Here’s Our Run Down of The Top Destinations in Italy
The beautiful Amalfi coastline is found south of Naples and Pompei, and consists of a peninsula that forms the boundary between the Gulfs of Salerno and Naples. There is a fantastic, rustic driving road that hugs the coast and is one of the most popular scenic drives in Italy.
The town of Amalfi lies on the south coast of the Sorrento peninsula at the mouth of a deep gorge, and is one of the most popular holiday resorts for the Neapolitans.
The little town of Sorrento lies on the south side of the Bay of Naples between Naples and Amalfi, amid lemon and orange-groves, on the edge of tufa cliffs that rise 50 m from the sea.
The island of Capri lies at the southern end of the Gulf of Naples, and is one of the most beautiful and most visited of the islands in the Tyrrhenian Sea. Just 6 km long and 2.5 km wide, the island has two towns: Capri, with its two adjoining harbours, Marina Piccola and Marina Grande (the main port of the island) and Anacapri, located high on the hills west from the city of Capri. Highlights of the island include the Belvedere of Tragara (a high panoramic promenade lined with villas), the Blue Grotto (Grotta Azzurra), the Imperial Roman villas and the limestone masses that stand out of the sea (the ‘Faraglioni’). There are regular boat services to the island from Naples, Sorrento, Positano, Amalfi and Ischia.
Assisi lies some 14 km (9mi) southeast of Perugia in the region of Umbria. The well-preserved medieval town owes its fame to St Francis, founder of the Franciscan order of monks, who was born there in 1182. One of the main attractions is the Basilica di San Francesco (St Francis Basilica), which houses some magnificent frescoes by renowned late-medieval artists Cimabue and Giotto of scenes in the life of St Francis. Other places of interest include Santa Maria Maggiore, (St. Mary the Greater) the earliest extant church; the Basilica of Santa Chiara (St Clare); and the medieval castle, Rocca Maggiore, built in 1367. UNESCO has collectively designated the major monuments and urban fabric of Assisi as a World Heritage Site.
Known in Italy as Firenze, this charming city has an almost overwhelming abundance of history, art and culture. It was formerly the capital of Tuscany, and was home to the Medici, Michelangelo, Dante, Machiavelli and many more. The best-known site and crowning glory of Florence is the domed cathedral of the city, Santa Maria del Fiore, better known as ‘The Duomo’. Both the dome and the nearby Campanile tower (partly designed by Giotto) are open to tourists and offer excellent views.
Also in Florence is the world renowned Uffizi Gallery, one of the finest art galleries in the world. Michelangelo’s famous statue of David may be viewed at the Galleria dell’Accademia. Visitors will also want to stroll across the Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) to browse the multitude of shops built upon its edges, held up by stilts. First constructed by the Etruscans in ancient times, this bridge is the only one in the city to have survived World War II intact.
At the heart of the city is Bartolomeo Ammanati’s Fountain of Neptune (located in Piazza della Signoria), which is a masterpiece of marble sculpture at the terminus of a still functioning Roman aqueduct.
The remains of Roman Herculaneum lie within the area of modern Ercolano, 8 km (5mi) southeast of Naples in a bay of the Tyrrhenian Sea. Along with Pompeii, it was destroyed in 79 AD in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. The town and its inhabitants were buried under ashes and pumice, which solidified into volcanic tuff. Subsequent volcanic eruptions increased the depth of this covering layer, until it reached between 12 and 30 m (40 and 100 ft). The hardness and depth of this covering, in contrast to Pompeii, hindered the activity of plunderers and left the city in a remarkable state of preservation for over 1,500 years.
Although much of Herculaneum is still buried under the modern town, the parts that have been excavated offers a vivid impression of the ancient city, comparable with the remains of Pompeii and Ostia.
Milan is a modern, glitzy city that is a major centre for the world’s fashion industry. The Teatro alla Scala (or La Scala, as it is known), is one of the world’s most famous opera houses, and makes Milan the undisputed world capital of opera.
Visitors to the city can also gaze at Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece, The Last Supper, at the convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie; or marvel at the cathedral of Santa Maria Nascente, a white marble, cruciform basilica, which can accommodate a congregation of 40,000.
Located just 15 km (9mi) southeast of Naples, Vesuvius is the only volcano on the European mainland which is still intermittently active. It is best known for its eruption in 79 AD that led to the destruction of the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum, although it has erupted many times since and is today regarded as one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world.
The area around Vesuvius was officially declared a national park in 1995, and the summit of Vesuvius (1,280 m or 4,225 ft) is open to visitors. There is access by road to within 200 metres of the summit (measured vertically), but thereafter access is on foot only. There is a spiral walkway around the mountain from the road to the crater.
The south Italian port town of Naples, principal town of the region of Campania, lies on the north side of the Bay of Naples, extending along the lower slopes of attractive hills. The impressive Museo Archeologico Nazionale houses an excellent collection of Greco-Roman artefacts, including mosaics from Pompeii.
Pisa, chief town of its province, lies on the Arno in the northern coastal region of Tuscany. In Roman times it was a sizeable port; however, as a result of the silting-up of the mouth of the Arno it now lies fully 10 km (6mi) inland.
Visitors will of course want to take a picture of the famous Leaning Tower, a free-standing campanile (or bell tower). Although the tower was closed to the public during the 90s, it has now been stabilised and declared secure for at least another 300 years. Anyone planning to climb the 294 steps to the top of the tour are advised to book their tickets ahead of time (this can be done online) as tickets, sold on a first come first serve basis, are often sold out.
