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The Warsaw Voice » National Voice » May 31, 2012
Italy in Poland
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Art, Cuisine and Nature
May 31, 2012   
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Unlike many countries, Italy has no need to advertise itself as a tourist destination. It is a magical place that offers small pockets of paradise, whether the visitor is interested in culture, gourmet cuisine or carefree lounging on the beach.

On lists of the most often visited European locations, at least three Italian cities—Rome, Florence and Venice—regularly find themselves in the top 10 or even top five. All of them offer attractions of the highest order. In terms of the Italian capital, built on seven hills on the Tiber River, it’s enough to mention names such as the Colosseum, Forum Romanum, Capitol, Spanish Steps or the Basilica of St. John Lateran. Another reason to visit the Eternal City is the Vatican. For Polish people, there is a special reason: for over 25 years, until Pope John Paul II’s death on April 2, 2005, they thought of this section of Rome almost as a part of Poland. Despite the passage of time, stopping at the tomb of their beloved countryman is an item on the must-do list of every Polish tourist group.

Florence, for its part, is one huge museum. The Uffizi Gallery and Palazzo Pitti are unquestionably the leading museums of European painting, and of course the Italian Renaissance in particular. The Palazzo del Bargello is a much smaller museum but considered by experts to have the most valuable collection of sculptures in Europe. Other sightseeing classics include Palazzo Vecchio, the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (Duomo), the Medici Chapel and Florence’s famous bridges, the most celebrated being the Ponte Vecchio.

Venice is the “City of Lovers.” St. Mark’s Square, the Doge’s Palace, Torcello—historically the first island on the lagoon to be inhabited—are just a few examples of magical sites there. Water buses, the famous vaporetto, provide transport, alongside the equally famous gondolas, across this extraordinary city on water, in Europe comparable only to Amsterdam and St. Petersburg; Russians actually refer to the latter as the Venice of the North.

Admirers of European cultural history could spend years on vacation in Italy and still mention plenty of places they haven’t seen yet. Ravenna is considered by experts the global capital of Byzantine mosaics, the best of them being housed in the Church of San Vitale. Another must-see sight in Ravenna is the Orthodox Baptistry, one of Europe’s best preserved buildings of its kind, dating back to the 5th century.

Equally magnificent architecturally and historically are the cathedrals in Milan, Assisi and Siena. In this last city, adrenaline hunters should attend the Palio di Siena, a famous Tuscan festival in honor of Our Lady that dates back to the Middle Ages. The climax of this festival is a horse race that is open to the public and extremely exciting even though it lasts just three laps around the city’s central square. It appeared in the James Bond movie Quantum of Solace. The race takes place twice a year, on July 2 and Aug. 19 in the Piazza del Campo.

A site not to be missed in Verona is one made famous by William Shakespeare, namely the balcony under which Romeo Montague professed his love for Juliet Capulet. Tourists interested in the history of European universities should visit Bologna, home to one of the oldest universities in the Western world whose history dates back to the 11th century.

Natural delights
Italy’s natural wonders are just as fascinating. The areas around Lakes Como, Garda, Lugano and Maggiore are full of tourists all year round. Crowds also visit the Dolomites, both for skiing and mountain climbing. Polish winter sports enthusiasts are familiar with resorts such as Cortina d’Ampezzo and Madonna di Campiglio.

In summer the Italian coast is among the most crowded places in Europe, with beaches stretching for many kilometers, picturesque bays, turquoise waters across which yachts from all over the world sail. There are many admirers of the Italian islands, both the most famous ones and the little ones that offer more privacy and quiet, to mention the Lipari Islands.

Sicily is the biggest island in the Mediterranean Sea, its symbol being Mt. Etna, Europe’s highest (approx. 3,340 m above sea level) and biggest active volcano. The tiny Capri in the Tyrrhenian Sea is famous mainly for the Azure Grotto that hundreds of thousands of people visit every year. In recent decades, wealthier tourists have developed a love for Sardinia, where many luxury residences and comfortable vacation centers and hotels have been built.

Italian cuisine is a whole separate story. Dishes like spaghetti, fettuccine, ravioli, pappardelle, prosciutto di Parma and lasagna are familiar to restaurant guests everywhere. Italian wines, including the famous Chianti, are a staple accompaniment to meals the world over. Every region of Italy has its culinary specialties: Piedmont is famous for truffles, Lombardy for risotto, Calabria for fish and seafood, while Campania is considered the birthplace of the famous Mediterranean diet.
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