Florence is filled with beautiful churches.

Travelers arriving in the Renaissance city are right away greeted by the massive, red-tiled cupola of the Duomo. Visible from most parts of Florence, the Duomo is a clear and striking icon of the city. Travelers could spend hours exploring this Florentine gem, whether climbing to the top of the Dome to enjoy panoramic views  over Firenze or studying the intricate details of the Baptistry doors.

However, there are myriad breathtaking churches throughout Florence, some of which visitors often overlook. We understand. Florence is so rich in art, history, and culture it can be difficult to know where to start. So let us help!

The Most Beautiful Churches in Florence: Centro Storico

A little background knowledge can go a long way when planning a trip to Florence. Here’s the rundown on the churches in the historical city center of Florence.

Santa Maria del Fiore

Also known as The Duomo of Florence, this is the city’s most iconic landmark.

Beautiful churches in Florence: The Duomo

Florence began construction on its magnificent cathedral in the 13th century but it wasn’t until nearly a century later that work on its massive dome began. Designed by Renaissance founding father Filippo Brunelleschi, it is one of the most significant architectural achievements of the period and a lasting symbol of the city. Brunelleschi wasn’t the only famous artist to leave his mark on the church. Ghiberti completed the ornate bronze doors on the baptistery, and Giotto the bell tower. All told, hundreds of architects, artists, and engineers worked on the cathedral during its more than 100-year construction.

This is by far the most important church in Florence. To see it all you’ll need The Great Duomo Museum ticket. This includes the Cathedral, Brunelleschi’s Dome (beware, there are 463 steps to climb), Giotto’s Bell Tower, the Baptistry of San Giovanni, the Crypt of Santa Reparata, and the Opera Museum.

Santa Croce Basilica

The largest Franciscan church in the world and burial place of the greats.

Santa Croce is one of the most important churches in Florence, and holds just as many impressive statistics as the Duomo. The largest Medieval Franciscan church, Santa Croce was also a convent and theological school that can cite Dante Alighieri as a pupil. An excellent example of Gothic architecture, as the church’s fame and importance grew, the original modest façade was replaced and the structure was continuously made more grandiose.

Artists, theologians, and politicians visited, lived or studied here, and many were buried here as well. Today visitors can see the tombs of Michelangelo, Rossini, Machiavelli and Galileo Galilei in Santa Croce. There is also a memorial to Dante, although his actual body is housed in Ravenna after having been exiled from Florence.

During the flood of 1966, water from the Arno River filled the church up to 5 meters, causing severe damage. Volunteers formed human chains to save as much artwork as possible. Visit the Refectory to see Vasari’s ‘The Last Supper’, which was submerged in floodwater for hours. It has since been restored and, only recently, returned to the Basilica, 50 years after the flood.

Santa Maria Novella Basilica

Florence’s first great basilica and a true art-lovers church

Beautiful churches in Florence: Santa Maria Novella
A massive square to match the beautiful Santa Maria Novella Basilica

Once a small church in a tiny square, the namesake square and basilica have matured into one of the biggest and most important in Florence.

Today, Santa Maria Novella is a gorgeous basilica with a white and green marble façade. Founded by the Dominicans in the 13th-century, the façade was completed during the Renaissance by Leon Battista Alberti. The bottom half was already done in Romanesque style, so Alberti had quite the task to complete it in a more modern aesthetic, while still maintaining a uniform face.

Though the outside itself is a work of art, the inside of Santa Maria Novella is a treasure trove of historical art. Here you can see a crucifix and marble pulpit designed by Brunelleschi. The famed crucifix by a young Giotto, and the incredible perspective shown in the Trinità by Masaccio. You’ll find frescoes by Ghirlandaio and Lippi, and a bronze memorial by Ghiberti.

Located just in front of the Santa Maria Novella train station, the Basilica is easy to find and well worth the visit.

Orsanmichele Church and Museum

A multi-faceted church with an uninterrupted view of the Duomo from the third-floor museum.

Orsanmichele might just be one of the most overlooked churches in Florence. That’s because it’s hidden in plain sight. Located right in the center of town between Piazza del Duomo and Piazza della Signoria, you won’t be able to find a façade even if you look for it. The church is housed in a three-story building, and the entrance to is located around the corner in what seems like the back.

The church has undergone many transformations. Said to be built during Roman times in place of a temple for Isis–the Egyptian goddess of fertility–it was then a Benedictine oratory in the monastery St. Michael (San Michele). The original structure was destroyed in the 13th century, and an arcade grain hall, office space, and general market hall was built in its place.

Though the structure was commercial, a beautiful fresco of the Virgin Mary remained with multiple “miraculous events” attributed to it. Over time, so many pilgrims flooded the hall that everyday commerce became impossible. So, in the 14th century, the arcade was reconverted back into a church.

Today, the Orsanmichele boasts a mix of civic and religious architecture and art. When visiting, be sure to walk around the outside of the building to see the striking statues standing in the church’s niches, created by artists like Verrocchio, Ghiberti, Donatello, and Luca della Robbia.

Basilica di San Lorenzo

One of the largest churches in Florence as well as one of its oldest, San Lorenzo is ground zero for Medici family religious history.

San Lorenzo Basilica's unfinished façade
Don’t be fooled by the rough façade of the San Lorenzo Basilica; inside, it’s a masterpiece of the Renaissance, with art and architecture by Brunelleschi, Donatello, and more. Photo by Richard Mortel

The Basilica of San Lorenzo is one of the oldest churches in all of Florence. The complex is immense, spanning the basilica, cloisters, library, and the Medici chapels. Its history follows the Christian community in Florence as well as the personal history of the Medicis, Florence’s ruling family.

The powerful Medici family was the most influential in Renaissance Florence. They brought together artists and masters of the time for various commissions, including the San Lorenzo Basilica.

Built atop a 4th-century church, San Lorenzo was designed by Brunelleschi for Cosimo the Elder, one of the most famous members of the Medici family, for use as a family temple. Michelangelo designed a white marble façade to showcase the church in all its splendor, but it was never completed. Donatello was commissioned to sculpt two bronze pulpits, among other artwork, as well.

Today Donatello, Cosimo the Elder, and 50 members of the Medici family are buried in the crypt of San Lorenzo.

The Most Beautiful Churches in Florence: Oltrarno

Florence’s Oltrarno district is the neighborhood on the other side of the Arno River (literally, beyond the Arno). A historically residential part of Florence’s center, it remains a hip neighborhood with artisan studios, restaurants and some of Florence’s most beautiful churches. 

San Miniato al Monte Basilica and Abbey

Located atop a hill in the Oltrarno, just outside the city walls, San Miniato enjoys the best views over all of Florence.

San Miniato al Monte from afar
San Minato nestled among the Tuscan hills above Florence. Photo by Neil (flickr)

An Abbey built between the 11th and 13th centuries, San Miniato’s hilltop location provides a prime panorama over picturesque Florence. Covered with green and white marble in the same vein as Santa Croce and Santa Maria Novella, the interior is Romanesque in style, and dark and atmospheric. Be sure to check out the mosaic floors and painted wooden ceiling, as well as the crypt in the back decorated by Gaddi. The church itself is surrounded by a cemetery where illustrious Florentines were buried, including the author of Pinocchio!

To get to San Miniato, head to the Oltrarno then follow signs for the 30-minute walk up the hill, or catch the bus to Piazzale Michelangelo and then take the stairs up a bit further to San Miniato al Monte.

Santa Trinita Basilica

A free, hidden gem in the Oltrarno

After a walk down the elegant via Tornabuoni you’ll find Piazza Santa Trinita and the 11th-century church of the same name. The church was enlarged and renovated in the Gothic style in the 14th century and the façade was added in the 16th century.

Be sure to see Ghirlandaio’s altarpiece and visit the Sassetti Chapel with 15th-century frescoes by the artist with references of the time (Lorenzo the Magnificent, a self-portrait, Piazza della Signoria, and Piazza della Trinita).

Santa Maria del Santo Spirito Basilica

A Florentine church where the architecture is the art.

Santo Spirito church in Florence

Not many people take the time to truly explore Florence’s Oltrarno neighborhood, the area on the other side of the Arno. If they do, they might pass Santo Spirito more than once before going inside or taking in the Basilica’s perfect proportions.

Despite the stark façade, Santo Spirito Basilica is one of the most important churches in Florence’s Oltrarno neighborhood.

The structure was originally an Augustinian convent located outside of the city walls; however, as Florence grew, the Santa Trinità bridge was built and wealthy families in the Oltrarno district decided to renovate their neighborhood church. They commissioned Brunelleschi to design and build the church, to show the neighborhood’s rising status. Today the church walls are decorated with art by Cimabue, Simone Memmi, and Giottino (Tommaso Fiorentino)

Inside, it’s an exemplar of Renaissance architecture. Brunelleschi designed a meticulous church but died before it was ever finished. His apprentices finished the work as best they could, since the renowned architect left few notes behind.

A young Michelangelo often sought refuge in Santo Spirito. Here he was able to dissect and analyze corpses from the convent’s hospital to learn more about the anatomy of the human body.

sunlight over the Arno River in Florence, Italy

Florence is filled with Renaissance treasures and historical wonders, and many of these masterpieces can be found throughout the city’s churches. These magnificent basilicas offer a glimpse into what made Florence into such a cultural powerhouse over the centuries. While it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all the options – there are dozens of churches in Florence after all! – it’s nothing that a bit of context and curiosity can’t help solve 🧡

Experience the best of Italian art and antiquities in the cultural capitals of Rome, Florence, and Venice with Ciao Andiamo’s Italy for First Timers bespoke itinerary

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The Ciao Andiamo guide to Piedmont: Food, wine, castles and capitals – why you should visit this region that has it all.  

Piedmont is Italy’s second-largest region, and one of its most important historically and economically. Home to FIAT, Nutella and Lavazza coffee, it’s also the birthplace of the Slow Food Movement. Italian unification got its start in Piedmont with the help of the royal Savoy family. Torino was even named the nation’s first capital city, prior to Rome. 

Piedmont is known for its high-class wine, cuisine and culture. Lonely Planet picked Piedmont as the world’s top region to visit in 2019 calling it a “savvy, arty, foodie traveler’s secret.”  

Tucked beneath the Alps, travelers to Piedmont can ride and sip their way through the rolling hills of the Langhe, tour the gorgeous museums in Torino, ski the piste of Monte Rosa, and feast upon region’s delectable dishes. 

What to know before you visit Piedmont:  

Visit Piedmont in style with the help of our Piedmont guide.

mountains in Piedmont, Italy
Piemonte, literally “the foot of the mountains” is nestled under some of the most gorgeous peaks of the Alps. Image by alessandra barbieri from Pixabay

Where is Piedmont and how to get there 

Piedmont is in Italy’s northwest corner, bordering Switzerland and France, and with the regions of Lombardy and Liguria as neighbors on the Italian side. The name Piemonte literally means “foot of the mountain,” and rightfully so. Piedmont is surrounded on three sides by the Alps and home to the highest peaks and glaciers in Italy.  

Travelers can fly directly into the Torino airport or any of Milan’s international airports–Torino is just a 2-hour drive from Milano Malpensa airport.

Ciao Andiamo can provide private car service, and for guests who join our insider journey of Piedmont, your dedicated tour leader will pick you up right in Milan’s city center.

When to visit Piedmont  

Piedmont is beautiful and accessible year-round. Choose the season based on your goals in the region. Skiers will want to visit in winter, while hikers should choose summer or fall. Fall is prime time for foodies who want to savor food and wine at the height of the harvest, and for those who want to experience the famed White Truffle Festival of Alba.   

a bridge in Torino
With nature and cities to explore, Piedmont is an excellent destination no matter the season. Image by Francesco Riosa from Pixabay

Best Places to Visit in Piedmont:  

Piedmont’s geography span’s gorgeous lakes, rolling valleys, and Italy tallest peaks. Here’s a brief guide to Piedmont’s top destinations, from elegant cities and charming villages to storied castles and more: 

The capital  

skyline of beautiful Torino in Piedmont, Italy
Torino’s skyline is well-known thanks to the unique shape of the Mole Antonelliana. Image by nonmisvegliate from Pixabay

With elegant palazzi, attractive contemporary art and nearly a dozen museums to choose from, visitors to Piedmont could spend all their time just in Torino.  

Visit the Museo Egizio, the biggest Egyptian Museum outside of Egypt; the Museo Nazionale dell’Automobile to discover the history of Italy’s own FIAT; or Palazzo Reale to see Greek and Roman archaeological treasures and the personal art collection of the Savoy dynasty, among other masterpieces. Stroll through Palazzo Reale’s magnificent gardens, from the same designer who created the renowned gardens of Versailles.   

Visitors can’t help but notice Torino’s Mole Antonelliana, the 167-meter-tall domed building that marks the city’s skyline. Originally built as a synagogue, today it is home to the Museo Nazionale del Cinema, showcasing equipment and film memorabilia from the very first motion pictures to modern day cinema.   

Finally, find a rival to Versailles in the Reggia di Venaria Reale. A hunting lodge for the Duke of Savoy Carlo Emanuele II, this enormous baroque mansion is impressive for its sheer scale and gilded decorations.  

If museum fatigue sets in, stroll the elegant boulevards and piazzas of Torino, tour the massive flagship Eataly store, or take a break in one of Torino’s historical coffeehouses like Caffè San Carlo or Caffè Torino.  

Torino has the grace of Paris and the splendor of Vienna, mixed with the rich culture and utter beauty of Italy.   

  

The mountains   

The Piedmont side of Monte Rosa is home to stunning peaks and characteristic mountain valley towns. Ski resorts abound. The most famous of which are likely those of the Via Lattea, or “Milky Way.” Made up of two different valleys, the northern Val di Susa and southern Val Chisone, many of the 2006 Winter Olympics events were held in the state-of-the-art facilities of the Via Lattea. Visitors can ski roughly 400km of runs through at least seven different resorts, including a jaunt into France to Montgenèvre’s slopes, all included with the Via Lattea ski pass.   

Piedmont is ruled by mountains and beautiful valleys, making it a great destination for winter sports lovers as well as Alpine aficionados looking to hike in the warmer months.   

Summertime visitors can go sightseeing in Susa to see the Arco d’Augusto and the Roman ruins, or hike the remote terrain on the border of France in the Maritime Alps National Park.   

  

The lakes  

San Giulio Island on Orta Lake in Piedmont, Italy
San Giulio Island on Orta Lake in Piedmont, Italy. Image by alessandra barbieri from Pixabay

Piedmont is also home to most of Lago Maggiore, Italy’s beautiful resort lake that sits across Piedmont and Lombardy. The lakeside town of Stresa has been a favorite destination for artists and writers since the 19th-century (parts of Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms” was set here). Not only is it the perfect distance between Torino and Milan, it’s also the perfect jumping-off point to visit the ancient villas and luxurious gardens of the Borromean Islands.   

Though Piedmont shares Lago Maggiore with Lombardy and even Switzerland, Lago d’Orta is all Piedmont’s. Circled by forest, Lake Orta is perhaps the most peaceful of Italy’s northern lakes. Orta enjoys far fewer international tourists, making it the perfect place to escape the crowds. Swim or enjoy a boat ride on the lake, tour the narrow streets of medieval Orta San Giulio or ferry over to tiny Isola San Giulio for a unique day trip.  

  

The valleys   

The rolling valleys of the Langhe, Roero and Monferrato are a wine lover’s paradise. It’s the land of Piedmont’s famed white truffles, sweet hazelnuts, and outstanding chocolate production. Here Barolo, the king of wines, is produced, along with other world-class wines made from the prized Nebbiolo grape. The beautifully cultivated vineyards of the area stretching from Asti to Cuneo are interrupted only by hilltop towns and charming castles.   

Visit Bra, the hometown of the Slow Food Movement; Barolo, the namesake of the famed Barolo wine and site of the Museo del Vino; and Barbaresco, with its 11-century medieval tower and equally noteworthy wines. As you tour the vineyards, dedicate some time to sleepy hamlets like Serralunga, La Morra, and Grinzane Cavour.  

Don’t miss ultra-charming Alba, the capital of the Langhe and home of the annual Fiera Internazionale di Tartufo Bianco (“The International White Truffle Festival”). Just 30 kilometers to the north is Asti, home of the sparkling white Asti Spumante.   

  

What to Do in Piedmont: 

Besides the stunning geography and delicious food, there’s even more to explore with the UNESCO Sites and the annual festivals of Piedmont. 

Visit the Venaria Reale 

interior of the Venaria palace in Torino
The Galleria Grande in the beautiful Venaria Palace in Torino. Image by loveombra from Pixabay

With a roughly 862,000 square-foot floor plan, the Venaria Reale is one of the biggest palaces in the entire world. The 17th-century palace, together with the other buildings that make up the Residences of the Royal House of Savoy, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A Baroque masterpiece just outside of Torino, visitors can tour the palace, including the breathtaking Galleria Grande, the Theater of History and Magnificence dedicated to the Savoy family and legacy, and approximately 10,764 square feet of frescoes. Thanks to a hefty eight-year, multi-million dollar restoration, visitors can also stroll more than 120 acres of restored gardens, with 24 acres of vegetable garden and nearly 200,000 new plants. Originally designed as an estate for hunting and leisure for Duke Carlo Emanuele II of Savoy and Duchess Maria Giovanna Battista, the Venaria comprises the palace, gardens, a park for hunting grounds, and an entire village, not to mention sculptures, fountains, staircases, terraces, ponds, and frescoes. It is a display of wealthy and beauty that rivals Versailles.

Hike in the Sacred Mountains  

The nine summits of the Sacri Monti (two of which are in Lombardy) have been given UNESCO World Heritage status for the 16th and 17th-century chapels built upon its peaks. Designed to celebrate different aspects of Christianity, these tiny structures not only have a deep spiritual history, but are also beautifully integrated into the surrounding nature of Piedmont’s valleys, forests, and lakes.

Relax in the terme (thermal baths)

Visit the thermal spas of Acqui Terme in the Monferrato valley. A spa and resort town since the ancient Romans – the town’s name means “thermal waters” – Acqui Terme offers various spa options and the relaxation and serenity of a small town. The town’s connection to the area’s hot thermal waters is represented in marble and stone with La Bollente, a fountain in the town’s main piazza that spews boiling hot thermal water. Rising from the earth at 75 degrees C, townspeople come at all hours to fill up on the spring water and enjoy its curative properties.  

Tour Castello di Rivoli Museum of Art  

artistic shot of the Castello di Rivoli Museum of Contemporary Art building
The Castello di Rivoli Art Museum is located in a former residence of the Savoy Family. Image from Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporanea

Though Torino seems to be ground zero of museums, there’s one museum just outside of the capital city that’s well worth a visit. The Castello di Rivoli Museum of Contemporary Art is the envy of Italy’s contemporary art scene. The first museum devoted to contemporary art in Italy, the massive Rivoli Museum has a robust Arte Povera collection, hosts educational events and rotating exhibitions, and has approximately 44,000 books on art, architecture, photography, and design in its public library. 

Take part in the festivals   

Finally, check if your visit coincides with any of the region’s internationally-acclaimed festivals. Of course, the international white truffle festival is held in Alba each fall, but there’s also the famous Cioccolatò chocolate fair every year in Torino. The Palio race of Siena enjoys worldwide acclaim, but each September Asti holds a Palio of its own, considered the oldest horse race in Italy. There is the Cheese Festival held every two years in the town of Bra. Or, for the adventure seeker, visit Ivrea during the epic Battle of the Oranges, a massive food fight celebrated each year during Carnival.   

  

What to Eat in Piedmont  

No guide to Piedmont is complete without a note on its delicious local cuisine. When in Italy, it’s always best to eat local, and the Piedmont region is no exception.  

homemade Tajarin noodles with ragù
Tajarin noodles come with many different sauces, like these homemade Tajarin with ragù. Image by Lou Stejskal via flickr

Piedmont is a veritable Epicurean paradise. Home of the renowned white truffle, and its namesake annual festival, it’s also a land rich in dried fruits like walnuts, chestnuts and hazelnuts, homemade cheeses, soft delicate veal, and all the fresh veggies for which Italy is known.

When in Piedmont, stick to Piemontese classics, like the typical bagna cauda. Literally, “hot bath”, it is a hot sauce made with anchovies, olive oil, and garlic, and used as a dip for Piedmont’s delicious fresh vegetables. Another dip of the region is the classic fondue, thanks to the border shared with France.  

Down in the valley, bordering the seaside region of Liguria, sample Piedmont’s renowned beef in the form of a classic vitello tonnato–cold sliced veal in a tuna, anchovy, and caper sauce. Or, try the esoteric snails from Cherasco, served in or out of the shell, pan-fried, roasted, or stewed with onions, parsley, walnuts and anchovies.

Of course, those same valleys are home to the bold, red wines made from the Nebbiolo grapes. Read all about Piedmont’s prestigious wines.   

No summary of Piedmont’s cuisine is complete without a nod to the white truffles of Alba. Truffles can be found throughout central Italy, but only Piedmont is a hub of the tartufo bianco. Try this pricy treat shaved over local fresh pasta like the long, skinny tajarin noodles or the tiny agnolotti al plin stuffed with meat or vegetables.   

Finally, indulge your sweet tooth in the birthplace of modern chocolate. Choose chocolate in nearly any form, including liquid like with a glass of bicerin, made of hot chocolate, espresso and whipped cream. Or travel south to Cuneo, the birthplace of gianduja, chocolate with hazelnuts. The delicious treat was invented when a Cuneo resident decided to mix expensive and difficult-to-find chocolate with the local and plentiful hazelnuts of the valleys, creating the precursor to the famous Nutella chocolate and hazelnut spread.   

The vineyards of Piedmont

See the beauty of Torino, tour the vineyards of the Langhe, and delight in Piedmont’s gastronomic delights with Ciao Andiamo on our Castles, Truffles and Barolo insider journey.   

  

  

 

 

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From top to toe, Italy is filled with spectacular scenery and beautiful towns. So beautiful that it can be difficult to decide where to visit next! While Puglia is at times overlooked internationally, Italians have long followed the sea and sun to this southeastern region that is the heel of the peninsula’s posh boot.   

Travelers new to the region might wonder: is Puglia worth visiting? We’re here to answer with a resounding yes! 

Here’s why you should visit Puglia: 

The beaches   

With roughly 800 kilometers of coastline, it’s no surprise that Puglia has some of the best beaches in all of Italy. A peninsula within a peninsula, visitors can enjoy pristine beaches on the Ionian and Adriatic coasts. And they truly are pristine – Puglia’s beaches regularly win the Blue Flag, an international eco-label given to the cleanest, most environmentally sustainable beaches. From the “Maldives of Salento” to the views of the “Two Sisters” sea stack, visitors looking to mix cultural touring with the ease of the sea have dozens of gorgeous options to choose from in Puglia. 

Read more about the Best Beaches in Puglia

The trulli   

A village of the unique trulli houses in Puglia with white walls and conical roofs
Visit Puglia to tour the distinctive trulli in Alberobello. Image by Jacques Savoye from Pixabay

There is little more unique to Puglia than its famous trulli houses. These traditional Pugliese homes are ingenious conical structures built with entirely local materials. Unique to Puglia, the trulli are built without any mortar and are devised to be quick to build and quick to dismantle. They maintain a cool interior and the conical roofs lead to a central cistern, usually located under the house, to catch what little water Puglia gets.    

You can find them throughout the Itria Valley, but only in Alberobello can you find more than 1,500 trulli, many in use today and almost all in perfect condition. Today, Alberobello is a UNESCO World Heritage Site as an “exceptional Historic Urban Landscape.”   

The lifestyle   

Visit Puglia to tap into the slow, easy days of southern Italy. Puglia isn’t stuck in the past; it has simply maintained the healthiest aspects of a slower pace of life. Take a cue from the Pugliese and learn to linger over a meal, enjoy the warmth of the sun, gather friends or family around, and soak in a less frenetic atmosphere. It’s the perfect destination for travelers looking to travel slow. Relax and reconnect with nature with the freedom to explore and enjoy some of the most beautiful landscapes in Italy.   

The towns   

The beautiful beach in Polignano al Mare, Puglia

Puglia has a diverse geography and a unique history, both visible in its gorgeous towns and cities. Visit the quaint villages in the Itria Valley, including the trulli of Alberobello, nearby Locorotondo, Cisternino, and lively Martina Franca. There’s the atmospheric town of Polignano a Mare clinging to a rocky cliff over the Adriatic Sea and nearby Monopoli, the whitewashed city of Ostuni, Otranto on the Adriatic coast, and Gallipoli on the Ionian Sea.  

Visit Lecce, Salento’s historical and artistic center, and another UNESCO World Heritage site for its beautiful baroque architecture. And though Bari hasn’t traditionally been on the tourist trail, the recently renovated old town, burgeoning cultural spaces and lively nightlife have put the port city back on the map for many travelers.   

The food   

As in all of Italy, the food in Puglia is incredible.    

Known as the breadbasket of Italy thanks to its large production of durum wheat, Puglia’s pasta and bread are gastronomical staples. Most visitors have heard of the ubiquitous Pugliese orecchiette pasta, fresh pasta shaped like “little ears.” But there is so much more to Pugliese food than that!    

A little-known tradition is the “fornello pronto” in the Valle d’Itria, that is, butcher shops where you can order your meat and have them cook it for you on sight. Other street-food options throughout Puglia include the focaccia barese, fried panzerotto, or the rustico leccese, a puff pastry filled with mozzarella, bechamel sauce, tomato, and black pepper.   

Pugliese cuisine is historically very poor. In the past few could afford meat. Luckily, vegetables abound in this sun-kissed, fertile land. Here you can get fava and chicory prepared in a dozen different ways. Or simply ripe tomatoes with a fresh Pugliese burrata or simple grilled vegetables – all drizzled, of course, with Puglia’s famous olive oil.    

