Frommer's Italy (2015)

Gondola in Grand Canal, Venice.

Italy is so vast and treasure-filled that it’s hard to resist the temptation to pack in too much in too short a time. It’s a dauntingly diverse and complex destination, and you can’t even skim the surface in 1 or 2 weeks—so relax, don’t try. If you’re a first-time visitor with little touring time on your hands, we suggest you go just for the classic nuggets: Rome, Florence, and Venice could be packed into 1 very busy week, better yet in 2.

How can you accomplish that? Well, Italy ranks with Germany and France in offering mainland Europe’s best-maintained highways (called autostrade). You’ll pay a toll to drive on them (p. 546), but it’s much quicker to use them than to trust your limited time to the array of minor roads, which can be much slower going.

The country also boasts one of the fastest and most efficient high-speed rail networks in the world. Rome, Bologna, and Milan are the key hubs of this 21st-century transportation empire—for example, from Rome’s Termini station, Florence can be reached in only 95 minutes. In fact, if you’re city-hopping between Rome, Florence, and Venice, you need never rent a car. Upgrades to the rail network mean that key routes are served by comfortable, fast trains. You’ll only really require a rental car if you plan rural detours.

The itineraries that follow show you some of our favorite places. The pace may occasionally be a bit breathless for some visitors, so consider skipping a stop to have some chill-out time—after all, you’re on vacation. Of course, you can also use any of our itineraries as a jumping-off point to develop your own custom-made adventure. Buon viaggio!

THE REGIONS IN BRIEF

Although bordered on the northwest by France, on the north by Switzerland and Austria, and on the east by Slovenia, Italy is a land largely surrounded by the sea. It isn’t enormous, but the peninsula’s boot shape gives you the impression of a much larger area. Here’s a brief rundown of the cities and regions covered in this guide. See this guide’s inside front cover for a map of Italy by region.

ROME & LATIUM    The region of Latium (“Lazio” in Italian) is dominated by Rome, capital of both the ancient empire and modern Italy. Much of the “civilized world” was once ruled from here, starting from the days when Romulus and Remus are said to have founded Rome in 753 B.C. There’s no place with more artistic monuments, or a bigger buzz—not even Venice or Florence.

FLORENCE & TUSCANY    Tuscany is one of Italy’s most culturally and politically influential provinces—the development of Italy without Tuscany is simply unthinkable (and the Italian language is merely a standardized version of the Florentine dialect). Nowhere in the world is the impact of the Renaissance still felt more fully than in its birthplace, Florence, the repository of artistic works left by Masaccio, Leonardo, Michelangelo, and others. The main Tuscan destinations beyond Florence are the smaller cities of Lucca, Pisa, and especially Siena, Florence’s great historical rival, as well as the Chianti winelands.

An evening stroll near the Pantheon.

BOLOGNA & EMILIA-ROMAGNA    Italians don’t agree on much, but one national consensus is that the food in Emilia-Romagna is probably the best in Italy. The capital, Bologna, also has museums, churches, and a fine university with roots in the Middle Ages. Among the region’s other art cities, none is nobler than Byzantine Ravenna, with its mosaics dating to the time when it was capital of a declining Roman Empire.

VENICE & THE VENETO    Northeastern Italy is one of Europe’s treasure-troves, encompassing Venice (certainly the world’s most unusual city) and the surrounding Veneto region. Aging, decaying, and sinking into the sea, Venice is so alluring we almost want to say, visit it even if you have to skip Rome and Florence. Also recommended are the art cities of the “Venetian Arc”: Verona, with its romance and intact Roman Arena; and Padua, with its Giotto frescoes.

LOMBARDY, PIEDMONT & THE LAKES    Flat, fertile, and prosperous, Lombardy is dominated by Milan. However, despite Leonardo’s “Last Supper,” La Scala opera house, the shopping, and some major museums, Milan doesn’t have the sights of Rome, Florence, or Venice. You’ll find more charm (and a more manageable area to cover) in the neighboring cities of Bergamo and Mantua. Also competing for your time should be the photogenic lakes of Como and Garda.

Piedmont’s largest city, Turin, is the home of the Fiat empire (and vermouth). Turin’s best-known sight is the Sacra Sindone (Holy Shroud), which some Catholics believe is the cloth in which Christ’s body was wrapped.

LIGURIA    Comprising most of the Italian Riviera, the region of Liguria incorporates the major historical seaport of Genoa, charming, upscale harbors such as the one at Portofino, and Italy’s best coastal hiking, among the traditional communities of the Cinque Terre.

