Spaghetti Bolognese. Pavarotti. Opera. The Roman Empire. Pizza. Da Vinci. Marco Polo. Fashion. Ferrari. Ciao!
With the north of the country being covered in mountain ranges like the Alps and the Dolomites and being the home of several romantic bodies of water such as Lake Como and Lake Garda, and with the central and south parts of the country being home to volcanoes, beaches, and Renaissance architecture, it seems almost too much to think about when I mention the proud Roman history of the Mediterranean powerhouse. When I finally go the chance to check out Italy for myself, I was not disappointed.
The time I spent in Italy was focused mainly on 3 of Her major cities: Rome, Venice, and Naples. Regrettably, I wasn’t able to get to Milan, Florence, or the Isle of Sicily, but who knows what the future will hold? It is fairly easy to travel around Italy, and as long as you do your homework beforehand it is actually rather cheap (compared to other major European destinations like London or Paris).
Train travel is probably the best way to get around Italy. The national rail service there is called TrentItalia, and these well-run trains reach every corner of the mainland. Journey times are fast between major cities – although there are slower trains that stop at every intermediate station along the way! You could alternatively fly on domestic airlines (many of which are cheap budget airlines like EasyJet) from city to city, but where’s the fun in that?
Rome is where I began my travel in Incredible Italia. I think for first-timers to the country, Rome is the de facto first stop on the itinerary. Along with the Vatican City, Rome gives you a great introduction to Italian culture and it has an amazing array of tourist attractions – easily the Italian city with the most to see and do! However, as with most capital cities, it is very busy, and at times dirty. Don’t let this put you off visiting though. You should plan to spend at least 3 nights in Rome, but be prepared for busy days to cram everything in! If a more leisurely pace is your style of travel, then perhaps allow 4-5 days. From Termini Station, you can hop aboard the train to almost anywhere, and it seems south to Naples and north to Venice are two of the most popular tourist routes on the TrentItalia railway network.
Not many people will think of Naples when they list destinations in Italy they would like to visit (Rome and Venice must be the first choices for most people), but actually Naples is a city that is very easy on the eye. While it doesn’t have the number of must-see attractions as somewhere like Rome, it does nevertheless provide a great base to explore the south west, including Amalfi Coast (for Capri and Positano) and the tragic city of Pompeii, which was once drowned in lava from the imposing Mount Vesuvius. Both the Amalfi Coast and Pompeii can be explored in simple day trips from Naples. I spent one full day in Naples, and 2 further days on the aforementioned daytrips, so a 3 night stay in Naples is recommended.
Unlike many other of Italy’s famous cities, Milan is more of an arts and business destination, rather than a place for pure tourism. However, if fashion and shopping is your thing, then you need to book your train tickets to Milan! It’s a shoppaholic’s dream! From Milan, you can also arrange trips to some of northern Italy’s famous lakes, such as Lake Garda, but especially Lake Como, which is only a 90 minute drive away.
Florence sits in the heart of Tuscany, which for many people is the Italian region known for its extensive vineyards and beautiful scenery. On the Italian mainland, there really is nowhere comparable. The historic city of Florence itself is a wonder to behold, with many cultural experiences to be enjoyed, but just a short half-day trip away is the Leaning Tower of Pisa, which is an attraction that many travellers want to cross off their bucket list. From Florence, it is also possible to arrange an overnight trip (not advisable to do in a day) to the Italian Riviera, to see such famous coastal regions as Portofino. I would say a 2 night stay in Florence is the least you should budget for, and if you plan on daytrips elsewhere, then add another night to your itinerary!
Venice is always steeped in the mind of those dreaming of wanderlust. The Sunken City is a grandiose and glamorous place that you simply have to see to believe. Pictures cannot do the place justice. From a gondola ride down the Grand Canal to checking out the magnificent St. Mark’s Basilica, there are plenty of things to do in Venice – even if some of the attractions in the city are more on the cultural side, and thus better suited to the more refined traveller. I would recommend at least 2 nights in Venice, and if you’re travelling with a partner or loved one, consider an extra night or two and make the most of your stay with the Venetians!
I couldn’t speak about Italy without mentioning its food! I sampled many pasta dishes, many different types of pizzas, and so many Viennese pastries when in the country. It was in Naples where the pizza is claimed to have been invented, and also from where “Neapolitan Ice Cream” was introduced to the world. Although, Bolognese sauce was created in the city of Bologna, spaghetti and other types of pasta are prevalent all over the country, but especially the central and southern areas- and you can’t walk through the streets of Rome without seeing a pasta restaurant! In a culinary sense, Venice seems to be more famous for its pastries and cakes – and now I know where Viennese Whirls [allegedly] come from!