Is there any country on earth that wears its history as lightly as Italy? Roman ruins sit cheek by jowl with Renaissance palazzos, while modern skycrapers cast their long shadows over neoclassical cathedrals. But there are many more reasons why this is the fifth most visited country in the world – the rolling landscapes of Tuscany, the sandy beaches of Sardinia, the fashion credentials of Milan, and the delectable cuisine of just about everywhere from the Alps down.
So, from the ancient streets of Rome to the lapping waterways of Venice, the serene beauty of the Italian Lakes to the dazzling glamour of the Amalfi Coast, these are some of the Italian cities and regions that every traveller ought to visit.
Firenze, the cradle of the Renaissance, is one of Europe’s great art cities. With frescoes by Giotto and Ghirlandaio, canvases by Botticelli and Bronzino, and sculptures by Michelangelo and Giambologna, there is so much exquisite art and architecture within its ancient walls that it’s easy to become overwhelmed. But, there is more to handsome Florence than just museums and monuments. It is bursting with quirky shops and quality crafts; a living city with an eclectic cultural life that embraces opera, classical music and contemporary art.
CREDIT: PETER ZELEI
The restaurant and nightlife scene is also very much thriving, and escaping for some downtime is rather convenient, given the city's proximity to the vine-covered hills of Chianti, as well as other Tuscan art towns such as Arezzo, Siena and Lucca. Florence's diminutive size means everything is very accessible, with most of the main sights lying within walking distance of one another. All in all, this is one of Europe’s most civilised long weekend destinations.
There are days when visitors to this exquisite jewel box of a city outnumber locals two-to-one, and when getting from the station to St Mark's square is a battle. But despite this, Venice never loses its capacity to enchant: stepping out of the station to be greeted by a glittering canal with the dome of San Simeon Piccolo beyond remains heart-stopping, whether you're doing it for the first time or the 100th. And even at peak visitor periods, you're never more than a bridge away from quiet campi (squares), churches concealing luminous Madonnas, or handsome Gothic palazzi.
CREDIT: PETER UNGER
There are plenty of bustling neighbourhood hangouts too, which goes to show there is more to Venice than peerless artistic riches from centuries past: it's also a hive of contemporary activity. Beyond the alternating Art and Architecture Biennale shows which showcase all that's cutting edge internationally, the city's dwindling population works hard to keep contemporary Venice creative, productive and very vibrant.
Rome has been around for almost three thosuand years and yet carries all that weight of history with a dolce vita lightness of heart. It’s a city that combines the intimacy and human scale of a village with the cultural draws of a historic, art-laden European metropolis. Classical ruins and early Christian places of worship stand next to – or sometimes lie beneath – Renaissance palazzos and Baroque fountains. But there are also great neighbourhood trattorias, quirky shops and a buzzing aperitivo scene.
The golden rule for visitors? Don’t try to cram too much in. Rome moves at a slower pace than many northern cities, and to enjoy it you should take time out in pavement cafés as well as ticking off all the big cultural draws. The city’s mild Mediterranean climate is another persuasive draw for visitors from the cool north, but the main draw will always be the pulsating energy of a place which lives life as a form of theatre.
Milan can come as something of a surprise to those who are familiar with Rome and Florence and are expecting more of the same from Lombardy's metropolitan hub, for this is a more northern European city in look and feel. Italy’s fashion and design capital, it has an international cosmopolitan outlook, a vibrant food and drink scene and scores of hotels to suit all budgets. Historical edifices sit cheek-by-jowl with modern skyscrapers, while a number of the city’s buildings have spectacular interior courtyards that remain largely undiscovered.
CREDIT: STEFANO OPPO
But what largely draws visitors is the city’s excellent shopping – designer stores line the Quadrilatero D’Oro district, while outlets, high street shops and boutiques are found in all corners of the city. Then there are the cultural attractions, notably the Duomo, the Scala opera house and the Pinacoteca di Brera art gallery and, at the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous mural of the Last Supper.
In so many other parts of the world, culture is an optional extra, something you do in your spare time. In Tuscany, it’s at the root of everything – though not in an elitist way. A Piero della Francesca fresco exudes the spirit of a region that has long spent its money on beauty and quality. But so does a bowl of ribollita soup, made with seasonal cavolo nero and served with a spiral of just-pressed olive oil. Tuscany also combines fierce pride and care for detail with unpretentious, down-to-earth manners.
CREDIT: FRANCESCO RICCARDO IACOMINO
It has a collection of handsome art-filled, historic towns with more than enough to see, do, eat and drink to fill a long weekend. In the past, each Tuscan comune would conspire to outdo the rest, and the result is an embarrassment of riches. In addition to Florence, Siena, Pisa, Lucca and Arezzo are all worth at least a day, with smaller hilltowns like San Gimignano, Cortona and Volterra also vying for attention. But don’t let art distract you from landscape: the vineyards of Chianti and Montalcino, the Carrara marble quarries north of Lucca, or the wild Maremma coastal strip are all must-sees.
Original source: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/europe/italy/articles/best-places-and-cities-to-visit-in-italy-and-where-to-stay/
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