Rising mirage-like from the lagoon, labyrinthine Venice is a city of living art, from the glorious architecture of Piazza San Marco – climb the ninth century Campanile for heart-stopping views – to the gothic façade of St Marks Basilica and the imposing Doges Palace. Take a launch to the islands of Murano and Burano, famed for their glassware and laceware respectively; shop for carnival masks and drift on a gondola past evocative landmarks such as the Rialto Bridge and the Bridge of Sighs. Always alive with festivals, exhibitions and events, highlights to time your visit with are the Venice Carnival and Venice Film Festival.
Cradle of the Renaissance, Florence captivates with its magnificent architecture and world-renowned art – in the Uffizi alone stand Michelangelo’s David, Giotto frescoes and works by Da Vinci. Close to the Chianti vineyards and ancient Siena the city boasts unforgettable sights – the marbled Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, medieval Ponte Vecchio and the Piazza della Signoria to name but a few, the latter features an open-air sculpture exhibition in the lively square surrounded by cafés and restaurants. Open-air markets sell food, clothing and antiques while high-end boutiques present some of the finest leather goods in Europe.
Reflecting the glories of one of the greatest empires, the Eternal City mixes a proud history with a buzzing aperitivo scene. The astonishing sights are never ending – take a private tour of the famous Colosseum, admire the impressively preserved Pantheon or linger amongst the architectural remains of the arches and temples of the Roman Forum. The Sistine Chapel and the Raphael Rooms of the Vatican are a must see, with the Basilica of St. Peter offering beguiling views from its dome. Soak up the atmosphere as you mingle by the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps before heading to the Via Borgognona for serious designer shopping.
The epitome of exclusivity, this fishing-village-turned-upmarket resort is famed for its restaurant-lined harbour, summer yachts and chic designer shops. For captivating views of the harbour head up to Castello Brown, a sixteenth century fortress now housing a museum; around the corner from the harbour lies the charming eleventh century church of St Martin. From Portofino day trip boat excursions visit the Cinque Terre, a UNESCO site comprising five picturesque villages known for their narrow streets and colourful old houses.
Amalfi Coast and Capri
Few stretches of coastline compare with the rugged cliffs and terraced lemon groves of Amalfi, where the largely traffic-free resort of Ravello perches high above the sea. Relax in the Piazza del Vescovado, meander through the gardens and grottos of Villa Cimbrone and enjoy a concert in the castle-like Villa Rufolo. The town is also known for Mamma Agata’s cookery school, set in the kitchen of her family home. In Positano, all pastel colours and winding streets, savour world class cuisine, shop in chic boutiques and visit the black Madonna inside the domed Church of Santa Maria Assunta. Amalfi, too, offers a colourful welcome, with life centred around the marina while Capri is the very essence of romance with its upmarket hangouts, ancient churches, famous sea caves and the eight hundred Phoenician Steps which connect Anacapri to the sea.
With spellbinding vistas at every turn, the lakes of Northern Italy are simply unforgettable; perfect for a relaxing break exploring pretty villages with beautiful views or for enjoying an array of watersports, hiking and cycling possibilities. Around Lake Como ornate palazzos meld with picturesque villages - the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Sacro Monte di Ossuccio comprises no fewer than fifteen chapels.The majestic Lake Maggiore has a number of enchanting islands, the Borromean Islands exuding a mystical air. The colourful town of Pallanza has panoramic island views from the lakeside promenade lined with terraces and cafés or visit elegant Stresa with its narrow cobbled streets and a variety of prestigious summer events and concerts. Lake Garda, Italys largest lake, has inspired artists since Roman times, its surrounding vineyards and olive groves backed by dramatic snow-capped peaks. Wallow in the thermal springs of Sirmione, marvel at the fairytale castle of Rocca Scaglieri and discover atmospheric Malcesine, from where a cable car runs to the summit of the Monte Baldo ridge.
Sun-soaked Sicily offers an exceptional mix of attractions, from the lava fields of brooding Mount Etna – the summit accessible by cable car and four wheel drive – to walking amongst the gods in Agrigento’s Valley of the Temples, spread over a vast area encompassing numerous complete and partly-reconstructed temples dating back to 510 BC. From scenic Toarmina with its winding shopping streets, medieval buildings and bars and restaurants, the volcano views are spectacular, as is the town’s Greek theatre where theatrical and musical performances are an unforgettable experience. A cable car ride takes visitors down to the beautiful rocky beach of Isola Bella, a small island close to the city of Toarmina and often referred to as the ‘Pearl of the Ionian Sea’ and where a diving school can be found.
This relatively unknown area offers an authentic taste of Italy, its hillsides dotted with olive groves and white-washed villages, its coastline hiding delightful resorts such as Monopoli. Explore ancient Greek sites and see the regions conical-roofed houses – Alberobello being the epicentre of Trulli architecture and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Selva di Fasano overlooks the Itria Valley, and the enchanting hilltop town of Ostuni are well worth a visit; history buffs will appreciate a visit to the Museo Nazionale de Egnazia with its Bronze Age and Roman artefacts.
Europe’s glitterati flock to the beautiful resorts of the Costa Smeralda, - Porto Cervo buzzes with sophisticated cafes and opulent nightclubs, while the tranquil Maddalena Islands offer relaxation on immaculate white sand beaches such as Manto della Madonna on Budelli. All along the coast a myriad of watersports beckon including motor yacht hire whilst the Thursday market at San Pantaleo is a craft hunter’s dream. Also worth a visit are the Bronze Age Nurhagi stone structures, providing a fascinating glimpse into the island’s ancient native people.