Are you mulling over where to go for your next holiday? After several tricky years, suddenly the world is our oyster! Interestingly, though, that doesn’t seem to make the decision any easier, possibly because as the years pass and we understand how fragile life can be, holidays become increasingly precious.
Since my 30s, I’ve spent at least six months of every year in Italy and always look forward to returning. Quite simply, for me, the country has everything I could possibly want, ticking every box in my holiday priorities as well as day to day living.
Firstly, it always strikes me that Italy has an unfair advantage in the beauty stakes! Quite simply, there really is something for everyone, whether your happy place is in the mountains, rolling hills or on the coast.
If your idea of holiday heaven is views over snow-capped peaks and fresh mountain air, Italy offers plenty of options. In fact, the entire country is marked by mountain ranges which offer splendid hiking and outdoor activities.
Northern Italy is bordered by the craggy Dolomites in the far northeast, and the peaks of the Alps which extend from the northwestern regions of Piedmont to Friuli Venezia Giulia in the east. Meanwhile, the Apennines form the spine of the country, joining the Ligurian Alps and stretching into the little-explored Abruzzo region to the east of Rome.
Looking for something a little gentler? Head for the classic landscape of rolling hills swathed in olive groves and vineyards in Italy’s central regions of Tuscany and Umbria. Piedmont’s Langhe region, characterised by rolling hills and ancient castles, is another very special area.
With a coastline that extends across just under 5,000 miles, you can really take your pick! I love the coastal stretch around Lerici on the Ligurian Sea in the north west, while in the south, the coastline around the pretty town of Maratea is every bit as breath-taking as that of the Amalfi Coast, minus the crowds.
Italian food needs no introduction. After all, who doesn’t love a pizza, pasta or gelato? But venture beyond the tourist hotspots and you’ll find dishes made with passion, the very best locally sourced ingredients and, usually, a regional twist. You can certainly eat simply, but if you are a foodie, you’ll find ample opportunity to enjoy some exceptional food and superb wines.
Wherever you stay in Italy, you’re never too far from the country’s big hitting cultural sights. Rome, Florence and Venice, of course, are crammed with enough entrancing art and architecture to last a lifetime. But for me, it’s Italy’s charming towns and smaller villages that are most memorable.
Marvel at Byzantine mosaics in Ravenna and explore the complex history of the evocative town of Pontremoli in Tuscany’s Lunigiana region. Or simply wander through the lanes and alleyways of delightful medieval villages such as Opi in the Abruzzo region.
In Piedmont, towns like Saluzzo and Cherasco offer a brilliant insight into a region that remained under French rule until 1861. Or skip Venice and instead head for the wonderful neighbouring towns of Padua, Vicenza or pretty Bassano del Grappa.
Let’s be honest, no-one does ‘la dolce vita’ quite like the Italians! And while that might not be the way you want to live your everyday life, it certainly makes for a relaxing holiday.
Take time out to linger over frothy cappuccinos in pretty piazzas and watch the world go by while you sip your Aperol spritz. And in true Italian style, before dinner, be sure to join the locals strolling along the seafront or through town with no particular destination in mind.
Whether you’re travelling by train or car, you’ll have no problem getting around Italy. Travelling by train in Italy is both easy and affordable which means stress-free adventure. Train travel is generally more relaxing than travelling by car and you’ll see far more of the countryside through a train window.
Venture beyond the tourist hotspots to explore smaller towns and cities where you can hop off the train and walk straight into the town centre.
Getting to other European countries is also easy from Italy. Cross borders into France, Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia and explore the fascinating cross border culture that exists between Italy and its neighbours.
Of course you’re not going to find year-round sunshine, but you have a good chance of getting decent weather with blue skies and plenty of sunshine between April and October. If you’re planning to see the sights, it may be best to avoid the hottest months of July and August when the best place to be is in the mountains or on the coast.
What are your top priorities when choosing a holiday overseas? Which country ticks every box for you? Or perhaps you have a favourite place in Italy you can recommend?