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What are the key highlights and experiences, the must sees and dos in Italy?

Italy, the country where style and flair live next to Michelangelo and Bellini. Where ancient Roman ruins stand next to Renaissance churches. Where picturesque hilltop towns look over verdant vineyards. Where good food and wine are a way of life. From the canals of Venice to the museums and churches of Rome, from the sheer mountains of the Dolomites to the stunning Amalfi Coast, from the villages and volcanoes of the deep south to the villas of Lake Garda.

I have been fortunate enough to have visited Italy about a dozen times. Read on to learn more what I consider the must-see places in Italy and the things I loved to do.

Starting off in Rome, the Eternal City, one of the world's most beautiful and inspiring capitals. An artistic, spiritual and architectural heritage dating back to the Romans is on display in its churches, palaces and world-class museums. Its streets, patios and squares brim with life. Its core is an energy and a Mediterranean rhythm, the rhythm of people enjoying La Dolce Vita. And with a history as rich as Italy's, be sure to spend some time exploring its many ruins, like the Forum in Rome.

Moving north, Venice is a city built in a lagoon, the capital of the old Venetian Empire, the city that took on Byzantine Constantinople, a city with a proud history, reflected in its palaces and churches lining its canals. Discover this city of hidden alleyways, small intimate cafes where you eat the freshest of seafood standing up, a city overflowing with incredible churches and museums, filled with artistic treasures. Music can enrich your travel experiences and nowhere more so than in Venice at Interpreti Veneziani: Vivaldi played on 18th century instruments in a baroque church. You will never listen to The Four Seasons like that again! Best of Italy is one of the most comprehensive tours of Italy, starting in Venice and ending in Rome.

A hiker's paradise, the craggy peaks of the Dolomites, towering up into the sky, in a land where wooden farmhouses dot the orchard-clad valleys and where hiking trails lead you from mountain huts to spa resorts to glorious vista. These are the Dolomites, part Austrian, part Italian, with a culture all its own. I hiked the Dolomites as my last trip prior to the pandemic and loved every minute of it.

Stately villas and romantic towns line the shores of the lakes in northern Italy.  Forested slopes lead your eye to the never too-distant snowy peaks of the Alps.  Beguiling villages dot the landscape and beautiful vantage points abound, be it your hotel terrace or a viewpoint reached on foot or by cable car.

Florence is the birthplace of the Renaissance, where narrow streets lead to light-filled squares, where palaces hide intrigue of an age gone by, where bridges lead to museums overflowing with world-famous art and where intimate cafes beg you to stop in for some wonderful Florentine food. Be sure to climb the duomo in Florence: come eye to eye with an incredible artistic Renaissance interpretation of hell inside the dome, then step out and soak up the view.

Nearby Siena is home to one of the most spectacular churches I have had the pleasure to visit (three times as a matter of fact!).

It is the classical Tuscan view of poppy fields and stately cypress trees leading you into a vista of town walls and fortified towers high up on a hill. Enter the town and wander its cobblestones streets, visit its galleries and shops and sit down for a gourmet meal. This is La Dolce Vita, Tuscan style. If you want to experience it like a local, take a look at this tour.

At the Cinque Terre you'll find cliffs plunging into the sea, colourful villages clinging to the mountain side, walking trails wending their way through walled farmyards down to the sea. Don't forget to join the locals as they enjoy their evening stroll, the passeggiata. If you want to see the coast in depth you can't go wrong with Trails of the Cinque Terre.

Somewhat forgotten Umbria is a unique area where many of Italy's old traditions still survive. Medieval hilltop towns, dominated by fresco-clad churches grace its ancient landscapes of mountains, flower-decked meadows, vineyards and forests. Walk the trails in the footsteps of Francis of Assisi, or sample its wonderful cuisine - Umbria is the less-travelled heart of Italy. Northern Italy Explorer visits some of the highlights of the north but also spends a nice amount of time in Umbria.

In the south, on the Amalfi Coast, steep mountains rise from the turquoise Mediterranean; slopes covered in lemon groves, white-washed villages lining deep valleys where they meet the ocean. Follow ancient footpaths up the hills to hamlets tucked away in forest-covered hills and marvel at the views over this, the Amalfi Coast. We offer a variety of trips on the Amalfi Coast, from easy discovery trips to more engaged hiking and cycling trips. Sicily, meeting point between East and West, Africa and Europe, Islam and Christendom, is a melting pot of cultures since the days of the ancient Greek. Seas where fishermen haul their daily catch onto the beach, intriguing towns and cities, ancient ruins and a hinterland all its own, Sicily is a mesmerisingly beautiful island and a highlight for many visitors to Italy. It takes about two weeks to see the entire island although eight days will give you a good impression.

And everywhere in Italy, the cuisine, with a pedigree stretching back to antiquity, is characterized by its simplicity, with most dishes consisting of four to eight ingredients. Savour cicchetti with a glass of local white wine in Venice, pizza in Naples, spring lamb in Rome, strudel in the Dolomites, tagliatelle with truffles in Umbria or bruschetta in Tuscany. As for the wine, try a glass of Barolo with beef, pizza with Chianti classico or pasta with Montepulciano d'Abruzzo. Our food tours can take you behind the scenes and be tailored for you or you can join one of our small-group tours eating your way through the country. Wherever you go in Italy, you will be amazed by the history, intrigued by the mysteries and enchanted with the scenery. You will fall in love with the country, its people, its food and its wines. For more highlights and key experiences, as well as for suggested itineraries, visit our Italy page.

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