The olive oil   

Visit Puglia to see century-old olive trees

With approximately 60 million olive trees, there are more olive trees in Puglia than there are Italians in Italy. In the Valle d’Itria in particular, travelers can see hundreds of olive trees, including some more than 2,000 years old! Besides a liberal use of the delicious oil during meals, visitors can tour through the olive groves. Today, most of these ancient, millenarian olive trees can be found in the area between Monopoli, Ostuni, and Carovigno. Tour by car or, even better, hike or bike among the olive groves, moving from one town to another.  

The masserie   

Puglia’s cuisine and culture change as you move away from the coastline. In the countryside, the cuisine changes from the fresh fish of the coast and more to meat and vegetables. There, we can also find a treasure unique to the region: the masserie. Ancient structures dating from the 16th century, these farmhouses used to be the home of the massaro, or farmer. Today these masserie range from rustic, renovated farmhouses to luxury hotels. Traditionally agricultural, you can visit to stay the night or simply go for a traditional, kilometer-zero meal. Agriturismi can be found throughout Italy, but only in Puglia can you find them in the traditional style of a Pugliese masseria.    

The history  

Like much of southern Italy, Puglia was conquered by dozens of different civilizations. Its fertile land and strategic and commercial importance attracted the Greeks, Romans, Ostrogoths, and Byzantine Empire; the Normans, Frederick II, the Kingdom of Naples, the Aragonese, the Habsburgs, and … you get the idea.    

This unique and eclectic history left an imprint on Puglia that we can still see today. The Greeks founded Taranto. The Romans brought the long history of wheat, olive oil, and wine production to the region to feed the legions. Gallipoli is fortified thanks to the Byzantines. The Normans brought the relics of San Nicola to Bari and built the Basilica di San Nicola and the French created what is known today as Bari Vecchia. Each new kingdom deeply affected the peninsula’s architectural, agricultural and cultural landscape.    

The nature   

a view of cactus and the seaside in Salento, Puglia

Those looking to explore the natural beauty of Puglia have plenty to choose from even beyond the attractive beaches. Don’t miss the Grotte di Castellana. The longest cave network in Italy with approximately 3 kilometers of underground caves, it is widely considered the most spectacular in Italy as well.    

Visit the stunning islands of the Tremiti Archipelago. Protected by a marine reserve, the only archipelago of Puglia is the pinnacle of natural beauty. Go to explore the wild beaches, snorkel or dive in the pristine water, or enjoy a day on the sea by boat.    

Visitors to the plateau of the Alta Murgia National Park will find a unique mix of nature, archeology, and history. With beautiful flora and fauna year-round, the Alta Murgia is also filled with masserie, jazzi, and poste, or dry-stone buildings used by shepherds to protect their animals. Most notable, however, is the 13th-century Castel del Monte. Built by the Holy Roman Emperor Fredrick II, the UNESCO World Heritage Site fortification is a mysterious geometric structure built with perfect octagonal walls and eight octagonal towers.  

Finally, those with time to spare can head all the way to the southernmost tip of Puglia in Santa Maria di Leuca to see the place where the Adriatic and Ionian Seas meet, and explore the nearby caves, beaches, and nature reserves of the Salento Peninsula.   

Visit Puglia to tour the traditional trulli, travel along the picturesque Adriatic coast and cook with an Italian nonna on our Mediterranean Escape to Puglia and the Amalfi Coast. 

  

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Each Italian region is unique. For such a small peninsula, the diversity of history, art, culture, and cuisine from region to region is remarkable. At first glance, Umbria and Tuscany seem to have a lot in common. Both are celebrated for their hilltop towns, spectacular scenery, and delicious rustic meals; but don’t be fooled: each has its own charms, atmosphere, and traditions.

How to choose between Umbria and Tuscany

When designing an Italian adventure, it can be difficult to choose which of Italy’s breathtaking regions to visit. The travel experts at Ciao Andiamo love every pocket and corner of Italy for reasons unique from one area to the next, and this is why the authentic journeys we design are always individually tailored with our travelers in mind. We’ve written this guide to help you learn more about the acclaim of Tuscany and allure of Umbria so that you can decide for your next visit: Umbria or Tuscany (or both!)?

Visit Umbria and Tuscany for the impressive cathedrals

Orvieto Cathedral, Umbria
Each region boasts beautiful cathedrals, like this one in Orvieto, Umbria. Image by Peter H from Pixabay

Brunelleschi’s Duomo of Florence is an architectural masterpiece and must-see for visitors to the region, while the Duomo complex of nearby Siena, in Tuscany, merits a full tour inside, out…and up, as visitors can now explore the eaves of the magnificent cathedral.

In Umbria, finding striking basilicas in small town settings–like Orvieto’s magnificent cathedral–is all the more impressive. The sensational gothic cathedral stands out against Orvieto’s austere city center. Inside, frescoes that rival those in Rome grace the walls. Then there is the Basilica di San Francesco in Assisi. A UNESCO World Heritage Site and popular destination for religious pilgrims, the cathedral boasts massive paintings and frescoes by Cimabue, Lorenzetti, and the school of Giotto.

Art and architecture are on full display in the many basilicas, cathedrals, and chapels of Tuscany and Umbria.

Umbria and Tuscany are great for nature lovers

Active travelers can find outdoor fun in both regions. Visitors to Umbria and Tuscany can hike and bike, mountaineer, and horseback ride. Each region has multiple national and regional parks to explore. Kayak and sail along the coast in Tuscany or spelunk, raft, and kayak in Umbria. For a new perspective in either region, take to the air to paraglide or hang glide over the breathtaking landscapes, or take it slow with a hot-air balloon ride.

Visit Tuscany for the unmatched art

exterior of Uffizi Gallery
Florence’s famous Uffizi Gallery holds priceless Medieval and Renaissance art

The explosion of art and architecture in the Middle Ages and Renaissance derived in part from the historic rivalries between towns. Though there were frequent wars, outdoing your neighbor in artistic wealth and architectural feats was just as important as a victory on the battlefield. The various cities in Tuscany and Umbria spent centuries trying to outdo one another, much to the benefit of visitors today.

Great art abounds in Umbria, with artists such as Perugino, Giotto, Cimabue and Pisano leaving their mark in cities from Città di Castello and Terni to Orvieto and Assisi. The Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria in Perugia’s beautiful Palazzo dei Priori holds work by one of Umbria’s most famous locals: Pietro Vannucci, known as Perugino, who was also the teacher of Raphael.

That said, the sheer quantity of Tuscany’s Medieval and Renaissance art is unparalleled. The Uffizi Gallery alone holds some of the world’s most priceless art. There, you can find masterpieces by Raphael, Lippi, Caravaggio, as well as the Birth of Venus and the Primavera of Botticelli, to name a few. No matter where you are in Tuscany, you’re sure to find some world-class art.

Visit Umbria for a unique food experience

a butcher shop in Umbria
You can get high-quality cured meat in Umbria and Tuscany, but only Umbria enjoys the fame of these norcinerie. Image by GBSurf from Pixabay

You may be familiar with the olive oil, fresh pasta, and steaks of Tuscany, but know less about the specialties of Umbria. In many respects, Umbrian and Tuscan cuisine is quite similar. Both are born of a cucina povera tradition, and feature myriad vegetables and legumes, rustic flavors from game meat like wild boar and rabbit, and homegrown olive oil.

But only Umbria has the highly-prized tartufo nero. May to August is black truffle season, but you can get this pungent delicacy shaved over your pasta or omelet or simmered in a gravy sauce any time of year.

Also worth noting are Umbria’s renowned norcinerie–high-quality pork butcher shops from Norcia–whose butchers take the art of processing pork to an art form. Try it for yourself with a roast porchetta panino or an appetizer of affettati (sliced meats) including the classic Norcia prosciutto.

Visit Tuscany for some of the most famous wines, and Umbria for smaller producers and wines of equal stature

vineyards in Umbria and Tuscany
Image by alohamalakhov from Pixabay

Tuscany is home to some of the world’s most well-known wines and wine regions. From Chianti to Montalcino, Montepulciano to Bolgheri, Tuscany’s winemaking prowess is proven. Here you can taste Brunello and Chianti, Rosso di Montalcino and a wealth of Super Tuscans. For a white wine, try the Vernaccia di San Gimignano.

Although Tuscan wines may enjoy more worldwide fame, Umbria’s vineyards have equally noteworthy, delectable options. Try the Orvieto DOC white wine made with the region’s star white grape or the Rosso di Montefalco, a dark red made with Sangiovese grapes.

The king of Umbrian wines, however, is the ancient Sagrantino di Montefalco. A DOCG red wine made with the eponymous grape, Sagrantino is 100% native, aged in oak barrels and, when cellared correctly, can be kept for up to 30 years.

Visit Umbria for cashmere and Tuscany for leather

There’s no better souvenir than a genuine “Made in Italy” product, and the gifted craftsmen of Tuscany and Umbria produce myriad artisanal goods. Artisans in both regions work with gold and precious stones, wood, marble, oil paints, and watercolors, and, of course, various fabrics and textiles. When shopping for clothes and accessories in central Italy, get your leather in Tuscany, and fine cashmere in Umbria.

Leathercraft has been practiced in Tuscany for centuries and the tradition continues today. Get the perfect fit with a pair of tailor-made shoes or go simple with a quality belt, purse, or wallet. Before purchasing anything, be sure to verify that it is truly made in Italy or, better yet, go straight to the artisan’s studios!

Umbria is where you can purchase a beautiful sweater, warm scarf, or elegant purse directly from local cashmere producers. In some cases, you can even visit the cashmere workshops, which are clustered in and around Montefalco, Bevagna, and Marsciano.

Visit Tuscany if you want a seaside vacation

a view of the sea in Tuscany
Visit the Tuscan archipelago for a seaside vacation like this one in Isola d’Elba. Image by DanieleFiaschi from Pixabay

Tuscany is the only option of the two for those looking for a Mediterranean seaside vacation. There, visitors can enjoy beaches along the coast or head off shore to explore the Tuscan Archipelago with its beautiful islands like Elba and Giglio.

Umbria might be Italy’s only landlocked region, but it still enjoys some bodies of water. There are mountain springs in the Foligno area, thermal springs north of Orvieto, and prominent lakes, including Lago di Piediluco near the border with Lazio, and Lago di Trasimeno, the largest lake in central and southern Italy.

For those visiting Umbria but still looking to include a visit to the sea, the new tunnels carved into the Apennines can bring travelers from Umbria’s Spello area to the Adriatic Sea in about 30 minutes for an easy seaside day trip.

Visit Umbria for small-town charm 

In general, Tuscany is the perfect place to explore iconic city centers, while Umbria is ideal for soaking in the Italian experience.

It’s true that Tuscany also has small towns that feel less “discovered,” but Umbria has more, and it’s generally easier to escape the crowds in the region known as Italy’s “green heart”.

With only two true cities – Perugia, the region’s capital, and Terni, its industrial powerhouse – Umbria is a region of villages and towns. Of course, Perugia, Assisi, and Orvieto are all must-visits, but we recommend you go beyond the most famous cities to tap into Umbria’s charming small-town ambience. Visit Gubbio, considered the oldest village in Umbria, Spello with its narrow walls and enchanting balconies, or the butcher shop-lined streets of Norcia. Explore the islands on Lago di Trasimeno, the small town of Narni, with its recently excavated underground, or the less-visited village of Bevagna. Tour the ancient streets of Spoleto and enjoy panoramic views from Montefalco.

In Umbria, you can find that authentic Italian spirit, untarnished by international influences. The pace of life is slower and the travel richer with local experiences. In Tuscany, you can live out a scene straight from an iconic film, but you’ll have to share the set. In Umbria, the set is yours!

Small town in Umbria from above
Castelluccio is just one of the many tiny towns that dot the Umbrian countryside. Image by Alberto Agostini from Pixabay

Still can’t decide? Visit both! Venture through the heart of the Italian countryside on our Food, Wine and the Rolling Hills insider journey exploring Umbria and Tuscany through the eyes of locals.

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With abundant natural beauty, famed ancient history, and noteedly diverse culture, the spectacular island of Sicily has enticed travelers to explore it’s many treasures since ancient times. Sicily’s rich history can be seen in; the Arab-Norman jewels in Palermo, the Doric temples in the Valley of the Temples, and the ancient Greek architecture of Syracuse. Baroque beauty abounds in the Noto Valley, and extensive religious art is abundant, as you discover Sicily.

Sicily countryside and hills

Sicily’s history can also be found in the unique food it offers. A result of many different conquerors, the cuisine is perhaps the most culturally-infused of all of Italy. Here you can find classics, such as pistachios and almonds, citrus and swordfish, along with more exotic spices and ingredients, like saffron and sugar, baccalà and couscous.

Then, of course, there are the landscapes; first and foremost the formidable Mount Etna on Sicily’s east coast. One of Europe’s highest active volcanoes, Etna still erupts from time to time and can dictate life in the area. Then there are the stunning coastline nature reserves including the Zingaro Nature Reserve west of Palermo, or the Vendicari Nature Reserve in Sicily’s southwestern corner. Citrus groves, olive orchards, vineyards, and salt pans, wherever you are, you’re sure to have a stunning backdrop.

What to Know Before You Discover Sicily:

Discovering Sicily in comfort means you need to know its location and how to dress with the season.

Where is Sicily

Map of Places To Go in Sicily

One of 20 regions of Italy, Sicily is an island just off the mainland. It’s the ball to Italy’s boot, located in the extreme southwest of Italy.

Italy’s largest island, Sicily’s most important cities are coastal ports, grown powerful by the bustling sea trade since the ancient Greeks. Though there is a small airport in Trapani and another in the Val di Noto, most flights to Sicily fly into Palermo or Catania, two of Sicily’s largest cities.

The Weather in Sicily

It’s southernmost point, Sicily is hotter than the rest of Italy. In January average highs in Catania can easily reach 60°F, while August sees an average max of 90°F. Though skiers will be hoping for snow on Etna, it’s not impossible to see sunbathers in December, with sea temperatures reaching 59°F. In August, most cities in Sicily empty as residents go north on vacation or head to the beach to stay cool. If you’re not going in the summer, be sure to bring a cover-up as morning and evening can cool down.

Best Places to Discover in Sicily

The island of Sicily truly has it all; bustling port cities, small hill towns, coastal resorts and complete wilderness. There’s a lot to see on just this one Mediterranean island, but here’s where to start:

Palermo and Monreale

Beautiful Piazza Pretoria — Palermo

Palermo is an Arab-Norman jewel of a city with strong character, and a world of history, and culture to discover.

Long gone are Palermo’s days as a violent city. Today, it is a favorite for Italian hipsters, ground zero for the start of many a Sicily vacation, and was named the Italian Capital of Culture in 2018.

After Phoenicians founded a colony there in the 8th century, Palermo has since been ruled by Greeks, Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, the Holy Roman emperors, Aragonese, Bourbons, and Austrians…to name a few. This important port city has always been strategic in the Mediterranean, leading to an intriguing mix of cultures, tastes, and ideas. Go see the beautiful Piazza Pretoria and its “shameful” fountain, the Palermo Cathedral and the Teatro Massimo. Palazzo dei Normanni is a must-see, if only for the Palatine chapel inside, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. See the Zisa Palace, the Capuchin catacombs, and the trifecta of gorgeous churches around Piazza Bellini.

Finally, head up the hill to tour the Cathedral of Monreale, a masterpiece of Arab, Norman, and Byzantine art.

Trapani

Salt flats and salt harvesting — Trapani

An important trading city since the 13th-century, Trapani’s port still bustles with ferry traffic to and from the nearby Egadi Islands. Tour the kilometers of salt flats along the coast in a pungent nod to the city’s salt harvesting history. The biggest draw is, without a doubt, the ancient salt pans of Trapani and Paceco. Visitors can tour these kilometers of salt flats along the coast, not only to see a glimpse of the area’s long history (many of the same techniques from 1000 AD are still used today) but also to enjoy the natural beauty of the area. Today the salt pans are part of a nature reserve, still allowing a small amount of production, as well as the return of native flora, and fauna.

Piazza Armerina

Located in the hinterland of Sicily, Piazza Armerina is an off-the-beaten-path gem. The town itself has an 18th-century Duomo, and nearby you’ll find the Aidone Archeology Museum. But the real draw is the Villa Romana del Casale, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and archeological treasure worth an entire day.

Agrigento

Valley of the Temples — Agrigento, Sicily

Agrigento is home to the Valley of the Temples, one of the most famed archeological sites in all Italy. Founded as a Greek colony in the 6th century BC, it quickly became one of the leading cities in the Mediterranean. This is still seen today in the massive collection of Doric temples that lie intact in the area’s fields, along with excavations of Hellenistic ruins, and early Christian sites. The area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997, for its great row of Doric temples, considered to be “among the most extraordinary representations of Doric architecture in the world.” A “testament of Greek civilization” and an example of an “important interchange of human values,” the area once considered the “most beautiful city inhabited by man,” according to the Greek poet Pindar, is now one of the most beautiful archeological sites to be visited by man.

Taormina

Taormina Teatro Greco — Sicily

Taormina has been a resort town since the time of the ancient Greeks. With a spectacular location on the side of a mountain along Sicily’s east coast, it’s easy to see why Taormina has a long history of delighting the rich and famous. The town is breathtaking! Perhaps most famous for its Teatro Antico, an ancient Greco-Roman theater still in use today, most visitors are attracted by Isola Bella. Attached to the mountain coast by a small strip of sand, Isola Bella is a tiny nature reserve set in a natural cove. Once the home of Englishwoman Florence Trevelyan, it can now be enjoyed by all. Then, visit the nearby Giardini Naxos, the first Greek colony in Sicily, before taking time to relax somewhere and soak in the wonderful view – this won’t be hard to find.

Syracuse and Ortygia

One of the oldest settlements in Sicily, Syracuse was founded in 734 BC by the Corinthians, who landed on the island of Ortygia (Ortigia). Once the largest city in the ancient world, a visit to Syracuse means stepping back in time through the ruins of the original city in the Parco Archeologico della Neapolis, one of Sicily’s greatest archaeological sites. Here you’ll find Greek ruins, like the Teatro, along with beautiful Baroque buildings framing sun-kissed piazzas. The most beautiful corner is surely it’s minuscule island of Ortygia. Just 1 square kilometer, it’s difficult not to fall in love with the island’s breathtaking views, characteristic streets, and Mediterranean atmosphere.

Noto

Cathedral Noto - South-Eastern Sicily

Located in southeastern Sicily in the eponymous Val di Noto, Noto is the epicenter of Baroque architecture in Sicily. The entire town is filled with grand central roads, elegant Baroque palazzi, and beautiful historic town squares. Gorgeous, no matter when you visit, the golden hour is favorite for the delicious hue that reflects off it’s red-gold buildings.

After the original town of Noto was destroyed in a 1693 earthquake the entire town was rebuilt a bit higher on the hill in the 18th-century. Traces of the same style can be found in Modica, and Ragusa, both located in Val di Noto and both worth a visit, thanks to a local architect who worked on all three.

Catania

Catania has long had a reputation as a gritty, chaotic city. Though this might still be true, the city still has atmosphere and attitude. It’s one of the few cities in Sicily that feels like a city, with nightlife and energy to match. Catania is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with Noto, thanks to its Baroque architecture. Visit the Piazza del Duomo, the Roman Amphitheater, and the famous Pescheria fish market, for a taste of authentic Italy. As you tour the city, you’re sure to see Mount Etna sitting in the distance, patiently watching over it all.

The best way to discover Sicily is by car – let us handle the stress of transit for you, with completely private transfer service as well as expert guides on our Discover Sicily Trip.

Sources:
Lonely Planet
UNESCO
Visit Sicily
NY Times

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Traveling is good for your health. It can take you away from the stressors of everyday life, give your brain a chance to reset and even improve brain health thanks to stimulating new experiences. Travel can boost your mood and give you much needed social time. Unfortunately, it can also mean long travel days, jet lag that snags sleep and a slip in our usual healthy diet.   

Want to gain the benefits of travel without sacrificing your health? You can still do it!

Here’s how to stay healthy while traveling:   

Wash your hands  

Click on the picture to see the rest of the steps recommended by the World Health Organization

The simplest and most effective way to stay healthy while at home or abroad is to wash your hands often and thoroughly. Our biggest problem seems to be the latter; Most people don’t adequately wash their hands, according to the World Health Organization. Be sure to use clean, running water, plenty of soap, and wash for at least 20 seconds on the palm, back, and between the fingers of each hand. After, air dry or dry with a clean towel. While traveling, be sure to always wash your hands before eating, and if that’s not available, use a hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol. Be sure to rub sanitizer on the palm, back, and between the fingers of each hand.  

Try to keep your normal sleep schedule  

Traveling can be physically demanding. You upset your routine by carrying luggage, walking all day, and maybe even crossing time zones – it can be harsh on your body! One of the most important things you can do while traveling is to make sure you get plenty of sleep. If you don’t normally go to sleep in the wee hours of the night, don’t do it while traveling either. With early morning wake-up times, odd hours, and jet lag, it can be hard, but there are some workarounds. Fight jet lag with a brisk walk in the sun – daylight is one of the best ways to reset your body clock – and if that fails, simply listen to your body. Perhaps the time change means you just need that post-lunch siesta. That’s part of vacation too!  

Move your body

a bike in front of a flower shop. Touring by bike is a great way to stay healthy while traveling

Working out while traveling is an excellent way to stay in shape, stick to your routine, and combat jet lag. It’s also far more difficult to plan and motivate. Though many hotels throughout the world have gyms and there are plenty of exercises and online workout videos you can follow in your room, it’s hard to justify time out of a busy travel day to work out. If you’re able to do it – good for you! If not, consider that in most destinations in the world, like Italy, you’ll be exploring all day. This means walking the streets, strolling in parks, and standing for hours while touring museums and churches and theaters. One good thing about exploring a new city is that you’re sure to keep moving! You can also schedule exercise into your trip with a hike, walking tour, or bike tour to get moving while sightseeing.    

Indulge – but only once a day  

Most people want to indulge and experience the local food while traveling – it is vacation after all! You can absolutely, have fun and enjoy some of the local fare, but you can avoid indigestion, constipation, diarrhea and other stomach issues by sticking as closely as possible to your regular diet.     

Try getting healthy snacks at a local market or grocery store to keep hunger and temptation at bay, and then consider indulging in that big plate of pasta or that three-scoop gelato just once a day, rather than at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. “One treat a day feels special and pleasurable,” says registered dietician Keri Glassman, “overdoing it, on the other hand, isn’t as enjoyable and leads to low energy and poor sleep.”    

As always, if you have any food allergies or dietary restrictions, be sure to prepare beforehand. Study up on your destination’s local foods and consider getting a translated card explaining any allergies if you’re worried about language issues.   

Hydrate, enjoy wine, and skip the hard stuff 

A changed routine and constant motion can make it difficult to drink enough water, but keeping hydrated will help combat dehydration, hunger, stomach issues, and even jet lag.   

grapes picked and crated in the vineyard 

For this reason, make sure to drink lots of water, and consider limiting your alcohol consumption to reduce dehydration and travel fatigue. While in Italy you are sure to want to try some of the many wonderful local wines the country has to offer, so consider sticking to wine and beer and skipping hard liquor. A glass of wine is an essential part of the local culture and a popular and fun activity for visitors, so enjoy that vineyard tour and wine tasting, but make sure to stay hydrated as well! 

Check stress at the door  

Vacation or travel is a great time to slow down. Stop to appreciate your surroundings, try spending some time away from technology, and look to connect back with your analog nature. Read the local newspaper or a book, and focus on your travel partners and the new experiences you’re enjoying. Leave the stress of work at home.   

That said, we know that a lot of the stress of travel comes from the travel itself. Prepare yourself ahead of time for a seamless trip, try to let go of the travel hiccups you can’t control, and find what you need in order to travel without stress. Or, go for a completely stress-free trip by hiring a travel company and letting them take care of everything for you! At Ciao Andiamo, we love crafting Italy adventures through local eyes, and we can arrange hotels, excursions, and transfers, personalized for you. Contact us to see how we can make your dream trip to Italy come to life! 

Bring a smart first-aid kit  

Much of the basic medicine available throughout the world is the same, but why not cut the stress and bring your own basic first aid kit for any minor aches or illnesses? A first-aid kit can have all the usual – bandages, sunscreen, an antibiotic ointment such as Neosporin, a thermometer and cold relief medication – as well as medicines for harsher eventualities, including diarrhea, constipation or motion sickness. Like we said, all of these are things that you can find in nearly any pharmacy in the world, but it’s so much more convenient to have them on hand right when you need it. Check out the CDC’s Pack Smart Checklist to help you prepare the best medicine travel kit for your trip.    

Consider travel insurance  

Finally, cover yourself against any possibilities or eventualities with good travel insurance. Most travel insurance should include emergency medical assistance, medicines and hospital costs, surgery and dental treatments, and urgent medical treatment for accidents, but make sure to choose one that also has emergency evacuation, legal coverage, and repatriation in case of serious illness or accident. The odds that you’ll have an accident or fall severely ill on a trip are low, but why not buy some peace of mind for your next trip with good medical coverage abroad? Details matter, so pay close attention to the specific policies if you choose to book!

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Matera is a remarkable city in Basilicata, a little-visited region in Italy’s extreme south.

A visit to Matera steeps travelers into a unique world of art, history, culture, folklore and the slow pace of Italy’s Mezzogiorno. Matera is famous for its cave dwellings located in the Sassi neighborhoods; homes carved into the soft tufa rock that have been inhabited since the Paleolithic period. It’s ancient on another level, and yet also a working, modern city.

