roman Forum. The piazza contains the Britney Verona fountain, the ancient town hall and the Lamberti Tower, as well as the 14th-century Gardello Tower and the Baroque Palazzo Maffei, adorned with statues of the gods. The markets are famed for their fresh fruit and vegetables but there are other things on offer, like Venetian masks and beautiful shawls. Street artists add to the festive atmosphere and the clash of ancient and modern is memorable and picturesque. The piazza is also a lot of fun at night, when its numerous bars beckon visitors.
This enormous theatre from Ancient Rome is the third-largest surviving theatre in the world, and is Italy's largest opera stage. Its exterior may be crumbling, but it only adds to the character and authenticity. The very fact that this theatre is still fully functional after 2,000 years and has withstood a devastating earthquake makes it an attraction not to be missed while on holiday in Verona. In recent times, the Verona Arena has also played host to popular music artists such as The Who, Elton John and Tina Turner. Seating up to 15,000 people, the best time to visit the Arena is during the lyrical season in the summer, when operas take place inside this ancient theatre on balmy summer nights.
One of Italy's most renowned wine regions, the valley of Valpolicella makes a fabulous day trip for those visiting Verona. Ranking just after Chianti, Valpolicella wines are made from three grape varietals, namely Corvina Veronese, Rondinella and Molinara. Winemaking here has existed since at least the time of the ancient Greeks and the region is famed for its Recioto, Ripasso and Amarone wines. A visit to Valpolicella will reward you with not only some of Italy's finest wines, but also fine food and dining in the quaint, picturesque villages of San Pietro Incariano, Fumane and Negrar. The nearby park of Cascate di Molina showcases Italy's countryside at its best, and boasts beautiful natural waterfalls and hikes for adventurous visitors to enjoy.
The beautiful town of Spoleto was established by the Romans in the 3rd Century BC, and many Roman buildings, ruins and artefacts remain, including the Coliseum and the Church of San Salvatore, dating from the 4th Century, making it one of the oldest churches in the world. The medieval castle and the cathedral dominate the well-preserved Upper Town: the Duomo di Spoleto has a lovely facade with eight rose windows, while inside there are beautiful frescos by Filippo Lippi. Another popular attraction in Spoleto is the impressive Tower's Bridge, which was built in 1350 AD and is still traversable today. The church of San Pietro can be found in the wooded hills a short trip out of town. This church served as the cathedral of Spoleto until 1067, and sports some of the best Romanesque carvings in Italy.
Cortona is a richly historic city that enjoys a scenic position above Lake Trasimeno and the plain of Valdichiana, dotted with olive groves and vineyards. Home to some of the best-preserved Etruscan buildings, it also has a strong artistic pedigree and was home to Luca Signorelli and Pietro da Cortona. Most of the Etruscan city is hidden in basements but part of the original 4th-century BC walls can be seen at the base of Porta Colonia's outer side. Climbing the city's cut-stone staircases and meandering along its cobbled streets guides one back through the past from the Renaissance to the Middle Ages and beyond. The medieval houses along Via Janelli are the oldest in Italy, with other special sites are the Palazzo Comunale, Museo dell'Accademia Etrusca and the church of San Francesco.
San Gimignano is a popular village on the tourist trail which attracts many with its charm, history and towers. Only 14 of the original 72 towers remain, which is unsurprising as their dual role as status symbols and defensive structures saw them caught in the middle of the many feuds that eventually caused the town's downfall. Nevertheless, these 14 towers are among the best-preserved in Italy, and are the envy of Florence and Bologna whose towers have long since crumbled. The ideal starting-point for a visit to San Gimignano is the Piazza del Duomo, which is the centre of the town and framed by historical buildings. Nearby is the Collegiata, a church dating from the 11th-century and famed for its frescoes, which include The Creation by Bartolo di Fredi.
Most famous for its leaning tower, Pisa's equally notable coups include its maritime legacy dating to 1000 BC, its prized university and its status as the birthplace of Galileo Galilei. The Pisans also created one of the most beautiful squares in the world in the Campo dei Miracoli (Field of Miracles). The famous Leaning Tower, an essential holiday attraction, whose layers of heavy marble were constructed on a shifting subsoil foundation that has been the bane of Pisan engineers for more than 800 years. It seems that the tremulous soil underneath the Field of Miracles has exacted its price on the other buildings too, most notably San Michele dei Scalzi. Other attractions of interest in Pisa include the Museo delle Sinopie; the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, with its arabesque panels and Corinthian capitals; and the Museo Nazionale di San Matteo's Florentine art from the 12th through to the 17th-centuries.
