“Makes me want to pack my bag and follow Van Allen’s alluring suggestions… she reveals an intimacy with Italy and a honed sense of adventure. Andiamo!”
—Frances Mayes, author of Under the Tuscan Sun
Discover Italy’s Best Places in the New 10th Anniversary Edition
This fully updated 10th Anniversary Edition of 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go is packed with new information. Susan Van Allen provides the best insider’s femme-friendly advice for sights, shopping, restaurants, and many new destinations and Golden Day itineraries to enhance your travel experiences in the Bel Paese.
Susan is your fun-loving, savvy-traveler girlfriend whispering in your ear, inspiring you to make your Italian dream vacation come true. Go along with her as she leads you up and down the boot to discover this extraordinary country where Venus (Vixen Goddess of Love and Beauty) and The Madonna (Nurturing Mother of Compassion) reign side-by-side. These pages, curated with passion, humor, and expert female tips, are guaranteed to lift you out of the flood of online information and make your travel planning easy and pleasurable.
Discover masterpieces of art that glorify womanly curves, join a cooking class taught by revered grandmas, shop for artisan treasures, ski the Dolomites, hike the Cinque Terre, or paint a Tuscan landscape. Make your trip a string of Golden Days by pairing your experience with the very best restaurant nearby, so sensual delights harmonize and you simply bask in the glow of bell’Italia.
Whatever your mood or budget, whether it’s your first or twenty-first visit, this brand new edition of 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go is a straight shot to the heart and soul of one of the world’s most beloved destinations.
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“It’s as if Van Allen has left us a trail of succulent ravioli crisscrossing the country, and we follow along gleefully, nibbling on one delightful, enlightening morsel after another.”
—Nan McElroy, author of Italy: Instructions for Use
“Forget throwing that coin in the fountain. No matter how many times you’ve been to Italy and think you know it, reading Susan Van Allen’s 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go almost guarantees a return trip. Now I must visit Siena, not for the Palio, but because it was here that St. Catherine bucked family expectations and proclaimed her commitment to Christ, thereby becoming a medieval woman to be reckoned with. Susan took her exhaustive research and whipped up a delightful book you’ll only put down long enough to check the flights to that fascinating country.”
—Carol Coviello-Malzone, author of Flavors of Rome: How What & Where to Eat in the Eternal City
Includes Budget Tips, Map, Online Resources, & Golden Days
Introduction to the 10th Anniversary Edition
A decade ago, when this book first hit the shelves, I couldn’t imagine the joys that would follow. I’m so grateful for the many travelers who’ve reached out to tell me that my advice added happiness to their Italian vacations, with new discoveries and enriching experiences. It’s been thrilling to open emails to find photos of women waving to me from a winery in Tuscany, enjoying chocolate at my favorite shop in Venice, or biking Rome’s Appian Way.
All this enthusiasm inspired me to see my words in action and create Golden Weeks in Italy: For Women Only tours. It’s been wonderful to share “My Italy” with women and for all of us to fall under that magic spell the country has on us females, which is what inspired me to write this book in the first place.
It’s been a pleasure to refresh and expand this book, adding new places I’ve grown to love over the years—from charming small towns to artisan shops, restaurants, and spas. As the beautiful journey continues, let’s keep in touch through the ever-expanding channels our world of social media brings us.
With heartfelt gratitude to all you readers and travelers, I send you all my best wishes for your adventures in Italy.
