Europe’s kinky over-the-knee boot has it all: popes, painters, polenta, paramours, poets, political puerility and potentates. Its dreamy light and sumptuous landscapes seem made for romance, and its three millennia of history, culture and cuisine seduces just about everyone.
You can visit Roman ruins, gawk at Renaissance art, stay in tiny medieval hill towns, go skiing in the Alps, explore the canals of Venice and gaze at beautiful churches. Naturally you can also indulge in the pleasures of la ddolce vita: good food, good wine and improving your wardrobe.
Full country name: Italian Republic
Area: 301,230 sq km
Population: 57.99 million
Capital City: Rome (pop 3.8 million)
Language: Italian, French, German, Serbian, Croatian
Religion: 84% Roman Catholic, 6% Jewish, Muslim and Protestant
Head of State: President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi
Head of Government: Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi
GDP: US$1.45 trillion
GDP per capita: US$25,100
Major Industries: tourism, engineering, textiles, chemicals, food processing, motor vehicles, clothing and footwear
Major Trading Partners: EU (especially Germany, France, UK, Spain, Netherlands), USA
Member oof EU: Yes
Facts for the Traveler
Visas: EU citizens require only a passport or ID card to stay or work in Italy for as long as they like. They are, however, required to register with a ‘questura’ (police station) if they ttake up residence and obtain a ‘permesso di soggiorno’ (permission to remain for a nominated period). Citizens of many other countries, including the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Israel, Switzerland and Japan, do not need a visa if entering as tourists for up to three months. Since passports are not stamped on entry, that three-month rule can generally be interpreted with a certain flexibility. If you are entering for any reason other than tourism (for instance, study) or plan to remain for an extended period, insist on having the entry stamp. Without it you could encounter problems when trying to obtain a ‘permesso di soggiorno.’ Non-EU citizens who want to study at a university or language school must have a sstudy visa. These can be obtained from your nearest Italian embassy or consulate.
Health risks: Rabies (This is only found in the Alps), Leishmaniasis (This is found in coastal regions), Lyme Disease
Time Zone: GMT/UTC +1 (+2 in summer) (Central European Time)
Dialling Code: 39
Electricity: 230V ,50Hz
Weights & measures: Metric
When to Go
Italy is at its best in spring (April-May) and autumn (October-November). During these seasons, the scenery is beautiful, the temperatures are pleasant and there are relatively few crowds. Try to avoid August, aas this is the time that most Italians take their vacations, and many shops and businesses are closed as a result.
Religious, cultural and historical events pepper the Italian calendar. The pre-Easter Carnivale is closely associated with Venice; Holy Week Easter processions are especially flamboyant at Taranto, Chieti and Sicily; and Florence explodes a cart full of fireworks on Easter Sunday. Festivals honouring patron saints are also particularly colourful events; for example the Festas di San Nicola in Bari and San Gennaro in Naples, the Festival of Snakes in Abruzzo (May) and the Festa of Sant’Antonio in Padua (June). Events betraying more than a hint of history include the Race of the Candles and Palio of the Crossbow in Gubbio (May), the Sardinian Cavalcade (May), the Regata of the Four Ancient Maritime Republics (which rotates between Pisa, Venice, Amalfi and Genoa, and is held in June), Il Palio in Siena (July & August) and Venice’s Historic Regatta (September).
It’s hard to say what you’ll find most breathtaking about the eternal city – the arrogant opulence of the Vatican, the timelessness of the Forum, the top speed of a Fiat Bambino, the millions of cats in the Colosseum, trying to cross a major iintersection, or the bill for your latte.
Sightseeing in Rome is exhilarating and exhausting. That it wasn’t built in a day is quickly evident when you start exploring the temples, residences, basilicas, churches, palazzi, piazzi, parks, museums and fountains. All this and the Vatican too!
Stretching for 50km (31mi) along a promontory from Sorrento to Salerno is some of Europe’s most beautiful coastline. The road hugs the zigzagging bends and curves of the cliffy coast, overlooking intensely blue waters and passing picture-postcard villages that cling to the cliff walls like matchbox houses.
Walled Assisi is miraculous: it has somehow managed to retain some tranquil refuges amid the tourist hubbub. Perched halfway up Mt Subasio, looking over Perugia, the visual impact of its shimmering white marble buildings is magnificent. The town’s many churches include Santa Maria Maggiore, San Pietro and St Clare.
