The reputation of Italy has long been burnished with a romantic luster. Contributing to this are the country’s musical language, love of art and all things beautiful, and the passion and love of life of the Italian people. When you visit what are considered to be the most romantic places in Italy, all this comes into focus.
Of course, the concept of romance is highly subjective. A painting, a perfect cappuccino in a cobbled square, the fragrance of lemon trees on a summer breeze—but whatever makes you weak at the knees is likely to be found in Italy.
With that in mind, here’s a selection of 13 Italian destinations imbued with that certain je ne sais quoi.
Villa Borghese, Rome
Rome is one of the most romantic cities in Italy. From the classics like the Trevi Fountain to the dusk gathering in the pines of Parco Savello, it’s a city that offers as many opportunities for romance as it does architectural and historic treasures.
Ensuring that you don’t have to swap one for the other is Villa Borghese, Rome’s central garden.
Located at the top of the Spanish Steps—one of the most famous landmarks in Rome—it’s nearly 200 acres of follies, villas, and statues scattered across a lovely landscaped park. While clearly perfect for a picnic or a walk, Villa Borghese offers much more than just delightful grounds.
Contained within its footprint are the world’s smallest cinema, Cinema dei Piccoli; a replica of London’s Globe Theater; and the Borghese Gallery, the walls of which are home to numerous old masters such as Caravaggio, Raffaello, and Bernini.
After engaging with these stirring artistic treasures, hire a row boat and cross to the Temple of Asclepius while, overhead, murmurations of starlings course through the sky above you.
Grand Canal, Venice
One of the most romantic cities in the world, Venice has attained an almost mythical status as a destination for lovers.
It’s along the canals that fragment this beautiful Italian city into its tiny island-districts that you’ll find the ideal of Venetian romance at its most concentrated.
You step lightly from the stone quayside onto your flat-bottomed gondola before being gently propelled along the slinking waterways while your gondolier serenades you in Italian.
And while the intimacy of the smaller canals is wonderful, there’s quite the contrast to be experienced as you emerge into the hubbub of the Grand Canal. This main artery is transformed into an impressionist painting at sunset, with its daily traffic reduced, and the intricate stonework of the waterfront palazzi burnished a warm orange.
Have your gondolier navigate you through the vaporetti until you alight, dressed for dinner, at the white tablecloths of Ristorante La Cupola.
Byron’s Grotto, Porto Venere
An intensely romantic location awaits in the “sixth Cinque Terre”, as UNESCO-listed Porto Venere is often called. It’s one of the most beautiful towns in the Italian Riviera.
This seaside village, located between Riomaggiore and the major port of La Spezia, offers many of the Cinque Terre’s charms but with reduced footfall in high season. It also offers Grotta di Byron (or “Byron’s Grotto”).
The 19th-century English romantic poets flocked to Italy. Lord Byron liked Porto Venere’s tower houses and handsome harbor so much that he remained for an extended stay.
Close to St. Peter’s Church on Porto Venere’s promenade, you’ll find steps leading down to Byron’s Grotto. From this now-collapsed cave, Byron famously swam across the Gulf of Spezia to visit his friends, the Shelleys, in Lerici. It’s also said that he would sit in the grotto and pen his immortal verse.
Compounding the area’s romantic reputation are the remains of a temple dedicated to the pagan equivalent of Venus which have been found in the cave’s vicinity.
Despite the cave’s collapse, this location, with its craggy terraces and Byronic and paganistic associations, remains one of the most romantic places in Italy.
Cala Goloritzé, Sardinia
Through a forest of oaks and strawberry trees, you follow a path that opens up to a view of a beach known as Cala Goloritzé, easily one of the most romantic places in Italy.
Sardinia’s incredible beaches make the island a favorite among holidaying Italians. Cala Goloritzé, found in the Gulf of Orosei, stands apart.
Not only is it trickier to reach, with no access for cars, it’s also been named an Italian National Monument. The daily visitor cap that this status endows ensures that this unique beach can’t become overcrowded.
