So much to see in La Bella Italia

Italy is a small country, and backpackers might think it’s easy to see it all—monuments, beaches, pizza—in one adventurous tour. Well, I’m sorry, but that’s not really the case. Despite being relatively small (116,347 square miles, or about the size of Arizona), Italy is long. Hostels can be hard to find. And the monuments aren’t the only thing that’s ancient—the trains are a bit out of date and often run late.

However, traveling through Italy from the top to the bottom you will experience regions wonderfully diverse in their culture, traditions and nature.

I’ll try to sum it all up with a practical top 10 list of what I believe has to be seen if you visit. I had a hard time trying to reduce the number to 10, so if you have enough time you can consider each point as a journey itself. Otherwise you can go crazy and try to see them all at once.

Torino

You’ll feel like a royalty in the first ever Italian capital, Torino. The city was long despised by tourists, since it was considered an industrial city, all gray and polluted. But times have changed, and since hosting the Winter Olympics in 2006, it never stopped improving. Royal palaces have been restored, and many now host important museums. Just to name few: the Mole Antonelliana, which hosts the museum of cinema; the Castle of Rivoli that hosts an exquisite modern art collection; and Carignano Palace, just few steps from the biggest Egyptian museum in Europe. But the best thing about Torino is its vibe, one that you will feel mainly walking at aperitivo time in San Salvario or on Saturday mornings around the Balon flea market.

Just let me suggest, if you decide to visit this city, you consider coming in autumn, when the Salone del Gusto is on. This is a huge festival of the very best Italian and international food. Yes, because if you come to Italy you will have to take into account the idea of eating a lot. And don’t fool yourself: the Mediterranean diet might be healthy, but there is a lot of food too amazing to avoid and absolutely fattening. Here in Italy, we say, “You can’t have a drunk wife and a barrel full of wine.” And where is good food, there is also good wine. So whenever you decide to visit Torino, don’t forget that just an hour away you have the Langhe hills, a beautiful vineyard area where Barolo, Barbaresco and many other wines are produced.

Dolomites

How about mountains? I am not talking about skiing, because that is a story for itself. I am talking about visiting Italy between June and August and avoiding embarrassing sweat and overwhelming heat. The Dolomites are high and wild mountains and there you can find all kinds of activities: easy hiking for the whole family; exciting, adrenalin-boosting Via Ferrata hiking; biking through the valley; and visiting the Lagazuoi tunnels built during World War I. Afterward, you can relax in a rifugio, mountain huts where you can take your time and enjoy the landscape (don’t miss the Marmolada glacier).

Venice

OK, I’ll talk about Venice because I’d be a liar to say it isn’t one of the world’s unique places. (Yes, I’ve been to Amsterdam and Hamburg, and loved them, but it’s just a different thing.) Getting off at the train station you will dive into an environment wet with history and romance … and tourists. It’s very difficult to find a moment where you can imagine Venice is just for you, especially if you follow the herd that goes to Rialto Bridge and straight to St. Mark Square. However, if you are lucky enough and you manage to go there on a weekday, say, in October, you might be able to get lost in the narrow streets around the university or in the fishermen’s neighborhood. Of course, you can’t miss Piazza San Marco, and I would say the best way to reach it is by boat. Ferries travel all day long and allow you to see Venice from what makes it so special—its canals.

Genoa

Like Venice, Genoa was a maritime republic, and they both went around half the known world to make business and exchange things, especially money and culture. I believe this is what makes them so special: the feeling of being in a very Italian city where you are also somehow reached by Eastern influences. In Genoa you won’t find as many tourists as in Venice, and you won’t feel like you are walking thorough postcard photos. Genoa’s caruggi (narrow streets) will get you lost very fast. What you can do is follow them and surprise yourself when they open up on a beautiful square, on the dome, or on the sea. The best way to enjoy this atmosphere is to have breakfast with cappuccino and focaccia, play Fabrizio De Andre on your iPod and, ideally, leave you valuable things in the hotel room.

River in Antrona Valley, North Italy

Florence

I say Florence, and I don’t even know why. I mean, you all know Florence, so I guess it doesn’t come to you as a new and surprising tip. But it’s just too beautiful not to mention. What I can do is advise you to have a good walk among the monuments, choose few museums you really want to see (there is just too much art and you don’t have to feel like you have to see it all, or else you’ll end up tired and hating Italy, and that’s not what we want), and get dizzy on Chianti and steak. Then you can rent a car and go around Tuscany, because if Florence will amaze you for how much beauty a city can contain, the surroundings will make you bond with the landscape in a way you will feel you want to walk barefoot in the fields and buy a nice house for your family. So, Pisa, Arezzo, Siena, Montepulciano, Cortona, they are all beautiful. And don’t worry if you lose your way among the tiny streets.

