What’s Outside the Wall – Top 5 Churches in Italy Outside the Vatican

Italy has earned an international reputation for being a land of grand architecture and religion, with an estimated sixty thousand plus churches scattered throughout the country. Since religion is such an integral part of Italy’s past, present, and future in terms of architecture and history, touring these basilicas and churches is frequently at the top of the wish list for tourists putting together an Italian vacation of a lifetime. But with thousands of stunning examples of history to visit and only days to a couple of weeks to explore, what are the top churches to see in Italy that are outside the Vatican wall?

There is little dispute that one of the most notable religious icons in Italy is the Vatican. It is a relatively small complex to pack as much historical, artistic, and religious punch as it does. Tourists flock to the Vatican in droves to see sights such as Saint Peter’s Basilica, Saint Peter’s Square, the Sistine Chapel, and more. While the area is certainly worth an Italian guided tour, it is not the only church in Italy.

One of the most charming things about Italian churches is their celebrated architectural and historical differences. Basilicas, cathedrals, and churches here can run the gamut in terms of square footage, design, and history, all of which can play an integral part in deciding which top churches in Italy should make the cut on your trip itinerary.

The Top 5 Churches in Italy

The following churches are often considered to be among the top churches in Italy because of their history, design, or a combination of the two. The Vatican is excluded from this list as it is already a universally known destination for tourists. Some of the churches of Italy listed below may be lesser known but are absolutely worth visiting during your trip.

  1. Mark’s Basilica in Venice
  2. Basilica di San Francesco in Assisi
  3. Santa Maria Assunta in Positano
  4. Siena Cathedral
  5. Basilica di Santa Croce in Lecce

St. Mark’s Basilica

This basilica’s stunning structure makes it one of the most frequently visited sites in the city of Venice and one of the top churches in Italy. The opulent design of the church is lavish, with grand arched entryways and an extravagantly artistic roof on the exterior, and a marvelous showing of ancient golden Byzantine mosaics on the interior.

Points of Interest for St. Mark’s Basilica:

  • The church’s nickname is Church of Gold in honor of the thousands of square feet of Byzantine mosaics it features.
  • Breathtaking mosaics are prominent on the exterior and interior of the building, with enough square feet of mosaics to cover an American football field.
  • The Narthex of the church is home to gorgeous religious mosaics featuring key Biblical people and events.
  • The Pala d’Oro Altarpiece is an elaborate work with gold detailing that depicts Biblical people and events.
  • The church’s marble floor is a masterpiece in its own right that is colorfully and intricately patterned.

Basilica Di San Francesco

The Basilica of Saint Francis in Assisi is not as obviously grandiose as that of St. Mark’s, but is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that pays homage to one of Italy’s most celebrated saints. The thirteenth-century structure is located in the region of Umbria on the side of a hill. The exterior of the building is impressive but simple, largely mirroring the work of the saint it is named after. The interior of this Italian church is simply stunning with high arched ceilings, intricate details, and hundreds of colorful frescoes.

Points of Interest:

  • The basilica was named and built in honor of Saint Francis of Assisi.
  • The lower church features magnificent frescoes depicting Saint Francis’ and Christ’s lives, and historical fifteenth-century choir stalls.
  • A thirteenth-century altar and a number of colorful frescoes shine brilliantly in the bright and airy upper church.
  • This Italian basilica offers fantastic panoramic views of the lush, green valley below.

Church of Santa Maria Assunta

Amidst the colorful villas and buildings of Positano on the Amalfi Coast, sits the Church of Santa Maria Assunta. The church sits at the base of a hill just yards away from Marina Grande Beach in what is considered the heart of the city. The church’s exterior is largely simple with mostly clean straight lines, except for its iconic dome. This beautiful Italian church’s colorful backdrop of Positano often makes it a wedding destination of choice.

Points of Interest:

  • The church’s dome stands out among its surroundings with tiles of blue, green, and yellow that gleam in the sun.
  • The interior of the church is rich in gold and white Neoclassical design and an iconic Byzantine artwork of the Virgin Mary.
  • The legend of how the Virgin Mary artwork arrived at the church is captivating and is a huge part of its history.
  • This Italian church offers tranquil seaside views of the beach and Mediterranean Sea below.
  • The Festival for the Assumption of the Virgin Mary takes place annually in August.

Siena Cathedral

This thirteenth century cathedral of Siena dominates this small town, with a largely white and black exterior of hard lines and sharp points and a tall bell tower that features black and white striping. The theme of black and white striping, which has deep religious meaning, is continued in the interior to the columns and archways. This Italian church is unique in that much of the artwork is found on the floor rather than the ceiling.

Points of Interest:

  • Almost five dozen marble panels steal the show in the Duomo’s aisles and nave.
  • Renowned artists such as Nicola Pisano contributed magnificent sculpture works to the Duomo that can be seen throughout the cathedral.
  • Visitors can expect to see vibrant frescoes by the likes of Ventura Salimbeni and paintings such as the Madonna del Voto.

Basilica di Santa Croce

The Basilica di Santa Croce in Lecce is one of the crown jewels of the city. It features highly ornate architecture of sharp lines, columns, statues, circular windows, and hundreds of artistic details quickly draw the eye of visitors. Construction of the basilica began in the sixteenth century but was not completed until the early seventeenth century. The interior of this Italian church features grand decorative columns, chandeliers, and a main center aisle.

Points of Interest:

  • Don’t miss the unusual sculptures of griffins, lions, and other symbols on the building’s façade.
  • The interior is filled with paintings that colorfully depict key Biblical events and more than a dozen different altars.
  • The Baroque style seventeenth century altar designed by Francesco Antonio Zimbalo is widely considered to be one of the best expressions of Baroque sculpture in the area.

