And if we varied the pleasures to abandon for a time the great cities of art that are Rome, Florence or Venice? Beyond the magnificent churches, palaces, squares and museums of these unmissable destinations, Italy is full of hidden gems, villages to explore, little-known corners to explore.
From Emilia-Romagna with the proud Modena to the surprising Ragusa nestled on the edge of a Sicilian ravine via Varallo, the "Jerusalem of Piedmont", here are ten places that also shine with their terroir, architecture and exceptional gastronomy peer. Andiamo!
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MODENA: VINEGAR, OLD STONES AND FERRARI
Capital of Romanesque art thanks to the monumental complex of Piazza Grande, the Campanar Tower (known as Ghirlandina) and the cathedral, the city of Modena has been listed since 1997 on the Unesco World Heritage List. Angelo Nacchio
Cabas in hand, it is at the market that you will find real balsamic vinegar of Modena PDO. A precious 100 ml bottle (from € 40 to over € 1,500), containing a tasty nectar that takes 12 to 25 years, sometimes up to 150 years, to reach this syrup texture. But this jewel of Italian gastronomy cannot conceal the Piazza Grande, classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site with its superb 12th century Duomo , flanked by a 90-meter bell tower.
An exceptional heritage which today rivals the racing cars - hoisted to the rank of a work of art - of the fascinating Enzo Ferrari museum, located 20 km from the brand's factory in Maranello.
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The nearest international airport is in Bologna, a city linked to Modena in 30 minutes by train.
Tourist office: piazza Grande, 14, Modena; Phone. : +39 059/2032660; www.visitmodena.it.
Best Western Premier Hotel Milano Palace: character building housing a 4 star hotel with refined contemporary rooms. (corso V. Emanuele II, 68; tel. +39 059/223011; www.milanopalacehotel.it; double room 150-535 €).
Hotel Rua Frati 48 in San Francesco: 5 stars delivering elegant modern and minimalist rooms which enhance the architecture of this historic house. (rua dei Frati Minori, 48; tel: +39 059/7474410; www.ruafrati48.com; double room 485 - 975 €).
Osteria Francescana: excellent modern table from three-star chef Massimo Bottura, who regularly appears on the list of World's 50 Best Restaurants. (via Stella, 22; tel .: +39 059/223912; www.osteriafrancescana.it; 12-course menu 290 €).
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Do not miss
Palazzo dei Musei: a rich collection of art where Velasquez, Tintoretto, Greco, Reni, Bernini, Carrache, etc. are admired. (largo Porta Sant'Agostino, 337; www.palazzodeimuseimodena.it).
Museo Enzo Ferrari (MEF): on the origins of the brand and its creator, born in Modena (via P. Ferrari, 85; www.musei.ferrari.com).
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RAVENNA AND ITS PALEOCHRETIAN MONUMENTS
The imposing 6th century Basilica San Vitale remains the emblematic masterpiece of Ravenna. Waspa69
A slap. Entering the modest 5th century Mausoleo di Galla Placidia, you don't expect such a profusion of sublime mosaics, the oldest on the site. Because Ravenna very quickly acquired prestigious Christian monuments to celebrate its status as the capital of the Western Roman Empire, then that of Byzantine Italy.
In all, eight buildings listed as World Heritage by Unesco, of which the imposing Basilica San Vitale of the sixth century remains the emblematic masterpiece, endowed with delicate mosaics. In short, a great artistic fusion of Greco-Roman fundamentals, Christian iconography and the oriental style.
The nearest international airports are in Bologna and Rimini, cities connected to Ravenna in 1 to 1 hour and 10 minutes by train.
Tourist office: piazza San Francesco, 7; Phone. : +39 0544/35755; www.turismo.ra.it.
Palazzo Bezzi Hotel: beautiful, simple, modern 4-star hotel with a garden terrace and rooftop (via di Roma, 45; tel. +39 0544/36926; www.palazzobezzi.it; double room 70 - 170 €).
Ristorante Alexander: served in an old cinema, contemporary cuisine, inspired by the sea, the land and above all tradition (via Bassa del Pignataro, 8; tel: +39 0544/212967; www.ristorantealexander.it; menus 35 - 45 €).
Do not miss
Early Christian monuments (www.ravennamosaici.it).
BOLOGNA, RICH CAPITAL OF THE REGION
Visiting Bologna is always a good idea. This medium-sized city less known to the classic tourist circuits of Italy nevertheless contains all the characteristic gems of the country. Vanni Lazzari
Oh scandal. An athletic bronze Neptune god - naked and trident in hand - stands on a pedestal overlooking four voluptuous mermaids, who knead their breasts to make water spurt out.
