– When La Bella Primavera arrives in Italy, it’s time for travelers to enjoy Mamma Nature’s gifts. Along with longer days of sunshine, fields and gardens burst into bloom, spas reopen, festivals and sagre (celebrations) of the seasonal harvest, abound.
Here are 10 Places to indulge in Italy’s springtime pleasures:
Villa Borghese Gardens, Rome: Stroll through this elegant hilltop oasis, amid magnolia trees, cheerful daffodil patches and orange tree blossoms that sweetly scent the air. Manicured lawns offer perfect spots for picnics. You can rent a boat to paddle around the pond, visit the bioparco (zoo), or head to the Porta Pinciana area to rent bikes or rickshaws, enjoy the kiddie’s merry-go-round, or a puppet show at the San Carlino theatre.
Iris Garden, Florence: The Iris is the symbol of the city of Florence and is gloriously honored here in May with over 2500 species on display. Set on a hill across the Arno, the garden adjoins the Piazzale Michelangelo from where it offers fantastic views of Florence and a peaceful respite from the tourist crowds below. Hours: Monday – Friday 10am-12:30pm, 3pm-6pm, Weekends 10am-7pm.
Bauer Palladio Hotel, Spa and Gardens, Venice: On the island of Giudecca, you’ll discover a 16th century masterpiece property designed by Renaissance superstar Andrea Palladio. Formerly a convent, it’s been restored to a luxurious hotel and spa with an enchanting complex of three gardens, each landscaped to suit a different mood — from proper English style to an Italian garden graced with a grapevine covered pergola. Enjoy the flowers and greenery from the patio of the L’Ulivo restaurant, which specializes in light and savory fare, locally sourced. Or indulge in a treatment at the state-of-the-art spa, finishing in the relaxing room, which opens to a dreamy view of mainland Venice.
Montecatini Terme, Tuscany: An hour train ride from Florence takes you to this old world spa town that comes to life in springtime. Get in on the tradition at Terme Tettuccio, a Liberty style pavilion where live music plays from the bandstand as you sample healing waters from the marble bar. A stroll through the surrounding park, a curative dip in the pool or mudbath at Redi Terme and an aperitivo with the locals at the historical Gambrinus Music Caffe, complete a golden spring day.
Isola Bella, Piedmont: A ferry ride from Stresa will bring you to a jewel in Lake Maggiore, Isola Bella, where terraced gardens of rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias in bloom are an intoxicating sight — along with the white peacocks strutting about. This all surrounds the baroque 17th century Palazzo Borromeo, which you can tour and then enjoy a lunch of homemade pasta and fresh fish from the lake at Ristorante Elvezia.
Sentieri degli Dei (Path of the Gods), Amalfi Coast: Cool spring weather is perfect for exploring hiking trails in the hills above the Amalfi Coast. Here you can roam through lemon groves, fields of wild flowers, forests and vineyards and enjoy astounding views of the sparkling sea, the island of Capri in the distance and the villages of Positano and Praiano below you. For a top guide, contact Positano Adventure Walks created by Francesco Carpegna, an ex-New Yorker who has lived here for over 20 years and enhances his hikes with entertaining mythological stories.
Puglia, Italy’s flattest region, in the heel of the boot, is my favorite spot for springtime biking. Adventure travel companies such as Backroads offer dreamy weeks of group riding, where you pedal past blooming olive tree groves and fields of vibrant red poppies, and stop at quaint seaside villages for gelato. Trulli — white conical dwellings from the Middle Ages — dot the landscape, adding a fairytale atmosphere to your holiday.
Cagliari, a port town on the island of Sardinia, hosts an amazing May celebration: The Feast of Sant’Efiseo. Thousands gather for a 4-day festival to honor their patron who saved Sardinians from the plague in 1656. It kicks off with one of the world’s biggest parades through Cagliari’s historical center, featuring natives in traditional dress, oxen drawn carriages dripping with flowers and music played on the launeddas, a Sardinian bagpipe that adds a deep, soulful base to the splendid party. The statue of Sant’Efiseo is carried to small villages outside Cagliari over the next days, where it’s greeted with honor and banquets, and finally returns by candlelit procession for the grand finale in Cagliari.
Spello, in central Umbria, is one of the many small towns in Italy where the beautiful spring tradition of L’infiorata is celebrated. (Others include Genzano di Roma in Lazio, Vernazza in Liguria and Noto in Sicily.) It’s worth it to plan your trip around this event, where vias to village churches are paved with flower petals arranged like mosaics to form painterly masterpieces. The whole town goes into a creative frenzy, working throughout the night on the arrangements that are revealed with much fanfare at dawn. Music, dancing and of course great food (including dishes made with flowers) add to the festivities. Dates correspond approximately to the Catholic Feast of Corpus Domini (9 weeks after Easter), but vary from year to year. In 2013, L’Infiorata in Noto is May 18-19, and in Spello it takes place June 1-2.
Sezze, a hilltop village south of Rome, is home to an April Sagra of the region’s favorite vegetable: the Carciofi (artichoke). Winding vias fill with musicians, folk dancers, bouquets and towers of artichokes, harvested from the surrounding fields. Meals are enjoyed in the piazzas, with locals and visitors joining in for various carciofi dishes: fried, baked, marinated, creamed, in pasta sauces and stuffings — all prepared with care and pride. 2013’s Sezze Carciofi Sagra is April 21, and there’s a larger, more commercial one in nearby Ladispoli April 5-7.
Susan Van Allen is the Italian American author of 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go; Letters from Italy: Confessions, Adventures, and Advice; and the Golden Days in Italy blog. She will be leading a Golden Week in Tuscany: For Women Only tour this November.