Venice hardly needs any introduction, famed as it is throughout the world as a city of incomparable beauty. Venice is the heart and soul of romance. Cast your eye on the rounded domes of San Marco, take a deep breath at the Bridge of Sighs, gaze on the golden lions and the Renaissance glories of the Doge's Palace, listen for the ghosts of Verdi, Puccini and Caruso at La Fenice Opera House, gape at the classic Palladian proportions of the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore, glide in a gondola down the Grand Canal. And know that love is always in the air in Venice. For centuries,Venice stood at the crossroads of culture between the Byzantine and Roman worlds. The city the great traders and philosophers created is an extraordinary place, unique in all the world. Great works of art are housed here, in the Accademia with its Renaissance masters and the collection of Peggy Guggenheim in her canal-side palazzo. Follow where your feet take you, over romantic bridges, to shops selling precious glass, to small cafés for a cappuccino or Campari.
Built on mud banks, which extend into the tidal waters of the Adriatic, Venice was once a great maritime power ruled by its doges, and a place of plot, intrigue and decadence. A city of water and of light, with an atmosphere which is at once fascinating and disturbing, its fragile fabric of canals and palazzi, churches, alleyways and campi has somehow survived the threats of both flood and mass tourism, and remarkably little has changed throughout the centuries.
The public boats called vaporetti and motoscafi run almost constantly, and you'll seldom have to wait more than a few minutes for one to come along. The waterbus you'll use most often is the No. 1, the local that stops 13 times between the Piazzale Roma and the Piazza San Marco. The gondolas of Venice are beautiful but expensive. Gondoliers often demand more money for less time, so strike a deal in advance.
St Mark’s Square is really the heart of Venice, mostly because of its location on the banks of the Grand Canal, and because of the great number of beautiful, historical monuments located there. The piazza St. Marco is the only square that is called a Piazza, the others are simply called "campo".
Over the centuries, diseases have contributed mightily to great art and architecture. The church of Santa Maria della Salute is a case in point. In October of 1630, after nearly a third of Venice's 150,000 citizens had been killed by plague, the Venetian Senate made an offer to God: "Stop the plague, and we'll build a church to honor the Virgin Mary." Whatever the reason, the plague was stopped in its tracks. The Venetian authorities honored their promise by giving the Virgin a prime chunk of real estate near the tip of Dorsoduro, where the Grand Canal merged with St. Mark's Basin.
For a long time, it was said that the Bridge of Sighs was a place where lovers met. Actually, the bridge was intended to link two parallel passages: one for prisoners and one for magistrates. The Rialto Bridge is always full of pedestrians climbing up and down the stairways, and a wonderful place to watch and photograph the constant activity of boats on the Grand Canal. The single span balustrade bridge has two parallel rows of tightly packed shops, selling jewelry, leather, masks, silk and souvenirs.
Rovinj is one of the most developed seaside resorts in Croatia, offering a whole range of visitor opportunities in a picturesque ambience of the ancient town, surrounded by luxuriant pine forests (the cape of Zlatni Rt is designated as a park forest, while the coast and islands of Rovinj are set aside as a protected landscape). The beginning of tourism was marked by the introduction of a steamship line between Rovinj and Trieste (1845) and the construction of the railroad to Vienna (1876). In 1896 the town had a well-maintained public beach, Val di Lone. The year 1888 may be considered the official beginning of tourism in Rovinj, when the health resort Maria Theresia was opened in the town. This oldest institution of that kind on the Adriatic coast was established by the Viennese society for the establishment and development of maritime health resorts. The health resort was visited by children from the entire Austro-Hungarian Monarchy and other countries. The development of tourism was continued with the construction of Hotel Jadran (today Centar), which was built before the First World War by the Society for the Construction of the First Hotel in Rovinj, to meet the needs of an increasing number of tourists and eminent persons who spent their vacations in Rovinj. The Polish count Ignac-Karol Korwin Milewsky bought the island of Sveta Katarina in 1905, carried out its afforestation and built two castles. In 1890 Baron Georg von Hüterodt purchased the island of Sveti Andrija and turned its former monastery building into a hotel; the island thus became the favourite seaside resort of the Austro-Hungarian clientele.
Blessed with an abundance of vineyards and perfumed lavender fields, Hvar is an island that also echoes its rich Venetian past. Amongst the striking architecture dating to the 17th and 18th centuries, you'll find one of the oldest theaters in Europe. And the views of the neighboring islands from the fortress are truly unforgettable.
Idyllically located just off the Dalmatian coast, the island and the little port named after it have been a favorite getaway ever since the time of the Romans, the Byzantines, the Venetians and even Austro-Hungarian royalty. See the perfectly preserved Cathedral of St. Stephen, the serene cloistered Franciscan monastery and the Venetian Arsenal, where one of Europe's first public theaters was established in 1612.
