Italy's best tourist attractions
and the Vatican
***Rome. One of the planet's greatest cities for culture and awesome artifacts,
Rome has so much to see that a lifetime isn't enough. See
Rome Pictures, Rome Travel Guide
***The Vatican, an independent state situated
in the middle of Rome. You can not be less-than impressed by St
Peter's size and decor as well as the incredible Vatican Museums, even non-Christians. Vatican Pictures and information.
Bellagio, Lake Como and the Italian Alps.
***The Lakes at the foot of the Alps
are a great north Italy playground, though it gets tediously stuffed
in holiday time. Lake Garda (Lago di Garda), the biggest and most popular of all,
is relatively clean and good for many sports and activities. This
is one of Europe's top windsurfing spots.
Lake Como (Lago di Como), the most scenic and romantic lake, has masses
of gorgeous villas visible from good-value ferries and some worthy hiking trails attracting middle
class tourists and walkers, while Maggiore (Lago Maggiore) is geographically
the least dramatic, but provides sophistication and tranquility. Lake Como Pictures and information.
If you are not staying on the shores of the lakes, the most ideal
base for the lakes, especially Como, is **Bergamo, starring the Citta
Alta old town, one of Italy's prettiest medieval walled towns. Bergamo has an an international
**Mantua (Mantova), best known from
a scene in Verdi's opera Rigoletto is one of the most off-beat
must-sees, particularly if you are an Italian art lover.
Two palaces, Palazzo Ducale and Palazzo Te, sparkle with frescoes
by Mantegna and Guilio Romano, some of the finest Renaissance treasures
in the world.
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele shopping centre, Milan.
**Milan (Milano), the country's commercial centre and home
to some of the world's leading designers labels.
The 360-degree panoramic view from the roof of the Duomo, the largest
Gothic cathedral in the world, is wowissimo, especially on a clear
day with the view stretching to the Italian Alps.
Leonardo da Vinci's 'The Last Supper' is in Santa Maria delle Grazie and visible Tues-Sun 9am - 7.30pm; visits are for 15 minutes and will need to be booked two or three weeks in advance by phone (Tel: 02-894-211-46).
Milan's stylish urban atmosphere attracts affluent shoppers, but
is also an ideal gateway to the beautiful Italian lake district.
*Turin (Torino), Italy's second largest industrial city,
is one of Europe's most majestic baroque cities and excellent for
a short break.
It has outstanding museums, like Museo Egizio, the world's largest
Egyptian Museum outside Egypt, stunning churches, like the Duomo
(San Giovanni Battista) that houses the 'Holy Shroud of Turin' (even
if it is a fake).
*** Parco Nazionale del Gran Paradiso (Valle d'Aosta), Italian Alps,
bordered by Europe's tallest mountains including Mont Blanc and
the Matterhorn, this is home to some of the best Italian ski resorts,
such as Courmayeur and Cervinia.
***Venice (Venezia) is, yes, saturated with visitors, and
yes, expensive, but this atmospheric city is utterly unique.
The Venice Carnival in February/March is super touristy but very special and worth the effort, even taking along some fancy dress costumes. Venice Travel Guide, Venice Pictures.
**Verona, this pretty 'Romeo and Juliet'
city is famous for its superb summer opera season at the Arena,
an imposing Roman amphitheatre in Piazza Bra.
Verona also hosts the most genuine carnival in Italy, though Venice wins
in the colour stakes.
**Genoa (Genova), gateway to Italy's Riviera has a confused
layout (so avoid driving there) but sports some stunning buildings
and has a lively local culture. Genoa Pictures and information.
Monterosso and the Cinque Terre path.
***Cinque Terre, which means 'Five
Lands', comprises five very Italian villages (Monterosso, Vernazza,
Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore) along the scenic coastline
of Riviera di Levante.
Although it gets tourist overload in the summer and the beaches
are small and pebbly, the scenery is worth the trip and hikers
love it. Walkers on the famous Cinque Terre path are just visible on the right of the image.
It's on the coast just north of La Spezia. See northwest coast map and
Italy Beach Pictures
Bologna seen from the Asinelli Tower.
***Bologna has one of Italy's
most exquisite city centres with 44km of soaring arcades, Europe's oldest university and is loved
for its grace and dignity, similar to Florence but far less touristy.
Fear for your bella figura here, the city is known as the gastronomic
capital of Italy and nicknamed La Grassa, Fatty! (or alternatively La Rossa, the Red; La Dotta, the learned; and the Three T's, towers, tortellini and tits!)
Florence with the Duomo to the right.
***Florence (Firenze), prime symbol of the Renaissance, is
one of Europe's most loved cities, with fantastic architecture,
great collections of art and an enchanting (if crowded) atmosphere. Florence Travel Guide, Florence Pictures.
