In northern Tuscany's Versilia region, there's more than just beaches. About 16 kilometers inland from the famous seaside resort town of Forte dei Marmi is Monte Corchia in the Apuan Alps Regional Park. Within the hollow mountain is a huge cave system, Corchia Underground, with stunning stalactite and stalagmite formations. Take a look inside Corchia Underground Cave and find out how to tour the Caverns and a Mercury Mine.
Photo © by GiacomoDonati.net, provided by Corchia Caves
Two of the top Italian Riviera destinations are Portofino and the Cinque Terre but driving to them and finding parking can be difficult and there aren't many places to stay. On a nice day, the best way to arrive is by ferry but the Cinque Terre can also be reached by train and Portofino can be reached by bus from Santa Margherita Ligure, a nice seaside town on the train line. Ferries to Portofino and Cinque Terre leave from its port as well, making it a good place to stay.
See these Santa Margherita Ligure Top Rated Hotels.
The 13th century Duomo of Siena is one of Italy's top cathedrals. Inside are beautiful frescoes, important art works, and the stunning inlaid marble floor mosaics, only uncovered for a couple months each year. Recently the Gate of Heaven, a series of rooms in the "heavens" of the cathedral, opened to the public and can be visited on a guided tour by reservation only - see Gate of Heaven for details. A tour from our affiliate Select Italy, Secret Itineraries of Siena Cathedral, includes a guided tour in English of the cathedral "heavens" and the cathedral itself.
Siena Italy Picture © James Martin, Europe Travel
Fall is a fantastic season to travel in Italy when crowds are thinning and the heat of summer is gone. Here are three unique tours and workshops in Italy scheduled in fall 2013:
- Southern Italy Through Jewish Eyes. Rabbi Barbara Aiello, a first-generation Italian-American who became Italy's first female rabbi, will lead two tours focused on Jewish heritage in southern Italy's Calabria region and on the island of Sicily in October.
- Writing and Cooking on Capri. Dianne Hales, author of La Bella Lingua, will lead a writer's studio and, along with Cooking Vacations, cooking classes in a villa-style hotel in Anacapri, the highest town on the enchanting island of Capri.
- Golden Week in Tuscany. Stay in a villa south of Florence on this special women's week in Tuscany in November led by Susan Van Allen, author of Letters from Italy and 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go.
More: Why Visit Italy in Fall?
The southern Italian seaside town of Otranto, on the Salento Peninsula of Puglia, has an unusual sight in its 11th century cathedral. In 1480, 813 martyrs were beheaded in a Turkish invasion for refusing to give up Christianity and many of their skulls and bones are on display behind the cathedral's altar. On May 12, Pope Francis granted sainthood to the Martyrs of Otranto, whose sainthood had already been approved by Benedict XVI, according to this CBS News article.
Otranto's Cathedral is also worth visiting for its stunning 12th century floor mosaics. The town's charming historic center, still mostly enclosed by its medieval walls, is reminiscent of Greek towns and the castle is said to have been the inspiration for the first Gothic novel ever written. You can see Otranto's location on our Puglia map.
The Festa della Sensa, or Ascension Festival, is one of Venice's most important events. Held on the Sunday after Ascension Day, 40 days after Easter, a colorful boat parade goes from Saint Mark's Square to the Lido where a Wedding with the Sea ceremony is held at Saint Nicolo' Church. A gold ring is thrown into the water to symbolize Venice's marriage to the sea. Afterwards a big market is held on the Lido and there are other events including a concert and traditional Venetian rowing races. In 2013 Festa della Sensa takes place on May 12. See program.
The following Sunday is the Vogalonga, an exciting rowing event along the Grand Canal with many different boats and several thousand participants from Venice, elsewhere in Italy, and even outside Italy. In 2012, more than seven thousand rowers in 1800 boats participated in the race. See a video and find out more on the Vogalonga web site.
Summer is a popular time to visit Italy so it's a good idea to do a little advance planning. In addition to booking your hotel rooms in advance, you'll want to buy tickets for these museums and sites to avoid long lines. If you plan to go to the popular horse race for the Palio of Siena, you'll need to buy tickets far in advance (see Palio of Siena for details) and book a hotel in Siena. Italy also has many summer music festivals and most of the events on this music festivals list should be booked ahead too.
In the hill town of Assisi is the Basilica di San Francesco, or Saint Francis, the most visited monument in the Umbria region and one of the most visited churches in Italy. It's also one of Central Italy's UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The tomb of Saint Francis is in the Lower Church and a stunning fresco cycle of the saint's life is in the Upper Church. Several other Saint Francis sites can be found outside Assisi's charming historic center too.
For those wishing to take a guided tour of sites in and around Assisi, From Riches to Rags: The Story of Saint Francis of Assisi can be booked through Select Italy.
Basilica di San Francesco Photo by Rebecca Winke, used by permission
The Palazzo Ducale, or Ducal Palace, in Urbino was the first mansion built for a Duke in Italy and is still one of the most impressive. Duke Federico, who built the palazzo in the 15th century, was a patron of the arts and his small study, which you see on a visit, has walls covered with inlaid wood scenes depicting books, musical instruments, and historical and Biblical people. Inside the palazzo, the National Art Gallery of the Marche houses one of the world's most important collections of Renaissance paintings in 80 of the palace's renovated rooms. Find out more about Urbino's Palazzo Ducale including visiting information.
Urbino is a hill town in the northern part of central Italy's Marche region. Its historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Urbino is a top producer of majolica ceramics and the birthplace of Renaissance painter Raphael.
Palazzo Ducale photo © by James Martin, Europe Travel
The Festival of Sant' Efisio starts in Cagliari, the capital of Sardinia, on May 1 and lasts for 4 days. The procession arrives at the Romanesque Church of Sant' Efisio, by the sea in Nora, the afternoon of May 2 and the saint, carried in a beautifully decorated cart, finally returns to Cagliari on May 4. See more festival photos on our Italy Travel Facebook page, including a photo of me in a shepherd's costume.
Sant' Efisio Procession Photo © by Martha Bakerjian, licensed to About.com