Italy is more than a country. It’s a state of mind. I have visited it so many times with work and leisure, but stayed mostly in and around Milan and Rome. Here bellow is my travel list for 2018, although I leave a lot of things aside like riding a Vespa in Rome, attending the Palio in Siena, visiting Assisi, seeing the exotic beaches in Sardinia, sleep in a trullo in Puglia, escape to Ischia or Capri, drink Limoncello, and a lot more.
I would love to take a tour of Italy by car or train to see my list. It ain’t perfect, of course. Driving in Italy is hairy; the difference between romance and real life in places like Naples and Sicily can be jarring, and tourist crowds are pushing Venice towards crisis.
I know I’ll leave so much aside but this would be exactly the reason to revisit in 2019, 2020 and so on.
1. See Cinque Terre — without the crowds
The beauty of these five colourful fishing villages is that they’re connected by paths and sea rather than by road. A popular way to see them is to hike the coastal trail, but escape the crowds by travelling by water — you can rent your own boat and captain from one of the harbours. Cinque Terre gets busy in high season, so visit in shoulder or low season to avoid peak summer crowds and start your hike later in the afternoon for quieter times on the trails.
While you’re at it: Forgo the expensive gondolas of Venice and whizz up and down the city’s canals by vaporetto waterbus — buy a day pass and get timetable info and apps at actv.avmspa.it/en.
2. Climb a volcano in Sicily
If you like playing with fire, a walking tour of Sicily and her volcanic Aeolian Islands is just for you. Vulcano is named after the still-smoking crater in its centre; Stromboli is a cone-shaped island topped with a regularly erupting core, while Mount Etna is one of the biggest active volcanoes in the world. You can climb all three and see lava flows and explosive eruptions (at a safe distance, of course) before taking it easy in the historic beachside town of Taormina. — LM
Do it: See visitsicily.info and italia.it
3. Drive the Amalfi Coast
It has lots of twists and turns, but a drive along the Amalfi Coast Road, suspended between mountains and sea, is like no other. All along the way you’ll experience the beautiful colours of the Mediterranean, with views down to secret coves (and peeks into grand villas) and up to lemon groves and mountain terraces. Drop into the seaside town of Positano or drive high up into the hills to Ravello for magnificent villa gardens and outdoor opera performances.
Do it: amalficoast.com (not an official site).
While you’re at it: Take to the hills above Amalfi and walk the Path of the Gods, passing vineyards and terraces with panoramic coastal views.
4. Rent a farmhouse in Umbria instead of Tuscany
Set in the green heart of Italy, and less busy or expensive than neighbouring Tuscany ( https://www.tuscanyaccommodation.com/tuscany-farmhouses/), Umbria has all the ingredients for the perfect holiday. Rent a quiet farmhouse with a pool for a relaxing week with good food and wine. If you can drag yourself away from the villa for outings and culture, the region is dotted with medieval villages to explore, and many have summer festivals.
Do it: umbriatourism.it/en
While you’re at it: Visit Assisi for its historical centre and Basilica di San Francesco, or Orvieto for its network of tiny streets, churches and museums.
5. Sunbathe at the Venice Lido island
Venice is a gorgeous and captivating city — but it’s no secret that it can be packed to the rafters, particularly in the summer. Your escape? A quick little vaporetto ride to the Lido di Venezia, where you’ll find a 10km stretch of sand (and the all important beach bars). Come September, the island is filled with stars, as it plays host to the Venice Film Festival.
Do it: veneziaeilsuolido.it/en
While you’re at it: Take a cicchetti tour in Venice — these little bar snacks were invented here and match perfectly with a glass of Prosecco.
6. Eat the world’s best pizza in Naples
Naples may have had a reputation that was far from salubrious, but it’s undergoing something of a transformation. Even in days gone by, there was always something that attracted the crowds — the world’s best pizza. You might know it as the place Julia Roberts visits in Eat, Pray, Love, but L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele has long been regarded as the best of the best. Join the queue, order a bubbling Margherita and then die a little with that first glorious bite.
While you’re at it: Neapolitan coffee has its own reputation too, dating back to the 17th century — the stove-top coffee maker makes a killer brew.
7. Explore the ancient wonder of Pompeii
This Roman city was buried under ash when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79AD and was frozen in time for thousands of years until excavated in the 1700s. It’s fascinating to wander the streets and see the remains of buildings like the city’s aqueduct, gymnasium and amphitheatre. Details like frescoes on the walls and ancient wine jars give an idea of everyday life in Roman times — and there is even ancient graffiti.
Do it: pompeiisites.org; admission from €13pp.
While you’re at it: Take a walking trail up Mount Vesuvius and visit the crater — constantly monitored for the threat of eruptions — for panoramic Bay of Naples views; €10, vesuvioinrete.it/visiting-mt-vesuvius.htm.
8. Take a passegiatta in Siracusa’s old town
When the afternoon light starts to dwindle, Italy’s old town squares come to life with folks ambling around, chatting with their neighbours and catching up as kids run around their legs. This social evening stroll is known as a passeggiata, and there’s no better place to join in than the old town of Syracuse (Siracusa in Italian) in Sicily, where the buildings and squares seem to glow in the fading sunlight. — NB
While you’re at it: Catch a sunset from the hilltop town of Taormina, keeping an eye on the peak of neighbouring Mount Etna.
9. Take THAT selfie in Pisa
You might tell yourself that you’re going to resist, that you’ll be different from the legions of tourists who have come here before you… but you won’t. You’ll stand dozens of feet away from this magnificent, turreted, 14,500-tonne edifice — which started to lean in 1178, due to the soft land it was built on — and pose to look as if your hands are propping it up. The tower took 344 years to build, and in 1964 a team of engineers came together to stabilise it with a counterweight. Now it still leans, but it’s totally safe to climb to the top.