—Susan Van Allen
I — THE DIVINE:GODDESSES, SAINTS, AND THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY
The Campidoglio, Roman Forum, and Palatine Hill
The Pietà, Saint Peter’s Basilica–Rome
Santa Maria Churches–Rome
Churches Dedicated to Female Saints–Rome
Bernini’s Beautiful Broads and the Galleria Borghese–Rome
Venuses, Madonnas, and Judith at the Uffizi–Florence
Santa Maria Novella—Florence
Mary’s Sacred Girdle and Salome Dancing–Prato, Tuscany
Museum of the Madonna del Parto–Monterchi, Tuscany
City of Saint Catherine–Siena, Tuscany
Town of Saint Margaret–Cortona, Tuscany
Santa Maria Churches–Venice
Madonnas by Titian, Bellini, and Tintoretto–Venice
The Scrovegni Chapel–Padua, Veneto
Venus of the Beautiful Buttocks and Other Museo Archeologico Nazionale Treasures–Naples
Cloister of Santa Chiara–Naples
Cave of the Cumaean Sibyl–Cumae, Campania
Goddesses and Madonnas–Palermo
Nymphs, Goddesses, and Santa Lucias–Ortygia, Sicily
Temple of Segesta–Sicily
II — VILLE, PALAZZI, AND AN APARTMENT
The Costume Gallery at the Pitti Palace–Florence
The Peggy Guggenheim Collection–Venice
Villa Valmarana Ai Nani–Vicenza, Veneto
Palazzo Ducale–Mantua, Lombardy
The Royal Apartments in Palazzo Reale–Turin, Piedmont
Oplontis–Torre Annunziata, Campania
Villa Romana del Casale–Sicily
III — GARDENS
Villa d’Este–Tivoli, Lazio
The Park of the Monsters–Bomarzo, Lazio
Gardens Outside Florence–Tuscany
The Tarot Garden–Capalbio, Tuscany
Villa Cimbrone–Ravello, Campania
Parchi di Nervi–Liguria
Gardens of the Isole Borromee–Piedmont
Giardino della Minerva—Salerno, Campania
IV — BEACHES
Forte dei Marmi–Tuscany
Santa Teresa di Gallura–Sardinia
V — BEAUTY TREATMENTS AND SPAS
Hair Salons and Spas
Grand Hotel Abano Terme–Veneto
Masseria Torre Maizza–Puglia
VI — INDULGE YOUR TASTEBUDS
VII — SHOPPING
Embroidery and Lace
VIII — ACTIVE ADVENTURES
IX — COOKING CLASSES
Cooking in Rome
Morning at the Market–Florence
Cooking with Chef Patrizia—Venice
Cook in Milano
Tuscan Women Cook–Montefollonico, Tuscany
Mamma Agata Cooking School–Ravello
Cooking in Tropea–Calabria
X — LEARN ITALIAN CRAFTS AND CULTURE
Mosaics at Cassio Workshop—Rome
Maskmaking at Tragicomica–Venice
International School of Ceramic Art–Deruta, Umbria
Landscape Painting–Buonconvento, Tuscany
Giuditta Brozzetti Weaving and Embroidery Workshop–Perugia, Umbria
Art Restoration Workshop—Puglia
Italian Language Classes
XI — BE ENTERTAINED
XII — ADVICE FROM WRITERS
Mary Taylor Simeti
XIII — LA FAMIGLIA EXPERIENCES
Places for Children
An Italian Wedding
Go Find Your Mammas
Tips for Italian Travel
Budget Travel Tips
Calendar of Madonna Holidays and Female Saints’ Feast Days
About the Author
Chapter 1. The Campidoglio, Roman Forum, and Palatine Hill
You’ll never forget your first time. You’ll be walking along or speeding in a cab from the airport and then will appear… the Colosseum…the Arco di Tito…the whole glorious spread of jaw-dropping triumph and ruin.
It’s a place to let your imagination run wild. Picture women rattling tambourines in torch-lit processions, chariots carrying tanned muscular men in togas to the baths.
Goddesses’ temples, Empresses’ tombs, and churches dedicated to the Virgin Mary are all to be discovered in the thousand-plus years of history that surrounds you. It’s impossible to absorb it all in one shot. Hiring a good guide is best since hardly any of the sculptures and ruins are marked. Or just stroll around and surrender to your fantasies.
Here are some places where women take center stage:
The Michelangelo-designed piazza is a perfect place to begin, where Minerva (just behind Marcus Aurelius) sits on a throne holding her mighty spear. To either side of her are the Capitoline Museums, packed with sculptures of characters who once roamed the area surrounding you.
In the Palazzo Nuovo (museum to the left of Minerva) head to the first-floor hallway to see The Capitoline Venus. She’s featured in a sunlit niche, posed as Venus Pudica (modest Venus), with one hand over her breast, the other covering her Cupid’s cloister. Yes, she’s modest, but also teasing, as if to say: “Look what I’m hiding…”
Venus was the deity who flitted from passion to passion. She was married to Vulcan, God of Fire, but even the best couple’s counselor couldn’t have kept this beauty tied to that angry, crippled god. Venus had hot affairs with Mars (God of War), the devastatingly handsome Adonis, and disguised herself as a mortal for trysts with men she found attractive. Every year she bathed herself in the sea from which she was born to renew her virginity.
In the same hallway, you’ll see a statue of a Roman Woman Dressed As Venus (hardly dressed), proving how closely Romans associated themselves with the Goddess. The Roman woman breaks out of the Modest Venus pose, standing proud and naked with one hand on her hip. For a laugh further down the hall, check out the Drunken Old Woman, who’s crouched, laughing, and guzzling a jug of wine.
The Roman Forum
Here in the ongoing archaeological excavation, is the Temple of the Vestal Virgins, now rows of pillars with remains of female statues.
