“You may have the universe if I may have Italy.”
From Alpine meadows to sparkling coves; from fast cars to slow food - Italy is a land of fabled beauty and good living which for many people is the ultimate holiday destination. Its appeal lies in the gloriously colourful variety which takes in Germanic onion domed churches in the Dolomites through the dazzling art cities of the centre to the sun-kissed south's delicious food and wonderful beaches. Art lovers, hikers, foodies, oenophiles and sun worshippers are all spoilt for choice, but simply drinking in all those achingly photogenic landscapes and enjoying the fabulous cuisine as you tour stunning coastlines, mountains and medieval towns is a reliable recipe for a great trip.
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Best things to do in Italy
This long, slender country has countless charms, but what are some of the best things to do in Italy? These are some of the top things recommended by our local partners.
Enjoy the cultural riches
Delve into Italy's great historic cities like Rome, Florence and Venice - each awash with fine art and architecture including some of the world's finest masterpieces, often housed in breathtaking palazzi with historical importance. To experience culture at a community level, make time to enjoy convivial local festivals dedicated to food, wine, patron saints or the changing of the seasons. Join the Italians on their evening passeggiata, a gentle daily riot of chatter, browsing shop windows, parading the latest fashions or just indulging in a gelato.
The baroque delights of historic Sicily jostle with the wonderful cuisine, glittering coastline and impressive landscapes for your attention. Will you find yourself admiring the stunning churches of Palermo, perusing the raucous fish market in Catania or scaling the heights of Etna for its amazing panoramic views? The cluster of baroque towns such as Siracusa, Ragusa and Modica in the south east of the island are a delight, as are the seaside destinations of Toarmina and Cefalù.
Food glorious food
Italians take enormous pride in their gastronomic heritage, and each region has a distinct food culture all of its own. The best way to understand the soul of Italy is through experiencing first hand the reverence placed upon cooking and eating. A family meal is traditionally so much more than a refuel. Ideally, several generations are present, many hands will have contributed to the preparation, the produce will be local and seasonal, and the recipes will reflect regional culinary preferences. Then of course, the meal will last for hours and conversation will flow. This is the foundation of Italian family life.
The drama of the Amalfi coast will transport you to the past, when the diminutive maritime villages held huge importance to seafaring, reflected in the sumptuous churches and impressive architecture of Positano, Amalfi and Ravello which perch precariously above the waves. Sardinia's beaches are the finest in Italy, many with soft white sand clearly visible through the tempting turquoise water which is usually crystal clear and calm. Whether you prefer exclusive resorts or traditional farmstays, you can find your perfect base to enjoy Sardinia's charms.
Tuscany's stunning scenery
Many of Italy's most memorable views are waiting for you in iconic Tuscany, not least the iconic leaning tower in Pisa. Add to that the famous Ponte Vecchio over the river Arno in Florence and Brunelleschi's gravity defying dome; Siena's shell shaped piazza and San Gimignano's 72 medieval towers - the whole region is a photographer's dream. Add to that a thousand jaw dropping vistas over the endless Tuscan hills, home to ancient olive groves, vineyards and bucolic stone hamlets.
Lesser known things to do in Italy
We know the appeal of the historic sights and the fantastic foodie experiences... but what about the lesser known things to do in Italy? Have a read of some of our local partner's recommendations.
Get to know the Dolomites
There can be few mountain ranges on our planet as impressive as the Dolomites. Pointed stacks of sheer rock rise vertically from the meadows below, providing a scenic backdrop for snowsports enthusiasts in winter and hikers in summer. Valleys weave between these huge towers of rock, dotted with picturesque villages and huge sturdy farmhouses. These mountains are a beautiful playground for a fantastic range of outdoor activities from rafting to mountain biking.
A narrow curve of coastal mountains spans from the French border round to the north of Tuscany, boasting some of Italy's most impressive shores. Cinque Terre, the 'five lands' are the jewel in Liguria's crown, and the pastel hued villages, each of which clings limpet-like to the steep cliffs, are a deservedly popular destination, linked by footpath, boat or train. Genoa is a fascinating coastal city famous for its warren of historic narrow streets, its seafaring heritage and its huge aquarium. Portofino and Portovenere are two more Ligurian gems not to be missed.
Off the beaten track
Packed full of famous attractions like historic Rome and romantic Venice, Italy is hardly an undiscovered destination. However, there are still vast areas of beautiful countryside and impressive towns which remain firmly under the radar. Discover the foodie delights and engineering prowess of Emilia Romagna, home to Ferrari, Lamborghini, Ducat and Maserati among others and well known in Italy for rich and tasty dishes such as lasagne and tortellini. Piemonte's castle-studded hills produce Italy's finest wines, while Lazio and Campania can boast fabulous art, rugged scenery and fine cheeses and wines to boot.
This is a nation so full of artistic treasures - both ancient and modern - that no visitor can fail to be impressed. The artistic ability of Italians is most famously reflected in the great works of the renaissance, but a flair for innovative craft and design still persists to this day. Whether you find it in the cutting edge architecture of Milan's Bosco Verticale (vertical forest) tree-clad skyscrapers, the celebrated Italian fashion houses of Prada, Gucci et al, or the sleek furniture design of Gio Ponte, a dedication to design and style is everywhere. Even in the smallest villages, artisan crafts thrive.
Interesting facts about Italy
You may think you know rather a lot about Italy, but did you know any of these interesting facts?
Each household in Italy gets through an average of 37kg of coffee every year, which is impressive enough, but when you consider that most coffee is drunk at the bar - 14 billion shots of the stuff in an average year - it seems clear the nation runs on caffeine!
There are only three active volcanoes in Europe, all in Italy. Etna dominates much of the east of Sicily and shows intermittent activity and eruptions of ash fairly constantly. Stromboli, on an island north of Sicily, is even more active, emitting sparks and ash more or less constantly. Vesuvius, near Naples, last erupted in 1944.
As a single nation, Italy is young in European terms, only becoming a single nation in 1861. Before that it was a collection of city states.
Italy's enviable lifestyle, prolific fresh produce and healthy cuisine all contribute to the fact that it has one of Europe's longest life expectancies. It also has Europe's oldest population.
Estimates vary as to the number of dialects spoken in Italy, but there are least 30 recognisable regional tongues, many so different that for example a Sardinian dialect speaker and a Venetian dialect speaker would not be able to understand much if they tried to communicate purely in dialect.
Best time to go to Italy
We believe that the best time to go to Italy is during spring (March - May) and autumn (September - November) as the temperatures are comfortable and you don't have to navigate the summer crowds. The Dolomites are covered in wildflowers in spring, and October is a great time for any oenophiles to visit, as they can witness the harvesting on the vineyards.
Summer is a very popular time to visit, coinciding with the european school holidays, and the tourist hot spots of Rome, Tuscany and Naples are precisely that... hot!
Of course, bear in mind that Italy is a long and slender country, meaning seasons in the north vary with seasons in the south. Winter in the more southerly regions of Italy is still a pleasant time to visit, while winter in the far north of the country is cold and wet. Summer in the mountains of the north can also be very pleasant and not too hot.
Speak to your local expert if you want any advice on what the weather will be like when you are planning to visit as it really does vary by region.
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