Everyone knows that Italy has many places with charm and magic, among the most beautiful on the planet. Not in vain do they call it “bel paese” (beautiful country), a classic poetic expression -Dante and Petrarca were probably the first to use it- to refer to Italy and highlight its natural landscapes, culture, art and history. This wealth is appreciated in many towns, among which we have chosen a dozen that deserve to be visited at some time in life.
Its historic center dates back to the prehistoric period. Matera, in the region of Basilicata, in the south of Italy, with its old houses excavated in limestone, will be the European capital of culture 2019. Matera was considered in the 50s of the last century as «the shame of Italy», for their miserable living conditions: illiteracy was endemic, men and women lived in a single space, without electricity or running water. But with many years of effort he has been able to project his own future and become a model for southern Italy.
The “Sassi de Matera” (“stones of Matera”) and the group of its rock churches were declared World Heritage by Unesco in 1993, favoring the tourist development of the city. Inhabited since the Paleolithic, Matera became famous throughout the world after Pier Paolo Pasolini filmed in 1964 “The Gospel according to Matthew”. Then “King David,” starring Richard Gere, was also shot in Matera in 1985. Another movie, “The Passion of the Christ,” by Mel Gibson, made the “Sassi” (the rock-cut houses) known in all the world.
2Civita di Bagnoregio
Known as «The people who die», it offers a unique panorama, especially of the Tiber valley. It was founded 2,500 years ago by the Etruscans, 120 kilometers from Rome, in the province of Viterbo. It is inhabited permanently by 3-4 people, while the houses, a hundred, are the second home of many personalities from the artistic world, national and international culture, and finance, including the American. Everyone is fascinated by this unique town, which dominates the majestic Valle dei Calanchi. But its stability is in danger to be on the top of a clay hill, subject to erosion and landslides.
50 kilometers from Genova is this splendid old town, surrounded by sea and mountains. According to Pliny the Elder (23-79), it was founded during the Roman Empire under the name of Portus Delphini, perhaps because of the large population of these animals in the Gulf of Tigullio. Portofino, located at the foot of a promontory covered with abundant vegetation with a variety of natural environments, overlooks a sea of great beauty. Its colorful houses, its famous «Piazzeta», the mundane heart of the town that overlooks the characteristic port, dotted with luxury boats and small fishing boats, attract thousands of tourists every year. It is one of the gems of the Italian landscape, always frequented by characters from the world of entertainment, culture and finance.
On the shore of Lake Como, Varenna, in the province of Lecco, Lombardy region, northern Italy, is one of the most charming villages in the area, with 859 inhabitants. Varenna is full of history: Its origins go back to the 11th century and it was born as a fishing village. The Castle of Vezio rises on a promontory that dominates the village and offers an exceptional view of the surrounding landscape. Varenna has two magnificent villas: Villa Cipressi, with its garden at different levels, and Villa Monastero -initially a Cistercian female monastery founded at the end of the 12th century-, with a two-kilometer-long garden facing the lake. 23 kilometers from Varenna lies Laglio, a town of about 1,000 inhabitants, in which George Clooney bought Oleandra, an eighteenth-century villa, for about 7.5 million euros. Like the Hollywood divo other celebrities and powerful people have found residence on the banks of Lake Como, an ideal place for those seeking tranquility and inspiration.
From this village, on top of a mountain, with the sea at its base, you can admire unique landscapes. It is part of the «Cinque Terre» (Five Lands), coast formed by five villages in the province of La Spezia, in the Liguria region, in northwestern Italy: Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Riomaggiore and Manarola form the Cinque Terre, which are of exceptional beauty. The visitor is fascinated by an uncontaminated sea and a land planted with vineyards, olive groves and citrus trees. Manarola is a clear example of how man has managed to dominate this wild and rocky land, building his houses and creating land for orchards and vineyards.
The mayors of the towns of the Five Lands fear the great influx of tourists in summer and consider imposing “numerus clausus” to avoid excessive overcrowding.
Located on a hill, between Siena and Florence , it is a splendid village from the 10th century, surrounded by a 13th century wall. A visit to San Gimignano means immersing yourself in an atmosphere of a medieval village, as the atmosphere of that time has remained intact. Its characteristic feature are the spectacular towers of the town, each with its history, which dominate the landscape. San Gimignano lived a period of great artistic and economic wealth, especially in the fourteenth century, largely thanks to the pilgrims who traveled the Via Francigena, a route that goes from north to south of Europe. It begins in Canterbury and ends in St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican. Today San Gimignano has a great tourist life, with an infinity of restaurants and shops, some of craft. The historic center of the beautiful medieval town has lost two thirds of residents in 30 years and runs the risk of dying of tourism, converted into a Disneyland of the Middle Ages.
