Top ten places to visit in Italy

Ian writes: I was out and about in Tuscany yesterday visiting the owners of Casetta al Castello and Casa Tosca, and to keep myself amused whilst I was driving, I started making a list of my favourite places I have visited in Italy. Good job I was driving over 400km, as it took a while to narrow it down. Avoiding the obvious choices in Rome, Florence and Venice, here’s those that made it into the top ten (in no order of preference I hasten to add):

North-West Chianti
Over the years I have spent a lot of time in this area of Tuscany and it never fails to impress: rolling hills, fantastic vistas, charming villages such as Certaldo, Montaione and the tiny hamlet of Marcialla dot the landscape, with the towers of nearby San Gimignano ever present on the horizon. A lunch stop at C’Era Una Volta in Lucardo is a must. Places to stay nearby: Tenuta Moriano and Casolare San Lorenzo.

This small village over looks the valley below and was the site of a wartime tragedy. The small museum and memorial are touching and thought provoking. At present they are restoring the impressive castle. Dine at either of the great restaurants – Il Vicolo or Antico Borgo. Places to stay nearby include Villa San Martino and Le Terrazze.

Towering over the Puglian coastline this town oozes charm and tradition. The whitewashed walls and tiny backstreets entice one in. Places to stay nearby: Lalpanzi and Trullo Lontano. Il Convento di Santa Maria di Constantinopoli is on the list simple because it is an incredible place to stay. ‘Tutto qui’, as they say in Italy.

Citerna This village is on the list of prettiest villages in Italy. ‘Compact and bijoux’ it offers a great base to visit Umbria and a great restaurant – Il Belvedere.
Places to stay nearby: Casa Fontefaggio and Villa Anna in the village itself.

Civita di Bagnoreggio I visited this village for the first time a few years ago and it is truly spectacular – stuck out in the middle of the valley it floats like a ship on the early morning mist.
Places to stay nearby: Il Falchetto and Borgo Bianchini.

Porto Rafael Here at Essential Italy we take our holidays here – a top recommendation indeed! Masterfully understated and chic with the best sea in the Med and beaches to match. The road ends at the village and so even in peak season the crowds don’t get here. Staying here makes one feel special. Places to stay in Porto Rafael: Rosetta, La Torretta and Casa Wasa.

Mount Etna This iconic symbol of Sicily is amazing. The black lava provides the most unusual backdrop for walks and from the summit the views are breathtaking. A great place nearby to stay is Scozilia.

Scopello This charming village is close to the great town of Palermo and offers typical Sicilian hospitality and great beaches. The nearby town of San Vito has a superb sandy beach.
Places to stay in Scopello: Villa Orca and Villa Delfino.

Castiglion Fiorentino
My home! Located between Arezzo and Cortona, the village of Castiglion Fiorentino often gets overlooked. Please stop and visit. Take my word for it; the views from the top of the tower (Il Cassero) are exceptional. Dine well in the restaurant Muzzicone. Places to stay nearby include Casa in Collina, La Senaia and Casa Ago.

And last but not least, with Valentines Day approaching, check out this truly romantic heaven: Nicolo in the village of Metato above the Versilia coastline.

Here’s hoping some of the above will make it onto your list too…