Discovering the great beauty
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.”
The Abbey of Saint Galgano near Siena. Top, the typical rolling hills in Tuscany.
The cylindrical tower of the Scala Contarini del Bovolo and, below, the Isola di San Giorgio lying east of the Giudecca.
Via Krupp, a historic switchback paved footpath on the island of Capri. Right, wall paintings in Pompeii (Domus of Marcus Lucretius Fronto)
Left, Isola Bella, one of the Borromean Islands of Lake Maggiore. Top left, Villa del Balbianello in Lenno (Lake Como) and, right, Lake Garda.
Top, the little harbour of Portofino; above, Villa Altachiara.
Piazza IX Aprile is the main square in Taormina; below, the façade of the Noto cathedral.