At this time two years ago, I was in Italy. I am, to say the very least, depressed about not being there now. Having to salivate over my pictures of gnocchi from Il Porcospino, cups and cups of gelato from Vivoli and of course, unlimited goblet sized glasses of wine from Dante’s. As a matter of fact, at this exact time two years ago, I was sitting in a train station with my roommates at about 3 am, wondering whether or not we would make it to Venice alive.
So instead of boring you with how much I miss Europe, especially Italy, I decided to recount the best that Italy has to offer. Among the beauty and splendor of the famous landmarks and museums, at the very bottom of the Tuscan hills, can be found the most unique and memorable of places. Below is an article I wrote for London’s “The Hub” magazine. While I would give anything to be there right now, I hope that all of you make it there one day, and experience the transformation of becoming an Italian Traveler for yourself.
While the phrase “La Citta Eterna” applies to Rome, it can be said the entire country of Italy should be eternal. Full of rich history, there is so much of the classic, yet increasingly modern beauty of Italy, which is a treat for the human eye, heart and stomach. From the crumbling ruins of the Roman Empire and beautiful scenery to shopping and eating your way around the country, Italy truly does offer the best of so many worlds. But in order to officially say that you are indeed an “Italian Traveller,” first you must experience the essential spots, destinations and attractions that make Italy so magically enticing.
Among the most popular cities in Italy, Florence exudes grace, elegance, culture and history everywhere you look. The icon of Florence, the Duomo, is a marvel in itself. Designed by Renaissance genius Filippo Brunelleschi, the Duomo defied gravity, as the first dome of its kind to be constructed over thin air. For the best view of Florence, you can take a hike up to the Piazza del Michelangelo or be adventurous and climb the Duomo. A tight, spiral climb up 463 steps, the view at the top is absolutely worth the toll on your legs. Offering a breath-taking panorama of the entire city, climbing the Duomo is a must for any Italian traveller.
Located only a few feet away from the Duomo, Ristorante Dante E Beatrice is the perfect spot for a classic Italian dinner. Known simply as Dante’s to the locals, this restaurant has a warm, appetite-inducing interior. A wood burning stove and brick oven for pizza heats up the restaurant on chilly nights. Pour yourself some fine white wine in a goblet size glass paired with Italian soups, salads and various pasta dishes. A favourite of many is the Penne and salmon in a rosé crème sauce.
Whoever said you couldn’t eat dessert for lunch has clearly never been to Italy. A city known for its gelato, Vivoli is the number one spot to enjoy a cup for lunch and then later again for dessert. Italians, save the best for last choosing dinner to be the biggest most lavish meal and tourists should follow in their footsteps. A light breakfast and semi-light lunch, of a bowl of soup or a sandwich from the market is a fine choice and will leave plenty of room for dinner. But no lunch is complete without taking a trip to Vivoli, perhaps the best gelateria in all of Italy. With dozens of flavours such as caramel and pear, blueberry, tiramisu, and chocolate dipped biscotti, Vivoli ignites a sense of passion in travellers who will walk away with a newfound love for gelato. Although slightly on the expensive side compared to other gelaterias, splurging a bit at Vivoli is a must to complete any exciting day in Italy.
To take care of your souvenir shopping, take a stroll down to the San Lorenzo marketplace along Via Faenza. Shaped like a gingerbread man with two arms, two legs and a long neck, the market extends down several streets and is the perfect place to find classic Italian trinkets. From beautifully stitched pashminas and bright coloured bangles to leather bound diaries and handcrafted leather coats, the San Lorenzo market is the place to meet locals and learn all about their trade. Extremely reasonably priced, and chock full of items you won’t find anywhere else.
While you’re spending time in one of the most historical cities in the world, walk through the Piazza della Signoria and enrich your artistic mind in one of the oldest and most famous museums in the world. The Galleria degli Uffizi, or Uffizi gallery was constructed by Giorgio Vasari in 1560 for Cosimo I de’ Medici. The Uffizi is home to the works of Botticelli, Caravaggio, Duccio, Rembrandt and many others. Perhaps Botticelli’s most recognized work, The Birth of Venus is hung in the centre of the room, so no matter where you stand, the artwork radiates beauty and emotion throughout the entire space. The shape of the museum allows viewers to gaze out cathedral length windows onto the Piazza della Signoria or take in a view of the Arno River on either side of the wings. The high season for tourists is in July and waiting to gain entrance to the museum can take up to five hours. However, tickets purchased ahead of time or in larger, university class sized groups, can reduce the wait time. Museum and art lovers alike, if your goal is too see the most famous museums in the world; a trip to the Uffizi in Florence is an absolute must.
