Florence is filled with beautiful churches.

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

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

The Most Beautiful Churches in Florence: Centro Storico

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

Santa Maria del Fiore

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

Beautiful churches in Florence: The Duomo

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

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

Santa Croce Basilica

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

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

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

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

Santa Maria Novella Basilica

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

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

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

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

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

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

Orsanmichele Church and Museum

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

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

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

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

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

Basilica di San Lorenzo

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Most Beautiful Churches in Florence: Oltrarno

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

San Miniato al Monte Basilica and Abbey

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

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

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

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

Santa Trinita Basilica

A free, hidden gem in the Oltrarno

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

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

Santa Maria del Santo Spirito Basilica

A Florentine church where the architecture is the art.

Santo Spirito church in Florence

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

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

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

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

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

sunlight over the Arno River in Florence, Italy

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

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

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

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

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

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

What to know before you visit Piedmont:  

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

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

Where is Piedmont and how to get there 

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

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

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

When to visit Piedmont  

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

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

Best Places to Visit in Piedmont:  

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

The capital  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  

The mountains   

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

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

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

  

The lakes  

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

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

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

  

The valleys   

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

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

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

  

What to Do in Piedmont: 

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

Visit the Venaria Reale 

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

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

Hike in the Sacred Mountains  

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

Relax in the terme (thermal baths)

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

Tour Castello di Rivoli Museum of Art  

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

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

Take part in the festivals   

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

  

What to Eat in Piedmont  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The vineyards of Piedmont

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

  

  

 

 

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

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

Visit Matera to see this beautiful panorama by night

Foto di blank76 da Pixabay

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

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

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

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

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

To visit one of the most unique destinations in the world

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

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

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

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

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

To marvel at the underground architecture

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

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

To follow the faith across centuries

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

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

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

To see the rupestrian churches of the Murgia National Park

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

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

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

To experience a real-life movie set

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

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

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

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

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

To celebrate the Festa della Bruna

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Carnevale in Italy: What it Is and Where to Celebrate

An Easter Feast!

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

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

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

Carnevale in Italy  

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

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

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

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

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

Where to Celebrate Carnevale in Italy  

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

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

Venice, Veneto 

Photo by Serge WOLFGANG from Pixabay

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

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

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

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

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

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

Viareggio, Tuscany 

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

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

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

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

Acireale, Sicily  

Photo by Carnaval.com Studios (flickr)

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

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

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

Ivrea, Piedmont 

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

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

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

Putignano, Puglia 

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

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

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

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

Fano, Le Marche 

Photo from @ilcarnevaledifano

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

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

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

Cento, Emilia Romagna  

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

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

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

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

Milan, Italy 

Photo from inLombardia

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

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

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

 

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

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

Spello, Umbria (Photo by Ken Sandberg)

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

Where to Go

Perugia 

Photo by tonixjesse from Pixabay

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

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

Lake Trasimeno 

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

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

Assisi 

Photo by Valter Cirillo from Pixabay

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

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

Montefalco

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

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

Gubbio  

Photo by Giacomo Zanni from Pixabay

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

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

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

Foligno

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

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

Spoleto

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

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

Spello 

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

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

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

Norcia 

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

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

Orvieto 

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

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

What to Do

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

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

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

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

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Photo by crilaman from Pixabay

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

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

What to Eat 

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

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

Zuppa

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

Black Truffle 

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

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

Pasta alla Norcina 

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

Strangozzi  

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

Norcino 

Photo by GBSurf from Pixabay

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

Polombacci 

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

Anguilla and perch  

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

Sagrantino Wine

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

Perugina chocolate 

Photo by timothy green from Pixabay

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

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

How to Get There and Around 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Where to Go and Why: 

Vatican City for the religious festivities 

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

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

Bolzano for the over-the-top Christmas markets 

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

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

Naples for artisanal Nativity masterpieces 

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

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

Matera for the living Nativity scene 

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

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

Turin for the heart-warming coffeehouses  

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

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

Orvieto for the week-long Jazz Festival 

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

Rome for massive Hanukkah celebrations  

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

Milan for the Christmas shopping and panettone

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

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

Agnone for a river of fire parade

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

Bologna for a unique New Year’s Eve tradition 

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

Venice for a mass New Year’s Eve kiss 

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

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

Otranto to see the first dawn of the year in Italy 

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

Florence for traditional Epiphany celebrations 

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

Italian Holiday Traditions

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

Christmas markets

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

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

Christmas lights and Christmas trees

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

Traditional meals

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

Regional celebrations

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

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

Caroling or … bagpipes!

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

Nativity scenes

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

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

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

Good luck and good fortune for the New Year

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

La Befana, the country’s happy witch

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

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

Menorah lightings for Hanukkah

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

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

What to Know 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What to Know Before You Go

Double check closing days

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

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

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

Book ahead 

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

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

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

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

Consider a private tour 

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

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

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

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

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

Uffizi Gallery 

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

What to See

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

Hours and Prices

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

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

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

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

Galleria Dell’Accademia 

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

What to See

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

Hours and Prices

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

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

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

Il Grande Museo del Duomo 

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

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

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

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

What to see 

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

Hours and Prices

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

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

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




 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is the Verona Arena? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why You Should See an Opera in the Verona Arena

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

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

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

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

How to See an Opera in Verona

Photo by Dimitris Kamaras

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

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

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

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

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

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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

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

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

Museo Poldi Pezzoli

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

Santa Maria delle Grazie Basilica

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

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

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

Pinacoteca Ambrosiana

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

Pinacoteca del Castello Sforzesco

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

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

Palazzo Reale

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

Gallerie di Piazza Scala

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

Museo delle Culture di Milano (Mudec)

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

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

Galleria d’Arte Moderna

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

Museo del Novecento

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rome

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

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

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

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

What to know:

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

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

Florence

 

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

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

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

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

What to know:

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

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

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

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

Venice

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

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

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

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

What to know:

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

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

What to Know Before You Go

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Where to Go

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

Bellagio

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

Como

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

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

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

Lenno

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

Menaggio

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

Tremezzo

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

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

Lecco

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

Varenna

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

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

Bellano 

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

How to get there

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

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


How to get around

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

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

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

Otherwise, you can tour around by water.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Where to Go 

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

Urbino

Urbino, Le Marche
Photo by Luca Boldrini

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

Pesaro

Le Marche, Italy
Photo by Peter Leth

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

Macerata

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

Loreto

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

Ancona

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

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

Ascoli Piceno

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

Conero Riviera

Portonovo, Le Marche
Photo by Antonio Castagna


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

San Marino

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

Get Outside

Parco Nazionale dei Monti Sibillini

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

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

Frassasi Caves

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

What to Eat 

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

Olive Ascolane

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

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

Cured Meats

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

Brodetto di Pesce

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

Vincigrassi

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

Rosso Piceno and Rosso Conaro

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

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

Verdicchio

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

How to Get There

Photo by Luca Boldrini

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

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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.

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