Visit Matera to see this beautiful panorama by night

Foto di blank76 da Pixabay

Rural and remote, Matera isn’t the easiest place to reach, which is likely why it hasn’t long been on the radar of many international travelers. But after gaining UNESCO World Heritage Status in 1993 and being declared the European Capital of Culture in 2019 the city is finally starting to get the mentions it deserves.

Today many visitors travel hundreds of kilometers to see this ancient city made contemporary. With one-of-a-kind accommodations complete with modern amenities, travelers are ready to see Italy’s magical city of stone.

Here’s why you should visit Matera on your next trip to Italy:

To walk the stone streets of one of the oldest cities in the world

Matera is counted as one of the three oldest cities in the entire world. It’s been inhabited since the Paleolithic period, the earliest period of human development, as troglodytes carved cave dwellings into the steep rock. Though estimates on the exact dates of Matera’s first occupation vary, evidence from the Neolithic period and even earlier has been found. Today it’s one of the few locations this ancient that is also so comfortable to our modern tastes. Where else can you sleep in accommodation first used 9,000 years ago?

To visit one of the most unique destinations in the world

Visit the Sassi in Matera, Italy
Photo by  Tomas Turek from Pixabay

Matera is one of the most unique destinations on earth, and certainly one of the most unique in Italy thanks to its infamous Sassi districts. In the Sassi, hundreds of cave dwellings spot the steep landscape. Here you can step back in time to walk along ancestral roads and staircases, to rupestrian (carved in rock) churches, and elaborate cave systems-turned-houses or wine cellars or hotels

The Sassi of Matera were a splendor of history, but by the 1950s they were little more than squalid hovels, unacceptable to today’s standards. The caves had barely changed or improved from hundreds of years earlier and the squalor and unsanitary conditions in the town were declared the “vergogna nazionale” or the national disgrace. The citizens were forcibly moved out and relocated to modern houses in a village atop the nearby plateau, leaving Matera abandoned.

In the 1980s interest in the Sassi returned, and many residents began moving back to the area to renovate the old cave houses, eventually turning the empty shell of a town into a fascinating urban center set in an ancient landscape. In fact, UNESCO declared the entire town a World Heritage Site for being the “most outstanding, intact example of a troglodyte settlement in the Mediterranean region, perfectly adapted to its terrain and ecosystem.”

Today, Matera’s cave-dwellings are elegant and comfortable, complete with spas, gyms, restaurants, and wifi.

To marvel at the underground architecture

Though the caves might seem like simple dugouts, they’re actually intricate structures that can be quite complex architecturally. Elaborate renovations were made during the Renaissance when many caves gained new façades, vaulted ceilings or complicated staircases connecting arches, attics, balconies, and cantinas. The Sassi have dozens of tunnels connecting them, proving that what we see is just a scratch under the surface of this elaborate cave system.

Besides the caves, head underground to see the wonders of ancient technology in the Palombaro Lungo, the largest of the Palombari water collection tank system. The Palombaro Lungo is a giant cistern carved into the rock, as large as an underground cathedral, that has supplied water to Materans as far back as the 16th-century. Ingenious and state-of-the-art for the time, the system located under Piazza Vittorio Veneto is one of the best-conserved examples of historical hydraulics and architecture in the world.

To follow the faith across centuries

A view of San Pietro Caveoso Church in beautiful Matera
Photo by chatst2 from Pixabay

Matera is a land with a strong faith going back centuries. There are at least 21 parishes and several churches that have been carved into or out of the rock, as well as others built aboveground on the Piano (plateau) above the town. Then there are the more than 150 churches in the Sassi district itself along with the Murgia National Park.

Though it might be impossible to properly see them all on one trip, the town’s churches are a fundamental part of its history and truly a must-see. Start with the Romanesque Cathedral, whose privileged position atop Civitas hill gives breathtaking views overlooking the Sassi Barisano. Other favorites include the death-themed Chiesa del Purgatorio, the Lecce-inspired San Francesco d’Assisi, the simple interior of Materdomini and the great views from Sant’Agostino.

To see the rupestrian churches of the Murgia National Park

The Park of the Murgia Materana overlooks Matera from gorges and caves beyond the Gravina ravine. A UNESCO World Heritage site along with the Sassi of Matera, here you’ll find more than 150 rock churches to explore.

These rock churches, known as rupestrian churches, were mostly constructed in the Byzantine Empire of the 8th and 9th centuries. Though many are not so well conserved, some of the cave churches still have faded Byzantine frescoes inside. A favorite rupestrian visit is Santa Maria de Idris. Partly carved into the rock and partly built, this 12th-century church is connected by tunnel to the rock crypt of St. John in Monterrone.

Though they were created as religious places of worship, over the years many of the rupestrian churches became multi-use, serving as homes or stables for animals, including the popular Crypt of Original Sin, considered the Sistine Chapel of rupestrian art for its magnificent 8th-century frescoes.

To experience a real-life movie set

Ancient and enchanting, Matera is the perfect setting for historical films and TV series. Though there are older settlements in the Middle East that film crews could use, few are as easy to access with as comfortable accommodations and amenities as Matera.

Approximately 90 movies have been filmed in Matera, from documentaries to neorealism pieces to TV fiction. Film buffs who want to catch a glimpse of Matera’s majestic backdrops can rent Nel Mezzogiorno Qualcosa È Cambiato, a documentary on the plight of Matera in the 1950s; Gli Anni Ruggenti, a comedy about an insurance salesman caught in a misunderstanding in the South; L’Uomo delle Stelle, which is set in Sicily but shot in Matera; or of course, The Passion by Mel Gibson, a story of the last 12 hours of Jesus’ life.

To view modern art in the world’s only ancient cave museum

A city carved into the rock, Matera is innately a city of sculpture. Though the ancient sculpture is the town itself, more contemporary fare is still available. Matera’s Museum of Contemporary Sculpture, or MUSMA, is the only cave-museum in the world. Housed in the underground of Palazzo Pomarici, the story of Italian and international sculpture is told through 500 different pieces.

After all, what more delightful place to view contemporary sculpture art than in a remarkably ancient town carved by cavemen themselves?

To celebrate the Festa della Bruna

Visit Matera during the Festa della Bruna to see these wonderful lights
Photo by Fabio Eramo via Festa della Bruna Gruppo Ufficiale Facebook Page.

The Festa della Bruna is the principal event in Matera’s calendar, truly the Materans’ New Year’s Day. Though it’s celebrated for an entire week, the culmination is on July 2nd when time stops in Matera to celebrate the town’s patron saint. Dating back to the 14th century and in remembrance of the Madonna, the festival is far from solely religious, going from sunrise into the dead of night.

The entire town is illuminated by bright lights and decorations. Market stalls and town bands set the atmosphere and a procession of shepherds “wake up” the town at the crack of dawn on the day of the event. Later, the statue of Madonna della Bruna is carried through the town streets on a parade float to the Duomo. Once there, the crowd attacks the float, destroying it piece by piece – a piece of the float is thought to bring luck. The entire event concludes with a huge firework display on the other side of the ravine in the Murgia Park.

A festival for locals by locals, it’s a dramatic event for tourists who, if prepared, can witness the excitement, passion, and euphoria of the event.

Travelers to Matera experience a unique destination, taste the city’s distinctive slow pace and step into a world unto itself. And that’s reason enough to visit!

Visit this one-of-a-kind city with Ciao Andiamo’s expert guide on our Mediterranean Escape trip

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There are few places as innately romantic as Italy. A sentimental land of beauty and indulgence, Italians embrace romance in all its forms. Here beauty is appreciated for beauty’s sake – in the art, the architecture, in a truly good meal, and in the details of a finely-stitched dress. It’s easy to find love, fall in love, and appreciate love in a country as glamorous and passionate as Italy. Not only that, but the entire country is absolutely breathtaking. Each location serving as the perfect backdrop to your romantic dreams. You don’t need to come to Italy in February to tap into the country’s romance – it permeates the air year-round!

Here’s How to Find Romance in Beautiful Italy:

Walk along the water 

A beautiful view over Lake Como in Italy, one of the most romantic places in Italy
Image by Burghard Mohren

Little beats a romantic water walk with a breathtaking landscape. Set against the foothills of the Alps, northern Italy’s lakes offer the perfect backdrop for a scenic lakefront walk. Whether it’s the popular Como, or less well-known Iseo, Garda, Maggiore, or Orta, the landscape and charming villages have plenty to enjoy. Try the brief but suggestive lungolago in Varenna on the Lago di Como, aptly named the “lover’s walkway”, or stroll the elaborately paved path along Como’s lakefront.

Visit Limone sul Garda, an ancient fishing town with suggestive alleys on Lake Garda, the largest of the northern Lakes. Check out the sunset at the lemon grove of the town’s castle (because shouldn’t every romantic Italian town have a castle?) or criss-cross the lake with the ferry. Another favorite is beautiful Sirmione, often called the pearl of Lake Garda. 

Though it’s usually overlooked for the above-mentioned lakes, Lake Iseo is just as beautiful as its big sisters. Smaller than Como and Garda, Lago di Iseo is intimate and cozy and described as the most romantic lake by its own tourism board. Tour the area’s quintessential towns or catch a ferry to Monte Isola, Europe’s largest lake island. Iseo also happens to be nestled in the gorgeous Franciacorta wine region, known for its high-quality, sparkling wines. From some vineyard tours, you can catch glimpses of the sparkling water beyond. 

In Italy’s northern lakes, it’s all about enjoying beauty for beauty’s sake, whether you’re strolling the promenade, eyeing the expansive mountains from the water, or surrounding yourself with the lush gardens of the elegant villas.

Soak in a thermal spa 

Find romance in Italy with beautiful views like this one over the bay from Ischia

 

You may not think to travel all the way to Italy just to visit a spa, but Italians are masters of la dolce vita, and a huge part of that includes some classic self-care. Thermal springs were used by the ancient Romans to cure what ails, thanks to the aqueducts that allowed the Empire to control the flow of water. 

Today, try the Bagni Vecchi in Bormio, Lombardy, an ancient spa complex roughly 2,000 years old. Written about by Pliny the Elder and mentioned by Leonardo da Vinci in his Codex Atlanticus, it was visited by the Archduchess of Austria and her husband, Archduke Ferdinand, and possibly even Napoleon during the Napoleonic period. Located in the mountains, the baths have a natural steam cave, Roman baths dug into a cave, a sauna with a view, and a massive panoramic outdoor pool looking out across the valley. 

Or, follow the sun to the beautiful island of Ischia, off the coast of Naples. The volcanic geography of the region has created hundreds of natural thermal springs, cementing the relaxed island as a premier thermal destination and wellness retreat. The sulfuric waters are thought to provide relief with arthritis, skin conditions, and respiratory diseases. Between the relaxing thermal springs and the gorgeous seafront views, you can easily turn on the romantic vacation mode with a full day of pampering on Ischia.

Watch the sunset

Twilight over the romantic city of Florence

The sunset in Italy is beautiful in just about any location, but there are a few views worth planning for. 

One of the best views of Florence is from atop the hill at Piazzale Michelangelo at the evocative San Miniato del Monte church. Though it is just a thirty-minute walk from the banks of the Arno, visitors can choose to catch a bus to the top of the hill if they prefer. Time your visit just right to catch the last rays of the golden Tuscan sun set over this spectacular city.  

Or, head to the top of the Duomo of Milan – a massive terrace that brings you up close and personal to the beautiful marble, spires, and gargoyles of this infamous Gothic cathedral. Though you won’t be able to watch the sun officially set (it closes before dark), you can enjoy the setting sun with views over the city and, on a clear day, to the Alps beyond. 

Finally, we can’t forget a classic beachfront sunset. Take a romantic vacation to one of Italy’s famous islands, like Sardinia, and be sure to carve out some time to sit on the beach and enjoy nature’s free event. There’s little as simple, effortless and memorable as a sunset with a loved one.

Stroll the streets of an ancient city

Love locks on a bridge in Verona, one of Italy's most romantic cities
So called “love locks” can be found in city’s throughout Italy, supposedly symbolizing eternal love and commitment.

In Italy, romance is everywhere. It rises from the cobblestone streets and sweeps across the scenery. The truth is, much of Italy’s romance is simply in the atmosphere. Filled with charming villages to stroll and explore, grab your loved one’s hand and enjoy the details of Spello, Umbria, officially one of the most beautiful villages in Italy, or head to the true via del amore in Pienza, Tuscany.  

Of course, there’s always the cobbled streets and architectural icons of Verona— the setting of Shakespeare’s celebrated Romeo & Juliet. Italy’s veritable city of love, travelers can step back in time with a visit to Juliet’s balcony, and after, find their own romance among the stylish shops on via Mazzini and impressively frescoed houses of in Piazza delle Erbe. Besides just enjoying the beauty of the pink limestone Arena di Verona (built before its Colosseum lookalike), visitors in the summer can actually see an opera inside the arena, sitting under the night sky on the same stone seats as citizens in 30 AD. We have all the details for you on How to See an Opera in the Verona Arena.

Tour a garden in bloom 

beautiful orange vase and a view of the sea from the Amalfi Coast

Italy knows how to do gardens. With a spring that arrives earlier than most American temperate regions and a summer that extends well into October in some areas, there’s no shortage of gorgeous blooms, perfectly hedged pathways, and magnificent sculptures to see. There are gardens from knee to toe of Italy’s boot, but one of our favorites is the unexpected splendor of the Isola Bella gardens in Piedmont. Located on an island of Lago Maggiore, Isola Bella is a botanic and architectural dream; a craggy rock-turned paradise. Literally, ‘beautiful island’ in English, tons of soil was shipped to the island in the 17th century to build what we see today: a perfectly terraced Italian garden with greenery on staircases, a show-stopping amphitheater, statues, obelisks, and of course, peacocks. It truly lives up to its name! 

Further south is the widely famous Villa d’Este gardens in Lazio. A UNESCO World Heritage Site in Tivoli, just 20 minutes outside of Rome, they’re considered some of the most beautiful gardens in all of Italy. Built on the grounds of a 16th-century villa, the Villa d’Este gardens were an impressive feat of hydraulic engineering, with fountains that sprayed nearly 50 feet without the use of pumps, water that flowed uphill, and an organ fountain that could play a musical composition by water alone. Though the musical fountain no longer plays, the garden is still mind-bending, with more than 600 fountains, spouts and water jets, 64 waterfalls and nearly 900 meters of canals, each working entirely by the force of gravity without any mechanical intervention. 

With beautiful weather, beautiful surroundings, and more than impressive sights, why not take your loved one through a stroll of one of Italy’s most beautiful gardens? There are plenty to choose from at 13 of The Most Beautiful Gardens in Italy.


 

Relax seaside

The beautiful beach in Polignano al Mare, Puglia: Where to Find Romance in Beautiful Italy

Little can compare to the atmosphere and beauty of Italy’s coastal towns. Whether you just want to soak in the salt air or spend your days in luxury on the beaches, with nearly 5,000 miles of Italian coastline, you just have to take your pick!  

Try the scenic Amalfi Coast with quaint towns built into the green hillside. Here you can tour the coast, shop for ceramics or olive oil, and enjoy a seafood dinner with local, homemade limoncello. With dramatic landscapes, winding roads, and non-stop coastal views, it’s hard not to feel the romance in a place like the Amalfi Coast. 

Then, cross the country to visit the Adriatic coastline in gorgeous Puglia, the heel of Italy’s boot. There you can visit charming seaside towns such as Monopoli, Ostuni, or Polignano a Mare, with dramatic limestone cliffs and crystalline water that can take your breath away! A jutting peninsula between the Adriatic and Ionian seas, travelers can find sandy beaches, pebble beaches and steep cliffs among the many Blue Flag awarded beaches. There are hundreds of beaches and beach towns to enjoy in Puglia, here are some of our favorites

Revel in the seaside beauty of southern Italy on our Mediterranean Escape trip to the Amalfi Coast and Puglia. 

Get your hearts pumping

find romance in the snow-capped peaks of the Dolomites

For some, the best romantic date is action-packed. Luckily, Italy has a wealth of outdoor activities and adrenaline-packed adventures. By far the easiest place for this is the Dolomites, with skiing and snowshoeing options in the winter (and even heli-skiing for thrill-seekers) and hiking and biking in the summer. You could even try skiing or hiking on an active volcano. Mount Etna in Sicily is Europe’s biggest volcano and one of the most active in the world! A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Etna is a fundamental part of Sicily’s history and geography, and also happens to offer some great adventures for active travelers!  

Travelers to Italy can tour caves in Le Marche, sea-kayak off the coasts of Elba and Sardinia, ride bikes in Tuscany, and cliff-jump in Puglia. There are plenty of active options in Italy. Sometimes getting moving and trying something new together is romance enough in such beautiful destinations! 

Explore the breathtaking Dolomite mountain range by day and relax in mountain lodges at night on our Alpine Adventure trip in the Dolomites


 

Ignite your taste buds with a wine tasting

The vineyards of Piedmont: Where to Find Romance in Beautiful Italy

Dive into the sights, aromas, and tastes of Italy with a romantic vineyard tour and wine tasting. For many, Italy is synonymous with wine, and what better way to try it than with a fully immersive experience? Some favorite vineyards are in Tuscany, but remember, it’s not the only world-class wine produced in Italy. Try a wine tasting in the verdant green hills of Montefalco, Umbria or in Piedmont’s Langhe region, a UNESCO World Heritage site for its wine production. 

It’s in Piedmont that you can find the “king of wines” made from the delicious Nebbiolo grapes: Barolo. Home to Barolo and Barbaresco, challenge your loved one to find different varietals and discover different native grapes, like Ruchè, Grignolino and Moscato Bianco, or Arneis and Roero. Wine, cheese, the pungent and decadent white truffle, charming villages and rolling Italian vineyards – it’s everything you need for romance. 

Tour vineyards and delight in Piedmont’s gastronomical delights with Ciao Andiamo on our Castles, Truffles and Barolo trip. Click here to learn more!


 

Indulge in a lingering, Italian dinner

Wine for two at a romantic table in ItalyHere’s How to Find Romance in Beautiful Italy

When in Rome, do as the Romans do. The easiest way to “look like a local” is to eat like a local. Italians love their food and they wholeheartedly enjoy a good meal. So, when in Italy, get caught up in the dolce vita and don’t rush it! Whether you’re in the Eternal City soaking in the romance of Rome, in the sun-kissed land of Sicily, or the tip-top of the Alps, you can enjoy a lingering Italian dinner. 

Order an antipasto, primo, secondo. Enjoy the conversation, the company. Take a break before dessert and coffee. Linger, indulge, and soak in the true romance of Italy. Buon appetito! 

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Carnevale in Italy brings a burst of color to the dark, cold months of winter.   

A huge final celebration to eat, drink and be merry before the restrictions and solemnity of Lent, the festivities in Italy aren’t reserved just to Mardi Gras.

Starting about a month before Ash Wednesday, revelers in Italy celebrate for multiple weekends with sweeping parades, elaborate masks and plenty of brightly colored confetti. You can find traditional Carnival sweets in the bakeries and plenty of tricks and mischief. After all, a Carnevale, ogni scherzo vale! That is, anything goes during Carnival. 

Carnevale in Italy  

A Carnival parade in Putignano, Puglia. Photo by Salvatore Capotorto from Pixabay

If the celebrations seem a little over-the-top, consider that the roots of this festival can be traced to Ancient Greece and Rome in celebrations that honored the god Bacchus (of wine) and Saturn. Some say they go even further back to primitive celebrations of the end of winter and beginning of spring.  

Though its history is pagan, the festival was so widely celebrated and the tradition so strong that it was quickly adapted to fit into the Catholic rituals. During the 40 days of Lent, parties were forbidden and meat, sugar and fats were off-limits. Carnival fit in perfectly as a last hurrah and a way to finish all the stores of rich food and drink before Lent.  

After weeks of mischief and parties, expect a more pious and solemn atmosphere in Italy during the weeks of Lent. Easter in Italy is as strongly felt and celebrated as Christmas.  

Officially, Carnevale is held on Fat Tuesday – in 2020 that is on February 25 – but of course the weekend before sees celebrations just as big or even bigger! Future Carnival dates are February 16, 2021; March 1, 2022; and February 21, 2023.   

Where to Celebrate Carnevale in Italy  

Though everyone knows of the masks and parades of Venice, every town in Italy, even the smallest, has its own Carnevale parade. Small towns will have day care centers and school children march in the street or ride atop team-made floats and school bands play. Bigger cities will bring together floats, bands, dance troupes and group costumes for the parades.  

There are some cities, however, that regularly outdo themselves. Here are some of the biggest, most famous Carnival celebrations in all of Italy:  

Venice, Veneto 

Photo by Serge WOLFGANG from Pixabay

Full of mystery, mischief and intrigue, the Carnival of Venice is undoubtedly one of the most famous Carnival celebrations in the entire world.  

Though the start of Venice’s Carnival is disputed, most attribute it to 1296, with an official document from the Senate of Venice declaring a public celebration on the day before Lent. Created as an allowance for citizens for some fun and revelry, the mask fit in perfectly, allowing citizens to celebrate independently of social class or religion.  

Carnival masks remained a fixture through the Renaissance, and masked comedy troupes would perform in the piazzas of Venice in the 16th century. These same masks and bacchanalia were banned by the Austrians in the 18th century and again by Mussolini in the 1930s.  

After many years, the holiday returned in 1979 in a celebration of the history and culture of Venice. 

The 2020 Venice Carnival will begin on Saturday, February 8 and end on Tuesday, February 25. Visitors can view events like the water parade, mask competitions or the infamous flight of the angel, or simply stroll the UNESCO World Heritage city and to see the elaborate and unique costumes.  

Today roughly 3 million people travel to Venice to participate in the infamous festa Veneziana, making it the most important event of the city and the biggest carnival celebration in Italy.    

Viareggio, Tuscany 

Another one of the most important Carnival celebrations in Italy is in Viareggio, on the coast of Tuscany. Started in the late 1800s by the rich bourgeois class who wanted to freely express their discontent of the high taxes, today the attitude continues with massive papier mâché floats satirizing big political and cultural names.  

The celebration is most known for these elaborate and impressive floats, made with extraordinary detail and engineering. The tradition is so important, that float-makers begin their work an entire year before Carnival!  

Besides the allegorical floats, the entire Carnival of Viareggio is followed by all night musical dances in the streets. This tradition started in the 1920s as “colored all-night dances” or veglioni coloratiwhere women dressed in specific colors and even the jewelry, confetti and decorations had to match. That plus the city’s Art Deco architecture make for the perfect scenography. 

The Carnevale di Viareggio takes place on Fat Tuesday, as well as the four Sundays preceding it. The final parade is followed by a huge fireworks show. Though admission is charged to view the parade, there are festivals, cultural events, concerts and masked balls for free throughout the season. 

Acireale, Sicily  

Photo by Carnaval.com Studios (flickr)

Repeatedly described as one of Italy’s most beautiful Carnivals, this is likely thanks to the intricate floats decorated with fresh flowers, adding beauty and perfume to the streets of Acireale.  

Allegorical papier mâché floats parade down the Baroque streets of Acireale during the Carnival season, but the surprise is in the flower floats.  Dating back to the 16th-century, revelers once celebrated Carnival in Acireale by throwing rotten eggs and lemons, but when those games were officially banned, they were replaced by a much more cultured character: Folk poets, known as abbatazzi, who improvised verses on the streets of the city.  

Today, both the floats and poets can still be found and the Carnival of Acireale is widely entitled the “best Carnival in Sicily.” It is so popular, in fact, that the entire thing is reproduced in the balmy summer air of August. 

Ivrea, Piedmont 

The Carnival of Ivrea is likely the most unique Carnival celebration in Italy. Every year Ivrea, a tiny city near Turin in Piedmont, hosts its famous Battaglia delle Arancie (Battle of the Oranges) in the final days of the Carnival season.  

The battle symbolizes an event in 1194 when the people of Ivrea rebelled against the Royal Napoleonic Troops. It is said that the miller’s daughter, “la Mugnaia,” slayed the hated tyrant who ruled the city after he tried to take her, kicking off a rebellion that ultimately won the townsfolk a bit more freedom.  

Today, la Mugnaia is always represented by a local beauty, and the event is remembered with an enormous orange battle between helmeted “soldiers” in carriages and unprotected “townspeople” representing different districts on the ground. Those that don’t want to participate wear the traditional berretto rosso, red hats, to be excluded from the battle and can stay protected behind massive nets.  

Putignano, Puglia 

The region of Puglia in Italy’s heel likely has the most Carnival celebrations of any region, but the most famous is in Putignano.  

Located in the beautiful Itria Valley, home of trulli houses and interesting karst caves, the ancient town of Putignano is home to the longest Carnival celebration in all of Italy. Every year it starts on Santo Stefano, December 26th, with the Festa delle Propaggini, in which poets recite in local dialect, and ends on Fat Tuesday with a parade and the “funeral” of Carnival, represented as a pig.  

Not only is it the longest Carnival celebration, but it is one of the oldest in all of Europe. Putignano’s Carnival dates as far back as 1394, when relics of St. Stephens were transferred inland to Putignano for protection against invaders. The move was so celebrated that peasants left the vineyards to follow the procession, exploding into song and dance upon arrival, as well as improvised lyrics and poems, satirizing against politicians and news, habits and current events in the local dialect. 

After December 26, this long Carnival is celebrated every Thursday, but it’s not until the feast day of St. Anthony the Abate, January 17, that Carnival really takes off with parties, feasts, pageants, and parades. From then until Fat Tuesday, every day is Carnival!   

Fano, Le Marche 

Photo from @ilcarnevaledifano

It’s not confetti or tinsel or ribbons thrown about during Fano’s Carnival, but sweets. With the “getto” or throw, the masked floats toss hundreds of pounds of sweets, candies and chocolates to the crowds below. (The crowds come prepared with paper cones to catch the goodies!) 

