Think of Italy and you’ll most likely imagine food, art, romance—and did we mention food? There’s no question that few places in the world can beat this country when it comes to gourmet cuisine, must-see attractions and romantic settings. Here, we give our favorite picks off the beaten path. Ciao!
A Florentine Villa
Set in a 15th-century villa, the recently-opened 45-room Il Salviatino hotel is perched on a hill in Fiesole, overlooking the elegant rooftops of Florence. After hitting the renowned museums (and gelato shops) in town, escape the throngs of tourists with a sunset cocktail on the hotel’s terrace, a stroll through its landscaped gardens or a lavender-infused massage at its Thai-themed spa. Once the sun sets, savor traditional Tuscan cuisine at one of the hotel’s two eateries that offer unbeatable views (room rates start at $417 a night and include breakfast).
Inside the historic II Saviatino. (Photos Courtesy of IlSaviatino)
It’s pretty hard to have a bad meal in Italy, but some restaurants are true culinary superstars. In Florence, Cantinetta Antinori sits on the ground floor of the famous winemaking Antinori family’s 15th-century mansion. Savor regional specialties like fresh pasta with wild boar sauce or warm pear pie, along with the top-notch house wines and olive oils. In Rome, enjoy sweeping views of the entire Eternal City from the terrace of the three Michelin star La Pergola restaurant at the Rome Cavalieri, Waldorf Astoria. The exciting menu changes seasonally and is offered in six or nine courses.
Cannolis and Mangia! (Photo Credit: Riccardo Consiglio)
See the Sights
Feed your passions— and get up close to Italian culture—with land tours that go beyond the usual. If food’s your thing, gourmet travel planners Purple Truffle can organize personalized trips that include wine tastings and chef-led dinners, while Chef Cesare Casella of New York City’s Salumeria Rosi leads regional trips that include cooking classes, wine seminars and lots of sampling. Make like the Romans and take a bath: Hotspring spas like Terme di Saturnia in Tuscany and Salsomaggiore Terme in Parma, offer classic, old-world-style therapies that are based on the benefits of mineral-rich thermal water.
Tuscany's verdant hills. (Photo Courtesy of IlSalviatino)
Ready, Set, Shop!
Save big on Italian designer clothing and home goods at Chic Outlet Shopping’s Fidenza Village, located about an hour from both Milan and Bologna. You’ll find homegrown brands (Armani, Furla, Missoni and Frette) at up to 70 percent off retail prices. Tucked behind Florence’s Santa Croce church, the Sculoa del Cuoio (leather school) has been showcasing skilled leather artisans since the 1940s.
Stay on Sicily
If you’re in the mood for beachy fun, skip the crowded scene on the Amalfi coast and head to Taormina, a historic resort town on Sicily’s east cost that was once the playground of stars like Sophia Loren and Audrey Hepburn. Run by a husband-and-wife team, the charming Villa Carlotta has 23 individually decorated rooms, a pool and a rooftop restaurant boasting views of the sea and Mt. Etna volcano—plus it has the best breakfast around. The hotel is located near the center of the hillside town, and offers transportation and access to various private beach clubs (room rates start at $200 a night and include breakfast).
The cinematically beautiful scenery of Sicily.(Photo Credit: Riccardo Consiglio)