Words by Charles FitzRoy - Images courtesy of Bellini Travel
What do you do after celebrating a glorious English summer wedding? The world is full of possibilities.
The only trouble is that the climate is rotten in all those exotic places you have always dreamt of. Who wants to endure a tropical monsoon interspersed with stultifying heat? And all that organization has drained you of energy. The last thing you want is to suffer the vagaries of long distance travel, where you arrive at some exotic hotel half-dead with fatigue, and without your luggage to boot.
Far better to choose somewhere nearer to home, somewhere that will cater for all kinds of taste. Newly-married couples will die rather than admit it, but their tastes may differ more than they would let on. Hours spent diving underwater are not the best way to discover the inner thoughts of your partner for life. And who wants to spend hours filming drowsy lions when most of your carefully-crafted shots are ruined by all those other Land Rovers filled with newly-weds?
No, what you want is a trip to Italy, but a trip with a difference. The great thing about Italy is the variety it offers. If you want to eat and drink to your heart’s content, look no further.
Every little piazza, with its picturesque palazzo and church, is a visual delight. Even if the language utterly defeats you, the Italians remain the most friendly of all nationalities. And if you dare to utter a phrase in your best Mediterranean accent, they will take you to their hearts, unlike some other nationalities we can all name, but won’t, in case we upset the entente cordiale.
Once you have established that Italy, with its overtures of amore and bella figura, is the place to go, the question is how to make this holiday something really special that you will remember for the rest of your life. This is where you need inside advice. How about renting a vintage car to drive through the olive groves of Tuscany and Umbria?
In the land of Ferrari, where a red traffic light is just a suggestion, you can escape from those wretched speed cameras back home and let rip. Or take a leisurely ride along the Amalfi coast, with stunning views round every corner as you hug the hillside far above the sparkling blue sea. If you want to take to the air, enjoy a magical balloon ride at dawn drifting silently above a sylvan landscape, with the towers of a medieval hill town silhouetted against the horizon.
The culture trail
A honeymoon is a wonderful opportunity to escape from the responsibilities of life, and share a real treat. If you want to appreciate artistic genius in the best possible way, book a private visit to the Sistine Chapel. For anyone who has viewed Michelangelo’s masterpiece in the company of several thousand of our closest European allies, not to mention our trading partners further east, and endured the incessant shouts by the guards for silenzio, this is a treat not to be missed.
Even more atmospheric is the chance to enter the basilica of St Mark’s in Venice at night, especially just after a service, when the smell of incense still lingers in the air. Or tread in the footsteps of the Medici Grand Dukes, ever fearful of the assassin’s dagger as they hurried along the secret corridor linking the Uffizi and Pitti palaces. This route takes you right across the Ponte Vecchio and allows you to enjoy the finest collection of self-portraits in Europe.
Perhaps you are not up to serious sightseeing. If not, go down to a Venetian canal after a delectable seafood dinner, interrupt the gesticulating figures hunched over their game of cards, and set off into the night in the back of a gondola. This is the natural way to view Venice, a city made for intrigue. No imagination is needed to visualize Casanova, Byron and so many other lovers silently drifting along the canals en route to a nocturnal tryst. From water level you catch countless glimpses of palatial interiors, illuminated by the flickering light of Murano chandeliers.
Sport for all
Maybe the very thought of sightseeing fills you with dread. Why not try Italy for sport? Golf is becoming increasingly fashionable, as is skiing where, as you would expect, everything is kept in perspective.
A good lunch is de rigueur and you can hardly move through the streets of Cortina in the early evening, so great if the throng of beautiful people admiring each other performing the passeggiata, a typically Mediterranean way to see and, more importantly, be seen. For the less energetic sportsman, there are any number of spas with every sort of treatment for keeping your figure in perfect condition.
Italy is surrounded by the sea and every variety of water sport is on offer. Maybe you will be lucky and emulate the fishermen of Riace who discovered, just a few years ago, in shallow waters off the coast, the two best-preserved Greek bronze statues in existence. These eight-foot giants were of such perfect beauty that, when they were revealed to the astonished populace, the local Calabrian women confessed that they were able to dream of nothing else.
As befits a race noted for its extrovert charm, the Italians have a genius for making you feel at home. Enjoy that feeling of dolce vita in some of the most attractive hotels in Europe. Whether your preference is for the superb Villa San Michele, designed by Michelangelo, with a view to die for over Florence, the Locanda dell’ Amorosa, set within a perfect Tuscan mediaeval village, or the dreamy Hotel Sirenuse in Positano, you will find places of exquisite beauty with standards to match. If you want to go a bit more native, rent a house, anything from a Saracen tower on the Amalfi coast to a little farmhouse nestling in the Umbrian hills.
From your base you can sample the charm of the local markets, laden with mouthwatering produce, before retreating to a candlelit dinner on your terrace, accompanied by the sound of cicadas in the surrounding olive grove.
Charles FitzRoy is the author of Renaissance Florence on Five Florins a Day