Looking for passion then … ciao, ciao Italy! The Italians love their country and are passionate and proud people. Blessed with natural fashion flair, a love for good food and strong family bonds the Italians make stylish, warm and welcoming hosts. You can’t move in this country without bumping into gorgeous Italians, tasting the freshest of pasta, seeing the most breathtaking of scenery and drinking some of the world’s finest wines. Let yourself get caught up in the passion of Italy and the Italians will love you. So where should your Italian affair start? Northern Italy is a strikingly beautiful region and ranges from a stunning coastline, majestic mountains, vast lakes and some of Italy’s most beloved cities. At the foot of the Swiss Alps, on the edge of the Swiss and Italian border, is Lake Como. Very similar to Queenstown but twice as big. The town of Como is just one part of the vast region of Lake Como and you could easily spend quite a few days discovering its impressive beautiful surroundings. Take a boat trip to visit tiny picturesque villages dotted around the lake. A cable car will take you to the village of Brunate where it sits grandly overlooking Lake Como. Feel the richness of European luxury as many wealthy Italians and Swiss own second homes here, as does famous actor George Clooney (parts of Oceans 11 and 13 were filmed on location at Lake Como). Easily commutable, is fashionable Milan, just a 1 hour train journey away. It has a compact city centre and is easy to get about. With your platinum card at the ready Milan is a must for high-end fashion lovers. Time your visit right and you may be lucky to see a famous fashion exhibit from the fashion houses of Gucci, Versace, Armani or Prada. For football fanatics there is no better place than at Italy’s most treasured club, AC Milan. Rated as one of the top clubs in Europe it is worth booking in advance, a ticket for a game, and tour of this enormous stadium. Not to be missed by cathedral lovers is the Milan Cathedral, (Duomo di Milano). With spires like icing on a wedding cake this white marbled, gothic cathedral, is the second biggest in the world. A tour of the rooftop brings you up close for a walk through brilliant spires and archways. The spectacular cliff-side trails of Cinque Terre are a must for any Italian journey to Northern Italy. Sitting between the sea and the hills are 5 little villages built into the cliffs. This is traditional Italy, away from the crowds of the big cities. Here vineyards and olive groves slope steeply down to the crystal clear Mediterranean Sea. Stay in the bigger village of Monterossa and leisurely discover the local crafts, clothing, ceramics, lace and of course food at the local cafes. Explore the other 4 villages by trains which are connected by a network of tunnels through the hills. Although you could walk this entire area in a day the idea is to take it slow and to gently soak up Italy of yesteryear. The beaches are perfect for swimming and snorkeling. No visit to Northern Italy could miss a stay in the romantic city of Venice. Known as, the City of Water or the City of Bridges, Venice’s charms will captivate you. The canals of Venice beg to transport you around the city whether speedily by water bus or taxi or gently by gondola. With no cars, Venice is a fantastic city to go walkabout. Meandering cobblestone lanes will lead you over bridges and canals to uncover a treasure of markets and boutique shops. Look out for the quaint Rialto Bridge which has little shops lined on both of its sides. St Mark’s Square, (Piazza San Marco), is a definite stop for a lively atmosphere of tourists, street entertainers, pigeons, cafes and music. Set in front of the beautiful St Mark’s Basilica Cathedral it also sits beside the Grand Canal. A quick boat ride out of Venice and into its lagoon will take you to a number of less touristy islands for some traditional shopping. Murano has a wonderful glass blowing factory to tour and to buy glassware from. The island of Burano is famous for its craft of lace making as well as its brightly coloured fishing village. Each house was painted a different colour so local fisherman, when home from weeks out at sea, could recognize their home. Nearby Verona, is another romantic city with its links to Romeo and Juliet and that famous balcony. Considered to be one of Italy’s most beautiful cities, Verona has a more relaxed and vibrant atmosphere. Moving further south, into Tuscany is the picturesque city of Florence, conjuring up beautiful imagery such as; Michelangelo’s David, the Golden Bridge, museums galore and the finest shopping for gold and leather (this is definitely the best place to buy leather goods). It is worth spending 2-3 nights in Florence if not to just tour the city but for daytrips to nearby wineries in the outlying Tuscany region or to Pisa for its infamous Leaning Tower. And now you must stop, in the centre