The long, narrow Italic peninsula owes its extraordinary regional variety – both physical and cultural – to its spinal Apennine Range, which separated regions and their great cities from each other. Its northern alpine landscapes give way to the fertile Po Valley, Italy’s only large tract of arable land. To the east is the unique lagoon city, Venice. To the west are the economic powerhouses of Milan, Turin and Genoa. To the south lie lovely Byzantine Ravenna, dynamic Bologna and stately Urbino. Across the Apennines, Tuscany’s verdant hills surround the Arno Valley. Tuscany has the economically and culturally vigorous cities of Florence, Siena, Pisa, Lucca and Arezzo, cradles of the Renaissance. Umbria has high-perched Perugia and Lazio the great imperial city of Rome. Further south is teeming Naples, fascinating Pompeii and Herculaneum and the awesome Amalfi Coast. The Campania region also boasts monumental Greek temples at Paestum. Apulia’s broad karst landscapes dominate Italy’s heal, with towns of troglodyte and trulli dwellings. Across the Strait of Messina from mountainous Calabria lies exotic Sicily, with its fascinating mix of Greek, Roman, Arab, Norman and Spanish culture and history. It is dominated by Mount Etna.
Italy’s rich visual culture encompasses spirited Etruscan tomb paintings, the ancient Greek cities and temples of Sicily, Imperial Rome’s monuments of stately grandeur and the glittering mosaics of Rome’s Early Christian churches and Ravenna’s and Venice’s Byzantine masterpieces. Prosperous medieval trading and manufacturing cities like Amalfi, Genoa, Venice, Siena and Florence built fine churches and communal palaces. These were decorated with narrative fresco cycles with naturalistic figures and readable gestures. Florence led the revival of Roman antique literature and architecture, painting and sculpture. The visual arts were disciplined by classical form and mathematical perspective. Venetian artists applied Florentine innovations to glistening paintings. Palladio created fine classical villas in the Veneto region. Building on Michelangelo’s and Raphael’s grand style, the Counter-Reformation developed the Baroque style. Its masters include Caravaggio, Bernini and Borromini.
Italy’s rich landscape diversity also inspired a profusion of wonderful gardens, from Renaissance classics to contemporary masterpieces. Of particular note are the marvellous gardens of the northern lake district. These include Villa Carlotta, Villa Balbianello, Isola Bella and Isola Madre. Perhaps the most beautiful garden in the world is the Villa Lante with its wonderful central water cascade. This garden tradition continues today, with masterpieces by Paolo Pejrone, student of Russell Page, and currently Italy’s leading garden designer.
Enjoy Croatia’s Plitvice Lakes & one of the Mediterranean’s loveliest coasts with Dalmatia’s rich heritage of classical, medieval & Venetian monuments & towns incl. Hvar Island. Read more
A detailed history of Venice: visit galleries, museums, churches, private palaces, Byzantine Ravenna, Giotto's Padua, Vicenza and attend an opera performance at the famous Teatro La Fenice. Read more
Explore the rich and varied history of Sicily and the Aeolian Islands, discovering their wealth of archaeological treasures, magnificent medieval mosaics & the grandeur of the Baroque. Read more