Italy

Venice (Venezia)

In 9 words: There’s nothing like it anywhere that I know.
For your first visit you need no less than 2 full days to be able to fully appreciate the city and all of its major sights while keeping pleasantly unhurried pace. Add a full day for visiting Burano, Murano and Torcello.
Distances are walkable in most cases, but occasional usage of vaporetti and traghetti is too much fun to pass by; you’ll have to use vaporetto to go to islands in the lagoon.
Love its architectural gems, but above all, its hidden corners, with narrow streets opening onto tiny campielli.
Don’t miss: Getting a forward seat on Linea Uno vaporetto for a cruise the length of the Grand Canal; taking a ride in a gondola; getting “lost” in the city; listening to live music on Piazza San Marco.
On the other hand: A valid concern in hot season – the stench rising up from many canals. Also, during the high season, the narrow passages in the city center tend to amplify the tourist crowds unlike anywhere else.
Destination appeal
Our verdict
Worthy attractions: Basilica di San Marco with its many treasures; Palazzo Ducale; Campanile, with fantastic views over the lagoon; Rialto; Accademia; Ca’ d’Oro; Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari; Santa Maria della Salute; several other interesting churches; Murano [further afield]; Burano [further afield]; Torcello [further afield].
Left for another visit: Peggy Guggenheim Collection; Scuola Grande di San Rocco; Ca’ Rezzonico.
Last visit: (briefly) August 2014, (full) May 2009.
Grand Canal near Rialto

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Veneto

In 3 words: Not only Venice.
For your first visit you need no less than 3 full days to explore the most interesting destinations. Some places may be seen in half a day, while others require more. We are not counting Venice here, which merits several days all by itself.
Worthy destinations: Verona; Padua; Vicenza.
Left for another visit: Lake Garda; Treviso; Belluno.
Last visit: August 2014.

Venice stands out in Veneto and is covered in a separate entry. However, beyond La Serenissima, there is a number of enchanting and fascinating destinations that are well worth the visit.

    
Destination appeal
 
Our verdict

Verona

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Emilia-Romagna

In 12 words: Try not just to pass through, it is very worthwhile to stop.
For your first visit you need no less than 3 full days to fully explore the interesting destinations. Some may require just a few hours, others at least a day.
Worthy attractions: Bologna; Modena; Ferrara; Ravenna.
Left for another visit: Piacenza; Parma.
Last visit: July-August 2014.

Many people only catch a glimpse of Emilia-Romagna on the way from Florence to Venice. Destinations elsewhere may be considered more major, but a number of towns in this region are very much worth a visit.

    
Destination appeal
 
Our verdict
Fontana di Nettuno, Bologna

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Marche

In 4 words: Nice towns, good beaches.
Worthy destinations: Urbino; Fano; San Marino.
Left for another visit: Pèsaro; Ancona; Ascoli Piceno.
Last visit: August 2013.

Marche is one of the less visited regions of Italy, on account of being located away from major destination routes and not having any major destinations itself. Nonetheless, there are enchanting towns and nice beaches in this part of the country.

Independent tiny country of San Marino is also included in this entry.

    
Destination appeal
 
Our verdict

Urbino

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Umbria

In 8 words: People [wrongly] choose Tuscany most of the time.
Worthy attractions: Assisi; Orvieto.
Left for another visit: Gubbio; Perugia; Spoleto; Todi.
Last visit: August 2014.

Umbria has a lot to offer, starting with a number of dramatically positioned hill towns, highlighted by the famous Assisi. Unfortunately, Umbria is always overshadowed by its neighbor, Tuscany, and we, like many others, are guilty of mostly overlooking this picturesque region. This has been rectified a little bit recently

    
Destination appeal
 
Our verdict

Assisi

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Cinque Terre

In 4 words: Breathtaking, colorful and quaint.
For your first visit you need no less than two full days to explore all villages. If you want to walk all of the major trails and spend enough time around Portovenere, add at least one more. This does not include “beach time”.
Worthy destinations: Vernazza; Monterosso al Mare; Corniglia; Manarola; Riomaggiore; Portovenere.
Left for another visit: Islands of Palmaria, Tino and Tinetto.
Last visit: July 2014.

Cinque Terre comprises five seaside villages, each with their own features. For nearly a millennium, the only way to reach each of the hamlets was by sea, and the remote ruggedness remains part of the character of the region, in addition to its natural beauty and the infusion of culture and colour that each village provides.

    
Destination appeal
 
Our verdict

Vernazza

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Lombardy (Lombardia)

In 6 words: Not just Milan and the lakes.
Worthy destinations: Milan; Lake Como; Mantua.
Left for another visit: Lake Maggiore; Bergamo; Brescia; Pavia; Cremona.
Last visit: July 2014.

Two places in Lombardy, Milan and Lake Como, stand out, have a much higher destination appeal, and are covered in separate entries. The rest of the region offers a number of other attractions that mostly get a short shrift compared to the two above.

