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Rome has enough to see and do to keep you busy for weeks – but we think two days is plenty of time to get to grips with the Eternal City’s best bits. The secret is having a plan, which is where we come in.

We’ve put together an in-depth guide to spending 48 hours in Rome, from which sights to see when, to where to grab a few scoops of cioccolato gelato. Once you’re done reading, let us know in the comments what your ideal 48 hours in Rome would entail!

DAY ONE

08:00 If your Rome hotel doesn’t serve breakfast, do as the Italians do and grab a coffee and croissant from a nearby café. Then make your way to the entrance to Palatine Hill on Via di San Gregorio, where you can buy a combination ticket that includes the Roman Forum, Palatine Hill and the Colosseum. Alternatively, hop on a guided tour that includes priority entry to the Colosseum.

09:00 Start off exploring the ruined palace and stadium of Palatine Hill, before stopping in the botanical garden to admire the views across the Forum. Head down to the Forum and you can walk along dusty paths past temples, churches and the impressive Arch of Titus. Once you’re done, exit the Roman Forum and walk next door to the Colosseum – your combination ticket means you can skip the queues at the ticket office and walk straight in.

12:00 Pop round the back of the Colosseum to Via Labicana, where you’ll find the Basilica di San Clemente. It’s a multi-layered church – the 12th-century basilica was built on top of a 4th-century church, which was built over a 2nd-century pagan temple – and is one of our favourite sites in Rome. Admire the beautiful mosaics in the basilica, before descending below ground to explore the remains of the earlier buildings.

12:30 It’s almost time for lunch, so make your way over towards Piazza della Rotonda, about half an hour’s walk away. On the way, pop into Signor Panino, a little sandwich shop on Via Piè di Marmo, and pick up a panino to take away – when you get to Piazza della Rotonda, you can perch on the steps of the Fontana del Pantheon and eat it overlooking the Pantheon’s 2nd-century pillars. Once you’ve finished up, head inside the Pantheon and marvel at its tombs, paintings and marble statues.

14:00 Walk 10 minutes eastwards to Via della Panetteria. Look for the tiny sign that marks the entrance to San Crispino, one of the best gelaterie in Rome. Get a coppetta of stracciatella (vanilla with chocolate shavings), nocciola (hazelnut) and cioccolato (chocolate) to go and walk the two minutes to Piazza di Trevi, which is dominated by the iconic Trevi Fountain. Prefer a tour complete with an expert guide? Sign up to the small-group Rome Fountains and Squares tour or the Espresso and Gelato Tour.

15:00 Head down Via delle Muratte and turn right when you reach Via del Corso. The street is lined with high street names and independent clothes stores, so it’s ideal if you fancy a bit of shopping. When you reach Via Condotti, turn right – you’ll pass designer boutiques including Prada, Armani and Gucci, and end up at Piazza di Spagna, with the famous Spanish Steps in front of you. Walk up to the top of the steps for great views and a chance to peek inside Trinità dei Monti church, or find an empty spot on the stairs to rest your legs and enjoy the atmosphere.

16:30 From the top of the Spanish Steps, you’re less than 10 minutes’ walk from the Villa Borghese (just follow the signposts). It’s the biggest public park in Rome, so is perfect for relaxing at the end of a busy day.

20:30 There are plenty of little restaurants around Piazza del Popolo – try the Fiaschetteria Beltramme on Via della Croce, a hole-in-the-wall trattoria serving traditional Roman dishes.

22:30 If you’ve still got energy, walk down to Piazza Navona (about 15-20 minutes). Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers looks lovely all lit up, and the al fresco diners, street musicians and artists give the whole place a lively feel. Explore the streets and piazzas nearby and you’ll find plenty of tucked-away wine bars (we love Cul de Sac on Piazza Pasquino and Caffè della Pace on Via della Pace).

DAY TWO

09:00 Arrive at the Vatican Museums bright and early – if you’ve booked your tickets online in advance, you’ll be able to skip the queues. The site is huge, so if you’re not taking a guided tour, make sure you read a guidebook beforehand and decide which parts you want to see. Some of the most popular sections are the frescoed Raphael Rooms, the Gregorian Etruscan museum, and – of course – the Sistine Chapel.

12:00 Time for an early lunch. Refuel with a huge panino from Duecento Gradi (Piazza del Risorgimento) or a topping-laden slice of pizza from Pizzarium (Via della Meloria), before walking round to St. Peter’s Square.

13:00 Join the queue to enter St. Peter’s Basilica. It can look dauntingly long, but it moves quickly and gives you a chance to take in the grandeur of the square and the basilica’s exterior. Make sure you’ve got your shoulders and knees covered – you won’t be allowed in if not. Give yourself at least half an hour to wander through the vast, richly decorated interior. You can also climb up to the top of the basilica, or go underground and explore the necropolis beneath (you’ll need to book in advance via the Vatican’s website).

