Italy See And Do
This fishing village is a must-see spot for American literature buffsit is said that Ernest Hemingway found inspiration here for The Old Man and the Sea, and little has changed since the time of his visits. Local fishermen still ply the harbor's clear, blue waters, and the town's trattorias and pizzerias continue to serve dishes made with fresh local produce and the catch of the day. While you're in town, be sure to visit the recently restored Saracen tower that dates back to the 16th century.
Agrigento , Sicily
Agrigento, on Sicily's southwestern coast, was once an important center of Greek learning and culture. In fact, during the fourth and fifth centuries B.C., this ancient city was considered as powerful and influential as the city-states of Athens, Corinth, and Sparta—and vestiges of this grand time are still visible today.
The Valley of the Temples, which sits below the scruffy modern city of Agrigento, was described by the Greek poet Pindar in the early fifth century B.C. as "the most beautiful city of mortals." And even today, the valley's ruined Doric temples, with their towering columns and eroded statuary, are stunning. The five major temples (there are eight in all) straddle a high, rocky ridge with a backdrop of the distant sea, and are surrounded by huge, centuries-old olive trees. The best preserved is the Temple of Concordia, which was converted to a church in the sixth century A.D., thus prolonging its upkeep and extending its lifespan; but the temples of Juno Lacinia, Hercules, and Castor and Pollux are all impressive, too. The best times to view the temples are at dawn, sunset, or night, when they are beautifully illuminated (bring your camera).
If you have time, it's worth taking the 45-minute drive northwest of Agrigento to the coastal ruins of Eraclea Minoa, where another Greek colony once flourished (it's been virtually deserted since the end of the first century B.C.). Built on a cliff above the beautiful beach of Capo Bianco, the city is today largely collapsed into the sea. But there are fragments of pottery everywhere—vase handles, the bases of pots, bits of amphorae—an astonishing experience for amateur archaeologists. You can actually pick up and touch the ancient objects, which anywhere else would be behind glass in a well-guarded museum.
The countryside around UNESCO World Heritage site Alberobello looks like the homeland of some lost race of fairytale folk, thanks to its trullithousands of extraordinary tiny, whitewashed limestone cylindrical houses with conical slate roofs, some daubed with symbols or topped by finials that have something runic about them. Contrary to their appearance and in defiance of their enduring mysterious reputation, the earliest are less than 300 years old, yet their origins may go back much further, as the trullo is easily made, and easily knocked down again. There are trulli throughout the Valle d'Itria, but only in Alberobello have they strayed from country to townand been turned into a tourist attraction.
Amalfi, the town that gives the coastline its name, lies about halfway between Sorrento and Salerno. Its name is derived from that of the nymph, Amalfi, loved by Hercules—legend has it that he buried her in the world's most beautiful spot after she died. Though it's entirely given up to tourism today, this was once a proud maritime republic, founded in the ninth century, which rivaled Genoa, Pisa, and Venice in stature and power. The bustling, café-lined port is served by hydrofoils to and from Salerno, Positano, and Capri, while the bus terminus on the quay offers road connections to Salerno, Ravello, Positano, and Sorrento. Buses to the latter two towns also pass by the upper entrance to the Grotta dello Smeraldo, a famous cave with 33-foot deep, crystal-clear waters that shimmer with emerald-green light thanks to an underground crevice. From the harbor area, pass under the Porta Marinara gate into Piazza del Duomo, pictured, Amalfi's open-air living room, which is dominated by the magnificent Duomo di Sant'Andrea. It's well worth scaling the steps to see the cathedral's splendid bronze door, cast in Constantinople in the 11th century, and its 13th-century Romanesque-Arabian cloisters, the aptly named Chiostro del Paradiso. You should also try to get away from the touristy main street into the narrow pedestrian streets above, which offer a glimpse of the town's unusual, Moorish-influenced vernacular architecture, with its whitewashed houses linked by arches and vaults—some of them so long that they turn certain lanes into tunnels.
The corniche road, Amalfi Drive, provides one of the world's hairiest and most scenic motoring experiences—veering vertiginously around the jagged edge of the Lattari Mountains, twisting and tunneling and hairpin-bending, providing vista after stunning vista of gorges, bridges, cliffs plunging vertically into the glassy Tyrrhenian Sea, and sudden improbable villages tucked picturesquely into the landscape. Of course, the designated driver will miss the scenery, being too busy concentrating on the white knuckles: John Steinbeck, who used to come here in the 1950s, claimed the Amalfi Drive was "carefully designed to be a little narrower than two cars side by side." From the east, the route begins in Salerno, a working port city with a Norman Duomo. Beyond the town of Vietri sul Mare, famous for its colorful ceramicware, the road skirts the imposing bulk of Monte dell'Avvocata, passing Cetara, a salty fishing town that represents the Amalfi Coast at its least touristy. After the low-key resorts of Maiori and Minori comes the historic town of Amalfi, the coast's unofficial capital. Worthwhile stops between Amalfi and Positano include the Vallone di Furore, pictured, a rare Mediterranean fjord, whose steep rock walls shelter an enclave of fishermen's houses and their tiny harbor; and Praiano, a pretty, low-key alternative to the glitz of Positano. West of Positano, the road enters its most spectacular stretch: The nine-mile Nastro Azzurro, which clings to the side of the cliffs as it climbs to Sant'Agata sui Due Golfi: From there, it's a steep descent down into Sorrento on the other side of the peninsula.
Anacapri , Capri
In the hills to the west of Capri Town, this village sits in idyllic seclusion—though these days, it's also lined with shops aimed at the tourists who are bused in here to buy sandals, coral, and other gewgaws.
One of the best ways to get a sense of the island's dramatic landscape is to spend 12 minutes on the chairlift that whisks you up from the central piazza to just below the peak of Monte Solaro for jaw-dropping views from just over 1,900 feet above sea level (10 Via Caposcuro; 39-081-837-1428). There's a snack bar and several trailheads up top (the prettiest leads to the hermitage of Santa Maria a Cetrella), but the fern and gorse afford little shade, so pack a hat. Those with energy to spare can walk back down via the La Crocetta pass in around 30 minutes. Another good walk starts just to the left of the chairlift station down in Anacapri and leads south on Via Migliera through an increasingly rural landscape to the panoramic viewpoint of Migliera in around 40 minutes. Time the walk for lunch or dinner, and you can eat at the delightful Gelsomina.
A must-see attraction in Anacapri is Villa San Michele. Another worthwhile stopover is the church of San Michele Arcangelo (Piazza San Nicola), which has a delightful majolica (ceramic-tile mosaic) floor from 1761 depicting the Garden of Eden, complete with camels and crocodiles. The more athletically inclined can trek up—or down—the Scala Fenicia (Phoenician Stairs), whose 1,000 steps were once the only way to get from the Anacapri harbor to the Marina Grande.—Updated by Lee Marshall
The Roman Empire was ruled from the Capitoline. Business was done in the Forum. Movers and shakers built grand homes on the Palatine. And the mob was entertained at the Colosseum. An unparalleled wealth of historical and artistic treasures clusters in a small area at the heart of the Eternal City. At the top of the cordonata (sloping road of steps) up from Piazza Venezia lies the Michelangelo-designed Piazza del Campidoglio, with a modern copy of a statue of Emperor Marcus Aurelius at its center. The first century A.D. original is now spectacularly displayed in a new wing of the Palazzo dei Conservatori—to your right as you enter the piazza—which also houses massive chunks of the ancient Temple of Capitoline Jupiter.
One of the world's oldest galleries, the Capitoline Museums (comprising the Palazzo dei Conservatori and the Palazzo Nuovo) host a worthwhile collection that ranges from some fine ancient Roman sculptures (check out the Dying Gaul in Palazzo Nuovo's Room 14) to canvases by the likes of Caravaggio and Velázquez (39-06-6710-2071; www.museicapitolini.org; Tues.–Sun. 9 am–8 pm). There is a breathtaking view over the Forum from the Tabularium, the ancient Roman archive building that joins the museum's two halves.
The Forum can be a bewildering jumble of masonry, but stroll along the Via Sacra—the ancient main drag—and up to the Palatine hill, which rises beyond. Here, the Horti Farnesiani gardens are a verdant haven, and the enormous dimensions of ruined imperial villas become easier to grasp (39-06-700-5469; daily 9 am–one hour before sunset).
Five thousand wild beasts were slaughtered during the Colosseum's inaugural party in A.D. 80. Nowadays, the battle is against fellow visitors, who pack into this monument in colossal numbers. (Note that tickets for the Palatine also cover the Colosseum and allow you to jump to the head of the interminable lines.) Climbing to the top is the only way truly to appreciate this feat of ancient engineering (39-06-3996-7700; daily 9 am–sunset).
Lungotevere in Augusta
Piazza del Popolo
Tel: 39 06 8205 9127
Romans are terribly protective of their historic cityscape, and U.S. architect Richard Meier's brand-new museum housing the first-century A.D. Ara Pacis (Altar of Peace) was a battleground from day one. The museum was the first building to go up in the centro storico since World War II; Meier was given the commission by fans on the city council, not by way of a public contest; and he came up with a design that Romans either love or hate. Shiny white with acres of glass, it's definitely more of a statement than the little Fascist-era box that previously contained the beautiful Augustan altar with its delicately carved friezes. Meier's museum gives this exquisite work the breathing space it lacked before: Finally, visitors can stand back and admire the lower frieze of swirling acanthus leaves and, above, the delicately carved, wind-blown drapery in the togas and cloaks of Augustus and his family as they join a procession to mark the inauguration of the Ara Pacis itself.
Open Tuesdays through Sundays 9 am to 7 pm.
1 Piazza Galvani
Tel: 39 051 276 811
Students from all over Europe come to study at Bologna's university, the oldest on the Continent, founded in 1088. By the 16th century, most of its colleges and departments were consolidated in this palazzo, which now houses the Civic Library and a wealth of antique manuscripts, drawings, and photos. The building's walls and ceilings are lined with coats of arms of former rectors, professors, and students. On the upper floor is the wood-paneled Teatro Anatomico, where faculty conducted human dissections in centuries past. Two wooden scannati, or skinned bodies, support a canopy over the professor's chair. A papal emissary once watched these procedures through a grate opposite the chair, making sure the brain and heart (two body parts the church considered off-limits) were not touched by the knife.
Open Mondays through Saturdays 9 am to 1 pm.
This huge natural limestone arch is all that is left of a wave- and wind-eroded cave. Steps descend to the Grotta Matromania, a cave believed to have been sacred to the Roman nature goddess Cybele. Follow the path, which passes close by the curious cliff-perched Casa Malaparte, a modernist villa that belonged to Italian writer and adventurer Curzio Malaparte, and featured in Jean-Luc Godard's 1963 movie Le Mépris, starring Brigitte Bardot. Next come the three seagirt rock stacks of I Faraglioni, which can be admired from close quarters if you take a path that heads down to the left and ends up at a couple of beach bars. The main path takes you up to the Belvedere di Tragara panoramic viewpoint, and from there it's an easy stroll back to the Piazzetta. It's an oxygenating up-and-down walk, with hundreds of steps to negotiate, but at least the whole route is paved and can easily be done in sneakers.—Lee Marshall
Arezzo was the birthplace of Guido d'Arezzo, inventor of the musical scale, and medieval poet Petrarch, but these days it's most closely associated with out-of-town artist Piero della Francesca, whose magnificent, recently restored fresco cycle, The Legend of the True Cross, in the Basilica di San Francesco is one of the cornerstones of Italian Renaissance art. A reservation is obligatory, since only 30 people can enter the chapel every 20 minutes (www.mostrapierodellafrancesca.it; 39-0575-184-0000). You can also see Piero della Francesca's fresco of Mary Magdalene in the Gothic Duomo, while the church of San Domenico, just west of here, has an extraordinary crucifix by a young Cimabue (c.1260). The Romanesque Pieve di Santa Maria, with Pietro Lorenzetti's Madonna and Child with Saints, is a startling piece of architecture that backs onto the irregularly sloping Piazza Grande at the top of the town. This is where Arezzo's most important annual event, the Giostra del Saracino, a medieval jousting tournament, takes place in June and September; it's also the central hub of the sprawling Fiera Antiquaria antiques market on the first Saturday and Sunday of each month.
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.
Tourist Info: Piazza del Comune
Tel: 39 075 812 534
The city of Saint Francis, Assisi looms above the surrounding olive groves like a holy ocean liner. There's some sprawl in the lower town outside the walls, but the handsome, stone-built upper town perches intact and aloof on a spur of Monte Subasio, the mountain where the saint went on retreat with his followers. At the northern end of the upper town, the Basilica di San Francesco, fully restored after a devastating 1997 earthquake, contains Giotto's remarkable Life of St. Francis fresco cycle from around 1296a first step toward what would come to exemplify the art of Italy's Renaissance (Piazza Superiore di San Francesco and Piazza Inferiore di San Francesco; 39-075-819-001). The upper town also has some smaller churches worth visiting, including the Cattedrale di San Rufino (Piazza San Rufino; 39-075-812-283) and Basilica di Santa Chiara (Piazza Santa Chiara; 39-075-812-282). In the lower town, the bombastic Baroque church of Santa Maria degli Angeli is an over-the-top container for the remains of the eleventh-century oratory that Francis adopted as a place of meditation and prayer (Piazza Porziuncola; 39-075-80-511; www.porziuncola.org).
It comes across as a salty, rough-and-ready kind of place, but back in the day, Atrani was the Beverly Hills to Amalfi's Los Angeles, where rich merchants built their mansions. That all came to an end when the Pisans sacked the town in 1187; but its sudden fall from grace had the effect of preserving intact many architectural features that have been lost elsewhere, and today Atrani is a fascinating place to wander whitewashed backstreets that suddenly become long souklike tunnels, or climb steps that duck under arches and squeeze between houses (you can see why perspective-defying artist M. C. Escher was inspired by the town, which recurs several times in his work). Modest but genuine attractions include a small family-oriented beach, a graceful ancient church (San Salvatore de Birecto) where the doges of Amalfi were traditionally sworn in, and, around halfway up the main street, a great local seafood trattoria, A' Paranza.—Lee Marshall
15 Viale Pietro de Coubertin
Tel: 39 06 80 242
Rome's huge performing arts center—a startling complex designed by superstar architect Renzo Piano—is the success story of recent years, shaking up the city's once-sleepy cultural scene. The three state-of-the-art concert halls, plus hyperactive bookshops, restaurants, bars, and outdoor performance area, are located about 15 minutes out of the city in a northern suburb. The venue is packed day and night with a variegated crowd drawn by a truly eclectic, democratic program ranging from the highest of highbrow classical through folk, jazz, world music, and electronic crossover. Rome's fledgling film festival (www.romacinemafest.org) fills the place to the point of bursting for ten days in the second half of October; a March math festival, with lectures by some of the world's leading number-crunchers, and a philosophy festival in May have also become unexpected annual hits. If nothing on the program grabs you, settle for a guided tour of the premises: Tour times change according to events but can be verified on the Auditorium Web site under "Activities." The popularity of events varies, but it's always best to buy tickets ahead of time.
Open daily 11 am to 8 pm.
The Amalfi Coast is so rocky that there's little space for beaches. A magnificent exception is the Baia di Ieranto, a scenic hiccup in the coast just before its westernmost point, Punta Campanella. Accessible only by foot from the village of Nerano (in 40 minutes) or by boat from Marina di Cantone, the deserted beach here is as far as you can get from the Positano flimflam. Today, the whole bay is a nature reserve administered by the Italian heritage conservation society FAI. Entrance is free; guided tours can be arranged by calling (39-335-841-0253). There are no facilities, but bars and alimentary (grocery stores) in either of the departure points can provide picnic fare.—Lee Marshall
The capital of Puglia, and its main entry point, is an industrial port city with a historic old town that's been revitalized in recent years, thanks partly to an ambitious mayor and partly to tourism. The cobblestoned, meandering Città Vecchia has plenty of restaurants and cafés, plus the Cattedrale di San Sabino and Basilica di San Nicola, two of the most important Romanesque buildings in the land. But this is a big, sprawling southern city with its fair share of crime, organized and notso watch that camera.
Piazza San Marco
Tel: 39 041 270 8311
Entering St. Mark's Square from its western end and suddenly confronting this glittering, magnificent Byzantine cathedral has been the oh-wow moment for countless Venice visitors. But the 11th-century exterior, with its soaring domes, spires, and statuary, is only the beginning. Inside the basilica, one and a half square miles of dazzling, painstakingly assembled mosaics cover the interior walls and ceilings. And myriad other treasures testify to the Venetians' love of the ornate—and also to looting. The spectacular, gem-encrusted Pala d'Oro altarpiece is one of the few artifacts inside that weren't filched from conquered lands; the original bronze Horses of San Marco, on display inside (the ones currently adorning the cathedral's facade are replicas), were stolen from Constantinople's Hippodrome in 1204. In the crush of visitors, it's easy to lose sight of the basilica's real function—but if you drop by for 7 a.m. Mass, you'll see the early-morning light streaming onto the mosaics, and hear the prayers of a congregation that still thinks of this monument as its parish church.
Basilica and Museo open daily 9:45–5, April–Sept; 9:45–4:45, Oct–March. Pala d'Oro and Treasury museum open as above, except Sun 2–5, April–Sept; 1–5, Oct–March.
The rocky coast of Capri is not known for its beaches. Marina Piccola, the best of the bunch (it's one of the few with a real sweep of sand) is usually covered with blankets. Bagni di Tiberio beach—served by boats from Marina Grande—is also popular. Given the crowds, many beach bunnies prefer to work on their tans at the pay-to-enter lidos that provide their basking clients with chaise lounges, umbrellas, snacks, and waiter-service drinks. One of the most famous is La Fontelina, located at the foot of the Faraglioni rocks and accessible by steps from the Tragara Belvedere (panoramic viewpoint) above, or by ferry from Marina Piccola (Località Faraglioni; 39-081-837-0845).
The rocky cove beneath the Faro (lighthouse) at Punta Carena on the western tip of the island, accessible by bus from Anacapri, is another popular spot for sunning and swimming. You can pay for the priviledge of a lounger and umbrella at the Lido del Faro (Località Punta Carena; 39-081-837-1798; www.lidofaro.com) or just stretch your blanket out on a ledge and swim off the rocks.
The rocky Gargano Peninsula has some of Puglia's best beaches and coves, especially the Spiaggia del Castello, south of the area's former medieval capital, and Vieste, which is dominated by the huge rock stack known as the Scoglio di Pizzomunno. The other seaside magnet in Puglia is The Salento, the heel of the Italian boot. On the Adriatic side, there's more rock than sand, though the waters are mostly crystalline; for white- and golden-sand spiagge, head for the western, Ionian coastin particular the areas immediately south of Gallipoli and north of Porto Cesareo, with their long, dune-backed beaches that start to get crowded from mid-July through the end of August.
