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Vacation in Italy: "Do you know the land where the lemon trees bloom?"

Italy is worth a visit, and not just for the blossoming lemon trees—Italy has a lot to offer at any time of the year. Whether you're traveling to Venice for Carnival, hiking through Cinque Terre in the spring, taking a summer trip to the beaches of Calabria, or spending the fall grape harvesting in Tuscany, you'll find Italy to be rich in worthwhile destinations

It's no wonder Italy is a top European destination for so many Americans. World renowned for its fine wines, incomparable cuisine, action-packed cities like Rome and Florence, and gorgeous paradise island lke Sardinia, Italy packs a punch. With so many places to choose from, it can be hard to decide where to start your Italian vacation. To help you out, we've gathered our latest offers for your next trip to this Mediterranean wonderland.

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Vacation in Italy: General Information

Italy has almost 60 million inhabitants. The south and the Apennine mountain range, however, are much less densely populated than the Po Valley or the metropolitan areas of major cities such as Milan, Rome, and Naples. 

The Italian territory stretches approximately 1,200 meters long and includes many different areas and vegetation zones. In the north, Italy is bordered by the mountain ranges of the Alps, in the west by the Adriatic Sea, in the south by the Ionian Sea, and in the west by the Tyrrhenian Sea. Italy includes the islands of Sicily and Sardinia, Ischia and Capri in the Gulf of Naples, as well as the Aeolian Islands and Elba Island off the Tuscan coast.

Beach vacations in Italy

Bordering the Mediterranean and the Adriatic, it's no wonder Italy's vast coastline offers some of the world's most idyllic beaches.

  • Located in Sardinia, Cala Goloritzé is one of the region's most beautiful beaches and known for its limestone cliffs and soft sand. With crystal-clear water, the beach is excellent for snorkeling.
  • Enjoy a canoe ride across the water, take a leisurely walk along the beach, or scuba dive when you visit Campus Beach in southeast Sardinia. The beach is also great for families because of its clean, warm, and shallow water.
  • Acquafredda di Maratea Beach, on the coast of Maratea, features turquoise waters, dark gray sand, and rugged cliffs. Here, you can indulge in swimming, snorkeling, and exploring the area’s remarkable caves.
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Top travel destinations in Italy

"The Boot" is full of sights from north to south - here is a small selection ofdestinations that you should not miss.

  • The Cinque Terre ("Five Villages") in Liguria is a stretch of coast south of Genoa known for its cliffs and tranquil, car-free villages. Especially in the off-season, the villages between Riomaggiore and Monterosso are worth a visit. In peak season, however, it can be very crowded on the romantic paths between the villages.
  • Tuscany is one of the top areas for a vacation in Italy. The Renaissance cities of Pisa and Florence draw in thousands of tourists every year.
  • Calm, but still worth seeing is Umbria. The center is the university city of Perugia.
  • "La Rossa, La Grassa, La Dotta": Bologna is still an under-the-radar destination, but it likely won't stay that way for long. "The Red" (for its red-tiled roofs), "The Fat" (for it's famed cuisine), and "The Learned" (for its university) city has Renaissance palaces, art collections and amazing food.
  • The shallow beaches of Veneto attract mainly families. From Bibione and Grado you can combine beach trips with a visit to Venice.
  • Venice! If you have never been there before, you should get there soon—gorgeous Venice is slowly sinking. Our pirate tip : Venice is beautiful even in winter, perhaps more beautiful than in summer. On the main island, there are 17th-century palaces that have been converted into hotels that are not unreasonably expensive, like the Hotel Marconi on the Grand Canal. You should try to get up early and discover Venice before the rest of the city awakens.
  • Rome, the eternal city! There is so much to see here, including the Vatican, the Roman Forum, and the Colosseum, that its impossible to produce an exhaustive list.
  • The Italian south begins with Naples, the islands of Ischia, Capri, and the Amalfi Coast. Here is where the lemons bloom!
  • The picturesque bays and shores of Calabria are among the most interesting views Italy has to offer. Here the beaches are not overcrowded and trattorias offer authentic cuisine.

And then there are Bari and Puglia, Palermo and Sicily, Cagliari and Sardinia...the list goes on forever!

