Somewhere Wonderful in Italy is Waiting
If you're looking for countryside bliss in Italy, book a stay in Tuscany | © Sergey Borisov / Alamy
Between the history of Rome, vineyards of Tuscany and style of Milan – not to mention Florence, Sicily and Naples – it’s a tough task to plan an adventure in Italy. Yet, you’ll see nothing at all if you pay fleeting visits to each. Instead, use our highlights guide below to narrow down the options. And if you’d rather somewhere lesser-known, visit one of these charming secret towns before tourists discover them.
The north is where you’ll find mountainous national parks, decadent cities and the Cinque Terre, a beautiful cluster of villages along the Italian Riviera coastline. Lake Como and Lake Garda are both in Lombardy and offer a magical countryside alternative to coastal destinations in the south. Venice is perhaps the biggest headline here, but don’t forget the stylish city of Milan or the underrated cities of Turin and Genoa. Read our guide to the most breathtaking places in northern Italy to learn more.
Visit Turin to explore the cavernous Grand Gallery at the Unesco-badged Venaria Palace | © Andrea Raffin / Alamy
The rolling hills, the seemingly unchanged old villages, the vineyards… Tuscany is picture perfect all over. You can’t really go wrong with travelling from town to town, be it the ancient Monteriggioni or vibrant Montepulciano. Read our guide to the most beautiful towns in Tuscany, and don’t forget to leave time for Pisa and, of course, the red-tiled beauty of Florence.
Make sure to explore the 13th-century Piazza Grande if you visit Montepulciano in Tuscany | © Classic Image / Alamy
The Temple of Saturn and Roman Forum are just some of the remnants left by ancient civilisations in Rome | © eye35.pix / Alamy
The Amalfi Coast might just be the ultimate seaside adventure in Italy. Start a little further north, in the thrilling city of Naples, before heading south past Sorrento and onto the Amalfi. From there, you can stop at every fishing village and cliffside town on a glorious road trip of sun, sea and sumptuous cuisine. Sound fun? Follow our guide to driving the Amalfi Coast and prepare to have the journey of a lifetime.
Take a road trip along the Amalfi Coast and stop in beautiful Positano for a picturesque evening | © mauritius images GmbH / Alamy
It’s easy to forget that, just hanging off the tip of Italy’s boot, is the magnificent island of Sicily and a little further northwest is Sardinia. Both offer excellent hiking trails, beautiful coastlines and a laid-back approach to life. Read our in-depth guide to the best things to do in Sicily and the best day trips from Cagliari, the Sardinian capital.
A hike up Etna is a right of passage for tourists to Sicily | © imageBROKER / Alamy
Whichever corner of Italy you choose, you’re sure to find plenty of great art, culture and nightlife. The country also has incredibly diverse geography, with snowy peaks and alpine lakes in the north, Mediterranean islands in the south and just about everything in between. Below are four must-do attractions in Italy, and if you’d like to book tours, activities and classes, check out the amazing collection of experiences we offer.
Enjoy watersports on Lake Garda
Northern Italy has a number of striking alpine lakes, none of which are more impressive than Lake Garda. The area is full of natural beauty, perfect for a calm countryside retreat, but the sheer scale of Garda makes it just about the best place in Italy for watersports. Windsurfing and sailing are the two most popular activities here but you can also kitesurf, paddleboard, go diving and canyoning or, if you’d prefer a slower pace, take a scenic boat ride across the lake. The most special activity of them all, however, is getting up nice and early and going for a morning swim. The water is calm, fresh and quiet, and the surroundings are simply breathtaking.
Soak in the Saturnia Hot Springs
© Westend61 GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo
Tuscany is known for rolling green hills, vineyards, and enchanting towns and cities. It isn’t known – but perhaps should be – for being home to one of the most impressive thermal springs in Europe. You’ll find them around halfway between Florence and Rome, down a winding road from the town of Saturnia. The ancient Romans believed the springs were a gift from the gods, and when you first lay your eyes on them, we’re sure you’ll agree. You can spend hours soaking in the 37.5C (99.5F) waters, finding your own private pool and breathing in the fresh country air. And we haven’t even mentioned the best part. It’s all totally free: the pools, the parking, everything.
Marvel at the Colosseum in Rome
Historical Landmark, Architectural Landmark
The capital is the greatest open-air museum in the world. From ancient ruins to remarkably well-kept monuments, Rome is covered in remnants of its storied past. So much so that even the most off-beat traveller can’t miss the likes of the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain and, most of all, the Colosseum. If you want to escape the crowds, get there by 8.30am, when the gates open. But we recommend booking a night tour, when the arena takes on an even more magical atmosphere. Entry is free on the first Sunday of every month, and tickets are fairly reasonable at all times, although we recommend paying extra to tour the arena floor, the upper tiers and the hypogeum – a series of tunnels and cells built underneath the arena.
Time travel in Pompeii, Naples
Architectural Landmark, Historical Landmark
Pompeii might be mainstream but it’s also one of the most unique places on earth, offering a fascinating insight into the power of nature. While elements of Pompeii are harrowing, as you witness destruction caused by a Mount Vesuvius eruption almost 2,000 years ago, it has also allowed historians to gather a much greater understanding of Roman life at the time. This is one of the definitive historical landmarks of European history and, after a day of learning, you can always cool off in nearby Sorrento or unwind in Naples.
