Once you get your first glimpse of Italy, be it in someone’s vacation photographs or a film, a fever takes hold. You’ve witnessed Italy’s beauty and know there’s something beneath the surface of this spectacular country that must be discovered. Could it be the history? The art? The architecture? The fashion? The food? Certainly the wine. Could it be the ability of the Italians to slow down and take in every last drop of life? Pack your bags and book a flight. It’s time to cultivate your relationship with Italy and experience la dolce vita.
When in Rome
You could spend your entire trip in Rome taking in Italy’s rich history. For all the territory you’ll want to tackle plan to stay at the St. Regis Grand for luxurious accommodations and a butler who’ll be at your beck and call. Just steps away in the Piazza de Spagna are the Spanish Steps. This area was once the haunt of authors Keats, Shelley and Byron. Get a feel for this bygone era by visiting The Keats-Shelley Memorial House. Later, grab a cup of Joe at the literatis’ favorite coffee shop, the Antico Caffe Greco.
A tour of the Vatican, St. Peter’s Basillica and the Sistine Chapel requires at least a day to experience all of the art, architecture and history you’ll find there. Marvel in the ornate beauty of St. Peter’s. Make your way up the 323 steps to the building’s dome designed by Michelangelo for a closer look at its detailing. From there visit the Vatican museums, where you can rent a CD player that will guide you through collections including those in the Raphael Rooms, Etruscan Museum and Gallery of Maps. Awe-inspiring is the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel painted by Michelangelo between 1508 and 1512. Make sure to have a key to both the ceiling panels and walls so you won’t miss frescoes such as the “Creation of the World” and “The Last Judgement.”
Block time another day to visit the Forum, Colosseum and Palantine. Get an overview of the Roman Forum from atop Capitoline Hill before exploring its streets. Once inside you’ll be transported to the 2nd century BC and beyond when taking in the architectural ruins including the Temple of Saturn, Arch of Septimius and the House of the Vestal Virgins. Nearby is the Colosseum, the amphitheatre where as many as 55,000 people would gather to watch gladiators fight wild animals, or each other, to the death. Later wander the lush grounds of the Palatine, the home of Rome’s elite in the 1st century BC. Here you’ll see ruins including the House of Livia, the courtyard of Domus Flavia and the underground gallery known as the Cryptoporticus that was built by Emperor Nero.
Later, as you head over to the Pantheon watch for sculptures along the way including that of an elephant beneath an Egyptian obelisk, a marble cat on a rooftop and a giant foot thought to be from a temple built for Isis. Enter the Pantheon and marvel in the majesty of its dome, the oculus of which provides the building’s only source of natural light. Take a break from sightseeing for people watching at a sidewalk café at nearby Piazza Navona with a view of the Fontana dei Fiumi. As you make your way back to your hotel, say goodbye to Rome with a stop at Trevi Fountain, where a backwards toss of a coin into its waters will ensure your return to this great city.
Tuscany, a Mecca of food, wine and fine art
Italy’s beauty can’t be fully absorbed without time spent in Tuscany, particularly within the city walls of historic Florence. Plan to stay at the Villa San Michele, a 15th century monastery in the Fiesole hills. Enlist in their Chianti Full Immersion program to get the true flavor of life in the region and the wine and olive oil produced there. Villa San Michele is all about good food and wine. Spend time at their Loggia Terrace Restaurant to taste specialties prepared by Chef Attilio de Fabrizio such as homemade green noodles with wild asparagus and fried basil or the traditional suckling pig chop with sultana and onions.
After relaxing in the countryside, head into town to absorb Florence’s bounty of art. Make your way to the Duomo and Baptistry. Not only can you use the orange tiled Duomo as a focal point for keeping track of your whereabouts, but can revel in the artistry of the marble work within the cathedral and the intricate sculpting of the bronze Baptistry doors. In nearby Piazza San Marco you’ll find the Galleria dell’Accademia, home of Michelangelo’s David and fine collections of art from the pre-Renaissance and Renaissance eras. Next stop, the Uffizi. Buy a guidebook and creamy gelato outside the gallery before joining the line of eager museumgoers. Though you may face a two-hour wait to get inside, you’ll be rewarded by masterpieces of the greats, among them Bottecelli. Raphael, da Vinci and Michelangelo. If shoes are your favorite form of art, be sure to add the Ferragamo Museum to your itinerary.
