Italy is resplendid with history, food and drink. Regional differences can be stark - especially as you travel from North to South. These are just 10 of the best places I've been to in Italy. There's many more great places and I'm trying to get there.
Rome - One of the most historic cities in the world and one time "Caput Mundi" - the Capital of the World. Roman history spans the fat end of 3,000 years, so theres plenty of archeological sites to be seen - the Roman Forum and the Colloseum perhaps most notably. The Vatican City is surrounded by Rome - the Swiss Guards at St Peters Basilica and the Vatican Museums are must visits for both pilgram and tourist alike.
Venice - Once the power house of the Adriatic Sea, Venice is now better known as a canal-based tourist destination. History is tangible in The Bridge of Sighs The Doges Palace, St Marks Square and the Basilica of Saint Mark. Venice also brought Titian and Tinoretto - two of the greatest painters of the Renaissance period - to the world. Do take one Gondola ride - even if the Gonodliere isn't Venetian. Beautiful as Venice is, and a sure fire hit for any first-time visitor to Europe, theres more than a touch of a Leicester Square Experience to it.
Florence - Refered to as "The Cradle of the Rennaissance" on account the monuments, churchs and buildings around the town. Central Florence is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List and is home to the both the cavernous Duomo and the Bapistry. The Uffizzi Gallery, Accademia are home to some of the worlds greatest collections of art including works by Botticelli, Giotto, Michelangelo, Raphael and Titian. Michelangelos David is housed in the Accademia Museum. Don't miss the Boboli Gardens and the Palazzo Pitti accross the Ponte Vecchio.
Assisi - Home to St Francis, founder of the Fransiscan religous order, Assisi is a major place of pilgramage and of Christian history. The Basilica of San Francesco d'Assisi is a World Heritage Site and construction of the Upper and Lower Churches began in 1228 - the year of St Francis' canonization. The remains of St Francis are interned in the crypt of the basilica. The interiors, with their frescoes by Ciambue and Giotto, are unmissable.
Turin - One time capital of the Duchy of Savoy and, later, of a reunified Italy, Turin is a historic city much overlooked by visitors to Italy. The Royal history of Turin is visible in the Royal Palace and the Royal Church of San Lorenzo. Turin Cathedral is, of course, home to the famous "Turin Shroud" which has been the subject of much controvesy over whether it really was the shroud which contained the body of Christ or not.
Como - Situated on the southern end of the southwest leg of Lake Como, Como was founded in the 1st Century by the Romans. The Duomo, flanked by statues of Pliny the Elder and Pliny the Younger, and the Romanesque San Fedele are both worth visited for their architectural virtues. The Cistercian Sant'Agnostino, although heavily renovated in the 20th Century is home to frescoes from the 15th to 17th Centuries. The basilica of Sant'Abbondio, contains paintings from the 11th Century and frescoes from the 14th.
San Gimignano - Perched on hill above the Elsa Valley, the one time Etruscan village takes it name from from a 10th Century Holy Bishop of Modena - San Gimignano - who is credited with saving the town from rampaging barbarians. Situated along a trading and pilgramage route, "Via Francigena," the town propsered which allowed for the churches and monastries to be decorated. While the architecture was clearly influenced by Siena, Pisa and Florence, San Gimignano is most well known for the towers which dominate its skyline. From the 52 towers which were built between the 11th and 13th century, only 14 remain including the climbable Torre del Podestà or Torre Grossa - the latter is 54 feet in height. While much of Italy is known for its red wine, including the nearby Chianti region, San Gimignano is best known for its white wine - Venaccia di San Gimignano - which is definatly worth a try while you're here!
Siena - Central Siena is yet another Italian UNESCO World Heritage site. The Duomo is one of the finest examples of Italian Romanesque architecture. The façade (pictured) was completed in 1380 and the Cathedral is now home to a famous octagonal pulpit designed by Nicola Pisano. The interior is beautifully decorated with an elaborate mosaic floor and the Piccolomini Library is an absolute don't miss - it's elaborate and difficult to imagine the skill and work that went into it. Duccio's famous Maestà can be seen in the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo. The Piazza del Campo, mostly the local Leicester Square during the year, each year plays host to the dramatic Palio horse race which I hope to get to one day.
Milan - The centre of Milan revolves around Piazza Duomo (Cathedral Square.) The Cathedral itself, the Palazzo Reale and the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II shopping arcade are all alongside the Square. Of course, the Cathedral dominates the Piazza and is a must visit. Don't miss the Duomos magnificent stained glass windows and the archeological site which contains remains of the original church.
Pisa - Famed for its Leaning Tower - Pisa is a popular destination, usually as part of a larger tour of Italy or Tuscany. The Piazza del Duomo constitutes yet another Italian addition to the UNESCO World Heritage list. The Bapistry, romanesque Cathedral, Campanile ("The Leaning Tower") and cemetary all form a cohesive space around the well kept lawn. Don't be surprised to find people around the Leaning Tower performing Tai Chi in front of the cameras to show themselves keeping the Tower up. It's no longer possible to climb the Tower but there's much conservation and stabilisation work going on to keep it standing - or at least not falling over.
Rome - Church of St Susanna, Cistercian Nuns - Notes on the Church of St Susanna, Cistercian Nuns, Rome
Pisa - Chiesa e Convento di Sant Anna - Chiesa E Convento Di Sant Anna in Pisa on the Tuscan coast
Italy - 5 great hotels - Recommended hotels in Rome, Florence, Turin and Milan
Florence - Duomo Cuppola and Campanile - Cathedral Cuppola and Campanile in Florence
Florence - Arno waterfront in the early evening - View of the Arno river running through Florence in the early evening light
Florence - Ponte Vecchio straddling the Arno - Trinket on sale in front of Florences famous Ponte Vecchio bridge
Italy - 5 great restaurants - Recommended places to stay dine in Rome, Florence and Venice
Milan - Detail of the Cathedral - Detail of the exterior of the Cathedral in Milan
Florence Duomo - detail of the exterior - Detail of the exterior of the Florence Duomo
San Gimignano - Pieve di Santa Maria Assunta - Historical notes on and about the Pieve di Santa Maria Assunta in San Gimignano
Mark Sukhija is a travel and wine blogger, photographer, tourism researcher, hat-touting, white-shirt-wearing, New Zealand fantatic and eclipse chaser. Aside from at least annual visits to New Zealand, Mark has seen eclipses in South Australia (2002), Libya (2006), China (2009) and Queensland (2012). After twelve years in Switzerland, Mark moved back to London in 2012. You can follow Mark on Twitter or Facebook