A trip to Italy and its wine regions not only offer excellent tastings, but also exceptional scenery, historic cities, and outstanding cuisines.
If you study a map of Italy, you will, if you have a knowledge of wine, recognize immediately familiar regional names such as Tuscany, Piedmont, Emilia-Romagna, etc. You will also see that practically the whole of the country’s regions produce wine, which it does. If you know nothing or very little about the subject but enjoy a glass of wine and also enjoy Italy, then read on. Italy is there to be enjoyed by everyone – but a glass of wine, in my opinion, can add to the enjoyment. Space does not allow a run-down on every wine-producing province, so let’s look at three as typical examples of what can be experienced. These merely scratch the surface of what is available, but hopefully they are enough to “whet your whistle” on a trip to Italy.
Tuscany has to be the most renowned wine region of Italy. Its wines are known worldwide from dry whites to full-bodied reds. Famous names include Brunello di Montalcino, Chianti Classico, and Nobile di Montepulciano. Visitors to Tuscany can take organized day wine tours from Florence, Siena, San Gimignano, and Lucca. Should you be touring by car, you can explore the province and find any number of wineries. Here are a few special places.
Antinori’s winery in Bargino, which is half-way between Florence and Siena, offers not only wine-tasting but also guided tours, a short film, and an art museum. Avignonesi is one of Italy’s oldest wineries, dating back to the 16th century and is located at Montepulciano, 70 kilometres/43 miles southeast of Siena. Here you can enjoy tastings and also have lunch or dinner. Badia a Coltibuono, half way again between Florence and Siena in the Chianti region, is a former monastery in which you can stay overnight. It offers not only wine-tasting but also wine courses and a cooking school. Nearby is Barone Ricasoli in the Chianti region, Italy’s oldest wine estate (900 years). You can stay here as well, on your trip to Italy, and enjoy both the wine and gourmet dinners.
Other Attractions of Tuscany
To sum up the attractions of Tuscany on Italy vacations, it offers mountainous landscapes, outstanding architecture, fascinating medieval hill towns, and an attractive coastline. The heart and soul of Tuscany is the city of Florence. If you have limited time, certainly use Florence as a base for exploring Tuscany. You will obviously want to absorb some of the culture and history here before setting out to explore the rest of Tuscany. Florence is known as the “Cradle of the Renaissance,” with its riches to be found in its art galleries and museums.
If you only visit one other city in Tuscany on a trip to Italy, make it Siena to the south of Florence. It is one of the most beautiful and charming cities in Italy. It is a medieval city which has preserved its heritage. Here you can wander through the old narrow streets and feel you have truly stepped back in time. If you happen to be in Siena in either July or August, your visit may coincide with Il Palio. This is a very special and colourful event which takes place only twice year. The pageant starts with a horse race around the Piazza del Campo. This is a horse race like no other. It is a contest between 10 of the 17 Contrades (central districts/neighbourhoods) of Siena with a rider and horse participating and representing each one.
You are, of course, well aware of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, so if visiting this city, you will need to have your camera ready to photograph this unique structure.
Lucca has a city wall which you can walk on, a Roman amphitheatre, a cathedral with a marvellous Romanesque facade, and the Palazzo Pfanner, a beautiful 17th Century palace. San Gimignano is a pretty medieval walled town famous for its 14 beautiful towers which, as you approach the town, rise up like a medieval skyline. Tuscany’s principal resort is Viareggio on the Mediterranean Sea, with a sandy beach stretching some 20 kilometres/12 miles.
After Tuscany, Italy’s next best-known wine-producing province and highly recognized for its great wines is the Piedmont region. Popular wines include names such as Barbera, Barolo, Nebbiolo, Barbaresco, and the sparkling wine, Asti Spumante. The Alps and the Apennine Mountains have a significant influence on the wines here, making the reds robust and tannic; in other words, wines with plenty of body. There are literally hundreds of wineries in Piedmont. Most welcome visitors for tours and tastings, and produce a full range of red and white Piedmont wines, in addition to some speciality wines and spirits like grappa (made by distilling the skins, pulp, seeds, and stems left over from winemaking).
Piedmont also offers wine tasting in what are known as enotecas, or wine shops. In these, you can sample wines by the glass or purchase wines by the bottle or the case. Here are some suggestions for enotecas. The Enoteca Regionale del Barbaresco, in the town of the same name, south-east of Turin near Alba, is housed in a former chapel from the 19th century and features, naturally, Barbaresco wines as well as some grappas. Tastings and numerous wine-related events are held here each year during the first week of September to celebrate the forthcoming harvest. The Enoteca Regionale del Barolo is in the medieval castle of Marchesi Falletti. It offers guided tours of the castle and a culture museum. The Enoteca Regionale Colline del Moscato is located in an old prison of a 17th Century castle, just outside Alba, and specializes in Asti Spumante and Moscato grappa. It is a lively cultural centre hosting musical evenings, concerts, art exhibitions, and other events. The Enoteca Regionale di Acqui Terme is located in the cellars of a 16th Century palace in Acqui Terme, due east of Alba. Featured wines include Barbera d’Asti, Barbera del Monferrato and Moscato Passito in addition to grappas.
