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Welcome to Italy
 
Introduce


Italy, called ‘Il Belpaese’ by it’s countrymen, or ‘Beautiful Country’, has probably has had more impact on civilization than any other country as one looks back over the past two millennia. On every score- art, culture, architecture, religion, politics, government, ingenuity or food- one can find a wealth of history and influences that permeate our society today.

Visitors to Italy find themselves with such a vast array of choices that the problem is where to start and how to choose amongst them! Accommodation in Italy is so varied and plentiful, that one need only decide on where to stay and what their pocketbook wants to spend. Hotels in Rome, villa-style lodging in Tuscany, mountain-top inns in the Alps- there’s an endless choice to choose from. Italy is at once the land of pasta, painters and Popes, but is unrivalled in its pure physical beauty. It is famed for its Roman ruins, remnants of the greatest empire to grace the Earth. Visitors to Rome can marvel at historical relics and art that give one a direct connection to birth of the Catholic Church, the genius of Leonardo da Vinci and beauty of the Trevi Fountain. There is every kind of art, every type of architecture, a wealth of music and cuisine prepared by some of the best chefs on the planet.

Of all European countries, Italy is perhaps the hardest to classify. It is a modern, industrialized nation. It is the harbinger of style, its designers leading the way with each season's fashions. But it is also, to an equal degree, a Mediterranean country, with all that that implies. Agricultural land covers much of the country, a lot of it, especially in the south, still owned under almost feudal conditions. In towns and villages all over the country, life grinds to a halt in the middle of the day for a siesta, and is strongly family-oriented, with an emphasis on the traditions and rituals of the Catholic Church which, notwithstanding a growing scepticism among the country's youth, still dominates people's lives here to an immediately obvious degree.

Above all Italy provokes reaction. Its people are volatile, rarely indifferent to anything, and on one and the same day you might encounter the kind of disdain dished out to tourist masses worldwide, and an hour later be treated to embarrassingly generous hospitality. If there is a single national characteristic, it's to embrace life to the full: in the hundreds of local festivals taking place across the country on any given day, to celebrate a saint or the local harvest; in the importance placed on good food; in the obsession with clothes and image; and above all in the daily domestic ritual of the collective evening stroll or passeggiata - a sociable affair celebrated by young and old alike in every town and village across the country.

Italy only became a unified state in 1861 and, as a result, Italians often feel more loyalty to their region than the nation as a whole - something manifest in different cuisines, dialects, landscape and often varying standards of living. There is also, of course, the country's enormous cultural legacy: Tuscany alone has more classified historical monuments than any country in the world; there are considerable remnants of the Roman Empire all over the country, notably of course in Rome itself; and every region retains its own relics of an artistic tradition generally acknowledged to be among the world's richest.

Yet there's no reason to be intimidated by the art and architecture. If you want to lie on a beach, there are any number of places to do it: development has been kept relatively under control, and many resorts are still largely the preserve of Italian tourists. Other parts of the coast, especially in the south of the country, are almost entirely undiscovered. Beaches are for the most part sandy, and doubts about the cleanliness of the water have been confined to the northern part of the Adriatic coast and the Riviera. Mountains, too, run the country's length - from the Alps and Dolomites in the north right along the Apennines, which form the spine of the peninsula - and are an important reference-point for most Italians. Skiing and other winter sports are practised avidly, and in the five national parks, protected from the national passion for hunting, wildlife of all sorts thrives.

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For things to do, no matter what time of year, Italy offers everything from skiing in the Alps to sunbathing on Adriatic Sea beaches. You can glide on the canals of Venice, visit the galleries and museums of Florence, walk the vineyards of Tuscany, stroll through the narrow alleyways of Bologna, or relax at a resort on Lake Como. Of all the old countries in Europe, Italy is probably the hardest to assign a labels. It is an icon of culture and at the leading edge of the fashion, art and culinary world, yet it is also a modern, industrialized nation, famous for an artist’s eye for detail and engineered perfection. Many of the qualities that one finds upon visiting this boot-shaped country are the same ones that made Italy historical great of the past 2,500 years.

One finds the people of Italy at once intense, emotional and sincere. Italians are given to shouting, gesturing, and embracing life to its fullest. They can one moment be dismissive of intrusive tourists, and at another be incredibly gracious and helpful, revelling in sharing a bit of themselves with visitors. Everything about Italy seems to convey that it strives to excel at anything it does, a passion self-evident whether one is walking amongst the ruins of the Roman Coliseum, gazing at Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel frescoes, or relaxing in the dining room of a Naples café.

