Oh Italy, the place of my family’s roots, warm vibrant people, lush wines, and delectable food. The land of Far Niente, doing nothing deliberately. I am so ready for our return to Italy. On our next trip, we will be exploring the area around Milan and Piemonte. I have visited your beauty 6 times, traveling with both of my sisters, my Mother, dear friends, and my beloved travel partner Capt. K. My first visit to Italy was in 1988. It was love at first sight. The architecture and art, the food and history, the people and ambience, I am completely in enthralled with you. My last visit was in 2012, I have missed you. This trip has been rescheduled three times. I am so ready to embrace all you have to offer.
For me, travel is experience that changes how you eat and how you think about the world. Your perspective is broadened, current events and history make more sense to you, art comes alive for you. Listed below are my recommendations for experiences you do not want to miss when visiting Italy:
You will never eat Dairy Queen again.
Italian Gelato is sublime. It is full of fresh fruit flavors or rich deep chocolate. I have at least one everyday while I am there and often I have two in one day. You will find a Gelato shop on every street corner in Italy, no matter how small the village.
Walk Among History
I have a fascination with all things ancient. To stand on the ancient streets of Pompeii or the Roman Forum and think of the people that were walking those streets a thousand years ago, is awe inspiring. From the ancient arena in Verona with its two tiered arcade to the classic Greek amphitheater in Taormina with its stunning views, throughout Italy there are ancient places for you to visit.
Stay at a winery
Wine is at the heart of all things Italian. The climate and soil create some of the world's best wines. White or red, still or sparkling, sweet or dry, however your wine tastes run, you will find something delicious to enjoy in Italy. To get a greater appreciation for how grapes are grown and wine is fermented, visit a winery or better yet stay at a winery. We stayed at the Castello Banifi Hotel in Tuscany. I would recommend it to anyone wanting a luxury wine experience. Looking for something a bit more budget friendly, `check out Agriturismo.it for rooms, flats and apartments in wine growing regions throughout Italy at very reasonable prices, some places include cooking classes or wine tastings with your accommodations.
Visit Sites From Your Favorite Movie or Book
Italy is often the backdrop for novels. I enjoy visiting in person, places that I have read about. Pictured above on the left is the Bridge of Sighs in Venice, I was interested in seeing it after reading Richard Russo's novel "The Bridge of Sighs." On the right is the interior courtyard of the Vatican Museum. Daniel Silva's recent novels have his protagonist Gabriel Allon visiting the Vatican and doing research in the Vatican Library. on a visit to Rome, CaptK and I spent a day visiting all the sites that were featured in Dan Brown's "Angels and Demons." It was fun to see the places that sparked the imagination of these authors.
Throw a Coin in a Fountain
When visiting Rome, you must throw a coin into Trevi Fountain to insure that you will return to Italy. As you can see from the photos above, I have not missed an opportunity to throw a coin in the Trevi Fountain in the past 33 years.
Visit an Island
Italy is most identified as a peninsula, but do not overlook her islands when planning your visit. Each island has it's own personality. On Murano, just outside Venice, you can visit the famous glass blowing workshops, where colorful glass creations are created by traditional methods. On Capri, you can soak up the Italian Riviera vibe and enjoy the mozzarella and tomato salad that takes its name from the island. Stretching your visit to encompass an island or two, will allow you to experience an Italy which is slower paced but equally as rich in culture and culinary delights.
Spend the Morning in a Market
Whether you visit the Saturday Market in Alba or the daily market at Campo de' Flori in Rome, markets are a delightful way to gain insight into an area. Italy has 20 very distinct regions. The fruits, vegetables, fish and household items sold at markets illustrate a region's personality. They are the window into to what makes a specific region unique. The offerings are different based what is grown in the area and which season you are visiting. You are more likely to see mushrooms, potatoes and basil in northern markets and lemons, chili peppers and eggplants in southern markets.