The charming city of Lucca is laid out on ancient Roman roads and framed within well-preserved medieval ramparts. Founded by the Etruscans and a Roman colony from 180 BC, it still boasts many fascinating old buildings. The city walls are one of the main attractions as they are still perfectly intact despite the expansion of the city and their great age. The city is famous for being the home of Puccini, with his 15th-century house serving as a shrine. Lucca is also celebrated for its museums, monuments and splendid Romanesque churches. With its flat terrain and narrow lanes, Lucca is perfectly suited to explorations on foot or by bicycle, the same methods local people use to commute. Key sights on a visit to Lucca are the Duomo, San Michele and San Frediano, as well as the Museo Nazionale Guinigi, Torre Guinigi and an ancient Roman amphitheatre.
A popular day trip from Florence, the famous town of Pisa is most well-known for its Leaning Tower. But other equally notable charms include its long maritime legacy, its prized university and its status as the birthplace of Galileo Galilei. The Pisans also created one of the most beautiful squares in the world in the Campo dei Miracoli (Field of Miracles). Pisa is home to dozens of other historical churches and buildings such as the Museo delle Sinopie, the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo and the Museo Nazionale di San Matteo, with its range of Florentine art from the 12th to the 17th century.
Palermo, Sicily's capital, enjoys some fascinating historic Byzantine, Baroque and Norman buildings and artefacts, as well as some great museums. It has remained a rich heart of arts and culture through much of its history, having endured for some 2,700 years. Some of the more breathtaking sites include the Palazzo dei Normanni, the Cattedrale and the simply stunning interiors found in the churches of La Martorana and the Capella Palatina. The creepy yet intriguing Capuchin Catacombs may fascinate those interested in the macabre, while the Botanic Garden is perfect for a stroll after catching a performance at the splendid Teatro Massimo.
Genoa is home to the Acquario di Genova, which is the second-largest aquarium in Europe and the best in Italy. The ship-like building on the promenade houses no fewer than 50 habitats, ranging from the Amazon basin and Red Sea coral reefs to Antarctic penguin pools. Hundreds of species call the aquarium home, such as seals, dolphins, caiman, piranhas, jellyfish, sea turtles and sharks. It's a fantastic family attraction in Genoa, giving kids a fun break from traditional sightseeing. Unexpectedly, the aquarium also has a hummingbird sanctuary.
Formerly Genoa's City Hall, the Palazzo Tursi is the largest and most majestic of all the magnificent buildings on the Via Garibaldi. Built in 1565, the building is now a museum housing unique artefacts like the violin of Nicolo Paganini, and ashes that are said to be the remains of Christopher Colombus. The museum also contains numerous decorative artworks, like tapestries, furniture and Ligurian ceramics, as well as historical artefacts such as ancient coins and medical devices. On sunny days, you can break from the museum's collections and just enjoy the beauty of the building's many-columned interior courtyard. The museums are known collectively as the Musei di Strada Nuova and the individual buildings are the Palazzo Bianco, Palazzo Rosso and Palazzo Tursi.
The 13th-century church and monastery of Sant'Agostino was built by the Augustinians in 1260, now one of the few Gothic buildings remaining in Genoa. Its cloisters are a museum housing more than 4,000 works, such as metal and stone sculptures, frescoes and many architectural artefacts. Although not large, the museum is one of the most popular attractions in Genoa. The museum is gradually linking its artefacts to mobile phone guides in English and Italian but this project is in its infancy.
The Valley of the Temples is one of Italy's oldest and most interesting archaeological sites, filled with some of the most outstanding examples of Magna Graecia architecture in the world. The Doric-style structures, built in the 5th century BC, are dedicated to gods and mythological characters, including, quite rarely, an imposing structure dedicated to Vulcan. There are also some fascinating commemorative structures, built in celebration of Rome's victory over Carthage and in memory of Roman soldiers who were killed in the Second Punic War. In the tradition of Greco-Roman architecture of the period, all the structures face east to be illuminated by the rising sun.
Located just 50 miles (80km) from the region of Umbria, the city of Genga's Frasassi Caves are considered to be some of the most wondrous in Italy. A remarkable cave system comprised of limestone dissolved over millennia, it's fitted with safe, comfortable walkways and theatrical lighting to bring the otherworldly stalactites and stalagmites into greater relief. Experience a genuine thrill while travelling down as the temperature drops and breath begins to mist. The overwhelming silence is broken only by the resonance of dripping water. One of Italy's most talked-about tourist attractions in recent years, tourists stopping off in Umbria should be sure to make the short trip to the Frasassi Caves.