To venture outside the Vatican wall and discover some of the other top churches in Italy is to see into the country’s proverbial soul. The challenge for avid history and architecture lovers visiting Italy is not finding churches to visit, but finding time to visit all the churches. If your getaway is limited to only a short time, the above top churches in Italy can be a great starting point. For those who have the luxury of an extended stay, consider visiting at least one church in every destination you visit for a remarkable and unparalleled glimpse into the religious history of Italy.

Adam was the First: Michelangelo’s Top 4 Most Famous Works of Art

Michelangelo is one of the most renowned artists in history, with much of his work having close ties with the country of Italy. Being born, working, and passing away in his homeland, much of his work can still be found in museums or churches across Italy. Make Michelangelo’s finest masterpieces a part of your next vacation to Italy and lose yourself in some of the finest Renaissance period paintings and sculptures known to modern man.

Michelangelo, Renowned Sculptor and Painter

Toward the end of the fifteenth century, the artist many simply refer to as Michelangelo was born as Michelangelo Buonarroti in a village in Tuscany, Italy. From his early adolescence, he gravitated toward the discipline of art which only continued to flourish under the guidance of prominent patron of the arts Lorenzo de’ Medici and sculptor Bertoldo di Giovanni in Florence. In his twenties, the accomplished Renaissance artist spent much of his time in Rome where one of his most famous works was commissioned, Pieta. Over the course of his eighty plus years, Michelangelo created dozens of paintings and sculptures that are considered still today to be some of the finest works of art ever created.

Adam Was the First

One of the first of Michelangelo’s masterpieces to become well know was a vibrant fresco titled The Creation of Adam, which can be found inside the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel. The fresco is thought to date back to the early sixteenth century and is a depiction from the Biblical book of Genesis when God created the first man, Adam. The scene shows an older figure, presumably God, reaching out to a nude Adam to bestow life upon him. The fresco is one of the main highlights for visitors coming to the Sistine Chapel and is considered one of Michelangelo’s most captivating works.

Michelangelo's Creation of Adam is a must see when on vacation in Italy

Michelangelo’s Top 4 Most Famous Works

As wonderful as a trip to the Vatican to see The Creation of Adam is, it’s just one of many of Michelangelo’s artistic masterpieces to be found in Italy. To see only this particular fresco, is to see just a small snapshot of the artist’s talents, which included dozens of works including paintings, sculptures, and even poetry. With this in mind, avid historians and art lovers alike may enjoy incorporating visits to more of his famous works during a vacation to Italy.

The top four most famous works of Michelangelo outside of The Creation of Adam may include:

  1. David
  2. Pieta
  3. The Last Judgement
  4. Moses

David

Michelangelo’s early sixteenth century sculpture, simply titled David, is perhaps his most iconic work and can be seen at Florence’s Galleria dell’Accademia. The white marble statue which took two years to create stands approximately fourteen feet tall and is in the form of a muscled and handsome nude male figure that represents the historical man of David from the Bible in the first book of Samuel.

As stated in the Bible, David is a young Israelite shepherd boy who cleverly battles a giant Philistine named Goliath using only a slingshot. The statue captures the young boy as he must have looked right before going into the infamous battle.

What To Look For:

  • The slingshot, which ultimately won the battle for David, can be seen worn across his body. Although visible, its appearance is quite subdued, which many believe to be a nod to the way in which David used primarily his mind in bringing down a giant adversary with only the aid of a simple slingshot.
  • Notice the details of the tense posture of the figure as he is portrayed readying for battle. This tautness of the sculpture’s body and the fine details of even the pronounced veins on the back of the hand lend itself to David’s feelings moments before battle.

Pieta

One of Michelangelo’s earlier works is that of the statue titled Pieta. The Pieta is a religious marble sculpture that often evokes feelings of spirituality and emotion in onlookers. The grand statue is a representation of the Virgin Mary holding Christ in her arms in the sad moments between his crucifixion and burial in the tomb. Pieta can be found in St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.

What To Look For:

  • Note the sculpture features two individuals. This was highly unusual for a sculpture of the Renaissance era due to the complexity involved and materials required.
  • Pay close attention to the expression of the Virgin Mary. Spectators often comment on Michelangelo’s efforts to give Mary an expression of peaceful acceptance amidst the heartbreak of watching her son die.
  • Look for Michelangelo’s name. It is said to be the only one of his works to bear his signature.

The Last Judgement

Also found in Vatican City is Michelangelo’s famous painting, The Last Judgement, which can be found on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel. He began this artistic work in the second quarter of the sixteenth century and is said to have taken an estimated four years to complete it. The title of The Last Judgement is said to describe the second coming of Christ as stated in the Bible. This astounding painting is made even more so by its sheer size, which is forty-eight feet by forty-four feet.

The painting depicts a judgement day theme, but the eye travels over a vast array of different scenes including the joy of the saved, the resurrection of the dead, the despair of the damned, and the angels and saints.

What To Look For:

  • The Christ figure can be found near the center of the painting.
  • Notice the expressions on the other figures’ faces as Christ appears to be arranging for their existence in heaven or hell.
  • Search for key Biblical figures such as the Virgin Mary, Michael the Archangel, Saint John the Baptist, Saint Peter, and countless others.

Moses

Michelangelo’s early sixteenth century sculpture titled Moses was originally intended to be an integral part of Pope Julius II’s tomb but can be seen today in the church of San Pietro in Rome. The sculpture was created to portray Moses’ reaction to finding the Israelites worshiping other gods shortly after the delivery of the Ten Commandments. The artist is said to have considered Moses one of his most lifelike works, so much so that upon completion of the sculpture he allegedly hit it on the knee and commanded it to speak.

What To Look For:

  • Note Moses’ expression is one of deep anger which his body mirrors with intricate details such as flexed muscles and pulsating veins.
  • Find the two horns on the top of Moses’ head which are said to be present due to a problematic translation of the Bible book of Exodus in which rays where incorrectly translated as horns.
  • Look for some of the details that contribute to the sculpture’s lifelike presence as noted by Michelangelo.

