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Italy’s top destinations
May 27, 2018, 1:47 pm
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From the busy cosmopolitan Milan to tiny villages of Sicily, Italian cities are a sensory delight with layers of history and culture and so much art in everything around you. You will visit hundreds of museums with the world’s most priceless treasures in Florence, Rome, and Milan, but it is beauty of the streets, markets, squares, and fountains that will leave the most lasting impression.

Rome: Coming to Rome, be prepared for a total sensory overload. The entire city is a living, breathing museum. Everything around you is thousands of years old, from the cobblestones you walk on to the massive fountains and ancient stone houses that line the narrow streets. There is so much beauty all around you that it is difficult to take it all in, especially if you are trying to cram all Rome has to offer in a few days: the Vatican, St. Peter's Square, St. Peter’s Basilica and eighteen additional basilicas, the Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, Colosseum, Piazza Navona, Roman Forum, Aquaducts, Catacombs, and so much more.

Milan: Once a capital of imperial Rome, the Milan of today is a modern metropolis in northern Italy; it is a European economic powerhouse and a fashion and design capital that is elegant, sophisticated, and incredibly beautiful. Walking through downtown Milan means peeling back the layers of history, architecture, and art. With the Gothic majesty of Duomo cathedral, Leonardo da Vinci’s mural ‘The Last Supper’ at the Santa Maria delle Grazie convent, Sforza castle, La Scala opera house, upscale shops at La Galleria, magnificent fountains, parks, passages, and squares, there is so much to see and enjoy in Milan.

Venice: A major maritime and financial power during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, Venice is a northern Italian city on more than 100 islands in a large beautiful lagoon in the Adriatic Sea. The heart of the city is its Piazza San Marco with St. Mark’s Basilica tiled with Byzantine mosaics. The cathedral’s bell tower the Campanile offers fabulous views of the city.

Pisa: Once a powerful Italian maritime republic and a university city that attracted young minds since 12th century, Pisa is now attracting millions of tourists who come to see its famous leaning church tower – one architectural project that went wrong. Naturally, you will start your exploring by visiting the magnificent Piazza del Miracoli with its bright white leaning tower surrounded by a field of green grass. It is stunningly beautiful, and the Cathedral and the Baptistry are nearby.

Florence: One of the wealthiest and most powerful European cities from medieval times, Florence is called ‘the cradle of Renaissance,’ and its magnificent architecture, churches, and palaces full of art never stopped attracting artists and art lovers. Walk from the magnificent Duomo cathedral, the Uffizi gallery, and Pitti Palace to the Baptistry, the Bargello, and the Accademia and churches such as Santa Maria Novella and Santa Maria della Croce. You can also admire the priceless art treasures left behind by Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli, Giotto, and Michelangelo.

Lucca: Just a short drive from Florence, Lucca is one of the most beautiful cities in Tuscany. Surrounded by wonderfully preserved 16th and 17th-century Renaissance walls, it is an ancient city perfect for walking and discovering the layers of its history in its cobbled streets, shady promenades, and glorious piazzas. The massive old walls are now topped by a large park wonderful for strolling and biking.

San Gimignano: This is a small medieval town perched on the hill in Tuscany in north-central Italy. As you approach it by road, you will know right away why it is called the Town of Fine Towers. There are fourteen towers now, though originally the rich citizens built seventy-two beautiful lean towers in the 12th century, mostly to show off their wealth, an ancient version of keeping up with Joneses. The city’s medieval architecture is stunning and very well preserved, both churches and secular buildings, with some wonderful examples of Gothic and Romanesque architecture. The Palazzo Comunale, the Church of Sant' Agostino and Collegiate Church are some of the most notable examples and contain beautiful frescos from the 14th and 15th centuries.

Riomaggiore: If you watch Riomaggiore from the sea, it looks like colorful kids’ blocks piled up on top of each other. Snuggled in a small valley, the houses are built vertically into the steep cliff that drops down to the sea, where one can find a tiny wharf and even smaller beach. Riomaggiore is the first of five Cinque Terre villages as you travel from La Spezia and is their unofficial headquarters. Its main and only street Via Colombo is where everything touristy goes on with a number of restaurants, shops, and cafes. Everywhere else you have to climb endless number of stairs, or take the scenic path of Via dell’Amore, which goes to the neighboring Manarola. The village is ancient and very charming, and it is a pure delight just being surrounded with so much history. 

Siena: The heart of Tuscany, Siena represents Italy before the Renaissance. With its soaring brick buildings, enormous fan-shaped Piazza del Campo with the Gothic town hall Palazzo Pubblico, and the 14th-century tower Torre del Mangia, Siena is an open museum of medieval architecture, art, and history. Its Duomo, the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, is a wonderful example of Romanesque-Gothic architecture in Italy with white and green marble creating striped patterns so characteristic of Siena.

Manarola: One of the five incredibly beautiful villages of Cinque Terre on the rugged coast of Ligurian Sea, Manarola’s colorful houses look like they are piled on top of each other, dug into the side of the vertical cliff that drops into the sea. Established in 12th century by inhabitants of the nearby village of Volastra, Manarola is the oldest of the five villages and has a unique fishing port – fishermen have to lift their boats by crane and park them on one of the terraces like cars.

Sardinia: About halfway between Italian mainland and Africa, Sardinia is a large island that is as much Italian as it is its own, ancient, rugged, magnificent place best described as ‘different.’ From vast mountain ranges to the dazzlingly white beaches, from mysterious 16th Century B.C. Nuragic constructions to posh villas of Porto Rotondo, from the lavish excesses of Costa Esmeralda to the rugged mountain villages with more sheep than people, Sardinia is full of contrasts that make it what it is.

 

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