The top ten must-do must-see in Italy

Stay in a trullo in Puglia, cycle along the Sicilian coast, or just chill out in the Dolomites. Claudia Pritchard uncovers what's new for travellers to Italy


1 . The streets are paved with art

You do not have to be a believer to appreciate the devotion, skill and sheer beauty of the religious art that dominates the vast collection of the newly extended Galleria Nazionale dell'Umbria housed, since 1878, in the Palazzo dei Priori on Perugia's main thoroughfare, the Corso Vannucci. The street itself is dedicated to one of the artists whose works are among highlights of the 40 rooms arranged over two floors, some of the space recently reclaimed from administrative offices so that more pieces than ever before are on view. The innovative work of Pietro Vannucci, better known as Perugino, is hung beside paintings by Arnolf di Cambio, the Pisanos (father Nicola and son Giovanni), Duccio di Buoninsegna, Gentile da Fabriano, Fra Angelico, Orazio Gentileschi and Piero della Francesca. Start on the fourth floor and work down to the third, where the stars of the show are in Rooms 22 to 26. Perugino's Madonna della Consolazione (1496-1498), is one of the prizes.

Contact: Galleria Nazionale dell'Umbria, Corso Vannucci, Perugia. Admission: 8.30am-7.30pm, Tues-Sun. Closed 1 May, Christmas, New Year's Day; adults €6.50 (£4.40), free for under-18s and over-65s (00 39 075 574 1410; gallerianazionaleumbria.it/info-generali.html).

2 . A dazzling new hotel

If the chandelier at the Hotel Wagner in Palermo looks familiar, that is because it is a dazzling feature of the great ballroom scene in the film of The Leopard, in which Burt Lancaster brought to screen the character of Don Fabrizio Corbera, Prince of Salina, created by Lampedusa in his personal tale of fading nobility in a changing, newly democratic Sicily. Such lavish details are characteristic of this restored palazzo of the early 1900s, just opened as a hotel in its latest incarnation; it started life as a private family home and has passed from hand to hand. There are 50 rooms, 12 suites, a gym and a rooftop terrace. Named after the composer who stayed in Palermo to preside over opera seasons in 1881 and 1882, the hotel enjoys a close relationship with the nearby Teatro Massimo, with special offers for a ticket and overnight stay.

Contact: Grand Hotel Wagner, Via R Wagner2, 90139 Palermo (00 39 091 336572; grandhotelwagner.it). Double rooms start at €210 (£150) to €450 (£320) for a Senior Suite per night, based on two sharing, and including breakfast.

3 . Take a trulli round trip

The restoration of traditional trulli is a passion for Ray and Angie Long, whose travel company features several of these eye-catching conical clusters for self-catering in Puglia. New on the books this year are Trullo Mandorla and Trullo Zingaro, two "semi-detached" homes that can be taken individually, or that could be taken by friends or family travelling together. The circular buildings can only be restored in accordance with strict planning restrictions about dimensions and materials. Local trullisti specialise in recreating the intricately layered roofs, while walls up to a metre thick are reconstructed with a local limestone hand-cut to size. Mandorla has two double bedrooms, Zingaro, one double bedroom. Both overlook gardens studded with fruit trees and nut trees, and have views of open country. The trulli are two kilometres from the historic town of Cisternino, on a hill between the Adriatic coast and Itrai valley. Like the more famous Alberobello, the area surrounding Cisternino is dotted with dazzlingly white trulli, but is much less touristy. Sights include the Norma Porta Grande. Wood-burning stoves and mosquito nets are on standby, depending on the weather.

Contact: Prices at Trullo Mandorla and Trullo Zingaro start from £695 per property, per week, including car hire, through Long Travel (01694 722367; long-travel.co.uk). Nearest airports are Brindisi and Bari; Long Travel can arrange flights from £161.

4 . Take your seats in the garden

Palladio's neoclassical basilica presides over the waterfront on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore, just across the water from St Mark's Square. But those who venture further inland on the Venetian island come across an unexpected moment of magic, an open-air theatre buried in the heart of a cypress garden. First built in 1954, the theatre comes back to life this summer with a programme of cultural events for the summer prefaced by seven performances a week of Strauss's three-act operetta, A Night in Venice. The womanising Duke of Urbino is bent on making some notable conquests during carnival, but the Venetian society he hopes to break into has other plans for him.

Contact: Teatro Verde, Isola di San Giorgio Maggiore. A Night in Venice: Tues-Sun at 9.30pm and also at 5pm on Sat and Sun. Tickets: €59-€99 (£40-£67), plus €79 (£53) for a VIP package which includes fizz and canapes, programme, CD, and access to an exclusive area.

