Smithsonian Journeys Dispatches

Much to Discover in Italy

Late April and early May is the perfect time of year to travel throughout Italy from the Amalfi coast to Venice. Perhaps my greatest pleasure in life is sharing with others my knowledge and love of Italian art and architecture, history and culture and so it was a delight to act as study leader for a wonderfully inquisitive and animated group of travelers.

Group at Positano

Imagine being picked up at the Naples airport and whisked away in a motor coach along the picturesque highway leading to the Marmarata Hotel near Amalfi, your home for the next three days. The scenery is exquisite – the emerald blue sea, the lush green hillside and Mt. Vesuvius in the background – what a way to begin a journey through Italy sampling the best the country has to offer. And if it’s your birthday, a surprise celebration would be arranged in your honor as it was for Evie, who turned 88 while there.

Evie's Birthday

There’s much to discover along the winding roads and picturesque towns along the coastline, including in the city of Amalfi, the home of the Museo della Carta (paper mill museum), where we made an unplanned addition to the itinerary for those who wanted to come along. Here we saw the ancient machinery for making paper (all still operational) out of cotton, not wood pulp! In the old days, women brought cotton rags to the mill where they turned them into paper; today, they use cotton balls instead. Leaving the Amalfi coast behind, Orvieto, a medieval hill town in Umbria, has many surprises, such as its magnificent cathedral and the underground caves – Orvieto Underground where at one time olive oil was produced, pigeons were kept and people hid during the time of war.

St. Peter's Basilica

There’s something to discover in every town or city in Italy – Rome is the home of numerous monuments dating back from ancient times (Coliseum, Roman Forum), through the medieval era and on into the Baroque – a special draw is St. Peter’s Basilica where we posed for a picture (see above) or Florence, the cradle of the Renaissance with Michelangelo’s David, Brunellschi’s dome for the Cathedral and the Uffizi Gallery. Assisi is the home of the Franciscan order with its beautiful church of St. Francis and it is a delight to wander its narrow streets with picturesque vistas of the countryside.

Streets of Assisi

And speaking of an amazing view, staying outside Siena in Tuscany at the Villa Lecchi provides the perfect setting for the “Under the Tuscan Sun” experience. Not just stunning views, it is also an opportunity to live for a few days in a real villa run by a real family. And what better way to end the journey in Venice than a water taxi ride down the Grand Canal with its stunning buildings, homes whose front door access was from the canal on our way to meet the tour guide at San Marco Square?

This is not the standard tour of major sites in Italy, rather it is a taste of what the country has to offer from a small village to a major city – it’s a sample of a range of possibilities to be explored, a winery, a hilltop monastery (Montecassino), a ceramic factory and more. Come along next time and join us for the experience of a lifetime!