Surely one of Italy's most iconic images is that of gondolas being oared through the narrow canals of Venice by stripe-shirted, serenading gondoliers. These flat-bottomed boats are unique to the canals and waterways of Venice, meaning it's an obligatory tourist activity. Although expensive, a gondola ride in Venice is sure to leave you with a warm and lasting memory of your vacation in Italy. Tourists are encouraged to make the most of the investment by taking a trip down the back canals of Venice and not the Grand Canal, as it's too crowded and impersonal. Pick an ornately-carved gondola, with a comfortable seat and blankets if it's cold.
The flourishing fishing port of Alghero is Sardinia's tourist centre, consisting of a picturesque and well-preserved old town enclosed in stout walls. Outside, the new town sports a grid of parallel streets, filled with hotels and restaurants. A favoured package tour destination, Alghero offers beautiful beaches, hotels and restaurants, together with numerous places of interest. The narrow cobbled streets are lined with ornate churches, wrought-iron balconies and a number of boutiques and cafes, as well as the workshops of craftsmen working the famed coral of Alghero. The local cuisine has a taste of Spain, with Alghero renowned for its authentic Spanish paella, lobster Catalan and tasty fish soups, along with delicious sea urchin and aromatic wines. The coast offers many secluded bays, small inlets bordered by pine forests and high, jagged cliffs. Nightlife is sedate, tending more toward sipping cocktails at a sidewalk cafe and watching the sunset.
Found along Sicily's Ionian coastline, Syracuse once rivalled Athens as the most important city in the ancient Greek world. Its Greek heritage can still be found in the abundance of ruins and in the myths and legends centred particularly on its oldest quarter, the island of Ortygia. Archimedes once strode the streets here and today tourists can still get a feel for Syracuse's golden age of power and prosperity. As well as the Hellenic relics, Syracuse also boasts more than its fair share of Roman ruins and some fine medieval Gothic architecture and art. Most visitors prefer to make day trips to the city from the more comfortable resort areas nearby, where soft white beaches and fine wines can be enjoyed on the shores of the Ionian Sea.
Taormina has it all: stunning surroundings, lovely nearby beaches, medieval charm, great shops and restaurants and interesting archaeological remains. Sicily's most famous holiday resort town, it boasts what is surely the most photographed view in Sicily: across the beautiful ancient Greek amphitheatre to the sea with Mount Etna in the background. Taormina is ancient, inhabited since before 734 BC when the Greeks arrived on the Sicilian coast. Its winding medieval streets and tiny passages hide some great restaurants, cafes and ice-cream parlours, while the beach at Giardini-Naxos is particularly popular. The stone walls of the old city enclose some fascinating archaeological monuments and medieval palaces, including the Palazzo Santo Stefano.
Siena is one of Italy's best-preserved medieval cities, and one of the major drawcards for visitors to the popular regions of Umbria and Tuscany. Siena's peak as a wealthy city-state dates back to the 13th-century, when the Duomo di Siena was completed along with the distinctly scallop-shaped Piazza del Campo, regarded as one of the finest public spaces in Europe. The town's university was founded in 1240, and to this day ranks as one of the most prestigious in Italy. Amid the winding lanes of the medieval city are many gorgeous churches and museums, chief among them the 13th-century Chiesa di San Domenico; the Fortezza Medicea; and the pilgrimage site of Sanctuary of St Catherine of Siena. Notable landmarks include the Palazzo Pubblico, the Duomo, Palazzo Piccolomini, Pinacoteca Nazionale and the Museo dell'Opera. Torre del Mangia is the bell tower to the left of Palazzo Pubblico which stands at 330ft (102m), the second highest in Italy.
Sorrento is a sophisticated seaside resort in the heart of the Neapolitan Riviera, its lively bars, enticing restaurants and chic boutiques lining cobbled streets. The town is perched on a clifftop. Although there's a small beach at the harbour, most bathers swim off the rocks or from wooden jetties, or laze around their hotel swimming pool and enjoy the stunning views of Naples and Mount Vesuvius. Sorrento is a popular base for exploring the local area. It's an hour's drive from Naples and a short distance from the stunning towns of Amalfi and Positano. Many visitors will also make a boat trip to the island of Capri, the mythical home of the Sirens, or travel by train to the ruins of Pompeii.
