As we set off from Milan towards the Lakes, waving goodbye to clean eating and preparing ourselves instead for ten days of wining and dining, superb vistas and myriad boutique properties, I hadn't stopped to really think about the variety and richness that this well-travelled country would showcase. Know-it-all's and seasoned travellers read on, Italy is ripe for exploring and I defy you to be unhappy here.
Italian glamour in the Lakes
Hugely accessible by car being just over an hour from Milan Linate or Milan Malpensa airports, the Lakes make a great short break that really pack a punch and the variety between them is surprising. Como is typified by its narrow winding roads and pretty villages, like Varenna and Bellagio, peppering its shoreline. The texture of the lake itself, as it lies flat and calm, surrounded by sizeable mountains, gives it that irresistibly Instagrammable quality. Heading east you have Garda which is much wider and more open, with a more laidback Mediterranean feel - olives and lemons grow in abundance here and make regular appearances on lakeside menus. Whilst charming Iseo sits humbly surrounded by the vineyards of the underrated Franciacorta wine with its own fairy-tale island at its centre.
Common to all Italian Lakes are wonderful views, historic houses with beautiful gardens such as the Villa del Balbianello (used famously in Casino Royale), outdoor pursuits and delicious local food and wine. After a day's action on foot, by bike or ofcourse by boat in your own Vaparino, what better way to cap it off than by sampling the delicious tasting menu at the Grand Hotel Fasano's Il Fagiano restaurant or enjoying a chilled glass of Franciacorta at L'Albereta's casual Vista Lago Bistro restaurant with views from the terrace to Iseo in the background? La Dolce Vita indeed.
With the saturation on social media of pictures of Tuscany with its rolling hills and Cypress trees, I thought I knew what was to come as we cruised south of Florence through the Chianti. However, each crest of the road or peak of the hill gave way to breathtaking views from hilltop towns and undulations of green fields which often escape us city dwellers. In fact, there are more UNESCO sites in Tuscany than in Australia or South Africa. Nestled in the hills, converted Castello's (try Castello di Vicarello. Castello di Casole and Monteverdi for starters) still retain their Tuscan Borgo feel with terracotta tiles and beautiful stonework providing the perfect base for restorative relaxation after a day of exploring, or a long lunch in Montepulciano or Montalcino. Walking, cycling, cookery classes, wine and olive oil tasting are the order of the day here, or simply taking in the views with a book in hand and a glass of Brunello should also not be sniffed at. That's Amore.
As we headed south, we couldn't resist a trip to the Maremma region, which hugs the less visited Tuscan coast, and here, nestled into the hills, lies Il Pellicano. Once the haven of high society guests sipping Negroni's whose black and white portraits still adorn its walls, this property blends classy elegance with huge sea views, a Michelin starred restaurant and its own beach platform to soak it all in. Hello Hedonists and Honeymooners.