It’s amazing how many Italians don’t go abroad for their holidays. When I taught English in Rome I used to ask my students why they didn’t visit other countries. They simply replied: “Why would we? We have incredible culture, some of the best beaches in Europe and mountains to go skiing in the winter!” Italy is undoubtedly beautiful and I feel privileged to have spent three years of my life there. It’s a unique country where you are just as likely to find beauty in a quiet cobbled backstreet or a traditional trattoria than in its stunning beaches or extraordinary countryside. Using my experience of living in Italy I have compiled a list of ten places I feel are worth visiting. Some will be obvious, others maybe not so. Here is my personal list of 10 of the most beautiful places to visit in Italy…
Venice is one of the most famous cities in Italy and one that’s built on water. It’s also often cited as one of the world’s most romantic travel destinations. In the middle of the city, you’ll find the grand square ‘Piazza San Marco’ where the even more impressive basilica resides. If you’re a culture seeker you’ll be spoilt for choice here; Venice has the world’s most artistic masterpieces per square kilometre and there are numerous churches, museums, and palaces worth visiting. Another highlight is the Bridge of Sighs (Ponte dei Sospiri) which is an enclosed bridge that passes over the Rio di Palazzo. If you’re a romantic type and want to try a gondola just remember to take plenty of money – you will be charged a small fortune for the privilege.
The rugged, rustic but breathtaking beauty of Cinque Terre seems to perfectly sum up why Italy is so revered as a travel destination. Located on the stunning Italian Riviera coastline and easily one of the most attractive places to visit in Italy, the series of five brightly coloured medieval villages cling jaggedly – and almost impossibly – to the inhospitable coastal rocks. It’s such an important place it was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1997. Meander around the narrow streets, wander the ancient vineyards which cling to steep terraces and then head for a pesto pasta lunch (a regional speciality) at one of the local trattorias.
Verona and the Lakes
Verona is a lovely, relaxed city which was made famous by Shakespeare’s famous story of Romeo and Juliet. It has the third largest Roman Arena in Italy and I highly recommend catching an opera during your visit. UNESCO has awarded the city a world heritage site status because of its urban structure and architecture, which include Roman remains and ancient castles. As you can imagine Verona is a very romantic city, so if you take a partner you never know they might just end up proposing! The Italian lakes are very accessible from Verona and Lake Garda, Lake Como and Lake Maggiore are some of the most well-known. The mountain lakes offer classically beautiful images of Italy and are flanked by sleepy cobblestone villages and secluded gardens.
A city known for its beauty, left-wing politics, wealth and most importantly its cuisine. Bologna is the capital of the Emilia-Romagna region in northern Italy. If you arrive by train, move swiftly away from the station so you can take in the most beautiful sites of the city. There are many arcades which allow you to explore the city even if it’s raining. I recommend wandering around the backstreets until you stumble upon one of the many beautiful squares where you can stop for a cafe or gelato. Bologna also boasts the oldest university in the world, which was founded in 1088. Although most people visit the city to discover its renowned culinary delights, these include tagliatelle al ragù, lasagne, tortellini served in broth and fried gnocchi.
Where to stay in Bologna…
When I was in Bologna I stayed at these beautifully unique boutique apartments which were a former family residence turned into carefully restored polished apartments. With elegant and unusual luxury decor they are ready to accommodate anyone from a solo business traveller seeking the comfort of a hotel or tourists who want to feel at home in more local surroundings. It is located in the heart of the historic center of Bologna, halfway between the train station and Piazza Maggiore. Book directly from their website and you’ll also be welcomed by a tasty surprise!
Florence and the Tuscany region
Florence is a both a magnificent and fascinating place and an art lovers dream. A popular city nestled in the rolling hills of the Tuscany region, Florence has plenty to offer its many visitors. For starters there’s the numerous museums filled with famous paintings and sculptures and two places I recommend are the Pitti Palace and the Uffizi. The latter hosts work by Caravaggio, Leonardo da Vinci, and Michelangelo and receives approximately 1.6 million tourists a year (you should book before you go or unfortunately face a long wait). Also take your time to explore the rest of the Tuscany. Known as Renaissance country, the region offers some of the most beautiful and romantic natural scenery in the world. The extraordinary countryside and coastline keep the relaxed vacationers happy and the ever-flowing supply of fine wine and cuisine will certainly please the food connoisseurs.