Tourist info: 126 Corso Cavour
Tel: 39 074 235 4459
These three small historic towns circle the olive groves of the Valle Umbra south of Perugia. Bevagna is probably the best-kept secret: A Roman colony on the Via Flaminia, it was prosperous enough until the Middle Ages to endow two fine Romanesque churches, San Silvestro and San Michele, which face each other across the main square. Nearby Montefalco is—after Orvieto—Umbria's second-most-famous wine town. Its star brew, the full-bodied red Sagrantino di Montefalco, has recently become a cult favorite among international wine buffs. Top producers include Arnaldo Caprai, Adanti, and Antonelli, though aficionados say that the wines turned out in tiny quantities by Paolo Bea are the real crème de la crème. Of the enoteca-restaurants that line the main square, L'Alchimista offers the best value and service—and it's also the only one that stocks Bea's bottles (14 Piazza del Comune; 39-074-237-8558; www.montefalcowines.com). If you're still standing after lunch, head for the Museo Civico di San Francesco, home to Benozzo Gozzoli's dynamic Life of Saint Francis fresco cycle (Via Ringhiera Umbra; 39-074-237-9598).
Another town with Roman origins, Spello (pictured) is a small, walled hilltop village that has some of the most intact Roman architecture in central Italy—especially evident in town gates like Porta Venere. Pinturicchio's frescoes in the Baglioni Chapel, inside the church of Santa Maria Maggiore, are some of Umbria's most vibrant examples of Renaissance art (Piazza Matteotti).
No trip to Capri is complete without a visit to the island's most famous natural attraction, a partially submerged rock cave where refracted sunlight turns the water and walls a luminous blue. The cave was formed naturally, but Romans carved out a small landing stage and nymphaeum (a temple consecrated to the nymphs) at the back of the cave, with a tunnel that some say once reached all the way to Villa Damecuta, one of Tiberius's 12 villas, far above. In summer, motorboats leave Marina Grande for the Grotto every few minutes (you'll pay around €10 euros/$13 for a round trip). Once you arrive, you'll be decanted in groups of three into tiny rowboats (and must pull your wallet out yet again—the ride costs another €10). The boats are small enough to make it under the low lip of the cave, which is sometimes impossible to enter in rough seas. In theory, you can swim in, but the fearsome rowboat operators don't look kindly on this, and it's only really advisable when they're not around—before 9:30 am or just before sunset.
You can't truly appreciate the sheer drama of Capri's theater of sea, cliffs, and sky until you've circumnavigated it. Boat tours to the Blue Grotto only scratch the surface—it's the far side of the island, between Punta Carena and Villa Jovis, that really takes the breath away. Among the more reputable operators running half- or full-day excursions out of Marina Grande is Gianni's Boat. The size of boat can be tailored to the size of the party, with the non plus ultra being a 33-foot vintage Sorrentine gozzo (fishing boat). Alternatively, guests at the Capri Palace can rent one of the hotel's two 40-foot Baia motorboats for a really high-class island tour.—Lee Marshall
Keen to avoid the sort of day-trip tourism that tests the patience of Capri's inhabitants in high season, the majority lobby of Amalfi Coast hoteliers has long resisted the kind of fast hydrofoil service that would open the place up to easy jaunts from Sorrento and Naples. As a result, there are just two morning-only sea connections between Naples and the Amalfi Coast resorts—only one of which calls in at Sorrento. Services to Capri are more frequent, run by Lucibello and Alicost—and it's a marvellously scenic route, passing by the Li Galli islets, which once belonged to Rudolf Nureyev, and the dramatic rockscapes of the Baia di Ieranto and Punta Campanella. Lucibello, which operates out of a booth down on the beach in Positano, is also the best bet for those wanting to hire a boat with or without skipper or to arrange an excursion to one of the secluded coves that dot the coast. Several hotels also have their own boats and yachts for hire—the pick of the crop is the vintage Riva Aquarama speedboat owned by Antonio and Carla Sersale of Le Sirenuse.—Lee Marshall
Coffee punctuates the Roman day with a regularity that is almost monastic. The first shot—usually in the form of a cappuccino—is generally downed in one's local bar; unless you happen to be doing business over breakfast, it's swallowed rapidly at the counter, a brief blip in the streamlined morning rush. Another dose of caffeine midmorning fuels busy Romans through the energy trough and marks the last opportunity for diluting the beverage with milk. After lunch and dinner (when many Romans resort to decaf so as not to be kept awake), a short, sharp shot of caffè—an espresso—is de rigueur, and a cappuccino is simply unthinkable.
Every Roman has his or her favorite bar, but most agree that the ne plus ultra of coffee is found at Sant'Eustachio, a diminutive place near the Pantheon that has been roasting its own beans since 1938. Its standout is the gran caffè, a double espresso with a creamy foam on top; it comes already sugared, so specify "amaro" (bitter) if you prefer it without (82 Piazza Sant 'Eustachio; 39-06-6880-2048; www.santeustachioilcaffe.it; daily 8:30–1 am). Closely rivaling Sant'Eustachio is the Tazza d'Oro, right by the Pantheon, which also does a superb coffee granita in summer (84 Via degli Orfani; 39-06-678-9792; www.tazzadorocoffeeshop.com).
Piazza del Carmine
Tel: 39 055 276 8224
The Brancacci Chapel, inside the Oltrarno Church of Santa Maria del Carmine, is where the Renaissance started. Commissioned by a local silk merchant, the fresco cycle that adorns the walls of the chapel is one of the most important in Florentine art. It was the work of three great Renaissance painters: Masolino da Panicale, his pupil Masaccio, and Fra Filippo Lippi. One of the most memorable works is Masaccio's Expulsion of Adam and Eve. The frescoes were celebrated from the outset for their use of the new rules of perspective and their chiaroscuro (light and shade) effects, and artists such as Michelangelo came to study them. Note that admission is by a separate entrance at the side of the church and is strictly limited to 30 people per 15-minute slot. This means that, except at very quiet times of year, it is worth ringing ahead to book.
Open Monday and Wednesday through Saturday 10 am to 5 pm, Sunday 1 to 5 pm.
6 Piazza Madonna degli Aldobrandini
Tel: 39 055 238 8602
Attached to the church of San Lorenzo, this complex of three rooms is the final resting place of Medicis great and small. Minor family members were relegated to the crypt, while Cosimo I turned the Cappella dei Principi, with its lashings of marble, into a bombastic exercise in self-glorification. But Michelangelo's Sagrestia Nuova is the real draw. Fresh from painting the Sistine ceiling in Rome, the returning prodigal son produced some of his most original sculptural works in the two finished Medici tombs that dominate the space. The tomb of Giuliano, youngest son of Lorenzo de' Medici, is crowned by twin reclining statues of Night and Day, while that of Lorenzo's eponymous grandson, Lorenzo Duke of Urbino, is capped by figures of Dawn and Dusk.
Open Tuesdays through Saturdays 8:15 am to 5 pm, plus second and fourth Monday and first, third, and fifth Sunday of each month.
Capri Town , Capri
Situated just below the postcard-pretty clock tower, the famous Piazzetta (officially known as Piazza Umberto I) is both the entrance to the island's main town and its open-air living room. No matter what lane you're in, you'll eventually end up at this picturesque square, with its four people-watching bars. Each has its fans, but Bar Tiberio has the most authentically local crowd, and the Piccolo Bar is the most tucked away.
Various routes lead out of the Piazzetta. If you head down the shopping street of Via Vittorio Emanuele and take a left by the celebrated Quisisana hotel, you're doing Capri's most classic passeggiata, which leads via boutique-lined Via Camerelle and luxury-hotel-lined Via Tragara to a belvedere next to Punta Tragara overlooking the Faraglioni rocks—a series of mammoth limestone formations just offshore that are home to a species of blue lizards found nowhere else. From the belvedere, a long, stepped path leads around to the Arco Naturale, a natural rock arch, in around 30 minutes.
Back in the Piazzetta, the steps by the side of the church lead up to an arched lane that is a typical example of Capri's souklike vernacular architecture. The other reason to come here is to eat at Da Gemma, one of the island's most traditional trattorias. Opposite the church, the narrow lanes of Via Longano and Via Le Botteghe soon meet up at the little chapel of San Michele, hopping-off point for the 30-minute slog up to Villa Jovis. Also worth a visit are the Certosa di San Giacomo, a medieval monastery set behind a lemon grove; the Gardens of Augustus, a charming public park laid out on a series of terraces high above the sea; and Marina Piccola, a tiny seaside resort with rows of colorful bathing huts.—Updated by Lee Marshall
In 1606, tortured genius Michelangelo Merisi—a.k.a. Caravaggio—fled Rome after killing a man over a tennis match. Behind him he left some of the Eternal City's most striking artwork. The church of San Luigi dei Francesi contains his St. Matthew cycle (1598–1601), three works that, with their haunting realism and groundbreaking use of light and shade, redefined painting in Rome. In Santa Maria del Popolo are The Crucifixion of St. Peter and The Conversion of St. Paul, two huge works made in 1601. The exquisitely touching Madonna of the Pilgrims (1603) in Sant'Agostino shocked contemporaries with its dirty supplicants kneeling before Mary. Other masterpieces by Caravaggio can be found in the Vatican Museums, the Palazzo Barberini, and the Borghese Gallery, which houses David With the Head of Goliath (1609), in which the head of Goliath is believed to be a self-portrait.
San Luigi dei Francesi
Piazza San Luigi dei Francesi
Tel: 39 06 688 271
Open Fridays through Wednesdays 8:30 am to 12:30 pm and 3:30 to 7 pm, Thursdays 8:30 am to 12:30 pm.
Tel: 39 06 6880 1962
Daily 8 am to noon and 4 to 7:30 pm.
Santa Maria del Popolo
12 Piazza del Popolo
Tel: 39 06 361 0836
Mondays through Saturdays 7 am to noon and 4 to 7 pm, Sundays 7:30 am to 1:45 pm and 4:30 to 7:30 pm.
This eight-sided castle, which rises on a remote hilltop some miles inland from Trani and Barletta, is one of history's great puzzles. We know that it was commissioned by Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II and built between 1229 and 1249, but its function is a mystery. It was not built to defend anything, and there is no town or strategic crossroads nearby. Like Stonehenge and the Pyramids, the castle has attracted its share of theories: Some see it as a huge astronomical clock, others as a monument to the golden mean. The man who had it built was certainly capable of such a gesture: A ruler who bridged Christian, Greek, and Arab cultures, Frederick liked to unwind by writing poetry, philosophical tracts, and even a treatise on falconry.
50 Lungotevere Castello
Tel: 39 06 681 9111
Remember the scene in Roman Holiday where Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn dance on a barge before jumping into the Tiber? The beautifully lit building in the background was Castel Sant'Angelo, originally built as a tomb for Emperor Hadrian but converted by beleaguered Renaissance popes into an impregnable fortress, complete with luxury living quarters, gloriously decorated by Renaissance greats. The Chapel in the Cortile d'Onore was designed for Leo X by Michelangelo; Clement VII's tiny personal bathroom was frescoed by Giulio Romano. The castle's dank prisons and display of torture implements will entertain the kids. There's also a rooftop café where you can enjoy lunch with a 360-degree view of the city.
Open Tuesdays through Sundays 9 am to 7 pm.
Northwest of Taranto is the land of the gravine: deep, eroded gashes in high limestone plains, carved by rivers that have since dried up or disappeared underground. Between the sixth and the 15th centuries, the gravine were places of sanctuary, both civic and religious, for the inhabitants of the settlements above. The result is a honeycombed network of tombs, churches, and dwellings, a few of them housed in natural caves, but most carved out of the bare rock. The main Puglian cave towns are Massafra, Mottola, Ginosa, and Castellanetathe latter famous also as the birthplace of Rudolph Valentino (there's a small museum, with erratic opening times, dedicated to the man and the myth). But the most impressive città rupestre, or rocky city, is Matera, which lies just over the border in Basilicata. Along with the houses built out of the two ravines, Sasso Barisano and Sasso Caveoso, Matera has many Byzantine cave churches that look like something out of biblical timeswhich made it a perfect location for Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ.
The real Chianti is a surprisingly wild part of Tuscany, its small vineyards separated by densely wooded hills that are home to wild boar and porcupines. Wine towns such as Radda, Castellina, and Greve are prosperous and slightly anonymous; the real attraction around here lies in postcard-perfect smaller villages like Montefiorale or Volpaia, in wine-estate castles such as Brolio and Meleto, or in the area's two glorious medieval abbeys, Badia a Passignano and Badia a Coltibuono. The SS 222 Chiantigiana road winds through the area: If you have time to spare, it is a more scenic alternative to the fast Florence–Siena Superstrada. There are any number of opportunities to sample wine in the area; see Wine Touring for more details. On the second weekend of September, Greve hosts the Rassegna del Chianti Classico, the area's biggest wine fair.
This gloriously preserved historic city is among Italy's most perfect examples of organic medieval urban planning. The centerpiece of Siena is café-lined Piazza del Campo, the shell-shaped "sitting room" of the city where the Palio, a fiercely contested bareback horse race, is held every year on July 2 and August 16. On the south side of the square, elegant Palazzo Pubblico has been the seat of the city's government since the 13th century. The view from the top of the Torre del Mangia is spectacular, and the elegant Palazzo also houses the Museo Civico, which contains frescoed masterpieces such as Simone Martini's Maestà and Ambrogio Lorenzetti's Effects of Good and Bad Government. Don't miss the Renaissance Libreria Piccolomini inside Siena's stripy Gothic cathedral (Piazza del Duomo), with lively frescoes by Pinturicchio and a graceful ancient Roman sculpture of the Three Graces. Also in Piazza del Duomo, there's a new museum complex, Ospedale di Santa Maria della Scala (santamaria.comune.siena.it), that was a hospital until a few decades ago. A fascinating 15th-century fresco cycle on the life of the pilgrim hospital (Siena was on the Via Francigena, the vitally important pilgrimage road to Rome) and the new archaeological museum can be visited; the sprawling complex also hosts regular exhibitions. Traffic within the centro storico is highly regulated; nonresidents can drive in only to drop off bags at hotels (ring your hotel for guidance) and must then park in one of the (pricey) car parks outside the walls. Try one or more of the four Trekking Urbano routes (one specifically geared for children)—the "Vicoli e Giardini" (lanes and gardens) itinerary is a particularly good introduction to Siena's unique mix of country and city. Leaflets can be picked up from local tourist offices or downloaded from the town's website (www.comune.siena.it). In summer, the city hosts the international Siena Jazz festival (www.sienajazz.it) and the classical Estate Musicale Chigiana (www.chigiana.it) in magnificent historical palaces, courtyards, and churches.
On a rainy day in January it may be difficult to see its charms, but come here on a weekend in August when there are pedestrian traffic jams down in Vernazza, and you realize why Cinque Terre aficionados have a soft spot for Corniglia. It is the least touristy of the five villages, so it's a good place to sip a glass of wine, loosen the walking boots, and take stock. Perched on a rocky spur above the waves, Corniglia's tall houses seem to turn their backs on the sea. As, indeed, did the original inhabitants of the Cinque Terre: Even after they moved downhill from their mountain refuges in the Middle Ages, most locals continued to work the land. Once upon a time, the only way to get up to the village was to climb the winding road or the 377-step staircase from the station, but the Parco Nazionale now runs a minibus service between station and village, which is free for holders of the Cinque Terre Treno card, which gives you unlimited train travel on the line from La Spezia to Levanto. Below the station is a pebbly, boulder-strewn beachnot exactly Caribbean caliber, but fine for a quick dip.
Dominating the fertile Valdichiana from a rocky spur, this handsome medieval walled town used to be a fairly recherché stop on the Tuscan tourist map, but Frances Mayes' bestsellers Under the Tuscan Sun and Bella Tuscany changed all that (Mayes' country house is nearby, and Cortona features prominently in both books). Cortona is now one of the most densely touristed small towns in Tuscany, but away from peak times, it absorbs the influx well—and it's easy enough to get away from the madding crowd by heading to the quiet and picturesque upper town. Be sure to check out the clock tower on the Palazzo Comunale and the view of Val di Chiana that opens off Piazza del Duomo. In the piazza, the Museo Diocesano (1 Piazza del Duomo; 39-0575-62-830) features Beato Angelico's inspiring Annunciation, while the state-of-the-art MAEC museum gives an overview of Cortona's rich history from prehistory through Etruscan and Roman times to the present day, and displays the collections of the Accademia Etrusca—the world's oldest archaeological academy, founded in 1727 (9 Piazza Signorelli; 39-0575-630-415; www.cortonamaec.org). Perhaps the most beautiful walks and drives around Cortona, though, are beyond the town itself. As it's set on the border between Tuscany and Umbria, venturing afield will give you a taste of both. Madonna del Calcinaio, a Renaissance church with pure, serene lines, rises at the foot of town on the road to Camucia. Follow the country road out of Cortona from the Porta Colonia for two miles to reach the mystical Convent of Le Celle, founded by St. Francis between 1211 and 1221—it's still home to Franciscan monks, who silently welcome visitors to the saint's cell dug into the rock.
2 Piazza Santa Maria delle Grazie
Tel: 39 02 9280 0362
Some claim that a visit to Leonardo da Vinci's greatest wall painting is an Emperor's New Clothes experience: The artist used an unstable dry-painting technique rather than fresco, and so much paint has faded and flaked off over the years that it has become difficult to appreciate the work for the masterpiece that it once was. Enough is left, though, to catch the daring compositional scheme and Leonardo's bold use of primary colors—looking fresher since the end of a 20-year restoration in 1999. But if you intend to visit—perhaps to check out firsthand Dan Brown's thesis that fey, blond John the Baptist, to Christ's right, is actually Mary Magdalene—you'll need to reserve well in advance. Book your 15-minute slot online or by phone (39 02 9280 0362); at peak times, it may be a long wait before calls are answered. Reservations can be made up to three months in advance (for example, April times can be booked starting at the beginning of January), and slots tend to get snapped up very quickly. Currently, the 9:30 am and 3:30 pm visits are accompanied by an English guide, at no extra charge.—Updated by Lee Marshall
When the Gianfranco Ferré spa opened at the back of the designer's new Quadrilatero d'Oro store in 2004, it was a first for Milan; way back then, the Italian fashion capital was decidedly short on serious pamper-lounges where busy fashionistas could dip in for an hour or so. Today, Milanese residents have a variety of day spas to choose from. One of the most exclusive—though, like the Ferré version, it's run by global players ESPA—is the Bulgari Hotel Spa, thanks to its location (secluded, but close to the fashion strip) and stunning minimalist design. New arrivals include the Ancient Rome–themed Aquae Calidae—where you can pop in for a lunchtime facial or book the whole place for a toga party treatment session with friends—and Culti Day Spa, the spa offshoot of Alessandro Agrati's cool, chill-out lifestyle brand.
When the Dominicans and Franciscans arrived in Venice at the dawn of the Renaissance, they enticed parishioners by filling their churches with art. The works in some of these churches rival the exhibits in major art museums. The Dominicans' immense church of Santi Giovanni e Paolo, for example, was begun in 1246: a polyptych by Giovanni Bellini, magnificent ceiling paintings by Paolo Veronese, and works by Titian and Lorenzo Lotto were all commissioned as adornment. The Franciscans fought back in the 1330s with Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari (generally known as I Frari). This church definitely has the artistic edge, starting with Titian's extraordinary Assumption, with the Virgin Mary soaring heavenward above the high altar in a swirl of sumptuous hues. Titian's gracious Madonna di Ca' Pesaro (pictured) dominates the left aisle, while the Madonna and Child in the sacristy is arguably one of Giovanni Bellini's finest works.
