PWk: Prod, Tlk: GS2, Datacash: Live
I've always remembered people holidaying in Italy. As a child, growing up on the Amalfi Coast in the 1950's and '60's, tourists from other countries would flock to our beaches, eat and drink in our local bars and restaurants, and the tour buses were crammed with day trippers speaking in languages completely alien to me at the time. I wondered why people from distant places came to visit our region as I didn't realise then how lovely the sea and the mountains were. We didn't go on holiday. The furthest I ventured was Salerno or Naples. It was only when I came to England at the age of 20 that I realised what holidays were and began to appreciate not only the beauty of the Amalfi Coast, but the rest of Italy as well.
Italy has a rich regional variety with both geography and history playing an important part. The difference between north and south is quite striking - not only the climate, but the landscape, bordering countries in the north, the people, their dialects, and of course the food!
I love the northern lakes of Como, Maggiore and Garda. Surrounded by the snow-covered Alps, their beautiful scenery and pure air have been popular since Roman times. Whether it's Lake Como, with its palatial lakeside villas, the tiny islands off Lake Maggiore, or the balmy shores of Lake Garda, you are in for a treat. Combine Lake Como or Maggiore with Milan so you can shop till you drop or Lake Garda with Verona for a truly memorable holiday.
Past the central regions of Tuscany and Umbria, and the Eternal City of Rome, you head to the sun-drenched, vibrant south - Amalfi, Puglia and Calabria, not forgetting the enchanting islands of Sicily and Sardinia. Ancient invasions by the Greeks, Arabs and Spanish have all left their mark, evident in the architecture, culture, music, traditions and food of these regions. I especially like Sicily and my wife Liz and I had a wonderful holiday visiting the pretty Aeolian islands of Lipari and Panarea as well as venturing inland, south of Palermo, where even at the height of the season the roads were empty. We had dinner at a family-run agriturismo, and still today we recall plateful upon plateful of delicious home-grown and home-cooked food served to us.
I like to take my family on holiday to Italy and it is nearly always to my home town of Minori on the Amalfi Coast. We also enjoy Cilento which is a little further south, low-key and relaxed, with lots of sandy beaches perfect when my daughters were younger. Now they like the thrill of hiring a speedboat or snorkelling. You can always find a deserted cove for a refreshing swim on the Amalfi Coast, even in August. As the sun goes down, it's nice to sit in one of the local cafes and enjoy an aperitivo, or for the girls, their favourite lemon granita or ice cream. Later, if we're feeling energetic, a hike to the Villa Maria above Minori is perfect, not only for their exquisite home cooking, but for the breathtaking views as well.
Italians love children. Family has always been very important and children are a serious business, almost to the point of worship. They are welcomed with open arms in bars and restaurants and are always made a fuss of. I remember being in Positano when our twin girls were just a year old. It used to take so long to walk the little streets as we were constantly stopped by admiring passers-by. Meal times are a joy for children in Italy with tempting pasta dishes, proper pizza and yummy ice cream that ensure even the fussiest are satisfied. Any special requests are quickly accommodated by attentive waiters so it is no wonder that Italy is such a popular choice for families who return year after year.
Italians are very friendly by nature and they love visitors in their country. From the little old ladies crocheting outside their home on warm summer evenings, to waiters in Michelin-starred restaurants, you will always feel welcome and the language barrier is never a problem.
Italy offers something for everyone. Whether it's the ruins of Ancient Rome or the art museums of Florence, the rolling hills of Tuscany and Umbria with their charming medieval hilltop villages or a family seaside holiday on the idyllic island of Sardinia, the choice is yours. No matter how many times you visit Italy, each time is a journey of discovery and joy, leaving you wanting more.