The 12 Best Italian holidays

Lake Garda is the largest of northern Italy's four lakes, with rugged cliffs that sweep down to small beaches. Quiet cafés fringe Lake Como; Lake Maggiore harbours palm-lined lakeside resorts, while Lake Orta is small but charming. Residence Canevini is just 500 yards from Torri del Benaco, one of the prettier places on Lake Garda

1 The lakes

Lake Garda is the largest of northern Italy's four lakes, with rugged cliffs that sweep down to small beaches. Quiet cafés fringe Lake Como; Lake Maggiore harbours palm-lined lakeside resorts, while Lake Orta is small but charming. Residence Canevini is just 500 yards from Torri del Benaco, one of the prettier places on Lake Garda. There is a restaurant, bar, children's play area and shared swimming pool. Prices start at £769 for a two-bedroom apartment, sleeping four to five people plus a baby. Prices are per property and include one week's car hire. Milan and Turin airports are best if you are visiting Lakes Maggiore, Como or Orta, while Verona airport is most suitable for Lake Garda. The Individual Travellers Company (tel: 08700 772 772; www.indiv-travellers.com).

2 Castello di Tornano

Stay in the historic Castello di Tornano, set on the crest of a hill in the southern part of Chianti. The buildings, comprising medieval tower, farmhouse, an independent stone cottage and a swimming pool that was once the moat, date back 1,000 years and have been fully restored. There is a restaurant, chapel, laundry room and a lake for fishing on the estate. Prices start at £335 for one week in an apartment sleeping two; this does not include flights, cleaning bills, meals or heating in winter months. Bridgewater's Idyllic Italy (tel: 0161 703 3000; www.bridgewater-travel.co.uk).

3 Orient Express

The Express train journey begins in Boulogne and travels through France, Switzerland and Austria and stops in Verona before arriving in Venice the next day. The classic journey from London Victoria to Venice, including a private overnight cabin, all table meals, transfers and return flight to Gatwick costs £1,290 per person. Accommodation in Venice is not included. Exclusive Destinations (tel: 01892 619 650; www.exclusivedestinations.co.uk).

4 Painting in Sicily

The holiday is designed for all levels of ability and the course covers painting, sketching, landscape, figure and architectural subjects and is led by resident tutor Andrew Brownfoot. Non-painting partners are welcome. Located in Selinunte on the south-west coast of Sicily, the holiday costs £320 per person per week and includes b&b accommodation, tuition and airport transfers, but not flights. Contact Andrew Brownfoot's office (tel: 00 39 0924 44583) for reservations. For more information on painting holidays order the Painting Holiday Directory, price £5.00 (tel: 01830 540 215; mwells@nmm.ac.uk).

5 Sardinia

Along with white sandy beaches, the Mediterranean's second largest island includes prehistoric towers and settlements called "nuraghi". Inland, tiny villages are overshadowed by spectacular mountain scenery. A seven-day self-catering break starts from £475 for two including car hire. Weekly hotel prices start from £259 per person including breakfast. Flights are not included. Long Travel (tel: 01694 722 193; www.long-travel.co.uk).

6 Pompeii tour

The Pompeii and Herculaneum tour explores the ruins of the two cities and visits the displays at Naples Archaeological Museum. Accommodation is at the first-class Grand Hotel Ambasciatori in Sorrento. The tour dates are 13 to 20 November and costs £895 per person, including return flights to Naples, a tour manager, half board, excursions and transfers. ACE Study Tours (tel: 01223 835055; www.study-tours.org).

7 Spa treatments

The Hotel Poseidon is a family-run, four-star hotel situated in the terraced resort of Positano on the Amalfi coast. The facilities include a beauty centre, with a Turkish bath, jacuzzi, a fully equipped gym and massages and facials. Prices start at £749 per person for one week's b&b based on two people sharing, and include flights from London to Naples and car hire. Expressions Holiday (tel: 020-7435 2525; www.expressionsholiday.co.uk).

8 Rome

One of the most luxurious hotels in Rome is the Majestic, where prices start at £813 per person for one week's b&b. One week's b&b at Hotel Edera start at £481 per person. Citalia (tel: 020-8686 5533; www.citalia.co.uk).

9 Wine in Perugia

For a taste of Italian wines stay at La Francescana on the edge of Perugia. Some of the country's best wines are produced here and enthusiasts can visit the wine and olive oil museums in Torgiano. La Francescana is a stone-built house accommodating up to 10 people, with a children's play area near the swimming pool. Prices start at £640 per week and include everything except travel and heating in the cooler months. Summer Leases (tel: 01628 675377; www.summerleases.com).

10 Florence

Florence's many museums, galleries and chapels house some of the world's most famous works of art, and the city centre is a haven for big spenders with its clothes shops around Via del Tornabuoni and Via dei Calzaiuoli. The Hotel Ariele was built as a Florentine home in a pleasant residential area and is a 15-minute walk along the embankment of the River Arno to the city centre. Prices start at £429 per person sharing a twin room for one week's b&b. Citalia (tel: 020-8686 5533; www.citalia.co.uk).

11 Milan

The heart of the city is dominated by the world's largest Gothic cathedral, the Duomo, while the 15th-century convent of Santa Maria Delle Grazie houses da Vinci's The Last Supper. Nearby is La Scala, the renowned opera house with the largest stage in Europe. If you are unable to buy tickets for a performance, be sure to visit its museum. Located in the heart of Milan is the Ariston: prices start at £506 per person based on two sharing for one week, including return flights and breakfast. Cresta (tel: 0870 1610900).

12 Genoa cruise

The luxury liner European Vision starts its first journey on 1 July 2001 in Genoa, stopping in the Greek islands of Katakolan and Mykonos, Kusadasi in Turkey and on to Naples before returning to Genoa. Passengers have the option to stay in Genoa. Prices start at £699 per person for seven days, based on two sharing a cabin. This includes return flights, transfers to the ship and full-board accommodation, activities and entertainment. Festival Cruises (tel: 020-7340 0005).

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