SANTI GIOVANNI E PAOLO
Castello, Campo Santi Giovanni e Paolo
Tel: 39 041 523 5913
Open Mon–Sat 7:30–12:30 and 3:30–7, Sun 3–6
SANTA MARIA GLORIOSA DEI FRARI
San Polo, Campo dei Frari
Tel: 39 041 522 2637
Open Mon–Sat 9–6, Sun 1–6
Piazza del Duomo
Tel: 39 02 8646 3456
With its fairytale forest of spires, herds of fierce gargoyles, and army of perched stone saints, Milan's Duomo looks from a distance more like a Disney castle than a place of worship. It's the fourth-largest church in the world and one of Europe's great Gothic cathedrals. Begun in 1386 and consecrated in 1418, the Duomo was a work in progress for centuries (the facade was only completed early in the 19th century, under the orders of Napoleon). To fully appreciate the wealth of exterior ornament—and for a fine view over the city—take the elevator to the roof. The highest of the estimated 3,400 statues is the famous Madonnina, a four-meter-tall, gilded copper Virgin Mary, touchstone and protectress of the city. Inside the cathedral, the lofty roof is held up by 52 columns, one for each week of the year. Don't miss the stained-glass windows, some of which date back to the 15th century.
Piazza del Duomo
Tel: 39 055 230 2885
Florence's massive green and white cathedral and its wedding cake facade dominates the center of the city. Building began in the 1290s under the direction of Arnolfo Di Cambio, and the structure was designed to supersede all other churches in size and sheer magnificence. The celebrated dome, designed by Filippo Brunelleschi, was built in the 15th century after the engineering conundrum of how to construct such a huge cupola without it collapsing under its own weight was solved (even today, this remains the largest masonry dome in the world). Entrance to the cathedral itself is free, but four parts have separate charges and opening times (see below). Of these, the most worthwhile is the viewing platform inside the lantern that crowns the dome—but as the sign at the bottom warns: "463 steps... There is no lift." On the north and east doors outside the Baptistery, look out for Ghiberti's delicate bronze bas-reliefs.
Open Mondays through Wednesdays 10 am to 5 pm, Fridays and Saturdays 10 am to 5 pm, Sundays 1 to 5 pm.
Cupola (Dome): Open Mondays through Fridays 8:30 am to 7 pm, Saturdays 8:30 am to 5:40 pm.
Campanile: Open daily 8:30 am to 7:30 pm.
Baptistery: Open Mondays through Saturdays noon to 7 pm, Sundays 8:30 am to 2 pm.
Crypt of Santa Reparata: Open Mondays through Fridays 10 am to 5 pm, Saturdays 10 am to 4:45 pm. Last entry 40 minutes before closing time.
Piazza del Duomo
Tel: 39 031 265 244
Two thousand years of Como history are depicted on the delightfully crowded facade of this 14th-century cathedral. You'll see sculptures of the usual saints and martyrs, but the best placement is given to Como's most famous sons: Ancient Roman scholars Pliny the Elder and his nephew Pliny the Younger flank the main door. Inside the Duomo are an intricately carved wooden altarpiece from 1492 and a series of 16th-century tapestries designed by Baroque masters including Alessandro Allori and Giuseppe Arcimboldo. The cathedral's dome was added in 1744 by the noted Sicilian architect Filippo Juvarra.
Open daily 7:30 am to noon and 3 to 7 pm.
For a complete detox after overdosing on Rome's classical wonders, take Metro Line B to EUR, the "model" suburb dreamt up by Mussolini and his Fascist urban planners. World War II halted work on the scheme, which was meant to host the 1942 Esposizione Universale Roma (World's Fair); the project was picked up later and significantly altered. Now largely a business district, EUR bustles from Monday to Friday, but on the weekends the deserted area becomes an eerie testament to Il Duce's delusions of grandeur. Check out Palazzo della Civiltà del Lavoro—nicknamed the "Square Colosseum"—and the imposing Palazzo dei Congressi. At the Museo della Civiltà Romana, a huge model shows what Rome looked like in its imperial heyday (10 Piazza Giovanni Agnelli; 39-06-592-6135; Tues.–Sun 9 am–2 pm). EUR's vocation for forward-looking architecture lives on today, with Massimiliano Fuksas' visionary new congress center—known as la nuvola (the cloud)—gradually taking shape.
Rome's exhibition scene hasn't always matched up to its status as one of the world's cultural capitals, but things have improved since the turn of the millennium with the opening of the professionally run Scuderie del Quirinale, a two-tier venue for serious grand master shows, housed in what used to be the stables of the Quirinale palace. Planning exhibitions three years or more in advance has allowed the Scuderie to stage some truly impressive events, like the ravishing 2006 Antonello da Messina show, or the comprehensive autumn 2008 Giovanni Bellini retrospective. The Scuderie's sister venue, the bombastic Risorgimento-era Palazzo delle Esposizioni, is in good shape after its recent five-year face-lift and has added a rooftop restaurant, basement café, and arts bookshop. This venue tends to stage two or three smaller shows at any one time, on subjects as diverse as archaeology, fashion, cinema, and contemporary art. Elsewhere, the cavernous interior of the Piazza Venezia eyesore Il Vittoriano (a.k.a. Altare della Patria) is used for crowd-pleasing exhibitions like the 2008 Renoir show. The one gap in Rome's cultural armor was a dedicated contemporary art space. But that was filled in 2010, when Zaha Hadid's futuristic MAXXI museum opened in the northern suburbs, not far from the Auditorium.
A small hill town just to the north of Florence, Fiesole was founded by the Etruscans. Today, it is a charming upmarket suburb accessible by a short taxi ride from the city. Life centers around Piazza Mino, a lively old square lined with cafés and restaurants. There are some interesting sights, including the fine 11th-century Duomo and the Museo Bandini, with its Gothic paintings and Della Robbia terra-cottas. Relics of Etruscan and Roman Faesulae can be seen in the Teatro Romano and the Museo Archeologico, and there are wonderful views of Florence from the monastery of San Francesco up the hill. Be aware that most of the restaurants here are better known for their vistas than their food.
36 Via Fogazzaro
Tel: 39 02 5467 0515
Not merely a fashion genius, Miuccia Prada is an inventive patron of the arts. Her contemporary-art foundation, housed in a former bank archive in the eastern suburbs, is involved in a range of projects, including the restoration of neglected cinema classics, but its main activity is the organization of two major shows each year (spring and fall) dedicated to cutting-edge contemporary artists. The space is only open when exhibitions are on view; check the Web site for dates.
Open Tuesday through Sunday during exhibitions, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
With its vast white-sand beaches and dramatic Apuan Alps backdrop, the chic seaside resort of Forte dei Marmi is the pearl of Versilia—also known as the Tuscan Riviera—and a popular summer roost for the rich and famous from Florence and northern Italy, who colonize those 1950s and 1960s villas that stand just back from the sea. All stabilimenti (private sections of beach with admission fees) are equipped with perfect rows of umbrellas, chaise lounges, cafés, and restaurants—no wild dunes here. The promenade is a fine place for an evening passeggiata (walk): When the waves are up, you can even watch surfers in wet suits braving the Mediterranean surf. Just a few miles from Forte dei Marmi, Pietrasanta is a fascinating excursion for anyone interested in sculpture. Artists from all over the world have their work cast in bronze in Pietrasanta's foundries or carved in marble at the town's many studios. You'll hear artisans chiseling away at life-size copies of Michelangelo's David or Pietà for export to Japanese museums. Twelve miles to the north, take a drive through the mountains behind Carrara, where seeming snowcaps are actually marble deposits. Michelangelo's preferred lode of pure white marble was from here. Follow the signs for cave (quarries), and stop off in the village of Colonnata to sample the area's most famous foodstuff, lardo di Colonnata—made from pork fat that has been left to season in marble vats, or conche, for at least six months with sea salt, pepper, garlic, rosemary, and other spices. The final product has the translucent, veined creaminess of statuario, the most precious variety of Carrara marble. You can get an overview of the history and geology of the quarries in Carrara's staid but thorough Museo del Marmo (Viale XX Settembre; 39-0585-845-746), then sign up for one of the morning Carrarabus guided tours organized by the Confturist guides association during summer (39-0585-865-563), which include visits to a quarry and a sculpture studio, a tour of Carrara's splendid centro storico, and a tasting of lardo di Colonnata.
1 Parco Pasquale Maulini
Tel: 39 0323 866 141
Everyone knows that Italy makes some of the best high-design housewares in the world, but few people realize that the top names are based in this unassuming town at the northern tip of Lake Orta. The 19th-century artisan traditions that grew into firms such as Alessi and Legnoart have inspired enough local pride to merit a museum and exhibition space. The museum displays some of the best-known pieces, from Bialetti's classic octagonal hourglass stovetop espresso-maker to the curvaceous and whimsical designs created for Alessi, Calderoni, and Lagostina by Richard Sapper, Philippe Starck, and Robert Graves. Located at the north end of town, it is tricky to find—the driveway slopes steeply down off a traffic roundabout at the north edge of Omegna—but worth the search. There's also a fantastic shop on-site selling items from the brands on view in the museum, including some discounted overstock and clearance models.
Open Tuesdays through Saturdays 9 am to12:30 pm and 2:30 to 6 pm, Sundays 2:30 to 6 pm.
6 Piazzale degli Uffizi
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.
5860 Via Ricasoli
Tel: 39 055 238 8612; advance tickets 39 055 294 883
The vast majority of the people in the mile-long line outside this former art school are here for one reason only: to ogle what is probably the most famous nude sculpture in the world, Michelangelo's monumental David. The statue, finished in 1504, was carved from a single, particularly long and narrow piece of marble and is top-heavy; the artist intended it to be placed on a high plinth. The hands and feet are huge; other parts famously aren't. It's awesome, nonetheless. Besides David, don't neglect Michelangelo's other masterpiece, the nonfiniti ("unfinished") or Slaves. There are also some fine Quattrocento and Mannerist paintings and a magnificent collection of musical instruments that includes several Stradivari. It is possible to reserve tickets beforehand by calling the advance tickets telephone number, but the museum won't accept reservations more than two months in advance.
Open Tuesday through Sunday 8:15 a.m. to 6:50 p.m.
Campo della Carità
Tel: 39 041 522 2247
Since 2005, this repository for centuries of stunning Venetian art has also been an obstacle course of scaffolding and builders' clutter. Ongoing renovations mean that some rooms, floors, and even outbuildings have been off-limits to visitors. Still, the viewable collection of lagoon-city masters, including Paolo Veneziano, Mantegna, Giorgione, Titian, and Tintoretto, doesn't disappoint. And when the Grandi Gallerie dell'Accademia—as the final restored galleries will be called—open in their entirety in late 2007, they will have been worth the wait. The exhibition space will have doubled to almost 40,000 square feet, which means there will be room to display 650 works instead of the current 400. In the meantime, look for gorgeous narrative works like Bellini and Carpaccio's Miracle of the Relic of the True Cross on the Rialto Bridge, and Carpaccio's Life of Saint Ursula; both are exquisitely detailed depictions of 15th-century Venice.
Open Mon 8:15–2, Tues–Sun 8:15–7:15
Parco Nazionale del Gargano Visitors' Center
Monte Sant'Angelo , Puglia
Tel: 39 088 456 5444
A huge limestone peninsula jutting east into the Adriatic, the Gargano was for many centuries a wild and solitary place, isolated from the fertile Puglian tablelands to the south and west. Most of the peninsula is now part of the Parco Nazionale del Gargano, set up in 1991 in an effort to check the tourist development that had already spoiled parts of the rugged coastline and to protect the delicate ecosystem of the densely forested interior, home to thousands of species of flora and fauna. Its remoteness made the Gargano a place of religious seclusion and devotionat its most intense in the towns of Monte Sant'Angelo, with its sanctuary built around a cave where the archangel Michael was said to have appeared in the fifth century, and San Giovanni Rotondo, which is today entirely given over to the modern-day cult of Padre Pio, the miracle-working monk who lived and died here.
The only park in the center of Florence, the Boboli Gardens (behind Palazzo Pitti) provides a green oasis in the midst of the city's dense Renaissance architecture. Laid out by Buontalenti in the 16th century, it is a wonderful space where you'll come across fountains, statues, secret pathways, lawns, formal gardens, and a thriving population of stray cats. Look for the Neptune Fountain, the beautiful Giardino del Cavaliere at the top of the gardens, Buontalenti's fantastical, newly restored grotto, and the statue of Cosimo I's chubby dwarf astride a turtle, just before the main exit.
Open daily 8:15 a.m. till one hour before sunset. Closed the first and last Monday of each month.
Hopelessly clichéd but utterly romantic, a gondola ride is something every visitor to Venice should do once. The experience doesn't come cheap (see "Getting Around" in the Fact Sheet for approximate costs), so make it memorable by telling your gondolier to avoid the chaotic, noisy Grand Canal in favor of narrower back routes. You'll get to navigate Venice as locals have done for centuries: by water.
Monopoli , Puglia
Tel: 39 080 499 8211
Inland from Monopoli on the edge of the town of Castellana, this spectacular network of caves, covered in stalagmites and stalactites, were carved by underground streams over many centuries. Hourly tours are the only way to see the caves; the guides point out rock formations that resemble everything from a camel to Milan Cathedral to Michelangelo's statue of Moses. There are two itineraries: a short one of 50 minutes or a complete circuit of two hours, which reaches the Grotta Bianca (White Cave), an extraordinary natural temple of alabaster over 75 yards underground.
Piazzale Orti Manara/Via Catullo
Tel: 39 030 916 157
These first-century B.C. ruins in Sirmione are what's left of an ancient Roman private estate. The well-preserved complex, romantically overgrown with groves of olives, covers five acres of prime real estate at the very tip of the Sirmione peninsula. It's called "grottoes" not because of the caves welling with natural hot springs underneath but because the lower palace rooms seemed like underground caves to the 15th-century explorers who rediscovered them. You can tour these passageways (some of which retain decorative stuccos) with a guide, but it's also nice to wander the grounds at random, seeing how the low walls and bits of mosaic sketch out the ancient floor plan. Pack a picnic to enjoy lunch under the olives, with a view of the lake all around and birdsong carried on the ever-present breeze.
Open Tuesdays through Sundays from 8:30 am to 7 pm March to October and Tuesdays through Sundays 8:30 am to 5 pm November to February.
Tourist info: 15 Via della Repubblica
Tel: 39 075 922 0693
A fortified town that rises in terraced splendor up the flank of Monte Ingino, Gubbio is so authentically medieval that you half expect to bump into Dante or Giotto here. It's also relatively remote (the nearest train station is 14 miles away)which means there are no crowds, even in summer. The crenellated Palazzo dei Consoli, pictured, a towering Gothic palace, houses the Museo Civicohome to the Tavole Eugubine, seven bronze tablets from the second century B.C. that are the only surviving record of Umbrian, the language spoken in these parts before the Romans arrived (Piazza Grande; 39-075-927-4298). The town's Duomo and church of San Francesco (with its 15th-century frescoes) are also lovely. But the best thing to do in Gubbio is simply to wander around the narrow alleys and absorb the stately ancient surroundings. Every May 15, the whole town shuts down for the Corsa dei Ceri, a Christian ritual of decidedly pagan origins that involves processions through the streets with 13-foot-high ceri, or candles.
5 Piazza della Signoria
Tel: 39 055 290 017
Guccio Gucci opened his first leather goods and luggage shop in Florence in 1921, targeting the kind of luxury clientele he had seen while working as a bellboy at the Savoy in London. Since then the company he founded has become a huge global brand. On its 90th anniversary in 2011, Gucci opened its first museum in its founder's hometown, on a prime centro storico piece of real estate—14th-century Palazzo della Mercanzia in Piazza della Signoria. The display has several jaw-dropping moments, such as the Gucci-customized 1979 Cadillac Seville, or the feathered and sequinned swan-princess dress worn by Hilary Swank at the 2011 Academy Awards. Other themes, such as the development of the Gucci logo or the evolution of the design department's floral motifs, are a little more recondite. Those looking for insights into the life of Gianni, Donatella, and other Versace family figures will be disappointed: The remit here is strictly corporate. But anyone with a passing interest in fashion will be fascinated, and the ground-floor Gucci Caffè is a relaxing place to chill out between bouts of sightseeing. There's also a bookshop, a gift shop, a and contemporary art exhibition space featuring rotating selections from Gucci CEO François Pinault's extensive collection.—Lee Marshall
Open daily 10 am to 8 pm.
5 Piazzetta Cerio
Capri Town , Capri
Tel: 39 081 837 6681
Capri Town has a ramshackle but fascinating one-man collection in the Centro Caprense, a cultural center dedicated to the doctor, amateur archaeologist, botanist and general polymath Ignazio Cerio. The four main rooms of the museum contain a ragbag selection of fossils, bones, pottery shards, and botanical and marine specimens assembled by the good doctor. Cerio even tracked down a few of Capri's rare blue lizards, found only on the outermost of the three Faraglioni rock stacks; they're displayed in preserving jars in the Biologia room.—Lee Marshall
Open Tuesdays through Sundays 9 am to 2 pm April through September, 9 am to 1 pm October through March.
Tel: 39 0365 296 511
The life of Gabriele D'Annunzio, Italy's favorite poet-adventurer, was as flamboyant as the kitschy Art Nouveau villa where he spent his final days. During World War I he became something of a rogue war hero, dashing off on glorious campaigns quite against the wishes of his superiors. He flew his own biplane over Vienna in 1918 to prove it could be invaded, and in 1919 raised a private army to conquer part of Yugoslavia. He held the territory for 17 months and became a national hero, despite the fact that the Italian government desperately wanted him to withdraw so they could complete peace negotiations. In an attempt to distract D'Annunzio and silence his criticisms of the Fascist regime, Mussolini gave the poet this lakeside villa. He lived here from 1921 until his death in 1936, carrying on an affair with Eleonora Duse (the A-list actress of her day), and creating a personal war museum. The required guided tours are in Italian, but the cluttered, quirky rooms are worth it—especially in summer, when the villa puts on concerts and plays.
Grounds open daily 8:30 am to 8 pm April 1 to September 30, villa tours Tuesdays through Sundays 9:30 am to 7 pm, Museum of War open Thursdays through Tuesdays 9:30 am to 7 pm.
Grounds open daily 9 am to 5 pm October 1 to March 31, villa tours Tuesdays through Sundays 9 am to 1 pm and 2 to 5 pm, Museum of War open Thursdays through Tuesdays 9 am to 1 pm and 2 to 5 pm.
