The alternative Italian bucket list

Make your next trip unforgettable with these top 8 things to do in Italy

‘You may have the universe if I may have Italy,’ sang Ezio in Verdi’s epic tale, Attila. And who could blame him? There are endless reasons to love Italy, whether its rich history, village charm, Mediterranean climate, sublime food, cosmopolitan outlook or appreciation for the good things in life. In fact, can you think of anything not to love?

Neither could we. Here are eight of our favourite excursions that you can experience for yourself on a Cosmos escorted tour of Italy.

1. Explore the Cinque Terre

For postcard-worthy views, there really is nowhere like the Cinque Terre, where colourful clusters of cliffside homes perch above striking azure harbours. Work up an appetite with a gentle hike along one of the many trails that run between the villages, and which afford incredible views of the coastal scenery and little wooden fishing boats, bobbing in the water. Then pick a restaurant and tuck into the morning’s catch, paired with some of the delicious white wines of the area – including the exquisite dessert wine sciacchetra.

The brightly coloured buildings stand out against the blue sky at the Cinque Terre in Italy

2. Ascend Mount Etna

This brooding volcano is usually top of the list of things to do in Italy, especially if you’re heading to Sicily. Active for more than two and a half million years (with the last major eruption in the 17th century), Etna has picked up quite a few myths along the way. Our favourite is from ancient Greece, which places an irate monster underneath the rock, occasionally spurting out fire from one of its 100 dragon heads. Avoid potential conflicts with this mythical creature by taking the cable car up the slopes. Floating high above the eerie plains of volcanic wasteland, it’s a great way to fully appreciate how vast the volcano is: 600 square miles of black, volcanic rock, leading up to a peak that soars 3,330ft high.

3. Discover Europe's 'least visited' country

Ever heard of San Marino? No? You're not alone - this tiny mountaintop republic is one of the few genuine secrets left in Europe. Perched within the Apennine Mountains in Northern Italy, it was recently named ‘The Least Visited Country in Europe’ by National Geographic. San Marino is an unspoilt beauty in itself, with pretty winding streets and lovely woods and green spaces - and that's without considering the astonishing views.

Three ways to discover Italy

We offer three different types of holiday in Italy, so you can discover it just how you want to. Whichever tour you choose, you’ll benefit from the expertise and passion of the best Tour Directors in the business, stay in conveniently located hotels and enjoy the scenery between stops from a comfortable, air-conditioned coach.

4. Sail through Venice - the most romantic city in the world

Explore the maze of evocative canals that make up Venice and experience a grand romance by private boat. Take in views of the magnificent Palazzo Ducale and Basilica di San Marco on the Grand Canal, soak up the atmosphere of the narrow backstreets with their marble-lined neighbourhood churches, and travel under arched bridges to stunning town squares. Alight your vessel and head to a waterside bistro for cicheti (small plates), served with the city’s signature drink, prosecco.

5. Visit the salt plains of Marsala

Marsala wine may be the main export from this area, but its salt can be found in foodie kitchens the world over. And if you're in Sicily, the unique salt flats of Marsala are definitely worth a visit. Not only is this where the island produces its ‘white gold’ – by the hand of leather-skinned locals, in time-honoured tradition – but it’s also a unique panorama, with vast plains of white salt shimmering against the blue Sicilian sky, and dotted with red-roofed windmills. At harvest time – between June and September – the mounds of salt are covered over with orange roof tiles to protect them from the rain, creating little houses throughout the flats. The delicately flavoured salt is a perfect complement to the simple, fresh flavours of Mediterranean cooking. And it’s not bad in a margarita, either.

6. Take a ferry out to Capri

Once the playground of Roman emperors, Capri has long attracted the rich and the famous – Gracie Fields and Maria Callas both called it home. The island in the beautiful Bay of Naples encapsulates the best of the Mediterranean lifestyle, with its pristine coves, Roman ruins, snazzy town squares and designer boutiques. Spend an afternoon strolling its pretty, narrow streets in search of limoncello and handmade leather goods to take home – or stretch out in a garden cafe and make the most of the stunning views.

7. Take a tasting tour of a Chianti vineyard

Italy is renowned for its wine as well as its food, and there is no better setting for a tasting in a vineyard than Chianti. At the heart of Old Tuscany, the region has been producing wine since the 13th century, and at Castello Vicchiomaggio wine estate the centuries-old tradition is continued by John and Paola Matta. Surrounded by rolling Tuscan countryside, the historic castle is the perfect spot to sit and sample a few award-winning Chiantis with a delicious lunch. 

8. Island hop in Lake Maggiore

Floating in the spectacular setting of Lake Maggiore is the jaw-droppingly beautiful archipelago of the Borromean Islands. Owned by Borromeo family since the 14th century, the small islands are overflowing with ornate Baroque architecture, landscaped gardens and rare plants. Each has its own character: the tiny Isola Bella is known for its 17th-century Palazzo Borromeo, Isola Madre for its botanical garden and rare plants, and pretty Isola dei Pescatori (Fishermen’s Island) for its atmospheric cobbled lanes, lovely houses and characterful market.

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