Listopedia: Italy 101


  • Italy 101 : Outside Bam Bar in Taormina.

  • Italy 101 : Glorious swimming – with no sand anywhere!

  • Italy 101 : Gorgeous elderly woman lining the piazza.

  • Italy 101 : Bright blooms and bobbing boats.

  • Italy 101 : Pool with a view.

  • Italy 101 : Fresh strawberries and incredible scenery.

  • Italy 101 :

  • Italy 101 : You’d be a fool to miss Giolitti’s gelato.

  • Italy 101 : Non-stop gelato? You're in the right place.

  • Italy 101 : Chilling in Florence.

Despite the fact that it requires many thousands of dollars/kilometres for Australians to holiday abroad, and our currency is always being picked on by the bigger kids, we Strayans continue to travel overseas in rising numbers, and with craftier luggage tricks. Good on us.

I usually choose Italy. I’ll go there annually if they’ll continue to have me, despite my terrible pronunciation of “grazie”.

Some reasons include:

  • Carbs
  • Fashion
  • Negronis
  • Ricotta cheesecake
  • Swimming off rocks and no sand anywhere
  • No judgment when ordering a bowl of pasta, then pizza
  • Friendly, warm, welcoming Italians
  • Everyone looks great because everyone wears sunglasses always
  • Carbs

Like most people, I’ve done the classic Italian hotspots: Venice, Positano, Sicily and, of course, Athens. Here are some of my favourite things to do/see/eat/visit in the aforementioned hotspots.

Taormina, Sicily

We stayed in Taormina, on the beach, rather than up in town. But with a cable car swinging its way between the town (all the food/shops and most of the hotels) and beach (a handful of hotels and restaurants) all day, both options are good. Have a fancy, view-soaked drink at Grand Hotel Taormina, and outstanding aperitivo at Timoleone. Have your (daily) granita at Bam Bam bar, swim at Isola Bella, and make a day trip to Noto and Syracuse if time permits. Definitely eat lunch (or ideally stay) at Country House Villadorata, just outside of Noto, if you’re roaming. It served up the finest meal of my trip.

Portofino

Portofino could never be accused of being cheap, but that’ll happen when you’re a) tiny, b) breathtaking, and c) overrun with super yachts and tourists. But it’s so lovely! Pop on your best boaty pastels and make the trip already! Head up to Hotel Splendido (often called the best hotel in the world, and after staying there, I’m a believer) for a sunset cocktail, and when the bill arrives suck it up and file it in your “Lifelong Memories” folder. Buy some cheese, wine and crackers in town and have a picnic in the surrounding national park; have a casual lunch at La Taverna del Marinaio, or walk away from the packed main square to L’Isolotto for some of the best pizza of your goddamn life. There’s a small, protected swimming area just below Splendido where locals swim laps (scene of one of the most magical rock swims of my life), or Paraggi beach just outside town.

Venice

We all need to go to Venice at least once/100 times. There are no street names or, um, streets, really (canals instead, OMG how quaint), and a heavy suitcase will be your downfall – so pack light and smart. I was there for Biennale and it was HEAVING, but terrific fun. I was young and single so just popped my trainers on each day and wandered. But despite a lack of funds, I was no dummy: I knew some torta meringata classica and a peach bellini (it was invented there) at Harry’s Bar was mandatory, and to have a wine and snack at the centuries-old Cantina Do Mori. When I next go, I’ll be staying at Ca Maria Adele or The Gritti Palace.

Positano and Capri

I wished to return to Positano this year, but it’s not super young-child friendly due to its several billion steps. So we switched to Sicily. But I’ll be back. The Amalfi Coast is movie-set pretty, the perfect summer jaunt and wonderfully unsnobby. Accommodation ranges from wildly glamorous to chic, rustic and family-run; take your pick. Ask any Aussie for their Positano list and they’ll tell you one thing: catch the red fish boat from the main beach, then go to Da Adolfo for lunch and to laze on a sunbed and swim. Do it.

It’s pretty hard to have a bad meal in Positano, but Maria Grazia (vegetarian pasta heaven) and La Tagliata (all home grown, no menu, just what’s fresh) are foodie favourites. A fancy sunset drink at the magnificent Il San Pietro just out of town is worth it, and not just because G. Clooney chooses to stay here, how dare you.

Capri (think St Tropez, but less… French) is a quick ferry ride away, and quite frankly, non-negotiable. (Ravello likewise.) Go in July for breathtaking designer sales, and catch the boat around to the iconic Fontelina Beach Club to enjoy a long Spritz and Sangria-soaked lunch (and swim). It’s magic. Ditto the gelato and homemade waffle cones at Buonocore.

Florence

There is good reason Florence is one of the most popular cities in the world: it’s awfully pretty, it’s riddled with history and romance, and it caters to all budgets/goals/shoe sizes. Within greater Tuscany, I highly recommend an (extended) stay in the small but big town of Lucca, with a couple of days at Forte de Marmi (you can ferry up to Cinque Terre for the day), at least a day in mediaeval little San Gimignano and, of course, some time in Siena. Tuscany is SO, EXCELLENT.

*I have written a hungry, in-depth food post for Florence, and also created a shopping video for the city: please have a gander at those.

Rome

Guide to Roma: arrive, start walking, and never stop. If that’s too vague/useless: stay somewhere within walking distance of the Spanish Steps/Trevi Fountain/Piazza Navona/Pantheon like everyone, ever. I’ve stayed in some atrocious hotels in Rome. They excel in them. Not so this year: we stayed at JK Place and it was spectacular. Elegant, cool, friendly, with an outstanding breakfast and the most brilliant lift I have ever seen. (It has a full lounge in it.) (A full lounge!)

Bad meals are rife, due to the many tourists happy to settle for frozen pizzas. (That said, enjoying an Americano with a hundred other tourists in Piazza di San Lorenzo at dusk is great fun.) After much research and many great meals, I can suggest Baccano, Nino (cool cats alert), Dilla, Il Drappo, and for a light mid-shopping lunch, La Buvette (not the same as the NYC one, but I was excited nonetheless) or the very, um, un-Italian juice and smoothie bar Ginger (which is on Via Borgognona, my favourite shopping strip). Oh, and you’d be a fool to miss Giolitti’s gelato. (If you’re craving something other than pasta, as we were following three weeks in Italy, there’s a Zuma.) For those who like a challenge, the world famous Jerry Thomas Project is a hidden speakeasy with rules, a password and limited space, (ala Bar Please Don’t Tell in New York). All your designer and chain store classics are well repped, but head off the main strip for excellent local boutiques (kids clothes in particular), and perfume heads must visit Campomarzio70 and grab an exotic elixir you can brag about back home.

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Zoe Foster Blake

About the Author Zoe Foster Blake

Zoe Foster Blake is the kind of traveller who pays attention to the toiletries in hotels, but don't judge her on that. Judge her on the ridiculous size of her suitcase, instead. Zoe is the founder of all-natural skin care line, Go-To, a long-time beauty editor, the author of six books, and a columnist for Sunday Style and Cosmopolitan magazines. She has been to the Greek Islands far too many times, lives between Melbourne, Sydney and Queenstown, and has a PDF she emails to friends heading to NYC on all the places they "must eat." She gets sad if there are no overseas adventures on her horizon, and not even her delicious new baby boy has stopped her and her husband from seeing the world/finding the best massage/eating too much gelato.