Dis­cov­er­ing Ital­ian Land­scape

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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

Taormina

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.

Mat­era

Portofino

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