This is not the usual page describing a recent journey. It is now quite a while since we travelled round Italy and any practical information would be out of date. Instead we have put together a selection of photographs from our previous visits to provide a flavour of the country. Colin and Steve spent a week in Rome in 1995, then travelled from Sicily to Lake Como in 1996 – apologies for the quality of some of the photos from those trips – cheap camera. Between 2008 and 2013 Steve led 9 tours to Italy for Great Rail Journeys and Ted came along sometimes. In 2018 we visited Bergamo and that trip is covered separately – see Bergamo, Innsbruck and Salzburg . This page works its way through Italy roughly from North to South.
The Lakes, Milan and Verona.
To the south of the Alps lie the Italian Lakes, popular with tourists. The nearby cities of Milan and Verona are easily accessible by day trips.
On the banks of Lake Maggiore the main resort is Stresa, the base for our tour to the area, with its elegant hotels and lakeside promenade. Offshore are the islands of Isola Bella with its terraced gardens and Isola Superiore with its old village. Above the town is a cable car to the summit of Mottarone with great views of the lake (on a clear day…it was misty when we were there).
To the west of Lake Maggiore is the small Lake Orta where boats from the medieval village of Orta San Giulio travel to the tiny island of San Giulio which consists mainly of a convent and basilica.
We haven’t been back to Lake Como since our visit in 1996, when we spent a couple of nights in the beautiful town of Bellagio
Several Great Rail Journeys tours were based in the town of Desenzano at the south end of Lake Garda. We spent time exploring the lakeside towns, which are easily accessible by boat and bus, including Riva del Garda, Malcésine and Limone in the upper, Alpine area of the Lake and Sirmione with its castle on a narrow promontory at the south.
The city of Milan is close to the lakes. The photos show a few of the sights, the La Scala opera house (we had a backstage visit on one tour), the Cathedral or Duomo and the Vittioro Emanuele II arcade.
Easily reached from Lake Garda, Verona is a pleasant city on the River Adige, with a fine medieval centre and a Roman Arena used for opera performances (and famous for Romep and Juliet).
The Grand Canal and St. Marks Square
We’ve visited Venice several times, both on day trips and with overnight stays. These are a few photographs of the classic sights – the Grand Canal, St Marks Square and the Bridge of Sighs. It is as dramatic as expected – arriving at the railway station you step outside straight on to a waterbus for the trip along the Grand Canal.
And of the course there are the gondolas, where tourists spend a small fortune being punted through a gondola jam accompanied by an accordionist singing O Sole Mio. An alternative is the traghetti, gondola ferries which cost next to nothing to cross the Grand Canal whenever the surly council gondolier finishes his cigarette and decides to take you across.
Every February is carnival time in Venice, when people parade around St. Marks Square in their costumes and masks.
Venice away from the main sights
The benefit of staying over, particularly out of season, is the ability to explore the city and its back lanes and canals and see a bit of ordinary Venetian life. On the canals spot the delivery, bin collection, police, funeral and builders boats. Share a vaporetto (waterbus) with kids heading home from school. Spend a couple of hours on the 4.1 or 4.2 waterbus, circular routes which go everywhere except the Grand Canal. Find tiny local bars where a glass of wine is a tenth of the price in the tourist areas, and wander the quiet alleys after dark.
The lagoon islands
Explore the other islands in the lagoon – we visited three on a grey wet day in February with very few tourists about.
Torcello, the original settlement on the lagoon is almost deserted, with only an old cathedral and thirty inhabitants.
Burano was a fishing and lace-making island, with brightly painted houses and the occasional local going about their business.
Murano is famous for its glassware and attracts plenty of tourists but on our visit was quiet and low-key.
Arriving in Venice by ship
On a cruise-based tour we arrived in Venice on the ship, with opera playing as we sailed through the Giudecca Canal to the cruise port. This may be banned soon – because of environmental damage. It was an experience but on the second photo you can see how another cruise ship towers over Venice (and also two lorry trailers arriving by barge to stock a supermarket).
Back in 1996 we stayed in Padua, about 30 minutess by train from Venice, presumably because accommodation was much cheaper. Its a historic city in its own right and worth a visit to explore.
Tuscany is the tourist region of Italy which we know least – we’ve passed through Florence by train but never stopped. It is on the list for a future trip. Our only experience of the region is a short visit to Pisa and a day trip to Lucca.
In 1996 we spent a couple of nights in Pisa. Once you’ve seen the leaning tower and the nearby Duomo (cathedral) there’s not much else, though it is a pleasant enough small city to wander around.