15:00 From St. Peter’s Square, wander down Via della Conciliazione to Castel Sant’Angelo, a mausoleum-turned-fortress-turned-museum. Tour the frescoed interiors, take in the views of Rome from the terrace (which features in Puccini’s Tosca), then pull up a chair at the castle’s café for an espresso.

18:00 Start your evening off early in Trastevere. The Piazza Santa Maria is the hub of the neighbourhood. Have a drink at one of the cafés edging the square, and perhaps pop in to the church to see the 12th-century mosaics.

19:00 Lively Freni e Frizioni on Via del Politeama is famous for its aperitivo. Order a drink, then help yourself to a buffet of bruschetta, salads, pasta and pizza.

21:00 Tuck in to Roman specialities at Roma Sparita, a lovely restaurant with a terrace on Piazza Santa Cecilia.

22:30 A 15-minute walk takes you across Ponte Garibaldi and over to Campo de’ Fiori, one of the liveliest area in Rome. Pick a bar, order a Negroni, and enjoy your final evening in the Eternal City.

 

Raring to go? Take a look at our holidays to Rome.

Photos: Ben Cremin (Castel Sant’Angelo), Alexander Russy (Pantheon), stevekc (Borghese Gardens), daryl_mitchell (Trastevere)

This post was originally published on 9 September, 2015 and updated in May 2018.

The post 48 Hours in Rome appeared first on Citalia Blog.

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Matera, a rocky hilltop city in Basilicata, is set to be the European Capital of Culture for 2019. But those celebrations are just one reason to visit – our mini travel guide gives you plenty more…

Things to do in Matera

  1. Duck into the sassi. These ancient caves are believed to date back a casual 9,000 years – and locals were living in them right up to the 1950s. These days, they double as shops, restaurants and boutique hotels.

2. Admire the sculptures at MUSMA (Museo della Scultura Contemporanea). This one-time sassi is filled with modern sculptures by Italian and international artists.

3. Seek out the best viewpoints. There are plenty to choose from, including the snaking boundary road called Via Madonna della Virtù, which is pinioned by panoramic platforms. Some come with stairways that dip down into the valleys and ravines that piece together the surrounding Basilicata countryside.

 

4. Church-hop your way around town. The St. Mary of Idris Church is chipped right out of the rock and comes filled with frescoes. Or there’s always the 13th-century Matera Cathedral. You can’t miss it – its cloud-scraping spire is the highest point in Matera.

5. Try local cuisine. The Ridola Caffè is great if you fancy a mozzarella panino and espresso in a sassi, while hotels offer more in the way of slap-up regional fare.

Where to stay in Matera

  1. Sextantio Le Grotte della Civita (above) gives you the chance to stay in a boutique hotel that’s converted from a cluster of sassi. The best bit? The eighth-century cave church – it doubles as the breakfast room.
  2. Hotel Del Campo is an 18th-century aristocrats’ retreat that perches on the outskirts of Matera.
  3. If you fancy something a little more luxurious, try the 15th-century Palazzo Gattini. It makes itself at home right next to Matera Cathedral.
Our favourite Matera holidays

  1. We recommend hiring a car when exploring Basilicata and nearby Puglia. The Undiscovered South tour is the perfect introduction to road-tripping in southern Italy, thanks to a 15-day itinerary that takes in the lesser-visited southern regions of Puglia, Basilicata, Cilento and Calabria.
  2. Puglia is a real rising star, combining rural trulli towns like Alberobello with a dramatic coastline dotted with whitewashed clifftop towns. Take a look at our Puglia and Basilicata driving tour for inspiration.

3. Fancy something even further off the beaten track? Then Calabria is for you. Our Calabria and Basilicata holiday pairs a few nights in Matera with a stay in Tropea, a city best known for its white-sand beaches and rustic food festivals. While you’re over there in the tip of Italy’s toe, why not catch the ferry to Sicily and the Aeolian Islands?

4. If you don’t see a Matera holiday that’s quite right for you, we can create one from scratch – just give our Italy Experts a call on 01293 831778*.

Tempted? Explore our collection of Matera holidays. *01293 calls are charged at your provider’s local or national rate

The post A 5-Minute Guide to Matera appeared first on Citalia Blog.

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Had your fill of Roman treasures? Not a fan of browsing a palazzo’s worth of Renaissance portraits? Then these Italian museums and galleries are for you. From Ferrari showrooms to Piedmont wine banks – sink into Italian culture without a Michelangelo in sight.

1. MUSMA, Matera

MUSMA (Museum of Contemporary Sculpture Matera) burrows into the heart of the sassi – the ancient cave dwellings of Matera that locals lived in right up until the 1950s. Weird and wonderful sculptures decorate hewn-rock rooms and courtyards that are works of art in themselves.

There’s another great reason to visit Matera: it’s the European Capital of Culture for 2019. Watch this space for the full event schedule, but past cities have hosted art shows, food festivals, live music and behind-the-scenes tours.

