Italy: From top to toe, it's a bumper year in the Boot

Celebrate Palladio and Puccini's birthdays, or learn football from a World Cup star. Sarah Barrell reveals what's new in Italy

This year promises to be a good one for those bound for the Boot. For a start, it's Palladio year (andreapalladio500.it). The father of neo-classical architecture was born 500 years ago in November, and to celebrate there will be events held across the Veneto, where he designed many of his grand palazzi and churches. Highlights include a string of summer concerts staged in his villas, and an exhibition featuring many of Palladio's original drawings, at the Palazzo Barbaran da Porto, in Vicenza from 20 September. If you miss the exhibition, you can catch it at London's Royal Academy in 2009.

Archaeology and architecture tours continue to grow in popularity, with companies looking for new takes on old designs. A trip with a difference is launched this year by White Hat Tours (020-7771 2681; whitehattours. com). This cultural specialist operator offers small group tours to Italian cities and towns and has recently added the Modern Rome tour to its programme. Aimed at clients who have seen the traditional sites and are looking for something new, this tour takes in sights that have been key to the development of the city since it was declared the capital of unified Italy in 1870.

If you remain more of a traditionalist, Rome unveils some ancient treasures this year (romaturismo.it). On Palatine Hill, the fresco-covered palace of Rome's first emperor, Augustus, will be partially reopened on 2 March after years of tricky restoration. Not to be missed are two patrician villas that have been unearthed beneath the Palazzo Valentini, near the Forum. Each has stunning mosaic flooring and the adjacent museum brings to life these rich Roman households with retrieved artefacts and clever multimedia reconstructions.

Another virtual tour of old Rome can be found at the Teatro Colosseo, called Rewind Rome. Due to open on 21 April, is a virtual reconstruction of ancient Rome, which allows tourists to walk in the city's streets as they were in AD320.

Andante Travels (01722 713800; andantetravels.co.uk) takes its archaeology tours into new territory this year. A new Bare Bones lecturer-led tour heads into the increasingly popular region of Puglia, visiting Lecce, the best-preserved baroque city in the Mediterranean, Gravina, and a former Roman and Iron Age settlement.

Dwellings of a more modern kind made the news in Puglia this year. One of the masserie (farmhouses) on the books of southern Italian specialist Long Travel (01694 722193, long-travel.co.uk) was awarded the region's first EU eco-tourism label for contributions to sustainable tourism and environmental issues. And a new addition to the accommodation scene, Italian Hideaways (0845 602 5836; italianhideaways.co.uk) has just launched a deluxe villa near Bergamo offering short breaks with tuition in regional cookery.

Back down south, more areas are getting attention from Italian tour operators, including Basilicata and the second smallest Italian region of Molise. There are some unique accommodation options here for real Italophiles – who will get more out of the area with their basic grasp of the language and an appetite for less obvious Italian pleasures. For example, you can stay in a hotel set in a beautifully restored cave dwelling in Matera on the undeveloped Basilicata coast (with Long Travel).

A growing trend in Italian holiday accommodation is upscale agriturismo or farmhouse holidays. These rural retreats are becoming more focused on high-quality family holidays with extras such as cooking courses offered on site. Children can learn how to make classic Italian fare such as pasta and tiramisu on a half-day cookery course on Montestigliano farm estate near Siena. The kids head out into the grounds to gather herbs, fruit and vegetables before cooking it all up and serving to parents. Self-catering properties are dotted around the estate, which also has two pools, a restaurant and often stages summer concerts. For more information contact Invitation to Tuscany (0845 838 7421, invitationtotuscany.com).

Another novel addition to the farmhouse scene is Poggio Cennina (poggiocennina.it) in Chianti, an agriturismo run by ex-footballer Paolo Rossi, who conducts a summer soccer school for guests. Neighbouring Case del Borgo (lecasedelborgo.com) is a glorious new spa hotel set over 14 farmhouse buildings surrounded by vines. The best thing about this place is that the cooking is done by one of eight Tuscan Mamas, a rotating team of local women from villages in the surrounding Ambra valley.

Inntravel (01653 617906; inntravel.co.uk) has responded to the growing market in holidays for more adventurous families with a dedicated family programme including walking itineraries, self-catering accommodation and hotel stays. Long-established walking specialist operator Ramblers Worldwide Holidays (01707 386766; ramblersfamilyadventures.co.uk) is also launching its first dedicated family holidays brochure this month, which includes a walking holiday around the Sorrento peninsula.

Further north, there will be celebrations to mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of Giacomo Puccini. The new Puccini Grand Theatre is the place to see performances of Tosca, Turandot and Madama Butterfly, inaugurated in his birthplace, Torre del Lago, on the Tuscan coast near Viareggio, during this summer's Puccini Festival (puccinifestival.it). Meanwhile, La Bohème is being performed this July at La Scala in Milan (teatroallascala.org).

And finally, something that is long overdue: a five-star hotel comes to Genoa. Many feel affection for this scruffy port city whose architectural and gastronomic delights are present, if veiled and unpolished, but few praise the city's hotels. That is until now. The new Bentley Hotel (thi.it) is located right in the city centre in what used to be the headquarters of Ilva, Italy's biggest iron and steel manufacturer. This imposing 1920s building comes with 99 slick, modern rooms, a restaurant serving regional Ligurian dishes and art by contemporary Italian artists.

Further browsing: Contact the Italian National Tourist Board (enit.it)

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
fashionHealth concerns and 'pornified' perceptions have made women more conscious at the beach
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmHe was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
footballA colourful discussion on tactics, the merits of the English footballer and rebuilding Manchester United
Life and Style
Sainsbury's could roll the lorries out across its whole fleet if they are successful
tech
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Travel
The shipping news: a typical Snoozebox construction
travelSpending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette
filmHow live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Day In a Page

    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
    Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
    Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

    Feather dust-up

    A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
    5 best waterproof cameras

    Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

    Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
    Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

    Louis van Gaal interview

    Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
    Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

    Will Gore: Outside Edge

    The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz