Meet Our Italy Experts
Jessica's Ten Favorite Places in Italy
Jessica's first trip to Italy included visits to the Veneto, the Lakes, Piedmont, the Riviera and Tuscany, where she also saw many of the properties we offer on our site. Recently she returned and visited Rome, southern Italy and Sicily to round out her acquaintance with our local colleagues. After so much contact with Italy, it's no wonder that Jessica recently graduated with honors from California State University, Los Angeles, majoring in Art History. Here are the places that have made the greatest impression on her:
1. Cathedral of Monreale: Monreale, Sicily.
This is my all time favorite Cathedral that I’ve visited so far and I recommend it to anyone who’s in the area, especially if you are interested in Byzantine art and architecture. It’s just outside of Palermo, an easy and short drive or bus ride from the city. One of the royal churches of the Normans, the Cathedral was built in the 12th century and hosts a mixture of styles from Norman Gothic, a Renaissance façade (added later), and pointed Arabic arches. The decoration of the church is Byzantine but the church is not. The inner walls of the church tell the story of the Old Testament and the outer walls tell the story of the New Testament, both in mosaic. With the use of over 100,000 individual tiles, it is one of the largest uses of tile in Byzantine art.
2. Vucciria/Capo Market: Palermo, Sicily.
This bustling casbah-like market stretches from Via Roma, throughout blocks and alleyways of the historic old city of Palermo. The market has been a tradition of Palermo for the past 700 years and is filled with fishermen, shops, and merchants offering selections from pastas, grains, beans, seafood, vegetables, fruit, grappa, and wine to CDs, clothing, leather goods, and souvenirs. It’s fun to stroll through the alleyways and get a sense of city life in Palermo.
3. Ostia Antica: Outside Rome.
Easier to reach from Rome, less famous, and considered by many to be more interesting than Pompeii, Ostia Antica was a thriving port town and gives one a strong sense of what life was like for working class ancient Romans. Here you can visit the remains of the baths, shops, trading posts, necropolis, forum, temple, apartments, houses, arcades, theatre, and basilica in what was perhaps the Empire's most important harbor. Many of the mosaic works are still in tact.
4. Santa Maria in Trastevere: Rome.
One of the oldest churches in Rome and said to be the first in which Mass was openly celebrated, this church dates back to around 340 AD. Reconstructed in the 12th century, the church still boasts its Romanesque form, complete with belltower and mosaic façade. The interior hosts an amazing mosaic and fresco apse. After visiting the church, take a stroll around the neighborhood which is mostly devoid of tourists and is instead home to many of Rome’s citizens. Within walking distance but still away from the busy traffic of central Rome, the picturesque narrow streets reflect Rome’s residential history -- even including 18th-century apartment buildings whose height may surprise you! Stop for an espresso or gelato before crossing the Tiber to the city center.
5. Campo dei Fiori Market: Rome.
Rome’s oldest market. Here you’ll find not only tourists but locals shopping for fresh vegetables, fruits, spices, cheeses, meats, oils and vinegars. You’ll also find stands selling jewelry, clothing and trinkets. In the evenings, the market is closed but is still a bustling meeting point surrounded by alleyways where you’ll find delicious tratorias, osterias and bars. The square was a place of execution during the period of Papal rule and a bronze statue of Giordano Bruno, a monk condemned to be burned at the stake after being found guilty of heresy, stands in the center of the square as an ominous reminder of how well Rome's abundant history manages to coexist with the modern world.
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6. Street Shopping in Sorrento: Sorrento
Not only is it a great and economical base for visiting the Amalfi Coast and Naples, Sorrento hosts some of the best shopping on the Amalfi Coast. There many shops along the main square, Piazza Tasso, but be sure to visit the bustling pedestrian-only alleyways that stretch on for blocks behind the main drag. Here you’ll find merchants selling local handicrafts, ceramics, jewelry, clothing, leather goods, oils, candies, and of course, locally made Limoncello. One of the best places to pick up some special mementos to take home. Click here for photos of Shopping in Sorrento.
7. Amalfi Coast Drive: Amalfi Coast
The best way to see the coast is to have someone else do the driving so you can sit back and enjoy the views. Be sure to stop in Positano, Amalfi, and Ravello.
Positano: In an article for Harper’s Bazaar in the 1950s, John Steinbeck wrote that “It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone.” Built into the hillside overlooking the sea, Positano is admirable for its beauty and has been featured in films such as The Talented Mr. Ripley and Under the Tuscan Sun. Stop at the top of the town and stroll down the whitewashed lanes, past boutiques featuring locally made linens and hand made shoes, ending up at the seaside where you can stop in a bar for an espresso and locally made pastry.
Ravello: This town has served historically as a destination for artists, musicians and writers including Richard Wagner, M.C. Escher, Virginia Woolf, Greta Garbo, Truman Capote, and Tennessee Williams to name a few. Be sure to visit Villa Rufolo. Built in the early 13th century, the villa hosts a beautiful garden and is the site of the “Ravello Festival” which is held every summer in honor of Wagner on the terrace of the villa overlooking the sea.
Amalfi: The Amalfi Cathedral is well worth the climb up a broad staircase to the entry way to of this early 13th-century cathedral featuring amazing Byzantine mosaics. The relics of St. Andrew the Apostle remain in the crypt of the Cathedral. Connected to the Cathedral is an older basilica which is now a museum containing medieval murals. After the hike up to the cathedral, perhaps you won’t feel so guilty indulging in a well deserved lunch break. Walk through the charming passageways of the town and you’re sure to find a nice spot to stop for a local meal of handmade pasta and fresh seafood. Click here for photos of the Amalfi Coast Drive.
8. The Chianti Region: Tuscany.
Another great area to have someone else drive so you can not only enjoy the views of the rolling Tuscan hillside where you’ll see the unique architecture of the stone houses, cypress and olive trees, and vineyards; but also enjoy stops at wineries and medieval villages to enjoy local wine, oil, meat, and cheese tastings. A great opportunity to shop for local wines and oils to bring home. History buffs will also enjoy the rich Etruscan heritage of this area. Click here for photos of the Chianti.
9. The Rialto Market: Venice.
This market is set under the picturesque Rialto Bridge, which is considered to be one of the architectural icons of Venice. The market hosts an array of colorful fruit and vegetables, and is just a short walk away from the fish market located under the porticoes of a neo-gothic building that looks out on the Grand Canal. Although it’s a major tourist attraction, it’s also a great slice of daily local life. Click here for photos of Rialto Market.
10. Lake Como by Boat: Lake Como, Lombardy.
The best way to get a feel for the towns and villages of Lake Como is to visit them by boat. Lake Como has something for everyone. The picturesque location set against the Alps, rich in history and culture, has been an inspiration for artists, composers, and writers including Byron, Verdi, Shelley, Goethe, and Dickens to name only a few. Although it is beloved of aristocrats and wealthy people, there is still a humbleness and natural feel to the area. By boat you will be able to see the lakefront villas belonging to George Clooney and the Versace family, but also be sure to stop and visit the famous gardens of Villa Carlotta and/or Villa Balbaniello. Even if you are not staying in one of the villages of Lake Como, you can easily arrive in the town of Como by train and take a short walk to the main pier. After touring the lake, enjoy lunch in the town of Como, which offers several popular restaurants and lively street cafes – the best are found on the smaller streets in the old town. Or, stop in a wine bar for an aperitif, snack, or antipasti. Click here for photos of Lake Como.