Visiting Italy is a lesson in living well. Itâ€™s the land of la dolce vita (the sweet life) where bread and cheese are made daily, laundry is still line-dried, and an evening stroll with gelato in hand is a favorite way to end the day. If youâ€™ve been there before, chances are you want to return to uncover more of those special places in Italy that stir your soul.
Three Covington vacation advisors recently did just that. Sharon Soldan, Jean Riekers, and Doug Floyd have each visited Italy before but gallantly headed back to discover under-the-radar places and experiences that they consider â€śmust-dosâ€ť for Covington travelers.
Millions of people visit the Eternal City each year to admire stunning art, discover ancient ruins, and savor recipes made for generations. One could happily spend a week in Romeâ€™s historic center alone, but Sharon, Jean, and Doug looked beyond the usual tourist highlights to find some lesser-known experiences that really give insight into the cityâ€™s history and character. For example, did you know itâ€™s perfectly safe to drink water directly from the ancient Roman fountain spouts?
Vatican City â€“ Of course, touring the treasures of the Vatican is far from under-the-radar, but our experts recommend these little-known tips to enhance your experience.
- There is no fee to enter St. Peterâ€™s Basilica but go early to avoid the massive lines and crowds. Sharonâ€™s tip: Take the guided Scavi Tour (fee). Itâ€™s located directly beneath St Peters Basilica and contains the papal tombs, an ancient Roman street, and St. Peterâ€™s mausoleum.
- â€śSkip the lineâ€ť tickets offer a separate entrance to the exquisite collections of the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel; however, they still have significant lines. Doug’s tip: Hire a guide who will share history and information as you wait for your entrance time and direct you through the vast collections to points of interest.
- Donâ€™t miss the Vatican Gardens (separate ticket), one of the most beautiful Italian gardens where the Pope himself goes to contemplate and pray.
Sharon and Doug in the whimsical Pinocchio Room of Arte e Vino restaurant.
Apostolic Palace at Castel Gandolfo â€“ The Popeâ€™s summer residence recently opened for tours. Just 25 kilometers outside Rome, you can tour the palace, enjoy Lake Albano, and stroll the cobblestone streets of the quiet little. On a clear day, you can see the dome of St Peterâ€™s from Castel Gandolfo. Jeanâ€™s tip: This is a great day trip for people who have visited Rome before and would like a different excursion. Sharonâ€™s Tip: For a wonderful meal and terrific wine in an atmosphere of old world charm, look no further than Arte e Vino. You enter on one side of the narrow street and cross to the eclectic, art-filled dining areas on the other side via an underground passage.
Tuscany is known for its history, beautiful scenery and robust cuisine, but mid-way between Rome and Florence, the less visited region of Umbria offers many authentic Italian experiences to travelers. Known as Italyâ€™s Green Heart, the scenic countryside is home to an abundance of wineries, olive trees, and truffle-hunting forests woven into the hills and valleys.
Hill Towns â€“ Charming villages sprinkled across the Umbrian hills are a treasure trove of preserved medieval fortifications, agriculture, and Renaissance art. Perugia, the capital of the region, draws thousands of visitors to the Umbria Jazz festival each July and the International Chocolate Festival in October. Nearby, Assisi is a World Heritage Site recognizing St. Francis of Assisi. Many borgos (villages outside old town walls) dot the landscape. Sharonâ€™s tip: Relax and unwind at Castello di Postignano (a medieval borgo). Stay there and use it as your base to take day trips to explore the surrounding countryside. Jeanâ€™s tip: Be sure to visit one (or more!) of the many family-owned and operated wineries, cheese or olive oil farms and taste the high-quality products right from the source. Meeting and chatting with the locals who work there is as authentic as it gets. Dougâ€™s tip: In Deruta, donâ€™t miss visiting a pottery factory to watch the artisans hand paint the world-renowned Italian majolica ceramics.
Santuario Madonna del Bagno â€“ This tiny little church in Casalina just outside Deruta, is a very special place of thanksgiving. Inside, literally thousands of majolica tiles depict healing from accidents or illness, each one telling a unique story. The hand-painted tiles, some dating back to the 1700s, give thanks to the Madonna for answering prayers. Jeanâ€™s tip: Do stop here. It is an experience you will cherish â€“ a happy and peaceful place that makes you feel good.
Thanks to George Clooney, lots of people have heard of Lake Como but Lake Maggiore and Lake Garda complete the triad of Italyâ€™s great glacial lakes at the foot of the European Alps. Our travel advisors headed off the typical tourist path to Stresa on Lake Maggiore. As they arrived, the spectacular view of fresh snow on the Alps across the lake welcomed them.
Borromean Islands â€“ Just north of the town of Stresa lies a group of picturesque islands that are a local attraction, but overlooked by many international travelers. The islandsâ€™ history and the magnificent natural beauty of the lake make this a delightful find.
Isola Bella is home to the summer palace of the Borromeo family, started in the 1600s. The island was originally only a barren rock, but the family shipped in enormous quantities of soil to create beautiful terraced gardens. Sharonâ€™s tip: The most amazing white peacocks roam the gardens.
- Isola dei Pescatori is the only inhabited island, although only 57 people call it home. A promenade encircles the tiny, quarter-mile-long island and its fishing village.
- Isola Madre is the largest of the Borromean Islands and is well known for its splendid English gardens which have been maintained for nearly 200 years. Dougâ€™s tip: Take a private boat tour of the islands from Villa Aminta in Stresa.
With an abundance of natural beauty, intriguing history, and superb art to explore, not to mention genuine people and delicious cuisine, there are so many captivating places in Italy to explore. Italyâ€™s treasures are limitless and travelers find themselves returning time and time again to be touched by new encounters. Contact Sharon, Jean, or Doug to help you plan an off-the-beaten-path Italian itinerary and let authentic Italy stir your soul.