The Pisa Tower which was originally the bell tower for the cathedral on the left.
**Pisa, thanks to the world-famous
Leaning Tower is inevitably packed with day-tourists, but the town
itself is also quite a charmer. The tower is actually a part of
Campo dei Miracoli (Field of Miracles), one of the world's most
spectacular squares, including three other awesome structures -
the Duomo, Baptistry and Camposanto.
Pisa is little known as the birthplace of Galileo Galilei, the world's greatest
physicist and astronomer.
Lucca's town wall, Tuscany.
***Lucca, a small, tranquil old town sporting some unusual medieval sights and all contained within a stupendous defensive wall that is a joy to cycle or walk around. Lucca Pictures and information.
***Siena, one of the loveliest Italian
cities, with an historic style and medieval atmosphere. Siena Travel Guide.
**San Gimignano, a stunning Tuscan
hilltown, known for its skyline of medieval towers (now 14 remain
out of an original 72) and world famous gelateria (ice cream shop).
For more local colour, try less touristy Volterra, with
excellent Museo d'Arte Sacra (though not as pretty as San Gimignano),
or Massa Maríttima.
Basilica di St. Francesco, Assisi, Umbria.
**Assisi is mainly known as the birth and burial place of
St Francis, an extraordinary 12th century saint and founder of the
The star tourist attraction is the Basilica di St. Francesco, one
of Italy's greatest and most inviting churches, containing wonderful
frescoes on the life of St. Francis by Giotto. The place attracts
pilgrims and tourists all year round, but reverts to a delightfully
tranquil hilltown after the day-trippers have gone.
Also try *Gubbio, another attractive
walled town, the most medieval in the Umbria region, with restrained
tourism. It is also known for its mind-boggling festival, Corsa
dei Ceri in May.
Naples, the true home of the pizza, is heavily polluted,
noisy, shabby and chaotic, making the old saying 'see Naples and die' sadly
It can be a fascinating city though, if you live like a Neapolitan
and watch your wallet constantly.
The Museo Archeologico Nazionale is worth checking for Greek and
Roman artefacts and Naples is an ideal gateway to Pompeii, Herculaneum,
the Villa Oplontis and the island of Cápri. See the Islands
The resort of Sorrento, a package-tour favourite, can be another
good base for those sights.
An original Pompeii fresco in the hall of a Roman tavern.
South Italy Blog post Naples - Amalfi
***Pompeii, one of the greatest Roman
cities was abruptly terminated by Mt. Vesuvius' eruption in 79 AD; it offers magnificent walks along genuine Roman alleyways past well-preserved villas,
bars, bathhouses and brothels in Europe's greatest archeological site. Although a combined day-ticket with Herculaneum is available, it
is rather optimistic to do both, since seeing Pompeii alone should take
5 to 6 hours. It opens 8.30am-6pm in the summer and until 3.30pm in winter.
**Herculaneum, another Roman site buried
under the lava of the Vesuvius is smaller and less impressive but
better preserved than Pompeii.
**Paestum, magnificent ruins of a 7th
century BC Greek city, with three of the world's best preserved
Doric temples and a fine archaeological Museum.
An hour bus or train from the port town of *Salerno.
Italy's Amalfi coast, Positano town.
***Amalfi Coast, one of Italy's most
scenic coastlines, stretches between Sorrento and Salerno with dramatic
cliffs and picturesque resort villages with close-packed, steeply
terraced houses on cliffs, including the classy, upmarket resort town
of **Positano or the artist's favourite Italian destination (among others, D.H.Lawrence, Gore Vidal, Greta Garbo), **Ravello. Ravello's dramatic Villa Rufolo offers concerts through the summer until the end of October.The views are breathtaking, as are the prices so budget travellers will need to do a lot of leg work.
**Matera, the abandoned ancient
city of 'sassi' (stone cave houses), used be home to 20,000
habitants, is now listed as one of Italy's many UNESCO World Heritage
**Puglia (aka Apulia), the heel of Italy bordering both the Adriatic and Ionian Seas, is a dry, barren region rich in archeological sites; it's been settled by Greeks, Romans, Carthaginians, Goths, Byzantines and Normans, among others. It's also rich in pasta (supplying 75% of Europe's pasta), olive oil, wine, litter and cute little pointy houses called trulli.
Factor in a year-round fine, warm climate, easy 3 hour flights from London, great golf courses, uncrowded beaches (though pebbly, not sandy) and fantastic local cuisine that specialises in seafood and this area is one of the best Italian destinations, though as usual July and August will be busy and less attractive.
One village containing 1,500 15thC trullis is Alberobello, now a UNESCO site.
Apulians take a siesta from 2-5pm (i.e. everything shuts) and react better to visitors if they speak a few words of Italian.