Italy, commanding a long Mediterranean coastline, has left a powerful mark on Western culture and cuisine. Its capital, Rome, is home to the Vatican as well as landmark art and ancient ruins. Other major cities include Florence, with Renaissance treasures such as Michelangelo’s "David" and its leather and paper artisans; Venice, the sinking city of canals; and Milan, Italy’s fashion capital.
A country of olive oil and pasta, wine and sunshine, roman ruins and renaissance palaces, Italy has a lot to offer its visitors. Although some of these images are appealing, it would be a shame if that was the only thing you come away with. Italy is a modern country with deep Roman Catholic roots, full of interesting stuff for the casual tourist and even more for the educated visitor. It is easy to spend two weeks in major tourist centers without any reason to get bored, but it is equally simple to get off the beaten track.
Italy is a large country in Southern Europe. It is home to the greatest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites - art and monuments are everywhere around the country. It is also famous worldwide for its cuisine, its fashion, the luxury sports cars and motorcycles, as well as for its beautiful coasts, lakes and mountains.
Of the hundreds of Italian cities, here are nine of the most famous: Rome, Bologna, Florence, Genoa, Milan, Naples, Pisa, Turin, and Venice.
Rome Currency : Euro Driver's License : A valid driver's license is accepted but an International Driving Permit is recommended. Electricity : 220V at 50Hz Entry Requirements : A passport, valid 3 months beyond intended stay, and an ongoing or return ticket are required. It is the traveller's responsibility to check with the country’s Embassy for up-to-date information. GMT Time : +1hr. Daylight savings time is applied. Government : Republic Land size : 301,230 km2 Language : Italian officialy; minor German, French and Slovenian National Airlines : Alitalia Population : 58,147,733 approx Religion : Roman Catholic 90%, other 10% (Protestant, Jewish, Muslim) Required Vaccines : none Tourist Season : April to June, and September to October
Italian food inside of Italy is different than Italian in America or western Europe. Italian food is based upon a few simple ingredients and Italians often have very discriminating tastes. Food in Italy is also very different region by region. Pasta and olive oil are considered the characteristics of southern Italian food, while northern food focuses on rice and butter. Local ingredients are also very important. In warm Naples, citrus and other fresh fruit play a prominent role in both food and liquor, while in Venice fish is obviously an important traditional ingredient.
Breakfast for Italians might be coffee with a pastry (cappuccino e brioche) or a piece of bread and cold cuts or cheese. Lunch is seen as the most important part of the day, so much that they have one hour reserved for eating and another for napping. Also, a traditional Italian meal is separated into several sections: antipasto (marinated vegetables, etc), primo (pasta or rice dish), secondo (meat course), dolce (dessert). Salads often come with the secondo.
For a cheap meal you may like to track down an aperitivo bar which in the early evening will serve a series of plates of nibbles, cheese, olives, meat, bruschetta and much more, all this food is typically free to anyone who purchases a drink but is intended to be a pre-meal snack. The tradition of Aperitivo is particulary felt in Milan.
- Risotto - Rice that has been sautéed and cooked in a shallow pan with stock. The result is a very creamy and hearty dish. Meat, poultry, seafood, vegetables, and cheeses are almost always added depending on the recipe and the locale. - Arancini - Balls of rice with tomato sauce, eggs, and cheese that are deep fried. They are a southern Italian specialty, though are now quite common all over. - Polenta - Yellow corn meal that has been cooked with stock. It is normally served either creamy or allowed to set up and then cut into shapes and fried or roasted. - Gelato - This is the Italian version for ice cream. The non-fruit flavours are usually made only with milk and the fruit flavours are non-dairy. - Tiramisu - Italian cake made with coffee, mascarpone, cookies and cocoa powder on the top.
