Corporate lawyers Manoj Arora, 48, and his wife Sujata travelled to Italy in June with their daughters Shaista and Dakshaa. A long-abiding interest in European art turned their holiday into a pilgrimage
The country has always fascinated me. Italy has much to offer culturally, historically, geographically and even by way of cuisines. With cities such as Venice and Capri on the one hand, and Florence, Siena, Rome on the other, each region seems to be a different country.
The spectacular view from Michelangelo Square
Actually, a visit to Rome in 2004 whetted our appetite for Italy. We decided then that we needed to cover the country to imbibe its spirit and culture. Italy probably has the best of world art and architecture.
So, museums are a must-do for you?
We have long been interested in art, we also collect art. Whenever we are on vacation, we build in time for visiting the museums we want to see and fix dates accordingly. We had made our reservations for the Uffizi and the Accademia in Florence and the Vatican Museum prior to leaving India through the Internet. Besides, we kept aside a couple of days to explore the city and lesser-known museums. This often yields interesting results. For example, in Florence, we came across the Bargello, where we were delighted to discover 10-15 sculptures by Michelangelo, besides various other brilliant pieces by Donatello.
Even with all its art, was 20 days a long time to spend in Italy?
We still couldn’t visit Sicily, which I really wanted to see. There was so much to do and see that 20 days were barely enough. We were fortunate to have our friends Seema and Christopher, an American of Italian descent now posted in Rome, host us in the Eternal City. They gave us fascinating insights into the culture and history of Italy and also provided invaluable background information on places and habits. We also got an Italian perspective on things such as regional differences in food, wines and authentic places to eat.
Sujata, Shaista, Manoj and Dakshaa in Rome
Sicily is obviously a regret, but what of the places you did visit?
Venice, besides being beautiful, was one big party. It was full of tourists. Everybody appeared to be having a great time, but the essence seemed intact. Florence was a bigger city where people actually seemed to work for a living—that took some time getting used to after Venice, where everyone seems to be on a perpetual holiday—but it had some incredible museums. Seeing the David at the Accademia in Florence was sublime. In Rome, of course, you can walk on to any street and find a stunning piazza, incredible sculpture, a magnificent church. My big moments in Rome came in the Raphael Rooms at the Vatican Museum and a small French church in the historic centre of the city, which had three outstanding Caravaggios. At the Vatican Museum, there is an interesting collection of contemporary art which kind of gets lost in the rush to see the old masters.
In general, besides museums, we enjoy walking around and getting a feel of the place. We don’t take packaged tours but try to explore places on our own.
Apart from these cities, you also visited Abruzzo, at the foothills of the Apennine mountains. Why?
Besides seeing all the noteworthy sites in Italy, we wanted a quiet weekend with our friends and their children. So the eight of us went to Pescasseroli, a small town in a national park. As an experience, it was interesting: The whole town shuts down around 2pm for a siesta and if you haven’t had lunch by then, too bad. The entire town gathers in the city square in the evening. We also did some hiking and horse riding.
You also went to Capri?
Again, for a feel of a different Italy. It is very beautiful, but crowded. We visited the Blue Grotto, a cave in the Mediterranean with translucent blue water. Shaista even had a swim in the Grotto.
Italian cuisine is so popular here; did you have any great meal experiences?
Lunch was always on the move, but dinner was usually at a place recommended by locals or some place we had read about. We enjoyed wild boar in Florence, and various meat sauces in Tuscany. The local wines everywhere were distinct. In Florence, again, a local woman told us to try out Café Anita, where the owners are actively involved in cooking and serving. It was very ‘Italian’—and a great meal.
Alitalia, Air France, KLM, Qatar Airways fly from New Delhi to Rome. Round-trip fares range from Rs36,000 to Rs50,000. From Mumbai, Alitalia, Air France and Swiss Air offer good connections with round-trip fares ranging from Rs31,000 to Rs50,000.
As told to Sumana Mukherjee. Share your last holiday with us at firstname.lastname@example.org