Sprawled across seven legendary hills, romantic and beautiful Rome was one of the great centers of the ancient world. Although its beginning is shrouded in legend and its development is full of intrigue and struggle, Rome has always been and remains the “Eternal City.” Its greatest splendor was experienced during the 1st and 2nd centuries when art flourished, monumental works of architecture were erected, and the mighty Roman legions swept outward, conquering much of the known world.
Today’s Rome, with its splendid churches, ancient monuments and palaces, spacious parks, tree-lined boulevards, fountains, outdoor cafés and elegant shops, is one of the world’s most attractive and exciting cities. Among the most famous monuments is the Coliseum. As you walk its cool, dark passageways, imagine the voices that once filled the arena as 50,000 spectators watched combat between muscled gladiators and ferocious animals. Stop to see the remains of the Forum, once the city’s political and commercial center. In later times, Rome’s squares were enhanced with such imposing structures as the Vittorio Emanuele Monument, the monumental Trevi fountain and Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers, to name just a few.
Set high atop the Mediterranean cliffs, Sorrento is a town of extraordinary beauty that has endured as a favored resort for centuries. In addition to its own attractions, Sorrento is also known as a popular gateway to Pompeii, Italy’s most celebrated classical ruins. They offer a look at the finest example of a Roman town and its way of life, presented to modern eyes by excavation.
The ever-popular Isle of Capri is just a short distance from Sorrento by jetfoil. It ranks as one of Italy’s most beautiful islands and has captured the fancy of visitors for centuries. Its excellent year-round climate, spectacular landscape and fantastic sea caverns ensure a never-ending stream of tourists. In addition, the island boasts lavish villas, elegant hotels, chic boutiques and quaint restaurants, making it is easy to understand why Capri has become so popular.
Amalfi / Positano, Italy
Located roughly between Salerno and Sorrento, Amalfi was already an important maritime republic in the Middle Ages. In fact, the Amalfi Tables represent the oldest maritime code in the world, which were observed throughout the Mediterranean until the late 16th century. Today, Amalfi is one of the most popular resorts and stopovers along the famed Amalfi Drive, Italy's celebrated corniche that hugs the mountainous coast and carves its way through sheer rock. Opulent villas, cloaked in brilliantly colored bougainvillea, hide behind high walls and wrought-iron gates. Waves pound against the steep shoreline and tortuous bends challenge a steady stream of tourist vehicles. Around every hairpin turn spectacular scenery awaits.
(Livorno) Florence/Pisa/Tuscany, Italy
Livorno is Italy’s second largest port after Genoa. It also serves as a gateway to the Tuscany region and the great cultural centers of Florence, Lucca, Pisa and Siena. Tuscany delights visitors with its picturesque small towns and classic landscapes. The gently rounded hills, accented by clumps of slender cypresses, have been immortalized in numerous paintings. Lush vineyards are the source of the famous dry, dark-red Chianti wines.
From this part of Italy the national language evolved with Dante and other great Tuscan writers of his period. Even more important is the impact this area had on the culture of the rest of Italy and Europe, adding immense wealth to the architectural and artistic heritage. The Italian Renaissance, with its most active center in Florence, lasted from the 1400s to the 1700s. Its greatest support came from the all-powerful Medici family who commissioned Italy’s most talented painters, sculptors and architects to create some of the most outstanding works of art. Names such as Michelangelo, Machiavelli, Giotto, Vasari, Botticelli, da Vinci and Donatello come to mind, all of whom worked and lived in Florence at some time in their lives.
Cinque Terre (La Spezia), Italy
La Spezia is not, at first glance, a "tourist town" - and does not pretend to be. And yet...it's amiable location on the Golfo dei Poeti (Bay of Poets), and a number of important monuments, museums and buildings are very much worth seeing. Also, you could do a lot worse finding a good base from which to explore the Cinque Terre, Portovenere, and the stretch of coast running south to Lerici and beyond. Ferries for Corsica and Sardinia, as well as for various ports of call along the Cinque Terre also depart regularly from La Spezia (the terminals are at Porto Mercantile in the central part of the harbor).