Capri has long been a favoured destination for celebrities and the megarich. Believed to be Homer's mythical land of the Sirens, it was once home to Emperor Tiberius who ruled from his clifftop villa. The island is now most famous for its dramatic landscape, upmarket hotels and the expensive boutiques and restaurants. Travellers can escape the crowds by heading up Mount Salero, an hour or two's walk or a 12-minute ride on a chairlift. A boat trip is also a wonderful way to enjoy the island. Most tours stop at the famous Blue Grotto, where visitors pass through the caves in small rowing boats. Capri sits in Italy's Bay of Naples, serving as a popular day trip from Sorrento and Positano.
Italian Phrase Book
|per favore||please||por fa vor|
|il mio nome e||my name is||ill mee-oh nohm eh|
|dov'e||where is||dohv eh|
|parlate inglese?||do you speak English?||pahr laht eh in gles eh|
|non capisco||I dont understand||nohn ca pees co|
|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 occasional rainfall, the central region is somewhat stifled by humidity and the south scorches under the dry heat. In winter, conditions in Milan, Turin and Venice are dominated by cold, damp and fog and Tuscany's winter temperatures approach freezing, while temperatures in the south of the country are more favourable, averaging 50 to 60ºF (10 to 20ºC). Most people visit Italy in the summer months between June and August; but the best and cheapest time to visit is in spring (April to May) and autumn (September to October) when the weather is good and there are fewer tourists. The sea is warm enough for swimming between June and September. Visitors should note that most Italians take their vacation in August and many shops and restaurants are closed during this period. It also means that during August the coastal resorts are crowded with locals. The ski season runs between December and April and the best time to walk in the Alps is between June and September. The best time to visit Italy will vary depending on region and desired activities.
Possibly the best seafood restaurant in Rome, the cuisine at La Rosetta is world-class. A selection of marinated seafood appetizers, such as squid with ginger and French beans, is the best way to appreciate the flavours, followed by one of the superb pasta dishes dressed with fish or seafood. The menu includes almost every type of Mediterranean fish, grilled or roasted to perfection, and desserts such as the ricotta cheesecake with honey are worth saving space for. Reservations essential. Open for lunch and dinner Monday to Saturday.
This sophisticated rooftop restaurant boasts a spectacular view of the city below, and has an elegant setting with candlelit tables and impeccable service. Many Roman food critics claim it is the best restaurant in the city, which is attested to by a list of regulars that includes Prince Rainier of Monaco, Bruce Springsteen and Glenn Close. Food is the very best of Mediterranean haute cuisine and each dish is a work of art in presentation and taste. A sundowner at the chic cocktail bar is a fine way to start the evening. Reservations essential. Closed Sunday and Monday. Dinner only.
Small, unpretentious and serving top-quality Roman cuisine, Ai Tre Scalini is one of the most pleasant restaurants in the area around the Colosseum. The small menu is a gourmet experience, from the cheeses and salamis to porchetta, complemented by the wide variety of wines on offer. Reservations required. Closed Mondays. Open from 6pm.
Oozing with old-fashioned romance and elegance coupled with breathtaking views across St Mark's Square, Ristorante Quadri lays it on thick when it comes to fine dining and style. Try the steamed sea bass in rosemary with vegetable ratatouille, or the lamb cutlets and loin flavoured with thyme and parsley and served with a foundant of potato and eggplant. This restaurant might be perceived as being kitsch, but it definitely doesn't disappoint. Open daily, closed on Mondays between 1 November and 31 March. Reservations essential.
Enjoy sitting outside on a starry night, taking in a beautiful view of the Giudecca from the deck at Lineadombra, one of Venice's most modern restaurants. The bass fillet with potatoes and vanilla perfume comes highly recommended.
Popular with tourists and featuring grand paintings that occupy entire walls, Persian carpets and beautiful views onto the square of the Fenice Theatre, Antico Martini is one of the oldest restaurants in Venice, steeped in almost 300 years of history. The superb cuisine will not disappoint and is always made from the freshest ingredients. Open daily from 11.30am to 11.30pm. Reservations essential.
This bustling seafood eatery serves some of the most authentic Venetian cuisine and for the right price too. Locals and tourists alike flock to this restaurant for delicious pastas, seafood and other mouth-watering Italian fare. Even in the off-season there can be a waiting list. Open from Tuesday to Sunday for lunch and dinner. Closed Mondays. Reservation recommended.
Located away from Venice's tourist hubs, you know Alla Vedova must be good because this is where all the locals eat. With marble counters, charismatic furniture, a cosy atmosphere and some of the tastiest Venetian cuisine in town, diners can feast on dishes such as the delicately grilled cuttlefish , (lasagna with sausage, radicchio, and béchamel sauce).