Other Attractions of Piedmont
Piedmont is surrounded on three sides by the Alps and is known for its lakes, mountain scenery, medieval castles, and palaces. The largest city is Turin which was host to the 2006 Winter Olympic Games. It has an old world sophistication which can be seen through its shops, grand boulevards and palaces, leafy parks, and several art galleries. It is considered the European capital of Baroque due to the many palaces and churches built in this style. The centre is filled with smart 19th Century cafes, regal arcaded mansions, top quality restaurants, and outstanding churches. Attractions include an Egyptian Museum, one of the largest in the world, the Shroud of Turin, one of the most precious relics in Christianity, the Mole Antonelliana – Turin’s landmark building comprising of a tall tower with the highest work of masonry in Europe inside which is a Cinema Museum, and the Automobile Museum.
Alba has big-city energy while retaining the warmth of a small rural town. It has a considerable gastronomic reputation (think white truffles, dark chocolate, and wine). This is the perfect centre to visit the wineries of Piedmont on your trip to Italy.
Lake Maggiore is nestled in a valley surrounded by forested slopes and mountains and numerous attractive towns. It is the second largest and the longest of the Italian Lakes, 65 kilometres/40 miles in length. Regular boat services link both the towns and the islands in the lake. The principal resort town is Stresa, which attracts an upscale clientele on Italy vacations due to its chic shops, restaurants, and hotels. The nearby Borromean Islands are located in the centre of the lake. One of these is Isola Bella, with its summer palace featuring a collection of tapestries, furniture, and musical instruments. The big attraction, however, is the beautiful Italian-style garden. An interesting excursion is to take the cable car from Stresa to Monte Mottarone for fantastic views of not only the lake, but of the Alps.
Veneto is a relatively small wine-producing region but it is an excellent place to combine wineries with exceptional cities such as Venice, Verona, and Padua. Having said that, it is small in area but one of the largest producers of wine. Well-known wines which come from this region are household names such as Valpolicella, Amarone, Soave, Bardolino, and my favourite sparkling wine, Prosecco. The region has three distinct areas where wine is produced. One is in the east, close to Venice, between Treviso and the Adriatic Coast, where among others, Prosecco is produced. Another is in the west, close to the very attractive Lake Garda, home to Soave. The third is in the centre of the province, close to Padua, which produces the dessert wine, Moscato.
Where to head to for samples and purchases on a trip to Italy? You can try Tommasi Viticoltori, situated in the heart of the Valpolicella Classico region near Verona, and family-owned since 1902. Wine tasting is in an old cellar called “Magnifica,” which has the largest oak cask in the world and where Amarone is aged. Another is Venissa, on the island of Mazzorbo, right in the middle of the Venice Lagoon. You can actually stay here in luxury accommodation and use it as a base for visiting Venice. In the central region, 25 kilometres/15 miles east of Verona, is Zonin 1821 which actually offers a selection of wines from all over Italy. The guided tours here are of a high standard and informative.
Other Attractions of Veneto
Venice is one of Italy’s most beautiful and romantic cities, with many attractions on Italy vacation packages. Its small, traffic-free streets mingled with the winding canals make for great walking. You will find many magnificent churches and palaces, lively squares, and interesting shops all to be enjoyed on an Italy vacation. It actually consists of 118 small islands connected by more than 400 bridges over its 150 canals. The Grand Canal is like a main street cutting through the centre of the city. Important sites include St Mark’s Square, dominated by the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Mark, one of the best-known examples of Italian-Byzantine architecture. The ornate but beautiful Doge’s Palace is a palace built in the Venetian Gothic style and one of the main landmarks of the city. The Rialto Bridge is one of the four bridges spanning the Grand Canal in Venice and the oldest bridge. The Bridge of Sighs is an enclosed bridge made of white limestone and has windows with stone bars. It passes over the Rio di Palazzo and connects the New Prison to the former interrogation rooms in the Doge’s Palace. Trips through the canals can be on a gondola, well suited to the conditions of the Venetian canals or a Vaporetto, which is a water taxi.
Venice and its Extraordinary Canals are a Must on an Italy Vacation
When you think of Verona, you might associate it with Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. This beautiful city has enough history to have earned it a UNESCO World Heritage Site award. A highlight in Verona is the Roman arena which is 2000 years old and where world-famous operas are performed in the open-air between June and early September. The Piazza delle Erbe is a market by day but in the evening it is the place to see or be seen and where you can admire the antique tower, a fabulous fountain and frescoed palazzos. For great views, go to the top of the Torre dei Lamberti where, on a clear day you can see all the way to Austria.
Padua is a lively, medieval university city and very picturesque with lots of atmosphere. The Basilica of Saint Anthony, 800 years old, has a wealth of treasures in its interior. The Prato della Valle is Europe’s largest square after Moscow’s Red Square. There are also numerous palaces or palazzos to enjoy.
More Italian Wine Regions
As I said earlier, almost the whole of Italy produces wine and also has some amazing attractions. Here is a short list of regions, their principal cities, and wines, not featured here, that you might also want to check out on a trip to Italy.
Province / Principal Cities / Wines
Friuli-Venezia Giulia / Trieste / Verduzzo
Lombardy / Milan / Nebbiolo
Umbria / Assisi and Perugia / Orvieto
Emilia-Romagno / Bologna, Ravenna and Rimini / Lambrusco
Lazio / Rome / Frascati
Sicily / Palermo and Taormina / Marsala