Palermo is the capital of Sicily, notorious for its mafia glamour. All organized crime aside, Palermo has plenty to offer to the intrepid visitor. Palermo`s Arab-Norman buildings are unique on Earth. There are also plenty of treasures to uncover in its rather forgotten museums. Arabic and North African influences are still visible in outdoors markets such as Vuccirria, and an interesting mélange of Arab, Byzantine, Norman and baroque architectural styles are visible to the trained eye.
Rome is Italy's treasure, packed with masterpieces from more than two millennia of artistic achievement. Modern Rome has one foot in the past, one in the present. Find a cafe at summer twilight and watch the shades of pink turn to gold and copper before night finally falls. That's when another Rome comes alive; restaurants and cafes grow more animated and after dinner you can have a gelato (or an espresso in winter) or stroll by the fountains or through Piazza Navona, and the night is yours.
With sumptuous palaces and romantic waterways, Venice is straight out of an 18th-century Canaletto masterpiece. No matter how many times you have seen it in movies or TV commercials, the real thing is more surreal and dreamlike than you ever imagined. Its landmarks, the Basilica di San Marco and the Palazzo Ducale are exotic mélanges of Byzantine, Gothic, and Renaissance styles. It is full of secrets, ineffably romantic, and - at times - given over entirely to pleasure. You must walk everywhere in Venice and where you cannot walk, you go by water.
Florence, the capital of Tuscany, is one of Italy's most atmospheric and pleasant, retaining a strong resemblance to the small late-medieval center that contributed so much to the cultural and political development of Europe. Art treasures Michelangelo's David Botticelli's Birth of Venus, and Raphael's La Velata draw millions of visitors every year. Throw into the mix fabulous architecture (the Duomo with Brunelleschi's dome, Giotto's campanile, Santa Croce), fine restaurants and earthy trattorie, plus leading designer boutiques and bustling outdoor markets, and the city of the Renaissance becomes quite simply one of the world's must-see sights.
Milan is Italy's window on Europe, its most sophisticated and high-tech metropolis. La Scala, its landmark, is one of Europe's most prestigious opera houses. In addition, it's the site of several world-renowned annual trade fairs. Milan is one of Europe's top shopping cities, with an incredible concentration of sophisticated, high style boutiques - and that's only fitting because Milan is the dynamo of the Italian fashion industry. Dolce & Gabbana, Ferré, Krizia, Moschino, Prada, Armani, and Versace have all catapulted to international stardom from design studios based here. Inevitably, shopping is of almost religious significance.
The Amalfi Coast has been declared an UNESCO World Heritage Sites for its remarkable beauty and distinct natural landscape. Traditional houses, painted in pastel colors, follow the slope of the foothills of Mounts Lattari, creating a picturesque scene. From the characteristic terraces, the strong scents of the lemon groves, the vineyards, the broom and the vibrant colors of bougainvillea combine with the salt air to delight the senses.
The Amalfi Coast is comprised of bays, coves and quaint small towns, precariously perched on mountainside. The blues of the sea, the greens of the Mediterranean vegetation and the colors of the houses all combine to paint one of the most spectacular landscapes on the Italian coast. Sorrento, Amalfi, Ravello, Vietri sul Mare and Positano are compared to precious pearls that make up a ?necklace? of small towns (twelve total) on the coast.
Assisi is one of Italy's top sights, competing with the Colosseum, Pompeii, and Venice's canals. It boasts some of Italy's finest early Renaissance art. One of the top attractions is the remarkably preserved portico of a Roman temple on its main square. The Basilica of San Francesco d'Assisi (St Francis) is a World Heritage Site that well worths a visit. The town is dominated by two medieval castles. The larger, called Rocca Maggiore, was built by Cardinal Albornoz (1367).
Siena is a city of brick, where urban development all but ceased after the great plague of the 14th century, busy as it was defending itself. Today, Siena is one of the largest Tuscan cities to maintain a distinctively medieval atmosphere and a great place to discover Tuscany at its medieval best, with numerous gothic palaces, pastry shops, and unequaled altarpieces.
