Ah, Italy. There’s nowhere else on earth quite like it. The boot-shaped country’s twenty regions are varied in their landscapes, cuisine, and architecture. But one quality remains consistent. Italy is beautiful.
Italy is about beautiful food, beautiful buildings, beautiful art, and a beautiful way of life. It’s the land of philosophers and sculptors, of fragrant lemon groves and rolling vineyards. It’s where friends linger over cocktails and dinner is considered a several-hour event.
Italy is a destination travelers return to again and again because you can’t absorb all the country’s beauty in one trip. And even if you could, as soon as you leave Italy you begin daydreaming about your return. So, naturally, when we designed our new Country Intensive Voyages, we planned a few itineraries calling on Italy. These voyages visit many ports in a single country, allowing guests to truly soak up that destination’s culture.
In 2018, we’re offering two such voyages: a 9-night voyage from Venice to Rome, and a 7-night Italian Riviera voyage. In 2019, a 12-night voyage from Monte Carlo to Venice will call on nine different Italian ports.
There is no shortage of things to see and do in Italy, whether it’s your first trip there or your fiftieth. To help spark some ideas for your next Italian cruise, here are seven of the best things to do onshore.
One of the best parts of visiting Italy is indulging in their decadent, delicious, diverse cuisine. Food is an integral part of Italian culture. Immersing yourself in the country is about more than just eating – though you’ll do plenty of that. It’s about understanding the philosophy behind the cuisine. Italian food isn’t overcomplicated. It’s about simple, powerful flavors that come from using only the best and the freshest ingredients. It’s about tradition and family, and recipes that have been perfected and passed down throughout generations. A Cruise Global, Taste Local shore excursion is a great way to get to know authentic Italian cuisine – and maybe even bring a few new cooking skills home.
Seasonality is integral to Italian cuisine, which means that the food you eat during your vacation will be influenced by the time of year. It will also be influenced by the region, as local food is more than just a movement in Italy. It’s a way of life. Want to know more? Check out this quick guide to eating in ten of Italy’s major regions.
2. Embrace La Dolce Vita.
When in Rome, do as the Romans do. And when in Venice, Florence, or Sorrento, for that matter. When you travel to Italy, you should live as the Italians do. And that means embracing la dolce vita.
La dolce vita translates to “the sweet life” – and Italians truly know how to make life sweet. Here are a few ways you can embrace it during your cruise.
Take Coffee Seriously
Italians love coffee, and they do it better than almost anyone else. When you’re in Italy, take coffee seriously. Learn the phrase “Un caffè, per favore” before you depart. Order your coffee and stand while you drink it - most cafes charge almost triple if you sit at a table. Drink slowly, but don’t linger. It should only take a few minutes to enjoy an espresso.
If you want milk, order a caffè latte (espresso with hot milk) or a cappuccino (espresso and steamed milk with foam). However, Italians only take milk with their coffees in the morning. If you want to experience authentic Italian coffee culture, only order a cappuccino before ten in the morning. In the afternoon and evening, it’s common practice to only have espresso - Italians believe hot milk after a meal will disrupt the digestion process.
Master the Art of Aperitivo
The idea of aperitivo is simple: sit down to have a social drink and, most likely, a complimentary snack before dinner. It’s a more sophisticated “happy hour”, with a focus on socializing rather than getting a deal. It’s also the perfect chance for an intrepid traveler to take a break from sightseeing.
If the weather permits, choose an outdoor, sidewalk table. Order a Negroni, Aperol Spritz, or a glass of wine. Watch as the world goes by, marvel at how fashionable Italian women can navigate cobblestoned streets in stiletto heels, or fill a few pages in your travel journal.
Experience La Passeggiatta
La Passeggiatta is the Italian tradition of walking. Or to be more exact, strolling. It’s an evening promenade of sorts, taken as day turns into dusk (usually anytime between 5:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.) that marks the end of the workday. On weekends, La Passeggiatta is an opportunity to spend time with family and to dress to impress. It’s about seeing friends and neighbors, sharing gossip, and getting a little fresh air before dinner.
For travelers, La Passeggiatta, is simply an enjoyable way to do a little sightseeing and fit in with the locals. Rather than rushing from one landmark to the next, take your time strolling down a main avenue and observing your surroundings.
Enjoy Long, Late Dinners
Like coffee, dinner in Italy is an art. For most Italians, lunch is the heaviest meal of the day. However, a dinner out is considered a social event. It should begin late and last hours. The food is important, but so is the conversation.
