There is something poetic about Italy . It's inspired by countless novels and movies, and yes, even poems. Truman Capote once said, "Venice is like eating an entire box of chocolate liqueurs in one go."
It's a place of incredible food, exquisite wines, magnificent art, and millennia of living history waiting for you to explore. If you've never been to Italy, but dream of getting to know it , here's a 10-day itinerary that reveals its true essence.
Paris has nothing on Venice when it comes to a city for lovers; Travel + Leisure recently named it the most romantic city in the world . There is no better way to start your perfect tour of Italy than with a gondola ride on the Grand Canal, sipping prosecco, the gondolier's serenade gentle on the breeze.
Treat yourself to that most Venetian custom, cicchetti and shade at one of the many charming wine bars, or bariars, that line the Grand Canal. Be sure to sample bacon, a traditional bite of creamy salt cod on a small polenta cake.
When night falls and you're ready to dine, a private dinner on a terrace overlooking the lagoon is a lovely way to end your first night in Venice.
Murano is just over a kilometer from Venice, but it's like a separate world.
With just 5,000 inhabitants, this lagoon island still practices the 10th century craft that made it famous-the manufacture of Murano glass . Browse the local glass and ornament shops and tour a glass furnace to see the craftsmen create their art.
For more glass art, visit the Basilica of Saint Mary and Donato, the 7th century church dedicated to the patron saint of Murano and famous for its mosaics.
Then take a vaporetto ride to Torcello, another lagoon island known for its Byzantine mosaics, and have a leisurely lunch at Venissa , an avant garde restaurant featuring locally sourced seafood and produce.
Michelangelo was just 26 years old when he started sculpting David, a two-year work that resulted in arguably the finest sculpture in the world - or at least the most famous.
After your date with David at the Academy Gallery, sample some ice cream , Florence's famous frozen treat-Florence is the birthplace of ice cream.
If you're ready for more art, take the afternoon for the Uffizi , home to a monumental collection of Renaissance art (Florence is the birthplace of the Renaissance too). Although you can not go wrong in any of the halls, do not miss Caravaggio's The Sacrifice of Isaac in hall 4, the Botticellis in halls 10 through 14, da Vinci's masterpieces in hall 15, and Titian's Venus of Urbino in hall 28. The Della Francesca's portraits of the Duke and Duchess of Urbino in hall 7 are also must-see works.
Florence is the mark of the Medicis everywhere you look-and the Pitti Palace is no exception. Wealthy banker Luca Pitti built the palace in 1470, requesting larger windows and doors than the Palazzo Medici in a bit of rivalry with the famous family.
Cosimo Medici got the last laugh, however, because Pitti died in 1472 and the Medicis bought the opulent palace and made it their family home (enlarging it significantly in the process).
Today, Pitti Palace is a treasure chest of five separate museums containing over 250,000 works of art. But you can skip the palace and still taste the Medici lifestyle strolling through the Boboli Gardens . Grab a pastry and a cafe and enjoy the fabulous views.
On your last day in Florence, get a new perspective on this amazing city with a punt cruise. Glide under the Ponte Vecchio and see the Uffizi from your perch on the traditional wooden boat. Toast your tour mates with a glass of icy prosecco - you can never have too much bubbly in Italy.
You can not "do" Italy without taking a wine route to sample the magnificent local wines. Brunello di Montalcino is one of Italy's most prestigious wines, made exclusively from Sangiovese grapes that thrive in Tuscany's warm, dry climate.
Brunello must be aged for at least five years (six for reserve ), with at least two of those years in oak but the resulting wines are worth the wait.
You've finally arrived in Rome, the Eternal City. Start your sojourn with a private guided tour to see those ancient sites that speak of the birth of Western Civilization. Beginning with the Forum Romanum, where 2,000 years ago, decisions were made affecting the history of the world, and moving through the Colosseum, the Circus Maximus, Capitoline Hill, to the mysteries of the Pantheon, you will connect with the ancient emperors and philosophers who ruled the Western world.
From there, make your way to Rome's fabled historic center and the city's most famous attractions - the Church of Sant'Ignazio, Piazza Venezia, the Spanish Steps at Piazza di Spagna and Piazza Navona . Do not forget to put a coin in the Trevi and make a wish.
The historic center is the place to indulge in a small retail therapy; you'll find Fendi, Gucci, and Prada boutiques lining Via del Corso, Rome's Rodeo Drive.
Even if you are not a member of the church, no visit to Rome is complete without touring Vatican City . The tiny Holy See is the world's smallest independent country, home of the Pope since the 14th century.
The Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel should be the top of your list, and you'll definitely want to see St. Peter's Square and St. Peter's Basilica. Do not forget to snap a few shots of the Swiss Guard, tasked with guarding the Vatican City since 1506.
Be sure to ask about guided tours to avoid crowds and even grant you access to restricted rooms. You can even get special before- or after-hours access for a truly memorable experience.
Despite their name, the Castelli Romani are not truly castles, but ancient hill towns (some of which produce incredible wines). Castel Gandolfo, the summer residence of the Pope since the 17th century, is on the way to Frascati; It's worth a stop to see the famous Bernini fountain at the Piazza della Libertà.
Although the residence is not open for visitors, ask for an exclusive private tour with an aperitif in the luxurious gardens.
From there, it's on to Frascati and its lovely wines . Frascati is the most famous of the Castelli Romani wines; it can be either dry, sweet or sparkling. Made from primarily Malvasia grapes usually blended with Trebbiano, Frascati is a quintessentially Roman wine and your inner oenophile will appreciate its lush, fruit-forward taste and delicate floral notes. It's the perfect summer sipping wine on a hot Italian afternoon.
It's time to cross the Tiber to Trastevere , Rome's fiery medieval neighborhood known for its nightlife. Walk to the Piazza Santa Maria and take a few minutes to the people-watch; Step inside the 12th century Basilica of Santa Maria for a peek at the Cavallini mosaics.
From there, make your way to the Palazzo Orsini baroque with its collections of Titians and Caravaggios. You'll definitely want to make the 20-minute climb up the Gianicolo, Rome's eighth hill, for a few panoramic photos of the city down below.
Spend your evening sampling craft beers, local wines, and authentic cuisine at Trastevere's wide selection of trattorias and pizzerias.
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