For those of us who suffer through the long, grey, frigid northern American winters, the idea of a summertime that’s “too hot” seems a little far-fetched. But Europe has been struck with severe, even lethal heat waves over the past few years, with temperatures in Italy hitting the hundred-degree mark for days or weeks on end, and high humidity making the heat feel even more oppressive.
Luckily, the Italians have been finding creative ways of beating the heat for centuries before air conditioning was invented. From verdant parks and gardens, underground catacombs, to the classic gelato cone, you’ll find no shortage of ideas for staying cool during the summer in Italy.
Here are a few of the best travel tips for the sweaty traveller facing Italy’s climate in the peak of summer.
Go green: The Parco Sempione gardens in the heart of Milan have been a shady green refuge from the heat since 1893. The Triennale Museum and the Gianni Berra Aquarium are both adjacent to the Parco, both great options for staying cool in daytime.
Descend into the depths: It’s always much cooler underground, so after you’re done being awestruck by the Duomo (Milan’s majestic Cathedral, six centuries in the making), head below the Piazza Duomo to check out the San Giovanni alle Fonti Baptistery, which dates back to the fourth century. There are several notable crypts and other underground sites that are worth visiting, and not only for the refreshing temperatures, so don’t be afraid of the dark.
Go green: Rest in the shade of Napoleon’s gift to Venice, the Giardini della Biennale. Two centuries ago he created these public gardens, which now host pavilions from 29 different countries.
Cool off with culture: Visit air-conditioned museums (Querini Stampalia, Ca’ Rezzonico, Guggenheim) or enjoy the cool air of thick-walled churches like the huge Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo, and the Basilica dei Frari, both impressive brick edifices in the Italian Gothic style.
Throw down your towel: If all else fails, head to the Lido for a refreshing dip in the sea. Although there are no beaches in the city of Venice itself, the Lido is a seven-mile sandbar that separates the lagoon from the Adriatic Sea, which in 1857 was the site of the first sea-bathing facility in Europe. Its resulting popularity made its name synonymous with Italian beach resorts in general. The popular Jesolo resort nearby boasts almost ten miles of beachfront and attracts visitors from all over Europe.
Head for the Hills: Italy’s temperatures don’t get much more unforgiving than in Bologna during summertime, where they can hover around hundred degrees for days on end. You can seek sanctuary in the hills that rise from the southern edge of the city, where gaining a few hundred feet of altitude can lead to much more comfortable temperatures. Pack a bottle of wine and take in the sunset, or grab dinner at one of the many fine eateries in the area.
You’ve got it made in the shade: The historic city center is home to more than 38 km (23 miles) of covered walkways where you can stroll outdoors and yet still be protected from the sun’s rays.
Cool off with culture: How about a visit to the ice cream museum? The Carpigiani Gelato Museum, awaits you just outside the city center. The Basilica of San Petronio is one of the freshest spots in Bologna, as well as one if its most important monuments.
Descend into the depths: There are many little-known underground sites to be enjoyed, including the Bagni di Mario, which supplied water to the main Piazza’s fountains during the Renaissance, and the ancient Crypt of San Zama.
Go green: While there isn’t an abundance of green space in Florence’s center, the Parco delle Cascine, formerly a hunting ground for the Medici family, provides nearly 400 acres of green space and includes a public swimming pool, the Pavionere, which serves poolside cocktails and dinner in the evenings.
Cool off with culture: Along with refreshing marble interiors of church-museums like San Lorenzo Basilica, Santa Maria Novella and Santa Croce, early risers can enjoy the cooler morning air on a walking tour of Florence. Get under way before 9 am, as the weather in Tuscany heats up rapidly after sunrise.
Make it a movie night: Apriti Cinema in the Piazzale degli Uffizi offers open-air movie screenings of some of Italy’s most famous films at 10 pm every night.
We all scream for ice cream: When in Italy, there’s no such thing as a bad time for ice cream. Skip the tourist-trap options and seek out some of the locals’ favourite spots for tasting Florence’s best gelato: My Sugar in San Lorenzo, Triangolo delle Bermuda on Via Nazionale, and La Sorbettiera in Piazza Tasso.
Go green: Villa Borghese, the beautiful 80-hectare park surrounding the famous gallery, has long been a favourite spot for locals seeking respite from the weather in July and August. You can even take a rented rowboat out for an interlude on the lake!
Descend into the depths: Check out the Roman catacombs beneath the modern streets, and cool off while getting up close and personal with Rome’s distant past.
Make it a movie night: Tiber Island hosts an outdoor cinema that takes advantage of the cool breeze blowing in from the river. Many Italian cities also have open-air movie screenings in summer, so take advantage of fresh air free of charge.
Sicily marches to its own drum, with a four-step approach to surviving the scorching summertime: mare (beach), sagre (food festivals), montagne (mountains) and granita (Italy’s famous non-dairy frozen treat).
Mare: With almost a thousand miles of coastline and numerous nearby islands, Sicily has a veritable cornucopia of beaches for beating the heat. Resort towns dot the coast on almost every side, so you can let your personal tastes guide your research. Feeling adventurous? You can hike out to the Riserva dello Zingaro, near the town of San Vito lo Capo and relax on your own private stretch of beach. There are ferries running to many of the islands if you feel like a day trip or even an overnight stay in an impossibly picturesque location.
Sagre: The major Sicilian cities, as well as a host of smaller towns and villages, are proud hosts of a dazzling array of food festivals, from maccherone, (street food), nocciole (hazelnuts), and of course every type of fish and seafood. Check local tourist offices for the local sagra, and let your appetite for discovery guide you!
Montagne: Sicily’s five national parks, Parco dei Monti Sicani, Madonie, Nebrodi, Etna and Alcantara are replete with trails, campsites, and picnic spots. The volcanic gorge and ice cold mountain river at Motta Camastra in Alcantara is a favourite beach for locals.
Granita: This delectable shaved-ice treat is a favourite way to cool off. From natural fruit-juice flavours to classics like coffee, almond, and pistachio, you can’t go wrong with granita on a Sicilian summer day.