Ischia Travel Guide: The Most Authentic Island off the Amalfi Coast
Often overlooked for glitzy Capri and only recently on the radar of international travelers (made popular thanks to the recent publication of the Neapolitan novel series by Elena Ferrante), Ischia has remained truly authentic.
So why should you visit Ischia Island? How about for the island’s supreme natural beauty? Though Capri is known as the blue island, Ischia proudly calls itself the green island for its verdant flora and green interior.
Ischia is known for its delicious food, relaxed atmosphere, and mineral-rich thermal waters. Laid-back and serene, Ischia is the perfect place to find the Italian pace of life!
Ischia Travel Guide: What to Know Before You Travel to Ischia
Each year Ciao Andiamo brings visitors to explore this gorgeous island. So learn from the experts to prepare for the best possible trip to Ischia Island:
How to Get to Ischia
You can reach Ischia by ferry, hydrofoil or private boat.
The easiest way to get to Ischia is from the Naples port. With Ciao Andiamo, you’ll have a private luxury car service from the Naples airport straight to the port on our Amalfi & The Islands Escape. From there, you’ll take the hydrofoil to Ischia with a car service to your hotel.
Visitors can also reach the island from Pozzuoli, slightly north of Naples, and Sorrento during the summer months.
The Weather in Ischia
Ischia has a typical Mediterranean climate: long, hot summers and perfectly mild winters. It’s no wonder that Ischia has been a favorite resort and travel destination since the ancient Romans! It’s not uncommon for people to sunbathe and swim into late November, with temperatures able to reach 77°F. On average, December temperatures range from 40°- 60°F, while August can easily reach 90°F.
August is by far the hottest and busiest time of year when Italian tourists add themselves to the mix for a month of vacation. Ciao Andiamo suggests visiting in May or September to enjoy the perfect weather with slightly smaller crowds, but visitors can travel to Ischia year-round thanks to its beautiful climate.
Ischia Travel Guide: What to See and Do
Ischia Island may be small, but it’s packed with beautiful beaches, Mediterranean charm and soothing spas.
What to See on Ischia Island
The Mortella Gardens in Forio are considered one of the most beautiful botanical gardens in all of Italy. Once the private home and gardens of British composer Willian Walton and Susana, his Argentine wife, the gardens have hosted a plethora of rich and famous guests, from Maria Callas to Charlie Chaplin.
Today they’re worth visiting for their beauty alone. Inspired by Moorish gardens in Spain, Mortella Gardens spans nearly 5 acres and houses more than 1,000 exotic plants from all over the world, along with pools, fountains and beautiful panoramic terraces. Go for a stroll or plan your visit during one of the many orchestra concert events held there.
Take a panoramic island tour to see the highlights of Ischia Island and truly travel Ischia. Cars are limited on the island during the summer months, but with Ciao Andiamo’s private, retro vans (tall and skinny to fit the narrow streets) you can visit the most beautiful spots of Ischia. Stop in the island’s main towns, like characteristic Forio, the second biggest city and home to the Mortella Gardens and the massive Poseidon Thermal Spa, or visit the tiny fishing village of Sant’Angelo for the Italian boutiques and great beach.
The Aragonese Castle is an absolute must-see for any travel to Ischia. Built in 471 BC on a rocky islet off the coast of Ischia Ponte, it was then renovated and rebuilt in the 15th century to create what you see today. Connected to Ischia by a bridge, visitors could easily spend a day exploring the Aragonese castle. Today it’s privately owned but travelers can explore the castle and the beautiful gardens for a small fee, traveling through “twenty five centuries of history between churches, convents, prisons, lush gardens and breathtaking views,” as the Castle website states.
Ciao Andiamo Ischia Travel Guide Tip: take a break with a coffee or gelato at the café terrace to enjoy the view. Here you can see across Ischia Island, the Gulf of Naples, and the nearby islands of Capri, Vivara, and Procida.
Nowhere can Ischia’s volcanic origins be seen better than from Monte Epomeo. Technically a volcanic horst (a raised block of the earth’s crust), Monte Epomeo is the highest point on the island and offers the best views across the island and on to Capri, Sorrento, Naples and even beyond. Moderately difficult, the hike takes about an hour starting from the town of Fontana.
