The sad reality is I won’t see nearly all the cool places or do enough interesting things in Italy.  So, why not let former Italy resident and damn fine blogger Annie Bettis tell you her top five musts?

 

It is almost a guarantee that no matter who you happen to ask, their answer is going to include Italy as one of their top must-see destinations. When it was time for me to hop on my flight across the Atlantic, I have to admit that I’d considered Italy very little as a destination in my brand new desire to see the world. My reasons for going there were completely different than most; delicious pasta and wine had, shockingly, spent very little time lingering in my thoughts that year. Nevertheless, there I was in the middle of Florence where I thankfully ended up stuck for the next year. It was the perfect amount of time to see just what my fantasies were missing.

Living in the Renaissance City meant that every single day I was bombarded with the names of famous artists and must-see museums. I’m not really one for art, a trait that I blame on my bland American education, but if art and history are what you fancy then a trip to each of the Florence museums should be on your list. If you’re a bit more like me, with food, wine and sunshine taking a higher priority, here’s what should be on your list.

1. Pizza

Above all else, if it’s the only thing you do in Italy, eat pizza. Your best bet will be to head straight to the birthplace of the slice itself and step into some of the most famous pizzerias in the old port town of Naples. There are plenty of famous and worthy pizzerias in Naples but if you want to experience your pizza in Hollywood style, then it’s Pizzeria Da Michelle that you want. Given world-wide fame thanks to Elizabeth Gilbert’s reference to it in her book Eat, Pray, Love, the deliciousness is as real as the lines. The waits will be worth it when you take your first bite of melting, ooey-gooey, cheesy, sweet tomato-y love. Shall I go on?

2. Taking a Wine Tour of Tuscany

Many people are confused about what exactly Tuscany is. All too often while I was in Florence I heard visitors referring to heading to Tuscany for the weekend. Well, technically that could mean that they were heading to the greater region and doing their best to keep the name-calling general but something tells me they didn’t know any better.

Tuscany is actually the region (think State, Province, etc.) that houses Florence, so referring to it as if you are leaving Florence for Tuscany doesn’t really flow well. That aside, be sure to give all of Tuscany a chance! Perhaps one of the most famous wines in the world, Chianti is made specially with grapes that are only grown in that region of the world. There are a number of adorable little medieval towns to enjoy these wines in while learning what it takes to be a wine-maker straight from the Italians mouth. Usually these tastings include fresh bread and freshly made olive oil along with other treats!

Although it may be some of the most famous wine in the world, Tuscany is not the only place to get something fabulous. Veneto, Sicily, Sardinia and Abruzzo all have some of super tasty and unique to their region flavors as well. Try them all!

3. Southern Italy

Mostly anything south of Rome gets far to little attention. When people think of Italy they tend to get distracted by the romantic canals of Venice, the naked statues of Florence and the still-standing ruins of Rome. There is so much more to this ancient country and it’s just as beautiful as the rest of the more famous counterparts.

If it’s beaches and sunshine you are looking for then head to Sardinia or Sicily for some of the most famous beaches in the world. Great food can be found in any region but in the south look for fantastic fried seafood and fresh seafood pasta dishes and spicy Calabrese chilies.

One of the most interesting things about southern Italy is the cultural and geographic changes that take place. The lifestyle is different, even more relaxed than that of Northern Italy and the architecture reflects the diverse history. One of my favorite architectural wonders are the Trulli of the region Puglia (often referred to as Apulia). Traveling in the heel of this booted country even gives you an opportunity to stay in one of these ancient structures.

4. Pecorino Cheese

If it hasn’t become clear to you yet, food is one of my greatest loves in life. Imagine how content my little stomach was when I discovered that I had haphazardly stumbled upon what could possibly be the food capitol of the world.

I try not to pick favorites, but if I had I’d nominate cheese to be near the top of my list of favorite foods. What I wouldn’t do for a fantastic slice of sharp cheddar, which is particularly hard to find in Italy. I did, however, stumble upon a strong rival. Pecorino is made of sheep’s milk and named “Little Sheep” to ensure not a single person forgets its origins. The cheese comes in many varieties but the original is said to be the Sardinian version, which is particularly tough in both flavor and consistency. Almost resembling a strongly flavored parmesan.

My favorite Pecorino can be found in Tuscany (hey, I’m biased), most likely coming from Pienza. It is hardly aged at all, making it soft and flavorful. It goes best paired with honey and jams as a dessert or baked with nuts and spread over fresh bread as an appetizer! Delicious!

5. The Beach

Italy may not be what comes to mind when you think beach vacation but that’s a shame considering that the three biggest of its four boundaries are bordered only by water. No matter which region you are in, chances are if it’s coastal, it has a great beach.

Sardinia’s Costa Smeralda is perhaps one of the most famous places in the whole country, and for good reason. The emerald green waters reflect back at happy beach-goers and the chances of finding your very own secret beach are very high.

The immensely tall, rocky coastline of Capri is sprinkled with the colorful facades of Italy and most of the Western World’s famous faces. The pearl white stones, no matter how painful, are the perfect setting to highlight Capri’s azul waters. Sitting on one of the many bars seaside decks is like being transported into your most heavenly paradise.

Even Tuscany has something to offer when it comes to relaxing in the sunshine. The by-product of the regions very own bicarbonate factory means that insanely white Caribbean-esque beaches can be enjoyed right at your doorstep. If chemicals aren’t your thing then head to Cecina or Vada, one of the smaller beach towns along the coast. Each has a uniquely calm, Italian feel to it that will leave you feeling right at home. The Italians take the entire month of August off for holiday, why shouldn’t you?

As a fairly small country, the multitude of everything that Italy has to offer is overwhelming. Although you may have to dodge the crowds of umbrella wielding tourists to see some of the more famous aspects of the country, if you’ve been there and done that, why not try some of the less known corners? I guarantee they’ll still be uniquely Italian!

Author bio: Annie is a serial expat; when she finds a new place she likes, she stays! After finishing a stint living and working as a tour guide in Florence, Italy she is currently trying her hand on a working holiday in Australia. You can follow her adventures on travel, food and just about anything she stumbles across along the way on her site Wayward Traveller. Also, check her out on Twitter @annb04 and be sure to “like” her Facebook Page to see some daily photos of what she sees while abroad.

Photos: Rome by Lyn Gateley, Tuscany wine by  Bonnie Ann Cain-Wood, Italian beach by  Miriam Rossignoli