 

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Holidays in Italy: The best times to travel 

If you want to experience the warmest weather in Italy, summer is the obvious time to travel. However, the weather is arguably even better in the spring and autumn, when the reduced heat makes sightseeing more pleasant. Winter is the only time one should be more wary: although the weather is still beautiful in the south, simpler accommodations may not be as well-heated as those in the north. Many holiday areas empty out and the hotels shut down during the coldest months. At the same time, a city trip to Naples or Palermo is particularly attractive in winter.

A culinary tour of Italy: The best foods in Italy, and where to try them

The origins of different iconic Italian foods are hotly contested between regions, cities, and even within different neighborhoods of the same town.  While many foods are ubiquitously delicious no matter where you go, like homemade pasta or a simple coffee, there are some regions and cities that just do certain foods best. When looking at individual ingredients, you can often trace the origins by looking for products with DOP (protected origin) certification. However, when it comes to pinpointing the exact location of the creamiest gelato, cheesiest pizza, or most mouth-watering pasta, you'll find that competition is fierce. Use our guide for what to eat in Italy's culinary giants to plan your perfect gastronomic trip around "The Beautiful Country".

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What to eat in: Rome

Rome is the first stop for many vacationers in Italy. Crumbling ruins, wide plazas, cramped cobbled streets, and wide open avenues seem to run together, making it easy to get lost—and hungry—as you explore the city. Although visitors and Italian natives alike will rave about Neapolitan pizza, it’s thin, crispy Roman counterpart is worth trying out. Pasta-lovers should dig into a heaping plate of spaghetti carbonara, featuring egg, bacon, pecorino, and pepper. Vegetarians don’t have to miss out: they’ll find similar flavors in cacio e pepe (literally “cheese and pepper”, a sort of glammed-up Italian mac-n-cheese). Rome is also a great place to get your gnocchi fix—try the city’s specialty, gnocchi alla romana with pecorino, parmesan, and just a dash of nutmeg. For an after-dinner treat (if you can manage it) or perhaps even better in the lazy late afternoon sun, a gelato is definitely in order. Gelato is one of those things that is truly exceptional across the country, but Rome has its fair share of top-tier establishments, like old-fashioned Giolotti, just a few streets over from the Pantheon.

What to eat in: Naples

If you’re coming to Italy purely to eat, there’s no place better than Naples. This coastal city to the south is part of the food-rich Campania region, but the culinary scene in Naples reflects not only regional favorites but also Neapolitan specialities. You’ve likely heard that Neapolitan-style pizza is something worth traveling for—thick crust with a satisfying chew, earthy basil, tangy tomato sauce, and the famous buffalo mozzarella make up a classic Margherita, which is a good place to start. Be sure to take a break from pizza sampling to dig into some eggplant parmigiana and pasta puttanesca, a salty spaghetti dish that begs to be eaten beachside. For an afternoon wandering the narrow streets, grab a cartoccio (paper bag) of fried seafood or stop in a corner cafe for a perfectly-brewed espresso, a local staple.

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What to eat in: Florence

Italy’s art capital has plenty of reasons to draw big crowds: scenic bridges that run over the meandering river, long, twisting streets of white-washed red-roofed houses, and world-renowned works like Michelangelo’s David. While you may not travel to Florence specifically for the food, you’ll be spoilt for choice in the Tuscan capital. A classic Florentine dish is bistecca alla fiorentina, a hefty T-bone steak that can be amped up with the addition of lardo di Colonnata, a regional salty lard. The Tuscan area is also known for its use of white beans, served in many forms—we recommend the garlicky fagioli all’uccelletto, a side dish of stewed tomatoes and cannellini beans.

*Be sure to set aside some time to head out of the city and into the surrounding wine regions for a tour of a winery and a tasting. Coastal Bolgheri boasts rich cabernets, floral whites can be found in San Gimignano, and tart, dry Chiantis are best sampled in the region of the same name.   

What to eat in: Venice

Opulent Venice is so chock-full of architectural wonders and centuries-old houses that you’re bound to spend most of your time looking up—but watch your step. The gently-rippling blue canals cutting through this city of sumptuous cream-colored buildings is a treat for the eyes, and a luxurious city warrants equally luxurious eats. Venice is the perfect place to sip an afternoon prosecco in the shade or round out an evening of snacking on cichéti (Venician “tapas”) with a late-night spritz. Match the excess of Saint Mark’s Basilica, a tiered confection in its own right, with the layered and luscious tiramisu, a regional classic. Venice's quasi-island status means that fresh seafood is easy to come by and particular delicacies like saór, a type of marinated sardine, are best tried here than in any other coastal city.

