Italy is one of the world’s most alluring travel destinations. It is the historic and cultural epicenter of the Etruscans, the Roman Empire, the Catholic Church and the Renaissance. Captivating panoramic vistas of the peninsula’s majestic mountains, volcanoes and glistening seas enhance Italy’s timeless charm. The fascinating array of sights and travel experiences includes glorious cityscapes overflowing with art and architectural masterpieces.
Historic cities are surrounded by dreamy landscapes of rolling hills that are carpeted with vineyards, olive and citrus groves. In some regions, the grapes thrive on terraced vineyards with intense sunshine and pronounced fluctuations between day and night temperatures.
The micro climates of regions from Piedmont to Sicily provide the nation’s wine producers with resources and endless opportunities to produce highly regarded local wines. Sangiovese, Trebbiano, Barbera and Nebbiolo grapes become estate wines that ultimately stock wine cellars throughout Italy and the world. There are over 300 varieties of vines that are cultivated in many locations: by the sea, on the foothills and in the southernmost islands. The Italian wine industry provides a wide assortment of wines with various aromas, flavors and textures. The diversity of these wines tends to harmonize with various types of food because of their overall natural acidity. The extensive latitudinal range of the terroir allows the grapevines to be caressed by the convergence of many natural forces including: climate, sunshine, soil, humidity, sea breeze and rainfall. These forces produce a kaleidoscope of wines in many distinctive wine regions throughout the peninsula. Pour, observe, swirl, smell and enjoy.
- Positano (Photo credit: jimmyharris)
The Amalfi Coast is dotted with the picturesque hill towns that line the cliffs of the Sorrentine peninsula from Positano to Vietri sul Mare. The area includes the towns of Positano and Ravello with sun kissed vineyards, lemon and olive groves. Watch this UNESCO video highlighting some of the sites: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/830/video
This is arguably one of the most enchanting coastlines in Italy. Amalfi was the first Maritime Republic before Venice, Genoa and Pisa. The strategic location enabled Amalfi’s military to keep invaders away. As a trading powerhouse, it dominated trade in spices, papermaking and silk.
1. Villa Cimbrone in Ravello is perched high upon the mountain overlooking the villages of Atrani and Minori. It was once part of the Republic of Amalfi. Amalfi is the coast’s largest town, but Ravello is the undisputed aristocrat of the Amalfi Coast.
Ravello is an enchanting stretch of paradise, perched 1500 feet above the Gulf of Salerno on a high cliff above the town of Amalfi. It commands awe-inspiring views of the coastline, citrus groves and vineyards. Visit the cathedral, the beautiful gardens of Villa Ruffalo and Villa Cimbrone.
The impressive Duomo ( Chiesa de San Giovanni del Toro) was founded in 1086 and has the relics of St. Barbara (www.chiesaravello.com). The 12th century Santa Maria a Gradillo church is also noteworthy. When you get to Villa Cimbrone, walk out to the belvedere to gaze at the panoramic vista. Then walk over to the hotel and order a glass of Costa d’Amalfi Ravello Rosso Riserva wine from the pool bar.
2. Positano was once part of the powerful Republic of Amalfi. It is an exclusive and romantic destination for jet-setters where former palazzi have been converted into luxurious hotel properties.
On the Amalfi Coast, Furore and Tramonte grapes grow on terraced cliffs next to lemon and orange trees. This gives the wine a distinctively delightful flavor. This Moorish hillside village on the southern tip of the Amalfi Drive opens to the Tyrrhenian Sea and provides gorgeous panoramic vistas of the sea and vineyards.
The town is spread out over the slopes of Mount Commune. Climb the steep, winding “1000 Stairs” pedestrian promenade to the Scalinatella, the highest part of Positano or stay at the beach, rent a chair (stabilimenti) and order your wine from handsome Stefano, as you submerge your feet in the irresistible azure water. Near the beach, dine at La Pergola or Tre Sorelli and order some impepata di cozze (mussels). Navigate the stairs up to the top of the town for more secluded restaurants. Dine at Bruno or El Capitano for panoramic views. After your relaxing day at the gravel beach, visit the lobsters in the tank at LoScoglio on Piazza della Sirene west of Positano. Request a table overlooking the Bay of Sorrento. Stay at San Pietro on Via Laurito 2 or Le Sirenuse on Via Columbo, 30 for breathtaking views from the 4500 square foot terrace overlooking the Bay. Dine at Al Palazzo in the Hotel Palazzo Murat on Via Dei Mulini and order Paccheri all Napoletana. Most of the hotels cling to the cliffs and have beautiful views of the water. A boat tour will help you truly appreciate the scenery.
