After many years of travelling around Italy and talking to fellow travellers and friends, here’s a list of the 10 best things that make your trip there a very special one:
1. The Eternal City – Besides being biased as it’s my native city, without a doubt Rome has a timeless appeal that will delight time and time again and no matter how many times you visit, you will discover something new and exciting! I would advise going in early spring and late autumn to avoid the crowds and still enjoy milder weather.
2. The Markets – If you love Italian food, then you can’t miss visiting the buzzing and convivial atmosphere of a market. All across the country, it’s at the markets that you will experience the authentic flavour of Italian culture not to mention the best local produce at reasonable prices. Next time you are there, grab a shopping bag, search for your nearest food market and get eating just like an Italian would!
3. The Light – What we love is not just that, for the most part, Italy is warm and sunny, but the light. Visit Tuscany in late September or Puglia in late autumn and the quality of the light has such vibrancy that buildings appear to be lit from within and gives the landscape a charm that has inspired so many artists and photographers!
4. The Islands – Personally this is one of my favourite things about Italy. Besides the bewitching beauty of Sicily and Sardinia, there are many more unknown islands begging to be discovered and each one has a totally different feel and its own unique beauty. There’s nothing like the peace and quiet of an Italian island to slow down the pace of life and restore mental and physical wellbeing!
5. The Fashion – Whenever I visit Florence I am reminded how fashion and a sense of style plays a strong part in everyday’s life and nowhere will you find better dressed inhabitants! But venture away from the cities and you’ll find that dress sense extends into the towns and villages as well. Clothes shopping in Italy is just a way of life!
6. The Pace of Life – Get up on a Saturday morning, wander into your local town and enjoy a very different way of being. Even in the major cities, life in Italy is slower than elsewhere, more chilled, more relaxed and more enjoyable. Sit in a bar in the local piazza, sip some coffee and watch the world go by – it certainly beats a trip to the supermarket!
7. The Food – During your travels to Italy, you might have realised that food is a very important part of Italian life and the passion Italians show for their own culinary traditions is evident whether it’s a thrown-together pasta dish, a simple pizza or a more sophisticated menu. From the north to the south, the choice and quality is overwhelming and it’s easy to see why the food is one of the main highlights of every trip!
8. The Wine – Wine in Italy is the essential accompaniment to any meal after midday and with well over 100 grape varieties utilized across the peninsula, there are many wines to choose from and sample. In my view it makes all the difference to have a nice, crisp white wine like Frascati to go with your ‘fritto misto’ (mixed fried seafood) or a stronger and full-bodied red wine like a Barolo with your ‘spezzatino di maiale’ (pork stew).
9. The Gelato – It’s five in the evening and it’s time to take a stroll and when in Italy you just have to have a gelato in your hand. An ice cream in the late afternoon sun is as much part of Italian life as a coffee in the morning. The creamy and smooth texture of Italian ice cream is unlike any shop-bought variety and with such a huge variety of flavours to choose from, it’s a true feast for the palate!
10. The People – We all know that the Italians are friendly, sociable and warm people and one of the major factors that has contributed to making your trip a memorable one is above all else its people. No matter where you visit, the Italians are happy to chat, help, advise (often at length) and give directions (equally so, although mostly with more gesticulation).
I’d be curious to know if there is anything else beyond this list that gets you to choose Italy above all other countries!