TRAVEL & EXPERIENCES

10 BEST EXPERIENCES IN ITALY

Uma Krishnawal, Travel Writer, India

29 January 2018

Seek out the craft shops of the Oltrarno

Oltrarno, a quiet part of the tourist-heavy city. Once you pass the fascinating Buontalenti Grotto, which originally housed Michelangelo’s Slaves and the very particular Fountain of Bacchus, take a tour of the labyrinthine streets around Palazzo Pitti. Here you can find a wealth of tiny artisan shops, from shoemakers, goldsmiths, and leather bookbinders, to shops from ceramics and inlaid stones. If you are truly inspired, learn the craft of shoemaking as an apprentice at the Stefano Bemer shoe atelier.

Get a lampredotto sandwich

Once you have worked up an appetite from your explorations, it is time to eat like a true Florentine and seek out a traditional trippaio (tripe food stand), like the Oltrarno’s ‘l Trippaio de San Frediano. The lampredotto sandwich, named for its visual similarity to the lamprey eel once abundant in the Arno, is made from the fourth stomach of the cow. It is cooked in broth with herbs and tomatoes, sliced thin and placed on a broth-soaked bun with a choice of accompanying sauces. Only found in Florence, this unusual sandwich has been around for centuries. It was originally an inexpensive street food for working classes but is now enjoyed by the full spectrum of Florentines.

Hiking the Cinque Terre

The entire region is covered with twisting paths that take you from one village to the next, ascending the rocky cliffs and winding down along the water’s edge. This is really the best way to see the Cinque Terre; many people come here specifically for the hikes. Distances are relatively short — in fact, you can walk through all five villages in one day — but the terrain can be demanding, and the scenery is spectacular, so take your time.

A taste of liguria

The food in the Cinque Terre is simple, fresh, and delicious. Perhaps as a result of the rich algae that thrives in the Ligurian Sea, seafood here is especially tasty. Anchovies are a local staple, and you’ll find them in antipasti, on top of pizzas, or fried up as an appetizer. Mussels, calamari, and prawns are all scrumptious grilled or served in a pasta dish.

Fresh basil pesto is another local specialty — in fact, it was invented here in Liguria. And of course, the olives (and olive oil) are everywhere. For a really special treat, try trofie, a light brown pasta made from wheat or chestnut flour, with a fresh pesto genovese. And if you happen to find yourself hungry in Corniglia, make a beeline for the Miele di Corniglia — a delicious creamy gelato made with local honey.

Wines and Winemaking

Make sure to tour a local vineyard during your stay in the Cinque Terre. The terraced vineyards are lovely, and the local wines are famous. On a hot afternoon, the crisp white Cinque Terre wine is refreshing and intoxicating; for a sweet after-dinner drink, try Sciacchetra. It’s a late-harvest wine, made from dried grapes, with a rich golden color. Spectacular ocean views, quaint villages, and great food and drink make the Cinque Terre one of the world’s finest destinations. There’s really no way to convey the beauty and charm of this place in words. It’s quite simply one of the loveliest spots on earth — a timeless place that enchants and delights everyone lucky enough to experience it.

Leap into the Mediterranean

The greatest thrill on the Amalfi Coast is to head out for the open sea. Every town along the coast has a sign reading ‘noleggio barche’ (boat hire), indicating that anyone with a few euros to spare can become the captain of a vessel. Line up along the side, toes clinging to the edge: three, two, one… leap into the warm air and plunge down into the sea.

Drive in the Val d’Orcia for “those views”

You know that enchanting postcard of Tuscany with a hill lined with cypress tree? That’s Val d’Orcia. A UNESCO heritage site that’s even more impressive in real life. One of the most breathtaking of all Tuscany landscapes.  The town is known as a jewel of the 1500s thanks to its Renaissance art and architecture: visit Piazza Grande, which is at the highest point of Montepulciano, and have a look at the tower and the Gothic façade of the Palazzo Comunale and the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta.

Watch the sun set on Positano

The Sirens in Homer’s Odyssey lured sailors to their doom on a rocky island by singing a song of seduction. According to local tradition, that island lies just off the Amalfi Coast. The Hotel Le Sirenuse in Positano is named after these mythical creatures, and its terrace offers what is generally agreed to be the most sublime view of Positano.

Climb Florence’s Duomo

Italy offers abundant and interesting lessons in history, architecture and art. For a unique experience climb Florence’s Duomo: the 463 steps will take you into the interior of the dome, where you can admire Giorgio Vasari’s 16th century frescoes of the Last Judgment. For the spectacular view of the historic center of Florence, climb Giotto’s bell tower.

Get yelled at doing an Eby’s shot

Finally, to be truly initiated into the nightlife rituals of Florence, you must head to Eby’s Bar, just a few minutes’ walk east of the Duomo. Eby himself – a man who incidentally bears an uncanny resemblance to Albert Einstein – will artfully prepare a plate with poppy-seed covered bananas, coffee, sugar and oranges in the shape of a face. Then it is time to obey, as he barks orders of the precise way in which to consume the edible components, finally slamming a shot on the table with a cry of ‘Vai! Vai! Vai!’ It all happens very quickly, before you are even sure what has transpired. But once you head out of the bar, this Florentine ritual will undoubtedly leave you smiling.