Though I could’ve spent at least a month in Italy and still not been satisfied, I was trying to make it up to Switzerland before it got too cold to hike, so I made the tough decision to cut Italy down to only 11 days. It wasn’t much to fully cover such a diverse country, but it did allow me to experience much of what Italy has to offer in terms of delicious food, unique art & culture, interesting history, and beautiful nature. So, what were some of the highlights of Italy for me?
1. Getting lost in the Venice Canals. It seems that the entire world has the same idea to visit this beautiful city before it sinks, because the streets of Venice were far too crowded. But the labyrinth of narrow alleys and canals of this city truly are a sight that must be seen at least once. A few hours are all I needed really to get a feel for Venice, but they were a few hours very well spent!
2. Eating ALL the food. It’s not Italy… it’s EATaly. Pizza, pasta, lasagna, gelato, tiramisu… my daily schedule generally revolved around what, where, and when I wanted to eat that day. And because I was couchsurfing, my hosts often took me to the best local places that tourists don’t even know about… Delizioso!
3. Aperitivos. Following up with the last point, one of my favorite things about Italy was that at many places when you order a drink, it’s not JUST a drink. Suddenly an array of delicious food appears in front of you – for free! It’s called an aperitivo, and is meant to be a “pre-dinner drink,” but for the most part the places I went to had plentiful buffets that actually ended up just being dinner. Usually for under 10 euros total.
4. Gorgeous beaches. Surrounded by water in nearly every direction, Italy has a beautiful coastline full of jagged cliffs dropping down to hidden beaches of crystal clear water. Even in October, the water was warm enough to jump into for a refreshing swim. Amazing after a long, hot hike!
5. The Tuscan hills. The coastline isn’t the only natural feature Italy has going for it. The center of the country is gorgeous as well! Strolling through the picturesque rolling green hills of Tuscany alongside rows and rows of grapes, olives, and tomatoes is a great escape from the cities. Top it all off with a glass of Tuscan vino and life is perfect.
6. Exploring the ancient city of Rome. Though it’s one of the most touristy cities I’ve been to so far, there’s something about wandering a city that’s so old that’s completely captivating. With every turn I came across more ancient ruins, an ornate church, elaborate sculpture, or other famous icon, and I could’ve happily wandered aimlessly for days.
7. The Vatican City. How awesome is it that you can visit an entirely separate country without ever leaving the city of Rome?! Plus, the Vatican City as a whole was just breathtaking. The beautiful St. Peters Basilica adorned with its many statues, the Sistine Chapel, and the Vatican Museums with some of the most famous artistic masterpieces in the world are just a few of the incredible sights crammed into the world’s smallest country.
8. Diverse and beautiful architecture. Even if you’ve never studied architecture, you can’t help but be amazed at the ornate designs of Italy’s many churches, palaces, statues, museums, fountains, and ancient ruins. Walking through the cities, you’ll see a variety of styles from to Gothic to Renaissance to Neoclassical to ancient Roman and Byzantine architecture, some even dating back nearly 3,000 years!
9. Scenic journeys. In general, moving from one place to another is my least favorite part of traveling. But not in Italy… My journeys from Venice to Florence to Rome and others flew by because I was so captivated staring out the window at Italy’s stunning natural beauty.
10. The men. My mom warned me about Italian men, and she just may have been right… They are so irresistible! One moment I was being whisked away on a motorcycle to the beach, then I was being fed home cooked lasagna and red wine, next I was given a personal city tour, followed by another meal at the best local pizza place in town. It may be true that Italian men have a reputation for charming their way into women’s hearts, but they certainly know how to treat a girl right, so I can’t really complain!
11. Cinque Terre. The five little villages of Cinque Terre tucked into the mountains adjacent beautiful turquoise waters are a gorgeous escape from the fast-paced “real world.” Uneven stacks of colorful houses make for some postcard-perfect photo ops, while the carless cobblestone streets and seaside promenades are simply charming to explore.
12. Getting out of the tourist areas. Though I’d never heard of it before and certainly hadn’t had it on my Italy itinerary, the little northern town of Luino quickly became a favorite destination on my list. In my few days there, I didn’t meet a single other tourist, and I had peaceful walks around beautiful Lake Maggiore without being bumped around by the crowds of Rome or Venice. Luino was a nice and relaxing end to an unforgettable time in Italy.
As always, keep on livin’ pura vida ✌