Top Ten Hidden Gems of Italy - Page 2
|The Plaza del Campo in Siena comes alive at night. (Cosmo Condina/Digital Vision/Getty)|
Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet was set in this city, a short 1.5-hour train ride from Venice in the Veneto, where a 14th-century palace, complete with romantic balcony and statue of Juliet, is designated as the house of the Capulets. But the Arena di Verona, a splendidly preserved Roman amphitheater and the world's third-largest seating over 20,000, steals the show with moderately priced operatic performances each summer. Sitting on the pink marble steps of the 2,000-year-old open-air theater beneath the moon and stars, surrounded by the fading light of the Veneto hills, and watching Aida with a cast of hundreds is an experience you won't soon forget.
This walled Tuscan town sits atop three hills and is still encircled by eight original city gates. It has a truly authentic medieval character, with a gigantic scallop-shaped square, the Piazza del Campo, topped by a 300-foot bell tower, and the Torre del Mangia, which offers views of the Chianti countryside. Siena is also home to the famous Palio horse race twice each summer. Riders from ten districts in Siena compete in whizzing around the Campo bareback in a thrilling spectacle, as they have since the 17th century. In a fabulous parade before the Palio, each district—clad in ornate historical costume and knightly armor—displays its own banners, colors, and symbols and demonstrates synchronized flag-throwing. The enchanting and easily walkable UNESCO-designated historic center of Siena, an hour from Florence by express bus, overflows with Gothic and Renaissance palaces, one housing the Pinacoteca Nazionale, featuring paintings from the Sienese school, and a 13th-century cathedral with an unusual green, red, and white striped marble facade and a zebra-striped black and white interior.
Five precariously positioned clifftop towns in the Liguria region (also called the Italian Riviera) offer staggering Mediterranean views, pastel late medieval-era houses, and steep terraced vineyards and vegetable gardens. Linked by the coast-hugging five-mile Blue Trail—a former mule path—and by train, but no roads, the "five lands" of Cinque Terre are Riomaggiore, Manarola, Vernazza, Corniglia, and Monterosso, the biggest, with almost 1,600 inhabitants. Reward yourself with regional specialties such as pasta pesto or focaccia bread, and enjoy some gelato afterward. Nearby are tiny Portofino and its pastel villas and picturesque yacht-filled harbor, and Santa Margherita, where even the train station offers magnificent views of the turquoise bay and town below, linked by public bus, coastal path, and a hairpin-curved road.
Bologna may be best known as Italy's "food capital," as it's the home of greats such as meat-stuffed tortellini and veal Bolognese. But the capital of Emilia-Romagna is a handsome city with a historic center featuring miles of arcaded streets, reddish-brick palaces, almost two dozen medieval towers, and Europe's oldest university (where alumni include Dante and Copernicus). Combine all this together, and it's easy to see where Bologna gets its nicknames: "The Fat," "The Red," and "The Learned." Foodies will not want to miss the Quadrilatero, a section of the city that offers many delis, market stalls, restaurants, and bars.
1. Aeolian Islands
These islands off the northeast coast of Sicily, can be reached by hydrofoil or ferry from Messina or Milazzo, and they make a fascinating off-the-beaten-track excursion. On Lipari, the largest of the islands with a population of 11,000, stroll through town to the dramatic clifftop castle and visit the excellent archeological museum. Stromboli is home to a perpetually active volcano, so you have a good shot at seeing molten lava flow through this volcanic landscape. Snorkeling and scuba diving in the crystal-clear cobalt-blue sea is another winning way to spend the day in the islands. Or stay on the land and hike around to find dramatic views and explore tiny fishing villages.
Best Hotels in Bologna