Michelangelo is an integral part of Italian culture, history, and art. Make some of his most famous works a highlight of your Italian getaway while getting lost in the beauty of the museums and churches they live in.

Ultimate Under the Tuscan Sun Travel Guide

One of the true jewels of Italy is the beautiful and picturesque region of Tuscany located off the west coast.  For many the southern area of the region is symbolic of the quintessential Italian countryside, with rolling green hills dotted with an assortment of trees, ancient hilltop villages full of history, and gentle slopes filled with vineyards that are responsible for some of the area’s finest wines.  Whether you are traveling here for an Italy vacation reminiscent of that found in Audrey Wells’ 2003 film Under the Tuscan Sun, or if your heart seeks the restorative pleasures of this gorgeous land in the Italian countryside, Tuscany will touch your soul and steal your heart.

Visiting the Tuscan countryside is almost like taking a step back in time to an enchanting region’s stunning panoramic views of breathtaking and rural communities that adhere to a slower and simpler pace of life.  This part of the region is responsible for raising several different varieties of grapes for local wines, producing some of the finest “liquid gold” or extra virgin olive oil in the country, as well as other agriculturally based industries.

The people of Tuscany are widely considered to be some of the warmest in all of Italy.  This is largely due to the locals’ simple way of life that allows them to live in the present and enjoy every moment of soaking up the day under the Tuscan sun.  Whether it is working in the vineyard, taking an evening stroll through the town center, or sharing friendship and laughter over delicious homemade Italian fare, the locals take great pride in their Italian traditions and welcome the opportunity to share them with travelers.

With gorgeous weather most of the year in the southern part of Tuscany, it is often a favorite for travelers looking to center their souls in this magical place of great beauty and peace.

THE TOP CITIES TO VISIT IN TUSCANY

The region of Tuscany is more of an experience than it is any one sightseeing destination.  To partake in the full experience, combine leisurely days relaxing in the countryside with visits to some of the region’s amazing towns such as Arezzo, Cortona, Florence, Lucca, Maremma, Montalcino, Montepulciano, Pisa, San Gimignano, Siena, and Volterra.

  • Arezzo:  The small but beautiful medieval town of Arezzo which is full of century-old trees and exquisite art masterpieces can be found tucked in amongst four picturesque valleys.  It is perhaps the most affluent city in Tuscany and is home to one of the world’s largest gold manufacturing plants.  Arezzo is considered an artistic city where artisans make fine jewelry and furniture.  This city’s natural splendor has not gone unnoticed by filmmakers and was the setting for some scenes in Roberto Benigni’s Life Is Beautiful.
  • Cortona:  Another charming town of the countryside made famous by the movie Under the Tuscan Sun, is Cortona.  This town of winding roads in the Val di Chiana Valley is a favorite among tourists for its film legacy, museums, vineyards, farmhouses, cafes, and restaurants.  If visiting the area during the late summer months, do not miss the Tuscan Sun Festival which celebrates local art and music via open air shows, galas, and concerts throughout the town.
  • Florence:  The city of Florence is one of the largest and best known cities in Tuscany.  It is estimated that more than one million people now reside in the town, known as the birthplace of the Renaissance movement.  This city is designated by the United Nations Educational Scientific Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to be home to an astounding one-third of the world’s artistic treasures.  Not to be missed while visiting Florence are the number of fabulous art museums, including the Galleria dell’Accademia and the Uffizi.
  • Lucca:  Among the hills of the Tuscany countryside, Lucca is comprised of primarily flat landscaping but is one of the most delightful towns to visit in the region.  This medieval town is famous for its fabulous downtown area and long modern wall.  The wall was once built for defense purposes but now serves as one of the town’s loveliest walks as visitors stroll along it in the evenings.  While here in Lucca, don’t miss visiting the historical churches and towers, and maybe even consider visiting nearby Pisa.
  • Maremma:  This southern area of Tuscany is largely undiscovered by tourists and has some of the charm of the countryside, but also showcases seaside views.  In early fall the area is home to food celebrations such as the Chestnut Feast and the Grape Feast.
  • Montalcino:  This gorgeous countryside town has roots tracing back to the tenth century and offers spectacular panoramic views of the land from the top of its city wall.  In the heart of the town tourists will enjoy wandering the enchanting piazzas and city streets.  Just outside the city center, visitors have the opportunity to see rows of olive trees and grape vines that contribute to the town’s production of olive oil and fine wine. 
  • Montepulciano:  This Tuscany town sits high on a hill that overlooks much of the region’s countryside, which is filled with olive groves and vineyards.  It is particularly famous for its production of Vino Nobile wine and for being rich in Renaissance artwork and historical artifacts.  Be sure to visit the town’s ancient churches, palaces, piazzas, and open air markets.
  • Pisa:  Not far from the town of Lucca is the world-famous city of Pisa.  Although known primarily for the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the city is actually home to an interesting historical complex nicknamed the Square of Miracles.  Here travelers can visit and climb the Leaning Tower of Pisa, tour the magnificent Duomo and see the Baptistery, all of which are a little less than straight because of the once poor soil in the area.
  • San Gimignano:  Of all the towns of the Tuscan countryside, the small medieval town of San Gimignano has one of the prettiest skylines, comprised of more than a dozen towers.  Despite this iconic skyline, the city is perhaps one of Italy’s smallest.  Not to be missed here are the stunning tower views and the charming piazzas.  This is a particularly lovely place to visit in the evenings when the city seems to take on an almost magical quality.
  • Siena:  The town of Siena may be one of the most widely visited cities in the Tuscan countryside.  The city itself is home to historic cathedrals, art galleries, church museums, tall towers and medieval palaces, but just outside the city limits olive groves and orchards are abundant.  The Piazza Campo is an enormous square within the city that is often bustling with ordinary daily activities, festivals, and traditional celebrations.
  • Volterra:  This Etruscan city sits high upon a hill which offers spectacular panoramic views that include everything from mountains to farmlands.  Because this city has roots tracing back to the BC period, it is full of fantastic museums that chronicle the town’s history.  Volterra is home to a number of other must-see landmarks including the city gates, several Renaissance palaces, ruins from the Roman time period, the Duomo, and the Piazza dei Priori.  This picturesque city is largely untraveled by tourists leaving the magnificent architecture, history, and culture to a select lucky few who do visit.

