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Gennaro Contaldo shares his multi-centre holiday recommendations

With a country famous for its diversity, why stop at visiting just one destination. Citalia ambassador and celebrity chef Gennaro Contaldo couldn’t agree more. Growing up on the Amalfi Coast, Gennaro has travelled the length and breadth of Italy and has shared his top multi-centre holiday recommendations. With fantastic rail connections and convenient car hire options, the sky’s the limit. Team enchanting Venice with Ancient Rome, relax on the Blue Flag beaches of Liguria before exploring Florence, or shop until you drop in Milan, followed by a stay in stunning Lake Como. Here are Gennaro’s recommended multi-centre holidays not to be missed.
 
In two weeks, you’ll journey from the vineyards of Piedmont to the rolling hills of Tuscany, as you sip your way through five of Italy’s best-known wine regions. 
 
“The region of Piedmont produces some elite wines, including Barolo, Barbera d’Asti and Barbaresco. The famous white wine of this region is one of my wife Liz’s favourite – Gavi di Gavi. In Lake Garda, look out for Lugana (a dry, fresh white) and Bardolino red, as well as limoncino liqueur made from the local lemons. In the Dolomites, you can sample some excellent varieties of Soave, as well as a fantastic DOC bubbly from neighbouring Trentino. After a stop in Bologna (where the Sangiovese is superb), finishing off the trip in Tuscany will give you a chance to experience some of Italy’s finest red wines – one of my favourites is Flaccianello delle Pieve, which is produced in the heart of the Chianti countryside and always features on my Christmas table!” 
 
This twin-centre trip teams Italy’s biggest lake with one of its most majestic mountain ranges. Discover the diverse beauty of Lake Garda, then head north to the spectacular region of South Tyrol.
 
“The breathtaking scenery and pure air have made the northern Italian lakes popular since Roman times. Divided between three regions, Lake Garda has much to offer. The mountainous north of the lake offers fabulous hiking and cycling opportunities, while the southern part is more laid-back, with pretty beaches to relax on. 
 
The Dolomites are quite unlike any other part of Italy. I am always amazing at how culturally different this region is, particularly for a ‘southerner’ like me. The influence of neighbouring Austria is evident in the cuisine here – look out for canederli (bread dumplings), speck (smoked prosciutto) and the region’s signature apple strudel (some of the best apples in Italy are grown here).” 
 
Uncover Italy’s rugged south on this 10-day self-drive. You’ll start in Puglia, the ‘heel’ of Italy’s ‘boot’, then cross into Basilicata, a little-known region that’s big on history and natural beauty. 
 
“Puglia is often known as ‘the table of Italy’ for its fresh produce and good, honest home cooking. The region offers some of the best cheese, olive oil, bread, pasta and excellent easy-to-drink wines like Locorotondo white or Primitivo red. The Saturday market in the charming hilltop town of Ostuni is a must-visit for foodies, filled with an array of delicious local produce. Forty-five minutes’ west of Ostuni is the fairy-tale town of Alberobello, home to many historic trulli houses. For good quality produce and wines, seek out Enoteca Tholos, where I like to stock up on excellent olive oil.
 
On the drive to Basilicata, stop off at Altamura, where you can buy the best bread in all of Italy! In Basilicata, stay in Matera. Here, you’ll find the sassi, which are districts of spectacular ancient cave dwellings. Stroll around the labyrinthine alleys and streets of the two sassi and you’ll come across cave houses, cave restaurants and cave bars!” 
 
Combining two of Italy’s most beautiful cities with its largest lake and the ever-popular seaside resort of Sorrento, this two-week itinerary is the perfect introduction to bella Italia
 
“Lake Garda has something for everyone, whether you want to enjoy the tranquillity of the mountains, explore Limone’s quaint narrow streets and lemon groves, or soak up the atmosphere in cosmopolitan Sirmione, which comes alive in the evening. 
 
From Lake Garda, it’s only a short hop to Venice, Liz’s favourite city. One of the things she likes best is to go for afternoon tea at the famous Caffe Florian in St. Mark’s Square, while I love to simply get lost in the backstreets. Next stop is my favourite city: Rome. Make sure you visit the quaint neighbourhood of Campo dei Fiori and the delightful Trastevere area across the River Tiber. 
 
