Classically cultural Italy

La Bella Italia: historic sites, architectural riches and pastel façades

Classically cultural Italy The Vatican Museum, Rome - © Gianluca Moggi/Time Out
By Chris Moss

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.

Agrigento, Sicily

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.

Florence

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.

Stay at Palazzo Galletti (+39 055 3905750, www.palazzogalletti.it), and enjoy the on-site spa.

Milan

Fashion and factories are culture too. The commercial heart of Italy, what Milan lacks in historic sites and alleys it makes up for in designer shops, glamorous bars and celebrity-filled clubs.

Stay at the Town House Galleria (+39 02 89058297, www.townhousegalleria.it), in a palace above Prada, where your personal butler will organise your tickets to La Scala.

Read our full guide to Milan.

Naples & Pompeii

Not for the faint-hearted: brave the chaos to ogle the architectural glory of Southern Italy’s finest palaces and churches, all made more beautiful by the distressed pastel façades.

Take a day trip to the Roman town of Pompeii, buried in AD 79 by nearby Vesuvius.

Stay at Hotel Cimarosa (+39 081 5567044, www.hotelcimarosa.it), and ask for a view of the sea.

Read our full guide to Naples.

Pisa

Away from the leaning tower, the town’s palaces, museums and medieval sites, on both sides of the River Arno, make it a worthy escape in summer from the crowds in nearby Siena and Florence.

Stay at the conveniently located Hotel Bonanno (+39 050 524030, www.grandhotelbonanno.it).

Rome

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.

Read our full guide to Rome.

Siena

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.

Stay at Il Chiostro del Carmine (+39 0577 223885, www.chiostrodelcarmine.com), a restored monastery with modern comforts.

Tropea & Calabria

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.

Venice

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.

Read our full guide to Venice.

Time Out guidebooks

Find 30 inspirational Italian breaks in Time Out's 'Italy: perfect places to stay, eat & explore' available from the Time Out shop.

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