Regardless of which towns you decide to visit on your Tuscany vacation under the Tuscan sun, there will certainly be no shortage of things to do or see.  In addition to sightseeing, make a point to have some real experiences in the region such as taking an authentic cooking class, visiting vineyards and participating in local wine tastings, and even taking a pottery making class.  However you choose to spend your time, be sure not to miss the most important activity of all:  simply letting your soul rest and breathe in the magic of Tuscany.

Vacationing in Italy with Children 101

Often thought of as one of the primary crown jewels of Europe, for decades Italy has endeared itself to adults with its unparalleled rustic appeal and romantic charm.  However, in this modern era where international travel at a young age is becoming increasingly standard, children are finding just as many reasons to love Italy as their parents.

With exciting train rides, gorgeous beaches, beautiful scenery, memorable carriage rides, and a vast and delicious offering of sweet treats, Italy fluently speaks a child’s love language.  In a country where trains are in many ways the primary transportation for hopping from city to city, children will get to see a great deal of the land, and discover what it is like to travel on a real train. The white sandy beaches and crystal clear waters of the Tyrrhenian, Ionian, and Adriatic Seas will beckon them to soak in the sun, splash merrily about, and hopefully take on some water sport fun too.  Carriage rides through some of the most enchanting cities of Italy will beautifully align with their love of all things fairytale.  And last but not least, Italian bakeries do amazing and delicious things with pastries, cookies, sweet breads, gelato, and more that can make a child’s eyes simply sparkle.

THE TOP 10 PLACES TO VISIT WITH KIDS IN ITALY

Deciding to come to Italy is the easy part.  Planning where you will visit with your family can seem overwhelming with such a vast land to explore.  Knowing which Italian cities have interesting activities for adults and children alike makes for a much more pleasant vacation.  Here are some recommendations for some of the best places for vacationing in Italy with children.

  1. Venice

Known for its beautiful waterways and canals, Venice is located in the northeast part of Italy.

  1. Verona

As one of the largest cities in northeastern Italy, Verona is known as a city of love because of its role in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

  1. Lake Garda

Lake Garda is the largest lake in Italy and offers stunning mountain views in north central Italy.

  1. Milan

Milan is one of the crown jewels of northwestern Italy with a fairly modern culture known for its fashion and art.

  1. Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre is an enchanting area of small villages located on the Italian Riviera in northwest Italy.

  1. Rome

Located in in central western Italy, the historical city of Rome is the beloved capital of the country.

  1. Pisa

World renowned for its unique leaning tower, the city of Pisa is located in central Italy.

  1. Florence

Florence is the capital of the beautiful Italian region of Tuscany in central Italy.

  1. Naples

Naples sits seaside on the southwestern part of the boot of Italy and is one of the largest cities in the country.

  1. Puglia

This southern region located on the heel of Italy’s boot is known for its beautiful coastline and beaches.

CONSIDERATIONS WHEN TRAVELING WITH KIDS IN ITALY

To get the most out of a modern family vacation in Italy, there are a few important considerations to remember.  Doing extensive research and logistics planning well ahead of the trip will take some time but will be well worth it in the end when it yields a smoother and more enjoyable vacation for the whole family.

Make a travel timeline.  The family is going to Italy.  That much has been decided.  But exactly how long can the family handle quality time together in a foreign country without the creature comforts of home?  Families with younger children may find that seven to ten days will be the limit to maintain a peaceful vacation.  Families with older children who can better adapt to the time change and constantly being on the go may opt for a ten to fourteen day vacation.

Consider the weather.  If you have several cities of Italy in mind for your vacation, take a few minutes to research the average weather conditions for the time of year your family will be there.  If one of the cities is experiencing a strong and cold Bora wind in that season and you have young kids, a city with a warmer and more docile weather pattern might be a better fit.

Choose where to stay.  It is particularly helpful for younger children if your lodging accommodations have access to cribs or cots that can be added to your room.  It often works best for families to stay overnight in the same lodging for several days before picking up and moving to another location.  For this reason, it may be best to visit a city that offers several nearby day trips so the family isn’t tethered to the same activities for three days in a row.

Get excited.  Now that you know specifically where the family will be vacationing, it’s time to help build the kids’ excitement too.  School age children may enjoy preparing for the trip by reading a nonfiction book about Italy or enjoying a fictional book set in Italy.  If you’re looking for a family activity, consider involving everyone in a fun research project pertaining to the places you will be visiting.  Friendly tip:  Kids love learning about the Italian dessert tradition of gelato, so be sure to make that a part of your research experience.

Plan your meals.  For some vacation destinations, meal planning is an essential part of the trip.  Most families who have traveled to Italy find this is generally not the case.  In almost any restaurant in Italy, one can find homemade pasta which you can easily explain is a distant cousin to your child’s beloved macaroni and cheese.  On average, very few Italian dining establishments offer kid’s meals.  Most meals will include a minimum of four courses, which will allow the whole family to share much of what comes to the table.  Friendly tip:  Mealtime in Italy is an experience to be savored, not something to rush through.  Plan on spending a couple of hours at the dinner table and consider if a coloring book and crayons might be required to keep the little ones entertained.

