No other place in the world has integrated so rich a treasury of art and culture, such a striking presentation of natural beauty, and numerous delicious cuisines
Along with Greece, Italy is acknowledged as the birthplace of Western culture. Not surprisingly, it is also home to the greatest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the world. Historical constructions, high art and monuments are found everywhere around the country. There are also beautiful coast, alpine lakes and mountain ranges that leave you in awe of Nature.
Rome is one of Europe’s grandest cities. It is a showcase of ancient Western civilization, with marvels such as the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, and the Pantheon. Nevertheless, just walking along the centuries-old bridges, glancing at the Tiber river and walking through the tree-lined lungotevere fills one with happiness.
Pack some comfy shoes because lots of walking will be involved. Rome’s historic center is very large. There will be no need to get taxis, metros or buses, unless it’s for dinner reservations, or if you want to get faster to a certain place. But remember that wandering and walking around is part of the Rome experience, starring at stunning buildings and monuments in awe, and simply enjoying the open air museum this city is known for.
After landing at Rome Fiumicino (FCO) Airport, you can get to Rome’s central train station – Termini Train Station by non-stop train The Leonardo Express which lasts 32 minutes or FL1 regional train which also connects the airport to other locations including Trastevere and Ostiense.
Many people choose to begin their journey with the iconic landmark, the Colosseum. Putting aside the bloody history, the construction itself is surely a miracle. With a height of 20 floors, just to view it from outside is awesome enough. When you step inside, you will be amazed at the sophisticated space layout. Remember to book tickets in advance. A guided tour ticket or skip-the-line ticket with some extra fee will save you a lot of time.
After visiting the Colosseum, admire the mesmerizing Palatine ruins. Roam the stunning Palatine hill, one of the most ancient parts of the city and the most central of the Seven Hills of Rome.
Then enter the Roman Forum by the Palatine Hill entrance on Via di San Gregorio where usually has the shortest line. Located at the city center, it is totally separated from the hustle and bustle. Walking amidst buildings, temples, and marketplaces of 2000 years ago, you may feel of going back to the ancient yourself. Guides of different languages are sold on site.
To become a true Roman, just head to the Monti neighborhood for lunch. There is full of picturesque streets and an authentic Roman atmosphere. And for being in the center, it isn’t so overwhelmed by tourist crowds. If you want to have a quick refreshing lunch, go to Zia Rosetta with yummy salads, sandwiches and juices, if instead you’d like to sit down and have a longer break, go to Fafiuchè or Broccoletti for delicious Italian cuisine. After lunch, roam some of the streets, there are some beautiful viewpoints to get great pictures of the Colosseum, such as the one on Via dei Serpenti.
Other hot spots in Rome include Piazza Venezia, where you’ll find the iconic Altare della Patria. If you’re interested in getting a 360-degree view of Rome, head to the Terrazza delle Quadrighe on the last floor of the Vittoriano. You have to take an elevator to get there and pay a small fee.
Then arrive to the Trevi Fountain and throw in a coin for good luck. Afterwards, have a joyful wandering in the Villa Borghese gardens. There are segways you can rent, but you can also keep walking. For shopping lovers, don’t miss the Via del Babuino, one of the most luxurious streets of Rome, filled with haute couture boutiques. There are some good restaurants nearby, such as Babette that serves Italian cuisine with a twist, or Margutta Ristorarte if you are a vegetarian. Just a short walk away is Piazza Navona, awarded by many as one of the most beautiful squares in the world. Admire the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi in the middle. This is a great spot to take a break and enjoy a cup of coffee or glass of wine while people watching.
There is also the Spanish Steps, where Audrey Hepburn eats ice cream in the famous movie. On the top of the flight of the stairs, you will get some of the most beautiful views of Roman rooftops. It is also where Hassler Roma, the most luxury hotel in Rome, is located which offers panoramic views of the city line. It is home to Michelin-starred restaurant Imagò where chef Francesco Alpreda makes a creative twist of classic Italian cuisine.
The hotel’s AMORVERO SPA not only aims to bring body health but also emphasizes spiritual and emotional lifting. From a natural exfoliators made of sunflower seeds and thyme, lemon and clove essential oils to a Four Hands Massage joyfully and harmoniously carried out by two therapists, guests feel an absolute renewal from inside out. Apart from the treatments, there are sauna and steam room, Turkish bath, fitness. After all these, enjoy a delicious wealthy cocktail or a light lunch on the panoramic terrace with a spectacular view.
