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10 must-have Italy experiences

1 February 2017

10 must-have Italy experiences

'La vita e bella' in Italy – life is beautiful. It is a country over-endowed with history, landscape, food and art showcasing the amazing achievements of human endeavours over the centuries.

There is so much to see and do that you could visit Italy five times and still discover new wonders. It's hard to cull the classic experiences down to just ten, but we've tried. Here's our top ten Italy experiences that you have to have.

1. Walk between the villages of the Cinque Terre

The Cinque Terre are five small villages perched on the coast of the rugged Italian Riviera. The towns hug the hillsides, terraces are filled with lemon trees and olive groves and small harbours are cluttered with local fishing boats.  The towns are only connected by walking tracks, a train line and boats – there are no cars allowed in the villages. There is a sense of history here, of the way rural life used to be before development and urbanisation. You can walk from one town to the next along beautiful coastal tracks, taking in the landscape and soaking up the Italian way of life. When you get to the next village, pull up a seat in a cafe and order one of the regional specialties – perhaps the local-honey-flavoured gelato – while you contemplate the next section of trail.

2. Eat a real pizza in Naples

You think you've had pizza before? Well, you might have had something that is called pizza. But until you've eaten a traditional pizza in the city that invented pizza, you've really just been dealing with imitations.

A real, classic Neapolitan pizza is topped with San Marzano tomatoes grown in the volcanic soil near Mt Vesuvius and topped with Mozzarella Campana. And that is it. If you are after a little extra something, you could try a Margherita (add basil leaves and a dash of olive oil) or a Marinara (add garlic, oregano and olive oil). Not a piece of canned pineapple in sight.

3. Cross some bridges in Venice

In a city with over 400 bridges, this isn't a hard task to achieve. Start with the icons – the stone arch of the Rialto Bridge across the Grand Canal and the beautiful, ornate Bridge of Sighs. Then just wander – lose yourself in the back streets, poke your nose into curio shops, stop for a coffee break and, of course, cross lots and lots of little bridges over the canals that make Venice such a staggeringly beautiful, unique place to visit.

4. Walk the 'Path of the Gods' at the Amalfi Coast

The Path of the Gods is a narrow trail winding through olive groves, alongside granite cliffs and across hillside flower meadows – all with absolutely stunning views of the Amalfi Coast and the island of Capri. It is easy to understand how this walk got its name – it is breathtaking, a version of heaven. The walk descends steeply down over 1500 steps into the picturesque waterfront town of Positano, the perfect place to cool off with a dip before a seafood lunch.

5. See the Statue of David in Florence (and then eat gelato)

Laying eyes on Michaelangelo's Statue of David shouldn't really hold anything unexpected – it's so well known, so familiar. But there's nothing like art to totally stop you in your tracks. Looking up at the statue, you'll suddenly understand why it's so famous – it is simply mesmerising, a work of genius. Seeing it is a truly memorable Italian experience.

The Statue of David is in Florence. And we can't mention Florence without saying gelato. Gelato. Incredible gelato. Eat some gelato in Florence – it's another mesmerising experience.

6. Take a ferry across Lake Como

The beautiful Italian Lakes region is studded with deep blue lakes reflecting the surrounding hills and blue sky. The shores are lined with picturesque villages, manicured gardens and waterfront mansions and everyone is generally living the good life – La Dolce Vita. The drawcard of the region is its combination of beauty, elegance and glamour – think Casino Royale or Oceans Twelve. Both were filmed here.

Lake Como is one of the most popular of the lakes and it's best explored by ferry – hop on, sit back and soak up the scenery as you glide past the waterfront villas. Then jump off at gorgeous towns like Varenna or Bellagio to explore the cobbled alleys, chic cafes and expansive formal gardens.

7. Hike in the Dolomites

The jagged limestone peaks of the Dolomites are an outdoor mecca. Day hike into beautiful valleys through alpine meadows and forests with spectacular views of the towering peaks. On longer hikes you can head into higher altitude terrain amongst sweeping vistas, lunar landscapes and alpine lakes. Up here, you'll find mountain villages tucked into hidden valleys where you'll be warmly welcomed with some of the best local cuisine and local hospitality. 

8. Explore the Valley of the Temples in Sicily

The Valley of the Temples is not in a valley. It's actually located along a ridge, which is a bit of a weird misnomer. Nonetheless, this massive site featuring seven ancient Greek temples in various states of ruin is an incredible place to explore. It's the world's largest archaeological site and a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Temple of Concordia, built in the fifth century BC, is one of the best-preserved Greek temples in the world. Unless you've researched Sicily, or are into archaeology, you may not have heard of it – but now you have, so put it on your bucket list.

9. Throw a coin into the Trevi Fountain in Rome

It might be a cliché. It might sound a bit pedestrian. But there's something about Rome that lets you lose your inhibitions and embrace the classic Roman experiences. Exploring the Forum and the Colosseum, climbing the Spanish Steps and stepping inside the Pantheon, you're amongst massive amounts of history and you'll be awestruck.

So when you're standing there, in front of the utterly beautiful Trevi Fountain, the urge to throw that coin in will sweep across the centuries. Audrey Hepburn in 'Roman Holiday' will whisper in your ear and you'll find that you're fishing about in your pocket for a coin before you know what you're doing. Just turn around and toss it over your shoulder. It's what has to be done.


10. Eat a nonna's home-made pasta in Tuscany

The rolling hills and hilltop towns of Tuscany are so darn charming it's ridiculous. Everywhere you turn, you'll be charmed. A charming old farm house, a charming row of cypress trees, a charming bell tower – you get the idea. The region is gorgeous.

And then there's the food. A plate of sweet homegrown tomatoes drizzled with local olive oil will be about the yummiest thing you've ever eaten. And then you'll have a bowl of pasta, cooked by a nonna who learnt how to make pasta from her mother, who learnt from her mother. The depth of knowledge and skill can't be underestimated. That bowl of pasta will be sublime.