3.5 weeks of forgetting what hungry even means, staring wide-eyed at wondrous historical sites, jaw-dropping views and, of course, inspiring menus.
I went on two tours – G Adventures Ultimate Italy to explore the medieval, grandiose north, and Intrepid Amalfi Coast Sailing Adventure to explore the modest, rustic coast. By the end, I left with such a fondness for this beautiful country.
Behold, the North…
Rome – In the summer, Rome is too hot which honestly did make it difficult to get the best out of each day. Luckily I visited again the following year, pre-summer and it was perfect. As a city, it’s not one of the prettiest I’ve seen. What’s most impressive in Rome is its historical significance.
Siena – It’s a big call, but I think Siena may actually be my favourite place in Italy. A well-kept UNESCO site, it’s quintessentially Tuscan, charming, laid-back and a throughly enjoyable and memorable place to eat and drink.
Florence – A walk through Florence is a walk through the Renaissance. Staggering architecture, cobblestone streets, iconic artworks and the resting place of some of history’s most illustrious Italians.
Lucca – a surprisingly green, walled town. Tiny and cute. We went to the Puccini Opera. Opera is not for me.
Pisa – iconic no doubt, but somehow I kept tilting my camera to make the lean look more dramatic.
Cinque Terre – This is a feast for the eyes, so incredibly picturesque. So much so, that I went on a hike across the coast, through three of the five towns, which says a lot because I simply do not hike.
Lake Como – Awesome and beautiful surrounded by lavish and posh.
Venice – Ah Venice, a tourist’s dream. Popular yes, but there’s nothing quite like it. Medieval and unchanged, colourful buildings, tricky laneways, cute little bridges everywhere. I actually found the city so beautiful, despite all the warnings I received that it is overrated. However, I did find it difficult to navigate. I’m not directionally challenged in any way, and this was a challenge.
And now, the South…
Procida – Caught in a time warp, complete with parked vespas, and old men convening at the docks discussing affairs of the day. It’s a tiny island that’s been used for filming a number of movies, including The Talented Mr Ripley.
Ischia – A volcanic island about 30km from Naples. I didn’t have a lot of time here, but apparently it’s quite popular for its hot springs and volcanic mud. Like much of the coastal region, the seafood is fabulous.
Sorrento and Pompeii – The town of Sorrento looks impressive from the sea, with colourful buildings perched high up overlooking the water. Also, Sorrento is where Limoncello is produced, a lovely digestive made from lemon rind, alcohol sugar and water.
Pompeii is popular in the summer, however I think I expected more from it. It is sill quite incredible – if not for the historical significance then at least for seeing a real-life example of nature’s awesome power. Funny, a couple of days later we saw a fire on Mt Vesuvius – from a distance it was just an orange glow, and we were foolish enough to think we might see a little lava!
Amalfi – the locals in Amalfi seem a little frustrated with tourists coming and going, at least this is how I’m trying to explain away some of the rudeness we encountered. Don’t let this be a deterrent. Venture a little further up the main street, past the town and it gets very green. 20 minutes of trekking and we came across a beautiful waterfall, amidst wonderfull country side scenery, not what you’d expect right near the coast. I also picked up a really cool clock from a vintage shop just outside of the town centre.
Capri – high-end shopping, expensive food. Capri is a rich and famous destination. It’s spread across a large hill, so a half hour climb to the top produces some great views of the bay. It’s also the nears town to the Blue Grotto. It’s a pricey attraction, but not one you want to miss.
And finally, Positano, the very last destination of my whirlwind 3-month trip – in many ways it was an ideal choice, given that it’s such a laid-back destination, a great place to relax and unwind.
Italy, you have my heart.