Said to have started in 1347 during a rare moment of peace between two rival families of the time, the Carnival of Fano is known as the sweetest Carnival of Italy.  

The floats parade up and down the streets of Fano, ending in a final round with a “luminaria” with lights, fire and color added as night falls. Finally, a massive papier mâché puppet known as “Pupo” or “Vulon” is burnt in the main square to large crowds on the day of Mardi Gras, a practice that is said to take away winter together with the sins of the townspeople.   

Cento, Emilia Romagna  

The Carnival of Cento is known as far back as 1615, thanks to frescoes by hometown painter Gian Francesco “Guercino” Barbieri that document the celebration, but its most celebrated traditions are more recent.   

In the early 1900s the people created their own king to symbolize the city’s Carnival, a character to represent his fellow citizens, called Tasi.   

During the final parade, Tasi is burned in a bonfire in front of the Rocca while an impressive fireworks show lights up the sky in a scenographic display. Before he is burned, his will is read in the local dialect and his possessions are given to Cento’s most famous citizens – actual citizens of Cento!  

In 1993, the Cento Carnival was twinned with the Carnival of Rio de Janeiro and began displaying allegorical floats inspired by the exhibitions of Rio. Running for five Sundays prior to Lent, the parades circle the city multiple times and throw inflatable and soft objects into the crowd.   

Milan, Italy 

Photo from inLombardia

Technically, the Carnival celebrations in Milan aren’t much different than any of the others. There are parades and parties, confetti and costumes. The difference here is all in the timing.   

Milan’s carnival is the last to be celebrated. The Ambrosian Carnival, named after Milan’s patron saint, holds its final party after the Italian Carnival has officially ended.  

As tradition has it, the city’s patron saint, Sant’Ambrogio (St. Ambrose) was on a religious pilgrimage and asked to postpone the final Carnival celebrations until he got back. So every year, Milan’s carnival is celebrated four days later on the Saturday after Fat Tuesday, ending the Carnival season in the beautiful Piazza del Duomo. 

 

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Umbria is Italy’s only land-locked region, but it’s not complaining.  

Known as Italy’s green heart, vibrant Umbria is a nature-lover’s paradise. Though it lacks a coastline, the mountains and hills of Umbria are still awash in water thanks to the Tevere River and the Lago di Trasimeno, the largest lake in central and southern Italy.  

Spello, Umbria (Photo by Ken Sandberg)

Though long overlooked for its popular neighbors of Tuscany and Lazio – that’s a huge part of Umbria’s charm. Sometimes called “Tuscany without the tourists,” it’s true that in Umbria you can still get off-the-beaten path with ease. A bit more rustic, more natural than its neighbors, Umbria nevertheless has delicious, high-quality food products, a long history and excellent Medieval and Renaissance art, all while maintaining an atmosphere of peace and serenity. Not to mention enchanting hill towns that you can’t believe you haven’t yet explored!  

Where to Go

Perugia 

Photo by tonixjesse from Pixabay

Umbria’s largest city and the capital of the region, Perugia has a lot to offer visitors. The historical city center is small, but packs a lot of history. There are different ways you can get atop the hill to visit the city center, but perhaps the most suggestive way is with the escalators in the Rocca Paolina. Technically a fort, it feels like an entire a 16th-century city preserved under today’s Perugia. Once in the city center, head to Piazza IV Novembre to dive right in to most of Perugia’s tourist sites: the beautiful 13-century Fontana Maggiore, the unfinished San Lorenzo Cathedral, Palazzo dei Priori and the adjacent Sala dei Notari.  

Home to the oldest university in the region, Perugia isn’t just an ancient city on a hill, but is lived and lively, with actual locals along with the students and visitors (something that some big-hitting Italian towns are starting to lack). Equidistant from Florence and Rome, Perugia is easy-to-reach and a great introduction to Umbria.  

Lake Trasimeno 

Lago di Trasimeno, near Perugia, is the largest lake in central and southern Italy and a veritable natural paradise. A popular vacation place for Umbrians and Tuscans nearby, there are several charming towns along the lake to explore. 

Castiglione del Lago sits above the ruins of Etruscan tombs. Tour the castle, the medieval walls of Palazzo Ducale and the nearby Rocca del Leone fortress. Visit Città del Pieve to walk down the narrowest alleyway in all of Italy and see several works by Pietro Vannucci (also known as the Perugino) who was born there. Or, take a boat to tour the three islands on the lake. Maggiore Island is the only one still inhabited. The largest island on the lake, Polvese, is used as a public park. 

Assisi 

Photo by Valter Cirillo from Pixabay

Assisi is known the world over thanks to St. Francis of Assisi, the city’s patron saint and one of two patron saints for all of Italy. Pilgrims have been visiting the Basilica since its construction in the 13th-century to pay homage to the saint. The gorgeous St. Francis Basilica with upper and lower levels truly is worth a visit, but you don’t need to be religious to visit Assisi. One of the best-preserved medieval cities in all of Italy, the entire city center is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Most of the major sites to visit are churches in Assisi – a testament to the city’s deep religious history – but there is also the Rocca Maggiore atop the hill, with views of Perugia to the North, Assisi below and the surrounding valleys beyond. Try visiting the city during the Christmas season. St. Francis is considered the first person to create a live nativity scene and today you can find nativity scenes throughout the city, as well as a living nativity scene with town participants and actors.  

Montefalco

Often called the “balcony of Umbria” for its position and panorama (from here you can see to Perugia, Assisi and even Spoleto), Montefalco is most celebrated for its wine. Città di vino, this tiny town is the home of the celebrated Sagrantino red, a DOCG wine whose dark and dense wine is unique to Umbria. The area’s extra virgin olive oil is nearly just as prized, thanks to its fresh yet intense flavor.

Besides excellent wine, Montefalco also produced six saints over the centuries. The town itself starts from five different gates located at five different parishes. Five lanes climb up the hill until reaching the central piazza and the town’s highest point.

Gubbio  

Photo by Giacomo Zanni from Pixabay

Located in northeastern Umbria, Gubbio is a gorgeous Medieval town filled with lengthy stories and quirky traditions – like an annual race up a mountain carrying enormous wooden prisms that weigh anywhere from 600-700 pounds.  

Known as the Festa dei Ceri, the race is held every year in May to celebrate St. Ubaldo, the patron saint of Gubbio, as well as St. George and St. Anthony. Participants run from the main square in front of Palazzo dei Consoli to the Basilica of St. Ubaldo, on the top of the mountain, all while carrying a statue of their saint on an enormous wooden prism. Maybe that’s why Gubbio is traditionally called the “città dei matti,” or city of crazy people!

Both locations are sights to see, race or no race. The massive, 14th-century Palazzo dei Consoli towers over the central square, Piazza della Signoria, one of the most beautiful in Umbria. Then, be sure to take the funicular from the Porta Romana to the beautiful St. Ubaldo Basilica to see the planks for the famous Ceri race as well as some of the best views of the town. 

Foligno

Foligno was severely bombed in World War II and suffered a powerful earthquake in 1997. Since then, much of the city has been rebuilt and today it is an industrial and commercial center in Umbria.

Visit the two-faced Duomo, with an official facade opening to Piazza del Duomo and another, perhaps more interesting, facade facing south on Piazza della Reppublica and be sure to tour the Trinci Palace, but the real draw is the city’s atmosphere. With a modern appearance and an important commercial background, Foligno is an active, lively city with great shopping, restaurants and aperitif spots and, of course, wine!

Spoleto

Spoleto is a stunning sight framed by the Apennines. Founded by the Umbri, it was quickly taken over by the Romans who built one of the most popular sights of the city: an aqueduct that became the foundation for the Ponte Delle Torri. A huge medieval bridge sitting over a deep gorge, it’s awe-inspiring even today. There’s also a nearly completely intact Roman amphitheater. Later, Spoleto changed hands again, to the Lombards, but its beauty and strategic location ensured that the town flourished. 

Today, it is best known for its three-week summer festival, the Festival Dei Due Mondi, featuring events in opera, dance, music and art.

Spello 

One of the ancient gates that still exist in Spello, Umbria. Photo bychatst2 from Pixabay

Build on a slope of Monte Subasio, The village of Spello is circled by remarkably intact fortified Roman walls that seem to drape around the centro storico. Originally a Roman settlement, the walls are a testament of Spello’s strategic position along the road to Perugia, but the magnificent gates to the village are just as impressive. Head to the west side of town to see the Porta Venere, a gate flanked by a pair of 12-sided towers. The Renaissance artist Pinturicchio had the biggest artistic impact on the town. It’s here that he painted the Madonna in Trono e Santi, his masterpiece for the altar in St. Andrew’s, as well as the colorful frescoes in the Baglioni Chapel inside Santa Maria Maggiore. 

Small Spello is the Italian village you’ve dreamed about with winding streets, stone houses and beautifully decorated balconies. In fact, it’s these floral balconies that have helped Spello officially win the title as il borgo più bello d’Italiaor one of the most beautiful villages of Italy. Flowers are also the star in the Infiorata del Corpus Domini, without a doubt the village’s biggest event of the year. Every summer, various cities throughout all of Italy decorate their streets with elaborate designs made of flower petals. Spello carpets more than a kilometer of road with flowers for the event. 

Norcia 

Located in southeastern Umbria, Norcia is known for its fresh air and spectacular scenery. Sitting under the high peaks of Mount Sibillini, many use the town as a base for mountaineering, hiking and other outdoor sports. It is also a popular hunting zone, especially for wild boar.

Those looking for a more relaxing visit can enjoy the cuisine as Norcia is especially known for its high-quality cured pork products. Norcia’s pork butchers have become so accomplished that they’ve been given their own title. In Norcia it’s not a butcher, macellaio, but a norcinoWherever a norcino goes he can open up a norcineria to sell the Umbrian wild boar and pork products famous throughout Italy. Today a norcineria has become a synonym in Italy for a place that sells prestigious salumi. 

Orvieto 

Orvieto is a tiny town with an oversized appeal. First and foremost, there’s the town’s impressive 14th-century Duomo, with its gold-plated Italian Gothic façade. Besides the pleasant town streets, there’s also a 7 km path that circles the entire city, a double-helix well dug deep into the town’s tufa rock and a veritable city underground.  

Orvieto is built atop soft tufa rock made on an old volcano neck. Easy to dig, over the centuries the entire town has essentially been carved out into cellars and basements, offices, bomb shelters and pigeon breeding rooms. Today you can take a tour underground to visit just some of the approximately 1,200 various caves, tunnels and cisterns carved under the streets and buildings of Orvieto. Come while you can – nearly entirely hollowed out, the fate of the town is clear, just not the when!

What to Do

Umbria is filled with festivals. You can find food festivals, music festivals, sports events and more. From local, traditional events to international affairs, it seems there’s something to do year-round.  

Music aficionados will enjoy the Umbria Jazz Fest, held twice a year. Nearly a week-long event of jazz concerts and encounters, it’s held in Perugia in the summer and Orvieto in the winter.   

Perugia is also home to the annual EuroChocolate Festival (no wonder, with its roots in chocolate production) as well as the International Journalism Festival for journalists and media members.  

In Spoleto, you can find the Festival dei Due Mondi in June and July, when the city becomes the busiest town in central Italy. The festival is an immersion of music, dance, theater and literature in a picture-perfect setting. 

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Photo by crilaman from Pixabay

Nature-lovers can visit the Marmore Waterfalls near Terni; hike, cycle or horseback ride in the Monte Subasio Natural Park; or fish in Lake Trasimeno. The more adventurous can go on an excursion in an underground cave on Monte Cucco

Finally, deep-dive into the Umbrian culture with a traditional festival like the aforementioned Festival of the Ceri in Gubbio

What to Eat 

The food in Umbria is generally simple, rustic fare, but the high-quality pork from Norcia and the legendary black truffles of the area elevate the cuisine to something well-worth tasting. In fact, Norcia and its surroundings are perhaps the true birthplace of Umbrian cuisine, but the fish-based meals from Lake Trasimeno offer something different to the rich dishes of the land-locked country.  

Remember, Italian food is entirely regional. So when in Umbria, here’s what to eat:  

Zuppa

A classic minestrone (vegetable soup) with the addition of farroa local grain. Soups in general are popular in Umbria, especially with legumes and beans like the fagiolina from Trasimeno, lentils or chickpeas.  

Black Truffle 

The prized black truffle of Umbria is a must-try while in the region. With a strong, earthy taste, these delicacies are hometown heroes. Choosy about where they grow and difficult to find, they’re perhaps the most sought-after delicacy in Europe and they grow naturally in the Umbrian countryside! More abundant here than anywhere else in Italy, black truffles are integral to Umbrian cuisine. Try them shaved fresh on top of homemade pasta, eggs or risotto.  

Go on an authentic, private truffle hunt in the countryside of Umbria with a local truffle hunter and his trained dog. Then follow your outing with a truffle tasting (along with pasta, bruschette and wine) on a private Ciao Andiamo tour. 

Pasta alla Norcina 

Pasta made with a black truffle sauce with anchovies or else with sausage and cream. Be sure to ask which sauce you’ll have before ordering as both dishes go by the same name. 

Strangozzi  

A long, curved pasta strand, this pasta gets its name in a rather unique way. When Spoleto was under the papal rule the citizens who didn’t pay their taxes were given fines by esattari, or collectors, sent from the pope. Angry, they often plotted to strangle these collectors with a long leather cord called a strangozzo and supposedly that’s how the similarly-shaped pasta got its name.  

Norcino 

Photo by GBSurf from Pixabay

The cured pork from Norcia, known as norcinois so delicious that it’s worth mentioning twice…or even more. You can enjoy the norcino in a ragù, but perhaps the best way to really appreciate the meat is with an appetizer plate or in a simple sandwich. Two favorites to try are guanciale (for pasta dishes) and coppa for sandwiches.    

Polombacci 

This is wild pigeon, sometimes served with grapes or a sauce called la ghiotta, meaning the gluttonous, made with cooking juices, olive oil, vinegar, anchovies, olives, lemon, safe, salt and pepper. In a fight with the Vatican, Orvieto was completely surrounded and cut off from the outside world. To survive, the town dug a well for water (the famous double helix well) and bred pigeons, the only animal that could fly off to feed itself and return to roost, and the meat has been on menus ever since.  

Anguilla and perch  

Eel from Lake Trasimeno served grilled or braised in wine, tomatoes, onion and garlic. Try also fish stock, risotto with fish or freshly grilled perch fillets. Every year in September the area hosts the festival of fish. Said to have the largest frying pan in the world, they fry up to two tons of fish per hour. If you’re not there during the festival, try tegamaccio, a stew of carp, pike, trout and other fish straight from the lake.  

Sagrantino Wine

When in Italy, drink as the Italians do – with delicious, local wines. In the hills around Montefalco the celebrated Sagrantino wine is made. There are two different Montefalco Sagrantino’s with DOCG status: the Montefalco Sagrantino Secco, a dry wine, and the Montefalco Sagrantino Passito, a sweet, dessert wine. The Secco is aged for at least 30 months, 12 of which are in oak barrels, producing a rich, full-bodied red with high tannin levels. It pairs perfectly with meat, game or with the regions infamous black truffle! 

Perugina chocolate 

Photo by timothy green from Pixabay

Perugia is famous for its chocolate production and home of the Perugina chocolate factory. Travelers to the city can tour the factory, but anyone can enjoy a decadent Perugina chocolate. Similar in idea to the American Hershey Kiss, a Baci Perugina is made slightly richer with the addition of hazelnut and wrapped in notable silver and blue wrapping, each with a romantic message tucked inside.  

In general when eating in Umbria you want to look for specific ingredients rather than specific dishes, such as black truffle, sheep cheese, lentils (those from Castelluccio are considered the best in all of Italy), mushrooms and farro, an ancient but popular local grain. 

How to Get There and Around 

Get there fast, then take it slow. Photo byMarco Pomella from Pixabay

The closest airports to Umbria are Rome, Pisa, and Florence. Perugia also has a small airport with flights coming from other parts of Italy and Europe.  

It is easy to take a train from Rome or Florence to major cities in Umbria such as Perugia or Orvieto. Unfortunately moving from town to town in Umbria by public transport is a bit more complicated.

Though there are trains, they only connect between major cities and sometimes you’ll have to change trains multiple times.  

The absolute best way to get around Umbria is with a private car. With a private driver it’s easier to take in the beauty of Umbria: the winding roads, country scenery and improbable Umbrian towns. Or, let us take care of the transportation for you!

Wine-taste in Montefalco, cook in an agriturismo in Assisi, tour the medieval town of Spoleto and get a pizza inside the ancient Roman walls of Spello on our Food, Wine and the Rolling Hills trip in Umbria and Tuscany!

 

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The holiday season is a wonderful time to see Italy. Though winter is technically the low season, December sees a peak of visitors and festivities with a wealth of special events and seasonal sights.   

No matter where you are in the Bel Paese, you’re sure to feel the festive atmosphere. Italian cities big and small decorate their centers with lights, garland and trees, and shops deck out their windows for the holidays. All of Italy is beautiful in December, but here’s where to go for that something specific.

Where to Go and Why: 

Vatican City for the religious festivities 

St. Peter's Basilica in lights during the holidays in Italy
St. Peter’s Piazza decorated for Christmas. Photo by Giuseppe Milo on Flickr 

Italy is a predominately Roman Catholic country and the holiday season reflects that. Even if you’re not religious, seeing or participating in a mass is a chance to get to know the local culture and Italians Christmastime traditions. Each year on December 24th there is midnight mass held by the Pope in Saint Peter’s Basilica. (It’s often held before midnight, so check online). For those with only a passing interest or simply without a seat, join the crowd in St. Peter’s Piazza to follow the mass on a big-screen TV. Come back at noon on Christmas Day for the Pope’s Christmas message which he gives from his apartment overlooking the square. The square itself is decorated with a massive Christmas tree and a life-size nativity scene. 

Bolzano for the over-the-top Christmas markets 

All of Trentino Alto-Adige is known for its beautiful Christmas market coming from its long Austrian heritage, but known as is large or over-the-top as Bolzano’s. Going strong for nearly 30 years, the Bolzano Christmas Market strictly sells only locally produced options. Here you can find the region’s handiwork at play with wooden statuettes, decorations and nativities, as well as musical instruments, decorative candles, slippers, hats, stationary and more. 

Besides the commercial aspect of the market with many handcrafted gifts and artwork, visitors can see the artisans at work in the craft tent, enjoy local dishes like strudel and mulled wine and enjoy horse-drawn carriage wines, a merry-go-round or puppet theatre for the little ones.  

Naples for artisanal Nativity masterpieces 

Nowhere in Italy is more famous for its handcrafted Nativity scenes than Naples, and ground zero for this work is via San Gregorio Armeno. A long pedestrian street in the historic center, there are hundreds of shops featuring handmade presepibut each shop will likely have a slightly different style, color, cut or characters. Not only can you find the classic Jesus, Mary and Joseph figurines, but you can expand on your Nativity to create a veritable city with shepherds, blacksmiths and vendors of all kinds, as well as more modern ideas like pizza-makers, politicians and soccer players.  

If the crowds get to be too much on “Christmas Alley” (as San Gregorio Armeno is often called) head to the Museo Nazionale di San Martino in Naples to see the largest Nativity scene in the world, with more than 500 different people, animal, angel and object figurines. 

Matera for the living Nativity scene 

Known as the presepi viventi, a living nativity scene is when costumed people act out some or all of the Christmas story, usually on Christmas Day, St. Stephen’s on December 26 and the Epiphany on January 6 (when the Three Wise Men brought their gifts to Jesus). There are dozens of living Nativity scenes throughout Italy. In Chia, Lazio there are more than 500 actors. Barga in Tuscany includes at least a hundred costumed people walking through the town behind Mary and Joseph asking for lodging and of course Greccio, Lazio is said to be the home of the very first Nativity scene when Saint Francis of Assisi constructed one in a cave there in 1223.  

Still, only one has the nearly surreal backdrop of the sassi di Matera. Houses, churches and monasteries were carved and created in caverns of Matera’s rocks. A completely unique destination no matter the time of year, the landscape is even more evocative with these biblical reenactments. 

Turin for the heart-warming coffeehouses  

A decadent Bicerin is just what you need to warm up after sightseeing in December. Photo by Jeremy Hunsinger on Wikicommons

Turin is known for its chocolate, and what better time of year to indulge in this local treat than the holiday season? You can try the Gianduia chocolate or a creamy hot chocolate, but to experience the coffeehouse culture at its most decadent, order a Bicerin. A traditional drink from Piedmont, it’s a mix of chocolate, coffee and cream that will for sure warm you up on a cold winter day.  

Orvieto for the week-long Jazz Festival 

Umbria’s winter edition is held each December in the suggestive town of Orvieto for five days. That’s five days of music starting from noon and running late into the night at different times and different venues. From the Emilio Greco Museum to the Sala Etrusca in the Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo filled with pianists, food, wine and jazz in the Palazzo dei Sette or the by now annual send off with the Funk Off band in the streets where the city itself is the true location.  

Rome for massive Hanukkah celebrations  

Though the city is home to the seat of the Roman Catholic religion, Rome, and all of Italy, has a large Jewish population and a long Jewish history. A huge, twenty-foot menorah is set up in Piazza Barberini, with crowds to match the size every night for the lighting ceremony. A smaller menorah can be found in Piazza Bologna for those wanting to escape the crowds. Mid-December you can join a lively Hanukkah street party on Via del Portico d’Ottavia, in Rome’s Jewish quarter with dancing, processions and, of course, food and wine. And instead of a jelly doughnut, go for the Roman version: the Fritelle de Chanuka. Sweet dough fritters mixed with raisins and anise seeds, fried in oil and topped with hot honey, they’re delicious, local and the perfect way to celebrate Hanukkah in Rome! 

Milan for the Christmas shopping and panettone

The galleria in Milan with lights and a tree for the holidays in Italy
The beautiful ‘Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II’ in the centre of Milan all lit up for the holidays. Photo by Ralf Steinberger on Flickr

Milan and shopping go hand-in-hand and that doesn’t change for Christmas shopping. Beyond the lights and enormous Christmas tree in front of the Duomo, shops big and small go all out on their window displays. Worth it even just to window shop, it also makes last-minute gift buying a breeze. When in doubt, go for the city’s hometown Christmas dessert and buy an artisanal panettone. A sweet bread with candied fruits and raisins, panettone has its origins in Milan, but is now a staple throughout Italy during the holidays. 

Agnone for a river of fire parade

Every year in the small region of Molise, the town of Agnone gives a nod to its roots in their Christmas fire festival, called the Ndocciata. On Christmas Eve locals in traditional dress carry large, fan-shapped wooden torches through the town, creating a river of fire and light to vigil the coming of Christmas. The parade ends in a huge central bonfire. Recently, the town has held a symbolic festival another weekend before Christmas Eve to allow even visitors to participate.  

Bologna for a unique New Year’s Eve tradition 

Bologna celebrates New Year’s Eve with the Fiera del Bue Grasso, or the fat ox fair. The ox is decorated with flowers and ribbons and is the prize for a lottery held to see who will win the ox! People join the procession with candles and fireworks until it ends just before midnight in Piazza Maggiore. There, all of Bologna rings in the new year and symbolically “burns” the old year at midnight by throwing a special dummy known as the Vecchione into a large public bonfire. Designed by a different artist each year, the dummy is worth a look before his destruction and the Piazza has live music, performances and a street market as well.  

Venice for a mass New Year’s Eve kiss 

There's no place or time as atmospheric as the holidays in Italy

There are few places as romantic as Venice. The atmosphere is charged with beauty and love and on New Year’s Eve it’s even more electric with music, fireworks and a plethora of sparkling wine toasts. See the traditional concert in Teatro la Fenice, but hustle to Piazza San Marco before midnight for the classic “mass kiss” when the bells ring in the New Year. 

Otranto to see the first dawn of the year in Italy 

The white city in Puglia, Italy’s heel of the boot, celebrates the New Year with the “Alba dei Popoli” festival, or Dawn of the People, a local party that ends at dawn. That’s because the Punta Palascia lighthouse in Otranto is Italy’s easternmost spot, separating the Ionian Sea from the Adriatic, and the first opportunity to see the dawn of the new year in Italy.  

Florence for traditional Epiphany celebrations 

The Epiphany on January 6th is the day the three wise men finally reached baby Jesus. In Italy it’s traditionally celebrated by an ugly but friendly “witch” known as La Befana who comes during the night to fill children’s shoes or stockings with candy, toys and sweets. In fact, most people in Italy refer to the Epiphany as “la Befana” and celebrations throughout Italy feature her. In Florence, however, the holiday’s holier roots are still visible every year with a historical procession through the heart of the city. Known as the Calvalcade of the Magi, participants dress in traditional costume to represent the journey of the Magi to Jesus. The parade starts from Palazzo Pitti, crosses the Arno River and ends at the Duomo, with a stop in Piazza della Signoria for a flag throwing performance! 

Massive christmas star decoration set up for the holidays in Italy
The Christmas Star leaping from the ancient Verona Arena. Photo by Gianni Crestani from Pixabay

Italians have a saying, “l’Epifania tutte le feste porta via,” meaning with the Epiphany the holidays are over. The holiday season is long in Italy – trees are up well past New Years – but come January 6th it’s time to take down the tree, pack up the decorations and put a close to the festivities. That is, until Carnival season!

Want to celebrate the holidays in Italy? Give yourself the perfect gift with a tailored trip just for you! Contact us today for help designing your dream journey for a no-stress, hassle-free holiday in beautiful Italy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Most visitors to Italy only think of the Mediterranean summers, but December is a great time to visit the peninsula. Tour Italy’s greatest cities under the twinkling lights of Christmas. It’s the most festive time of the year and the atmosphere and spirit of celebration are addictive! 