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What to eat in: Bologna

Bologna is known throughout Italy by its triple monikers of “La Dotta” (“the learned”, in reference to its famous university, University of Bologna, the oldest in Europe), “La Grassa” (“the fat”, in reference to its rich cuisine), and “La Rossa” (“the red”, in reference to the iconic red-roofed buildings of the city as well as its political preferences). It is “La Grassa” that intrigues us the most, and the best way to discover if Bologna truly lives up to its nickname is to try the food yourself. Many of Bologna’s dishes are on the heartier side, making it an excellent choice for a winter getaway. Americans may be familiar with Bolognese sauce, which we typically eat with spaghetti, but its origins are in ragú a la bolognese, served with tagliatelle. Beautifully layered lasagne with a bubbling, cheesy top, thin slices of colorful mortadella, and tortellini in clear soup are other staples to try in this culinary capital.    

What to eat in: Milan

This fashion-forward city in the north provides the perfect backdrop to the couture looks of its population. Framed by mountains to the north, the city is full of eye-catching architecture, from the many-spired Duomo to the glittering round skylights of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. Get ready for a day of window-shopping and sightseeing by stopping in a local cafe for a cappuccino and a cornetto, an Italian version of the croissant. The creamy, saffron-infused risotto alla milanese is not to be missed, and meat-eaters in particular will love osso bucco, veal braised in white wine and broth, or cotoletta alla milanese, a type of breaded veal. If you’re there around Christmas, try the panettone, a type of lighter fruitcake.

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What to eat in: Sicily

At the tip of Italy’s “boot” lies Sicily, the largest island in the Meditteranean. Its glittering shoreline, dotted with small, brightly-colored houses, the towering active volcano, Mount Etna, and, perhaps most importantly, the impeccable cuisine draw visitors every year. Sicily is often referred to as “God’s Kitchen” for the abundance of local dishes crafted from the island’s natural bounty—tangy artichokes drizzled in olive oil and salt, thick slices of deep-purple eggplant fried in the pan, rare tuna steaks singed delicately on the grill, and anything and everything sprinkled with bottarga, a dried fish roe that lends dishes a fresh-from-the-ocean saltiness. Sicilian food is often considered healthier than some of the mainland specialties, but you can’t leave the island without sinking your teeth into a melt-in-your-mouth arancino—a stuffed rice ball, breaded and deep fried—or eating a chilled cannoli expertly filled with sweet, fluffy ricotta.

What to eat in: Sardinia

Surrounded on all sides by rugged coastline and clear seas, Sardinia is a beach-lovers paradise. From the (literally) breathtaking hills of Cagliari in the south to the turquoise coves near Olbia in the north, Sardinia is an excellent place for a leisurely island road trip. While touring this expansive isle you’re likely to try one of the local specialties on accident—pane carasau is a super-thin, cracker-like flatbread that’s often served at the beginning of meals. Another local staple is pecorino cheese, and you’ll find it sprinkled on salads, whisked into creamy sauces, and even folded into desserts—seadas are a sweet Sardinian pastry stuffed with pecorino and drizzled with honey. Before you bite into a seada, order up a plate of seafood fregola, a type of specialty Sardinian pasta reminiscent of a pearled Israeli couscous. Finally, for a unique food experience, book a dinner at an agriturismo, where your meal will be sourced from local, in-season ingredients, often produced directly on the property.

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Honorable mentions

  • Umbria (region) – Truffles, truffles, and more truffles. This notoriously expensive funghi grows in abundance in this region of fertile soils, making Umbria the largest producer of black truffles in all of Italy. Book a truffle-hunting tour to learn how the experts dig up these decadent morsels.

  • Liguria (region) You may be familiar with focaccia, the spongy Italian bread often topped with herbs or roasted tomatoes. Liguria is its birthplace, and if you really want to delve into the focaccia scene then head to the town of Recco to try their specialty version, prepared thin and stuffed with melty cheese.

  • Parma – If you care more about simple, exquisite ingredients then local dishes, head straight to Parma. Parma has two main claims to fame, and they’re both biggies: prosciutto and authentic Parmigiano Reggiano. Find a local market, pick up a portion of each, and enjoy with a bottle of wine.

by Grace Henes


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