Writing about Italy – Italy in my heart

Italy is perhaps the most difficult country for me to write about…I have visited more cities, towns, villages in this country then in my own native country.

I first set foot in Italy 31 yrs ago when I was a kid. It was Rome. I thought it was the most magical city ever. I found my childhood diary years later in a box and it said “this city is special, this is a city I would want to leave in one day when I grow up…” Then years have passed and made it back only 18 yrs ago when was passing by San Remo on my way to Monaco on a European rail trip. Then Italy came full force into my world about 17 yrs ago, when I started studying Italian, for no obvious reason then Italian being the most beautiful language in the world for me. With that, I started my extensive explorations, one week long language schools, then the language bringing friends, friends bringing other friends, connections, then visiting friends in their home towns…Italy has become the country at my heart.

As I write this, I am afraid it is lame. Perhaps it is not a very unique statement, as millions of people have emotional connection to Italy, millions visit every year, billions cook Italian food, and thousands write about Italy…It is the country, that is one of the most beautiful in the world, I still think even after having visited over 100 countries. It is the country I sometimes think to live in or at least retire in. Or take a sabbatical leave and write my blog in house by the beach, overlooking a castle. It is the country you can visit endless times and still find new places to visit, new things to do.  It is the country that ticks almost all of the boxes on my home page: romance, history & culture, shopping, food, chill & wellness, beach, adventure, ski, hike, etc etc…

It is difficult for me to write about Italy or give any itinerary advice..I have been so overwhelmed with the idea of writing about Italy that, at some point I thought I better skip it. Until a good Italian friend, who knows me well, said “you have to write about Italy”. So here I am ….

The country is so full of history and scenic places that, site seeing advice would be pages and pages long…And again lame. So I decided to focus on eating, going out, shopping advices and pointing out the most memorable places out of the hundreds. I decided to tell you about my Italy… Italy in my heart.

PLACES YOU MUST SEE IN ITALY BEFORE YOU DIE:

Italy for Beginners: Rome, Milan, Bologna, Sicily, Sardegna, Tuscany (Florence, Siena, San Gimignano, Lucca), Venice, Verona, Cinque Terre, Amalfi Coast.

Italy Advanced: all other places I listed below.

LAZIO: Rome

ROME:

Restaurants:

  • Maccheroni (via delle Coppelle) in the historical centre. Very cute and young/professional trattoria.
  • Gusto (Piazza Augusto imperatore). This is a very happening Pizzeria.
  • Prado (Tastevere). Very happening.
  • Met (Ponte Milvio). Same as Prado (same owners). Very happening.
  • Baffetto (via del governo vecchio)
  • Ristorante da Francesco: food very good near Piazza Navona
  • Da Bafetta (via del governo vecchio, close to Piazza Navona, pizza), Taverne (Piazzi dei mercanti, meat)
  • Trastevere Area, Campo dei Fiori, Piazza Navona, across from pantheon, piazza minevra

Bars & Clubs:

  • Duke’s (viale Parioli). Very happening.
  • Bar delle Coppelle (piazza delle Coppelle – right next to Maccheroni). If weather is good, there are a lot of young professionals outside on their vespas
  • Maison and Goa (via libetta 13, by Garbatella metro station) for dancing
  • Areas to go out: Testaccio (full of bars and restaurants), Centre, Parioli.
  • The Vineria, Campo dei Fiori, is still very ‘in’ and makes a perfect rendezvous for an early evening drink. Customers range from well-known actors to local winos.
  • Equally popular but rather more refined is Antico Caffé della Pace, Via della Pace 5, close to Piazza Navona. The cosy interior is adorned with antiques, while the ivy-clad façade looks onto a notoriously popular summer terrace.
  • For a romantic pre-dinner aperitif, take a table at Caffe di Marzio, Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere 15, and enjoy a glass of wine overlooking this delightful piazza in the heart of Trastevere.
  • Those in search of English-speaking ex-pats should try Miscellanea, Via delle Paste 110A, close to Panteon.
  • Popular with American students, the ‘Mish’ does a great choice of beers and stays open until 0300.
  • In summer beside the sea near Ostia
  • The rich and famous hang out at Gilda, Via Mario dei Fiori 97, close to Piazza di Spagna. Disco music dominates the dancefloor, there’s a piano bar reserved for private parties and a well-run restaurant. In summer the establishment moves out to Fregene, on the coast, for Gilda on the Beach, Via Lungomare di Ponente 11.
  • Goa: Some of Europe’s best DJs play at Goa, Via Libetta 13, close to Mercati Generali. House and jungle music predominate amid a sophistacted ethno setting.
  • Alien, Via Velletri 13-19, is brash and bold, with sexy dancers paid to gyrate to house, commercial and revival. Theme evenings.
  • In Testaccio, Alibi, Via Monte Testaccio 39, plays predominantly house music with occasional live concerts.
  • Zoobar, Via Monte Testaccio 22, plays house, rock and new wave to a mixed and cheerful crowd.
  • Supper Club
  • http://www.gotoroma.com/pages/cityguide/Nightlife.htm

