It’s been said that Italy is a dream that keeps returning for the rest of your life. Indeed, the glorious panoramas, exquisite cuisine and wine, elegant architectural treasures, magnificent art, and smiling Italian people unfold in dream after dream when you visit this beloved country. You surely won’t want to awaken once you’ve fallen under its beguiling spell.
Gate 1 Travel takes you to Italy, from the northernmost Alps to southernmost Sicily, in the most eye-opening ways. You’ll visit breathtaking iconic treasures that date back to the Renaissance, Ancient Rome, and earlier. Sample delectable food and wine that will make your taste buds sing and your spirits soar. And uncover a fascinating history rich in tales of the wealthiest families and the humblest wine growers. As dreams go, visiting Italy with Gate 1 and experiencing la dolce vita for yourself is about as good as it gets. We hope you’ll join us!
Magnificent Cultural Capitals: Vestiges of Empire and Influential Families
Rome really is the Eternal City, where past and present seamlessly 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, even the ancient architecture astounds—the Roman Empire didn’t do anything half heartedly. The Pantheon, built to honor the gods, remains the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome and is a masterwork of Roman engineering. And the ancient Coliseum 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 an 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 calls to you, the Vatican Museum rewards with one of the world’s undisputed treasures, the Sistine Chapel, painstakingly painted by Michelangelo over the course of many years. 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. 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. Inland, historic Verona holds a similarly romantic appeal, from the remarkably preserved amphitheater to the charming balcony on which Shakespeare’s Juliet is said to have swooned over her famous suitor.
It didn’t take an entire 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. 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 at once.
Stunning Medieval Hill Towns
When you leave the bustle of metropolitan centers for lush valleys and romantic hill towns, Italy’s astonishing natural beauty comes into view. In the Tuscan town of Montecatini, spectacular vistas of emerald-hued slopes await from Montecatini Alto—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, of course, produce some of the world’s most celebrated wines. Siena is a gem that sits elegantly over three hills. You can explore the huge central plaza, Piazza del Campo, which is the site of the famous Palio horse race that takes place twice each year. And take a step back in time in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of San Gimignano, a small walled village famous for its medieval architecture and towers that create a unique skyline. 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.
Treasures of the North: Lakeside Splendor, Alpine Beauty, Cultural Gems
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 views of the Italian Alps. It is pure pleasure simply to be here and stroll the scenic lakeside promenade. While you’re here, it’s hard to resist a cruise to nearby Bellagio, “The Pearl of Lake Como,” where gentle waves lap at a lyrical red-roofed village.
Though a bit less renowned, Lake Maggiore extols all the virtues of its sister lake. On Isola Bella (“Beautiful Island”), echoes of the Borromeo family whisper in their preserved baroque palace, where white peacocks strut through lavish gardens. And for a glimpse of what daily life was like for the working class, visit Isola dei Pescatori, or “Fishermen’s Island.” The lakeside city of Stresa, with its breathtaking alpine setting, was Ernest Hemingway’s inspiration as he wrote A Farewell to Arms; it will surely inspire you, too.
There’s more inspiration in Turin, capital of the Piedmont region and host of the 2006 Winter Olympic Games. The city is a spellbinding repository of architecture, from Renaissance to Rococo, and was the home of the Royal House of Savoy. Their residences, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, provide rich insight into Italy’s past. Piedmont is also celebrated for its embrace of the slow food movement, its dishes always accompanied by one of its wines, perhaps Barolo or Spumante.
Food also takes center stage in Parma, where balsamic vinegar, prosciutto and cheese vie for attention with splendid architecture and a soaring musical heritage. The city’s theaters—revered temples of Italy’s music scene—host world-renowned artists and its splendid buildings span the ages. Some foodies consider Bologna somewhat of a sister city to Parma. It, too, boasts an international reputation for its cuisine, most bountifully on display in the city’s oldest food market, Quadrilatero. And, surprising to many visitors, its historic center of preserved buildings is Europe’s second largest, home to sprawling piazzas, elegant fountains, and grand palaces. Meanwhile, a Venetian air defines all things in Treviso, a lingering remnant of its time as the first mainland possession of the Venetian Republic. Even canals criss-cross the historic city of medieval palaces and residences. It’s all worthy of a toast over a glass of prosecco, the refreshing wine that originated here.
A Sparkling and Spectacular Coast
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, boat, or by a 19th-century railway.
The Amalfi Coast tempts with a spectacularly scenic drive, 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. As for the city of Naples, no other Italian city compares. Twenty-five centuries have shaped its distinct Neapolitan culture. Often considered the food capital of the nation—it was here, after all, where pizza was invented—its vast collection of palaces, plazas, and art takes the breath away.
The citizens of nearby Pompeii were not so lucky in having their city survive into the modern day. But, preserved as it was under 20 feet of ash from the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD, it presents a fascinating portrait of 1st-century life in a typical port city. Residences, wine shops, public baths and even brothels have been uncovered here and many mosaics and frescoes remain remarkably intact and vibrant.
Sicily 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.
Italy Your Way with Gate 1
Truly, the full sweep of human history awaits you in Italy, from boot to heel and mountain to sea. And as always, you’ll enjoy the best possible value with Gate 1 Travel. We invite you to browse our many Italy vacations, including our Discovery Tours trips designed for small groups so you can experience it all up close. Then call to reserve the itinerary that suits you. We look forward to hearing from you!