Punctuating the lagoons around Venice are a few islets that are well worth visiting—and they can all be reached by vaporetto. Torcello was a city long before Venice itself (though it's hard to imagine this empty, atmospheric marsh had a 14th-century population of 20,000). All that remains now, apart from a handful of houses, is the cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, home to some spectacular 11th- and 12th-century mosaics, and a campanile offering peerless views over the northern lagoon.
Burano (pictured) was once an island of lace-makers. Though only a few artisans keep the craft alive today, it's remembered in the Museo del Merletto in the main piazza, Galuppi (39-041-730-034). The most striking thing about Burano is its brightly painted houses; locals claim the tradition began so that fishermen could spot their homes easily (although most of Burano's dwellings aren't visible from the lagoon).
Glassblowing is the famous specialty on bustling Murano, where all the city's furnaces were transferred in the 13th century to curb outbreaks of fire. Among the factory-made glass tack and the lines of tourists taking showroom tours, there are some true glass artists still working their molten-sand miracles here. There's also a stunningly beautiful painting by Giovanni Bellini in the church of San Pietro Martire, and a fascinating glimpse into the world of glassblowing in the Museo dell'Arte Vetrario (39-041-739-586).
Orta San Giulio
Tel: 39 0322 905 163
The "capital" of Lake Orta is little more than the medieval village of Orta San Giulio. The town's cobblestone streets and main square are charming, but the lake's biggest draw is Isola di San Giulio. Located just a short boat ride from the mainland, the islet is packed with picturesque buildings, including the basilica of San Giulio. According to a local legend (which carries shades of St. Patrick), Giulio surfed over to the island on his miraculously stiffened cloak, drove out the snakes that plagued it, and began building the greatest of the many churches he founded. The basilica contains frescoes from the 14th and 16th centuries and two carved likenesses of the saint in medieval Rambo poses—leaning on his sword on the Romanesque pulpit and engaged in battle with mythological beasts on a wall relief.
Basilica di San Giulio open Mondays 11 am to 12:15 pm, Tuesdays through Sundays 9:30 am to 12:15 pm and 2 to 6 pm. Open 2 pm to 6 pm in summer and 2 to 7 pm in winter.
Tel: 39 0323 30 556
The Borromeo clan has controlled much of the Maggiore region since Renaissance times and still owns most of the land on this trio of islands off the shore of Stresa. The rambling Borromeo Palace on Isola Bella ("Beautiful Island") is the showpiece, packed with Murano chandeliers, 16th-century Flemish tapestries, antique musical instruments, and Renaissance-era family tombs. The art collection includes masters such as Titian, Giordano, Zuccarelli, Jacopo da Bassano, and Giovanni Paolo Pannini. Make time to stroll the terraced formal gardens rimmed by statue-lined balustrades where you can strut along with the white peacocks.
The Borromeo Villa on Isola Madre ("Mother Island") is less impressive than the palace but has a more comfortable, lived-in feel. It's also more quirky. The mediocre baroque paintings and antiques are accompanied by weird mannequins dressed in Borromeo livery and an odd collection of puppet theater sets. A more extensive aviary collection populates the surrounding botanical gardens, including not only peacocks but also pheasants and rare roosters, and parrots and doves fluttering in cages. Pick up a map at the ticket desk that will lead you along the paths of azaleas, rhododendrons, and camellias, plus Europe's largest Kashmir cypress.
The third island in the group, the Isola dei Pescatori ("Isle of the Fishermen"), does not have a grand palace. Instead you will see some quaint village houses that are actually not owned by the Borromeos, plus the Hotel Verbano.
Borromeo Palace and Borromeo Villa open daily 9:30 am to 5:30 pm late March to late October.
Como is the most beautiful of the Italian lakes. The touristy-yet-delightful town of Bellagio, located where the main body of water meets its eastern Lecco branch, and Varenna, on the rugged eastern shore, both merit visits. Explore the lake by boattravel is effortless and the views are ever-changing. The voyage from Varenna in the east to Menaggio in the west by way of Bellagio displays all three arms of the lake in a slowly shifting choreography of water and mountains.
Garda's biggest selling point is its balmy climate: The lake acts as a gigantic solar panel; a ring of mountains stores the heat while winds help keep temperatures bearable. Around Lake Garda, places to visit include Sirmione, a green and peaceful headland covered in olive trees and cypresses; Punta Portese marks one end of the Riviera Bresciana, Garda's small-scale version of the Côte d'Azur, which takes in the towns of Salò and Gardone Riviera. Farther up the western shore is Gargnano, a perfect little port town. Between Bardolino and Peschiera is the Gardaland amusement park, the largest in Italy.
Little Iseo is perhaps the prettiest of all the lakes (if you ignore the quarry that mars part of the western shore). The small towns dotted along the coast have some modest landmarks worth exploring. You can knock them all off in a single day, including driving time. In Lovere, the Palazzo Taldini houses a gallery displaying works by Old Masters such as Jacopo Bellini, Tintoretto, and Tiepolo. The Santa Maria della Neve church in nearby Pisogne is filled with 16th-century frescoes by Romanino. The rocky terrain is best seen from the weirdly eroded pinnacle outside the town of Zone. If you're staying at I Due Roccoli, however, you'll have time to take a boat over to explore Monte Isola, a mountainous island rising from the middle of the lake with a half-dozen tiny fishing villages specked along its forested slopes.
Despite its stately bearing, grand hotels, formal gardens, and fringe of mountains, Maggiore is not highly rated by the lake cognoscenti. To unlock the lake's charm, explore its picturesque and busy central parts and southern reaches by boat, using the extensive network of ferries for short visits before retiring to its calmer shores. One of the most popular attractions is Rocco Borromeo castle in Angera on the southeastern shore. Don't miss the tiny Santa Caterina del Sasso, a wonderful church that seems to grow out of the mountainside.
Soft morning mists are a way of life on this pocket-size lake, just eight miles long and under two miles wide. Orta has a single, must-stay base town of Orta San Giulio, with cream-colored houses roofed with thick slate tiles as well as unforgettable views of Isola di San Giulio (the resident island). A lakeside central square, Piazza Motta, is overlooked by the Palazotto, a frescoed 16th-century building borne up by the stilts of a cozy loggia. Tourist tackiness is almost absent; instead, there are several delicatessens, an antiquarian bookstore, a shop specializing in period jewelry, and an excellent wine barthe cozy Enoteca Re di Coppe at Piazza Motta 32.
Tourist info: 10 Piazza Mazzini
Castiglione del Lago
Tel: 39 075 965 2484
The largest lake on the Italian peninsula, Trasimeno is a lovely place for a day out (although the weedy bottom and murky water aren't great for swimming). The main towns around the lake are picturesque Castiglione del Lago, on the western side, and sleepy Tuoro and Passignano on the north shore. From any of these, you can pick up a ferry to Isola Maggiore (timetable at www.apmperugia.it; click on "Orari," then "Navigazione del Trasimeno"). The only inhabited island of the three on the lake, Maggiore has a pretty one-street village known for its lace shops; a basic hotel, Da Sauro (39-075-826-168; www.hoteldasauro.it), with a restaurant serving grilled lake fish; and some good walks. (The entire circuit of the island takes no more than an hour.) The lake's largest island, Isola Polvese (accessed by boats from San Feliciano, on the eastern shore), is a nature reserve with a garden of aquatic plants and the remains of a 15th-century monastery.
Just south of Trasimeno, in a Tuscan-style landscape of rolling hills, stand the fine fortified villages of Paciano and Panicale—the latter home to the excellent Lillo Tatini restaurant. Further to the southeast, Città della Pieve, a handsome walled town made almost entirely of weathered brick, has an interesting claim to fame. In addition to being the birthplace of Renaissance painter Perugino (whose Adoration of the Magi adorns the little oratory of Santa Maria dei Bianchi in Via Vannucci), it also has what's allegedly the narrowest street in Italy: Vicolo delle Baciadonne, or "Kiss-lady Lane."
Lecce is rich in splendid Baroque architecture, but it's also a vibrant, youthful city with enormous brio and style. From the mid-16th century on, dozens of churches and noble palazzi were built in the local honey-colored sandstone, soft enough to encourage the area's skilled stonemasons to indulge in riotous carvings. Highlights include the Basilica di Santa Croce, an exuberant dance of angels, cherubs, symbolic fauna, and botanical festoons that was begun in 1549 and took 150 years to complete; and the Chiesa del Rosario, the final work of 17th-century genius Giuseppe Zimbalo. There's also a well-preserved Roman amphitheater near the main square, Piazza Oronzo.
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.
Manarola is just as picturesque as Vernazza, but it feels a little more reserved and privatethough privacy is a relative concept in high season, when the ease of road access from La Spezia adds to the crush of walkers and train-hoppers. The village's houses follow the 'S' shape of a narrow valleypast the Museo della Sciacchetrà, with a small display dedicated to the celebrated Cinque Terre dessert winedown to the sea, where dwellings cluster out of range of the waves on a small headland. The fishing boats hauled up on the flagstones of the harborside piazza seem placed for maximum postcard potential, but come here on a stormy day in winter when the scirocco sends the breakers crashing against the rocks, and you'll understand why the locals like to keep them up here. The station is east of town, reached via a pedestrian tunnel that emerges around halfway up the main street. Punto Bonfiglio, the headland on the other side of the harbor from the main nest of houses, hosts the village cemetery; below it is a pretty park with a summer bar and children's play area. This is the place to come for views back over the town, and it's also the starting point for the short walk to . But easily the most famous stretch of the coast path is the 20-minute stroll east to Riomaggiore, known as the Via dell'Amore. Sections of the path tunnel beneath overhanging rocks; others brush past semitropical outbreaks of aloe, prickly pears, and mock orange.
Maratea is a quietly chi-chi town with one main strolling street and more churches than bars, and it remains, so far, a well-kept secret among native tourists. At the base of the Maratea Mountains, hotels cluster along the hidden gray-sand beaches, overlooking the beautiful Cedri Riviera and the shores of the Tyrrhenian Sea. If you can, stay at the Locanda delle Donne Monache, a converted early-18th-century nunnery in the old town (see "Where to Stay").
Stylish, top-dollar resorts like Punta Ala alternate along the coast with family-oriented gelato-and-pedalò beach villages. But inland, and in the patches of coastline that are protected as nature reserves, there is a sense of wide-open spaces and remote natural beauty that is rare in densely populated Italy. To the north, the wine estates of Bolgheri make some of Tuscany's most prized reds, such as the stellar Sassicaia. Piombino, south of here, is the port for ferries to the rocky island of Elba, where Napoleon Bonaparte was sent in exile in 1814. Farther south still, the beaches at Castiglione della Pescaia get consistently high marks from Italy's Lega Ambiente (Environmental League), making it one of the most popular coastal destinations. Twenty minutes away, Vetulonia, on the site of an ancient Etruscan city, hosts a worthwhile archaeological museum; it also organizes visits to Etruscan tombs (1 Piazza Vetluna; 39-0564-948-058). About a half-hour drive south toward Monte Argentario, the Parco Naturale della Maremma (www.parks.it/parco.maremma), also known as Parco dell' Uccellina, is a vast 24,000-acre natural paradise with pristine beaches, pine forests on the estuary, and virgin woodland in the hills, all providing incredible bird-watching and hikes with magnificent views. Access is from the Alberese visitor's center (Via del Bersagliere 79; 39-0564-407-098), which also organizes guided walking and riding tours. Cars are not allowed in the park, but a jitney takes visitors to the head of the trails at Pratese, while another runs down to the long, unspoiled beach at Marina di Alberese. In mid-August, the present-day butteri gather here for the annual cattle rodeo.
If you can find somewhere to ditch your car (no easy task) as you maneuver the tortuous coast road between Positano and Amalfi, scramble down the stone steps to another timeless world in Marina di Furore. Located at the sea end of Italy's only fjord, the beautifully restored village is a cliff-hugging cluster of houses painted sunny colors and daubed with works by local artists. There's a tiny beach, a sprinkling of brightly painted boats pulled up on the strand, and a grandly named Ecomuseo housed in an old paper mill, which pays homage to such local wonders as painted houses (naturally), the extraordinary flora of the gorge, and onetime residents Anna Magnani and Roberto Rossellini—he shot his film Amore here before abandoning Magnani for Ingrid Bergman. Note that opening times are erratic.—Lee Marshall
Every day is market day in Bologna. Locals and tourists alike haggle for fresh fruits and veggies, spiffy leather handbags, and antique furniture at these center-city street fairs. (Watch your wallet though: Pickpockets have been known to "shop" there too.)
The largest is La Piazzola (Piazza VIII Agosto, 348/006-2204, every Friday and Saturday), a great place to pick up shoes, crafts, fabrics, and a huge selection of vintage clothes. For produce and seafood, don't miss the Mercato di Mezzo (Via Pescherie Vecchie) and Mercato delle Erbe (Via Ugo Bassi, 051/230-186).
Collectors love bargaining for antiques and knickknacks at Celo' Celo' Mamanca (Piazza San Martino and Via Valdonica every Thursday) and San Stefano (Via San Stefano, second Sunday of the month except July and August). The Decomela market (Via San Giuseppe) is the place for arts and handicrafts.
There are ten regular markets and various seasonal markets selling holiday sweets and Christmas decorations. Check the tourism office's Web site for the entire schedule (iat.comune.bologna.it), click on the link for "events" and then go to "markets").
4A Via Guido Reni
Tel: 39 06 321 0181
The 2010 inauguration of MAXXI—the National Museum of 21st-Century Arts, designed by Iraqi-born, London-based architect Zaha Hadid—shook up Rome's complacent exhibition scene, finally providing the city with a dramatic space for contemporary art. This stunning, sinuous architectural masterpiece in the northern Flaminio suburb (a short walk from Rome's other contemporary catalyst, the Auditorium) is worth a visit for the building alone. The museum's remit also covers displays of modern and contemporary architecture. Although MAXXI's permanent collection is still very much in its infancy, the shows organized so far, though hardly blockbuster in nature, have exploited the magnificent container to the hilt.—Lee Marshall
Open Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays 11 am to 7 pm, Thursdays and Saturdays 11 am to 10 pm.
Montalcino is famous for Brunello, probably Italy's most famous red wine—and also one of the most expensive. Combine history and enology with a visit to the formidable Rocca, a 14th-century fortress with a wine bar offering tastes of various local vintages (Piazzale Fortezza; 39-0577-849-211; www.enotecalafortezza.it). Five miles south on a lovely country road, the Abbey of Sant'Antimo (39-0577-835-659; www.antimo.it), a Romanesque masterpiece with an interior partially decorated in translucent alabaster, has beautiful light. It also enjoys magnificent acoustics, as you will hear if you catch the traditional Gregorian chant sung seven times daily by the community of French monks that recently recolonized this formerly abandoned monastery. Between Montalcino and Sant'Antimo, the collection of rural artifacts, photos, and documents at the Museo della Comunità di Montalcino e del Brunello on the Fattoria dei Barbi estate is well worth a look.
Once an island, rocky Monte Argentario is now connected to the mainland via two long, sandy spits: the Tombolo della Giannella to the north and the southern Tombolo della Feniglia, a nature reserve where roe deer graze under the umbrella pines. Halfway along a third, central spit is the walled town of Orbetello, a former Spanish colony that still has a relaxed Andalusian vibe; the surrounding lagoon is famous for its eels…and mosquitoes. On Argentario itself, sun, sea, and water sports are the main draws in Porto Ercole and Porto Santo Stefano, the peninsula's two main towns. At the Cala Galera Marina (www.marinacalagalera.com) in Porto Ercole, you can charter a private yacht or sailing boat with or without crew, or take dive courses at the Mahaba Diving Center (39-0564-831-187;www.mahabadiving.it). Ferries (including car ferries) leave Porto Santo Stefano six times daily in high season for the beautiful island of Giglio, and once a day at 10 a.m on Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday (passengers only), returning at 4 p.m., for the smaller, wilder island of Giannutri (39-0564-812-920; www.maregiglio.it). Both places are wonderful for hiking and diving.
Monterosso is the only one of the Cinque Terre villages that even begins to resemble a seaside resort. Significantly larger than the other four villages, and with the lion's share of the hotels, it also boasts two sandy beachesa rare commodity around these parts. The main beach faces the old town at the mouth of the Buranco River valley. From here, beyond the handsome 12th-century church of San Giovanni Battista, the main street winds uphill, lined with shops selling Sciacchetrà dessert wine and other local products. Back at the beach, a pedestrian tunnel leads to the seaside promenade, Via Fegina, which is also where you'll find the train station (note that this is the only one of the Cinque Terre train stations where you can buy long-distance train ticketsfor Rome, Venice, or Florence, for example). Fegina Beach, a safe (though crowded) option for families with children, is a long, narrow strand that ends at an odd rock-perched sculpted figure known as Il Gigante. Monterosso's once-flourishing fishing industry survives in the Centro di Salagione, a modern space dedicated to an ancient art: the salting of the prized "red anchovies" that are found in these waters. You can sample them for free and buy anchovy paste and other products here (2/4 Via Servano).
14 Via Don Minzoni
Tel: 39 051 649 6611
Inaugurated in December 2007, the Museo di Arte Moderna di Bolognaa.k.a. MAMbofinally gives the city a contemporary art space worthy of its reputation as a creative hotbed. Housed in the former municipal bakery, not far from the train station, the new museum hosts regular exhibitions, performances, film screenings, and concerts. There's also a permanent collection (previously exhibited in the Galleria d'Arte Moderna), with works of mostly local artists from the end of the 18th century to the present day. A well-stocked bookshop and funky café-restaurant complete the MAMbo experience.
Open Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays through Sundays 10 am to 6 pm, Thursdays 10 am to 10 pm.
33 Via Zamboni
Tel: 39 051 209 9398
The present-day home of the University Rectorate as well as a number of faculties, Palazzo Poggi is a huge frescoed pile that dates back to the mid-16th century. On the upper floor, a series of museums and exhibition spaces chart the history and scientific pursuits of the university. Highlights include naturalist Ulisse Aldrovandi's herbarium and collections of natural wonders (including giant tortoise shells), and an extraordinary (and often gruesome) collection of wax anatomical and medical models. The Museo della Specola, housed in a purpose-built observatory that dates back to 1721, features astrolabes, sundials, and armillary spheres. The spiral staircase that leads to the top of the tower was the site of a 1790 experiment that allowed Gian Battista Guglielmi to prove that the earth spins on its axisby observing the tiny vertical deviations of objects dropped from the top.
Open Mondays through Fridays 10 am to 1 pm, Saturdays 2 to 4 pm, and Sundays and public holidays 10:30 am to 1:30 pm and 2:30 to 5:30 pm.
1 Piazza San Marco
Tel: 39 055 238 8608
A testament to the work of painter–monk Fra Angelico, this museum is housed in the Dominican convent of San Marco. Fra Angelico was arguably the most spiritual artist of the 15th century, and his paintings can be seen in the setting for which they were intended. One of his most famous works, the Annunciation, is at the top of the main stairs on the first floor, while his great Last Judgment altarpiece is in the Pilgrim's Hospice. He also painted the frescoes in the corners of the cloister of Sant Antonio and, with the help of various assistants, those in the small monk's cells.
