See Ancient Rome, Beautiful Tuscany, and Stunning Marche

I recently returned from a two week holiday in Italy, during which I explored Rome and parts of Tuscany and Le Marche, and these are some of my favourite snaps from the trip.

Rome

A Swiss Guard on duty at Vatican City in Rome. Vatican City is actually an independent state within its own right, the smallest in the world by area and population, and the ceremonially-dressed Swiss Guards form its military.

Swiss Guard at the Vatican

St Peter’s Square is an enormous plaza which sprawls out before St Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, Rome, and where thousands of Catholics gather each Wednesday to hear the Pope’s blessings. The Egyptian obelisk in the centre is 4,000 years old.

St Peter's Square

The interior of St Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City is a staggeringly impressive feat of architecture. Photos can hint at the aesthetic grandeur, but the only way to fully appreciate it on an atmospheric and spiritual level, whether you’re religious or not, is to visit.

St Peter's Basilica

The Trevi Fountain, located in the Rome district of the same name, is one of the most iconic fountains not just in Rome, or even Europe, but the world. The Baroque masterpiece was completed in 1762 and nowadays attracts throngs of wide-eyed tourists.

The Trevi Fountain

A fine view from the hill which rears up behind Piazza del Popolo in the north of central Rome. Today’s version was completed in 1822 – relatively recently by Rome’s standards – but there has been a square on the site for centuries, and it used to be the site for public executions.

Piazza del Popolo

The cultural heritage of Rome is almost overwhelming in its abundance; at every turn there is something of interest. This slightly neglected statue is located near Piazza del Popolo; I have no idea how long it’s been there.

Statue near Piazza del Popolo

Ancient buildings always look better at night, and the Colosseum is certainly no exception. Even today, in its half-derelict condition, it’s a seriously impressive sight to behold, so one can only imagine what people thought of it 2000 years ago when it was first built.

The Colosseum

The interior of the Colosseum looks more like a ruin than the exterior, but it’s still intact enough to give a pretty good idea of how it appeared in its heyday.

The Colosseum

One of the many clusters of columns still standing in the Roman Forum, one of the most fascinating places in the world. This was the heart of Ancient Rome for centuries and the centre of public life. Much remains; you need at least a day to even begin to appreciate the historical significance.

The Roman Forum

The Roman Forum

View from the Roman Forum

Tuscany

The Tuscan town of Siena is arguably the most charming settlement in the region, a considerably more relaxed affair than Florence. The whole of its medieval historic centre (where this shot was taken) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Siena

Siena Cathedral is one of the grandest buildings in Italy and showcases a pristine blend of black and white marble, and a mixture of Gothic and Romanesque architectural styles. The present-day building was finished in 1263.

Siena Cathedral

The interior of Siena cathedral is equally awe-inspiring. This is a shot of the  Piccolomini Library, nestled within a small alcove of the main cathedral and boasting a kaleidoscopic display of floor to ceiling frescos painted in the 1500s.

Piccolomini Library

The view of Siena from an unfinished wall which was originally intended to be part of the main cathedral. In the background is the Tuscan countryside and to the left is the Piazza del Campo, a huge sloping public square, widely regarded to be one of the greatest in Europe.

Siena

The multi-towered skyline of San Gimignano, a medieval hill town, is one of the most iconic sights in Italy. The town itself is as you’d expect: impossibly quaint and, apart from the hordes of day-trippers, indistinguishable from how it would have appeared 700 years ago.

San Gimignano

The Tuscan countryside is relentlessly scenic, a constant undulation of bucolic scenes such as this.

San Gimignano

A view within the town of Volterra, whose location – perched dramatically upon a hilltop – is typically Tuscan. This place has recently drawn the world’s attention due to it featuring in the Twilight saga; in the novels it is the home of powerful vampires.

Volterra

Despite this, the town still hasn’t (yet) been overrun with tourists. Many of the Tuscan hill towns can feel like open air museums, but Volterra has retained its authenticity and local charm. This shot was taken in one of the numerous cobbled streets which meander off the main square.

Volterra

Le Marche

Le Marche, located in central east Italy, is comparatively unknown to foreigners, which is surprising considering it is arguably even more beautiful – and distinctly less touristy – than Tuscany. This shot was taken one evening near San Ginesio, in the south of the region.

Le Marche

Lake Fiastra, near the town of Sarnano, is a stunning, manmade body of water, dammed at its northern end. This shot was taken from a lookout point during the 8 mile walk around the lake.

Lake Fiastra

This is the road to Castelluccio, a tiny village in the midst of the Apennine Mountains, next to Mount Sbillini National Park. The settlement may be desperately isolated, but it enjoys a truly incredible location, especially in spring, when the vast surrounding plains explode into colour with wild flowers.

The road to Castelluccio

This was taken in Hell’s Gorge, a fantastic walking route in Mount Sbillini National Park. The trail squeezes through sheer cliffs topped with dramatic peaks, and follows a mountain stream with water clean enough to drink outright.

Hells Gorge

The countryside of Le Marche is full of sunflower fields, something I never tired of seeing.

Le Marche