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 and then heading out to the peaceful charm of rural Umbria where time seems to have stood still.
I remember the idea of the trip started out as a visit to a wine supplier in the Umbrian countryside. However, a quick 2-day trip did not appeal, so as we had more time on our hands and the most convenient airport for reaching Umbria was Rome, we decided to combine the two. After a few very hectic but wonderful days in the Eternal City visiting the Vatican, its museum, the Colosseum, Circus Maximus, the Catacombs and lots of walking in Piazza Navona, Via Condotti, the Spanish Steps amongst others, we were ready to get into our hired car and head out of the city.
A little over one hour later travelling northwards, we hit the rugged Umbrian countryside with its charming hilltop villages. We were staying in the Monte Subasio national park about 10 kilometres outside of Assisi. After a pleasant visit to quaint Assisi, where pilgrims from all over the world flock to visit the church of St Francis, a well-deserved rest by the hotel’s pool, soaking up the idyllic views of the green hills and valleys was very welcome.
A trip to Perugia, Umbria’s small, friendly capital, is a must; steeped in history and dating back to Etruscan times, it is a joy to aimlessly wander its cobbled alleyways, arched stairways and magnificent piazzas. It’s perfect for an evening out during the summer months thanks to its vibrant jazz festival. If you have the time, the medieval towns of Orvieto, Spello and Spoleto are worth a visit. As well as Norcia, famous for its delis selling local cured meat, cheeses and of course, the region’s, fabled truffles. If you can, do stop at one of the local trattorie to enjoy a lunch of tagliolini with truffle. By the way, we did visit the winery located between Assisi and Perugia and enjoyed a lovely morning sampling their wines. Sadly all good things come to an end and we reluctantly drove back to the airport in Rome for our flight back to London. However, you could extend this trip further to neighbouring Tuscany and fly back from one of the nearby airports - enjoy the cities of Lucca, Pisa, Siena, the Chianti countryside and even the Tuscan coast for a perfect end to a wonderful Italian experience. I think
This may sound like a long road trip, but for me, well worth doing and one of my favourite multi-centre holidays with a definite southern Italian flavour. We flew to Naples where we collected our hire car and headed south to the unspoilt coastline and beaches of this rather undiscovered part of Italy known as Il Cilento.
The sandy beaches are ideal for young children with its shallow turquoise waters ideal for a refreshing swim. In the late afternoon it’s lovely to head inland to explore the quaint medieval villages with churches, winding streets and the friendliest of locals making you feel like you have stepped back in time. Driving through the Diano national park is also spectacular.
After a relaxing week on the beaches, it was time to hit the road again eastwards to Puglia. This lovely drive took us across the untouched region of Basilicata where we stopped in Matera to marvel at the famous “Sassi” – an ancient settlement built in the rock which was inhabited until the 1950’s and is now a UNESCO-protected site. It really is worth stopping here if you can, even for a couple of hours. The next stop was Alberobello in Puglia for a couple of days to look at the trulli and indulge in some good home cooking before heading off to the north of the region through the stunning Foresta Umbra to the town of San Giovanni Rotondo. I like to come here to visit the church of San Pio, a favourite religious pilgrimage of mine which I try to visit whenever I’m in southern Italy. From here, our last leg of the road trip, to my home on the Amalfi Coast where it was nice to catch up with family and friends, enjoy more lazy days by the sea and go on fun boat trips.
When I think of northern Italy, the beautiful lakes immediately spring to mind. They can be easily and comfortably combined with one of the northern cities; a couple of days in Verona or Venice combined with Lake Garda is a delight, as is Milan with either Lake Como or Lake Maggiore.
Milan, capital of the north and the business hub of Italy, has a charm of its own – I love visiting the impressive Duomo cathedral which dominates the centre and the stunning Galleria, the world’s oldest shopping mall with its impressive glass dome and mosaics. The grandeur and chicness of Milan will get you into the mood for a relaxing retreat on beautiful, sophisticated Lake Como with is palatial villas and breathtaking mountain scenery. Or you could opt for Lake Maggiore, equally beautiful – I love to visit the little island of Pescatori, a short hop by boat from the popular lakeside resort of Stresa.
For a romantic escape, there could be nothing more special than extraordinary Venice; wandering the narrow streets, taking gondola trips, marvelling at the ancient historic buildings, enjoying a glass of procecco with tasty mouthwatering cicchetti at one of the numerous local osterie. Or you could choose lovely Verona, with its cobbled streets and well-preserved ancient buildings. Home of Romeo and Juliet, you could declare your undying love or even propose underneath Juliet’s balcony! Head to vibrant Piazza delle Erbe for its daily market and enjoy a shopping spree Italian-style on the elegant Via Mazzini. A short distance from Verona is pretty Lake Garda with its perfect, balmy climate and an idyllic spot to unwind, enjoy swimming in the warm shallow waters or enjoy its many restorative spas. The locals of Lake Garda enjoy longevity – it must be the good climate, pure air and healthy food.
I love the island of Sicily; so close to mainland Italy yet so different and far removed in feel and culture. I remember with particular fondness one summer holiday which we combined between Sicily and the Aeolian islands. We stayed in Palermo for a few days visiting this fascinating historical city.
The sometimes faded grandeur of its wonderful buildings, the noisy colourful markets, narrow labyrinth of back streets is all evidence to its Arabic past. A drive further south to Agrigento is an interesting one – very little traffic – in fact quite ghost-like in certain parts - through rural inland Sicily before marvelling at the amazing archaeological sites of this ancient town. Another trip west of Palermo is to the hilltop village of Erice near Trapani for the best almond pastries at Maria Grammatico’s pasticcieria.
After a lot of sightseeing, it was time to head off to the beautiful UNESCO-protected Aeolian Islands; with our hire car, we drove to the port of Milazzo where in season a frequent ferry and hydrofoil service takes you to the islands. Our first stop was Lipari where we stayed the majority of the time. After the chaos of Palermo, Lipari was a peaceful retreat with wonderful sea-swimming, stunning views and mountain walks. We also spent a couple of nights on the tiny but fashionable island of Panarea where we swam in its warm crystalline waters and enjoyed lovely dishes of freshly caught fish and Pane Caliatu – a traditional Aeolian salad of bread, tomatoes and locally grown capers. It was on the beach in Lipari that I decided to preserve my own anchovies - bought fresh from the local fishmonger, I placed them in terracotta containers with sea salt, packed them carefully in my hand luggage and we enjoyed them months later at home with happy memories of our time in Sicily and its beautiful islands.
I hope I have given you some idea of how simple and wonderful it is to combine a multi-centre holiday in Italy. It is very easy to travel around Italy and with Citalia’s expertise and tailor-made itineraries, I am sure you will find the perfect combination that suits you.
Buon Viaggio e Buone Vacanze!