“Italy, and the spring and first love all together should suffice to make the gloomiest person happy.” – Bertrand Russell
There is something quite unique in this country that has drawn travelers for centuries. Perhaps Italy’s secret lies in Mother Nature’s masterpieces – from coral-studded Campanian waters and green hills of Tuscany to the icy Alps and volcanic craters – its diversity is surreal. Maybe its seductive power lies in cultural riches – after all, Italy was the epicenter of Roman Empire and birthplace of Renaissance. Some would probably say that Italy’s culinary soul, simultaneously rustic and refined, is its most fascinating feature. Whatever your reasons for visiting this country are, there are some experiences that you shouldn’t miss.
Join the Venice Carnival
The world-known two-week carnival takes place in February, and it is truly an event everyone should experience at least once in a lifetime. The annual extravaganza brings some extra magic into this already magical city. Filled with masked party-goers dancing, posing and philandering in a surreal reinvention of the century-old tradition, Venice is the place for the bold. If you decide to go, try to immerse yourself into this glamorous event, by wearing your own mask, and visiting parades and balls.
Have Pizza in Naples
Pizza is the universally adored meal, and it is prepared in almost every corner of the world. But you haven’t truly tasted one, until you’ve tasted it in its country of origin. Nobody makes pizza quite like Italians, because nobody understands pizza the way they do. Naples stands out as the city where pizza is baked in the same way as hundreds of years ago – in domed wood-fueled ovens, which give the pizza a unique smoky, slightly bitter note. Some of the best pizzerias to visit are “Antica Pizzeria e Friggitoria di Matteo”, “Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba”, “Trianon da Ciro” and “Pizzeria Starita”.
Learn to Make Pizza
Eating pizza in Italy is great, but what happens when you come home and get an incurable true-Italian-pizza-nostalgia? To prevent post-Italy depression, the only thing you can do is to learn how to prepare an authentic Italian pizza. There are pizza-making courses in many of the Italian cities, but one of the best places to learn how to make pizza is Sorrento, a coastal town in southwestern Italy. Some villas in the city offer pizza-making lessons, but you can also find workshops that include appetizers, pizzas and desserts, so perhaps you can even learn to prepare tiramisu.
Treat Your Taste Buds at “Il Massimo del Gelato” in Milan
Switching from pizza to sweet-tooth treat, gelato is, after pizza and pasta, one of the most famous Italian contributions to world’s cuisine. Of course, you should try gelato regardless of where in Italy you’re situated, but if you find yourself in Milan, you should definitely try the one made in “Il Massimo del Gelato”. The flavors are intense and fresh, and they include everything from the regular almond to the chocolate with cinnamon and peperoncino.
Try Wine Tasting in Tuscany
Tuscany is one of the best destinations for wine aficionados around the world. It produces many top-notch wines, from Chianti and Sassicaia to dessert wines. There are many different wine regions with their signature wines, so if you have to narrow it down to one, let your favorite wine be your guide. Even if you don’t see the truth in wine, you will definitely enjoy the rolling hills and verdant landscapes of Tuscan vineyards.
Rent a Villa in Tuscany
If you are a romantic soul who can’t help but feel emotional every time you see Under the Tuscan Sun with Diane Lane or A Good Year with Russell Crowe, then you definitely see the appeal of renting a villa in Tuscany. You’ll be able to prepare your own pasta, pick olives straight from the trees, and enjoy the company of kind neighbors, perhaps even helping them make wine or maintain their vineyards.
Cruise the Venetian Lagoon
If you want to have a completely different experience of Venice and its Lagoon, you should definitely go on a cruise trip. Many of the exclusive barge cruises in Italy include cruising this waterway and that is, by no means, a surprise. Covering 50,000 km², the lagoon is home to many unspoiled islands with their own secret hideaways that are well-worth exploring. Cruising the lagoon will give you a chance to enjoy the view of the greenish water, but if your barge stops at some of the islands, such as Murano, Lazzaretto Nuovo, Mazzorbo, Burano or Isola della Certosa, you’ll have the opportunity to see some interesting museums (e.g. Glass Museum in Murano), historical ruins (e.g. Carthusian Monastery in Isola della Certosa), and all in all everything that sets apart ordinary tourist’s experience of Venice from true traveler’s immersion in local culture.