CAMPANIA    Campania encompasses both the fascinating anarchy of Naples and the elegant beauty of Capri and the Amalfi Coast. The region also contains sites identified in ancient mythology (lakes defined as the entrance to the Kingdom of the Dead, for example) and some of the world’s most renowned ruins, including Pompeii and Herculaneum.

SICILY    The largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, Sicily has a unique mix of bloodlines and architecture from medieval Normandy, Aragónese Spain, Moorish North Africa, ancient Greece, Phoenicia, and Rome. Cars and fashionable people clog the lanes of its capital, Palermo. Areas of ravishing beauty and eerie historical interest include Syracuse (Siracusa in Italian) and Taormina, and the ruins at Agrigento and Selinunte. In fact, Sicily’s ruins are rivaled only by Rome itself.

IF YOU HAVE ONLY 1 WEEK: ROME, FLORENCE & VENICE

Let’s be realistic: It’s impossible to see these storied cities properly in a week. However, a fast, efficient rail network along the Rome–Florence–Venice axis makes it’s surprisingly easy to see a handful of the best that these graceful, art-stuffed cities have to offer. This weeklong itinerary treads the familiar highlights—but they are the most visited because they are sure to provide memories that will last a lifetime.

DAYS 1, 2 & 3: ROME Red-Star3_redstar3

You could spend a lifetime in the Eternal City, but 3 days is enough to get a flavor of it. There are two essential areas to focus on in a short visit. The first is the legacy of Imperial Rome, such as the Forum, Campidoglio, and Colosseum (p. 104). Bookend DAY 1 with the Forum and Colosseum (one first, the other last) to avoid the busiest crowds; the same ticket is good for both. On DAY 2, tackle St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums (p. 96), with a collection unlike any other in the world that, of course, includes Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. On DAY 3, it’s a toss-up: Choose between the underground catacombs of the Via Appia Antica (p. 129); treading the cobbled streets of an ancient port at Ostia Antica (p. 141); or visiting some of the capital’s quieter museum collections, including the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme (p. 127). Spend your evenings in the bars of Campo de’ Fiori or Monti (p. 140) and the restaurants of Trastevere (p. 89) or Testaccio (p. 90). Toward the end of your third day, catch the late train to Florence. Make sure you have booked in advance: Walk-up fares are much more expensive than advanced tickets on the high-speed network.

DAYS 4 & 5: FLORENCE: CRADLE OF THE RENAISSANCE Red-Star3_redstar3

You have 2 whole days to explore the city of Giotto, Leonardo, Botticelli, and Michelangelo. Start with their masterpieces at the Uffizi (p. 174; you should definitely have booked admission tickets ahead), followed by the Duomo complex (p. 172): Scale Brunelleschi’s ochre dome, and follow up with a visit to the adjoining Battistero di San Giovanni, Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, and Campanile di Giotto (p. 172). Start DAY 5 with “David” at the Accademia (p. 187). For the rest of your time, spend it getting to know the art at the Palazzo Pitti (p. 190), the intimate wall paintings of San Marco (p. 188), and Masaccio’s revolutionary frescoes in the Cappella Brancacci (p. 194). In the evenings, head south of the Arno for lively wine bars and better restaurants (p. 167). Leave on an early train on the morning of DAY 6.

DAYS 6 & 7: VENICE: THE CITY THAT DEFIES THE SEA Red-Star3_redstar3

You’ll ride into the heart of Venice on a vaporetto (water bus), taking in the Grand Canal, the world’s greatest thoroughfare. Begin your sightseeing at Piazza San Marco (p. 331): The Basilica di San Marco is right there, and after exploring it, visit the nearby Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace; p. 335) before walking over the Bridge of Sighs. Begin your evening with the classic Venetian aperitivo, an Aperol spritz (Aperol with sparkling wine and soda) followed by cicchetti (Venetian tapas) before a late dinner. Make DAY 7 all about the city’s unique art: the Gallerie dell’Accademia (p. 338), the modern Peggy Guggenheim Collection (p. 340), and San Rocco (p. 342). Catch the latest train you can back to Rome. Or add another night—you can never stay too long in Venice.

The Piazza San Marco in Venice.

A 2-WEEK ALL-ITALY ITINERARY

It’s obviously difficult to see the top sights of Italy—and to see them properly—in just 2 weeks. But in this itinerary, we show you some of the best of them in 14 days. We’ll go beyond the well-trodden (and spectacular) Rome–Florence–Venice trail to include the southern region of Campania, specifically Pompeii, which has Italy’s most complete Roman ruins. Additional stops in the center and north are Pisa (for the Leaning Tower and more) and Verona (the city of lovers since “Romeo and Juliet”).