The city sits on the litoral between the inland hills and the sea. Its protected position and good harbor made it a prized possession of the Etruscans who once ruled the area (7th century BC) and of the Romans who supplanted them. Later in the Middle Ages, the town was dominated by Genoa, a powerful maritime Republic, and the Genoese were the first to fortify the city and the areas north and south. Their castles and forts dot the coast and inland hills around the city.
Monte Carlo, Monaco
The independent principality of Monaco is famous as the playground of the Côte d’Azur. With nice beaches, elegant hotels and a vibrant nightlife, this tiny domain is a favorite haunt of the jet set. In the possession of the Grimaldi family for more than 700 years, a treaty with France guarantees Monaco’s independence as long as the principality is governed by the Grimaldis.
The fashionable enclave numbers only about 32,000 inhabitants and is smaller than New York’s Central Park, but it boasts some of the most expensive real estate in the world. In addition to its luxury hotels and beautiful beaches, Monaco is noted for its mild climate and magnificent scenery. Once an exclusive wintering stop for Europe’s aristocracy, today there are more than five million visitors annually. Of the principality’s four sections - La Condamine, Fontvieille, Monaco-Ville and Monte Carlo, the latter two rank highest on every visitor’s must-see list.
Cannes was founded in the 2nd century BC by a Ligurian tribe, and was subsequently colonized by the Romans in 154 AD. During the town's entire history it went through a period of upheaval and desolation by war. In 1834, Lord Brougham, an English aristocrat, was so enchanted by Cannes that he decided to settle there. This marked the beginning of the town's affluence, with luxury residences springing up to provide winter accommodations for international nobility. From 1930 onward, Cannes became a summer resort. Its local economy had traditionally relied on fishing, but was quickly replaced by tourism. Today, Cannes is best known for its world famous film festival and, for two weeks in May each year, attracts the brightest and most talented stars of the silver screen.
Set on the blue waters of the Golfe de Saint-Tropez, this modern version of a medieval town is most popular for the line of luxury yachts in her harbor and the facing line of terrace cafés, divided by a parade of strolling tourists and slowly cruising sports cars. Night life is very lively and often one can see helicopters bringing elegant guests to private parties, in one of the many luxurious villas in the bay. "People watching" is a favorite sport in Saint-Tropez in the summer. Visitors like to sit in the outdoor cafés, hoping either to be seen or to see someone else.
Provence (Marseille), France
Marseille is a vibrant, cosmopolitan port and the most populated city in the country after Paris. The craggy, mountainous interland of the Provence provides Marseille with a spectacular backdrop. It is the country's most important seaport and the largest one in the Mediterranean. The city is divided into 16 arrondissements fanning out from the Old Port. The large industrial port area virtually rubs shoulders with the intimate, picturesque old harbor, the Vieux Port. Packed with fishing boats and pleasure crafts, this is the heart of Marseille. Two fortresses guard the entrance to the harbor.
Several vantage points offer spectacular views, including the striking Basilica Notre Dame de la Garde. This prominent landmark, overlooking the city, is crowned by a monumental gilded statue of the Virgin Mary. Marseille boasts numerous fine museums that are well worth a visit. Relaxing at one of the many outside cafés or strolling through the Old Port area allows you to enjoy the unpretentious charm of this city.
Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia as well as Spain’s second largest city. Dominated by Montjuic, Vallvidrera and the Tibidabo Hills, sophisticated Barcelona is rich in ancient and modern architectural and artistic treasures. Many talented artists, sculptors and architects lived here, including Picasso, Miró, Mares and Barcelona’s best-known architect, Antonio Gaudí.
Barcelona’s beginnings as a major port can be found already in Roman times. However, the most significant period was during the Middle Ages when the city's wealth equaled that of the whole Catalunya province. Splendid buildings from the Middle Ages and a unique ambiance still make Barcelona one of the most attractive cities in Europe, drawing scores of visitors to see and enjoy the sights. In addition to its medieval setting and narrow streets of the Gothic Quarter, there are magnificent avenues through the modern part of the city, which are particularly noted for their landmark buildings of Gaudí’s design.