Italian tour for opera lovers and foodies (Part 1)

10 Jun 2019

Take a tour of Italy, the birthplace of bel canto. From north to south, journey through the sights, tastes and operatic highlights of three Italian cities that played a significant role in the lives of composers Bellini, Rossini and Donizetti.

Placeholder
The Duomo at sunrise, Milan

Milan

Fast-paced, elegant Milan with its futuristic skyline, grand boulevards and soaring Duomo is where commerce and culture come together. Oozing wealth and sophistication, it is a thriving metropolis that loves art, fashion, opera and soccer.

Sights

Start with Milan’s famous landmark The Duomo, a magnificent Gothic cathedral with 135 spires and spectacular city views from its rooftop. Marvel at Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece The Last Supper in Santa Maria delle Grazie; paintings by Rembrandt, Mantegna, Caravaggio, Bellini at Pinacoteca di Brera; and the splendid architecture of Castello Sforzesco. Don’t leave Milan without a spot of shopping in the ‘golden rectangle’ or the world’s oldest shopping arcade, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.

For opera lovers

Make a beeline for the grandiose Teatro alla Scala – a focal point of Italian culture since the 1770s – where Maria Callas made her debut and the world’s greatest singers perform, including Australia’s own Jessica Pratt. If you can’t get your hands on a ticket, take a guided tour of theatre and visit the Museo where you can see costumes, original scores, memorabilia and even a strand of Mozart’s hair.

For foodies

Milan is a culinary hotbed with highest number of Michelin stars in Italy. Before you embark on the main course, drop into one of the city’s many bars for aperitivo hour, a Milanese speciality, and enjoy a Spritz, free nibbles and people watching.

Traditional Northern Italian food is rich and hearty focusing on meat, stews, cheese and lashings of butter. Indulge in signature dishes such as risotto alla Milanese (saffron-infused risotto traditionally flavoured with bone marrow), cotoletta alla Milanese (breaded veal cutlet fried to golden perfection) and ossobuco on creamy polenta.

If you’re in Milan in December, look out for panettone, a Christmas fruit cake that originated in Milan.

Placeholder
Grand Canal, Venice

Venice

Magical Venice is a city like no other, where streets have been replaced by canals and cars by gondolas. Majestic palazzi rise from shimmering waterways, churches are stuffed with Titians and Tirorettos, and a tangle of ancient alleys connect pocket-sized squares and dainty footbridges.

Sights

Wake up to sound of gondoliers calling ‘Oooeeee!’ and grab a coffee in St Mark’s Square in the early morning before the tourist hordes descend. Gaze at the glittering mosaics of the Basilica and explore the pink-marbled Palazzo Ducale next door. Meander past the famous Bridge of Sighs to the iconic Rialto Bridge which arches over the Grand Canal. See canvases from the Venetian masters at the Accademia Galleries and Scuola Grande di San Rocco, and perhaps drop into a classic mask shop.

For opera lovers

Take a sunset gondola ride to the beautiful Teatro La Fenice, which has witnessed the premieres by Rossini (Tancredi, Semiramide), Bellini (I Capuleti e i Montecchi, Beatrice di Tenda) and Verdi (La traviata). Find a little cul-de-sac called Calle del Teatro San Moise, the site of a theatre which hosted some Rossini’s early one-act operas. Catch a performance at the Teatro Goldoni where Donizetti’s Pia de’Tolomei was performed for the first time after La Fenice was destroyed by fire in 1836.

For foodies

Start your night with a Bellini cocktail (named for the painter not the composer) at the bar where it was invented: Harry’s Bar.

With the lagoons an important part of everyday life, Venetian cooking features fresh seafood and garden vegetables. Some delicious local dishes include sarde in soar (sweet and sour sardines), baccala mantecato (salted cod mousse), risotto al nero di seppia (squid ink risotto), risi e bisi (rice and peas), bigoli (thick spaghetti often served with an anchovy sauce), or for the more adventurous, fegato alla Veneziana (veal liver).

Finish your meal with the national dessert of the province, fritole venessiane (fried donut-like balls with powdered sugar or filled with fruit, cream or zabaglione), or baicoli (oval biscuits) served with your espresso.

Placeholder
Food store in Bologna. Credit RossHelen / Shutterstock.com

Bologna

Lively yet relaxed Bologna is a hub of culture and gastronomical delights. Its beautifully preserved centro storico is characterised by medieval porticos, colonnades and redbrick towers. Home to world’s oldest university and over fifty museum and galleries, it earns its moniker 'La Dotta' (The Learned).

Sights

Explore the compact, medieval centre on foot starting in the main square Piazza Maggiore. Wander into the 14th century Basilica di San Petronio, the fifth largest church in world, and ascend the Asinelli Tower to admire the terracotta rooftops. Head to Piazza Santo Stefano where porticos lead to a complex of seven churches and walk the 3.8 kilometres through the longest stretch of porticoes to the Sanctuary of Madonna San Luca for panoramic views across the city.

For opera lovers

See an opera performance at Teatro Comunale which had a long association with Rossini and Bellini. Visit the Rossini room in the International Music Museum which displays some of his personal belonging including his Playel piano and the original score of The Barber of Seville.

Go on a walking tour of Rossini sights including the Conservatory G.B. Martini where the composer studied; the house where he lived between 1823 and 1838; and the Stabat Mater room in Palazzo dell’Archiginnasio where Rossini’s composition of the same name was first performed in Italy, conducted by Donizetti.

For foodies

Known in the Middle Ages as ‘La Grassa’ (The Fat), Bologna is home to some of Italy’s best food including specialities from the Emilia-Romagna region such as prosciutto di Parma, mortadella, balsamic vinegar, parmesan cheese and sparkling Lambrusco wine. Pasta lovers will be in heaven in the birthplace of tagliatelle al ragùtortellini and lasagne alla Bolognese.

Bologna is a great place to satisfy your gelato cravings and perhaps make a pilgrimage to the Carpigiani Gelato Museum.

What is your favourite Italian destination? Do you have any travel tips to share? Let us know in the comments.

Placeholder
The auditorium of Teatro alla Scala