At Travel + Leisure, we love all things Italy — the culture and history, the food and drink, the people and hospitality, and of course, the gorgeous scenery. In fact, we love it so much, we named it our 2021 Destination of the Year.
These days, it feels like we're constantly dreaming of the day we can return, so we're sharing our favorite spots for those of you feeling the same. Here's hoping it inspires a future trip, and that we all can go back soon.
There’s a reason travelers flock to Italy year after year—it captures your heart and feeds your soul. If you’re looking for the same unparalleled experience here at home, just reach for a Martini & Rossi Fiero & Tonic—you’ll instantly be transported.
Lido La Caravella, Taormina
Lido la Caravella, a beach in Taormina, on Sicily's northeastern coast, is my happy place. It's a little bit of a walk from the funicular that takes you from the heart of the clifftop town down to the stunning Ionian Sea, so it's more of a local spot than a tourist destination. (Though some hotels, like my favorite in town, Villa Carlotta, do offer shuttle service to La Caravella if you know to ask for it.) Beyond the quintessential Italian coastal colors that serve up a true feast for the eyes — blue sea, white sand, yellow umbrellas — and the calm, pristine water, which you can enjoy leisurely on one of the floats provided for visitors, I love this beach for the restaurant and service. You can easily stay all day, starting with a bottle of prosecco, delivered straight to your beach chair on ice, and moving on to a sit-down lunch of fried seafood and fresh salads or pasta at a table with a view. The staff will make you feel like family, so much so that when the sun starts to set, you definitely won't be ready to leave. — Nina Ruggiero
Cimitero Acattolico di Roma
Many visitors stick to the touristy heart of Rome, but things really start to get interesting when you start heading outward. The so-called Protestant Cemetery, in Testaccio, is still technically within the old Aurelian Walls, but just barely — and it's an incredible distillation of how history can overlap in this city, from the Republic to the Empire, from the Renaissance to the age of Gran Turismo to Mussolini. Right next to the cemetery is the Piramide, an Egyptian-style pyramid that the magistrate Gaius Cestius built in the 1st Century BCE to serve as his tomb. Seventeen centuries later, others started choosing this spot as their final resting place. Those buried here include, but are not limited to: Keats; Shelley; Gramsci; assassinated Iranian dissident Mohammad Hossein Naghdi; beat poet Gregory Corso; Giorgio Bulgari (yes, that Bulgari); August von Goethe, son of and assistant to Johann Wolfgang; painter Tatiana Tolstaya, daugher of Leo and Sophia; actress Belinda Lee; former Albanian Prime Minster Shefqet Vërlaci; and Count Felix Felixovich Sumarokov-Elston of Russia, whose son is known for the murder of Rasputin in 1916. —Hannah Walhout
Friuli Venezia Giulia
I always feel bad for Friuli Venezia Giulia, stuck all the way up there in the far northeast of Italy, along the borders with Austria and Slovenia. It may be one of Italy's most-overlooked regions — at least for American visitors — despite the fact that it has all the charming cities, gorgeous beaches, Roman artifacts, long history, incredible food, and electric wine that make this country so worth a trip. Up here, where the Austrian-Hungarian Empire used to rule, you'll find a fascinating blend of Central European vibes and Italian flair, particularly in the port city of Trieste, where one of the world's most enchanting sailboat regattas still takes place every October. Udine, a city occupied then liberated in World War I, is today a jumping off point for wine routes and grappa tasting trips. The Roman ruins of Aquileia are now protected by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, worthy of at least a day's exploration. But save time for a few days on the beach, on the seaside island of Grado, filled with spas, cafes, bars, and clubs that buzz all summer long. —Paul Brady
La Casa del Caffé Tazza D’oro, Rome
This counter-service shop near the Pantheon kept coming up when my coffee-obsessed husband was researching the best places to get a capuccino in Rome. Its location in such a tourist-heavy part of the city had me a tad suspicious, but after our first visit, we were both convinced. You wait in line with some travelers, yes, but mostly a bunch of no-nonsense Romans, who seem to be stopping by on their way to work. Once you place your order, you find a spot along one of the pastry cases, lay your ticket on the counter, and wait for one of the baristas to snatch it up. Before you know it, he's back with your espresso beverage of choice, which you're meant to down in a few quick sips. It became our morning ritual and a place we'd go out of our way to visit. Case in point: On a pre-pandemic trip to Egypt, we routed our layover through Rome just so we could get a Tazza D'oro fix. —Sarah Bruning
Giotto’s Bell Tower, Florence
There's really no such thing as a "bad" view in Florence, the charming capital of Tuscany. Lots of tourists climb the steps of the Duomo to soak in views of the red-roofed buildings and rolling Tuscan hills, but I think the view next door — from the top of Giotto's Bell Tower — is even better because you can see the city's iconic Brunelleschi dome from a short distance. Opt for an evening visit to watch the sun set over Florence, and then go enjoy a well-deserved aperitivo after your workout (there's no elevator, so I recommend wearing comfortable shoes!). —Elizabeth Rhodes
I haven't been to Italy since I was 16 (criminal, I know) but I've never forgotten the day our Latin class spent walking the Appian Way. We visited the tiny church of Santa Maria in Palmis, toured the catacombs, and spent an afternoon gazing out at the open fields and neat rows of Italian cypress trees. As teenagers do, we joked around and half-listened to our teachers and tour guide, trying to act cool, but I think many of us were secretly awed to be there, on one of the oldest roads in the world. I know I was. —Liz Cantrell
This medieval hilltown in Umbria is just an hour from Rome by train, but it's a super rewarding day or overnight trip that shows an entirely different side of central Italy. My favorite part about this place is the wine of the same name, one of the only white wines I'll drink: a dry, refreshing blend of Grechetto and Trebbiano that you'll find all around town and at the wineries at the foot of the butte. But there's a lot more to Orvieto: the ruins of the Etruscan necropolis on which the town is built, regional foods like wild boar ragù and fava beans with pecorino, and a 14th-century cathedral striped with travertine and basalt, which was left miraculously unscathed by bombings in and around the area during WWII. —Hannah Walhout
Gelateria del Teatro, Rome
I'm pretty sure this spot — recommended to me by a friend who'd spent a year studying in Rome — has ruined me for every other gelato on the planet. They have all the usual suspects (a dreamy fior de latte, the most perfect stracciatella, and the platonic ideal of pistachio), but what you're really going for are less widely available combinations. I dream about flavors like the aromatic rosemary, honey, and lemon and the sweet-tart Veccia Roma (translated as "cheese and cherry"), but you can't go wrong with anything they have on offer. —Sarah Bruning
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