The newest (though not new) trend in travel, is “off the beaten path” experiences. Somehow it has become almost offensive to visit major well-known cities. Paris is passè, London is lackluster and Rome is routine. But you know what? There is no bigger mistake than skipping the big cities in search of a more authentic experience. Rome, Florence, and Venice offer a base for understanding Italy. Of course, they are touristy, of course, they get millions of visitors every year. Guess what? There’s a reason for that. Rome, Florence, and Venice are amazing, awe-inspiring, fascinating. Each with its own history and culture that is palpable. Yes, there is something magical about small, off the beaten path villages, places where you meet the locals and get a feel for everyday life in Italy. But consider this: if an Italian was visiting the United States for the first time, would you insist that he or she forgo New York, Boston or Los Angeles for Schenectady, NY? You need a foundation, a base for understanding and the cities are a good start. They are the main course of the travel meal while the off the beaten path places are the side dishes and the dessert. And yes, while I too may enjoy the side dishes and the dessert the most, I know that it is not a balanced meal without the main course.
The beauty of Italy is the rich, cultural diversity and that there is something for everyone. This also applies to its cities. Rome is Rome (Caput Mundi, the center of the Catholic world, the Eternal City), but it is also charming neighborhoods, gorgeous urban parks, innovative museums and so much more. Florence may be the Cradle of the Renaissance, but after the museums and churches, you can’t miss the fantastic food markets, the chic cafe culture and the amazing artisans that are making gorgeous creations in the Florentine guild tradition. Venice, albeit crowded, has a magical air. And once you move away from St. Mark’s Square, you can move through the city in virtual solitude, discovering wonderful back streets, tiny canals and charming locals who, despite their reputation, are actually delightful people if you only take the time to speak with them.
Give the cities a chance. In each one, you will find that there is something new to be discovered over and over again. Here are some blog posts to get you started: