I can’t count the number of people who have asked me questions along the line of,
“What is your favorite thing about Italy?” There really can be no single answer
to this. Instead, I thought it might be interesting and beneficial to provide a
list of random “favorites,” comprised of both sights to see and activities to do.
Allow this list to get you started, but be adventurous and discover your own!
There could never be enough said about the depth and richness of Italy’s history.
As I indicated in the A Month of Italy book, Italy’s history is many, many layers
deep. There are traces of the ancient peoples, then tombs from the Etruscans, then
the Romans, then the early church, then the Normans, then the Renaissance, then
the two world wars, and on and on. I would highly recommend at least a little study
of this broad and sweeping history, followed up with a digging down deeper into
an area of your own interest. Even if you haven’t been much of a student of history
to this point, a trip to Italy will introduce you to it “up close and personally.”
Be sure and make the most of it!
The amount of art in Italy from various periods of history is downright staggering.
One can go completely mentally numb just attempting to see the Vatican museums.
This isn’t even counting the Uffizi and other galleries in Florence, Siena, Milan,
Venice—oh, the list is endless. And nowhere can there be such a rich dispersion
of art, either. Make your way into almost any remote village and prepare to be stunned
by frescoes on the ceiling of the local church.
Italy possesses a rich coastline, lush central farmland, forested mountains, snow-capped
elevated peaks, prairie lands, and even a dry area sometimes referred to as the
“Tuscan Desert.” No matter how you try, Italy’s beautiful views will find a way
to arrest you again and again. I’ve got hours invested in staring.
Although generalizations are dangerous and never entirely true, Italy possesses
one of the friendliest cultures in the world. Sure, the populace is split into a
million regional factions that all hate each other, but tourists in love with Italia
will receive warmth and kindness (but this too varies based upon your country of
origin). I thoroughly enjoy the Italian people and feel a kindred connection to
There is no way to accurately describe Italy without attempting to wax poetic about
its cuisine. Many authors have tried before me, and no doubt, many will afterwards.
However, I have one qualification most of them do not, which, if you think about
it, should actually lend more credibility to my words than any of theirs: I am known
as a “food Neanderthal.” This means that for vast periods of my life, I simply ate
food in order to avoid death by starvation. I sat glassy-eyed through many a meal
while my companions chatted on and on about this dish or that recipe, even planning
their next meal from the chairs of the current one! This all changed for me, however,
when I began visiting Italy! Now, I pay attention to it all, tasting new things,
craving that next meal, and putting on pounds like a Sumo wrestler preparing for
As one born and raised in Michigan, I developed the inborn yearning for nice weather
that still makes me resist the wasting of a nice day by being indoors. Italy’s climate
is bright, clear-skied, and sunny. Sure, they have four seasons, and sure, it snows
in the mid-to-northern parts in the winter, but still, very few climates have the
appeal of Italy’s Mediterranean weather.
This is a slight variation on what I said about Italy’s people earlier. Culture
is the social pattern of mores and tendencies reflected by a group of people in
combination. Italy’s is one of the most fascinating. In general, the Italian culture
(again, this is hard to simplify because each region has its own distinct culture
within the overall) cherishes friendship, takes time for one another, prioritizes
proper eating of fresh foods in fellowship with others, resists the urge to worry,
refuses to rush along with technology, gesticulates and expresses loudly but at
the same time full of kindness, and can’t resist the beautification of just about
What kid hasn’t drooled at a poster of an Italian sports car? What fashion conscious
woman hasn’t admired an Italian leather product? What dapper man hasn’t donned an
Italian suit? The world over, Italy is known for its design. There is one glaring
exception to this, however, and I’ll let you find it in the A Month of Italy book!
I have to admit it: I’m a sucker for architecture. I just simply love buildings!
Again, Italy offers such a wonderful cornucopia of architectural wonders that one
could easily take a tour of the country intent on seeing it all and never make it
in a lifetime. If you too appreciate marble, stone, arches, columns, and centuries
worth of combinations of these, your eyes will rarely be left without entertainment.
Okay, so much for the broad sweep. How about some specifics?
The Duomo in Florence is one of my all-time favorite spots. I especially like the
climb to the lantern at the top of the dome.
Ponte Vecchio in Florence is also tops. Skip the jewelry stores and stroll this
bridge with a gelato in hand.
The Amalfi Coast: Have someone else drive so you can look out at the Mediterranean
coast without smashing into sixty-three scooters and motorcycles. Be sure to have
some of the region’s huge lemons!
Pompeii and Herculaneum: These two cities ruined in different ways by the eruption
of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD are like walking into a snapshot of Roman life at roughly
the time of Christ. You will be shocked by how “modern” their lives were.
The Tuscan Countryside: This has been written about so much over the centuries that
it’s almost a cliché. It’s still the most beautiful place, however.
The Colosseum and Palatine Hill in Rome: These are a must-see and will stay with
you for a long, long time.
The Pantheon in Rome
Castiglione del Lago on Lake Trasimeno: I am in love with this whole region. Were
I ever to buy a property in Italy, look for me somewhere near there!
Venice: All of it—especially taking a ride in a water taxi!
Brunello wine from Montalcino
Banfi winery and vineyards
Pizza in Naples and Florence
Pasta alla Arrabiata
Italian Button Down Shirts
Italian Dress Shoes
Poseidonia in the south
So much for the generalities, now let’s get to some specifics:
StradaNova motorcycle rentals:
Ricardo, the owner, is kind and knowledgeable, a biker himself, and very competent. I have used his services for several years in a row now without a hitch.
Based in Florence, Ricardo will deliver to any Italian address. If pleasures of the two-wheeled variety are your flavor, you won’t be disappointed.
Alessandra Federici’s Cooking Class
This is the Alessandra spoken of so highly by my wife Terri in the book. Read Chapter 30 to get the full scoop, but it’s safe to say that if you have any interest whatsoever in
authentic Italian cooking, Alessandra’s class is for you! www.il-girasole.com/cooking.htm
Hotel 47 in Rome:
It’s hard for me to describe just how much I appreciate this particular hotel. First off, its location is superb.
Directly across from the Temples Forum Boarium, pretty much all of Imperial Rome is within walking distance. But that’s not even why I love this place so much.
In all my travels around the world, I have never experienced such excellent customer service – period. Pay whatever they ask to stay there, you won’t be disappointed!
Sergio the Taxi driver on Capri:
Capri is an island known for its stunning rocky vistas, colorful caves, ruins of the palace of Emperor Tiberius, a certain type of salad dressing,
and perhaps even pants that don’t cover the calves. However, one of the nicest things about the island for us was an over-the-top taxi driver named Sergio Villanova.
We paid him to give us a tour of the island and it was superb. He paid attention to our kids, took us to special little places, and took care of us whenever we needed
him during our several day stay there. Go to the taxi stand and ask for him – you’ll have an immediate new best friend!
Bastian Contrario in Camucia:
This restaurant in Camucia near Cortona will never be famous for its view, location, or famous chef.
However, we found ourselves going there again and again for the quick service, delicious food, and eclectic environment.
After several visits, Leio, the owner, sat at our table and shared stories of his travels to the US with us.
This place just kind of feels like home and our kids loved it. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed with it, either.
Primo Amore in Camucia:
Okay, while we’re on the Camucia kick, we might as well tell you about our favorite gelato place.
The owner and his daughter(s)? are extremely friendly, and took the greatest care with Nathaniel’s milk allergy.
The gelato is superb, the service excellent, and the prices reasonable. Also, it is easily accessible by car and doesn’t
require the normal hike up into an ancient stone town as do many of the touristy gelato stores. Tell ‘em we said hello!