Umbria

With the same car you rented in Tuscany you can go deeper on the Apennine Mountains and let yourself be fascinated with the Orvieto Duomo. The Umbria region has some hidden pearls like the medieval town of Gubbio, whose Piazza Grande is probably one of the most reminiscent squares I’ve ever seen, and Assisi, where you can find one of the few examples of Italian gothic and where you can learn the history of Saint Francesco (yes, the one the new pope got his name from).

Rome

The eternal city. Same warning applies here as with Florence, but more so. The best thing you can do is decide what kind of art you want to see. The Colosseum is an amazing structure and San Pietro is as well, but you might think twice before entering them all. I am thinking of time wasted in queues and your feet hurting when you are just halfway through the Vatican museums. I’m not saying the Sistine Chapel is not worth seeing. Just be aware you might spend all day stuck among the pope’s garments. Lucky for you, the city has evolved since the Romans and now you will miss something if you forget about MAXXI, the museum of contemporary art.

Monviso, Italian Alps

Salento

I didn’t talk much about seaside and beach parties. One of the best places to be during summer is Salento, in the south of Apulia. Here you can visit the city of Lecce, also called the Lady of Baroque for its beautiful city center. Then you can choose if you want to swim in the Adriatic Sea, in the Ionian Sea, or if you want to go down to Santa Maria di Leuca, where the two meet. Also, you won’t get bored getting tanned in front of a green and blue sea, since during summer there are several music festivals, from traditional Taranta to reggae. Should I keep on saying you will eat amazing food, and fresh fish? I think you get the idea.

Aeolian Islands

Italy has many islands, and most of them are beautiful. So I don’t know why I will speak now about a place I’ve not been to, yet. The Aeolian Islands, a bit northern of Sicily, are a geological and sociological phenomena. Everything there is shaped by sea and fire: the landscape, the people, the culture. I think this is the place I would love to bring my children to have a simple and relaxing time. Swimming and chasing sea urchins, waiting for fishing boats in the early morning, chatting with the old ladies selling fruit. Am I being too dreamy? I’ve heard many friends going on like this for hours and supporting their thesis with pictures slideshows.

Sicily

Have we reached 10 already? Then stay in Sicily, where basically everywhere you’ll go you will have a unique experience. The seaside is beautiful, cities have a special flavor of Africa, mixed with a taste of Viking influence, and the people are warm and kind. I do suggest you go to Noto, also known as the capital of Sicilian baroque, or as the city of bell towers, because it is basically filled with churches. After you’ve enjoyed the monumental silence of its old center, maybe refresh yourself with a Sicilian granita and then hit the road moving toward old Ragusa and the temple valleys of Agrigento or, on the other side, to the more lively Catania and Palermo. West or east, you won’t be disappointed.

GiuliaGrimaldi is based in Cumiana, Piemonte, Italy, and is a Reporter for Allvoices.

http://www.allvoices.com/contributed-news/14516630-allvoices-goes-traveling-so-much-to-see-in-la-bella-italia

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Italy tops travelers’ wish lists

Italy leads the choices for 875 U.S. surveyed travelers in Fly.com’s poll of the most desired destinations for 2013. The other top destinations, which comprise 60 percent of the responses, include, in order: Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom and France, which tied for fourth place. The United States, Ireland, Spain, Fiji and South Africa rounded out the top 10. The surveys were taken Dec. 1-13, and respondents were asked which countries they would most like to visit in North America, the Caribbean, Central America, South America, Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Oceania/Antarctic, if money and time weren’t an object. All respondents were Travelzoo Inc. and Fly.com users.

Italy tops travelers’ wish lists | Travel | Dallas-Fort Worth Lifestyles News | Star-Telegram… http://ow.ly/gVdYe

Ask Lonely Planet: Transport options in Italy

We are trying to decide whether to take the train from Rome to Assisi and then hire a car to visit the little hilltop towns, or is it wiser to take, say, a nine-day tour with a small group? Also, we are not sure if it is possible to get around these little towns in Umbria and Tuscany using trains and buses. We quite like using public transport as we don’t need to worry about driving on the right side, parking and so on. What would you suggest? – Pegs

Italy’s rail network is extensive and relatively cheap, with most services run by Trenitalia. The bus network is also good and often the only choice in mountainous areas such as Umbria. Conveniently, bus reservations are usually necessary only for high-season, long-haul trips.