The historic and storied land of Italy has been at the centre of Western civilisation for over two millennia now. Once home to the prosperous Etruscans, the peninsula later became the seat of the ambitious and far-reaching Roman Empire. With an astonishing number of UNESCO World Heritage sites, Italy is a preferred destination for tourists from around the world. Bound on three sides by the Mediterranean Sea, Italy hosts numerous port cities that blossomed during the 15th and 16th centuries when maritime trade was at an all-time high. The Alps hem in the north and the Apennine Mountains are the country’s backbone, stretching across the peninsula from north to south.

Italy's regional capitals each have their own rich and varied histories. Florence is full of museums and galleries that capture the spirit of the Renaissance; Naples has thousands of layers of history and boasts the nearby well-preserved Pompeii; and Milan remains synonymous with cutting-edge fashion. Of course, Rome is a destination in and of itself. With more impressive ruins and staggering landmarks than any other place on earth, the capital city has more to see and do then any itinerary allows. Within its historic centre, Rome houses the autonomous Vatican City, the beating heart of the Roman Catholic world and home to some of the world's most well-respected art and architecture.

Italians take food very seriously, and wherever visitors venture there's a local delicacy to reward their visit. From pasta, pizza and risotto to delicate truffles, artichokes and espressos, the Italians know how to dine. Accommodation in Italy is widely available in a variety of budgets. However, hotels can fill up in popular cities during peak travel periods. Options range from elite, internationally recognised brands to quaint bed and breakfast establishments and holiday villas in the countryside. The ever-popular holiday destination of Italy has as much charm and grand architecture as it did 2,000 years ago. Given the vast array of destinations and attractions within the country, to truly experience Italy requires a few return visits.

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History

History History History History History

Italy has been a bustling centreof political activity, crossing back and forth between prosperity and turmoil, for over 2000 years. In fact, evidence of the region’s first human inhabitants suggests that hunter gatherers had established themselves here as long as 100,000 years ago. Neolithic farming communities formed 6,000 years ago and stronger strides of civilisation in the wake of the Bronze Age followed.

Legend has it that Romulus, owing his lineage to Aeneas, Venus and Mars, founded the city of Rome in 753 BC. While much of his legacy sounds like fanciful storytelling (in infancy, he was purportedly nursed by a she-wolf), historians have not dismissed Romulus as complete fantasy. Most allow that there is at least a grain of truth at the centre of the story.

The Roman Republic grew out of a series of wars with the Etruscans and steadily gained momentum after the 6th century BC. There was a degree of representation in early Roman rule. As the republic assimilated its neighbours, it allowed provincial governments to remain so long as they paid homage to Rome and helped staff its military.

The republic eventually gave way to autocratic rule under Julius Caesar and his successor Octavian (Caesar Augustus). A succession of emperors continued with varying degrees of success for several centuries. In the 4th century AD, Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity and moved the centre of the empire to Constantinople.

During this time that followed the split of the Roman Empire, much of modern-day Italy was sectioned off into quasi-independent city-states that owed allegiances either to themselves or to various outlying kingdoms. These city-states were occasionally caught up in conflicts with one another, or against the meddling of the church.

The church grew in political power however during the age of Humanism (which ultimately gave way to the art and philosophy of the Renaissance period) papal authority was threatened by the new impetus on free thought and the secular disciplines of science and mathematics.

By the 19th century, Italians were hungry for a unified homeland and whisperings of unity and independence led to a series of ineffectual uprisings. The Franco-Austrian War (1859 to 1861) saw the realisation of unity, if not of prosperity. WWI, in which Italy fought on the side of the Allies, claimed more than half a million of the country’s fighting men. This left an unstable nation ripe for the fascist ideological takeover of Mussolini before WWII. Italy was invaded by the Allies in 1943 and Mussolini was arrested. Afterwards, the country was turned into a battlefield as Hitler confronted Allied forces here over the coming two years.

In recent decades, Italy has struggled to maintain a strong government though in 2001 it became a founding member of the European Union. Even so, the country remains stable and continues to host a steady stream of international tourists who come for the art, history and unparalleled architecture that still stands proudly over this ancient land.

