Even though Italy is perceived as a small, boot-shaped country, it has many extensions that make it actually quite large. Spanning from the south of Europe well down into the Mediterranean, this unique country seems to defy all traditions and define a global region of its own. Its northern head, or top of the boot, borders France, Switzerland, Austria, and Slovenia. It is bounded by the Mediterranean Sea, the Adriatic Sea, the Tyrrhenian Sea, and the Ionian Sea. When you count the four major islands that are included in the country, Sicily, Malta, Corsica, and Sardinia; the nation becomes rather large and expansive. It is a far flung and exotic wonderland for the tourist and native alike. In this places you can find natural paradise like for instance the beautiful city of Pozzallo.
Italy has its share of hot spots. The major cities are Milan, Venice, Turin, and Florence. Each of these towns has their distinct flavor and culture. Starting with Milan, you are visiting the second-largest city in Italy, and the fifth most populous metropolis in all of Europe. It is set virtually in the dead center of the top of the boot. The weather is pleasant year round in this city of over five million people. Here, you can see breath-taking architecture, mainly housing museums, churches, theatres, and universities. The buildings rival or beat anything to be experienced in France. Parks and gardens abound, filled with patrons of the highest fashion in the world showing off their fines clothes; and the restaurants to suit any taste reside nearby. One cannot get bored in this city. If you do, take a high speed train to Turin.
Once in Turin, you can get off the train and explore the cars; literally. This place, home to Fiat, Lancia, and Alfa Romeo, is known as the Detroit of Italy. It is the automobile capital of Italy, also known as the capital of the Alps. It has a mild climate owing to its piedmont geography, meaning that it resides on a plain near the mountains. Its culture and night life rival Milan, with its fashion sense and vibe being a little closer to the industrial and technical edge. If you are on a spiritual journey or pilgrimage, you can visit and view the world famous Shroud of Turin, the proclaimed actual cloth that Jesus was laid to rest in following his crucifixion. You can visit the birthplace of modern film in Cinema, or tour the many libraries that house ancient texts. Turin is like a Disney World for the antiquities. Anyone who is into living relics will relish the entire experience of just being in Turin. Once you have seen all that you can take in, you can down to Genoa, bop over and take a picture of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, all on your way to Venice.
Of course, everyone knows what to do in Venice: Ride the gondolas! It’s an Italian icon, the canals and waterways of this magnificent, semi-sunken city. It’s actually comprised of one-hundred and seventeen small islands connected by bridges. The birthplace of Vivaldi of Four Seasons fame, this city used to be its own Republic dating back further than any of the territories that eventually became united with Italy. Aside from the fascination with the water, Venice has its share of wondrous architecture, fashion, cuisine, and culture. There are plenty of luxury shops and boutiques to quell any desire for souvenirs. Among the most prized of these is Venetian glass, coveted around the world almost more than the finest crystal. If you are in a less formal and more playful mood, there is the Carnival of Venice and the Venice Film Festival. Once you have had your fill, you can flit on down to Florence.
Florence is the southern boundary of northern Italy, almost considered to be in central Italy, the subject of part 2 of our 3-part series; all leading up to our crown jewel of southernmost Italy, the beaches of Pozzallo. But we digress. Florence is the capital of the region of Tuscany, perhaps the most talked about area of Italy owing to its pastoral and iconic charm. People dream of and talk about moving to this area to live the simple life, make wine and cheese, and be happy for their remaining years on earth. That puts a lot of pressure on a place, no? Perhaps it is up to the challenge. Florence boasts such claims to fame as being the birthplace of the renaissance, and it shows. The Medici family and all their patronage of Da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Botticelli are littered about like the remnants of some tycoon’s estate sale. One can feast his eyes on the pinnacle of human artistic achievement in this veritable outdoor, climate-controlled museum. The historian and connoisseur alike will grow faint trying to soak in the entire place. Pace yourself. You’re only a third of the way through Italy.
Be sure to read Travels in Italy, Part 2: Central Italy and Rome.
Cogne.org is a website targetting UK travellers who want to visit the Cogne region of the Italian alps.