Italy’s green hillsides, cobbled streets, candlelit restaurants and verdant vineyards provide supremely fertile soil for a couple’s love to blossom. From the olive groves of Tuscany, along the cragged Amalfi coast, to the sun-baked isles at the country’s tip, here are ten destinations seemingly handmade for romance.
The most romantic spot in the swoonsome Italian Lake District, located close to the border with Switzerland, Lake Como is ringed by picturesque villages and gorgeous villas. Visitors with more than a little disposable cash on hand stay in Bellagio, for over a century the haunt of romantic runaways; while couples who prefer the simple life duck into the hillsides, so dotted with lovely towns perfect for perusing boutique shops and dining al fresco in the lakeside air. During the long days, take a boat out onto the lake itself, and drift on the water amid the peaceful vistas of distant mountains.
Venice has birthed the quintessential image of European romance: drifting along shadowy canals in a gem-studded gondola. And while couples are unlikely to want to miss this particular cliché, the town has a great deal more to immerse oneself in than just its well-covered waterways. Get a photo on the Bridge of Sighs, where the Byronic hero Childe Harold noted a "palace and a prison on each hand", or just hold each other’s hands as you wander the labyrinthine streets, dropping into cafes for a cooling gelato.
Crumbling farmhouses, green hills, shaded olive groves, grand rolling vineyards, cypress copses and cobbled roads - Tuscany’s countryside is among the most romantic landscapes in Europe. Real romantics will want to base themselves in a bed and breakfast in a small church-tolled town, where Florence, the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance and an architecturally exquisite storehouse of art and history, remains just a skip away. And the area has no shortage of candlelit meals either; featuring menus replete with the produce from the region’s fertile fields: juicy tomatoes, barley, beans, porcini mushrooms, freshly grilled Florentine steak and more.
Umbria lies in relative tranquility between overrun Rome and touristy Tuscany, unfurling a green landscape of hills and vineyards that Henry James called "the most beautiful garden in all the world". As well, perhaps, as the scents and smells drifting from the simple yet sublime restaurants dotting the region’s medieval towns, such as Orvieto and Perugia.
Lovely Verona is rather overshadowed by its phonetically similar sibling Venice, but this secretly works to its advantage, keeping its atmospheric cobblestone streets less crowded with tourists. Because really it is a town of truly beguiling beauty, a center of trade since the 3rd century BC and studded with Roman ruins outdone only by Rome and Pompeii. Then, of course, there’s Juliet’s balcony, where Shakespeare framed one of the most famous scenes of love in all literature - "But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?"
A stunning road weaves together the villages lining the Amalfi coast, where pastel-colored houses tumble down hillsides above the glimmering Tyrrhenian Sea. Jagged cliffs frame beautiful soft-sand beaches, where vacationers can swim in cool seawater and dry off on sun-warmed rocks. As for where to stay, upmarket resort towns are strung along the coastal road, such as Sorrento, Positano, Amalfi and Ravello. Exquisite accommodations can be found in old stone houses along the coast, with balconies overlooking cafe-studded piazzas; and in all superb restaurants serve sublime seafood scooped from the nearby sea.
Forming part of the Liguria region’s Italian Riviera, the Cinque Terre is named after its five rough headlands divided by an astonishingly serrated shoreline. If you’ve fallen in love with - or on - the Amalfi Coast, and want somewhere new but similar, this equally breathtaking stretch of coastline is ideal. A perfect town for lovers is brightly-colored Riomaggiore, which is joined to its lemon-scented neighbor Manarola by a sublime seaside walking trail known as the Via dell’Amore. The trail got its name during WW2, when lovers used it as a rendezvous point between the two towns.
Sicily may seem an unusual choice for a romantic getaway, but for couples whose sense of romance involves a little more adventure, it’s actually ideal. Europe’s biggest island is a little more challenging, with fewer well-oiled tourist routes to glide down; visitors will need to attempt more Italian than elsewhere - or more hand-flapping - and be willing to seek out a hotel in some of the less well-trodden towns. There are rewards with the effort: stunning Roman and Greek ruins, Byzantine and Baroque architecture, a medley of Mediterranean flavors, and warm and welcoming people await in Sicily.
Sardinia is the other big island off Italy’s coast, and is even more remote and untrodden that Sicily. It’s the perfect option for couples who enjoy independence on their travels, and who are infatuated with the outdoors as well as each other. A great way to see the island is to rent a car and explore its gorgeous shoreline, including some of Europe’s best nude beaches, before parking up and riding a mountain bike or horse up into the interior hills.
Some couples like tranquility, some like adventure, some like the outdoors - and some like glamour, bustle, life, fashion, to see and be seen. For those in the latter group, there are few better destinations in this wide world than Milan. It’s got hip and sexy nightlife, it’s got uncountable excellent restaurants, it’s got a world-class fashion scene that hits the high streets in an elegant host of boutique clothing shops. Want instant cinematic glamour and romance? Just check out any number of the intimate and stylish hotels in the city.