The Cult of Vesta, Goddess of Hearth and Home, was the oldest of the Ancient world. SOme say this cult still exists in modern Italy, where la famiglia remains the country’s core.
The upside for the Vestals, in a time when women didn’t have that much freedom, was that they could come and go as they pleased and got perks all over town, like special seats at games and festivals. The downside was gruesome: if they let Vesta’s flame go out they’d be flogged and if they had sex with anyone they’d be buried alive.
The Palatine Hill
Walking up from the Forum, you come to this pretty and serene place, where Romulus (great grandson of Venus) chose to begin the city. It went on to become the Beverly Hills of Ancient Rome, where noble palaces were built. In the sixteenth century the Farnese family created gardens here, so you can wander through rows of boxwood shrubs, cypress trees, laurel and rose bushes, and enjoy lovely views of the sights below.
As for the palaces, the Home of Augustus is now open to the public, but be prepared to wait in a long line to see the emperor’s frescos unless you get there when the site opens. His wife Livia’s house is closed for restoration, but the Palatine is still a great place to fantasize about the grand days of Livia and Augustus, who ruled Rome for forty-five years, bringing the city into its Golden Age.
Back in 39 B.c., just after Julius Caesar’s assassination, Livia was a beautiful nineteen-year-old, married to the much older Tiberius Claudius Nero, and pregnant with their second child. Along came Octavius, a rising star on the military scene, married with a pregnant wife. Octavius fell in love with Livia, divorced his wife the day she gave birth, and married the pregnant Livia. Livia’s husband gave her away at the ceremony, even throwing in a dowry. It turned out to be a good political move for all involved and in those days the citizenry didn’t even blink over it.
Octavius became Emperor Caesar Augustus and ruled Rome with his perfect mate Livia, who took charge of all the biz at home when he set off to conquer distant lands. Livia was an exemplary Roman wife. She was famously chaste, “worked wool” (made her husband’s togas), and never showed off with fancy jewelry or dress. The couple lived simply here throughout their fifty-one years of marriage, with Livia putting up with philandering Augustus, who was known for his S&M exploits. Together they revived Rome, restoring monuments in the Forum and building new ones throughout the city.
Livia’s become famous in fiction, particularly through Robert Graves’ I Claudius, where she’s portrayed as a conniving woman who poisoned potential heirs to make sure her family line would inherit the throne. Whatever version of the story you believe, Livia’s descendants did end up ruling Rome. She died at the ripe old age of eighty-six and was honored as Diva Augusta. Her image was revered in the streets that surround you, carried in celebrations by elephant drawn carriages.
To get a more vivid experience of Livia’s life- style, head to the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, near the Termini station. The entire garden room of her suburban villa has been moved to the top floor of this museum, so you can stand in the midst of amazing frescos that feature a harmonious, abundant landscape of trees, flowers, and birds.
TIPS: Don’t go to the Forum between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., the heaviest tourist times. The museums, on the other hand, are rarely crowded, and in addition to the Palazzo Nuovo, the Palatine Museum, with its mosaics and sculptures, is a good choice. To
avoid lines, you can make reservations in advance and also get tickets for the House of Augustus and Casa di Livia at www.coopculture.it.
Capitoline Museums: Tuesday through Sunday. 9:30-7:30 (www.museicapitolini.org).
Roman Forum and Palatine Hill: Daily 8:30 until one hour before sunset. Check the website (www.coopculture.it) for opening times of House of Augustus and Casa di Livia.
Palazzo Massimo alle Terme: Largo di Villa Peretti 1 (near Termini), Tuesday-Sunday 9-7:30, www.coopculture.it.
Golden Day: Time your visit so you’ll be on the Palatine Hill at sunset, then head to Terre e Domus Enoteca della Provincia for an aperitivo. This is an excellent, modern-styled restaurant and wine bar that features products of the Lazio region, facing Trajan’s Column. (Via Foro Traiano 82, 066 994 0273, lunch and dinner reservations essential, open daily 7:30 a.m.-midnight).
For the best guided small group tours, contact Context Travel.
A Traveller in Rome by H. V. Morton
SPQR, A History of Ancient Rome by Mary Beard
Susan Van Allen
has written about Italian travel for National Public Radio, AFAR, National Geographic Traveler, Tastes of Italia,
and many other publications. She has also written for TV, on the staff of Everybody Loves Raymond
. Along with writing, she designs and hosts Golden Weeks in Italy: For Women Only Tours. When she’s not traveling off to Italy, she lives in Los Angeles with her husband.