Two weeks in Italy may just change your view on life. Often dirty but mostly delicious, Italy's culture and cuisine will win you over.
If you’ve ever wondered where the Italy of imposing cliffs, quaint white villages with flowering baskets and colorful little boats docked in blue azure waters are, then head to the Amalfi coast. This picture-perfect setting is situated just south of Naples, overlooking the Bay of Salerno. The only disappointments may be the heavy throngs of vacationers in the summer months and corresponding high prices. Go for a day or two, though, and stay in the more tame and affordable Amalfi, as Positano tends to host only the very wealthy.
Regardless of the hordes of tourists and the higher than normal prices (relative to Italy) of this enchanting city, words or images cannot prepare you for the unique and unforgettable experience Venice offers. Whether you indulge in culture and art, history, romance and nightlife, it will be tainted with an intriguing, enduring and exotic flavor that cannot properly be described. By foot and gondola you can explore glorious landmarks, romantic canals and exciting markets. To See/Do: Check the tourist office for possible free tours, Basilica di San Marco (strict dress code), Palazzo Ducale, Piazza San Marco, Campanile.
Milan, although a historic city with centuries of war and dynastic influence, is today mainly a modern commercial hub and is best suited as a quick stopover on the way to somewhere more inspiring and interesting. For a day or so, though, it’s worth exploring the city’s ancient churches, monuments and museums as well as browsing through the countless shops and cafés. As the center of international fashion and style, Milan has a cutting edge cosmopolitan flair, attested to by its hip bars, nightclubs and cafés. At the tourist office, pick up a copy of the free city entertainment guide, Milano Mese, for the latest happenings. To See/Do: Duomo, Castello Sforzesco (fortress), Pinacoteca (museum).
Quintessentially Italian in all stereotypes…imageries, personalities, geographically. The intensity of the heavily populated city of Naples is at once captivating and complicated. Lying on the south eastern Italian coastline at the bottom of the imposing Mt. Vesuvius, it is busy, loud, dirty and known for much mafia-related crime (petty crime is also high, so watch your wallet and money belt). Amidst this madness, though, you are treated to fiery Italian personalities, preparing some of the most authentic pizza and pasta dishes in Italy and adhering to genuine southern Italian traditions. Added bonuses to this already hyped scene are the nearby sites of ancient Pompeii and Herculaneum and the beautiful island of Capri. Pompeii and Herculaneum, about half an hour from Naples city, are the extremely well preserved sites of ancient Rome. Tour the fascinating remains of the old Roman town, including villas, official buildings and theaters. The picturesque Capri, an excellent day trip, is accessed by ferries from Naples (little over an hour trip). Beautiful cliffs, little villages and blue waters await. It’s not cheap, though, and is insanely crowded in the summer, but certainly worth a day and a night.
On the Northeast coast of Italy, the impressive Five Villages are a delight to any traveler. Situated between Genoa and La Spezia, these stunning villages envelop you in golden sandy beaches, steep cliffs and sapphire-colored water. Although these days the region is certainly known to many travelers, each town is still very cozy and offers a quiet haven from the big city tourism encountered in Florence or Venice. Sleep late, sit on the beach, go hiking or have a picnic. The five towns (north to south): Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, Riomaggiore.
No trip to Florence is complete without a visit to the captivating nearby region of Tuscany. Famous for its golden sunsets, stunning landscapes and enchanting wineries, the hills and towns of Tuscany are a traveler’s delight. Stroll through narrow winding streets, explore ancient architecture, indulge in delicious Etruscan cuisine and sample some of the best wines in the world. The region is easily visited via bus from Florence. Buses have specific destinations or towns – check with the tourist info center. Or better yet, rent a car and explore the region on your own. Certain towns are best explored on foot, in which case you can just park the car at the city gates. Listed below are just some of the delightful towns to check out:
Chianti - famous for its rolling vineyards and delicious vintages. The picture perfect vineyards are open to the public where you may walk through fields of sunflowers, wildflowers and rambling vines.
San Gimignano – known for its far reaching stone towers that create a unique and stunning skyline. Its narrow streets and gorgeous piazzas are captivating.
Cortona – often the backdrop in many writings, this medieval town has a sort of quirky charm that intrigues visitors from all over the world. In fact, its unique character has attracted a sizeable community of foreign residents.
Lucca – Rich in historic architecture, Lucca (close to Pisa) charms you with little shops, restaurants and remarkable churches.
Montepulciano – with a maze of narrow streets, medieval and Renaissance architecture and famous vineyards, it is a must see.