Ciao, Jetlag Junkies!
I’m sure it comes as absolutely no surprise to you that I love Italy. But here’s the thing: There’s nothing particularly original about “loving Italy”. It’s sort of like saying, “I love movies,” or “I love puppies”. Italy is easy to fall in love with, and since so many visitors have, its appeal to travelers is magnified. Whether visiting Italy for the first time or the tenth, it's crucial that you recognize that there is no such thing as Italian. Italy is a diverse country made up of a multitude of landscapes and people from north to south. So how does anyone determine the best place to visit in Italy?
My eyes light up every time I have the opportunity to plan a trip to Italy for a client because it is a destination that has to work hard to disappoint its visitors. However, before the actual planning process can begin, it is so important to match the Italian region to the traveler’s personality. And, because all of Italy is super dreamy and you’re probably dying to go, I’ve created this mini-guide to help you find the perfect spot.
Which Italian Destination is Right for You?
Best Place in Italy for Main Attraction Sightseeing: Rome
Okay, so this one is kind of a gimme. Rome’s sights and attractions are among the most iconic in all of Europe. From a pleasure standpoint, Rome is probably my least favorite place in Italy. However, this city is ideal for art, history, film, and religious enthusiasts alike.
Best tourist attractions in Rome: the Vatican Museums, St. Peter's Basilica & Sistine Chapel, the Colosseum, Roman Forum & Palatine Hill, Borghese Gallery, Pantheon, Catacombs, Baths of Diocletian, and--of course--the Trevi Fountain.
Best Place in Italy for Fashion Lovers: Milan
To be clear, Italians are the best dressers in all the world. Most of the famous fashion brands we can identify (and aspire to own) got their start in Italy’s design houses. And for shoppers, there’s no better city in Italy to rack up those credit card miles than Milan.
Best shopping experiences in Milan: Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II (the inspiration for some of the grandest malls in the world), Spazio Rossana Orlandi (revolving showcase of designers), Brian & Barry Building (private shopping experiences).
Best Place in Italy for Art Appreciation & Man-made Beauty: Florence
Florence is considered the home of Renaissance art, and the city is a glorious monument to the era’s glory. Everything in Florence feels beautiful and special—from the views at Piazzale Michelangelo to the frescoes of Santa Maria Novella, and the bronze doors of St. John’s baptistry to the red dome of the del Fiore. Of course, one can’t miss the Accademia (and her famous tenant, David), the Uffizi, the Ponte Vecchio, Santa Croce……
Best art in Florence: Accademia, Uffizi, Bargello, Duomo Museum, Museum of San Marco, Santa Croce Church, Church of Santa Maria Novella (home to the famous "3-D" painting), Pitti Palace, Brancacci Chapel.
Best Place in Italy for a Short Stay: Venice
Here’s a little secret: when I have clients who want to spend just a couple of days in Italy (maybe they’re also visiting France, Spain, Germany, or Croatia…), I always recommend Venice. Despite the hordes of tourists any time of year, Venice has a funny way of feeling very Italian. Plus, it’s terribly easy to soak up Venice's sights in a weekend.
Best Venetian experiences: afternoon cicchetti & apertivo, cappuccino in St. Mark's Square, donning a mask at Carnival, cruising the canals with a lover, getting lost.
Best Place in Italy for Taking it Easy: the Lake Region
If George Clooney is wrong, I don’t want to be right. Lake Como, along with her sisters Maggiore, Orta, and Lugano are among the best spots to simply camp out at a sprawling villa or luxury hotel and enjoy the view. Of course, if you can’t take it that easy, there is plenty of fishing, hiking, and shopping to keep you occupied.
Best for super-luxe living in the Italian Lakes: Lake Garda. This area remains strictly committed to indulgence over mass commercialism. Take your Centurion card.
Best Place in Italy for Foodies: Emilia-Romagna
I realize that this is completely subjective, but on the whole, the Emilia-Romagna cannot be beat for delicious food finds. Considering that Emilia-Romagna This region (comprised mostly of small towns) is home to Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, Prosciutto di Parma, balsamic vinegar, and tortellini. In fact, some of the best pastas of my life have come from trattorias on back streets in Bologna.
Best foodie experiences in Emilia-Romagna: pasta making (and oh-so-much eating) in Bologna, bread and Balsamic Vinegar in Modena, prosciutto and REAL Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese in Parma...I could go on, but now I'm starving and must take a lunch break.
Best Place in Italy for Wine Geeks: Piemonte
The Piemonte (often seen as “Piedmont”) region is, at least in this geek’s opinion, home to the best Italian wines. Barolo is king, but the region has an insane variety of grapes (you’ll even find top-notch vermouths here). A fall visit will coincide with the rare black truffle harvest—an event worth participating in if ever you have the opportunity.
Best grapes to geek out on in Piedmont: Nebbiolo is king of Italian grapes, hence its out-of-this-world Barolo and Barbaresco. Barbera is another great pick and produces handsome reds when well-aged in French oak. Moscato in Asti is sweet, celebratory, and downright delightful (unlike its cheap imitations around the world).
Best Place in Italy for Romantic Escapes: Tuscany
So, here’s the deal. All of Italy is fiercely romantic. It can’t help itself. But not all romance is created equal, is it? Rome has booty-grabbing romance; Amalfi has Hollywood wind-in-my-hair romance; Venice has sweetly-seranaded on a gondola romance. But Tuscany. Tuscany is classic romance. It is a sensory-rich pleasure paradise that is made for lovers.
But, hey, you do you, girl.
Best highlights of a romantic getaway in Tuscany: chianti at sunset, sneaking a kiss in the towers of San Gimignano, strolling through the olive farms, playing house in a villa.
Best Place in Italy for People Who Have Already Been to Italy: Sicily
First-time visitors to Italy generally feel compelled to visit the “postcard towns”—Rome, Florence & Tuscany, Venice, the Cinque Terre, & the Amalfi Coast. Each is exquisite, so I’m not going to make an argument to the contrary. However, people who visit Italy often remark that their favorite part of Italy wasn’t the famous sights they visited or the art they saw…it was the moments they were simply being in Italy! Sicily is the perfect locale for indulging in Italy’s dolce vita. Slow food. Long walks. Afternoon sails across a crystal blue sea. Sicily is friendly and indulgent, yet it remains decidely non-touristy. Mt. Etna produces stunning backdrops and delicious wines, while the diversity of ancient settlers provides more than enough to keep your five senses entertained (Byzantine architecture, Norman palaces, Arab, Jewish, and Mediterranean cuisine, Greek temples, Spanish markets, Roman squares…). Sicily is so charmingly rustic that it is the ideal getaway for anyone who simply desires to be in Italy.
Best things to do (or not) in Sicily: eat street food in Palermo, sip wine at Mt. Etna, get your Corleone on at the Castello degli Schiavi, get a tan onboard a yacht in the Ionian Sea.
Best Place to Visit in Italy for Enjoying the View: Italy!!!!
You didn’t really expect me to pick one view, did you? I can’t even pick one coastal view! Italy is nothing if not beautiful. She is a feast for the eyes (just as much as the stomach) whether you are looking out or looking in. So take your pick between the painted Italian Riviera, the sweeping blues and yellows of Amalfi, the rolling Tuscan hills, the snow-capped Dolomites, or the grape-dotted plains in-between.
It’s easy to enjoy Italy’s splendor whether you are on or off the beaten track, so quit putting it off and GO!!! And please, as I always say, go like you’re going back…then go back.