Guardian Travel pick: Hike the Appian Way from Rome
For an unforgettable day away from the bustle of Rome, walk part of the Via Appia Antica, among the oldest paved roads in the world. For a demanding but amazing hike, walk 11 miles from the historic Quo Vadis church (on the 118 bus route) to Castel Gandolfo, overlooking a volcanic lake and home to the Pope’s summer retreat. En route you’ll pass catacombs (the best being the San Sebastiano), the remains of Maxentius’s Villa and hundreds of glorious pine trees. Start early, wear comfortable shoes and carry water. Take the train back to Rome. Enjoy!
Football pub, Rome
Arriving in Rome on the afternoon of a Coppa Italia Rome derby, we tried to find a bar showing the evening’s game in the Pigneto neighbourhood, where we were staying. We stumbled upon a craft beer pub (the Alvarado Street) covered in football scarves from around the world. All the seats had names taped on them, reserved for friends and regulars – but a couple of drinks and phone calls by the barman later and we had our own bean bags in among it all. Great beers and a great crowd – next time I’ll be bringing my Cardiff City scarf to add to their collection!
Perfect Tuscan hill town
Lucignano, in eastern Tuscany near Arezzo, gets my vote. It’s small but perfectly formed, possessing all the essentials of an Italian hill town: imposing gates, watchtowers and ramparts. There’s a Medici-era fortress nearby; a church rebuilt by Renaissance architect/writer Giorgio Vasari; plus outstanding olive oil extolled by the likes of Strabo and Pliny the Elder. The time to go is during the Maggiolata spring festival, held the last two weekends of May, with flower-bedecked floats and a large tent where folks sit at communal tables to enjoy grilled Chianina steaks, pasta, wine and entertainment every evening.
Zip. Tent open: the Dolomites. We’d woken to those jagged spires for almost a week. This morning’s vista was across the green valley to the shark fin of the Sassolungo. Circling it was the aim for the day. An espresso on the piazza in Canazei was for fuel. Then we headed for the Col Rodella gondola. It’s a gateway to another world nearly 2,000 metres up, where rolling meadows crash into spires of rock, cows moo, and ramblers scuttle like ants across the trails. Thirteen hours of walking took us over the col and into the vast Alpe di Siusi, the largest alpine plateau in Europe. Tired legs were later rewarded with a wine (or 10) at the bustling Bar Oma, back in Canazei’s quaint centre.
Farmhouse stay, Le Marche: another readers’ favourite
Four readers recommended this place this week! Ed
In rural Marche, not far from the Adriatic coast, Casal dei Fichi (flats from €870 a week) is a glorious place. So beautiful and relaxing that we seldom travel far from its peaceful grounds, inviting pool and stunning views. We might make a quick trip or two to the local market and vineyard to ensure we are well stocked for our stay, and an occasional lunch in one of the huge choice of local restaurants. That said, for the more active there is a wide range of activities/trips that can be enjoyed, and hosts Ian and Bob are on hand to advise and assist. We can’t wait for these lockdown days to end so that we can escape to this little piece of heaven.
Real sword in the stone, Tuscany
The Abbey of San Galgano (adults €4) is a glorious ruin, but the real reason you are there is to enter the small round Rotonda chapel in the grounds, in which you will see the “real” Sword in the Stone, plunged into solid rock by the knight Galgano, attempting to deny the angels. The sword sits in a perspex dome, protection against thieves. The mummified arms of one would-be thief remain there as a warning. Then ponder the similarities to the Arthurian legends. Coincidence?
Calabrian dolce vita
Fresh out of uni I visited Reggio di Calabria, city of my forebears, over Ferragosto and had a transformative experience. In this beautiful city, free of tour buses and souvenir shops, I observed a way of life both foreign and completely sensible. Seemingly everyone spent their days taking it slow: extended families gathering at the beach, strolling about town, having long outdoor meals, rambling along the stunning yet understated promenade (pictured). Something clicked: it dawned on me that people live this way and I could too. Years later I briefly lived in Italy and hope to move back with my family.
