For a country that's slightly smaller than the state of California, Italy delivers a diverse range of landscapes, people, and—of course—cuisine across its 20 regions. Deciding which parts of "the boot" to visit is the fun part. A map of Italy's 20 regions and the provinces and municipalities within them reveals the best place for a plate of spaghetti, a glass of Chianti, or a glimpse of the Renaissance architecture this European country is known for.
For Winos and Foodies
Italy has long been one of the top destinations for food in the world. People have traveled across oceans for a slice of authentic Neapolitan pizza, a cannoli from Sicily, or a sip of Piemonte Barolo. The cuisine in this coastal country differs from region to region. The Cucina Toscana, for instance, is synonymous with big slabs of meat washed down with the signature rich red wines of Tuscany. Carnivores come for the Fiorentina—a Chianina beef T-bone cooked over a hardwood fire—and abundant seafood along the Tuscan coast.
Piedmont, on the other hand, is known for its wine, more than 160 varieties of cheese, and herbs. The Emilia-Romagna region in the north is Italy's culinary capital, where eggy pasta and tagliatelle Bolognese reign. Then there's the island of Sardinia, where spit-roasted suckling pig attracts more adventurous palettes.
For History Buffs
Rome is, of course, the capital of Italy and its Lazio region. No history buff would dare come to the country without stopping by the iconic Colosseum, the Roman Forum, The Pantheon, and the Sistine Chapel. Saint Mark’s Basilica in Venice, the capital of Veneto, is a must-see, but less crowded (and therefore less expensive) historical destinations include Basilicata and La Lunigiana—between Tuscany and Liguria—where visitors marvel at Romanesque churches and famous castles like Fivizzano.
For Architecture Aficionados
The architecture of Italy is so vastly diverse it deserves a genre of its own. Many travelers seek the Renaissance art and architecture of Tuscany, but the Renaissance didn't reach southern regions like Puglia and Sicily, where expressions of Baroque styles are still abundant. Lecce, specifically, is singled out as a Baroque city, but Ragusa and the other cities of the Val di Noto shall not be skipped.
Italy is home to some of the most iconic fashion houses in the industry—Gucci, Armani, and Prada—not to mention Milan Fashion Week, which calls every top model and designer into the capital of Lombardy each fall. Fashionistas leave room in their suitcases for artisan Italian leather shoes and bags and handmade statement accessories. Rome, Milan, Venice, and Naples (the regional capital of Campania) are all oases for shopping, but Verona, Genoa, Turin, and Portofino are perhaps more off-the-beaten-path alternatives.
For Nature Lovers
Puglia's flat plateaus provide a haven for biking and those who don't relish long hill climbs. Hiking around the Italian Alps or Dolomites is a more blood-pumping activity that offers postcard-perfect views of snow-capped peaks. Lake Como, Cinque Terre, and Capri, on the other hand, are coastal destinations for those more intrigued by beach scenery.