When the would be traveler envisions a trip to Italy, most often his mind would offer up pictures of magnificent Roman ruins, or perhaps sun-drenched villas sitting above dazzling blue seas, but there is another side to Italy. The Northern part of the country nestles up against the Alps, and is also a modern and highly industrialized region. Milan is the center and point of entry for this region.
Although not as well known as Rome or Venice, Milan is the largest city by population in Italy. Its inhabitants number almost seven million, and its land area is equal to that of Paris. It is a financial and industrial center, and is considered to be one of the richest cities in the European Union. Milan is also an important fashion center. Shopping is a major pastime here, and the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele is considered to be the world’s oldest shopping Mall. This aggressive modern city was included on a list of the “10 Alpha World Cities” in a recent report by the Brookings Institute.
Milan is only the gateway to Northern Italy, however, and the area includes other urban places of interest such as the water bound city of Venice. It is the nearby mountains that give this area its special flavor, and the area north of Milan not only abounds in spectacular scenery, but also provides opportunities for a wide variety of winter sports. This area is often called the Dolomites region, but is actually a part of the Alps, including the regions of South Tyrol, Trentino, and Belluno. The highest point in Italy is Mont Blanc which is 15,770 feet above sea level.
Naples is beautifully situated on the Bay of Naples. Considered one of the most lovely in all of Europe, it extends from Cape Misena in the north to the Sorrento peninsula in the south. Near the Bay are the famous and beautiful islands of Procida, Capri, and Ischia. This third largest city in Italy is one of the major seaports. Naples has an area of 117 sq km and a big population of over 1 million.
Naples has a very diverse history. In the 4th century, it was conquered by the Romans, who favored Naples for its Greek culture and its beauty. In the 6th century, Naples passed under Byzantine rule and in the 8th century it became an independent duchy. In 1139, it was added to the kingdom of Sicily. In 1282, Sicily passed to the house of Aragon, and the Italian peninsula became known as the kingdom of Naples. In 1860 Naples was annexed to the Mediterranean island of Sardinia. Today, Naples is a thriving industrial city.
Some of Naples’ Attractions:
The Capodimonte Museum and Park was built as a hunting lodge for King Charles III. It houses one of Italy’s richest museums with a great picture gallery and collection of majolica and porcelain. You can wander through the royal residence and grounds. The Duomo is a 13th century Gothic cathedral dedicated to Naples’s patron saint, San Gennaro. It also includes the oldest church in the city, a 4th century basilica, a baptistery, and Renaissance crypt.
Spaccanapoli is one of the main streets crossing Naples and is the center of the historic heart of the city. The Spaccanapoli district holds interesting shops, churches and other buildings and is mainly a pedestrian zone. The National Archaeological Museum of Naples has one of the world’s finest collections of Roman and Greek antiquities, including mosaics, sculptures, gems,
glass and silver as well as a collection of Roman erotica from Pompeii.
The Castel Nuovo, a huge castle erected in 1282, houses the Civic Museum. Castel dell’Ovo, the oldest castle in Naples, sits in distinction on the harbor and is used for exhibitions and concerts.
For a wine taster’s palate, there is no better destination than the fine taste of Italy’s excellent vineyards. Four major regions come to mind, Chianti, Piedmont, Tuscany, and Veneto, any one a rich experience to add to your travel plans when visiting this beautiful country.
Chianti is a wine producing region in Italy world famous for its dry, red wines. Chianti is located in the center of Tuscany, with Florence on the northern end and Siena marking the southern boundary. The region is divided into smaller areas with the Chianti Classico area being the center and the most prestigious wine.
The main grape used in Chianti is the Sangiovese variety, but it may be blended with other grapes, including Trebbiano. The Sangiovese grape is a finicky variety, not ripening uniformly or easily, and wines made from this grape must be carefully formulated by experienced winemakers to produce the distinct and full bodied Chianti wines.
Wines from this area once brought up visions of a peasant village, with red checkered tablecloths and candles perched in straw wrapped bottles, dripping with wax down the sides. Due to a changing in the wine laws of Italy in the early 1990’s, the style and quality of Chianti has improved tremendously in the last ten years.
“Piemont”, meaning “at the hoot of the mountain” describes the landscape where the vines are grown. This area produces more than 40 officially recognized wines known worldwide, the greater majority made on small family-run estates.
The Nebbiolo is the main grape grown in this Northern Italian region, resulting in rich, hearty reds like Barbaresco, Gattinara and Barolo. Here, also, is where their sparkling white, Asti Spumante, was developed from the Muscato grape, by an Italian vintner who trained in France.
Picturesque landscape, beautiful peoples and a wide variety of wine tasting from light sweet dessert wines to delight and excite the palate make the Piedmont region a must on your tour Italiano.