Italy is an unscripted play; a rousing lyrical opera; a love affair that never ends. The country gets under your skin, and after each visit, it can haunt and invade your dreams with visions of its amazing cities studded with untold riches. And here are the cities that you need to visit during your next Italian vacay:
Rome—timeless, unchanging, a grand muscular city where the past, the present and the future tango effortlessly against a backdrop of fabulous monuments, wrapped in legends. There’s more to the Eternal City than the grand Colosseum, Trevi fountain, Spanish steps, St Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel (the latter two are in Vatican City, the smallest independent state in the world). Lively cafes, trattorias and a passionate, gesticulating people always ready to point the lost wayfarer in the right direction add sparkle to the Italian capital. Rome yields its secrets to those willing to walk, caress the sun-stunned stones of its buildings, stumble down its little-known alleys, step into a glorious church here or into a monument there where centuries lie dank and hushed. Rome is a city that remains unforgettable.
Romance clings to the lagoon-city of Venice like a cloud of perfume around a beautiful woman. One’s first glimpse of this city should be at night when its floodlit palaces glitter in the canals and lovers sit at candlelit canal-side restaurants sipping fine wines. Drift down the Grand Canal in a vaporetto to take in the pageantry of a hundred palazzi or palaces, then walk down its twisting streets and humped bridges to St Mark’s Square to admire its mosaic-studded Basilica; explore its winding waterways in a gondola while a dashing gondolier belts out a few arias of an opera or two. Venice in the day may seem a trifle frayed but it remains one of the most magical cities in the world. No wonder the city is the setting of so many films and novels. Some distance away lies Milan, its more prosaic sibling, the financial and fashion capital of Italy.
Further down south is Naples, stuck with the naughty-boy- of-Italy image. This vibrant chaotic city sprawls in the arms of the Bay of Naples and in the shadow of Mt Vesuvius that threatens to erupt any time like a cantankerous old man. Despite Naples’ unruly weather-beaten air, the city has a great deal of swag. The old centre beats like a heart under stress and is crammed with churches, street markets, locals speeding away on bikes and men and women sashaying down its spaghetti-thin streets with a languid air. A majestic cathedral, churches, Castel Sant‘Elmo, Castel Dell ‘Ovo (Castle of the Egg), Castel Nuovo, Palazzo Reale, the former royal palace, impressive squares and much more make a city that’s part theatre and part ageing heroine of a blockbuster country. Naples is the ideal base to explore the alluring isle of Capri, the town of Sorrento and the ruins of Pompeii.
Florence, Siena and Pisa
Tuscany with its tiara of glittering cities—Florence, Siena and Pisa—suffers from an embarrassment of riches. Here lies Italy’s greatest cache of art, pretty countryside and cities imbued with joie de vivre. Florence is Tuscany’s jewel, glowing in a bewitching setting beside the river Arno. The Piazza del Duomo, dominated by the 13th-century Duomo, is the pulsating heart of the city. Equally riveting is the Piazza della Signoria with its backdrop of eye-popping edifices like the Palazzo Vecchio which flaunts at its entrance a copy of Michelangelo’s iconic statue of David (the original is in the Galleria dell’Accademia). Nearby are the medieval, beguiling towns of Siena and Pisa (with its leaning tower).
DID YOU KNOW?
THREE COINS IN THE FOUNTAIN: The coin-throwing ritual is to put your back to the Trevi fountain in Rome, and then throw a coin with the right hand over the left shoulder to ensure that you will return to the Italian capital. According to another legend, cast three coins in the fountain—the first one will guarantee your return to Rome; the second will ignite a new romance (some say with an Italian) and the third proffers the promise of marriage! So, what’s your choice?