DAYS 1, 2 & 3: ROME Red-Star3_redstar3

Follow the itinerary suggested in “If You Have Only 1 Week,” above. Because an extra week allows you to add a trip to Pompeii, you can probably skip Ostia Antica: Choose your third day from between the catacombs of the Via Appia Antica (p. 129) and Rome’s less visited museums.

DAY 4: NAPLES Red-Star2_redstar2

Leave Rome as early as you can so that you can take in the major attractions of Naples, the “capital” of southern Italy. There is an unparalleled collection of ancient artifacts at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale (p. 470), plus Titians and Caravaggios at the Museo e Gallerie Nazionale di Capodimonte (p. 472). After dark, wander Spaccanapoli—the old center’s main east–west thoroughfare—then make a date with a pizzeria: Neapolitans stake a reasonable claim that pizza was invented here. After dinner, wander the Mergellina boardwalk to enjoy the breezes and views of the Bay of Naples. Stay overnight in Naples, the first of 3 nights based here.

DAY 5: POMPEII Red-Star2_redstar2

On DAY 5 take the Circumvesuviana train 24km (15 miles) south of Naples to spend a day wandering Europe’s Best-Preserved Roman Ruins at Pompeii (p. 480). Be sure to pack water and lunch, because onsite services aren’t great. The city was buried for almost 2,000 years, having suffered devastation when nearby Vesuvius erupted in A.D. 79. Some of the great treasures of Italy—including the remarkable patrician villa Casa dei Vettii and the frescoed Villa dei Misteri—are found here. Return to Naples for overnighting.

DAY 6: THE AMALFI COAST Red-Star2_redstar2

On the morning of DAY 6, rent a car and drive 49km (30 miles) south of Naples along A3 until you see the turnoff for Sorrento. At Sorrento, head east along the curvy Amalfi Drive, of which Andre Gide said “[There is] nothing more beautiful on this earth.” The drive winds around the twisting, steep coastline, to the southern resorts of Positano and Amalfi, either of which would make an idyllic stopover to extend your stay. Allow at least 3 hours for this drive because it is slow moving. Alternatively, do the death-defying Amalfi Coast drive as part of an organized tour from Naples.

DAYS 7 & 8: FLORENCE Red-Star3_redstar3

Jump on the early high-speed train from Naples to Florence, then follow the itinerary suggested in “If You Have Only 1 Week,” above.

DAY 9: GOTHIC SIENA Red-Star3_redstar3

It’s just over an hour to Siena on the rapida bus from Florence’s bus station (p. 205). Leave early and set out immediately on arrival for Piazza del Campo, the shell-shaped main square, including its art-filled Museo Civico (inside the Palazzo Pubblico; p. 214). This is a flying visit, but you still have time to squeeze in a look at the Duomo (p. 213) and Museo dell’Opera Metropolitana, where you’ll find Sienese master Duccio’s giant “Maestà.” Stop on the Campo for an early evening drink and then head to a restaurant in Siena’s atmospheric back streets. Reserve an early table: The last bus back to Florence departs at 8:45pm.

DAY 10: PISA & ITS LEANING TOWER Red-Star2_redstar2

The set-piece piazza here is one of the most photographed slices of real estate on the planet. Pisa’s Campo dei Miracoli (“Field of Miracles”) is home to the Leaning Tower (p. 238), of course. You can visit the Duomo, with its Arab-influenced Pisan-Romanesque facade, the Battistero with its carved pulpit and crazy acoustics, and the rest of the piazza’s monuments and museums on the same combination ticket. You should book a slot ahead of time if you want to climb the Leaning Tower, however. For dining alla pisana, head away from the touristy piazza. The “real Pisa” lies in the warren of streets around the market square, Piazza delle Vettovaglie. Finish your visit with a stroll along the handsome promenade beside the River Arno. The last train back to Florence usually leaves at 10:30pm.

DAYS 11 & 12: VENICE Red-Star3_redstar3

Follow the itinerary suggested in “If You Have Only 1 Week,” above.

DAY 13: VERONA: CITY OF LOVERS & GLADIATORS Red-Star3_redstar3

Although he likely never set foot in the place, Shakespeare placed the world’s most famous love story, “Romeo and Juliet,” here. Wander Piazza dei Signori and take in another square, Piazza delle Erbe, before descending on the Arena di Verona (p. 358): Evoking Rome’s Colosseum, it’s the world’s best-preserved gladiatorial arena, still used for monumental opera performances in summer months. Head back to Venice for the night. It is well worth booking your tickets for the high-speed Frecciabianca train ahead of time. The journey is just 1 hour, 10 minutes, compared with over 2 hours for local service.

