Dis­cov­er­ing the great beauty

Italia Luxury - - People | Design -

Be­gin­ning in the 16th cen­tury, it be­came fash­ion­able for young Euro­pean aris­to­crats to em­bark on a jour­ney known as the ‘Grand Tour’. They trav­elled to Italy to learn ev­ery­thing that they could about its his­tory, beauty and life­style. If you too are on a quest for beauty, here is our pick of sev­eral not-to-be missed stopovers…

Rome “ca­put mundi”

Fif­teen square kilo­me­ters and twenty-five-thou­sand at­trac­tions: Rome’s historic cen­tre has been a UNESCO world her­itage site since 1980. A sym­bol among sym­bols and the most widely pho­tographed mon­u­ment in the world, the Colos­seum is con­sid­ered one of the 7 won­ders of the mod­ern world. The mem­ory of its per­for­mances – gla­di­a­tors, wild an­i­mals and naval bat­tles re-en­acted in the arena – have al­ways fu­eled the fan­tasy of his­tory and film buffs. How­ever, un­known to most, its am­phithe­atre is also stud­ied by botanists, who have iso­lated 350 species, sev­eral of in­ex­pli­ca­ble ori­gin that grow spon­ta­neously among its ru­ins. Un­like that phe­nom­e­non, every­one is aware of what hap­pened to the 100,000 cu­bic me­tres of shining white mar­ble that orig­i­nally cov­ered the Colos­seum. They were ‘re­cy­cled’ to build sev­eral historic Ro­man build­ings in­clud­ing the Basil­ica of St. Peter’s and Palazzo Bar­berini.

From 8 March 2017 to 7 Jan­uary 2018, a spe­cial ex­hi­bi­tion will en­lighten vis­i­tors about the his­tory of the Colos­seum. Doc­u­ments and im­ages will be dis­played on the sec­ond floor of the Am­bu­lacra.

Tuscany, the Italy that every­one dreams about

There’s Florence, boast­ing the mag­nif­i­cent works of Michelan­gelo and his mar­ble stat­ues. There’s Siena, with its un­mis­tak­able square. There’s San Gimignano with its six­teen tow­ers and Pisa, whose one and only tower is unique through­out the world. Ul­ti­mately, there are Tuscany’s cities and art, its man-made ar­ti­facts and its ves­tiges of his­tory. Above all, there’s the lyri­cal land­scape with which Tuscany con­tin­ues to en­chant both Ital­ians and for­eign­ers. There are gen­tly rolling hills, cy­presses, sun­flow­ers, nar­row wind­ing streets and stone houses scat­tered around the coun­try­side. The Tus­can ex­pe­ri­ence is bound to win over your heart. How­ever, if you haven’t had your fill of mar­vels, stop at San Gal­gano, the abbey with the sky for a roof! Ah, the won­ders of Tuscany!

From 18 March to 30 June, the ex­hi­bi­tion ‘The Good Cen­tury of Sienese Paint­ing’ of­fers vis­i­tors an op­por­tu­nity to dis­cover 17th-cen­tury pic­to­rial art in the beau­ti­ful towns of Mon­tepul­ciano, San Quirico d’Or­cia and Pienza. Its three sec­tions are con­nected by an itin­er­ary that un­folds amidst churches and palazzi, im­mersed in some of Tuscany’s most breath­tak­ing scenery.

Venice, the float­ing city

With canals in the place of streets, and boats in­stead of cars, Venice, the city of a thou­sand bridges, spec­tac­u­lar fa­cades and breath­tak­ing views, of­fers a dream­like vi­sion. This ro­man­tic city par ex­cel­lence has a wealth of historic and artis­tic trea­sures that would be dif­fi­cult to find in any coun­try other than Italy. To en­joy them to the fullest, climb to the top of St. Mark’s bell tower, or the lesser known spi­ral stair­case of Palazzo Con­tarini del Bo­volo, and let your gaze to wan­der over the la­goon.

An un­ex­pected Mi­lan

In 2016, Mi­lan was ranked the num­ber one tourist des­ti­na­tion in Italy. Gone are the days of a fly­ing visit, with just enough time for shop­ping be­fore catch­ing a cab to Malpensa air­port. Con­sid­ered one of the world’s lead­ing hubs of busi­ness, fash­ion and de­sign, today Mi­lan is fi­nally be­ing given long over­due credit as a city of art and a place of cul­tural in­ter­est. In ad­di­tion to the Duomo, the Gal­le­ria, La Scala and The Last Sup­per (ab­so­lute must-vis­its, in their own right), Mi­lan is also home to nu­mer­ous other at­trac­tions that make it much more than the pu­ri­tan­i­cally work-ob­sessed city that it is of­ten por­trayed as. In Mi­lan you will find court­yards hid­den be­hind en­trance doors, mas­ter­pieces of ar­chi­tec­ture un­ex­pect­edly re­vealed amidst anony­mous fa­cades and pub­lic and pri­vate mu­se­ums of­fer­ing myr­iad trea­sures.

