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Home to many of the world’s greatest works of art, architecture and gastronomy, Italy elates, inspires and moves like no other.
Epicentre of the Roman Empire and birthplace of the Renaissance, Italy has more Unesco World Heritage cultural sites than any other country on Earth. Should you walk in the footsteps of ancient Romans in Pompeii, revel in Ravenna’s glittering Byzantine treasures or get breathless over Giotto’s revolutionary frescoes in Padua?
In few places do art and life intermingle so effortlessly. This may be the land of Dante, Titian and Verdi, but it’s also the home of Prada, Massimo Bottura and Renzo Piano. Beauty, style and flair furnish every aspect of daily life, from those immaculately knotted ties and seamless espressos to the flirtatious smiles of striking strangers.
The root of Italian psychology is a dedication to living life well, and effortless as it may seem, driving that dedication is a reverence for the finer things. So slow down, style up and indulge in a little vita all’italiana (life, Italian style).
Naturally, this philosophy extends to food as well as art. And while Italy’s culinary soul might prefer simplicity, it’s equally ingenious and sophisticated. Expect some of the world’s top fine-dining destinations, from San Pellegrino ‘World’s Best 50’ hot spots to Michelin-starred musts.
Italy’s fortes extend beyond its galleries, wardrobes and dining rooms. The country is one of nature’s masterpieces, with extraordinary natural diversity matched by few. From the north’s icy Alps and glacial lakes to the south’s fiery craters and turquoise grottoes, this is a place for doing as well as seeing.
One day you’re tearing down Courmayeur’s powdery slopes, the next you could be galloping across the marshes of the Maremma, or diving in coral-studded Campanian waters. Not bad for a country not much bigger than Arizona.
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The Eternal City is a heady mix of haunting ruins, awe-inspiring art and vibrant street life, Italy’s hot-blooded capital is one of the world’s most romantic and inspiring cities.
The result of 3000 years of ad hoc urban development, Rome’s cityscape is an exhilarating spectacle. Ancient icons such as the Colosseum, Roman Forum and Pantheon sit alongside its many monumental basilicas which testify to its historical role as seat of the Catholic Church. Lording it over the skyline is St Peter’s Basilica, a towering masterpiece of Renaissance architecture. Elsewhere, ornate piazzas and showy fountains add a baroque flourish to the city’s captivating streets.
Few cities can rival Rome’s astonishing artistic heritage. Throughout history, the city has starred in the great upheavals of Western art, drawing the top artists of the day and inspiring them to push the boundaries of creative achievement. The result is a city awash with priceless treasures.
A trip to Rome is as much about lapping up the dolce vita lifestyle as gorging on art and culture. Idling around picturesque streets, whiling away hours at streetside cafes, people-watching on pretty piazzas – these are all an integral part of the Roman experience. The tempo rises as the heat of the day gives way to the evening cool and the fashionably dressed aperitivo (pre-dinner drinks) crowd descends on the city’s bars and cafes.
Eating out is one of Rome’s great pleasures and the combination of romantic alfresco settings and superlative food is a guarantee of good times. For contemporary fine dining and five-star wine there are any number of refined restaurants, but for a truly Roman meal head to a boisterous pizzeria or convivial neighbourhood trattoria. These are where the locals go to dine with friends and indulge their passion for thin, crispy pizzas, humble pastas, and cool white wines from the nearby Castelli Romani hills. Then to finish off, what about a gelato followed by a shot of world-beating coffee?
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Milan is Italy’s city of the future, a fast-paced metropolis where creativity is big business, looking good is compulsory and after-work drinks are an art form.
Ruled by the Caesars, Napoleon, the Austro-Hungarians and Mussolini, Milan has an ancient and fascinating cultural history. However, not only is Milan a treasure trove of 20th-century art, but art deco and rationalist architecture abound. Today the city leads the way with the largest post-war re-development in Italy, impressive, sustainable architecture and a futuristic skyline modelled by Zaha Hadid, Daniel Libeskind and César Pelli.
Though Italian design is world renowned, its roots lie in 1930s Milan and seeing it in a home context offers fresh appreciation. A visit to the Design Museum is a wonderful way to pay homage to the work of Italy’s best and brightest. In addition, Milan is home to all the major design showrooms and an endless round of trade fairs.
Cucina povera (peasant cooking) may be the cry of the south, but Milanese cuisine is a product of a rich urban culture. Just note the golden hue of its quintessential dishes: cotoletta (burnished, buttery veal) and saffron risotto. It was in powerful commercial cities such as Milan that Italy’s great cuisine was born, marrying Mediterranean fruits, spices and herbs with cooking methods, pastry techniques and eating styles from France and central Europe.