Tuscany, the Italian Riviera and Other Italian Travel Highlights

Tuscan landscape

Perhaps it’s because I’m of Italian ancestry but this is one of my favorite countries to visit.

In Italy you’ll find timeless hill towns, classic farmhouses surrounded by vineyards or olive trees, ancient walled towns set atop hilltops, cypress trees, a Riviera every bit as beautiful as the French Riviera (I still remember my first trip to Portofino.) Alpine lakes and much more. Then, of course, there is the food and wine which is simply delicious and impossible to resist.

In Modica you’ll find excellent views from almost everywhere. The streets are steep and sloping and the building clings as if for dear life. Baroque churches dot the urban neighborhood, all beautifully restored. San Giorgio is the town’s most magnificent monument. The sculptural façade towers into the sky and you’ll want to visit this masterpiece. This façade culminates in an open stonework belfly which is distinct to a Sicilian architect, Gagliardi. This work became the prototype for late Baroque churches in the area.

Tuscan landscape

Chocolate here became a local specialty, brought to Modica by the Cabrera family from South America where the cacao bean was first discovered. The chocolate bars made here are created from age-old Aztec recipes and have a wonderful grainy texture. The mpanatigghi is a ravioli-shaped cookie stuffed with cocoa and minced meat which simply melts in your mouth.

There are also terrific local cheeses to sample while you’re in the area. It “squeaks” as you chew it and comes in several different flavors and textures from creamy to spicy. Then, there are the terrific little trattorias where one of the specialties is scacce, filo pastry folded around pizza ingredients like tomato sauce, mushrooms and minced meats. Life here is very comfortable indeed.

Poppi castle

Tuscany is a beautiful region of Italy to visit, the region is a popular honeymoon destination. It’s golden triangle includes the cities and towns of Florence, Pisa and Siena. It’s expensive to live and/or visit here. Instead I would suggest going to Lunigiana, northern Tuscany, where prices drop considerably. This area is bordered by Liguiria to the west and Emilia Romagna to the north and has a backdrop of the Apennines and Apuan Alps. It’s here the white marble used by Michelangelo came from. Here you’ll find fortified towns, medieval castles and little hill villages set above curving valley roads. You can walk along ancient pilgrim paths and through chestnut woods and discover clear running rivers with natural rock pools and waterfalls. This is the Tuscany that has no crowds and life simply follows the patterns of the seasons.

It’s not a remote area and it takes only a short train ride to arrive here from La Spezia the Ligurian seaport and Italian naval base. And La Spezia is close to Cinque Terre’s painted fishing villages. Renting a home or apartment in this area means you can enjoy seaside pleasures that are almost on your doorstep but avoid paying the usual high coastal prices. Want to buy instead of rent? Currently old stone houses ready for restoration can be had for about $33,000 – $35,000 USD.

I love the Italian Riviera and have been blessed to be able to visit it for it’s here where my parent’s families come from. I have been privileged to eat in their homes and play with their children. They took me to the local beach long before the lovely beaches became polluted (most have been pretty well cleaned up by now.) For exotic beaches click here.

The Italian Riviera is the coast to the west and east of Genoa, Liguria, and extends from France to Tuscany. The Italian word “Riviera” includes the Riviera di Levante, from Genoa toward Tuscany, and the Riviera di Ponente, from Genoa to France. The Riviera di Ponente ends at Ventimiglia, which was once a former customs post for traffic with France. A part of the Riviera di Ponente centered in Savona, is called “Riviera delle Palme” (Palms Riviera); another part, centered in Sanremo, is called “Riviera dei Fiori,” because of the production of flowers. The Italian Riviera is famous for its mild climate and is a much frequented tourist destination even in the off-season. Try to avoid it in July and August because it’s very crowded then. My family spent a week there last July and mentioned how crowded it was. Many of the names of the towns and villages will be familiar to you – Portofino, San Remo, and Cinque Terre.

More vacation ideas:
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Two places not to miss in Tuscany, Italy
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Trip to Italy: visiting the ancient ruins of Pompeii and the Vesuvius
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