Picturebook Italy: a snapshot of all things Italian.

From Venice to Rome, Pisa to the Amalfi Coast, despite never setting foot on Italian soil, there’s every chance you’ve already fallen in love with Italy. Despite only being a unified country for 153 years, it’s understandable how the boot of Europe attracts over 43 million tourists a year, making it the 4th most visited country in the world. Home to some of the most iconic cities, with a unique culture and first class cuisine featuring the some of the world’s favourite carbohydrates, with over 350 different types of pasta and after all, Pizza is one of few words understood all around the world, they’re doing something right.

Venice and Rome, both appear on many-a-persons bucket list, so here is our guide to some of the lesser known, but no less spectacular, splendours of Europe’s boot-shaped masterpiece, all of which you can visit on our popular Picturebook Italy tour.

Lake Garda

The largest lake in Europe and the most visited in Italy, with its beautiful shorelines and quaint villages, even for the Romans, Lake Garda was the luxury summer destination.
The town of Sirmione gives you the chance to visit the ruins left behind by this ancient powerhouse, including some inviting thermal spas.
You cannot miss the thirteenth-century Rocca Scaligera. Like something out of a fairy tale, you can head inside and take a look around, take in the sights of Lake Garda. Whilst Sirmione was once a town of great military importance, the only guarding of the fortress happening nowadays are the swans patrolling the moat of the castle, a great sight.
Sirmione

Siena

Heading into Medieval Tuscany, to the stunning city of Siena. Famous for the Palio run, where the various areas in which the city is divided challenge in other in a passionate horse race in the heart of the city, the event also features in the James Bond film ‘Quantum of Solace’. This medieval Tuscan town is embroiled in an age-old rivalry with Florence, even tourists get involved, picking a side with their favourite city of the two to champion. Luckily, our tour heads off to both cities so you will be able to pick your allegiance before heading home.
In the heart of the city, the Il Campo is where to take in the true nature of what Siena has to offer. Sit back and enjoy the perfect espresso whilst enjoying Siena’s gothic architecture. The Italians consume over 14 billion of them each year so you can be sure they’ve perfected the art of coffee making.
Piazza del Campo in Siena

Sorrento or Capri

Whilst on the Amalfi Coast, why not visit beautiful Sorrento? Celebrity chef Gino D’acampo has said previously that it is the most romantic place on earth. However, if you’re not quite the romantic type, it could be worth noting that Sorrento is also home to possibly the best Limoncello you could find. Using the famous Sorrento lemons, you will find almost every shop filled to the brim with the famous citrus tipple.
Sorrento
Instead, you could choose to head off to the island of Capri where you can experience the beautiful Blue Grotto. A cave where an underwater cavity illuminates the waters and lights the walls with in a magical shade of blue, it takes its place proudly as one of Europe’s best natural wonders.
Capri
A highlight of the Amalfi Coast is the picture perfect views that have plenty to offer. With Mount Vesuvius dominating the horizon, one of only three active volcanoes in Europe. Interestingly, Italy is also home to the remaining two active volcanoes, Mount Etna and Mount Stromboli
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Florence

Once home to the Godfathers of the Renaissance, the Medici family, Florence is also birth place of the nurse and namesake, Florence Nightingale. Even in modern day Florence captures the hearts of many, Dan Brown set his recent novel, Inferno in the city.
The famous Cathedral, Il Duomo, is most certainly worth a visit. Taking 140 years to build, you can climb the 463 stone steps to reach the cupola for a close up look of the Last Judgement painting that covers the inner dome. Or you can just enjoy the view of this beautiful city from a perfect vantage point.
Whilst appreciating the architecture, you can also admire the streets themselves, Florence was the first city in Europe to have paved streets.
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Pisa

The leaning tower, the mindboggling architecture seemingly defying gravity certainly is the focal point for many in this town. Funnily enough, the tower once leant the other way.
Shortly after building started, the fine soil started to give way. They continued by piling on stone work to counter-balance the lean only for it to slump in the other direction.
The Bell chamber that tops the tower is the only part of the tower that sits true after purposely being laid to incorporate the lean. However, the slight problems with the building work nearly 850 years ago has provided us with one of the most recognisable pieces of architecture in the world.
Pisa, Piazza dei miracoli.