Pisa does not need an introduction, as testified by the millions of tourists offloading each year for their mandatory photo of the Leaning Tower. In the rush of the moment, few bother to find out that Pisa was founded circa 1000 b.c. and became an important maritime republic alongside Venice, Amalfi, and Genoa. Birthplace of the famed Galileo Galilei, Pisa is also home to one of Italy?s top universities. For those choosing to stay longer, there are plenty of architectural splendors around the Tower.
The city of Verona in the province of Veneto, Northern Italy, rivals Venice in terms of magic and romance. Visitors turn here in numbers, making this town the most visited of the province after Venice. Aside from Romeo and Juliet's strong pull, Verona is a charming medieval and Renaissance city, with numerous medieval palazzi, churches, towers, and centuries-old piazzas. Among other objectives of interest are the Roman amphitheatre (the third largest in Italy), Arco dei Gavi, Basilica of San Zeno.
Montecatini Terme is heaven for those who love spa treatments! The curative powers of the hot springs and steaming vaporous caverns of the Valdinevole have been renowned for centuries. The Parco dei Termi, a long park of neoclassical temples expanding over the sources of various underground hot springs is the ideal place for relaxation. Here you will find Terme Tettuccio, a historic spa famous for its thermal waters. It`s a lavish Liberty-style building with a park was built in the latter part of the 18th century by Leopold of Hasburg, the Grand Duke of Tuscany. He also had two other spas built, the Regina and the Leopoldine, and the three spas made this area famous all over Europe, boasting their obvious riches and royalty. There is also the Grotto of Monsummano, a series of lime caves with a steaming lake and hot rooms that are said to cure people who enter.
But it`s not only spas! Walk the town`s main street of Viale Verdi ; visit the Hamlet of Montecatini Alto with ancient castles, churches and towers upon an enchanting hill; and go to Piazza Giusti, an ancient sanctuary with its original stone flooring and noble coat of arms. There is also the Parlascio, a historic site of public markets and assemblies, the town center`s historic fountains, as well as the Roman Church of Saint Peter with its gorgeous paintings spanning through several historical ages.
Distances: Florence - 31 miles, Pisa - 33 miles, Siena - 74 miles
Lucca is located on a plain at the foot of the Apuan Alps and is less than half an hour from the Tuscan coast. Lucca is one of Tuscany´s gems, a haven of religious buildings, interesting history and fabulous places to eat. Of Etruscan origin (founded in 180 BC), it belonged to the Romans and then proclaimed itself independent and stayed so for 5 centuries.
Lucca is famous for its Renaissance city walls that have remained intact while so many other Tuscan towns saw theirs destroyed in past centuries as they lost their military importance and became a pedestrian promenade circling the old town. It is the birthplace of Giacomo Puccini. If you are interested in religious art, enter the 14th-century cathedral Duomo San Martino to see Nicola Pisano's Descent from the Cross or have a look at the multi-patterned columns at "San Michele", the church of the archangel. At the Doumo, visit the Tomb of Ilaria del Carretto, a moving sculpture by Jacopo della Quercia commemorating a young woman who died in childbirth. And be sure to take some time to enjoy Lucca's tranquil atmosphere and its many fine restaurants.
Nearby: Visit San Galgano, Terme di Petriolo, Bagni di Lucca Distances: Florence - 48 miles, Pisa - 11 miles , Siena - 89 miles
Bologna is one of the most overlooked gems in Italy, one of the most architecturally unified in Europe - a panorama of sienna-colored buildings, marbled sidewalks, and porticos. Located at the crossroads between Venice and Florence and surrounded by hills, Bologna provides the best of several worlds; it has beautiful piazzas, churches and museums, as well as being a thriving university town, filled with cafes, bars and nightlife. The bars, cafes, and squares fill up with students, and an eclectic mix of concerts, art exhibits, and avant-garde ballet and theater performances always marks the calendar.
The proximity of the city of Naples (Napoli) to the Vesuvius gives its inhabitants a certain edge. Its reputation as the most vibrant city in Italy can be a double-edged sword, explaining why some tourists like it and some hate it outright. Nonetheless, the charm of Naples resides in its narrow streets with numerous ancient churches, street markets, cafés, bars and restaurants, all leading to a cacophony of sounds and images embodying the spirit of the Italian South.
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