The Renaissance, Romans, rotundas, ravioli…there are many Italian wonders that begin with an ‘r’. And a c, p, l, m, s and every other letter for that matter. It is a land of endless appeal, packed with the sort of cultural riches, epic history, breath-taking architecture and gastronomic delights that make it utterly worthy of its titles of the world greatest everythings.
So remember, when exploring Italy there’s nothing wrong with losing yourself to the richness and beauty, to succumbing to its whiles and charms, to finding your very own ‘belle vita’. In fact, we encourage it and want to help you do just that! Here’s our top 10 unmissable Italian experiences.
1. Go Hunting for Truffles
Among the hills of Piedmont, a rare and delicious morsel hides in the rich soils of the woodlands – the fabled Alba white truffle, or tuber magnatum pico. In the town of Alba, you can visit a showroom and taste them, but its much more fun to head out into the countryside with a truffle hunter, a trifalau, and his truffle-nosing dog to search for them yourself. Oh, and take notes; this is one of the rarest, and priciest, foods on earth, it might be time to consider a career change.
2. Taste fine wine
In recent years, Italy has been the world’s largest producers of wine, so it only seems right that a visit to Italy includes at least several wine tastings. The varieties produced by the different regions are diverse, so you know your taste buds are going to be in for a wealth of delicious sensations. We love the juicy reds of Barolo and Barbaresco in Piedmont, and the quaffable delights of Tuscany’s Chianti vineyards. There’s also an exciting reinvigoration of Puglia’s millennia-old wine culture – something that should not be missed.
3. Celebrate Capri & Amalfi Coast
There’s been many an ode written to the blue of the sea and the beauty of Capri but even the literary greats and the jet set can’t really do justice to the majesty of this coastline and lauded paradise island. The only solution is to go and see it for yourself. There is no better place to truly embrace the dolce vita than here, with the sun on your skin, a sea breeze on your face and a front row seat to the drama of the precipitous cliffs, usually with a villa or a whole village clinging to it, plunging into the sparkling azure of the sea. Bellissima!
4. Sleep in a Trulli Roundhouse
The trulli of Alberobello are the unique and traditional dry-stone dwellings of the Valle d’Itria in Puglia, thought to have existed here since the 4th century. With their round, limestone walls painted white, crowned with conical roofs the effect of seeing a cluster of them is timeless and fairy-tale in quality, something that is emphasised by the mystery that surrounds their origin. Staying in a trullo is a fun and rustic experience with the added bonus of getting to explore Alberobello’s atmospheric streets without the crowds.
5. Eat Emilia-Romagna
In a country of culinary hotspots, to be considered the hottest of the lot is really saying something; in Italy that place is Emilia-Romagna. There are so many unmissable culinary delights here, it’s hard to know where to begin… Bologna, the regional capital is home to a gelato university and famous Majani Chocolate Boutique founded in 1796. Close by is the town of Moderna where balsamic vinegar is produced – you can tour and taste at a producer, while Parma lends its name to two greats – Parma ham and Parmesan cheese. Factories that produce both offers tours, tastings and shopping, just bear the weight limit for luggage on your flight in mind.
6. Uncover Ancient History
Italy has wonderfully preserved and protected its ancient history, giving us all an opportunity to step back in time over 2,000 years for a glimpse of times gone by. Wandering the Roman Forum in Rome gives an idea of the powerful aesthetic of the centre of a vast empire, Pompeii and Herculaneum are far more relatable in their showcase of day-to-day life while over in Sicily, the Valley of the Temples are majestic artefacts of ancient Greece.
7. Fly high on the Monte Bianco Skyway
From the ski resort of Courmayeur, soar up, up, up on this impressive cable car, gliding over dramatic Alpine valleys up into the peaks of the Mont Blanc (Monte Bianco) massif. At Italy’s highest point, Punta Helbronner, the views are out-of-this-world, encompassing the snowy mountain peaks and green valleys of both the French and Italian Alps. There’s also a panoramic restaurant, if you can pull yourself away from the breath-taking vistas to eat that is.
8. Sip on Marsala Wine
The town of Marsala on Sicily’s west coast has been famous for its eponymous tipple, a fortified wine, since Roman times. With its long and fascinating past, its best to visit a cellar to learn all about its history, the process of production and, naturally, to sip on a sample or three, you know, just to get an idea of all the different varieties.
9. Explore cultural Milan
Often considered Italy’s industrial powerhouse, Milan is a city of several different faces. Yes, there’s plenty of industry, but also high fashion, high design, high art and, in the shadow of a skyscraper or two, a deep and rich cultural legacy. The iconic sights should not be missed – the extravagant Gothic Duomo, constructed in pink marble in true Milanese style, and the Teatro Alla Scala, one of the world’s most famous opera houses where the world first heard the music of Verdi and Puccini.
10. Expore the treasures of Sicily
Sicily, packed with roguish charm, is Italy at its most seductive. Vastly different from the mainland, the island has long been the crossroad of the Mediterranean and has soaked up influences from both east and west. Across the island, you’ll find foods that are a Sicilian twist on the flavours of Greece, Italy and the Middle East, and you can stumble on ancient Byzantium, Rome and Greece all in one day. Capital Palermo showcases this best with numerous architectural treasures, like the Norman Cathedral and Palatine Chapel.
We have two fabulous Italy tours to choose from:
Flavours of Northern Italy, which is a delightful 13 day itinerary that explores Milan, Turin, Monte Bianca, Lake Como, Verona, Venice, Bologna and Florence.
Secrets of Southern Italy, a fabulous 14 day itinerary that explores Rome, Naples, the Amalfi Coast, Matera, Alberobello before popping over to Sicily to visit Palermo and Catania.