  • Address: Museo della Scultura Contemporanea, Via S. Giacomo, 75100 Matera (MT)
  • Entry fee: €3
  • We recommend: Stay a night or two in the atmospheric sassi hotel Sextantio le Grotte della Civita, before driving to the neighbouring region of Puglia. Here, you can hop between clifftop towns like Ostuni and Polignano a Mare.
2. Limonaia del Castèl, Lake Garda

You’ll find the Limonaia del Castèl in Limone (of course), a village on the north-west shore of Lake Garda. It’s an ode to the importance of lemon farming in Lake Garda in the early 18th century. Over the years, various owners have added to the citrus orchard, planting grapefruit, kumquats and chinotto (best known for flavouring San Pellegrino drinks).

The location is half the charm – it staggers down centuries-old terraces that stripe the foothills of the mountains.

  • Address: Limonaia del Castèl, Via Orti, 9, 25010 Limone Sul Garda (BS)
  • Entry fee: €2
  • We recommend: Limone is a little town, so why not balance your stay here with a few days in the Shakespearean city of Verona? Alternatively, top or tail your holiday to Limone with a Dolomites tour.
3. Wine Bank, Pollenzo

If any Italian region is going to have a wine museum, it’s the heart of the Slow Food movement – the vine-striped Piedmont Countryside. In fact, the tiny town of Pollenza has been dedicated to the craft of fine wining and dining since the 19th century, when the University of Gastronomic Sciences set up shop.

The Wine Bank is the highlight. You can trace the cellars, read all about the millennia-old art of Italian wine-making, and treat yourself to a tasting session. Or you could sign up to workshops that range between talks covering Italy’s top wine regions to team quizzes.

  • Address: La Banca del Vino S.C., Piazza Vittorio Emanuele, 13 – 12042 Pollenzo, Bra (CN)
  • Entry fee: Self-guided tour: €3; guided tour with three wine tastings: €15; guided tour with five wine tastings: €20
  • We recommend: Pair countrified Pollenza with the foodie city of Turin (you could even pop into to the National Cinema Museum at no. 6).
4. Christ of the Abyss, Liguria

Most people head to the lovely harbour town of Portofino without ever realising that one of the best works of art is just out of sight – to be precise, 15 metres below sea level.

Christ of the Abyss is an underwater sculpture that dates back to 1954. Boats putter above the statue’s raised arms, but you’ll get a better view on a scuba diving trip that takes you to a nearby shipwreck, too.

  • Address:  San Fruttuoso, Province of Genoa
  • Entry fee: Free. To get a good look, though, you’ll need to book a diving trip.
  • We recommend: Explore the whole coastline of Liguria, from Genoa in the north to the Cinque Terre in the south.
5. Enzo Ferrari Museum, Modena

Museo Casa Enzo Ferrari showcases the high-speed artistry of Enzo Ferrari – car designer and Modena’s local son. Restored workshops, photo galleries, experimental engine rooms, driving simulators and a race track all come part and parcel. And it’s all wrapped in a swooping glass showroom topped with a Ferrari-yellow roof.

  • Address: Via Paolo Ferrari, 85, 41121 Modena (MO)
  • Entry fee: €16 for adults
  • We recommend: Spend a good week exploring this part of Emilia-Romagna. Modena, Bologna and Parma are all a short train trip away from each other, making the basis of a great foodie holiday.
6. National Museum of Cinema, Turin

The National Museum of Cinema is a bit of an architectural marvel. It’s housed in the 19th-century Mole Antonelliana – the iconic monument of Turin. After kicking back in the ground-floor cinema or wandering through immersive light and sound shows, you can hop in the lift to the roof for sweeping views over the boulevards and rooftops of Turin.

  • Address: Via Montebello, 20/A, 10124 Torino (TO)
  • Entry fee: €11
  • We recommend: Make it a double city trip by continuing on to stylish Milan. Alternatively (or also) head to Lake Maggiore, which is a traditional retreat for aristocrats, poets and artists.
7. Castel del Monte, Puglia

You might recognise the medieval Castel del Monte – it’s a bit of a rising star in the film world, popping up in Wonder Woman and Tale of Tales (and the Italian €1 coin).

It’s the shape that’s most intriguing, thanks to the octagonal body with eight octagonal towers. To this day, no one really knows why this UNESCO World Heritage Site was originally built, although it’s doubled as a prison and shelter for farmers over the centuries.

Best of all, you can climb to the top of Castel del Monte (in the footsteps of actors Bebe Cave and Toby Jones, no less) and take in 360-degree views of the Apulian countryside.

  • Address: Strada Statale 170, 76123 Località Castel Del Monte, Andria (BT)
  • Entry fee: €5
  • We recommend: Our self-guided Puglia driving tours. The Authentic Puglia route ticks off Castel del Monte before looping around the Apulian and Basilicata countryside via Ostuni and Matera.
Check out our Hidden Italy holiday collection for more inspiration for off-the-beaten-track breaks.

