Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Our favourite places in Italy (other than Rome)

Our favourite places in Italy (other than Rome) was a daunting challenge as there are so many wonderful
places we have seen and visited.

So here we go. They are in no particular order. Hope you enjoy

Positano, Amalfi Coast

Positano has always held a special place for us. We have a favourite hotel, the Buca di Baco, which overlooks the beach and the beautiful azzure Mediterranean. The picture above is from the breakfast balcony of the Buca. Positano is one of those places where we slow down and just enjoy what we have around us. A day sitting on a lounge on the beach with a tuna salad lunch is one of our "best of" experiences.

The hills of Positano with the varied and colourful houses

By boat looking back toward Positano.

Ravello, Amalfi Coast

Ravello was founded in the 5th century as a shelter place against the barbarian invasions which marked the end of the Western Roman Empire. In the 9th century Ravello was an important town of the maritime republic of Amalfi.

In the 12th century it had some 25,000 inhabitants, and retains a disproportionate number of palazzi of the mercantile nobility, the Rufolo, d'Aflitto, Confalone and Della Marra.
The town has many claims to fame including Richard Wagner who composed some of his works in Ravello. Every year there are open air concerts held here for the famous Ravello music festival.

From Ravello looking south along the Amalfi Coast.  Ravello is 400 metres above sea level towering over the coastal towns below.

Looking over the coast from Gore Vidal's villa in Ravello

The Villa Cimbrone gardens leading to the Infinity balcony.

Villa Cimbrone, famous for its "Terrace of the Infinite".

Santa Margherita, Ligurian Coast

Santa Margherita Liguria is a wonderful seaside town just south of Portofino. The harbour mainly caters for smart yachts, but the town is also home to a small fishing fleet which can be seen unloading opposite the morning fishmarket.

Bars, cafes, gelaterie and restaurants are spread along the seafront and there are also a few along the main quay. Day trips from 'Santa' include Portofino, the picturesque San Fruttuoso monastery, the resorts of Camogli and Rapallo, Genoa and the Cinque Terre (around an hour by train, or an all-day boat excursion).

There seems to be more Italian tourists in Santa Margherita, which we prefer, than the international town of Portofino. Last time we were in Portifino it was evident that it was popular with American and Russian tourists.

Our hotel in Santa Margherita was the Grand Hotel Miramare, in a great position, with wonderful seaviews. We would thoroughly recommend this hotel.

The view from our room. It is easy to get to Portofino from here either by bus or a leisurely stroll along the coast.

Spello, Umbria

Spello rises on the road between Assisi and Foligno in Umbria. It is one of the prettiest towns we have found in Italy.

The town-walls are of Roman age with many Roman features to be seen including the amphitheater, the thermal baths, the Porta Venere and the Augusto's Arch.

Spello is famous for the Infiorata (flower festival) that happens every year in june. The roads and the public squares are covered of compositions made with flowers and vegetables.

One of the many side streets of Spello covered in floral displays

Great al fresco dining in town

A very well preserved and tidy town that has floral displays around every corner.

Montalcino, Tuscany

Montalcino is a hilltop town in the southern part of Tuscany. It is 564 metres above sea level and is a walled town which has held strategic importance for centuries. It is also famous as the hub for one of Italy's two famous red wines, Brunello di Montalcino.

A view of the town from the Fortezza (Fort) which is an extremely well preserved medieval structure.

A solitary church between Montalcino and Pienza. One of the most photographed churces in Tuscany

The Sagra del Tordo celebration in the last weekend of October is a must see event. It culminates in an amazing archery competition between the four quartiere of the town.

The main square

Sant Antimo Abbey just outside Montalcino. Ancient and still active. Must visit particularly for the chanting.

Okay, glass of vino rosso (Brunello of course) whilst relaxing and looking at the amazing Tuscan landscape as it meanders into the distance.

One of the most photographed roads just outside Montalcino

Just a clump of trees as we approach Montalcino. Not sure why we like these trees but they always enchant.

Lake Como, Lombardia

Lake Como (Lago di Como in Italian) is the third largest lake in Italy, after Lake Garda and Lake Maggiore. At over 400 m (1320 ft) deep it is one of the deepest lakes in Europe.

