Virtually unrivalled in it's classical heritage, Italy elicits thoughts of romance, fine food style, art, wine and good times. From motor scooters to pasta sauce, the opera to the catwalk, Italy has an instantly recognisable identity; an identity instantly associated with quality. In truth, the stereotypical Italian is a myth, an amalgam of various traits from various regions of the country. Italy is actually made up of 21 distinctly separate regions each with it's own culture and dialect. What they do all have in common is the passion with which they preserve their individual identities through strong tradition. It is this very factor that makes Italy so fascinating for travellers. To travel Italy is to travel a whole world.
Rome is not only the capital but also the spiritual heart of Italy. It is the nation’s glorious history incarnate, a place of legends which even in the 21st Century has lost little of it's awesome splendour, the concessions to modern times tucked respectfully between the domineering ancient architecture. From the awesome splendour of the Colosseum to the wonderful Piazza Navona it oozes romance and excitement. If Rome is the historic heart then Tuscany is the artistic main artery, an inspirational blend of picturesque rolling landscapes and striking medieval towns dominated by Florence with it's incredible Duomo and wonderful Galleries. Venice and romance are inseparable - a vast lagoon with 117 islands of magical architecture where lovers pass under the Bridge of Sighs on gondolas oblivious to the splendour above them in the form of St.Mark’s Basilica, the San Giorgio Maggiore and Santa Maria della Salute churches. Fashion lovers head for Milan, the grand meeting place of the chic and the classic and one of the most sophisticated cities in Europe, where the residents are as sculpted as the architecture and opera lovers flock to one of the oldest and most famous opera houses in the world, the Teatro alla Scala.
Tourism now accounts for 3% of Italy’s economy and there is a strong movement to build on this and rectify some of the country’s economic problems, especially in the south. With some of the most picturesque countryside in Europe, over 100,000 archaeological monuments and a culture that has hospitality at it's heart, things look extremely promising. Whatever your walk of life Italy has something to inspire you. From the natural splendour of the Italian Riviera to the architectural curios like the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Italy has a rare gift of combining nature, style and eccentricity. Go there and you will leave hungry for much more.
Italian Food and Drink.
Italian food varies dramatically from region to region, dependent on the influences of neighbouring countries, and the nature of local produce. For example, the region of Piedmonte is somewhat influenced by nearby France and Trentino-Alto Adige by nearby Austria. Generally however, Italy is renowned for it’s natural produce such as olive oil, tomatoes and various cheeses. The Campania region in particular is famous for this produce, indeed Naples was the birthplace of the pizza – the food most associated with Italy. Pizza is available cheaply and in all shapes, sizes and flavours throughout the country – there is even a ‘Volcano Pizza’ available in Pompeii, which spouts steam when you pierce the pastry. The pasta dishes also vary from region to region, capitalising on the local specialties such as the seafood in Liguria and the tarfufo and porcini mushrooms in Lazio. As a general rule however, there is a culinary north-south divide with the north favouring the rich and creamy whilst the south likes their food hot and spicy.
Sardinia – Undiscovered beaches.
The Mediterranean island of Sardinia is blessed with an amazing coastline with countless superb beaches. The 55km long Costa Smeralda in particular on the North East coast, was named after the amazing emerald waters that lap it’s shores. The once wild coastline was developed in the 1950’s into a high-class holiday destination but careful attention was paid to preserving the coast’s natural beauty. With breathtaking sandy beaches, punctuated by tranquil bays and rocky inlets, the developers of Costa Smeralda certainly achieved their aim. The main town on the coast is the ultra fashionable Porto Cervo and with it’s narrow streets and designer boutiques it forms a perfect accessory to the luxurious coastline. The Costa del Sud and the Costa Verde are equally as stunning, with the beauty of their beaches preserved from further development by special ordinances. Sardinia’s beaches are clean, unspoilt and a major asset of this Meditteranean gem.
The Aeolian Islands.
The Aeolian Islands constitute a volcanic archipelago scattered north of Milazzo off the north coast of Sicily. The major tourist island is Lipari, with it’s famous black obsidian beaches, friendly natives and superb archaeology reaching back to Neolithic times right through the extensive acropolis of the Greek occupation. The neighbouring island of Vulcano is an extinct volcano with 400 inhabitants – great for geology fans wanting to see a few fantastic natural formations. The island of Stromboli was immortalised in the film of the same name by Roberto Rossellini and is a small place with two tiny towns on opposite sides of a mildly active volcano. Salina is packed with vineyards, whilst petite Panarea is an almost clichéd picture of island beauty with quaint white houses and brilliant yellow ginestra bushes. There are Roman ruins on the uninhabited island of Basiluzzo whilst on Filicudi and Alicudi there are stunning beaches and a veritable marine kaleidoscope. A bit of island hopping is definitely in order when visiting the Aeolian Islands.
The Amalfi Coast.
The serpentine Amalfi Coast in the Campania region of Italy is simply littered with beauty and picturesque Italian towns. Beginning at the atmospheric cliff top seaside resort of Sorrento, the coast snakes along the Mediterranean Sea. Sorrento is filled with friendly bars and restaurants (including some of the best fish restaurants) all centred around the main square, the Piazza Tasso. Sunbathers can soak up the Italian sun on either one of the small sunbathing areas made up of volcanic sand and small pebbles, or one of the many wooden jetty-like sunbathing platforms. A short jaunt across the water is the beautifully enigmatic island of Capri whilst further south down the coast, there are countless picture postcard towns nestling along the rugged Amalfi rocks such as Ravello, Positano and Amalfi itself. The views are stunning and there is an extraordinary timeless quality. Rent a scooter and check it out.
Tuscany, Florence and Siena.
Famed for it’s rolling hills of the most amazing autumnal shades, Tuscany is a land of quiet coves and untamed mountains, quiet towns and stunningly beautiful cities. The roads wind throughout the hills almost like a natural part of the landscape snaking from one tiny hillside town to another. One of Tuscany’s gems is Florence, a city crammed with artistic and cultural wealth including the famous Ponte Vecchio spanning the River Arno, the landmark Duomo designed by Brunelleschi and the Uffizi Gallery packed with the world’s greatest collection of Italian Renaissance Art. Siena, Tuscany’s other major city is a lot quieter than Florence. With it’s medieval districts and pedestrianised squares, Siena is a superb place to stay as a base whilst branching out and visiting the rest of what is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful regions in Italy.