Italy


Italy is a great country for history, architecture, landscapes, beautiful towns, excellent food, fashionable people and more. Cinque Terre is a string of five incredibly scenic villages connected by foot paths, trains and ferries (hiking trails weren't open between all villages when I visited - check with the tourist offices for details). Vernazza was my favorite. I did the Vernazza - Corniglia coastal path hike and also visited Manarola by train. Highly recommended.

The small town of Sant'Agata Bolognese hosts the factory of legendary automaker Lamborghini, which produces some of the coolest cars around and is my favorite car brand. The factory tour is highly recommended as you'll get to see the entire production process up-close (no pictures allowed inside the factory); the attention to detail and the level of organization were fascinating (even though there's a lot of manual work involved in producing a Lamborghini). The tour included the Huracan and Aventador production lines and was a fascinating experience. The factory also has a museum displaying Lamborghini models produced over the years, including a range of cool prototypes. Also, Lamborghini tests its cars on the streets around the factory, a good opportunity to see lots of the fabulous cars driving around Sant'Agata Bolognese.

For an even more thrilling experience you can take a Lamborghini for a test drive. I used the services of My Motorland and did a test drive of a Lamborghini Huracan. The car is sporty yet surprisingly easy to drive. I also loved the hi-tech controls that had an airplane cockpit feel. Getting inside a Lamborghini for a first time feels like entering a spaceship. You cannot visit Northern Italy without taking this car legend for a drive. Check out a short test drive video here.

Northern Italy has lots to offer. Bologna is nice with a cool historical center and a 97 metre-high tower for views of the entire city. Local delicacies include the world famous Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, aceto balsamico di Modena and Parma ham. Don't miss the leaning tower of Pisa which is beautiful but even crazier in reality than in pictures.

If you're interested in ancient history, Rome is the place to go. Impressive achievements of the older days such as the stunning Colosseum, Trajan's Column or the Pantheon are obvious first destinations. Piazza Navona, the legendary Fontana di Trevi or the majestic Vittorio Emanuele Monument are other must-not-miss sights. San Pietro in Vincoli basilica houses the chains that bound Saint Peter when he was imprisoned in Jerusalem.

Rome also hosts the official headquarters of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta (SMOM), the modern continuation of the original medieval order of Saint John of Jerusalem (also known as the Knights Hospitaller) established around 1023. Why is this significant? SMOM is a unique political entity which, as a sovereign subject, issues its own stamps, car license plates and passports (the latter in very limited numbers), and their buildings enjoy extraterritoriality. Interesting stuff.

I've also visited Venice and some of the surrounding islands - Murano and Lido. Venice was a pleasant surprise with its canals, narrow streets, no car traffic and lively atmosphere (I think it helps if you visit outside the peak season - I was there in October). There's lots to do in Venice: get lost in the maze-like streets, take the obligatory gondola ride, feed the pigeons in San Marco Square, take a boat trip to some of the nearby islands and marvel at exquisite Murano glass artwork.

Finally, Italian food in Italy is absolutely delicious.

Read a few words on checking out the Sovereign Military Order of Malta here (a part of my series on Europe's Microstates, where SMOM is included as a bonus)

Additional info:
- country entry on Wikipedia
- country profile on Wikivoyage

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Italy

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