DAY 14: MILAN Red-Star2_redstar2

The most bustling city in Italy isn’t only about industry and commerce. Milan possesses one of Europe’s great Gothic cathedrals, the Duomo (p. 373). Its Biblioteca-Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, with cartoons by Raphael, is one of the great galleries of Italy. The city of St. Ambrose also hosts the Pinacoteca di Brera (p. 378), a treasure-trove of art, laden with masterpieces from the likes of Mantegna and Piero della Francesca. Book ahead, too, to view Leonardo’s fading but still magnificent “Last Supper” (p. 379). Stay overnight here if you are flying home or onward: It is one of the major transportation hubs of Europe.

ITALY FOR FAMILIES

Italy is probably the friendliest family vacation destination in all Europe. Practically, it presents few challenges. But if you’re traveling by rental car with young children, be sure to request safety car seats ahead of time. Let the rental company know the age of your child and they will arrange for a seat that complies with EU regulations. Rail travelers should remember that reduced-price family fares are available on much of the high-speed network; ask when you buy your tickets or contact a booking agent.

As you tour, don’t go hunting for “child-friendly” restaurants or special kids’ menus. There’s always plenty available for little ones—even dishes that aren’t on offer to grown-up patrons. Never be afraid to ask if you have a fussy eater in the family. Pretty much any request is met with a smile.

Perhaps the main issue for travelers with children is spacing your museum visits so that you get a chance to see the masterpieces without having young kids suffer a meltdown after too many paintings of saints.

Remember to punctuate every day with a gelato stop—Italy makes the world’s best ice cream. You will even find creative soya flavors for anyone with lactose intolerance. We also suggest planning fewer long, tiring daytrips out of town, especially by public transportation. And end your trip in Venice, which many children will think was created by Walt Disney.

DAY 1: ROME’S ANCIENT RUINS Red-Star3_redstar3

History is on your side here: The wonders of Ancient Rome (p. 104) should appeal as much to kids (of almost any age) as to adults. There are plenty of gory tales to tell at the Colosseum (p. 104), where the bookshop has a good selection of city guides aimed at kids. After that, they can let off steam wandering the Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill. (The ruins of the Imperial Forums can be viewed at any time.) Cap the afternoon by exploring the Villa Borghese (p. 123), a monumental park in the heart of Rome where you can rent bikes; there’s a small zoo on the grounds. For dinner, head for some fluffy crusts at an authentic Roman pizzeria.

DAY 2: ROME: LIVING HISTORY Red-Star3_redstar3

Head early to St. Peter’s Basilica (p. 96). They’ll find it spooky wandering the Vatican grottoes, and few kids can resist climbing up to Michelangelo’s dome at 114m (375 ft.). After time out for lunch, begin your assault on the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel. Even if your kids don’t like art museums, they will probably gawk at the grandeur. Later in the day head for the Spanish Steps (a good spot for some upscale souvenir shopping; see p. 119) before wandering over to the Trevi Fountain. Let them toss coins into the fountain, which is said to ensure a return to Rome—perhaps when they are older and can better appreciate the city’s many more artistic attractions.

DAY 3: ROME: UNDERGROUND Red-Star3_redstar3

There are, literally, layers of history below the city streets, and kids will love to explore the catacombs of the Via Appia Antica (p. 129), the first cemetery of Rome’s Christian community, and where the devout practiced their faith in secret during periods of persecution. Context Travel (p. 132) runs an excellent tour of the city’s subterranean layers, which takes in San Clemente and Santi Giovanni e Paolo. It costs 255€ per party. Eat more pizza before you leave; Rome’s pizzeria’s are matched only by those in Naples, to the south, and the next recommended stops all lie to the north. Leave on a late afternoon train to Florence.

DAYS 4 & 5: FLORENCE Red-Star3_redstar3

Florence is usually thought of as more of an adult city, but there’s enough here to fill 2 family days, plus daytrips. With multiple nights here, you should take an apartment rather than a hotel room, to give you all the more space to spread out. Check out the website of GoWithOh.com for a good range of quality places. Close to the Duomo, Residence Hilda (p. 159) is a family-friendly hotel that rents large, apartment-style rooms from 1 night and more. Begin with the city’s monumental main square, Piazza della Signoria, now an open-air museum of statues. The Palazzo Vecchio (p. 180) dominates one side; you can all tour it with special family-friendly guides, including a docent dressed as Cosimo de’ Medici. You won’t want to miss the Uffizi. With young children, you could turn your visit into a treasure trail of the museum’s collection by first visiting the shop to select some postcards of the key artworks. On the second morning, kids will delight in climbing to the top of Brunelleschi’s dome on the Duomo for a classic panorama. Get there early—queues lengthen through the day. You’ll still have time to climb the 414 steps up to the Campanile di Giotto, run around in the Giardino di Boboli, and stroll the Ponte Vecchio at dusk. With older, fit children, you could add another day here, to allow time to see the Chianti hills from the saddle (see p. 152 for bike-rental info).

