Full disclosure – Italy is so close to my heart I try to visit every year or I get palpitations. The glorious scenery, laid back lifestyle, delicious food and wine, friendly people and some of the most beautiful ancient cities in the world – what’s not to love.
Here are some of my favourite places (in no particular order). Rome and Florence are utterly amazing, don’t get me wrong, but my favourite places are a little smaller and calmer and easier to navigate. These places can be easily fitted into a multi-centre one or two week adventure. If you would like some help with an itinerary for your Italy adventure, do get in touch, I’d love to help you.
1. Portofino, Liguria
Portofino is a charming, tiny village of brightly coloured houses on the Italian Riviera, topped and tailed by the blue Merditerranean and the green hillsides. It has a very luxurious, exclusive feel, especially of an evening, when the crowds have gone. There are lovely bars and restuarants round the piazzetta where you can while away your time, or take a walk around the marina. There are some great restaurants, as you’d expect. Trattoria Tripoli has a great reputation. We walked round the headland to the beach club one day and spent a lovely time on the little beach enjoying the peace – we visited in May – and the lovely food at the beach restaurant. Portofino’s atmosphere is laid back and cool, lots of glamorous types milling around so dress up, enjoy a cocktail and soak it all up.
2. Lucca, Tuscany
Lucca is a beautiful walled city with broad treelined paths atop the walls which circle the historic centre. It’s that classic Italian mix of golden buildings, red roof tops and green mountains, which I just love. The walls offer great views of stunning buildings within the city and is a lovely stroll at any time of day. Climb the Guinigi Tower for views across those red roofs, mill through the streets and seek out the piazza housing the cathedral. The food is quite particular to the area so make the most. Quieter than Florence and Pisa, the atmosphere is more laid back and in the evenings, when the day trippers have gone, Lucca comes into its own. Walk the walls and streets at night when the major buildings are lit up beautifully and the locals are out taking the air. The atmosphere is lovely and properly Italian.
3. Vernazza, Cinque Terre, Liguria
Vernazza is one of five charming centuries old villages making up the Cinque Terre, a great weeks worth of walking along amazing rugged coastline between great restaurants – what’s not to love! Given their remote position on the coast and with few roads, they retain their authenticity, despite the summer crowds. The hiking is amazing, along a network of coastal paths. As you’d expect there are some goat-like ups and downs, but when you see those views and the villages open up before you, it’s worth every step. There is a train running from end to end and you can jump on a ferry at any point if the hiking isn’t your thing. Each of the five villages has its own personality and atmosphere. Moterosso al Mare is a little bigger with a beautiful promenade and a strip of beach, Manarola has a bustling shopping street in a steep ravine down to the seafront. The seafood is tremendous and you’ve done lots of walking so you deserve a giant bowl of pasta. Vernazza’s Ristorante Belforte has a perfect position at the top of the tower in the port offering amazing seafood and great views.
4. Lake Garda
Garda is a beautiful cosmopolitan town sitting on the lake shores where its position amongst three distinct regions – Lombardy, Trentino and the Veneto – give it a distinct cultural feel. The promenade wends its way round the lake with shops, restaurants and the markets to poke around, castles and palaces to take in. The shopping, especially for leather goods, is pretty great, as you would expect from somewhere so stylish. Garda is a great jumping off point to all the other towns on the lake. Salo was Garda’s capital and retains a grand air with its historic centre, Sirmione is dominated by Rocca Scaligera, a fortress with harbour views. We stayed in a lovely clean B&B two streets back from the lake and loved walking out for dinner and a stroll in the quieter evenings when the day trippers had gone home. Also well worth a visit is the Il Vittoriale Degli Italiani, the fascinating house and garden of the very eccentric writer Gabriele D’Annunzio which has a full size battle ship in the garden!
5. Comogli, Liguria
Comogli is a charming fishing village turned resort on the Golfo Paradiso. There’s a wide promenade along the beachfront with the colourful buildings towering above you as they cling to the hillside. The town has a great atmosphere and any number of great restaurants. We used Comogli as a base for some hiking, up into the hills of the Parco Regionale di Portofino, a network of paths lead up to a viewpoint looking over the coast and down to the Batterie and Abbey of S Fruttuoso, only reachable by boat or foot, which has a small beach and, thankfully, a dock where you can catch the boat back to Comogli so as not to have to go up again. We ate on the pebble beach at a tiny restaurant, La Cantina, made famous by Brydon and Coogan in The Trip – seafood couldn’t get fresher than this, your feet are in the sea! This is a really beautiful part of Liguria which has many gems and offers the traveller a really Italian perspective.
7. Ostuni, Apulia
Ostuni is really symbolic of a beautiful region in my list of favourites – I love this whole region of Apulia. It’s full of charming white washed old towns with little alleyways, beautiful piazzas and lovely seafood restaurants – see also Gallipoli, Locorotondo, Cisternino, all within spitting distance and all with their own charm and a lovely stretch of seafront with the bluest water. Ostuni has a commanding position on top of a hill which means it has great views over the countryside and its alleyways open to views towards the sea. It has an elegant centre which hosts outdoor bars and restaurants and comes alive in the evenings when tourists and locals alike come out to take the air. As you’d expect, there’s a beautiful cathedral, splendid seafood, great wine and ice cream parlours so dinner need never end. We stayed in a great flat which had an amazing hidden pool in the back garden which we had to ourselves every day. Or you can get to the seaside at Fasano and enjoy a day at one of the many beach clubs on the long stretch of sandy beach.
7. Lecce, Apulia
I know its in Apulia but I love it so much it deserves a listing of its own. Lecce is so stylish and elegant, I could live here. I loved its narrow alleyways and beautiful squares, the atmosphere in the evenings. Okay, and I love the bars. There was a street between our hotel and the historic centre which was just one lovely little bar after another. We sat up at stools in the street and enjoyed tapas style small plates of traditional ‘rustic leccese’ – cold meat, meatballs, grilled vegetables and of course luscious local red wine. This is an ideal opportunity to strike up conversations with the locals over a drink. There are cathedrals, piazzas, an ancient Roman amphitheatre in the Piazza Sant’Orzono, intricate Baroque buildings, city gates, all beautifully lit at night, but this isn’t so much a ‘doing’ place but more of a place to mosey around, finding hidden corners and soaking up the atmosphere. We stayed in the amazing Mantatelure guest house which is inside the city walls and does a lovely line in cakes for breakfast in their beautiful walled garden.
8. Amalfi, Campania
I’ve written a whole post on Amalfi ( https://travellikealocal.co.uk/hiddenamalfi ) so won’t go on here, suffice to say it’s a stunning town in a stunning setting and a charming place to spend some quality time.
So, there are my personal favourites. If you fancy making Italy your next destination but don’t know where to start, get in touch for some advice or a personalised itinerary to fit your likes, timings and budget. I’ve got a real passion for Italy and would love to share it with you.