Italy is in many ways the ultimate travel destination. Author Frances Mayes wrote the foreword to Where to Go When: Italy. “No other country has the infinite variety of Italy,” she writes, “from the tip of a Dolomite mountain to the southernmost wave on Pantelleria.”
Readers can view sample itineraries for the perfect trip to scores of Italy’s tucked-away paradises, accompanied by the ideal month to visit. The book provides many different Italian attractions, all organized by the time of year you might want to go.
All travel suggestions come from Where to Go When: Italy, a beautiful, full-color travel idea book from DK Eyewitness Travel.
Perugia in July
A Weekend of Kisses
The ancient world often struggles to survive in modern cities; either “civilization” knocks it down and rebuilds something bigger and better, or it locks it up behind glass in a museum. But Perugia is different. The whole city is a museum, but one you can work in, wander around, sleep in, or eat and drink in, and during the famous Umbria Jazz festival, dance or listen to great music in.
Set in gentle countryside, Perugia is a city of art and ancient culture, the seat of an illustrious university, and the theater for Umbria Jazz, one of Europe’s most important musical events. Spend a weekend in this atmospheric city, exploring by day a history that goes back to the Etruscans, and by night enjoying the music of world-class jazz performers.
Sample itinerary for Perugia
[Day 1] To reach the ancient heart of Perugia, save your legs and take the escalators from the Piazza dei Partigiani. Start with the Rocca Paolina. This was built by Pope Paul III after he put down the “salt war,” a revolt in 1540 against papal power and taxes. The fort was built over the homes of the rebel leaders, creating an underground city. The restored fort provides a fascinating walk through the oldest parts of the city.
For lunch, perhaps order some salami, some pane sciapo – bread made without salt, a reminder of the town’s refusal to pay salt taxes – and a glass of the local wine. Finish the meal off with a few of Perugia’s famous chocolate baci or kisses.
In the evening, enjoy the lively atmosphere of the ancient center filled with jazz aficionados and revelers and listen to the melodic echoes of the music reverberating off the stone walls.
[Day 2] See some of the city’s fine churches that are treasure chests of art. Visit San Domenico, a 14th-century church restored in the 17th-century; San Pietro, rich in works by the best Renaissance painters; and the Duomo. The latter has beautiful frescoed walls in red and white marble, and an austere but harmonious interior.
Don’t miss the Fontana Maggiore, the symbol of Perugia, in Piazza Grande. Nearby stands the Piazza dei Priori, home to the fabulous Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria. If you’re lucky, you might be able to get a ticket to see one of the headline jazz acts; if not, there are plenty of other excellent concerts to enjoy in Perugia.
Dos and Don’ts
• Try Perugia baci (kisses), the famous hazelnuts coated in chocolate, wrapped in a piece of paper with a love saying.
• Don’t drive into Perugia. It’s better to leave your car in the underground parking lot at Piazza dei Partigiani and reach the center by escalator, passing through the Rocca Paolina.
• Explore the small organic food market that takes place on the first Sunday of every month.
• Don’t linger in the center too late in the evening if your hotel isn’t nearby; the escalators close at 1am.
• Go to a concert at the Umbria Jazz festival. You will find all the information about the program on www.umbriajazz.com
September in Mantua
A city of elegant beauty, rising up out of a lake: that is how Mantua first appears to visitors. The city is, in fact, nestled in the curve made by three lakes, formed by the Mincio River, its splendid Renaissance buildings reflected in their rippling waters.
Exploring Mantua is like finding oneself in one of the magnificent courts of the Italian Renaissance. Along with nearby Sabbioneta, Mantua has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it is easy to see why. Three days allows time not only to get to know the compact historic heart of the city, but also to visit the lovely Sabbioneta as well.
Three Days of Delights
[Day 1] To begin your visit, head for the Piazza Sordello, the heart of Mantua. Visit the Palazzo Ducale that looks onto the grandiose square, which incorporates works of amazing artistic beauty. After lunch, stroll around the streets in the center as far as the Piazza dell’Erbe, the site of a traditional market and surrounded by lovely building including the Romanesque Rotunda di San Lorenzo, one of the oldest churches in Mantua.