Signed Jean de Bologne, this 16th century fountain aroused the indignation of the church. But today it magnifies the splendid Piazza Maggiore - the picturesque medieval heart of the city - surrounded by prestigious palaces. Not to mention its churches, Renaissance buildings and its Bologna School initiated by local painters, which is exhibited in museums.
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International airport on site.
Tourist office: piazza Maggiore, 1 / e; Phone. : +39 051/6583111; www.bolognawelcome.it.
Grand Hotel Majestic: 18th century palace revealing a magnificent 5-star hotel with a very classic look (via dell'Indipendenzia, 8; tel. +39 051/225445; grandhotelmajestic.duetorrihotels.com; double room 180-1 400 €).
Hotel Corona d'Oro: elegant and classic 4-star rooms in an astonishing medieval residence (via Oberdan, 12; tel. +39 051/7457611; www.hco.it; double room 210 - 710 €).
Trattoria da Me: tasty cuisine rooted in the region and served in a deliciously vintage atmosphere (via San Felice, 50; tel. +39 051/555486; www.trattoriadame.it; à la carte: 40 - 70 €).
Do not miss
Basilica di San Domenico: from the 13th century, with his works by Michelangelo (piazza San Domenico).
Basilica di Santo Stefano: curious complex of nested Romanesque churches (piazza Santo Stefano).
Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna: one of the richest in the country, to marvel at Giotto, Pérugin, Raphaël, Titien, Reni, Carrache, etc. (via Belle Arti, 56; www.pinacotecabologna.beniculturali.it).
The Due Torri: famous pair of medieval towers, identity of the city (via di Porta Ravegnana; www.duetorribologna.com).
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MANTOUE, CITY OF ART AND WATER
Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Mantua spends peaceful days on the banks of the Mincio River. Press photo
A few steps in the historic center of Mantua take us into an imposing and majestic medieval universe; largely embellished by some great Renaissance artists, in the service of the Gonzague dynasty.
We also visit their fabulous Palazzo Ducale planted in the magnificent Piazza Sordello. Without forgetting their sulphurous Palazzo Te, considered one of the most important monuments of the Renaissance. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Mantua spends peaceful days on the banks of the Mincio River, which lends itself to pleasant cruises.
The nearest international airport is in Verona, a city connected to Mantua in an hour by train.
Tourist office: piazza Mantegna, 6; Phone. : +39 0376/432432; www.turismo.mantova.it.
Hotel Casa Poli: a good contemporary 4 star (corso Garibaldi, 32; tel. +39 0376/288170; www.hotelcasapoli.it; double room 120-200 €).
Palazzo Castiglioni: several elegant and cozy suites in a picturesque 14th century palace, property of the same family since the Renaissance (piazza Sordello, 12; mob.: +39 3488034576; www.palazzocastiglionimantova.it; double room 260 - 320 €) .
Trattoria "Il Cigno" dei Martini: simple local specialties but of good quality (piazza Carlo d'Arco, 1; mob.: +39 0376/327101; à la carte 40 - 80 €).
Do not miss
Palazzo Ducale (piazza Sorcello, 40; www.ducalemantova.org).
Palazzo Te (viale Te, 13; www.palazzote.it).
Basilica di Sant'Andrea: Renaissance jewel containing the relic of the Blood of Christ (piazza Mantegna).
SABBIONETA, BORN OF A FANTASY
The Ducal Palace, or Palazzo Grande is the historic building of the small town of Sabbioneta, in the province of Mantua. Adobe stock
Lost in the open countryside, it is a surprising little fortified town, born in the 16th century in the whimsical spirit of Duke Vespasian I of Gonzague, who wanted to have his own capital.
Built in a star according to the innovative urban planning principles of the Renaissance, it wanted to be an "ideal city" for its 3000 inhabitants. The duke surrounded himself with a court of intellectuals, artists and ambassadors who contributed to his influence throughout Europe. A dynamic and brilliant atmosphere which contrasts with the current Sabbioneta: asleep in a magnificent decrepitude. It is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is included in the list of the most beautiful villages in Italy.
Connection from Mantua in 50 minutes by bus (apam.it).
Tourist office: piazza d'Armi, 1; Phone. : +39 0375/221044; www.visitsabbioneta.it.
Albergo Giulia Gonzaga: no real choice but this practical, clean and rather pretty little hotel (via Gonzaga, 65; tel: +39 0375/528169; www.albergogiuliagonzaga.it; double room 60 - 85 €).
Ristorante Corte Bondeno: 5 km from Sabbioneta, excellent countryside table with direct access to the region (via Loria; cel.: +39 3458012912; www.ristorantecortebondeno.it; à la carte 30 - 40 €).
