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Friday, July 1st, 2011

Italy Cultural Heart of Europe

Italy, cultural heart of EuropeThe country that gave us the Renaissance, not to mention thinkers and artists of the calibre of Michelangelo, Dante and Botticelli, is also the spiritual home of architecture, classical music and design. What started with the likes of Brunelleschi and Palladio continued through Piano and Giugiaro, while the ingenuity of Leonardo da Vinci was reborn in modern times through the engineering passion of Enzo Ferrari et al. Whichever way you look at it, Italy is a land abundant with the fertile pastures of human creativity.

A land of passionate people, the Italian peninsula has given birth to such creative and artistic exuberance that it can rightly be called the cultural heart of Europe. Others may have an equally rich tradition in art, cuisine and architecture, or an even more famous reputation for technology and engineering, but in Italy the very love of all things beautiful and exciting means that it is uniquely represented in all these departments. To visit its richly varied landscapes, therefore, is to surrender oneself to a symphony of the senses.

Milano

Milan is as good a starting point as any, offering as it does a bridge between the Germanic world immediately to the north of it and the Mediterranean one that grows in stature the further south you go. Italy may be a land of noble civilisations such as Romans and Etruscans, but in Milan you find yourself in a territory named after the Langobardi, Germanic invaders who preceded centuries of Austrian influence in these parts.

This influence is noticeable, and indeed, the Milanese pried themselves on their work ethic and efficiency, looking north rather than south for inspiration. In spite of this, it is in many ways also archetypically Italian, complete with refined architecture, high fashion outlets and a passion for fine food. The heart of the city is symbolized by the magnificent Duomo cathedral, the elegant Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II and the world-renowned La Scala opera house, heir to the works of Verdi, Rossini and Donizetti.

Milano

Besides being a capital of fashion and design, Milan is also the home of Alfa Romeo, one of the most iconic of Italian car manufacturers. Pass through Monza, the home of Italian motor racing, on your way north to the stylish lakes of Maggiore and Como, and soak up the atmosphere created by legends such as Tazio Nuvolari and Alberto Ascari before settling down to the immaculate elegance of classical lakeside villas, stylish Riva motorboats and the Concorso d’Eleganza at Villa d’Este.

Verona

A short trip across the fertile Po Valley – preferably in a classic opentop Alfa Spider, a Ferrari Dino or even a Maserati Ghibli – brings you to Verona, the city made famous by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliette, and a classic in its own right. Its setting on the Adige River and the many historic architectural gems make it a smaller version of Florence and enthralling enough to inspire one of Charles Aznavour’s most memorable chansons. Speaking of which, no visit to Verona is complete without the enjoyment of an open-air area at the Roman amphitheatre, a location where the classics come together in more ways than one.

Verona

Then go and see ‘that’ balcony if you must, but don’t miss out on the Lago di Garda, certainly one of the most bewitchingly beautiful locations this side of the Alps.

Liguria

Though it may be hard to imagine from the large port city of Genua, the Ligurian coastline is above all characterised by quintessentially picturesque coastal towns that rise up from the water’s edge as they cling to impossibly steep cliffs battered by the winds of time. Chic and earthy at the same time, it is no wonder that the stylish and cultural set come here to enjoy Italy as it should be, lapping up the sunshine, seafood and characteristic scenes in all their delicious idiosyncrasy.

Liguria

Again, a journey along the winding roads that hug the serrated coastline and chance upon famous villages such as Portofino and Rapallo should be made in something glamorous, sporty and of course Italian. Indeed, a Lancia Flaminia Coupé or Lamborghini Espada would look right at home in this kind of setting, as you make your way through the idyllic Cinque Terre before cutting through the passes that lead inland into the rolling pastures of Tuscany.

Toscana

Driving through this heavenly landscape to the soundtrack of Nessun Dorma or Mina and Alberto Lupo’s Parole, Parole is one of life’s ultimate pleasures, a privilege that only grows in proportion as you cross the Arno and enter this city of art. Suffice it to say that those who enjoy classical architecture, art, cuisine and the heady atmosphere of an Italian town will find themselves to be in seventh heaven here.

Toscana

Gran sasso d’italia

Head in a south-easterly direction and gradually the green, undulating carpet of Tuscany gives way to the rugged Apennines, the mountainous spine that runs along the length of the Italian peninsula. Why take such a detour? Because of the Gran Sasso d’Italia; a 1400km2 natural park that straddles three Italian regions and offers some of the most stunning natural scenery in Europe. A picture of green valleys and crystalline lakes surrounded by snow-capped peaks means this is a paradise of peace and beauty.

Gran sasso d’italia

Roma

What can one say about Rome, other than to trade in the classic sports car for a Fiat 500, or better still, a Lambretta. That is, if you dare to immerse yourself in the headlong rush of traffic that sprints from traffic light to roundabout on the cobbled streets of this timeless city. A heaven for those in search of culture, refinement, hedonism and indeed spiritual guidance, Rome is a world unto itself – a ‘special’ part of Italy whose past is beautifully documented on every street. The distillation of all things Roman and subsequently all things Italian, it is at once monumental, earthy, chic and at times a little grubby. In other words, a typically Italian experience.

Roma

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