    
Destination appeal
 
Our verdict

Mantua

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Milan (Milano)

In 10 words: Not overwhelmingly impressive (although spent very little time on sightseeing).
For your first visit you probably need about a day to enjoy the city’s major sights. Shopping – a key attraction here – will require additional time.
Distances are mostly walkable, but public transport will be required to reach some destinations.
Don’t miss: touring the roof of Duomo – a fairly unique and extraordinary experience.
Worthy attractions: Duomo; Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele II; Santa Maria delle Grazie with Leonardo’s Last Supper [did not see the latter].
Left for another visit: Teatro alla Scala [did not tour inside]; Pinacoteca di Brera; Castello Sforzesco; Museo Poldi-Pezzoli; Pinacoteca Ambrosiana.
    
Destination appeal
 
Our verdict
Last visit: August 2013.

Milan never excited us as a potential destination, but we made a couple of short visits nonetheless.
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Tuscany (Toscana)

In 6 words: My most favorite place on Earth.
For your first visit you need no less than 3 full days to fully explore the “must-see” destinations. With many other interesting places (and we are not counting Florence here, which merits several days by itself), you may need to budget at least a week.
Worthy destinations: Siena; San Gimignano; Pisa; Volterra; Pienza; Certaldo; towns on the Chianti Road.
Left for another visit: Lucca; Arezzo; Cortona.
Last visit: August 2013.
    
Destination appeal
 
Our verdict

San Gimignano

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Florence (Firenze)

In 9 words: Exceptional in all aspects of culture, architecture and history.
For your first visit you need no less than 2 full days to be able to fully appreciate the city and its major sights while keeping pleasantly unhurried pace; however, the attractions – palaces, churches, galleries – are so many that you may want to budget more time.
Distances are walkable in the city center, only Galleria dell’Accademia and especially Piazzale Michelangiolo may require public transport assistance.
Love its Renaissance architecture and its grand piazzas.
Don’t miss: viewing the city’s skyline from Piazzale Michelangiolo – for my money, one of the best panoramic views in the world.
On the other hand: In years past, street vendors covered much of the space that I wanted to admire with their useless wares (the city seemed to get its act together on our last trip).
    
Destination appeal
 
Our verdict
Worthy attractions: Santa Maria del Fiore and its companions Giotto Campanile and Battisterio; Ponte Vecchio; Galleria di Uffizi, with one of the best collections of paintings in the world; Galleria dell’Accademia, home of Michelangelo’s David; Basilica di Santa-Croce, resting place of many famous Florentines; Palazzo Pitti and Boboli Gardens; The Great Synagogue; Basilica di Santa Maria Novella.
Left for another visit: Palazzo Vecchio [did not tour inside]; Badia Fiorentina; Bargello; Palazzo Strozzi; San Lorenzo; Palazzo Medici-Riccardi; San Miniato al Monte.
Last visit: August 2013.

Ponte Vecchio

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Lake Como

In 2 words: Transcendent beauty.
For your first visit you need no less than 3 full days to fully explore the top destinations. You will likely leave feeling that more time was needed.
Worthy destinations: Bellagio; Menaggio; Como; a number of villas around the lake.
Left for another visit: Varenna.
Do not miss: Renting a motorboat for a leisurely ride around the lake.
Last visit: August 2013.
    
Destination appeal
 
Our verdict

Lake Como

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Rome (Roma)

In 9 words: Thousands of years of history in a magnificent package.
For your first visit you need no less than 3 full days to be able to fully appreciate the city and all of its major sights while keeping pleasantly unhurried pace.
Distances are walkable in most cases, although you may need to use some form of transport for certain attractions.
Love its beautiful squares adorned with fountains.
Don’t miss: Climbing to the top of Campidoglio at night to get a view of the lighted Forum; finding the “keyhole view” on Piazza Cavalieri di Malta on Aventine hill.
On the other hand: Many central streets don’t look very exceptional.
Worthy attractions: Roman Forum; Colosseum; Palatine; Terme di Caracalla; Pantheon; Trevi Fountain; St Peter’s Cathedral; Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel; Castel Sant’Angelo; Santa Maria Maggiore; San Giovanni in Laterano; Santa Maria in Trastevere; Santa Maria sopra Minerva and dozens of other churches; Museo e Galleria Borghese; Ghetto.
    
Destination appeal
 
Our verdict
Recommended day trip: Tivoli.
Left for another visit: Capitoline Museums; Palazzo Barberini; Palazzo Doria Pamphilj; Catacombs.
Last visit: December 2012.
Vittorio Emanuele II Monument

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High-speed trains in Europe

Travel by train is considerably more common in Europe than in the US, with multitude of routes, options and departures. Besides vast commuter networks in and around large metropolises and regular long-distance service, there are several high-speed networks that reach most if not all of the major destinations in Western Europe.

We, so far, took advantage with only a couple of those.
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Campania

In 12 words: Some major sights yet to be seen, but Amalfi Coast is heavenly.
For your first visit, a couple of days is too little, allowing for no more than a few hours on the beach. Depending on your interests, you’re likely to need to budget between four days and a week.
Worthy destinations: Amalfi Coast; Pompeii.
Left for another visit: Naples; Mt Vesuvio; Capri; Sorrento; Positano.
Last visit: September 2003.
    
Destination appeal
 
Our verdict

 

Amalfi

 
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