Words by Danielle Owen-Jones
Italy has it all – scenery, culture, heritage, food and wine. That’s why choosing the ideal place to visit can be a difficult decision. The fascinating history of Rome? The romance of Venice? Landscapes of Tuscany? Or the spectacular views of the Amalfi Coast?
It’s no wonder whittling your choice down to just one location is a challenge. Instead, enjoy some of the best highlights that Italy has to offer – and do it by first-class train.
Travelling by train in Italy is a superb way to see the country in all its splendor, and you can easily plan your itinerary with Frecciarossa. These trains, which reach speeds of up to 250 miles per hour, are efficient, luxurious and convenient.
The time will certainly pass by quickly, as you sit back and relax in the buttery leather seats while sipping a chilled glass of prosecco and watch the lush Italian countryside whizz by.
First stop: Venice
Stay at: The Gritti Palace, a 15th-century palazzo on the Grand Canal overlooking the magnificent Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute. Or Aman Venice, where the Clooneys spent their wedding night.
A trip to Venice wouldn’t be complete without an atmospheric gondola ride, followed by a decadent breakfast at Café Florian in the famous St Mark’s Square. Get a feel for the city’s unique history with visits to the Basilica, Doge’s Palace and the Rialto Bridge. If you have time, don’t miss a trip over to neighbouring islands, Murano and Burano.
Second stop: Bologna
Stay at: Hotel Corona D’Oro (as visited and recommended by Rick Stein). Or Grand Hotel Majestic giá Baglioni – Bologna’s most prestigious 100-year-old hotel, adorned with impressive frescoes by the Carracci school.
Be sure to arrive in Bologna with an appetite – it isn’t nicknamed La Grassa (The Fat) for nothing. Luckily, you can easily spend a day calorie-burning simply by wandering under the famous porticos. For a real workout, climb the 498 steps of the Asinelli Tower, and you’ll be rewarded with mesmerising views of the city. Build your energy up again by sampling at least one dish of tagliatelle al ragu (the REAL spaghetti Bolognese). You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to great restaurants, but Drogheria Della Rossa is a Bologna institution.
Third stop: Florence
Stay at: The Four Seasons or The St. Regis are both luxurious choices with stunning interiors.
Firenze is heaven for any art enthusiast. Visit Michelangelo’s David and other incredible works of art at Galleria dell’Accademia, before getting lost in the Uffizi Gallery. Learn about the Florentine history, Renaissance inspirations, and how the Medici family built their empire. Walking tours are a great idea as there’s so much to take in. A VIP ticket to Duomo will undoubtedly save time, as queues can snake around the magnificent cathedral with no end in sight. Finish your day with an aperitivo overlooking the incredible square or at a rooftop bar. Food-wise, you’ll forever regret it if you don’t order a bistecca alla fiorentina. If you have time, take a day trip to the Tuscan countryside and go wine tasting in the scenic vineyards of Siena and San Gimignano.
Fourth stop: Rome
Stay at: Hotel de Russie and Hassler Roma are great choices. Or if you’re looking for somewhere really special, Residenza Napoleone III and Villa Spalletti Trivelli promise an unforgettable stay.
It doesn’t get much better than the Eternal City when it comes to sightseeing. Pack comfortable shoes, as the city is walkable and is the best way to see all the main sights. There’s the Colosseum, Forum, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Vatican and of course, the Sistine Chapel – to name just a few. You can also tour the Catacombs. Private tours certainly make the visits much more enjoyable, particularly in high season when tourists take over the city. One of the coolest neighbourhoods is Trastevere, a beautiful place to soak up the Roman atmosphere.
Fifth stop: Amalfi Coast
Stay at: Il San Pietro di Positano is a favourite in the ‘World’s Best’ lists and also boasts an impressive celebrity clientele. Or book your stay at Hotel Santa Caterina with its incredible clifftop location.
Breathtaking sunsets and coastal scenery are just some of the highlights of this beautiful part of Italy. The relaxing pace will undoubtedly be welcome after the hustle and bustle of Roma. Enjoy long and lazy al fresco lunches, with fabulous seafood and excellent wine. If you’re feeling a little more active and adventurous, don’t miss Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius. Don’t forget water if you’re going in the summer as the heat can be unforgiving. There’s a tiny limoncello shop once you reach the top of Vesuvius – you’ll need it after the hike.
Sixth stop: Capri
Stay at: J.K. Palace Capri is probably the most famous hotel on Capri. Or if you want a view of the famous Faraglioni, book a room at Punta Tragara.
Soaking in the glitz and glamour of Capri is part of its charm. This is especially true at night-time when the last ferry has left the port, and the day-trippers have gone. You can’t beat watching the world go by and enjoying a pre-dinner aperitivo in one of the many chic bars in the main square, just make sure you get there early to nab a good seat. You never know, you might even spot an A-lister – Beyoncé and Jay-Z frequent the isle every summer. But if you don’t see them in the flesh, almost every restaurant is adorned with photos of their loyal A-list guests. Hire a boat and sail around the island to see Faraglioni up close, as well as the famous Grotta Azzurra. Head up to Anacapri and take the chairlift for dizzying heights and breathtaking views. For the food – it doesn’t get much more Capri than a Caprese salad, and fresh lobster pasta is also an excellent choice.
Seventh and final stop: Naples
Stay at: Grand Hotel Oriente, an upscale 131-bedroom hotel located right in downtown Naples.
What’s THE quintessential food of Napoli? Pizza, of course. This is the motherland of pizza, so you know you’ll be in for a treat. The best pizzas can typically be found in ristorantes that don’t even have a menu. The waiter simply offers margherita or marinara – and wine or beer. Naples is a city full of personality, and it’s a fantastic place to wander. You can also tour the fascinating underground Napoli Sotteranea.
After Naples, head to the airport ready for your flight home feeling relaxed and refreshed after living la dolce vita for three weeks in bellissima Italia.