Make reservations:  Depending on what city your family chooses to visit, many of the more popular attractions will require advance reservations.  Add to that the operating hours can sometimes vary from day to day, and most families find the most efficient way to plan their trip is with the help of a travel agent, who can help plan activities and make reservations.

Find traveling gear.  Younger children may require a lot of extra gear when it comes to traveling.  Strollers, car seats, and playpens can be just the tip of the iceberg.  However, it is becoming increasingly common for some of these bigger ticket items to be obtained from destination equipment rental companies.  To lighten your packing load, conduct a simple internet research to find out which items you can leave behind and simply rent when you arrive.

Have fun!  It is so easy to get bogged down in all the details of planning a family trip to Italy that the fun part of things can quietly slip away.  To help keep that spark of excitement alive for your trip, rely on a credible travel agent that knows Italy to help you manage the details and hopefully offer you some firsthand knowledge about the country.

Ultimate Top 10 List of Must-Sees for Italy Vacations

A trip to Italy has been on your bucket list for years, and now you are finally making it a reality. Before making any concrete decisions or reservations regarding your trip of a lifetime, consider these top ten spots for a sightseeing itinerary in Italy that you won’t want to miss.

 

 

  1. VENICE CANALS

Just the mention of the town of Venice can evoke a detailed vision of a classically made wooden gondola sluicing through the city’s elaborate network of canals, its guide serenading riders with a heartwarming Italian love song.

Venice is actually a city of small islands that are separated by a series of canals and linked together by hundreds of bridges.  One of the most popular gondola rides in Venice is one that explores the Grand Canal.  On this route, visitors can enjoy the romance of this unique mode of transportation while taking in some of the area’s more prominent landmarks including the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute, the Fenice Theater, and the Accademia Bridge.

 

 

  1. The Leaning Tower of Pisa viewLEANING TOWER OF PISA

The Leaning Tower of Pisa, often referred to as the Toree Pendente di Pisa by locals, is located in the city of Pisa and is a worldwide recognized icon of greater Italy.  The tower took more than two centuries to complete and at a height just shy of two hundred feet, it is one of the tallest landmarks in the area despite leaning to one side due to the soft and shifting soil it was originally built on.  Don’t miss the opportunity to climb the almost three hundred steps to the top of the tower for some outstanding views of the city.

 

  1. ROMAN COLOSSEUM

One of the most iconic symbols of Rome is the grand Roman Colosseum.  For centuries this structure has been a symbol of the Roman rule of the first century.  Made of concrete and stone, the Colosseum is considered to be the largest amphitheater
r in the world, even though much of the structure has deteriorated over time due to its age and natural disasters such as earthquakes.

 

The best way to see the Roman Colosseum is to arrange a guided tour.  With the help of a guide, the arena truly comes alive as you stand near the center where thousands of spectators once packed the seats to watch gladiators battle for their freedom.  A guided tour also allows you to view the underground Colosseum which is a complex network of tunnels where gladiators and wild animals once anxiously awaited their fates.

Also not to be missed when visiting the Colosseum is the nearby Roman Forum, a historic area of ancient ruins that was once the heart of the Roman community.

 

  1. VATICAN CITY

Another spectacular site in Rome is the awe-inspiring Vatican City.  This historic religious complex is enormous and is rich in sacred art, architecture, and tradition.  The main sights within the complex are Saint Peter’s Basilica, Saint Peter’s Square, and the Sistine Chapel.

Perhaps the most externally commanding structure is Saint Peter’s Basilica which is widely considered to be one of the largest churches in the world.  The interior of the basilica is even more commanding with exquisite tiled floors, extensive collections of art, and hundreds of thousands of ornate details that easily captivate its visitors.

Don’t miss the opportunity to soak up the sun and ambiance of the area in the stunning Saint Peter’s Square.  This large open air square is perfect for sightseeing, people watching, and soaking in the grandeur and reverence of Vatican City.

 

  1. LAKE COMO

Located at the top of Italy’s border with Switzerland is the charming getaway of choice for many celebrities worldwide, the gorgeous Lake Como.  This lovely area is picture perfect with its sparkling blue waters, luxurious villas, quaint little Italian towns, and the rugged Alps rising in the distance.

Lake Como is world renowned as a delightful getaway from the hectic pace of everyday life.  For that reason, travelers generally spend just as much, if not more, time relaxing and wandering the area as they do sightseeing. The top attractions in the area are without a doubt sneaking a peek at popular villas visited by the likes of American celebrities such as George Clooney and taking guided boat tours of the many adorable towns that dot the shores of the beautiful Lake Como.

 

  1. VILLAGES OF CINQUE TERRE

One of the trendiest places to visit in Italy is the colorful and picturesque area of Cinque Terre on the coast of Italy.  Cinque Terre is comprised of five villages that are in close proximity to each other and sit right on the edge of the rocky coastline.  The colorful buildings exude a cheery and whimsical air, especially when reflected on the water of the Ligurian Sea.

The natural beauty of Cinque Terre keeps its visitors busy with a number of exciting outdoor activities including hiking the paths that wind between the hillside and villages, taking boat tours of the area, and visiting local vineyards.  The beaches of Cinque Terre are pristine and offer fabulous sunbathing and sand castle building while just offshore activities such as scuba diving, snorkeling, paragliding, and swimming abound.

 

  1. POMPEII

One of the most fascinating and equally heart-wrenching examples of history that seems to be almost frozen in time is that of Pompeii.  Thousands of years ago nearby Mount Vesuvius violently erupted showering the entire city of Pompeii in layers of solid ash and rock.  Although the heavy amount of volcanic output resulted in an immense loss of life here, archeologists think it is also ironically responsible for preserving much of the city’s artifacts and history.

No visit to Pompeii is complete without trekking to the place where it all started, Mount Vesuvius. Climb to the top of the crater to get a one of a kind look at Mount Vesuvius and exceptionally beautiful views of the Bay of Naples below.

