Beautiful cities and sun-drenched coastlines
Kick off your Italian tour in Milan, Europe’s fashion capital, before heading across to the floating city of Venice for a gondola ride. Head south to see the crumbling grandeur of Rome, Pisa and Florence, then wind your way down to sunny Naples for a look at the astounding sites of Mount Vesuvius and Pompeii.
Turin is the capital of Piemonte, the ‘land at the foot of the mountains’. And it was, albeit briefly, the very first capital of Italy after unification in 1861. The centre itself is elegant and sophisticated. With its baroque architecture, wide boulevards, elegant squares and white buildings, it’s said to be the most French city in Italy. Combine this with a thriving arts scene and you have a charming city break destination. As a major industrial centre – carmakers Fiat and Alfa Romeo are based here – leisure travellers often overlook Turin. Make sure you don’t make the same mistake!
Sophisticated. Stylish. Wealthy. Glamorous. All words that come to mind when describing Milan. Shop 'til you drop at the designer stores that have won the city’s reputation as Europe’s fashion capital. Sample the electric atmosphere at the San Siro Stadium – home to Inter and AC Milan, 2 of the world’s most famous football clubs – on a big match day. Join the rich and beautiful people at the city’s glitzy bars and fine-dining restaurants. Or overload on culture at the excellent art galleries, museums and medieval churches dotted all over this most exciting of cities.
One of Europe’s most popular tourist destinations, the Italian capital has an amazing wealth of history, art and culture that spans millennia. From the days of Imperial Rome, through Medieval and Renaissance periods, right up to the present day – the city is an endlessly awe-inspiring treasure trove of monuments, museums and outstanding architecture. The ‘centro storico’ (historic centre) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it’s likely that this will be the focus of your sightseeing. Happily, it’s compact enough that you can walk from place to place quite easily. When you’ve worked up an appetite, seek out an authentically thin and crispy Roman pizza.
Pisa, in Tuscany, is most famous for its leaning tower. But this fascinating city contains numerous other historic buildings and artistic treasures worth seeing in their own right. The sightseeing focus – and essence of Pisa’s beauty – is Piazza dei Miracoli or ‘Square of Miracles’ (also known as Piazza del Duomo), a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here the Leaning Tower stands alongside some of Pisa’s other significant architectural wonders. Walk around the city at your leisure to discover the less well-known side of Pisa and its special ambience. If you want to take home an alternative souvenir, pick up some of the delicious olive oil or truffles produced in the area.
Naples is a city apart. Vibrant and exciting, but also a little rough round the edges – it’s a world away from stylish Milan or elegant Florence. Perhaps it’s the presence of Mount Vesuvius that gives Naples its unique character. Or maybe a chequered history that has seen the Greeks, Romans, Bourbons and French rule the city. Either way, dull it certainly is not. Brave the chaotic streets of the old town, taking great care when crossing the road! You’ll discover churches and impressive medieval buildings aplenty, including the Duomo (Naples cathedral). Learn all about the city’s history at the nearby museum of archaeology, featuring exhibits from Pompeii, a victim of Vesuvius. Stroll through the bay area and soak up the rays at the city’s rather gaudy beach. Or sample Naples’s famous culinary invention, the pizza – served fresh and delicious at cafes across the city.
Considered by many to surpass even Rome and Venice for beauty, Florence is one of the loveliest cities in the world. Many of its attractions, including the distinctive domed church Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, lie within the walls of the old medieval city. To really get to know Florence, ditch your map and explore the backstreets that criss-cross this charming, walkable area. Florence is also heaven for culture lovers. The city was at the heart of the Renaissance movement and boasts several fine museums of art, including the Galleria degli Uffizi, home to Botticelli’s ‘The Birth of Venus’.
Despite the best efforts of regular floods and mass tourism, Venice remains one of the most fascinating, romantic and charming destinations on the planet. Its political influence may have faded but it still exerts an almost magnetic power – this is a city that you simply have to visit at least once. Built on a chain of over 100 islands in a lagoon on the Adriatic Sea, connected by about 400 bridges, Venice is famous for its nearly 200 canals navigated by iconic gondolas. In fact, those canals are the city’s roads. Stroll around St Mark's Square and the basilica or walk across the famous bridge to Rialto.
Rivalling Venice and Florence for beauty, but without the hordes of tourists, Bologna is a delightful setting for an authentic Italian getaway. Join the locals at the buzzing Piazzas of Maggiore and del Nettuno and you’ve found the city’s beating heart. The Maggiore is dominated by the vast Basilica di San Petronio, while the del Nettuno boasts Giambologna’s magnificent statue of Neptune – a Bologna icon. Both are perfect locations for whiling away the warm days that stretch from early spring to late autumn. Head into the surrounding medieval streets to dine at the restaurants and cafes that have won Bologna’s reputation as the capital of Italian gastronomy.
Close to Lake Garda and surrounded by the Valpolicella and Soave wine districts, Verona boasts impressive Roman monuments, notable Romanesque churches, beautiful Renaissance gardens and a wonderful medieval castle. Yet, ironically, much of Verona’s tourist appeal has come from fiction – this is, of course, the setting for Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’. The supposed location of that play’s famous balcony scene – Casa di Giulietta or Juliet's House – is enduringly popular. Even though the balcony in question was only erected by an enterprising individual in the 1930s!
Venice, Florence and Rome may take all the plaudits, but Genoa is well worth a short visit. Once the most important port city on the Mediterranean, the city has a rich naval history and was the birthplace of Christopher Columbus. But if you’re more of a land lubber, check out the medieval old town, the equal of any in Europe and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Wind your way through the distinctive narrow streets (the ‘caruggi’) towards the Piazza di San Lorenzo, a meeting point for the Genoese and home to a superb 12th-century cathedral.
It was once known as Ibiza-on-snow, but “Suzy” has shrugged off its reputation for unbridled hedonism in recent years to be reborn as an awesome resort that has something for everyone. Part of the vast “Milky Way” collection of resorts, there’s a fantastic mix of slopes to suit all abilities, a charmingly quaint cobbled town centre, wide range of accommodation to suit all budgets – and yes, it still boasts one of the most lively après-ski scenes in the entire Alps!
Prices quoted are based on the lowest available Standard Class adult return fare.
© Calle Montes, Anna Emilia Lundgren-Johnér, AGE, Tommaso Di Girolamo-Tips, A&G Reporter-Tips, Richard Desmarais-Design Pics, John Warburton Lee, Manfred Bortoli-Sime