Despite incessant praise, travelling in Italy remains one of those rare experiences in life – like a perfect spring day or the power of first love – that cannot be overrated. In few places do history, art, fashion, food and la dolce vita (the good life) intermingle so effortlessly. There are sunny isles and electric blue surf, glacial northern lakes and fiery southern volcanoes, rolling vineyards and an urban landscape that harbours more UNESCO World Heritage sites than any other country in the world. Few places offer such variety and few visitors leave without a fervent desire to return.
Understandably, the artistic and architectural treasures of Rome, Venice, Florence and Naples draw visitors to them like moths to a flame. Not content with conquering most of the known world and bringing it within the embrace of the Roman Empire, the Venetians dispatched Marco Polo to unchartered lands right off the map, while Giotto, da Vinci, Brunelleschi and Michelangelo set the tone for the great ‘rebirth’ of Western art and architecture, the Renaissance.
Indeed, it’s no exaggeration to say that artists, engineers, sculptors and architects still take inspiration from the technical innovations of their major works to this very day. While artists and artisans all over Italy uphold traditions in esoteric trades such as silk weaving, glass blowing, leatherwork and ceramics, innovating designs and colour combinations to keep them abreast of contemporary tastes.
Look around you at all those splendid palaces, paintings, churches and monuments and you may wonder if there isn’t something in your delicately floral prosecco with its overtones of apples and pears. Actually, there is: hundreds of years of hard graft and an unswerving devotion to traditional techniques and terroir. From the neatly banded stone terraces of the Cinque Terre, which snake from sea level to crest gravity-defying precipices, to the blousy hillsides of Chianti, the riverine plain of the Po valley and the volcanic slopes of Etna, Italian wine, like its art, is designed to elevate regional cuisine and your general wellbeing. Some varieties will be as familiar to you as old flames, including crowd-pleasing Pinot Grigio and Chianti, but you’ll also find many unique regional varietals designed to perfectly complement the carefully sourced ingredients on your plate.
As the endless parade of courses start arriving, you’ll notice that the country much like its cuisine is an endless feast of experiences. No matter how much you gorge yourself, you’ll always feel as though you haven’t made it past the first course. Do you go skiing in the Dolomites, or cycling in wine country? Do you dive the sun-split waters of Sardinia, climb Aeolian volcanos or stalk market stalls in Naples? The choice is dazzling and bewildering. So take the advice of the locals. Slow down, sit back, tuck that napkin in and simply promise to come again.