A full Italian meal consists of five courses. Antipasti, or appetizers. Primo, the first course, is pasta, soup or risotto. Secondo, the second course, is usually meat, poultry or fish. Most people will order contorni, a side dish, or insalata, salad, as well. Finally there is, dolce, dessert. This could be pastry, fruit, or cheese.
After dessert, it’s common to drink espresso or digestivo - a small glass of grappa, limoncello, amara, or other liqueur meant to ease digestion.
3. Go for a coastal drive.
One of the most relaxing and heavenly destinations in Italy is the Amalfi Coast. The fragrant lemon groves, picturesque cliffside villages, and rocky beaches dotted with colorful umbrellas make it a sunny haven popular with international travelers and Italian vacationers.
There’s no better way to experience it all than by driving along the coast. The winding, narrow roads can be harrowing for an inexperienced driver, but are a delight for passengers.
There are several towns and villages along the Amalfi Coast that are worth exploring. Here’s a quick guide:
Sorrento is considered the start of the Amalfi Coast and makes a great jumping off point for exploring the area. It’s a larger town that’s worth exploring on its own. It’s also an easy access point for day trips to Naples or Pompeii.
After Sorrento, Amalfi is the largest town along the Coast. It’s a picturesque town with a pebble beach, trendy restaurants, and a striking cathedral.
Often overlooked, Praiano is one of the smaller villages along the Amalfi Coast. Pay it a visit, though, and you won’t be disappointed. The town boasts splendid views, a sunny beach, and a popular hiking trail.
Though smaller than Amalfi, Positano is a trendier and more popular stop along the Amalfi Coast. It’s widely regarded as being the most picturesque of the villages, with steep hills and pastel houses.
This clifftop town overlooks the sea, but a lack of beach access makes it less popular with vacationers seeking sunbathing opportunities. It’s a quieter, more tranquil hamlet known for its beautiful gardens.
4. Explore ancient history.
Italy is heaven on earth for history buffs. It’s not just the country’s rich history that makes it special – though the Roman Empire certainly helps. It’s that history is so well preserved in Italy. Italy boats the most UNESCO World Heritage Sites of any country.
Some of the most impressive ancient ruins and historic buildings are, of course, in the capital city of Rome. Beginning in the eighth century BC, Rome grew from a small town to a powerful empire. At its peak, the Roman Empire encompassed most of continental Europe.
History lovers visiting Rome today can visit magnificent ancient ruins like the Roman Colosseum, the Roman Forum, Palatine Hill, and the Pantheon, to get a sense of what life was like during the illustrious Roman Empire.
Of course, there’s much more to see than just the most famous sites. If it’s your return visit to Rome, you may want to venture off the beaten track and visit a lesser-known site. Not far from the Colosseum is the Baths of Caracalla, known for being some of Rome’s most incredible ruins. The complex of baths belonged to the Emperor Caracalla and date back to 216 AD. Or, visit the Catacombs of San Sebastiano to see the stunning frescoes and mausoleums that remain.
Beyond Rome, every Italian city and town has something to offer history buffs. Taormina, Sicily is a highlight thanks to its well-preserved ancient Greek Theatre. Ravenna, Italy will impress with its stunning collection of Byzantine art and mosaics. And when it comes to ancient ruins, there’s perhaps no more impressive site than Pompeii. The ancient town was buried in ash for centuries after the devastating eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. Archaeological work is ongoing and there is still much to learn, making every trip back to Pompeii new and interesting.
An exploration of Florence’s history will lead you to the Medici Family. The family gained their power through banking and politics in the 15th century, and was among the wealthiest in Europe at the time. In 1531, the family became hereditary dukes of Florence and, a few decades later, grand dukes of Tuscany. Follow in the footsteps of the influential family and visit Palazzo Pitti and the adjacent Boboli Gardens, Palazzo Medici-Riccardi, the Medici Chapels, and the Basilica of San Lorenzo.
5. Sample fine Italian wines.
Italy is one of the best travel destinations out there for wine lovers, and a country-intensive voyage is the perfect opportunity to indulge in a little sampling. When you join an Azamara shore excursion, all the plans are handled for you. There’s no need to worry about directions, driving, or details – you just sip and unwind with your wine!
In ports all across Italy, you can visit local wineries and vineyards to learn about what makes that region’s wines special. Often, you can even opt to join our ship’s sommelier for a guided walk or winery visit, before enjoying dinner back onboard the ship with wine pairings.
Italian reds are most popular, although sparkling whites like prosecco and moscato are growing in popularity. Here’s a quick guide to five famous Italian red wines:
Wine from Tuscany’s Chianti region was once best known for its short, wide bottles encased in straw baskets. However, most Chianti today is bottled in a traditional manner. A Chianti wine must be produced in the region of that name, with at least 80% Sangiovese grapes. Chianti wines are often referred to as “perfect food wines” and pair well with Italian dishes like pizza, pasta, or Tuscany’s famous Florentine steak.