As you emerge from the wooded path, you’ll spot Aguglia a Tramontana—the gleaming limestone pinnacle marking the beach’s location. Following the cliff path down, you’ll arrive at one of the most beautiful natural wonders in Italy, a scene of remarkable purity: a white pebble beach with a naturally formed stone arch that steps into the translucent water.
Isola Bella, Sicily
Isola Bella is both a beach and a tiny island found below the cliffs of the gorgeous Sicilian town of Taormina. A cable car connects the lively town with this hallowed coastal strip.
From above, you can make out this pebbly beach’s crescent connected via an isthmus to a karst islet (the origin of the beach’s name “beautiful island”).
Spend time on one of Sicily’s best beaches, listening to the lapping waves and absorbing the region’s natural good looks. At low tide, cross the land bridge to reach what was once the abode of one Florence Trevelyan.
A tale of thwarted romance wreaths this solitary place. Trevelyan relocated to Sicily after a curtailed affair with Queen Victoria’s son, Prince Edward. Banished, she built a new life in Taormina, first creating a botanical garden on Isola Bella before marrying the mayor and moving into a villa in the town.
The town’s park, a section of which was once her private garden, is another enduring monument to her gardening and folly-building skills. There is no evidence that Trevelyan felt any heartbreak about relocating her life from England to Sicily.
Duomo Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence
The graceful dome of the Duomo Santa Maria del Fiore, rising above the terracotta rooftops of Florence, is a breathtaking sight.
Europe’s fourth largest cathedral took several centuries to complete. An architectural and artistic triumph that rivals the statue of David brooding in the Accademia Gallery, the Duomo is a wonderful, almost transcendent visit that should be shared.
Once you’ve circumnavigated its shining multi-colored exterior, it’s time to step inside to admire the art of Florence. Tread breathlessly across the intricate marble inlay of the floors, and take in the majestic cupola adorned with religious frescos by Giorgio Vasari.
Get closer to the masterwork by ascending into Filippo Brunelleschi’s revolutionary, self-supporting dome. After 463 steps, you’ll reach a platform with views across Florence and into the Tuscan countryside.
Having reached the pinnacle of one of the most beautiful cathedrals in the world, you’ll understand why the Duomo is one of the most romantic places in Italy.
Read: Two Days in Florence
Marina Piccola Beach, Capri
Capri in Southern Italy is one of the Bel Paese’s beacons of glamor—an island of unassailable beauty and romance.
With its white limestone cliffs, al fresco restaurants ringed by the blue disc of the Tyrrhenian Sea, and the clifftop ruins of a Roman emperor’s palace to explore, it’s one of the best places to visit in Southern Italy for couples.
A quietly lovely corner of this island is the beach of Marina Piccola. Situated about midway along Capri’s southern edge, it sits at the entrance to a small, carbuncled peninsula that’s perfect for diving off into opal blue shallows. The area has been immortalized by Homer as the spot where Odysseus resisted the Sirens’ song.
After you’ve swam beneath the natural limestone arch found here and enjoyed the people-watching at the Italian beach, find a table at nearby Ristorante Le Sirene.
With your table adorned with Clints (Jackie O’s favorite cocktail, a concoction of Campari, vodka, orange, and soda) and bowls of outstanding seafood, relax while the sunset paints the soaring Faraglioni pinnacles.
Piazza dei Miracoli, Pisa
What makes the Piazza dei Miracoli one of the most romantic places in Italy? With the Leaning Tower one of the world’s most photographed sights, it’s inspiring to see the UNESCO-listed context in which the tower leans.
For the tower is only one of four extraordinary medieval edifices found in the so-called Square of Miracles, each constructed from the same gleaming white stone.
You’ll dash between the architectural east-west synergy of the haughty 11th-century cathedral; see Pisano’s Pulpit—the wellspring of Renaissance art—in the Baptistry; and, of course, climb the tilting tower that Italy is known for.
More contemplative is the fourth building—the Old Cemetery. Within its monastic footprint, you’ll find pre-Renaissance frescoes, Roman sarcophagi, and its interior courtyard, the grass shining emerald against the pale stonework of the colonnades.
