Every year, the U.S. Tour Operators Association, a professional association of travel agents and tour operators who arrange travel for more than 10 million travelers every year, runs an informal survey among members to name the world’s top vacation destinations. Year after year, one country tops the list of international vacation destinations – Italy, the heart of civilization, the cradle of romance and the home of the Holy Sea.
What is it that makes Italy so special? The spectacular scenery and warm, wonderful climate are only the background of the picture. Italy is a colorful mosaic of travel experiences, a delicious mélange of flavors and cultures that offers something for every traveler. From cosmopolitan culture buff to adventurer, from the serious student of history to the socialite, Italy truly is the country that caters to them all and everyone in between.
Italy’s cities and countryside offer a true embarrassment of riches. You could easily spend months touring the countryside and never see half of what the country has to offer. What is it that brings so many to bella Italia every year?
See Italy for the Art
Italy was the center of the Renaissance, and is one of the most artistically rich countries in the entire world. According to UNESCO, half the world’s artistic and historic treasures are located in Italy. In Florence, Venice, Rome, Naples, Milan and other cities, you’ll find artistic and architectural wonders that you won’t find anywhere else. Michelangelo, da Vinci, Botticelli, Tintorello, Correggio, Donatello – the most famous artists of all the eras worked and left their legacies in frescoes, paintings and statues throughout the country. And while much of the art is held in museums in nearly every city, there is art everywhere, from the stunning stained glass windows in a tiny chapel in Abruzzi to the painted ceilings of cathedrals.
See Historic Italy
History lives in Italy. Long known as the cradle of Western civilization, Italy’s cities and countryside are a treasure trove of historical sites. You can walk the Via Appia and feel the weight of centuries drop away as you realize that two thousand years ago, this very road was traveled by the armies and citizens of Imperial Rome. Visit the Coliseum in Rome, or wander through the preserved city of Pompeii and become a part of history. And of course, there is the Vatican, the walled city inside Rome that is the home and the heart of the Catholic Church, where scholars come to study ancient texts and treasures.
Visit Italy for the Scenery
The scenic vistas of Italy are as varied as its twenty regions. From snowcapped mountains to sweeping, white sand beaches, the natural beauty of Italy is as alive and vivid as the paintings of its most famous artists. When you venture beyond the cities, you’ll still find the untamed beauty of the Tuscan hills with their craggy, winding paths and terraced vineyards. You can wander through twenty three national parks and nearly 500 protected nature preserves that are protected by the government. There are sea cliffs and alpine mountains, rolling hills and open plains. And there is always, of course, the sea with its ever-changing yet everlasting face.
Come to Italy for the Food
Italian food and hospitality is famous the world over for its abundance. Abondanza is a concept that is well-understood in the Mediterranean country. Everywhere you go, you’ll find groaning tables and open, welcoming arms inviting you to mangia! Mangia!! A full tour of Italy is a gustatory delight, for there is no single style of Italian cooking. Instead, each region of Italy has its own unique flavors and combinations that are drawn from the local specialties and available foods. Tuscany is famous for its seafood, Milan for its rich sauces and complex flavors, Bologna for its traditional red sauce. Eating and drinking well is a way of life in Italy, and whether you treat yourself to a fine meal in one of Rome’s five-star restaurants, or stop at a roadside ristorante in a small province, you’re sure to be served the best of the best.
To Your Health!
Italy has been famous for its thermal spas and springs since the times of Hippocrates. Italian spas enjoy the benefits of both sea and fresh water springs. Hot water thermal springs are plentiful, thanks to the country’s geological peculiarities and the network of underground volcanic springs. Today, the thermal spas are a popular attraction in nearly every region of Italy, and have become popular holiday destinations in their own rights. Italian health spas offer more than just the baths. Many are located close to cultural and leisure attractions, and make a wonderful base of operations for your stay in the country.
Travel Gems in Italy
If you visit Rome, spend at least one day just walking around the city. You’ll discover many tiny sites and historical finds that are not on any tourist map. These sites may have been uncovered during the construction of another building and never completely excavated, but are there to stumble across and enjoy away from the bustling crowds.
By all means, visit the well-known museums in the major cities, but for a real treat take a drive outside the cities and seek out small towns and villages. You’ll discover some of the most amazing and unexpected treasures tucked into alcoves or painted on the walls of village churches throughout the country.
Skip the hotels and rent a villa or cottage in a small town if you’re staying in Italy for more than a few days. In many cases, it won’t cost much more – and will often be less – than a stay in a good hotel, and your hosts will treat you as part of the family while you’re there.
Italy is a country of contrasts and beauties whose charm grows deeper and warmer with every visit. It’s no wonder that it regularly tops the list of holiday destinations worldwide, or that so many who visit return again and again to its warm and welcoming arms.