"ITALIA - PREGO!" Top 5 Page for this destination Italy by iandsmith

Italy Travel Guide: 73,000 reviews and 200,282 photos

Italy - Living in the Past

I feel obliged to warn people who are expecting a warm and fuzzy everything's-all-right-in-the-garden perspective on their beloved Italy, this may not be the page you will enjoy! I prefer to let people know what to expect, warts and all.
For instance, you will hear at this site about the dog faeces in the streets of Naples; the piles of rubbish thrown casually over cliff faces onto previous already disgusting piles in Sicily; the Romany beggars and the black hawkers who will appear every day where any crowd might be likely to eventuate; the air pollution in northern Italy that makes L.A. look like an unspoilt paradise by comparison; the hustling capital of the world (Naples) where anyone who befriends you wants money; some of the frightening stories about what may happen to you in Sicily (like a motorhome's occupants being gassed and, whilst comatose, having their motorhome rasacked).
Yes, it does have its good points and some of those I will wax lyrical about but, for me, too many things are glossed over by most reports. When on holidays, I like to know what may happen to me as well as what I might see, so the following will endeavour to canvas a broad spectrum of my first five weeks in Italy.
Having said all that, I LOVE THE PLACE, and have now been there 3 times.
The following is a quote from a man named George Dennis and, as his passion parallels mine to some degree and since he was in part responsible for my going to Sovana, I felt obliged to include it here, in the hope it may inspire others: "We are apt to regard Italy as a country so thoroughly beaten by travellers, that little new can be said about it; still less do we imagine that relics of the olden time can exist in the open air, and remain unknown to the world. Yet the truth is, that vast districts of the Peninsula, especially in the Tuscan, Roman, and Neapolitan States, are to the archaeologist a terra incognita. Every monument on the high-roads is familiar, even to the fireside traveller; but how little is known of the bye-ways! Of the swarms of foreigners who yearly traverse the country between Florence and Rome, not one in a hundred leaves the beaten track to visit objects of antiquity; still fewer make a journey into the intervening districts expressly for such a purpose." Hear, hear.

Duomo, tower, baptistry et al

It's 2009, and I returned to Italia after 5 years - watch for upcoming tips of Capri, Padova and Ravenna, to name but a few!
Just to show I'm not entirely biased here is another shot from Florence, just around the corner from the one above as it turned out. Almost looks like a rival for Pisa in this shot but, that's one of the joys of using wide angle lenses.
One thing to realise is the contrasts that will occur in attitudes as you move from area to area.
For instance, I will never forget my amazement in Bolzano as I glanced at five people waiting to cross the road. There was not a vehicle of any sort to be seen anywhere, yet they waited dutifully for the pedestrian light to change. Having spent the previous month in the southern parts of Italy where crossing the street is a daily life-and-death ritual and pedestrian crossings are repainted about every decade so they're invisible most of the time, I was amazed at the discipline of the ordered life in the Sud Tirol.
These are a few of our favourite things (can I feel a musical coming on?).
Best castle: San Leo, spectacular setting, well preserved, excellent museum.
Best hilltop town: Orvieto; narrow streets, walls all around, fabulous church facade, spectacular setting and an underground tour to boot!
Best piazza: Trento; tough call this one but it has a fountain, castle, duomo, is clean (that eliminates a lot), painted walls and no busloads of tourists. Also love Ascoli Piceno's and Verona's.
Best restaurant: My favourite, Trattoria Laliva in Ascoli Piceno - superb.
Most scenic place: Amalfi coast/Capri on one side of the coin, Dolomites on the other - your toss.

PART TWO - Chiuso

"Will the last one out please turn off the lights." My second trip constantly reminded me of this humorous line. Everywhere I went or whatever I tried to do it seemed time or fate was against me.
I lost count of how many museums, attractions, tourist offices, ristorantes and, for heavens sakes, even garages, were closed. Some one obviously phoned ahead and let them know I was coming!
Even prior to coming I had purged the pages of VT after reviewing a map of northern Italy, at times to no avail. There was either no information or so little as to be almost useless. Still, when you have come all the way from downunder, you better believe that you are going to give it your best shot. Fortunately, Italy, like no other country I know of, rewards the "off the beaten path" traveller and has so many attractions that it doesn't matter how many are closed there will still be something, somewhere, open.
With some exceptions I didn't think the food was as good this time and, as perhaps a guideline for those who discern as I do, I have made a list here of some highlights and disappointments of my Italian sojourns.
1. Duomo at Firenze (Florence). After seeing many better examples I was a little disappointed.
2. Civita. It may have been "discovered" but, unlike "conceng"'s assessment, I'm trying to work out what all the fuss was about other than the spectacular setting.
3. Farnese Palace at Caprarola. Admittedlly I got there on a bad day when the gardens were closed and you had to wear a helmet to the toilet (no elaborations please - it was undergoing repair), but the lack of interior fittings was disappointing.
4. San Gimignano. Take away the towers and a host of other towns have more to offer.
5. Rilke's Promenade (Trieste). A lovely and worthwhile walk but, top 10 in the world????
6. Monteriggioni. I came, I saw, I left.