It’s a wonderful place to linger and process the remarkable concentration of art and culture in this one-off piazza.
La Mortella, Ischia Island
A short ferry ride from Naples is the island of Ischia. A favorite vacation destination for Neapolitans, it has wide, golden beaches and impressive gelateria. It’s also the site of one of the most exotic gardens in Italy—La Mortella.
Arrayed across the island’s volcanic rocks, La Mortella is an intoxicating botanical garden with a steamy Amazonian feel. Wandering its verdant two acres brightened with unusual plantings, you’ll be immersed in a sensory journey.
Run your finger across the feathery tips of oriental maples, bend to sniff a silken orchid, and double-take at the fake crocodiles.
The brainchild of famed landscape architect Russell Page, La Mortella is no narcissus—it looks outward, with captivating views over the Bay of Florio, while also encouraging you to gaze upon its magnificence.
Bagni della Regina Giovanna, Sorrento
As the crammed roster for weddings at its Church of San Francesco indicates, the seaside town of Sorrento is a hub for romance. However, about a 40-minute stroll further along the Cape of Sorrento, you’ll reach one of the most romantic places in Italy.
Bagni della Regina Giovanna, a naturally formed swimming pool, is reached at the bottom of a flight of wooden stairs. Kick off your sandals and dive into the crystal-clear water.
As you come up for breath, you’ll revel in the privacy of the cliff walls and be enticed by the keyhole-shaped tunnel leading out to a sea-facing cove.
This natural formation, like many places in Italy, comes with a historical back story. It’s named for Joanna I of Naples, a medieval queen who apparently used the privacy afforded by the cliffs and overspilling vegetation to engage in extramarital dalliances at this spot.
Nessun Dorma, Cinque Terre
The Cinque Terre is a stunning sweep of crag and candy-colored architecture embedded among the coves of the Ligurian coastline.
It’s hard to escape the romance of the towns of Cinque Terre. Wander the tiny mazes of its urban streets, gaze upon the scintillating coastal views from clifftop churches, or dive off the sun-warmed rocks into the azure sea as the buildings glow in the setting sun.
Part of the walking trail that connects the five villages is even called Via dell’Amore (“the path of love”)
The food of love, meanwhile, is found at Nessun Dorma—a restaurant with a terrace that overlooks Manarola, one of the most beautiful coastal towns in Italy.
Share plates of the sublime antipasti, clink glasses of the local white wine (followed by tangy shots of limoncello) and listen to the pounding of your heart just audible above the crashing waves.
Matera is a city in the southern province of Basilicata, its urban footprint cleaved by a plunging river gorge. It’s an ancient city, founded by the Romans in the 3rd century BC.
The history is palpable in the streets, especially among the rough honeycomb of Sassi cave dwellings hollowed into the calcareous gorge.
This UNESCO site is fascinating to explore, and it’s even possible to stay in B&Bs set up within authentic Sassi dwellings.
But what makes it one of the most romantic cities in Italy is its atmosphere come evening. Marooned within a twilight landscape, a mystique steals over Matera’s lamplit stairways and its quiet piazzas, perfect for romance.
Villa Durazzo, Santa Margherita
Villa Durazzo is an elegant peach-hued pile set in the verdant hills of Santa Margherita on the Portofino Peninsula.
Once a glamorous private residence, this 17th-century villa is now a public museum. Within, you’ll explore the main floor apartments, with their priceless paintings, Murano glass chandelier, and luxurious bedroom dedicated to Queen Margherita of Savoy who overnighted when it was a Belle Epoque Grand Hotel.
And while the house with its views over the Gulf of Tigullio is impressive, Villa Durazzo is probably best known for being attached to one of the “Great Italian Gardens”.
Walking through its four carefully curated sections is a sensory overload, with fragrances of lemon trees, camphor and mint mingling with the sea views.
After wandering its Romantic English Garden and admiring the pouting camellias, meander down to Santa Margherita’s promenade for a romantic sundowner by the beach.
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