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Ultimate Italy

The cradle of European art and science, romance, intrigue as well as the style and fashion mecca of the world – it can only be Italy. Unified in 1861, Italy has still maintained a unique identity owing to a very proud and illustrious history and an immensely diverse cultural heritage.image: KT Comer surveys her empire on a Florence rooftopAnd the Pilot Guides team are off to find out what makes it tick.

We begin with KT Comer hitching a ride in a Ferrari, which proceeds to scream along a racetrack followed by an equally intense trip in a taxi.

Meanwhile, Ian Wright gets into a spot of bother not realising he has to get his ticket validated before being allowed on the bus.

Estelle Bingham is in Rome, the country’s capital set amid seven hills and home to the Vatican City and the Colloseum. Beginning at the Forum, Estelle investigates the administrative heart of the Roman Empire, which over a period of 700 years grew to encompass most of Europe as well as part of Asia and North Africa.

Justine Shapiro discovers the influence of Roman sophistication which extended south of Naples to the famous city of Pompeii. The city, which perished under a layer of burning fragments of pumice stone in 79AD, is home to some impressive sights including frescoes in the Villa dei Misteri, a stunning array of country houses and villas and a Basilica that dates back to the second century BC.

Megan McCormick visits the majestic city of Venice, built on drained marshlands by the fleeing Romans. Described by Napoleon as the ‘most elegant drawing book in Europe,’ Venice is host to 20 million tourists each year. Megan visits the Basilica, the centrepiece of St Marks Square, built to house the body of St Mark. She also gets acquainted with the square’s other inhabitants – thousands of low-flying pigeons.
image: The canals of Venice
We also see the town of San Gimignano, a hill top city characterised by huge towers, said to have been watchtowers for marauders and thieves. Described as a ‘medieval Manhattan’, some towers are as high as 40 metres. Ian visits the most famous tower in Tuscany – the leaning one in Pisa.

We follow Ian Wright to Florence and Piazza della Signoria, home to the Uffizi Gallery(housing paintings of Botticelli, Giotto and Leonardo Da Vinci), Palazzo Vecchio and Michelangelo’s statue of David – one of the world’s most famous works of art. Funded by Florence’s richest patrons, the Medici family, Florence became Italy’s most important city both culturally and intellectually during the renaissance.

KT takes us on to the jewel in Florence’s crown, Brunelleschi’s Duomo. A lavish exterior gives way to a more sombre and modest interior, although the dome itself is simply breathtaking and remains an example of engineering and architectural genius.

Ian strikes up a friendship with a local baron and stays in an idyllic farmhouse from 90 euros per night. He also gets to indulge in some wine tasting at a local cellar and does some olive picking in the groves. Meanwhile Estelle stays in a hostel for the night for 15 dollars while in the southern Italian town of Albero Bello, Megan stays in a hotel overlooking the town’s conical shaped houses.
image: Down on the farm: Ian works for his supper in a Tuscan farmhouse
Mindful of the romance associated with Italy, Megan tries to get to grips with the amorous intentions of the Italian male while Ian tries his luck with the fairer sex on the coast of Elba.

Megan gives us a quick peek at the designer boutiques in Milan’s Quadrillatero d’Oro or Golden Square. Estelle tries her hand at making a pizza and Ian indulges in some ice cream and a rather dubious tripe salad.

Finally we end our action packed programme with a visit to Sienna‘s annual ‘Palio’, a hectic horserace held between rival towns in the main square. Ian watches a match of ‘Calcio Storico’ Florence’s traditional yet violent ‘sport where teams combine rugby, football wrestling and boxing and Megan partakes in a game of orange throwing in the town of Ivrea – a three day celebration that commemorates the town’s revolt against the tyrannical Count Ranieri.

Places Mentioned - Italy

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