What to Do When You Travel to Ischia:
Take a boat ride
Ischia is an island after all, and one of the best ways to explore an island is from the water! Rent a dinghy or enjoy Ciao Andiamo’s 3-hour private boat tour with a glass-bottom boat. Boating is also the easiest way to enjoy a snorkeling or diving adventure. A part of the Regno di Nettuno Marine Nature Reserve, there’s no shortage of excellent snorkeling spots, but for a unique experience, try snorkeling among the ruins of a city underwater in the Cartaromana Bay.
Go to the spa
Ischia’s biggest claim to fame is its thermal baths. Though the area’s volcanic activity is mostly dormant, there’s still enough thermal activity on Ischia to heat the natural hot springs that feed the island’s infamous spas. There are approximately 100 thermal baths and dozens of different thermal parks you can choose from, each with its own mineral and healing properties. Two of the most popular are the Poseidon Thermal Gardens in Forio and the Negombo Thermal Park in Lacco Ameno.
Ciao Andiamo Ischia Travel Guide Tip: bring waterproof sandals and your own robe or towel for comfort.
Lounge on the Beach
Ischia is celebrated for its sandy beaches (the Amalfi Coast has few sandy beaches). If you have time, tour more than one! Try the Spiaggia dei Maronti near Sant’Angelo to enjoy the sand heated by natural steam geysers or the quiet beach of San Montano near to Lacco Ameno.
After, catch a beautiful sunset from the beach. We recommend the small beach at Bagno Antonio, between Ischia Porto and Ischia Ponte.
Ciao Andiamo Ischia Travel Guide Tip: many beaches on Ischia, like in most of Italy, are private beaches, meaning you’ll have to rent a chair and umbrella for the day. Running about 15 euro, you’ll usually have access to a changing cabin and outdoor shower as well. Otherwise, search for “public beaches.” San Montano, for example, is half public and half private.
The small, characteristic towns of Ischia are the perfect place to pick up some souvenirs from your Italy trip! The stores and boutiques are open late and perfectly add to the nightlife atmosphere. Besides clothes, browse the ceramics, a popular craft among the towns in the Bay of Naples, handmade Ischian sandals or bring home high-quality ingredients of the area, such as olive oil, wine or limoncello.
Ischia is home to three Michelin-star restaurants, well worth a visit for those who enjoy fine-dining. That said, it’s not necessary to stick to Michelin stars to eat well in Ischia. Here, the key word is fresh. Enjoy a light lunch right off of the beach with fresh and local mozzarella, anchovies and local wine. Try an Ischia Bianco, Forastera, Piedirosso or Per’e Palumm.
Ciao Andiamo Ischia Travel Tip: try the rabbit!
Visitors might be surprised to learn that Ischia’s most typical meal is rabbit. Coniglio all’Ischitana is rabbit cooked until tender with olives, fresh tomatoes, and basil. Get the recipe (in Italian but with pictures) here!
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
A Guide to Piedmont: What to Do, See and Eat in One of Italy’s Top Culinary Regions
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.
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 joinour 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.
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:
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 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.
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 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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Umbria or Tuscany: How to Decide Which Picturesque Region to Visit
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
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
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
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
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
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!
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.
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’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
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
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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 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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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!
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
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 lungolagoin 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
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 Vecchiin 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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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, a primo, a 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!
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.
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
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.
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 Pieveto 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 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.
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.
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 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 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.
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 ilborgopiù bello d’Italia, or 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.
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 norcino. Wherever a norcinogoes he can open up a norcineriato sell the Umbrianwild boar and pork products famous throughout Italy. Today a norcineriahas become a synonym in Italy for a place that sells prestigious salumi.
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.
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.
Nature-lovers can visit the MarmoreWaterfalls 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:
A classic minestrone (vegetable soup) with the addition of farro, a local grain. Soups in general are popular in Umbria, especially with legumes and beans like the fagiolinafrom Trasimeno, lentils or chickpeas.
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.
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.
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 strangozzoand supposedly that’s how the similarly-shaped pasta got its name.
The cured pork from Norcia, known as norcino, is 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.
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.
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!
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
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 Hillstrip in Umbria and Tuscany!