The holiday season in Italy starts with the Immaculate Conception on December 8th, when cities’ Christmas lights are turned on and Italians officially bring out the Christmas decorations and set up their tree or Nativity scene. Though it’s slightly later than most American’s day-after-Thanksgiving approach, in Italy the holiday season doesn’t end until the Epiphany on January 6th.

A predominately Catholic country, most of the season’s big-hitting holiday dates are from Christmas Eve on December 24th to the Epiphany on January 6th – the original 12 days of Christmas!

Though winter is the low season for travel to Italy, Christmastime does see a spike in visitors, as other Europeans have time off and tourists from all over plan their trip to take in the beautiful sights and smells of the holiday season in Italy. Coming to Italy in December? We’ve got everything you need to know about the holiday season in Italy:

Italian Holiday Traditions

Italians are champions of tradition and there’s no better time to see that than the holidays, when each symbol, event and meal are reminders of the magic of the season. No matter where you’re coming from, there are a few things you can expect to see during the holiday season in Italy:

Christmas markets

A good Christmas market is a feast for the senses, with delicious smells, warm desserts and drinks, handcrafted wares and atmospheric lights. Photo from Pixabay

Though this tradition is mostly attributed to Germany and Austria, Italians love their Christmas markets as much as their northern neighbors. In December, you can find Christmas markets in most cities throughout Italy. Visit Italy’s largest Christmas market in Bolzano, a city in the border region of South Tyrol. In Florence the historical Santa Croce Piazza fills with a market hailing directly from Germany for the entire month of December or head to Piazza Navona in Rome. Some, like those listed above, last all month, others like those in Genoa, Bologna or Syracuse, Sicily last for a week or two or at a specific time period, like Milan’s O Bej O Bej. The market, that gets it’s name from the local dialect for “how beautiful, how beautiful,”  usually runs for one weekend around the time of Milan’s patron saint festival on December 7th.

Christmas lights and Christmas trees

Few people in Italy decorate their house or garden with Christmas lights, but each and every town center will be positively lit up with lights and sparkling decorations. Some favorites are Ferrara, Turin, Milan and Rome. Beyond that, you can expect big cities to have a massive pine tree decorated for the season, usually located in front of the Duomo. There’s one in Florence, Milan, Naples and Venice, but perhaps the most impressive is Rome, which has not one, but several Christmas trees throughout the city. You can usually find a tree near the Colosseum, in Piazza Venezia, on Capitoline Hill and, of course, in St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican City.

Traditional meals

Fish is the traditional meal served on Christmas Eve, as Italians avoid meat and large meals in fasting and preparation for Christmas Day. After dinner many families attend their local midnight Mass. On Christmas Day, families feast the entire day, with a large lunch that usually has multiple courses and dozens of servings. Though every family is different, some regions have specific food traditions for Christmas Day, such as homemade cappelletti in broth in central Italian regions or panettone for dessert in the north.

Regional celebrations

As always in Italy, you can expect different traditions from different regions. Italy is a nation of city-states and though it’s one country, each area is fiercely proud of its own traditions and culture. Some dates, like December 8th, are national holidays, but there are other important holiday dates for individual regions. For example, Abruzzo celebrates St. Nicholas on December 6th, the generous saint’s feast day, with the nonni dressing up as St. Nicholas and giving gifts to children. The Milanese celebrate their patron saint, St. Ambrose, in style on December 7th, and those from Bergamo (as well as other towns) exchange gifts on December 13th, St. Lucy’s Day, rather than Christmas day.

St. Lucy, or Santa Lucia, is also celebrated in Syracuse, Sicily, where where she’s celebrated with a huge parade that ends in a firework display over the harbor in one of the biggest celebrations of the year. Research in advance your Italian destinations to see the extra events and celebrations they may have in December.

Caroling or … bagpipes!

Though caroling isn’t such a common practice anymore, in Lazio, Abruzzo, Sicily and other areas of southern Italy you may still see bagpipe players, called zampognari, playing carols the week of Christmas. Originally a practice of shepherds who would play their Christmas hymns as they returned home from their outposts in the mountains, today it’s continued by locals who want to keep the culture alive.

Nativity scenes

Living nativity scenes with local participants are popular throughout Italy. Photo by Michelle Scott from Pixabay

Nativity Scenes, or presepe, are super popular in Italy. They can be found throughout town and in nearly every Italian home. Some families don’t even put up a tree in lieu of a nativity! These can be super small or enormous, elaborate affairs with collections growing by the generation. You can find the oldest Nativity in the museum of Santa Maria Maggiore Church in Rome, but the place to find hand-crafted Nativities is in Naples. Here the artisan craft is still going strong and you can shop, window shop or simply admire the skilled craftsmen at work on via San Gregorio Armeno. Sometimes called Christmas Alley, this long street in the historic city center has nativity scenes on sale year-round!

Besides these small works of art, another popular tradition in Italy is the “living nativity” with actors and sometimes entire villages as the set. Known as presepi viventi, often the locations are just as suggestive as the scene itself. Custonaci in the Trapani region of Sicily holds its living nativity in a cave, Mantova in Lombardy has around 150 people featured, and the rocks, stones and caves of Matera make for the perfect setting for a reenacted Bethlehem.

Good luck and good fortune for the New Year

New Year’s Eve has fewer specific rituals than Christmas. Italians can celebrate at home, at a restaurant (with reservations well in advanced) or in the piazza where some Italian cities organize concerts and events. Throughout the country, New Year’s Eve is often celebrated in Italy with fireworks, especially in Naples where public and private fireworks can be set off long into the night. Italians eat lentils for dinner for good luck in the coming year, usually paired with a large sausage that requires hours of slow cooking called a cotechino. The tradition doesn’t stop there – be sure to pack a pair of red underwear if you’re coming for New Year’s, it’s considered good luck as well!

La Befana, the country’s happy witch

A representation of the Befana, Italy’s Epiphany tradition. Photo by sara150578 from Pixabay

January 6th is another important holiday for the Italian Christmas season. Known as the Epiphany, this is celebrated as the day the three wise men finally reached baby Jesus. In Italy it’s celebrated by an ugly but friendly “witch” known as La Befana who comes during the night to fill children’s shoes or stockings with candy, toys and sweets, similar to a Christmas stocking in America. Remember: l’Epifania tutte le feste porta via, or with the Epiphany, the holiday season is officially over. 

Menorah lightings for Hanukkah

It’s no secret that Italy is predominately Catholic, but Italy has a large Jewish population as well. This year Hanukkah starts on December 22 and ends on December 30. The highlight of the Hanukkah celebrations is in Piazza Barberini in Rome’s Jewish quarter where an enormous 20-foot-tall menorah is kept and lit each night. The Jews came to Rome long before Jesus’ time and lived freely until about the Dark Ages, when they were forced into the ghetto for more than 300 years. Today, the Jewish ghetto, or Jewish quarter, is the location of lively events, parties and feasts to celebrate Hanukkah. 

Other impressive menorahs can be found in Milan’s Piazza San Carlo, in Florence’s Tempio Maggiore Synagogue, one of the most atmospheric in all of Italy, as well as in Venice where there are not one but five still-active synagogues. Venice’s Ghetto Square includes a Jewish Cemetery and Jewish Museum. Head to the square to see the menorah lighting and the music, dancing and food that follows. 

What to Know 

The holiday season in Italy is filled with wonderful celebrations and festivities that are well worth seeing. It also, however, is filled with closures for national holidays or reduced opening hours for winter.

Be sure you plan your visits to museums and sites in advance to avoid going when they are closed. If you happen to be there on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day or St. Stephen’s Day on December 26th, expect most everything to be closed. You’ll definitely want to book restaurants in advance for these days, as well as on New Year’s Eve.

Winter in Italy in general means attractions and transportation schedules change, usually with fewer hours or fewer trains running. Winter is Italy’s low season, but Christmastime usually sees a spike in visitors and crowds and prices may reflect that.

Remember also that just how cold it is depends a lot on where in Italy you are visiting. Up north in the Alps you might be skiing, while down in Sicily you’ll be strolling along the sea with a warming sun.

In general you should still bring a heavy coat, hat, gloves and warm, comfortable boots that can take you from day to night. Italian winters are humid, giving the air a chill even when the temperatures aren’t all that low and in northern Italy you might find rain or snow. Find out more on what to pack for winter here.

Though cold in winter, many of the attractions that you’ll want to see are indoors, making winter just as nice a time as others. Not only that, but the decorations, warm food and festivals make touring around a pleasure, even if it’s cold.

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No trip to Italy is complete without fully exploring the cucina italiana and all the deliciousness it has to offer. Cups of gelato every day, an entire pizza just for you, coffee, pasta, bread, it’s easy to indulge in a country that celebrates beauty, food and joy so much. 

But it’s not just about eating when in Italy, but about eating right. Italians are king of taking advantage of fresh, seasonal produce. And though you won’t be looked down on if you want to try a staple dish out of season, most of Italy’s top restaurants follow the seasons when making their menus.  

Photo by Ulrike Leone from Pixabay

If you’re eating in an authentic joint, visitors to Italy in the spring will be eating totally different dishes than visitors in autumn, because the best of Italian food is fresh, local and seasonal.

Fall in Italy is one of the best times to explore the country’s seasonal food culture. It’s the harvest season, when mushrooms, pumpkins and, of course, grapes are being picked throughout Italy and festivals celebrating the produce abound! 

Taking part in these food festivals, called sagre in Italian, is an excellent way to really get into the fall spirit. At this time of year you can enjoy novello wine sagre, funghi porcini sagre, sagre for grapes and pumpkins, apples and chocolate. And of course, the definitive sagra for the unrivalled white truffle in Piedmont, not to mention festivals for the black truffle of central Italy.   

Want to know more? Deep dive into Italy’s cuisine on your trip with this autumnal fare:  

Truffles 

truffle hunters and their dog hunt for truffles in autumn in Italy

These pungent delicacies are revered throughout Italy and beyond. With a strong, earthy taste, you’ll find tartufo gracing menus throughout Italy in autumn, but the best are found in Umbria, Tuscany, Le Marche or Piedmont where the infamous and rare white tartufo is found. Truffles are difficult to find and impossible to grow in a lab, making them prized and pricey. Not only that, but the most delicious varieties are only available fresh in October and November, so get them while you can! Try them shaved fresh on top of homemade pasta, eggs or risotto.  

Can’t get enough truffle? Go on an authentic, private truffle hunt in the countryside of Umbria guided by a local truffle hunter and his trained dog. Follow it with a truffle tasting (along with pasta, bruschette and wine). As with all good things, this tour is seasonal, so sign up while you can!

Pumpkin  

It wouldn’t be fall without pumpkins! Though Halloween isn’t a native holiday and pumpkin spice items have yet to hit the shores of the peninsula, Italians know just how to bring out the delicious flavor of the pumpkin. You can find pumpkin served roasted as an appetizer or in a classic pumpkin risotto, but it’s all about the tortelli di zucca, or pumpkin-stuffed pasta. Mostly found in the plains of southern Lombardy and northern Emilia Romagna, tortelli di zucca is the traditional way to enjoy this harvest vegetable.  

Chestnuts 

chestnuts are a classic food to eat in autumn in Italy

While Americans are picking prime pumpkins to carve for Halloween, Italians are enjoying their mild autumn weather out in chestnut woods, foraging for these delicious nuts. Italy’s ultimate street food, visitors can find vendors selling bags of warm roasted chestnuts nearly everywhere this season. Or try them in a dish such as chestnut gnocchi or a hearty chestnut and mascarpone dessert.  

Grapes and wine 

By far the best way to try grapes in Italy is with an excellent bottle of wine. Luckily, in fall there are wine and harvest festivals galore. Try vino novelloliterally “young wine” harvested and fermented quickly for that year’s production. Popular in Veneto, you can also find it in Tuscany, Emilia Romagna, Puglia and Sardinia. Or else tour the gorgeous vineyards dressed in their fall colors and enjoy wine from other years in the local cantinas.   

Still, wine isn’t the only way to enjoy the grape harvest. Now’s the time of year when you’ll find creative uses of the ubiquitous fruit. Look for it served with a wild poultry like pigeon or guinea fowl, atop focaccia, made into a jam, or pressed into fresh juice.  

Porcini mushrooms 

The mushroom foraging season can sometimes start as early as mid-August, but can be enjoyed in dishes throughout fall. King of the mushrooms in Italy are the favored funghi porcini. A meaty, flavorful mushroom, it’s perfect as a substitute to meat or to add a heartiness to soups or sides. Order porcini over a bed of polenta, try it with tagliatelle pasta or in a warm, creamy risotto.

Figs and prickly pears 

Stop to pluck figs from trees or the unique fichi d’India from cacti for a sweet, sumptuous fall treat. Photo by Angeles Balaguer from Pixabay

Lush, aromatic figs fall from the trees in September. Try them in a warm arugula salad, alongside a silky burrata cheese with balsamic vinegar or simply fresh from the tree. The sweet fruit also pair well with cured meats like prosciutto and with a variety of cheeses.  

Further south you can find prickly pears or fichi d’India. Actually a type of cactus from Mexico, legend has it that they’re called Indian figs because Christopher Columbus thought he had arrived in India when he first saw the fruit. In Italy you can find these in Sicily or Sardinia, where they might even be served for breakfast. They’re healthy and hydrating and can be used fresh as well as in liquors or desserts. 

Chocolate 

Though chocolate can of course be enjoyed year-round, it seems the Italians have decided that autumn is the best time to celebrate the sweet treat, with multiple different chocolate festivals taking place in this period. In October there’s EuroChocolate in Perugia and CioccolandoVi in Vicenza. In November you can choose from CioccolaTò in Turin, Sciocolà in Modena or the Cioccoshow in Bologna. At the very least, take advantage of the cooler temperatures to enjoy a cioccolata calda, or hot chocolate, which is served thick and creamy, essentially just pure melted chocolate in a cup, but always delicious! 

Photo by Foundry Co from Pixabay

Beyond these decadent fall foods, there is plenty of other produce in season in the autumn, including apples (especially up north in region’s like Trentino Alto Adige), fennel, spinach, fall artichokes, rabe and prunes. 

Everyone loves Italian food, but to truly get into the Italian culture, the regional, seasonal offerings are the prime choice!  

Truly explore Italy’s sublime seasonal cuisine with Ciao Andiamo winery tours, culinary walking tours and cooking tours led by local guides, experts and chefs. Discover all your options here!

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Tucked underneath the Alps in the northwest corner of Italy is Piedmont, an unassuming and long-overlooked region that just happens to produce some of Italy’s highest quality wines. 

Though most only think of the Tuscan vineyards, Piedmont is a cultural, culinary and wine-producing powerhouse, and well worth a visit for food and wine lovers.  

Italy’s ruling Savoy family ruled from Piedmont for more than a century. The Italian Unification Movement started from here and the region’s capital, Turin, also happened to be the first ever capital of the country of Italy.  

Home of Fiat, Olivetti, and Nutella, the Piemontese are known for being hard working and industrious but, like all Italians, they also know how to unwind. It probably comes as no surprise that this is mostly done with food and wine. 

a coffeehouse in Piedmont, Italy

Though all of Italy has a claim to food fame, Piedmont has some heavy hitters that can’t be ignored. Namely, the pungent and evasive white truffle, the rich Nebbiolo grape and a culinary attention that threads through it all.  

In fact, the Slow Food Movement was started in Piedmont in the 1980s “to defend regional traditions, good food, gastronomic pleasure and a slow pace of life.” Today the organization spans the globe but remains dedicated to artisanal, sustainable food and the small-scale producers that safeguard local traditions and high-quality products. All of which perfectly describes Piedmont’s wine production: small-scale family estates with a remarkably high quality with more than 40 different DOC and DOCG wine varieties. 

Is it really any wonder, then, that the region produces some of the world’s finest wines? 

Piedmont’s UNESCO World Heritage Vineyards 

The vineyards in Piedmont

Most of Piedmont’s wine is produced in the rolling hills of the Langhe, Roero and Monferrato.  

In fact, the vineyards of the Langhe, Roero and Monferrato are a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site. They’re cited as a “cultural landscape,” an “archetype of European vineyards” and a “living testimony to winegrowing and winemaking traditions.”   

This area covers hundreds of municipalities in the south of Piedmont, incorporating towns like Asti, Alba and Monferrato, but more importantly, it has a special microclimate perfect for growing grapes. Cool air from the Alps in the north meet warm currents from the Mediterranean to the south to create cold nights, warm afternoons and long, foggy mornings.  

King of Wine and Wine of Kings 

It’s the area’s characteristic fog, or nebbia, that gives the name to Piedmont’s infamous Nebbiolo wines. Harvest takes place in late October, when it’s normal for an intense fog to roll into the region where Nebbiolo grapes are grown.  

There are multiple different wines made using the Nebbiolo grapes, but by far the two most famous are Barolo and Barbaresco.  

The first is rich and hearty and one of the most renowned Italian wines in the world. It’s said to be the king of wine and the wine of kings. High alcohol and high tannin levels, it pairs perfectly with Piedmont’s heavier cuisine: game, truffles, cheese. 

Like Barolo, Barbaresco is made from Nebbiolo grapes and also smells like roses and cherry. It’s also a deep red with high alcohol levels but its nutrient-rich soil tends to even out the tannin levels, giving it an ever-so-lighter taste than Barolo. It’s often considered a bit more approachable than its counterpart.  

Beyond that, Nebbiolo wines include Langhe Nebbiolo, Nebbiolo d’Alba, Ghemme, Gattinara and Roero Rosso, among others.

But Piedmont’s extraordinary wine production doesn’t stop there. (After all, Piedmont is the 6th highest producer of wine in Italy and Barolo and Barbaresco make up only about three – six percent of that).  

Wines to Try in Piedmont

crates of grapes grown to make wine in Piedmont, Italy

You could spend weeks touring Piedmont’s vineyards and wineries. Usually small-scale and family-owned, each is slightly different in its approach and taste.  

Barbera

Though Barolo and the other wines made from the Nebbiolo grapes are by far the most widely known internationally, it’s Barbera that is in the typical Piemontese’s glass. Barbera has made huge strides in the past few decades, growing into its role as Piedmont’s favorite medium-bodied red. It’s also significantly less expensive and easier to pair with a variety of foods. Try two different versions of Barbera in Asti or Alba. 

Dolcetto d’Alba

Produced in the province of Alba in the Langhe, Dolcetto d’Alba is another favorite red. Called “the sweet one” it’s not so much sweet as velvety, filled with dark fruit flavors, licorice and tannins. 

Fresia and Malvasia 

Fresia, along with Malvasia, are two lighter, slightly sweeter reds made in the Monferrato area. Of the two, Fresia is a slightly more complicated red in taste and production while Malvasia is fresh with just enough tannin to balance out the sweetness.  

Moscato Bianco

Muscat grapes, or Moscato in Italian, are some of the oldest known varieties of grapes grown for wine. All that time has certainly helped, today it’s one of the most delicious and widely known sparkling white wines. Piedmont is ground zero for this sweet wine, so be sure to try it when in Piedmont, maybe a creamy Moscato d’Asti Spumante 

Of course this is just a taste of the world-class wines that Piedmont produces, but enough to tempt a visit we’re sure!   

Piedmont is filled with perfect panoramas, culinary delights and historic towns. Tuscany may get all the glamour, but Piedmont sits stoic, sure of itself among castles, truffles and wine. 

Tour vineyards and delight in Piedmont’s gastronomical delights with Ciao Andiamo on our Castles, Truffles and Barolo trip. Click here to learn more!

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Everyone loves Italian food. Fresh, seasonal and simple, few cuisines know how to make the most of incredible flavors with so few ingredients. So how do Italians do it? First, they buy high-quality ingredients – after all, you don’t need much! Second, they always make sure they have enough on hand for a beautiful home-cooked meal. Here are the most ubiquitous Italian food staples and what you can make with them.

Olive Oil

Photo by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay

It’s no secret that olive oil reigns supreme in Italian cooking. Whether it’s used to sauté fresh vegetables, enrich a pasta sauce or dress a salad, a high-quality extra virgin olive oil is a must in an Italian kitchen. Not only that, but many Italian kitchens will have different types and qualities of Italian-made olive oil based on the use. Whatever the use, olive oil is the foundation that Italian dishes are built upon.

Tomato Sauce

Tomato sauce has gotten a bad rap in Italian-American cooking lately, but it’s still a staple here in Italy. Here it’s not the only way to dress a pasta and it doesn’t drench the pasta when it is used. A basic tomato sauce is considered just the start to a pasta sauce. It’s the base on which you build your flavors. Most are usually flavored with a soffritto of finely diced onion, carrots and celery. After, you can add meat, sausage, olives, fish – nearly anything – to create the pasta sauce of your dreams.

Dried Pasta

Photo by Jan Vašek from Pixabay

Even when don’t have a single vegetable or any option of meat or fish, you can still have a full meal if you have some pasta. In Italy there are hundreds of different types of pasta, dry and fresh, but while the fresh pasta has an expiration date, dried pasta lasts years. Keep a variety of different pasta types so you’ll always have an option no matter what sauce you decide to make!

Onions

On that note, onions are a basis of flavoring here in Italy. Where in America garlic abounds, Italians tend toward the still-pungent but softer flavor of onions. Even if you don’t have carrots or celery to make a soffritto for a nice pasta sauce, a bit of diced onion will still spice things up. Onions flavor lentils, meat dishes and make a wonderful side dish to fish entrees. They also last for weeks in a dark, dry place, making them the perfect pantry food.

Basic herbs and spices

Photo by Konstantin Kolosov from Pixabay

Italians definitely prefer fresh herbs – some won’t even make certain dishes without them – but you can keep a stock of a few dried spices that will come in handy in a pinch. First, an Italian kitchen will have both fine salt and large sea salt. The first is used to season your dish, the latter is used to season the water to pasta or at most sparingly sprinkled over salmon or steak. Beyond that keep pepper, garlic and parsley in your pantry to cover your bases. Fresh is the only way to go with basil, sage and bay leaves, however.

Breadcrumbs

Often breadcrumbs are that just something you needed to raise your dish up a level. Slice vegetables and bake them under a mixture of olive oil, spices and breadcrumbs. Or else bulk up fish filets with breadcrumbs and parsley. With just an egg and some breadcrumbs you can make any slice of meat or fish impannato, breaded, to quickly fry it up and enjoy but that’s not where it ends in Italy. The land of the cucina povera, bread was never wasted here. Make stuffed tomatoes with a filling of herbs and breadcrumbs or take a cue from the Sicilians and add some breadcrumbs to your pasta to add some texture, such as in pasta con le sarde or

Eggs

Italians have a super varied diet and rarely eat the same thing over and over. Though they might have pasta every day, it’s never with the same vegetables or sauce or even the same type of pasta. And their protein rarely comes from the same source. It’s normal to vary between fish, meat, beans or cheese in the same week and eggs usually make the menu as well. Not only are eggs a solid source of protein during the week, like in a classic Italian frittata, but they also enrich savory tarts and can be used to make real Italian fresh pasta. Mix 100 grams of flour with 1 egg slowly to create the base of your fresh pasta then roll out to flatten and cut in whatever form you want. Cook until the pasta rises to the surface of the water and you’re good to go!

Olives

Olives are another pantry item that last for a long time and adds a kick of flavor to any dish. Make a super simple pasta with tomato sauce and black and green olives or grind up black olives along with almonds and ricotta to make a pesto siciliano. You can add olives to salad or bake fish on a bed of chopped tomatoes and olives (breadcrumbs are good here too) and of course, a bowl of olives is the perfect antipasto to pair with a glass of wine.

Wine

Whether you imbibe or not, wine is a staple in any Italian kitchen for its rich flavor and multi-use. It’s not uncommon to sfumare a dish with a splash of wine, then leave the rest of the bottle on the table to drink with dinner. Not only that, but there are many dishes that are specifically made with wine, like pasta al Barolo or risotto with Taleggio and Raboso, where the final flavor is that of the wine itself.  Cheers!

Can’t get enough of Italian food? Enjoy private tastings at hidden wineries and rustic-style feasts on our Food, Wine & the Rolling Hills trip in Tuscany and Umbria. Write us for more info!

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Wine in Italy is as ubiquitous as pizza, pasta or gelato – it’s a staple!  

Italians are proud of their wine and take it seriously, but they are far from pretentious. Wine in Italy isn’t for just the fancy, elegant or rich. It’s an everyman’s drink, good for any food you’re eating and found everywhere. Once upon a time a dash of marsala or other wine over a raw egg made for an abundant, caloric breakfast and even today many Italians wouldn’t think twice about a glass or two at a work lunch and it’s not uncommon to see Italians enjoying a mid-morning glass at their local bar. 

In Italy the wine is mostly, well, Italian. Italians prefer to drink their local wine and many restaurants don’t even offer options from outside of Italy. After all, they have plenty to choose from! 

Italy has an exceptionally high quality of wine, more than 400 grape varietals and produces more wine than any other country. That, together with its super open attitude to wine drinking makes Italy the perfect place to dive into the wine culture and try something new! Italians are proud of the history, quality and taste of their wine so if you’re planning on imbibing when in Italy it helps to know a thing or two before you go:  
 

Drinking Wine in Italy 

Whether its wine or beer or cocktails, Italians never drink without food. Even if it’s just a bowl of olives or a slice of cheese, you’ll never be served a drink without something to munch on. 