The post 7 Amazing Museums for People Who Don’t Like Museums appeared first on Citalia Blog.

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With its canal cities, lagoons and lakes, Veneto has some of the longest coastlines in Italy. We pick out five of our favourite beaches in Veneto – from Venetian Riviera classics to Lake Garda gems…

Caorle Beach, Venetian Riviera

Caorle stretches out north-east of Venice. The beach is a series of bright gold sands lined with sunloungers, parasols and and beach huts, and topped with the lemon-yellow Shrine of Our Lady of the Angel. The town sits behind, serving up the perfectly cylindrical tower of St Stephen’s Cathedral and Aquafollie Water Park.

But although well-supplied with sunbeds and beach cafés, Caorle is still a fishing town at heart. Primary-hued fishing boats brighten the old harbour, Porto Peschereccio, and traditional fishermen’s huts still perch next to the lagoon.

  • Where to stay: The four-star Hotel San Giorgio, which lays out loungers on the gold-sand beach.
  • How to get there: Drive or book a private transfer. Caorle is 50 minutes away from Venice Airport.
  • Our recommended day trip: Explore lovely Treviso and taste local wines at the grand Castello di Roncade.
Lido di Jesolo, Venetian Riviera

Lido di Jesolo is one of the most sought-after spots on the Venetian Rivera – and that’s largely thanks to its 10-mile-long beach.

There are lots of things to do for families, including Aqualandia waterpark and the New Jesolandia fairground. The long stretches of flat sand make cycling easy, plus there’s a couple of golf clubs for budding Phil Mickelsons.

Come evening, the beach bars turn up the volume and the cocktails flow. For something a little quieter, retreat to the pizzerias of Bafile Road.

Malcesine, Lake Garda

The little beaches in Lake Garda are pretty tucked away – but that’s the beauty of them. Malcesine Beach is one of the few kitted out with sunloungers and parasols in the summer. It also comes with a dramatic backdrop, thanks to the crenellated towers of neighbouring Scaliger Castle and mountains opposite.

  • Where to stay: Hotel Maximilian fills a pretty beach-lined peninsula.
  • How to get there: Fly into Verona, before hiring a car or hopping in a private transfer to Malcesine. It’s about a 1 hour 15 minute drive.
  • Recommended day trip: Spend a whole day exploring the spectacular Gardesana driving route – one of the most scenic drives in Italy.
Grado, Venetian Riviera

Grado has been a hit since Roman times, and became especially popular during the 19th century when visitors used to take a dip in the thermal springs. Although the waterfront is all-modern – expect a glossy marina and luxury hotels – it’s got plenty of leftovers from its past, including a winding old quarter with elaborate Belle Époque buildings.

Location-wise, Grado perches right at the mouth of the Marano Lagoon, towards the far end of the Venetian Riviera. This northerly spot lends it a more laid-back feel.

  • Where to stay: Laguna Palace Hotel, which comes with a lagoon-view swimming pool.
  • How to get there: It’s easiest to catch a flight to Venice and get a private transfer to your hotel (1 hour 30 minutes).
  • Recommended day trip: Go on a boat trip into the lagoon lined with traditional fishermen’s huts.
Bibione Beach, Venetian Riviera

Bibione is a Venetian Riviera classic, having been a favourite with Italian sun- and sand-seekers since the 1950s. With that in mind, it’s no surprised that it fires on all cylinders, dealing out sunloungers, changing huts, beach showers, a picturesque lighthouse and a few miles’ worth of bike-friendly promenades. And it’s all wrapped in a shroud of green pine trees.

  • Where to stay: Laguna Park Hotel, which comes with its own private slice of beach.
  • How to get there: Bibione is just over one hour’s drive away from Venice Airport.
  • Day trips: Head 10 minutes up the road to the vineyards of the Lorenzonetto Cav. Guido Winery. Try a house Malbec or Merlot and take a bottle of bubbly home as a souvenir.
Ready to make your escape? Check out our coast and islands holidays. If you book by the end of May, we’ll give you a free Italian experience.

The post Top 5 Beaches in Veneto appeared first on Citalia Blog.

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Heather Green has worked for Citalia for nearly 20 years. As we approach our 90th birthday, she tells all about Citalia’s surprising post-war past.

Citalia started life in 1929, after the end of World War I. How did everything begin?

We were originally founded by the Italian State Railway in 1929 to connect Italians living in the UK to their homeland. We were called CIT – or Compagnia Italiana Turismo (the Italian Tourism Company).

Where did things go from there?

Over the years, we introduced air travel and expanded our tour operations to Italians living everywhere from France and Belgium to Canada and Australia.

The British arm eventually took on the name Citalia – although many of the hotels we work closely with still refer to us affectionately as CIT. Relationships and history mean a lot in Italy.

