By Sheri Doyle for A Luxury Travel Blog
Italy is one of the top travel destinations in the world. When travellers head straight for Rome, Venice, Florence and Pisa they leave the authentic Italy undiscovered. The Tuscan region is home to many small towns, which still offer visitors a taste of authentic Italy. These are where a traveler will find the real Italian food, a slower pace of life, and some of the countries most beautiful scenery.
This Ligurian town hides along the Mediterranean Sea further south than its more famous sisters, the Cinque Terre. Still relatively undiscovered Portovenere is the perfect place to find an authentic
Italian experience with the bonus of gorgeous sea views, romantic walks along the Palazzatas, and beautiful medieval architecture. In the Palazzatas the yellow, orange, pink and beige homes stand parallel to the bay serving as a barrier for the rest of the city. They house restaurants serving up local seafood and pasta delights.
Portovenere welcomes you in and immediately convinces you to pass the hours away with delicious Proseco or Aperol as you people watch along the Meditteranean. The waves lapping against the ancient St. Peter’s Church transport you back into time as you imagine what it took to build the exquisite stone church on the cliffs of this colorful city. A leisurely walk along the shore brings you to the town gate and tower, which joins the medieval wall that used to protect the town.
Luckily Portovenere has stayed under the radar for the average tourist so you will still find an authentic Italian experience as you walk through the Palazzatas filled with colorful homes, restaurants and cafes. Along the coastline lies the Mill, the ruins of the Doria castle, built in the eleventh century, while further inland is the Church of Lorenzo erected in the 10th or 11th century. For those lucky enough to be in Portovenere on August 17 th there is an unbelievable event, the Sanctuary of the “Madonna Bianca” who is carried through the town at night.
Walking along the cliffs the view of Palmaria island tempt you to take the short boat trip over for some hiking or just a delicious lunch as you gaze out at the bay of Portovenere.
It is easy to get lost in this city hidden away from its sister cities, the Cinque Terre and La Spezia and never want to leave. Fortunately day trips to the Cinque Terre or La Spezia are easy by boat, driver or car, then you can return in the evening to luxury in hotels like the Grand Hotel Portovenere to watch the lights dance across the bay and the sun set over the Mediteranean sea.
100km north of Florence stand the Apuan Alps, home to the Carrara granite quarries. The quarries have been in operation since the early Roman times, playing a vital role in Michelangelo’s life as a sculptor. As you wind your way up, taking in the white-capped mountains, it is impossible not to think of Michelangelo waiting months for the perfect piece of marble to be cut from these same mountains, so he could create the Pieta in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. You can spend your time touring the quarries and the town of Carrara with marble statues, an understated beautiful little church and walk the cobblestone streets of the small town. When journeying down the mountain, through old tunnels, and over dramatic bridges you will find other small towns nestled into the mountains leading down to Pietrasanta. Pietrasanta is a great stop to visit the sculpture workshops where artisans welcome you in to watch their creations come to life from the marble in the mountain range looming over the city.
There is great shopping in Pietrasanta along with some of the best pizza you can find in Italy. Sitting in the Piazza’s looking up to the mountains, watching the large trucks bring the granite down for the artisans eagerly waiting to bring their visions to life is an experience that is uniquely Italian, tied so closely to the architectural and artistic history of the country, and the world.
Close to Carrara is the small hamlet of Colonnata. The 300 residents of Colonnata are tucked away into the mountains curing one of Italy’s gastronomic treasures, lardo. The stone buildings and cobblestone streets stand in contrast to the white-capped mountains standing close by. Inside the buildings are delicious restaurants, shops selling Lardo, and coffee shops inviting you to sit and take in the incredible views and learn about the pork delicacy cured in Carrara marble vats.
This incredibly unique hamlet is so undiscovered it is often hard to figure out how to get there. If you travel by car you can drive from Carrara following the signs up the mountain, hire a taxi where you can sit back and enjoy the view and the dramatic curves of the Italian mountain roads.
This beautiful Italian beach town is popular with the locals and with Italian tourists but is still relatively undiscovered by foreign tourists. When you visit Viareggio you are rewarded with 20 km of beach flanked with the Passeggiata Margherita, a 3 km promenade, home to great shops, galleries, restaurants, clubs, coffee shops and fantastic Art Nouveau architecture. Spend some time riding bikes, discovering this more modern Italian city, soaking up the sun from the sea and hanging out with the locals. Filling the beach in the summer months are rows and rows of colorful chairs and umbrellas available for rent. There is nothing like spending a day on an Italian beach people watching, enjoying some wine and fantastic seafood from the local restaurants.
Every weekend during the winter months of January and February, Viareggio is home to a huge Carnival complete with massive floats of famous actors, musicians, politicians and other characters. The Museo di Carnavale (Carnival Museum) is open all year to enjoy the floats and the history if you don’t get there for the parade. If you prefer outdoor activities you can hike the local Apuan Alps, or head up to Massaciuccoli Lake to tour its ancient Roman Archaeolgical area.
Under the ground of the city of Montecatini runs rivers whose waters have healing properties. These rivers have given way to a whole industry of spas in Montecatini Terme. Here you can take time for relaxation during your visit in Italy but, the gem of Montecatini is Montecatini Alto. This little village sits on top of a hill overlooking the Tuscan countryside. It is easily accessible either by car or by a funicular from Montecatini Terme.
As you travel up the hill the view gets better and better until you reach old stone buildings on narrow streets accessible only by foot. The street from the parking lot leads you directly into Piazza Giusti, which is home to several different restaurants with tables sitting outside where you can spend an afternoon enjoying great wine, or a fantastic meal. From the Piazza it is easy to make your way through the town to visit the historic churches and other medieval buildings representing the past of this area of Tuscany. The walks through town reward visitors with beautiful twisted trees, unique architectural details and cats lingering in the windows of the small homes.
To find a more peaceful area of Tuscany would be hard to do. A day in Montecatini Alto is sure to leave its mark on your soul.
One of the treasures of Italy, the town of Lucca, is often overlooked as people trek through Florence, Pisa, Sienna and the Cinque Terre. Yet this city is more representative of what Italy was than most places in Tuscany. Surrounded by a wall built in the 16 th century to keep the Medici family from taking over, Lucca has remained as it was hundreds of years ago. Lucca has escaped any modern changes due to the constraints of the medieval walls and the dedication of the locals to maintain the city as it has always been.
Lucca is home to over 100 churches, some full of treasures not to be missed, such as the Palo Santo. The cobblestone streets lead to beautiful Piazzas, great shopping, a botanical garden and museums of Puccini or national treasures not to be missed. On various weekends you can also find fantastic antique markets set up in four different Piazzas and along the side streets, all holding beautiful works of arts, vintage clothing, jewelry and other unique Italian treasures. Culture abounds in Lucca with nightly musical performances at various churches, or from street musicians, fantastic symphony shows and an incredible music festival in July and August.
Renting a bike in Lucca and riding the 4 km track along the wall will provide you with gorgeous views of the mountains and the surrounding city as well as beautiful palaces and homes. While biking, walking or jogging the road you will be surrounded by locals hanging out, or exercising, fantastic sculptures, museums, amazing views of the cities towers and beautiful churches. There is a feeling in Lucca you will find nowhere else, as the friendly locals welcome you in and proudly serve you authentic food, incredible foccacia bread, delicious gelato or an
You will quickly fall in love with the unique feeling of this medieval town and its incredible history dating back to 56 BC when Julius Caesar, Pompey the Great and Marcus Crassus met to postpone the upcoming civil war until Caesar could cross the Rubicon seven years later.