By Marguerite DuBosque

Italy is one of the most popular countries in the world for tourism. Italy utterly charms countless visitors summer, winter, spring, and fall – this is a superb off-season destination! The arrival of fall and winter bring delightful savings and delectable cool-weather cuisine.

Just about everyone who travels to Italy visits the fames triumvirate of cities: Rome, Florence, and Venice – and for good reason. Each of these remarkable places offers its own unique pleasures and awe-inspiring sights.

Rome is total sensory overload and total chaos, with church bells pealing, motor scooters buzzing, gelato being sampled, wine being sipped, pasta being gulped, and everywhere abundant historic masterpieces abound. A feeling of timelessness and antiquity pervades. Fabulous monuments by equally fabulous artisans are divine when viewed at twilight, gently bathed by the light of dusk; the ancient stone surfaces soften and glisten.

Rome is a sight seer’s dream – you cannot depart until you have toured the Vatican and its museums, the Roman Forum, and the Coliseum, not to mention the thousands of beckoning city squares.

Rome is a perfect “jumping-off-point” for excursions to Pompeii, and the fabled Amalfi Coast. The drive south from Rome at water’s edge is lovely, romantic, and incredibly picturesque. Lemon and orange trees abound, and the scent of their blossoms makes for a constant, heady fragrance. Sorrento and Capri are must-sees, and fabulous for shopping for pottery, linens, and perfumes. Capri is virtually carpeted with shocking fuchsia-painted bougainvillea and sky blue rhododendron.

Driving northward, the sacred city of Assisi appears in the distance. High in the hills, with flowers everywhere, Assisi is thoroughly medieval, isolated, spiritual, and magical. The basilica of Saint Francis is decorated with Giotto’s original frescoes, the most famous being of Saint Francis tending lovingly to the birds and other animals. These frescoes were painted in the most delicate pastel hues – pistachio, peach, terra cotta, blues, pinks – and the fading colors continue to give joy to fortunate onlookers.

Next stop on this amazing odyssey – Florence! – home of the Renaissance. The famous piazza de Michelangelo is typical vantage perch from which one views Florence, and the laid out below appears heavenly and magical! One is reminded of the popular movie Room With A View as one surveys the endless vision of ochre-tiled roofs in the distance. Florence is home to countless artists and museums. In fact, Florence itself is a museum. However, this cultural hot-spot is not just about art – the best leather shops in the world are located adjacent to the many flower-adorned squares of the city! And the exquisite jewelry shops are stuffed to capacity with fine gold trinkets! And did I mention the totally tasty Tuscan cuisine offered in the many trattorias and ristorantes? Time to indulge in sumptuous Northern Italian cooking and local Italian wines!

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Now on to the last city of our dreamy Italian adventure – Venice, and Venice, if anything is dreamy! It is certainly one of the most unique cities on the planet, with nary a road. All transport is done by boat, either gondola or motor launch. Water is everywhere, with mystical mirrored images of villas and monuments shimmering on the canals. Nearby islands are famous for glass blowing and lace making, and these products are found in abundance and reasonable priced in Venice’s shops. And a gondolier ride is absolutely necessary – the city takes on a different personality from the water. You realize the unbelievable beauty and magic of this storied destination.

A trip to Italy is absolutely not complete until one visits the fames Tuscany region. Tuscan cooking has taken the worldwide restaurant scene by storm, and exciting hands on cooking classes are offered in abundance in the Tuscan countryside. Driving through this region is both thrilling and serene, with sunflowers adorning every inch of meadow, silvery olive trees shivering, perfect geometric gardens offering magnificent rainbow hues, and stately Cyprus trees standing sentinel to countless villas and 13th century castles.

The Tuscan “dream trip of the moment” consists of renting an ancient hillside villa, chock full of antiques and surrounded by vineyards and vegetable gardens. The daily regimen flows easily and focuses entirely on short, exploratory trips through the nearby ancient villages, usually to purchase fresh local chesses, breads, pasta, and wine. Next project – a fun dilled communal preparation for the evening’s banquet. Dinner is served under the stars, an ancient wooden table groaning under the weight of the Tuscan feast.

Italy appears to all travelers, whether one is traveling alone, as a couple, or with a group. It is equally rewarding whether you rent a car and venture out on your own, take a party-atmosphere motor coach trip, or ride the rails. The Italians are wonderfully friendly, warm and outgoing – and they love American visitors! Suffice it to say, Italy is an “embarrassment of riches”. It deserves the multitude of visitors it graciously welcomes and all the accolades it receives!