As one of Europe's most popular destinations, Italy remains a top choice for many reasons. Discover historic cities, centuries old festivals- not to mention endless opportunities to indulge in every form of carbs, wine, and of course heavenly gelato! Here are some of the highlights of what not to miss:
Carnival in Venice
Known as one of the most romantic cities in the world, Venice does not disappoint with its abundance of charm and beauty around each twisty corner. Every February, the city transforms into a stage filled with masked Renaissance characters. Carnival celebrations began in 1162 but were eventually forbidden by the church. However, the traditions were brought back in 1979 and Venice continues to host a two week celebration filled with performances in the stunning San Marco Square and masquerade balls around the city. The balls are filled with swishing floor length gowns where masked men and women swirl around the dance floor with their mysterious partners.
Soak in the Thermal Hot Springs at Cascate del Mulino
Visiting thermal hot springs is a wonderful (and free!) way to relax and enjoy nature. The Cascate del Mulino Saturnia Falls, the Waterfalls at the Mill, is an exceptional and unique version. Situated an easy 2-hour road trip from either Rome or Florence, these natural sulfuric hot springs have gained international attention for their milky blue waters cascading down white travertine pools. Surprisingly, these falls are still free of charge to the public and draw large flocks of locals and tourists alike. Go early in the morning or on weekdays to avoid the crowds and enjoy soaking in one of the numerous pools.
Dining in Tuscany
Fresh olive oil, warm bread that melts in your mouth, silky smooth gelato, and pasta to satisfy your hearts content. Internationally known for its excellent food and wine, Tuscany is a destination for the outstanding and consistent quality of essentially everything it produces. It does not hurt that the vineyards are nestled between rolling hills with mountains looming in the distance making it extremely picturesque.
Hike the Dolomites
One of the most recognizable mountain ranges in the world, the Dolomites, are tucked away in the north-eastern corner of Italy just a quick road trip from Munich, Germany or Venice, Italy. The distinct peaks of these mountains make this UNESCO World Heritage Site a remarkable view to behold. While Tre Cime di Lavaredo, the massive three peaks, are the most iconic portion of the Dolomites, there are numerous trails winding through the mountains that stretch on for days.
Sail Lake Como
One of the trendy destinations in Italy is the famous Lake Como. The lake is famous not only for its natural beauty and the luxurious homes lining the shores, but also for its star-studded residents including George Clooney who is largely responsible for putting it on the map. Even outside of the summer tourist season, Lake Como is a beautiful place to visit and it is an afternoon well spent to sail around the lake and see the numerous clusters of beautiful water-side cities.
Colosseum in Rome
Rome is a city full of momentous history, quite literally around every corner and should not be a quick stop. Even though I lived there for a semester in college and explored the city non-stop from the Spanish Steps, to photographing St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican through the Aventine keyhole, and testing my luck with the Bocca Della Verita, there is still a long list of places I would love to go back to visit. The Colosseum though steals the show. It is centrally located and very easy to access using the public buses or metro, which are fairly reliable during the daytime hours (much less so during the evening hours). It is located adjacent to the Roman Forum making it easy to incorporate into a full day of walking around the Eternal city. While there are numerous hop on and off tour buses, Rome is most definitely a city worth exploring on foot as you are much more likely to discover hole in the wall restaurants with mouthwatering pasta, street cafes in a beautiful piazza for a rich espresso, or a rooftop bar to enjoy a glass of Dolcetto.
History buffs and fans of the movie “Gladiator” will love seeing in person the impressive labyrinth of tunnels that animals were released through in the floor of the Colosseum and where vicious fighters came up through small passageways to fight. Tour guides will also explain how the stadium used to be flooded in order to host epic water battles inside of the arena. Even though this massive structure that was built in 70 A.D. is partially ruined from earthquakes and parts of the walls being quarried over the centuries to support the construction of other structures, it is still an amazing piece of history to visit and the one of the most accessible of the Seven Wonders of the World.
Climb Duomo in Milan
Known as one of the fashion capitals in the world, Milan is one of Italy's most popular destinations. Its square has a magical draw as it fills with tourists from around the world every day. While the extravagant shops, delicious gelato, museums, and canal streets all provide more than enough reason to visit the city, the Duomo undoubtedly steals the show. This architectural masterpiece was completed in 1965 taking over six centuries to construct and incorporating multiple styles making it one of a kind. The best views of both the cathedral and the sprawling city can be found at the top of the Duomo which is well worth the climb!
Mount Vesuvius in Pompeii
Located just east of Naples, Pompeii is most famous for the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD when the molten lava and ash rapidly buried the entire city. The city has been dug out and visitors can walk throughout the ruins and see many of the well-preserved ruins and even several of the preserved bodies from plaster fillings of the locals that were killed during the eruption from the hot gasses and were buried in the ash. Smoke can frequently be seen coming from the top of this active volcano and it is still considered to be one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world due to its activity and the high population density in the surrounding area.
Hike the Path of the Gods in Almafi Coast
The Path of the Gods is the most famous hike along the Amalfi Coast, spanning 9km and offering stunning views of the expansive coastline over 500m below. The main starting point of the trail originates near the town of Bomerano and ends in Positano. The trek provides incredibly scenic views of the coastline and distant Capri as it winds around the mountain tops. The Path of Gods was originally created to connect the two coastal towns and despite its name referring to the deities, it is actually an extraordinary testament to the boundless tenacity of the humans that were able to colonize even the most impossible places on the Amalfi Coast.
Road Trip from Florence to San Marino
Driving through the Tuscan countryside over the rolling hills and through the carefully lined vineyards is just as idyllic and romantic as it sounds. Numerous wine houses are open for tastings and restaurants offering famous cuisine along the drive throughout the sweeping countryside. Departing from Florence, it is easy to visit one of Europe’s smallest medieval micro states- San Marino. While less than 24 square miles, it boasts three unique towers perched on Monte Titano which are connected by a wall that looks like a small version of the Great Wall of China.
Next up: Still on my to-do list is Cinque Terre planned for later this summer. @Waynemoranmn took the stunning photo of this colorful seaside city!