In Italy you can find nearly 400 kinds of cheese, including the famous Parmigiano Reggiano, and 300 types of sausages. Pizza is a quick and convenient meal. In many large cities there are pizza shops that sell by the gram. Many sandwich shops charge an additional fee if you want to sit to eat your meal. Culture Italy has been the home of many European cultures, such as the Etruscans and the Romans, and later was the birthplace of the movement of the Renaissance, that began in Tuscany and spread all over Europe. Todays Italy is a destination for immigrants from all over the world. At the end of 2006, foreigners comprised 5% of the population. The most recent wave of migration has been from surrounding European nations, particularly Eastern Europe, replacing North Africans as a major source of migrants.
The culture of Italy can be found in the Roman ruins remaining in much of the country, the precepts of the Roman Catholic Church, the spirit of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, the architecture. It can also be tasted in Italy's food. Italy's capital Rome has been the center of Western civilization, and is the center of the Catholic Church. In Ancient Rome, Italy was a center for art and architecture. There were many Italian artists during the Gothic and Medieval periods, and the arts flourished during the Italian Renaissance. Later styles in Italy included Mannerism, Baroque and Rococo. Futurism developed in Italy in the 20th century. Florence is a well known city in Italy for its museums of art. Great influences from Italy have also marked Literature and Cinema.
The music of Italy range across a broad spectrum, from her renowned opera to modern experimental classical music; and from the traditional music of the many ethnically diverse region to a vast body of popular music drawn from both native and imported source. Historically, musical developments in Italy in the Middle Ages and Renaissance helped create much music that spread throughout Europe. Innovation in the use of musical scales, harmony, notation, as well as experiments in musical theater led directly not just to opera in the late 16th century, but to classical music forms such as the symphony and concerto, and to later developments in popular music.
Appearances matter in Italy. The way you dress can indicate your social status, your family's background, and your education level. Fashion is a part of Italian society. Italian designers such as Armani, Prada, Gucci, Versace, and Valentino (just to name a few), are considered to be some of the finest in the world. The city of Milan takes its place amongst the most prestigious and important centers of fashion in the world.
Geography Italy is located on the Italian Peninsula in Southern Europe, and on the two largest islands in the Mediterranean Sea, Sicily and Sardinia. Italy shares its northern boundary with France, Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia. The independent states of San Marino and the Vatican City are enclaves within the Italian Peninsula, while Campione d'Italia is an Italian exclave in Switzerland.
The boot-shaped peninsula is surrounded on the west by the Tyrrhenian Sea and on the east by the Adriatic Sea. The Alps form its northern boundary. The largest of its northern lakes is Garda; the Po, its principal river, flows from the Alps to the Adriatic Sea.
There are several active volcanoes in Italy: Etna, the largest active volcano in Europe; Vulcano; Stromboli; and Vesuvius, the only active volcano on the mainland of Europe.
Italian islands include Sardinia and Sicily, also Capri, Ischia, Elba, Procida, Aeolian Islands, Aegadian Islands, Tremiti and Pantelleria.
History The migrations of Indo-European peoples into Italy probably began about 2000 B.C. and continued down to 1000 B.C. From about the 9th century B.C. until it was overthrown by the Romans in the 3rd century B.C., the Etruscan civilization dominated the area. By 264 B.C. all Italy south of Cisalpine Gaul was under the leadership of Rome. For the next seven centuries, until the barbarian invasions destroyed the western Roman Empire in the 4th and 5th centuries A.D., the history of Italy is largely the history of Rome. From 800 on, the Holy Roman Emperors, Roman Catholic popes, Normans, and Saracens all vied for control over various segments of the Italian peninsula. Numerous city-states, such as Venice and Genoa, whose political and commercial rivalries were intense, and many small principalities flourished in the late Middle Ages. Although Italy remained politically fragmented for centuries, it became the cultural center of the Western world from the 13th to the 16th century.