Open Tuesday through Friday 8:15 a.m. to 1:50 p.m.; Saturday 8:15 a.m. to 6:50 p.m.; first, third, and fifth Monday of month 8:15 a.m. to 1:50 p.m.; second and fourth Sunday 8:15 a.m. to 7 p.m.
3 Via Cavalieri Ducati
Tel: 39 051 641 3343
A sharply designed tribute to the city's legendary red motorbikes and 50 years of motorcycle racing, the Ducati Museum is housed in an annex of the company's factory in the eastern suburbs of Bologna. The main area consists of an illuminated racetrack on which 33 bikesfrom the cute postwar Cuccciolo to the mighty modern Desmosediciare arranged in chronological order. Seven themed rooms then take visitors through the history and significant technical advances of the company in more detail. Admission is via guided tour: Weekdays require booking, but on Saturdays, just arrive and hook up with a tour.
Tours Mondays through Fridays from 11 am to 4 pm, Saturdays 9:30 am to 1 pm.
4 Via del Proconsolo
Tel: 39 055 238 8606; advance tickets 39 055 294 883
The Bargello occupies a rather forbidding building that was once the city jail; the romantic Gothic courtyard was the site of the gallows and chopping block. Today, the museum houses a fabulous collection of sculpture by Michelangelo, Donatello, Benvenuto Cellini, Giambologna, and others. On the ground floor, don't miss Cellini's bronze bust of Cosimo I, Giambologna's famous Mercury, and Michelangelo's Pitti Tondo. Upstairs, look out for Donatello's St. George and his androgynous bronze David.
Open Tuesday through Saturday 8:15 a.m. to 1:50 p.m. Also open (same times) first, third, and fifth Monday of month and second and fourth Sunday.
6 Piazza Maggiore
Tel: 39 051 203 332
This museum is located on the top floor of 14th-century Palazzo d'Accursio (Bologna's town hall). Giorgio Morandi, the city's most famous contemporary artist, was obsessed by still lifes, painting endless arrangements of bottles, jars, jugs, and the occasional tin. On rare occasions, just to vary the diet, he painted what he could see from the window of his studio: rooftops or a tangle of trees in the courtyard. His study and writings are also on display here.
Open Tuesdays through Fridays 9 am to 3 pm; Saturdays, Sundays, and public holidays 10 am to 6:30 pm.
However many artistic or gastronomic treasures they contain, some of Rome's rioni (districts) simply fail to become household names. Take San Lorenzo, for example, southeast of Termini station and right beside the campus of Rome's main university. With its hip restaurants, cutting-edge galleries, and Soho-like lofts, this shabby-chic district, built in the 1880s for railway workers, buzzes with students and Romans in the know. For many decades, the Esquiline district, south and west of the station, was grim; endless blocks of stolid apartment blocks were built in the 1870s over what had been some of classical and Renaissance Rome's greatest estates. But an influx of African and Asian immigrants in the 1980s has made this into Rome's most vibrant ethnic area; its Piazza Vittorio produce market has kosher meat and Indian spices as well as the usual Italian goodies (Via Lamarmora, Monday through Saturday mornings). The Esquiline backs onto Monti, an altogether more picturesque rione of narrow streets and some great little shops. The small grid of streets making up the Celio district is visited by swarms of tourists gasping for bottled water after their hike around the Colosseum. Few stay long enough to learn where they've ended up, to enjoy the little cafés, to visit the fascinating churches of San Clemente (Via San Giovanni in Laterano) and Santi Quattro Coronati (20 Via dei Santi Quattro), or to rest in the shady Villa Celimontana park.
40 Borgo Ognissanti
The church of Ognissanti, or All Saints, has a grand Baroque facade that was designed in 1672, but was actually founded in the 13th century by the Umiliati. Sandro Botticelli and Amerigo Vespucci are buried here, and there is some fine art, including frescoes and a St. Jerome by Ghirlandaio, a St. Augustine by Botticelli, and works by Taddeo and Agnolo Gaddi in the sacristy. But the jewel lies in the adjacent refectory of the old convent (open Mon, Tues, and Sat 9 a.m.–noon). Here you'll find one of Domenico Ghirlandaio's most famous works, his fresco of the Last Supper or Cenacolo.
Open 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 4 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. daily.
1 Via dell'Arte della Lana
Tel: 39 055 284944
Orsanmichele demonstrates just how closely religion and trade were intertwined in medieval Florence. First a chapel on a Benedictine monastery, it was turned into a granary, which at the beginning of the 14th century became a kind of secular temple to the city's powerful trade guilds. This explains the building's odd foursquare appearance, and also the statues of the guilds' patron saints on the exterior—each one commissioned from a leading sculptor. Today, those on the outside are copies: The restored originals, including Donatello's St. Mark and Ghiberti's remarkable bronze John the Baptist, are housed inside. Note that the museum is only open on a Sunday due to ongoing restoration, but the once impenetrable church, with its splendid Gothic Madonna and Saints by Bernardo Daddi, now has regular opening times.
Church open Tuesday through Friday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Tourist info: 24 Piazza Duomo
Tel: 39 076 334 1772
If you visit only one sight in Umbria, make it Orvieto's majestic Duomo, or cathedral (Piazza Duomo; 39-076-334-1167). If Florence's Duomo is a monument to the arts and the technical know-how of the Renaissance, Orvieto's mother church celebrates the cultural refinement of the Middle Ages—at least on the outside. The foundation stone was laid in 1290, and although it was more than three centuries before the huge, intricate edifice was completed, the artisans who built the cathedral stayed true to its original medieval plan. The facade includes delicate, 14th-century sculptures of Old Testament scenes; inside are the colorful Last Judgment frescoes of Luca Signorelli, who was a major influence on Michelangelo.
Built atop a steep-sided bluff of volcanic rock that looks like something out of Monument Valley, Orvieto's dramatic and rather precarious position is belied by the air of quiet prosperity in the town itself, with its bookshops, cafés, theater, and highly rated restaurants. Vineyards fill the flat expanse of the volcanic floor below the town; if you want to buy wine, there are any number of enotecas in the old town—or you could head for the sales outlet of the reputable producer Cardeto, where bottles made with Orvieto's eponymous white grapes are offered at cellar-door prices (51 Via Angelo Costanzi; 39-076-330-0594).
717 Viale dei Romagnoli
Tel: 39 06 5635 8099
Ostia Antica is Rome's answer to Pompeii, and though it lacks the volcano backdrop, it is every bit as impressive. In fact, when it comes to atmosphere, ancient Rome's port, which reached its peak in the first and second centuries A.D., wins hands down. It's an intimate, lived-in kind of place. You can wander into the neighborhood taberna (bar), where wall paintings depict some of the dishes on offer and the refrigeration system consists of huge jars sunk into the floor. There are corn mills, their grindstones still in place. Offices of shipping companies in the Forum of the Corporation have floor mosaics showing the commodities dealt in, while the public latrine must have been a great place to pick up the day's gossip. During the summer, plays and concerts are staged in the towering Roman theater (bring mosquito repellent and a cushion for the stone seats). The program of events can be found at www.cosmophonies.com. To reach Ostia Antica, take the train from Roma–Lido station (20 minutes), which is next to Piramide metro station.
Open Tuesdays through Sundays 9 am to one hour before sunset.
Paestum is the site of the only well-preserved Greek temples north of Sicily. Originally named Poseidonia, the city was founded in the seventh century B.C. by the Sybarites on the all-important trade route along the west coast. The Romans took over in 273 B.C. and Latinized the name to Paestum. Famous for flowers, the area prospered until the end of the Roman era. Today, the forests have been cleared, and the majestic ruins of the city stand in the open on the green plain.
The Venetian contemporary-art empire of French luxury-goods magnate François Pinault now covers the Grand Canal–facing Palazzo Grassi and the superbly restored 15th-century Punta della Dogana customs warehouses at the tip of Dorsoduro, across the lagoon from St. Mark's Square. Once an exhibition space owned by car manufacturer Fiat, 18th-century Palazzo Grassi was taken over by Pinault in 2005 and refurbished by architect Tadao Ando to stage major shows of contemporary art—most of it drawn from Pinault's own collection. Ando was also behind the makeover of the Punta della Dogana space, which opened in 2009. Critics complain that neither venue is being used—as initially promised—for shows of anything but Pinault's possessions, but most contemporary-art fans can find something to love in the selections from this mighty repository that go on show at the two venues. And the Punta in particular is worth a visit as a fascinating piece of architecture in its own right.
Palazzo Grassi open Wednesdays through Mondays 10 am to 7 pm during exhibitions only. Punta della Dogana open Wednesdays through Mondays 10 am to 7 pm during exhibitions only.
Tel: 39 041 5200 345
One of the most important stately homes in Venice was finally opened to the public at the end of 2008, after a huge restoration project that felt like it would never end. Pay a visit before the word gets out, as this imposing Renaissance palace near Campo Santa Maria Formosa—which belonged to a 16th-century Patriarch of Aquileia, Cardinal Grimani—is for the time being a deliciously exclusive and uncrowded place to while away an hour or so. Grimani was a cultured man whose vast collection of classical statuary formed the nucleus of Venice's Museo Archeologico. The obligatory guided tour leads you through a series of lofty rooms, some with delightful decorative plaster moldings, others with spectacular ceiling frescoes of bird-filled vegetation by landscape painter Camillo Mantovano; with hardly any furniture to impede your sight lines, this is the Venetian palazzo in all its untrammeled splendor. The only downside is that for the time being, at least, tours are in Italian only; they depart at 9:30 am, 11:30 am, and 1:30 pm Tuesdays through Sundays, cost about $12, and need to be booked in advance (this part you can do in English).
3 Via Cavour
Tel: 39 055 276 0340
The main reason for visiting this solid 15th-century palazzo, built by Michelozzo, and now the city's prefettura, is to see Benozzo Gozzoli's delightful Cappella dei Magi on the first floor. The frescoes of the Procession of the Magi fill the tiny chapel from floor to ceiling and are exquisitely painted in jewel-like colors with faces of public figures of the day easily recognizable among the lively crowd scene. Gozzoli himself can be spotted among the crowd on the right-hand wall, with his name helpfully written on his red hat.
Open 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day except Wednesday.
This enormous 15th-century palace was built for wealthy banker Luca Pitti as a poke in the eye to the Medici; less than a century later, his impoverished family was forced to sell the place to their rivals. The Palazzo contains a number of separate museums, some of which have a decidedly niche appeal (anyone for the Porcelain Museum?). If time is limited, head straight for the Galleria Palatina, a series of lavish, frescoed rooms where Grand Duke Cosimo I's collection of 15th- to 17th-century paintings are hung floor to ceiling on damask walls. Don't miss Lippi's Tondo of the Madonna and Child or Raphael's Holy Family or his Madonna della Seggiola. But there is a lot more besides, including paintings by Titian, Van Dyke, Rubens, Velázquez, Perugino, and Caravaggio. Of the other museums, the Museo degli Argenti is probably the most worthwhile: It's not just silver but a whole range of luxe objets commissioned by a family anxious to show off its wealth in gewgaws made of rock crystal, lapis lazuli, and ostrich eggs. Behind the palace, you'll find Giardino Di Boboli.
Galleria Palatina & Appartamenti Reali
Tel: 39 055 238 8611
Open April through December, Tuesday through Saturday 8:15 a.m. to 6:50 p.m. Closed January, February, and March, open by appointment only (Firenze Musei; 055 294 883).
Museo degli Argenti
Tel: 39 055 238 8709
Open November through February 8:15 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily; March 8:15 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily; April, May, September, October 8:15 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. daily; June to August 8:15 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. daily.
Tel: 39 055 2776 461
Though Florence is known the world over as one of Italy's great città d'arte, it had long suffered from a dearth of temporary exhibition spaces. That is, until 2006, when Palazzo Strozzithe imposing home of Renaissance banker and power-monger Filippo Strozziwas renovated with this purpose in mind. Under the tutelage of dynamic British-Canadian general director James Bradburne, the Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi has quickly become a rival to Palazzo Grassi in Venice or the Scuderie del Quirinale in Rome for the quality of its shows, which have taken in subjects as diverse as Cézanne, the history of fashion, and Chinese art from the Han to Tang dynasties. The galleries are also child-friendly (still a rarity in Italy), with kid-oriented panels and interactive discovery rooms. The Strozzina gallery in the former stables downstairs is dedicated to more contemporary exhibitions, sometimes thematically linked to the shows upstairs. Concerts and film series are also staged here, and there's a café in the grand central courtyard, which is a free Wi-Fi zone.
Palermo , Sicily
Every era of Palermo's complex history has been stamped into the stone, making the city a palimpsest of Arabic, Norman, and Baroque architecture. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Santa Maria Assunta cathedral in Quattro Canti (the city's central "Four Corners" crossroads). The cathedral incorporates a Norman apse, Gothic portico, neoclassical interior, Baroque cupola, and even remnants of the tenth-century mosque that predated it.
The magnificent Capella Palatina, in the Palazzo dei Normanni, is the city's most gorgeous example of Norman architecture. Within the Norman royal palazzo, this mid-12th-century chapel glitters with mosaics, gold, polished stone, and colored glass; its painted, coffered ceiling depicts scenes from the Old Testament. The nearby 12th-century ruined monastery of San Giovanni degli Eremiti, with its Norman bell tower and Islamic cupolas, is a lovely confluence of architectural styles—and surrounded by subtropical gardens of pomegranate and jasmine. And if you can't make it to the ruins of Selinunte, the city's Museo Archeologico, housed in a 16th-century convent, contains some beautiful carvings and statuary from the site (www.regione.sicilia.it).
If you're after a full sensory experience in a spectacular historic building, visit the 1897 Teatro Massimo, Italy's largest theater, for an operatic performance of Verdi or Puccini (www.teatromassimo.it). Another kind of sensory overload can be had at the casbah-like Vucciria Market, which fills the side streets of Piazza San Domenico every day but Sunday. Here, locals can be seen haggling with vendors over every imaginable kind of produce: cuts of meat, fish, octopus, giant piles of fruits, vegetables, and herbs. It's not a relaxing place to wander (in Italian, vucciria means "clamor" or "hubbub," which is right on the money), but it's unforgettable.
Both Ascea Marina and the neighboring locality of Casalvelino have pretty beaches, but the best ones of all can be found in the rugged terrain around Palinuro. This town, which has a small museum of archaeological finds, takes its name from Aeneas' pilot, Palinurus, who is supposedly buried here. Beyond Palinuro, the sandy coast curves back north into the Gulf of Policastro, where there are two more pleasant beach villages, Scario and Sapri, which mark the southern boundary of Campania.
Piazza della Rotonda
Tel: 39 06 6830 0230
Nearly 2,000 years after it was erected by Emperor Marcus Agrippa, the Pantheon is still one of the most impressive buildings in the world. A 141-foot-diameter dome—whose radius perfectly matches its height—looms over the hushed interior, which originally housed a temple to Rome's 12 most important deities. Reconsecrated as a church in A.D. 609, it became the burial place of kings when united Italy was briefly a monarchy. The tomb of Raphael is tucked away in a quiet niche.
Open Mondays through Saturdays 8:30 am to 7:30 pm, Sundays 9 am to 6 pm.
Palazzo Venier dei Leoni
Tel: 39 041 240 5411
When poor little rich girl Peggy Guggenheim's personal art collection was turned down by London's Tate Gallery in 1949, she brought it to Venice. It was a lucky windfall for the city. Guggenheim moved herself and her 20th-century collection—much of it produced by the men she collected, including Roland Penrose, Yves Tanguy, and Max Ernst—into the delightful Palazzo Venier dei Leoni on the Grand Canal. The collection, which grew to incorporate works by Dalí, Klee, Picasso, Mondrian, Duchamp, de Kooning, Pollock, and Man Ray, among others, is now a must-see for modern-art buffs.
Open Wednesdays through Mondays 10 am to 6 pm.
Tourist info: 18 Piazza Matteotti
Tel: 39 075 573 6458
The regional capital of Umbria isn't nearly as famous as the big art towns in neighboring Tuscany. So instead of battling through tourist crowds like you would in Florence or Siena, you'll largely be exploring this cultured, historic town in the company of friendly, laid-back locals. If you're driving, you'll need to negotiate a confounding maze of one-way streets, so it's best to leave the wheels behind in the well-marked Piazza dei Partigiani parking lot and take the escalator up past the subterranean remains of medieval streets and houses to Piazza Italia, a leafy square with panoramic views.
From there, the café-lined pedestrian street of Corso Vannucci (don't miss the historic bar-pasticceria Sandri) leads conveniently to both of the city's major sights. First comes Perugia's massive Gothic town hall, Palazzo dei Priori, which houses the Galleria Nazionale dell'Umbria, a one-stop display of the best art from regional masters like Perugino and Pinturicchio alongside a few Tuscan interlopers like Piero della Francesca and Fra' Angelico (19 Corso Vannucci; 39-075-574-1413). Just beyond is Piazza IV Novembre, dominated by the Fontana Maggiore, a gorgeous fountain built in the 1290s by father-and-son team Nicola and Giovanni Pisano.
The city's cosmopolitan air is partly due to the presence of the Università Italiana per Stranieri, which runs courses in Italian language and culture for foreigners. Perugia is also the venue for the country's most important jazz festival, Umbria Jazz, which takes place in July, with a short winter reprise in Orvieto at the end of December (39-075-573-2432; www.umbriajazz.com).
This monumental square, dominated by the somber Palazzo Vecchio and its iconic tower, has been Florence's administrative hub for hundreds of years, and it still functions as city hall today. It is home to several vast statues (including copies of Michelangelo's David and Donatello's Judith and Holofernes), a monumental fountain by Ammannati featuring a rather thuggish Neptune, and a plaque marking the spot where rabble-rousing priest Savonarola burned in 1498. Today, it's lined with cafés and restaurants, and on warm summer nights it becomes an impromptu theater for all kinds of street performers and a general hangout for backpackers. Inside the Palazzo Vecchio are acres of frescoes depicting the Medici family's leading figures and feats. It's worth signing up for one of the Percorsi Segreti guided tours that give access to normally off-limits parts of the building. Some of these tours are in English, but times vary: Take your chances by turning up in the morning (9:30 and 11 are good bets), or book here for the following day.
Palazzo Vecchio open 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Thursday 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
For a stunning view of Florence, head up to Piazzale Michelangelo, a panoramic viewing platform that perches above the south bank of the Arno. The huge square, dominated by a copy of Michelangelo's David, is usually crowded with tour groups, buses, and smiling tourists having their picture taken against the spectacular backdrop of the city. But it's worth braving the milling crowds for the stunning, iconic view, especially on a clear day.
This huge pedestrian square is the center of Bolognese life. It's a great place for people-watching (locals on their daily strolls, well-dressed workers sitting at café tables sipping their cappuccinos, children squealing at street performers) or for starting a guided tour (information and times at the IAT tourist office in the square), as most major attractions and historical monuments are within walking distance. The piazza is also flanked by several architectural gems: the Palazzo d'Accursio (whose clock tower is Bologna's Big Ben), Palazzo Podesta (the city's law court in the 14th century), and the imposing Basilica di San Petronio, with its rugged, unfinished facade.
