Florence's skyline, including the vast Duomo (cathedral) with its distinctive dome and bell tower
19 August, 20203 minute read

Explore stunning Italy from top to toe

Italy is a European powerhouse - there aren't nearly enough superlatives to describe its striking beauty and immensely captivating qualities. “Italy is a dream that keeps returning for the rest of your life,” said poet Anna Akhmatova. And she’s right.

Grand Tour of Italy

When you think of Italy holiday destinations, you probably think of Venice, Rome and Florence and we cover this all nicely in our Grand Tour of Italy which literally goes from top to toe from Venice in the north and down through the south regions and across the straits to the island of Sicily to finish off with a seaside stay in the shadow of Mount Etna and the historic town of Taormina, up in the hills. This escorted tour to Italy was also a finalist in our Titan Travel Awards Epic Adventure category - and shows how much we really get to explore on this Italian journey. I think Venice is still one of my highlights as nothing beats the first view of St Mark’s Square and the beautiful Doges Palace as you arrive along the canal. But there are more simple highlights too - sampling Buffalo mozzarella cheese as you travel through Italy’s toe region and a wine tasting treat in the Tuscan hills.

Gondolas are moored close to St Mark's Square in Venice at sunset, with San Giorgio di Maggiore Church in the background

Scenic Lake Orta

Then we focus on the splendid northern lake regions to so you can take some time to relax and take everything in. Lake Orta is less crowded and unspoiled lake territory but you get to dip into the more glamorous surroundings of Lake Maggiore and to journey into Switzerland and Zermatt to sample their efficient train system - the best way to take in the vast mountain views and a finish with a spectacular ride on the Gornergrat cog railway train to the summit  to take in dramatic, beautiful landscapes. Closer to home we offer an optional trip to the lakeside village of Verbania and to explore the lovely Villa Taranto Botanical gardens - neatly laid out gardens with terraces and fountains, rare plants and a wonderful summer dahlia display.

Aerial view of Isola San Giulio, a small island on Lake Orta, Italy

Puglia - Discovering the Heel of Italy

Something very different and a favourite with those who have already seen the key Italian sights is our Italy tour of Puglia. The south is known for its economic challenges in the past and has developed the Cucina Povera or peasant food which focuses on local produce, simply cooked but bursting with flavour.My favourite here are the Trulli houses of Alberobello - small white washed homes that date back centuries and have a style of their own in this region.

Matera was European capital of culture last year and is known for its cave dwellings.The whole area is characterised by scenic farmlands, olive trees and fields of vegetables. We sample freshly pressed, crisp olive oil, wine from local vineyards and freshly baked focaccia from a local artisan and finish in “The Florence of the South” Lecce, at the very heel of the country.

Traditional cone-roofed trulli houses in Alberobello, Puglia

Sorrento and the Amalfi coast

This is one of my firm favourites as I love coastal Italy and the delicious seafood you find in the local restaurants- freshly caught octopus, braised in red wine and tasty squid salads served with bright red tomato bruschetta, liberally sprinkled with locally grown basil. This is our top selling tour where travellers can spend a week perusing the areas highlights and soaking up the holiday atmosphere.

We include a guided tour of downtown Sorrento to set the scene and offer a pizza making cookery class if people want to improve their culinary skills. Lemons play a large part in this regions agricultural production and having viewed a rather delightful orchard, we sample some of the by-products - namely vibrant Limoncello liqueur. The most important trip along the romantic Amalfi coastline is mainly taken by boat to avoid the traffic and stops in Positano to explore this cosmopolitan town nestled on the hillside and then Amalfi, with its historic square and beautiful church. People watching is a popular past time here!

After sampling a local speciality cake in one of the many patisseries we head back to cruise our way home. It isn’t just about the beautiful scenery as the area has a very historic past. We include a guided visit to the excavated ruins of Pompeii to see how the Roman people were living at the time Mount Vesuvius erupted. You can actually see the worn-in tyre tracks along the old roads of the town and see the painted murials on the shop walls depicting their wares! Mount Vesuvius towers over the whole region and you have lovely views across the bay of Naples from the hotel terrace. We will take you across the waters to the magical island of Capri and take the funicular up to Anacapri for unforgettable views across the bay of Naples- there is free time for window shopping and a light lunch or delicious home-made gelato.

Pastel-coloured houses are built into the cliffside in Positano, Italy

Sicily Jewel of the Mediterranean

For those travelers who wants to see a lot more of Italy’s culture, the ancient ruins and monuments of Sicily will not disappoint. This Italy tour, which was a finalist in our Titan Travel Awards for Culture, whisks you around the island to get a complete flavour of the destination.We have updated our itinerary for 2021 and base ourselves for the first two nights in Syracuse on the coast.

We start with a guided walk around the baroque squares of Ortigia with its beautiful white cathedral and then take a boat to cruise around the harbour for lovely views across the town. You can choose to visit the famous Grecian ruins with a guide and find out more about the ancient theatre that has been uncovered, the Roman amphitheatre and walk through the ancient lemon groves.

Then we have a day trip out to the baroque towns of Ragusa, Noto and Modica to explore the local areas and see where some of the popular BBC4 series Inspector Montalbano was filmed as well as sample some of the region’s artisan chocolate.Leaving the east coast, we head towards Palermo with its modern history and interesting architecture. The Palermo street food has been made famous by chefs like Rick Stein and is fascinating to try as you stroll through the markets, we also get to see the magnificent cathedral of Monreale with its incredible marble paintings and mosaics.

Then it’s time to head down to the west coast and one of the highlights- the well preserved Valley of Temples which is a fascinating archaeological find and an enjoyable walk. Perhaps stop half way to sample the local ice cold granite flavoured with local pomegranate juice? With our exploring nearly complete we head back to the east coast of the island and a relaxing stay in Giardini Naxos on the beach- just save some energy for a lovely visit up to the cobbled town of Taormina on the hillside- lovely shops and windy streets and an interesting Roman theatre to see if you are looking for more history.

Our last excursion takes in the iconic Mount Etna, where you can walk a little of the hillside for stunning photos and great views before heading down into a local winery to sample their reds, whites and sparkling varieties over a hearty lunch made from locally sourced products.The whole tour not only shows you the best parts of the island but allows you to meet the locals and sample their traditional foods. I particularly enjoyed the stop at the private estate of Geracello to relax off the beaten track and enjoy a feast of a lunch using locally grown fresh produce and the cooking overseen by nonna!

The Greco-Roman amphitheatre in Taormina, Sicily, with views across the bay of Giardini Naxos behind

We have several escorted tours to Italy that cover the length and breadth of this wonderful country. If Alison's recommendations have inspired an Italian adventure, do get in touch and we'll be happy to find your perfect Italian holiday.

Image of blog author Alison Porter

Alison has worked in the travel business for more than 20 years. Her holiday highlights include a Kenyan safari, chatting with Barbadian cricket legend Sir Garfield Sobers at a match in Bridgetown, and watching baby black-tipped reef sharks chasing waves in the Maldives.

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