Naples and then…

“See Naples and die” is an Ital­ian say­ing of un­known ori­gin. Be­lieve it or not, all the clichés about Naples are true: it’s op­u­lent, pas­sion­ate, mu­si­cal, con­tra­dic­tory, chaotic and ne­glected. Peo­ple are friendly and ‘trained’ over the cen­turies to ‘get by’, for bet­ter or worse. And, yes, its pizza and cof­fee are the best in the world. Apro­pos of cof­fee, there’s a tra­di­tion that sums up the city bet­ter than a thou­sand words: the Neapoli­tans call it “caffè appeso” and it in­volves buy­ing a cof­fee for your­self, and then pur­chas­ing an­other one for some­one else who doesn’t have the money to pay for it. Naples is the ideal start­ing point to ex­plore the other beau­ties of Italy: the is­lands of the archipelago, Capri, Ischia and Pro­cida, and the Amalfi Coast in­fused with the scent of le­mons. There is also Pom­peii, the city, buried by lay­ers of vol­canic ash dur­ing the erup­tion of Ve­su­vius two thou­sand years ago, and one of the most in­cred­i­ble ar­chae­o­log­i­cal sites in the world.

From 20 April, Pom­peii’s Palestra Grande will host a spe­cial ex­hi­bi­tion fea­tur­ing relics that are not usu­ally dis­played and three au­dio-visual in­stal­la­tions. A sep­a­rate ticket is re­quired.

The Ital­ian ‘Lake district’: not only Clooney

Over the past few years, due to the in­flux of Hol­ly­wood celebri­ties, Lake Como has be­come the most fa­mous of all the lakes. An al­most un­in­ter­rupted sequence of vil­las, each with its own land­ing stage, dec­o­rates the banks of this idyl­lic lake­side re­sort. How­ever, North­ern Italy also has two other fa­mous lakes that at­tract vis­i­tors from far and wide: Lake Mag­giore and Lake Garda. The for­mer is more tran­quil and shadier, while the lat­ter, so vast that it looks like a still sea, is more vi­brant and windier. Its ex­panse of wa­ter and the di­ver­sity of the coun­try­side make the area a real out­door recre­ation ground. Como, Mag­giore and Garda com­bine to form one of the most en­chant­ing splashes of scenery in North­ern Italy. Garda, in par­tic­u­lar, is renowned for its fab­u­lous cit­rus fruits and DOP olive oil.

Portofino, home to the ‘pi­azzetta’ and vil­las

With its nar­row streets lead­ing down to the sea, pastel-washed houses and crys­tal clear wa­ters, Portofino is the ideal har­bor. It is there­fore no sur­prise that, since an­cient times, this beau­ti­ful coastal vil­lage has been a highly soughtafter hol­i­day des­ti­na­tion. And, even now, with its ‘pi­azzetta’, Portofino is a ref­er­ence point for in­ter­na­tional tourism. Al­though its ho­tels are as­tro­nom­i­cally priced, a drink by its yacht-filled har­bor or a stroll around its de­signer shops can be eas­ily en­joyed on a day trip. There are many anec­dotes about the town which was used as film set for the An­to­nioni/ Wen­ders movie ‘Be­yond the Clouds’. One in par­tic­u­lar con­cerns Villa Al­tachiara. Its first owner, Lord Carnar­von, who fi­nanced the ex­pe­di­tion that led to the dis­cov­ery of Tu­tankhamun’s tomb, is said to have brought the ‘Curse of the Pharaoh’ upon him­self. He died shortly af­ter the tomb was opened and his villa be­came a site of sin­is­ter, in­ex­pli­ca­ble hap­pen­ings…

Si­cily: the King­dom of Baroque

Cal­t­a­girone, Militello, Cata­nia, Mod­ica, Noto, Palaz­zolo, Ra­gusa and Sci­cli: th­ese are the names of Si­cily’s mag­i­cal Baroque towns. Pro­tected by UNESCO, and lo­cated in south-eastern Si­cily, they are sure to steal your heart and leave you awestruck. Al­though al­most all of th­ese towns ex­isted dur­ing me­dieval times, they were razed to the ground by a dev­as­tat­ing earth­quake in 1693. How­ever, this tragedy re­sulted in a miracle of beauty: ar­chi­tec­ture, ur­ban plan­ning and the or­na­men­ta­tion of build­ings con­sti­tute the crown­ing achieve­ment of one of the last pe­ri­ods of the flour­ish­ing Baroque move­ment in Europe. An ab­so­lute marvel!

One of Si­cily’s most pop­u­lar tourist des­ti­na­tions, Taormina is renowned for its spec­tac­u­lar scenery and vi­brant cul­tural life which re­volves around its cel­e­brated Teatro Greco. This year, on 26 and 27 May, Taormina is set to host the G7. Dur­ing the launch press con­fer­ence, the then Prime Min­is­ter Mat­teo Renzi ex­plained why the gov­ern­ment chose Taormina as the lo­ca­tion for the meet­ing: “Taormina is the pub­lic an­swer to those who only as­so­ciate Si­cily with the mafia.”

Top, the lit­tle har­bour of Portofino; above, Villa Al­tachiara.

Left, Isola Bella, one of the Bor­romean Is­lands of Lake Mag­giore. Top left, Villa del Bal­bianello in Lenno (Lake Como) and, right, Lake Garda.

Via Krupp, a historic switch­back paved foot­path on the is­land of Capri. Right, wall paint­ings in Pom­peii (Do­mus of Mar­cus Lu­cretius Fronto)

The cylin­dri­cal tower of the Scala Con­tarini del Bo­volo and, be­low, the Isola di San Gior­gio ly­ing east of the Gi­udecca.

The Abbey of Saint Gal­gano near Siena. Top, the typ­i­cal rolling hills in Tuscany.

Pi­azza IX Aprile is the main square in Taormina; be­low, the façade of the Noto cathe­dral.

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