Your final stop is Sorrento. Perched atop cliffs with sweeping views of the Bay of Naples, it’s no wonder people return here year after year. I’d recommend taking a walk down to pretty Marina Grande for a bite to eat at one of the seafood restaurants.” 
 
 Discover one of Italy’s lesser-visited cities, before hopping across the Bay of Naples to the lush island of Ischia. 
 
“Naples has an amazing history, and there is plenty to discover in its centro storico (old town). You can also venture underground to explore the city’s ancient streets, houses, and even an old Roman viaduct. Of course, don’t leave the city without trying its most famous dish, Margherita pizza. I recommend visiting Sorbillo, Naples’ oldest pizzeria, for yours (and when you get home, you can try my pizza recipe to make it for yourself). 
 
The island of Ischia is famous for its hot springs, and there are lots of thermal spas where you can go and spend a day relaxing in the warm waters. There are also a number of golden sandy beaches (which we don’t have too many of in this area – usually they are pebbles or course sand), as well as fantastic hiking opportunities in the mountains.”   
 
“Tuscany boasts some of Italy’s most beautiful countryside and picture-perfect hilltop towns such as San Gimignano and Siena. When I first visited Siena many years ago, I fell in love with the main square, Piazza del Campo. The square is home to a number of well-preserved palazzi and dominated by the impressive gothic Palazzo Pubblico (town hall) and its tower, Torre del Mangia. Il Campo is probably best known for the famous Palio, a bi-annual horse race to which I was lucky to have witnessed once. If you are travelling to Tuscany then you’re in for a treat as the local cuisine in the central regions is rustic and hearty, featuring a lot of game such as rabbit, hare and wild boar.
 
Leave the countryside behind and head to the coast and the resorts of Viareggio and Forte dei Marmi, known for the elegant architecture, fantastic shopping and delicious restaurants. In fact, Italian families have being going to Viareggio for decades – this was my wife Liz’s first holiday when she was only a year old.”
 
“When I think of northern Italy, the beautiful lakes immediately spring to mind. Lake Maggiore is one of my favourites and home to grand villas, landscaped terraces and lavish gardens, with the 50 acres of exotic gardens of the Villa Taranto one of the best. I also love to visit the little island of Pescatori, a short hop by boat from the popular lakeside resort of Stresa.  
 
Lake Orta may be lesser known than its larger neighbours but it is just as beautiful. Perfect for a tranquil escape, I recommend strolling down the cobbled streets of Orta San Giulio and enjoying a leisurely boat ride to the tiny yet enchanting island of San Giulio with its picturesque buildings. Fresh fish is in abundance in the lakes and one of my favourite dishes to order while here is lavarelli in carpione – local lake fish marinated in vinegar and vegetables.”
“Liguria is a popular choice thanks to its year-round balmy climate, not to mention the spectacular coastline with more than its fair share of Blue Flag beaches. Liguria is famous for the Cinque Terre National Park, with clifftops dotted with pastel-coloured houses and terraced vineyards.  Take the time to visit resorts such as Alassio, Santa Margherita, Rapallo and the pretty fishing village of Camogli during your time here.
 