CRÉMONE, SEND THE VIOLINS
Home of the Stradivarius, the Italian city of Cremona has become the world laboratory for luthiers. Press photo
Cremona is first and foremost a charming little historic heart, which flourishes around the beautiful Piazza del Comune. We discover the 12th century Duomo, flanked by its Torrazo - vertiginous bell tower over 110 m high! - and its superb octagonal baptistery. An architectural ensemble characteristic of the transition between Romanesque and Gothic style.
But the city is also distinguished by its long tradition of luthiers, whose legend Antonio Stradivari (1644-1737) - known as Stradivarius - built. A prestigious craft evoked in the Museo del Violino and which is also indulged in the many small workshops in the city center.
The nearest international airport is in Milan, a city linked to Cremona in 1 hour and 10 minutes by train.
Tourist office: piazza del Comune, 5; Phone. : +39 03762/407081; www.turismocremona.it.
Delle Arti Design Hotel: a 4-star design hotel, which stands out in the historic center (via Bonomelli, 8; tel: 0372/23131; www.dellearti.com; double room 125 - 195 €).
Antica Corte Pallavicina Relais: in the countryside, 13 km from Cremona, a few charming rooms in this picturesque 14th century mansion, on the banks of the River Po. Excellent starred restaurant and culatello factory , famous local ham carved from the pig's buttock (strada del Palazzo Due Torri, 3, at Polesine Parmense; tel .: 0524/936539; www.anticacortepallavicina.it; double room 180 - 620 €) .
Locanda Torriani: fine cuisine that revisits tradition with talent and taste (via Torriani, 7; tel: 0372/30017; à la carte 40 - 70 €).
Do not miss
Museo del Violino (piazza Marconi, 5; www.museodelviolino.org).
VARALLO, THE “JERUSALEM OF PIEDMONT” AND ITS SEIZING MOUNT SACRED
The Sacred Mount of Varallo observed from the center of the city. Press photo
From the village, a small vintage funicular takes us to its amazing Sacro Monte, created in the 15th century by a fervent Franciscan monk returning from Jerusalem.
Up there, a steep path connects 45 chapels each dedicated to an event in the life of Christ. Through the moucharabiehs, one is seized by the realism of the productions, made up of 800 terracotta statues on a human scale, wearing real hair and enhanced with frescoes. An amazing monument classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the heart of Valsesia, a mountainous region suitable for hiking.
The nearest international airport is in Milan, a city linked to Varallo in 2 hours by bus (www.beranzelli.it).
Tourist office: corso Roma, 38; Phone. : +39 0163/564404; www.atlvalsesiavercelli.it.
Sleep, eat there
Albergo Italia: the historic 3 star hotel in Varallo, with functional and clean rooms (corso Roma, 6; tel. 0163/51106; www.albergoitalia.net; double room € 90).
Villa Crespi - Relais & Châteaux: overlooking the lovely Lake Orta, 12 km from Varallo, a 5-star hotel with great charm, set up in a superb Moorish villa from the 19th century, with a cozy atmosphere. It is also THE good table of the region - both inspired and well in the tradition, directed by the starred chef Antonino Cannavacciulo. (via Fava, 18, at Orta San Giulio; tel .: 0322/911902; www.villacrespi.it; double room 360 - 980 €; menus 150 - 190 €).
Do not miss
Sacro Monte di Varallo (www.sacromontedivarallo.com).
Chiesa di Santa Maria delle Grazie: essential for its superb scenes from the life of Jesus, painted in 1531 by Gaudenzio Ferrari (piazza Gaudenzio Ferrari, 6).
PERUUSE, MASTERPIECE PRESERVED IN AUTHENTIC JUICE
For some, Perugia is considered the pearl of Umbria. Adobe stock
To go up to Perugia, take the escalator! Because the rich capital of the region is perched on a steep rocky promontory, surrounded by ramparts and crisscrossed by narrow alleys. A curious medieval-Renaissance atmosphere - lively and somewhat confined - which has at its heart the magnificent Piazza IV Novembre, its 13th century fountain, its Duomo and without forgetting the splendid Palazzo dei Priori, which contains the treasures of a museum of essential art.
International airport on site.
Tourist office: corso Roma, 38; Phone. : +39 075/5736458; turismo.comune.perugia.it.
Locanda della Posta Boutique Hotel: beautiful contemporary and minimalist 4-star hotel in an old 18th century coaching inn (corso Vannuci, 97; tel. +39 075/5728925; www.locandadellaposta.it; double rooms 100 - 235 €) .
Hotel Brufani: 5-star rooms - elegant and classic - in a 19th-century building on the panoramic edge of the city, with superb spa-swimming pool under medieval arches (piazza Italia, 12; tel: +39 075/5720210; www .sinahotels.com; double rooms 160 - 560 €).
