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An affordable stay in a magnificent setting just 40 minutes from Rome is perfect for mixing sightseeing with days on the beach

Gauzy curtains blow in the breeze, framing a perfect view of the sparkling Mediterranean. The sun’s rays fall across our big white bed as we stand at the tall window, gazing down at a rocky shore, and right to a wide curve of beach. We could be in a five-star hotel. The setting, a 14th-century castle of pinkish stone overlooking golden sands 50km up the coast from Rome, is gorgeous enough to catch the beady eye of some property developer, but we’re actually staying in a new hostel, opened last summer in Castello di Santa Severa by the Lazio regional government.

Related: A local’s guide to Rome: 10 top tips

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Travel writers pick their favourite beaches to swim, surf, party, eat and just hang out from the Atlantic to the Aegean, from the UK to Turkey

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An Alpine plateau at the foot of the Dolomites offers local specialities, quiet night-time skiing and decent après

After a morning of steep mogul runs and long graceful descents through the forest, I’m famished. I enter Rifugio Meriz looking for a sandwich but instead find a menu heaving with fine mountain fare and end up ordering venison stew with fat slabs of polenta (around €12) and a local craft ale.

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Ban to take effect at the end of May after years of trials and research into air pollution at the Veneto seaside resort

The Venetian seaside resort of Bibione will be the first Italian beach to go completely smoke-free, in a mission to safeguard the environment from discarded cigarette ends and protect visitors from secondhand smoke.

The decision comes after eight years of trials, as part of the Breathe the Sea Air project, which saw an initial smoking ban between the first row of umbrellas to the water’s edge. New measures, to be imposed by the end of May, will include designated smoking areas 300 to 400 metres away from the sea, at the edge of the beach. Details regarding fines and whether e-cigarettes are to be permitted will be published in May.

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This most romantic of Italian cities offers more than just Juliet’s famous balcony. Wine and olive oil producer Giovanni Éderle spreads the love

This is the “other Verona”, the right bank of the Adige, across from the historic centre. For us, it is the authentic part of the city, popular with the big student population for its cheap street food, pubs and late-night bars. Walk across any of the Adige bridges and the crowds disappear, though there is still plenty to see: the Roman theatre, overlooking the river, and adjoining archaeological museum explain how much ancient history is still waiting to be excavated; higher up, the 16th-century Giardino Giusti is one of Italy’s finest landscaped gardens. Veronetta is also called Little Jerusalem, as medieval pilgrims to the Holy Land were reminded of Jerusalem by the neighbourhood’s steep hills and cypress trees. Today, volunteers run free Hierusalem Tours on selected dates, when five churches normally closed to the public can be visited (next one 26 February).

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Five hundred years after the death of Leonardo, our writer sets off on a walk between the Renaissance cities of Florence and Siena, sampling sublime food and wine along the way

On the first morning, I lean out of my hotel window in Florence and admire the garden below. Whose can it be? There’s a wonderful curving greenhouse that leans on an ancient wall. There are palms and lemon trees, fragments of time-worn statuary, an elegant wrought-iron table with a chair. On the table is a folded newspaper and a steaming espresso coffee, but no gardener visible. It’s all a bit untidy and overgrown, enclosed by tawny walls capped with pan tiles, many apparently ready to slide off on to the artfully abandoned terracotta urns below. This is exactly what I expected and wanted from Tuscany: a place that looked carelessly civilised, and had been that way for a very long time.

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Gian Marco Centinaio says plan to charge visitors up to €10 is ‘useless and damaging’

The Italian tourism minister has criticised plans by Venice authorities to charge day-trippers to enter the city and oblige people to “reserve access” before coming as “useless and damaging”.

Gian Marco Centinaio, a politician with the far-right League, asked on Twitter: “Do we want to become a tourist-repelling country?”

Related: 'Boorish' tourists in Venice targeted in mooted 'no sit' rule

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Resist the urge to splurge in the city’s chic shops and instead lose yourself in its transcendental art

Think of Milan and you think of fashion. The first time I spent more than a few hours in the city, I roamed the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II – Italy’s oldest shopping arcade, built in the 1860s and still home to the original Prada store, which was opened by the designer’s grandfather Mario in 1913 – wishing that I was rich (or at least, not quite so broke). What on earth is a girl with an overdraft and a fierce lust for buttery leather supposed to do in a place where everyone is so enviably well-dressed? In Milan, even the nuns look chic. In the end, I bought only one thing: an ice-cold negroni in the Camparino, the lovely, high-ceilinged bar that has been in the Galleria almost as long as Prada (Davide Campari first threw open its doors in 1915).

I still love the Galleria – wander through it as you walk from La Scala to the Duomo, which it conveniently connects – and I would tell anyone to have their evening aperitif at the Camparino, where the people-watching is unparalleled. But since my most recent visit, I’m able to see Milan not only with the eyes of someone hell bent on giving their credit card a bashing, but with those of an art lover, too. If you like painting and sculpture – in particular, if you have any interest at all in Leonardo, the city’s most famous adopted son – it is just the place, and one without the crowds and queues you can expect in, say, Florence or Venice.

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It may still be basking in the glow of being Italian Capital of Culture 2018 but the city has been a cultural melting pot since antiquity

The Sicilian capital, called the “Kingdom of the sun” by invading Normans in the 12th century, has been a cultural melting pot since Phoenicians and Greeks fought over it in the 5th and 6th centuries BC. Sitting close to where Europe ends and Africa begins, Palermo bears the scars – and echoes the glories – of centuries of domination. Once Roman, Byzantine, Arab, Norman and ultimately Italian – unified with the mainland only in 1861 – it has a relatively recent “made in Italy” identity. And in 2018 it basked under the banner of Italian Capital of Culture, hosting the prestigious Manifesta contemporary art biennale and helping regenerate its waterfront.

Related: Under the volcano: a tour of Etna and north-east Sicily

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The author’s Neapolitan novels and the TV adaptation My Brilliant Friend have brought attention to Naples’ Rione Luzzatti district, where a dramatic mural will become a major draw

Elena Ferrante fever spread across the globe with the release of the author’s Neapolitan novels, but it took the success of the acclaimed TV adaptation, My Brilliant Friend, for the hype to come full circle back to Rione Luzzatti, the neighbourhood east of the city centre where the bildungsroman unfurls.

As the eight-episode series, which ended last night, gripped viewers, locals felt compelled to harness the attention Ferrante has brought to their once-disregarded corner of Naples. In keeping with the Neapolitan tradition of street art, a mural is to grace the walls of the neighbourhood’s fascist-era public library, Biblioteca Andreoli, behind the central station.

Related: Elena Ferrante's Naples – a photo essay

Related: 10 of the best pizzerias in Naples

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