I wrote a similar article a year ago but the resurgence of the virus ended hopes of travel for most of us. Now Italy is in reach again for many would-be travellers, with quarantine requirements dropped for vaccinated visitors from the UK (negative test also required). Hopefully this time the revival of travel will not be cut short. So where to go?
If you have a favourite place in Italy, this could be the right time to return and revisit all the spots you know and love, giving your support to the restaurants, bars and museums that have survived the pandemic so far. I'm desperate to return to the places I lived in and loved: Rome and Venice - and of course Italian cities are great to visit throughout the autumn, winter and spring.
Art and history lovers will want to visit Rome in time to visit the exhibition of the Torlonia Marbles, due to close on 9th January 2022. Rome's a great winter destination anyway, with a good chance of fine sunny weather, glorious sights and more museums and churches than anyone could visit in a lifetime.
- Rome accommodation (Booking)
I never tire of telling people how much I love Venice in winter. Before winters filled up with tour groups, mostly from China, the city had a really cosy local feel between November and March (Carnival excluded). Will the tour groups be back this winter? If not, Venice will be a really special place to enjoy. And if they are, they're quite easily avoided once you're away from St Mark's and the Rialto. Freezing mists, hot chocolate, atmospheric lanes and cold, sunny beach walks - allow several days to experience the variety winter has to offer.
Pretty much any Italian city makes a good destination outside the hottest summer weeks. Florence is another place that offers a wonderful visiting experience and is worth seeing before the full weight of tour groups is back. Genoa is one of my favourite non-obvious destinations - a fascinating city with a big range of things to see and do, and easy rail access to the Ligurian coast resorts and walking routes of the Cinque Terre and the Portofino area. Before the pandemic I had a superb short trip to Genoa in October, and was blessed with hot beach temperatures, enjoyed walks, art museums, shopping food, clifftop promenades, gelato and more.
Naples is another city that's daunting at first acquaintance but really repays the effort of getting to know it: underground tours, art, monasteries, catacombs, chaos and pastries.
Matera is set to feature in the new, delayed James Bond film No Time to Die, and this unique destination, half cave-town with homes cut into the grey cliffs of a ravine, will be on everyone's tourist radar. Already much busier and developed than it was a decade ago, Matera's likely to see even more visitors - so I'd recommend getting a head start and visiting in the near future. Matera fits well into an itinerary with Puglia, and the trulli houses of Alberobello - my suggested itinerary has been one of the most popular on my website.
Booking for next summer?
If I can manage it I'll be heading back to the islands next year. May to early July, and early September are the best times for Italian islands, to avoid the extreme heat and holiday crowds (and prices). There are lots of islands to choose from; among my favourites are the Aeolian islands and glorious Capri. For walking, I was impressed with Giglio, Capraia and Ustica.
Sicily and the South
Sicily and the south are always fabulous, colourful and sunny places to visit, as well as very affordable. Although it's not usually essential to book a year in advance, if you want a choice of the best hotels and B&Bs, or to get flights at lower cost, it's a good idea to plan ahead - unless you are very flexible, I'd recommend making reservations by February at the latest.
A wild card: Asolo
Asolo is one of Italy's small destinations known to the cognoscenti. An ultra-civilised little historic hill town at the edge of the Dolomites, it's peaceful, scenic and very special. There's only a small handful of places to stay and not a great deal to do - it's perfect for a relaxing, classy weekend break or as a charming palate-freshener for a night or two during a tour of the Veneto, or maybe an add-on to a holiday in Venice.
A request for help
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> Buy my Venice Kindle guidebook (published in 2013; prices, a few restaurants, and some museum layouts will have changed but the walking tours, descriptions and vast majority of detail will still be accurate. It has excellent reviews!)
> Read the Italy Heaven travel guide - where to go in Italy, detailed destination guides and travel tips