Major Cities of Italy
Revised June 24, 2008
Often, when we think of Europe, it is Italy that comes to mind--the power of the Romans, the intellect of Florence during the Renaissance, or the beauty of canal-laced Venice. There is so much to see and do in this wonderful country that you will want to return again and relive fond memories at home. Clearly, it is one of the "must see" countries on the map of Europe.
We arrived in Italy the first time on the highway that runs through Monaco and along the Riviera. Towns cascade down hillsides that continue into the Mediterranean. Around every corner there is a new fantastic vista of sea and civilization as they meet on the Italian Riviera. As you head deeper into Italy along the coast, you pass the hometown of Christopher Columbus, Genova. This is a major harbor where many cruise boats and ferries land.
Continue further past the hills that supplied Michelangelo with his marble and on to Pisa, famed for its leaning tower and the experiments that Galileo conducted there. A brief stop near the center of town will give you time to view and climb the tilting tower, admire the nearby church and baptistry and grab a bite to eat. The tower has recently reopened after a major engineering project designed to keep it from falling over. Its architecture and the tilt are impressive and worth the stop (though you will probably spend only a few hours in Pisa).
Not far from the Pisa is the Cinque Terre, one of the most popular resort areas on the Mediterranean coast. If you plan to stay in one of these quaint villages, make your reservations early.
East of Pisa, about an hour away, is Florence. Stories are told of tourists who are overwhelmed by the dramatic art of this Renaissance city. As you see all the great paintings and statues throughout the city, you will be awed by the quality and quantity of ancient work on display in museums and churches. Even if you do not have a strong background in art history, give the city a full day to appreciate its role in reviving culture and commerce more than five hundred years ago.
From Florence, it is a short drive to the cities of Milan, Turin, and Bologna. The area around Bologna is famed for the foods that they produce and many Italians will encourage you to visit Bologna to enjoy the great food. If you go out of your way to visit this bustling city for a meal, be sure you have the names and addresses of a few good restaurants, because even in a city with great restaurants, not all are equal. We had a good but not exceptional meal in the city and may only have been steps away from the superb restaurant that our son had visited a few months earlier.
Another delightful destination is the Lake Como region where hillside cities line the waters of huge alpine lakes. We stayed in Bellagio which is at the tip of a peninsula in the lake. The drive to Bellagio was a spectacular voyage along twisting roads with new amazing vistas of the lake at every turn and impressive homes dotting the hillsides on both shores.
Heading south from Florence toward Rome, you will pass the city of Sienna that comes alive in early July as horses race through the center of town during the Palio. In the same area, renowned for great wines, you can visit the medieval town of Monterigioni and the spectacular hilltop town of San Gimiagno.
From Florence, we headed south to Rome....the eternal city. On the way, we did a short stop at the hilltop town of Ovieta which is renowned for the beautiful gold leafing on the facade of its church. Take the time to stroll inside and notice how the unique stripes that make up the marble work of the church.
Rome is home to one of the world's greatest empires and the Catholic church. While you will be aware of great history in all directions, Rome is also a living, vibrant city where piazzas fill with neighbors and tourists on spring and summer nights. We have visited the city twice, using one day for the Roman sights and one day for the Vatican on both trips. When we weren't doing the tourist thing, we enjoyed pleasant walks and great food.
Rome was our southernmost point in Italy, but there are great things to see, some just an hour or so south of the "Eternal City." Naples and the spectacular Amalfi coast have long drawn tourists to their beauty and the stunning history of Mt. Vesuvius and the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum which were destroyed by a major eruption. As you head further south, you will get a better feeling of old Italy, while visiting Greek and Roman ruiins. You may also want to take a trip to the island of Sicily to visit the sights near Palermo
We headed northeast from Rome to Assissi, the home of the much beloved Saint Francis who is honored each year by thousands who on a pilgrimage to his town.
Between Assissi and Venice, you can make a small detour to the tiny hilltop country of San Marino From its lofty perch, you get a spectacular view of eastern Italy and can enjoy some of the least expensive alcohol in Europe. You will probably only spend two or three hours in the small country and then drive toward Ravenna on the Adriatic with its famous mosaics or dart straight to Venice one of the most spectacular cities in the world.
We had great times in all the cities we visited, but, for us, the beauty and unique qualities of Venice were the most spectacular. If you only have a limited time to spend in Europe, we'd say skip Rome and head straight to Venice. You can reach Venice in a day's drive from the French Riviera by major highways and it is also a day's drive from Austria. There is great train service and if you are doing a camping trip, you'll find there are numerous choices with some of the most specatacular campgrounds in Europe along the Adriatic shores of Punta Sabioni.
The famed leaning tower of Pisa
The beautiful facade of Orvieta's Cathedral,