Italy is brimming with stunning scenery, gastronomic delights, art and ancient history. Sicily is home to superb Norman architecture, exuberant Roman floor mosaics, Arab-inspired gardens, and probably the finest Greek temples to be found anywhere. In the heart of the mainland, Tuscany is widely considered to be the most beautiful region in Italy, with soul-stirring countryside, medieval hilltowns, Chianti vineyards and enchanting architecture.
What to see
From sweeping valleys, vineyards and hilltop villages to magnificent centres of art and architecture, Tuscany has a wealth of sights to explore.
Set on the River Arno is Florence, the pearl of Tuscany. Visit the Uffizi gallery, the Duomo, Michelangelo’s David at the Galleria Dell’Accademia, and walk over the famous Ponte Vecchio bridge. Just a short journey from Florence by train is Pisa, known for it leaning bell tower. The city also has several classical museums and has one of the finest centres of medieval art in the world in the Piazza Del Duomo (Cathedral Square).
Using Florence and Pisa as a base, explore the beautiful Tuscan countryside and visit the picturesque towns of Lucca, San Gimignano and Siena.
Another highlight is to visit one of the many hillside vineyards where you can taste the most well-known wine in the region, Chianti.
Italy is home to some of the world’s finest performance companies and most ornate and elaborate theatres – a combination that has delighted opera and ballet enthusiasts for years.
The performance schedule at La Scala in Milan runs from December to July. Visit the Museo Teatrale alla Scala for a behind-the-scenes look at the theatre and an insight into its magnificent history since its first performance in 1778. In Verona, the Teatro Filarmonico offers a comprehensive summer programme of operatic and classic performances. Tickets must be booked months in advance due its popularity.
Venice has two theatres. The Teatro La Fenice has been burned to the ground twice, and has recently been rebuilt to resemble its original beauty. Teatro Verde is an openair theatre on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore that offers stunning views, with St Mark’s Square providing a backdrop to performances.
The northern lakes of Garda, Como and Maggiore are amongst the most beautiful locations in Italy, and have drawn travellers for centuries.
Set against a backdrop of the Alps, Lake Garda occupies an idyllic setting with small picturesque towns dotted around its edge. Visit the village of San Vigilio, whose romantic setting has inspired poets and authors, or Garda town, with its traffic-free promenade and picturesque harbour.
Lake Como is recognised by its attractive lakeside villas, including the well-known Villa d’Este, now a luxury hotel. Visit the town of Cadenabbia, located on the western shore, which offers marvellous views across the lake to the town of Bellagio.
Lake Maggiore has three small islands: Isola Bella features a baroque palace and landscaped gardens the largest island Isola Madre has attractive botanical gardens, and Rocca Borromeo has a fortress. The area’s smaller lakes, such as Orta and Iseo, are also well worth a visit, and provide a picturesque setting in which to relax.
The Italian Riviera stretches from the border town of Ventimiglia to the busy seaports of Genoa and La Spezia.
Featuring some of the most scenic coastline in Europe, towns hugging rugged cliff faces, charming harbours and small villages of cobbled alleys, the Riviera has a wealth of areas to explore.
Visit the striking town of Portofino, and explore the harbour, relax in one of the many cafes, or go to Castello Brown, which offers great views over the Mediterranean and the town.
San Remo’s proximity to the Mediterranean and the Maritime Alps means a favourable climate.
Visit the two harbours, the modern Porto Sole and Porto Vecchio with its small shops, and the market held in the Piazza Eroi Sanremesi on Tuesday and Saturday mornings.
Should you wish to combine Italy with France, it is easy to travel by train across the border to visit the cities of Nice, Monte Carlo, and Cannes.
Venice, Milan & Rome by Train
ES* Italia is a system of high-speed premier trains that connects Italy’s main cities and towns in the north and south of the country. Using this rail network, it is possible to combine three of Italy’s classic cities.
In Venice, take a gondola along the Grand Canal explore its grand palazzos, piazzas and churches or just relax with a coffee in St Mark’s Square and watch the passers by.
Located on the plains of Lombardy, Milan is Italy’s second largest city, and it offers excellent arts, shopping and cuisine. Many famous artists were attracted to the city by the Court of Sforza, including Leonardo da Vinci. Highlights of the city include the cathedral, La Scala opera house and Da Vinci’s Last Supper.
Rome, the Eternal City, is rich in Roman ruins, Renaissance palaces and attractive squares. Explore the remains of the Roman forum, where Cicero extolled the virtues of the Republic visit St Peter’s Square and the Vatican and the Sistine chapel with its frescos by the masters Michelangelo, Raphael and Botticelli.
Umbria’s medieval towns, set amongst sweeping valleys and hills, make it an ideal region for sightseeing, walking and enjoying excellent Italian cuisine. The town of Assisi is home to two famous Basilicas, the 12th century Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi and the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli. In Umbria’s capital, Perugia, visit the Cathedral of San Lorenzo and the architectuarlly impressive Palazzo dei Priori, which was built in the early 13th century and houses a collection of art from the Umbria region.
Located close to the provincial capital of Terni are the Marmore Falls, the largest manmade waterfalls in the world at over 500 feet. Take a day trip to Lake Trasimeno, which has a picturesque shoreline dotted with ruined castles and olive groves. Also worth exploring is the town of Orvieto with its majestic cathedral, one of the country’s finest with its elaborate frescoes.