As summer approaches, we’re putting a spotlight on Italy, a country that is well known and dearly loved by both of us. Each region of Italy has distinct differences, but wherever you go there are certain constants that make Italy an ever popular holiday destination. To me these constants are the combination of beautiful scenery, rich history, unrivalled art, gracious hospitality and of course, the food.
Here we eulogise some of our favourite parts of this special country – we’d be delighted to help with anything from a city break, a countryside retreat, a beach escape or even your own Grand Tour.
A gentle reminder to those who’ve not booked their Summer holiday yet, time is running out on many early booking offers – and to those planning a Winter escape, the “early bird catches the worm” for popular destinations.
If there is one place in Italy that has my heart, it has to be the Italian Lakes. I first visited Lake Maggiore nearly 10 years ago, then a year later we were married on the shores of this beautiful lake. To us a wedding in the Lakes made perfect sense…the food, prosecco, hospitality; however to me, on a deeper level the Lakes in Summer pose an almost otherworldly beauty (The film Star Wars II used Lake Como for the romantic scenes on planet Naboo*).
With the steep mountains insulating you from the outside world, your days revolve around boat trips to stunning lakeshore restaurants to dine on fresh fish from the lake, gentle walks around magnificent lakeside palaces or gardens and evening promenades with gelato. I will always be biased, but to me Lake Maggiore is undervalued when compared to neighbouring Lake Como. The scenery is just as spectacular, the gardens and palaces of the Borromean Islands are more than equal to Villa Carlotta et al. There is also the added bonus of neighbouring Lake Orta with it’s crystal clear waters and the incomparable island village of San Guilio.
Then there are the mountains to explore; from either the Stresa cable car which rewards you with spectacular views over the lake and beyond or the scenic drives to ancient Monasteries, nature reserves and authentic restaurants. The Lakes make the perfect short break from late Spring to early Autumn for a few days of blissful isolation or as part of a wider Italian multi-centre holiday.
Quite simply Venice is one of the most fascinating cities in the world and should be visited by everyone!
Yes, it’s wonderfully romantic to take a gondola through the canals or a private water taxi across the lagoon from the airport, however it’s Venice’s extraordinarily wealthy history that makes the city so special with, masterful artistic feats at every turn. I won’t waste more space extolling the virtues of this magical city, as they will be well known to most of you.
One can never tire of Venice, but if you fancy returning for a just a couple of days, why not combine some other Veneto experiences. If it’s a special occasion there is no better way to arrive into Venice than on the Venice Simplon Orient Express. If you baulk at the hefty Orient Express price tag, you could travel by normal train, either overnight or through the day from Paris. Verona and Lake Garda are great stopovers, particularly over the summer Opera festival. Or you can combine the man-made beauty of Venice with the natural beauty of the Dolomites – either in the Summer for hiking or Winter for skiing and ski-touring. Within a two and a half hour drive of Venice, the Alta Badia is renowned for its natural beauty, michelin starred restaurants and the tragically brutal First World War conflicts. Or why not follow in the footsteps of the Veneto’s most famous son – Andrea Palladio, by visiting Padua the town of his birth and Vicenza where the work of Palladio dominates the city and surrounding countryside, which can be done by car, train or hotel barge.
This unique region of Italy is experiencing somewhat of a renaissance and is currently one of the ‘hot spots’ on the tourist map. It really does offer such a variety of experiences, fantastic hotels, wonderful cuisine and of course those idyllic sandy beaches!
I was lucky enough to experience Puglia first-hand last year on a mini exploration to some of the area’s prime hotels. Historically the area was looked down upon by the North of Italy due to its poorer agricultural background, however the area is astonishingly rich in history. For thousands of years, anything that came into Europe would travel through Puglia; art, traded goods, ideas and even religion. From the baroque palace of Lecce to the fairytale trulli landscape of the countryside and the clifftop town of Polignano a Mare (which seems to grow straight out from the rock), Puglia certainly isn’t just for the beach lovers and sunbathers! For something really special, how about exploring the charming hilltop towns by classic car? If the beach is what you’re after, then you have a wide variety of beach clubs and stunning bays to choose from all along the lengthy coastline of Italy’s heel.
Due to its strategic location and having been a fundamental element of both Greek and Roman history, Sicily is overflowing with Ancient ruins and historical sites. Beyond these the island boasts dramatic coastlines with idyllic beaches and of course being Italian, sublime cuisine.
The island is full of charming seaside towns, such as Taormina on Sicily’s East coast, which sits high up on the cliff top looking out to sea under the shadow of the mighty Mount Etna. Also the wonderful historic hilltop towns of Ragusa, Modica and Noto are hidden away in the South East corner of the island – each famous for their own cuisine and architecture. Fantastic food and wine can be found throughout the island and some of the most delicious wines are in fact grown on the slopes of Mount Etna itself, with its rich and fertile volcanic soil.
Lying to the North of Sicily are perhaps my favourite; the enchanting Aeolian islands. With their dramatic volcanic landscapes, gin clear water and delightful villages these islands are a relatively unknown gem. Easily explored by either regular hydrofoil services or perhaps by hiring your own private boat to seek out hidden coves and bays and marvel at the mighty Stromboli volcano erupting. For something particularly special and exclusive, the island of Pantelleria is home to the enchanting Sikelia luxury retreat which is reached via short 40min flight from Catania – the island has a harsh but stunning setting within sight of Tunisia and the hotel an impeccably stylish refuge perfect for those looking to really get away from it all.