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Although bordered on the northwest by France, on the north by Switzerland and Austria, and on the east by Slovenia, Italy is a land largely surrounded by the sea. It isn’t enormous, but the peninsula’s boot shape gives you the impression of a much larger area. Here’s a brief rundown of the cities and regions:

Rome & Latium -- The region of Latium (“Lazio” in Italian) is dominated by Rome, capital of both the ancient empire and modern Italy. Much of the “civilized world” was once ruled from here, starting from the days when Romulus and Remus are said to have founded Rome in 753 b.c. There’s no place with more artistic monuments, or a bigger buzz—not even Venice or Florence.

Florence & Tuscany -- Tuscany is one of Italy's most culturally and politically influential provinces—the development of Italy without Tuscany is simply unthinkable (and the Italian language is merely a standardized version of the Florentine dialect). Nowhere in the world is the impact of the Renaissance still felt more fully than in its birthplace, Florence, the repository of artistic works left by Masaccio, Leonardo, Michelangelo, and others. The main Tuscan destinations beyond Florence are the smaller cities of Lucca, Pisa, and especially Siena, Florence’s great historical rival, as well as the Chianti winelands.

Bologna & Emilia-Romagna -- Italians don’t agree on much, but one national consensus is that the food in Emilia-Romagna is probably the best in Italy. The capital, Bologna, also has museums, churches, and a fine university with roots in the Middle Ages. Among the region's other art cities, none is nobler than Byzantine Ravenna, with its mosaics dating to the time when it was capital of a declining Roman Empire.

Venice & the Veneto -- Northeastern Italy is one of Europe’s treasure-troves, encompassing Venice (certainly the world’s most unusual city) and the surrounding Veneto region. Aging, decaying, and sinking into the sea, Venice is so alluring we almost want to say, visit it even if you have to skip Rome and Florence. Also recommended are the art cities of the “Venetian Arc”: Verona, with its romance and intact Roman Arena; and Padua, with its Giotto frescoes.

Lombardy, Piedmont & the Lakes -- Flat, fertile, and prosperous, Lombardy is dominated by Milan. However, despite Leonardo’s “Last Supper,”La Scala opera house, the shopping, and some major museums, Milan doesn’t have the sights of Rome, Florence, or Venice. You’ll find more charm (and a more manageable area to cover) in the neighboring cities of Bergamo and Mantua. Also competing for your time should be the photogenic lakes of Como and Garda.

Piedmont's largest city, Turin, is the home of the Fiat empire (and vermouth). Turin’s best-known sight is the Sacra Sindone (Holy Shroud), which some Catholics believe is the cloth in which Christ’s body was wrapped.

Liguria -- Comprising most of the Italian Riviera, the region of Liguria incorporates the major historical seaport of Genoa, charming, upscale harbors such as the one at Portofino, and Italy’s best coastal hiking, among the traditional communities of the Cinque Terre.

Campania -- Campania encompasses both the fascinating anarchy of Naples and the elegant beauty of Capri and the Amalfi Coast. The region also contains sites identified in ancient mythology (lakes defined as the entrance to the Kingdom of the Dead, for example) and some of the world’s most renowned ruins, including Pompeii and Herculaneum.

 

Sicily -- The largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, Sicily has a unique mix of bloodlines and architecture from medieval Normandy, Aragónese Spain, Moorish North Africa, ancient Greece, Phoenicia, and Rome. Cars and fashionable people clog the lanes of its capital, Palermo. Areas of ravishing beauty and eerie historical interest include Syracuse (Siracusa in Italian) and Taormina, and the ruins at Agrigento and Selinunte. In fact, Sicily’s ruins are rivaled only by Rome itself.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.