In 1713, after the War of the Spanish Succession, Milan, Naples, and Sardinia were handed over to the Hapsburgs of Austria, which lost some of its Italian territories in 1735. After 1800, Italy was unified by Napoleon, who crowned himself king of Italy in 1805; but with the Congress of Vienna in 1815, Austria once again became the dominant power in a disunited Italy. Austrian armies crushed Italian uprisings in 1820–1821 and 1831. In the 1830s, Giuseppe Mazzini, a brilliant liberal nationalist, organized the Risorgimento (Resurrection), which laid the foundation for Italian unity. Disappointed Italian patriots looked to the House of Savoy for leadership. Count Camille di Cavour (1810–1861), prime minister of Sardinia in 1852 and the architect of a united Italy, joined England and France in the Crimean War (1853–1856), and in 1859 helped France in a war against Austria, thereby obtaining Lombardy. By plebiscite in 1860, Modena, Parma, Tuscany, and the Romagna voted to join Sardinia. In 1860, Giuseppe Garibaldi conquered Sicily and Naples and turned them over to Sardinia. Victor Emmanuel II, king of Sardinia, was proclaimed king of Italy in 1861. The annexation of Venetia in 1866 and of papal Rome in 1870 marked the complete unification of peninsular Italy into one nation under a constitutional monarchy.
Italy declared its neutrality upon the outbreak of World War I on the grounds that Germany had embarked upon an offensive war. In 1915, Italy entered the war on the side of the Allies but obtained less territory than it expected in the postwar settlement. Benito (“Il Duce”) Mussolini, a former Socialist, organized discontented Italians in 1919 into the Fascist Party to “rescue Italy from Bolshevism.” He led his Black Shirts in a march on Rome and, on Oct. 28, 1922, became prime minister. He transformed Italy into a dictatorship, embarking on an expansionist foreign policy with the invasion and annexation of Ethiopia in 1935 and allying himself with Adolf Hitler in the Rome-Berlin Axis in 1936. When the Allies invaded Italy in 1943, Mussolini's dictatorship collapsed; he was executed by partisans on April 28, 1945, at Dongo on Lake Como. Following the armistice with the Allies (Sept. 3, 1943), Italy joined the war against Germany. A June 1946 plebiscite rejected monarchy and a republic was proclaimed. The peace treaty of Sept. 15, 1947, required Italian renunciation of all claims in Ethiopia and Greece and the cession of the Dodecanese islands to Greece and of five small Alpine areas to France. The Trieste area west of the new Yugoslav territory was made a free territory (until 1954, when the city and a 90-square-mile zone were transferred to Italy and the rest to Yugoslavia).
Italy became an integral member of NATO and the European Economic Community (later the EU) as it successfully rebuilt its postwar economy. A prolonged outbreak of terrorist activities by the left-wing Red Brigades threatened domestic stability in the 1970s, but by the early 1980s the terrorist groups had been suppressed. Italy adopted the euro as its currency in Jan. 1999.
Nature Plants and animals vary with area and altitude. Mountain flora is found above 1,980m in the Alps and above 2,290m in the Apennines. The highest forest consists of conifers; beech, oak, and chestnut trees grow on lower mountain slopes. Poplar and willow thrive in the Po Plain. As is characteristic of Mediterranean regions the vegetation of Italy consists of trees such as the olive, orange, lemon, palm, and citron; as well as fig, date, pomegranate, almond trees, sugarcane and cotton.
Although larger mammals are scarce, chamois, ibex, marmot, and roe deer are found in the Alps, and bears, chamois, and otters inhabit the Apennines. The fox is common. Birds like the eagle hawk, vulture, buzzard, falcon, and kite; as well the quail, woodcock, partridge, and various migratory species abound in many parts of Italy. Lizards and snakes and scorpions are also found. Abundant marine life inhabits the surrounding seas.
Sports Italy has a long sporting tradition. In almost all sports, both individual and team, Italy has good representative and many successes. Football is the most popular sport in Italy. The Italian national football team has won the Football World Cup four times (1934, 1938, 1982, and 2006). Italy's club sides have won 27 major European trophies, making them the most successful footballing nation in Europe.