Located at the far south of the Republic of Croatia, Dubrovnik has become a protected part of the world heritage as well as a renowned holiday destination. Heavily damaged during the 1991-92 shelling, Dubrovnik is now completely restored thanks to the dedication of its people and the Rebuild Dubrovnik Fund. With the support of people all over the world, Dubrovnik has been reclaimed, not just as a Croatian treasure but also officially recognized by the United Nations as a World Cultural Heritage site.
Crowned by the Minceta Tower, the 10th century city walls are the proud symbol of Dubrovnik's colorful history. Stroll up the Stradún to the elaborately colonnaded Rector's Palace, the seat of the republic of Ragusa, a powerful Renaissance-era city-state boasting a fleet of 500 ships!
The massive walls that surround and protect this Mediterranean jewel were built between the 11th and 16th century, and commemorate the struggles that the Croatian people have had to endure over the centuries. One of the greatest attractions is to walk on top of the walls, for a view of the city unlike no other.
There are a few interesting stores in the Old Town. Local hand-crafts such as embroidered lace and filigree jewelry are the most popular items to purchase. You may also find a nice selection of crystal and watercolor paintings from local artists.
The Sponza's Palace, built in the 16th century was once used as the city’s Custom's House, but today houses a collection of modern artwork. The Church of St. Blaise, built in the 18th century was dedicated to the town's Patron Saint and the Onofrio's Fountain, which stands in front of the Church, part of the old water supply system still in use today, dates back to the 15th century. The baroque Cathedral of “Mary’s Assumption” with its dominating blue/green dome is one of the most striking monuments in the city.
Located along one of Montenegro's most beautiful bays is Kotor, a city of traders and famous sailors, with many stories to tell.
The Old City of Kotor is a well preserved city, typical of the Middle Ages, built between the 12th and 14th century. Medieval architecture and numerous monuments of cultural heritage have made Kotor a UNESCO listed “World Natural and Historical Heritage Site". Through the entire city the buildings are criss-crossed with narrow streets and squares. At one of them there is the Cathedral of Sveti Tripun , a monument of Roman culture and one of the most recognizable symbols of the city. The Church of Sveti Luka (13th century), Church Sveta Ana (12th century) Church Sveta Marija (13th century), Church Gospe od Zdravlja (15th century), the Prince’s Palace (17th century) and the Napoleon Theater (19th century) are all treasures that are part of the rich heritage of Kotor. Carnivals and fiestas are organized each year to give additional charm to this most beautiful city of the Montenegrin littoral.
The lushest (and some say the loveliest) of all the Greek Islands, Corfu lies just a stone's throw from the Albanian coast. And nowhere is the stunning natural beauty of Corfu more evident than in the small village of Paleocastritsa, where legend says Odysseus was washed ashore to be rescued by Nausicaa. Another sight not to be missed is the Achillion Palace built for the Empress Elizabeth of Austria and later owned by Kaiser Wilhelm I. The British made Corfu a major base during the Napoleonic wars and you can see the lovely 1824 villa, Mon Repos, where Prince Philip was born.
The exquisite island of ancient Pheakon, has 150 miles of coastline, picturesque promenades and a vivid night life. The lush green silhouette of Corfu (better known as Green Greece) rises from the Ionian sea, a fertile island dense with lemon and orange groves, fig trees, cypress, and three million olive trees. Two forts mark the graceful old town of Kerkira, along with a gorgeous Esplanade, where locals play cricket – one of the remaining British influences. In the Campiello area, a maze of shuttered Venetian-era alleyways leads to a Byzantine museum full of icons.
Taormina, Sicily, Italy
On the shoulder of Mt. Etna overlooking the green Gulf of Catania, Taormina inspired Goethe to say that "It is the greatest work of art and nature". Shop along the steep, cobblestoned streets of Corso Umberto. Or listen to the ghosts of the ancients in the Greek Theater, where even a whisper can be heard.
Built in the 3rd century B.C., the city was later almost completely renovated by the Romans. Perched on a rocky terrace overlooking the sea, Taormina is a city full of medieval charm and character. Most impressive is the awe-inspiring view; on a clear day one can see the snowcapped peak of Mt. Etna and the jagged cliffs of the rocky coastline soaring high above the sea. Cobblestone streets leads to Palazzo Corvaia, a 15th-century building adorned with classic double windows. Nearby one can find designer boutiques and quaint artisan studios. Taormina also boasts an impressive Greek Theatre built in the 3rd century B.C. not to be missed. Renowned for its width, and for its unique acoustical qualities, it is still used for open-air concerts.