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Weather


As the country is spread across a large expanse of latitude and passes through extreme altitudes, Italy is a land of varied climates. Coastal portions of the country—particularly south of Florence—are classified as Mediterranean climate zones, characterised by hot and dry summers followed by mild winters. Summertime highs regularly approach 30°C in this part of the country, and precipitation intensifies from October to December. Conditions become more arid and temperatures increase the further south you travel.

Inland portions of the peninsula fall under the humid subtropical climate zone. Here, at slightly higher altitudes, summer and winters are cooler. Rainfall during the winter months can also turn to snow in Italy’s interior.

In the foothills of the Alps, summers remain relatively hot, though winters can be cool. However, the Alps shield the low-lying lands from weather patterns on mainland Europe, a fact that keeps temperatures from falling too low during the winter. Heading north into the actual mountain range, altitudes soar and temperatures plummet. There are several smaller villages above the tree line in the Alps. In this part of the country, temperatures seldom exceed 10deg;C.

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Best Of Italy


Portofino
Explore the peaceful walking paths of picture-perfect Portofino, where Europe's jetset royals, film stars and other glitterati come to holiday year after year.

Café Florian
Sip a cappuccino for all it's worth (prices are outrageous) at eighteenth-century café Florian in Venice with its view of Piazza San Marco, the Campanile and the incomparably exotic Basilica.

Palazzo Te
Experience the delight - for some, the shock - of the frankly erotic frescoes decorating Mantua's Palazzo Te; it's an unforgettable lovers' retreat created by Renaissance artist/architect Giulio Romano for Federico Gonzaga, a fabulously wealthy prince, and his mistress.

Trattoria Corrieri
Tuck into the world-famous culinary masterpieces of immaculate Parma - emphasis on five kinds of prosciutto and real parmesan cheese - at the memorable, but not overpriced, Trattoria Corrieri.

Galleria dell'Accademia
In Florence's Galleria dell'Accademia, have a personal encounter with Michelangelo's David , the stalwart nude hero placed in his own domed space like some pagan god in a cult shrine.

Assisi
In Assisi, attend one of the fairly frequent concerts in the Upper Church of the Basilica di San Francesco, a space so beautiful and uplifting the music truly takes on celestial dimensions.

Abruzzi
At the very old-fashioned pensione Abruzzi in Rome you'll open your shutters in the morning to the imposing, timeless façade of the Pantheon, the most perfectly preserved of all Roman temples.

Da Michele
Sink your teeth into an authentic pizza in the most traditional of Neapolitan pizzerias, Da Michele in Naples, where savory pies are fashioned according to the three most time-honored recipes: marinara, margherita and ripieno.

Monte Solaro
Take the scenic chairlift ride up to the top of Monte Solaro, the highest point on the island of Capri, for stupendous views of the entire Bay of Naples.

Mount Etna
Climb to the uppermost level of the third-century BC Teatro Greco in Taormina, Sicily, for a view of snow-capped Mount Etna, then let your gaze plunge to the turquoise sea far, far below.

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Sightseeing

Sightseeing Sightseeing
Sightseeing Sightseeing

The sites in Italy are so concentrated and varied—many of them dating back nearly 2,000 years to the Roman Empire—that it is impossible fit them all into any reasonable itinerary. That's why tourists return to Italy over and again, to seek new attractions and revisit old favourites. Those attractions listed below are all internationally recognised for their heritage.

Amalfi Coast
The intensely beautiful Amalfi coastline has been home to thriving communities since early in the Middle Ages. Numerous architectural gems line the coastline here, interspersed with terraced houses lining the steep cliffs. A narrow ribbon of road navigates the precipitous coastline for 31 miles from Salerno to Sorrento. Positano is the most spectacular of these coastal towns. Wherever you travel along the Amalfi Coast, you'll find walking paths, spectacular scenic overlooks and intermittent beach access.
Visit this website to view amazing photographs taken at Amalfi Coast.

Colosseum
Easily the most identifiable attraction in Rome, the Colosseum dates to the first century and was originally built to house 50,000 spectators during gladiator contests and similar exhibitions. This colossal, elliptical amphitheatre measures 510ft by 615ft and its exterior is adorned by three tiers of archways. The arena was once covered in wood flooring and a layer of sand, the whole of which was sometimes flooded to recreate battles at sea. The Colosseum was also once outfitted with a canvas awning that sheltered spectators from the elements. Long queues can be avoided either by signing up for a tour or by purchasing a combination ticket which also admits tourists into several other historic sites.

