But what if you’re looking for more unusual things to do in Italy? Well, you check out this handy list! All tried and tested with my own fair hands. Even the crazy mountaineering one (well, I was younger and bendier back then…)
So without further ado…
It was winter when I arrived in Trieste. The wind carried with it the whisper of sleet and the soft scent of snow. The ground sparkled with the reflections of Christmas lights in the afternoon rain and the central square was surprisingly quiet.
A central square with a name like Piazza d’Unita d’Italia already invites questions. A mention in a landmark Churchill speech becomes an informal visit to help the police with their enquiries. By the time I was translating the Italian word for sauerkraut (crauti) while sitting in the century-old beloved Buffet da Pepi, historical questions had become a caffeine-fuelled double cross-examination in a hyped and highly-televised celebrity trial of the century.
The stillness surrounds, save for the scrunch and soft thump of my boots on the edges of the scorched summer earth. The scent of lemons fills the air, along with sweet rose dust, some rosemary, a hint of thyme and a brush of silver leaves every now and then as I weave around the edges of the deserted olive grove.
I’m on the road from Amalfi to Sorrento, well, one of the roads at least. This one’s a road come windy path come slippery mud track come moss-soaked track and then back to start all over again.
Let me clear up any misunderstandings here and now by introducing you to the region of Umbria, Tuscany’s neighbour and overshadowed little sister. Umbria is the Mary to Anne Boleyn, the Dannii to Kylie Minogue, the Robert F. to JFK. Whatever you may believe about those names, Umbria certainly doesn’t deserve its place in the shadows.
So, pull up a chair, dust off your screen and enjoy a taste of Umbria via the means of this photo essay.
This village of 5000 welcomes back its travelling sons and daughters, those who left to find work. What began as a family sing-song and long stories told over deep red bottles of wine has evolved into the region’s biggest folk festival, attracting crowds from all around. The multi-generation spirit remains, though, as grandmas and grandpas (nonnas and nonnis) take to the stage belting out haunting melodies and giving accordions a good work out as darkness falls.
“This is the classic ragù that my grandmother taught me: a delicious, versatile sauce that can be used in many ways. Added to lasagne, any type of pasta, served with meatballs…” Lella from Cuoche in Vacanza
Via ferrata means “iron path” and it’s an adventure sport that began as a survival mechanism during the dubiously named Great War.
The bloody, icy dispute that straddled the Dolomites during the First World War left the Italians in trouble. Just a brief hike from the fashionable ski resort of Cortina, young men battled for their lives on the mountainous border between Austria and Italy.
While the Austrians excelled at mountaineering, Italy found itself with soldiers more used to the sun and sand of the south than the spiky peaks of the north. Their army included men who had never seen the snow, let alone knew how to climb mountains with a crippling load of ammunition on their backs.
Another canal takes me past a vegetable market, where chubby cherry tomatoes and stout pumpkin-sized ones change hands beneath the shade of a church tower. A male voice choir entertains in one piazza, while a saxophonist lets rip in another. Gondoliers in stripy T-shirts smoke and read the newspaper, their straw hats tilted to protect them from the sun.
Then I cross the Ponte de Gheto Novo, the wrought-iron bridge that carries me into the square of the same name. As it turns out, I have been wandering through the district of Il Ghetto, the small enclave of Venice that gave its name to every sad and squalid ghetto ever since.