It’s impossible to do a tour of Italy without visiting their famous capital. Rome is a truly incredible city which is full of history spanning over a whopping twenty centuries – you could say Rome is the world’s best open-air museum. As you wander around the streets the architecture will definitely leave you in awe, so make sure you pack your camera. There are many sites to visit, the most famous being the Coliseum, the Vatican, St. Peter’s, the Trevi Fountain and my personal favourite the Pantheon. You probably won’t get to see them all in a weekend but it will give you a reason to go back! Rome’s cafe culture is also world famous and for a real Rome experience chose from one of many piazzas and watch the world go by with (an expensive) expresso.
Sorrento & The Amalfi Coast
This coastline should be on everyone’s list of stunning places to visit in Italy. The most famous area is the resort town of Sorrento where you’ll find the addictive liqueur limoncello and of course plenty of great wine. The city can also be used as a base to visit Pompeii – the town which was buried by Mount Vesuvius’ volcanic eruption back in 79AD. Further along the ruggedly beautiful coast, you will find the impossibly picturesque and affluent town of Positano and the small pretty town of Amalfi. The area offers one of the world’s greatest coastal drives so be sure to hire a car if you can, Fiat 500’s are always an apt choice! I would also recommend taking a boat from Sorrento to the romantic island of Capri where you can see the gorgeous Blue Grotto – a sea cave that is flooded with a brilliant blue or emerald light.
This large island just off the coast of Italy is a favourite holiday spot for Italians and rich footballers. Most of the time it’s a very quiet and relaxing island but popular areas can get very busy in the summer so you will need to book early to stay at the best places. To reach Sardinia you can sail or fly into Alghero, Cagliari or the port town Olbia. The whole island is beautiful and compared to many holiday islands resorts in Europe it remains relatively unspoiled. There are certainly no high rise concrete hotels here, even the resort areas are surprisingly tasteful. I would personally recommend Sant’antioco and San Pietro as these are the most remote and traditional areas. Sardinia’s coastline is world renowned so you won’t have to search far for amazing beaches and clear water where ever you choose to stay.
A strange inclusion some might say and to be honest I hadn’t really considered Puglia until I discovered ‘Il Collegio Holidays’. The company was featured on Channel 4’s Grand Designs in 2004 and they offer visitors a chance to stay in a beautiful villa in Masseria Impisi. It’s marketed as an art holiday although even if you are hopeless at drawing (like me) you still could enjoy the wonderful scenery that the Adriatic coast offers. This part of Italy is perfect for those wishing to sample a genuine taste of the real Italy as well as the fabulous blue sea and beaches. Other reasons to visit this region are the excellent regional cuisine, beautiful baroque towns, picturesque olive groves and lush green orchards.
The largest island in the Mediterranean Sea makes an excellent holiday destination. Like Sardinia, it has excellent beaches and wonderful cuisine only far cheaper. You will also have the luxury of being able to island hop – the Aegadian Islands, Aeolian Islands and Pantelleria Lampedusa are all nearby and very accessible. Sicily is a traditional and rustic island with a rich culture and a potent mix of architecture, arts, cuisine, literature and music. Here you can spend your time sitting on beaches, visiting archaeological sites or sampling the locally caught fish. Make sure you include a visit to the Selinunte which is an ancient building containing five temples centered on an acropolis. The east coast of Sicily is more developed and tourist friendly and the west coast is more untouched. As you travel down the latter you’ll be amazed how friendly the Sicilian people are and how pleased they are that you chose to visit Sicily.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my 10 of the most beautiful places to visit in Italy. It was definitely a tough choice and if you’re planning a visit I would also recommend the sun-soaked Riccione, gorgeous Pisa (and its leaning tower), the elegant and important city of Milan, the luxurious Alps based resort of Selva di Val Gardena and the green winding valleys of historic Umbria. Enjoy your stay!