Firstly, Italy boasts more enticing cities than anywhere else. Crucially, they all offer something palpably different. The art and history heavyweights number Rome, a place whose bounty of sights always leave you craving a return visit, magical Venice – does any other European destination generate such excitement upon arrival? – and classical Florence, whose narrow streets transport visitors straight back to the Renaissance. Equally enticing, though, are some lesser-known gems: gritty Naples, baroque Lecce, foodie Bologna and energetic, crumbling Palermo all make for wonderful short breaks or the prelude or finale of a longer fly-drive.
Just as iconic is Italy’s coastline, from ritzy rivieras to the secret cove of your dreams. Then there are fascinating islands such as Elba, with its fine sandy shores, and volcanic Ischia, an authentic, calmer alternative to its glamorous neighbour, Capri. Basilicata’s tiny stretch of Tyrrhenian seaside offers an endless number of little pebble beaches with invitingly clear waters for swimming, while Calabria delivers some of Italy’s broadest stretches of sand. Its town of Tropea is a favourite for a delightful piazza and cute, cafe-lined streets. To the south is the lesser-known fishing port of Scilla, whose excellent seafood trattorias are, we reckon, worth a trip alone.
It was inland Italy, however, which first began Real Holidays’ passion for the country, courtesy of visits to Umbria’s medieval hilltowns, sweeping pastures and mountains. Home to some impressive historical sites, this region’s untouristy charms positively beg for exploration – as do those of adjacent, wilder Le Marche. While Tuscany is more heralded, we have concentrated our energies on finding ideal places for food-lovers in the quieter south-east – lesser-known Etruscan gems like Pienza and Montepulciano, plus the the Val d’Orcia’s vintage English Patient scenery. This is Tuscan perfection: rolling hills, cypress tree groves, sunflower fields and no end of fine wines.
Why let us plan your Italy adventure?
Our chief goal is not to sell you a holiday, but to sell you the right holiday – one you’ll relish. We listen to your needs and use our expertise to find the ideal solution. That’s not just a case of our knowing dog-friendly hotels or villas with pools, but also advising on which type of trip you might like. Two or three-centre fly-drives suit some people, whereas others prefer a single, relaxing base. Hotel amenities are great, but perhaps the privacy of self-catering will work better? We’ll present the options, and never force you into a decision.
Real Holidays features properties in Italy ranging from luxury country hotels to agriturismo (farmstay) apartments with pools. There are luxury villas, small resorts and city-centre boutiques. What links them are character and charm, a commitment to quality and service, and the fact that we have vetted each one. And indeed the proximity to places of historical interest: in Sicily, for instance, our various hotels in the relatively-unknown west are located near Greek temples, millennia-old gymnasiums and Norman castles.
We’ll also take care of those tricky in-between bits: be it airline baggage allowances, car-hire arrangements, hotel transfers or ferries to the Aeolian Islands.
While single-property stays are most definitely the answer for short breaks and those preferring to stay stationary, we advise everyone else to consider an Italian fly-drive. These are our forte, and the trips which most allow us to demonstrate our passion for and knowledge of Italy.
The best fly-drives unite two or three distinct properties and areas in order to deliver a fuller experience of an area – in other words, to allow you to really, truly get to know a region or part of Italy. They allow for more authenticity and immersion. For instance, we adore the buzzy city of Taormina and its amphitheatre in eastern Sicily – but it’s even more rewarding when followed by Mount Etna and the lower-key south-east, where the Greek remains segue into small, honey-coloured Baroque towns and stretches of beach.
Hidden gems are another focus: examples include the off-the-radar regions of Emilia Romagna, Le Marche and Calabria, which can be combined with Tuscany, Umbria or Puglia respectively. A compare-and-contrast if you like, only with added dolce vita.
Crucial to a fly-drive is pace. While seeing an array of sights is the aim, no-one wants to return home from a holiday feeling tired. You’re there to relax, to be intoxicated by Italy and its landscape, locals and lifestyle – and you won’t accomplish that by rushing about. Our itineraries are carefully planned so as to be gently-paced, and often to finish with the most relaxing stop, so you feel fully recharged come the journey home.
Finally, our fly-drive focus is permanently on small, personal accommodation options. These are often boutique, and always charming and hand-picked. Places whose owners will take perfect care of you – but without overdoing it, or cramping you. Think comfortable rooms, good settings, fine food or knowledge of where to find it, and lots of local-area expertise.