DAY 6: PISA & ITS LEANING TOWER Red-Star2_redstar2

If your kids are 7 or under, you should consider skipping Pisa (p. 334): 8 is the minimum age for the disorienting ascent up the bell tower of Pisa’s cathedral, which more commonly goes by the name the Leaning Tower. Elsewhere in the city, kids will love the hyperrealist monuments of the Campo dei Miracoli and learning about the city’s Galileo links: He was born here, and supposedly discovered his law of pendulum motion while watching a swinging lamp inside the Duomo. Take them to taste a local specialty, cecina—a pizzalike garbanzo-bean flatbread served warm. Your daylong tour complete, whiz up the coast on the Frecciabianca fast train to Genoa. There is a luggage storage facility (deposito bagagli) at Pisa Centrale station.

DAYS 7 & 8: GENOA & THE RIVIERA DI LEVANTE Red-Star2_redstar2

The industrial city-seaport of Genoa isn’t the obvious choice for the kids, but it’s here you’ll find one of Italy’s most enticing family attractions. The Acquario di Genova (p. 436) is Europe’s largest aquarium, where you can all enjoy a trip around the world’s oceans. It requires a half-day to see properly, so get in early then head out to the Riviera di Levante, a coastline of pretty ports and rocky coves east of the city. Our favorite base around here is laid-back, romantic Portofino.

DAYS 9 & 10: LAKE GARDA Red-Star3_redstar3

Slow down for a couple of days by Italy’s biggest inland lake. Take a boat trip, hire a pedal boat or kayak, and generally enjoy lakeside life. Most of the shore towns are seasonal resorts, and the most interesting for families is Sirmione (p. 402). Here you can scramble up high on the ramparts of the Castello Scaligero the ride the little train out to the Roman ruins at the Grotte di Catullo, supposedly once a villa inhabited by poet Catullus (ca. 84 B.C.–ca. 54 B.C.). Look out for lake fish on local menus. For those with more time to spend—as well as an active family—Riva del Garda (p. 403), at the lake’s northernmost point, is one of Europe’s major windsurfing centers.

Fresh seafood is just one of many reasons to visit Italy’s coasts.

Portofino village on the Ligurian coast.

DAYS 11, 12 & 13: VENICE: CITY ON THE LAGOON Red-Star3_redstar3

In Venice, the fun begins the moment you arrive and take a vaporetto ride along the Grand Canal. Head straight for Piazza San Marco (p. 331), where children delight in feeding the pigeons and riding the elevator up the great Campanile. Catch the mosaics inside the Basilica di San Marco, which dominates the square. At the Palazzo Ducale, your kids can walk over the infamous Bridge of Sighs. As in Florence, make time for some art: Visit the Gallerie dell’Accademia (p. 338) and San Rocco, where kids view the episodic Tintoretto paintings like a picture book. If it’s summer, save time for the beach at the Lido (p. 347) and perhaps for getting a different angle on Venice’s canals, from the seat of a gondola (p. 309).

A WHISTLESTOP WEEK-OR-SO FOR FOOD & WINE LOVERS

Alongside France, Italy has one of Europe’s great cuisines. In fact, the country harbors several very different cuisines; its history as a collection of independent city-states and noble fiefdoms has left a legacy in food as diverse as its architectural and cultural leftovers. Each, however, shares a commitment to local and regional produce, and treasures recipes that have been handed down through generations. Italy is also the world’s biggest wine producer. Although much of the output is undistinguished, if perfectly drinkable, table wine, some of the icons of world wine hail from the peninsula. Our itinerary takes in just three of the great Italian red wine zones: Montepulciano, whose noble wine was known to the Etruscans; the Chianti, probably the first properly codified wine zone in the world; and Piedmont, whose robust reds Barolo and Barbaresco command top prices at restaurants across the globe.