The city is dominated by the massive 14th-century Rocca Maggiore – a hill fortress that offers fabulous views over the valley and back to Perugia. St Francis was born here in 1182, and work began on his basilica two years after his death in 1228. It’s a magnificent tribute to the patron saint of animals, with frescoes by Giotto, Cimabue and Martini. RRelics from Imperial days include the excavated forum and the pillared facade of the Temple of Minerva; Roman foundations are a common feature of many buildings.
The cultural and historical impact of Florence is overwhelming. Close up, however, the city is one of Italy’s most atmospheric and pleasant, retaining a strong resemblance to the small late-medieval centre that contributed so much to the cultural and political development of Europe.
For eye-watering sights, you won’t need to venture far from Florence’s medieval core, a Renaissance wonderland containing the graceful span of Ponte Vecchio, the Duomo’s skyscraping dome, the gilded splendour of Basilica di San Lorenzo and the well-hung Uffizi gallery.
The hard-working Milanese run their busy metropolis with efficiency and aplomb. It is the country’s economic engine room, home to Italy’s stock market and business centres. This stylish city is also the world’s design capital and rivals Paris as a leading fashion centre.
Milan is a sprawling metropolis, but most of its attractions are concentrated in its centre. Its hub is the Duomo, a fantastic Gothic confection topped by the Maddonina (our little Madonna), Milan’s protectress. Not far away is La Scala, one of the world’s great opera houses.
Naples is raucous, polluted, anarchic, deafening, crumbling
and grubby. It’s also a lot of fun. Superbly positioned on a bay, Naples has a little – and often a lot – of everything. It pulsates with noisy street markets and swarms of people buzzing around on Vespas with no regard for traffic rules.
Naples’ historic centre features a church-encrusted piazza and some seriously elaborate architecture. In addition to the usual Italian quota of castles, musuems and palazzi, Naples has the priceless treasures of Pompeii and Herculaneum at its doorstep.
Siena hhad been a bustling economic centre based on its textiles, saffron and wine in the 12th century. At this time many buildings were created in Sienese Gothic style, giving this town its distinctive style. Visitors enjoy the cafe-lined square Il Campo and the imposing St Dominic’s Church.
La Serenissima, Queen of the Adriatic, captivating city of canals and palaces.or tawdry sewer alive with crowds and charlatans? Venice’s nature is dual: water and land, long history and doubtful future, airy delicacy and ddim melancholy. When this precious place sinks, the world will be the poorer.
Take time to meander – losing yourself in the maze of canals and lanes is one of Venice’s principal pleasures. The cluster of sights around the Piazza San MMarco are heart-clutchingly beautiful, but the more secret pleasures of the hushed backstreets are just as entrancing.
Off the Beaten Track
The five magnificent villages of the Cinque Terre are wedged into the impossibly mountainous countryside that borders coastal Liguria in the northwest of the country. The towns are connected by a scenic pathway that winds along the terraced hillside through olive groves and vineyards, and are car free.
Riomaggiore overlooks a tiny cove, and fishing boats rule the roost, lying along the shore and even in the small square. Lovers’ Lane links the village with Manarola, the most picturesque of the five villages. Corniglia is not for the faint-hearted, as it sits high above the water and is reached by tortuous ssteps. Vernazza makes the most of its sea views, with a promenade and a piazza overlooking the water. Finally, Monterosso overlooks the only real beach in the vicinity, and features huge statues carved into the rocks that overlook it.
Just south of Salerno, Paestum is home to the country’s best-preserved relics of the Magna Graecia colonies. It is an enigmatic site, with three Doric temples dominating a flower-strewn, grassy plain. It includes the temples of Ceres and Neptune, a forum, a bbasilica and city walls. The museum houses a collection of friezes, rounding off one of the best collections of ancient architecture in the world. The 12km (7mi) island is one of the few protected natural environments in Italy’s south, known as the Woods of Diana.
Only 14 of the original 72 towers remain, but this wonderfully preserved medieval city in Tuscany is still known as San Gimignano of the Fine Towers. The towers reflect a period of quarrlesome one-upmanship in Italian history.
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