Florence
Though its roots are Etruscan, Florence was officially declared a settlement by Julius Caesar in 59 BC. Florence served as capital for the Kingdom of Italy during the 19th century and is today the administrative seat of the region of Tuscany. Its walled and historic centre is synonymous with the Renaissance period. Some of the city's proudest artistic accomplishments are housed in Santa Maria del Fiore, a magnificent 13th century cathedral. There are countless historic and significant sites here, including the Medici Chapel, Campanile tower, Fountain of Neptune and the Palazzo Vecchio. The world-class museums and art galleries here testify to Florence's artistic and cultural importance.

Naples
Just west of Mount Vesuvius, the city of Naples boasts 2,500 years of history. Architecture here represents Baroque, Renaissance and Medieval periods, and the city's historic centre has an astonishing concentration of historic structures including 448 historic churches. The Castel dell'Ovo which sits on the tiny island of Megarides dates to the 1400s, though this is only one in a series of castles that have occupied this spot for many more centuries. Naple's Duomo is a lavish cathedral that was begun in the 13th century. Inside is St Januarius' Chapel of the Treasure, which is known for its altarpiece and frescoes.

Sightseeing Sightseeing
Sightseeing Sightseeing

Sightseeing

Pompeii
One of Italy's most celebrated historical sites, Pompeii would be just another ancient settlement levelled by a volcano if it weren't for the unusual way the city was preserved. When Mount Vesuvius erupted almost 2,000 years ago, the city was buried in a thick layer of ash and subsequently forgotten. As the city was lost for so long, its excavation has provided a unique and candid insight into the lives of 1st century Romans. When the bodies decayed centuries ago, they left a mould in the hardened ash; archaeologists later filled these with plaster to caste the victims in their last moments before the cataclysm consumed them. The effect is a fascinating and eerie window into the city's ancient history. Nearby Herculaneum also lost in the eruption is well-preserved.
Visit this website for Pompeii Tour.

Roman Forum
The Roman forum was originally an Etruscan burial ground, later converted and developed as a centre of civic and commercial interest. The forum was central to the Republic of Rome and grew for nearly a millennium before fading into antiquity in the 4th century. Visitors can explore the charming ruins alone or enlist the help of a knowledgeable guide.

Sacri Monti
A spread of nine hills spanning Lombardy and Piedmont in northern Italy are known for their clustered 16th and 17th century churches. These chapels blend seamlessly with their natural environment, and each is dedicated to a specific tenant or virtue of the Catholic faith. Built as a regional pilgrimage site to facilitate meditative journeys to the tops of these hills, the chapels also house an impressive array of wall paintings and sculptures that date to the same period as the chapels’ construction. The interiors of the chapels evoke elements of Christ's Passion.

Sistine Chapel
An intensely well-known feature of the Vatican City, the Sistine Chapel is the primary draw card for most who visit the Vatican Museum. This is the room in which a new pope is traditionally elected. However, most know it for Michelangelo's remarkable frescoes that adorn its vaulted ceiling. Tapestries by Raphael are also displayed on the interior walls. Botticelli and numerous other Renaissance artists contributed to the chapel's breathtaking collection, most of which dates to the late 15th century.

Climb the leaning tower of Pisa. This famous tower leaned at a rate of one millimetre per year for centuries until 1998, when efforts to quell the leaning were successful. Only a limited number of people are allowed up every day so advance reservations are essential.

Cruise the Grand Canal. A gondola ride through the waterways of Venice is, without a doubt, one of Italy's quintessential experiences. Prices are high, but the experience is worth it. Chartered rides last the better part of an hour and gondolas can seat as many as six people.

Escape to Lake Maggiore. This lake in northern Italy is close to the border with Switzerland. Part of the larger lake region that has entertained holidaymakers for centuries, the Lake Maggiore area is ideal for mountain biking and hiking during the summer months.

Go church-hopping in Rome. With more than 900 churches within city limits, you could spend weeks trying to visit them all. Of course, it's more gratifying to choose a couple of churches off the beaten tourist trail where you might discover a lesser-known gem without the hassle of long queues and crowds.

Soar to the top of Monte Solaro. In Anacapri, just outside of Naples, the Monte Solaro chairlift takes 15 minutes and ascends 1,900 feet to deposit visitors at Monte Solaro's summit. The view of Naples bay is unparalleled.