DAYS 1 & 2: ROME Red-Star3_redstar3

Italy’s capital is packed with restaurants offering cuisine from across the peninsula—the Trastevere, Monti, and Testaccio neighborhoods are great for dining and drinks after dark. While here, look out for traditional Roman dishes like pasta with cacio e pepe (sheep’s milk cheese and black pepper) or saltimbocca alla Romana—literally, “jump in the mouth,” a veal cutlet with prosciutto and sage. Gelato is either Florentine or Sicilian in origin, depending on whom you speak to, but it’s in Rome you’ll find some of the country’s best (see p. 91). The city also has Italy’s best craft beer bars (see p. 139). You’ll need a rental car for your next leg. Collect it on your second afternoon and head north to Tuscany, to leave yourself a full day at your next stop.

DAY 3: MONTEPULCIANO Red-Star2_redstar2

Begin with a walk up the handsome, steep Corso from the town gate to Piazza Grande, monumental heart of the comune. Here you’ll find the Palazzo Comunale (climb it for a panorama over the surrounding winelands) and Cattedrale. Oenophiles should make a beeline for the Consorzio del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano office, where you can taste vintages from small producers and seek advice for nearby wineries to visit. Our favorite cellar in the center is Gattavecchi. End the evening at Acquacheta, where the menu’s all about beef—“bistecca numero uno,” is how Contucci winemaker Adamo describes it. Other local delicacies include sheep’s milk cheese, pecorino di Pienza.

DAYS 4 & 5: THE CHIANTI Red-Star3_redstar3

Pick a base close to Greve in Chianti to lodge right at the heart of Tuscany’s largest quality wine region. Sangiovese-based Chianti is a diverse wine: Chianti Classico denotes grapes from the original (and best) growing zone, and tasting opportunities abound at cellars such as Villa Vignamaggio and Castello di Volpaia—book ahead if you require a tour. The Chianti is also famed for its butchers, selling everything from cuts of fresh beef (ideal if you’re staying in a villa) to salami made from the local breed of pig, Cinta Senese. Falorni, in Greve, is outshone perhaps only by Dario Cecchini, in nearby Panzano. Also look out for extra virgin olive oil—the local elixir is famed for its low acidity; it’s among Italy’s best.

DAYS 6 & 7: BOLOGNA Red-Star2_redstar2

You’ve arrived in Italy’s gastronomic capital; leave the rental car here—it’s easy to continue onward by train. The agricultural plains of Emilia-Romagna are Italy’s breadbasket. So much of the produce we think of as typical “Italian food” originally hails from here: cured prosciutto and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese from Parma and Reggio nell’Emilia; the finest balsamic vinegar from Modena; mortadella and tortellini (filled pasta) from Bologna itself. Foodies should browse Bologna’s markets, the Pescherie Vecchie and Mercato delle Erbe. Make an evening reservation at a restaurant that specializes in classic Bolognese cooking; see p. 272.

A vineyard in Chianti.

DAYS 8 & 9: TURIN Red-Star1_redstar1

Lofty peaks dot the horizon north and west of the Piedmontese capital, and the cooking in Italy’s northwest reflects the heartier and hardier mountain folk that live on the doorstep. Nearby Vercelli is Italy’s rice capital—the town is surrounded by paddy fields—and risotto is at its best here. There’s also a noticeable Ligurian current in Torinese food: The basil-based pesto is superb and the favorite slice on the go isn’t pizza but farinata (garbanzo bean flour flatbread dusted with rosemary or pepper). Eataly, in the Lingotto neighborhood, stocks delicacies from across Italy. Sweet vermouth was also invented here; the classic local label is Punt e Mes (“point and a half” in Piedmontese dialect).

HISTORIC CITIES OF THE NORTH

Often overshadowed by blockbusters like Rome and Florence, the cities of northern Italy make an excellent itinerary for second-time visitors to the country. Each city on our tour has a center with refined architecture, and a history of independence—as well as struggle with and eventual subjection to, the great regional powers, such as Venice. The logical start-point is Milan, gateway to Italy for flights from across the globe. Spend a day there, collect your rental car or rail ticket—all the train connections on this tour are easy—and set off early. The endpoint is Venice, where we recommend you extend your stay by as many days as you can; see chapter 8 for full coverage of the city.

DAYS 1 & 2: MILAN Red-Star2_redstar2 & TURIN Red-Star2_redstar2

See Milan under “A 2-Week All-Italy Itinerary,” p. 39. Spend DAY 2 taking a daytrip by train to Turin (p.405). The city of Fiat and football (meaning soccer) has a handsome baroque center, the finest Egyptian collection outside of Cairo at the Museo Egizio (p. 413), views of the Alps surrounding the city from the top of the Mole Antonelliana tower (p. 412), and a food culture every bit as refined as Bologna’s. Turin is the city of Vermouth and on the doorstep of the Piedmont wine-growing region, so you need not go thirsty either. You can complete the rail journey between the cities in as little as 45 minutes: no need to relocate your base from Milan.

