I must confess to being taken aback by my first impressions of Lucca, the fortified settlement that was my third destination. The crowds were bus trippers trespassing for the day, ice cream and camera in hand. However behind this veneer is a city so beautiful it takes your breath away. An entire day can be spent wandering the winding streets of stone and looking at the gastronomic delights in shop windows of Biscotti, Panforte and the most delicious focaccia you have ever tasted.
A walk along the town walls is where the real local flavours appear – health conscious joggers, old menwith sticks in hand and women with dinky dogs pass by. There is nothing quite as peaceful and beautiful as watching the town come alive from its slumber.
A day trip to Pisa saw midday markets, art and chic library coffee shops. There is so much more to Pisa than the crooked tower, however magnificent it may be.
My Tuscan highlight was taking a train through the mountainous Garfagana region. Disembarking at the village of Castelnuovo I found it in misty splendour on market day. The entire region seemed to be there. Gruff, grey locals in a bar gradually melted and coffee became lunch provisions and pigeon conversation, ending with the owner introducing me to all as his “friend”.
A train strike forced me to leave Lucca early. Unfortunate, but Perugia would more than make up for it.The hill town is historic, beautiful but with a thriving university and international culture. Being inUmbria, it is the centre of Italy and a lot less touristy than some areas, still local but young and vibrant.
Perugia boasts a fabulous Etruscan and archaeologicalmuseum, the most beautiful bank, achingly large art gallery and the fine Piazza IV Novembre. My Perugian adventure was crowned by a visit to the church of San Pietro. Opening up the sombre church early the caretaker took me along with him, showing me the entire church with his vast knowledge of art and architecture being better than any guide book.
With sadness I left for my final destination, but the prospect of Rome meant that feeling did not last long!
Rome, the Eternal City, merges history, style and proud authenticity. Rome is an exceptional city and I would advise just taking a map and planning an itinerary around the places you want to visit. And yes, Rome was not built in a day and cannot be seen in a day, but in a couple you can cover a lot of ground.
I explored the famous Campo di Fiori and the mired of backstreets of the Jewish ghettowhere a strong Jewish population still resides. The pantheon and piazza navona and of course the Trevi fountain are glorious. Monuments galore, Rome feels like a dream as you walk through time.Stop off at classy shops, view well-heeledwomen and suited men on Vespa scooters, visit the Spanish steps and Villa Borghese gardens for a lunch time picnic, perfecto!
Then it was to the Vatican City to glimpse the Sistine chapel, Michelangelo’s masterpiece. My advice is to book tickets in advance to avoid queues. Of course ancient Rome with the iconic Colosseum is something that needs to be experienced even once in your life!
Alas my Italian adventure had reached its climax. I can honestly say traveling alone is one of the best things you can do. Italy is the most amazing country; every place was unique, the people welcoming and the culture inspiring. My holiday may have ended but my love affair with Italy had just begun.