Cheesy memories, Liguria
As a kid I spent many family holidays in Camogli, near Genoa. The topography of steep mountains rising from the coast forced the locals to build upwards, creating a labyrinth of alleys and stairways. Of course the food was good, great gelato and pasta, and the famous pesto genovese. But what stands out is the focaccia. Recco, just north of Camogli, is the home of a most delicious cheesy version that has spread – like the molten cheese inside it – over the whole area. Popping into a focacceria to get a pile of freshly baked focaccia slices and sharing them was the highlight of the day.
Down on the farm, up in the hills
Head north from Trento and you reach a curious mix of Italian and German language and culture around Siusi allo Sciliar. Visit San Valentino’s church, then take the cable car to the Seiser Alm, one of Europe’s highest mountain plateaux, with 240km of tracks and trails great for running, walking or biking. It’s perfect in spring or autumn: try staying in one of the family-run farms that offer local knowledge, homegrown produce and a friendly welcome. Public transport is excellent, and if you need a hand on the hills and with the altitude, e-bike hire means you can manage without a car.
Fall for Acquafraggia, Como
At the centre of the Valchiavenna, north of Lake Como, lies the old town of Chiavenna, on the right bank of the river Mera. From the railway station we walked the short distance to the magnificent nature park and wildlife refuge that is the Parco delle Marmitte dei Giganti. Taking its main path overlooking the river, we continued on our way in seclusion towards Prosto, with its ancient bridge and church. Crossing the bridge, the path leads to the beautiful Acquafraggia waterfalls, whose soothing roar was completely mesmerising. We stayed at the brilliant Villa Très Jolie (doubles from €95 B&B).
No euros accepted, Volterra
Up the road from San Gimignano is the equally picturesque medieval town of Volterra, but without the crowds of shuffling tourists – except for one weekend in August, when the town dresses up in its medieval finery and goes back in time. There are food stalls aplenty, musicians at every turn and pageantry to fill the eye. It is the best of Italy inasmuch as it is noisy and seemingly chaotic but enormous fun. It’s a great day out for a family or even a solo traveller. Modern currency is not accepted; you have to change your euros into the historical equivalent and you then buy your street food with this. Confusingly, you then use euros if you stop for a drink or a coffee in a bar.
Row, row, row your Roman boat
We were fortunate enough to discover a boating lake in a romantic corner of the Villa Borghese, a park in Rome. It was a haven from the long, hot queues of Rome’s tourist sites. We hired a boat. The joy of rowing around the small lake with the person I love is a pleasure I will never forget. The sound of a harp from a nearby musician beckoned us towards the Temple of Asclepius on a small island in the middle of the lake. The statues and fountains looked so alluring. We got so close that at one point we feared one of the fountains would draw us in and engulf our boat with water. We had to row a hasty retreat in laughter just before our time was called.
Sicilian pantry, Palermo
Trattoria Trapani on Piazza Giulio Cesare in Palermo reminded me of someone’s pantry. A young man and his father greeted us with smiles as large as mine and my mother’s hunger. To the left was the grandparents’ territory, the kitchen. We were given complimentary panelle (chickpea fritters), a local tradition. When we finished, the father came over and said, “I get you something from my farm.” He returned moments later with a complimentary plate of juicy blood orange slices. When paying I complimented the son’s English. He replied, “The Beatles. The best teachers, right?” Our no-frills Sicilian dream included plates of swordfish and spaghetti vongole for less than €7 a plate.
Tournament time, Cortona, Tuscany
One Saturday in June, we attended the annual Archidado Joust in Cortona. Attired in colourful medieval costumes, teams from Cortona, Arezzo and Subbiano perform elaborate flag-tossing routines, with cute displays by children, all accompanied by drummers and trumpeters. The celebration starts with a crossbow tournament, followed by a procession of worthies, drummers, trumpeters, and the teams into Cortona town square. For the next few hours, we witnessed a colourful and atmospheric pageant as each team performed with skill and precision.
Tuna and tunes, Sardinia
While exploring the spectacular south coast of Sardinia, we detoured by ferry to the island of San Pietro, tempted by the annual Girotonno tuna fishing and cooking festival, held at the end of every May. The ferry docks in Carloforte, the picturesque main town. We soaked up the atmosphere, sampled tuna cooked a myriad of ways, watched tuna-themed cookery demonstrations, danced into the small hours at concerts in the main square, wandered its colourful streets and vowed to return.