Stay up late in Rimini. The city of Rimini is more modern than many of Italy's tourist destinations. Known for family-friendly daytime activities followed by high-octane hedonism after hours, Rimini is an ideal layover for travellers in need of a party.

Tour the wine country. Sampling the local wines as you travel through Italy is a great way to experience the countryside. Piedmont is one of the best regions to devote to wine tasting, and every town seems to have its own trademark variety. Asti, Barola and Monferrato are three of this region's most noteworthy wine producers.

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Italy Activities

Cultural Activities Cultural Activities Cultural Activities Outdoor Activities
Cultural Activities Cultural Activities Cultural Activities Cultural Activities Children’s Activities

Cultural Activities

With so much art and ancient architecture, virtually every attraction in Italy holds a spark of cultural interest. With this in mind, there are several outstanding museums and art galleries that strive to promote the work of Italy’s foremost cultural contributors. Most of these institutes are housed in heritage buildings that date back several centuries and have well-documented histories of their own. Though technically outside of Italian jurisdiction, the Vatican City is one of the country’s most remarkable cultural treasures, and it contains an astounding array of religious art and artefacts.

National Etruscan Museum
Located in Rome, this museum is housed in a 16th century villa. Its collections include ancient jewellery, sarcophagi and marble sculptures that highlight lives and myths of the nearly forgotten Etruscan civilisation which predates the Roman Empire. The remains of an ancient Etruscan chariot draw a number of visitors, and the museum's most prized exhibits are a magnificent statue of Apollo and a life-sized terracotta funerary monument that depicts a bride and groom at their wedding party. Phone: +39 682 4620.

National Gallery of Umbria
Perugia’s National Gallery of Umbria is one of the finest museums in central Italy. Exhibits include paintings, ceramic works, sculptures and tapestries generated from the 1200s until the 1800s. Highlighted works include those by Pinturicchio and Arnolfo di Cambio (particularly The Scribe). One gallery is dedicated to paintings, all of which are divided into themed subsections. There is also a sacred treasury holding artefacts sourced from regional churches. Phone: +39 75 572 1009;

Peggy Guggenheim Collection
For those art enthusiasts who need a break from Italy’s bountiful classical artwork, this collection of contemporary work, located in Venice, offers a well-calculated diversion from the Renaissance art trail. Instead of perusing classical styles and grand frescoes, here visitors can compare some of the world’s greatest works of art generated in the last 100 years. Works by Biacometti, Dali, Klee, Kandinsky, Ernst and Picasso are all represented, and there’s a lovely sculpture garden outside where the museum’s namesake is buried. Phone: +39 41 240 5411;

Shroud of Turin
The holy shroud (or the Sindone) has been an iconic artefact at the centre of the Catholic faith for centuries now. Believed by some to be the burial shroud in which Jesus was wrapped after his crucifixion, the shroud didn’t officially enter historical records until the 10th century. It is rarely unveiled for public viewing (the last such unveiling was in 2000), though enthusiasts can explore the history of the shroud at the museum in Turin. Phone: +39 11 436 5832.

Siena
This Tuscan city was the first in Europe to ban automobile traffic. As a result, it has maintained a great deal of its old-world character. The walled city perches on three hills and is best explored on foot. Within its walls, you’ll find outstanding Gothic architecture, culminating in the enormous Duomo which is built from black and white marble and dates to the 1100s. Inside the cathedral is an intricate inlay depicting several scenes from the Bible and a glass case that purportedly holds the arm of John the Baptist, with which he baptized Jesus.

Uffizi Gallery
Located in Florence, this 15th century gallery is one of the world’s oldest. This is the greatest collection of Italian (and specifically Florentine) art anywhere on earth. The exhibits are laid out in a way that follows the evolution of local artwork since the 13th and 14th centuries. Work by Botticelli, Michelangelo, Raphael and da Vinci can be found here. The museum is about to finish a massive renovation and expansion campaign that will dramatically increase its scope. Reserve tickets in advance to avoid long queues. Phone: +39 55 238 8651

The Vatican
The world’s smallest country is also one of its wealthiest—a fact to which the city’s grand architecture and artistic prowess testify. At the gate of the Vatican is the Swiss Guards Corps - the world’s oldest standing army - whose task is the absolute protection of the pope. St Peter’s Basilica is on site, as is the Vatican Museum. The latter holds some of the most famous art generated during the Renaissance, including works by Raphael and Michelangelo. Navigating the museum ultimately brings visitors to the Sistine Chapel and its world-renown frescoes. Admission can be booked in advance, sparing visitors time spent in a long queue at the entrance.