of Italy. Here, the two similar regions of Tuscany and Umbria are home to the most beautiful countryside of rolling hills, boutique and commercial vineyards, medieval villages and spectacular villas. Rent a villa, hire a car and go exploring. The main wine area which Tuscany is famous for is Chianti with the Chianti Classic only produced in this very part of the world. The medieval towns of Siena (famous for its annual horse race) and San Gimignano provide an excellent alternative to Florence. Both are located in the heart of the Tuscany and Umbria regions and boast stunning views of this expanse of countryside. For an injection of history, tradition, culture and chaos, Rome is the city for you. The iconic landmarks of the Colosseum, the Vatican City, Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps and the Catacombs are essential for a stay in Rome. Don’t forget to throw a coin in the Trevi Fountain as legend says a coin in the fountain means a return trip to Rome. Southern Italy boasts the stunning views of the Amalfi Coast. This is a far busier coastline, built up with luxurious hotels to little B&B’s. 13 towns are dotted along the Almafi coast and a driving holiday is the best way to appreciate this region. The Amalfi Coast is the gateway to the beautiful Isle of Capri. Known as the Italian playground for the rich and famous, where launches worth millions of dollars line its shores and designer shops cater for the wealthy. The views are breathtaking from the terraced hills of Capri. A beautiful village to explore is Sorrento, high up on the cliffs of Almafi. Spend time browsing through the exceptional local crafts of shoes, bags, jewellery and leather. Not far from Sorrento is Pompei, the buried roman village destroyed by volcanic ash. Quite a remarkable sight with life-like preservations of the volcano’s victims. Italy will live up to your expectations and leave a place in your heart wanting more. Buon viaggio!
Italy for Shopping
It’s common knowledge that most Italians are walking fashionistas which helps play a part in the attraction of Italy. Most visitors to Italy hope to infuse just a little bit of the Italian style and fashion sense to take home. For some, to impress their friends with the latest designer fashion before it hits the shops in NZ would be the ultimate souvenir. So where are the best shopping spots in Italy? Milan is better known as Italy’s fashion capital and is home to the leading Italian fashion houses as well as hosting internationally acclaimed annual fashion weeks. For the ultimate in designer shopping look no further than Milan’s “Golden Triangle” which incorporates Via Montenapoleone, Via Della Spiga, Via Senato, Corso Venezia and Via Manzoni. The designer shops that line these streets will have their largest selections of fashion goods on show here than anywhere else in Europe. Another definite stop is the Armani Concept Store at 31 Via Manzoni. Please remember to do as the Italians do and dress up to shop when visiting these stores. Florence is another shopping hot spot with an impressive line-up of shops between Via Tournabuoni and Via Calzaiouli plus it is home to many wonderful open-air markets like the “Straw Market”. Where it is possible add an extra day to your stay in both Milan and Florence for a shopping surprise to keep the bank manager happy and busy! Unknown to most, in the surrounding suburbs and towns of Milan and Florence, are many discount outlets that sell top brands for at least half the price all year round. Discounted labels include Armani, Gucci, Diesel, Dolce & Gabbano, Prada and Valentino. The Serravalle Outlet Centre has over 150 brand named stores and is about 50 minutes out of Milan. In driving distance from Florence is the Prada outlet in Tuscany just on the outskirts of Montevarchi in a shop called Space. Not too far from here is The Mall, another upscale outlet centre, featuring all the big Italian brand names. But shopping in Italy is not all about cutting edge fashion. Passed from one generation to another is the traditional handiwork of Italian craftsmanship. Their quality crafts and skills can be seen in the intricate detail and design of leather, glass, lace, ceramics and paper (stationery). Many regions and towns in Italy offer their own specialty craft. Venice is famous for its Murano glass and Carnevale masks whilst Florence sells the best leather goods and stationery. Porta Portease is a giant market in Rome’s Trastevere district worthy of a visit for bargain hunters and those who like to soak up a lively atmosphere. Italy’s large department stores of Coin and Rinascente can be found in most Italian cities for those who are looking for something different from the boutique shopping experience. Remember to ask for a discount when paying by cash when shopping in markets or smaller family-run shops. Most times it will be worth the effort tackling the language barrier.