For dinner, try some specialties of Mantuan cuisine, such as tortelli di zuca, (pasta stuffed with pumpkin), salami studded with fresh garlic, and torta sbrisolona, (literally “crumbly cake” but actually a large, almond-flavored cookie).
[Day 2] Keep today free for a trail around the works of great architects of the Italian Renaissance: Leon Battista Alberti (visit the churches of Sant’Andrea and San Sebastiano) and Giulio Romano (magnificent Palazzo Te, the interior of the Duomo, and the house he designed for himself). Then carry on to leafy Piazza Virgiliana: named for the poet Virgil, one of Mantua’s greatest sons. Before supper, join the locals in an early-evening stroll along the lake shore.
[Day 3] Take the bus to Sabbioneta to visit the town’s own Palazzo Ducale and the Palazzo del Giardino, with its spectacular frescoed Galleria degli Antichi (Gallery of the Ancients), as well as Palladio’s magnificent 16th-century Teatro Olimpico, Italy’s oldest enclosed theater.
Dos and Don’ts
• Rent a bicycle and ride the length of the town’s lake shore; it’s a very pleasant path and offers romantic and unusual views of the town’s historic buildings.
• If you are here on the third Sunday of the month, have a look around the antiques market in Piazza Virgiliana. It’s an entertaining opportunity to rummage through the stalls in search of interesting curios.
• At certain times of year, including September, individual visitors must book in advance to visit the Camera degli Sposi. For information, visit www.mantovaducale.it/eng_info.htm
• Do not expect to see top authors or attend major events at the Festivaletteratura without booking the tickets in advance. For details, visit www.festivaletteratura.it
December in Vieste
Legends in Limestone (sample itinerary)
Which can win in the battle between land and sea? Perhaps neither, and the Gargano headland is a good demonstration of that. Formed from limestone, unlike the rest of the Adriatic coast, here the onslaught of waves and gales has been subdued and tempered by the soft terrain, which it has it turn etched and shaped into often quite astonishing forms.
Vieste is a handsome town, with a medieval quarter of white houses perched on the cliffs, clear waters, and marvelous grottoes accessible by sea. It is the ideal point of departure for tours of the Gargano and along the wonderful coastline and, with four days at your disposal, you will have time for several such leisurely excursions.
Four Days on the Headland
[Day 1] Spend the day getting to know Vieste, with its historic center of bright white houses in sharp and lovely contrast to the intense blue of the sea. Stroll around the streets and climb as far as Punta San Francesco, where there is a castle of Norman origin. In 1554, this was the scene of one of the bloodiest episodes in the history of Vieste: the slaughter of thousands of local citizens by the pirate Dragut Raïs, on the rock known as Chianca Amara (“bitter stone”), not far from the beautiful Apulian-Romanesque cathedral.
[Day 2] In the morning, visit the beach of Pizzomunno. It is glorious even in winter, with its magnificent monolith rising from the golden sand. After lunch, stop in at Vieste’s curious Museo Malacologico, which displays shells from all over the world.
[Day 3] Today, drive out to Pugnochiuso, enjoying the views which open up at each bend in the coastal road. Among the most beautiful sights is the Vallone del Vignaiolo, a valley that extends as far as the Adriatic and culminates in a beach of fine white sand, and Baia delle Zagare, a bay studded with lighthouses.
[Day 4] Make an excursion to the Parco Nazionale del Gargano. There are several walking trails through the park, organized by expert guides. One of the most famous is the walk leading to a various masserie, ancient rural farmhouses typical of the area. If you don’t want to walk, there are guided pony treks through the park that you can do instead.
Do’s and Don’ts
• Don’t drive too fast: the coast road around the Gargano twists and turns. Not only will you be safer, you’ll also be able to appreciate the magnificent landscape more fully.
• If the sun is shining, make the most of the mild weather with a picnic on the beach.
• Buy some olive oil from the Gargano, one of the most famous areas in Italy for top-quality oil.
• For pictures and video of the Living Nativity, see the website: www.preseperignano.com (Italian only).
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