If you think you've seen all that Italy has to offer, think again. La Bella Italia is infinitely more than just the land of fashion, duomos and Vespas. From the stunning coastal towns of Positano, Amalfi and Ravello – carved into cliffs that slash into the sea – to Siena's explosive Palio horse races which trace their roots back to 12th-century rivalries, Italy offers a diverse cultural bounty which is sure to excite and entertain.
Rule by Asians, Europeans and Africans over the centuries has given Sicily eclectic architectural riches and a distinguished fusion cuisine. Visit the ancient Greek ruins of the Valley of the Temples, and recover with a plate of the island’s cream-filled cannoli pastries.
Stay at Terrazze di Montelusa (+39 0922 28556, www.terrazzedimontelusa.it), a restored palazzo at the heart of the historic centre.
Amalfi Coast & Capri
Carved into cliffs slashing into the sea, the stunning towns of Positano, Amalfi and Ravello live up to expectations. Bathe in crystalline waters, take the ferry to Capri and relax with limoncello, a sweet but potent lemon liquor.
Stay at Hotel Amalfi (+39 089 872 440, www.hamalfi.it), the best three-star hotel in town.
Home to Botticelli’s Venus, the marbled Duomo and bathed in frescoes, Firenze is the city that gave us the Renaissance. Go out of season and you’ll queue less for the masterpieces and for dinner.
For more than 2,000 years history has unfolded in the loud, vibrant capital, where ancient streets always seem to lead eventually to trattorias and trendy bars. Ancient monuments, palaces and churches – and those fountains – are around every corner. Stay at Teatro di Pompeo (+39 06 6872812, www.hotelteatrodipompeo.it), built into the Roman theatre’s ruins.
Once a thriving medieval Italian city, Siena’s exquisite monuments are as integral to the town’s spirit as its fiery passions. During the summer months, visitors can see the explosive Palio horse races in the main piazza, which trace their roots back to 12th-century rivalries.
Medieval towns built into the rocks along the sandy coastline draw visitors to ruggedly beautiful Calabria’s historic sites as well as to its beaches.
Stay at Tropea at Il Convento (+39 347 509 0576, www.ilconvento.com), an old convent set into the cliffs, overlooking the sea.
Perhaps the most photogenic of all Italian cities, Venice’s palaces are built over and in the water. The impossibly beautiful, car-free city has immense wealth in culture and art, paid for by patrons who benefited from the city’s control over shipping routes from the East.
Stay at La Calcina (+39 041 520 64 66, www.lacalcina.com), away from the mobs of tourists.