Home to many of the world's greatest works of art, architecture, and gastronomy, Italy elates, inspires, and moves like no other. In few places do art and life intermingle so effortlessly? This may be the land of Dante, Titian, and Verdi, but it's also the home of Prada, Massimo Bottura, and Renzo Piano. Beauty, style, and flair furnish every aspect of daily life, from those immaculately knotted ties and seamless espressos to the flirtatious smiles of striking strangers. The root of Italian psychology is a dedication to living life well, and effortless as it may seem, driving that dedication is a reverence for the finer things. So slow down, style up, and indulge in a little vita all'italiana (life, Italian style).
Culture & History
Italy is home to more than 50% of the world’s art treasures, and the works of its great composers over the ages are still much-loved by the majority of locals. Music, whether classical or modern, is an integral part of life, unsurprisingly in a country which invented the musical stave, and the piano and opera have given birth to many of the world’s greatest composers, conductors and singers. In modern times, Italy is credited with developing progressive rock, italo-disco and experimental rock.
Theater performances have a long heritage here, based on the tradition of traveling players and their Canovaccio comedies. Specific regions have folk music traditions, for example, the famous Neapolitan dialect songs made famous in the early to mid 19th century by Enrico Caruso and Mario Lanza. Visitors to Naples will still hear ancient classics such as Torno al Suriento floating out from streetside bars and eateries.
The family heads the social structure in Italy, with entire groups living under one roof in the more traditional southern region. Emotional and financial support is a priority, and religion still plays a crucial influence in most communities. Bella Figura – a concept of presenting a good image in both dress and personal style – is important, and the Italians are highly fashion conscious. Hierarchy is another dominating belief and relates to age, professional success and familial ties.
One of the delights of an Italian vacation is the spontaneous nature of Italians in general, making them the perfect hosts on any occasion. Arriving a few minutes late for a dinner is the norm, as is bringing wine or chocolates as a small gift. Italians are experts in making guests feel welcome on any occasion, and are family-friendly in the extreme.
Italian cuisine ranks alongside French cuisine in terms of worldwide fame. Pizza and pasta have become world dishes, which are not only cooked in restaurants, but also by most home cooks. No matter where they grow up in Europe, all children are familiar with Italian dishes, such as pizza Margherita and spaghetti bolognese.
If you try to dissect the popularity of Italian food, you will come across a trio of secrets. First of all, Italian cuisine is blessed with ingredients that are relatively easy to eat: subtle flavours, lots of carbohydrates that create a lasting feeling of fullness and fresh produce.
Secondly, the average Italian dish is easy to prepare, even with non-Italian ingredients, and easy to adapt to circumstances. Wheat flour, water and salt (as the basis for both pasta and pizza) can be found everywhere and while you may not find guanciale (cheek bacon from Italian pigs) in your carbonara, a piece of English streaky bacon will be fine.
The number one ingredient in Italian cuisine is, of course, olive oil. Mild olive oil is used for cooking while more expensive, more flavorful extra virgin oil is used drop by drop, on salads or to finish dishes with.
Good dried pasta is not a second-rate product in Italy: fresh and dried pasta each have their benefits. However, it is important to choose a decent (Italian) brand of dry pasta, because cheap pasta becomes fibrous during cooking.
As everyone knows, Italians like to sprinkle Parmesan cheese on their food, but that’s not all they do with this umami-rich ingredient. Just like us, Italians also enjoy a piece of (in contrast to our block of) cheese with a glass of wine. For this, they choose aged Parmigiano Reggiano. For grating, they opt for the slightly cheaper Grana Padano.
Tomatoes are a relatively recent addition to Italian cuisine – only at the end of the eighteenth century did the average European dare to eat the tomatoes brought back from America by explorers. Once tried, the Italians took the tomato to their hearts. San Marzano tomatoes, grown on the sunny hills of Vesuvius, are the most celebrated variety. Italians transform their tomatoes into marinara sauce, bolognese sauce and toppings for bruschetta and pizza.
Nowhere else in Italy are people as conscious of their role in the theatre of everyday life as in Naples. And in no other Italian city does daily life radiate such drama and intensity. Naples' ancient streets are a stage, cast with boisterous matriarchs, bellowing baristas and tongue-knotted lovers. To savour the flavour, dive into the city's rough-and-tumble La Piggnasecca market, a loud, lavish opera of hawking fruit vendors, wriggling seafood and the irresistible aroma of just-baked sfogliatelle (sweetened ricotta pastries).
Witness incredible forgotten buildings and hidden walls flourish in color and drawings on a 3-hour street art tour of Rome on the back of a Vespa. See millenary buildings and ancient ruins smoothly blend with this new disrupting form of art. Enjoy outdoor street art signed by international artists such as Diamond, Lucamaleonte, Blu, Sten & Lex and many others. And get your camera ready for the most unconventional Rome you would ever imagine! From Tormarancia, to Porto Fluviale and Garbatella, get ready to discover a whole new side of the Eternal City.
If it’s a true taste of Rome’s local produce you’re after, then Mercato di Testaccio is the place for you. Situated in what was once a traditional working-class neighbourhood, this market offers a great choice of seasonal produce, freshly baked goods, ready-made meals and regional delicacies.
If you don’t have your own transport, then getting to the Milvio Bridge and its very cool neighbouring district, isn’t that easy, but this is also one of the main reasons why it’s not overrun by tourists.
The bridge itself is one of the oldest in Rome, dating from 206 BC, and in the last decade has become the most sought after place for young lovers to declare their love by hanging a lock on the bridge and throwing the key in the river.
The area around the bridge is also famous for being one of the centers of Roman “movida” (nightlife). In the square in front of the bridge there’s an assortment of stylish cocktail bars, nightclubs and restaurants. If you want to dance the night away and sip on swanky cocktails, then come join the locals for a guaranteed fun night out.
Outdoors & Adventure
Italy's most romanticised region, Tuscany is tailor-made for art-loving bon vivants. Home to Brunelleschi's Duomo and Masaccio's Cappella Brancacci frescoes, Florence, according to Unesco, contains 'the greatest concentration of universally renowned works of art in the world'. Beyond its blockbuster museums, elegant churches and flawless Renaissance streetscapes sprawls an undulating landscape of sinuous cypress trees, olive groves and coveted regional treasures, from the Gothic majesty of Siena and Manhattan-esque skyline of medieval San Gimignano to the vineyards of Italy's most famous wine region, Chianti.
Frozen in its death throes, the time-warped ruins of Pompeii hurtle you 2000 years into the past. Wander through chariot-grooved Roman streets, lavishly frescoed villas and bathhouses, food stores and markets, theatres, even an ancient brothel. Then, in the eerie stillness, your eye on ominous Mt Vesuvius, ponder Pliny the Younger's terrifying account of the town's final hours: 'Darkness came on again, again ashes, thick and heavy. We got up repeatedly to shake these off; otherwise we would have been buried and crushed by the weight.'
Known to the Greeks as the 'column that holds up the sky', Mount Etna is not only Europe's largest volcano, it's one of the world's most active. The ancients believed the giant Tifone (Typhoon) lived in its crater and lit the sky with spectacular pyrotechnics. At 3326m it literally towers above Sicily's Ionian Coast. Whether you tackle it on foot or on a guided 4WD tour, this time bomb rewards towering views and the secret thrill of having come cheek-to-cheek with a towering threat.
Take a look at all the amazing destinations we have selected for you and your group, read our experiences and advice in our blog, and check what’s people saying about us too!