This majestic hilltop sanctuary is one of Italy's most celebrated pilgrimage sites. The basilica, built between 1469 and 1587, is a stunning hybrid of Gothic and Renaissance styles with a white two-tier facade, soaring dome and 75m-high bell tower by Luigi Vanvitelli. But more than the architecture, the chief focus is the Santa Casa di Loreto, a tiny brick house that is said to be where the Virgin Mary grew up and the Archangel Gabriel told her of her impending maternity.
Each year, thousands of pilgrims flock to the Casa, now enclosed in an ornate marble screen by Bramante, to glimpse a bejewelled black statue of the Virgin and pray in the candlelit twilight. According to legend, a host of angels brought the house from Nazareth in 1294 after the Crusaders were expelled from Palestine.
If you can tear yourself away from the Casa, the rest of the interior is an impressive spectacle. Huge Gothic vaults tower over the cavernous space, which is adorned with stained glass windows, gold-leafed halos and bright, vivid frescoes.