Italy for Cuisine
Its common knowledge that food is an important factor in Italy’s culture and takes high priority in everyday Italian life. To the rest of the world Italian cuisine is very familiar but what the average tourist labels as “Italian food” will in fact be a specialty dish from a particular region in Italy. The famous pizza originates from Naples whereas fresh pesto sauce was created in the Ligurian region of Northern Italy. The challenge for traveling food lovers is to discover just what each region has to offer in the way of the best food and wine. A simple private cooking class set in a rustic family-run winery with mamma cooking lunch could reveal all, as could a more elaborate hands-on cooking vacation with a group of like-minded foodies. Creamy sauces are a feature of pasta dishes served in Northern Italy as is the shavings of the highly prized white truffle sprinkled over fresh pasta and gnocchi. The countryside of Tuscany and Umbria in central Italy offers a range of game meat including wild boar and pheasant whilst lamb dishes are a specialty in Southern Italy. Think Italian food and you will think of the all time classics of pizza, spaghetti bolognaise, ravioli, lasagna, risotto, the creamy gelato ice-cream and tiramisu. Modern day favourites commonly used by celebrity chefs on our tv’s are prosciutto, parma ham, balsamic vinegar, mascarpone, focaccia bread and buffalo mozzarella. Add a twist of fresh olives, lemons, extra-virgin oils, fish, anchovies, local wild herbs of basil, parsley, marjoram, locally made cheeses such as gorgonzola and the well known ricotta and your mouth will be watering for more. Sampling these Italian delicacies is all part of the adventure as is the setting you dine in. Treat yourself to one of the many Michellean star restaurants for the best service, top class food and wines or tuck into a rustic feast served in a Tuscan villa surrounded by beautiful countryside. A coastal village caters for lovers of seafood as well as spectacular views of the sparkling blue Mediterranean Sea. Experience a meal in a local family owned ristorante, take a seat in a trattoria down a hidden side-street in town, a quick snack at a panineria (sandwich bar) or a bite to eat with the kids at the local pizzeria. Whatever your location your dining experience with give you an insight into the warm Italian lifestyle and the care and time that is taken to prepare each meal. Tasting experiences comes into their own in Italy and should be savored. Try the delicate flavours and fragrances of a wide range of olive oils, cheeses and wine. But not recommended to be done simultaneously! Of course it goes without saying that all of this glorious food needs to be accompanied and followed by the correct wines and there is no better country with such a myriad selection of reds and whites to choose from. Take the time to stroll through vineyards set in the unspoilt countryside of Tuscany and Umbria. Make a special visit to their wine cellars and taste from a selection of best wines. Equip yourself with a stool and be set for an afternoon or evening of sampling quality local wines.