The fortress cathedral, which is what Taormina's main cathedral is considered, was built around the year 1400 on the ruins of a small medieval church. The cathedral has a Latin-cross plan with three aisles; there are six minor altars in the two side aisles. Six monolithic columns hold up the nave, three on each side, in pink Taormina marble and their capitals have a foil and fish-scale decoration. The ceiling of the nave has wooden beams supported by carved corbels reproducing Arabian scenes with a Gothic air.
The city gardens, named after the Duke of Cesarò, were donated by the Cacciola-Trevelyan family during the 1920's. Inside, there is thick vegetation and a typically Mediterranean array of hedges and flowerbeds with cobbled paths. An avenue lined with olive-trees in memory of the fallen during various wars runs among precious trees of various species, some of which are rare and extraordinarily beautiful. In the center and on the northeast end of the gardens, there are some characteristic pagoda-style towers with arabesque designs, made of bricks and edged with lavic pumice-stone. Florence Trevelyan, an English noblewoman, and keen ornithologist, had these towers built to study the birds. Relics from the two World Wars are on show in a few clearings and a war monument to the fallen can be seen near the natural "Teatro di Verzura" (Greenery Theatre).
Sorrento's city walls rise straight out of the sea, and they hold many charms within. Sorrento has been depicted described and immortalised in song by artists, poets and travellers from every period of history. Along the coast, rugged and inaccessible cliffs soar upwards between beautiful beaches, hidden caves, enchanting bays and sheltered coves. Whereas inland, the high plains, rolling hills and lofty mountains are seared by deep valleys to create a truly unique landscape in which man has also left a clear sign of his remarkable work: the more impervious areas have been modelled into the now-famous terraces, those huge steps descending into the sea on which man has planted vinyards and groves of orange, lemon and olive trees. There are the gardens of delight which excude an inebriating perfume of blossom in spring. The mild climate and predominantly fine weather year-round make the Sorrentine Peninsula an ideal destination in any season.
The first town on the peninsula is Vico Equense with its Giusso Castle on the coast and the austere Mont Faito (4,500 feet high). You can pass from the sea to the mountain in just a few minutes. Next we find Meta di Sorrento, a town hidden in a maze of alleyways whose small hamlets and sun-drenched beaches are a must for visitors. Piano di Sorrento is a bustling town which harmoniously blends its sea-faring vocation with its rural identity and its role as a major market center. The hill rising up behind the town is traversed by narrow roads flanked by high walls that enclose centuries-old orange and lemon groves. Optional excursions here might include a trip back in history in Pompeii, where the ashen remains of ancient Romans lie frozen in time.
Ponza, an island in the Tyrrhenian Sea, trims the island’s eastern coast, a vista of sheer tuff cliffs bleached white by the sun and eroded by water and wind.
Indeed, the best vantage from which to appreciate Ponza is from the sea. During the high summer season — particularly on weekends, when Romans journey two hours to dine on fish and escape the oppressive heat of the capital — waterfront spots accessible by land attract crowds, with hardly an inch to lay your towel on the rocks. But by boat, the island’s charms come to life.
Vessels dock in Ponza’s sheltered port, the largest settlement on the island, which locals refer to simply as Porto. Its boxy houses form a pastel mosaic that traces the volcanic terrain over the area’s two peaks. Restaurants, cafes, bakeries, fishmongers and produce stalls surround the port, which is generally filled with boats. Porto retains the beauty of its origins as a simple fishing village — a destination popular with people from the mainland, but still unspoiled for visitors from afar.
Palmarola & Ponza, Italy (afternoon)
These two islands are quite beautiful in their rugged landscape. The architecture is interesting, tucked into the side of the hills. Very few "foreign" tourists come here. Restaurant food leave something to be desired. If you have time you can take a local, small boat excursion around the islands. Swimming is excellent but you will not find sandy beaches.
Civitavecchia (Rome Return)
2,500 years of history are woven into the fabric of modern Rome. You can feel it in the remarkable Pantheon, considered to be the most perfect architectural statement of the ages. Or as you wander side streets that open onto piazzas, fountains, Bernini sculpture, and elegant courtyards. Famous treasures are legion in Rome: the Colosseum, where gladiators fought to the death, the ancient Forum, St. Peter’s Cathedral in the Vatican, with its breathtaking Sistine Chapel, newly restored to its former glory, the Trevi Fountain (don't forget to throw a coin for luck), the Spanish Steps, where all Rome passes by.
Take time out between sights to do as the Romans do: enjoy a three-hour lunch, shop, people-watch, or savor the best gelati in the world. Life is not lived if you haven't been to Rome!