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Europe: Italy - Choosing Your Slice of Heaven

The birthplace of the phrase la dolce vita (the sweet life), Italy intoxicates all who enter. So the question is not why you should go, but where in this country of art, ancient history, ethereal vistas, toe-curling cuisine, and abundant wine (Italy leads the world with four million acres of vineyards), is the ideal destination for your honeymoon? (Don't worry, anniversaries are made for return visits.) Read on for a sensory tour of the best regions and cities to help you decide.

Milan & Lombardy

  • Biggest Draw: Shopping
  • Location: North-central Italy; borders Switzerland
    Milan, in the Lombardy region, is the epicenter of Italian design. Fashionistas can shop the boutique-lined streets 'til they drop in a heap of shopping bags from Giorgio Armani, Gianfranco Ferre, Moschino, Versace, Dolce & Gabbana, and Ferragamo. But wait: There's more to this city and region than fitting rooms. Milan boasts the third largest cathedral in Europe (with 135 spires), a legendary opera house (La Scala), and da Vinci's Last Supper. Go for small-scale charm at the nearby art cities of Bergamo, Cremona (known for violin craftwork), and Mantua (birthplace of the poet Virgil); purify your spending heart with the natural beauty of the lakes Garda, Como, and Maggiore.

The Dolmite Alps & South Tyrol

  • Biggest Draws: Skiing, spas
  • Location: Northeast Italy; borders Austria
    Weiner schnitzel, anyone? From the German you'll hear on the streets to the chalet architecture and fusion cuisine, you'll soon see that Austrian culture runs deep in the Trentino-Alto Adige region. No wonder: The province around the city of Bolzano was called South Tyrol until it was annexed to Italy in 1919. Come here to be active (shushing down snowy slopes) and passive (zoning out for a spa treatment). The chic ski resort town of Cortina d'Ampezzo offers dizzying views of the beautiful snow-capped Dolomites and year-round outdoor sport. Merano (once the capital of Austria) is known for the medicinal Merano grape and radioactive waters, reputed to cure whatever ails you.

Venice & The Veneto

  • Biggest Draws: Architecture, romance
  • Location: Northeast Italy; bordered by the Adriatic Sea to the east
    The region of Veneto contains the magical city of Venice. Here you'll find storybook palace architecture, labyrinthine streets (the city is blissfully car- and traffic-free), and the legendary gondola-filled canals. The whimsical islands of Murano (famous for glass making) and Burano (a colorful fishing village known for lace making) are just a vaporetto ride away. Venture out of Venice to visit Verona -- setting for Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet and home of the Arena, one of the largest amphitheaters of the ancient world and a hotspot for the star-gazing, opera-loving set -- or the university town of Padua.

Bologna

  • Biggest Draw: Food
  • Location: Nestled between Lombardy and Tuscany
    Gastronomic gadflies flock to the Emilia-Romagna region, of which Bologna is the capital city, to taste Italian standards at their source: tortellini, lasagna, fettuccine, tagliatelle, and mortadella. When you're not licking your lips, feast your eyes on the medieval architecture, art, and churches in Bologna; the Byzantine city of Ravenna; Faenza (home of majolica, a rich hand-painted glazed earthenware); Modena (opera star Pavarotti's hometown); and Parma (to which we owe thanks for Parmesan cheese and prosciutto).

The Italian Riviera

  • Biggest Draw: Seaside chic
  • Location: Western coast of Italy from the French border to the town of La Spezia
    This is the rugged coastline you've ogled in sexy espionage movies, where the hero hugs coastal curves in his lipstick-red Lamborghini. The blossom-blessed Western Riviera, called the Riviera di Ponente, stretches from the French border south to Genoa, and the Riviera di Levante, or Eastern Riviera, from Genoa south to La Spezia. The "western" section includes the Vegas-esque San Remo and capital city of Genoa, Italy's premier port and hometown of Christopher Columbus. The "eastern" section is most alluring, where seaside resort towns and medieval ports such as Rapallo, Portofino (hot with the yachting set), Santa Margherita Ligure, and the rustic town of Cinque Terre dot the coast.

Tuscansy & Umbria

  • Biggest Draws: Pastoral vistas, medieval towns
  • Location: Central Italy
    Visit the sunny hills of Tuscany and Umbria and you'll understand why the Renaissance flourished here: you'll feel like you're walking through a painting. Cypress and olive trees dot sunny hills and a patchwork pattern of vineyards, including the famous Chianti region, stretch into the distance. Medieval scene stealers include the sienna-hued city of Siena, tower-filled San Gimignano, Perugia (capital of Umbria and home of Perugina chocolate), Assisi (home of the lovely Basilica di San Francesco, a church dedicated to St. Francis, protector of small animals and birds), the spa town of Montecatini Terme, Lucca (known for its olive oil), and Spoleto (an enchanting city that hosts a world-renowned annual arts fest).

Florence

  • Biggest Draw: Art
  • Location: Heart of Tuscany
    The birthplace of the Renaissance, Florence induces a wonderful art coma. Come here to see statues, paintings, staircases, frescoes, crypts, and domes by Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Donatello, Raphael, Brunelleschi, and Botticelli. The intrigue continues: Florence was the stomping ground of both the infamously evil Machiavelli and insanely rich Medici families. Must-see sights are numerous, and include the world-renowned Uffizi art gallery, Palazzo Pitti (Pitti Palace), and monstrous Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral (known as Il Duomo).

Rome

  • Biggest Draws: History, legend
  • Location: Central Italy south of Tuscany
    Capital of the ancient empire, Rome has witnessed the history of the civilized world. Once the site of passionate extremes -- orgies, carnage, feasts -- it is the city of myth and uncountable firsts. It contains more artistic monuments than any other city in the world, including the Sistine Chapel, Vatican City (don't miss mass at St. Peter's), the Roman Forum, the (original!) Coliseum, and the ruins of Ostia Antica, the unearthed port of Ancient Rome.

Alamfi Coast & Capri

  • Biggest Draws: Mythical cities, glorious sun
  • Location: Southwest coast of Italy
    Life is good in the dreamy region of Campania, where you can spend your days sipping the requisite limoncello (alcohol-infused lemonade) and gazing at the twinkling sea. This region combines history and hedonistic pleasure via legendary ruins (Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Paestum, which includes the Temple of Neptune, one of the best preserved Greek temples in the world); the lush, tourist-happy islands of Capri and Ischia (known for its health spas and thermal springs); the city of Naples; and the sun-drenched Amalfi Coast, which includes the towns of Sorrento (where mythical Greek Sirens beckon from its high cliffs), romantic Positano, and Ravello (a charming haven where D.H. Lawrence wrote Lady Chatterly's Lover).

Sicily

  • Biggest Draws: Wine, ruins
  • Location: An island off the southwestern tip of Italy
    The largest island in the Mediterranean, Sicily is a stunner, blending many different cultures and architectural styles. Its biggest draws are ruins such as the beautiful Valley of the Temples, Segesta, and Selinunte; active volcanoes such as Mt. Etna (the tallest active volcano in Europe) and Gran Cratere (believed to be the gateway to Hades) on the Aeolian island of Vulcano; and the lush city of Taormina. It's no surprise that fresh fish and gelati (Italian ice cream) are art forms here, but you may be tickled to know that there are more vineyards here than in any other region of the country. Salute!

For more information, contact the Italian Tourism Board nearest you.

-- Lori Seto

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