1. The basilica at Aquileia. Inside was the western world's largest Roman mosaic, amazing.
2. Trento. One of the cleanest towns in Italy, free multi-language tourist guide on Saturdays and a magnificent piazza and painted town to boot.
3. Sovana, Sorana and Pitigliano. This triumvirate of towns have the fine Etruscan remains and untarnished atmosphere.
4. The Dolomites. One of the world's most sensational mountain ranges. I'd go there before Rome and I love history.
5. Orvieto, Rosemarie's and my own favourite hilltop town. Fantastic church facade.
6. San Leo. Best castle in Italy.
7. Ostia Antica. I had no idea there was so much of it.
8. Piediluco - never heard of it, the surprise of my third trip. Gorgeous setting by the lake.
9. Santiero Degli Dei - The Path of The Gods on the Amalfi Coast is simply stunning.

1. Duomo at Siena.
2. Spoleto, another great hilltop town.
3. Ascoli Piceno, apart from having the best trattoria in Italy, is wonderful and the cleanest town in the whole country.
4. Malcesine. Delightful lakeside town. I went back for more.
5. Naples. You either love it or hate it. We loved it (despite getting ripped off).
6. Amalfi Coast. Yep, it's all true.
7. Cinque Terre. A walker's delight.
8. Vicenza - Palladio is there for all to see.
9. Volterra, superb Etruscan museum, interesting town.
10. Misurina. Not much of it but what there is soooo beautiful.
11. Capri; despite all the tourists, it still enchants.
12. Venice: Again, despite the hype, it still enchants and San Marco square is one of the great highlights of Europe.
And a quote from a Mr. Thayer that touched me, "In Tuscany for example, most will only be aware of Florence and Siena — meaning really only the Duomo and the Uffizi in the one, and the Duomo in the other — (oh and Pisa for that blasted tower), but even such phenomenal sights as Fiesole, the cathedral of Arezzo, the Roman theater of Volterra, or indeed the extraordinary Etruscan remains at Sovana that are the subject of this very chapter, might as well be on the back side of the Moon."
I'm totally with him in sentiment, but can't entirely agree with him about Fiesole.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:History, wonderful scenery, different culture, food
  • Cons:Pollution, traffic, hustlers, crowds
  • In a nutshell:The whole country is like driving through a museum.
  • Last visit to Italy: Nov 2009
  • Intro Updated May 9, 2016
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Reviews (165)

Comments (76)

  • BlueLlama's Profile Photo
    Jul 20, 2014 at 11:56 AM

    Really enjoyed reading this. I too have been left underwhelmed by some of the must-sees, saddened by the rubbish and disappointed by closed museums (the National Archaeological Museum in Naplies being the worst example), but there is still so much that is good to discover off (and on) the beaten track that I keep coming back. Ascoli Piceno and your favourite restaurant in particular are now on my list of places to see!

    • iandsmith's Profile Photo
      Jul 22, 2014 at 3:02 PM

      Thank you for the feedback, much appreciated. Cheers, Ian

  • breughel's Profile Photo
    Apr 7, 2012 at 10:50 AM

    After a start with Herculaneum I followed you through your Italy page.
    I also met many monuments that were "chiuso" even when there was no "sciopero".
    I had never read the word "Gory" and learned that it means full of or characterized by bloodshed and violence; good title for the Colosseo!

  • globetrott's Profile Photo
    Apr 4, 2012 at 5:10 PM

    great infos and excellent pics and a lot of updates again! Italy is such a great place and offers a great variety of different sights !

  • acommon1's Profile Photo
    Sep 11, 2010 at 7:03 PM

    Very helpful.

  • BruceDunning's Profile Photo
    Mar 7, 2010 at 11:08 AM

    I absolutely am enthralled with your comments of the straight forward facts of this country "made for tourists". I have been there 67-8 times, and more to see but always aware of your commentary. Great work.

  • eriksson977's Profile Photo
    Mar 30, 2009 at 5:07 AM

    Outstanding pages from Italy. I just came back from Italy last week. Tomas Eriksson :)

  • WPThayer's Profile Photo
    Sep 7, 2008 at 5:56 PM

    That should be Bazzano Inferiore, with 2 z's; that explains the Google failure.

  • timada's Profile Photo
    Sep 4, 2008 at 4:49 AM

    Beautiful places ...never heard of .

  • Sep 1, 2008 at 3:29 AM

    Great info! Italy has million attractions! Nice job! Keep traveling! Nikos

  • Trekki's Profile Photo
    Mar 8, 2008 at 12:52 AM

    YESSIR - I am right here !! Oh well, I have found many sights to see for my next trip and also inspirations for future ones :-)) Thanks for inspiring me - I need a lifetime to see this all. But Rome, Napoli and Trentino are now on my list as well :-)


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