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Welcome to TPG‘s newest series, Second Cities. The series is designed to help you find smaller or less-popular-but-equally-amazing places to visit no more than a few hours by air or land from your original destination so you can maximize your itinerary.
Robert Browning, British Victorian poet, once said “Everyone soon or late comes round by Rome.”
He was probably referring to the fact that Rome, Italy, is on pretty much everyone’s bucket list. Thanks to the ancient Roman ruins, the Colosseum and one of the holiest spots in the world, Vatican City, it’s not surprising that the Italian capital sees millions of tourists each year.
Rome is perfect for history buffs, foodies and those who don’t mind exploring the cobblestone streets in the hot sun. But adding a side trip to one of Italy’s beautiful islands, a city filled with art and fashion or the home of modern pizza can also be great. Here are three possible stops you could add to your Roman adventure:
Sardinia is popular among Italian visitors but less known to international tourists beyond the yachting corridor of the Costa Smeralda and Porto Cervo. The island will give you a taste of what a true Italian summer should feel like: blissful beaches and Vespa rides by day followed by breezy evenings spent enjoying pizza and gelato.
Getting there: Sardinia is about an hourlong flight from Rome. Fly to Alghero (AHO) from Rome Fiumicino (FCO) on Alitalia or to Cagliari (CAG) from Rome’s smaller airport, Ciampino (CIA), on Ryanair or Alitalia. Air Italy also flies nonstop to Olbia (OLB) from Fiumicino.
Where to stay: Marriott boosts three Category 8 luxury collection resorts and one of the most charming Sheraton properties (Category 7) near Porto Cervo that you’ve probably ever seen. But the top TPG pick would be the Hotel Pitrizza, where standard guest room redemptions are 85,000 points per night, complete with private beach access. A true splurge would be to stay at one of the six villas (two and three bedroom options) in the resort, which have private swimming pools and overlook the Bay of Liscia di Vacca.
What to see and do: This is an island where you’ll want to rent a car or scooter and explore; the beaches are some of the best in the world.
Boating over to Parco Nazionale dell’Arcipelago di La Maddalena gives you access to 60 islands, many with beaches that resemble the white sands of the Caribbean. For more amenities and a livelier scene, head to sandy stretches like La Bombarde or Stintino, famous for its view of the Torre della Pelosa.
A visit to Sardinia isn’t complete without exploring Neptune’s Grotto, a cave sandwiched between towering, rocky cliffs overlooking the sea. Take a guided tour to see the underground lake as well as large stalagmites and stalactites throughout the cave.
Take an evening to wander around the city of Alghero. The city’s unique history includes a period of time when the island belonged to Aragon, and Catalan is still considered a co-language today. After a lap around the city’s medieval town center, order some fresh king prawns or seafood pasta at Trattoria Marco Polo.
Make sure to enjoy dinner and/or spend the night at an agriturismo (a small farm). Most offer fresh farm-to-table cuisine and quaint, family-owned accommodation. You’ll likely sample things like olive oil or wine prepared on the property, as well as fresh vegetables and fruit grown on site and farm-fresh milk too. There’s nothing like biting into a homegrown juicy Italian tomato paired with mature pecorino cheese, a Sardinian specialty.
Florence lives and breathes beneath the warm Tuscan sun. If that’s not enough reason for you to visit, the city, which is known as the birthplace of Renaissance, has an expanse of gothic architecture, famous art, trendy fashion and a surfeit of Chianti vino, the region’s claim to fame.
Getting there: High-speed trains run between Florence and Rome several times a day, averaging a time of about one hour and 40 minutes between the Rome’s Tiburtina or Termini stations and Florence’s Santa Maria Novella train station. You can also take a 50-minute flight on Alitalia between Rome (FCO) and Florence (FLR).
Where to stay: Marriott has a few options for stays in Florence, but for the ultimate luxury, stay at the St. Regis Florence, a Category 8 property that costs 85,000 points per night. The hotel features the opulent Bottega Veneta suite complete with a fireplace and marble bathroom designed by the brand’s former creative director, Tomas Maier. The Westin Excelsior is a close second: a Category 7 property costing 60,000 points per night overlooking the Arno River.
What to see and do: Once you’ve made your way through the magnificent Cathedral de Santa Maria del Fiore (also known as the famous Duomo), admired Renaissance art at the Uffizi Gallery and viewed Michaelangelo’s masterpiece David statue at the Accademia Gallery, there’s still much left to do and see.
Fashionistas should plan to check out the Museum of Costume and Fashion, the Gucci Museum and the Salvatore Ferragamo Museum. Find leather goods at the San Lorenzo market, scope out the ateliers and boutiques along Via del Parione for funky finds, or check out Via de’ Fossi or Via Maggio for antiques.
Make sure to meander slowly through the city center, stopping to check out the Tuscan Gothic architecture of the Church of Santa Maria Novella. Enjoy lunch or just take it all in: stand after stand of herbs and dried mushrooms, plates piled high of sliced, cured prosciutto, cannoli shells oozing with creamy ricotta and more.
