Monday, 29 January 2007

Volterra Sightseeing

The Etruscan city of Volterra is situated on a high plateau and thought by many to be one of Tuscany's best hill towns, a place where you capture the real Italian hill town experience. Here you’ll find a small, but rich array of ruins and architecture from different historical periods.

The ruins of the Etruscan walls mark the perimeter of the Parco Archeologico, a garden that occupies the highest point in the city, offering views over the surrounding countryside.

At one end of the Parco Archeologico you’ll find the old Etruscan gate to the city, next to a fortress built by Lorenzo the Magnificent. At the opposite end of the park is Piazza Martiri della LibertĂ , the best place to take in views of the Cecina Valley.

From the park, take a stroll to Piazza dei Priori and you’ll find one of the finest medieval town squares in Italy. The Square is dominated by the oldest town hall in Tuscany, the Palazzo dei Priori. This dates back to 1208 and is said to have been the model for the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence.

At the other end of the square is the Porcellino tower, built in the 13th century and named after the pig, which is carved at its base.

A short walk away in the Piazza San Giovanni you’ll find Volterra’s Duomo, open daily.

You’ll usually find that the streets of Volterra are deserted, especially compared to nearby hill towns such as San Gimignano. If you want to linger a little longer than a day, you’ll also find that it offers a very good choice of hotels and restaurants. If you decide to eat out here don’t forget to try the local specialty of salami or pasta made with wild boar.

Be sure to save some time to sit and relax in Volterra and savour its memories and its history – a memory you are unlikely to forget.

Find out more about Volterra Sightseeing.

Friday, 19 January 2007

Venice Sightseeing

Venice is a quite a sight to behold, built around 1,500 years ago on a series of mudflats in the middle of a quiet lagoon; it is one of the most visually stunning cities in the world. Lord Byron referred to it as a “fairy city of the heart”. And in a place that contains so much art and history and where there are so many grand buildings and palaces he may just be right.

In Venice the roads are actually waterways and everything from the “lovers ponderous gondola” to high speed ambulances are afloat.

These islands in the middle of the Po river delta were probably first settled by the peoples of the Vento plains around the 6th century AD. They originally made a living by trading with the merchants and helping with fishing boats who used to frequent the waters. From these humble beginnings rose a great city that grew to be a major power, both economically and politically to rival many much bigger centers in the western world.

Venice became a city-state and international power in its own right after the 4th crusade when the troops succeeded in capturing the previously hugely powerful Constantinople. After this, the city wielded a huge influence across both the west and parts of east Europe and the Mediterranean, where it acquired territories in the Greek isles and Turkey.

Venice today is a very different place. Although still busy, sometimes to the point of distraction, it is now tourists rather than artists, politicians and merchants who crowd the squares and palaces of this ancient and beautiful city. And the main sound is of a thousand cameras clicking as they take pictures of some of the most fascinating cityscapes anywhere in the world.

The city these days is easily accessible by road, rail and air and is one of the busiest tourist destinations in Europe. But don't let this put you off. It is a sight not to be missed. And there are still quiet corners to be discovered and areas of calm in the middle of this frantic city. You can also avoid the main crowds by going in spring or fall when it is much quieter.

Venice Sightseeing:

· Ponte di Rialto: Originally built in the 16th century, this is the main, and possibly the most picturesque bridge across the main canal (the Canal Grande). There are also many shops on the bridge mostly selling tourist souvenirs. A good place to stand and watch the people and water taxis going by and a great place to take a photo.

· St Marks Square: Probably one of the best known landmarks in Venice. A large square, it is surrounded by beautiful buildings including the Doges Palace. There are many cafes and pizza places, some of which are quite good, all of which are a little highly priced though. But it may be worth it, if you can get a pavement table.

· Basilica di San Marco: A wonderful place to get a good overall view of Venice. It is a replica of the original that was built in the 15th century and the place where Galileo first showed off his telescope. There is a lift to the top. Go in the morning or evening as it can get a little crowed.

· Collezione Peggy Guggenheim: The gallery is owned and run by the Guggenheim Foundation and is a wonderful collection of work by some very well known artists. It contains the best assembly of early 20th century work in Italy including, Picasso, Kandinsky, and Pollock.

· Venice Film Festival: The home of one of the top film festivals in the world and also the oldest surviving film festival in the world. Usually staged around the end of August and the beginning of September it is a great place for star spotting, if you can get past the paparazzi.

