Towering mountain peaks that plunge through emerald forests. Culture-steeped cities perched over glittering, cobalt seas. Cathedrals that soar, artwork that inspires, and cuisine that tempts the palate and then lingers on the memory—Italy is all of these things and more.
To truly immerse yourself in la dolce vita of Italy, you need to know the local people and what they love about their land; at Gate 1 Travel, we do. Our Tour Managers unveil to you their country’s most thrilling and fascinating sites, and are eager to enlighten you about Italy’s most beloved treasures. And as you arrive at some of Italy’s most visited museums and landmarks, you’ll bypass the long lines, thanks to our pre-purchased entry—offering more time for discoveries.
Welcome to Gate 1’s Italy!
Capitals of Culture: Rome, Venice, Florence & Milan
Rome really is an Eternal City, where past and present intermingle. On streets 2,000 years old, Vespas scoot by visitors soaking in the loveliness of the city’s charming piazzas. These open plazas embody public art at its finest, adorned with finely sculpted fountains carved by some of history’s greatest artists, from Bernini to della Porta.
Piazza to piazza, the architecture astounds—the Romans didn’t do anything half heartedly. Here, the Pantheon, built to honor the gods, soars to the skies. Its revolutionary crown – still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome – is a masterwork of Roman engineering that has never been duplicated. And the ancient Colosseum still dazzles: Once able to host 80,000 spectators, this was where Romans gathered to witness gladiatorial combat and contests between men and beasts.
Art and architecture come together in inspiring fashion in Vatican City. Surely, St. Peter’s Basilica and its sprawling square is one of the most moving pilgrimage sites in all of Christendom. Whether it is faith or art history that beckons you, the Vatican Museum rewards with one of the world’s undisputed treasures: Michelangelo’s The Last Judgment, painstakingly painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. In total, the artist painted more than 5,000 square feet of frescoes here. Today, they remain a wonder of rich color and sumptuous detail.
Rome might think of itself as the pinnacle of Italian culture, but citizens of Venice would firmly disagree. The glories of the Venetian Empire, which ruled much of the Adriatic region for over 1,000 years, are on full display. The glittering domes of St. Mark’s Basilica watch over its namesake square, which Napoleon once called “the drawing room of Europe” for its grace and beauty. The nearby Doge’s Palace was the empire’s center. Here, opulent chambers recall the lifestyles of the rich and regal. And the Bridge of Sighs, which connects the palace to the prison, afforded the final view that convicted criminals enjoyed (and “sighed” over) before they were locked away. And you can still find Murano glass, a true Venetian treasure, being shaped on the neighboring island by descendants of the finest glass blowers in history.
It didn’t take a kingdom to elevate Florence—just a family. The politically powerful and deep-pocketed Medicis made the city the epicenter of art and intrigue alike, a powerful draw for the greatest minds and talents of Europe. No wonder Florence gave birth to the Renaissance. With its grand buildings, sculptures, gardens, and the astonishing Duomo of the Cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore, the city is an open-air museum of the period that defined it. And visitors have two chances here to see its most iconic work, Michelangelo’s David: The original is in the Accademia of Fine Arts and a replica stands in the Piazza della Signoria.
Milan may not have given rise to an entire movement, but it made a name for itself as the heart of fashion in a nation that puts other countries to shame when it comes to style. You might never strut the catwalks of Fashion Week here, but you can always make your own runway with a stroll through the glamorous Victor Emmanuel Galleria, a 19th century pedestrian mall beneath a large arched glass ceiling. It’s the perfect distillation of Italian city life—stylish, historic, and aesthetically beautiful all in one.
Splendor of the Hills
When you leave the bustle of metropolitan centers for lush valleys and romantic hill towns, Italy’s astonishing natural beauty comes into view. At the medieval fortified town of Montecatini, spectacular vistas of emerald-hued slopes await—if you can tear yourself away from a soak in the city’s extensive thermal-fed spas. Travelers have long come here to “take the waters,” and you may do the same during your free time.
Italy’s hill towns each boast a unique flavor and a distinct character. Lucca is a gem of medieval architecture. Its spectacularly preserved 17th-century wall is still fully intact and today is home to a public park that’s ideal for strolling and taking in amazing countryside views of olive and fig groves. Within its walls, the original Roman street layout reveals layer upon layer of history. Umbrian Assisi straddles a hilltop, appearing more like a fortress than a major center of the Franciscan Order, though the view from the city is indeed heavenly. Historic Verona is more focused on earthly pursuits, from the remarkably preserved amphitheater to the charming balcony on which Shakespeare’s Juliet is said to have swooned over her famous suitor.