Later, pop into Mercato Centrale and peruse the stands of fresh fruit, vegetables and cheeses for the perfect “Tuscan take-out”. If the mood for shopping has taken hold, browse the jewelry and antique shops along the Ponte Vecchio Bridge. Grab a beer at Ringo’s Bar before making your way to the Boboli Gardens where you can soak in the sun and walk barefoot through the grass.
Venice, the floating city
During a visit to this floating city, you’ll find yourself using various forms of transportation to visit its surrounds. Stay just outside the city on Guidecca Island at the luxe Hotel and Palazzo Cipriani where you’ll have views at every turn not only of the ocean, but gardens and vineyards as well. Take the hotel’s water taxi to St. Mark’s Square. Step through the entrance of the Basilica, heralded by four bronze horses. Inside you’ll find the originals made in the 4th century BC. Take time to study the Byzantine mosaics that play out a series of biblical stories. Next experience the Italian architecture of the 14th and 15th centuries at the Palazzo Ducale, or Doges Palace. At sunset, make your way to Caffé Florian where you can linger over live classical music while tossing panini crumbs to the local pigeons.
Hop aboard a gondola for a quick trip across the waters to the Palazzo Venier di Leoni to view the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, which features artists like Picasso, Pollock, Dali and Miro. If the Venetian Renaissance is more to your liking visit the collections at the Galleria dell’ Accademia. Take a vaporetto to the quaint islands of Burano and Murano in the Venice Lagoon for a look at Venetian lace and glass making.
Once you’ve had your fill of art and architecture, set aside time to wander aimlessly through Venice’s narrow streets to happen upon sites like the Rialto Bridge and the quiet neighborhood of Santa Elena. Before departing, toast this unique city with a peach-infused Bellini at Harry’s Bar, made famous by Ernest Hemingway.
The catwalks of Milan
After spending so much time steeped in Italy’s history, Milan will bring you back to the present with its sense of the cosmopolitan. Stay in the thick of things at the Four Seasons Milan located in the Quadrilatero, a series of streets dedicated to the designers of high fashion and couture. Peruse the houses of Valentino, Gucci, Versace, Dolce & Gabbana, Ermenegildo Zegna, Prada, Cavalli… the list goes on and on.
Head to Cracco-Peck for a lunch of traditional Milanese dishes with a modern twist. Leave room for dessert and their mouth-watering tiramisu. Next stop — Corso Como 10 on the street of the same name. Considered a fusion store, inside you’ll find a bevy of merchandise from high fashion to rare oddities. After a day spent in dressing rooms and pounding the pavement hit Armani Nobu for drinks at 7:00 p.m. to mingle with the fashion crowd.
Don your newfound threads for a night on the town. Spend the evening at the world famous Teatro Alla Scala over a performance of opera for a cultural taste of Italy’s beauty. Afterwards, pop into the Paper Moon for a dinner of penne alla rabiata and to see who’s out and about. From there, take in the club scene. For dancing hit Casablanca, Hollywood, Lampedusa, Luminari and the Atlantic. Jazz lovers will want to check out the Blue Note.
After several days getting into the groove of the city, take the hour-long train ride out to Lake Como to wind down amidst the Italian Alps. Stay at the Grand Hotel Tremezzo Palace overlooking the lake. Play a round of golf on each of the four nearby fairways or arrange water skiing lessons through the hotel. Or you can just kick back with a good book on the shores of Lake Como and reflect on your visit to this beautiful country. Now that you’ve embraced la dolce vita return trips to Italy will become a priority.
For more information, check out the Italian Tourist Board, http://www.italiantourism.com/
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