What destination is #1 on the bucket list for American tourists?  Home to much of the greatest art, architecture and gastronomy in the world, Italy is #1 for most Americans.


The Eternal City of Rome is comparable to no other city on earth. 

Any trip to Rome must include St. Peter’s Basilica and Square.  St. Peter’s Basilica is the largest Christian Church in the world.   St. Peter is buried beneath the massive Baldacchino, a work of art by Bernini.   

The Vatican Museums are home to more art than I can remember.  Hundreds of years of collecting the most fabulous art in the world have made this museum another “must see” in Rome.  The Sistine Chapel is beyond anything you have imagined, and Michelangelo’s Last Judgment on the back wall is considered to be his crowning achievement in painting.

The Roman Forum is a walk through the power of Rome in the years before Christ.  The grave of Julius Caesar still stands, holding his ashes, as do multiple other relics and ruins.

Siena is a jewel.  The famous Palio horse race is held in its square (the Campo) annually.  Built on a hillside Siena is visually stunning.  I love the green and white marble basilica.  Don’t forget to view the head and thumb of Saint Catherine of Siena, the Nun who convinced the Pope to return to Italy from Avignon, where he was headquartered in France.  

San Gimignano is a favorite medieval city of mine.  Surrounded by gorgeous vineyards, this once powerful city is home to medieval squares, town walls, streets, alleyways, and 14 remaining towers.  It’s like stepping 600 years back in time.  San Gimignano is a perfect city to buy your souvenirs.  There are many leather and porcelain shops offering first rate wares.

Greve Chianti is a quaint city where classical Chianti wines are produced.  My groups have always enjoyed our wine tasting there.  Shops featuring cured meats and cheese abound, as do fine leather shops.  Greve Chianti is a great place to buy your leather coat.

The Renaissance gem of the Medici family is Florence, and no trip to Italy is complete without viewing the Gates of Paradise and the Duomo of Florence, along with Michelangelo’s David, of course.  The Medici family came to power as money lenders, eventually lending money to the Popes, and ending up with one in the family.  

Will I ever climb the 180 foot high leaning tower of Pisa again?  I’m sure I will. 

Venice is another city you must see if you are going to Italy.  I love Venice, especially the Doge’s Palace.  The Basilica next door is a step back into the Byzantine era and houses the remains of St. Mark. The mosaic art inside is incredibly beautiful.   If you haven’t already done so, be sure to ride in a gondola before you depart from Venice.  

St. Francis of Assisi lived a simple life with a focus on his desire to serve, and the town of Assisi is home to his birthplace and also a world famous basilica with frescoes by Giotto.   

Sorrento was a favorite among the members of my second group to Italy.  Hotels perch on the cliffside looking down over the bay of Naples, and in the distance is the magical Isle of Capri.  Do not miss rowing your way into the Blue Grotto on the Isle of Capri, and taste the limoncello that the region is famous for.

I don’t know how many times I will return to Italy, but given the opportunity I will certainly be going again.

Joy Gawf-Crutchfield owns The Joy of Travel

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