 

  1. SASSI DI MATERA

One of the most unusual examples of natural architecture you will find in Italy is that of Sassi di Matera, located in the city of Matera and the region of Basilicata.  The Sassi is a large complex of ancient cave dwellings that are actually carved into tufo rock.

Historically, the Sassi is considered to have been inhabited since 7000 BC.  Throughout the years it has largely been continuously inhabited until the mid-twentieth century when the area became poverty and disease stricken, prompting the government to order a relocation of Sassi residents. However, today the area has come full circle and is now regarded a tourist hot spot and has been declared a United Nations Educational Scientific Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site.

While visiting the Sassi, be sure to explore the area and enjoy local pubs, shops, and more that bring this ancient rock city into the twenty-first century with style.

 

  1. THE ISLE OF CAPRI

The Isle of Capri is a true treasure of the Amalfi Coast in Italy.  Although pictures may come close, few can truly do justice of the beauty of this natural wonder.  The island is an estimated at four square miles and rises sharply from the gorgeous blue waters of the Gulf of Naples and the Tyrrhenian Sea.

Island life is considerably slower here in Capri than in larger, urban areas.  The main draw for celebrities and travelers alike, is the remote and largely untouched beauty of the island that makes for an outstanding escape from daily pressures.  Other popular attractions and sightseeing stops while visiting the Isle of Capri include the harbor of Marina Piccola, the Belvedere of Tragara, a series of limestone rocks rising out of the sea called the Faraglioni, and the mesmerizing Blue Grotto.

 

  1. MILAN’S LA SCALA OPERA HOUSE

Perhaps the best known and most stunning historic landmark in the thriving metropolis of Milan is the La Scala Opera House, sometimes referred to by locals as the Teatro alla Scala. The theater, originally known by another name, was established as the La Scala in the late eighteenth century. The interior is luxurious and grand with at least four balcony viewing areas, a central viewing area, and a magnificent center stage.

La Scala Opera House is widely accepted to be one of the most prominent theaters in the world for opera and ballet.  The theater is home to the La Scala Theater Orchestra, La Scala Theater Ballet, La Scala Theater Chorus, and the Accademia Teatro alla Scalla which offers musical, dance, and theater instruction.  If visiting Milan, add attending a production at Teatro alla Scala to your itinerary for the experience of a lifetime.

Top 10 Kid Friendly Places to Visit In Italy

Italy is a vast and beautiful land full of treasures to behold, but with such a large area to cover, it can be difficult to know the most kid friendly places to visit when planning your Italy family vacation.  Once you know the basics on successfully vacationing with children in Italy, it is time to start planning where to visit. There’s no better place to start than learning about some of the top ten kid friendly places to visit in Italy.

  1. VENICE: NORTHEAST ITALY

Located in the far northeast part of Italy is the romantic city of waterways, Venice.  The city actually sits upon a group of more than one hundred small islands that are connected by hundreds of bridges and separated by beautiful canals.

  • Take a Venetian boat ride to capture the true magic of this Italian city.
  • Visit the fifteenth century Torre dell’Orologio also known as The Moor’s Clock Tower or St. Mark’s Clock Tower in the Piazza San Marco, which is home to a giant Roman clock.
  • Tour St. Mark’s Cathedral. Don’t leave without taking the staircase from the atrium all the way up to Loggia dei Cavalli to take the children’s picture by the giant horses for a truly unique memory of the city.
  • Participate in a Carnevale mask making workshop.
  • Observe the unique and old world art of glass-blowing.
  1. VERONA:NORTHEAST ITALY

Verona is a beautiful city that sits on the Adige River in Beneto, Italy.  This large city in northeastern Italy is thought to have been established in first century BC and is most often known for being the grand setting of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.  This breathtaking town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

  • Climb to the top of the Castel San Pietro. The castle is one of the highest views in the city, so have the kids wear comfortable shoes and go in the morning while the children still have energy to burn off.
  • Discover Shakespeare with a visit to the Old City where Juliet’s Balcony and Romeo’s House are centrally located.
  • Take in some culture at Teatro Filippini for family theater productions like Cinderella.
  • Visit several of the picturesque local squares so children have some free time to roam and play.

 

  1. LAKE GARDA:NORTH CENTRAL ITALY

Lake Garda is Italy’s largest lake, and definitely one of the most beautiful, with majestic mountain and lake views.  The shoreline of the lake is a jaw dropping ninety-nine miles long with stunning beauty every step of the way.

  • Take advantage of the lake. Spend the day swimming, relaxing on a beach, sailing, or riding a ferry.
  • Tour Sirmione Castle. This fairytale castle is in a charming town off the lake and features a tour and tower climb…after you cross the real moat of course!
  • Visit a local theme park. The area is home to several theme parks that offer everything from roller coasters, rides, aquariums, animals, to zip lining.
  • Eat lots of gelato!

 

  1. MILAN:NORTHWEST ITALY

Tucked into the corner of northwest Italy is Milan, one of the largest and most modern cities of Italy. It is often referred to as the fashion and design capital of the world, but the city has a history tracing back to 600 BC that can be experienced in local museums and art galleries.

  • Visit the National Museum for Science and Technology. This museum focuses on several of Leonardo Da Vinci’s inventions and has some hands-on experiences for children.
  • Tour Castello Sforzesco. Children will enjoy exploring this fairytale-like structure as well as a variety of museums within.
  • Visit the gorgeous Duomo Di Milano. This striking church has over three thousand statues, so ask the kids to see how many they can find.
  • Check out the dinosaur exhibits at the Natural History Museum.

 

  1. CINQUE TERRE:NORTHWEST ITALY

This area, whose name means five lands, sits on a picturesque coast on the Italian Riviera.  Cinque Terre is comprised of five charming villages which include Riomaggiore, Manarola, Vernazza, Corniglia, and Monterosso al Mare.