3. Sorrento is situated on a terraced plain above the sea with spectacular views of Vesuvius, Ischia and the Bay of Naples. This enchanting location makes it the perfect destination for exploring this region. The rugged landscape, lush vegetation and mild climate of the Sorrento peninsula are enchanting. Sorrento’s terraced vineyards produce Peninsola Sorrentino DOC wines like Lettere and Gragnano. Sorrento is the ideal satellite location for side trips to Naples, Capri, Positano, Ischia or Amalfi via watercraft from the Marina Grande or the Marina Picolo. Choosing a base for your travels depends on your priorities, timetable and budget.
Reserve a table on the terrace of the Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria at sunset; situated on a cliff overlooking the bay and Mount Vesuvius. This is the perfect place to enjoy a glass of wine from the Penisola Sorrentina vineyards made from white Falanghina or red Piedirosso grapes. The local Tiberio winery produces a nice red Antico Convento. Da Gemma on Via Madre Serafina has a lovely panoramic vista. Plan your next day trip as you watch the boats disembark from the marina to Capri, Ischia, and the Amalfi Coast—La Dolce Vita! Some additional places for sipping some vino with dinner include the famous upscale Don Alphonso next to Santa Maria delle Grazie in Sant’Agata. L’Antica Trattoria on Via Padre R Guiliani and Il Buco on Il Rampa Marina Piccola offer pleasant dining opportunities. The lush garden setting of O’Parrucchiano on the main street of Corso Italia a few blocks from the Piazza Tasso is interesting. La Tonnarella’s rooftop restaurant on Via del Capo offers a breathtaking view and a fabulous antipasto table. Stay at the Grand Hotel Capodimonte at Via Capo, 14 for another splendid view of the Gulf and Vesuvius. Another interesting hotel option with a sweeping view is the Capri Palace on Via Capidimonte, 2 where you can dine at its L’Olivo restaurant.
Tuscany is Italy’s quintessential wine region and the birthplace of three important red wines: Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. These wines are made from Sangiovese grapes but have distinctively different flavors in Tuscany’s diverse microclimates. Chianti is produced in seven subzones in Tuscany. The Chianti Classico zone has DOCG status. The other six Chianti subzones are: Chianti Rufina, Colli Fiorentini, Colli Aretini, Colli Senesi, Colline Pisane and Chianti Montalbano. The “Chiantigiana” is the road that twists and turns through the Chianti zones between Florence and Siena.
4. Montalcino’sBrunello is Tuscany’s rarest and most expensive wine. It is produced in the walled medieval village of Montalcino, south of the Chianti Classico zone. The climate is warmer and the hills are steeper. The wine is aged longer and it must be aged in oak barrels. You may consider staying in Mantalcino at Il Borgo (www.castellobanfi.com).
They offer weekend culinary classes taught by Chef Heinz Beck from Rome’s famous La Pergola Restaurant. Near the charming wine town of Montalcino, visit the Abbey of Sant’Antimo, a beautiful Romanesque church. Enjoy the Brunello di Montalcino made exclusively from Sangiovese grapes. Montepulciano is another charming wine town, home of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. This was one of Thomas Jefferson’s favorite wines. Visit the tomb and church of St. Agnes, the town’s patron saint.
5. Siena’s yellowish-brown buildings are the embodiment of a gothic medieval city. Her golden age came to a screeching halt with the plague called the Black Death of 1348. Enlightened travelers will love this charming city in the heart of the Chianti Classico zone about 21 miles south of Florence.
