- Amalfi Coast,
Take the Italian roads less traveled – from the mysteries of Pompeii to Pisa’s eternally Leaning Tower. Cruise the Mediterranean Sea as you explore Amalfi’s dramatic coast by boat. Craft your own Sorrento pizza from fresh ingredients in a farmhouse kitchen. And peddle along Tuscan walls that have survived since the Renaissance. You’ll taste fresh limon cello, discover Florentine treasures and swim in the azure waters off Capri – sharing more of Italy with your family than many see in a lifetime.
Private Boat to the Amalfi Coast
Don Alfonso 1890, Italy
Sant' Agata sui due Golfi 80061, Italy
Tel: 39 081 878 0026
The little town of Sant'Agata is a rather modest place, but it plays host to what is generally (and rightly) considered to be the best table south of Rome, presided over by the indefatigable Alfonso Iaccarino—grandson of the original Alfonso, who was born in 1890. (They like to keep things in the family here: Alfonso's sons Ernesto and Mario work as assistant chef and dining-room host, respectively). A 2007 makeover has brought the previously rather dated decor up to par with the cuisine, though the pink-and-green color combinations are still rather forceful. All the fruit, vegetables, and herbs come from the family's farm, Le Peracciole, including Nocellara, Moraiola, and Frantoio olives, which they handpick and cold-press the same day for the exquisite fruity, spicy oils integral to Iaccarino's cuisine. The food thinks local but acts global, updating age-old Campanian recipes in dishes such as annecchia (halfway between veal and beef) with guanciale bacon, fior di latte cheese, and potato-and-sage foam. The kitchen can also find virtue in simplicity, with a plate of ravioli filled with caciotto cheese and marjoram, topped with a sauce of Vesuvian tomatoes and basil. There's also the option of staying overnight in one of the nine rather grand rooms. And breakfast comes from Don Alfonso's kitchen.
Open Tuesday evening and all day Wednesday through Sunday, June through September; all day Wednesday through Sunday, October to mid-November, April, and May; closed mid-November through March.
Ferry Ride and Walking Tour of Capri
Agriturismo La Galatea Farm
La Giostra, Italy
Tel: 39 055 241 341
Sure, this place gives itself airs that are not quite justified by the quality of the foodor the prices. But you've got to eat in La Giostra, north of Santa Croce, at least once, if only to experience the Aladdin's Cave decor and the eccentric guiding hand of the chef-owner, who looks uncannily like David Carradine in a cook's hat, but who is in fact a Hapsburg prince. Prince Dimitri and his two sons run an opulent ship, which sails along on rich flavors: Mushrooms and truffles are a speciality. It's luxe comfort food rather than cutting-edge gourmet cuisine, and the stellar wine list is, one suspects, more about big names and big prices than in-depth oenological research. But the welcome is genuine enough, and there's nothing wrong with smoke and mirrors when they're this dazzling.
See + Do
Galleria degli Uffizi, Italy
Florence 50122, Italy
Tel: 39 055 238 85; advance tickets 39 055 294 883
The greatest collection of Renaissance painting in the world is housed in the former administrative offices of Cosimo de' Medici's court, a 16th-century building designed by Vasari. The gallery contains enough great art to keep you busy for a whole day, but it may take half a day to get in at peak times—unless you book ahead. A small allocation of next-day tickets are available on the door. Alternatively, call the advance booking number and reserve a ticket, you can pick it up at the museum's reservation desk which has a shorter line. Highlights of the first nine rooms include the three glorious Maestà altarpieces by Giotto, Cimabue, and Duccio in Room 2, Gentile da Fabriano's action-packed Adoration of the Magi in Room 5, Piero della Francesca's famous portraits of the Duke and Duchess of Urbino in Room 7, and a collection of Fra Filippo Lippi's in Rooms 8 and 9. The gallery's most famous paintings, the Botticellis, are in Rooms 10–14; here the crowds gather around such masterpieces as The Adoration of the Magi, Primavera, and The Birth of Venus.
Open Tuesday through Sunday 8:15 a.m. to 6:50 p.m.