When you order a bottle of wine from a restaurant in Italy the process should be nearly the same as back home. The server will bring the bottle to the table unopened. He or she will open it in front of you and ask who wants to taste it (chi assaggia?) then pour a small amount in your glass to taste. This isn’t about deciding if you like the wine or not – you’ve already ordered it! – it’s simply a way to check that the wine hasn’t gone bad. Though it’s difficult if you don’t already have a background with wine, you know it’s gone bad if it tastes moldy or like cork or vinegar.  

You can also order wine by the glass and, if you order the house wine, you can usually order a ¼ liter (a little bit more than a glass) or a ½ liter, as opposed to an entire bottle. And don’t scoff – the house wine isn’t bad! The vino della casa is usually a local wine that pairs well with the restaurant’s food and can be the perfect place to start to learn about Italian wine.  

It’s customary in Italy to fill the glass halfway, rather than up to the brim. This way it’s easier to manage, gives everyone the chance to have a glass from the bottle and invites those that want more to drink up. Don’t expect servers to come and fill your glass up for you after you finish it (whether wine or water). In general, servers come only when called and are much more reserved than their American counterparts. 

DOC vs DOCG and What to Order 

Italy has various organizations and classifications to preserve and protect its food and agricultural products. Like Champagne in France, some wines are “protected”, allowing only those grown in a certain way from a certain grape in a certain region to be given the name of that wine.  

The two classifications you should be aware of when wine tasting in Italy is DOCG and DOC.  

DOCG is the highest designation of quality for Italian wines. DOCG stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita or Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin. The strictest classification, DOCG wines have to be made in DOCG-protected zones and follow stringent rules.  

The second classification is DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata or Denomination of Controlled Origin). These wines also have to be made in specific zones and have specific regulations to follow such as the production area, wine color, grape varieties, proportions and alcohol levels, as well as some questions of vinification and maturation techniques. 

This classification was the first created in Italy. The DOCG wines were created roughly two decades later to further differentiate the top Italian wines from an already quality stock. All of the defined limits listed above are present, but with even more stringent minimum and maximums allowed, as well as an in-depth analysis and tasting from the Ministry of Agriculture.  

The Brunello di Montalcino and the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, both from Tuscany, were the first wines to receive DOCG status in all of Italy followed closely by the Chianti from Tuscany and Piedmont’s Barolo and Barbaresco.  

But these classifications aren’t the only measure of quality in Italian wines. The celebrated “Super Tuscans,” Tignanello, Sassacia, and Ornellaia wines, were originally thought of as table wines and had opted out of the DOC/DOCG process because they thought the stringent regulations hindered them from making the best wine possible. Since then, the classification IGT or Indicazione di Geografica Tipica has been added, which is designated for wine grown in a particular area without specifying the blend, such as the Super Tuscans.  

Not only that, but you can find delicious wines without any of these labels, proving that when in Italy, all wine is worth a try!  

Ready to taste the best of Italian wines? We can help! Visit wineries in Lucca, Florence, San Gimignano, Chianti, Pienza and Siena on our Essential Tuscany trip.

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In a country beloved for its food, Emilia Romagna still stands out as a gastronomic wheelhouse. In fact, its cuisine is one of the best in Italy and has been exported throughout the entire world. The best cured meats, like prosciutto, all hail from Emilia Romagna and favorites like lasagna and a classic bolognese sauce are staples on tables and in restaurants throughout the world.  

Photo by Bogdan Dada on Unsplash

Emilia Romagna is a region in central Italy that has produced opera stars such as Pavarotti, educational experts like Montessori, filmmakers like Fellini and fashion designers like Armani. Its citizens are known as being hardworking and extremely productive, but the region also enjoys some of the highest standards of living in all of Italy. The great quality of life can be seen in Emilia Romagna’s charming and compact cities, which are clean, safe and generally quite wealthy. 

Today, Emilia Romagna is one region composed of two identities: Emilia and Romagna.  

From Bologna to the north and west is Emilia, and from Bologna to the southeast is Romagna territory. The northern European influence can be seen in Emilian cuisine, with a heavy emphasis on pork, lard and butter, whereas Romagnola cuisine is much more Mediterranean, with more beef, lamb and olive oil. Since nearly every town was once its own city-state, each town in the region has its own local specialty.   

There’s no better way to explore Emilia Romagna than through its rich and delicious food. Want to eat your way through the region? Here’s where to start:

Bologna 

The capital city of Emilia Romagna, this university city is ground zero for food lovers. With a perfect mix of influence from both Emilia and Romagna, it has such a strong gastronomic history that it’s long been nicknamed “The Fat One” for its excess of signature dishes and hearty food products. 

Mortadella 

Other countries simply call mortadella “bologna”, but the real deal is a far cry from that industrialized, nearly inedible baloney. Mortadella is a combination of pork, spices, a bit of fat and sometimes a pistachio slice for flavor. It’s delicate but tasty and a soft alternative to Emilia Romagna’s strongly-flavored cold cuts.

Ragù 

Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

This is a meat sauce completely different from what most are used to in the United States. A combination of a good soffritto, with sausage and just a tiny bit of tomato sauce, it’s simmered for hours until the flavor is perfect. Today, ragù “alla bolognese” is synonymous with a richly flavored and hearty condiment. You can find it in the classic lasagna or over freshly made tagliatelle.  

Cotoletta alla Bolognese 

A cotoletta is always a breaded slice of meat, usually veal. Here, it’s a breaded veal cutlet with prosciutto, Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, sometimes mozzarella and a thin slice of pungent truffle. Remember, Emilia Romagna isn’t known for its light dishes. 

Parma 

Parma is nearly on par with Bologna in cultural significance and especially with gastronomic importance. Home to Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, prosciutto and Italy’s largest pasta producing company, Barilla, it’s nearly impossible to have a bad meal in Parma.  

Prosciutto di Parma 

Parma ham is another delicious food from Emilia Romagna

Prosciutto di Parma is incredibly famous throughout Italy. It’s considered one of the highest-quality cured meats, largely because of its strict production process. The best Parma ham comes from pigs raised in the town of Langhirano, just north of Parma in the Apennine Mountains where the air and humidity are ideal for curing ham. 

Culatello 

Though Parma’s prosciutto is best known worldwide, the local favorite is actually the culatello. A cured meat made from the leanest part of the pig’s hind leg and aged 15 to 18 months, the process is nearly just as stringent as prosciutto: Culatello is made strictly with the right leg, which has less muscle because the pig lays on it, and usually from pigs raised in the flat, humid area between Parma and the Po River. This cold cut is perhaps the clearest example of the the parmigiani’s food purism.  

Parmigiano Reggiano 

In English this is often called Parmesan, but the real deal is far from the imitation cans often sold internationally. Parmigiano Reggiano borders on the religious for many Italians, and in fact it does have a religious origin story.  

The origins of Parmigiano Reggiano and its sister cheese, Grana Padana, was born from the Padani monasteries in the first half of the 12th century. After extensive land reclaiming of the swampy area around the Po River, the monks were able to expand production but quickly found themselves with an excess of of milk. From that surplus comes our beloved Parmigiano Reggiano, “The King of Cheeses,” which only gets better with time. The taste is strong and slightly nutty and it’s principally used for grating over, well, just about everything. You’ll find a sprinkling of Parmigiano Reggiano on just about any pasta dish, but it can be used to add flavor to sauces or grilled vegetables, in breading for meats or served in chunks with cold cuts. 

Modena 

Aceto Balsamico di Modena 

The king of Balsamic vinegar's comes from Emilia Romagna
Photo by Caroline Attwood on Unsplash

Though aceto does mean vinegar, thinking of balsamico as a vinegar denies the product’s true worth. A dark, jeweled liquid, balsamic vinegar from Modena elevates whatever food it is paired with: whether vegetables, meat, cheese or even strawberries. Made strictly from Trebbiano grapes, it ages 12 years, fining its flavor in different barrels made of various wood. As a result, real aceto balsamico tradizionale is extremely costly but packed with flavor – a little bit goes a long way.

Cotechino di Modena

In Italian they say, “From the pig you don’t throw anything away” and that philosophy is definitely true for the cotechino. Made of a mix of pork parts, salted and spiced and steeped in wine, this sausage-like dish is traditionally served with lentils and considered good luck to eat on New Year’s Day (or a similar sausage called zampone). Though it surely wasn’t invented in Emilia Romagna, it was there that this preparation grew on an industrial scale, bringing the hearty cotechino to the masses from the industries of Modena. 

Ferrara 

Salama da sugo 

The number one specialty in Ferrara, the salama da sugo is a crumbly sausage with an intense flavor usually served with mashed potatoes. It’s made with cinnamon, nutmeg and other spices as well as wine, usually Marsala, and a splash of brandy, all of which gives it an intense flavor and strong smell. Most either love it or hate it. Nevertheless, the dish is extremely traditional: the first mention of the salama da sugo is in the 15th-century in a letter from Lorenzo de Medici of Florence to Ferrara’s ruling Duke, Ercole d’Este.

Foto di Marco967 da Pixabay

Panpepato 

Called “peppered bread”, this sweet is actually made with almonds, walnuts, candied fruits, sometimes wine or chocolate and a rich array of spices. A Renaissance invention, it was usually made during Christmas or other holidays and clearly showed to the rest of the world the wealth and refinement of Ferrara.  

Throughout the region: 

Gnocco Fritto 

A decidedly emiliano dish, the gnocco fritto is cooked in shortening (strutto in Italian) and usually paired with salumi and served as an appetizer. Each city in the area has its own shape and size of gnocco fritto, for example in Modena it’s usually rectangular, but all are delicious fried puffs of dough that perfectly exalt the region’s world-class salumi.  

Piadina 

The piadina can be found in any part of Italy, but it’s from the Romagnola area that this flat, round bread was born. Originally baked on a terracotta plate, the piadina today is largely industrialized but still filled with high-quality ingredients and perfect for a quick lunch. Go classic with a piadina filled with squacquerone (a super soft cheese) and herbs, though a slice or two of Prosciutto never hurts! 

Tortellini in brodo 

Fresh pasta is abundant in Emilia Romagna

Much of central Italy prefers egg pasta over dry pastas, but nowhere does stuffed pastas like Emilia Romagna. Always made fresh, there are dozens of different shapes and stuffings to choose from. In Piacenza and Parma you’ll find anolini, in Reggio Emilio cappelletti and multiple cities compete among themselves to be crowned the hometown of tortellini. Traditionally these meat-filled pastas are served in a beef or, even better, capon broth and served on Christmas day, but you can find them with tomato sauce or a bolognese meat sauce as well.  

Lambrusco 

The number one wine of Emilia Romagna is without a doubt the classic and ubiquitous Lambrusco. Predominately made in the hills surrounding Modena and Reggio Emilia, Lambrusco varieties range from sweet (more popular in the US) to amabile to dry. A fruity bouquet and a red-violet color, you can’t go wrong with Lambrusco – it pairs well with all of Emilia Romagna’s most traditional dishes!

Photo by Spi Cgil Emilia-Romagna on flickr

This is just a glimpse into the region’s rich cuisine. While traveling, touring markets or perusing menus, keep in mind the excellent Vignola cherries from near Modena and pears from Ferrara or the peaches, nectarines or scallions from Romagna. Along the coast the heavy meat dishes are interspersed with many types of fish and seafood and even eels from the lagoons lining the coast. 

There are plenty of desserts to indulge in beyond Ferrara’s panpepato. Try rich, homemade mascarpone cheese (though its more like a cream), a torta di riso rice cake from Bologna or torta di tagliatelle, because there’s nothing more representative of this pasta-loving region! Buon appetito!

Taste your way through Parma and the Emilia-Romagna region, a food lover’s paradise, before heading off to digest along the coast in our Revel on the Riviera trip. Already drooling? Book now!

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The birthplace of the Italian Renaissance, Florence is home to some of the greatest art and architecture in the entire world. Florence’s rich art history can be found at every turn, from incredible piazze and palazzi to ancient sculptures and hidden frescoes. The city itself feels like a massive open-air museum. But don’t just see the city from outside – Florence houses more world-class museums than nearly any other Italian city. 

From art to sculpture to archeology and even fashion, there’s a museum for everyone in Florence. The entire city seems to have been designed and built by the leading painters, sculptors and architects of the time. Visitors can see priceless works by Brunelleschi, Michelangelo, Botticelli, Caravaggio… the list goes on!

It’s impossible to see them all in one trip, but with a well-planned itinerary you can hit all your must-see sights. Learn the opening days and times, prices and the can’t-miss artworks of Florence’s top museums to best see the incredible art that Florence has to offer.

What to Know Before You Go

Double check closing days

When planning a trip to Italy it’s important to note that museums, restaurants and other sites have at least one closing day per week, and it might not be what you expect. Many museums in Florence, including the Accademia, the Uffizi and even Palazzo Pitti are closed on Mondays. 

Unfortunately, it’s not so easy to keep track. Some museums do happen to be open on Mondays. For example the Duomo and Duomo Museum, Palazzo Vecchio and the Bargello, but only sometimes. It closes the first, third and fifth Mondays of the month. 

With that in mind, check ahead for each of the sites you plan on visiting to avoid wasting time or being disappointed on your trip.  

Book ahead 

Though reservations aren’t required, book ahead for Florence’s most popular museums, namely the Uffizi Gallery and the Galleria Accademia, if you don’t want to waste an entire day in line – especially in the summer! April through October and nearly any weekend of the year sees long lines all day long, so your best bet is to make a reservation. 

Other Florence sights, like the Bargello and the Pitti Palace, offer reservations but they’re not as necessary as the Duomo, Accademia or Uffizi.

You can book online directly at each museum’s website, via phone (English options available) or check if your hotel can make reservations for you. 

Or if that all seems a bit too complicated, you could always visit Florence’s top museums with a private tour. 

Consider a private tour 

You can choose a tour that focuses on one museum, or a tour that hits the highlights of Florence, such as the impressive Palazzo Vecchio

There is a lot to see in Florence’s museums. So much so that it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the art and history there to take in. The Uffizi is one of the largest museums in the entire world and that’s just one of many impressive museums.

Private tours, even if just for a day, allow you to see the sights with a knowledgeable and expert guide. Not only that, but they help you to skip the line and maximize time. Everything’s taken care of for you!  

Both our Uffizi Gallery Tour and our Florence Highlights Tour with David are led by experts in the subject and both grant skip-the-line access to the two most famous museums in Florence. After your visit to see the David statue, see the highlights of the city’s historical center, including the Duomo and Baptistery and then venture off-the-beaten-path to explore our favorite churches, piazzas, artisanal shops, coffee bars and markets throughout Florence. Ensuring that you have enough time to see it all on your trip to Florence!

A Closer Look at Florence’s Three Most Popular Museums:  

Uffizi Gallery 

The Uffizi Gallery holds the world’s most important collection of Renaissance art. The massive museum covers two floors and holds work by Raphael, Giotto, Michelangelo, Botticelli, and Caravaggio, to name a few. One of the most famous art museums in the world, it’s also one of the oldest. It was designed by Giorgio Vasari, architect and author, and has housed masterpieces since its construction began in 1560.

What to See

You could easily spend an entire day in the Uffizi Gallery, but for those without that kind of stamina or time, there are museum maps with set itineraries passing the most famous works. It’s nearly impossible to list all of the museums incredible pieces, but some favorites include The Birth of Venus and La Primavera by Sandro Botticelli; the Laocoön and his Sons by Baccio Bandinelli; The Annunciation by Andrea del Verrocchio and Leonardo da Vinci, one of his first works; The Medusa by Caravaggio; and Judith Beheading Holofernes by Artemisia Gentileschi, one of the Renaissance’s few known female artists. 

Hours and Prices

Open: Tuesday – Sunday, 8:15 – 6:50 pm (ticket office closes at 6:05 pm) 
Closed: Mondays, January 1, December 25 

Full price March 1 – October 31: €20 
Full price November 1 – February 28: €12 
Reservation cost: €4, online or by phone at +39 055 294883 

Free entry on the first Sunday of each month, no reservations permitted. 

Note: You can visit the National Archaeological Museum for free with the Uffizi ticket!

Galleria Dell’Accademia 

The David in the Galleria dell’Accademia is one of the most captivating statues in the world. Sculpted in white marble by Michelangelo in the 16th century, it’s considered a masterpiece in proportion, beauty and art. And though you can find a copy outside of the Palazzo Vecchio, the original location for the David statue, it’s absolutely worth seeing in a building constructed solely to house this special masterpiece. 

What to See

Beyond the David, the Accademia has other incredible works by Michelangelo, including the four Prisoners, four unfinished sculptures designed for the tomb of Pope Julius that today flank the hallway leading up to the magnificent statue of David. Visitors can also see paintings of Florentine artists from the 13th to 16th centuries, musical instruments from the private collections of the dukes and ruling families of Tuscany as well as sculptor Giambologna’s original full-size plaster model for the infamous Rape of the Sabine Women sculpture.

Hours and Prices

Open: Tuesday – Sunday, 8:15 – 6:50 pm (ticket office closes at 6:20) 
And, from June 4th – September 26th 2019, the Museum will stay open in the evening from 7:00 to 10:00 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays
Closed: Mondays, January 1, December 25 

Full price: €8 (Ticket prices may change on occasion of temporary exhibitions.) 
Reservation cost: €4 

Note: The Accademia doesn’t have a coatroom so entrance isn’t allowed to visitors with large bags or backpacks and water bottles over 0.5 l are not allowed.  

Il Grande Museo del Duomo 

Today, most of the works of art that once were housed inside the Duomo are now on display in the Duomo Museum, where they were placed after the Florence Flood of 1966 that filled churches nearly 6 feet deep.  

Though most of the works of art were specifically designed to decorate the interior or exterior of the Duomo’s religious monuments, there are still enough to fill twenty-five rooms on three floors.  

Along with the museum, The Great Duomo Museum ticket includes the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (the Duomo), Brunelleschi’s Dome, Giotto’s Bell Tower, the Baptistry of San Giovanni and the Crypt of Santa Reparata and is valid within 72 hours of the first visit.  

The museum visit itself ends on a panoramic terrace with an incredible view of Brunelleschi’s infamous dome.  

What to see 

The Gates of Paradise, Ghiberti’s bronze panels made for the baptistery door; Michelangelo’s unfinished Pietà; a striking wooden sculpture of Mary Magdalene by Donatello, titled the Penitent Magdalene; and the silver altar of the baptistery.

Hours and Prices

Open: every day of the week, 8:30 am – 7:00 pm 
Closed: first Tuesday of each month 

Full price: €18 
 
Note: Reservations are mandatory for the climb on the Dome. The service is free. 

Florence is filled with priceless art. Get more out of your visit with a passionate and knowledgeable guide. Learn about the Italian Renaissance and see the highlights on our Uffizi Gallery Tour or Florence Highlights Tour with David. Book your tour today!




 

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One of northern Italy’s most beautiful historic cities, Verona is famous worldwide as the setting of Romeo and Juliet. Travelers have long come to enjoy the romance that permeates the city, but there’s so much more to experience in Verona.  

A wide angle over the city of Verona at twilight, exactly when the opera in the Verona Arena begins!
Verona is beautiful in any light. Photo by Helge Thomas.

In fact, the entire city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its 2,000 year old architecture and urban structure that is still visible today.

Founded by the Romans in the 1st century BCE, Verona’s strategic location between Milan and Venice, sea, mountains and the Italian peninsula, helped it to grow rapidly in importance.  

Today travelers from all over the world come to tour Verona’s cobbled streets and take in its architectural icons. But there’s one architectural icon that outshines all others: The Arena di Verona.

An open-air amphitheater still in use today, the Arena di Verona is the best representation of the city’s important history and rich culture. Today visitors can go to see a ballet, an orchestra concert or a classic opera, and even if it’s not something you’d usually do, we promise you:

There’s no better way to experience the history and magic of the Verona than by seeing an opera in the Verona Arena.

What is the Verona Arena? 

The Arena di Verona is the city’s magnificent amphitheater built by the Romans in 30 AD. The third largest arena in antiquity, it could once hold up to 30,000 people.  

Though it looks like a miniature Colosseum, it was actually built nearly 50 years before the iconic Colosseum. Also, differently than Rome’s most famous ringed amphitheater, the Verona Arena is still used to this day.  

In fact, it’s the largest Roman amphitheater still in use. Standing tall for nearly 2,000 years, the Arena has survived pillaging in the Middle Ages, an earthquake that toppled its uppermost ring, countless rulers and World War II. It has been a stage for gladiator fights, a public trial area, cheap housing for prostitutes and more and later shops, offices and a small market before ultimately returning to a theater.  

Though the Arena had begun its opera tradition in the 1800s, for various reasons it still sat mostly unused. It wasn’t until nearly a century after the first performance that the Verona Arena became a true opera house with the opening of Aida by Giuseppe Verdi in 1913. 

Besides brief pauses during the First and Second World Wars, the Arena has been hosting summer opera seasons ever since.  

Today Verona’s Arena still fills with 15,000 – 20,000 spectators ready to enjoy an opera on a warm Italian summer night.  

Why You Should See an Opera in the Verona Arena

a close up of a giant face, a set dressing from the Tosca opera, with the Verona arena in the background
Set dressing from Tosca sits outside the Arena in Verona. Photo by Boss Tweed

While Vienna and Milan’s infamous opera houses maintain their elegant dress code and extravagant price tag to match, opera in the Verona Arena is available to all. Travelers can choose between assigned seats and cushioned chairs and the stone seating of the amphitheater rings and whatever price range runs between the two. Accessible prices and no strict dress code mean travelers can get tickets for the opera even if they didn’t plan ahead, and if they’ve had enough they can simply get up and leave!  

Built in the 1st century AD, the Arena’s acoustics are so remarkable that even today performers sing without the use of microphones and each voice can be heard in any seat throughout the entire amphitheater.  

Whether you’re an opera fan or not, opera in the Verona Arena is a must-have experience. At a Verona opera you’re fully experiencing Italian culture, participating in history and enjoying a magnificent Italian summer evening in the biggest open-air opera house in the world. 

How to See an Opera in Verona

Photo by Dimitris Kamaras

The Arena’s summer opera season runs from June to mid-September, but check online for exact dates. 

The 2019 Arena di Verona Opera Festival opens on June 21st with the Traviata and ends September 7th with Aida, the “Queen” of the Verona Arena. Since it debuted in 1913 on the Arena stage and officially opened the Arena back up to the public, Aida has been performed over 670 times and is a symbol of the Arena.  

Spectators can also see ballet and concerts in the Arena as well.  

You can purchase tickets online quickly and easily to ensure you have a spot. You can pay with credit card and look at your seating online as well. Otherwise, you can buy tickets directly at the ticket office on Via Dietro Anfiteatro 6/b from 10 am – 9 pm on performance days and until 5:45 pm on days with no performances.  

Truly live La Dolce Vita on our Dolce Vita trip by adding an opera performance on your overnight stay in Verona. Click here to learn more today!  

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Located in the heel of Italy’s boot, Puglia has romantic white-walled towns, dramatic landscapes and ancient culture. 

It also has some of the most beautiful beaches in all of Italy.   

With roughly 800 kilometers of coastline, Puglia has an incredible diverse coastline. Travelers can find sandy beaches, pebble beaches and steep cliffs. There are rocky coves and grottoes, pine woods that grow right up against the sea and towns teetering atop cliffs, barely protected from the sea foam. 

Not only that, but Puglia’s beaches are regularly awarded with the Blue Flag, an international eco-label “awarded to beaches, marinas, and sustainable boating tourism operators” who follow a series of strict environmental, safety and accessibility criteria.

There are hundreds of beaches in Puglia to choose from, so let us help you find the region’s best beaches

We’ll start in the north in the Gargano area, a nature reserve and small peninsula that juts into the Adriatic Sea like a spur on Italy’s boot.

Nearly all of the Gargano promontory is protected by a national park. With approximately 150 kilometers of coastline, this overlooked oasis has dozens of notable beaches. Travelers can choose between pebble beaches or lush sand, as well as caves, rocky inlets and even islands off the coast to explore! 

Then we’ll head south down the Adriatic coastline to explore the beaches of Salento, the area sandwiched between the Ionian and Adriatic seas and the dream of travelers to Puglia.

Explore the best beaches in Puglia:

Baia delle Zagare (Mattinata) 

The Zagare Bay is a small pebbly beach with a gorgeous view of two distinctive white sea stacks near the shore. The beach is protected and only allows 30 people to visit per day beyond the hotel guests from one of the two hotels located on the site, making it one of the most pristine, not to mention exclusive, beaches in the region. Though not the easiest of Puglia’s beaches to visit, it is certainly something special! 

Mattinatella Beach (Mattinata)

Mattinatella, though technically one beach, feels like two with two totally different directions, geographies and atmospheres. Photo by Vito Manzari (flickr)

This beach, also called the Fontana or Acqua delle Rose, is actually two beaches separated by a rocky spur. The north side can be reached only by sea, so it’s free and all but untouched. The beach to the south has lidos and other services but both beaches share the gorgeous blue sea, striking cliffs and green Mediterranean vegetation. 

Pizzomunno Beach (Vieste)

The Pizzomunno beach is located just south of Vieste, a charming Medieval town with whitestone houses and a popular hub for visitors to the Gargano. Named after the 25-meter tall limestone monolith (a natural obelisk) that rises out of the sea, Pizzomunno is one of the longest beaches in the Gargano with a sandy beach and an unforgettable sea.  

The Beaches of the Tremiti Archipelago (Gargano)  

The Tremiti Archipelago is a group of five tiny islands off the coast of the Gargano peninsula. A part of a marine reserve, the islands ar eprotected, pristine and stunning. Only two of the islands are inhabitated but all can be visited by boat. San Domino is the largest of the islands and most popular for its beauty. It’s the perfect place to go snorkeling or diving or just to relax on all but wild sandy beaches. 