Located in Calle Vallaresso, this elegant restaurant belongs to the Hotel Monaco and Grand Canal, serving traditional Venetian cuisine of seafood and fresh vegetables. Celebrities such as Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have been spotted dining here and, only a few metres from the vaporetto stop, the location is both convenient and appealing, with a very romantic terrace to sit on.
The airy spaciousness of this Venetian restaurant owned by the local Rossi family, coupled with its wonderfully varied menu creates a wonderful dining experience. Located in the heart of the Cannaregio district, this eatery is popular with both locals and tourists alike. Try the delicious homemade pastas with mouth-watering sauces, or the gondola, a fish baked with tomatoes, olives, capers, potatoes and white wine in parchment paper and then folded to look like a gondola. Indoor and outdoor dining available. Open daily for lunch and dinner.
With small tables dotted along the banks of a canal, this trattoria serves simple, hearty and unfussy fare. Guests can sample some Triestino cuisine by starting off with a mixed platter of cured meats called salumi friulani, from the region famous for the most delicate prosciutto in Italy. Other favourites are Triestino sarde in saor (vinegar-kissed fried sardines) and for the carnivores, the manzo in salsa verde (beef in a herb sauce). Closed Sundays for dinner. Reservations recommended.
One of Milan's most popular pizzerias is bustling from early dinnertime until the night owls pop by for a late-night snack. The restaurant exudes a wonderfully rustic ambience with exposed copper pipes tracing across the ceilings of rooms overflowing with laughter and long, raucous tables. The wood oven pizzas are excellent while the menu of pastas and meat dishes is equally appetising. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Reservations recommended.
Giorgio Armani and other trendy fashionistas frequent Da Giacomo restaurant, and its elegant dining area was put together by world-famous interior designer Renzo Mongiardino. The menu features a selection of traditional Tuscan cuisine such as grilled turbot, or linguini with scampi and zucchini flowers. Open for lunch and dinner daily, reservations essential.
Established in 1933 and located down a narrow lane in one of the oldest sections of the city, the Trattoria Milanese has a three-beamed ceiling sheltering its long, communal tables. Serving traditional local cuisine such as risotto alla Milanese, with saffron and beef marrow, and an excellent minestrone soup, this is a favourite with locals. Open Tuesday to Sunday for lunch and dinner, and Monday for dinner only, reservations essential.
Linked to the Peck Store, adorned with beautifully modern décor and with masterchef Carlo Cracco at the helm, this is a fantastic choice for a night of fine dining. Serving first class starters and mouth-watering mains, this restaurant was voted one of the world's top 50 by Open for lunch and dinner from Monday to Friday. Saturday the restaurant is open for dinner only. Closed on Sundays.
This eatery is the place to be seen! As part of a worldwide chain of exceptional restaurants, this is where food fanatics can sample such famous dishes as black cod in misu sauce, as well as sushi and sashimi, while sipping on sake with gold leaf. Closed for Sunday lunch. Reservations essential.
Famous for its Neapolitan pizzas topped with the freshest selection of seafood, such as clams, mackerel, mussels and sardines, Anema e Cozze is a firm favourite in this neighbourhood. It may not be Milan's most stylish restaurant, but it serves tasty affordable food and the fish infused pastas and other antipasti are also delicious. Bookings advisable.
This authentically Venician restaurant is famous for its great wine selection from the Veneto region and for its flagship dish, (Italian tapas) made up of wedges of Mortadella sausage speared with curly, piquant Tuscan peppers and crostini topped with creamy tuna and shredded leeks. Cantinone-già Schiavi's lively atmosphere and warm and friendly locals is what Venice dining is all about. Travellers will love the food, prices and authentic Italian cuisine at one of Venice's best kept secrets. Closed on Sundays.
Not somewhere many tourists would know about, unless escorted here by a local, La Cantina is run and owned by the passionate Francesco who is temperamental yet obsessive about food. Come here for some indulgent and lip-smacking crostini piled with tongue, chopped pickle, smoked ricotta and layers of fresh horseradish shavings, washed down with a glass of local wine. Open when the owner feels like it - usually closed on Sundays and Mondays.
This cosy pizzeria is located alongside the canal where diners can pull their boats in, sit under an umbrella at a shady table and feast on homemade crusted pies filled with roasted figs and prosciutto, among other exotic flavour combinations. Open for lunch and dinner from April to October. Closed for lunch on Mondays.