Hoteliers really still talk about CIT?

Yes! They talk of this era and the three iconic managing directors behind it – Luciano Rocca, Massimo Sabattini and Stefano Della Pietra. They were real personaggi of Italian travel. They’re what gave us our Italian spirit – our passione.

Let’s fast forward to the 1980s. Were things still going strong?

We were still expanding our tailor-made holiday collection by offering charter flights.

But for customers who didn’t fancy travelling by air, we introduced a special train – The Napoli Express. The Napoli Express had carriages reserved for Citalia customers, as well as private concierges.

It started at London Victoria, stopped in Rome for customers holidaying in the capital, and finished at Naples. Just like today, most travellers were heading on from Naples to Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast.

Do you still recommend train travel?

Yes! After all, it’s in our DNA. We have some amazing Italy rail holiday itineraries – but like in the past, we can also put together a holiday tailored to you. Train travel in Italy is easy, especially the main high-speed routes that have undergone extension improvement over the last decade. It’s quick, comfortable and very inexpensive.

Have you got a favourite train route?

Rome to Florence (about 1 hour 30 minutes long) is a good one due to the changing scenery, especially as you pass by the Apennine Mountains that form the backbone of Italy.

Is Citalia doing anything for its 90th birthday in 2019?

You’ll have to watch this space! For now, we’re making sure to shout about our history as the original Italy travel specialist. Even some of our colleagues were surprised by our origins as a train holiday company. We’re really proud to say that no one knows Italy like we do.

Learn more about our rail heritage. And if you book a multi-centre holiday by April 30 2018, we’ll throw in your Italian train tickets for free.

The post Revealed: Our Surprising Rail Heritage appeared first on Citalia Blog.

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Move over, Tuscany – the north-westerly Piedmont wine region is the next big thing in the wine-tasting world. You might already be familiar with the Barolos and Barbarescos, but what about the rest of this mountainous Italian region? We introduce you to the best grapes of the bunch, as well as pointing out where to stay and things to do.

Barbera

The Barbera grape makes dark red wines that go well with anything, thanks to its dark fruit and anise finish. We love it paired with white truffles, Genoa seafood and hazelnut-chocolate tortes from Turin bakeries.

Whatever variety you choose, the quality will be great – especially if you go for a DOCG like Barbera d’Asti, which has a red fruit finish.

Nebbiolo

Nebbiolo grapes give birth to the Piedmont wines you might be familiar with already – Barolo and Barberesco. Barolo vineyards patchwork the hills south-west of Alba, while Barbaresco vineyards sit north-east of Alba.

The clay soils give wine pressed from Nebbiolo grapes a slightly more complicated –  but no less delicious – taste. Expect hints of rose, cherry and spicy myrrh, especially from the older vintages. Saying that, the Nebbiolo vineyards cross a range of landscapes, so there can be a big difference in tastes. Our motto: if you don’t like one, then you’ll just have to try another. Salute!

Cortese

Cortese di Gavi (AKA Gavi di Gavi) is the most well-known variety of Cortese wine. It’s a floral dry white with pick-me-up flavours of lemon and peach – a perfect summer tipple. Although the vineyards gather around Gavi, the wine is served in most restaurants and enotecas in Piedmont.

Dolcetto

Dolcetto grapes don’t make wine as sweet as you’d imagine, instead coming up with fruity blackberry flavours. They tend to have a slightly higher alcohol %, so don’t be disheartened if the waiter pours you a a little glass – it more than pulls its weight!

One of the best places to try a Dolcetto wine is at Banca del Vino (the Bank of Wine) in the gastronomic university town of Pollenzo. Tour the expansive cellars, sign up to a tasting, or join a workshop that shows you which local recipes to dish up with your Piedmont wine.

  • Stay: Pollenzo.
  • Sleep: Albergo Dell’Agenzia, a neo-gothic hotel that sets down right next to the University of Gastronomic Sciences. The hotel is passionate about Slow Food.
  • Do: Pop by the surrounding foodie towns, including Bra (the Slow Food movement’s hometown) and Alba (try the world-famous white truffles).
  • Multi-centre options: In this south-east corner of Piedmont, you’re only a few hours’ drive away from Liguria and its colourful cities like Genoa and the Cinque Terre.
Check out our Piedmont holidays to try these wines for yourself.

The post Piedmont Wine Region: The Essential Guide appeared first on Citalia Blog.

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The National Trust is something of an institution in Britain – membership gets you in to historic houses, grand castles and beautiful gardens (and saves you a small fortune in parking charges). But did you know that you can use your National Trust pass in Italy?

The National Trust partners with the FAI (Fondo Ambiente Italiano) to offer members free or discounted entry to the organisation’s properties right across Italy. They include everything from imposing lakefront estates like Lake Como’s famous Villa del Balbianello to tiny backstreet barber shops such as the art deco Antica Barberia Giacalone in Genoa’s Caruggi district.