Brunello di Montalcino
Brunello and Barolo wines are often in contention for the title of “best Italian wine”, if one can name such a thing. Brunello di Montalcino is produced in the region surrounding the Tuscan town of Montalcino, with 100% Sangioevese grapes. It has a deep color and moderate tannins. This wine pairs well with red meat and tomato-based dishes.
Barolo wine is produced in the northern region of Piedmont. Barolo is made with 100% Nebbiolo grapes, and is lighter in color than Brunello wine. Barolo wine tends to be high in tannins and quite acidic, but get smoother over time. It’s often recommended a Barolo wine is aged ten years before drinking. It pairs well with meat, mushrooms, truffles, and pasta.
Barbaresco is very similar to Barolo wine, as it’s also produced in the Piedmont region with Nebbiolo grapes. However, the soil of Barbaresco differs from the soil of Barolo, and produces less tannins in the wine. Barbaresco wine also pairs well with meat, mushrooms, truffles, and pastas.
The Montepulciano grape is the second-most planted in Italy, after Sangiovese. It’s traditionally been an inexpensive red wine that pairs well with food, but has recently gained acclaim in the Abruzzo region. Montepulciano d’Abruzzo wines are typically dry, soft in tannins, and do not need much aging.
Pro tip: Don’t confuse Montepulciano d’Abruzzo with Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. The latter is a Sangiovese wine named for the Tuscan town of Montepulciano, not the grape. It’s a confusing, but important difference.
6. Immerse yourself in incredible art.
Italy is an ideal travel destination for foodies, for wine aficionados, for history buffs…and for art lovers! The truth is, it’s hard not to love Italy. It offers something for everyone.
Florence, Italy just might be the world’s greatest city for art lovers. The birthplace of the Renaissance is home to two world-renowned galleries, as well as plenty of incredible outdoor public art. Travelers shouldn’t miss visiting Michelangelo’s David at the Galleria dell’Accademia, or checking out the world’s largest collection of Renaissance art at the Uffizi Gallery.
Rome also packs an artistic punch. The Vatican Museums contain a collection of roughly 70,000 works of art, though only 20,000 are on display. (If you can call 20,000 works of art “only”.) Not to mention, of course, the Museums are home to one of the most famous ceilings in the world, Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel.
For a more intimate art experience in Rome, visit the Borghese Gallery. It’s by appointment only, and limits the number of visitors allowed in every two hours. It makes for a more refined viewing experience. The gallery is home to the famous artist Bernini’s sculpture of Daphne and Apollo, as well as other sculptures, paintings, and mosaics.
In Venice, art lovers should make a stop at Museo Correr in Piazza San Marco. The museum houses an impressive collection of art that was bequeathed to the city of Venice in 1830 by Teodoro Correr. Correr spent his life meticulously collecting art and artifacts relating to the history of Venice. Art lovers will also want to visit Saint Mark’s Basilica and Doge’s Palace, both located in Piazza San Marco, to see their stunning interiors.
7. Go off the beaten path.
One of the great joys of a country-intensive voyage is having the time to venture a little off the beaten path. During these voyages you can explore lesser-known neighborhoods in Italy’s major cities, and call on smaller Italian ports you may not have visited otherwise.
In October 2018, we’ll dock in the port of Olbia on the Italian island of Sardinia. The name Olbia means “happy town”, and you’re bound to feel happy when you stop onshore. It’s a gateway to the Costa Smeralda, or “Emerald Coast” of the island, where beautiful beaches and hip restaurants await.
During our 2019 voyage, we’ll call on Brindisi, Italy. This town is a jumping off point to explore Italy’s Puglia region. Pay a visit to the town of Lecce, a highlight of the area. The excellent local food, Baroque architecture, and impressive Roman amphitheater are sure to win you over.
In Rome, consider forgoing the main attractions – especially if you’ve already been – and venture to some of the city’s lesser-known neighborhoods. Trastevere, Testaccio, and the Jewish Quarter are just three areas to consider. For more suggestions, check out our “How To Spend 36 Hours In Rome” guide.
Wherever you go in Italy, it will be a joy – especially when you go there with Azamara. Our mid-sized ships are like boutique hotels that float, transporting you from one great destination to the next in style. Just imagine, spending 12 nights exploring Italy and only having to unpack once! Join us in Italy on our 2018 LCV Voyage or browse our Italian itineraries, and all our country-intensive voyages, here.