Italy’s sense of style is evident even in its shape. It snakes down out of Europe’s waistline and into the Mediterranean like a woman’s leg, her foot easing its way into a sleek stiletto. Indeed, fashion houses and style gurus all have their home here, and not just in Milan.
Yet contemporary style is only part of Italy’s gift to the discerning traveller. Its countryside is strewn with the relics of more than 3,000 years of history, making it a sightseer's paradise.
Italy is also home to more UNESCO World Heritage Sites than any other country on earth, with an incredible 47 sites of global historical significance dotted around the map.
In Rome alone there are ancient footprints everywhere, and you can follow their trail from the Colosseum to the Trevi Fountain; from the Spanish Steps to Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel and the Pantheon.
This visual feast can be garnished liberally with some of the finest works of art from the last six hundred years and more, including masterpieces from da Vinci, Caravaggio and Botticelli.
Nestled into the outskirts of Rome is the independent Vatican City, the seat of the Pope and home to the famous St Peter's Basilica. The influence of the Holy Catholic Church is evident everywhere throughout the country, in the crosses worn on necklaces and in the holy festivals, carnivals and parades that mark the passing of time in almost every city, town and village.
The Holy Roman Empire once stretched across the globe, and its incomparable legacy is still reflected in the grandeur of Italy’s churches, frescos and sculptures, and even in its Renaissance paintings.
Today’s Italy offers a variety of scenes for the traveller to take in: you can be air-kissing with the Armani-clad, scooter-driving, espresso-drinking pretty young things one second, before being transported to the more tranquil, pastoral landscapes of its hillside olive farms, vineyards and seaside fishing villages.
If you head north, the canals of Venice are waiting to be explored by gondola, or else you can indulge yourself in the wonderful shopping streets of Milan, the global fashion capital. Linger longer to discover the historic and cultural sights that contribute to the magic of Florence.
Further south, beyond the business travel centre of Rome, lies Naples, where the winding clifftop roads and luxury resorts of the Amalfi coast await. In the distance lies Mount Vesuvius and, at its feet like a slain warrior, the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum – incredible sites which simply can’t be done justice in less than a full day’s visit.
On top of all this, there are high-end skiing resorts in the Alps, in the Dolomites and the Apennines, as well as the white sandy beaches of San Remo and countless other stylish ports and resorts where you can enjoy la dolce vita by the sea.
The best time of year to visit Italy is during the summer months when most of the country can be enjoyed like a fine Montepulciano wine – slowly and indulgently.
A trip to the rolling hills of Tuscany is in order to sample some of the Italian wines born of the rich soil and sun of this region, under the watchful eyes of rolling hills, cypress trees, lush vines and olive groves. Make sure you soak it all up with extra virgin olive oil that needs nothing more than a dip into local crusty bread to be enjoyed at its best.
Italian cuisine has a wonderful regional bias, which means wherever you go there will be a typical local dish or speciality to sample.
From the depths of the canals in Venice to the rocky crags of the Alps, Italy has simply everything to offer, from history and culture to shopping, beach holidays and luxury mountain ski resorts.
Italy’s climate has strong regional variations, just like its cuisine.
In summer the north is warm with occasional rainfall, the central region is humid and the south scorches under an arid heat.
In winter, conditions in Milan, Turin and Venice are cold, damp and foggy and Tuscany's winter temperatures approach freezing, but temperatures in the south average between 10 and 20 degrees Celsius (50-60 degrees Fahrenheit).
Most people visit Italy between June and August, however those in the know will book their break in spring (April-May) or autumn (September-October) when the weather is good and the tourists are fewer in number.
The ski season runs between December and April, and the best time for walking in the Alps is between June and September.
The official language of Italy is Italian. English is understood in the larger cities, but not so much in more rural areas.
Italy is a member of the European Union. You may need a Schengen visa (short stay visa) to stay in the country for more than 90 days. Please check rules around visa requirements before you travel, as they may change regularly.
Crime levels are generally low in Italy but bag snatching and pick-pocketing is relatively prevalent in the big cities such as Rome. Be aware that thieves can use a variety of methods to distract you, and take all the usual precautions such as keeping your valuables out of sight.
Tourists in Italy should be vigilant due to the background threat of international and domestic terrorist attacks.
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