Suzanne Wales suggests passing up popular European cities for their more modest neighbours
Head for an aperitivo in the central Piazza dei Signori (order a glass of local prosecco, or sparkling wine) and a meal in one of city’s many splendid osteria. Then stroll across the stone bridges connecting the patchwork of canals and admire the frescoes and rich colours of the city’s townhouses and mansions, smug in the knowledge you have discovered a bonafide destination jewel.
How to get there: Budget airlines fly into Treviso including Ryanair and easyJet; www.easyjet.com. There are regular trains between Treviso and Venice; the journey takes about 40 minutes.
Where to stay: A short walk from the station, rooms at La Colonna have been recently prettied up. Breakfast is served in a sumptuous restaurant downstairs overlooking a canal. Via Campana 27; www.ristorantelacolonna.it.
Where to eat: There’s no written menu and waiters reel off daily specials, but everything served in the Osteria da Arman is top notch so don’t worry too much about ordering. If it’s on offer, try the bigoli con oca (pasta with goose). Via Manzoni 27. SWAP ROME FOR ORVIETO Orvieto in southwest Umbria is the real (Italian) deal. Surrounded by rolling green hills and valleys rich with olive groves and orchards, the city spills over the top of volcanic mesa, so getting around involves sensible shoes and a slow pace.
Prepare yourself with a glass of local wine at the train station’s bar and then take the funicular up to the heart of the city and the majestic Duomo, the striking marble-inlay facade of which has recently been given a spring-clean.
The Duomo piazza is the epicentre of Orvieto: to its left is a compact weave of cobblestone, pedestrian-only streets selling clothing, local ceramics and artisan leather, all signalling effortless Italian chic.
A legacy of the city’s important Etruscan history is an intricate web of caves, stairs, passageways and grottoes chiselled out of rock underneath Orvieto’s foundations. These can be toured, and don’t be surprised to find an underground recital or wedding ceremony happening along on the way.
Above ground, cultural enticements include the Archeological Museum and the Museo Claudio Faina, which has a fine collection of Etruscan art and artefacts.
But more than such must-see sights, Orvieto’s charm lies in a sum of its small parts, such as macchiato served in an ancient courtyard by a dashing waiter or buying perfectly trimmed artichokes in a farmers’ market. In Orvieto, travel rushes such as these are experienced at a gentle, plodding pace.
How to get there: Trains connect Orvieto and Rome’s Termini station. The journey takes less than an hour; services are more frequent in the mornings and evenings; www.trenitalia.it.
Where to stay: Hotel Piccolomini is Orvieto’s finest, set in a 16th-century palace. Rooms are brimming with Italian designer chic and sensibility. Piazza Ranieri, 36; www.hotelpiccolomini.com.
Where to eat: Chichi cafes and restaurants bear testament to the inhabitants’ spending power and, as is the case in most Italian towns, eating and drinking is taken very seriously.
Umbrian wines are cheap (often more so than bottled water) and plentiful; the crisp white Orvieto Classico is the most common and look for wines bearing the Cardetto and Le Velette labels: they are considered the best vigneti in the region. Orvieto has been declared an official Slow Food city and its restaurants, purveyors and producers adhere to the movement’s rigorous ideals. Delectable regional specialties feature ingredients such as wild boar, rabbit and truffles.
With an enviable view of the Duomo from the outdoor terrace and more than 100 local wines on its list, Trattoria Vinosus is a local favourite. Try the antipasti, tagliolini al tartufo or char-grilled tuna with poppy seeds. Piazza del Duomo 15; www.orvietointavola.it. SWAP LONDON FOR BRIGHTON What do Nick Cave, Norman Cook (aka Fatboy Slim) and Jordan all have in common? Apart from being popculture celebs, they have had the good sense to take up residence in the breezy town of Brighton, on England’s south coast. The famous Victorian-era pavilion and pier (seen in the dream sequence of Tim Burton’s
Regency architecture and tea shops scream quintessential English seaside, but Brighton has a dynamic arts and music scene, affordably stylish accommodation and a nightlife that rivals London’s.
Brighton’s most visited attractions are the Royal Pavilion, a Raj-inspired holiday home built for George IV (his physicians believed the sea air would cure him of gout) and the Lanes, a warren of twisting streets and alleys that form the nucleus of the old quarter.
Venture to the boho precinct of North Laine, which has dozens of independent retailers, or North Street, another bustling shopping-cafe strip with a landmark clock tower. Although Brighton’s beaches have been deemed safe and clean for bathing, the water’s icy temperature means it’s only fit for the hardy.
The shoreline is the city’s pleasure ground, with a newish marina, pleasant promenades and piers and dozens of cafes. Every September it plays host to the Big Beach Boutique, an open-air concert organised by the king of clappy happy rave, Fatboy Slim.
How to get there: Trains run from early morning to midnight between Brighton and London Bridge and Blackfriars stations and the journey takes just over an hour; www.firstcapitalconnect.co.uk.
Where to stay: For something different, try Hotel Pelirocco where each camped-up room is a tribute to British pop or sub culture, from Diana Dors to dub reggae. 10 Regency Square; www.hotelpelirocco.co.uk.
Where to eat: Chilli Pickle Bistro affirms the notion that the best restaurant food in Britain is Indian. Try its delicious dosas, tamarind-glazed tuna, oxtail madras, banana bhajis and duck egg masala. 42 Meeting House Lane; www.thechillipicklebistro.co.uk.