23 Jan 2014

Dreaming of Italy

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At this time of year, my thoughts always turn to Italy, a beguiling, irresistible, sometimes exasperating, but always massively rewarding country, and my favourite holiday destination bar none. The joy of Italy is that no matter how many times you visit, there’s always somewhere different and wonderful to discover.

Let’s start in late spring, and head south to Naples in April or May. Take the winding road south, towards Sorrento and Amalfi.  The sea sparkles and romantic islands shimmer and beckon from out in the bay.  Settle in to your hotel, take a walk and breathe in the heavenly scent of citrus blossom.  Enjoy the sounds of locals communicating in Neapolitan, their gestures forming an entertaining mix of ballet and mime show.  Head to Sorrento’s fishing village, Marina Grande, and plant your feet in the volcanic sand. Treat yourself to delicious spaghetti with clams and a chilled glass of white wine, all of it produced within a few kilometres of where you sit.  Bliss!

In early summer, it’s good to take the road less travelled.  In sun-baked Puglia, sit in a whitewashed piazza, surrounded by ‘Trulli’ and cool down with a pistachio ice cream. Admire the effortless style of the young, as they chatter and laugh before whizzing off on a pastel coloured Vespa.  In Bari, observe solemn ladies dressed in black, sitting outside their houses in the tiny alleyways, making ‘orecchiette’ pasta by hand.  Old men argue loudly about politics and drink impossibly strong espresso in their favourite cafe. In the countryside, a farmer gathers juicy tomatoes in his smallholding, to take home to his wife for lunch.

Late August and September is a good time to head to the seaside.  On the golden sands of Pesaro, on the Adriatic coast, immerse yourself in Italy’s unique beach culture.  Behold Nonna, Mamma and assorted bambini in their daily ritual – chatting, paddling, snacking, napping in the shade when it gets too hot, and discussing what they will have for dinner.  After a few cooling dips and a snooze under the sun umbrella, your batteries are re-charged. Head inland to Le Marche’s unspoilt green hills, where Urbino and other jewel-like art cities will blow you away with their cultural riches.

In Tuscany around late autumn, there’s a special golden light in the late afternoon sky.  The harvesting of grapes and other exquisite fruits of the land proceeds calmly, while after dark, small villages and towns come to life with festivals that celebrate their rural traditions and regional cuisine.  Fireworks explode in the sky, music plays, statues of saints are carried aloft, while jousters and flag-wavers in medieval costume create thrilling colour and spectacle.

These are just a few of my favourite Italian sights, sounds, and sensations. There are countless more delights awaiting you, and me.  On my wish list for 2014; Lake Iseo, Sicily’s Aeolian Islands, and Sperlonga, on the coast between Rome and Naples. What’s on yours?