  • Climb the stairway to Castello Doria. The views from the top of the surrounding land and water below will take your breath away.
  • Get some sun at Lungomare di Fegina. This beach in Monterosso is a favorite in the warm months of summer.
  • Take a hike.There are some well-worn trails between the villages of Cinque Terre which can be fun to experience, especially when paired with a picnic.
  • Make it a game.Make it a goal to try a different food or flavor of gelato in each of the five towns.

 

  1. CENTRAL ITALY:ROME

Located in the west part of central Italy, Rome is one of the most populous cities in the country and also the country’s capital.  With a history spanning over twenty-five centuries, the city is full of exciting and engaging activities for kids.

  • Tour the world famous Colosseum. Schedule a tour of The Colosseum and the Colosseum Underground to trace the steps of gladiators as they stood in the tunnels waiting for their shining and hopefully victorious moment in the arena.
  • Catacombs:The subterranean network of tunnels can be dark but are considered a fascinating underground adventure by most children.  Two of the more popular areas are the Catacombs of St. Callisto and the Catacombs of St. Sebastion.
  • Peter’s Basilica: Younger children will enjoy rubbing the foot of the thirteenth century bronze statue of St. Peter and taking an elevator ride up to the cupola to climb up inside the dome of the church.
  • Visit Castel Sant’Angelo for a fairytale-like experience.
  • Visit the Museo dei Bambini which caters to young children.

 

  1. PISA:CENTRAL ITALY

Pisa is located in the heart of Tuscany and is internationally known for one of its structures, the Leaning Tower of Pisa.  Yet, the city is also home to a number of historic churches, medieval structures, and romantic bridges that cross the Arno River.

  • Stand next to the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Depending on their age, some children may be allowed to climb up to the top of this bell tower.
  • Visit the historical Duomo Cathedral just next door. The Leaning Tower of Pisa is actually this church’s bell tower.
  • Visit the adjacent Field of Miracles, a beautiful green space which is home to both the Leaning Tower and the Duomo Cathedral as well as The Baptistery and the Camposanto Monumentale.
  • Take a relaxing stroll along the banks of the Arno River.

 

  1. FLORENCE: CENTRAL ITALY

Florence is the most populous city in Tuscany and is considered by many to be the birthplace of the Renaissance.  The Historic Centre of the city was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982 because of the Renaissance influence found in art, architecture, and local monuments.

  • Climb up the dome or cupola of The Duomo. Don’t miss this cathedral’s beautiful stained glass windows and stunning frescoes.
  • Visit the Palazzo Vecchio, a popular children’s museum in Piazza della Signoria. The museum features a number of hands-on activities including discovering secret doors and dressing up in period clothing.
  • Go to the Piazza Repubblica and ride the antique carousel from the early twentieth century which features horses and decorative carriages.
  • Visit the Piazza della Signoria which is considered by many to be the cultural heart of Florence.
  1. NAPLES:SOUTHWEST ITALY

Naples is one of the largest cities in Italy and offers its guests stunning views of the Gulf of Naples on the western coast.  The city is so large it consists of roughly thirty quarters, or neighborhoods. Naples has the largest historic city center in Europe.

  • Enjoy a real pizza. Pizza is said to have originated in Naples and the locals are convinced nobody does it better.  Pizzas are made with fresh ingredients that simply make the experience.
  • Go to the beach.Naples and nearby areas have some of the prettiest beaches in Italy that offer swimming, boating, fishing, and more.
  • Visit Mount Vesuvius. This active volcano is the same one that destroyed Pompeii many centuries ago.  Be sure to hike the crater of Mount Vesuvius for some amazing views.
  • Tour underground Naples. Not always for young children, walking this deep network of dark underground tunnels is sure to stoke their imaginations.
  1. PUGLIA:SOUTHEAST ITALY

At the heel of Italy’s boot shape, is the largely untouched and gorgeous region of Puglia.  The area is thought to be three thousand years old and is home to gorgeous cities such as Brindisi, Otranto, and Ostuni to name just a few.

  • Get some sun and splash around at the beach. The Puglia region has some of the most stunning coastlines that offer both sandy white beaches and clear blue sparkling water.
  • Go snorkeling or scuba diving. The clear waters of the Adriatic and Ionian Seas offer the perfect environment for these two water sports that effortlessly intertwine with marine wildlife.
  • Get in the kitchen. Learn how to make some of the area’s most traditional dishes such as orecchiete.
  • Visit ZooSafari for amazing up close views of a number of exotic animals.
  • Have fun at the area amusement park of Fasanolandia.

 

 

Porchetta di maiale

Porchetta di maiale

Porchetta di maiale Recipe

An authentic Italian roasted pork recipe.

  • Prep Time15 min
  • Cook Time2 hr
  • Total Time2 hr 15 min
  • Yield8 Servings

Ingredients

  • 3 ¾ - 4 lbs. boneless pork shoulder roast, skin on
  • 4 sprigs rosemary
  • 2 teaspoons fennel pollen
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • 1 ½ ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Kitchen twine

Instructions

1

Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees. Finely chop the rosemary and place in a small bowl. Add the fennel pollen, minced garlic, salt, and pepper and mix together with a spoon.

2

Score the skin of the pork in a diamond pattern with cuts that are about 1/8 inch deep. Lay the pork flat and make 10 or more cuts throughout the pork. Stuff the pork with about 1/3 of the herb mixture.

3

Roll the pork and tie together with kitchen twine by running the twine horizontally along the longer side of the pork and making a knot. Then, place the twine in the opposite direction and make a second knot. Repeat until all of the pork is tied.

4

Cover the skin with olive oil and rub with the remaining herb mixture.

5

Place the pork in a roasting pan and roast in the oven at 375 degrees for about 1 hour and a half, until the pork reaches an internal temperature of 156 degrees. Let the meat rest for 15 minutes then slice and enjoy!