5 . Get about the green way

A two-centre holiday does not have to involve double the flying. The greener option, and certainly the more relaxing, is to go by ferry from destination A to destination B. Among many new routes in an expanding travel market this year is a service from Barcelona to Rome launched by the Spanish line Acciona Trasmediterranea last month. The boat leaves six nights out of seven at 7pm and the crossing takes 20 hours, docking at Civitavecchia, where a minibus speeds passengers into the heart of Rome in around an hour. Also new to the water is the Venezia Lines high-speed ferry from Bari to Durres in Albania, which makes the crossing in three and a half hours, cutting the car ferry's time by at least half. Corsica and Sardinia Ferries has new routes from Savona to Calvi in Corsica, and Piombino to Golfo Aranci in Sardinia.

Contact: Visit ferrylines. com for new and existing routes throughout Europe and beyond.

6 . Breath five-star mountain air

Get maximum value from the pure mountain air at the new five-star Alpenpalace Hotel and Spa resort in San Giovanni di Valle Aurina, also known as St Johann in Arhntal, in the Alto Adige/South Tyrol. Bracing walks in the Dolomites come free; the many other outdoor activities on offer include paragliding, horse-riding, fishing and golf. The spa itself offers open-air and indoor swimming pools, children's pool and whirlpool, sauna, Tyrolean stube, Turkish bath, herb and salt-water bath, solarium and beauty treatments. Then you can undo all the good work with a five or seven-course blowout. All the comfortably appointed rooms have balconies with views.

Contact: Alpenpalace Hotel and Spa, 1-39030 St Johann in Arhntal (00 39 0474 670230; alpenpalace.com). Room and breakfast costs from €99 (£67) per person, based on two sharing, Wellness packages from €114 (£77).

7 . Slow down and taste the food

Eataly is the name of a culinary initiative in Turin designed to introduce local people and visitors alike to fine food at affordable prices and also, in collaboration with the Slow Food movement, to reintroduce some of the traditional methods lost in the fast pace of city life. Opened in February after four years of planning, Eataly is, appropriately, in the old Carpano vermouth factory, a listed building on Via Nizza. There is also a vermouth museum on the site. Masterclasses are given by chefs who will share professional tips on cooking with lamb, for example, or peppers, and there is a main gourmet restaurant and a number of specialist eateries dedicated to fish, meat, cold meats, ice cream, bread and pasta. Also on offer from small outlets are at least 14 types of bread, 200 cheeses, 50 types of coffee and wine from €1.80 a litre.

Contact: Eataly, Via Nizza 230, Turin (00 39 011 19 50 6811; eatalytorino.it), Tues-Sun.

8 . A tribute to Carlo Ponti

Sophia Loren honours her husband of 50 years, the film director Carlo Ponti, in the opening ceremony of the Tuscan Sun Festival in Cortona in a concert conducted by her son Carlo Ponti Jnr. The film actress scored a triumph for Italian women and older women everywhere posing for January in this year's Pirelli Calendar at the age of 72. Less well known is her work in therapy for young people through the arts, in association with the Russian National Orchestra. The orchestra is conducted by Carlo Ponti Jnr on Saturday 4 August in the Piazza Signorelli, with Nina Kotova, cello soloist, featuring in a programme to be announced. Full details come at the end of the month, when booking opens. Also appearing at the Tuscan Sun Festival are the pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet, first as soloist with the Russian orchestra and then in recital with mezzo-soprano Angelika Kirchschlager, violinist Joshua Bell and the Takas Quartet at the Teatro Signorelli. Art, literature and the table are also celebrated in Cortona, where accommodation books up quickly during the festival fortnight. Early birds do best.

Contact: Tuscan Sun Festival, 4-19 August, Corona, Tuscany (00 39 338 6966 231; festivaldelsole.com).

9. Culture, and make it quick

Italy without opera would be as unthinkable as Italy without football, but productions can be a long drawn-out affair for the time-strapped tourist. Piccola Lirica addresses that with its pocket-sized productions that are all over in 90 minutes.Its Tosca is at the Teatro Flaiano until 27 May. Contact: Teatro Flaiano, Via San Stefano del Cacco 15, 00186 Rome (00 39 679 6496, Thursday to Sunday; piccolalirica.com).

10. Coast along on your bike

Work off Sicily's Arabian-influenced dishes between destinations by cycling along the west coast. Headwater has launched its new cycle holiday and you can set out most Saturdays in April, May and June, and again in September and October. Contact: Sicily Coastal Cycling with Headwater, (01606 720033; headwater.com). From £1,054 per person, based on two sharing, including return flights from Heathrow to Palermo via Milan and half-board.

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