By Susan Van Allen, author of 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go — Check out her Custom Guide for her recommendations!
Italy overflows with pleasures for both sexes, yet it seems to hold a special attraction for females. Why? I believe it’s because the Bel Paese has been worshipping women since the earth was cooling—from the Goddess Venus to the Madonna. With so much glorification surrounding us, and handsome Italian men who have mastered the art of flirting, no wonder why we feel so welcomed and appreciated as soon as we step off the plane.
Here are 10 places a bit off the average tourist radar that will delight female travelers:
Villa Farnesina in Rome: A graceful garden surrounds this Trastevere spot, that was the Eternal City’s best party villa in Renaissance days. Inside, the Loggia of Psyche features gorgeous frescoes painted by Raphael’s students, and a fresco by the master himself in the Loggia of Galatea. Stroll through and imagine the days when courtesans, priests, and noblemen celebrated here in grand style.
Costume Gallery of the Pitti Palace in Florence: Take a break from painting and sculpture, with a visit to this Oltrarno palazzo, and head straight to the massive glam rooms dedicated to Italian fashion design. Displays take you through 300 years of marvelous creation—from 18th century principessa gowns to outrageously chic 1950s dresses.
Peggy Guggenheim Museum in Venice: This airy palazzo on the Grand Canal, that was once Ms. Guggenheim’s home, now houses her stunning collection of modern art and sculpture—from such masters as Picasso, Kandinsky, Calder, and Mondrian. The docents here, all on Guggenheim fellowships, burst with enthusiasm and knowledge, and are wonderful to talk with as you browse.
Arezzo Antique Market: It’s worth it to plan your trip to Italy so you’ll be in Arezzo the first Sunday of the month. That’s when this medieval town’s historic center overflows with Italy’s biggest outdoor antique market, featuring 500 vendors. It’s a perfect place to snatch up unique, suitcase-friendly souvenirs—such as linens, jewelry, or knick-knacks. Also, not to be missed is the Basilica of San Francesco, where you’ll find Piero della Francesca’s magnificent fresco cycle, The Legends of the True Cross.
Masseria Torre Maizza in Puglia: A stay at this beautifully restored farm estate is pure bliss. It’s set a short bike ride away from a private beach (bikes provided), amidst amazing old olive trees. The restaurant serves delicious regional specialties, plus there’s a pool, golf course, and spa, where olive oil, herbs, and vegetables grown on the property are ingeniously incorporated into their treatments.
Ortygia in Sicily: This small island, reached by walking over a bridge from Siracusa, is a dream to wander through. Its Duomo was built around the remains of a Greek Temple that honored the Goddess Athena, so ancient columns are blended with Baroque and Norman architecture, to awe-inspiring effect. Go in the morning to enjoy Ortygia’s vibrant fish market, then lunch at L’Ancora for fantastic seafood.
Deruta School of Ceramics: Come to this Umbrian hill town to immerse yourself in the great tradition of Italian ceramic making that’s been going on continuously here since Renaissance times. The Scuola offers one-on-one tutoring to students of all levels, to learn everything from simply painting a plate to throwing and firing a piece of pottery. Deruta is also home to a ceramics museum, and shops amundo selling top quality, artisan treasures.
Sirolo in Le Marche: One of Italy’s best beaches can be found on the shores of this beautifully restored medieval village. It’s dramatically set on a stretch called the Riviera del Conero, along the Adriatic Sea, backed by bright white limestone cliffs and pine forests. Sirolo’s Grotta Urbani features three beach clubs with restaurants and bars. Things get hopping here during the summer season, with lots of opportunities to enjoy live music in jazz clubs, the historic Teatro Cortesi (from 1873), or the outdoor former quarry, Teatro alle Cave.
Mamma Agata’s Cooking School in Ravello: In a divine spot, towering over the Amalfi Coast, you’ll find a Goddess of Cuisine, Mamma Agata, who teaches out of her villa kitchen. In her younger days, Mamma cooked for the glitterati who partied here—from Humphrey Bogart to Fred Astaire to Jackie-O. Now in her one day classes, you can watch this master transform what’s grown in her terraced gardens into a lunch that may be one of the most memorable meals of your life. The view of the sea from her terrace is, quite simply, awesome.
Cascina Papaveri in Asti, Piedmont: This agriturismo is set high on a ridge in Italy’s northwest gourmet mecca, close to Asti, a village famous for Spumante and truffles. British transplants have set up a state-of-the-art Pilates studio here, so travelers can enjoy a luxurious retreat that combines cooking, exploring the region, Pilates classes, and relaxing time by the pool overlooking a heavenly panorama.
Susan Van Allen is the Italian American author of 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go, and the Golden Days in Italy blog. She will also be leading a Golden Week in Tuscany: For Women Only tour in November 2012.