Discovering Italian Landscape
The variety and beauty of its “landscape” is what makes Italy unique. This term is not always easily translatable but relates to the environment and the many ways in which man has transformed it, during its multifaceted history. The result is a combination of nature and art that delights the eye and the heart.
The Italian ‘Lake district’
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.
Mantua, the city of the Gonzagas
Though less well-known than Venice or Florence, Mantua, a charming city situated in Northern Italy on the banks of the River Mincio, is packed with art treasures. Governed by the Gonzaga family for four centuries, from circa 1300 to 1700, this Lombard city experienced its maximum period of splendour during the Renaissance, when its most famous masterpieces were executed. A renowned patron of the arts, Isabella d'Este, the Marchesa of Mantua and the wife of Federico Gonzaga, summoned artists like Titian, Perugino, Leonardo da Vinci and Correggio to her court. Inspired by his mother's passion for collecting art, Federico II invited Raphael's pupil Giulio
Bologna, the university of Italy
Built in 1088, most historians agree that the University of Bologna is the oldest university in the world. Thanks to the continuous turnover of students from all over the world, from medieval times to the present day, this university has made Bologna a vibrant city from many aspects; cultural, creative, artistic and social. It is therefore not surprising that many people relate to the words of Giosuè Carducci, one of the most important Italian poets, who wrote in 1888: “I love Bologna; for the faults, the mistakes, the follies of my youth which I committed here, and which I cannot regret, but I love it more because it's beautiful.” Must-visit sights include the historic centre with its porticoes and towers, streets and markets, and main square with the enormous Basilica di San Petronio. Its hilly surroundings are also breathtaking.
Portofino, home to the ‘piazzetta’ and mysterious 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 sought-after 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…
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!
Forte dei Marmi: the sea of Tuscany
In addition to being the birthplace of a queen (Paola Ruffo of Calabria, the Queen Consort of Belgium until 2013), Forte dei Marmi is the jet-set paradise of Versilia, on the coast of northern Tuscany. It is here that the majority of the area's most fashionable seaside resorts are located. The summer getaway for the rich and famous including financiers, big names in sports and showbiz celebrities, Forte dei Marmi was founded in 1788 by the Grand Duke of Tuscany Pietro Leopoldo I of Lorraine who commissioned the building of a ‘ fort' to defend the shipment of the precious marble quarried from the nearby town of Carrara, thus making it an important crossroads for trade. The town is also a mecca of luxury shopping.
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.
Matera, the hidden pearl of the South
When it becomes the European capital of culture in 2019, Materia will get the visibility it deserves. Matera was founded in the dark ages, and is one of the most intriguing places in Southern Italy, renowned, above all, for the uniqueness of it charming historic centre. Its so- called ‘Sassi' (cave dwellings) are houses, churches and, now, even hotels, literally carved into the tufa stone. Lying one on top of the other, they overhang a gorge to create an incredible nativity-like scenario. Located just a few kilometers from the beaches of Puglia, the city is well worth a visit. In addition to the Sassi, it includes a Romanesque cathedral, the Convent of Sant'Agostino, the church of San Giovanni Battista and the Baroque church of San Francesco. Located off the beaten tourist track, Matera has often been used as a film set. In 2003, thanks to its arresting landscapes and timeless atmosphere, Mel Gibson chose Matera to re- create the biblical city of Jerusalem for his controversial blockbuster ‘ The Passion of Christ'.
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 southeastern 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!
Villa del Balbianello, Lake Como
Tuscan The very famous Chianti zone, renowned for its vineyards, verdant valleys, rows of cypresses, olives groves, towns and abbeys built on hilltops, is around half an hour by car from the centre of Florence.