Lake Maggiore and the Borromean Islands

Reaching over the border into Switzerland, Lake Maggiore certainly wouldn’t look out of place on a postcard. We stop off at the town of Baveno, the town famed for its pink granite. Used for numerous famous buildings around the world such as St Paul’s in Rome, Gallerica Vittorio Emanuele in Milan and even the monument to Christopher Columbus in New York City.
Hop onto a boat and head off into the lake to the Borromean islands, each with its own charms.
Isola Bella an elegant island with a 17th century castle, perfect for a budding historian. If you’re interested in a more laid back time, Isola Pescatore is the only inhabited island, with a quaint village featuring charming shops, cafes and restaurants. Isola Madre features 19th century English style gardens and a palace filled with Italian masterpieces and paintings, the islands as a group offer you a perfect snapshot of Italian culture.
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Of course being topped off by the Rome and Venice visits, you’re sure to have the perfect Italian tour taking in much of what makes this country one of the most unique in the world. Check out our blogs featuring Venice and Rome coming soon!
You can get your cameras at the ready, our Picturebook Italy tour starts from as little as £849 pp for 12 days. You can view our full itinerary here.
Why not head over to our Facebook page and share your tales and experiences of this magnificent tour with us?
 

Single Traveller – Become a "Yes" Person by Natalie Smith

Having passed the middle mark of January, our new years resolutions should be in full swing. But what if yours was to travel more? Taking that first step towards your first single traveller experience can be one of the most daunting experiences you can face when looking for a new adventure. You may not speak the language, may not be used to the surroundings and what if you get lonely?

Our Single Traveller tours are made to put you at ease and allow you to experience the best of Europe exploring excellent itineraries with other solo travellers and all whilst taking advantage of our no single supplement offer. Natalie Smith took the step and hasn’t looked back since. Conquering more than just the fear of heading off alone, here is her account of how she became a solo travel convert.
January 1st 2013: New Years Resolution – Become a ‘Yes’ person. This might seem like a pretty easy goal to achieve, except that I was painfully shy at the time. One thing I’d always wanted to do is travel – the only problem was that I didn’t want to go on the same places that all my friends fancied. And there you have it…the perfect opportunity to put my resolution into practice and go it alone.

Halstatt, Austria
Halstatt, Austria

A couple of weeks later I had found and booked the perfect starter trip, a week-long cruise around the Mediterranean on a ship that has specific accommodation and bars for solo travellers – Norwegian Epic. The hardest part is finding the courage to jump but once you go for it you will find that you are soon flying and that there was absolutely nothing to worry about – I now wonder why it took me so long to go for it!. The itinerary for the week was great too, on all but one of the days we would be in different ports so there was plenty to keep me occupied.
The day arrived when I set off on my new venture. I felt so ill with nerves and anxiety – I had never even caught a flight on my own before let alone spent a whole holiday by myself! What if I miss the call for my flight? How will I know which coach to get on once I arrive in Rome? How will I find my way around the dock to board the ship? Well, I am pleased to report that everything went smoothly and before I knew it I had checked onto the ship and was sipping cocktails with my fellow passengers, looking forward to the coming week.
From that moment on I knew I had made a great choice. We spent the days exploring various ports and the evenings catching up with each other’s daily activity. I was hooked, travelling became my new hobby and I had a new found confidence. Even at home it was commented on that I had become a more outgoing, chatty person and I felt taller when I walked. I now consider myself a dab-hand in the art of solo travel and I miss it when I’m not away.
Even now, I still prefer tours with a busy itinerary. Last year I went on the ‘Austrian Lakes, Salzburg & Vienna’ trip which is one of Leger’s ‘No or Low Solo Occupancy’ tours. This trip is perfect for a first time soloist as it was 5 full days of exploratioin (taking out the travelling). One day we visited no less than 4 lakeside towns. Severeal of my fellow travellers had already been to some of the places that we visited and I was able to get some great tips. I was also able to discover some hidden treasures that weren’t in the guidebooks thanks to the knowledge and personal experiences of my drivers.
This year will be quite a busy one for me as I will be heading out on Leger’s ‘French Riviera’, ‘Picturebook Italy’ & ‘Prague, Vienna & Budapest’ tours – all of which have come to me as recommendations from fellow passengers and drivers.
I now mainly travel solo as it is so liberating and I have been to some awesome places and met some truly lovely people! It has also boosted my confidence no end. I can’t recommend it enough! And for a recommendation from me to you: Simply, go for it! You will never know how good something can be if it never gets given the chance to happen!
Salzburg, Austria
Salzburg, Austria

Here are some of Natalie’s tips when it comes to travelling abroad by yourself:

  • Safety – priority number 1! The same rules apply as in general – keep your belongings hidden and safe, stick to the busy areas and make sure any services you use such as taxis, restaurants etc. are trustworthy. Also – avoid telling anybody that you are alone – you could create a fictional friend whom you are meeting later if you need to.
  • Expense – Solo holidays can be more expensive due to the dreaded ‘Solo Occupancy’ charges placed on hotel rooms. However, the rise in the popularity of solo trips has forced travel companies and hotels to look at these costs and many now offer trips with low or no solo rates.
  • Boredom – A whole week alone can seem daunting but if you pick a trip with a packed itinerary you will not find the time to be bored. I also prefer to travel on a trip that has evening meals included, that way you will be able to eat with others and you can swap information about the days activities and also tips for the coming days.