10 unforgettable travel experiences in Italy for inspiration

Italy: Unique travel experiences - cooking classes, carnevale, palio

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This is probably not going to come as a surprise to regular readers of this site, but Italy is the country I love to visit the most.

Soon we will have seen most of the highlights and visited my husband’s relatives, so I started thinking about what’s next for our adventures in Italy.

Now, I want to explore a little deeper. There is still so much to explore of this amazing country full of natural beauty, incredible culture and history and of course a gastronomic heritage that is the envy of the world.

Here is my wish list of unique travel experiences in Italy.

1 | Attend Carnevale in Venice

Venice Carnevale - Top 10 experiences in Italy

Every February, Venice celebrates Carnevale, a two-week long festival of masquerade balls and parties culminating in Mardi Gras.

With origins as far back as the 12th century, this is a celebration with ancient roots that celebrates a military victory of the Venetian Republic and marks the beginning of Lent.

Carnevale attracts over 3 million visitors each year to Venice. Tickets to the most glittering balls are hard to come by however I would simply love to see the candle-lit gondola parade, concerts and people dressed in elaborate costumes wandering the streets and side canals.

Click to read our highlights of Italy itinerary

2 | Enjoy an immersive food, wine and cooking experience near Rome
Penne carbonara

To understand Italy you must understand its food culture. From the hearty truffle based dishes of the north to the famed pizzas of Naples in the south, each region has its own culinary traditions that are so important to the culture of the area.

A long held dream of mine is to spend a week in a region of Italy exploring its unique food and wine. At Palazzo Tronconi you can fully immerse yourself in the food traditions of the Ciociaria region.

Here chef Leonardo Grimaldi will show you how prepare dishes such as creamed cod fishcakes and carbonara from the finest local ingredients.

You can book your stay at the Palazzo on Bookings for You – specialists in holiday villas and apartments in Italy.

Bookings For You - Palazzo Tronconi

You can tour the food producers and try the local biodynamic wine produced on the estate during your stay. Having tasted the wine and cooking from the estate, I can vouch for the attention to detail and incredible taste of the food you will try at Palazzo Tronconi.

Click to discover 35 cities to visit in Italy – from the obvious to hidden gems 

3 | Spend a week on Lake Orta

View of Isola San Giulio from Orta San Giulio

We only spent an afternoon visiting Lake Orta last summer, but I was mesmerised by its quiet beauty.

One day I would like to return and rent a house draped in wisteria for a week. I would go for long walks, take boat trips to Isola San Giulio and go swimming with my children in the clear waters of the lake.

READ:   Lake Orta - the most beautiful lake in northern Italy

4 | Sail the Ligurian Coast

scenes from camogli liguria italy

When I say sail the Ligurian coast I mean: travel under sail. This dream is about lounging on deck and swimming in the sea while someone else does the hard work getting us from Portofino to Portovenere via the Cinque Terre.

There are so many beautiful spots along the Ligurian coast, also known as the Italian Riviera, you could easily spend a week or two cruising the coastline.

Love the Italian coast? Read about visiting Sardinia

5 | Explore the fascinating Puglia region

Alberobello in Puglia, Italy

Southern Italy is where my husband’s family is from, and the region holds mystery and charm for me. After our visit to Calabria this year I would like to explore further into the Puglia region. Here I would visit the ancient town of Matera, carved into a rocky hillside, and the baroque opulence of Lecce.

As we often choose unique accommodation options on our travels, I would love the chance to stay overnight in one of the region’s famous Trulli houses found in the picturesque town of Alberobello.

6 | Graduate from Gelato University

gelato university

Yes, you read correctly – Gelato University. Based in Bologna, Carpigiani’s Gelato University is dedicated to teaching students how to make Italian style ice cream.

I have an ongoing obsession with gelato and would love to learn the techniques and recipes that make it so delicious.

7 | Experience the Palio di Siena

Palio di Siena
Image courtesy: ilventi

Twice a year on the 2nd July and 16th August a four centuries old tradition is played out in the Tuscan city of Siena. The Palio di Siena is a bareback horse race between 10 competing contrade or city wards that takes place in the city’s Piazza del Campo at sunset.

Though the race lasts only 90 seconds or 3 laps of the piazza, I would love to witness the build up and excitement of the Corteo Storico – a colourful parade celebrating Siena’s customs, history and power.