When Napoleon and his army descended on Venice in 1797, the French general described this immense open public space—almost 40,000 square feet—as "the drawing room of Europe." He then set about making it his own, by commissioning a statue of himself to be erected in the square. The Museo Correr, in the southwest corner of the square, now houses remnants of Napoleon's short-lived reign (including his statue), along with a marvelous collection of historic globes, weapons, and works of art by Tintoretto, Vittore Carpaccio, and Antonello da Messina. Paying the entry fee here gives you access to other attractions around the piazza, like the Museo Archeologico and Biblioteca Marciana (St. Mark's Library), with its collection of historic tomes. You'll also be able to visit the Doge's Palace, the hulking Gothic structure that was the nerve center of the Venetian Republic; take the Itinerari segreti guided tour to see the difference between the frescoed, gilded public rooms and the spartan offices where the real business was done. One of the piazza's two towers, the Campanile, is, at 325 feet, the tallest structure in Venice; climb to the top for a breathtaking view over the city. The 15th-century Torre dell'Orologio (clock tower) was unveiled in late 2006 after a seemingly interminable restoration, and now visitors can finally climb up and see the inner workings of the clock from inside and take in the view of the piazza from the roof terrace.
Torre dell'Orologio: Open for guided visits only; English tours Mondays through Wednesdays at 10 and 11 am and 1 pm; Thursdays through Sundays at 1, 2, and 3 pm. Call ahead to reserve.
At the heart of the buzzing, boho-chic Oltrarno district is this lovely shady square in the shadow of its parish church. This edifice was Brunelleschi's last work, and he died before it was completed; the unadorned facade has become a symbol of this bustling area that's full of character. At night, the action heats up as bars and restaurants fill with preclubbers. In the summer months, the piazza turns into an open-air bar and live-music venue.
Rome is a series of villages. And as in all Italian villages, life revolves around the piazza. Admittedly, few villages can lay claim to squares as gloriously theatrical as Piazza Navona, with Bernini's melodramatic Four Rivers fountain at its heart. Or to anything as elegantly urbane as Piazza di Spagna, from which the Spanish Steps ascend.
In centuries past, the piazza was where markets were set up, executions took place, business was done, or papal edicts were pronounced. Piazza del Popolo combined many of these functions and was also Rome's main gateway, standing at the end of the Via Flaminia, which carried travelers and pilgrims from the north. A makeover in the early 19th century by Giuseppe Valadier gave it its current neoclassical look, while a car ban in the 1990s restored its elegance. Campo de' Fiori, on the other hand, was and still is resoundingly a market square, packed with food shoppers every morning but Sunday. Once, though, it was also used for executions: A Darth Vader–like monument reminds us that the Inquisition burned unorthodox philosopher Giordano Bruno at the stake here in 1600. Piazza Vittorio Emanuele is Rome's largest square; its rather dull modern gardens contrast with the ramshackle vibrancy of the surrounding neighborhood, which today houses much of the city's Asian and African communities. Piazza Venezia, dominated by a bombastic waste of marble known as the Altare della Patria, is one big traffic intersection. A diminutive fountain, adorned by bronze sculptures of mossy boys hoisting turtles into the bowl at the top, makes tiny Piazza Mattei in the Ghetto arguably the city's most charming square.
28 Via Brera
Tel: 39 02 722 631
Milan's most worthwhile picture gallery is housed on the upper story of the city's still-functioning art academy. Take time over rooms six to nine of this chronological collection, home to some real Renaissance gems, including Andrea Mantegna's Dead Christ (a dazzling exercise in foreshortening), Giovanni Bellini's moving Pietà, and Tintoretto's dynamic Miracle of Saint Mark. Other standout canvases in later rooms include Raphael's Marriage of the Virgin and Piero della Francesca's Pala Montefeltro, with its oddly stiff, posed portrait of 15th-century warlord Federico da Montefeltro in celestial company.
56 Via delle Belle Arti
Tel: 39 051 420 9411
The city's main gallery features a heavyweight collection of paintings of the Bolognese and Emilian schools from the 14th century to the present, including works by Vitale da Bologna, Raphael, Perugino, the Carracci brothers, and Guido Reni. Highlights include Raphael's exquisite Ecstasy of Santa Cecilia and Reni's gloriously camp Samson Victorious.
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.
Slow-paced Pistoia is relatively tourist-free, but a stroll through its beautifully preserved pedestrian historical center is a must. The impressive duomo (Piazza del Duomo), with a three-tiered loggia and a portico supported by elegant columns, contains a real prize in the chapel of San Jacopo, where the precious silver altar-frontal was crafted by Tuscany's greatest silversmiths from 1287 up until about 1450. The two figures on the left side are by Brunelleschi, later to become the great architect of the cupola on Florence's duomo. Make sure you pass by the Ospedale del Ceppo (Piazza Ospedale), still a functioning hospital after 600 years, to see the wonderful exterior Della Robbia ceramic frieze. On the border between the provinces of Lucca and Pistoia, just outside the village of Collodi, the Parco di Pinocchio (3 Via San Gennaro; 39-0572-429-342; www.pinocchio.it) is a theme park devoted to the world's most famous wooden puppet (author Carlo Lorenzini took "Collodi" as his pen name because his mother worked here). The park features bronze sculptures of the characters and scenes from the book put together by contemporary artists. It's a fine place for a picnic, but don't go expecting a little Disneyland: There are no rides, just plenty of Pinocchio-inspired art, a maze, and lots of space to run around. See Tuscan Gardens for some of the other historic gardens near Pistoia.
Crossing the Arno at its narrowest point, the 14th-century Ponte Vecchio is one of the most famous bridges in the world. Today it is lined on both sides with quaint shops selling gold and silver jewelry (a mix of upscale and cheaper outlets), but until Cosimo de' Medici kicked them out in the mid-1500s, it housed the city's butcher shops. The Corridoio Vasariano, Cosimo I's secret passageway linking the Palazzo Vecchio to Palazzo Pitti, runs along the eastern side. It was the only bridge in Florence saved from destruction during the German bombing raids in 1944, and it stood up to the disastrous flood of 1966, though the force of the water smashed through many of the shops and carried away a wealth of gold, much of which has never been found.
It's worth stopping off at Velia to catch a boat along the coast to the Grotto degli Infreschi, an idyllic pirates' cove of a beach, with water a shade of blue-green you thought existed only on celluloid. This small natural harbor once sheltered fishermen during thunderstorms. The beach can also be reached on foot, but you'll need to ask a local for directions, as the first part of the journey is unsigned.
This tiny harbor, circled by the gaily painted facades of what were once fishermen's houses but have since become millionaire's retreats, is excessively pretty. The high water mark of the Portofino legend came in the '50s, when a procession of film stars came to stay (many of them friends of Rex Harrison, who owned a villa here). By 1954, the picturesque fishing port was so well known that it became a film location itself, in Joseph Mankiewicz's The Barefoot Contessa. This is where you'll find the Splendido, a former monastery, then a patrician villa, and now one of Europe's most exclusive, and expensive, hotels. Though cruise ships and bus tour parties have since democratized the Portofino experience, the place still retains an aura of exclusivitypartly thanks to stringent local planning regulations. There's not much to do here except sip an aperitivo down by the port (try La Gritta, at 20 Calata Marconi, with its floating pontoon terrace), browse the luxury brand boutiques, or wander up to the Castello Brown, the castle that dominates the harbor and that takes its name from the English consul who turned it into a private residence in 1870. You could also try for lunch at Puny, the most celebrated of Portofino's waterside restaurants. There's another side to Portofino, though, that has more to do with nature and hiking boots than dry martinis. The rocky, densely wooded promontory behind the town has long been a regional park, and several marked footpaths traverse it. One of the best is the two-hour trek via Pietre Strette to San Fruttuoso, a 10th-century Benedictine abbey that stands in a tiny inlet. You can continue across to San Rocco on the other side of the promontory. This stone village offers extraordinary views down the coast toward Genoa, and a fine end-of-trek trattoria, La Cucina di Nonna Nina. San Fruttuoso can also be reached by boat, from Portofino or Camogli.
Though it's not strictly one of the Cinque Terre villages, it would be a shame to miss out on a visit to historic Portovenere. The town lies just around the headland of San Pietro, which separates the Cinque Terre from the Gulf of La Spezia, and is best approached by sea, on one of the regular ferries that ply the coast. The houses that front the quay look as if they've been squeezed together by an angry giant: Each is one room wide but five or six stories tall, and they're all painted different pastel shades. On the hill above town is a 12th-century Genoese castle (the town was the Genoa Republic's southern bulwark against its rival Pisa), while to the south, on the rocky headland, stands the ancient church of San Pietro, a 12th-century Gothic structure in stripes of black and white marble erected on the remains of a sixth-century Paleochristian chapel. Via Cappellini, Portovenere's main street, heads uphill from the town gate; if lunch is on the agenda, the Antica Osteria del Caruggio at number 66 is a good traditional trattoria where you can sample local dishes like mesciua, a chickpea and pearl barley soup (39-01-8779-0617). Small ferries cross the narrow channel between the port and the island of Palmaria, where you'll find a more up-market lunch stop, Locanda Lorena (39-08-779-2370). Another much smaller island, Tino, belongs to the Italian military and is open to the public only on September 13, the feast day of one of its early inhabitants, seventh-century hermit San Venerio.
Clinging improbably to the near-vertical coast about halfway between Amalfi and Sorrento, Positano is the best-known resort of the Costiera Amalfitana. Achingly picturesque, with its tumble of pastel-hued houses ranged in stepped ranks like spectators in an amphitheater, the town specializes in promenaders' activities—shopping, eating, sipping, boat-hopping, and, especially, people-watching. The gray shingle beach is fine for a quick dip, but most serious sun-worshippers take one of the regular boats to and from a series of smaller coves along the coast. If you're driving, be warned that the whole town has a painfully slow one-way system that can take the best part of an hour to negotiate: Best advice, if you don't have the benefit of a hotel parking lot, is to leave the car at the first space you find (not an easy task in high season) and walk—or hop on one of the regular buses.
Perched high above the hustle and bustle of the seaside, peaceful Ravello has always been the gentleman scholar of the Amalfi Coast. In the 12th and 13th centuries, the town had a thriving mercantile community, but with the end of Amalfi's maritime supremacy, the town went into rapid decline, turning it into a crumbling, atmospheric medieval Pompeii. Rediscovered by 19th-century Grand Tourists, Ravello was adopted by artists, musicians, and writers. Wagner turned the romantic gardens of Villa Rufolo into the magic garden of Klingsor, the setting for Act II of his opera Parsifal, and D. H. Lawrence wrote parts of Lady Chatterley's Lover here. Later, Gore Vidal adopted Ravello as his home. Buses from Amalfi climb the hairpin bends of the narrow Dragone Valley and deposit their cargo just outside the underpass that leads into Ravello's main square. Founded in the 11th century, the Duomo contains two exquisite 13th-century pulpits, one with delightful mosaics of Jonah and the Whale. Nearby Villa Rufolo is a historical pastiche, artfully assembled from the surviving fragments of the original medieval structure by a Scottish nobleman who bought the place in 1851. It has magnificent views over the Bay of Maiori and Gulf of Salerno and heavenly gardens that host classical music concerts between April and October. The other must-see garden in Ravello is Villa Cimbrone, a 15-minute walk through the lanes of the old town, with its rose-flanked walks and Belvedere view, lined with classical statues. The main villa (now a hotel) was the love nest of Greta Garbo and conductor Leopold Stokowski in the 1930s.—Updated by Lee Marshall
5 Viale Richard Wagner
Tel: 39 089 858422
The cultural draw in an area celebrated for dolce vita pleasures like eating, drinking, and sun-lounging is Ravello's classical music, arts, and literature festival. It brings a slew of world-class performers to the gardens of Villa Rufolo in July and August. The festival aims to generate unique events rather than simply book class acts. A long-standing tradition of the festival is the Dawn Concert, its 5 am start timed to coincide with the dramatic sunrise over the sea below. Outside of the main festival period, the Ravello Concert Society organizes a worthwhile season of classical concerts and recitals in Villa Rufolo and other atmospheric locations.—Lee Marshall
A trip on a motorino around Rome's twisting alleys can be heart-stopping for even the bravest of adventurers. That said, the adrenaline rush and the chance to see the city as the locals do may tempt you to give it a whirl. Romarent is the best of the rental agencies and also offers guided bike and scooter tours in English (7A Vicolo dei Bovari; 39-06-689-6555).
Riomaggiore is the closest of the five villages to the urban sprawl and naval dockyards of La Speziawhich provide employment for a number of localsbut the proximity has not ruined its charms. Quite the opposite, in fact: Riomaggiore comes across as one of the most confidently self-contained of the Cinque Terre villages. Tourists are welcome, but they don't stop the Riomaggioresi from getting on with their lives. The village centers on the usual main street, snaking inland and uphill; in this case, though, the tiny harbor is off to one side, almost like a separate village (and considered such by people here). It's a great place to watch the sun set over a glass of white Cinque Terre wine. Note that the cluster of houses outside the station is not downtown Riomaggiore. To get there, you can either walk through the long, well-lit foot tunnel (decorated with murals by a local artist), or if not loaded down with luggage, take the pretty scenic path that branches off from the end of Platform 3. For the Via dell'Amore footpath, see Manarola.
Via alla Rocca
Tel: 39 0331 931 300
This glowering Lombard castle was started in the 700s, though most of what you see was rebuilt between the 12th and 14th centuries by the Visconti dynasty of Milan. It was passed to the Borromeo family in 1449, who now open it to the public in part to show off their dolls. Yes, dolls. The collection is amazing, with more than 1,000 pieces going back to the 1200s, including dolls from medieval Japan and European mechanical puppets from the 1870s to 1920s. Even if you are not a fan of figurines, the castle itself is worth the trip. The great hall's stupendous frescoes were painted sometime between the late 13th and early 14th centuries to glorify the Visconti. Climb the central keep's tower for a view that sweeps over the grapevines in the inner courtyard to the lake snaking its way up into the foothills, framed by the snowy peaks of the Alps.
Open daily 9 am to 5:30 pm, mid-March to mid-October.
Puglia's wild southern promontory has been compared to Cornwall, and with its spectacular coastline, windswept interior, and deep-rooted folk traditions, it's easy to see why. Stretching south from Lecce, the Salento takes in the historic port towns of Otranto (on the Adriatic side) and Gallipoli (on the western, Ionian coast). The Salento also has some of Puglia's best beachesespecially to the west, where white sand dunes extend for miles north of the resort of Porto Cesareo, and south of Gallipoli. Inland is a primitive landscape of prickly pears, stone walls, and dusty towns, some of which turn out to harbor a few artistic treasures (don't miss the spectacular 15th-century frescoes in the church of Santa Caterina d'Alessandria in sleepy Galatina). And if you're here in summer, try to take in a performance of the tarantella at one of the many village festas. This frantic dance, set to a driving guitar, accordion, and tambourine accompaniment, was believed to cure women of the bite of the tarantula (though most anthropologists tend to agree that there's something a lot more sexual going on).
Piazza San Lorenzo
Tel: 39 055 216 634
The Medicis' parish church stands on the site of one of the city's oldest places of worship. The present building was designed by Brunelleschi; work on it began in 1421 and continued well into the 1460s. The unfinished rough brick facade contrasts with the cool, calm interior in gray pietra serena. Two fabulous bronze pulpits near the front are by Donatello; decorated with panels depicting scenes from Christ's Passion, they were his last works and had to be finished by his pupils. The second chapel on the right houses The Marriage of the Virgin by the Mannerist painter Rosso Fiorentino. Don't miss the Old Sacristy off the left transept, a decorative tour de force by Brunelleschi and Donatello. A gateway on the left of the facade leads to Michelangelo's Biblioteca Mediceo-Laurenziana (Mon–Sat 8:30 a.m.–1:30 p.m.), commissioned by Medici Pope Clement VII to house the family's priceless collection of manuscripts. The reading room is off-limits to tourists, but the vestibule with its extraordinary Mannerist staircase can be admired by all.
Open Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., also Sunday 1:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. in summer.
34 Via delle Porte Sante
Tel: 39 055 234 2731
Built in the 11th century, San Miniato is one of Tuscany's most beautiful Romanesque churches and the oldest still standing in Florence after the Baptistery. It sits on a hill above the south bank of the Arno, with fabulous views over the city. The lovely exterior has an intricately patterned green, white, and black marble facade that incorporates a glittering mosaic. The unusual interior features a raised choir built over the crypt and an intricate marble floor decorated with signs of the zodiac. Artworks include the Chapel of the Cardinal of Portugal, a beautiful tabernacle—the Cappella del Crocefisso—by Michelozzo, and the Romanesque marble pulpit in the presbytery, with its semipagan symbolism. If you visit at 4:30 p.m. in winter or 5:30 p.m. in summer, you can hear Gregorian chant.
Open April through September 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. daily; November through March Monday through Saturday 8 a.m. to noon, 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Tel: 39 051 225 442
Designed by Antonio di Vincenzo in 1390, Bologna's unfinished cathedral is one of Italy's finest and largest Gothic buildings. Of particular note, the main entrance contains a striking collection of bas-relief panels of Old Testament scenes by 15th-century sculptor Jacopo della Quercia. Inside, treasures include the country's oldest organ, an ancient sundial (a small hole in the roof provides the beam of sunlight), archways, historic glass windows, a canopy above the high altar by Vignola, and frescoes by Giovanni de Modena with scenes from Dante's Divine Comedy. The church was originally designed to be larger than St. Peter's in Rome, but the Pope called a halt to construction several centuries after work began. Today, the Basilica's wide steps are a great place to take in the everyday street theater of Piazza Maggiore.
A local 13th-century merchant, drowning during a shipwreck on Lake Maggiore, prayed to St. Catherine of Alexandria for help. She came through, and he dutifully built a chapel dedicated to his savior saint on a sheer rock wall above the deepest, most treacherous part of the lake. Over the centuries it grew into a hermitage, hanging spectacularly from the cliff side. The facade and walls contain a collage of frescoes dating from the 13th to 19th centuries (when the ruling Austrians suppressed the monastery). The building fell into disrepair until the 1980s, when the government stepped in and removed graffiti, rehabbed the frescoes, and invited a community of Dominicans to reinhabit the premises. The monks now do a brisk business selling beauty products, honeys, and liqueurs to tourists who brave the many steps down and around the cliff side to admire the brilliant lake views.
Open April through October daily 8:30 am to noon and 2:30 to 6 pm; March, daily 9 am to noon and 2 to 5 pm; November through February weekends 9 am to noon and 2 to 5 pm.
