Art and Culture Holidays in Italy
‘Italia! Oh Italia! Thou who hast the fatal gift of beauty’ wrote Lord Byron on his Grand Tour in the 19th century. While it certainly wouldn’t be advisable to swim in Byron’s wake in Venice’s Grand Canal today, Italy is one of the world’s most loved treasure-troves of art and culture — and now Italian art is accessible to everyone.
From thigh to toe of this boot-shaped, fabled land, there are treasures galore. According to UNESCO, two thirds of the world’s historical artistic heritage is in Italy. It has more World Heritage sites than any other country: fifty-three at the last count and rising. Italian art is part of our worldwide heritage.
Rome is still the number one city and il modello Romano is the role model for all others. Everyone finds their own version of the dolce vita here in the monumental ruins, fountain-splashed piazzas, fabulous art and roads all leading to the past. And, its appeal remains eternal with a most recent all-time record of 20 million tourists in the year.
After Rome, the most visited cities are Venice – often dubbed ‘the most romantic city in the world’ and Florence, the birthplace of the Renaissance. Sparkling amid the gently rolling, olive, vine and cypress-cloaked Tuscan countryside, Florence is the keeper of more than half of Italy’s most important artworks.
Away from the top three cities, Milan is the country’s financial heart, but is also the city where Leonardo da Vinci lived, worked for 20 years and created his masterpiece ‘Il Cenacolo’ (The Last Supper). It is also home to the beautifully restored La Scala opera house and, as Europe’s ‘catwalk capital’, Milan is the cradle of countless designer giants such as Prada.
Venture south to Puglia in the heel of Italy’s elegant boot and Lecce delights and surprises with its voluptuous baroque architecture, earning it the nickname ‘Florence of the South’. And for lovers of the curious beehive-shaped trulli houses of Puglia, look no further than Alberobello. Or to the mystical Sardinian nuraghi – prehistoric dwellings, standing stones, giants’ tombs and fairy houses.
Set against the amphitheatre of the distant snow-peaked Alps, Turin, the former capital of Italy, has royal palaces, baroque castles, harmonious piazzas and cutting edge design. It put the Italian into the ‘Italian Job’ where those minis famously raced around and was the birthplace of the Italian cinema.
As a film lover’s paradise, Italy has few peers. Once again, the glittering outdoor stage of Rome is set to become the film location in ‘Angels and Demons’ (release date May 15th 2009), based on the best-selling novel by Dan Brown and following in the wake of ‘The Da Vinci Code’. It seems likely that Italy and her capital’s star quality will endure — recession or no.