Combine your trip to Liguria with a city break in beautiful Florence. There is so much to see packed into a relatively small city, such as the Repubblica Square, the Duomo with Brunelleschi's famous dome and the Baptistery with its famous Gates of Paradise. I always make time to visit the Uffizi Gallery, with its impressive collection of paintings from the Italian Renaissance.”
“Cosmopolitan Milan, the business hub of Italy has a charm of its own and is a great destination for a spot of window shopping, with the Via Monte Napoleone a must for designer fashion fans. I recommend visiting the impressive Duomo which dominates the centre of the city, as well as the stunning Galleria, the world’s oldest, and arguably grandest shopping mall, with its impressive glass dome and mosaic floors. This chic city is perfect for partnering with nearby Lake Como, with its palatial lakeside villas and beautiful mountain scenery. When visiting Lake Como I like to stroll around the charming town of Bellagio with its cobbled streets and chic cafes and boutiques.”
“So close to the Italian mainland but so different in feel and culture, Sicily lends itself to being explored by car, something my wife Liz and I have had a wonderful time doing ourselves. Combine the coastal resorts of Taormina, with its stunning amphitheatre overlooking Mount Etna, and pretty Cefalu with its beautiful sandy beaches, with the historic cities of Agrigento and Syracuse.  Sicily has been invaded many times in its history and because of that, the food here is probably the most eclectic in all of Italy. Expect to find Arab-introduced flavours and ingredients on menus here, as well as more typical Italian fare. If you have a sweet tooth, then Sicily is your destination. Be sure to try cannoli Siciliani, fried pastry tubes filled with ricotta and candied fruit, or cassata, sponge with ricotta and marzipan, beautifully decorated with candied fruit – this is Liz’s favourite sweet treat!”
“There’s nothing quite like the hustle and bustle of Rome, visiting its ancient ruins and  historical buildings, indulging in a little retail therapy in the fashionable shops before heading out to the Neapolitan Riviera for a few days in the pretty town of Sorrento. Overlooking the Bay of Naples, Sorrento is particularly picturesque with plenty of squares in which to enjoy a coffee and a spot of people watching. It is also a great place from which to explore the surrounding area. I particularly enjoy visiting the island of Capri with its charming port of Marina Grande, home to the island’s fishermen, colourful houses and one of its most beautiful beaches. While here, I also recommend taking a boat trip to see the famous faraglioni (rock formations which rise out of the sea) and the spectacular Blue Grotto, a memory which will last with you forever.”
“I like to combine the Amalfi Coast with Puglia and have done so with my wife Liz and the girls. In this way you can experience two very southern regions but with totally different landscapes, coastlines, culture and food. The Amalfi Coast is my home and I love coming back here to visit friends and family. Probably my favourite bit is heading west of Amalfi towards Positano where the road passes the Valle di Furore, one of the coast’s most impressive gorges as well as the tiny but charming beach. However stunning the drive, I also enjoy taking the boat, especially if I’m there during the busy summer period as I can sit back, relax and admire the beautiful surroundings from a different perspective.  
 
From rugged Gargano and the pretty coastal resort of Vieste, Puglia offers visitors a truly authentic experience. I recommend driving to Alberobello with its quaint conical-shaped houses and perhaps further south to Ostuni and Lecce for a taste of the more undiscovered south. Be sure to try the local cuisine while in Puglia, particularly orecchiette pasta which is usually paired with cime di rapa (turnip tops).”
“Rome is often described as a living museum and with sights such as the Colosseum, Vatican City and Spanish Steps to take in, it is easy to see why. I love Rome for its atmosphere and lifestyle; on the one hand the capital city is all hustle and bustle but this is beautifully contrasted by its friendly people, laid-back attitudes, leisurely lunches and late-night suppers.  I like to stroll in the quaint neighbourhood of Campo dei Fiori with its narrow streets, ancient churches and the main square with its exquisite daily food market.
 
Pair Rome with the romantic city of Venice, quite unlike anywhere else in the world and my wife Liz’s favourite Italian city. One of the things she likes best is to have afternoon tea at the famous and historical Caffe Florian in St. Mark's Square. Although you can visit Venice any time throughout the year, if you come at Carnival time, just before Lent begins, you will be in for a real treat.”
“Verona is typically beautiful, with its cobbled streets and well-preserved ancient buildings. Home of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, you could declare your undying love or even propose underneath Juliet’s balcony!  I like to visit vibrant Piazza delle Erbe for its daily market and enjoy a shopping spree Italian-style on the elegant Via Mazzini. 
 
Just a short distance from Verona is pretty Lake Garda with its perfect, balmy climate. It’s an idyllic spot to unwind and enjoy swimming in the warm shallow waters or relaxing in one of its many restorative spas, not to mention sampling the many varieties of locally produced wines! The locals of Lake Garda enjoy longevity – it must be the good climate, pure air and healthy food.”