Piazza Santa Croce
Tel: 39 055 246 6105
The 13th-century Franciscan church of Santa Croce has a typical Florentine striped facade. The vast interior has an open timber roof and it houses many tombs of Florence's more notable illustrious citizens, including Michelangelo, Galileo, Ghiberti, and Machiavelli. Santa Croce's many art treasures include a beautiful marble pulpit by Benedetto da Maiano and Bernardo Rossellino's tomb of Leonardo Bruni. But it is the trecento frescoes that are particularly remarkable. The Castellani, Baroncelli, Medici, and Rinuccini chapels are all beautifully decorated, but the jewels are the Peruzzi and Bardi chapels, both frescoed by Giotto in the 14th century. A door in the south aisle leads through a cloister to Brunelleschi's Cappella dei Pazzi, one of the most influentially minimalist buildings of the Florentine Renaissance, a paean to a time when geometric perfection had a spiritual resonance.
Open Monday through Saturday 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; Sunday 1 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Piazza Santa Maria Novella
Tel: 39 055 282 187
The 13th-century Dominican church of Santa Maria Novella has a stunning black and white marble facade by Alberti. Inside, there is an extraordinary wealth of art that many visitors to Florence unjustly overlook. Highlights include: Masaccio's austere Trinità in the left nave; Giotto's superb crucifix hanging over the central aisle; the Strozzi chapel, entirely frescoed by Nardo di Cione and Andrea Orcagna; Filippino Lippi's frescoes in the Filippo Strozzi chapel; and Ghirlandaio's fresco cycle in the sanctuary behind the high altar. Reached via a separate entrance to the left of the church, the Green Cloister takes its name from the pigment used in the frescoes of scenes from Genesis by Paolo Uccello, with their giddy, experimental perspective. More fine frescoes, firmly in the Gothic tradition, are on display in the Spanish Chapel, which was used by the entourage of Eleonora of Toledo, wife of Cosimo I. While you're in the area, visit the nearby Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella.
Open Monday through Thursday and Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., closed Fridays and Sundays.
Piazza di Santa Trinita
Tel: 39 055 216 912
This 12th-century church hides several treasures behind its rather bland facade. The Sassetti chapel is decorated with frescoes of the life of St. Francis by Domenico Ghirlandaio (14481494). The lovely Adoration of the Shepherds above the altar is one of the artist's best-known works. One of the few early Quattrocento fresco cycles to have survived in the city is the Life of the Virgin in the Bartolini-Salimbeni Chapel, painted by the Sienese artist Lorenzo Monaco; the Annunciation behind the altar is also by him. In the second chapel to the left of the altar, don't miss the marble tomb of Benozzo Federighi by Luca della Robbia.
Open Monday through Saturday 8 a.m. to noon and 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.
24 Piazza Santo Stefano
Tel: 39 051 223 256
Located in a quaint cobbled square, Santo Stefano is a magnificent complex of churches, cloisters, and courtyards dating back to the fifth century, all apparently built over a Roman-era temple of Isis. Veined alabaster windows fill the Byzantine church of Santi Vitale e Agricola with a glowing orange light; next door, the 12-sided Chiesa di Santo Sepolcro, with its Roman columns and central tomb of Bolognese patron saint Petronius, feels more pagan temple than Christian shrine. Under the arcades that run along the south side of the square, young Bolognesi can be seen skating in the evenings.
36 Via di San Luca
Tel: 39 051 614 2339
A Bolognese landmark with breathtaking views, the sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca sits atop a hill two miles from the city center. Once a year, locals make the pilgrimage there to worship a Byzantine icon of the Virgin during Ascension. Nearly two and a half miles of walkway (consisting of 660 porticos) link the shrine with town and provide a shelter for the procession, which has occurred every year since 1433. Energetic visitors and joggers also make the trek on a daily basis. The path is covered all the way, so it can be done rain or shine.
Calle dei Furlani
Tel: 39 041 522 8828
One of the most charming—and unsung—Venice attractions is the Scuola di San Giorgio. Scuole (schools) were charitable institutions, set up by trades or communities between the 13th and late 19th centuries to provide dowries and educations for poor children; as these organizations grew richer, they displayed their wealthy benevolence with impressive meeting places (the Tintorettos in the Scuola Grande di San Rocco are one example). The Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni (schiavoni are Slavs, of which there were many in Venice) got Vittore Carpaccio to daub their meeting-house walls with scenes from the lives of Slavic saints: Jerome, George, and Tryphone.
Open Tues–Sat 9:30–12:30 and 3:30–6:30, Sun 9:30–12:30, April–Oct; Tues–Sat 10–12:30 and 3–6, Sun 10–12:30, Nov–March
Segesta , Sicily
The Doric temple of Segesta, about an hour's drive from Palermo, is one of the world's most magical ancient sites. Set on the edge of a deep canyon amid wild, desolate mountains, this huge, 2,500-year-old temple was never finished. On windy days, its 36 giant columns are said to act like an organ, producing mysterious and beautiful notes. The people of Segesta, the Elymians, claimed they were descendants of the defeated Trojans, and built a massive hilltop theater in Greek style above the temple. How it has survived 2,500 years of foreign invasions and earthquakes (it is situated in one of the most seismically active zones in Europe) is a puzzle. You'll need at least half a day to walk in and around the temple. The best view is from the hillside on the opposite side of the canyon, although this requires a 30-minute walk uphill.
Selinunte , Sicily
Spread over roughly a mile, this huge ruined city on Sicily's southwestern coast was founded in 628 B.C., and subsequently became one of the richest and most powerful in Ancient Greece. Today, the remains of its many temples (which are so ancient that their names are no longer known) are still astounding: Vast fragments of Doric columns have been hurled about in all directions, and colossal piles of carved marble lie where the temples once stood. Carvings from the Selinunte temples are now on display in the archaeological museum in Palermo; their quality is on a par with the Elgin marbles from the Parthenon in Athens. Before leaving the area, stroll along Selinunte's beach—the marvelous panoramas of the temples will leave you breathless.
Siracusa , Sicily
One of the most sophisticated cities in the ancient Greek world, Siracusa is also the most elegant in present-day Sicily. The historic center, located on the island of Ortygia, is connected by bridge to the mainland; among the remarkable ancient Greek monuments here is the almost-intact, fifth-century B.C. Temple of Apollo. The huge Doric columns of this temple actually lie inside the city's Byzantine cathedral; from inside it's obvious that the columns are, in fact, supporting the ceiling, roof, and structure of the church. A statue of the Virgin Mary, to whom the cathedral is dedicated, stands above the altar in the same place where, 2,500 years ago, a massive statue of Athena stood.
Just down from the cathedral on Ortygia's winding main street, Corso Umberto, is the Fountain of Arethusa, where fresh water continues to bubble up in huge quantities, just as it did in ancient Siracusa, when it was the city's main water supply.
The vast, fifth-century-B.C. Greek theater, located on the mainland in the Archaeological Park of Neapolis, looks out over the city toward the sea. This was considered one of the most important centers of Greek theater and poetry; the last tragedies of Aeschylus, including The Persians, were first performed here in his presence. Now, every May and June, a theater festival of classical tragedies and comedies performed in ancient Greek takes place (800-380-0014).
12 Via San Egidio
Tel: 39 055 2001 794
If you're suffering from Stendhal syndromeotherwise known as art overloada session at this new day spa, a five-minute walk from Piazza del Duomo, could be just the cure. Dimmed lights, scented candles, ambient music, super-simpatico staff, and clean, muted hues set the relaxed mood as soon as you walk in the door. There are six cabins for massages and beauty treatments, a heated pool, a hammam, and a basement fitness center. The wide range of treatments and massages includes Tuscan-themed wine and olive-oil scrubs. Full-day packages are also available.
Tourist info: 7 Piazza della Libertà
Tel: 39 074 323 8920; 39 074 323 8921
Before the late, great Gian Carlo Menotti established the Festival dei Due Mondi here in 1958, Spoleto was just another perfect Umbrian historic town. Now it's a whole other story. The world-famous festival of music, theater, dance, and the visual arts runs every year between the end of June to mid-July (2007's festival—the 50th anniversary—starts June 29 and ends July 15). Tickets for events need to be booked well in advance; the easiest way to do this is via the festival Web site: www.spoletofestival.it.
Of course, the festival isn't the only reason to visit Spoleto—although the town can seem comparatively subdued the rest of the year. Once an important Roman colony, the town began to take on its present shape during the Middle Ages. Spoleto's lovely Duomo dates from this period, as do some of the town's formidable walls and fortifications. The most impressive of these is the impenetrable Rocca, the town's castle, which served as a prison until 1982 (Piazza Campello; 39-340-551-0813). Below the Rocca, the bridge-aqueduct of Ponte delle Torri is both a classic photo op and a remarkable example of medieval engineering, spanning a deep wooded gorge on ten soaring pilasters (Via del Ponte). Outside the town walls are two ancient churches worth the detour: San Salvatore is one of the oldest in Italy, dating to the fourth century (Via della Basilica di San Salvatore; 39-074-349-606), while the facade of San Pietro is covered in fine Romanesque bas-reliefs of religious allegories (Strada per Monteluco; 39-074-349-796).
The tiny sovereign state of the Vatican is an essential stopover on any Roman holiday and offers enough in itself to fill days if not weeks. Consecrated in 1626, the current St. Peter's Basilica remains the symbol and heart of the Catholic church and houses Michelangelo's stirring Pietà and Bernini's spectacular tomb of Pope Alexander VII. Bernini is also responsible for the magnificent elliptical colonnade in St. Peter's Square. If you are up for the climb (and don't suffer from vertigo), take the steps up to the top of the dome for incomparable views—and a much welcome bar-café.
It would take weeks to do full justice to the overwhelming Vatican Museums, a 15-minute walk around the Vatican walls from the square, so choose the highlights that appeal to you. Besides the Sistine Chapel—with Michelangelo's Last Judgment (1512) on its altar wall and Creation (1535) on its ceiling, plus a veritable who's who of Renaissance greats on the side walls—areas not to miss are the Pinacoteca, with works by Leonardo da Vinci, Caravaggio, and Raphael; the rooms frescoed for Pope Nicholas V by Raphael; and the Pio-Clementino museum with its peerless collection of ancient sculpture. Kids will enjoy the mummies in the Egyptian museum.
Note that a strict dress code applies in St. Peter's and the Vatican Museums: You will be turned away if you have bare shoulders or bare legs above the knee. The new, shorter visiting times listed below are for individual visitors; only prepaid groups can access the museums outside of these times. Note also that closing times are those of the ticket office, not the museums, which stay open for another 75 minutes to allow visitors to complete the circuit. Check the Vatican Web site for small variations to the times and days given here (for example, over the Christmas and New Year's period).
St. Peter's Basilica
Piazza San Pietro
Tel: 39 06 6988 1662
Open daily 7 am to 6 pm, October through March; 7 am to 7 pm, April through September.
Viale del Vaticano
Tel: 39 06 6988 3333
Open Mondays through Fridays 10 am to 3:30 pm, Saturdays 10 am to 1:30 pm, March through October; Mondays through Saturdays 10 am to 12:30 pm, November through February. Open the last Sunday of each month 9 am to 12:30 pm, free of charge.
Taormina , Sicily
High on a mountain with views over the Mediterranean Sea and Mount Etna, Taormina was founded by Greeks in 395 B.C. and quickly became a city-state of major importance. Its surviving theater, the second largest in Sicily after Siracusa's, is still intact today and one of the most dramatically situated ancient Greek theaters in existence. Every year in June, the Taormina International Film Festival takes place here, with movies shown on a giant screen inside the theater (www.taorminafilmfest.it/2007/).
Taormina has some of Sicily's best beaches, including the Lido Mazzarò—a favorite of Hollywood stars in the forties and fifties and still a hot spot today—and nearby Giardini-Naxos, where the beautiful Ionian waterfront is dotted with resort hotels and chic restaurants. Visitors wanting to get farther afield can drive northwest to the adjacent town of Milazzo, the jumping-off point for ferries to the Aeolian Islands. These volcanic islands—all home to extinct volcanoes, save Stromboli—are famous for their charming towns and villages, dramatic topography, and, in the case of Vulcano, therapeutic mud baths.
Piazza della Scala
Tel: 39 02 7200 3744
After a three-year, $70-million renovation, the world's most famous neoclassical opera house reopened in December 2004 complete with two controversial new rooftop structures designed by Swiss architect Mario Botta, and some vastly improved stage machinery. Thankfully, the opulent auditorium has not been reworked, only painstakingly restored: Its tiers of ornate gilt boxes, magenta velvet seats, and elaborately carved ceiling look much as they did when the present building was inaugurated in 1778. A long-running behind-the-scenes power struggle, which culminated in 2005 with the resignation of longtime artistic director Riccardo Muti, has not dampened the locals' passion for their temple of bel canto, and it's well-nigh impossible to get tickets for the ultradressy opening night of the season on December 7 (book well in advance the rest of the year, too, if you want to be sure of a good seat). La Scala's loggionisti—the serious, not particularly well heeled opera buffs who occupy the upper-gallery seats—can be ferocious: Boos from the gallery famously prompted tenor Roberto Alagna to stride offstage during a performance of Aida in December 2006. Housed in a series of neoclassical rooms, the Museo Teatrale alla Scala consists of a rather specialized collection of vintage musical instruments, scores, and memorabilia relating to famous composers and singers associated with the opera house. But it also allows visitors a glimpse into the auditorium from one of the boxes—a privilege that is suspended only on rehearsal days.
18/32 Via della Pergola
Tel: 39 055 226 4316
The best place to hear chamber music in Florence is this gorgeous historic theater done out in splendid red and gold. Inaugurated in 1656, it is an intimate performance space with three tiers of boxes ideally suited to small-scale productions. The Amici della Musica's concert season runs from October through May and regularly features internationally known string quartets, singers, and recitalists; concerts are normally held on weekends. Besides the chamber music program, the theater hosts a full season of plays, but productions are in Italian.
16 Corso Italia
Tel: 39 055 277 9245
Opera buffs should try and catch a performance at Florence's municipal theater—also known as the Teatro Comunale—where the stagione lirica runs from September through December. More opera is on offer during the Maggio Musicale festival from late April or May through June. The theater supports a symphony orchestra, chorus, and ballet company who provide a full program of music and dance throughout the year; Zubin Mehta is the principal conductor, and standards, particularly when it comes to opera, are pretty high.
1983 Campo San Fantin
Tel: 39 041 786511
Still looking magnificent after its lengthy post-fire restoration, La Fenice opera house is a small gem of super-ornate gilt and curlicues. The theater has stood here in more or less the same form since 1792, burning down twice since then, most recently in 1996. There is a year-round program of operas, concerts, chamber music, ballets, and recitals. Though La Fenice rarely puts on performances of particularly challenging works, preferring to stage popular favorites to ensure high ticket sales, productions are generally world-class, with top international conductors appearing regularly on the podium. If classical music isn't your thing—or the ticket price tag is too high—you can visit the theater on a guided tour. Watch out, too, for the occasional free concert.—Lee Marshall
Built at the end of the 19th century around the Mattatoio—the municipal slaughterhouse—the Testaccio neighborhood has grown ever trendier over the past couple of decades. At its produce market in Piazza Testaccio (Monday through Saturday mornings), locals elbow their way between clued-in shoe-seekers who know that this is where last season's models and this season's samples end up, at ridiculously cheap prices. Dug into the sides of Monte Testaccio—a hill made of broken amphorae deposited here in ancient times from the nearby river port—are some of the city's smartest clubs and discos, such as Akab (69 Via di Monte Testaccio; 39-06-57-250-585; www.akabcave.com) and Caruso (36 Via di Monte Testaccio; 39-06-574-5019; www.carusocafedeoriente.com). For more venues, see Nightlife. Part of the former Mattatoio hosts exciting exhibits organized by MACRO, Rome's contemporary art museum (54 Via Reggio Emilia; 39-06-6710-70-400; www.macro.roma.museum).
South of Testaccio, the Ostiense district is now what Testaccio was 15 years ago: definitely not gentrified but appreciated by the cognoscenti. It is coming into its own with the completion of the first stage of a makeover of the former wholesale fruit and vegetable market—to a design by Dutch superstar architect Rem Koolhaas. In the meantime, Ostiense is home to the coolest of clubs, such as Classico Village, Goa, and La Saponeria (in Via Libetta and Via degli Argonauti), and to the Centrale Montemartini. Perhaps Rome's most striking museum, the Centrale features ancient statues in a restored power station (106 Via Ostiense; 39-06-574-8030; www.centralemontemartini.org; Tues.–Sun. 9:30 am–7 pm).
Jacopo Robusti (c. 1518–94)—better known as Tintoretto—spent most of his artistic life with a major chip on his shoulder. Until his contemporary Titian died of plague when Tintoretto was 58, he had to content himself with being labeled Venice's second-best painter. This might partially explain the sheer "look-at-me" acreage of paint he applied (with help from his workshop of two sons and a daughter) around his home city. But whatever his creative motivations, there's no denying the drama and dynamism of Tintoretto's works. Swirling motion and a striking use of color infuse his vast canvases, like The Triumph of Venice and Paradiso, in the Doge's Palace; The Last Judgment and The Israelites at Mount Sinai, in the Cannaregio church of the Madonna dell'Orto; and his masterpiece, the cycle that adorns the upper floor of the Scuola Grande di San Rocco (and that took him 24 years to complete). Second best? You be the judge.
Campo Madonna dell'Orto
Tel: 39 041 275 0642
Open Mon–Sat 10–5
SCUOLA GRANDE DI SAN ROCCO
3054 San Polo
Campo San Rocco
Tel: 39 041 523 4864
Open daily 9–5:30, April–Oct; 10–5 Nov–March
Twenty-three miles east of Rome, Tivoli was already a popular day trip when Hadrian started work on the splendid Villa Adriana in A.D. 117. For the last 19 centuries, visitors have enjoyed the grandiose gardens and ruins of the imposing villa, whose design references Hadrian’s favorite buildings from his travels abroad. Up the hill, in the town of Tivoli itself, the lavish, romantic 16th-century Villa d'Este is a striking example of Renaissance innovation and refinement. The remarkable gardens feature more than 500 ingenious fountains whose theatrical effects were a technological marvel in their day. If you're traveling by car, take the A24 motorway and exit at Tivoli; COTRAL buses (take the one marked "Autostrada") leave frequently from Ponte Mammolo metro station.
Via di Villa Adriana
Tel: 39 0774 382 733
Open daily 9 am to 5 pm, November through January; 9 am to 6 pm, February; 9 am to 6:30 pm, March and October; 9 am to 7 pm, April and September; 9 am to 7:30 pm, May through August.
1 Piazza Trente
Tel: 39 0774 332 920
Open Tuesdays through Sundays 9 am until sunset, approximately.
Tourist info: 28/29 Piazza del Popolo
Tel: 39 075 894 5416; 39 075 894 2526
Todi has been referred to as Italy's "ideal town" (the phrase was coined by Kentucky University professor Richard S. Levine, an expert in sustainable cities), and visitors to the walled village often agree. Although residents might complain that Todi is too quiet to be ideal, and too full of foreign expats to be affordable, those stopping there on holiday are almost always charmed. Scenic Piazza del Popolo is at the center, and top, of Todi's dense web of medieval streets: Here you will find the Duomo, with exquisitely carved wooden intarsia choir stalls dating to the 1520s. On the other side of the square, the tall Gothic Palazzo del Capitano, one of three medieval civic buildings in the square, hosts the Museo-Pinacoteca di Todi, a collection of artistic and archaeological bits and pieces illustrating the history of the city, housed in a series of richly decorated rooms that are as worthwhile as the collection itself (Piazza del Popolo; 39-075-894-4148; closed Mon.). Below the town walls stands the isolated and stunning Renaissance church of Santa Maria della Consolazione, worked on by various architects in the course of the 16th century (Via Circonvallazione Orvietana; 39-075-894-8482). For nine days in mid-July, the town comes alive during the Todi Arte Festival, with concerts, plays, and dance performances (www.todiartefestival.it).
