There is a notable absence from monocle’s annual Quality of Life Survey: an Italian city has never made it into our top 25. While Italian cities score high on many fronts, they’re let down by poor infrastructure, connectivity, upkeep and social services.
This is not to say that Italy is not full of cities with soul – Palermo, Rome, Turin and Naples have all featured in our Expo on the places that will never trouble our rankings but that we love all the same. What they lack in performance they make up for in personalità. At the same time, some smaller cities are world class (Bellano and Bolzano) but lack scale and global links.
For this Italy special we decided it was time to take a proper look at the things that make Italian cities liveable. Inspired by Il Sole 24 Ore’s Qualità della Vita survey (see page 61), which ranks more than 100 towns and cities across the country, we have picked six of the best: one big, one small, one northern, one southern, one island and one in the mountains. The choices are backed up by a combination of hard statistics (crime rates, hours of sunshine and crèches) and the more personal views of some of our experts (the quality of the daily newspaper, art and culture). We’ve also totted up the number of cinemas and restaurants. Plus, since this is Italy, the distance to the nearest beach or mountain hideaway was taken into account.
Like our annual survey, this is meant to provoke debate. And who knows, come July, perhaps this will be the year that a Turin or Trieste finally breaks in to the monocle global top 25.
01 best big city Turin A lesson in keeping your heritage while looking to the future
The world’s first-ever capital of design, a title it carried in 2008, could teach a thing or two to other Italian cities. Sustained investment in infrastructure and well-thought-out urban planning have been a hallmark of Turin’s past decade. Known for its elegant portici – long, arcaded boulevards – Turin has managed to look after its heritage while simultaneously embracing the new. It’s not just design. Turin is one of Italy’s finest food capitals and the surrounding region also produces fantastic grapes – local wine Barolo is drunk by the gallon across the city.
Monocle fix: The city needs to step up a gear on its metro-building programme. Once this is done and the city’s many trams are connected, the Torinesi will have it made.
Population: 911,000 Disposable income per capita: €21,056 Crèches and nurseries: 163 Burglaries and robberies per 1,000 residents: around 34.7 Bookshops: 154 Cinemas: 34 Restaurants: 1,245 Hours of sunshine: 1,989 Getting away: 140km to the beach, 30km to the mountains Art: Industrialists, such as the Agnellis’ famous collections, are making a splash (see page 150 for an interview with Turin-based collector Patrizia de Rebaudengo).
02 best small city Lucca Vibrant, well-preserved and perfectly formed
Lucca’s perfect medieval centre is crammed with art treasures but lacking the tourist hordes of neighbouring Tuscan cities. The rolling hills that surround this compact city quickly give way to the beach for cooling off during the summer. Like a very well-equipped large village, Lucca remains full of urban charm. The streets still teem with shops and businesses that have disappeared in other cities. The centre is devoid of cars, and residents young or old have taken to cycling in a big way. A short drive to Pisa airport allows direct connections to most European hubs and it’s within easy reach of Florence.
Monocle fix: An outstanding university department could put it on the map.
Population: 88,000 Disposable income per capita: €18,472 Crèches and nurseries: 12 Burglaries and robberies per 1,000 residents: around 33.7 Bookshops: 14 Cinemas: 8 Restaurants: 197 Hours of sunshine: 2,273 Getting away: 30km to the beach, 50km to the mountains Art: Architectural restoration means that the city itself is art.
03 best northern city Trieste A touch of Slovenia, with beaches on the doorstep
A city that can often feel not quite Italian, thanks to its geographical position in the “armpit”. There is a strong Slovenian influence – indeed a large percentage of Trieste’s residents speak Slovenian every day – and a slight Austrian flavour too. Sleepy Trieste is slightly cut off from the rest of Italy but a minor sense of isolation can be an advantage. The mountains and beaches are as close as you could wish for – half an hour and you’re in Istria – Venice is just on the other side of the Adriatic. Trieste has a great coffee tradition. It’s where Illy began and coffee drinking is taken seriously.
Monocle fix: The airport is so poorly equipped and far outside the city that tourists prefer to fly into Ljubljana.
Population: 201,000 Disposable income per capita: €23,885 Crèches and nurseries: 38 Burglaries and robberies per 1,000 residents: 20.1 Bookshops: 28 Cinemas: 9 Restaurants: 368 Hours of sunshine: 2,111 Getting away: 5km to the beach, 60km to the mountains Art: An unsung powerhouse of collector’s treasure troves.
04 best southern city Palermo Edgy and sexy, the city is Sicily’s flawed beauty
This is Sicily, so let’s not ignore the problems. Public transport is poor, unemployment is high and organised crime has not gone anywhere. But the island’s capital can also delight. Mondello beach is a fantastic resort right near the heart of the city, the Teatro Massimo opera house is a well-loved institution and the weather is beautiful most of the year round. Palermo’s problems can also bring advantages. People are cycling more, partly because the public transport is so bad, while the number of abandoned spaces being converted into new housing and workspaces has drawn comparisons with Berlin.
Monocle fix: How hard can it be to run a decent bus service?
Population: 655,000 Disposable income per capita: €15,313 Crèches and nurseries: 72 Burglaries and robberies per 1,000 residents: 23.5 Bookshops: 54 Cinemas: 16 Restaurants: 607 Hours of sunshine: 2,690 Getting away: 100km to the mountains Art: Art lovers wish more artifacts were in public museums rather than in gangsters’ villas.
05 best island/coastal city Cagliari A beautiful beach, a vibrant tech scene and a great airport
Unlike Sicily, Sardinia’s regional government has, to a certain extent, succeeded in getting its act together. There is a good transport system with buses, trams and a metro. The airport is state of the art – for Italy. Cagliari has a burgeoning tech hub reputation – internet provider Tiscali began here. It is a city with a healthy lifestyle: one of the greenest in Italy with plenty of parks and a lagoon near the centre. As an island city it also has the beach – and what a beach. Poetto is 8km of beautiful sandy shore with crystal-clear water.
Monocle fix: More direct international flights would boost tourism and help business.
Population: 150,000 Disposable income per capita: €15,490 Crèches and nurseries: 24 Burglaries and robberies per 1,000 residents: 18.9 Bookshops: 32 Cinemas: 13 Restaurants: 310 Hours of sunshine: 2,591 Getting away: 140km to the mountains Art: The calm, more considered cousin to Sicily shows a surprising wealth of major Italian art.
06 best mountain city Trento Good job prospects and a healthy lifestyle
Picture postcard Trento is a thriving business and education centre for the Trentino region. Downstream from Bolzano, Trento has profited from its position on the important trade route from Munich to Milan. This small city is blessed with a respected university that excels in neuroscience and systems biology. It’s a quietly confident place with a distinctly more Italian feel than the German-speaking South Tyrol to the north. With vineyards and orchards spread out along its Alpine valley, it’s an area famed for good beer and wine.
Monocle fix: The region needs a high-speed rail connection both north and south.
Population: 115,000 Disposable income per capita: €19,403 Crèches and nurseries: 25 Burglaries and robberies per 1,000 residents: 15.6 Bookshops: 25 Cinemas: 5 Restaurants: 203 Hours of sunshine: 1,935 Getting away: 175km to the beach, 10km to the mountains Art: A wealth (it’s up north, after all) of well-preserved classical art has recently been joined by a spangly new science museum.