Auto racing receives much attention in Italy, while the nation is host to a number of notable automobile racing events, such as the famed Italian Grand Prix. The Italian flair for design is legendary, and it should come as no surprise that Ferrari has won more Formula Ones than any other manufacturer. Motorcycle racing is followed by a lot of spectators as well.
Other common sports in Italy include Rugby, Basketball, Volleyball, cycling, tennis, golf, track and field, skiing, the bobsleigh, roller hockey, bocce and cue sports.
Along the beautiful water coasts all the know water sports can be practiced: sailing, motor boating, swimming, diving, water polo, rowing, and water skiing.
Banks & Money
Italy is part of the Eurozone, so the common currency of the European Union, the Euro (€), is legal tender in Italy.
Italy is quite an expensive country. It's best to exchange currency or traveler's checks at a bank, not a cambio, hotel, or shop. Traveler's checks can be changed at all airports and some travel agencies. ATMs are prevalent in all Italian cities and even the smaller towns. ATMs are linked to a national network that most likely includes your bank at home.
Credit cards are accepted in major cities but if you plan to travel through the countryside or rural regions you probably should not rely on them. Many small towns only accept cash.
Climate Italy and the large islands of Sicily and Sardinia have very changeable weather in autumn, winter, and spring in marked contrast to the settled sunny weather of summer. Disturbed weather can continue into late May and may commence any time after early September. Throughout the winter, however, cloudy rainy days alternate with spells of mild, sunny weather. The climate of the coastal regions is a typical Mediterranean climate with mild winters and generally hot and dry summers.
The least number of rainy days and the highest number of hours of sunshine occur in the extreme south of the mainland and in Sicily and Sardinia. Here sunshine averages from four to five hours a day in winter and up to ten or eleven hours in summer.
Generally, the hottest month is July and the coldest month is January. The inland northern areas of Italy have a continental climate typically classified as humid subtropical climate, while the coastal areas and the peninsula south of Florence generally fit the Mediterranean climate stereotype. Temperature differences are less extreme in the summer. Summer is usually more stable, although the northern regions often have thunderstorms in the afternoon hours. South of Florence the summer is typically dry and sunny.
In the winter there can be a considerable difference in temperature: it can be -2C and snowing in Milan, while it is 12C in Rome and 18C in Palermo.
For monthly average temperatures please refer to your destination of choice.
Communication The country code in Italy is 39. The telephone system is well diffused in all parts of Italy. Both the wire and mobile systems are widespread. The number of land lines start with 0 and the number of mobile lines start with 3. Numbers starting with 89 are high-fee services.
Payphones are widely available, especially in stations and airports. Some work with coins only, some with phone cards only and some with both coins and phone cards.
Internet Cafes are becoming common place and can be found in most towns. You will be charged according to the amount of time spent using the computer. Some larger hotels may offer also internet services.
Health While safe to drink, the tap water in many parts of Italy can be cloudy with a slight off taste. Most Italians prefer bottled water, which is served almost exclusively in restaurants. Make sure you let the waiter know you want regular water or else you could get frizzante (club soda water). The exception to this is Rome where they have exceptional pride in their quality of water. You can refill your drinking containers and bottles at any of the constant running taps\fountains dotted around the city.
At the pharmacist, medicines must be ordered from the counter, even for non-prescription medicines. Since drug brand names vary, it is better to carry prescriptions using the international nomenclature in addition to the commercial brand name.
Official Holidays January 1 - New Year's Day
March/April - Easter Monday
April 25 - Liberation Day
May 1 - Labor Day
August 15 - Assumption of the Virgin
November 1 - All Saints' Day
December 8 - Feast of the Immaculate Conception 25 - Christmas Day 26 - Santo Stefano
Safety Like most developed countries, Italy is a very safe country to travel. There are few incidents of terrorism/serious violence and these episodes have been almost exclusively motivated by internal politics. Examples include the 1993 bombing of the Uffizi by the Italian Mafia. Almost every major incident is attributed to organized crime or anarchist movements and rarely, if ever, directed at travelers or foreigners.
