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Rome. Venice. Florence. Their names alone conjure images of eternal elegance, enthralling history, fine food, and breath-taking scenery. Even if you’ve already spent time in this trio of impossibly attractive Italian cities of the Renaissance, it’s true to say that they deserve multiple visits. What’s more, exploring all three makes for a truly unforgettable trip, especially if you’re passionate about immersive travel experiences, as opposed to just skimming the surface.
This is about doing things differently, going deeper, feeling freshly inspired. After all, ancient artefacts and Renaissance architecture and art are anything but relics. The clue’s right there in the name. Renaissance = rebirth. This is about the magic of seeing things anew, and falling in love all over again.
Offering an exhilarating, enriching cornucopia of experiences, it’s obvious that Rome definitely wasn’t built in a day. So, it follows that the Eternal City really does reward repeat visits. Its abundance of historic attractions are incontestable must-sees: the Arch of Constantine, Palatine Hill, the Colosseum, the Forum Romanum, and all the better when you can enjoy special access to these sites by booking your Italian adventure with Rough Guides Tailor-Made Trips.
Elsewhere, you’ll most likely want to climb the iconic Spanish Steps to enjoy breath-taking views over Rome’s rooftops and rambling, tangled streets. Then there’s the Trevi Fountain, where you can make like Anita Ekberg in “La Dolce Vita”, or else enjoy your own dollop of sweet life in gelato form. The area around the Trevi boasts a cluster of great cafés, not to mention high-end boutiques and museums - it’s somewhere to explore at leisure, allowing plenty of time for browsing and energising espresso stop-offs.
Come the evening, Rome takes on another dimension as it becomes (yet more) enlivened by outdoor socialising - few things beat devouring authentic Roman cuisine on the terrace of a traditional trattoria. Caicio e pepe, for example, is a classic must-try Roman pasta dish, cacio being the local term for Pecorino Romano cheese, while pepe is black pepper. In a word, delizioso.
Travelling from Rome to Florence by train is a fabulous experience. It takes just an hour and a half while taking in stunning Tuscan scenery: rolling hills, an abundance of cypress trees, medieval villages. On arrival, Florence greets visitors with grace and majesty. It also evokes a feeling of invigoration (appropriately enough, given that the city was the birthplace of the Renaissance). It’s a place to breathe in deeply while wandering along the Arno river, or meandering the magnificent Ponte Vecchio, browsing the bridge’s jewellers and art dealers.
Talking of art (this is Florence, after all), you’ll want to head inside the Duomo to explore its art treasures, not least The Last Judgement fresco that adorns the dome’s awe-inspiring interior. And then, the main event - the Galleria degli Uffizi. The finest picture gallery in Italy, the Uffizi maps the evolution of the Renaissance through displays of works by the likes of Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli and Michelangelo. Meanwhile, the Accademia Gallery is home to Michelangelo’s David. Epic, unforgettable stuff you’ll surely talk about for years to come.
For an authentic Florentine food experience, head to Mercato Centrale, a stunning two-storey palace of places to eat and pick up delicious local produce, with the ground floor housing fishmongers, butchers and fruit vendors alongside specialty stalls selling local olive oils, meats and cheeses. Upstairs, in the gourmet food court, epicures will feel like kids in a sweet shop. Gelato, chocolate, fresh-baked bread, pasta, pizza - it’s all here, being prepared before your very eyes, for you to feast on.
While en route from Florence to Venice, it would be a crying shame to pass up the chance to explore some of Tuscany’s highlights. After all, as the saying goes, the journey is the destination. At the very least, the journey plays a pretty big part in making immersive travel experiences so special, as you’ll discover if you detour to the stunning Tuscan hilltop town of San Gimignano, with its quaint cobbled streets, sweet little squares, and clutch of adorable artisan boutiques.
You could also stop off to explore Siena. Think of it as a bijou version of Florence - entrancingly attractive, and suffused in medieval history (and mystery). Its museums and galleries aren’t half bad either. And don’t pass up the chance to visit a Tuscan villa for a wine-tasting lunch. Whether you’re marvelling at art, or relishing fine food, this region of Italy is a feast for all the senses.
Enchantment. That’s Venice in a word. The beguiling floating city beloved by romantics, artists, writers and thinkers is a place to reconnect with your inner aesthete. A place to eat well, sleep well and, well, do everything well. A time-honoured Venetian tradition is to get lost in the labyrinth of lanes and alleys, bridges and watery walkways (no matter how great your navigation skills usually are).
There’s no better way to get under the skin of this captivating destination - how else would you have discovered that perfect little trattoria, or found that extra-special gift? Much like Venice’s sumptuous masquerade tradition, the city itself is something of an enigma, revealing glimpses of alluring secrets at every turn.
Taking a tour of the Doge’s Palace on St Mark’s Square is pretty much de rigueur - especially for lovers of art and architecture - as is drifting down the Grand Canal, surrounded by buildings and bridges to gasp at, including (naturally) the beautiful Bridge of Sighs and the ravishing Rialto. Between exploring (and gasping), you’ll want to do more than merely sample Venice’s food - you’ll want to dive in and devour those delicious seafood dishes and classic risottos.
You’ll want to bite into those buttery, cinnamon-spiced bussolai biscuits. And then there’s all that quality Veneto wine and Prosecco to quaff. All that considered, once visited, it’s guaranteed that Venice’s charms will entice you back time and time again. As will Florence and Rome’s, for that matter.
By Joanne Owen, Rough Guides writer
Tempted to book a trip to Italy? For more inspiration, don’t miss the expertly created Rough Guides Tailor-Made Trips, with an itinerary that explores Italy’s fabulous Renaissance cities. Or be connected with a local expert in the destination you want to visit, to personally create and book a trip that is just right for you.