Widely recognised as Florence's most famous restaurant, the stylish décor and innovative Tuscan cuisine intertwined with subtle notes of French cuisine make dining here an experience to remember. Start with a poached egg with cauliflower, crispy bread and pancetta with black truffle before moving on to a mouth-watering rack of lamb with garlic and herbs served with Jerusalem artichokes and mint. Open for lunch and dinner Tuesday to Saturday. Bookings recommended.
One of Florence's little treasures, this family-run trattoria has been serving local Florentines for over 30 years. Try the pesto spaghetti or spinach ravioli to start, before diving into the tasty beef stefado with potatoes and Osso Buco (veal crosscut shin) cooked in tomato and served with mashed potato, or the tender stewed rabbit with a side of grilled vegetables. Open daily for lunch and dinner.
A fabulous place in central Florence, Ristorante Celestino serves a mouthwatering array of traditional Tuscan dishes. With candlelit dinners in a picturesque courtyard, this restaurant is a must for any visitor to Florence. Start with the Tuscany Salami and polenta canapés or a tortellini soup before moving on to freshly made pasta or Florence style crepes with buffalo mozzarella. The Risotto with champagne and porcini mushrooms is delectable, and the option of adding a truffle to your meal is not to be missed. Their menu has a wide selection of meat and fish dishes and a whole page dedicated 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 wide selection of pizzerias but Da Tito I Peccati di Gola Pizzeria takes the cake. This funky restaurant has a vast selection of pizzas and a piping hot clay oven. Be sure to try the simple Amon with porcini and prosciutto or the Caprese with buffalo mozzarella and rocket leaves.
The Euro (EUR) is the official currency, which is divided into 100 cents. Those arriving in Italy with foreign currency can obtain Euros through any bank, ATM or bureau de change. ATMs are widespread. Credit cards are accepted in upmarket establishments and shops around the cities. Banks are closed on weekends, but tend to have better rates than foreign exchange houses.
The official language of Italy is Italian. English is understood in the larger cities but not in the more remote parts of the country.
Electrical current in Italy is 230 volts, 50Hz. A variety of plugs are in use, including the European-style two-pin plug.
US nationals: US citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least three months beyond their intended stay in Italy. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days within a 180 day period.
UK nationals: Passports endorsed 'British Citizen', 'British Subject' (containing a Certificate of Entitlement to the Right of Abode issued by the United Kingdom), and 'British Overseas Territories Citizen' issued by Gibraltar, must be valid on arrival. British passports with other endorsements must be valid for three months beyond the period of intended stay in Italy.
UK nationals: A visa is not required for British passports endorsed 'British Citizen' or 'British Subject' (containing a Certificate of Entitlement 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 United Kingdom'. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days within a 180 day period for holders of British passports with other endorsements.
CA nationals: Canadian citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least three months beyond their intended stay in Italy. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days within a 180 day period.
AU nationals: Australian citizens must have a passport that is valid for three months beyond their intended stay in Italy. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days within a 180 day period.
ZA nationals: South African citizens must have a passport that is valid for three months beyond their intended stay, and a valid Schengen visa, to enter Italy.
IR nationals: Irish citizens must have a passport that is valid upon their arrival in Italy. No visa is required.
NZ nationals: New Zealand citizens must have a passports valid for three months beyond period of intended stay in Italy. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days within a 180 day period.
The borderless region known as the Schengen Area includes the following 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 and Switzerland. All these countries issue a standard Schengen visa that has a multiple entry option, and which allows the holder to travel freely within the borders of all the aforementioned countries. Furthermore, all foreign passengers to Italy must hold visible proof of financial means to support themselves while in the country, return/onward tickets, and the necessary travel documentation for their next destination. Note that visitors may be refused entry, either for public security, tranquillity, order or health reasons. Extensions of stay in Italy are possible, by applying to local authorities. NOTE: It is highly recommended that your passport has at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
There are no specific health risks associated with travel to Italy and visitors should be able to travel without special vaccinations and medications. Medical facilities in Italy are good but travel insurance is still recommended for non-EU citizens, as medical attention can be expensive. EU citizens can make use of Italy's health services provided they have a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), with UK citizens using their Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC). The GHIC replaced the EHIC for UK citizens and allows UK citizens access to state healthcare during visits to the EU. The GHIC is not valid in Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein or Switzerland, nor is it an alternative to travel insurance. Although it should be possible to get most medication in Italy, travel authorities always suggest taking any prescribed medication in its original packaging with a signed and dated letter from a doctor.