Despite this, getting around Umbria and Tuscany on public transport requires some effort. Although services are regular between larger towns and cities such as Assisi, Perugia, Gubbio, Arezzo, Siena, Lucca and Florence, they thin out as they extend to small hilltop villages. As an example, the ancient town of Todi is serviced by an hourly bus service from Perugia, taking 90 minutes and costing around 6 ($9.44).

It can be done – it will just require good planning. Lonely Planet’s comprehensive Italy guidebook will help, of course.

The authors of this guide endorse your suggestion to rail or bus to a larger town, then hire a car to explore the countryside. They also, however, confirm that a car can prove a hindrance in the narrow streets of the hill towns, which can get congested. Another option is to embark on guided day-tours from key hubs (a wine tour by bicycle in Chianti, for example).

A package tour will certainly eliminate most of your travel hassles, as well as that of finding accommodation. It will probably be more expensive, of course, and provide less flexibility and the unknown variable of unfamiliar travelling companions. If you’re handy with guidebooks and timetables, online bookings, and map-reading, touring on your own wits may be much more rewarding.

My partner and I (mid-20s) are heading off to Europe for our OE and will be based in Scotland for a few months before, hopefully, backpacking around Southern Europe for around four months. Can you suggest an itinerary from France to Turkey visiting other countries along the way, and what is the best mode of transport getting from place to place? – Ross Neal

The following itinerary is an abridged combination of two provided in our popular Western Europe guidebook.

A logical first stop is Paris, from where you could set off on a large loop passing the must-see cities of Amsterdam, Berlin, Vienna and Zurich. From Nice on the French Riviera you could venture either to Corsica and Sardinia, or follow the Mediterranean Coast southwest to St Tropez and Marseilles before reaching Barcelona and then Valencia in Spain: both are jumping off places for the Balearic Islands. Head south to a cluster of highlights – Granada, Cordoba and Seville. You could also visit Malaga and Gibraltar around these parts before heading to the lively Portuguese capital, Lisbon. Head back east overland, or fly to save time…

Ask Lonely Planet: Transport options in Italy – Travel – NZ Herald News http://nzh.tw/10859048 via @nzherald

Colosseum reveals secret hues

(ANSA) – Rome – The Colosseum is usually thought of as a blinding arena clad in shimmering white marble that set off the crimson-flecked violence of the killing floor.

Only one locale, the gallery of the mad emperor Commodus – memorably played in Ridley Scott’s Gladiator by Joaquin Phoenix – was known to have been decked in other colours.

Until now, that is.

Restorers at a mid-level tier of the ancient amphitheatre say they’ve found “a riot of colour” in many other niches and galleries.

“They’ve uncovered complex decorations, floral patterns in polychrome glory including azure, ochre, pink and green,” said the superintendent of the iconic Rome monument, Rossella Rea.

“We’ve known since the 19th century that the Colosseum’s white splendour was punctuated by square red plaster tiles, but we never expected to find such multi-hued decorations, a veritable riot of colour,” she said.

Alongside this “technicolour surprise,” Rea went on, the restoration team also uncovered, underneath centuries of graffiti and visitors’ signatures inscribed in the ancient stonework, “symbols of ancient machismo and blood lust as well as erotica including phalluses.

“The Colosseum was full of colour, covered in frescoes,” Rea said.

Rea said the new decorations would ‘hopefully be on view from next summer, joining the other new features the Colosseum has added, enhancing its timeless lustre’.

The 2,000-year-old symbol of Rome, set for a 20-million-euro clean-up and restoration starting this year, recently expanded its range of tourist attractions when it opened up the underground pits where gladiators and wild beasts waited before being winched from darkness into the arena’s cruel glare.

The so-called ‘hypogeum’ (literally, ‘under ground’) was restored in a multi-million-euro project that also installed new, muted lighting effects.

Rea said the hope was to have recaptured ‘some of the atmosphere’ of the breathless moments before the games commenced, when the armoured or naked fighters and the wild animals were hauled up through 80 trap-doors.

The Colosseum or Flavian Amphitheatre (its proper name) attracts some four million visitors a year.

Construction on the arena started between 70 and 72 AD under the Emperor Vespasian.

It was completed in 80 AD by his son Titus, who financed the project from the booty his armies seized in the war against the Jews in 66-70 AD.

Titus inaugurated it with 100 days of games including the recreation of a sea battle between Romans and Greeks.

The father-and-son team – the so-called Flavian emperors – built their monument to Rome’s grandeur in travertine stone before giving it the marble cladding that amazed contemporaries – and was still its crowning glory until generations of popes picked away at it for their own architectural testaments.

“Hardly any of the marble is left now,” Rea said, “but that loss has been partly compensated by the discovery of these stunning pictorial remnants, a secret trove of colour we never knew existed”.

