Italy: At a glance

With a long Mediterranean coastline, unlimited 24-hour wine fountains and inspiring gastronomy, it is no wonder Italy is a world favourite destination all year round.
Their winter hardly compares to ours here in Swansea and the summer is as truly blissful as it is in our imaginations.

The vineyards of Tuscany, sweeping canals of Venice, artistic allure of Florence and the ancient streets of Rome make this an irresistible country, which has so much to offer and only a lifetime would be sufficient to capture it all.
Weighted with history and endless cultural riches, Italy has more UNESCO World Heritage sites than any other country in the world. Its place in history is a strong one as the hub of the Roman empire and birthplace of the renaissance. The choice to walk the ancient streets of Pompeii, be serenaded in Gondolas along the Venetian canals, trek the striking Cinque Terre route or lose your breath over the sight of the Giotto’s revolutionary masterpieces will leave you in an almighty cultural conundrum.

Famously known for its Shakespearean reference, Verona attracts all those in search of that ‘Instagram picture photo’ of Juliet’s famous balcony. But beyond the tale of two star crossed lovers, Verona is a bustling city with an exceptional 1st century amphitheatre which to this day still boasts use to which its purposes were intended. Every year the summer opera festival takes place inside this historic amphitheatre. Combining the countless churches bursting with decorative features unseen in the likes of Britain and other must see sites such as the Giardino Giusti and the Museo di Castelvecchio, Verona has more than earned its name as one of Northern Italy’s most attractive cities.
Only a short journey from Verona lies Lake Garda which is known for its crystal-clear waters and idyllic mountainous surroundings. At the South side of the lake is the town of Sirmione which contains the domineering Rocca Scaligers fortress with spectacular harbour views.

The aptly named Grand Canal flows majestically through the city and is laced with bridges which reflect the unique Venetian architecture. Lined with glorious buildings along its banks which ultimately lead to the jaw dropping Palazzo Ducale and the Basilica di San Marco, Venice is a maze of narrow backstreets which either lead to majestic wide-open spaces such as the Piazza San Marco, or to cosy neighbourhood churches, cafes and boutique shops.  An absolute Venice must see is the Liberia Acqua Alta, claimed to be the most beautiful bookshop in the world, and with stairways made of books and glorious canal views, it undoubtedly is! The originality of Venice stands out at its finest during the annual ‘Venice carnival’, when masks and costumes are an obligatory statement of one’s own unique sense of fashion.

For such a compact city, Florence is jam packed with world-class art and architecture masterpieces. Around every corner is a new and exciting discovery of extraordinary art. Situated alongside the Arno river in the North of Tuscany, this picture-perfect city has hardly changed since the Renaissance. Walking along the narrow cobbled streets, you’re treated to a feast of elegant 15th century palazzi, marble made basilicas, as well as world-class paintings and Botticcelli sculptures. With the city so rich with history, it’s no surprise that the entire city of Florence is a UNESCO World Heritage site. A more beautiful sunset is not possible in comparison to watching it from the Piazzale Michelangelo where you can watch the Florencia landscape transform into an art canvas and all different shades of orange, pink, yellow and red gracefully blend to the eventual greeting of the moon.
A perfect day trip from Florence is the Cinque Terre hiking route which leads you through dramatic coastal scenery along five ingeniously constructed fishing villages. Made a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997, cars have ever since been banned from these picturesque villages.

Rome’s cityscape features some of the most famous ancient icons of the world. From the colosseum to the Roman Forum and the pantheon, it’s clear to see the heritage all around. Walking along the cobbled streets, history shouts out to you, retelling the story of Rome’s golden age as the capital of the world. While they city’s history shouts at you, the city’s art whispers delicately in your ear. One needs not even try to find art in Rome because wherever you look there it is, from sculptures by Michelangelo, baroque facades in medieval piazzas and Bernini fountains.
The opportunities for things to do in Rome are endless, and some of my personal highlights are Altare della Patria, Trevi fountain, Spanish steps and Castel Sant’Angelo. Of course, lying within Rome is the independent state and home to the Pope, Vatican City. The world central hub of the Catholic faith, the famous walls of St Peter’s Basilica are quite literally made of gold. Inside the walls of Vatican City is also the tremendously large Vatican museum in which lies centuries old treasures depicting the rollercoaster history of Catholicism, and of course the Sistine chapel, one of the masterpieces of renaissance artist Michelangelo.

by Meryl Hanmer


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