Under The Italian Sun
Just as a great Italian meal is all about balancing flavours, so too is a great Italian expedition. This 250-mile route is a case in point, tracing the shores of the Ligurian Sea before heading up towards Italy’s most style-conscious metropolis, Milan. The journey even incorporates the road from Portofino to Portofino Vetta, a stretch ranked as high as 19th in the World’s Best Driving Roads table. And where better to begin an Italian car-hire escape than at the country’s most recognisable building – the Leaning Tower?
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Synonymous with its tilting medieval bell tower, Pisa often gets seen as a one-trick town. Explore further, however, and you’ll discover one of Tuscany’s finest cities. The tower sits in a square known as Campo dei Miracoli (Field of Miracles) and is surrounded by a millennium-old cathedral, a large Baptistry and one of the world’s great cemeteries, the Camposanto. Elsewhere, take time to call in at Cioccolato De Bondt for high-quality chocolate then seek out US artist Keith Haring’s final work, a vast street-art mural. Following the coast for 89 miles, you’ll reach Portofino.
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Portofino is a small place with a big reputation. One of the jewels of the Italian Riviera, the fishing village benefits from a setting in a steep, cypress-lined bay. Yachts still cluster in the harbour year round, and there’s an exclusive feel to the shops and restaurants. Try for a table at the waterside Ristorante Puny (said to be where Richard Burton proposed to Elizabeth Taylor) then head up to Castello Brown, a castle-turned-museum, for the ocean views. Drive along the looping, climbing road up to Portofino Vetta (the word translates as “summit”). This is one of Italy’s most enjoyable driving experiences. After negotiating more than 60 bends, you’ll find yourself 420 metres above sea level. Panoramas aside, it’s also a good base for trekking to other parts of the headland. Back behind the wheel, a journey of 1 hour 45 minutes takes you inland to the city of Piacenza.
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Founded by the Romans, Piacenza sits in the fertile Emilia Romagna region. Like all good Italian cities, it’s well stocked with cultural and culinary attractions. Visit the excellent Ricci Oddi Modern Art Museum, have a meal at the Osteria Santo Stefano and tour the Palazzo Farnese. Call in too at the central square, Piazza Cavalli, where you’ll find an 800-year-old town hall. From Piacenza, it’s a straightforward hour-long drive into Lombardy and on to Milan.
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This is a big year for Milan. The city – home to Fashion Week, Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Last Supper and the San Siro – is hosting Expo 2015. A vast international showcase running from May to October, it expects to attract some 20 million visitors. The event’s theme is “feeding the planet, energy for life”. Among Milan’s countless other diversions, try label-shopping at Galleria Vittoria Emanuele, savouring the view from the roof of the Duomo or visiting the 1930s-built Villa Necchi Campiglio, the setting for the Tilda Swinton film Io Sono L’Amore (I Am Love).
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