Tipping is customary in Italy and 10 to 15 percent of the bill is acceptable in restaurants, unless a 15 percent service charge has already been added to the bill. Hotels add a service charge of 15 to 18 percent, but it is customary to tip the service staff extra. Italians rarely tip taxi drivers 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 around tourist sites. It's advisable to be careful when carrying large amounts of cash and valuables. Be particularly careful around the main train station, Termini. Visitors should be wary of groups of children, some of whom will distract attention while the others try to steal what they can. Strikes by transport workers take place regularly throughout Italy and delays are possible.
In Italy, it's an offence to sit on steps and in courtyards near 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 inside churches.
Italians can be very formal and old fashioned, but are also warm and welcoming. Face to face communication is best and often a third party introduction can speed initial negotiations. Business attire is formal and stylish, and handshakes are the norm with first impressions counting a lot in Italy. Expect plenty of gesticulating, interruptions or people talking over each other. Business cards are used. Unfortunately the bureaucracy in Italy can slow down deal-making. Business hours are usually 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday, but can vary according to season and region.
The international access code for Italy is +39. City/area codes are in use, e.g. 02 for Milan and 06 for Rome. Hotels, cafes and restaurants offering free wifi are widely available. As international roaming costs can be high, purchasing a local prepaid SIM card can be a cheaper option.
Travellers over 17 years from non-EU countries do not have to pay duty on 200 cigarettes, 50 cigars or 250g of tobacco. As well as this, travellers do not have to pay duty on 4 litres of wine, 16 lires of beer or 1 litre of spirits over 22 percent volume, or 2 litres of alcoholic beverages less than 22 percent volume. Other goods up to the value of €430 is also permitted (reduced to €175 for children under 15).
Travellers from EU countries travelling within the EU are limited to 110 litres of beer, 90 litres of wine, 10 litres of fortified wine, 10 litres of spirits and 1kg of tobacco, 800 cigarettes, 200 cigars or 400 cigarellos. Prohibited items include narcotic drugs, medicinal products, arms and weapons, explosives and protected animal and plant species.
Italian Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 612 4400.
Italian Embassy, London, United Kingdom: +44 (0)20 7312 2200.
Italian Embassy, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 232 2401.
Italian Embassy, Canberra, Australia: +61 (0)2 6273 3333.
Italian Embassy, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 (0)12 423 000.
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.
Australian Embassy, Rome: +39 06 852 721.
South African Embassy, Rome: +39 06 852 541.
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 city of Pompeii in volcanic lava and ash. The most evocative testimony to its victims is the 'frozen people', calcified remains whose anguished contortions and facial expressions reveal the horror of their untimely deaths. Pompeii is one of Italy's most popular tourist attractions, seeing nearly 2.5 million visitors every year. It's one of the most intriguing sites of the ancient world and a full day of walking barely covers the many sites of interest. Pompeii is truly an unmissable attraction, along with the four associated sites of Herculaneum, Oplontis, Stabia and Boscoreale.
Paestum was founded by Greek colonists in the 7th Century BC, later falling under Roman rule. The well-preserved Greek temples are arguably the best of their kind in the world, easily rivalling those of Sicily and Athens. These remarkable structures comprise the Basilica; the Temple of Poseidon; and the Temple of Ceres. A guide to the excavations and Archaeological Museum can be bought at any of the roadside shops. Heading north along Via Sacra will take one to the Roman Forum, gymnasium and amphitheatre. Finally, Paestum's Museum contains a fascinating collection of pottery and paintings found in the tombs of the area.
Nestled in a sheltered inlet within the stretch of the Italian Mediterranean is the coastal resort village of Portofino, famous for its picturesque harbour. It has long been the playground for the rich and famous, attracting the likes of Sophia Loren, Elizabeth Taylor and Grace Kelly. The scenic surrounds can be explored from the outlying nature reserve, graced with cypress and olive slopes. Set off from here on a 90-minute trek to San Fruttuoso, or a two-and-a-half hour hike to Santa Margherita. Other sights around Portofino include its castle and the lighthouse, with its breathtaking view of the coastline. The most famous beach in the area is the beautiful Paraggi Beach, with others nearby including Camogli, Chiavari, Lavagna, and Sestri Levante.
Strung along just over 11 miles (18km) of rugged cliffs between Levanto and La Spezia, the five fishing villages of the UNESCO-listed Cinque Terre nestle precariously on the cliffs. Overlooking the azure ocean of the Italian Riviera, it's a picture-perfect dream of sparkling clear waters and dramatic vistas, contained within the tranquil embrace of the villages that are connected to one another by a scenic pathway that curves through the hillside among olive groves and vineyards. Monterosso is the largest and recognisable through the huge statues carved into the shore's rocks. The village of Riomaggiore is identified through the myriad fishing boats festooning its shores, linked by the 'lovers lane' to the charming town of Manarola. Corniglia perches precariously on the mountainside and is accessed through a steep climb, while Vernazza's promenade and piazza have beautiful sea vistas.