After a filling lunch of Italian delicacies, plan to cross some of the city’s bridges. While the famous Ponte Vecchio is crowded with tourists and vendors, bridges like Grazie and Santa Trinita are less hectic, offering beautiful city and river views, including the sight of the Vecchio bridge and its reflection in the river.
Once you land on the other side of the river in Oltrarno, the streets, shops and restaurants become less touristy and you’ll spot more locals going about their daily business. Make sure to stop into Palazzo Pitti, followed by a walk through one of the city’s loveliest green spaces, the Boboli Gardens. For epic views of Florence, head up the hill to the Piazza Michelangelo. Sunset is especially picturesque — watching the sun dip below the tiled rooftops is simply unforgettable.
Florence sits on the outskirts of the Chianti wine region, making wine-tasting day trips to the Tuscan countryside particularly accessible to visitors. Make sure to sample hearty delights like wild-boar pasta, tripe and Florentine steak while visiting, too. Some of these regional specialties can be found at Braciere Malatesta, a favorite among visitors and locals alike that has a live tree growing out of the restaurant. Don’t forget to top it off with some gelato at Perchè No, a family-owned gelato shop dating back to 1939.
Naples (and the Amalfi coast)
While many international travelers are nervous about visiting the city of Naples, it is actually very safe for visitors — and less touristy than its northern sister, Rome. Known as the birthplace of modern pizza (attention foodies), it’s also the gateway city for anyone hoping to explore the cliffside villages of the Amalfi coast.
Getting there: Several trains run daily between Rome’s Termini and Tiburtina stations and Naples Centrale, and travel time can be as quick as a little over an hour between the two cities. You can also take a 50-minute flight on Alitalia between Rome (FCO) and Naples (NAP). Once in Naples, you can boat to islands like Ischia or Capri, or rent a car and train and head to towns like Sorrento, Positano, Amalfi and Ravello.
Where to stay: Marriott’s Renaissance Naples Hotel Mediterraneo has an ideal location near the port for those looking to boat to nearby islands. The Category 5 property charges 35,000 points per night for award stays. If you choose to explore the Amalfi coast, the Hilton Sorrento Palace is the perfect place to start. Enjoy a swim in the outdoor pool while you inhale the citrus scents from the property’s lemon and orange gardens. Rates start at 60,000 points per night.
What to see and do: The energy of Naples is unlike any other. The frantic traffic and strong sun may seem overwhelming at first, but there’s something incredibly intriguing about this Italian city. Start by walking the streets of the Spanish quarter. Watch locals engage in animated conversation as scooters zoom past you on the hilly streets. The buildings, though crumbling, have a sort of mythical beauty, making you feel as if you’ve stepped into a whole other world.
Some of Italy’s most interesting churches and castles are in Naples, and you should start by taking the funicular up to the Castel Sant’Elmo. The medieval fortress boasts magnificent views over the Gulf of Naples, Mount Vesuvius and the city’s crumbling rooftops.
The next castle you should see is the 14th-century Nuovo castle near the port. From there, wander up until you reach the Piazza del Plebiscito, one of the most famous squares, next to the Royal Palace and Church of San Francesco di Paola. As you continue on towards the Lungomare (the seaside promenade), you’ll catch a different but equally impressive glance of the gulf and famous Vesuvius volcano. Once you’ve checked out the final castle, Ovo, which on its own mini island, head back into the historical center to see some of the famous churches, like the impressive facade of the Gesù Nuovo and the main cathedral. And don’t forget to see the city’s most famous statue, the Veiled Christ, in the Cappella Sansevero.
Although you’re within an easy day trip of both Pompeii and Herculaneum, some of the best items unearthed at these sites now have a home at the National Archaeological Museum of Naples. If you visit, make sure to see the Gabinetto Segreto, the secret, separate section home to erotic art discovered at the aforementioned sites (adults only).
Eating is an essential part of experiencing southern Italian culture — and some of the best things to taste are savory, hearty and decidedly lowbrow. Naples isn’t the city to search for that Michelin star restaurant. Instead, see how many times you can eat traditional Naples pizza without getting tired of the stringy mozzarella cheese and perfectly cooked thin crust. When you finally tear yourself away from sampling pizza at some of the most famous spots like Starita or Gino Sorbillo, make sure to sample some ragù, a meaty Italian sauce, at Tandem Restaurant. For breakfast, hop on the pastry train, sampling the flaky, shell-like pastry sfogliatella or a rum-soaked babá treat.
If you do head on to one or some of the many towns along the Amalfi coast, make sure to take a boat ride to see some of the colorful, hilly villages rising up from the shore. Plan to eat lemon-everything, as the region is known for the famous citrus fruit. Wandering these towns with no particular plan in mind may be the best way to explore them, getting lost in a weaving, uphill maze of cobblestone streets.
Featured photo of the Trevi Fountain in Rome by cristina gottardi/Unsplash.
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