This is the Region with the Most Prestigious Wines in Italy
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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)
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)
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)
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!
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
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
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.
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
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.
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)
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
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!
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.
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.
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.
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, considerbooking a day touror 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.
Touring Lake Como: Where to Go and How to Get There
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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 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!
Parco Nazionale dei Monti Sibillini
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
Discover the Dolomites: What to Know and Where to Go
Driving up to the Dolomites from Milan or Venice, it’s impossible not to be awestruck by the iconic snowcapped peaks. They rise from lush valleys dotted with ski towns. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage site for its unique sawtooth limestone cliffs, the Dolomites are known for breathtaking natural beauty. The mountain range is also recognized as one of the top ski destinations in the world, in part for its famous Sella Ronda run – a chain of nearly 25 miles of trails linked by chairlifts. Located in the northeastern corner of Italy in the regions of Trentino-Alto Adige and Veneto (the latter also home to Venice and Verona), the Dolomites make up a part of the extensive Alps range, which spans eight countries and around 750 miles.
If you’re overwhelmed by where to begin, read on to discover the Dolomites:
What to Know
Traveling north through Trentino-Alto Adige, one of Italy’s 20 regions, you’ll notice a point when the architecture, culture and even language switch from Italian to German. This indicates you’ve moved from the sub-region of Trentino, which became part of the Republic of Italy in 1919, to Alto Adige, annexed by Italy in 1920. Alto Adige, also known as Südtirol, has deep Austrian roots. German is actually the most common language spoken here, together with local mountain dialect Ladino, though Italian is spoken almost everywhere in the province (likely with a thick Austrian accent).
Under the rule of Mussolini, a great effort was made to “Italianize” Südtirol. This included giving all the towns Italian names and calling the province “Alto Adige,” because of its position above the Adige river in Italy, rather than its Austrian name of “Südtirol.”
Despite this “Italianization”, this part of the region still feels like entering into another country. Although they’re less than an hour apart, the differences between the cities of Trento and Bolzano are dramatic. Bolzano feels more like Salzburg than Siena, with signs listing German most prominently and dishes like canederli (or Knödel, in German), speck and schnitzel featured ubiquitously on menus in local restaurants.
Where to Go
Perhaps the most noteworthy luxury destination in the Dolomites is the iconic Cortina d’Ampezzo, a haven for jetsetters and VIPs looking to hit some of the Alps’ most striking slopes by day, and then enjoy apres ski, Italian aperitivi and ski village life by night. Located in the Veneto region (think Venice, Verona and Lake Garda), Cortina is a more bustling mountain town with a distinctly Italian feel. Travelers to Cortina can select from an abundance of lovely luxury properties, including the boutique mountain resort and spa Rosapetra.
The two other major towns are Bolzano in Alto-Adige and Trento in Trentino.
Bolzano is the capital of Alto-Adige (Südtirol) and the largest city in the region. A city straddling two countries and two cultures, Bolzano is has learned to embrace the best of both worlds.
Fun fact: Bolzano is also home to “Otzi the iceman”, one of the oldest preserved human mummies discovered in a nearby glacier and currently displayed in the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology.
Trento is the capital of Trentino and home of the 16th century Countil of Trent, during the Counter Reformation of the church. Today it’s a modern university town and the perfect jumping-off point for activities. Relax on a wine tour among the surrounding vineyards or get your heart rate up by hiking, skiing or cycling on some of the 400 km of paved cycling paths parting from the city.
Heading west from Cortina into the Alto-Adige portion of the Dolomites, you’ll reach three main valleys: Val Gardena, Val Badia and Val di Fassa.
Those in search of more moderate slopes, including families and beginner or intermediate skiers, will find Val Gardena ideal. Stay in the charming towns of Ortisei, Selva or Santa Cristina.
On the other side of the famed Sella Ronda is Val di Fassa, home to towns such as Canazei. The third is Val Badia, comprising the towns of La Villa and San Cassiano. Some of our favorite boutique hotels are located in San Cassiano, including Rosa Alpina and Ciasa Salares.
