Italy dips down out of Europe and into the Mediterranean like a lady’s leg firmly planted in a sleek stiletto, so it’s hardly surprising that Italians are known for their impeccable style and fashionable dress sense. They’re also known for once having an empire that stretched across the globe, and for having the most spectacular churches, frescos, sculptures and Renaissance paintings in all of Europe.
From the depths of the canals in Venice, which floats on a series of islands in an Adriatic lagoon, and the bleached sands of San Remo on the Riviera, to the rocky crags of the Alps, Dolomites and Apennines, Italy has everything from beach holidays to luxury mountain ski resorts.
Italy’s cities reveal awe-inspiring architecture from the curved arches of the Ponte Vecchio in Florence to the crumbling magnificence of the Colosseum in Rome. Home of da Vinci, Michelangelo, Caravaggio and Botticelli, its artworks are a visual delight to all visitors.
Nestled into the outskirts of Rome is the independent Vatican City, the seat of the Pope and home to the famous St Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel. The influence of the Holy Catholic Church on the people of Italy is still evident today in a series of holy festivals, carnivals, and parades involving young and old alike in almost every city, town and village.
The rugged southern shore dividing the Bay of Naples from the Gulf of Salerno is a restful and picturesque area. Miniature towns shelter in precipitous coastal ravines and tranquil seas calmly lap the shores of quiet pebbled beaches. The Amalfi Coast is a great relaxation spot from which to enjoy coastal Italian culture.
The busy seaside town of Amalfi basks in the glory of its longevity as the first Sea Republic of Italy and is referred to as the ‘pearl of the coast’ as it has a bit of everything for the weary traveller. A pebble’s throw away from here is the quiet village of Atrani. Its tranquil beach rests languidly on the water’s edge against a superb backdrop of mountains.
The principal Tuscan city of Florence nestles below the wooded foothills of the Apennines, along the banks of the Arno River. The city itself is muse to some and home to many stylish citizens, who enhance the cobbled streets and fashionable piazzas with their inimitable Italian flair.
Sophistication reaches new levels in Milan. The financial and commercial centre of Italy, Milan attracts fashion fundis, opera lovers, the young, the beautiful and the bold. Shopping, eating and clubbing is serious business here – and it is no surprise that the city boasts the world’s ‘most beautiful shopping mall’, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.
Open for visitors like a living museum, liberally dotted with fascinating ruins, surviving relics and archaeological sites. The centuries peel back with each new vista in this great city of gladiators, lunatic drivers and sumptuous pasta dishes. Vespas, nippy little Fiats and red sports cars speed past trendy sidewalk bistros and nightclubs, revealing the Rome of Fellini’s La Dolce Vita; while the chillingly stark facades of the Stadio Olimpico complex remind you of Mussolini’s attempts to reinvent the architecture of the Caesars.
For a taste of the Baroque, climb the famous Spanish Steps, walk through the Piazza Navona or toss a coin into the beautiful Trevi Fountain. Renaissance splendour is perhaps best revealed in the Pope’s residence, the Vatican Palace, or in Michelangelo’s efforts on the roof of the Sistine Chapel. From early Christian Basilicas to the Roman Forum, the Colosseum and the Pantheon, the sequence of history trails back to the height of the Roman Empire.
The largest island in the Mediterranean Sea may be just a short hop from the Italian mainland, across the narrow strait of Messina, but it is a world apart in atmosphere and attitude. Everything Italian seems a little more appetising here – not only the food, but the history and culture as well.
The island is experiencing a tourism boom and a surge in development as the destructive influences of the Mafia wane. Sicilian people are gracious, noble and welcoming, and the island itself offers natural and historic attractions of great beauty and enormous interest.
Elegant Venetian buildings and palaces peer over the ancient maze of narrow streets and labyrinth of canals that make up this unique city. Tourists naturally flock to Venice to experience its inimitable charm. The downside of this can be felt in the narrow streets and cramped piazzas of its sought-after areas. A good way to get to know a more personal side of Venice is to saunter through its romantic back streets and residential quarters.
When to visit
With Italy’s diverse geography, traditions and climate, there is never a bad time to visit. It has something to offer all through the year, from active city jaunts to relaxing trips to the beach or countryside.
Though we would say the best months for travelling in Italy for a short or city break are from April to June and mid-September to October as temperatures are usually comfortable and the crowds aren’t too intense.