We’ve picked out five of our favourites to get you started – and they all offer free entry to National Trust members.

Abbey of San Fruttuoso, Liguria

This former Benedictine monastery sits right on the beachfront in the pocket-sized cove of San Fruttuoso. Through the centuries, it’s been everything from a pirate hideout to a princess’ home, but nowadays it’s a lovingly restored museum where you can wander through 12th-century cloisters and see a medieval chapel and crypt.

San Fruttuoso is only accessible on foot or by boat – it’s a 90-minute walk through forested hills from Portofino, or a scenic 30-minute boat ride. If you opt for the boat, look out for the submerged statue of Christ of the Abyss at the entrance to the bay.

There’s a café and restaurant on the little pebbled beach, so once you’ve seen the abbey stick around and enjoy an afternoon in the sunshine.

Via S. Fruttuoso, 18, 16032 Camogli GE Garden of Kolymbethra, Sicily

Nestled in-between Agrigento’s Ancient Greek temples is the Garden of Kolymbethra, a lush patchwork of fragrant citrus groves, mulberry bushes, and almond, olive and carob trees. Once a stop on the historic ‘Grand Tour’ of Europe, the garden had been abandoned and gradually became overgrown – until the FAI stepped in and restored it to its former glory.

Wander along rosemary-lined paths and past centuries-old tombs and ancient irrigation canals. Or find a shaded bench to sit and enjoy the peace and quiet. For an additional charge, you can take a guided tour through the ancient hypogea (aqueducts), which date back to the fifth century BC.

Be sure to pop in to the little shop before you leave, where you can stock up on jams made from the garden’s citrus fruits.

Viale Caduti di Marzabotto, 92100 Agrigento AG Castello di Avio, Trentino

This medieval castle perches on a hilltop in the Adige Valley, just half an hour’s drive from northern Lake Garda resorts like Riva del Garda. While the building itself dates back to the 12th century, the real stars of the show here are the remarkably preserved 14th-century frescoes depicting life in the Middle Ages.

The castle’s fortified walls and imposing towers watch over gardens of vines and cypress trees. Look further afield and you’ll be able to see right along the wooded slopes of the Val Lagarina.

If you’re feeling peckish, there’s a restaurant next to the castle which serves regional cuisine and local wines.

Via al Castello, 38063 Sabbionara, Avio TN Torre and Casa Campatelli, Tuscany

As you approach the Tuscan town of San Gimignano, the first thing you’ll notice is the skyline punctuated with soaring medieval towers. There were once 72 of these dotted throughout the town; today, just 14 remain.

One of these is Torre Campatelli, built by a family of Florentine entrepreneurs and landowners. The FAI now owns the tower, along with the house attached to it. Step inside, and you’ll find it offers a snapshot of bourgeois Tuscan life, with furnishings and artworks from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.

 Via S. Giovanni, 15, 53037 San Gimignano SI Villa Gregoriana, Rome

Journey 45 minutes from the centre of Rome and you’ll come to the town of Tivoli. Visitors flock here to marvel at the elaborate fountains of Villa d’Este and the former emperor’s palace of Villa Adriana. But there’s another villa that’s well worth seeing.

Villa Gregoriana is actually a park rather than a building, restored and maintained by the FAI. Follow the footpaths down into the ravine and you’ll pass waterfalls and hidden caves. The highlight is the Great Waterfall, a beautiful cascade which tumbles more than 100 metres into the gorge.

 Via Città Sant’Angelo, 19, 00019 Tivoli RM Have you used your National Trust pass in Italy? We’d love to hear about your favourite finds.

The post 5 Places to Use Your National Trust Pass in Italy appeared first on Citalia Blog.

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Can’t tell your Renaissance from your baroque? Take our Italian architecture cheat-sheet to Italy with you, and you’ll soon become a history pro.

Classical architecture

Let’s warm up with the easiest one: classical. The Romans were one of the most powerful civilisations on the planet, leaving their stamp everywhere from Turkey right up to Hadrian’s Wall. They were hugely influenced by Ancient Greek architecture.

When: From the fifth century BC.

Where: You’ll find classical architecture all over Italy, but unsurprisingly Rome is home to famous behemoths like the Roman Forum and the Colosseum.

How to spot it: Perfectly engineered arches and columns are a giveaway — the Romans specialised in them.

The icon: The Colosseum, which has become the powerhouse symbol of Rome.

Byzantine architecture

This was the preferred style of the Byzantine Empire — a late extension of the Roman Empire. It has origins in Greece, but was popular wherever the empire stretched, although many of the grandest structures have been lost.

When: Byzantine architecture as we know it really took off in the fourth century and lasted till the empire dissolved in the 15th century.

Where: Emilia-Romagna.

How to spot it: Mosaics and domes. The Byzantines really went for it, decoration-wise, plastering vast church domes with intricate gold mosaics.