Piazza di Porta Ravegnana
More than 200 towers, built by the aristocracy as symbols of wealth and power, once pierced Bologna's skyline. Thirty remain today, many incorporated into later palazzi. Two of themskewed,157-foot Garisenda and its more upright companion, 321-foot Asinelliare the city's iconic towers. You can climb Asinelli's worn wooden staircase for a panoramic view of the city; the 498 steps are a lung-busting workout. But there's a payoff: One of Bologna's best photo ops awaits up top.
Open daily 9 am to 6 pm, April through October, and 9 am to 5 pm, November through March.
Ineffably picturesque, Trastevere is a district of two halves. West of Viale Trastevere, besotted tourists mingle with the few locals who have survived the influx of foreign residents, through twisting alleys packed with bars and restaurants (which are not always the cheapest or the best, but which usually guarantee atmosphere). Every alley seems to lead eventually to Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere, where the facade of the eponymous church glows with 13th-century mosaics, as does the apse, where the scenes from the life of the Virgin are by Pietro Cavallini, a lesser-known Roman contemporary of Giotto. More of Cavallini's extraordinary work can be seen to the east of Viale Trastevere in the church of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere, where a fragment survives of his Last Judgment—an extravaganza of exquisitely colored angels' wings (2 Piazza Santa Cecilia; 39-06-589-9289; open Tues.–Thurs. 10 am–noon, Sun 11:30 am–noon). This side of Viale Trastevere is altogether a quieter, more laid-back neighborhood.
6 Viale Alemagna
Tel: 39 02 724 341
Erected in the 1930s, this lofty pavilion on the edge of the Parco Sempione gardens has found new life as an exhibition venue and design center after years of decline. Originally built for a triennial art show, hence the name, the renovated space now plays host to temporary exhibits of contemporary art and architecture (subjects have included Jean-Michel Basquiat, Roy Lichtenstein, and Frank Gehry). The ground-level café, with its mismatched designer-classic chairs, has become a popular meeting spot, and the adjacent shop is a good place to stock up on art books and gift items. Since 2007, the Triennale has also housed Milan's first permanent design museum, with a collection dedicated to the city's strong 20th-century design tradition, displayed in a series of long-running themed shows. In 2006, the Triennale opened a sister gallery, Triennale Bovisa, in a northwestern former industrial suburb that has become a university and cultural hub (31 Via Lambruschini; 39-02-3657-7801).—Updated by Lee Marshall
Open Tuesdays through Sundays 10:30 am to 9:30 pm.
With its ancient cypresses, formal vegetable garden around a multilevel fish pond, and exquisite teatro di verzura (outdoor theater, its backdrop formed by neatly trimmed greenery), Villa di Geggiano's gardens sit splendidly against the picture-perfect landscape south of Siena (1 Via Geggiano, Pianella, near Castelnuovo Berardenga; 39-0577-356-879; www.grandigiardini.it). After you've admired landscape architect Pietro Porcinai's modern tribute to the wooden wonderpuppet in the Parco di Pinocchio, don't miss Collodi's other, lesser-known attraction, the early Baroque gardens at Villa Garzoni. On the lower level are magnificent formal parterres, and a monumental staircase leads up to an artful wilderness of holm oaks (1 Piazza della Vittoria, Collodi; 39-0572-429-590; www.grandegiardini.it). Also near Pistoia, the Fattoria di Celle is a 19th-century romantic garden, complete with purpose-built outcrops and "cliffs." Works from the Gori collection are scattered around the 20-hectare park, representing many of the big names of contemporary sculpture, landscape art, and site-specific installations (7 Via Montalese, Santomato di Pistoia; 39-0573-479-907). Just south of Monetpulciano is La Foce, an English take on the Italian garden designed in the early 20th century by Cecil Pinsent. From the lemon garden with its tall box hedges, the view extends over a formal cypress-edged space across spectacular, spectral Val d'Orcia to southern Tuscany's highest mountain, Monte Amiata (61 Strada della Vittoria, Chianciano Terme; 39-0578-691-01; www.lafoce.com; open to public on Wednesday afternoons).
The open,gently rolling hills of Val d'Orcia, recently named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, are among the most beautiful landscapes in Italy. Take the back roads or, even better, arrange for a guide with the Parco Val d'Orcia for excursions on foot or horseback (Office: 33 Via Dante Alighieri, San Quirico d'Orcia; 39-0577-898-303; www.parcodellavaldorcia.com). To the east, the town of San Quirico d'Orcia, with its Romanesque Collegiata church and the formal Italian gardens of the Horti Leonini (now a publicpark), should not be missed. Three miles to the south, the magical main square of Bagno Vignoni is a medieval thermalpool much appreciated by Lorenzo the Magnificent but no longer open to the public. The Hotel Posta Marcucci (39-0577-887-112; www.hotelpostamarcucci.it) does offer daily entrance to its open-air thermal pool to nonguests, except on Thursdays (nonguests are charged $16; www.piscinavaldisole.it). A fortified village ambitiously restructured by Pope Pius II, Pienza is a showcase of grand architecture—the Palazzo Piccolomini, the duomo,and the Palazzo Comunale are all magnificent—and equally grand natural landscapes. Just a couple of miles away is the beautifully preserved medieval hamlet of Montichiello, where the entire population participates in writing, directing,producing, and performing Teatro Povero ("poor theater," or theater of the people) every summer in an outdoor square. Montepulciano, to the east, is another famous wine town, its spiral corso leading steeply up to the town's beautiful Piazza Grande, its architecture a mix of Gothic and Renaissance (the Palazzo Comunale is an example of the transition from one style to the other). On the way out of town, make sure you stop at Sangallo's Chiesa di Madonna di San Biagio, less than a mile outside the city walls and one of the most harmonious architectural creations of the high Renaissance.
Between Bari and Brindisi the fertile Valle d'Itria is one of the great market gardens of Italy. Almonds, fruit trees, and cherry tomatoes grow alongside the grapevines in the cooler hills, and great gnarled olives, some of them hundreds of years old, carpet the coastal plain, with fortified farmhouses known as masserie rising above the green sea here and there. The area is most famous for its conical trulli dwellings, concentrated in the town of Alberobello, but there's plenty more to see. Two historic towns in particular should not be missed. Martina Franca is like a mini Lecce, but here it's more the fabric of the charming sandstone town rather than its individual churches or palazzi that is the attraction. And then there's la città bianca, Ostuni, an M.C. Escheresque warren of whitewashed houses, which seem to have grown spontaneously and merged into each other over the centuries.
Most visitors think of Amalfi as a seaside town—and it's true that the Republic's glory days in the early Middle Ages were founded on its maritime prowess. But to really understand the place, you need to run the souvenir-shop gauntlet of the main street, Via delle Cartiere, until you emerge in the quieter upper part of town. There, a series of abandoned paper mills bear witness to one of Amalfi's two "inland" trades—you can learn more about the history and technique of Amalfian paper-making at the Museo della Carta (24 Via delle Cartiere; www.museodellacarta.it). The other was the smelting of iron ore, which was brought from Elba or Puglia and carried up the valley by donkey convoy. Today, the Valle delle Ferriere, or "valley of the ironworks," is a protected nature reserve and an enchantingly cool, green spot even in the height of summer. Take a seat at one of the picnic tables surrounded by waterfalls and rock pools, rare species of orchid, and giant fern. A footpath leads to the hamlet of Pontone in around 90 minutes (www.valledelleferriere.com, Italian only). From here, a paved staircase provides an easy shortcut back down to Amalfi.
42 calle dello Squero
Tel: 39 041 5226626
The stunning makeover by architectect Renzo Piano is reason enough to take a look at this former salt warehouse overlooking the Giudecca canal, but lovers of contemporary art may find shows to pique their curiosity, too. Piano's greatest innovation here is a series of tracks and pulleys that allow the immense canvases of 20th-century Italian artist Emilio Vedova to be shown, 10 at a time. The "procession" of these works takes about 20 minutes, followed by a 10-minute break before the next selection starts its journey. The beautifully lit Foundation space has also exhibited works by Anselm Kiefer and Louise Bourgois since its inauguration in 2009.
Opening hours vary according to exhibition.
With its ripple of bright houses on a rocky promontory and its main piazza chock-full of fishing boats above a pocket-sized harbor, it's easy to see why many visitors consider Vernazza the archetypal Cinque Terre village. It's also easy to understand why it's best avoided on Sundays in July and August. Like most of the Cinque Terre, Vernazza was founded in the early Middle Ages. When the Cinque Terre fell under the influence of Genoa toward the end of the 13th century, it was Vernazza that was considered the real prize, as it was the only one of the five villages to have a true harbor (its strategic importance was reflected in the fact that Vernazza had its own seat in the Genoese parliament). From the train stationcentrally located, for onceVia Roma snakes down to harbor-front Piazza Marconi, with its cluster of tempting bars and restaurants, framed by the bell tower of Santa Margherita di Antiochia and the tall keep of the Doria Castle.
In the early 1900s, German steel magnate and longtime Capri summer resident Friedrich Alfred Krupp financed the construction of a spectacular footpath connecting Capri Town with the beaches and rocky coves of Marina Piccola on the south side of the island. Over the years, the path fell into disrepair, and in 1976 it was closed following a landslide. But a major restoration—which involved, among other things, clothing the cliffs that tower above the path in wire mesh—allowed Via Krupp to reopen in June 2008. Eight hairpin bends lead down from the Gardens of Augustus past hardy stone pines, prickly pears, thrusting aloes, and rock-clinging capers to a breathtaking promenade perched above the sea and Capri's traditional nudist beach (actually more a series of rocky platforms). The steady gradient means that it's not too strenuous in the other direction, but if your legs or your courage fail you, you can always return to Capri Town by bus from Marina Piccola.
Villa Borghese, the most central of Rome's great parks, was saved from encroaching property developers in the 1870s when it was bought by a farsighted city council. A verdant place shaded by majestic trees, it's perfect for a pasta-burning run or for renting a bike or skates from the many outfits operating on the western side of the park, near the Pincio Terrace, with its spectacular view. Inside the park, the Galleria Borghese contains a superb art collection, including some of Baroque genius Gian Lorenzo Bernini's finest works: Note how Pluto's fingers press into the goddess's thigh in his Rape of Persephone (1622) and how the fleeing nymph's fingers metamorphose into laurel branches in Apollo and Daphne (1625). Also here are works by Caravaggio, Titian, Raphael, Giorgione, Rubens, and Pinturicchio (the Borgheses sure liked their masterpieces). When it all gets too much for the kids, an unspectacular but well-intentioned zoo is a short stroll across the park.
Tickets for the Borghese gallery must be booked beforehand (though you can usually just turn up and get in on the same day, if you're prepared to wait), and visits are limited to two hours. The whole of the Villa Borghese park is a free-access Wi-Fi area.
1 Piazzale del Giardino Zoologico
Tel: 39 06 360 8211
Open daily 9:30 am to 5 pm.
5 Piazzale Scipione Borghese
Tel: 39 06 841 3979
Open Tuesdays through Sundays 9 am to 7 pm.
2 Via Regina
Tel: 39 0344 40 405
This Baroque villa built in 1743 is best known for its art, a magnificent collection that includes neoclassical sculptures by Canova and Tadolini as well as Romantic paintings like Francesco Hayez's Last Kiss of Romeo and Juliet. The botanical gardens are spectacular: 17 acres planted with more than 500 exotic species including camellia, laurel, rhododendron, papyrus, bamboo, bananas, citrus trees, and more than 150 varieties of azalea.
Open daily 9 am to 6 pm March 15 through 31 and April to September, and all October from 9 am to noon and 2 to 4:30 pm.
The grandest of Emperor Tiberius's 12 villas on the island, Villa Jovis was the seat of his empire between 27 and 37 A.D. Today, you can tour the ruins of the former palace or catch the view from the ledge over which the depraved leader reputedly disposed of his victims. There's not much still standing—apart from the huge buried cisterns that supplied what was in effect a small township with water—but it's a marvelously atmospheric place, and a good spot for a picnic.
Open daily from 9 a.m. until one hour before sunset.
14 Via Mozart
Tel: 39 02 7634 0121
The cultured lifestyle of Milanese high society around the middle of the 20th century is brought vividly to life in this fascinating new casa museo. Located a short stroll away from the fashion strip and yet immersed in greenery, the villa was designed by Fascist-era architect Piero Portaluppi for two sisters whose vast fortune derived from their family's sewing machine factory—they were the Singers of Italy. It's a fascinating mix of '30s rationalism and out-and-out luxury: In one of the bathrooms, there's a bench carved out of a solid block of lapis lazuli. Portaluppi's plan, later partly reworked in flouncy Venetian mode by Tommaso Buzzi, is surprisingly technological for its time, with double glazing, underfloor heating, and a system of flashing-light panels in the scullery so that servants knew exactly where in the house they were required. Two 20th-century private art collections are also on display here, both big on Italian artists of the metaphysical school, such as Mario Sironi and Giorgio De Chirico. Outside are the small swimming pool and a summer pavilion that has become a charming café, open daily from 10 am to 9 pm (it's a great insider spot for lunch). You can visit the villa itself on a guided tour, but you must book ahead (English-speaking guides can be arranged).
Tours Wednesdays through Sundays, every 20 minutes from 10 am to 5:15 pm.
34 Viale Axel Munthe
Anacapri , Capri
Tel: 39 081 837 1401
Second only to the Blue Grotto among Capri visitor attractions, this Arcadian refuge on the slopes of Monte Solaro, five minutes' walk from Piazza Vittoria in Anacapri, was built in 1895 by Swedish doctor Axel Munthe. In his time, Munthe was a literary superstar—his book The Story of San Michele, written in English and first published in 1929, was the Under the Tuscan Sun of its day. When Munthe bought the place in 1887, all that stood here was a ruined chapel, built on the site of one of Tiberius's 12 caprese villas. The doctor set about turning the romantic ruin into a villa and garden studded with an eclectic mishmash of classical, Egyptian, and Moorish references. Not to everyone's taste, but it's undoubtedly picturesque, and the views are stunning.—Lee Marshall
Open daily 9 am until an hour before sunset.
Meet at information office on Piazza della Chiesa
Tel: 39 031 951 555
Villa Serbelloni is a Renaissance villa built in the 15th century and surrounded by dense woodlands and gardens. The property's summer villa down by the lake has been converted into the Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni, and the rest of the vast estate belongs to the Rockefeller Foundation. Unless you apply for one of the foundation's monthlong grants for scholars, you can't get into the main villa up on the hill, but you can tour the grounds and extensive gardens twice daily in summer. If you want to actually get inside one of the grand homes, pair this with a visit to the Villa Melzi, on the other end of Bellagio. This neoclassical building was the home of Francesco Melzi d'Eril, Napoléon's man in Italy (Lungolario Manzoni; 39-0339-457-3838; www.giardinidivillamelzi.it). It is also surrounded by ornate gardens that include a man-made lake, exotic trees and tropical plants, and, beside the Moorish-style Kaffehaus, the statue of Dante and Beatrice that inspired Liszt's Dante Sonata.
Villa Serbelloni garden tours Tuesday to Sunday at 11 am and 3:30 pm April to early November.
Villa Melzi open daily 9 am to 6 pm, April 1 to October 30.
This was once the northernmost of the Etruscan League of 12 cities, but today its appearance is largely medieval. There are a few historical remnants, however—like the Etruscan Arch, with three dark heads carved above it, and the Ancient Roman Theater just outside the Porta Fiorentina, one of the best preserved theaters of the period in all of Italy. Art historians travel here just to see Rosso Fiorentino's painting of the Deposition on wood in the Pinacoteca in via Sarti 1. The Etruscan Museo Guarnacci (15 Via Don Minzoni; 39-0588-86-347) has a fabulous collection of rare alabaster burial urns and the celebrated Evening Shadow statuette. Alabaster is still quarried in the surrounding area today, fashioned into artifacts that make good souvenirs (see Shopping).
Riva del Garda and Torbole
Water sports fans flock to the northern end of Lake Garda Riva in the summer, when stiff morning winds combine with afternoon gusts to turn it into a mecca for windsurfing and sailing. Many shops rent equipment by the hour or the day and will arrange for lessons. In the town of Riva del Garda, try Sailing Du Lac (44 Viale Rovereto; 39-0464-552-453; www.sailingdulac.com) or Pier Windsurf (2 Loc. Gola; 39-0464-550-928; www.pierwindsurf.it). In Torbole, the best places are Surf Segana (19 Lungolago dei Pini; 39-0464-505-963; www.surfsegnana.it) and Conca Windsurf (6 Lungolago Verona; 39-0464-548-192; www.windsurfconca.com). If you are there in the spring and fall, when the winds are lighter, you can also rent rowboats and pedal boats by the beach next to the castle.
Most of the larger wineries in the three most famous zones—Chianti Classico, Montalcino, and Montepulciano—now offer the chance to taste and purchase either directly from the estate or via an outlet in the nearest town. Some have moved into catering too, expanding their tasting rooms into small taverns, restaurants, or wine bars, but few offer vineyard visits or anything more interactive. One of the exceptions is the Fattoria dei Barbi (www.fattoriadeibarbi.net), one of the oldest Brunello di Montalcino estates, and one of the first anywhere in Italy to open its doors to visitors (www.consorziobrunellodimontalcino.it). As well as free tastings in the winery, the estate organizes guided tastings for groups of between eight and 30 people, which can be booked ahead via the website; it also has a rustic restaurant, the Taverna dei Barbi, and several self-catering apartments. The estate plays host to the Museo della Comunità di Montalcino e del Brunello, with a fascinating collection of artifacts, including children's games and winemaking tools, illustrating the history of the local community and the area's long wine-growing traditions (www.museodelbrunello.it). Montalcino is also the destination and focus of the new Treno del Vino, a "slow tourism" scheme promoted by local winemaker Roberto Cipresso, who is behind the ongoing transformation of Montalcino's abandoned train station into a multitasking wine space that will house a "Virtual Museum of Wine," a research center, a wine cellar, and a shop offering tastings and purchase of wine and edible Tuscan delicacies. The station is reached from Siena on a vintage train—see the website for times and prices (www.winestation.it). Services begin in the summer of 2007 on an experimental basis; by 2008, the train will have its own restored "tasting car," where the wine will keep flowing durng the journey. Another initiative launched in 2007 by the Terre di Siena tourist board, Degsustazioni ad Arte, pairs memorable wines with memorable works of art in various locations around the province: See www.terresiena.it for details.