Florence and Tuscany
Located in the middle part of Italy, the Tuscany region has it all: beautiful rolling hill landscapes and funny-looking cypress trees, medieval historical towns, Renaissance art, Italy’s best wineries, amazing food, and good weather.
In order to see the very best of Tuscany, it’s highly recommended to visit the region by car. On the other hand, you don’t really need a car in the cities. Train connections between major towns are really good.
Cradled by the glistening River Arno and known as the best town of Tuscany region, Florence is a 1.5-hour train trip from Rome. It is the birth-place of the Renaissance, the cultural capital of Italy with a great collection of some of the most famous art in the world.
After putting on some comfortable walking shoes and grabbing a cappuccino and pastry, it’s time to have an art adventure. The Galleria deli Uffizi (Uffizzi Gallery) hosts works of art by Botticelli, Michelangelo, Raffaelo and Leonardo da Vinci, just to name a few of the most famous artists. Galleria dell’Accademia is renowned for housing Michelangelo’s David, a Renaissance masterpiece cut from a single piece of marble. As well as this, there are many other artworks that merit great attention as well as musical instrument display.
These two galleries are definitely the most crowded sites in Florence, meaning long queues. So it’s best to get either a skip-the-line ticket or a timed entrance ticket. Timed entrance tickets are cheaper, but you have to make sure to be there in time so that you don’t miss your slot.
Then make your way to the nearby Ponte Vecchio Bridge, a unique medieval bridge and stroll across while admiring the jewelry sparkling from every shop window and the views of the river on either side. Gusta Pizza near the Ponte Vecchio is one of the few in Florence that actually use the wood-burning oven to make “true” Napoli-style pizza.
Apart from the art exploration, feel more of the local atmosphere at some of its best squares. Piazza della Republica, one of Florence’s largest squares and home to a beautiful carousel, holds a plethora of streets performers, visitors and stalls, as well as an array of famous cafes, such as Caffe Gilli. Piazza della Signoria, another iconic square in Florence, is next door to Uffizi. The town hall towers above and a copy of Michelangelo’s David is nestled beneath. Just take a seat on the steps and watch people passing by while eating some gelato, listening to a talented busker and enjoying the hustle and the bustle of the city around. For some special local food, head into Mercato Centrale, a 3-floor market filled with food stalls selling everything from fruit to fish to olive oil, as well as cooked meals.
The best way to end your day in Florence is by watching the sun set over it from Piazza Michelangelo. From here, you can see all the sights you visited, and with the added benefit of the mountains in the distance. Watching the city turn from day to night, and witnessing the sky turn to a purple hue is unforgettable.
Luxury hotels in Florence include The St. Regis Florence, Four Seasons Hotel Firenze and Ville Sull’Arno. There are also wider ranges of cheaper accommodations.
When you picture Tuscany and you see rolling green hills with a lone cypress at the top or gentle yellow covered hills with haystacks spread across the fields, you are picturing the landscapes of the Val d’Orcia valley in southern Tuscany. Medieval castles, hilltop towns, charming rural farmhouses, rows of vineyards or of cypress trees and golden wheat fields are just some of the elements that complement the fantastic landscapes.
Tracing the curvature of the hills, start exploring from on high, at Radicofani Fortress, boasting views across the valley. Next, head for romantic Pienza, the ideal city and the setting of Zeffirelli’s film “Romeo and Juliet”. Delve into the cypresses of San Quirico, and continue to Montalcino to sip a fine Brunello. With your senses fully awakened, a visit to San Giovanni d’Asso’s Truffle Museum is a must.
A residence of the Medici family at San Casciano dei Bagni, Fonteverde Tuscan Resort & Spa is nestled among the hills of the Val d’Orcia, where pure hot springs have been pouring out since immemorial time. Rich in fluoride, magnesium and sulphur, the thermal waters of the Fonteverde Springs flow to the surface at a relaxing temperature of 42°C, offering the utmost relaxation and healing. With its collection of panoramic pools, hot tubs and treatment facilities, Fonteverde is a destination where mind, body and soul meet in harmony, and restore the natural balance of life.
Portovenere and Cinq Terre
The dramatic scenery and laid-back lifestyle of Italy’s Cinque Terre has made this small area a must-see. Cinque Terre (Five Lands), as the name indicates, comprises five small towns on the western coast of Italy in the region of Liguria, just above Tuscany. Situated within a national park, it’s characterized by terraced agricultural land and colorful towns that appear to vertically rise from the Mediterranean Sea.
