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ItalyView all tours
Despite incessant praise, travelling in Italy remains one of those rare experiences in life – like a perfect spring day or the power of first love – that cannot be overrated. In few places do history, art, fashion, food and la dolce vita (the good life) intermingle so effortlessly. There are sunny isles and electric blue surf, glacial northern lakes and fiery southern volcanoes, rolling vineyards and an urban landscape that harbours more UNESCO World Heritage sites than any other country in the world. Few places offer such variety and few visitors leave without a fervent desire to return.
Understandably, the artistic and architectural treasures of Rome, Venice, Florence and Naples draw visitors to them like moths to a flame. Not content with conquering most of the known world and bringing it within the embrace of the Roman Empire, the Venetians dispatched Marco Polo to unchartered lands right off the map, while Giotto, da Vinci, Brunelleschi and Michelangelo set the tone for the great ‘rebirth’ of Western art and architecture, the Renaissance.
Indeed, it’s no exaggeration to say that artists, engineers, sculptors and architects still take inspiration from the technical innovations of their major works to this very day. While artists and artisans all over Italy uphold traditions in esoteric trades such as silk weaving, glass blowing, leatherwork and ceramics, innovating designs and colour combinations to keep them abreast of contemporary tastes.
Look around you at all those splendid palaces, paintings, churches and monuments and you may wonder if there isn’t something in your delicately floral prosecco with its overtones of apples and pears. Actually, there is: hundreds of years of hard graft and an unswerving devotion to traditional techniques and terroir. From the neatly banded stone terraces of the Cinque Terre, which snake from sea level to crest gravity-defying precipices, to the blousy hillsides of Chianti, the riverine plain of the Po valley and the volcanic slopes of Etna, Italian wine, like its art, is designed to elevate regional cuisine and your general wellbeing. Some varieties will be as familiar to you as old flames, including crowd-pleasing Pinot Grigio and Chianti, but you’ll also find many unique regional varietals designed to perfectly complement the carefully sourced ingredients on your plate.
As the endless parade of courses start arriving, you’ll notice that the country much like its cuisine is an endless feast of experiences. No matter how much you gorge yourself, you’ll always feel as though you haven’t made it past the first course. Do you go skiing in the Dolomites, or cycling in wine country? Do you dive the sun-split waters of Sardinia, climb Aeolian volcanos or stalk market stalls in Naples? The choice is dazzling and bewildering. So take the advice of the locals. Slow down, sit back, tuck that napkin in and simply promise to come again.
Italy is situated in Europe, with a long coastline of approximately 7,600km (4,720 miles) stretching into the Mediterranean Sea and a mountainous northern border adjoining France, Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia. This northern Alpine region contains some of the highest peaks in Europe and is a good area for winter sports.
In central Italy, Tuscany has a diverse landscape composed of fertile rolling hills, lush river valleys, minor mountain ranges and a long sandy coastline. To the east is Umbria, known as the ‘green heart of Italy'; hilly with broad plains, olive groves and pines, and Le Marche – a region of gentle mountains, rivers and small fertile plains.
Further south lies Rome, Italy's capital city. Within its precincts is the Vatican City. The south of the country is hotter, wilder and much, much drier than the north, characterised by dry sierras, rocky mountain ranges and volcanic outcrops, including three of Europe’s most active volcanoes: Vesuvius, Etna and Stromboli. Puglia, the ‘heel of the boot', is a mixed landscape of fertile plateaus, expansive olive groves and flat, ochre-coloured plains. The islands of Sicily and Sardinia lie offshore to the south-west and west respectively.Government:
Republic since 1946.Head Of State:
President Giorgio Napolitano since 2006.Head Of Government:
Prime Minister Matteo Renzi since 2014.Electricity:
230 volts AC, 50Hz. Plugs either have two round pins or three pins in a row.Timezone:
Euro (EUR; symbol €) = 100 cents. Notes are in denominations of €500, 200, 100, 50, 20, 10 and 5. Coins are in denominations of €2 and 1, and 50, 20, 10, 5, 2 and 1 cents.Credit Cards:
MasterCard, American Express, Cirrus, Maestro and Visa are widely accepted. Some restaurants charge an extra ‘service fee’ if you pay the bill by credit or debit card – ask the establishment whether this is the case before using your card. As of early 2013, Vatican City has imposed a temporary ban on use of credit cards in an attempt to thwart possible money laundering; only cash will be accepted.ATMs:
ATMs are widely available throughout Italy. Look for the ‘Bancomat’ sign for machines with multilingual interfaces. Pickpocketing and petty thievery can be problematic in tourist areas, so take care to keep belongings secure and be vigilant when making cash withdrawals. ATM withdrawals within Vatican City have been temporarily banned.Travellers Cheques:
Traveller's cheques are widely accepted. To avoid additional exchange rate charges, travellers are advised to take traveller's cheques in Euros, Pounds Sterling or US Dollars.Banking Hours:
These vary from city to city but, in general, Mon-Fri 0830-1330 and 1500-1600.Currency Restrictions:
There are no restrictions on the import or export of local or foreign currency. However, amounts exceeding €10,000 or equivalent must be declared if travelling from or to a country outside the European Union.Currency Exchange:
Traveller's cheques, cheques and foreign money can be changed at banks, railway stations and airports and very often at major hotels (albeit usually at a less advantageous exchange rate).Currencies: Exchange Rates:
- 1 AUD = 0.71 EUR
- 1 EUR = 1.00 EUR
- 1 GBP = 1.28 EUR
- 1 USD = 0.79 EUR
Given its long boot-like shape and varied geography, the weather in Italy varies considerably from north to south. In the alpine north of the country, cold, harsh winters with heavy snowfall are typical between December and March, while summers are sunny and fresh. Around the northern Italian lakes, however, a mild microclimate prevails, benefitting the olive groves and tropical gardens that surround the lake, most of which come into spectacular bloom between April and June.
In central Italy, beyond the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines, the climate is milder and wetter with a less pronounced difference between summer and winter temperatures. Summer lingers longer and city centres, such as Florence, Siena and Rome can experience stifling humidity especially during July and August.
In the south, summers are far hotter and drier and temperatures more akin to those in North Africa prevail, often reaching above 30°C. Snow is rare and winter is especially mild, making the southern tip of the peninsula and the islands of Sicily and Sardinia ideal late season destinations.Best Time To Visit:
Italy is a great destination to visit year round, particularly if taking a city break, though for the warmest and most reliable weather April to June is the prime tourist season. Most Italians take their holiday in July and August so prices, and crowds, can soar during these months, which are also the hottest of the year. If you're keen to avoid the main scrum of peak season but still bank on mild weather, late September to October is a good choice.Required Clothing:
Lightweight clothes are worn during the summer, except in the mountains. Winter demands light- to mediumweights in the south, but warmer clothes elsewhere. Alpine wear is advised for winter mountain resorts.