See + Do
Around Siena, Siena Province, Italy
Some of Tuscany's most essential landscapes, cultural attractions, and wines are concentrated in the province of Siena. The town itself has plenty to offer, but it's worth spending at least a day exploring the surrounding countryside. North of the city, in the Chianti Classico wine zone, thickly wooded hills alternate with perfectly manicured vineyards. To the northwest, the Val d'Elsa embraces tiny Monteriggioni, a perfectly preserved walled city, and medieval San Gimignano, with its surreal skyline of towers and wealth of early Renaissance art. To the southwest, in the wild, remote Val di Merse, you'll find the mystical, roofless 13th-century Cistercian abbey of San Galgano, whose majestic interior is now paved with grass. Europe's only real "sword in a stone" is on display in the nearby chapel, miraculously plunged into the rock, so the story goes, by former warrior San Galgano when he renounced the secular life. Immediately to the southeast of the city, the landscape of the Crete Senesi, bare clay hills furrowed with gullies and ravines, is most dramatic around the 14th-century Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore near Asciano. In the abbey's cloister, don't miss the cycle of Renaissance frescoes depicting the life of St. Benedict by Luca Signorelli and Il Sodoma. Nearby, San Giovanni d'Asso is the home of Italy's only Truffle Museum (39-0577-803-268; www.museodeltartufo.it; open weekends only) and hosts the Festival of the White Truffle for two weeks in November. Head farther south down the SS2 Cassia road to find one of the most beautiful and iconic Tuscan landscapes of all: the Val d'Orcia, with its wide-open vistas and snaking lines of cypress trees. It's bordered to the north by the hill towns of Montepulciano and Pienza, while lofty Montalcino—perched high above the vineyards that turn out one of Tuscany's most famous red wines, Brunello di Montalcino—lies just to the west.
Antico Caffè Poliziano, Italy
Montepulciano 53045, Italy
Tel: 39 0578 758 615
Perfect for a light lunch, tea, or just a rest stop after trekking through Montepulciano, the historic Art Nouveau café, with its balcony overlooking the Val di Chiana, has been a favorite of those with a discerning eye, from Luigi Pirandello to Federico Fellini.
See + Do
Today most people associate the town with the Leaning Tower, but Pisa is a proud provincial capital with a lot more to offer. From the 11th to the 13th centuries, this was one of the most important sea powers in the Mediterranean (the coast was a lot closer in those days), vying with Genoa and Venice for control of the key trade routes. Open to cultural influences from Spain, North Africa, and the Levant and economically buoyant, the city developed its own unique architectural and sculptural idiom, Pisan Romanic. The complex of religious buildings known as the Campo dei Miracoli, or Field of Miracles, is the most glorious expression of this style, with its delicate tracery of small arches and pinnacles. The Leaning Tower (torre.duomo.pisa.it) is just one of the remarkable edifices in this holy architecture park, which also takes in the duomo with its polychrome marble facade, the Baptistery with its magnificent Nicola Pisano pulpit, and the beautiful Camposanto (cemetery), its frescoed galleries much damaged by World War II bombing. Entrance to the tower is via accompanied (not guided) tours, which need to be booked ahead, either online at www.opapisa.it or at the ticket office on the north side of the Campo; except at the busiest times of year, you can generally be sure of getting a slot within 90 minutes of turning up—and waiting time can be put to good use exploring the other buildings in the Campo. Every year on the eve of St. Ranieri's feast day on June 16, the Luminaria illuminates the city with candlelight, including the duomo and every level of the Leaning Tower. In the late 1990s, remains of a port and 20 2,000-year-old ships were unearthed 500 yards from Campo dei Miracoli; a planned Museum of Maritime Archaeology will display them by 2009.
See + Do
Cultured, laid-back Lucca makes a great day trip from Pisa or Florence—but it's also a good place to stay over if you want to enter into the town's unhurried rhythm and explore some of its excellent bars and restaurants. When you reach the walls, drive around them to the Cittadella or Lorenzini parking lots just inside. At the tourist information point in Piazzale Verdi, you can rent audio guides to the city; they also have a few bicycles that you can hire to tour the perfectly flat historic center (most Lucchesi get around by bike). Visit San Frediano, with its 12th-century mosaic facade, fine Jacopo della Quercia altarpiece, and action-packed early-16th-century frescoes, and the lopsided Duomo, which houses the Volto Santo, a cedarwood effigy of Christ supposedly carved by a certain Nicodemus, who was present at the Crucifixion (it's more likely to be a 13th-century copy). Don't miss shop- and bar-lined Piazza Anfiteatro, which retains the oval shape of the ancient amphitheater it was built over, or the oak-topped belvedere of the Torre Guinigi. And as sunset approaches, join local joggers and cyclists on the tree-lined city ramparts, with dual views in over the rooftops and out across the surrounding countryside.