Minestrone – The Italian Vacation from a Cold Winters Day

Minestrone Soup

Soups are a mainstay in any part of the world and Italy is no exception. Minestrone is uniquely Italian and there are many different ways the soup is prepared. This is an authentic Italian minestrone recipe that will go along way during these cold winter months.

  • Prep Time5 min
  • Cook Time10 min
  • Total Time15 min

Ingredients

Ingredients

  • 1 onion
  • 1 large carrot
  • ¼ lb. zucchini
  • 1 head of cauliflower (about 14 oz.)
  • 1 acorn squash (about ½ lb.)
  • 2 Yukon gold potatoes (about ¾ lb.)
  • ¾ lb. vine ripened tomatoes
  • 1 rib of celery
  • 5 oz. leeks
  • 7 oz. peas
  • 3.8 oz. diced pancetta
  • 7 oz. cranberry beans
  • A pinch of salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon fresh parsley, chopped
  • 3-4 sprigs of rosemary
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 3 cups of water (set ¼ cup apart)
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Nutmeg to taste

Preparation:

1

Prepare the vegetables: Peel the acorn squash, remove the seeds using a spoon, and cut into cubes about 1 centimeter wide. Cut the zucchini into cubes as well. Shell the cranberry beans if they are still in the pod. Cut the cauliflower in half, remove the core, then cut into florets. Remove the green, external part of the leek and cut the leek into thin rounds. Peel the potatoes and cut into cubes. Cut the tomatoes into cubes as well.

2

Prepare the soffritto: Finely chop the onion, carrot, and celery.

3

Heat the olive oil in a large, non-stick pot over medium heat. Add the chopped onion, carrot, and celery and sauté for 7-8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and cook for about 1 minute then add the pancetta.

4

Tie the sprigs of rosemary and bay leaves together with cooking twine then add to the pot. Add the leek and pour in ¼ cup of water. Cook over medium heat for 10 minutes. Add the squash and beans then cook for another 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

5

Add the potatoes then grate the nutmeg over the pot to taste. Add the cauliflower and zucchini. Taste and adjust with salt and pepper if needed. Cook for an additional 5 to 6 minutes.

6

Add the peas and tomatoes then pour in the remaining water a little at a time. Cover the pot and cook over medium heat for 30 minutes. Remove the garlic and cook for an additional 15 minutes. Stir in the fresh parsley.

7

Pour in another ¼ cup of water (add a little less if you prefer denser minestrone). Remove the rosemary and bay leaves and stir well. Serve immediately.

Bollito Makes A Christmas Day Dinner

Bollito

Classic Bollito

Bollito is a dish prevalent in the northern part of Italy especially in the regions of Lombardy and Piedmont. It typically consists of a variety of meats, usually tougher cuts of beef or veal, that are gently boiled for about 3 hours in a broth made from vegetables and herbs. The result is tender, flavorful meat in rich, delicious broth. A good bollito requires plenty of time to cook, fresh herbs, and carefully selected meats. Bollito can be served on its own or paired with boiled vegetables, homemade sauces, or mostarda (candied fruit in a mustard-based syrup). In Piedmont, ``bollito misto`` is prevalent, which features hen and cotechino (pork sausage) in addition to beef and veal. This simple and hearty dish is a classic winter staple for many Italian families and an emblem of Italian home-cooking.

  • Prep Time15 min
  • Cook Time3 hr
  • Total Time3 hr 15 min

Ingredients

Ingredients

  • 2 ¼ lbs. beef (ideal cuts for this recipe include: fore shank, short ribs, brisket, bottom sirloin, chuck steak, flank steak, or round steak)
  • 1 carrot
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 15 grams kosher salt
  • 1 onion
  • 1 bunch of parsley
  • 3 cloves
  • 2 celery stalks
  • 1 sprig of thyme
  • 4 whole black peppercorns

Preparation

1

Tie the meat with kitchen twine (any of the cuts listed above can be used in this recipe). Fill a tall pot with water and place over medium heat. Peel the onion and stick the three cloves into the onion. Peel the carrot and cut it into pieces that are about 1 inch in length. Tie the bay leaves, parsley, and thyme together using kitchen twine. Place the onion, carrot, celery, and herbs in the water.

2

Once the water is boiling, add the salt and the meat. It is very important that the meat is immersed in the water only after it has started to boil consistently, not a moment before.

3

After a few minutes, foam will begin to gather on the surface of the water. Remove all of the foam with a skimmer and then add the black peppercorns to the pot. Reduce the heat to low.

4

Cook for about 3 hours ensuring that the water remains at a gentle, but consistent boil throughout. Once the meat is cooked, remove it from the water using a slotted spoon.

Roasted Veal and Potatoes

Roasted Veal and Potatoes

Roasted Veal

Roasted Veal and Potatoes is a common Christmas Day meal.

  • Prep Time5 min
  • Cook Time10 min
  • Total Time15 min

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs. veal tenderloin
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 sprig of rosemary
  • 1 garlic clove, cut in half
  • 2 sage leaves
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 ladle of warm beef broth
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preparations

1

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Tie the veal with kitchen twine and season with salt and pepper on all sides. In a pot large enough to hold the meat, heat the olive oil over medium heat and brown the meat on all sides. Use two wooden spoons to carefully turn the meat.

2

Add the white wine and allow it to evaporate. Next, add the herbs, beef broth, and garlic. Allow the flavors to mix for a minute or two and then roast in the oven at 400 degrees for 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes. Turn the meat and baste frequently while it’s cooking. If the pan starts to dry up, add more warm beef broth.

3

Turn off the oven and allow the veal to rest for 10 minutes in the oven. Then, drain the liquid from the pot and strain it. Remove the twine and cut the meat into even slices. Serve with the strained sauce.