· Museo Correr: A beautiful museum dedicated to art and the history of Venice. Principally based on the collection of Teodoro Correr it now contains a large and varied collection. The neo-classical rooms have sculptures by Antonio Canova. The museum is at the western corner of St.Mark’s Square.

· Chiesa di S. Stefano: hermits reputedly built this lovely little church in the 13th century. There is a beautiful bell tower and a painting by the artist Tintoretto. The church still holds regular services every Saturday and Sunday.

Although a beautiful city, Venice can be very crowded in the high season. If you can go in spring or fall then so much the better. In a town so tourist focused, language is never really going to be a barrier. There will always be someone who can help.

The food is generally pricey, but is of a high standard. Even near the main attractions the food is good, though you will pay a premium. It is possible, as in any city, to find the back street cafes, where the locals eat. But you may have to look a little harder than in other cities. The ice cream has to be tasted to be believed; well it is Italy after all!

Although it is busy, the locals are generally friendly, used as they are to dealing with holidaymakers (the tourists themselves can be another matter!). And you should have no trouble in finding your way around the city. The vapporetto’s, or waterbuses can be useful and a good way to see the city from another angle, but can also get crowded.

There is a great deal to see and do in Venice, and it is definitely a great place to go. Whether as part of a full European tour, or a holiday in its own right will be a vacation to remember.

Find out more about Venice Sightseeing

Saturday, 13 January 2007

Sightseeing in Rome

Rome is the bustling heart of Italy. A modern capital in every sense of the word yet steeped in history, with a wealth of art, architecture and religion to suit every holidaymaker, traveler, academic or pilgrim.

Over 2,000 years of history have left their mark in all parts of this stylish metropolis. Tradition has it, that the city was founded by Romulus on Palatino one of the 7 hills on which Rome is built. The city stands near the Tevere river, which guarantees that wherever you are, you are never far from a stunning view of the city.

The most essential thing in Rome is good shoes! Good comfortable ones for your walks around the town and a few stylish pairs for evening promenades. Rome is one of the best places in Europe to buy some great designer shoes.

The whole place is like a huge, vibrant, open-air museum. Italians are a friendly people. Expect to be offered help if you are standing on a street corner with a map in your hand and a puzzled look on you face. Style is the order of the day when out in Rome. Good strong, but not bright colors, a scarf flicked fashionably over and a smart bag over your shoulder. No fanny packs please, they do spoil the line of your Gucci you know!

Avoid eating in the tourist cafes around the main spots such as St.Mark’s square as they are overpriced and very often with poor food and service. Go back a couple of streets to the small cafes frequented by the locals and you will get better, cheaper food and also get to dine and chat with the real Romans.

Here are the tops spots for sightseeing in Rome:

  • Colosseum - this is probably the most famous landmark in Rome is a huge open-air stadium that could hold up to 50,000 Romans. Built by the Emperor Titus in AD80 it hosted games, gladiatorial combats and even could be flooded with water to provide a setting for reconstructions of famous navel battles.

  • Sistene Chapel - Situated at the far and of the Vatican museum, which is a day out in itself. The chapel was in need of a little decoration so in 1508 Michelangelo was brought to paint the 10,000 sq foot ceiling, single-handedly! The resulting work took over 4 years to complete and is considered to be on of the finest works of art in the world.
  • Trevi fountain - this is a huge and stunning eighteenth century fountain designed by Nicola Salvi. It is said that if you throw a coin with your right hand over your left shoulder you will one day return to Rome.
  • Pantheon - a huge temple built by the Emperor Hadrian around AD120 it had, until 1960, the largest dome in the world. It also still has the original doors, now nearly 1,900 years old. A fascinating and magnificent building.

  • Piazza Navona - this square takes its strange shape from the original arena built there for displays of horsemanship. It is now a busy, fun place packed with stalls and eateries in the daytime and portrait and caricature artists at night.
  • Trastevere - although this is not the main tourist center of Rome, it a fascinating area full of winding lane and small shops selling interesting and unusual things. Great nightlife, food and a huge Sunday market. It is also home to what is said to be the oldest church in Rome. The beautiful Santa Maria the oldest part of which is said to date from the 3rd century AD.

