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There are at least a million reasons why you should put Italy on your travel bucket list. To have the ‘“ultimate Italian experience’” is not one of them. There’s no such thing. Even better, Italy is a cornucopia of sights, customs, tastes, manners and lifestyles that change from region to region, each of them begging to be discovered and enjoyed to the fullest. Get a taste of la dolce vita, wrapped in the scent of citrus and balmy Positano nights on the Eden-esque Amalfi Coast or give in to la bea vita in Venice, as you slide along Gothic palazzos in a gondola. Eat your way through Emilia-Romagna, Italy’s food valley between the River Po and the Apennines and wash down the adventure with a glass of herbaceous Chianti in Tuscany. Take in the world's most stunning collection of Renaissance art in Florence’s Gallerie degli Uffizi or unwind on Puglia’s vast, scenic coastline. Which experience is the most Italian? Non ti preoccupare! Whichever you choose, make the most of it – and make it your own.
One of the reasons for Italy’s regionality is that today’s Repubblica Italiana is a relatively new invention. Relative to the nearly three millennia that have passed since the Etruscans founded the first farming city-states on the Apennine Peninsula, that is. One of them, named after the king-slash-demigod Romulus, had bigger plans. By the 1st century BC, Rome ruled Peninsular Italy and soon enough, much of the known world, from north-western Europe to the Near East. The ancient superpower’s legacy has long outlived the empire itself and has only been enriched during the centuries that followed after its fall in 476 AD. Until the 19th century, Italy was a playground (and battleground) of rich and famous city-states, such as Florence, Venice and Genoa. Art history, and Europe as a whole, came out as winners of this fierce rivalry, which led to the birth of the Renaissance and the rise of Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Dante, Machiavelli, Galileo, Marco Polo and Christopher Columbus – and has changed the course of history once again.
You’ve guessed it: Italian cuisine is more like an umbrella term, too. But let’s see what a pan-Italian menu would look like, shall we? It would probably start with a light and simple insalata caprese. Originally from the Campania region’s Isle of Capri, this well-loved tricolour antipasto is made with fresh mozzarella, ripe tomatoes and sweet basil. Talk about a patriotic dish! For primo (first course), choose a Lombard classic: the bright yellow, rich risotto alla milanese is a staple on every menu in Milan as it should be on any foodie’s must-taste list. Or taste the rich and satisfying spaghetti alla carbonara, Rome’s invaluable contribution to the country’s gastro map. In the mood for something heavier? The Emilia-Romagna-native ragù a la Bolognese should be your order then, in any form available. Eat it with tagliatelle, if pasta is your thing, or oven-baked and generously layered into a besciamella-heavy lasagne. Still have room for dessert? Have some soft and smooth tiramisú wherever you are but especially in the Veneto region, where it was originally invented. Or so Venetians say.
The history of Italy is the history of many other nations, with chapters that delight, startle and stay with you forever. Visit the Eternal City where it all began. Queue at the Musei Capitolini and walk among Rome’s most precious artistic and archaeological treasures, most notably Lupa Capitolina, the iconic bronze statue of the she-wolf that nursed Rome-founder Romulus and Remus. Go to Venice to see what came next: get lost in the lavish, Venetian Gothic-style Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace), from where the doges ruled the Venetian Republic and the most powerful navy of the Adriatic for over a thousand years. Descend to Pompeii, where, in 79 AD, it all went terribly wrong. Be a guest in the eerie villas of ill-fated locals whose bodies, homes, livestock, possessions and last moments are frozen in 2,000-year old Volcanic tephra. Then head to Milan to get a glimpse of where it’s all headed. Italy’s economic engine and most cosmopolitan city blends an incredibly rich heritage (The Last Supper, anyone?) with strong futurist vibes and the best and latest in Italian fashion and design.
Natural or manmade, wherever you go in Italy, beauty will follow. Tour the picturesque beaches of Sardinia, such as Mugoni, set against thick pine forests, Spiaggia di San Giovanni, just off the historic centre of Alghero, or Le Bombarde, a white sand-carpeted stunner on Riviera del Corallo. Amble along Via Monte Napoleone, Europe’s most expensive shopping street and the main drag of Milan’s Quadrilatero della moda (Fashion District) in the company of the biggest names in alta moda. Leave the bustle of the city behind and venture out to Lake Como for otherworldly landscapes and sweeping opulence at the foot of the Alps, or for dreamy villages and welcoming vineyards around Lake Garda at the tip of the Dolomites. Explore the Vatican Museums’ immense collection of Greek and Roman sculpture, such as Laocoön and His Sons, and the epoch-making pieces of High Renaissance painting in the Sistine Chapel and in Stanze di Raffaello. Throw a coin in the Trevi Fountain, the dramatic Baroque marvel that starred in Roman Holiday, along Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn. Or hop on a bus in Catania to see nature at its most powerful on the top of Etna, Europe's most active (but monitored) volcano.