The icon: The Basilica of San Vitale, Ravenna. Consecrated in 548 when Ravenna was the capital of the Western Roman Empire, it’s one of the earliest and most pristine examples of early byzantine architecture. Leave plenty of time to admire its cavernous mosaicked domes that show a mix of Bible stories and Christian icons.

Gothic architecture

In Italy, gothic is a mix between true French gothic and Romanesque architecture. That means you’ll see plenty of classical elements in it, although it’s very distinctly its own style.

When: Sixth to 12th century.

Where: Siena and Modena.

How to spot it: Solid, symmetrical structures with pretty details like small rose windows and inner arcades. Italian gothic structures tend to be the tallest in town, and filled with plenty of light.

The icon: Siena Cathedral or ‘the Duomo’.  This towering church comes with distinctive black and white striped marble columns. It’s also filled with art, from floor mosaics to the books in the gilded Piccolomini Library.

Renaissance architecture

Florence is basically a byword for the Renaissance. This is where you’ll find the famous galleries filled with works of art by the likes of Michelangelo and Raphael. Like gothic and byzantine architecture, Renaissance buildings were also influenced by the Greeks and Romans.

When: Roughly 1300 to 1700.

Where: It’s got to be the birthplace of the Renaissance, Florence. Native son Filippo Brunelleschi is said to be the first Renaissance architect. You’ll also see lots of colonnaded Renaissance villas throughout the Italian countryside.

How to spot it: Mathematical domes, columns and arches are the theme. The Renaissance is when architects began to be recognised as artists, so you’ll find creative flourishes too.

The icon: The Duomo, Florence.

Baroque architecture

The south of Italy took a particular liking to baroque, thanks to local architects like Andrea Palma. It’s the next step on from the Renaissance, so the decorations on the domes and arches take a dramatic turn. Windows were carefully placed to emphasise the huge size of churches and palaces.

When: 17th and 18th centuries.

Where: Sicily is a hive of southern baroque, with whole towns built in the style. Also watch out for Apulian cities like Lecce.

How to spot it: Theatrical touches like balconies, cherubs and gargoyle-like masks.

The icon: Another church — the towering Noto Cathedral.

Art nouveau architecture

Art nouveau, Liberty, stile floreale — whichever name you call it by, the beach towns along the Tuscany Coast are glimpses into this post-industrial era of Italian architecture. Grand hotels, casinos and cafés all embraced the fashionable arts and crafts look.

When: 1890 to 1910.

Where: Viareggio promenade. Fancy really immersing yourself in the town’s grand 1920s heyday? Stay at the Grand Hotel Principe de Piemonte, where art nouveau and art deco details run throughout.

How to spot it: Art nouveau tells include decorative touches like stylised florals and fanciful windows.

The icon: Gran Caffè Margherita in Viareggio, with its fairy tale domes and glass lamps. Opera composer Puccini used to kick back with a coffee here.

We’ve highlighted our favourite eras of Italian architecture — what’s yours?

The post A Beginner’s Guide to Italian Architecture appeared first on Citalia Blog.

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Italy’s coastline is a stunning medley of quaint fishing villages, long swatches of sand and small coves. There are many summer spots to choose from to keep all beach enthusiasts happy, from the white sands of Sardinia to the rugged unique bays on the Neapolitan Riviera. Here are six of the best beaches in Italy.

Best beaches for couples Punta Prosciutto, Puglia

One of only 20 protected marina areas in Italy, Punta Prosciutto Beach is unspoilt, peaceful and one of Puglia’s best. Boasting some of the clearest waters this side of the Indian Ocean and enjoying sand dunes as its backdrop, this beach stands out for its beauty.

Furore Beach, Neapolitan Riviera

The Neapolitan Riviera proves that sometimes bigger isn’t always better. Take Furore Beach for example, stretching just 25 metres in length, nestled halfway between Amalfi and Positano and within one of Italy’s only fjords. Overlooked by towering rocks and lined with pastel-coloured fishermen’s cottages, the beach is anything but just bucket-and-spade.

Monterosso, Cinque Terre

Not typically visited for its beaches, but still one of Italy’s most famous coastlines, Cinque Terre surprisingly has some lovely patches of sand. Monterosso al Mare not only lays claim to one of the prettiest backdrops, Monterosso al Mare village itself, it is also the perfect place to rest after exploration of the area. Make sure you take a dip here, as you won’t get a view back to the beach as unique as here.

Best beaches for families Chia Beach, Sardinia

With over 1,800 kilometres of coastline in Sardinia to choose from, Chia Beach still wins the title with us as one of Italy’s best. Light gold sands enjoy a backdrop of protected sand dunes and juniper trees, offering the beach a little shelter. It’s beautiful but also very family-friendly, thanks to shallow waters, soft sands and the option to bring your own family picnic.

