EAT Romans have enjoyed good food since the days of Julius Caesar, and the city’s menus still brim with flavor: The artichoke is king, zucchini blossoms pop up as appetizers, pasta runs the gamut from egg-and-cheese carbonara to nutmeg-dusted gnocchi, and pizza is obviously ubiquitous. Grab humongous slices to go at Sale Miele, on Piazza di tor Sanguigna, before crossing the Tiber River to Vatican City. Here, you’ll be awestruck by the majestic St. Peter’s Basilica and Michelangelo-frescoed Sistine Chapel. Come sunset, join the passeggiata (evening stroll) as chic locals window-shop near the Spanish Steps. Then savor a three-Michelin star meal at La Pergola, atop the Rome Cavalieri hotel, or an intimate seafood repast at La Gensola, a trattoria in Trastevere.
PLAY Rome is pure exhilaration as modern Vespa scooters zoom past ancient icons: the circa-80 Colosseum, the city-within-a city Roman Forum, the ready-for-its-cointoss Trevi Fountain and the cheerfully baroque Piazza Navona. Tip: Buy a threeday Rome Pass for entry to the Colosseum and Forum, then walk — or hop a bus or the metro, free with the pass — for discounted admission to the National Gallery of Ancient Art, in Barberini Palace, and the Galleria Borghese, in Villa Borghese, Rome’s verdant 148-acre park. For shopping, drool over designer goods along Via Condotti and Via Frattina.
LOVE Stay in style — and enjoy fabulous views — at palatial Exedra, with its soaring ceilings, spacious rooms and rooftop pool. Enjoy designer digs and a rooftop lounge in Rome’s fashion district at the intimate 14-room Portrait Suites, owned by the Ferragamo family. Stylish St. George Roma wows with its alfresco bar, subterranean Roman baths and stellar location in the heart of the city.
EAT The Florentine palate craves simplicity and quality; area specialties include fresh vegetables tossed with extra-virgin olive oil, grilled meats, crusty breads and hearty beans. Oh, and a little thing called red wine, produced in neighboring Tuscany and Chianti. Sweets cravings are easily sated with gelato, including the delectable scoops at Gelateria Santa Trinita. Save room for the mushroom risotto and tender osso buco at Ristorante la Giostra, as well as the divine Siena pasta with duck ragout at The Loggia Restaurant at Villa San Michele, a 16th-century monastery turned luxury hotel in hilltop Fiesole.
PLAY The cradle of the Renaissance, Florence is tucked amid Tuscan hills and bisected by the Arno River. Its earthly beauty is best appreciated from the cypress-lined Boboli Gardens, while its artistic treasures line the Uffizi and Accademia galleries, the latter home to Michelangelo’s David (avoid the hours-long lines by asking your concierge to pre-book reservations). Walk around, into and up the Duomo, a massive Gothic cathedral with a soaring campanile and climbable dome (463 steps). Shop for 18-karat baubles on the circa-1354 Ponte Vecchio bridge, and pick up heavenly soaps and lotions at the 600-year-old pharmacy at Santa Maria Novella. To truly get under the Tuscan sun, day-trip to the pretty province of Siena and its tower-studded village of San Gimignano.
LOVE Sleep like nobility at Four Seasons Hotel Florence, a restored 15th-century palazzo with luxe, soothing rooms and an 11-acre garden. Striking 14th century villa Il Salviatino offers personal service and sweeping views from its perch in Fiesole. For a modern vibe, try riverside Continentale, with its white decor and hip rooftop lounge.
EAT This unbelievably beautiful city poised at the edge of the Adriatic is known much more for romance than cuisine — unless you count the local specialty fritto misto di mare, a sizzling plate of fried calamari, baby octopus, shrimp and scallops. Still, it’s Venice! For the sheer experience, book a lagoon-view table at Fortuny Restaurant, in legendary Hotel Cipriani, which sits across from Piazza San Marco on Giudecca Island. For your daily doses of pizza and gelato, grab slices at Pizza al Volo and double-scoop cones at Gelateria Nico, both in Dorsoduro. For a traditional Venetian seafood feast, treat your taste buds to dinner at the intimate Fiaschetteria Toscana.
PLAY Venice is a water-centric wonderland best visited by couples happy to get lost. Wandering its myriad canals and 400-plus bridges, you’ll encounter the touristy tumult of Piazza San Marco (ascend the campanile for amazing views of gilded Basilica di San Marco, pink-and-white Palazzo Ducale and colossal Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute) and Grand Canal-spanning Rialto Bridge. But you’ll also happen upon pockets of loveliness, such as petite Santa Maria dei Miracoli church and the wave-washed quays of Giudecca. Three musts: a sunset gondola ride; a vaporetto (water bus) excursion to crayon-hued Burano island; and a bellini at Harry’s Bar, the former haunt of Ernest Hemingway where the drink was created.
LOVE Enjoy a sexy rooftop whirlpool tub and rooms draped in jewel-tone silks at the lavish Grand Canal-side Bauer Il Palazzo, in the heart of the city. Take a water shuttle to reach the Hilton Molino Stucky, built inside a 19th-century flour mill on Giudecca Island. Venice’s newest hotel offers 350 contemporary guest rooms with king beds and iPod stations, plus a stunning panoramic view from the rooftop pool.
EAT Stretched along the Mediterranean coast below the Gulf of Naples, this region takes its culinary cues from the sea. Seafood-based pastas boast a taste of lip-smacking saltiness, combined with a citrusy zest pulled from the lemon-tree-covered hills above. But it’s not all about seafood here. Pizza was actually created in Naples, and you’ll find crisp, thin-crust examples all the way down the coast. A prime spot to savor a pie and pinot grigio is Ristorante La Pergola, on the beach in Positano.
PLAY There are few better places to drive than along the winding roads of this vertigo inducing coast. Start in clifftop Sorrento, with its views of Mount Vesuvius, and make your way to pretty Positano, where you can meander down steep hills lined with pastel painted boutiques before ending up on a black-pebble beach. Heavenly Ravello, home to the breathtaking Belvedere of Infinity, perches on a bluff 1,500 feet above the sea.
LOVE Check into Sorrento’s opulent Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria, and take a day trip to Pompeii, left buried in ash by Vesuvius’ A.D. 79 wrath. Then move down the coast to Ravello’s Hotel Caruso for a swim in an infinity pool lined with medieval ruins.