Site Seeing:

  • Inside park borghese – villa Borghese, piazza spagna (close to park borghese)
  • colosseo, fontana di trevi, piazza della republica
  • Ponza (small island in front of Rome)

Shopping:

  • Via del corso, via cola di Rienzo  (near Vatican), via nazionale, via appia nuevo (by S. Giovanni metro station)

VENETO: Venice, Verona (Rome & Juliet), Bardolino, Lago di Garda

  • Bardolino to Venice is 2.5 hrs by bus.  The easiest way is probably to get a bus from Bardolino to Peschiera then a train from there to Venice
  • Lake Garda: Simione is 1 hour Ferry ride from Bardolino. highly recommended town, with it’s Roman Ruins, Castle, churches and beauty.
  • Verona about 1 to 1 1/2 hours, Venice 2 hours maybe less, we made a stop in Vincenza on the way. from Verona, train into Milan.

LOMBARDY: Milan, Como, Bergamo.

MILAN
Where to stay:
  • Brera (that’s the soho of Milan). Hotel King and Hotel Executive are very central or Carlyle Brera Hotel  (very good location on Corso Garibaldi, in Brera close to nightlife and shops). Corso Garibaldi is the hip area.

  • For convenience: around Duomo, Porta Garibaldi or Cadorna

Shopping

  • Expensive stores are in the area of Quadrilatero d’Oro, Montenapolenone, Via Manzoni, Via Santa Spirito, Via Gesu, Via della Spiga, Via Bagutta, Via Sant’Andrea, Piazza della Scala.
  • For more affordable shopping: Corso Vittorio Emanuele, via Torino, Via Dante, Piazza San Babila, Corso Venezia, Via Senato, DMAG (designer fashion outlet on Via Senato).
  • Valextra: a bag shop. The shop itself is worth seeing with a beautiful interior design.

Eat & Drink

  • Aperitivo: Ceresio 7, Terrezza Triennale, Terrezza Gallia Rooftop (Excelsior Hotel Gallia), Corso Como 10, Terrezza Aperol, La Terrezza di Via Palestro, Sky Terrace (Hotel Milano Scala), Radio Rooftop Bar, Armani Hotel Bamboo Bar, Terrezza Cavalieri, Hotel LeGare Rooftop.  Terrezza 12 (top floor of Brian & Barry Building, coffee break during shopping),
  • Bars: Radetzky, Ombra di vin where most people go for aperitivo.
  • Restaurants: LuBar, Cracco (don’t miss: calamari ravioli),  Innocenti Evasioni (don’t miss: chicken with cashew and cumin)

Site Seeing:

  • Duomo (not my favorite but a must see icon)
  • Piazza Mercanti, La Scala (theatre / opera house)
  • Navigli (stoll or eat by the canal)
  • Brera, Corso Como
  • Quadrilatero d’Oro and Via Manzoni for window shopping
  • Grand Hotel et de Milan where Giuseppe Verdi died in 1901
  • Santa Maria delle Grazie where Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci is.
  • Arco della Pace

SARDINIA: beautiful beaches, lux around Costa Smeralda, Porto Cervo

SICILY:

  • Taormina: Picturesque town, nice little village by the sea on the top of a rock.  Very touristic. Beaches within walking distance, many shops, restaurants and some new hotels with good deals like Ashbee and Metropole. Hotel Metropole in main street has terrace bar overlooking sea and live piano music, jazz. Best for night time. Wunderbar on main street for coffee and where Liz Taylor and Rich Burton had cocktails. Paninis are terrible though!! Best quality jewellery shop on main street Via Umberto is Lo Turco. Amazing own-brand and other Sicilian Brand soaps (Ortiga brand has Ambra Nera scented soaps) and perfumes etc at Narcisse Shop, two locations on and near Umberto high street. Best gelato as recommended by local is gelatoMania at beginning of main Umberto street. Try almond. Best new restaurant for lunch L’incontro on via luigi Pirandello. Bacco brand made in Bronte, another town, have the best pistachio biscuits. Granduccale Pizzeria for lunch and the separate restaurant with terrace for dinner. Book in advance or in the morning via your hotel. Trattoria da Nino for good value dinner or lunch, book or go around 8.30/9.
  • You can do day trips to Mt Etna but it gets cold and you get s good view on road from Catania Airport.
  • Beaches near are good but pebbles so take plastic shoes for swimming. Best one is a 20 min walk down stairs in hillside or drive down. Another good but smaller beach is at bottom of 4 min Cable car ride. The best beach and sandy one is 20 min drive to Giardini Naxos. There is also cheap bus from Catania Airport direct to Taormina direct for 10 euros.
  • Drive inland one morning to see countryside but we did not go outside Eastern Sicily. If you want to relax then not worth spending hours on windy roads inland. Coastal roads are much faster and autostrade
  • Cefalu is a good place for nice beaches and good night life.
  • Small islands that are incredible: Lipari, Volcano, Lampedusa
  • La riserva naturale dello Zingaro -> protected area near Palermo where you can walk from one beautiful beach to another. Not crowded which is rare in Italy . Just for 1 day. I read recently in a magazine that it is one of the best beaches in the world.
  • Monreale -> small  village on top of a hill overlooking Palermo . Beautiful cathedrals and abbeys
  • In  the south east you have all the famous baroque cities: Noto, Ragusa , Modica, etc (World Heritage by UNESCO) This is more cultural tourism. Beaches are not very nice and I do not think there is a lot of night life.
  • South east: stop by for a few hours also in  Piazza Armerina for the Roman  bath with beautiful mosaics
  • Marabu is in Giardini Naxos – summer club you can eat at their restaurant, and from what I saw it was open all night. 10 euros to get in. There were a couple of bars, a pool in the middle (no swimming though), lots of tables, and a few rooms with totally different music. from Ramada in Giardini-Naxos, and if you walk out the front entrance and turn right on the street, just go about a block and a half, and Marabu is across the street. La Giara – best club, chic Vico La Floresta 1, Located in a street perpendicular to Corso Humberto, almost in the middle. -Panasia is a beach bar that turns into a disco, at night. There’s also a restaurant near the entrance. The place is beautifull, facing the beach. The best days to got are friday and saturday. some days there are private party’s or partys related to specific themes like white night In spizone beach. Lungomare of the Taormina mare. Panasia Beach is a pizzeria and bar on the beach. When it gets late, people start dancing a little too. It’s a really fun place. It gets really packed with people so try and come a little early if you don’t want to stress at the door. I would say around 23.00! The music is “housy”. Do “dress up” Stroll along the “Corso” have a drink in one of the Cafés. Piazza IX Aprile and enjoy the view over the Ocean. Wunderbar -large outside seating area with bright blue chairs and tablecloths. it’s located in the main piazza in the center of town. fun to start your night at. The bars in this square belong to the most expensive on Sicily, great people watching. The Ex Tiffany – nightclub. Q- Lounge is a really tiny wine bar, with all white and beige interior. White Bar and De ja vu all in the same area. Soha Beach: Just like all the other indoors clubs in Catania, Soha has a place on the beach. When summer comes they close the normal club and move out from Soha to Soha Beach. Hot spot.
  • Catania Nightlife:  Quattro venti: 420 -cool people. Filenz -cool place. It’s in Acitrezza, right next to the beach, has a lovley staff, good music and great food and drinks. Café de mar -an outdoor summer place accross the street from the beach in Aci Trezza which is full of other bars, restaurants and clubs. It is ideal after a good dinner or a simple night out.

