The blinding white of the marble of the temples and of the whitewashed houses in the islands are set against the blue sky of the even bluer sea: Greece is a country in white and blue, like its flag. And then of course how not to mention its incredible history, among the reasons that make Greece one of my favourite European countries? In Greece you're constantly walking in places whose history goes so far back that they are shrouded in legend: Knossos and the minotaur, the Acropolis and the first philosophers, but also the fascinating history of Atlantis, who many historians believe to be the enchanting island of Santorini. This soldier in his strange attire, mounting the guard in front of the Parliament building in Athens, must have been very hot, given that there were almost 40° that day. One thing that I love about Greece is that at times it feels very familiar - Greece is Italy's "cousin" after all, as Greek people have told me endless times - and at other times it feels unfamiliar, almost exotic: the different alphabet and that incomprehensible but beautiful language, the culture that mixes Western and Ottoman, and the distinctive food.
It's really impossible not to fall in love with the relaxed pace of life of this Mediterranean country, especially in the islands: those whitewashed houses with colourful doors and stone pathways, the pots of flowers on display and the cats languidly brushing against them, everything there seems to be made to please the eye.
The mudejar architecture of Andalucía, the loudness of young people eating tapas in a bar while sipping their clara or a vermut, the vitality of its cities with cutting-edge contemporary art, I love this country so much that I decided to move here from Italy last July. I've visited Madrid and Toledo in the centre, Andalucía in the south, Barcelona and several towns in Catalonia, not to mention Zaragoza halfway between there and Madrid, but there is a lot more to see. On my list of places that I still haven't visited in Spain but that are on my list I can mention Granada, Valencia, the Basque Country and Costa Brava. I'm sure that each one will have its own cultural richness, its own signature food, and magnificent landscapes to be enjoyed during sunny days.
The endless struggle between those whose love Barcelona and those who prefer Madrid will never end. Both cities have plenty to offer, they are beautiful, with plenty of sightseeing and renowned museums, with thousands of bars and little restaurants to try. What's more, even though we are speaking of bit cities, people are friendly, food is good, and the atmosphere is laid back.
Being such a variegated country, with snow-capped mountains, great beaches, cities full of art and enchanting villages, even a person who spent most of her life in Italy has a lot to discover. Every new area explored has its own cuisine, its own history and traditions, its own dialect and regional pride. My favourite region is perhaps Tuscany: the countryside around Siena and the gracious dome in Florence, and the simplicity but richness of its cuisine are just two reasons that make me love this region of Italy. Whenever I am in Tuscany - I have been four times I think - I have the feeling that everything is heart-felt, made with great care and expertise, not to mention imbued with history.
The north of Italy, foggy and cold in the winter, with elegant towns such as Verona or Mantova, not to mention the peaceful beauty of the lakes (Lake Maggiore is maybe my favourite), sets a harsh contrast to the chaos of the south, passionate, loud and enticing as it is. It almost seems impossible that the Amalfi Coast and Sicily are in the same country as Lake Como! In Italian culture it is important to savour one's meals with friends or family, and to simply relax without getting too stressed. And of course art runs in our veins: I just love the amount of art and culture that I can absorb during a trip to a random Italian town.
A bit cranky, relegated to the last bit of land before the Atlantic Ocean, Portugal is too often skipped in European itineraries, but it's a really beautiful country. Overwhelmed by the awareness of a great past and an uncertain present, Portugal has saudade written all over it. By simply walking the streets of Lisbon or by reading the poems of Pessoa, you actually perceive this feeling of longing and irreparable loss, felt in the melancholy of the fado.
It is a pleasure to sit outside, enjoy the sun and order a plate of sardines or bacalhao, while having a chat with the friendly locals. Portugal is cheap, beautiful, and what's more important still not overtly touristic. Here you don't have to bother about touts or being ripped off, but you can enjoy the authenticity of the place you're visting, the good weather, and the port wine of course!