Just speak the word “Italy” and you can already see it. The noble stones of ancient Rome and the Greek temples of Sicily. The wine hills of Piedmont and Tuscany, the ruins of Pompeii, and the secret canals and crumbling palaces of Venice. For centuries, visitors have come here looking for their own slice of the good life, and for the most part, they have found it.
Nowhere in the world is the impact of the Renaissance felt more fully than in its birthplace, Florence, the repository of artistic works left by Masaccio, Botticelli, Leonardo, Michelangelo, and many, many others. Much of the “known world” was once ruled from Rome, a city supposedly founded by twins Romulus and Remus in 753 b.c. There’s no place with more artistic treasures—not even Venice, a seemingly impossible floating city that was shaped by its merchants and their centuries of trade with the Byzantine and Islamic worlds to the east.
And there’s more. Long before Italy was a country, it was a loose collection of city-states. Centuries of alliance and rivalry left a legacy of art and architecture in Verona, with its romance and an intact Roman Arena, and in Mantua, which blossomed during the Renaissance under the Gonzaga dynasty. Padua and its sublime Giotto frescoes are within easy reach of Venice, too. In Siena, the ethereal art and Gothic palaces survive, barely altered since the city’s heyday in the 1300s.
Earlier still, the eruption of Vesuvius in a.d. 79 preserved Pompeii and Herculaneum under volcanic ash for 2 millennia. It remains the best place to get close-up with the world of the Roman Empire. The buildings of ancient Greece still stand at Paestum, in Campania, and at sites on Sicily, the Mediterranean's largest island.
The corrugated, vine-clad hills of the Chianti and the cypress-studded, emerald-green expanses of the Val d'Orcia serve up iconic images of Tuscany. Adventurous walkers of all ages can hike between the coastal villages of the Cinque Terre, where you can travel untroubled by the 21st century. Whether it's seafood along the Sicilian coast, pizza in Naples, pasta in Bologna, pesto in Genoa, or the red Barolo and Barbaresco wines of Piedmont, your tastebuds are in for an adventure of their own. Milan and Florence are centers of world fashion. Welcome to La Bella Italia.