Verdant green hillsides spill down to the sparkling waters of Lago di Como, or Lake Como, in Lombardy. Playground of jet-setters and celebrities, this vast and glistening lake is surrounded by cypress trees, earth-toned villas, lush gardens and spectacular mountain views. It is pure pleasure simply to be here and stroll the scenic lakeside promenade, and it’s hard to resist a cruise to nearby Bellagio, “The Pearl of Lake Como.” The gentle waves lapping at the shores of this lyrical red-roofed village whisper, “Come again…”
The Glittering Sea
As lovely a backdrop as Lake Como might be, it is easily rivaled by the stunning sweep of Italy’s jaw-dropping coastline. On the Italian Riviera, Cinque Terre, a necklace of five villages clinging to cliff sides, is one of the world’s most enchanting destinations. Largely untouched by the congestion of the modern world, the villages can only be accessed by foot or animal trail or by a 19th-century railway.
The Amalfi Coast tempts with one of the world’s most scenic drives, tracing dramatic and rocky shores to quaint seaside villages and colorful houses that seem to spill into the sea, from Positano to Ravello. Its gateway is Sorrento – famed for its limoncello lemon liqueur and its sweeping views of the Gulf of Naples.
On the Ligurian coast, romance and glamour infuse the route from Portofino to Chiavari with palm-fringed beaches and pastel-colored villas. At the heart of the beauty lies Rapallo, home to the 16th century Castello sul Mare (Castle-on-the-Sea), built to keep out pirates (though it’s understandable why they’d be attracted to such a pretty port).
Sicily knows a thing or two about pirates, having launched its own in the Roman era (including a crew which kidnapped Julius Caesar) and coming under attack from Barbary pirates for years after. An island of fierce individualism and cultural pride, its heritage nonetheless reflects the influences of the many empires which have tried to tame it.
The island has been a crossroads of civilizations for centuries and countless cultures left their mark here – from the hilltop Norman Cathedral in Monreale to the 12th-century Byzantine mosaics within. The island’s heart is Palermo, its Old Town a stunning blend of architectural styles, many of them represented in the Palermo Cathedral, which was built and enhanced over centuries.
A spectacular sampling of Greek culture defines Agrigento. Here, in the Valley of the Temples, are the best preserved worship sites outside mainland Greece, including the Temple of Juno and incredibly intact Temple of Concordia. Remarkably restored Roman villas are nearby, providing unique insight into the lives of that era.
The most active volcano in Europe, Mt. Etna is the island’s true conqueror, outlasting all other regimes. It watches over Taormina and Catania alike. Perched on a rocky plateau, Taormina overlooks the Bay of Naxos and the Ionian Sea. The meticulous preservation of its Greek stadium and its walls is equaled only by the coastal vista from its hillside setting. To the south, Catania stood on par with Florence for its cultural and artistic contributions during the Renaissance. Much of the town was destroyed during a 1693 earthquake, and so today it boasts a more baroque flavor, with wide-open piazzas and colorful markets.
Perhaps less well known to outsiders than Sicily—and thus seldom as crowded—the Puglia region spreads across the heel of Italy’s boot. Surrounded by turquoise sea, the port city of Bari has been welcoming home sailors and fishermen for more than two millennia. At the open-air market, locals buy the day’s catch, often brought ashore by their own friends and loved ones. The Bari Cathedral and the grand Romanesque Basilica of San Nicola show that Italy’s penchant for artistry didn’t miss Puglia. The same is true in Lecce, where baroque gems outline 300 year-old cobblestone streets. From its Piazza del Duomo to its 2nd century Roman amphitheater, it’s easy to see why Lecce is fondly named the “Florence of the South.
Like in the rest of Italy, history stretches back across the centuries in Puglia, as a visit to a pair of UNESCO World Heritage Sites reveals. Alberobello is home to 14th-century dry stone huts known as trulli, small conical structures based on prehistoric building techniques. And in Matera, the Paleolithic Age is revealed by the mysterious Sassi, ancient stone dwellings carved into rock, believed to be the first human settlements in Italy.
Truly, the full sweep of human history awaits you here, from boot to heel and mountain to sea.
Join Gate 1 Travel in Italy to Make the Most of Your Visit, and Your Budget
You’re coming this far…add another country! Italy’s neighbors each have their own story to tell, and savvy travelers know that combining trips makes the most of their travel dollars. Follow the route of Venetian tradesman to Croatia & Slovenia, taking in gems like seaside Opatija and Dubrovnik, the UNESCO World Heritage site. Add a fourth additional country, with Bosnia fleshing out your Balkans experience. Compare the best of Italy with the ancient gems of Greece or a kaleidoscope of cultural capitals in Spain or in Spain and France.
Gate 1 offers choice not just in where you explore—but how. Prefer the up-close access and intimate feeling of a small group trip? Travel with Discovery Tours, our sister company that opens up doors that large groups just can’t access. Italy your way is always possible with Gate 1.
For the richest discoveries at the best value, join Gate 1 and discover the timeless appeal of Italy!