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The sight of stunning countryside, the taste and smell of delicious food, the sound of classical music and the touch of a hot Italian (well, we can hope); get ready for a sensory overload...

Best for culture: Rome

It sounds obvious, but there really is nowhere as filled with amazing art, history, entertainment and architecture as Rome; you could spend years here and still not have seen or done it all. The Colosseum, St Peter’s Basilica and the Pantheum really are as magnificent and thrilling as you’d imagine, and just travelling between these landmarks you’ll pass numerous museums and galleries. Allow yourself to get distracted en route, as Rome has just as much to offer in undiscovered treasures as it does in world-famous, monumental attractions. Chiesa di Santa Prassede resides on a quiet side street near the Basilicia of Santa Maria Maggiore; easy to miss and underwhelming from the outside, but breathtaking inside and filled with dazzling Byzantine art. Rome can be difficult to get around, so if you trust your navigational skills then opt for using the bus system as opposed to expensive taxis or confusing train lines.

Where to stay There’s no shortage of hotels in Rome. Hotel Atlante Star costs from £17 a night and is just a few minutes’ walk from the Vatican, with magnificent views of Rome from the roof terrace.

 

Best for shopping: Florence

For those of us who can’t afford to trawl the designer boutiques of Milan, Florence offers a fabulous taste of Italy’s legendary fashion world for half the price. Florence is also a much more relaxing shopping destination, with the street markets, designer outlet factories and a selection of shops making it a must for bargain hunters and fashion fiends alike. San Lorenzo market can be overwhelming, but when you know where to look, and have mastered the art of haggling, you’ll find great bargains on some high-quality clothes and accessories – just make sure you know what you’re looking for and how much you should be paying. The duomo (cathedral) square in the centre of Florence is shopping mania. Here you can find the boutiques of world-famous designers, which are sightseeing events in themselves; even if the strings on your Primark purse are too tight to shell out £3,000 for a new Gucci bag, fashion lovers will revel in admiring these grand stores. For some more realistic price tags, the area around Ponte Vecchio – the magnificent medieval bridge – is home to some recognisable chain stores such as Zara and H&M, as well as the famous leather and souvenir market, Mercato Nuovo. If you’re looking to buy some lovely unique gifts and souvenirs for those back home, then head down the side streets off of Via del Corso for a wide variety of quaint boutiques; everything from vintage bric-a-brac, home wares, chocolatiers, perfumeries and antique stores reside here. 

Where to stay The website visitflorence.com is helpful for finding accommodation based on what activities and sights in Florence you want to be near to. Conveniently close to the airport, Soggiorno Pitti costs £40 a night and is within walking to distance to the heart of Florence.

Best for countryside: Calabria

The toe of the boot of Italy, Calabria is famed for its fertile agricultural landscape, making it a dream for farmers and holidaymakers alike. This picturesque province is rural Italy at its most beautiful: vibrant green surroundings scattered with olive trees, lemon groves and renowned vineyards make it perfect for food and wine as well as views. The people have a famously warm and friendly disposition and are always enthusiastic to share local wisdom. We visited beautiful villages such as Le Castella, Santa Severina and the most secluded beaches along the Italian coast on the advice of some affable locals. There are several tasting tours of the Calabria countryside, which take you through the rolling hills and sunny coastline to work on farms and vineyards. If you prefer to take it all in at your own pace, a simple stroll through Calabria is serene, tranquil and unforgettable. Come to Calabria if you’re a sucker for romantic Italy and are in need of a peaceful escape. 

Where to stay For decades, Calabria has been one of the most popular destinations for ‘agriturismo’, an Italian style of holiday where guests stay in renovated farmhouses. Farmhouse hotels, such as Acqua di Friso (acquadifriso.it), offer meals from food produced on the farm and allow guests to get involved with farming activities. There is also a wide selection of more conventional hotels around Calabria to pick from with prices starting at £29 a night.


Best for food: Montecatini

In this Tuscan town, head high to Montecatini Alto, a medieval mountain-top hamlet where there’s an abundance of quaint eateries serving hearty Italian food. You’ll forget what century you’re in when eating delicious, authentic Italian food overlooking scenic Tuscany.  At Caffe Giusto, try the most popular dish – fresh bread piled high with mozzarella and tomatoes, drizzled with garlic olive oil. For all-out Mediterranean romance, try some pasta at charming Casa Gala as you listen to jazz music. Pecora Nera is another one not to be missed, as friendly owner Luciana will personally see to it that you get the best possible service; if your server tempts you to have the fresh sea-bass, take their advice as it’s some of the best nautical nosh in Italy. Wherever you decide to have your food, wash it down with some local wine for a really traditional experience. Montecatini is definitely an underrated foodie haven as well as a stunning holiday destination, so if idyllic meals in dream destinations are your thing then this town will be just to your taste.

Where to stay Albergo Natucci is a pretty hotel in picturesque surrounds with a charming old Italian feel and welcoming staff; a night here costs around £30 and is a great place to come back to for a food nap after devouring the delights that the town has to offer.

 

Best for beaches: Cefalu

If your idea of paradise is a centuries-old fishing village filled with honey-hued buildings built into the rugged cliffs, white sandy beaches and the Mediterranean Sea glistening in the horizon, then join the club. This coastal town in the north of Sicily is an unspoilt glimpse into Sicilian fishing town life centuries ago. The beach is considered one of the most beautiful and serene in Europe, and really has to be seen to be believed. The brightly coloured fishing boats that line the sandy shore are a hint as to what to do when you start to feel peckish; eating some freshly caught fish as you overlook the stunning Sicilian bay will have you in the lap of luxury. Fishing culture here is still very prevalent; visit the small port to watch seasoned sailors and anglers reeling in their nets and boast about their catches of the day. Not one for those seeking a solitary getaway, as unsurprisingly this heavenly bay gets extremely busy during the summer months, but if the hustle and bustle of busy, narrow lanes is up your (cobbled) street then you’ll love the buzz and beauty of Cefalu in the summertime.

Where to stay Bed and breakfast Palazzo Villelmi costs £43 a night with views of Cefalu beach and a tasty breakfast buffet on offer each morning.


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European break: Italy
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