Colosseum reveals secret hues http://ow.ly/gOKZU

Icons of Italy – IOL Travel Europe | IOL

Think of Italy and what is the first thing that comes to mind? Is it the food, the fashion or the fabulous works of art? Could it be the epitome of motor vehicles, the Ferrari or perhaps the beautiful city of Florence?

Whatever first springs to mind you cannot ignore that Italy is a country filled to the brim with must-sees and must-dos. At Trafalgar they’ve rounded up their top ten icons of Italy:

Food

Pizza, pasta, pecorino, parmigianna, provolone, risotto, casatta, espresso, cappuccino, gelati and mozzarella. Their very names have the ability to make your mouth water while you search for the closest Italian restaurant to satisfy any cravings.

Italian food is very regional. There are special dishes that are unique to one town or a small collection of nearby towns, and there are twenty regions to choose from. Campania is best known for pizza, salty capers, fresh farmhouse cheese and dried pasta while the Liguria region is famous for basil Pesto sauce.

Fabulous works of art

Leonardo da Vinci is perhaps Italy’s finest painter, sculptor, architect, musician, scientist, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist, and writer.

He was a man before his time having conceptualized the helicopter, the tank, plate tectonics and solar power but he will no doubt be remembered for two of his iconic paintings – the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper. And perhaps for inspiring Dan Brown’s novel – The Da Vinci Code.

Ferraris

If it’s red, sports a throaty, growling engine and has a prancing horse on the hood then it can only be one thing. A Ferrari. Enzo Ferrari’s dream of building the ultimate race car became a reality when he left Alfa in 1929 to open Scuderia Ferrari in Modena. The factory was moved to its present home in Maranello during WW2.

The prancing horse is called a cavillino rampante and was the symbol Enzo Ferrari used on his racing cars and is the iconic symbol of Ferrari today.

Fashion

There are four fashion capitals of the world – and Milan is one of them. To be considered a fashion capital a city needs a strong fashion industry, be home to many fashion professionals and have very unique street fashion. Milan fits the bill and is our answer to Italy’s fashionistas. Many of the trends you see on the runways and catwalks today were born in Milan.

Florence

Florence is in the heart of Tuscany and home to Italy’s Renaissance where art, philosophy, music, science, religion, literature and all the aspects of intellectual inquiry collided into a cultural movement that had an incredible effect on the whole of Europe. Florence is also home to fine food and wine and has the famed Chianti wine region on its doorstep.

Fantastic buildings

Choose from a long list of iconic Italian architecture including the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Colosseum, the Doges Palace in Venice and St Peter’s Basilica (not strictly speaking in Italy as The Vatican is a separate country).

The Leaning Tower of Pisa must be one of the most photographed buildings in the world. By building on marshy ground and not properly securing the foundations the Tower has taken on its traditional lean.

The Colosseum was known as the arena of death due to the thousands of animals and people who died there in the name of entertainment. But it remains an iconic structure almost as old as Rome herself.

Famous festivals

Venice Carnevale is Italy’s top carnival or mardi gras celebration. Carnevale season lasts several weeks, culminating on Shrove Tuesday. During carnival season, Venice is filled with costumed characters, entertainment, and food stalls. It is definitely one of the most famous and must-see Italian festivals.

Legends

Toss a coin in the fountain or to be precise throw the coin over your left should while standing with your back to the Trevi Fountain in Rome and you’re sure to return. Or so the legend says.

Rome’s legendary fountain is also associated with a ritual for lovers. This legend pertains to the miniature fountain of the left side, known as “the small fountain of lovers”. According to the legend, couples that drink from the mini fountain will forever be faithful to their partner.

Whichever legend you prefer know that the Trevi Fountain contains a wide collection of international coins and it is considered really bad form to try scoop them out or attempt to swim in the fountain.

Language

When in Rome do as the Romans do and when in Italy it is worthwhile knowing a little of the local language. It is such a lovely language filled with all the passion Italians are known for.

Shopping

There’s much to be said of the shopping in Italy and this is our guide to what we think you should be spending your hard earned travel budget on. Bring back some hand blown glass from Venice, fabulous fashion from Milan, ceramics from Bologna, leather from Florence, religious objects from Rome and wine from anywhere in Italy.

Icons of Italy – IOL Travel Europe | IOL.co.za http://www.iol.co.za/travel/world/europe/icons-of-italy-1.1450249

The Colosseum was known as the arena of death due to the thousands of animals and people who died there in the name of entertainment.

The Colosseum was known as the arena of death due to the thousands of animals and people who died there in the name of entertainment.

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