Italian Cities - A Personal Insight Into Which Cities Are Worthy of Your Visit

Each Italian city has its own idiosyncrasies and you may want to be assured, in advance, that you will find what you are looking for. After scores of Italian visits over the last 35 years, I can summarise a consensus view on the pros and cons of each of the main Italian Venues. So here is a summary appraisal, travelling roughly north to south:

Turin - the warmth of the centre belies its industrial heritage. Not much architecture to marvel at, but the museums are surprisingly good.

Milan - forget the opinions of austerity and the first impressions from the sensational thirties deco of the Stazione Centrale. This city oozes style and success and has a wonderful attitude and work ethic. Here work and career are defininitely, to quote Voltaire 'the father of pleasure'. See the Duomo and marvel at its splendour, inside and out. Cruise the Gallerie along to Piazza della Scala and enjoy La Scala's understated facade.

Wander the chic streets of Via Monte Napoleone down Via Jesu' to the small stradine and their simple bars, where you can sit outside and people-watch all day long. And on the other side of the city, stare up in wonder at the Michelangelo frescoes.

Parma - a city that has grown wealthy on the successes of local industry and the global penetration of food exports. See the centre of their famed ham production, in the Apennine foothills at Langhirano, then head back into the city, to be awe-struck at the Cathedral and Baptistry.

Eat gelati as you wander through to the Farnese museum and enjoy the vast selection of independent (if slightly snooty) fashion shops. Restaurants feel it is their God-given duty to uphold this area's reputation as the centre of Italian gastronomy. But walk a couple of side-streets and you will find excellent family 'trattorie', where there is no menu, but you will be firmly 'advised' on what to enjoy from that day's 'specials'.

Venice - a city of so many contrasts. Completely commercial and international in its self-importance as THE most beautiful tourist destination. The architecture is stunning. The views over the Lido are splendid. But expect to feel you are in Times' Square or Piccadilly Circus, from the global nature of your fellow visitors.

Bologna - an absolute favourite, if you are seeking less tourism and a charm and authenticity that is again unique. The slightly austere Romanesque architecture of the Cathedral and the streets warms itself to you, after a day or two. Everything is accessible and you can browse so many beautiful food and local produce displays in the smaller streets. There is a crustiness to this University town that makes it so charming, without the new-money influences of Parma or the blatant commercialism of Venice or Florence.

Florence - yes, it has a completely unique personality and the most splendid palaces and museums. But you do have to search around the edge of the main pedestrian tourist streets for non-tourist restaurants, or anything truly Tuscan. Across the bridges to the east, you can find more intrigue. Just try to stay up in the hills, a few kilometres out of the City.

Rome - such self-esteem as the capital. The vastness of its sites gives it the ability to handle vast volumes of visitors but still keep an essential Italian character and style. Sit on the Spanish Steps and then wander over the river to marvel at the Vatican. Stroll back through Piazza Navona and on to see the ingenuity inside the Pantheon.

Feel the spirits of tens of thousands who perished at the Coliseum and recognise the effects of Roman history on every corner. Find charming squares along the walks towards the river with locals dining 'al fresco'.

It is definitely possible to find essential Italian life here and shield yourself from the tourism for a while. But give it time. Less than three days in Rome and you could not do this amazing city justice, in terms of your time and attention.

Naples - you will be surprised by the grandeur of the central government palaces and the charming harbour. Be careful of the drivers and hold your breath if you risk taking a taxi, particularly if they need to skirt around the city on the speedier autostrada. Enjoy the long pretty streets too, just off the centre.

The Bay of Naples and the Amalfi Coast are another holiday on their own. Take the ferry to Capri and enjoy the walk toTiberius Villa and the views back across to Sorrento.

Cagliari - this lovely city in southern Sardinia warrants inclusion for its friendly citizens and historical buildings, all of which are so easy on the eye, as you wander up and down the hilly streets. Take a ferry from here back to the mainland or more far flung parts of the Mediterranean if you wish.

So that's a mere fleeting glimpse of the cities that you are most likely to encounter. So many smaller towns should be explored too, often with even more charm, to explore whenever you can.

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