Order a bottle of wine at a cafe in the shell-shaped brick Piazza del Campo is one of Italy’s most triumphant piazzas, large enough to feature a medieval semi-annual 350-year-old summer bareback horse race called the “Palio delle Contrade” (www.paliosiena.com). The victor of the Palio celebrates with a massive town dinner (cena). Sometimes the horse wins without a jockey. The piazza’s surface is divided into nine segments by colored paving stones, symbolizing Siena’a original Council of Nine. Their members governed the city in her medieval heyday. The council met at the Palazzo Pubblico on the eastern part of the square. In Siena visit Italy’s most famous Enoteca on Piazza Matteotti housed within the Medici fortress, order from among 1000 wines from more than 50 producers. Then take the Chianti Road (La Chiantigiana) through the magnificent Tuscan countryside revered and replicated in Renaissance paintings. Sip some Sant’ Antimo Terre du Siena in the Campo with some pappardelle con leper, pappa al pomodoro or Costata alla Fiorentina. The Tuscan hillsides provide the ideal micro-climates for Sangiovese and Trebbiano grapes. Visit the Italian Library of Wine in Siena owned by the Italian government to showcase their finest wines. The outdoor terrace is a great “vino con vista” venue.
6. San Gimignano is 32 miles southwest of Florence. It is considered the Manhattan of Tuscany. The majestic skyline of noble towers was built for defensive purposes and as a symbol of status and wealth. Pass through the Arco dei Becci (the arch) and enter the Piazza della Cisterna. You will feel like you have returned to the Middle Ages. This charming town produces a prestigious white wine called Vernaccia di San Gimignano in the beautiful vineyards that surround the old city. It is an excellent aperitif. This was Italy’s first white DOCG wine. Harvest time is generally between September and October 15th.
Visit a café in the Piazza del Duomo or Piazza della Cisterna and order a local specialty made with saffron to accompany your wine. The saffron is made from crocus flowers and is produced in this area. Have a gelato at Gelateria di Piazza. Stay or dine at La Collegiata on Localita Strada, 27 (www.relaischateaux.com) for an extensive wine list and great views.
7. Pisa was a former Roman naval base and commercial port, trade with Muslim Spain, North Africa and Lebanon generated tremendous wealth for this maritime power from the 11th to 13th centuries. Arabic numerals were introduced to Europe through Pisa. By 1406 the city was conquered by Florence. A defensive wall surrounds the Field of Miracles. Pisa was historically an important port since the time of the Romans. It was a great sea Republic throughout the Middle Ages.
8. Florence is the world’s celebrated jewel of Renaissance art and architecture is famous for voluptuous domes and intimate restaurants. She rose to economic and cultural pre-eminence under the mighty Medici dynasty in the 15th and 16th centuries. The churches, galleries and palaces are brimming with masterpieces. The city was built on the site of an Etruscan settlement and has 600 years of extraordinary artistic activity. It is an incredibly compact city for walking. Walk to the Piazzale Michelangelo at sunset for a glimmering moonlit cityscape. Marvel at her panoramic glory as the cloak of darkness descends over her dimly lit splendor. Natural and man-made disasters have threatened the city’s wealth of art history. In 1966, the Arno River’s devastating flood destroyed or severely damaged Florentine treasures. In 1993, a mafia bomb exploded near the Uffizi and severely damaged the gallery. The Ponte Vecchio was the only bridge to escape Nazi bombs during World War II. Her glorious past is evident in the monumental grandeur of her structures. The 13th century cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, the Church of Santa Croce, the Uffizi, Santa Maria Novella, the Galleria dell’Accademia, the Bargello and the Pitti Palace are incredible repositories of Renaissance art. Florence has the largest concentration of Renaissance art and sculpture in the world. Landmark cloisters, chapels and refectories are all galleries of Renaissance art.
Reserve a table (“vorrei reservare una tavola”) at a café in the bustling Piazza della Signoria. Gaze at the fashionable residents wearing Florence’s designer icons like Pucci, Gucci, Ferragamo and Roberto Cavalli. As you sip your Chianti Classico, Brunello de Montalcino Riserva or Vino Nobile de Montepulciano and admire 600 years of artistic activity. This strategic location will give you a magnificent view of the Loggia dei Lanzi by Orcagna. The Loggia dei Lanzi was designed by the architect Orcagna. It is named after Cosimo I’s bodyguards; the Lancers were German mercenaries that were on his payroll. It was built between 1376 and 1383 by Benci di Cione and Simone Talenti. Three classical arches rest on columns of different styles. Above the arches statues of the Virtues occupy the alcoves. Two lions flank the entrance to the center archway. A copy of Cellini’s bronze statue of the “Perseus beheading Medusa” in 1554 is prominently displayed in the left arch. Cosimo I wanted to warn his enemies of their probable fate. Giambologna’s “Rape of the Sabine Women” (1583) was carved from a single block of marble.
