Whether it's the handmade pasta of Florence or the famous frescoes in the Vatican that intrigue you, our specialists detail their favorite experiences in Italy, no matter your preference.
Italy for the foodie
by Caroline Quinn, Italy specialist
Italy is famous for its food, and as one of the cornerstones of Italian culture, the cuisine definitely lives up to its culinary reputations. Most of what you’ll eat in Italy will consist of simple ingredients that are locally grown. Chefs throughout the country rely almost entirely on whatever produce is in season, and with the differing climates of each region, every region has its own distinct local dish. On the coast of Italy, you’ll find much more seafood, whereas the Northern areas will have a bit heavier food with German influences.
In Venice, feast on what the Venetians call chiceti or tapas. These usually consist of something small like crostini with a seafood or focaccia bread, and are best enjoyed with a nice bottle of wine or bellini.
On the Amalfi Coast, there is also the opportunity to cook seafood with a local family. Seafood is very popular around this area and southern Italy, and almost everything is freshly caught and prepared. The cooking class is held at a local woman’s home atop a hill in a small village. She will teach you how to prepare and de-bone fish to make a scrumptiously classic dish.
Local fish market in Venice
Making pasta by hand in Tuscany
While in Tuscany I had the chance to make pasta by hand which showed me just how much careful work goes into this craft. But the best pasta experience I had was probably in Rome, home to the “cacio e pepe.” Translated as “cheese and pepper,” this is a simple concoction made with vermicelli, black pepper and small amounts of grated pecorino cheese. You can even find it served in cones of cheese from street vendors, and it’s unforgettable.
If you’re a pizza aficionado, a visit to Naples will be heaven on earth for you. In Naples you must try the Neapolitan-born pizza marghertia, named after Italy’s 19th-century queen. It’s a basic pie – just tomato sauce, cheese and basil on a thin crust; but it is as delicious as it is simplistic. Naples is also home to a tasty twist on pizza; the pizza fritta, typically sold from street vendors. It’s a circle of dough, stuffed with cheese, sealed like a calzone, then fried. It’s perfect for a pizza taste on the go.
Italy for the scenery lover
by Kimberly Fitzgibbon, Italy specialist
When I visited, I was blown away by some of the natural beauty the country has to offer.
The topic of many Ancient Roman writers, the mystical Lakes Region is one of my favorite stops and is a sought after summer destination. I love this region because it’s every bit as beautiful as the well-known Amalfi Coast, but it’s a better kept secret, giving it a quiet and serene quality not found many other places. My first visit to the region took my breath away. Here, alpine lakes glitter as far as the eye can see, and the wooded hillsides rise elegantly from the water.
Lake Como is the most popular of the region and is my top choice for the best views. The steep mountain range and deep blue waters make for extreme views unlike anything I’ve ever seen. The town of Como itself is small, and from here you can take a funicular to the village of Brunate, located at the top of the mountain. From there, you’ll take a strenuous hike up the mountain that leads you to a lookout point. While tiring, the view from the top is well worth it as you look North over the entire region, mountains and lakes spanning as far as the eye can see.
Lake Orta, one of the Italian Lakes
Rolling hills of Tuscany
Many people think the Amalfi Coast is a beach destination; however much of the coastline is made up of steep cliffs. The Path of Gods hike is a great way to get unparalleled views from the top of the area. The hike is steep, but it takes you to a high enough point that you can see over the entire coast. If you’d prefer not to hike, you can also take a scenic drive through three of the towns that comprise the Amalfi Coast.
Italy for the art aficionado
by Shannon Yates, Italy specialist
One of the most remarkable aspects to appreciating art in Italy is that it is everywhere. Not only is it in the usual places of museums and galleries but it is also out in public spaces littering the streets with history, culture, grace and beauty.
A general overview of art in Italy can be broken up into three artistic mediums; sculpture, architecture and painting. These art forms display Italian art from the earliest days of antiquity right through the height of its magnificence during the renaissance.
Sculpture in Italy was most impressively produced during ancient times and the Renaissance. During a visit to the Vatican in Rome you will see ancient sculpture as well some influenced by antiquity, but the highlight of any visit to Rome are the many baroque sculptures on display by Bernini. From the Borghese Gallery, to St Peter’s Basilica, to Piazza Navona, Bernini’s talent and contribution to Italian art is undeniable.
Bernini statue of an elephant
St. Paul's Basilica
Italian architecture is best experienced in Rome and Venice. Rome is a city that holds strong to the past and the entire city is an open-air exhibit of ancient architecture. When visiting Rome, in particular the Roman Forum, pay attention to the many layers of buildings. Rome is a showcase of one civilization building anew on top of the past and the progression of architectural style is very much on display. A highlight for me is seeing the many baroque sculptors on display.
Finally, Florence and to some extent Rome are my favorite places to see Italian painting. There are two styles of which I am particularly fond; oil on canvas and fresco. Most of the painting during this time was done in the fresco style and was commissioned for the walls or the interiors of important secular or religious buildings. However, it is the oil on canvas of the Baroque artist Caravaggio that holds my heart. While you can see many Caravaggio paintings hanging on the walls of the Borghese Gallery, the best works can be seen on the interiors of two churches for which they were commissioned – the church of Santa Maria del Popolo and the San Luigi dei Francesi.
Paintings on the interior of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence
Art in a Florence duomo
Italy for the history buff
by Claire McCarroll, Italy specialist
Any history lover’s appetite can be satisfied by a trip to Rome. The Romans have had an immeasurable impact on Italy’s history and culture, and the majority of their most famous sites can be found in the capital.
First, the Colosseum is an obvious choice and a must-visit. As the largest amphitheater ever built, it was at one time capable of holding up to 80,000 spectators and was the site of many bloody battles between gladiators and exotic animals. Much of the exterior decoration was stripped when the games were banned in the 6th century, but the scale of what remains gives you a clear impression of what once was.
The Coliseum in Rome
Ancient Pantheon in Rome
Located in the center of Rome, The Pantheon is another popular visit for history lovers in Rome, and rightly so. The Pantheon as it stands today was built around 118 AD, and is the best preserved and most intact Roman structure in existence today. The famous large circular opening in the center of the dome is a result of architects at the time not quite mastering the art of creating this type of structure, as at the time they couldn’t figure out how to fill in the center of the dome without it caving in. Over time, the construction of this type of dome would be studied until eventually architects were able to get it right.
Perhaps my favorite historical visit is Trajan’s Column in Rome. You can look out onto this column from Palazzo Valentine, another popular historical spot, and it dates back to around 300 or 400 AD. Weaving all the way around the column are carvings telling the story of a battle that took place at the time of creation. There’s even a brief film you can watch that will show you what the whole column would look like unraveled as one long straight line.
Of course there are so many more places to experience the rich history of Rome and Italy as a whole that I haven’t mentioned. There’s the Vatican museum complex in Vatican City with its huge collection of art and antiques, the famed Trevi Fountain and the Sistine Chapel renowned for Michelangelo’s incredible works. The beauty of Italy is that the history is everywhere and there’s always more to see and learn.