READ:   A perfect day exploring the Tuscan hills near Lucca

8 | See an opera in Verona’s Arena

Verona arena
Image credit: Tony Hisgett

One of the best-preserved examples of a Roman amphitheatre is found in Verona in Italy’s north. For over one hundred years the city has taken advantage of the incredible acoustics in their arena to stage some of the world’s most spectacular opera performances.

I enjoyed a brief concert of opera classics in Lucca and would love to discover more about the musical genre that originated in Italy in the 16th century.

Opera is not for everyone though, and as the arena holds 15,000 people it is also used for shows by contemporary artists like Adele and Radiohead. I would like to experience that too!

9 | Eat at the best restaurant in the world

Osteria Francescana parmigiano dish - an unforgettable travel experience in Italy

Since watching a documentary about chef Massimo Bottura on Netflix my husband and I put eating his restaurant Osteria Francescana in Modena on our wish list of life experiences. In 2016 it was named the best restaurant in the world by the academy of the The World’s 50 Best Restaurants and holds three Michelin stars.

Bottura’s signature dish is – Five ages of Parmigiano Reggiano in different textures and temperatures – an homage to Italy’s most famous cheese.

Now you are either interested in fine dining, or you are not. We love the passion and technical expertise behind the creations of these talented chefs and are prepared to pay the price for such experiences.

If you live an incredible moment of happiness, that happiness is much much more deep and big if you share it with others.

Massimo Bottura

READ:   The missing bite .. a discovery of tastes in Italy

10 | Study Renaissance art and history in Florence

top experiences in Italy - study in Florence

In high school, we learnt about the Medici and their dominance of the city of Florence.  We explored Renaissance Italy from our desks in urban Australia, and it was my favourite subject at school. If I had more imagination I would have pursued my studies in this area as I loved it so much.

Fortunately, that opportunity may not have passed me by. The British Institute of Florence offers short courses in art history in English and it is also possible to join the graduate program on paleography and best archival practice provided by the Medici Archive Project.

READ:   City culture: Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper and life in Milan

I am sure I am missing something on my quest to find the most exciting travel experiences in Italy. Can you help me out?

Meanwhile, if you are interested in planning your own trip to Italy, do head over to our Italy travel planning resources page for tips and information about building your independent trip to Italy.

Highlights of my travels in Italy (so far)

Venice | Lake Como | Sicily | Lake Orta | Tuscany | Lucca| Capri

Disclaimer – I was a guest of Bookings For You and Palazzo Tronconi at the launch of their culinary getaway experiences. All opinions are my own.

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38 thoughts on “10 unforgettable travel experiences in Italy for inspiration

  1. Phoebe | Lou Messugo says:

    I’d love to explore Puglia and stay in a Trulli house, I’d also like to go to an opera in Verona and see the Palio in Siena. Twice I’ve heard operas from the outside of the arena in Verona, and been in Siena just after the Palio but never actually been to either. I’m ambivalent about carnival in Venice, I think the crowds might just be too much (I get less and less enamoured by crowds as I get older!!) I love your Pin photo, did you take it? It’s just about the most perfect “Italy” photo ever! #farawayfiles

  2. oregongirlaroundtheworld says:

    Puglia looks so cool! It was hard to imagine the horse race and the plaza filled with so many people when we popped into Sienna last February – it was so calm! But I would like to see that as well! How about visiting an olive oil producer? Or my husband would like to see the Italian super car museums and experience a Maserati for himself outside Bologna. And what about Parma? That ham is tasty. Great list – definitely saving! #FarawayFiles

  3. California Globetrotter says:

    Yup! I wanna do ALL of these! Ok, I’ve been to Venice, but not for Carnival. I’ve wanted to go to Siena ever since I read an amazing book called Juliet by Anne Fortier that takes place there! And I DEFINITELY want to go to Puglia! #FarawayFiles

  4. Ali May says:

    Oh wow. This post inspires me to new heights of Italy-envy. Do you feel like the older you get, the more appreciative you become of the world? I visited so many of these Italian places in my 20s and yet my need to see them again is more about ‘seeing the history, food and culture’ like I never saw it before. Is it just that when you hit your 30’s (or maybe it’s when you become a parent?) that suddenly you have an appreciation for the history and learning experience about a destination that you never realised or knew before? Whatever this older and wiser thing is… I like it! Great post for #FarawayFiles

  5. annette @afrenchcollection says:

    Carnivale is on my wish list. My daughter and I have researched costume hire, hair and make up artists etc. It was such fun when we looked into all of this, ready for one day when we attend. Carnivale is just one of many great suggestions covered in your fab post #FarawayFiles