One of the most beautiful routes in Italy is the Amalfi Coast, where the green of the citrus crops on the slopes blends with the blue of the sea, with the result of a unique landscape: bays, inlets, small villages with their picturesque streets perched in the mountains. A pearl of the Amalfi Coast is Ravello, refined and elegant village, in the middle of nature with stately villas. The heart of the village is Piazza Vescovado, located between the Rufolo Palace and the Cathedral with a magnificent façade and a bell tower of 35 meters. Other worthy towns of the Amalfi coast are Amalfi, which gives its name to the entire coast; Positano, a true paradise, and Atrani, of medieval times, with narrow streets, patios, arches, squares and characteristic stairs.
Among the famous villas of Ravello worth mentioning “La Rondinaia”, the splendid mansion in which the American journalist, writer and dramatist Gore Vidal (New York, 1925 – Los Angeles, 2012) lived for 33 years, between pleasures and scandals, writing much of his books. It was put on sale in November last year for 20 million euros. Built on the rock – hence the name “La Rondinaia”, because it looks like a nest of “rondini” (swallows) – in a beautiful park on the enchanted sea of the Amalfi Coast. In the villa, which has six rooms, seven bathrooms and terraces with breathtaking views, the controversial American intellectual celebrated great parties and also orgies. Gore Vidal regularly received famous friends, among them Greta Garbo, Berstein, Lauren Bacall, Paul Newman, Tim Robins, Peter O ‘Toole, Andy Warhol, Nureyev, Mick and Bianca Jagger, Sting, Francesco Rosi, Gianni Agnelli and Hillary Clinton. One of the most frequent guests of «La Rondinaia» was the sister of Isabel II, Princess Margarita, with whom she had a very close relationship, in an exchange of letters. The princess made some romantic escapades here, according to journalist Tim Teeman, author of the book “In bed with Gore Vidal”: “One day,” recalled a guest, “Gore sent Margarita on a boat trip with a young Italian with a huge penis and she returned very satisfied. Gore even procured you young boys if necessary. “Also the actress Susan Sarandon, good friend of Vidal Gore, spent long periods in «La Rondinaia», where she became pregnant with her first daughter, Eva, with the Italian director and writer Franco Amurri.
Gore Vidal first visited Ravello with Tennessee Villiams in 1948. Then he returned several times and in 1972 he decided to buy “La Rondinaia”, for which famous film characters such as Humphrey Bogart, John Huston, Gina Lollobrigida, Orson Wells had already passed. and Franco Zefirelli; painters like Miró, writers like Truman Capote and Rafael Alberti. His discovery of Ravello was considered by Gore Vidal as a sign of great fortune, praising his «environment and architecture, its intense green, transparent blue and nature in the old center of the earth, the Mediterranean». But his enchantment with the villa was such that Gore Vidal said: “I do not live in Ravello, I live in the” Rondinaia”». Here he shared his good retirement with Howard Austen, his partner for 53 years. Their homosexual orgies were known, together or separately, recruiting chaperos. Teeman tells that the writer, who defined himself as bisexual, had relationships with some actors such as Rock Hudson, Tyrone Power and Charles Laughton.
It is one of the most famous villages in Italy, located in the province of Perugia, Umbria region, in the center of the peninsula. Known, above all, because Santa Clara and San Francisco were born and died here, who is the patron saint of Italy. The Basilica of Assisi is dedicated to him, with two superimposed churches and a crypt with the tomb of San Francisco. The splendid frescoes by Giotto and Cimabue are a unique jewel of art. Santa Clara has also dedicated a basilica, with interesting frescoes. In Assisi you can breathe the magic of the medieval atmosphere, but it has Roman remains, such as the walls, the photo (the town hall square), a theater and an amphitheater. One of the best preserved Roman buildings is the temple of Minerva, transformed into the church of Santa María.
It is a world-famous tourist destination. The Capri village, on the island of the same name, is a magical place with a long history that goes back to Roman times. That memory is preserved in numerous archaeological remains, such as the ruins of Villa Jovis, built by the Emperor Tiberius. Its legendary “piazzetta” is the setting for the dolce vita of Capri, where travelers from all over the world, intellectuals and celebrities have passed.
The island has a rugged and irregular coast, which include its famous “faraglioni”, large rocky cliffs, and countless caves, among which the “Grotta Azzurra” stands out.
It is one of the gems of Sicily, an island that with its incredible landscapes and its unique towns, continues to enchant thousands of travelers. In his tour of Italy, Goethe became enthusiastic about Taormina and Sicily, and came to exclaim: “Here is the key to everything.” Located on the east coast, Taormina is for lovers of history and art an ideal place to visit. Symbol of the city is the Greek theater of the 3rd century BC. C. From here, spectacular is the panorama that can be seen from the turquoise blue sea to the coasts of Calabria, the city of Syracuse and the top of Mount Etna, a volcano that when active offers one of the most wonderful spectacles of strength of the nature.