Lama Monachile (Polignano a Mare)

The beautiful town of Polignano a Mare is often called the pearl of the Adriatic. The oldest part of the white town sits atop the limestone cliffs overlooking the sea. Here you can find the smallest of bays providing a town beach, Spiaggia Lama Monachile (also called Spiaggia Cala Porto) made of fine white pebbles and beautiful water. When the beach gets too crowded you can escape to the cliffs above to watch the locals do daredevil dives into the sea below, or dive in yourself!  

Torre Guaceto (Brindisi)

One of the most popular beaches in the area around Alberobello is Torre Guaceto, named after a 16th-century defensive tower built on the shore. Today it’s a natural protected marine reserve and home to cave men archaeological ruins for history buffs looking to take a break from the sun. The beach is long, ensuring that you’ll always find a patch of sand to lay your towel.

Torre dell’Orso (Lecce)

Beware: Torre dell’Orso can get packed in the summers, but it’s iconic Two Sisters sea stack is worth seeing! After, stay to enjoy the beautiful waters or visit any of the other nearby beaches of Melendugno. Photo via Wikicommons

Located relatively near to Lecce, Torre dell’Orso is most known for its two sea stacks known as the Due Sorelle, or two sisters. The tale is that two sisters came to the beach to swim every day. One day after diving into rough waters they weren’t able to make it back to shore. So the gods took pity on the lost sisters and turned them into two beautiful sea stacks.  

The crescent-shaped bay is just short of a kilometer long and packed with lidos and beach resorts, but the extra-fine white sand and Le Due Sorelle are a picture-perfect image of Puglia. Torre dell’Orso is one of the Marinas of Melendugno, a long stretch of coast from Torre Specchia Ruggieri to Torre Sant’Andrea, nearly all worth exploring!

Baia dei Turchi (Otranto)

The Baia dei Turchi is one of the most beautiful beaches in all of Puglia. Legend has it that this is where the Ottoman Turks landed in the 15th century to sack the city of Otranto. Today it’s hard to imagine the gorgeous beach as the site of a bloody massacre. A part of the protected oasis area of the Alimini Lakes, it can only be reached by foot or bike, helping it to remain one of the most pristine beaches in Puglia.  The fragrance of the Mediterranean pines and the sea air along with the filtered light and the sound of the lapping waves create its own little paradise.   

Porto Badisco (Otranto)

Porto Badisco is one of the few notable beaches along the rocky coastline between Otranto and Santa Maria di Leuca. According to legend Porto Badisco was the site of Aeneas’s first landing in Italy after his escape from Troy. Today mostly locals visit the small fishing village town and the even smaller sandy beach, but the natural harbor is a beautiful place to snorkel, dive or have a picnic under the trees just beyond the beach. Nearby you can also find the famous Grotta dei Cervi, an underground caves complex that hosted first inhabitants of the area and still preserve thousands of inscriptions and paintings. 

Marina di Pescoluse (Maldive del Salento) 

Located in the Maldive's of Salento, Marina di Pescoluse's crystal-clear water (shown here) is one of the best beaches of Puglia
Photo by Brunokito (wikicommons)

The area’s evocative name isn’t without reason: the Pescoluse beach is roughly 5 kilometers of fine white sand, shallow water and dunes that form tiny islands along the coastline. Dunes behind create a natural barrier between the beach and the main road. Besides the white sand, the beach gets its name from the crystal clear but vibrant blue, turquoise and green water. One of the longest beaches in all of Puglia, its shallow waters make it a great option for those with small children.

Nearby Torre Vado and Torre Pali and even Torre San Giovanni in Ugento are great options to check out right “next door.” 

La Purità (Gallipoli)

Gallipoli’s name means the “beautiful town” in Greek, and in fact this beautiful town has been invaded and conquered for centuries. The pearl of the Ionian Sea, it also has a variety of gorgeous beaches to choose from. While Baia Verde teams with beach clubs that attract those looking for non-stop nightlife, the real beauty is la Purità, or the Purity Beach. A crescent-shaped beach with pure golden sand and a fluorescent blue beach, the ancient city walls and the iconic lighthouse of Gallipoli only add to its charm.

Porto Selvaggio (Nardò)

A wide view of the blue waters of Porto Selvaggio's bay, one of the best beaches in Puglia.
The bay of Porto Selvaggio. Photo by Yellow.Cat (flickr)

Located in a national park and protected marine area, this beach’s name is apt. “Wild,” in Italian, Porto Selvaggio can only be reached on foot from near Santa Caterina. A short hike through a pine forest will lead you to the completely unspoiled pebble beach. Follow different routes in the forest to find even more solitary inlets and bays.

Punta Prosciutto (Porto Cesareo)

Punta Prosciutto on the Ionian coast offers far fewer amenities than the Adriatic coastline, but for many that is its biggest draw. Here you’ll find high dunes covered with classic Mediterranean plants and scrubs and wetlands beyond that. There are few beach resorts but plenty of white sand and clear sea, giving it the ultimate tropical beach feel. Nearby Torre Lapillo deserves a mention in its own right. A four-kilometer-long bay flanked on either side by two towers, Torre Lapillo and Torre Chianca, the water is shallow and crystal clear. Also located in the Porto Cesareo area, this is the perfect beach for those wanting a slightly less wild feel.

Marina di Ginosa (Ginosa)

Finally, we come up the Ionian coast to Marina di Ginosa, a long, sandy beach with a low, shallow sea. Marina di Ginosa is to the west of Taranto and just 17 kilometers from Matera. It’s been awarded a Blue Flag several times for its gorgeous sea and is another great location for families or those vacationing on this side of Salento.

If you’re looking for a beach vacation – Puglia is the perfect option. It’s got hundreds of beaches, not to mention islets, bays, coves, grottoes, cliffs and islands. Though these are some of our favorites, if you find the beach crowded or not to your liking, pack up and head ten minutes or so in another direction on the coast, there will be another beach to try out before you know it!

Revel in the seaside beauty of southern Italy on our Mediterranean Escape trip to the Amalfi Coast and Puglia. Tour UNESCO World Heritage sites and quaint towns, indulging in beach days and delectable cuisine. Sign up now!

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Popular for its fast finances and fashion, Milan isn’t always considered for its culture or art history. Long overlooked for Italy’s more famed culture capitals like Florence and Rome, this cosmopolitan city might surprise even the most astute art fans.

Milan has some of the country’s most infamous works of art — the Last Supper, anyone? — but it also has the resources and reputation to host some of the world’s top-notch temporary art exhibits, attracting masterpieces from all over the world.

With hometown heroes, museums filled with Italian masterpieces and rotating international art exhibits, it’s time to add Milan to the list of art capitals of Italy.

Here’s where to find the best art in Milan:

Pinacoteca di Brera

The Lamentation over the Dead Christ by Andrea Mantegna, a Renaissance master whose work with perspective seems to come to a culmination with this painting. Photo from the Pinacoteca di Brera’s online collection.

A first stop in Milan has to be at one of its only permanent fine art museums, the Pinacoteca di Brera. A national gallery of ancient and modern art, it’s located in Palazzo Brera in Milan’s fashionable Brera art district. Here you can see Mantegna’s Lamentation of the Dead Christ, notable for its unique perspective from Christ’s feet; the Marriage of the Virgin by Raphael; Supper at Emmaus by Caravaggio as well as The Kiss by Francesco Hayez.

The building is also home to the Brera Library, the Astronomic Observatory, the Botanical Garden, the Lombard Institute for Science and Art and the Academy of Fine Arts.

Museo Poldi Pezzoli

A native-born Milanese, Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli inherited his father’s wealth and his mother’s love of art and culture. Well-educated and well-traveled, Pezzoli began collecting art from a young age. It was his own idea to turn his house into a museum. Each room of his apartments is decorated in a different art period and filled with paintings, sculptures and applied arts. The Renaissance room is particularly worth visiting but you can find work by Bellini, Botticelli, Raphael and Mantegna, among others, throughout the house.

Santa Maria delle Grazie Basilica

The Last Supper is one of the most famous paintings in the entire world.

Though Leonardo da Vinci is usually associated with Florence, the Renaissance man actually spent nearly 18 years in Milan serving under Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan. It’s there that the artist completed the Last Supper, or Cenacolo in Italian. Located in the refractory of the beautiful Santa Maria delle Grazie Basilica, the church itself merits a visit as well.

Just be sure to book your tickets far in advance – it’s your only chance to actually see the Last Supper as they daily limit gets filled quickly.

Pinacoteca Ambrosiana

A museum and library, the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana is a must-see for art history lovers. Founded in 1618, it’s the oldest museum in Milan and home to priceless works such as the sketch for Raphael’s The School of Athens, Caravaggio’s Basket of Fruit as well as work by Titian, Botticelli and others. The adjacent Ambrosian library is home to Leonardo da Vinci’s Codice Atlantico, a collection of the Renaissance man’s drawings, notes and ideas.

Pinacoteca del Castello Sforzesco

Castello Sforzesco is a powerful symbol of Milan and glimpse into its ruling history, but perhaps the biggest draw is the incredible art that now fills the fortress’ halls.
Photo by CHeitz

Right in the city center sits Castello Sforzesco, the impressive fort originally built by the Visconti family, patrons of Milan, and then rebuilt by Duke Ludovico Sforza. Today visitors mainly pass through its gates to stroll through the Parco Sempione or eye the sculptures in the Triennale Museum’s garden, but the castle itself is an impressive museum. Beyond the Pinacoteca art museum there is an ancient art museum, a museum of musical instruments and an archaeological museum with prehistoric and Egyptian sections. The biggest draw, however, is without a doubt the Pietà Rondanini by Michelangelo, his last ever creation.

Palazzo Reale

The former royal palace, the Palazzo Reale has prime real estate in the Piazza del Duomo and incredible art exhibitions from the world’s most notable artists. The Palazzo Reale draws huge crowds for shows ranging from Caravaggio to Escher, Hokusai to Rubens. Though not necessarily dedicated to Italian art, it’s well worth a stop to see which artist is exhibited and take advantage of Milan’s blockbuster status to see amazing art.

Gallerie di Piazza Scala

The newest of three national galleries owned by Intesa San Paola Bank, the Gallerie di Piazza Scala is located in Piazza della Scala, next to the infamous La Scala opera house. The gallery houses art from the 19th and 20th centuries. The museum starts with 13 beautiful bas-reliefs by Antonio Canova then passes on to the Renaissance and the romanticism of Francesco Hayez all the way to the pre-futurist Umberto Boccioni. The gallery is continuously rotating out its works but depending on when you’re there you can see Italian masterpieces by Giorgio de Chirico, Lucio Fontana and Giacomo Balla as well as work by non-Italian artists such as Picasso, Kandinsky, Warhol and Mirò.

Museo delle Culture di Milano (Mudec)

Designed by architect David Chipperfield to fulfill Milan’s goal of repurposing industrial spaces, Mudec’s building is itself a work of art. Photo by Fred Romero.

Just opened in 2015, Mudec is entitled the “Culture Museum of Milan”. The large permanent collection includes approximately 7,000 works of art, textiles and objects from Central and South America, the Middle East, Africa, Southeast Asia and Oceania from 1200 to the 1900s but it’s the temporary exhibitions that get the big crowds, each of which mirrors the museum’s overall worldwide theme. Past exhibits have featured work by Frida Kahlo, Paul Klee, the photographer Steve McCurry and the street artist Banksy. In May 2019 the museum is hosting work by Roy Lichtenstein. The museum also has excellent children’s workshops based on the temporary exhibitions.

Galleria d’Arte Moderna

Located in the Villa Reale – the one-time residence of Napoleon Bonaparte – Milan’s Modern Art Gallery (GAM) is filled with 19th-century Italian and Lombard masterpieces. It’s likely the most significant collection of Italian art of the era with works by Modigliani, Segantini, Canova, Previati and many others, in particular those associated with the Brera Arts Academy. There are also familiar works by non-Italian artists such as Gauguin, Cézanne, Picasso, Van Gogh and Manet.

Museo del Novecento

Museo ‘900 also has one of the best views of the Duomo available to the public. Photo by Lian Chang

As its name implies, the Museo del Novecento is dedicated entirely to 20th century art. Previously Milan’s Arengario, a space used by Mussolini to speak to large crowds from, the beautiful building now is a hub for contemporary art. With more than 4,000 pieces as well as temporary exhibitions the entire permanent collection is organized chronologically. Walk up the spiral ramp to see work by Paul Klee, Giacomo Balla, Georges Braque, Giorgio de Chirico and Amedeo Modigliani. From Avant-garde movements, Futurism, Italian Novecento, abstractionism, Arte Povera and then Pop Art and large-scale installations. Not to mention, one of the most well-known views of the Duomo in the entire city!

At Ciao Andiamo we’re happy to specially tailor one of our curated trips for a bespoke luxury experience! Want to explore more Italian art? Then let’s get started!

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Italy is a country that has something for everyone. It has sea and mountains, countryside and city escapes. There’s art and food and architecture.

With hundreds of worthy towns and cities to explore, it can feel impossible to narrow down your options. How can you choose which destinations with so many jaw-dropping options? It’s enough to overwhelm a first-time visitor to the Bel Paese.

Our answer? Start with the absolute must-see cities. After all, the classics are classics for a reason! Deep dive into Italy’s history, architecture and art with a trip to Italy’s cultural capitals: Rome, Florence and Venice.

Between the three you’ll find the vast majority of Italy’s world famous sites. Here you can visit the country’s top museums and cathedrals and experience the best of Italian food and wine.

Most first-time visitors to Italy try to see too much in too little time but if you have at least a week, you’ve got to dedicate it to Italy’s holy trinity: Rome, Florence and Venice. An itinerary of the three gives a perfect overview of Italy’s prominent regions and historically significant sights.

Rome

The Eternal City, Caput Mundi, the City of Seven Hills – Rome is the stuff of dreams and a worthy start to any Italy trip. 

There’s the Colosseum, Appia Antica, Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill. There’s the Vatican City with its incredible Vatican Museums as well as St. Peter’s Basilica. There are parks and villas, museums and churches galore. There’s 2,000 years of history to see here, but you can see the headline acts with three days to explore if you plan it well.

Our Italy for First Timers itinerary offers a half-day tour with a private local guide. You can choose from a selection of half-day touring options such as Ancient Rome, Vatican City, or a culinary walking tour.

In your free time, take a walk in the city center’s nucleus to see Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps, each within easy walking distance from the other. Or stroll through the old Jewish Ghetto then sip cocktails in the hip Trastevere neighborhood. The political and cultural capital of Italy, you can’t visit Italy without seeing Rome!

What to know:

Book tickets in advance to get into the Colosseum or St. Peter’s Basilica to avoid the lines and allocate at least half a day to view the museums well.

Despite the importance of the tourism industry in Rome, not everyone speaks English. That said, everyone is quite used to dealing with people who speak different languages and almost anything can be understood with a bit of patience and miming. Also keep in mind that even more than in Florence or Venice, most shops in Rome close for lunch – usually between 12:30 or 1 until 3 or 3:30 – so be sure to do your shopping in the morning or late afternoon.

Florence

 

Here you can choose the incomparable art in the Uffizi Gallery, the majesty of the David at the Accademia or a half-day spent exploring the massive complex of the Florence Cathedral – including a trip to the top of the dome! Whichever you choose, be sure to book your tickets ahead – tickets to the Uffizi sell out before midday and the lines seem to last for hours. You can book tickets ahead of time online for individual museums and other sites that you plan on visiting at Uffizi.org.

If you have the time and energy, consider a hike up to Piazzale Michelangelo for gorgeous views over Florence and a bonus visit to the suggestive San Miniato Church.

Florence is filled to the brim with important and impressive churches to choose from: Santa Croce, Santa Maria Novella, Santo Spirito and more but if you’re strapped for time, we’d dedicate it to the Duomo for your first trip to the city. Then of course, it’s time to consider the food! Though you could spend days in each of these cities, now is your chance to jaunt out into the Tuscan countryside to enjoy the wine and culinary secrets of Tuscany’s most beautiful hilltop towns. Take a day or a half day to visit a winery or beautiful Tuscan towns like Siena or Chianti.

This itinerary  offers multiple walking tours of the city, as well as a half-day private guided walking tour to see Renaissance treasures such as David. On day 6 of your journey you’ll have the choice of either exploring hilltop towns and family-run wineries with a knowledgeable local driver, or learning the secrets of Tuscan cooking with a private chef in her 17th-century Chianti estate.

What to know:

Expect to walk everywhere in Florence. The entire city center is a pedestrian zone and even taxis are limited to where they can take you so wear comfortable shoes and be ready to hit the pavement.

One of the most popular cities in Italy, but also quite small, the crowds can dampen any trip, but there are a few things you can do to ease the discomfort of the crowds like coming in the off-season, booking your museums ahead of time or finding some open space in the beautiful Boboli Gardens. 

Most museums are closed on Mondays in Florence. The Accademia, the Uffizi, even Palazzo Pitti are all closed on Mondays but you can still see the Duomo and Palazzo Vecchio as well as most of the city’s churches. 

Florence and Tuscany in general is renowned for their fine leatherwork. Now’s the time to splurge on that handmade leather jacket, purse, belt or shoes! For a real glimpse into the craft, head to the Oltrarno (the neighborhood beyond the Arno River) to peek into the studios and see the artisans at work.

Venice

Many travelers visit Venice in a short day trip, but they miss out on the water city’s evocative evening atmosphere. Allow at least one overnight to really discover the city. Only in the early morning when the cruise ships haven’t arrived yet or in the evening when the tourists have drained out of the city will you be able to enjoy Venice at its most serene.

A tangle of alleyways and bridges, here you want to explore each unique neighborhood, the San Marco Basilica and the Palazzo Ducale. Cross the Rialto Bridge and the Bridge of Sighs or go for something unique at the Peggy Guggenheim Museum.

After touring the main sites, take a water bus or water taxi to neighboring Murano to see its famed blown glass craftwork and to Burano to admire the brightly colored houses. And when it’s time to eat, seek out a café or bar for Venice’s traditional cicchetti appetizers. Great for a light lunch or a pre-dinner aperitivo, cicchetti are small plates of food served with a glass of wine. You can choose from a variety of small bruschettas topped with a different patès, meats, seafood or cheeses. Less expensive and more authentic than most restaurants in Venice, cicchetti are a great way to dive into the local culture. 

Our knowledgeable local guides will lead you through the major sites such as San Marco, artisanal shops and neighborhoods, followed by a one-hour private water taxi ride through Venice’s famed canals on our Italy for First Timers trip.

What to know:

Though summer is hit by throngs of tourists, visitors during the autumn and winter months risk being there during the aqua alta, when the seawater floods the city and pedestrians can only get around on raised planks throughout the city. 

Check ahead for festivals and holidays in Venice. Beyond the world-famous carnival season, every other year there is the Biennale d’Arte event, as well as an architecture one in the off years and the Venice Film Festival as well. Though the Biennale event is up all year, the Giardini della Biennale has 30 permanent Biennale pavilions and is one of the largest garden spaces on the island. 

What to Know Before You Go

You’ve chosen your destinations and booked your flight but before you leave, there’s a few things you’ll need to prepare to help you have the best trip possible. Read our post on what to do before your trip to Italy.

The best way to get the most out of your time on a first trip is to have a rough itinerary for each day. You could spend weeks exploring Rome, so decide ahead of time what you absolutely have to see, then fill in any free time beyond that with secondary desires.

If your list is particularly long and you’re not already on our Italy for First Timers tour, consider booking a day tour or two to travel efficiently. A tour led by a local expert means that you don’t have to worry about navigating your way around a new place and that you actually get some background on what it is your seeing!

We have a whole article on how to pack for your Italian vacation, but one piece of advice is worth repeating: remember to bring clothes that cover shoulders and thighs to visit religious sites. Scarves work in a clinch for one of the two exposed areas. Also be sure to bring walking shoes. In Rome, Florence or Venice you’ll want comfortable sneakers for the cobbled streets. Plus you’ll be in good company; Italians tend to wear flats or tennis shoes year round, keeping the sandals for the beach.

Italy in summer is hot. Don’t be beat down by the sun – bring a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen to ensure you’re able to take advantage of all the time you have.

On your first trip to Italy you have to start somewhere so why not start with Italy’s three biggest destinations? After all, there’s a reason they’re on everyone’s list! There’s no better introduction to Italy than Rome, Florence and Venice, Italy’s “Holy Trinity” of cultural cities. Don’t worry about the destinations you didn’t get to – you’ll be back.

Want to experience the best of Italian food and wine, art and antiquities without the stress of planning? Let Ciao Andiamo help! Ask us about our Italy for First Timers Private Trip.

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Shaped like a long, willowy “Y” in the north of Lombardy, Lake Como is ringed by colorful fishing towns and magnificent villas.

Surrounded by the foothills of the Alps, the lake has been a playground for the wealthy since the time of dukes and kings and it’s easy to see why. The lake has all the beauty and benefits of the outdoors with all the comforts of high-class Italy. There’s no lack of cafés, bars and fancy restaurants to frequent along the lake not to mention sublime views and plenty of shopping!

Even today the area is still ritzy enough to sparkle like the lake’s water, only now it’s open to all.


Spring is by far the best time to visit the lake. The area begins to awaken from its slow-season hibernation just as the flowers start to bloom. In fact, those flowers are a huge part of Lake Como’s beauty!

The lake’s unique microclimate helps to grow magnificent gardens and the aristocrats and celebrities who live there help cultivate them. That combined with its charming villages and unique geography making it one of the most beautiful lakes in the world.

Of course Lake Como is known for its namesake town, but there’s so much more to explore beyond Como. Though many visitors take a quick day trip from Milan up to the lake, we suggest giving yourself at least a night or two to drink, shop, eat, and explore all the lake has to offer!

Where to Go

Here it’s all about enjoying beauty for beauty’s sake. Whether you’re strolling the promenade, eyeing the expansive mountains from the water or surrounded by the lush gardens of the elegant villas, beauty is the theme. These are some of our favorite beautiful towns along the lake and the most beautiful gardens, villas and sights to see in each one.

Bellagio

Known as the pearl of Lake Como, Bellagio sits like a tiny pearl on the tip of a peninsula separating the two branches of the lakes. A resort town since the ancient Romans, Bellagio is still one of the most popular towns on the lake today and can easily be packed during summertime. Come around 5 pm when visitors are starting to trickle away. Walk the steep stony streets and narrow alleyways and browse the artisan shops and jewelers. After, choose the best table you can find along the water and get a spritz for a nice lakefront aperitivo or drink with snacks. You’re on vacation so allow yourself to lounge like the ancient Romans once did!

Como

A close-up of intricate silk scarves from Lake Como
Photo by Iain Cameron

The lake’s namesake town, Como is one of the few towns with something to see beyond a villa or beautiful view (though it has those also). The ritzy town lends itself to fine dining and fancy boat rides, but stroll the streets to get to know it a bit. Como was the birthplace of ancient Roman poets Pliny the Elder and Pliny the Younger as well as Alessandro Volta, the inventor of the battery, who has a museum dedicated to him there. Make a visit to the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta with its magnificent Gothic façade and even if you don’t have the time to visit the silk museum you might just find the time to shop for a silk scarf or tie! All the area is famous for its silk weaving industries.

After, you can take the funicular from the center of Como to Brunate, a small village on the mountain above Como, for spectacular views.

Lenno

Just north of Como, Lenno is a sleepy town filled with beauty. Though it’s a perfect escape from the crowds, it’s also home to the sumptuous Villa del Balbianello, a yellow villa on the south of town that juts out into Como’s waters. The Villa is famous (as always) for its gardens but especially for being the setting of the Star War’s Episode II Attack of the Clones. Beyond that, Lenno also has a charming town square and one of our favorite lakefront promenades, tucked in a tiny inlet on the lake.

Menaggio

A veritable resort town, Menaggio is a popular base on the western side of the lake for international and Italian tourists. Just 8 miles from Lugano, Switzerland – a favorite for its shopping – it’s also well connected to the rest of the lake. Menaggio offers more in amenities and entertainment than other Lake Como towns including restaurants, hotels, a youth hostel, live entertainment and even a mini-golf course.

Tremezzo

a fountain in Villa Carlotta encircled by decorative hedges overlooking Lake Como
Photo by David Spender

Visit Tremezzo to see Villa Carlotta, a 17th-century mansion-turned-museum, and its impressive Italian garden. It’s one of the most beautiful gardens in all of Italy! The garden covers nearly 20 acres of land in color with azaleas, camellias, hydrangeas, ferns and citrus trees. Different paths lead you to different parts of the garden depending on how much time you have. The town itself is essentially squashed against the lake in a long line of houses, but there is an area off a public park with steps into the water where you can swim. There it is clean but quite deep. Children will want to access the water near the shallow pebble beach nearby.

Lecco

On the eastern side of the lake’s two branches (or legs, as some see it) sits Lecco. Famous as the setting of The Betrothed, a historical Italian novel by Italy’s esteemed author Alessandro Manzoni, today it’s an industrial town and one of the biggest on this side of the lake. Its city center is nevertheless clean, well-organized and filled with life. It’s a perfect place to stretch your legs, get a focaccia or ice cream then grab a seat along the lake and enjoy the via vai of people and boats and swans that pass the harbor.

Varenna

Founded in 769 by fishermen, today Varenna is a vibrant town popular for its pathway lungolago.

The waterfront path is as long as the entire village and makes for a lovely stroll day or night. Restaurants, artisan shops and ice cream shops dot the pathway. Continue your stroll through the town and on to the Villa Monastero, most impressive for its gardens stretching out along two kilometers of prime lakefront real estate. The garden is decorated with sculptures, reliefs, fountains and a small Doric temple but all pale in comparison to the palm trees, agave plants, cacti and succulents and entire walls of roses that fill the historical garden.

