By Guest Contributor: Susan Van Allen
My love for Italy was born at a dining room table in Newark, New Jersey. This was where my maternal grandparents, immigrants from southern Italy reigned, and the table was the setting for long Sunday dinners—the lace tablecloth, steaming bowls of pasta, opera in the background, and the whole family joining in to toast “Salute!” Italy was one abundant, delicious heart. I finally got there after high school with a pack on my back, full of anticipation and wonder. I’ve been traveling there for over 30 years, indulging in all the delicious tastes, magnificent art, and adventures to be had up and down the boot.
It seems to me this country was especially made for women. The culture has been worshiping females since the earth was cooling, from the Goddess Venus to the Madonna. We feel especially appreciated as soon as we land there—sets us free to enjoy all its treasures.
Here are Five Top Italy Spots
Enjoy Renaissance masterpieces in this lavish palace where the princess played by Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday lived. Here you’ll find this painting by Raphael, of his girlfriend, who he called Fornarina: little oven. I love wandering through this opulent spot, imagining what life was like in 17th century days when these gallery rooms were the apartments of Princess Anna Colonna Barberini, the most powerful woman in Rome…What parties she must have had! What was it like for her to wake up here, pull the shade, and sigh over the beauty of the palazzo gardens? To make a day at the Barberini complete, my favorite lunch place nearby is Colline Emiliane (Via degli Avignonesi 22, 06 481 7538), for specialties of the Emilia-Romagna region, such as home made tagliatelle alla Bolognese.
In the Botticelli room of this magnificent museum, are the artist’s paintings of his muse, Simonetta Vespucci, who inspired him over and over, most famously in this Birth of Venus. Simonetta (aka La Bella Simonetta), was the Marilyn Monroe of Renaissance Florence–many painters clamored to have her pose for them, writers sent her love poems, and she was showered with gifts from admirers. I love seeing how Botticelli painted her not only as naked Venus, but also as the Virgin Mary in his Annunciation. A perfect ending to a day at the Uffizi is dinner at La Sostanza (Via Porcellana 25r, 055 212 691), a classic, bustling spot that serves excellent bistecca and chicken, as well as a to-die-for meringue cake dessert.
Sculptures, frescoes, and mosaics from ancient times will wow you in this collection, including this Venus of the Beautiful Buttocks, who was worshiped by the Greeks and Romans. The statue was greatly admired in Victorian times, when gentlemen on the Grand Tour came through and had to slip a guard lires for the privilege to see it. If you look a little closer at those beautiful buttocks, you’ll see smudges that remain from all the kisses received by her admirers back then. This museum is a marvelous sensory overload, including the entertaining Secret Cabinet, which displays erotic frescoes and sculptures from villas and brothels of Pompeii. To keep up the lively spirit, settle in for an apertivo nearby at the Piazza Bellini, and then have dinner at Ristorante Bellini
(Via Costantinopoli 79/80, 081 459 774), where the house specialty—spaghetti cooked in parchment with seafood—is fantastic.
Window shopping in this Fashion Capital of the World is divine. Discover the Mount Olympus of Designers—Dolce e Gabbana, Gucci, Prada, etc., in the city’s Golden Triangle (Quadrilatero della Moda). Here you’ll see newborn styles, fresh from the runway, so if you snatch anything up, it’ll be sensational for several seasons. Even department store shopping in Milan is a not-to-be-missed experience—check out the new (opened in September 2011) Excelsior Milano (Galleria del Corso 4), the world’s first luxury department store, where you’ll feel as though you’re visiting an art gallery, admiring its stunning displays and the array of deliciousness offered in its vast basement food halls. Or at sunset, head to Rinascente department store , around the corner from the Galleria, where the rooftop Obika mozzarella bar awaits. Treat yourself to a prosecco there and you’ll be eye-to-eye with the magnificent statues that adorn the rooftop of Milan’s Duomo.
Italy is rich with thermal, curative springs that have been in use since the days of the Roman Empire. Here, indulging in Spa time is a cultural experience, so if any of those niggling “I should be visiting a museum” thoughts come up, shoo them away. One of the best spots to enjoy life as the Romans did, is Ischia, an island off the coast of Naples. It’s covered with spas, including the Regina Isabella
, named after the Spanish queen who came here while pregnant to relax in the calming waters. You’ll find the set-up and treatments in Italy much less expensive than the equivalent in the USA. Plus there’s great food and wine, and a gentler philosophy—rarely are there hard core gyms and don’t be surprised to see folks smoking. Another great spot in Ischia for a day spa experience is Negombo Spa Park
, a lush oasis featuring sixteen different pools, where you can check in for soaks and massage.
There are so many more places to discover and experience in bell’Italia! This was my inspiration to write 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go. Along with masterpieces that glorify women, you’ll find advice for shopping, beaches, gardens, wine bars, places for entertainment, cooking, learning, and active adventures.
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Image Credits: Palazzo Barberini – Wikimedia commons, Uffizi – Wikimedia Commons, Naples – Susan Van Allen, Milan – Italian Government Tourist Board, Ischia Spa – Albergo Regina Isabella, author photo – Erin Champion