  6. WanderMum says:

    Yes please! Great suggestions Katy. I’ve been to Itlay many times and haven’t done a lot of these. Osteria Francescana is on the list though and Palazzo Tronconi. Hope you get to go to Puglia soon. Love it there. The villa we rented once had a trulli as part of the complex so very doable to stay in one! #farawayfies

  7. youngandundecided says:

    Italy is that one country I am still really surprised I havent visted yet. Every post I read, every picture I see makes me want to visit all the more. And this is no different. Absolutely beautiful #FarawayFiles

  8. Clare Thomson says:

    Now I have seen an opera in the arena in Verona – I think it was Verdi – and it was a great experience. I love the idea of Carnevale too and Puglia has been on my wishlist for years. Wish I’d listened to my Puglian friend all those years ago when she urged me to invest in a trullli of my own! #FarawayFiles

  9. Katy says:

    Thanks Phoebe – I am also less enamoured of crowds these days but I’d love to peek at the goings on from the windows of “my” palazzo! I spent about an hour looking for the perfect image for this post. That one is a stock photo. In my experience, Fiat 500 drivers always choose to park in the ugliest spots – so inconsiderate!!

  10. Juliette | Snorkels To Snow says:

    OMG Gelato University?! That is SO great! I would love to be doing that! By the way, I love the first photo on this piece with the mini going down the tiny street – so perfectly Italian! So many awesome things you have listed here. I would also love to visit Carnevale in Venice! Sounds like my kind of party 😉 I must get to Italy some day…*sigh* is it weird having love affairs with countries you’ve never visited?

  11. vanbrune says:

    Yep Gelato University sure is a place I’d like to attend 🙂 I’m obsessed with Italian gelato too and it’s such a shame that there’s no Italian ice cream parlour here in Tromso. In Germany you have them in almost every town!

  12. Wherejogoes says:

    What an inspiring and wonderful list. I think the Venetian masked balls and Massimo’s restaurant (he was featured on Masterchef and it looked amazing!) would be on my list not forgetting gelato university for the kids. #FarawayFiles

  13. Cindy says:

    This is a great list! I’d love to visit Puglia. Seeing an opera in Verona and going to the Carnevale in Venice are high on our bucket list too. I’ve been thinking about taking cooking classes for some time where my husband’s from, to learn how to make the regional specialties. Also something in general I’d love to do while on holiday and Italy would be perfect for it! Thanks for sharing #FarawayFiles

  14. tracystravels10 says:

    I would love to spend some time studying in Florence – understanding more about the Renaissance and the amazing art everywhere! I would also be tempted by anything to do with food in Italy. Italy is just such a fabulous country! #farawayfiles

  15. Hilary says:

    All of these wishes look absolutely amazing, and I would sign up for any of them, however I have a special place in my heart for Venice and would love to find myself back there again! I’m dreaming of a road trip: Milan – Verona – Venice and then on to Croatia… Often times I just think about Italian coffee and that in itself is worth a trip across the ocean! #farawayfiles

  16. Kat says:

    I love this post – it’s the very things that we all dream about travelling in Italy! La dolce vita 🙂 #FarawayFiles

  17. BootsNotRoots says:

    We are headed to Italy this week (does a mini happy dance)! 😀 So this was perfect timing to get me all geared up for this trip! We’re missing out on cooking classes I think.. :/, but maybe something will pop up and we’ll be able to do one! Thanks for sharing this! #farawayfiles

  18. RobRob @TravelLatte(.net) says:

    Well, the Trulli in Puglia were at the top of our list…until we found out there’s a Gelato University! If (not so much when) we get to the point where we’ve checked all of our Italian highlights, Florence is the place we’d most like to spend serious time. But the list is long…so much to dream about in Italy!

  19. Trish @ Mum's Gone To says:

    I’m very tempted by so many of these ideas – opera in Verona, Trulli houses, the Venice carnival – in fact, I need a fix of Italy very soon. I’ll have to have it vicariously through you instead!

  20. daisythebus says:

    Nice wish list. Fingers crossed that not only do you get to live these experiences, but that they also turn out to be all that you hoped for and more! Good luck!! #FarawayFiles

  21. Bumble Bee Mum says:

    I suddenly feel like my trip to Italy was a wasted trip. I missed every single on of these! I would love to witness Carnevale really. I’ll make sure my next trip to Italy coincides with it. #FarawayFiles

  22. Daria says:

    Oh man… Massimo Bottura’s episode was is my favorite on Chef’s Table. What a beautiful love story, too! Makes me want to watch it again.
    Love your blog!

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