  • Villa Borghese - this is the largest area of parkland in Rome, it is a wonderful place to get away from the noise of the city for a while. It has wonderful trees, quiet walks, a lake where you can rent a boat, and a wonderful art gallery. It also holds outdoor concerts of classical music every July.

There are also many walking tours on offer and these are a great way to see the highlights of the city with a knowledgeable and enthusiastic guide. Beware of over enthusiastic street traders in popular tourist spots such as the Trevi fountain.

AlthoughRome is a fairly safe city it is best to avoid the back streets at night. Stick to the main thoroughfares, which are usually a sight in themselves, as the stylishly dressed inhabitants go out for a stroll and a good meal. This can be a great time for “people watching”, especially if you are at one of the pavement tables that many restaurants and cafes have.

But the main focus of any holiday in Rome should always be on the architecture and history which is like nowhere else in the world.

Friday, 12 January 2007

Florence Sightseeing

Overflowing with art, history and culture, Florence is a city that’s very difficult to do justice to in a single day. A visit to the Uffizi museum alone could easily eat a day or two into any itinerary.

If you’re lucky enough to visit the city of Florence for the first time, but unfortunate enough to have only a single day to savour the delights of this Florence, you will need to ensure that you have a plan.

So let me be your tour guide for the day and take you on a whistle stop walking tour of the sights and sounds of Florence. I can’t promise you the Uffizi in a day, but hopefully at the end of the tour you’ll feel like you’ve seen the best of the city. Your only problem will be deciding when to come back for more!

The first thing you’ll need to do before you start your tour is get yourself a map of the city. The centre of Florence is relatively compact, so the best way to see it, without missing a thing is by foot. If you don’t have a map or a guidebook and you’re not the type that enjoys aimless wandering, make your first stop of the day one of the tourist offices where you can pick up a free map of Florence.

Starting off in the main Piazza, you’ll easily spot the famous Duomo, with its magnificent terracotta coloured cupola. If you are there early enough to avoid the crowds and feel you can face the 463 steps I’d recommend starting off your tour with a climb up into the dome for a spectacular view of the city. The Duomo is probably the most distinctive feature of Florence’s skyline and is the result of years of work spanning six centuries.

Once you’ve taken in the view, catch your breath with a leisurely stroll around the streets surrounding the Duomo, and then take a walk to the nearby Piazza della Signoria. Here you’ll find a unique outdoor gallery of sculptures, including Neptune’s Fountain and a copy of the famous Statue of David. You’ll also find the Palazzo Vecchio (the Old Palace) here. This was built in the early 14th century and is still used today for its original purpose, as a Town Hall.

Just beside the Palazzo you’ll find the Uffizi museum, with its unrivalled collection of Renaissance art. If you’re an art lover, you don’t want to miss the Uffizi, but it’s not something that can be easily covered in a short 2-hour visit!

Alongside the Uffizi you’ll find the River Arno, with its many bridges. If you take a right turn you’ll arrive at the Ponte Vecchio, the famed bridge that houses a multitude of goldsmiths and jewellery shops, with its medieval workshops overhanging the bridge. The bridge itself was built in 1345 and is the only bridge on the Arno that wasn’t destroyed in World War II.

Once you’ve crossed the bridge, you’ll arrive in the area called Oltrano, which literally means “Over the Arno”. Here you’ll find the Palazzo Pitti – a large 16th century palace. The palace was originally home to the Medici family who ruled Florence almost continuously between 1434 and 1743 and it now houses several important museums and galleries.

You may want to finish your day by taking a relaxing stroll in the Boboli gardens, which can be accessed through the Palazzo Pitti. These gardens were laid out in 1550 for the Medici a year after they bought the Palazzo Pitti and were opened to the public in 1766. Many parts of the gardens give stunning vistas over Florence and make a welcome retreat after a day of walking round the city.

If you have the time, it’s worth returning to view the Ponte Vecchio at sunset, followed by a walk along the bridge after dusk, when the lights on the bridge reflect on the River Arno and everything seems almost magical.

Finally, don’t forget to take a well earned break from your sightseeing – stop for lunch or a drink in a pavement cafĂ©, take some time to soak up the atmosphere and do a spot of people watching.

Find out more about Florence Sightseeing

Sunday, 7 January 2007

Sightseeing in Siena

The Piazza Del Campo (see the photo below) is quiet, the early morning sun slowly lighting the storefronts and medieval palaces that line the fan shaped plaza. The piazza, the heart of Siena is best known as the location of Polio, a horse race run twice a year, in July and August, for the glory of the 17 districts that make up the city. This is a city that is well worth exploring.