What to Do
Unlike most other regions of Italy, Trentino Alto-Adige is most popular in the winter, when its world-famous slopes open to skiers from across Europe and beyond. The Dolomites became even more fashionable for skiers after hosting the Winter Olympics in 1956 in Cortina d’Ampezzo, today one of the region’s most posh and famous cities. With over 1,200 kilometers of trails and a network of gondolas and chair lifts connecting many of the area’s mountain ranges, the Dolomites are ideal for ski bunnies who wish to hop from one slope to the next.
In summer, when the snow has melted, the mountains attract adventurers looking to hike, mountain bike and soak in the natural beauty of the Italian Alps. Hikers can take advantage of the long-distance footpaths criss-crossing the Dolomites, called the alte vie. One popular hiking destination is Lago di Braies, a stunning lake whose emerald waters reflect the mountains above.
Though the Dolomites are an outdoor lover’s paradise, it’s not all adventure sports and energy. The views alone are enough for a visit. Enjoy the gorgeous panoramas along the Grande Strada delle Dolomiti, or the Great Road of the Dolomites. Those looking for some R&R can tap in to the region’s healthy thermal bath culture. Though spas abound, we’d recommend baths built around natural hot springs. Try the massive Terme di Meranowith 25 pools to choose from, saunas, a full spa and even a snow room. Added recently, the room is kept at about 14°F and filled with snow!
The Dolomites are dotted with baite, small mountain cabins constructed with stone or wood to withstand heavy snowfalls. Traditionally used as seasonal residences for sheep and cow herders, a recently restored baita may now be used as a holiday home or rented to travelers looking for an off-the-beaten-path experience.
On top of the mountains, skiers and mountaineers may find a rifugio, a shelter built as a point of refuge in case of sudden weather changes. Some rifugi today have become culinary hotspots, serving local dishes to hungry wanderers.
Food in the Alto-Adige shows the region’s German influence, with specials like canederli, bread balls made from leftovers including bread, milk, cheese and often speck (lean, lightly smoked ham). Gnocchi verdi, ghoulash and spetzel are all on the menu, and the region also produces apples. Wine in the region includes Teroldego (in Trentino) and gewürztraminer (Alto-Adige).
Plan Your Northern Italy Adventure
The Dolomites are easily accessible from Venice or Milan, and can be paired easily with a romantic, northern city like Verona or the towns along beautiful Lake Garda. If you’re ready to discover the Dolomites, touring picturesque resort towns, hitting famed ski slopes and warming up in charming lodges then check out our itinerary and let us do the work for you!
Inside Cinque Terre: Secrets to the Five Lands of the Coast
As a Ligurian native, I’ve seen the Cinque Terre evolve over the years into the well-known Italian jewel it is today. Cinque Terre translates to English as “the Five Lands,” and during my childhood, I knew them as the remote fishermen villages, with friendly locals bouncing around small shops, booths of fresh vegetables, and the church, which was always open, all overlooking the breathtaking Ligurian Sea. The Cinque Terre are idyllic Italian coastal villages, and as a teenager, my friends and I would take Sunday trips down to the small towns on the Ligurian coast. We would ride our moto over 50 miles down the Via Aurelia – a coastal road built by the Romans in 241 BC – past dozens of little villages, on an epic journey to Monterosso and Vernazza, the most lively towns of the five. We would hike the paths between the villages and the vineyards, sometimes passing the local farmers coming to and from their fields, and hunt around the villages for a good lunch.
In the past two decades, the Cinque Terre have evolved from the quiet, remote fishermen villages to bustling, lively travel destinations, filled to the brim with boutiques, hotels, and tourists. Seeing these small towns explode with international popularity has been bittersweet; while it is fantastic to see so many travelers come to enjoy the Cinque Terre, the villages are packed with tour groups, bustling through the hotels and tourist shops. Yet the authentic Ligurian coastal towns are not all lost, and I take great pleasure in bringing my guests to the hidden corners of Cinque Terre, climbing through the right streets to re-live the coastal charm and quaint atmosphere from my youth.
The “Five Lands”
The Cinque Terre consists of five towns, once small fishermen villages, that span the coast of the Ligurian Sea. From east to west, the towns are Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso al Mare.
Riomaggiore and Manarola
As the smallest of the towns, Riomaggiore and Manarola resemble the old fishermen villages the most, with only one narrow main street and many small paths that climb up the mountains to reach the buildings above. The views are idyllic; I love to visit Manarola to enjoy the regional troffie al pesto* in my friend Cesare’s little restaurant, overlooking the majestic cliffs and blue Mediterranean Sea.
