I’ve written extensively on my blog about how much I love Italy! I often joke that I should have been born Italian – I love good food (pasta in particular!), I love everything beautiful and I love dolce vita lifestyle. Going to Italy is always such a delight and today I am going to share my top 5 favourite destinations in Italy.
OK, this one is a must as “all roads lead to Rome.” Every tourist’s exploration of Italy should start with its capital that has rich historical, artistic and cultural past. Every street lives and breathes history and there is a lot to see. At the very least, I would recommend checking out the Colosseum; Trevi Fountain (my hubby says it’s the most beautiful thing he has ever seen); Vatican with its museums and Sistine Chapel (totally worth the wait in long queue to see The Creation of Adam); Pantheon; Roman Forum and Villa Borghese. All of these are located in the centre of the city and can be easily covered in a couple of days.
What I really love about Rome, however, is its small side streets and ability to get lost and finding yourself in a random neighbourhood with its own piazza, churches of unparalleled beauty and some of the best Italian food. One of these areas is Trastevere (translates “across the Tiber”), a beautiful old neighbourhood across the river and away from the loud tourist crowds. It has its own vibe and to me represents real Rome, letting you take a peek into the life of regular Romans and how they live and socialize. It’s very green, cosy and bohemian with great (cheaper than touristy!) restaurants and cafes to visit.
…Or Firenze as Italians call it. Besides being a beautiful city, to me Florence is the cradle of Italian classical art, Renaissance in particular, and holds some of the greatest artistic assets. This is where some of the most talented and well-known Italian artists studied and perfected their skills. So don’t be surprised to walk into a church or palace to find out that some renown Italian painter decorated its walls and ceilings.
Once you check out the Duomo, Florence’s main attraction and most stunning cathedral (its rooftop provides great views of the city but be prepared for a steep hike over 463 steps), I suggest you head to Uffizi Gallery and the Academia. In Uffizi you will find the artwork by Botticelli, Giotto, Michelangelo, Titian, Leonardo da Vinci and Raffaello among many and see famous paintings such as The Birth of Venus, which is absolutely stunning when you see it in person! The Academia is home to and is most famous for Michelangelo’s David. He is indeed very handsome! There is another David in front of the Palazzo della Signoria, but don’t be fooled – it’s just a replica and real David can only be found in the Academia. Here you will also find paintings and sculptures by great artists, such as Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, Pontormo, del Sarto, Allori and Orcagna. And if you hadn’t had enough, I advise visiting few grand palaces, like Palazzo Veccio and Palazzo Pitti, while churches such as Basilica di Santa Croce and Basilica di Santa Maria Novella will leave you breathless.
One of the Italy’s top attractions, Venice is crowded most of the year which somewhat takes away its infamous sense of romance. Be prepared to join millions of tourists admiring beauty of its numerous small and big canals and medieval architecture. Once you get to Venice you will quickly discover that Piazza San Marco with its Basilica and side square opening to the lagoon are probably one of the most beautiful places you have seen. Other top attractions include Gallerie dell’a Accademia with its vast collection of Venetian paintings, Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace) that was the center of political and legal system, Grand Canal and its decorative Rialto Bridge, Murano island world famous for its glassblowing, and other numerous churches, museums and palaces worth visiting.
This historic city is filled with a sense of mystery – as you navigate its hidden passages, narrow alleyways and bridges, you can feel many secrets and stories they hold. Yet it’s very busy and vibrant – wherever you go, you see Venetian ball masques and elaborate costumes, Murano glass creations, little side markets and stalls with locals doing their daily shopping, and singing gondoliers skilfully manoeuvring their gondolas through narrow canals. I personally was on the mission to find the house of Casanova, world’s famous lover. When I asked one of the old waiters at the restaurant I was lunching at, he smiled and answered with a smirk: “Every house in this city is Casanova’s,” which is probably not far from the truth! But you can still find the house where he was born on Calle Malipiero, just off Campo San Samuele.
By now most of the avid travellers have probably seen the photos of Cinque Terre’s picturesque villages nested on dramatic seaside cliffs. Set along the coast of Ligurian Sea, Cinque Terre is a vibrant collection of five medieval finishing villages: Monterosso, Riomaggiore, Vernazza, Corniglia and Manarola. Each village has its own character and charm: Monterosso is a larger village with its own beach and seafront promenade (check out Statue of Neptune aka the Giant, Old Castle and the Church of Saint John the Baptist), while Corniglia is located at the top of the cape and is a great place to stop for drinks and try some local wines. Vernazza has a small but beautiful harbor, which is a great place for a meal especially around the sunset, but also make sure to check out its Doria Castle and the Sanctuary of the Virgin of Reggio.
Next is Manarola, one of the smallest villages but its houses are very colorful, while its vineyards and orchards are rich and fruitful. Finally, fifth village – Riomaggiore is one of the most popular among the tourists and has its own castle, an old church of San Giovanni Battista and even a natural park. All five villages are connected by a monorail since cars are not allowed in the area, so allow extra time for travel, while exploring each village without rush and enjoying stunning landscape. Also, don’t be surprised to hear English everywhere as monorail carriages tend to be full of trekkers, especially Americans. Cinque Terre offers excellent trekking routes, while food and wine (“Sciacchetrà” wine is produced here) are excellent. Here I tried my ‘black’ squid ink pasta for the first time. It didn’t look or sound appetizing but was in fact very tasty!
Having visited it a couple years ago, I am in love with the Puglia region in southern Italy. I was lucky to meet up with a fellow traveller who had a car and we were able to explore a bit of the region (Alberobello, Ostuni and Lecce) together.
Alberobello is one of the most unusual places I have been to thanks for its whimsical architectural style. This small old town with only 10,000 population is actually a UNESCO World Heritage site and is a home of the trulli culture. Wherever you look you will see white fairytale like traditional houses, trulli, with conical roofs made out of stones. What’s really special about these roofs is that they are made without mortar or any kind of the bonding material and are kept in place by a key, a round tip at the top of the cone. There is a reason behind this ingenious invention. According to the legend, trulli houses were built this way on purpose – to avoid paying taxes on the new settlements. The minute king’s tax inspectors arrived, they could be easily dismantled and then just as easily put back together once unwelcomed visitors left. The houses are quite small inside for modern lifestyle but some locals still live in them while others turned these into shops and restaurants. It’s a great place to visit and take your time to walk on small pathways between these traditional houses and have a meal in one of the local restaurants to try some local delicacies.
Author Bio: I am Lana aka The Stylish Voyager. I am a fashionista, voyager, geek, wife, foodie, PhD graduate, cat lover, and part-time wonder woman, and I document my discoveries on The Stylish Voyager as I explore the world each day. For more about me and my adventures, please visit my blog: www.thestylishvoyager.com.