TUSCANY: Florence, Siena, San Gimignano, Lucca, Chianti region, Viareggio, Forte dei Marmi. Skip Pisa.

Florence: Ora d’Aria (don’t miss: New Wave panzanella salad)

LIGURIA: Genoa (historical port town that gone torn down) and full of refugees. San Remo, Cinque Terre (Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore), Santa Margherita Ligure, Portofino, Sestri Levante.

TRENTINO: Ski at Dolemites

AOSTO VALLEY: Ski at Courmayer (posh ski resort southern side of Mont Blanc)

PIEDMONT: Turin (Torino)

FRIULI-VENEZIA GIULIA: Trieste (not special and full of prostitutes). From there you can continue onto Slovenia.

EMILIA-ROMAGNA: Rimini (beach and party town for youngsters), Parma (true heaven for eating), Bologna (beautiful city, great for eating and shopping), Parma.

MARCHE: Ancona. From there you can go, check out San Marino.

UMBRIA: Perugia

ABRUZZO: Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (where the world famous red wine comes from)

CAMPANIA: Salerno, Napoli (Naples), Pompeii. Procida and Ischia islands across from Naples (these are the islands where the movie Talented Mr Ripley was shot)

Napoli: Walk around Centro Historico, eat at Pucinella Bistrot and Osteria la Chitarra. Then get out 🙂

Procida: eat at Caracale, Il Maestrale

Ischia: Thermal Spas: Negombo (eat at Trattoria Casa Colonica inside the Spa), Poseidon, Cava Scura and Aphorodite. Towns: Sant’ Angelo, Lacco Ameno, Ischia Porto, Ischia Ponte (eat Paccheri vongole e zucchine and the divine Tiramisu at Restaurant Al Pontile!), visit Aragon Castle, Casamicciola.

BASILICATA: Potenza

CALABRIA: Cosenza

PUGLIA: Otranto, Salento, Ostuni, Brindisi, Bari, Polignano a Mare, Alberobello, Lecce, Otranto

  • Lecce (beautiful historical city, good for going out, shopping and discovering beautiful beaches by car or bus within 30-60 min. Lecce itself is not on the beach), Salento, Ostuni, Between Bari and Birindisi Polignano a mare bari (Polignano a Mare: cave restaurant at Hotel Grotta Palazzese, Via Narciso 59), Locorotondo
  • West of Lecce, between Lecce and Taranto:  Castro Lecce, Alberobello bari and Castellana caves, Cisternino, Grottaglie – riggio caves, Villa Castelli, Gallipoli
  • South of Lecce: Torre Sant’andrea, Corigliano d’Otranto, Otranto, Cave zinzulusa, Galatina – Basilica of St. Caterina of Alessandria, Castro

EAT EAT EAT in ITALY:

Six Restaurants Where Progressive Italian Cooking Shines

  • Combal.Zero, Piazza Mafalda di Savoia, Rivoli. A contemporary space attached to an aged castle on a hilltop just outside Turin. Don’t miss: maccheroni soufflé; reimagined vitello tonnato.
  • Osteria Francescana, Via Stella 22, Modena. A beautifully spare space with stylized art in one of northern Italy’s most pleasant small cities. Don’t miss: five textures and ages of Parmesan.
  • Piazza Duomo, Piazza Risorgimento 4, Alba. A bright pink dining room overlooking an old square. Don’t miss: shrimp with grape; agnolotti with cinnamon.

Top Experiences

  • Rome. Going around with a bicycle in Rome, eating and shopping.
  • Milan and Como Lake. Posh aperitivo experience in Milan.
  • Tuscany
  • Sicily: beach, hiking, non stop eating.
  • Amalfi Coast: Positano, Sorrento, Capri, Ischia, Naples, Pompeii
  • Tuscany: Florence, Siena, San Gimignano
  • Bologna: eat, shop, study in Bologna
  • Lecce. Basing yourself in Lecce and exploring the surrounding beach towns as a day trip
  • Venice, Verona, Lago di Garda
  • Cinqure Terre: walking from one to another of all 5 cities
  • Sardegna: rare white sand beaches. Strolling among the rich in Porto Cervo marina.