The path between the top of the two towns to the bottom of the coast and bay is both lengthy and downhill, taking 10 to 15 minutes on a typical day, and is perfect for the adventurous traveler. The bay hosts fishermen boats that rest in small platforms next to the water for safety, and in Manarola, you might even catch sight of the cranes lifting the boats to and from the water.
There are no beaches, so one should not expect to be relaxing by the waves in these quaint towns; the coastline consists of ragged rock, best experienced with sneakers instead of flip-flops. In the summer, the coastal rocks are extremely hot, so travelers must consider the heat if they plan on taking the trek downhill, making sure to pack water accordingly.
The least crowded of the towns and yet still picturesque, Corniglia sits at the top of a hill, far above the water. The scenic cliff is 100 meters above sea level at its peak, and the top of the village provides a spectacular view, full of colors especially towards sunset.
Corniglia is the most difficult of the towns to reach, as the train station is closer to the water with a 30 minute walk to the village. Luckily, the town is also typically the least crowded, so the trip is well worth the walk.
My personal favorite of the Cinque Terre, Vernazza boasts the traditional charm of the Ligurian fishermen villages coupled with modern features for the 21st century traveler. The town hosts a small beach, many little shops, lots of trattorias, and delectable bakeries, where you can find the local specialties such as the focaccia alla genovese o al formaggio* and the best spaghetti con vongole or pansoti con salsa di noci*. The main street is lively and often bustling, and the square at the end of the street has the perfect balcony to relax with a glass of wine before dinner.
Monterosso al Mare
The western-most village is also the most visited; Monterosso al Mare has the most conveniently-located train station, and it also boasts the best parking of the Cinque Terre. The town has a wide, relaxing beach, set just below the colorful town. The area is renowned for both its lemon trees and its white wines, so make sure to try a glass of vino bianco at lunch or dinner.
Monterosso hosts many historical sites, including a castle, convent, churches, and the Monterosso Giant, Il Gigante, a massive sculpture of Neptune bearing a villa terrace on his shoulders. The town is a perfect match for travelers who wish to explore the wonders of historical Italy and relish in the natural beauty of the coast.
The Paths of the Cinque Terre
The five villages of the Cinque Terre are interconnected through a web of both roads and trails. The walking paths throughout the Cinque Terre have been used for centuries, and today, they are well-known and well-maintained, often featuring breathtaking views. My favorite path, 2D from Vernazza to Monterosso is unbeatable, with the view of both the villages and the sea, best experienced close to sunset. Many paths also have impressive terraces where the locals still cultivate gardens, full of grapes or veggies. In my childhood, we used to pass farmers on these routes, on their way from producing the local wines, il Pigato* or the precious sciacchetra*.
The most famous of the paths, the Via Dell’Amore or Love Path from Riomaggiore to Manarola, is partially closed due to a mudslide that destroyed parts of the pavement. It is set to be reopened in late spring 2019.
The walking paths are not the easiest of treks, as they are no walk in the park. The Ligurian coast is entirely mountainous, so all of the paths are steep and narrow. While they are not dangerous, travelers best be prepared for an adventure with sneakers, water, and even walking sticks to really enjoy the landscape.
Visiting the Cinque Terre
When to Go
The most important factor that a traveler should consider when seeking out Cinque Terre is timing. For three or four months out of the year, between June and September, it is nearly impossible to navigate the villages because of the seas of tourists bustling through the streets. During this time in the main areas within Cinque Terre, prices skyrocket compared to neighboring towns.
How to Get There
When traveling to the Cinque Terre, avoid trying to travel by car. Due to the small nature of the villages, parking lots are few and far between, and they are filled to the brim between April and October. The road connecting the Cinque Terre is extremely steep, narrow, curvy, and dangerous, and only the most experienced Italian drivers try to drive it. Instead, take the train from Milan (3 hours) or Rome (4.5 hours).