Lefay Resort & Spa Lago Di Garda, Lake Garda
Courtesy of Lefay Resort & Spa Lago Di Garda / Expedia | Courtesy of Lefay Resort & Spa Lago Di Garda / Expedia
Locations don’t get better than this little spot of hillside overlooking the largest lake in Italy. Lefay Resort is a huge wellness centre with sustainability at its core. Rooms are decorated with gentle colours and subtle design flourishes that put you in the right frame of mind to enjoy the extensive spa facilities. A variety of health programmes and treatments are on offer, plus beauty programmes that use the hotel’s own cosmetic line. There are six types of sauna, heated indoor pools, a gym and, stealing the show, an infinity pool with unrivalled views of the lake. After a pamper day you can explore the hills, woodland and olive groves, or simply enjoy an evening of good food and drink at one of two restaurants, a lounge bar or the pool bar.
Hotel Santa Maria Novella, Florence
Hotel Santa Maria Novella | Courtesy of Hotel Santa Maria Novella / Expedia
A stay at this surprisingly well-priced boutique hotel offers luxurious furnishings and a prime location overlooking Piazza di Santa Maria Novella and the beautiful Basilica of Santa Maria Novella. This places you perfectly in the heart of Florence, ready to explore the spellbinding streetscapes and architectural landmarks on every corner. Inside has a distinctly decadent feel, with elegantly hanging drapes, bold colour palettes and beds fit for royalty. Meanwhile you can enjoy the charming surroundings without leaving the comfort of the hotel, thanks to a delightful rooftop terrace, from which you can spot the most famous landmarks in Florence with a cocktail in hand.
Maison La Minervetta, Sorrento
Maison La Minervetta | Courtesy of Maison La Minervetta / Expedia
Enjoy mesmerising views over the Bay of Naples when you book a stay at this idyllic apartment in Sorrento, south of Naples and just north of the Amalfi Coast. The theme is very much maritime, with colourful tiles and busy decorative touches. Balconies, terraces and a small but alluring pool allow you to enjoy the sunshine from the comfort of your own space, while the lively centre of Sorrento is within walking distance. Every room is positioned perfectly for the floor-to-ceiling windows to look directly out onto the twinkling blue waters and rocky coastlines on the horizon. Not a bad sight to wake up to.
Zash Country Boutique Hotel, Sicily
Zash Country Boutique Hotel | Courtesy of Zash Country Boutique Hotel / Expedia
Sicily is one of the more budget-friendly regions of Italy, so you can enjoy top-of-the-range glamour at prices that match average hotels in other parts of the country. Enter Zash, a gorgeous countryside building under an hour from Catania. Sleek, modern decor blends surprisingly well with the rustic structures of the building, while the perfectly kept gardens feature a serene outdoor pool. The philosophy of this place is all about silence and relaxation. The Sicilian spa is a treasure, built using products of Mount Etna lava and looked after by top-class wellness professionals. The restaurant, once an ancient winery, is in the cellar and has a Michelin star to its name. Chef Giuseppe Raciti uses contemporary creativity to bring local ingredients to life amid the atmospheric underground dining area.
Italian cuisine might just be the most popular in the world. It’s certainly the most appropriated, but nowhere does it quite as well. The whole country is plastered with restaurants where the best chefs use the best ingredients to make some of the most tantalising dishes on the planet. Here are four examples of such places.
Il Luogo di Aimo e Nadia, Milan
Restaurant, Italian, $$$
The food scene in Milan reflects the city – cool, contemporary and full of history. Il Luogo is the perfect example of that. Founded in 1962 by life partners Aimo and Nadia Moroni, the restaurant has never stopped looking forward and pushing boundaries. Their legacy is continued by chefs Alessandro Negrini and Fabio Pisani, who take the scents and flavours of Italian produce and inject them with creativity and modernity to create a Michelin-starred formula that rivals the best restaurants in Milan
Borgo San Jacopo, Florence
Before a bite has been taken, Borgo San Jacopo will wow you with the most desirable location in Florence, overlooking the Arno, with intoxicating night-time views of Ponte Vecchio. The mastermind behind this hotel restaurant, Claudio Mengoni, works wonders with fresh meat, fish and local vegetables. And then there’s the wine. With more than 900 labels in the cellar, this might be one of the best wine spots in the city, and head sommelier Salvatore Biscotti will make sure your drink matches the richness of your food and the romance of the views.
Restaurant, Italian, $$$
This retro trattoria, with tiled floors and orange walls, may look like a traditional, low-key food joint, but it’s actually one of the most up-and-coming food places in Rome. Wonderkid chef Sarah Cicolini has earned herself a reputation as the queen of offal and innards but, don’t worry, weaker stomachs can opt for her much-lauded carbonara, while her use of seasonal vegetables is revered. The menu changes just about every day (a few classics are kept for the regulars) so you never quite know what you’ll find – that’s part of the thrill. The one thing you do know is that it’ll taste damn good. Who knew casual dining could be so exciting?
Pizzeria Starita a Materdei, Naples
Pizzeria, Italian, $$$
© Konstantin Malkov / Alamy
You can’t leave Italy without having tucked into some pizza, and there’s no better place to go than Naples, where the dish was invented. Nothing beats a good Neapolitan pizza and there are countless places to get a delicious slice, so don’t be afraid to pop into any old corner pizzeria and sample the goods – it might be the best of your life. Our pick of the bunch, though, is Starita, found in an easily accessible residential neighbourhood. They strike the perfect balance between thickness of dough, richness of sauce, and blend of herbs and cheese. If you come here on your first night in Naples, you’ll do well to eat anywhere else for the rest of your stay.