San Vito Lo Capo, Sicily

Stretching three kilometres, San Vito Lo Capo’s sands are loved by all beach enthusiasts. This beach will get families’ seal of approval in particular not only for its lovely golden sands, but for its shallow waters that come as clear as those in the Caribbean. The beach is not only pretty, but enjoys a location next to San Vito Lo Capo town, were you can take a break from the sun in its restaurants and shops.

Tropea Beach, Calabria

Not only is this coastline one of the prettiest in Calabria, but the sands of Tropea are some of the loveliest in Italy. Located beneath the Santa Maria dell’Isola monastery, the beach comes complete with those desirable white sands, with facilities ready-made for summer afternoons – think umbrellas and loungers available for hire, and pedalos and watersports.

  • How to get to Tropea beach: just head for the Santa Maria dell’Isola monastery next to the historic heart of Tropea – the beaches start from there
  • Where to stay: Hotel Tirreno is a 30-minute walk away from the beach
  • What next: tick off the other best beaches in Calabria
We’d love to hear about your favourite Italian beaches. Do they feature on our list?

The post Introducing the Best Beaches in Italy appeared first on Citalia Blog.

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Art history expert Zoe Turner reveals all about Rome’s baroque sculptor and architect, Bernini – and introduces us to one of the artist’s most underrated masterworks.

Roman baroque

The city of Rome has always been one of my favourite Italian places, with its spectacular art and architecture set amidst the hustle and bustle of daily city life.

When visiting, the usual tourist hotspots are quite rightly at the top of everyone’s list. After all, how else will you ensure your return to Rome without throwing a coin in the Trevi Fountain?

Some of my most memorable moments in Rome, however, have been away from the usual must-sees. The best moment was when I got to see a work of art I’d spent years studying at university and had always hoped to see in the flesh: the Ecstasy of Saint Teresa by the exceptionally talented baroque artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

The baroque period in art has always been a fascination of mine. It’s exciting, dynamic and it pushed boundaries, not just artistically but politically and socially. Bernini was one of the artists working at this time and he encapsulated the ambitions of the baroque with his sensational ability to make marble look as though it breathed with life.

The life and times of Bernini

Born in 1598, Bernini completed his first sculptural work around the young age of 14. It paved the way for a career in sculpture, architecture and painting. He was known for his charismatic and charming personality and was discovered by Pope Urban VIII, who at the time tipped him to be the next big artist in Rome.

He was in high demand and beat his rivals to receive some of the most coveted and prestigious commissions of the time. His most prominent brief was designing the bell towers above the façade of St. Peter’s in the Vatican City.

[Read our Vatican City guide.]

It was here, however, that his career suffered. Lacking the architectural knowledge to take on a project of this scale, it wasn’t long into the building process that the bell towers were demolished due to cracks appearing in the façade. The towers were too heavy for St. Peter’s. However, you can still see Bernini’s colonnade (pictured below) on St Peter’s Square.

Humiliated, Bernini kept a low profile until he was offered a commission by the Cornaro family to create a work of art to sit in their private chapel within the church of Santa Maria della Vittoria. It was here that he created the master piece, the Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, which re-established his career.

The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa

Saint Teresa was a Carmelite nun who was known for her spiritual visions. The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa depicts a particular vision that she had described in her diary – an angel appearing with a golden arrow and plunging it into her heart several times.

She describes it as a moment of what’s called transverberation, when heaven met earth and she felt spiritually connected to God, overwhelmed by his love whilst also experiencing intense pain.

Bernini’s work captures the moment the angel has withdrawn his arrow and is ready to plunge it into her heart again. She reclines on a levitating cloud, her habit taking on a life of its own as it billows and ripples, showing Bernini’s tremendous skill in making marble appear weightless. The angel gazes down on Saint Teresa, the cloth covering him appearing the texture of a fine silk as it curves around his body.

Not only does Bernini bring this scene to life, but he shows incredible patience and skill in being able to differentiate textures. The high shine of the habit would have been achieved through hand polishing, which would have taken months.

If you step back then you see the work as a whole, similar to a stage set.

The double marble columns flank the work on either side. A symphony of colour adorns the surrounding walls and the golden rays glow under the hidden window that Bernini had installed. Around the edges members of the Cornaro family lean out of their seats, desperately trying to witness this spiritual moment and hoping to be a part of the experience.

A treasure of Rome

For me, the Ecstasy of Saint Teresa showcases the artistic talent that has existed in Rome for centuries and it’s fantastic that these priceless works of art are still so accessible to the public.

If you’re looking to visit then make sure you check opening times, as church services can stop you from viewing the work. Also, it’s best to keep shoulders and legs covered as a mark of respect.

If you’re a fan of Bernini’s work and wish to see more, the Borghese Gallery houses some of his most recognised sculptures and sits just outside the centre of Rome.

Discover the the museums and art galleries of Rome for yourself on a Rome city break.

The post Italian Icons: Uncovering Bernini’s Rome Masterpieces appeared first on Citalia Blog.

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