Antica Trattoria San Lorenzo: fine modern cuisine oriented towards the Mediterranean (piazza Danti, 19a; tel: +39 075/5721956; menus 30 - 120 €).
Do not miss
Palazzo dei Priori: from the 13th century, its Galleria Nazionale dell'Umbria harbors the richest collection of regional painting, including masterpieces from Perugino, master of Raphael (corso Vannucci, 19; tel. +39 075/5721009 ; gallerianazionaledellumbria.it).
Cappella di San Severo: Raphael fresco (Raffaello pizza; tel: +39 075/9471766).
Basilica di San Pietro: church-museum known for its incredible art collection (via Borgo XX Giugno, 74; tel: +39 075/33753; www.fondazioneagraria.it).
ASSISI, CITY-MUSEUM OF PILGRIMAGE
Famous for being the place of birth and death of Francesco Bernardone, Francis of Assisi, one of the greatest saints of the Roman Catholic church, Assisi has a very rich cultural and historical heritage. Andrea Cova
Upon entering the Basilica of St. Francis, the great Giotto takes us by the hand! Because its sublime colored frescoes - telling the life of the saint - decorate the two superimposed churches of the brilliant sanctuary, intense place of pilgrimage since the 13th century.
But Assisi - nestled on a fortified rock and listed as World Heritage by Unesco - has many other stone treasures around its medieval streets. Like its attractive Piazza del Comune, where a surprising Roman temple with columns and several medieval palaces coexist!
The nearest international airport is in Perugia, a city linked to Assisi in 20 minutes by train.
Tourist office: piazza del Comune; Phone. : +39 075/8138680; www.visit-assisi.it.
Hotel Il Palazzo: beautiful modern and refined 3 star hotel in a 16th century palace (via San Francesco, 8a; tel: 075/816841; hotelilpalazzo.it; double room 90 - 210 €).
Hotel Nun Assisi Relais & Spa Museum: cozy 5-star rooms, with a minimalist design sublimating the architecture of this old medieval convent. Magnificent spa in the basement, bordered by Roman remains (via Eremo delle Carceri, 1a; tel: 075/8155150; www.nunassisi.com; double room 265 - 635 €).
Ristorante La Locanda del Cardinale: local cuisine revisited with delight and served in a 16th-century palace with Roman ruins (piazza del Vescovado, 8; tel .: 075/815245; www.lalocandadelcardinale.com; menus 50 - 70 €, à la carte 50 - 80 €).
Do not miss
Basilica di San Francesco (piazza San Francesco; www.sanfrancesco.org)
Basilica di Santa Chiara: built in the 13th century, it houses the giant crucifix before which God spoke to Saint Francis (piazza Santa Chiara; www.assisisantachiara.it).
RAGUSE, TWO CITIES IN ONE… CONNECTED BY A STAIRCASE
Located on a cliff of about 550 meters, Ragusa is one of the magnificent classic Baroque cities of Sicily. Adobe stock
Going down the Scalinata - charming winding staircase that connects the two districts of the city - we discover a flight of palaces, churches and also some superb panoramas of Ragusa, encamped on two rocky headlands, at the edge of a ravine.
Listed as Unesco World Heritage with seven other surrounding Baroque cities, Ragusa was rebuilt after the earthquake of 1693 which devastated the south-east of Sicily. In short, a deluge of superb Baroque monuments for a unique silhouette!
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The nearest international airport is located in Catania, a city linked to Ragusa in 3:45 to 4:30 by train (change in Syracuse).
Tourist office: piazza San Giovanni; Phone. : +39 0932/684780; www.comune.ragusa.gov.it.
ad 1768 Boutique Hotel: 18th century palace providing a superb 4-star hotel with refined rooms; mix of vintage and design furniture (piazza Duomo; tel: +39 0932/663133; www.1768iblahotel.it; double room 110 - 470 €).
San Giorgio Palace Hotel: beautiful, simple and contemporary rooms for this 4-star hotel nestled on the hillside. Michelin-starred restaurant on site. (via Ottaviano; tel .: +39 0932/686983; www.sangiorgiopalacehotel.it; double room 70 - 235 €).
Ristorante La Fenice: inventive and flavoursome cuisine, simmered by Michelin-starred chef Claudio Ruta (via Ghandi, 3; tel: +39 0932/604140; www.lafeniceristorante.it; menus 55 - 85 €; à la carte 65 - € 90).
Do not miss
Duomo di San Giorgio: from the 18th century, with its elegant facade, its high dome and its sacristy containing a magnificent Renaissance altar signed Gagini, vestige of the original destroyed church (piazza del Duomo).
Vallata Santa Domenica: unusual trail running through the bottom of the green ravine that borders the city.