Lake Como has been a popular retreat for aristocrats and wealthy people since Roman times, and a very popular tourist attraction with many artistic and cultural gems. It has many villas and palaces (such as Villa Olmo, Villa Serbelloni and Villa Carlotta). Many celebrities have or had homes on the shores of Lake Como which is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful lakes in Italy and we would certainly agree with this.

The lake is shaped much like the character "Y". The northern branch begins at the town of Colico, while the towns of Como and Lecco sit at the ends of the southwestern and southeastern branches respectively. The small towns of Bellagio, Menaggio and Varenna are situated at the intersection of the three branches of the lake: a triangular boat service operates between them. On one day we just hopped onto a ferry and meandered our way from one end of the lake to the other stopping at the many beautiful villages on the way.

A Villa by the lake

Villa d'Este, in Cernobbio, was built in 1568 by Cardinal Tolomeo Gallio, a native of the town. In 1816–17 the villa was home to Caroline of Brunswick, estranged wife of the Prince of Wales and shortly to become Queen Consort of King George IV of the United Kingdom. The landscaped gardens in the English style are a product of this period. Later in the century it was turned into a luxury hotel. Today the Villa d’Este is known for attracting celebrity guests. Above is one of them.

Villa del Balbianello, famous for its elaborate terraced gardens, lies on a promontory of the western shore of the lake near Isola Comacina. Built in 1787 on the site of a Franciscan monastery, it was the final home of the explorer Guido Monzino and today houses a museum devoted to his work.

 From Villa del Balbianello, breathtaking

Villa del Balbianello. The grounds and gardens are stunning.

Trani, Puglia

Trani is a historic fishing port in Puglia, southern Italy, between Bari and Barletta on the Adriatic coast. It's a lovely place to explore, wander or relax. It is reminiscent of the old-fashioned seaside Italy: historic buildings fading with casual charm, boats in the harbour and sleepy dogs lazing in the midday sun by the deserted waterfront.

Since the town has a working fishing port, seafood is a speciality here and you'll find a number of restaurants, particularly near the harbour, where you can enjoy it. Fishermen sell their fresh catch along the waterfront. You'll also find cafes where you can sit with a drink or snack along the waterfront and by the cathedral.

The Trani promenade looking toward the cathedral.

There is a pleasant walk around the harbour, with benches to sit on while passing the time. From the breakwater at the south-eastern side there are great views back towards the cathedral. Just beyond is one of the most pleasant spots in Trani: the nineteenth-century public gardens, the Villa Comunale.

Trani doesn't have many specific tourist sights; it's the sort of place to wander along lanes and admire harbour views. The one really important thing to see is the cathedral, the Cattedrale di San Nicola Pellegrino, which dominates the seashore from a spectacular position at the water's edge.

On the low headland behind the cathedral is the oldest part of Trani's historic centre. Exploring the lanes here, the visitors comes across picturesque corners and interesting sights.

A park near the centre

The Cathedral and harbour at dusk


Sicily ekes of history, of days past, of hard times but most importantly of pride, survival and communal bonding

The town of Ragusa Ibla, south of Catania on the South East coast. Dating back to BC this town was rebuilt in 1693 following a terrible earthquake.

One of the main piazzas of Ragusa

The beautiful town of Taormina at night with the rain falling.  Perched high above the sea it's past is Sicily’s history in a microcosm: Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, Swabians, the French and the Spanish all came, saw, conquered and left.

A view from Taormina looking south along the coast.

The fish markets in Catania are a must see. Every sea species imaginable with every local seafaring person on hand.

Lipari, one of the eight Aeolian Island just north of Sicily have a rich history The islands include the volcanic Stromboli and Vulcano.

Lipari. Civilization dates back to 4000-2500 BC with evidence of relics from an era when the local material obsidian was used for working implements.

One of two harbours in the main town of Lipari.

Preparing for dinner and having a chat.

Small narrow streets.

One of the many small villages around the island. We hired scooters to take us around the island. Great way to see it with very little traffic.

Looking over the town of Lipari.

Well we hope you like our best of Italy.

Maybe next year it will change as we discover new places.

Please feel free to send us any questions you may have regarding these places.

Until next time baci e abbracci a tutti

Carolyna e Alan