Walk in Caesar’s Footsteps in Rome
Even if you’re not much of a history buff, you can’t help but admire the marvelous structure such as the Colosseum. Just try to stand on the cobblestones of the Roman forum and not to shiver down your spine, knowing who walked there before you. Spend an entire afternoon walking around the ruins that once made the center of the great Roman Empire, and you will have a story to tell for many years to come.
Visit the City Frozen in Time (Pompeii)
Italy is made of history, astonishing architecture and great tastes, and it is impossible to avoid the first one. One of the must-see historical sites in Italy is definitely Pompeii, the city that was covered by Mount Vesuvius’ lava. Now it stands as a witness, a living monument, to the citizens who lost their lives and to the times that are long gone…
Go on a Hunt for all the “David” Statues in Florence
Every corner of the cradle of Renaissance is an awe-worthy sight – from world-class art to the romantic Arno River. However, if you want to explore Florence in a different way, you can do that by searching for all the “David” statues in the city. Of course, seeing the real one in the Galleria dell’Accademia is great, but going on a scavenger hunt for the ones located in the Piazza Signoria, Piazzale Michelangelo and all around the city is an interesting game to play as you’re wandering through Florence.
Spend a Couple of Days in Sicilian Village
This Italian island is famous for its history, out-of-this-world beaches and infamous for its ties with the mafia (remember The Godfather?). However, there are so many other fascinating things behind this façade: the kind locals who are willing to invite you into their homes and tell you the tales of their family history; the villages where time stopped and preserved life as it once was… If you ever stop by Sicily, make sure to visit its small, colorful, rocky villages and see for yourself. Some of the must-see stops are Savoca, Castelmola, Novara di Sicilia and, of course, Corleone.
Sunbathe on Costa Smeralda
If all of this history talk made you forget that Italy is a Mediterranean country rich with numerous breathtaking beaches, here’s something to remind you – Sardinia. The second largest island in the Mediterranean Sea (right after Sicily), Sardinia boasts some of the most awe-inspiring beaches on Earth. And since it is a very popular vacation location for a lot of Italians from the mainland, it is less likely that you will run into hordes of tourists there.
Drive along the Amalfi Coast
Definitely one of Italy’s most amazing roads, Amalfi Coast is known for its jaw-dropping views of the Mediterranean Sea and mountainous coastline. The experience of driving along it is a must, especially for adrenaline junkies (not for the faint of heart, though). The road is tortuously curved and narrow, so you will have to be extra careful, but the whole feeling you get by driving is rewarding enough. Since the road runs through a lot of small villages, you’ll be able to make frequent stops in magical places like Atrani and Amalfi, where you can visit the stunning Cathedral of St. Andrew.
Trek Cinque Terre
If you type “Italy” in Google images search, a photo of colorful houses atop cliff edges will appear in the first ten results, for sure. Those are five villages that make Cinque Terre (Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare). Each of them is crisscrossed by hiking trails that go through flowering fields and alongside medieval churches and fragrant vineyards. Although there are trains passing from one village to another, this trail is simply begging to be explored on foot.
Giuseppe Verdi once said: “You may have the universe if I may have Italy”, and truly, Italy is a universe of its own, full of colorful and diverse cultural, culinary and natural riches, just calling to be explored and experienced. Although you may easily explore Italy as a casual tourist by taking a photo “holding” the Leaning Tower of Pisa, these 14 ways will help you to look beyond all the stereotypical ideas of Italy, and truly immerse in that universe and discover the unique magic of this Mediterranean country.