The five towns are connected by trails. That means you can walk from one to another. But note that some of the trails are quite challenging. Paths often begin with a strong vertical and can be narrow at times. Always hike with a bottle of water, and in the summertime, a hat and sunscreen. So, though being a regular hiker is not a prerequisite, being active and in good health is. And to most people, the better choice is to take a train to hop between the villages and the traveling between each station takes mere minutes.
But before the exploration of the world famous Cinque Terre, you can find your home-base at Portovenere, a much less-crowded and equally picturesque seaside town. Known as Liguria’s best-kept secret, the town is a splash of colors with crystal clear sea. Not to mention that the delicious local cuisine comes at a bargain in comparison to other places. Plus, the wild Palmaria island is right in front of Portovenere if you want to head to the beach, and boats to Cinque Terre leave every hour. It takes just 1.20h to the farthest Cinque Terre town – Monterosso, and only 30-minute to the closest – Riomaggiore.
You can take the Frecciabianca train from Roma Termini to La Spezia Centrale which takes 3.45h. After getting off, walk just 10 minutes to the bus stop and take the Portovenere bus to Portovenere. Another option is heading to the port of La Speziaand and catching the boat to Portovenere.
Colonna 24 is a charming bed and breakfast in Portovenere. Facilities are decent and the staff are cordial who will meet you at the bus stop and reserve nice tables for you in advance. You can also ask them to recommend a travel itinerary of what to see and eat at the area.
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it comes as no surprise that famous poets sought inspiration for their works in Portovenere’s beauty. One of the most famous being the English poet, Lord Byron. And the place where he mediated and sought inspiration was the Grotto dell’Arpaia, known as Lord Byron’s Grotto. Just sit on one of the rocks and look at the Ligurian sea to completely feel that peaceful energy. Doria Castle is another perfect scenic spot perched atop the mountain overlooking the Bay of Poets. There are also some well-kept gardens there to visit.
For something completely new, go to the port and head to the red submarine. NemoSub goes around Portovenere and the island of Palmaria. You can see through the large windows the wonderful seabed. It’s a great experience for all ages and kids go crazy for this.
Ligurian cuisine is mostly known for its sauce: Pesto. It’s a fresh green sauce made with basil, garlic, parmesan, pine nuts and olive oil. And it’s served with pasta. Another famous Ligurian food is Focaccia, a flat oven-baked bread that resembles pizza that just leaves you craving for more. Additionally, due to the seaside location, Portovenere has amazing seafood restaurants, such as Portivene Un Mare di Sapori Restaurant and Le Tre Torri Restaurant. They both feature cozy atmosphere, outdoor area, and menus filled with local delicacies. If you want to have a simple but unique lunch with fresh local products, go to the La Vigna di Nettuno. Right on the sea front, the home-feel restaurant has a boho-chic vibe, with Italitan tunes, magazines and bottles of spumante all around.
The boat ride from Portovenere to Cinque Terre gives you stunning views of the Ligurian Coast. Making Vernazza the first stop won’t be a wrong decision. Vernazza is known as the most picturesque of the five. It is a one-street town. Go on a stroll on the main pizza and you will find such a lively atmosphere: packed restaurants, people taking pictures of the magical scenery, shops selling beautiful artisanal clothes and products, and a vacation feel radiating from all corners.
For an unforgettable lunch experience in Vernazza, head to Ristorante Belforte which is located inside an ancient castle, with terraces overlooking the sea. First of all, you need to make a reservation and specify that you want a table on the terrace when you call. Don’t forget to order a seafood crudité: from prawns to shrimps to tuna and seabass carpaccio, everything is super fresh and delicious. The spaghetti alla Bruno, crunchy fried seafood dish, a chilled bottle of Pigato are also recommended.
The northernmost village is called Monterosso, the biggest of the five. There are many streets and even a few cars driving around there. The landscape isn’t as vertical as other towns, so you could spend the entire day not climbing hills and stairs here. Monterosso is known for its sandy beaches. Normally, going to the beach in Cinque Terre isn’t very easy because they’re all cliffside villages and it’s hard to find a strip of sandy beaches. But that’s not the case with Monterosso. It has a pretty large beach with crystal clear waters. There are both private beaches where you can rent your umbrella and sun-bed, as well as free beaches where you can just lie down with your beach towel and go for a swim. Therefore, if you want to avoid stairs and have a more “resort” feel to your vacation, then you should stay here.