Petty crime can be a problem for unwary travelers. Travelers should note that pickpockets often work in pairs or teams, occasionally in conjunction with street vendors. The rate of violent crimes in Italy is considered moderate, and while a portion of violent crimes are committed against travelers, it is normally not a problem. However, instances of rape and robbery as a result of drugging are increasing. Travelers should be careful when going out at night alone.
Travelers should also be sure to ask for prices before making transactions with most vendors. Taking pictures with jovial, high-spirited costumed mascots will be followed up with a demand for payment. Some other examples are when gelato is purchased or a shoe shine is desired, prices should be asked for beforehand, since reports of extreme price gouging has occurred.
Shopping Italian products are world-famous for their style & quality. Shops for typical products with "made in Italy" label (fashion, leather goods, lace, shoes, jewelery, glass, ceramics, art objects) located in historical centres of cities. Via Montenapoleone & Via della Spiga in Milan, Via del Corso & Via Condotti in Rome, Via Toledo in Naples & shops on Ponte Vecchio in Florence are famous worldwide. Shopping is less expensive in department stores found in various cities, & in chain stores run by major clothing companies.
Many towns have flea markets and small markets for antiques & collector's items, generally during weekends. Take care when buying antiques since Italy is renowned for skilled imitators. Prices generally fixed and bargaining not general practice, although discount may be given on large purchase.
The Italian Wine is the most exported all over the World. In Italy the wine is a substantial topic, a sort of test which can ensure you respect or lack of attention from an entire restaurant staff. Better know wine regions include: Latium, Tuscany, Emilia-Romagna, The Veneto, Trentino-Alto Adige, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Lombardy, Campania, Sicily, and Marsala.
Taxes & Tips There is no departure tax at the airport.
All the bills include the service charges, so tipping is not necessary. Tipping the taxi drivers, hotel porter, chamber maids is expected.
The value-added tax (VAT) on most goods and services is of 20%. Refunds are made for the tax on certain goods and merchandise if you spend a minimum of 175€ in the same store on the same day, and if you are not a resident of the European Union. You must then get the Retail Export Form from the store, have customs stamp your form when leaving (have purchases with you) and then mail it in for your refund when back home.
Transportation Italy has its own national airline, Alitalia, as well as several smaller carriers, such as Meridiana. Most of the international flights arrive to the following Italian cities: Milan, Rome, Bologna, Naples, Pisa, Venice, and Turin.
Italy borders on France, Austria, Switzerland and Slovenia. French and Austrian borders are open, but cars can be stopped behind the border for random checks. Switzerland is not part of the Schengen zone, and full border checks apply. Italy has a well-developed system of highways in the northern side of the country while in the southern it's a bit worse for quality and extension. Even if speeding is very common on autostrade, be aware that there are a number of automatic and almost invisible systems to punish speeding and hazardous driving. Also Italian Highway Patrol has several unmarked cars equipped with speed radar and camera system.
The Italian rail system has different train types. Newer trains are not necessarily more comfortable. The main practical difference between train types is reliability. Intercity services are generally very reliable. During commuter hours or on major north-south routes during the holidays the lower train types can become extremely full. Remember that you must validate the ticket before boarding, by stamping it in one of the yellow boxes (marked Convalida).
There are a few national bus services but the train is usually better. Most big cities offer a public transportation service, such as buses or in certain cities a subway system.
There are several ferries departing from Greece, Albania, Montenegro and Croatia. Most of them arrive to Venice, Ancona, Bari and Brindisi. Some regular ferry services connect Sicily and Naples to some North African harbors.