Enjoy Some Art
The art and cultural "rebirth" of the 14th to 17th centuries known as the Renaissance started in Italy. You can see thousands of pieces from that period throughout Italy. In every town, churchs, museums and palazzos beckon you to stop and reflect on the beauty and architecture which was created in that time period. Of course, there are works of great significance like Micheal Angelo's masterpiece sculpture David, pictured above. You will also find examples of Baroque architecture and Renaissance paintings in the churches of every small town and village. If your tastes are more contemporary than classical, you will find plenty to delight you. Italy has embraced bringing contemporary art into the places you visit daily. Whether it is an sculpture garden in the vineyards of Piemonte or the Guggenheim Collection in Venice, contemporary art is embraced and revered in Italy.
Take a Cooking Class
Foodies from all over the world come to Italy to EAT! From the risotto's of Milan to the cannoli's of Sicily, there is something delicious in every region. One of the best ways to learn about the cuisine and ingredients that it make up Italy's deliciousness is to take a Cooking Class. Even if you never make homemade pasta when you return home, learning about the semolina flour and why some pastas are made with 4 eggs and some are made with 40 eggs add insight to your enjoyment of the food. Keep in mind that food is incredibly regional in Italy, so a cooking class in Torino may teach you to make Tiramisu while a cooking class in Naples is more liking to teach you how to make Sfogliatella.
Eat Pizza in a Piazza
Pizza is universally loved and eaten throughout Italy, although the toppings available can be very regional. Where ever you are in Italy, enjoying a pizza, a glass of local red wine and an outdoor seat watching the the world walk by is one of the greatest pleasures of the trip.
Spend the Day at a Beach
Often when we travel, we are rushing from sight to sight at breakneck speed trying to see it all. Italy is one of those places that in invites you to slow down and savor the experience. Whether you take a boat to the sandbars surrounding Venice or grab a lounge chair and a lemonade on the beach in Sorrento, spending a leisurely day enjoying the Mediterranean Sea and sun can give as much a window into Italian life as wandering through the Uffizi.
Explore the Macabre
Do your tastes run to the darker side of life? You will not want to miss the catacombs and churches that feature the dead. The Church of Santa Maria dell' Oranione e Morte is in the center of Rome and one of the easiest place to experience how the time of the Darks Ages and the transition to Christianity changed how we look at the dead. You can continue your explorations of the macabre at the the world's first catacombs just outside Rome. Catacombs are not limited to Rome. You can visit Juilet's Tomb in the catacombs of Verona as well as the catacombs in Naples and in Palermo, on Sicily.
Sip a Cappuccino and Watch the World Go By
There is nothing better than a mid morning cappuccino break when exploring an Italian city or town. You will find cafes with outdoor seating in every village and hamlet through Italy. They all invite you to take a seat, sip a coffee and refresh yourself before heading out for more exploration. As an aside, Italians only drink cappuccino in the the mornings. A shot of expresso or a lemonade is more typical as an afternoon refreshment. Whatever time of day, you will never be asked to leave your table, you will need to ask for the check yourself directly.
Indulge in a Authentic Italian Meal
Meal times are sacred in Italy. Many shops and businesses close for 2 or 3 hours in the afternoon so everyone can have a proper meal. It's not surprising, Italy is the home of the Slow Food Movement. Their food is very regionalized. The best meals are eaten with what is typical for that area. Tiramisu, risotto or meat ragu on tagliatelle in northern Italy; caponata, pasta pomodoro or chocolate tartufo in the southern Italy. Wherever you are and whatever deliciousness you enjoy, you are invited to sit down and savor the meal. There is no reason to rush, because the next thing on your sightseeing list is probably closed until after the lunch break.
Wander with Wonder
In Italy, there is always something intriguing, interesting or breath taking around the next corner. I encourage you to get out there and explore. Take time to wander around a village, turn down a different street, maybe get a bit lost. Peer in a courtyard, ask questions to someone even if you do not speak their language. The greatest moments in travel happen when you discover something unexpected.
Are you ready to book your trip to Italy?
Listed below are some of my favorite hotels in Italy:
Best for a Splurge - The Hassler
Resort Style - The Rome Hilton
Best Location - The Hotel Borgognoni
In a Winery - Castello Banfi Hotel
Closest to the Last Supper Fresco - Hotel Palazzo Delle Stelline
On the Lake - Regina Palace
In La Morra:
In the Town Center - Sella Angelino Mariella
Best for a Splurge - Palas Cerequio