“Il tricheco per favore” I said to the waiter at the cafe on the beach overlooking the sea. “Che cosa?!” he replied and then began to rant at me in Italian. When I laughed, he realized I was joking around and then he laughed too and began to speak in English, telling me all about the lovely local dishes, and offering me information on all the places I should visit on the coastline. Of course he said that that they were (as you will hear often in Italy “The BEST in all of the country”. I had actually jokingly asked for a plate of Walrus, and was recommended the calamari cooked with the leaves of local lemons, which tasted surprisingly different. Italians are proud of their country, their food and their heritage. They will always tell you that they know the absolute best place to go. Many may be right, others may send you to a small town with little to see, but to them, it IS the best. It is also where mama lives.
So, in an effort to give you an objective view, from someone who has absolutely no Italian in them, but has traveled quite a bit around this beautiful country, I present the 10 places you should try to visit in Italy. This is not in order of what is best, but rather a sample of what’s on offer.
Rome – Needing very little introduction, most travelers know a lot about Rome before ever even leaving their own country. Depicted in films since Hollywood started making movies, Rome is just like you would imagine. Loud, fast, noisy and just brimming with monuments and old Roman ruins. Rome is chaotic, yes, but it has everything; Ancient monuments, interesting medieval churches, romantic fountains, museums, Renaissance palaces, The Vatican and St. Peter’s cathedral.
Florence – Probably one of the most popular cities for travelers in Italy, Florence has countless attractions for even the most jaded of travelers. It is a magical renaissance city in the middle of Tuscany. You can find some of Italy’s best museums, cathedrals and churches and interesting little streets to wander with hidden squares. A must see is the Cathedral de Santa Maria del Fiore.
Verona – The city of romance, Verona is best known for being the home of Romeo and Juliet, but there is much more to this gem of a city. It has an amazing Roman arena which is in perfect condition. If you are lucky you can catch one of the great events held there regularly.
Venice – With its twisting canals and over 400 bridges, Venice is a walker’s paradise. Venice is small, traffic-free and easy to get around in. Venice actually consists of 117 bodies of land and the buildings are constructed on closely spaced wooden pile. Most of the piles are still intact after centuries of being underwater. But the city is slowly sinking, so be aware that travel to Venice in winter can be a rather wet experience, as the city floods often.
Taormina – Taormina is on the east coast of Sicily, the ancestral land of Tony Soprano and the Godfather. In this lovely city you’ll find Greek and Roman ruins and a stunning medieval quarter with castle ruins and fantastic restaurants. This town has perfect views of the coast and Mt. Etna volcano. There are excellent beaches where you can swim in the pristine clear sea. Avoid July and August as it is crowded and too hot.
Selva di Val Gardena – Selva is a small town in the very north of Italy along the Tyrolean border and indeed, you will find that mostly German is spoken there. Set in the middle of the Dolomites, it is a very popular destination in both winter and summer. There are many ski runs, from beginner to expert; as well as ice-skating, sledding, mountaineering and ice-climbing. In summer there are many lovely mountain walks to explore.
The Dolomites – A huge expanse of mountains spread out over three provinces in the north-east of Italy, the Dolomites became a world heritage site in 2009. There is a national park and many regional parks. It is probably the last great expanse of completely wild land in Italy. It is an amazing place to take a cycling trip in the summer, stopping at small inns along the way. The landscape is absolutely magical. Bike tours can be arranged in many local towns.
Nettuno – A welcome escape from the craziness of the capital, Nettuno lies just 60 kilometers south of Rome. It has a lovely stretch of beach and a charming harbour filled with fishing boats and pleasure yachts. The town was founded by the Latins as Antium, for… guess what? The same thing that it is used for today, a pleasant day trip escape from Rome.
Tuscany – Tuscany is an area of Italy encompassing hundreds of small towns and little village, the largest of course being Florence. But renting a car and getting lost among the many villages in Tuscany is pure delight. Every town seems to have its own special food, be it the local ham, wine, olive oil, cheese or truffles, there is a culinary delight at every corner. there are so many small towns nestled in the hills but some outstanding ones include Barga, Castelnuovo Berardenga and San Gimignano, the City of Beautiful Towers. Rent a car, get a map and just drive.
Amalfi Coast – Amalfi is a town and commune in the province of Salerno, with amazing stretches of beach, clear seas. The whole coastline is spectacular, there you will also find the impossibly charming Capri and Sorrento. The hills drop straight down into the sea along the coast, and the towns and agriculture are perched on the hillsides. Every square meter of land is turned into a series of terraces growing fruit, vegetables, grape vines, olives and lemons.
There is more than enough to do in Italy in a lifetime, and while this list doesn’t cover everything, it will certainly get you started.
I love the diversity of Italy. The difference between the north and south being extremely vast yet it is all still very Italian. This blog first appeared here, back when I was doing only travel writing for quite some time.