Siena in Tuscany, Italy

While you vacation in Siena Italy, you will see that this city is built for walking and the city is circular. None of Siena’s streets, many with dancing fountains, are level, and the city sprawls on a series of hills, surrounded be luscious vistas of the Tuscan countryside. Most of the predominantly Gothic homes and buildings that line the narrow streets bear the reddish brown hues known as burnt Siena. Each dwelling’s exterior must be maintained in colors regulated by the city. The shutters may only be painted grey, green, or Terra di Siena red; facades must be ocher, pink, brick red, or marble white.

The people of Siena, a city founded by Roman emperor Augustus, are warm and friendly, quick to answer a stranger’s question. Otherwise, they calmly go about their business, stopping to chat with friends as if they were the only ones standing in the center of ancient streets. They speak in low voices in a language many believe is the purest form of Italian. A vacation to this part of Italy can be a real treat for travelers looking for authentic art, food, music and architecture.

Today, while traveling in Siena Italy for vacation, you will see that it’s one of the rare beauties of Europe, a medieval city that stubbornly exists within the confines of a modern world. Most homes display one of 17 flags, each distinguished by a different color and animal design and signifying one of Siena’s 17 districts. Each district is actually a small city hidden inside a larger one.

Siena is also one of the richest cities in Italy. Restaurants are crowded year-round and the shops are filled with wonders from oak barrel-aged wine to fine silverware and furniture to exotic meats and cheeses.

There’s virtually no crime, and other than traffic and crowd control, the police seem to have little to do. The population is among Italy’s best educated, and a first rate medical school draws students worldwide. For a true Italian travel experience, a vacation to Siena Italy can be a magical.

Find out more about Siena Sightseeing.

Southern Italy Travel Tips

International Airline services fly to Rome, Naples and Palermo in southern Italy. Transportation links within the region are generally slower than in the north, particularly inland and on the islands of Sicily and Sardinia. Coastal road and rail links are good, however, especially those linking to Rome and Naples, the region’s main transportation hubs. Two trans-Apennine highways offer the quickest cross-country routes for traveling.

If you are traveling to Sicily orSardinia, you can use ferries that operate to Sicily from Naples to Villa San Giovanni. Further travel connections include boats from Malta and Tunisia. Ferries run to Sardinia from several mainland ports, notably from Genoa.

While traveling to Rome by road you can use highway links that approach Rome from Naples, Pescara, and Florence. All the roads feed into the city’s ring road, the Grande Raccordo Anulare.

Northern Italy Travel Tips

Airline connections link the rest of Europe with the cities of Milan, Turin, Bologna, Pisa, Florence, Verona, and Venice. Major roads and railroads also provide excellent links to cities all over Europe. Transport services are very efficient, with highways and railroads along both coasts, and across the area’s main east to west axis at the foot of the Alps. Milan, Verona, and Bologna are the key transportation hubs, while Florence forms the focus of links to the south.

Florence has good fast roads that link to Pisa to the west, Rome and Siena to the south, and Bologna to the north. If you are traveling to Venice by road, you will see that Venice is joined to the mainland by a causeway. This provides easy access to highway links with Verona and Padua while traveling around northernItaly.

Welcome to the Italy Sightseeing Blog

Hello and welcome to the Italy Sightseeing blog. Here you'll find lots of information, photos, advice and sightseeing tips about the different regions and towns of Italy. Including Rome, Venice, Florence, Milan, Siena and much more.

Italy has drawn people in search of culture and romance for many centuries. Few countries can compete with its classical origins, its art, architecture, musical and literary traditions, its scenery or food and wine. This makesItaly a fantastic vacation destination. Italy has climbed into the top ten world economies, yet at its heart it retains many of the customs, traditions and agricultural heritage.

Travel to Italy and you will notice there in not a single culture identity. From northern snow capped peaks of the Alps, to the rugged southern shores of Sicily, lies a plethora of distinctive regions of many different types of people. Politically, Italy is a young country. It did not exist as a unified nation state until 1861, and its 21 regions have maintained their cultural individuality. Travelers to Italy are often pleasantly surprised be the diversity of its dialects, cuisines and architecture.