20 Things To Love About Italy: Abruzzo to Lombardy
In honor of Valentine’s Day, we here at Italofile wanted to share with you some of our favorite foods, fashions, architecture, and other random things that make Italy our favorite destination. Yes, just about every post highlights the things we love about Italy. But this is a chance to feature some things that just don’t make it into everyday posts.
And, why 20 things, you ask? Italy has 20 regions and we’ve selected a favorite thing from each of them. Keep in mind, this is hardly an exhaustive list: it was difficult to pick just one thing from each region. Also note that this list is in no particular order, except alphabetically by region.
Today, we’ll tackle the first 10 – Abruzzo through Lombardy:
Wild, green, and mountainous, Abruzzo is the home of Italy’s largest peak outside the Alps. The 2,912 meter (9,560 feet) Corno Grande is part of the Apennine Range, that central ridge of mountains forming the spine of the peninsula. More specifically, the Corno Grande is the symbol of the Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga National Park, one of the largest nature reserves in Europe.
Matera’s cave houses, Sassi, are a lot like those of Cappadocia in Turkey and likewise have earned this city in Basilicata classification as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The eerie dwellings were mentioned in Carlo Levi’s Christ Stopped at Eboli and the Matera landscape was used as a stand-in for Jerusalem in Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ.
If you’ve been brought up to think that Italian food is spicy, then what you have been enjoying likely came from the farms and kitchens of Calabria. A particular delicacy that is dear to my palate is ‘Nduja, a peppery, spreadable, sausage paste (similar in name and preparation to “andouille”). ‘Nduja comes from the tiny Calabrian town of Spilinga.
From the ruins at Herculaneum and Pompeii to the see-it-and-die landscape of Naples – even to the rock formations on the island of Capri – Mt. Vesuvius was involved. This still-active but sleeping volcano in Campania looms over the history, geography, agriculture, and even literature of Italy. Consider taking a tour of Mt. Vesuvius if you’re in the area.
5. Emilia Romagna
Yet another UNESCO site, Ravenna is often overshadowed by other cities in Emilia Romagna like Modena, Parma, and the capital Bologna. But Ravenna shines because of its stunning, well-preserved, 6th Century Christian mosaics, particularly in the church of Sant’Apollinare in Classe and the Basilica of San Vitale. If you’ve got an Italy “bucket list,” seeing Ravenna’s Byzantine mosaics should be on it.
6. Friuli-Venezia Giulia
There are little pockets on the peninsula that defy Italian stereotypes. Gorizia, which lies on the border with Slovenia (Nova Gorica), is one of those places. Here in Friuli-Venezia Giulia is where central and Slavic Europe meets Italy in a melting pot of dialects, architecture, attitudes, and more.
Beyond the attractions of Rome, one of the most charming and surreal places in all of Central Italy is the tiny, hilltop town of Civita di Bagnoregio. Built by the Etruscans on soft tufa rock, the village in northern Lazio is slowly but surely giving way to the ravages of time and gravity. So you may want to pay your respects before its too late.
8. Le Marche
The earthy cuisine of the Marches (Le Marche) is finally getting its due thanks to the fantastic cookbook Cucina of Le Marche by Fabio Trabocchi. Certainly no book on the cucina marchigiana would be complete without a recipe for Olive Ascolane: olives stuffed with minced meat, breaded, and fried. Yum!
Liguria, the eyebrow shaped region of Italy, is very eye-catching indeed, what with its picturesque fishing villages, particularly those pastel painted cities of the Cinque Terre. Portofino, in the Genoa province, is a huge tourist magnet. But one glance at its tidy cityscape and port and you’ll understand why those big-time hotel developers have tried their damnedest to recreate the place.
Twice a year in Milan, Milan Fashion Week shows the world what Italy’s creative fashion minds have come up with for the catwalk. Italian designers have always been on the cutting edge with sexy, yet wearable clothing. Think Valentino, Versace, Gucci, Prada, and Dolce & Gabbana, and you’ll see what I mean. Of course, the Lombardy capital is Italy’s fashion capital year-round which is in evidence when you walk the city’s bustling streets, stroll through the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, and window-shop the chic shops on Via Montenapoleone.