DAY 3: BERGAMO Red-Star2_redstar2

Whether you arrive by train or car, alight in the Lower Town (Città Bassa) and ascend to the Upper Town (Città Alta) in style, on the town’s century-old funicular railway. Piazza Vecchia (p. 386) is the architectural heart of the Upper Town. Beyond the arcades you’ll find the Romanesque Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore and the Renaisaance Cappella Colleoni, with its frescoed ceiling by Venetian painter Tiepolo. You should also make time for the Galleria dell’Accademia Carrara (p. 385), with its exceptional collection of northern Italian painting. Bergamo was the birthplace of composer Donizetti and has a lively cultural (largely operatic) program. You needn’t relocate from your Milanese base: Bergamo is an easy daytrip from Milan.

DAY 4: VERONA Red-Star3_redstar3

A visit to northern Italy’s most renowned small city is less about ticking off sights than about soaking up the elegance of a place eternally (and fictionally) associated with Shakespeare’s doomed lovers, Romeo and Juliet. If you’re here in summer, make straight for the box office at the Arena di Verona; Italy’s most intact Roman amphitheater still hosts monumental outdoor operatic productions, which you shouldn’t miss. Your roaming should also take you to the Castelvecchio, fortified home of the Della Scala family, who ruled here in the 13th and 14th centuries; and San Zeno Maggiore, one of Italy’s most appealing Romanesque churches. Use Verona as an accommodation base and see the following two cities on day visits.

A view of Mole Antonelliana in Turin.

DAY 5: MANTUA Red-Star2_redstar2

Landlocked it may be, but the Renaissance city of Mantua is almost completely, romantically surrounded by water—lakes fed by the River Mincio. It owes its grandeur almost entirely to one family, the Gonzaga dynasty, who built piazzas and palaces, and filled them with art by the greatest masters of the period, such as Mantegna. One day is just enough to see L. B. Alberti’s Basilica di Sant Andrea, the frescoed Palazzo Ducale, and the Room of Giants inside the Palazzo Te.

DAY 6: VICENZA Red-Star2_redstar2

Few cities in the world have been so shaped by the vision of one architect as Vicenza. Andrea Palladio was actually born in nearby Padua, but his vision for the reinvention of classical architecture was dramatically realized in Renaissance Vicenza. The prosperous, atmospheric streets are littered with his creations (and later buildings inspired by him). Visit the Basilica Palladiana, subject to a massive restoration project between 2007 and 2012, and Palladio’s Teatro Olimpico, where you can still attend orchestral concerts. On a quiet hill outside of the center, Palladio’s Villa Rotonda was the template for later state capitol buildings across the U.S.

DAYS 7 & 8: VENICE Red-Star3_redstar3

Follow the itinerary suggested in “If You Have Only 1 Week,” p. 37.

DAY 9: PADUA Red-Star1_redstar1

The most important art stop in northern Italy is Giotto’s frescoed Cappella degli Scrovegni (p. 355), but before you head there, stop in at the tourist office to buy a Padova Card—a discount ticket that buys you entrance to almost everything in town plus free public transportation or parking. The city is also the final resting place of St. Anthony of Padua, the second-most preeminent Franciscan saint after St. Francis himself. Inside the Basilica di Sant’Antonio you’ll find his tomb and some Donatello bronzes. Much of the city outskirts were unaesthetically rebuilt after sustaining massive damage during World War II; head to the Ovetari Chapel inside the Chiesa degli Eremitani to see what a direct hit from a bomb could do to irreplaceable frescoes by Mantegna. It’s a tragic, moving sight.

Piazza Della Frutta in Padua.

DAY 10: FERRARA Red-Star1_redstar1

This small, stately city of cyclists owes its grandeur as much to one despotic family as does nearby Mantua. In Ferrara it was the Este dukes who held sway from the 1200s to the 1500s. They ruled the city from the Castello Estense (p. 284). Elsewhere in the center, check out the facade of the Gothic-Romanesque Duomo and the Palazzo dei Diamanti, another Este creation, named for the 9,000 diamond-shaped stones adorning its facade. Ferrara is a direct, 85-minute train journey from Venice.

ITALY’S ANCIENT RUINS

Italy isn’t old. As a country, it has only just passed the 150-year mark. But the peninsula is rightly considered one of the cradles of European civilization. Michelangelo and the Renaissance, Gothic architecture, even the Byzantine mosaics of Ravenna: These are relatively recent moments in Italian time. Even the Romans were not the first civilization to leave an indelible mark on the peninsula. There are buildings still standing that owe their construction to the ancient Greeks.