On the Lido de Jesolo is Aqualandia, an extremely popular water and theme park that has been earning rave reviews from visitors to Italy. Aqualandia is situated on an island near Venice, and just strolling around the place and lounging on the beaches is an adventure. Aqualandia has something like 26 attractions, including one of the highest water slides in the world, a sky-high bungee jumping tower and a huge central pool. There are fun shows and live music acts, as well as restaurants, shops and the popular Vanilla Club for those who want to party. A fun day at a water park is a great treat for children and a nice break from traditional cultural sightseeing.
Padua is often tragically overlooked due to its close proximity to Venice. The fabulous architecture of the old town, dating back as far as 1,000 AD, is a magnificent backdrop for its deep wealth of culture. The main attraction is the cathedral dedicated to St Anthony, its high altar is decorated with bronzes by Donatello, who is also responsible for the proud equestrian statue (il Gattamelata) in the Piazza del Santo. Padua also has picturesque canals, a number of markets and many impressive churches filled with beautiful frescoes. It also boasts Europe's oldest botanical garden, established in 1545, and a fun and festive nightlife, thanks to its youthful university population.
The Venetian Islands of Murano are joined by several bridges, making for a great trip for the whole family and the perfect place to seek out special Venetian souvenirs. In 1291, all the glass makers in Venice were sent to the islands for fear of fires starting in the wooden buildings of the city, meaning Murano has been a centre of glass crafts ever since. Visitors can enjoy watching the local art of glass-blowing, developed over centuries in the place that made Venetian glass so famous and sought-after. Murano is a picturesque mini-Venice with its own Grand Canal, boasting colourful old buildings and great restaurants. There are also some interesting churches to visit: the Basilica dei Santa Maria e San Donato has stunning 12th-century mosaics; and the Church of Saint Peter the Martyr houses two artworks by Bellini.
A flatland along the Adriatic Coast, the vast Po Delta is one of the most stunning natural landscapes in Italy. It's divided into two regional parks: the Emilia-Romagna and Veneto. The latter, easily accessible from Venice, encompasses woodlands, extensive farmlands, marshes, lagoons, beaches and rivers, as well as historical monuments and even cities. Visitors to the Po Delta Natural Park can enjoy a day exploring the great outdoors. Discover the park by bike, boat, canoe, horseback or on foot. Tours are also available for those who want to visit the more protected areas of the park, and avid fisherman can enjoy the lagoons, where bream, bass and grey mullet are plentiful. There are great bird-watching opportunities here too, so pack your binoculars. There are many areas to camp and wonderful walking trails.
The unbelievable cave-dwellings of Matera were dug into the tuff rock of the region, the 'houses' often little more than caverns. They remain testament to a troglodyte population believed to be the first human settlement in Italy. Some of the streets of present-day Matera double as rooftops to the underground dwellings, and beneath the surface, a network of labyrinths and caverns once traversed by the prehistoric civilisation can still be observed. As has been noted, the inhabitants of Matera's Sassi are the only people who can claim to live in the same houses as their ancestors did 9,000 years ago. It's fun to hire bikes and ride to the caverns further afield.
An emblematic tourist attraction, the Blue Grotto (Grotta Azzurra) is reason enough for any visitor to Naples to make the short trip across to the island of Capri. A world-famous sea cave, the Blue Grotto is perpetually filled with brilliant sapphire light, caused by sunlight entering through an underwater cavity and shining through the seawater from beneath. The cave also contains a smaller opening right at the level of the waterline, through which bright sunshine pours and tourists are admitted by rowboat. Gaze in wonder at the spectral water, more light-filled than the air and watch dipped hands glow an eerie silver-blue.
A popular excursion from Milan is exploring the beautiful Dolomite Mountains and Renon Plateau, with quaint mountain villages like Bolzano and Collalbo completing the package. The Dolomite mountains are famously picturesque and are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, while interesting and unusual rock formations dot the Renon Plateau. Hiking is naturally a popular activity in the region and photographers will be in their element. Stunning panoramic views of the Dolomite landscape await those taking the Renon Cable Car up the mountain to Bolzano or hopping aboard the train to Collalbo. Bolzano is an interesting town with a distinctly German atmosphere and Collalbo is a charming village perched high on the plateau and surrounded by pristine countryside.
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