Italy is nothing short of charming. Be it the people (the oh-so-gorgeous men!), the beautiful coasts, the little cafes and gelato shops, the lovely countryside and vineyards or the history and culture that go as far back as the 9th century BC and has been preserved beautifully, Italy is one country in Europe you cannot afford to miss.
Here are 12 things in Italy that will totally charm you:
#1 The people
This features on the top of my list because people are what will make your trip to Italy memorable. They are nice, friendly, helpful and even go out of their way to answer your questions. Although we did face a little bit of language problem, making it tough for us to converse with the locals, but the people were sweet enough to try and help us in whatever way possible.
I particularly remember this incident where we were at a restaurant, waiting for our lunch while sipping on a glass of red wine when I accidently knocked my glass over and spilled the wine all over the floor. We were still very young and counting every penny spent, so I was quite disappointed that I had wasted a glass. The disappointment seemed evident and even more so when the waiter asked me if I wanted to order another one and I said no. This is when the couple sitting next to us very kindly and sweetly offered us their half-full bottle of wine, assuring us that they didn’t want to have any more. I couldn’t accept it, but how gracious of them! It makes your heart melt when strangers make such lovely gestures. Only in Italy!
I am not a fan of pizzas and will never be, unless it’s in Italy. I don’t know what it is but though they have learned to do pizzas everywhere around the world, there is no place that does it like ‘home’.
I couldn’t resist stopping at every little corner to get a scoop of the gelato. Particularly the fresh fruit flavours, that play such a beautiful melody on your tongue, exploding with a rich creaminess that is impossible to find anywhere outside of Italy. There were times we found ourselves eating more than 3 gelatos at once!
#4 City of canals - Venice
Oh the pleasure this city is! This little island (the downtown) is all about narrow lanes, bridges, romantic waterways with the gondolas, cafes and restaurants spilling on the patios, museums and ancient buildings that have been preserved from long back. No vehicles allowed - which means, you either use the water taxis or walk!
My favourite thing to do (apart from the fairytale gondola ride, of course) is to just walk in the narrow lanes without a map; get lost, peak inside the numerous shops displaying the Venetian masks, sip on a glass of wine or simply buy some trinkets off the road.
#5 The vineyards and ancient villages of Tuscany
If you're in Florence, rent a car and take this day trip. The beautiful Tuscany countryside is lined with vine-clad hills and a drive along these beautiful green fields is an absolute must! Stop at Chianti for wine tasting, medieval villages and castles and an enchanting walk in one these villages, where you will feel you've been transported back in time.
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#6 The eerie ruins of Pompeii
The city that got destroyed by a volcano and was buried in the ashes, killing the entire population, was excavated and a visit to this archaeological site is definitely an eerie experience. With Mt Vesuvius in the background, you will walk through homes of people, where many belongings such as pots and pans have been preserved. It is hardly a 30-minute drive from Naples.
#7 The Roman ruins
I love Rome because of the amazing blend of the old and the modern. There are ruins which have been preserved right in the middle of the bustling downtown and next to some of the most modern buildings.
Apart from the Colosseum and Roman Forum, which are a definite visit, if you're interested in history, you must also visit St. Peters Basilica, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, The Spanish Steps, Piazza del Popolo and Victor Emmanuel II Monument.
Note: Consider taking a night tour of the city, the monuments are well lit and have a very different charm during the night.
Click here to read 9 travel tips for first-time travellers in Rome.
#8 The Vatican Museums & St Peters Square
The smallest country in the world - Vatican City, is located hardly 20 minutes away from Rome's city centre. Home to the Pope and reminiscent of iconic art and architecture, the museum houses ancient Roman sculptures and relics from the Renaissance age. A day trip to visit the museums, especially the Sistine Chapel and St Peters Square, is an absolute must!
#9 Breathtaking coasts and islands
Although Amalfi coast is one of the most popular to visit in Italy, I fell head over heels in love with the island of Capri. If you take a hydrofoil from Naples, the island is hardly 40 minutes away. This hidden treasure is such a gem! Whether you choose to relax by the beach, take a boat and explore the gorgeous turquoise waters, visit the Blue Grotto (definitely recommended) or take the chairlift to Monte Solaro's summit, the highest point on the island that offers breathtaking panoramic views, you must spend at least a day on this little beautiful piece of heaven.
The island is divided into two towns- Capri & Anacapri. Anacapri is located on the slopes of Mt Solaro and thus at a height. Views are definitely more gorgeous from here and there are also cafes and restaurants in this area, where you can spend some time strolling around. In Capri, you can relax by the beach or visit Gardens of Augustus, which also offers amazing views of the blue waters. Take the zigzag path down from the gardens (via Krupp) overlooking the Faraglioni. For those who are short on time, this is the best place to capture the most amazing pictures.
#10 The artistic jewel of Florence
Home to many artistic pieces of Renaissance art and architecture, Florence is famous for many reasons - fashion designers such as Gucci and Roberto Cavalli were born here, Michaelangelo's 'David' sculpture is displayed at The Galleria dell'Accademia, Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus” which is displayed at Uffizi Gallery and Duomo - a red dome of a cathedral that stands out from the rest of the city and is best viewed from Piazzale Michaelangelo.
#11 The leaning tower of Pisa
Apparently, this tower was an architectural blunder and turned out horribly different from the way it was meant to. However, it is now considered as one of the wonders as the tower leans at a weird angle. The lean is getting worse as the time passes but is one of the most popularly visited tourist destinations today. It is a funny site to watch people strike poses with the tower! 🙂
Besides the tower, the town itself has other things as well such as cafes and restaurants, souvenir shops, gothic churches, Renaissance Piazzas and street markets. It is about an hour (by train) from Florence and a good way to spend a day.
#12 The Italian Alps & Pointe Helbronner
Pointe Helbronner which is the highest traversable point on the Alps, at 3466m can be reached by the Skyway Monte Bianco from the Italian village of Entreves. The panoramic cable car links Entreves at 1300m to Pointe Helbronner at 3466m via a mid station Pavillon du Mont Frety at 2173m. As you fly over the snow-covered peaks, the views are absolutely stunning and the car spins 360 degrees ensuring panoramic views. The mid-station at Pavillon du Mont Frety has a restaurant and cafe and plenty of open space to enjoy the beauty.
From here, you will step into another air conditioned cable car that takes you to the highest point Pointe Helbronner in a span of 10 minutes. Here there is another restaurant where you can enjoy brilliant Italian coffee and snacks. The terrace here too offers spectacular views of Mont Blanc.
Got some of your own favourites to add to this list? Please leave a comment below!