Italy for Romance
Be prepared to be swept off your feet by Italy’s passion and beauty. With its nation of beautiful people and their captivating accents, stunning scenery, magnificent architecture and impressively famous ancient monuments you can’t help but be caught up in the romance of this country. And it makes no difference whether you are holidaying with that someone special in your life or not, falling in love with Italy, will happen regardless. What could be more captivating than to stretch out on a gondola in Venice, peacefully gliding under charming narrow bridges and by-passing busy cobblestone lanes. At dusk as the sun-light fades, the evening lights shimmer on the endless surrounding waterways giving Venice a charming fairy-tale aura. Venice is a magical destination that will embrace any romantic. And if appealing to your romantic side is what your Italy trip is all about (or that of your partner at least) then fulfil a dream and spend a few peaceful nights at a medieval castle in gorgeous Tuscany. Set high up on a hill in this outstandingly beautiful countryside, a castle stay offers plenty of solitude and privacy with the only neighbours being a tranquil village nearby. The picturesque seaside village of Portofino offers a more upbeat but equally stunning romantic retreat as does escaping to Lake Como. With its beautiful villas and luxurious lake edge villages, Lake Como is a gem nestled at the foot of the mountains where Switzerland meets with Italy. If there is a need to “keep it real” then try walking the “Via dell’Amore (The path of Love) at Cinque Terre, Northern Italy or visit the most famous romantic site of all at Verona, home of Romeo and Juliet’s famous balcony. For the hopelessly romantics on a dream trip to Italy allow yourself to get caught up in the passion that is at the very heart of this country and you will be surprised by the amount of “Amore” (Italian for “love”) that you will get back in return …
Italy for Culture & Arts
Lovers of history and culture need to head directly to Florence and Rome as these two cities are the epicentres of any cultural tour in Italy. Lovers of the fine arts will not be disappointed in Florence with its outstanding selection of art galleries showcasing world famous works. Historically it was the home to a large thriving community of sculptors, artists, architects and musicians so it is no wonder that this artistic city is so architecturally beautiful and its galleries and museums packed with masterpieces. The famous names of Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo and Dante Alighieri are all synonymous with the city of Florence. Come to Florence, with its distinctive “Cupolone” (huge dome), and get up close to Michelangelo’s beautiful statue of “David”, or perhaps the romantic Ponte Vecchio, or Giotto's bell tower. As the saying goes, “Rome wasn’t built in day” and neither will a day trip to Rome do justice to the numerous historical sites it has to offer. But if time is limited then the obvious choices are the Colosseum, the Vatican including St. Peter's Cathedral and the Vatican museums, the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps plus any of the city’s beautiful piazzas (squares).
Population: 59,131,287 Flying Time from NZ: Approximately 30 hours from Auckland. Climate: The climate in Italy varies between the temperate north with cold winters and hot, wet summers. The mediterranean south has mild winters and long hot summers. Generally the hottest month is July, the coldest January and the wettest November. Electricity: 220 volts AC, 50Hz. European two-pin (round prongs) plugs are standard. A travel adaptor will be needed for your New Zealand plug. Currency: Euro (EUR; symbol €) = 100 cents. Notes are in denominations of €500, 200, 100, 50, 20, 10 and 5. Coins are in denominations of €2 and 1, and 50, 20, 10, 5, 2 and 1 cents. Banking: ATM’s (known as Bancomat in Italy) take major credit cards for cash withdrawals and most have an English option menu. Travellers cheques are widely accepted and can be exchanged at banks, railway stations, airports and hotels. Save on additional exchange rate charges by having your cheques in Euro, Pound Sterling or US Dollars. Credit cards: All major credit cards are used including American Express, Diners Club, Mastercard and Visa. It is worth asking before purchasing in smaller establishments if credit cards are acceptable. Small village restaurants and shops may only accept cash.
Top things to see and do
1. Be wowed by the natural beauty of Cinqueterre and leisurely walk the coastal path between the 5 spectacular cliff hugging villages.
2. Gondola ride in Venice, soak up the atmosphere at St Mark’s Square, jump on and off the ferry boats along the Grand Canal.
3. Visit the rich trappings of the beautiful Amalfi Coast and the Isle of Capri.
4. Get caught up in the bustle and chaos that oozes from Rome. Plenty of historic and cultural must see’s here; the Colosseum, the Vatican City with its inspiring Sistine Chapel, the Piazza Navona, the Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain.
5. Join in the festivities of the world famous Il Palio horse races in Siena.
6. A compulsory photo shot next to the infamous Leaning Tower of Pisa, it’s an easy stop on your way to Tuscany.
7. The ancient ruins of the city of Pompeii.
8. A leisurely lunch in a medieval village in the Tuscany or Umbria countryside downing authentic pasta and a glass or two of Chianti Classic wine.
9. Enjoying live opera in the surrounds of ancient ruins.
10. Shopping in the hot spots of Milan and Florence.
April through to October is the best months for touring Italy. Keep in mind that the month of August will be extremely hot and can be rather uncomfortable if you are inland away from the sea breezes. May, June, September and October are the optimum months when the whole of Italy enjoys an idyllic climate. Sunflower lovers need to visit Italy during the early months of summer to see valleys filled with fields of the tall and bright sunflowers. Active skiers will enjoy the winter months of December, January and February for hitting some of the best slopes in Europe