I either owe or blame Italy for turning me into a world traveler. After my semester abroad in Florence (my first time stepping outside the United States!) I was full of wonder, curiosity, and a desire to continue my travels. Italy lit up this fire inside of me, it gave me history, it gave me art, and most importantly it gave me cuisine. I became hungry. I left Florence with a newfound desire to become a sommelier.
I returned years later as a model, with that same hunger, that same passion. Italy has this energy that can be felt by everyone. Listen to a couple arguing on the street, and even that sounds like a song. Bite into a slice of Neopolitan pizza, and you will wonder how in the world someone came up with this heavenly concotion of ingredients.
My mom once said that Italy is covered in this cloud, something in the lighting that makes any photograph beam. She then proceeded to take the most amazing photographs, some of which I stole for this article. And while it may sound like my preferences lie in Florence, they span the entire country – and they certainly are not limited to this list!
Get your ‘za on in Firenze
Just around the corner from Piazza Santo Spirito (and ironically, my study abroad school) lies a modest looking pizzeria serving up authentic, Neopolitan-style pies. The menu is small, only around 5-6 options for pizzas. Wine is served aesthetically in a plastic cup. After placing your order, brace yourself for the most uncomfortable part: the wait. A salivating mouth is never fun – but, oh man is it worth it! The pizza arrives piping hot out of the wood-fired oven, bigger than your face, mind you – and yet I’ve seen even the smallest eaters demolish every last lick of that culinary masterpiece. And if you’re nice (or frequent the place as much as I did,) the chef may even make your pie into the shape of a heart.
Explore the ruins of Rome’s ancient Colosseum
I know, I know. It’s on every “must see” list for anyone visiting Italy, but yet I couldn’t bring myself to leave it off my list. There’s something different about this place. For me, it’s one of the few pieces of history that actually still feels like history. As I looked around me, I could close my eyes and mentally erase the tourists, the crumbling ruins, and actually imagine the scene of an 11th century battle – blood, gore, whinnying horses, people standing phoneless in the crowd and yet, not confused! A true, “can’t miss” slice of history.
Snap Insta-worthy photos in Cinque Terre
Though this region can get quite touristy in peak months (May-September) it’s a must see for travelers of all ages. The “Cinque Terre” or “five villages” lie on a strip of land overlooking the sea, tiny pastel-colored houses and storefaces glowing down upon the water. Spend the day hiking the trails between these fisherman villages, weaving your way through a complicated system of land and footpaths – and as a reward, tuck into a platter of seafood caught by the local fisherman. The region is known for it’s lip-smacking pesto sauce, foccacia bread, and faranata, a crunch pancake made of chickpea flour.
Step inside Siena’s Gothic Cathedral
Italy certainly has no shortage of churches, but to see something truly special I suggest you take a trip to Siena. Rising majestically from the square, in its entire Gothic aura, is the Siena Cathedral. It’s a bit of an odd placement if you ask me, but that’s what adds to the romanticism. Step inside and you will find pillars marbled in white and greenish-black stripes, treasures by Donatello and Michelangelo, and tiled mosaic masterpieces spanning the floor. Your eyes will find it difficult to focus on just one thing!
Sit down for an aperitivo in Milano
Ah, the famous Milanese apertif (being a model in Milan was tough, ya know!) A social pre-drinking ritual most popular in the North of Italy, “aperitivo” is essentially a drink and small buffet of food for less than 20 Euro. Safe to say, it didn’t take long before I became familiar with this little social phenomenon. Venture along the canals of the quaint Navigli area and literally take your pick of restaurants – if you find yourself with too many options, take a peek at the crowds. Usually the ones that are full are the ones you should snag a table at, so go early…around five or six. And don’t forget to taste a sip of the local orange drink (Aperol spritz + Prosecco) served in a delightfully large wine glass.
Roam the countryside in Chianti
Hire a driver for the day and feast your eyes on the lush green countryside of Italy’s famous wine region. Ours was a jovial charmer by the name of Giovanni – but even without the charm of a middle-aged Italian man, this drive is a must. You’ll be humming the soundtrack to “Under The Tuscan Sun” in no time. And when you reach the wineries, you’re in for some fun. Italians take their grape very seriously. Multiple glasses of wine – bianco, rose, rosso – are laid out in front of you, and from here the sommelier will guide you on how to swish, swirl, and (wait for it!) spit. And you can’t miss out on the opportunity to pair these fine wines with locally produced cheeses, meats, and breads!
Go South in Taormina
Oh, Sicilia. You’re breakin’ my heart! A hilltop town on the east coast of the island of Sicily, this destination provides a direct vantage point into the endless blue waters of the Ionian Sea – and the homes of elderly nonna’s banging their fist out the window at noisy street walkers. Sink your teeth into arancini, the indulgent fried rice balls privy to the island, and in the evening, sweeten your tastebuds with some Italian shaved ice, otherwise known as granita. Oddly enough this is where I tasted the best pizza of my life (a large slice topped with aubergines!) But the cuisine came with no shortage of culture – from the medieval churches to the ancient ampitheatres, and a still active volcano by the name of Etna.
Hike the trails of the Piemonte
I spent two weeks last August living and working on a small farm somewhere in the mountains of the Northwestern Piemonte region. The sunrise here is out of this world – rays of light peeping through sleepy white clouds, and then all of a sudden the sky is clear, crystal clear. This is a part of Italy that not many people get to see – away from the city, away from the history. There’s an abundance of nature, and unsurprisingly, an amazing local cuisine. And there are pages on the Internet dedicated to the local wines…doesn’t that say enough?
Relax in Lago di Como
Just over an hour’s train ride away from the hustle and bustle of Milano lies the gorgeous Lago di Como (Lake Como.) Great for a day trip, this quaint resort time is set amongst the foothills of the Alps. You can literally see the mountains of Switzerland – the perfect setting as you sip a crisp white wine atop a rooftop terrace. It’s something out of a storybook – the flowers, serene lake waters, brightly colored houses…oh, and don’t forget to take a peek at George Clooney’s vacation home!
Soak in the view from atop the Piazzale Michelangelo
This one’s gonna take some legwork but those steep, steep steps are seriously worth it – because suddenly you’re there, at the top of the piazza, looking out at one of the grandest panoramic sights on this entire planet. If I sound biased, it may be because I have this skyline permanently inked onto my right shoulder…it was my third day in Italy, but I fell in love. As I looked down upon the sprawling land I closed my eyes and envisioned myself a 15th century painter, positioned with my easel (and possibly a glass of wine,) atop the steps, etching the scenery into a permanent work of art. Just like my tattoo, eh?
About The Author
Meghan is a Mumbai-based model/writer with a penchant for satire and a soft spot for local cuisine. Preferably something spicy. When she’s not hitting the streets on the way to her next casting, you can find her sniffing out Mumbai’s most promising eateries and music venues.