Where To Eat, Play & Stay In Italy
Italy is crazy. It is rich. It is home to some of the most beautiful people in the world - not to mention the bella scenografia (beautiful landscapes) scattered across the stunningly diverse countryside. In fact, there are few places in the Western world more bellissima than Italia. After all, Italy is the cradle of European civilization.
When you dream of Italy, Neapolitan pizzas come to mind, as does Amalfi's stunning coastline, the iconic sunflowers of Tuscany and Rome's ancient Colosseum. Then there's the infamous Vatican City, Michelangelo's Florence, Pisa's medieval leaning tower and Tuscan wine country. The picture-perfect hill towns of Siena, San Gimignano and Cortona - Tuscany's hill towns will have you weeping with pleasure as you sip your Chianti Classico. And...Venice - well, that ethereal city is a world unto itself. One could spend many lifetimes exploring the glories of bella Italia and still dream of coming back for more. Is it any wonder more than 47 million tourists visit each year? In a country so multifaceted, where does one begin?
The Cinque Terre lies on the famed Italian Riviera but it is remote. There are no cars to speak of. The villages are so pretty they're bordering on fairy-tale. Fabled and real, this is pure Italy, in all her splendor. The Amalfi Coast is Cinque Terre's upscale southern cousin. It's what Italian coastal dreams are made of and everyone should see it just once in their lives. The scenery is stunning. It's a locale where la dolce vita has found her sea legs. Limoncello flows from every outdoor cafe table and pezzanta (spiced salami) excites the taste buds. Swooning with every taste of gelato or every sip of granita is a norm when traveling through Amalfi. For the rich and famous, the Amalfi coast is paradise found. Positano, Ravello, Sorrento - these cliff-hugging villages are Amalfi's bathing beauties.
Just a stone's throw away on the map, Sicily aims to intoxicate the soul. Sicilians consider themselves to be Sicilian - not Italian. Their island and their culture is uniquely theirs. Palermo, the Sicilian capital, is a somewhat chaotic and dirty array of Medieval streets and alleyways, while the Aeolian Islands are teeny, tiny diamonds sparkling in the midst of the Tyrrhenian Sea. Sicily is famous for her Greek ruins, and the Teatro Greco in Siracusa is one such site that heralds a visit. You may wish to dive into cooking classes in Taormina, Sicily's quaint and charming hill town - or lounge away the day on Cefalu's beaches. No matter what you're looking for, a trip to Sicily is one Italian escape you won't regret.
Rome & The Vatican
Rome is a feast for the senses, to put it lightly. Vespas, buses, cute little Italian cars and hoards of tourist take to the streets every day. Rome is a living, breathing theatrical spectacle and may just be the most fascinating city in the world. Why? Because it's so full of life! Piazzas, pizza, palaces, museums, basilicas, churches - layers and layers of history live together under the Roman sun, which shines like a beacon from the heavens on Rome, as it does into the Pantheon's oculus. Once the heart of the mighty Roman Empire, Rome is still the seat of the papacy today. Vatican City, technically its own country - (they have their own postal service, newspaper and radio station) - is situated just across from Rome's Centro Storico, on the banks of the Tiber River. St. Peter's Basilica is massive. You'll want to dress like a pilgrim when you come here - (no bare shoulders or knees allowed) - and the crowds can be overwhelmingly, so be prepared. The Vatican Museums hold the largest art collection on earth. They are not to be missed.
Food & Wine In Italy
Rome's food scene is one of the best in the world. Its wine bars are becoming more and more popular, too. These enoteche are part wine bar, part restaurant. You get to sample great wines and nibble on Roman goodies. Let's explore a few of these wine bars for our own taste of la bella vita.
Enoteca Il Goccetto is one of the first wine bars opened in Rome and it's housed in a tiny building built in 1527. The wines by the glass are reasonably priced (3 euros 50) and the cold buffet of cheeses and cured meats are the perfect accompaniment.
Mimi e Coco wine bar is housed in a former bishop's palace. Carbonara, pizza margherita, crostini and salads grace the menu, along with a lovely variety of wines to taste. This is place is perfect for a candlelit dinner for two. For a once-in-a-lifetime enoteca experience, Casa Bleve is Rome's most elegant wine bar. Zucchini flowers stuffed with ricotta and hazelnuts, turkey rolls topped with truffles, roasted peppers stuffed with salmon mousse - these are just a few of the Lucullan delights found at Casa Bleve.
Sardinia, or Sardegna, is closer to Tunisia than mainland Italy. The island's beaches are the stuff legends are made of, while the interior is surprisingly untouched by tourism. In August, Italians flock to the beaches which become wildly congested. However, they remain some of the cleanest in the country and if you spend time on the dazzling coastline in May, June or July, chances are you'll get a stretch of sand all to your self. Sardinian cuisine is a mouth-watering treat as well. The famous pecorino sardo, made from ewe's milk is a local specialty. The country enjoys a variety of home-made breads to sustain the appetites of shepherds wandering the hills and valleys. Vernaccia is the most well-known wine of Sardinia, while the preferred red is the Cannonau di Sardegna. Hearty pastas, fish stews and fresh seafood grace the menus of Sardinia's restaurants.
Classical Florence is home to the magnificent Florence Cathedral with its fabled Duomo (dome), a truly impressive feat of Renaissance engineering. (You can thank Brunelleschi later.) The Uffizi gallery houses more glorious art than you can possibly imagine, including: Boticelli's Primavera, Michelangelo's David and Da Vinci's controversial Adoration of the Magi. You could spend days in this gallery so focus on the works that have meaning for you. The Giardino Bardini, a villa and garden outside the heart of Florence is a secret place that merits an afternoon visit. Stroll through lush gardens, past marble sculptures and dine in the romantic cafe. From the Giardino Bardini, you'll be treated to expansive vistas of the entire city. Be sure to wander throughout Florence's beautiful piazzas - the Piazza della Signoria, Piazza Michelangelo and Palazzo Vecchio. Last but not least, the Ponte Vecchio. No visit to Florence would be complete without whiling away a couple of hours (or nights) along the architecturally stunning bridge, taking in the scenery, people watching and savoring your gelato.
Venice. What does one say about Venice? It is ethereal, surreal and impossibly gorgeous. The city is an engineering feat, with its rows and rows of stately palaces and churches standing atop posts staked into mud banks. Venice is a city of profound imagination. Wander its mysterious alleyways or bask under the sun while drifting down the canals in a gondola while your gondolier sings like Pavarotti and you'll wonder if you're dreaming. The Peggy Guggenheim museum is a must-see, as is Piazza San Marco - the Old World's great drawing room. Take in the Rialto market, cruise over to Murano Island for some delicately blown-glass and sip your Bardolino. Venice is intoxicating, and Italy isn't Italy without Venice.
Savoring the sights of bella Italia is an experiential lesson in living la dolce vita. You'll discover one trip simply isn't enough. And, that's okay - because Italy will surprise and excite your travel lust, over and over again.
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