The Italian coast, like the French coast, attracts luxury yacht charters of the highest standards. Touring Italy from a private yacht is surprisingly convenient and comfortable. There are major distinct nautical regions in Italy: Tuscany, Amalfi Coast, Sardinia and Sicily.
You will visit the following 5 places:
Venice is a city in northeastern Italy sited on a group of 118 small islands separated by canals and linked by bridges. The city is renowned for the beauty of its setting, its architecture, and its artwork. The city in its entirety is listed as a World Heritage Site, along with its lagoon. Venice has been known as the La Dominante, Serenissima, Queen of the Adriatic, City of Water, City of Masks, City of Bridges, The Floating City, and City of Canals. It has also been described as being one of Europe's most romantic cities. It is truly an amazing, stunning and interesting city for the adventurous to explore!
Florence is the capital city of the Italian region of Tuscany and of the province of Florence. It is the most populous city in Tuscany, with 367,569 inhabitants (1,500,000 in the metropolitan area). The city lies on the River Arno and is known for its history and its importance in the Middle Ages and in the Renaissance, especially for its art and architecture. A centre of medieval European trade and finance and one of the wealthiest cities of the time, Florence is considered the birthplace of the Renaissance; it has been called the Athens of the Middle Ages. Florence is often known as the ''Jewel of the Renaissance''.
Palermo is a city of Southern Italy, the capital of both the autonomous region of Sicily and the Metropolitan City of Palermo. The city is noted for its history, culture, architecture and gastronomy, playing an important role throughout much of its existence; it is over 2,700 years old. Founded in 734 BC by the Phoenicians as Ziz ('flower'), Palermo is Sicily's cultural, economic and touristic capital. It is a city rich in history, culture, art, music and food. Numerous tourists are attracted to the city for its good Mediterranean weather, its renowned gastronomy and restaurants, its Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque churches, palaces and buildings, and its nightlife and music. The city is also was one of the largest cities in the Mediterranean and is now among the top tourist destinations in both Italy and Europe. It is the main seat of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Arab-Norman Palermo and the Cathedral Churches of Cefalù and Monreale. The city is also going through careful redevelopment, preparing to become one of the major cities of the Euro-Mediterranean area. Roman Catholicism is highly important in Palermitano culture. The Patron Saint of Palermo is Santa Rosalia whose Feast Day is celebrated on 15 July. The area attracts significant numbers of tourists each year and is widely known for its colourful fruit, vegetable and fish markets at the heart of Palermo, known as Vucciria, Ballarò and Capo.
Rome is the capital of Italy and the country's largest and most populated city and comune, with over 2.7 million residents in 1,285.3 km2 (496.3 sq mi). Rome's metropolitan area is the second largest in Italy Milan, with some 3.7 million residents. The city is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, on the Tiber River within the Lazio region of Italy. The historic centre of the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. With wonderful palaces, millennium-old churches, grand romantic ruins, opulent monuments, ornate statues and graceful fountains, Rome has an immensely rich historical heritage and cosmopolitan atmosphere, making it one of Europe's and the world's most visited, famous, influential and beautiful capitals.
Milan is a city in Italy and the capital of the region of Lombardy and of the province of Milan. The city proper has a population of about 1,315,000, while the urban area is the largest in Italy and the fifth largest in the European Union with a population of 4,345,000 over an area of 2,370 km2 (915 sq mi). The Milan metropolitan area, by far the largest in Italy, is estimated by the OECD to have a population of 7,400,000. The city is the main industrial, commercial, and financial centre of Italy and a leading global city of fashion and design. Its business district hosts the Borsa Italiana (Italy's main stock exchange) and the headquarters of the largest national banks and companies. Milan's museums, theatres and landmarks (including the Milan Cathedral, the fifth-largest cathedral in the world, and Santa Maria delle Grazie, decorated with Leonardo da Vinci paintings such as The Last Supper, a UNESCO World Heritage Site) attract over 8 million visitors annually.