Last week’s eruption of Mount Etna, in addition to grounding flights at Catania’s Fontanarossa Airport, was another reminder that, square mile for square mile, Italy packs in a heck of lot more variety than most other places. We’re not only talking about “secret” regions, like the misty Langhe, or Apulia and the Cilento, although those certainly factor into the geographical diversity equation. But rather, we refer to those myriad magical moments you can experience in Italy that will leave a lasting and distinctly Italian vacation imprint.
Consider the following scenarios, which are rich in unexpected Mamma Mia! moments.
Tilting towers in Pisa and Bologna.
Pisa’s famous white marble tower measures 185 feet tall. Imagine you are traveling with a loved one and you want to prove how much you care: just march him or her straight up to the top and let the swooning begin! You’ll be helped by gravity, because at the top, this medieval masterpiece, designed deliciously (it looks like a stretch wedding cake) by anonymous, leans some 17 feet off the vertical. Mamma mia!
On the subject of Italian architectural marvels, also consider Bologna — It has two leaning towers of its own, not nearly as famous as Pisa’s, but one of which you can still climb. Also in Bologna there are nearly 50 miles of pretty colonnaded arcades, the perfect place to stroll and woo, or conversely, to lose your in-laws if you happen to have them in tow.
Movie magic in Sicily.
Ah, la famiglia. Could there be any of Italy’s 20 regions more richly synonymous with all things familiar, and we do mean all things, than Sicily? The Mediterranean’s largest island is also its most magical – just ask the Greeks, or rather the ancient ones, who settled it long before the Italians did. For nature on a cinematic scale, there’s moody Mount Etna, which looms above Catania, and which can also easily be seen from the traditional Sicilian resort town of Taormina – the view of the volcano from Taormina’s cliffside Greek amphitheater is one of the most visually arresting in the world.
Now, it’s also true that The Godfather etched Sicily into the American consciousness for a whole generation of movie-goers. So imagine, you’re staying in the island, perhaps at a fine hotel in Taormina, and decide to go exploring. You won’t be far at all from scenic hilltop villages like Savoca, home of the Bar Vitelli which figured in, and was made famous by, Al Pacino in the movie. It’s as easy as spumoni to pull up to the bar and have a feisty coffee or crisp lemon granita stuffed into soft brioche, and enjoy the view…mamma mia, you can’t do that in New Jersey.
Seafood surprises in Venice.
While we can’t take issue with Japan being synonymous with sushi, sea-surrounded Venice is also synonymous with great seafood – a fact which is often obscured by the city’s litany of architectural and artistic treasures. But chances are you’re going to be wandering around Venice on any given day, soaking up the Venetian atmosphere which is so special, and then, mamma mia! Something will stop you in your tracks and no, it’s not another canal. It’s the vision of many tempting cicchetti, little appetizers served in the osterie of Venice. As simple as olives and mini sandwiches, and as sophisticated as crispy deep-fried sardines with white polenta, paired with an ombra, or glass of white wine from the Veneto.
You might even get inspired to learn how to cook up tasty cicchetti of your own.
High-design wineries in Tuscany
So you thought that Tuscany was all gorgeous countryside and idyllic hilltop villas? Well, that is correct, mostly, but this is Italy, after all, a country where nature may have made the most winning design of all, but where Italians are always doing their part to make a strong showing for runner-up (Ferrari, anyone?). Case in point, Tuscany’s “archi-wineries.” These are cutting edge wineries that have turned secret pockets of Tuscany into spectacular settings for wine and design lovers alike. For example Renzo Piano’s stellar cellar for the Rocca di Frassinello winery in the Maremma, south of Siena, features a spire above a glass pavilion studded with three round mirrors that beam the Tuscan sun down to a realm of 2,500 barrels below.
Some of these places are private, however. So before you can go Mamma Mia!, you might want to consider a luxury day trip curated and coordinated by Select Italy. It will include transportation as well as wine tastings and a gourmet lunch. Yum!
Have you had a (non-ABBA) Mamma Mia Moment of your own in Italy recently? Tell us about it!