Consider an afternoon Enoteca (wine bar) crawl. The local bars offer “Aperito” (Happy Hour); visit Negroni, Zoe and Il Rifrullo. Interesting wine bars in Florence include Antico Noe on San Pietro, Cantinetta da Verrazzano on Via dei Tavolini, Fuori Porta on Via dei Monte all Croci and Le Vope e l’Uva on Piazza de Rossi. If you prefer, head over to the Frescobaldi Winebar (www.frescobaldiwinebar.it) and try some Toscana Giorgio Primo or Rosso di Montalcino.
9. Orvieto in Umbria is perched halfway between heaven and earth on a plateau over 900 feetabove sea level. Take a funicular to the top of the cliff to visit the medieval historic center of this charming town. The town’s crowning jewel is the splendid Romanesque-Gothic Duomo designed by Arnolfo di Cambio. The Cathedral has famous frescoes by Fra Angelico and Luca Signorelli. The Cathedral was started in 1290 when Pope Nicholas IV blessed the first stone. The inside and the outside of the Duomo are covered with basalt and travertine stripes. The façade has glistening mosaics including “The Coronation of the Virgin” in the central gable. There are plenty of cafes, wine bars and restaurants. Visit the Enoteca in Piazza del Popolo to sip Orvieto’s famous wine.
10. Venice is one of the most magical and romantic destinations in Italy. The majestic “Mistress of the Sea” was founded in the 5th century. This seafaring republic, between the river, lagoon and hypnotic Adriatic Sea is spread over 118 small islands with 150 canals and 400 bridges. Venice embodies the victorious struggle of man against nature. Lavishly adorned palazzi like Ca d’Oro and Ca’ Rezzonicone line the Grand Canal. These palaces are embellished with Baroque magnificence and Rococo elegance. Gondolas and Vaporetti (water buses) transport residents and exuberant tourists through paradise via waterways.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, mainland refugees settled the sparse islands to escape waves of invasions. These residents harvested seafood from the canals of the Adriatic Sea for sustenance. Eventually, they became sailors and then wealthy sea merchants. This gateway to the Asia became a major maritime power in the 10th century. Exotic spices like saffron, cinnamon and curry fueled the Venetian Empire. Salt was a crucially important profit center for the Venetians. The term salary is derived from the Venetian practice of being paid in salt. The extraordinary profits earned through trade, filled the coffers of the patrons of the flourishing artists. Marco Polo (1254-1324) was a prominent Venetian explorer who traveled to Asia. This enchanting city is an architectural masterpiece with domes, spires and campaniles. St. Mark’s basilica and the Doge’s Palace constitute the fulcrum of Venetian religious and civic life. The work of Giorgione, Titian, Tintoretto and Veronese adorn her magnificent buildings. Saint Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco) is the location of some of the major attractions including St. Mark’s Basilica, the Doge’s Palace and the Sansovino Library. Saint Mark is represented by the winged lion surmounting one of the tall 12th century granite columns. The gorgeous church of Santa Maria della Salute has a prime location on the mouth of the Grand Canal. Purchase a museum card or Museum Pass to avoid long lines in Venice.
Meander through the labyrinthine ancient passages of Venice and delight your palate with a “Chicchetti” bar crawl with Venetian bar snacks. Sit at a charming café in the middle of St. Mark’s Square like the Caffe Florian that was built in 1720. Listen to the tuxedo-clad orchestra as you sip some Pinot Grigio delle Venezie. Café Quadri was built in 1628 is also located in the square. Caffe Chioggia has a view of the lagoon. Venetians love to dine at the Osteria al Bacareto located at 3447 San Marco. Have some risotto di mare or sarde with pine nuts (sardines). Another scenic option is the Gran Caffe Lavena where you can enjoy your glass of Rosso Roggio or Laudato Malbech del Venato in the shadow of the Torre dell’Orologia. Effervescent Prosecco is great with a splash of pomegranate juice and a sugar cube. In September, get tickets for the annual International Film Festival. Enroll in cooking school at the 16th Century Hotel Cipriani with Michelin Chefs www.sheraton.com/villacipriani.
To learn more about interesting and seductive places to drink wine read Vino Con Vista Travel Guides and Apps @ www.vino-con-vista.com
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