DAYS 1, 2, 3 & 4: SICILY Red-Star2_redstar2

As Greek Syracuse, modern-day Siracusa (p. 510) was one of the cultural hotspots of the ancient Mediterranean: Dramatist Aeschylus was a visitor, and lyric poet Sappho was exiled there toward the end of the 7th century B.C. A ruined Doric Temple of Apollo stands in the town, and the Parco Archeologico della Neapolis (p. 516) has a Greek theater still used to host dramas each summer. The southwest of the island has another cluster of ruins. If the main reason for your visit is to see Greek remains, you should probably make your base over there for at least half your time on Sicily. Allow a couple of days to tour coastal Selinunte (p. 541), Segesta (p. 537), and the Valley of the Temples at Agrigento (p. 538). The mosaics of the Villa Romana del Casale (p. 520) lie almost midway between the two—a worthy stop on your way past. You should rent a car for your time on Sicily. Catania, 67km (41 miles) north of Siracusa, is well connected by air with Rome (1 hr., 15 min. flight).

DAYS 5, 6 & 7: ROME Red-Star3_redstar3

Rome is to ancient ruins as Coke is to fizzy brown liquids: This is the brand that counts when it comes to archaeology. Rome was the epicenter of a Republic and Empire that for centuries ruled most of Europe, and much of North Africa and the Middle East. Spend DAY 5 walking ancient Rome’s civic and spiritual heart, the Foro Romano (p. 108). The same ticket gets you into the Colosseum (p. 104). Between visits to those two, it makes sense to view the Imperial Forums, Trajan’s Markets, and the city’s best artifact collection, at the Musei Capitolini (p. 106), whose new wing houses the equestrian bronze of philosopher-emperor Marcus Aurelius (r. A.D. 161–180). As well as the key archaeological sites, museums display an array of relics dug up here over the centuries: Add the ancient collections of the Vatican Museums (p. 96) and the busts and Roman art at the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme (p. 127) to your to-do list. The ruins of Rome’s former seaport, Ostia Antica (p. 141), still stand a short train journey from the city—it’s a comfortable half-day roundtrip. On the way back into town, jump out at the Circo Massimo Metro stop to visit the Terme di Caracalla (p. 104) baths complex, and to admire for one last time the view of the Palatine Hill from the Circus Maximus. You could probably spend a month here just looking at the remnants of Ancient Rome.

DAYS 8, 9 & 10: NAPLES & CAMPANIA Red-Star2_redstar2

Ancient Naples—established as the fishing port of Parthenope, then re-founded as Neapolis in the 6th century B.C.—was a key settlement in Magna Graecia, or “Greater Greece.” Dating to a later period, the Roman towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum (p. 480) were preserved for centuries under the ash and lava after Vesuvius’s cataclysmic eruption in A.D. 79. Remnants of the ancient world remain even in Naples’s chaotic 21st-century centro storico: In the excavations below San Lorenzo Maggiore (p. 477) you can walk around the remains of the Roman Forum and Greek Ágora (market square). Naples›s Museo Archeologico Nazionale (p. 470) preserves wall art from Pompeii and Roman statuary, including the “Farnese Bull.” West of Naples, the amphitheater at Pozzuoli (p. 479) was once the third largest in the Roman world. Leave Naples on the high-speed Frecciarossa or Italo service late on DAY 10: It is just under 3 hours to Florence by rail. If you have a little more time on your hands, the Amalfi Coast (p. 485) makes an even more scenic base for exploring the ruins of Campania.

DAYS 11 & 12: FLORENCE Red-Star3_redstar3

Florence made its name and its fortune during the Renaissance period, in the 1400s and 1500s, and much of the center’s art and architecture dates from that period. However, the city’s Museo Archeologico (p. 187) houses relics from a civilization that predated even the Romans around here, the Etruscans. So many visitors zero in on Michelangelo and co. that you may have the “Arezzo Chimera” and its other precious relics to yourself. High on the hill north of Florence is a settlement that first rose under the Etruscans: Fiesole (p. 195) is an easy 20-minute bus journey from Florence. Now little more than an overgrown village, it has a preserved Roman theater and archaeological area where visitors can roam among the stones.

DAY 13: VERONA Red-Star2_redstar2

It seems a little harsh to label the Arena di Verona (p. 358) “a ruin.” This city’s enormous amphitheater is the best preserved in Italy. Come in summer—and book ahead—to experience one of Europe’s most atmospheric outdoor opera festivals.