Bellano 

Far less visited than Varenna, Bellano is just as charming and likely to be more budget friendly. Here you could actually imagine getting a room with a lakefront view. A quiet escape, there’s also a natural, plunging ravine called Orrido di Torrente Pioverna. Roughly 15-million years old, it’s well worth a walk along its steel pathways.

How to get there

Como is easy to get to from Bergamo or Milan airports. The Lake is large, so driving times will vary by town, but Milan to Como by car takes roughly an hour as does Milan to Lecco. If you are self-driving, you’ll exit the highway and follow the Strada Statale 340 for the western shore or the SS 36 for the eastern shore, but your best bet is to get a car with a navigator.

Trains go from Milan to Como on the western shore and Lecco, Abbadia Lariana, Varenna, Colico and a few others on the eastern shore. Check the TrenItalia website for timetables, prices and destinations available.


How to get around

You can see Lake Como by car, boat or public ferry.

If you take private car service or rent a car to explore the area, you’ll join a long parade of Ferrari’s, Lambourghini’s and Porche’s zipping around the winding lake roads. You can stop wherever you want and have no time restrictions, but parking can be problematic and most towns are pedestrian-only zones.

If you’d like to stick to public transportation you can catch a bus to most towns along the lake.

Otherwise, you can tour around by water.

A passenger ferry crossing lake como
Passenger ferries are a popular way to get around the lake. Inexpensive, fast and easy to use, it’s by far the most scenic transportation as well! Photo by Jaan Toots

The public ferries are run by Navigazione Lago di Como. The ferry and car service only runs between the most popular of Lake Como’s towns: Menaggio, Bellagio, Varenna and Cadenabbia (Tremezzo) but you can take private boat service to nearly all of the towns along the lake.

The only option if you want to crisscross the lake, it’s also by far the most scenic way to travel Lake Como. All those fancy villas? They were built to be seen from the water!

Ready to visit Lake Como? Indulge yourself with a private boat tour exploring some of our favorite Lake Como sights. After the luxury of Lake Como you’ll enjoy the lush countryside among Piedmont’s vineyards and relax in the idyllic Italian Riviera on our Northern Italy Indulgence trip!

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Starting in 2021, non-EU citizens will be required to obtain travel authorization to enter the Schengen Area. 

But don’t worry – it’s not a visa, it’s inexpensive and as easy as a 20-minute online application form!

Not happy about the changes? We understand. Traveling can already feel daunting at times and even more so with even more bureaucracy to navigate, so let us help you.

Read on to figure out about the ETIAS is and what it means to you:

Do I need a visa to travel to Europe?


No, Americans (along with many other countries) still don’t need a visa to travel to Europe Union countries for less than 90 days. 

Americans, Canadians, New Zealanders, Australians and citizens from roughly 60 other countries will, however, need a special authorization to enter and travel in the Schengen Area. The authorization is called ETIAS and you can apply for it online.

If you have a passport of an EU member country, you will not need an ETIAS as long as you travel on that EU passport.


What is ETIAS and why do I need it?


ETIAS stands for the EU Travel and Authorization System. It is a completely electronic pre-screening and registration process that permits and keeps track of visitors from countries who do not need a visa to enter the Schengen Area.

It serves as a way for the European Union to gather information on travelers who currently come to the continent visa-free and strengthen security in across control-free borders.

These types of systems are in place to identify security concerns before travel to the Schengen Area and not in the passport control line, thus saving travelers time and hassle. It is also designed to improve border management, prevent irregular or illegal immigration and fight against crime and terrorism.

The United States issued a similar travel authorization system called the ESTA shortly after the September 11th terrorist attacks to improve border security and Canada has a version called the eTA.

The difference between the ETIAS and the US ESTA is that the latter pre-screens anyone traveling to the United States whereas the ETIAS pre-screens only visa-exempt travelers who wish to enter the Schengen Area.


What is the difference between the European Union and the Schengen Area?


The European Union is a union between 28 member states in Europe. Note: the EU is not synonymous with “Europe” as a continent. 

Schengen countries are European countries that have signed the Schengen Agreement. Currently there are 26 countries: all the EU countries except the United Kingdom and Ireland and an addition of Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein, which are not EU member states. These countries have no internal border controls between them.

The European Union is a political and economic union. The Schengen Agreement allows for the free movement between participating countries.

How is ETIAS different from a visa?


A visa is a much more complicated process that involves photos, itineraries and financial proof that you can support your travels while abroad. Americans only need a visa to travel in the EU if they are planning to stay longer than 90 days.

To compare: the visa process may take months and isn’t guaranteed to end in success. My Italian husband who needed an ESTA travel authorization to travel to the United States filled out the form on his smartphone while at the airport and 15-minutes later was checked-in and on his way to the gate. Though we don’t recommend you book any travel before applying for the ETIAS, it is likely to be a very rapid process that is over in minutes if approved.

How do I apply?


To apply for an ETIAS travel authorization you’ll need a valid passport that doesn’t expire within three months, a credit or debit card and an email address. 

The online form allows twenty minutes to fill out the application with basic demographic information as well as your country of entry and contact information. You’ll also have to answer a few background and security questions. Follow the prompts and answer honestly – your application is cross-referenced against European border security and criminal databases.

Note that for the ETIAS to work, you have to enter into the country that you stated. Even if your plan is to visit seven different Schengen Area countries, if you state on your application that the first country you will visit is Italy, you must enter Europe through Italy.

If there are no problems, then you’ll receive an email with your authorization in minutes.

Your ETIAS authorization is valid for three years. After that, you’ll have to go through the process again for a new authorization.

They are still implementing parts of the system and the application is expected to open closer to 2021.

Now that you know how easy it is to get an ETIAS travel authorization, contact us today about our full-service, expertly crafted journeys to Italy!

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What better way to ride the thrill of your wedding than by strolling through the streets of Italy lost in love? Newlyweds want to celebrate the start of their new life together with a trip to remember, and the jaw-dropping scenery, incredible food and innate passion in Italy aren’t easy to forget! Italy is the perfect honeymoon destination. Here’s why:

1. There’s something for everyone


Whether you’re searching for a dreamy coastal vacation, a relaxing countryside escape or a classic city-break, Italy has it. Between ancient cities, rolling green hills and gorgeous coastlines, the biggest problem is narrowing down your options! Couples with different ideas of vacation can find it all in Italy.

In our full-service City, Sea and Countryside itinerary you can relax on the Amalfi Coast, indulge in amazing food and wine in Tuscany, and get your history fix in Rome, all while experiencing the best of Italy’s landscapes.

Of course museums, art and architecture abound, but those hoping to get outdoors won’t be disappointed. Adventure-seekers can hike the imposing Dolomites up north or head off-coast for snorkeling or sailing. Or, couples can take it slower with a bike tour and wine tasting in Tuscany. Culture lovers, foodies and adventure seekers can all find something to love on the peninsula. Whatever you’re looking for, there’s a landscape and activity for everyone in Italy!

2. There’s no place more romantic


No place does romance like Italy. The country practically breathes amore. Home of Romeo and Juliet, of poets like Virgil, artists, writers, and lovers from time immemorial, the Bel Paese is perhaps most romantic for its sheer beauty. When you’re in front of such magnificence, it’s only natural to want to share it with someone you love.

From coast to countryside, you’ll find romance in the beautiful details of a private balcony, the secret glimpses into Italian gardens and atmospheres that feel like a film set; in the constant displays of love, the romantic two-person tabletops, long conversations and world-class landscapes. Tap into the passion of the Italians on your honeymoon: into their seductive language, mouth-watering food and sun-kissed cities.


3. The islands are as gorgeous as the mainland


Just because you’re coming to Italy doesn’t mean you have to eschew the beach honeymoon entirely. The Italian coast is dotted with hundreds of gorgeous islands, and though they’re not tropical, Italy has beaches that rival the white sands of the Caribbean. Enjoy the crystal-clear waters along the Emerald Coast in Sardinia or mix culture and beach life with a tour around the coastline of Sicily. Smaller island options include Ponza, Ischia or Elba. You can even split your honeymoon between cultural sightseeing and living the high life on the Mediterranean Sea.

Want to see the coast and the islands? Try an Amalfi Coast escape, with luxurious days on the breathtaking coast to private boat tours of nearby Capri and Ischia. 


4. It’s a great destination year-round


No matter when your honeymoon falls, Italy is worth visiting. The summer runs hot, perfect for those looking to visit the seaside or mountains, but is also the height of crowds and prices. For that reason the shoulder seasons, spring and autumn are great alternatives to those looking for more moderate prices and moderate temperatures. Keep in mind that Italy often stays warmer for much longer than other temperate climates, especially if you’re in the south. And spring is a lovely time to visit, when the entire country is warming up and in full bloom. Wintertime can be equally romantic, with cozy meals, warm ski lodges and the city dressed in lights during Christmastime. You don’t have to time your trip with hurricane season or the strength of the sun: every season is worth experiencing in Italy.

5. It’s home to the dolce vita



Everyone could use a vacation after the stress of wedding planning, and there’s no better place than the home of la dolce vita. Meaning the “sweet life” in Italian, it’s about indulgence and pleasure – just what you need on a vacation! The dolce vita comes from a life spent seeing beautiful things, talking with beautiful people and eating beautiful food. Tap in to that mentality on your Italian honeymoon to relax and unwind and enjoy the beauty life has to offer.

Those looking for total relaxation can try a smaller, less frequented location for a slower pace of life. But you can unwind anywhere in Italy. Imagine full days on the beach interrupted only by long lunches or soaking in one of the many thermal baths found in spas throughout the country. Take part in the leisurely pre-dinner passeggiata, when the entire town comes out to walk through the center and enjoy the evening air. 

It’s time to indulge, relax and enjoy the romance of Il Bel Paese!

 

Planning a wedding can sometimes feel like work, but planning a honeymoon never should. Ciao Andiamo’s carefully curated, ready-to-book itineraries put all the romance of Italy right at your fingertips. Contact us today to plan your perfect Italian honeymoon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Fall in Love With the Sandy Beaches of Sardinia

How about visiting a region with wild mountain landscapes, ancient stone towns and miles and miles of beaches, all without the tourist crowds?

Tucked between the rolling hills of Tuscany, the green heart of Umbria and the twinkling Adriatic Sea, Le Marche is the place for you. The region is warm, inviting and nearly unknown to international visitors.

 

Le Marche sits between the Appenines and the Adriatic Coast, and has all the beauty of each! Photo by Eirien

Overlooked by its neighbors to the west, Le Marche is a region all its own, with a unique landscape, history and cuisine. Slow down and follow winding country roads past wildflower fields, from Renaissance towns to sparkling white beaches. Less crowded and less expensive than most of Italy, here you can enjoy small-town Italy in the true Italian countryside and beaches that still feel untrammeled. 
Le Marche is slow-travel, authentic Italy at its finest! 

Where to Go 

The landscape of Le Marche is split between the tiny Medieval hilltop towns dotted among the Appenines, Italy’s mountain range that runs the country like a spinal cord, and the old seaside resorts found along the region’s more than 100 miles of coastline. Where you go depends on what you prefer. The region’s charm is in its variety!

Urbino

Urbino, Le Marche
Photo by Luca Boldrini

A brick hilltown, Urbino’s the most famed and historic of Le Marche’s towns. It was Raphael’s hometown and a booming destination in the 15th century. Ruled for years by Duke Federico da Montefeltro, its his palace that dominates the town. The town flourished under his rule in the 15th century, becoming a sort of ground zero for artists, scholars and veritable Renaissance-men in that time. Today the city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the Palazzo Ducale houses a Renaissance art museum with work by Piero della Francesca, Uccello and Raphael. 
The past would be it for Urbino if it weren’t for the university located there, saving the town from being frozen in time and bringing life to the tiny city center. 

Pesaro

Le Marche, Italy
Photo by Peter Leth

A big-hitter in northern Le Marche, Pesaro is a favorite among families and European travelers for its wide, sandy beaches. The biggest draw is definitely the beach, but the centro storico still deserves some exploration. A popular resort town, it’s nevertheless smaller and less chaotic than Rimini, 25 miles up the same stretch of coast.

Macerata

Macerata is a slow-paced university town located in Le Marche’s sparsely populated interior. Built of soft pale brick, much of the town and surrounding area was destroyed in the 2016 earthquake. Though signs of the devastation are still visible, the town’s famed annual opera event is still on. Macerata is home to the Arena Sferisterio, a Roman open-air opera theater that rivals that of Verona. Travelers can enjoy the operas hosted there throughout July and August. 

Loreto

Loreto is known throughout as the current home of the Holy House of Loreto, the house of the Virgin Mary. Originally in Nazareth, this is said to be the home where Mary lived, conceived and raised Jesus. How it got to Loreto depends on who you ask — Catholic tradition has it that angels miraculously brought the house to Loreto to save it from invasions, whereas historians cite an aristocratic family with the last name Angelo as the patrons of the house’s move. Today, the house is inside a massive basilica in the small town of Loreto and millions of spiritual pilgrims come to visit it every year.  

Ancona

Ancona, Le Marche, Italy
The port of Ancona. Photo by Enrico Matteucci

This coastal city knows its share of strife: bombed repeatedly during WWII, the region’s earthquakes have shaken loose what was left. Ancona has the classic feel of a port town, a bit gritty, a bit transient (ferries from Croatia, Albania and Greece come and go) but it’s worth visiting for its history alone. 
Ancona was founded as a port-city, when the ancient Greeks opened an outpost there from Syracuse, Sicily. You can still see the second-century Trajan’s Arch in the port and it was a major hub during the Crusades in the Middle Ages.
Today Ancona is still a convenient transportation hub for the region, though now for cargo and tourists. The Falconara airport is just 10 km from the city, there are also regular ferries and decent train connections to much of Le Marche, but otherwise the city is worth just a quick tour to research the region’s maritime history.  

Ascoli Piceno

Struck by the devastating earthquake in 2016, Le Marche’s second most important city is happily up and running again, and still a hidden treasure of the region. The small center is surrounded by walls but filled with grand architecture and one of the most beautiful piazze in Italy, Piazza del Popolo. Built in the city’s classic white travertine stone, the piazza feels like the living room of kings, and has more or less functioned as one since Roman times. Stop at a charming sidewalk cafè and enjoy the view.

Conero Riviera

Portonovo, Le Marche
Photo by Antonio Castagna


Just south of Ancona is perhaps the best coastline of Le Marche. Here you’ll find tiny pebble beaches and dramatic limestone cliffs plunging into the sea, like the namesake Monte Conero. Portonovo, Sirolo and Numana are favored beaches, but all the seaside villages have beach resorts and a laid-back charm. Beyond the beach, explore the walking trails that crisscross the nearly 700 square foot Parco Regionale del Conero. 

San Marino

San Marino is actually an independent nation-state located inside of Italy, but it deserves a mention as a unique side trip for travelers in le Marche. At roughly 700 square feet, San Marino is a bit of a political oddity. It is the fifth-smallest country, the world’s oldest surviving sovereign state and its oldest republic. Born out of Italy’s nation-state history, its capital city is also UNESCO World Heritage Site!

Get Outside

Parco Nazionale dei Monti Sibillini

monti sibillini national park le marche italy
The Monti Sibillini Park in the Appenines is an ideal destination for nature-lovers. Photo by Steve Slater

Probably the most beautiful stretch of the central Appenines, the rugged Monti Sibillini Park spreads across roughly 173,000 acres of the Marche-Umbrian Border. Hiking and mountain biking are the two biggest draws to this beautiful and wild national park. There are a ton of paths, but those looking for a real adventure can try the Grande Anello dei Sibillini (The Great Sibylline Ring), a nine-day, 75-mile loop through the park. You can base yourself in one of the villages in the Sibillini foothills to explore the park, but its best to have your own transportation. 

Frassasi Caves

Le Grotte di Frasassi is the largest karst cave system in Europe. Visitable with a guide only, you’ll tour caves filled with stalactites and stalagmites, as well as the Ancona Abyss, a room so large that Milan’s Duomo (the world’s largest Gothic cathedral) could fit inside. You’ll also visit a crystallized lake, a Grand Canyon, and a room filled with formations that resemble candles. It’s the perfect way to really get in touch with the region’s outdoors, even if you’re technically underground.

What to Eat 

Le Marche’s food is enriched by its landscape: with mountains, hills and the seaside, its deeply traditional cuisine is rich and varied. The region’s rural background is reflected in the food with simple grilled meats, game such as rabbit and duck and solid fish soups along the coast. The region produces wines that hold their own against Tuscan vineyards and uses the celebrated black truffle of central Italy in many of its most popular dishes.

Olive Ascolane

From Ascoli Piceno, these green olives are pitted, stuffed with a filling of meat and cheese then breaded and fried to perfection. Served as an appetizer or a snack, you can get them from street vendors to eat on the go as well. 

Le marche food
Any meat you choose is grilled over a wood-fire grill (often olive tree), giving it a smokey flavor with the tangy sweet smell of olives. Photo by Pug Girl (flickr)

Cured Meats

In a region known for its pork and other grazing meats, you can expect some excellent salumi. Try the ciauscolo, a pork-based spread, or the delicious and protected prosciutto di Carpegna (DOP).

Brodetto di Pesce

Throughout the region you’ll find fish soup on the menu, but be careful, the recipe various from town to town. Perhaps the most known is Ascoli’s fish soup, flavored with saffron. Others include Pesaro and Ancona’s red fish soup, made with tomatoes. Either way, expect nearly 14 different fish in your brodetto and a ton of flavor. 

Vincigrassi

This epic lasagna is made with dozens of layers of the soft noodle and a meat sauce made from veal, chicken liver or other offal, cheese and a classic béchamel sauce. Though you can find it throughou the region, the town of Macerata is most noted for a simple vincigrassi

Rosso Piceno and Rosso Conaro

wine in le marche
Though most think of Tuscan vineyards, Le Marche is full of vineyards growing famous reds and whites. Photo by Steve Slater

Two of the region’s most famous reds, these are rarely known outside of Italy. The Rosso Piceno from the Ascoli Piceno area is fruity red wine made from a blend of local Sangiovese and Montepulciano grapes. While the Rosso Conaro is a full-bodied red grown along its namesake peninsula made from the same Montepulciano grape as Chianti. 

Verdicchio

A region with seafood as well as game needs a solid white wine as well, and Le Marche has it. Verdicchio gets its name from the green-gold color of this white wine, perfect with fish and the various fritti misti of the region. 

How to Get There

Photo by Luca Boldrini

By far the best way to get around Le Marche is by car, and it’s the only way if you want to visit some of Le Marche’s smallest towns and parks. The A14 highway runs from Bologna to Taranto and follows all of Le Marche’s coastline. From there take state routes inland to visit Le Marche’s hill towns. 
For those not up for the drive, there is a railway that runs between Milan and Lecce, Puglia, but it’s only stop in Le Marche is Ancona as well as an airport and port in Ancona. 

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What better way to enjoy springtime in Italy than a stroll through one of its breathtaking gardens? Springtime is a great time to visit Italy. Visitors during the shoulder season save money on flights and accommodation and enjoy fewer crowds than the jam-packed summer months. Mild temperatures reign with hot days possible in the south as the spring season bursts into bloom throughout the entire peninsula.

Take advantage of the excellent weather to tour some of Italy’s most beautiful gardens and parks, from north to south: 

Isola Bella and Isola Madre; Lake Maggiore, Piedmont 

Photo by Ed Webster

Two of the five Borromean Islands on Lake Maggiore, these two are most noted for their gorgeous gardens. Isola Bella, (literally, ‘beautiful island’ in English) is an Italian-style garden whereas Isola Madre (mother island) was created in the classic English style. Both were made to accompany the beautiful villa dominating the small islands. Huge amounts of soil were shipped over to Isola Bella in the 17th century to create the gardens. Today you can see statues, obelisks, staircases and a remarkable amphitheater, not to mention the island’s infamous peacocks! Isola Madre has served as an orchard, olive tree grove and a citrus grove. Today it’s a gorgeous botanical garden with long, green boulevards and hundreds of different plant and vegetable species. 

Villa Carlotta; Tremezzo, Lombardy

Photo by David Spender

This 17th century Villa was built for a local nobleman, and though the opulent house is worth a visit, the real draw is the nearly 20 acres of gardens overlooking beautiful Lake Como. Tucked between the lake and the mountains, the botanic gardens are filled with a variety of camellias, azaleas, rhododendrons, tropical plants, and centuries-old Cedar trees. Though beautiful year-round, see the gardens turn into a veritable heaven-on-earth come spring.

Parco Giardino Sigurtà; Peschiera del Garda, Veneto

Gardens of Italy
Photo by Gabriele Vincenzi

Located near massive Lake Garda, this park is enormous in its own right. In fact, it’s Italy’s largest garden! Covering nearly 60 hectares, the landscaped gardens feature a maze as well as a petting zoo with donkeys, goats, chickens and horses for children. Explore the park on foot or by bike to see the more than 1 million tulips in March and April and nearly 30,000 rose bushes that bloom come May.

The Boboli and the Bardini Gardens; Florence, Tuscany

Boboli Gardens
One of the most iconic views of Florence is seen from the beautiful Boboli Gardens. Photo by stevekc

Behind Florence’s famed Palazzo Pitti is the city’s most celebrated garden: The Boboli Gardens and the Bardini Gardens inside. Covering 111 acres in the center of Florence, this huge park has plenty to explore, from ancient to modern statues, fountains, grottos and greenhouses. Take a break from sightseeing in the city with a relaxing stroll through these impressive gardens. Be sure to visit the Bardini Gardens as well (there is a ticket that allows you to visit both) for one of the best views of Florence you can find.

Borghese Gardens; Rome, Lazio

Borghese Gardens
Photo by Larry Koester

The Borghese Gardens are now a free public park open to all. Once a private garden for the Borghese Villa (now the Borghese Gallery), the Gardens span 148 acres, making them the third largest park in Rome. Though they are a priceless refuge from the Roman heat in summer, come in spring to enjoy this city oasis in full bloom and a pleasant temperature.

Rose Gardens; Rome, Lazio

Opposite the Circo Massimo lies the Roman Rose Garden, first created in the 1930’s and home to over 1000 varieties of roses. It’s an ideal setting for a romantic stroll, but hides a darker past: the area once formed part of Rome’s Jewish Ghetto, and housed the Jewish cemetery. Look closely and you’ll see that the footpaths form the shape of a menorah in a nod to the district’s past.

Ninfa Gardens; Ninfa, Lazio

Ninfa Gardens – Most Beautiful Gardens in Italy
Photo by Bojana Brkovic

Once a populous medieval town, Ninfa fell abandoned after economic struggles and a malaria outbreak. It sat mostly unused until the 1900s, when it was rediscovered and transformed into a botanic garden. Though you can only see the gardens at certain times and on a guided tour, it’s worth it to learn the history and soak in the atmosphere. Here you’ll find plants of all types among the town’s ruins. There’s even a castle!

Villa d’Este Gardens; Tivoli, Lazio

Villa d'Este – The Most Beautiful Gardens in Italy
Photo by Dmitry Dzhus

These Italian Renaissance gardens are perhaps some of the most famous gardens on the entire list. A UNESCO World Heritage Site in Tivoli, near Rome, they’re also considered some of the most beautiful gardens in all of Italy. Go to see the unique fountains that dot the gardens, including the large shell-shaped Fontana del Bicchierone, the Rometta Fountain with a wolf-suckling Romulus and Remus statue and the Avenue of the Hundred Fountains.

Buonaccorsi Garden; Potenza Picena, Le Marche

Though few know of this 18th-century garden, the Baroque, Italian-style gardens are an incredible testament to the era’s attention to detail. Perfectly preserved according to its original design, the Buonaccorsi Garden is laid out with perfectly symmetrical geometric patterns of diamond and star shapes. The garden is free to visit, so go to explore the grotto, the tiny lake and the super-romantic secret garden.

La Mortella Gardens; Ischia, Campania

The most beautiful gardens in Italy
Photo by Andrew Fogg

Invented and created by Susana Walton, the Argentinian wife of British composer William Walton, these tropical gardens completely surround the couples home on the island of Ischia, in the Bay of Naples. Here you’ll find more than 3,000 species of exotic, tropical plants, vertical terraces of plants and enormous tropical waterlilies that fill the pond in front of “La Bocca”, a sculpture of a face with a water sprout out of its mouth. Though created relatively recently, in the 1950s, the gardens are a tropical paradise in the Mediterranean sea.

Villa Rufolo; Ravello, Campania

Villa Rufolo
Photo by Curt Smith

The Amalfi Coast is filled with incredible vistas, but at Villa Rufolo you can enjoy the panorama in a gorgeous atmosphere as well. The 14th-century villa in Ravello is a masterpiece of medieval architecture, but its true draw comes from the flowers that cover nearly every centimeter of the property. Stroll under abundant wisteria arches while enjoying a view of the Mediterranean from on high.

Lama degli Ulivi Botanic Gardens; Monopoli, Puglia

The name is apt for these botanic gardens: the highlight is the olive trees. Gnarled and ancient, these olive trees are a testament to the area’s agricultural history, but that’s not all you can see here. The sun-bleached dirt paths will take you past more than 2,000 species of plants, as well as obscure rock churches.

Kolymbetra Garden; Agrigento, Sicily

A view of the Temple of Dioscuri from among the olive trees. Photo by Giulio Nepi

This botanical garden with a strange name is located in Agrigento’s Valley of the Temples. Dating back to ancient times when the garden was an important lake surrounded by beautiful plants and flowers and filled with fish. Despite this, it sat abandoned for centuries until 1999 when the Italian Environmental Foundation (FAI) took over, drawing out its former beauty with citrus trees, olive groves and tropical plants. Today it’s a verdant oasis beneath the ancient Greek temples.

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