From the colorful coastline of Cinque Terre and the quiet ports of the Aeolian Islands to the Renaissance architecture of Florence and the best pizza in Rome, every section features insider secrets and off-the-beaten-path recommendations (for example, a little restaurant in Piedmont known for its tajarin, a pasta that is the perfect bed for the region’s celebrated truffles).
This lush guide, featuring more than 350 glorious photographs from National Geographic, showcases the best Italy has to offer from the perspective of two women who have spent their lives reveling in its unique joys. In these illuminating pages, Frances Mayes, the author of Under the Tuscan Sun and many other bestsellers, and New York Times travel writer Ondine Cohane reveal an Italy that only the locals know, filled with top destinations and unforgettable travel experiences in every region.
Here are the best places to stay, eat, and tour, paired with the rich history of each city, hillside town, and unique terrain. Along the way, you’ll make stops at the country’s hidden gems–art galleries, local restaurants, little-known hiking trails, spas, and premier spots for R&R. Inspiring and utterly unique, this vivid treasury is a must-have for anyone who wants to experience the best of Italy.
Filled with gently undulating hills, golden stone buildings, pristine vineyards, and glorious art, central Italy epitomizes the joys of this country. Do you love exquisite Renaissance architecture, painting, and sculpture, along with artisanal shopping? Or do you seek medieval winding alleys and formidable fortresses along with adrenaline-filled festivals? Head to Siena, where a central grand piazza hosts the Palio, the bareback horse race that has been a town fixture for centuries. Perhaps you love pasta along with architecture? Head to Rome, where layers upon layers of history unveil themselves as you walk past treasures like the Forum or the Circus Maximus, all within sight of vibrant new cafés and bars and beloved trattorias.
In Piedmont’s Barolo and Barbaresco wine-growing districts, vintners aren’t allowed to plant the sacred nebbiolo grape on north-facing hillsides, so hazelnut trees often fill those slopes. That most nutty of nuts, blended with rich chocolate, is a marriage of true minds, although the wedding was originally one of convenience. In the early 19th century, when trade embargoes and the Napoleanic wars caused chocolate imports to shrink, nuts extended the quantity. Turin, gateway to the castle-topped, hills of Piedmont, is one of the primo food cities in Europe. It’s regal, thanks to the palaces, ballrooms, libraries, and gardens of the Savoy rulers, who also infused the cuisine with French influences. Vintage and new trams run around the centro. The tree-lined streets, shady river walks, and numerous parks keep this the greenest city in Italy.
In Your Glass
The majority of Lazio’s wines are white. Frascati is ubiquitous. There’s that word: drinkable. And they are. Light and summery, they’re able to heft a bit of gravitas too. From the island of Ponza, Casale del Giglio sends forth the chalky, fruity Biancolella Faro della Guardia. Biancolella is a grape variety grown only on the island. Three vineyards stand out for consistent high quality. Montiano, a merlot, is one of the region’s best wines. Next is the Sergio Mottura winery, known for its grechetto, Poggio della Costa. This pale beauty, with a whiff of citrus blossoms and stone, garners top ratings and the bonus of being well priced. Poggio Le Volpi’s Bacca Rossa, from the nero buono grape, makes an earthy and spicy partner to pasta with sausage and four cheeses. In Rome, wine nuts must feel a magnetic pull to Ristorante Casa Bleve.