Italy’s big five bucket-list locations
From billboard-worthy beaches to culture-crammed cities and a passion for food that borders on the pathological, Italy ticks all the bucket-list holiday boxes. Whichever version of la dolce vita you seek, Italophile Alex Allen knows the best spots for making your planning a little easier
For those who want: peace, quiet and painterly views
Where to stay: The palatial Grand Hotel Tremezzo on Lake Como
If it’s old-world glamour and leg-stretching trails you’re looking for, lake-dappled Lombardy has your name on it. The lakes are the main draw, but which to head to first? Como by Bellagio (opening image) is the starry one – its shores encrusted with country houses and manicured gardens, where eating out is more often a Sunday-best occasion. Garda, meanwhile, is larger and far wilder than well-heeled Como. Families will love the amusement parks and waterparks on its south shore and exploring its pastel-colourful villages.
For those who want: a taste of the ‘real’ Italy
Where to stay: Borgo Egnazia on the Adriatic coastline
With its crumbling hilltop towns, cities rich with art and white sand beaches sloping into bottle-green seas, Puglia is authentic without being off-the-grid, and accessible without being overrun. Start in Lecce, ‘the Florence of the South’, where 17th-century Baroque buildings line the streets. To the north, quaint Alberobello, with its conical trulli houses, is like something out of an Italian fairy tale, while the mini archipelago of Isole Tremiti is a beach-flopper’s nirvana.
For those who want: red-hot summer heat
Where to stay: Belmond Grand Hotel Timeo, in Mount Etna-facing Taormina
Between its volcanic geography, fiery food and sizzling summer temperatures, Sicily is a scorcher. Its cities’ skylines are characterised by Arabic domes, Norman castle turrets and Roman Catholic spires, and its food bears the hallmarks of centuries of ingredient swapping with Africa, with aromatic touches such as saffron adding an exotic twist to traditional dishes. Seafood here is huge, too – especially sardines and anchovies, which are plump and plopped into everything from soups to pasta sauces.
For those who want: the best beaches money can buy
Where to stay: The five-star Hotel Cala di Volpe on the Costa Smeralda
Sardinia is Italy’s second-largest island – but it’s still small enough to fully explore in a two-week trip. Castello, Cagliari’s old town, has many artistic and historical treasures such as the Palazzo Regio, home of the royal Savoia family for some years, Palazzo di Città and the Cathedral of Santa Maria. And the island is ringed with some of the Med’s most beautiful beaches. On the Gulf of Orosei on the west coast, you’ll find tiny inlets accessible only by boat. The water is aquarium-clear, and crowds almost non-existent. In the south, near Cagliari, the beaches are long and dazzling white, while the north is home to the ritzy Costa Smeralda, where millionaires’ yachts bob just offshore.
For those who want: the ultimate foodie city fling
Where to stay: Grand Hotel Majestic ‘Già Baglioni’, just steps from the central square
When it comes to foodie cities, there’s one whose appetite outranks all others. Bologna – known as ‘the fat one’ – is all about big, hearty dishes. Just walking around is like touring a living food museum. You’ll pass little pastificios, where you can watch old ladies hand-rolling fresh pasta; markets, such as the mediaeval Mercato di Mezzo, where fishmongers and fruit sellers ply their wares alongside delicatessens offering platters of Parma ham; and candlelit restaurants, where the portions outweigh the prices.