Whilst the Leaning Tower is the most famous image of Pisa, it is just one of many works of art and architecture in the city’s Campo dei Miracoli (Field of Miracles), to the north of the old town centre. The Campo dei Miracoli also houses the Duomo (the Cathedral), the Baptistry and the Camposanto (the monumental cemetery).
Other interesting sights include the Borgo Stretto, a neighbourhood where one can stroll beneath medieval arcades and the Lungarno, the avenues along the river Arno. It includes the Gothic-Romanesque church of San Michele in Borgo (990). Remarkably, there are at least two other leaning towers in the city, one at the southern end of central Via Santa Maria, the other halfway through the Piagge riverside promenade. Also worth seeing is the National Museum (Museo Nazionale di San Matteo), which exhibits sculptures and painting from 12th century-15th century, and Santa Maria della Spina, Pisa’s best known Gothic church.
The ruined city of Pompeii lies 20 km (12 mi) southeast of Naples at the foot of Vesuvius, near the Gulf of Naples. In 63 AD, much of the town was destroyed by a severe earthquake, and rebuilding was still in process when Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD, covering the whole town with a layer of ash 6-7 metres deep. Since the 18th century, approximately 60% of the total area of the town (the walls of which had a perimeter of 3.1 km) has been recovered by large-scale excavation.
The site is now divided into several regions (I-IX) separated by the principal streets. The streets are paved with polygonal slabs of lava, with raised pavements on either side. Deep ruts in the paving bear witness to heavy traffic. At intersections and at other places along the streets are stepping-stones designed to help pedestrians to cross.
Visitors to Pompeii can get a vivid and immediate impression of ancient life, including luxurious mansions and more modest houses, streets and markets, baths, temples and theatres.
Rome is the capital of the Republic of Italy and is also the country’s largest city, covering an area of more than 1,500 sq km (579 sq mi). One of the symbols of Ancient Rome is the Colosseum (70-80 AD), the largest amphitheatre ever built in the Roman Empire, and originally capable of seating 50,000 spectators. Other important monuments of ancient Rome include the Roman Forum, the Pantheon, the Domus Aurea (a large landscaped portico villa), the Trajan’s Column, the Catacombs of Rome, the Baths of Caracalla, the Trajan’s Market, the Circus Maximus, the Arch of Constantine, the Pyramid of Cestius and the Bocca della VeritÃ (the Mouth of Truth).
Rome was a major world centre of the Renaissance, which has left a profound mark on the city. Some of the most impressive masterpieces of Renaissance architecture are Michelangelo’s Piazza del Campidoglio and the Palazzo Senatorio, seat of the city government. Others include the Palazzo Chigi, now seat of the Prime Minister; Palazzo del Quirinale, now seat of the President of the Republic; and Piazza di Spagna (the Spanish Steps). At the Trevi Fountain (Fontana di Trevi), visitors can guarantee their return to Rome by throwing a coin into the waters.
Whether its Roman remains or Renaissance artistic treasures you’re interested in, the Eternal City will keep you enthralled and entertained for a weekend or a month.
Siena, chief town of its province, lies in the uplands of Tuscany, near the Chianti hills. Its limonite clay soil yields a natural pigment much used by painters: Raw Sienna (yellow-brown) and Burnt Sienna (a warm mid brown).
Siena is probably best known for the Palio, a traditional horse race staged in the central square (Piazza del Campo) of this pretty medieval town in both July and August. The town also has an impressive black-and-white striped cathedral (the Duomo), begun in the twelfth century, and one of the great examples of Italian Romanesque architecture. Visitors may climb to the top and take in the view of the city from the roof.
The city of Turin is the capital of the north Italian region of Piedmont and lies on the left bank of the Po. Known as La Parigi d’Italia (the Italian Paris), the city is home to the second-largest Egyptian museum in the world after Cairo. A copy of the famous Turin Shroud may be viewed in the cathedral.
Venice (Venezia), capital of the Veneto region, lies at the very head of the Adriatic in a salt-water lagoon, just 4 km (2.5 miles) from the mainland. The town is built on 118 small islands and crossed by over 100 canals, which in turn are spanned by almost 400 bridges. The broad lagoons, narrow canals, breathtaking architecture, gondolas and unashamed romance make this city on water one of the most enchanting anywhere.
Fine Renaissance and gothic palazzi line the Grand Canal, and St Mark’s Basilica and the Doge’s Palace, overlooking St Mark’s Square, have gained fame through Canaletto paintings. The Galleria dell’Accademia (Academy of Fine Arts) is thought to have the most important and comprehensive collection of 15th-18th century Venetian painting in existence.
There are a number of islands that may be visited from Venice, such as Burano (a picturesque fishing village with painted houses and boats, and famous for its lace), Murano (celebrated for its elaborate glass) and Torcello. The Lido is an 11-mile (18 km) long sandbar to the southeast of Venice and a popular beach resort. In August and September every year the Lido is the venue for the International Venice Film Festival, held in the Palazzo del Cinema.
Verona lies at the point where the River Adige emerges from the Alps into the north Italian plain, about 80 km (50 miles) from Venice and the Adriatic. The city is rich in art and architecture, and is famous for its amphitheatre – the Roman Arena (Arena di Verona) – which was completed around 30 AD and is the third largest in Italy. It is one of the best preserved structures of its kind and is now home to an annual opera festival.
The small Romanesque Basilica of San Lorenzo is one of the finest and most important buildings in the city. It dates from around 1177, but was built on the site of a Paleochristian church, some fragments of which remain.
Verona was also the setting for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and the Casa di Giulietta (Juliet’s House) attracts thousands of visitors each year.
The Italian Lakes
Italy is home to some beautiful, deep blue lakes in the Alps. Lake Maggiore is perhaps the most elegant, Lake Como the most attractive, and Lake Garda the wildest.