Italy has been knocking our socks off as a dream travel destination since, well, forever. It’s a foodie mecca, for one. Chef extraordinaire Massimo Bottura’s three-Michelin-star Osteria Francescana in Modena currently reigns at the top of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, taking back Italy’s place as the best kitchen in the world (watch the scrumptious Netflix documentary Chef’s Table, Season 1 Episode 1, if you want to understand why but be warned, do it in the middle of the night at your stomach’s peril!). Those who prefer more down-to-earth cuisine pursuits will also not be disappointed by the country’s incredible range of delectable cheeses, wines, cured meats and so much more, each bearing the quality mark of a proud region.
And that barely covers just the food. The enchantment spans from Renaissance masterpieces of art and architecture in Florence to the magic of Venice’s winding waterways, from the chic fashion capital of Milan to the bewitching soul of sun-bleached South Italy.
If that still does not stir your wanderlust, 2017 throws up yet more hot reasons to dive right into the bel paese — that’s “beautiful country”, a poetic moniker that could not be more accurate.
1. Opening of the world’s largest food fantasyland
Continuing with the food theme, those who can never get enough of sinking their teeth into brick-oven pizza and homemade pasta have much to look forward to come October 2017. That’s when renowned mega Italian marketplace, Eataly, will open a jaw-dropping 20-acre culinary theme park in Bologna’s countryside. At the never-been-seen-before FICO Eataly World, traversing the aisles of a food hall slash open marketplace slash learning centre takes on new meaning, since you will be navigating actual orchards and pastures. Hop on a Bianchi tricycle (complete with shopping basket, of course), and wander through the home of an endless list of animals, including nine varieties of cows and five kinds of sheep, while you pick out wine and study how prosciutto is made. Throw in 25 restaurants and food stalls to dine from, and you’ll want to stay for days — which, incidentally, will be possible in 2018 when the on-site Eataly hotel is slated to open. Talk about living out foodie fantasies.
2. Shop the revamped Gucci in its motherland
Let’s face it. Tax-free shopping is a major draw when you’re in a country that has a throbbing major fashion capital like oh-so-chic Milan. From Prada and Miu Miu to Moschino, Valentino and Bottega Veneta, the sheer amount of luscious, beautiful luxury goods you can bag for a song (well, it’s still an expensive song but you can’t deny that savings that can range from 5 percent to 25 percent are a lucrative draw) is staggering.
And then there’s Gucci, fashion’s new, undying darling. Since Alessandro Michele took over as creative director in 2015, he has won hearts and boosted profit margins like nobody has since Gucci’s heyday in the high-octane, sexed up glamour Tom Ford era. Michele’s delivery of eclectic, gender-blurring, faux-vintage whimsy proved to be a breath of fresh air for shoppers tired of nothing ever seeming to be new anymore. It’s a stark reminder that fashion can and is meant to be fun. How’s that for great vacation buys?
3. Art in the majestic Dolomites mountains
In Italy, there is no shortage of incredible art and breathtaking nature. In the Dolomites, the famed UNESCO World Heritage mountain range that spans north-eastern Italy, you can experience a powerful combination of the two. With 18 peaks soaring to more than 3000m, there is a head-turning panorama everywhere you go. From the wild Marmarole group to the stunning triple peaks of Tre Cime di Lavaredo, there are plenty of options for hiking, mountain climbing, cycling and paragliding — enough to ensure that you will find something that suits your level of fitness and ability. At the foot of Antelao, which holds court as the King of the Dolomites, check into the bed and breakfast inspiteofeverything to experience the warmth and hospitality of contemporary visual artist Roberto De Pol. Where else can you be wowed by awe-inspiring views from the balcony and live surrounded by art pieces, in a beautiful space that also doubles as an artist residency?
4. Explore Naples before it’s overrun by Elena Ferrante fans
The identity of Italian novelist Elena Ferrante (her pseudonym) continues to be a mystery but what’s clear is that her Neapolitan Quartet, which has been translated into English, Spanish, German, French, Dutch and many other languages, continues to be a massive hit. The tale of the friendship of two young women who carved out very different lives for themselves while remaining irrevocably tied to each other is as arresting as the vivid scenes of a rough, rapidly changing Naples. The four volumes are unputdownable and often read as if they are made for the screen. So it’s hardly surprising when it was announced last year that the series will be adapted for a four-season TV show. Targeted for release in the autumn of 2018, you can be sure that Naples tourism will never be the same again. So pick up the novels, and get there now.
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