The quintessential tourist destination, Rome is known mainly for its history. With the classic Roman ruins dispersed all throughout this increasingly modern growing city, travellers should be ashamed if they do not explore the traditional works of art. Walking inside the Coliseum, perhaps the most iconic landmark of Rome is an out of body experience. For a small fee it’s possible to walk inside and around each of the three levels of the great amphitheatre. Imagine witnessing a gladiator fight back in ancient Rome, pretending to be an actual spectator during that time restores a sense of classicism and tradition that can only be experienced in a city such as Rome.
Fifth Avenue is to New York as Via dei Condotti is to Rome. Located near the Spanish steps, Via dei Condotti is the richest street in Rome and the best place for shopping. Home to top Italian designers such as Armani, Prada and Gucci, Dolce and Gabbana and other noteworthy names, travellers can spend an entire day walking up and down and in and out of stores. Also situated along the Via dei Condotti are boutique hotels and elegant cafes if one needs to take a rest from shopping. Nowhere else in Rome will you be able to find clothing with such luxurious style and top quality as this shoppers nirvana.
Perhaps the holiest of all cities in Europe, the Vatican City is a pilgrimage that tourists make all throughout the year. Some wait for hours in the crowded square to catch a glimpse of his holiness the Pope during a religious mass or holiday. Others venture inside to see the breathtaking interior and layout of St. Peter’s Basilica, enormous in both spirit and design. However, a trip to the Vatican City is not complete without witnessing Michelangelo’s masterpiece that is the Sistine Chapel, a classic favourite of many visitors. While photography is prohibited because the camera flashes may damage the paint in the fresco, the idea of not being able to take a picture makes one treasure the experience that much more. Originally painted in 1508, Michelangelo completed the ceiling in 1512. The controversial restoration in 1984 invited even more people to the Vatican City to view what any deem as Michelangelo’s crowning achievement in painting. A refreshing and spiritual experience, gazing up at the Sistine Chapel will undoubtedly complete one’s trip to Rome.
What better way to enjoy Venice than to take a Gondola ride through the canals? While water transportation is pretty much the only way around Venice, taking a Gondola ride with a Gondolier is the perfect way to tour this beautiful city. For a fee of about 80 to 100 euro, you can sit front and centre in a crushed red velvet, gilded gold and black gondola and let the waters take you away. It is best to ride with someone, especially if you are in Venice for a romantic getaway. St. Mark’s Square is the public forum of Venice and like Trafalgar Square in London, St. Mark’s is known for its pigeons. Feed the birds if you wish but be sure to go inside of St. Mark’s Basilica, especially if you are a fan of Gothic architecture. Dripping with glass mosaics and a gold interior, St. Mark’s Basilica is definitely an artistic and spiritual highlight of Venice that must be seen by the naked eye.
If a glass of wine every night with dinner is said to make you live longer, then spending a day at an Italian vineyard must make you live forever. Castello Vicchiomaggio is a gorgeous castle and vineyard nestled high up in the Tuscan Hills. A location used for weddings, dinner parties and romantic evenings, the castle offers tours of the winery and the chance to see how grapes get turned into wine. The perfect setting to enjoy classic Italian dishes while reflecting on your time in one of the most beautiful countries in the world.
Hike through the five towns along the coast of the Italian Riviera. Cinque Terre or “The Five Villages,” consist of Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. Famous for its beauty, Cinque Terre attracts tourists and nature lovers alike to hike through the five towns, up and around the mountainside overlooking the gorgeous blue green sea. Those who travel the trails from one town to another will pass vibrant coloured buildings and apartments, olive orchards, vineyards and various tropical flowers and plants. To complete the journey through the five towns (a five hour process), travellers choose to stop and rest at one of the villages. There they will find unique shops, restaurants and hotels to relax in. Cars are not allowed on the island so you can truly experience a paradise away from reality upon visiting Cinque Terre.
After you have earned the title of the “Italian Traveller,” you will never be able to eat pizza or pasta anywhere else ever again. You will naturally set your table with a wine glass instead of a water glass. Ice cream will have lost its creamy taste and joy because it is not gelato. If you didn’t have it before, you will have a newfound appreciation for art and culture wherever you go. Viviendo la dolce vita.
Cheers and for this post, Ciao!
The Duchess of New York