Taking the train between the villages will also save you time, money, and frustration. Travelers will often stay in or drive to nearby towns, such as the coastal Sestri Levante, to travel via rail to and from the Cinque Terre. Of the five towns, Monterosso has the largest capacity of parking spots, so many tourists park there to take the train to the other villages. The train ride between Monterosso and Riomaggiore, the outermost towns, is a mere 15 minutes. A special pass, the “Cinque Terre card,” allows travelers to use the regional train to and from the town with no limitations and free shuttles from the stations to the heart of the towns, as many of the train stations are located at a distance. The pass is little more than 10 Euro a day and allows natives and travelers alike to move between the Cinque Terre with ease.
My first visit to Sardinia felt like a dream. I was only 10 years old and visiting my cousins in the capital city of Cagliari. Their house was right on the beach, and my young cousins caught fish along the shore. The colors of the island are still vivid in my mind, the turquoise water against the white sand dunes. Ever since that first visit, my family returned every year to find the same unspoiled views.
Explore an Island of Myths & Culture
Sardinia is located in the middle of the Mediterranean sea. Like Sicily, the other major Italian island, the culture and history of Sardinia are very different from mainland Italy. Sardinia’s past is rich with legends and mythology, starting with the Nuragic civilization, which inhabited the island during the Bronze Age. Nuragic relics remain preserved on the island to this day, including distinct circular towers called Nuraghi and huge granite tombe dei giganti (giants’ tombs).
Due in part to its remote location, Sardinia feels like its own continent with unique traditions. Even the language is distinct – a dialect unfamiliar to mainland Italians. Sardinians celebrate their heritage with folk festivals and celebrations. Hundreds of Sardinians gather every May for two major cultural events, Cagliari Sant’Efisio Festival (May 1 in Cagliari) and Sardinian Cavalcade of Sassari (late May in Sassari). At these festivals, which each last several days, people from across Sardinia celebrate their culture with parades, horseback riding, traditional clothing and, of course, food.
Enjoy the Best of Mountains & Sea
Sardinia’s landscape is also unique. Sheep roam across the heart of the island, which is made up of rugged plateaus, plains and mountains. Centuries of strong winds and rains created a rugged coastline featuring amazing natural rock formations. Most famous of these formations is the Capo d’Orso, which resembles a bear sitting atop a hillside in Palau. From the Northern coast, you can also visit the Maddalena Archipelago, a national geo-marine park with an uncontaminated, paradisal feel.
The combination of coastline and mountains also lend themselves to an extraordinary food culture in Sardinia dominated by equally delicious seafood and meat. The sea yields fresh tuna, swordfish, mussels, prawns and sea bass, while the mountain cuisine features suckling pig, goat, beef, pork, rabbit and more. Both fish and meat are served with vegetables, local herbs and homemade pasta. Sardinia’s olive trees deliver a distinctly flavored olive oil that is fruity and slightly spicy. Wine drinkers will delight in the red Cannonau di Sardegna, the most famous producer being Sella & Mosca, and the white Vermentino, which pairs perfectly with fish.
Bask in Sunshine on the Emerald Coast
While parts of the island feels unspoiled and unexplored, the past fifty years have seen the Emerald Coast, Costa Smeralda, become a hotspot for celebrities and European tourists. The popularity is well-deserved, as the Emerald Coast boasts white sand beaches and transparent water. Wild herbs such as thyme, rosemary and oregano fill in the air with their perfume, and the local dishes feature the region’s bright and delicious saffron. The Emerald Coast is also home to the Porto Cervo Wine Festival (May) and Food Festival (September).
Adventure Through Sardinia’s Great Outdoors
Adventurous travelers will delight in the possibilities afforded by both Sardinia’s mountains and the sea. Hike along picturesque coastal trails, bike down the inland mountains or climb the island’s sheer cliffs. Dive below the brilliant blue waves of the Mediterranean, kayak through pristine bays or kite surf across the waves.
What to Know Before You Go
Summer is undeniably a great time to visit, when you can enjoy a refreshing swim in the Mediterranean on a sunny day, though the Spring and early Autumn are also beautiful. In May, early June or September, visitors can enjoy all that Sardinia has to offer, minus the crowds.
Sardinia offers a range of beautiful accommodations, including both romantic and family-friendly options. Most high-end coastal hotels will have beach access with sun beds and umbrellas, and there are several quality spas.