Steve visited Lucca in 2008 on a day trip from the port of Livorno and was impressed. It is surrounded by medieval walls and built over Roman foundations – the circular Piazza Amfiteatro is built on the site of the amphitheatre.
On our first visit to Rome in 1995 we spent a week in Rome, using a two-day conference to meet most of the cost (before the days of Easyjet). The tours to the South of Italy all spent two nights in Rome on the outward journey. So Steve has done the same walking and bus tour half a dozen times, but has also had the opportunity to spend some time exploring the City.
The main area of Roman monuments includes the Forum, Palatine Hill and the Colosseum, pictured below.
The Vittorano monument.
The Vittorio Emanuele monument occupies a prominent central site between Ancient Rome and the historic city centre. The monument to Italian unification is over the top but has the advantage that you can visit the roof for splendid views over the city.
The rest of Rome
The historic city centre is great to walk around with sights like the lively Piazza Navona, more Roman buildings including the Pantheon temple, plenty of baroque statuary and the Castel Sant’Angelo at the entrance to the Vatican City.
The Vatican features St Peter’s Basilica, of course, and also the Vatican museums, including the Sistine Chapel, where photography is strictly forbidden (oops). The views from the roof of St Peter’s of its dome and the surrounding city are impressive.
Ischia and Amalfi
In the Bay of Naples are three islands , reached by boat from Naples- Capri, Ischia and Procido and two of our tours spent a few days on Ischia. They then took in the Sorrento peninsula – based in the town of Sorrento and visiting the south side of the peninsula, the Amalfi coast. Between Sorrento and Naples are Vesuvius and Pompeii.
Ischia is the largest of the islands in the bay, a volcanic island with several towns and pleasant countryside.
The main town on the island is Ischia Ponte, with a busy harbour and the offshore Castello Aragonese, reached by a causeway.
The fishing village of Sant’Angelo is reached by the scenic circular road around the island.
Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast
On the north side of the Sorrento peninsula is the resort of Sorrento. From there a spectacular corniche road leads across to the Amalfi coast, the village of Positano and the busy town of Amalfi. The chillies are marketed in Amalfi as ‘natural viagra’ – I can’t say I’ve ever noticed.
Between Sorrento and Naples are the well-known ruins of the city of Pompeii, destroyed by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79CE.
From the coach and car park it is a stiff climb to the crater, which constantly smoulders. At the end of the path they have managed to construct a kiosk, which sells chilled glasses of wine, for which they could charge ten times as much.
In 2013 Steve and Ted took two tours to Puglia, the Southeast region of Italy and discovered an area a with its own culture and distictive appearance.
The peninsula that forms the heel of Italy is known as Salento and the main town is Lecce, with its Roman remains and baroque buildings.
Nearby is the Adriatic coastal town of Otranto, around its harbour, which could almost be in Greece.
On the est side of the Salento peninsula, on the Gulf of Taranto is the town of Gallipoli.
Santa Maria de Leuca
The southernmost tip of the heel of Italy is the lighthouse of Santa Maria de Leuca, with views over the sea and the nearby village of Marina de Leuca.
At the head of the peninsula are settlements of trulli – one roomed conical houses and storehouses unique to the area. The town of Alberobello, which has become a tourist destination, has a swarm of 1500 trulli.
Just over the border in the neighbouring region of Basilicata is the fascinating troglodyte town of Matera. Much of the population lived in sassi, terraced caves built into the side of a hill. Extremely poor and dilapidated, the area was emptied and the population rehoused in the 1950s, but the sassi are now being remodelled, modernised and repopulated
In the north of Puglia is the Gargano peninsula, jutting out into the Adriatic. At its tip is the resort town of Vieste, while much of the peninsula has become a national park, saving it from over-development.
In 1995 we visited Sicily, staying for a few days in Taormina, then in 2008 during a Mediterranean Cruise tour we called in briefly at Messina.
The town of Taormina is perched high above the Mediterranean (one of the ways to reach the town is by cable car). It is an upmarket resort with impressive Greco-Roman remains and good views to Mount Etna. We visited the mountain on a poor day, so photographs were limited.
These are a couple of views as our cruise ship entered the port of Messina.
On the way from our previous port, Civitavecchia (near Rome), we passed by the Aeolian island of Stromboli with its volcano, which still erupts regularly.
And that’s it. We hope this gives you a flavour of Italy. For our 2018 to Bergamo see Bergamo, Innsbruck and Salzburg. We still have much to explore, which we hope to do in the next few years, including Florence, Siena, the Tuscan coast, Perugia, Sardinia and the rest of Sicily, including the Aeolian islands. Watch this space.