Children’s Activities Cultural Activities Dining Dining Dining

Outdoor Activities

The varied Italian countryside fosters a broad selection of outdoor activities tailored to each individual landscape. Adventure seekers typically head for the northern Alps, where mountain climbing paves the way for an exhilarating base jump. Of course, skiing is what the Alps are really known for, and lavish ski resorts are plentiful in Italy. Hiking, walking and mountain-biking trails are maintained across the countryside, many of which pass through heritage sites. Travel agents in each town can arrange equipment hire and provide specific information about local outdoor opportunities.

Hiking
The Italian countryside is blessed with thousands of miles of well-marked hiking trails. Experienced and ambitious hikers can spend days crowning the Alpine peaks of the Dolomites, where rock-climbing, skiing, hang-gliding and base jumping are all avid pursuits. Less strenuous walks are available throughout much of the countryside, especially around Lake Garda or along the Amalfi coast. Sicily is unique in that many of its marked trails cross paths with delightful eateries and wineries where hikers can reward their exercise with some Sicilian seafood. Finally, most of Italy's volcanoes can be approached on foot over walking paths that expose the unique volcanic landscape.

Skiing
It is practically impossible to speak of a holiday in the Alps without devoting a great deal of attention to skiing. The slopes of the Dolomites are preferred by most, as they offer some of the country's most enticing landscapes. The Italian Alps attract all modes of skiers, from the old-fashioned downhill variety, to cross-country skiers, mountaineering skiers and even snowboarders. There are numerous ski resorts throughout northern Italy, and the best rates usually require a week-long stay. There is year-round skiing available at Aosta Valley, Mont Blanc and around Marmolada Glacier. Otherwise, adequate snow is on most slopes from December through March.

Water Sports
The many seaside resorts along Italy's Mediterranean coastline offer facilities for a variety of water sports. Sailing and windsurfing are possible almost anywhere there's a coastline, and diving and snorkelling are popular in areas where volcanic activity has paved the sea floor with an erratic rock shelf that attracts vibrant communities of coral and other marine life. Kayaking is possible in some coastal areas, though it is much more prevalent on Lake Garda and neighbouring lakes. Canoeing and white water rafting along Italy's rivers can also be arranged on the Isonzo River near the border with Slovenia.

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Dining & Shopping

Shopping is a national pastime in Italy, and tourists have ample opportunity to peruse designer boutiques in several of the major cities. Each metropolitan area is known for a specific product, and part of the fun of shopping in Italy is seeking out the local specialty.

Most visitors rightly equate Italy’s shopping outlets with ultra-modern fashion and elite designer goods. Rome, Florence and Milan all operate well-established fashion districts that offer prestigious Italian brands. Armani, Ferragamo and Prada all have stores on Rome’s via Condotti, though these few represent only a fraction of the designers who sell their work in Italy.

Florence is specifically known for its shoes and leather accessories; the San Lorenzo market (near the church by the same name) is an excellent place to shop for handbags and wallets in Florence. Meanwhile, Venice specialises in jewellery, glassware and intricate lace designs. Festive Carnivale masks are another regional specialty available in Venice. The Isle of Sicily has a reputation for beautiful ceramic goods.

Shoppers also have an excellent opportunity to purchase some of Italy’s trademark edible goods, ranging from provincial cheeses and cured hams to Tuscan red wines and Piedmont’s lightly sparkling Moscato d’Asti.

Local wines are also served in restaurants across the country. The vast array of regional cuisine and wine varieties means that each province offers its own flavours and aromas. While the quintessential pasta dishes are best sought in the southern, Mediterranean provinces, the northern Alps region is better known for risotto-style dishes.

Campania is the best place to order a Neapolitan pizza cooked in a wood-fire oven. The buffalo mozzarella and signature tomato sauce used in these pizzas is used in a variety of other local dishes. Lombardy is well-known for its cheeses; Emilia-Romagna for its pasta; and Piedmont for its truffles.

Across the country, dishes are prepared with fresh, Mediterranean seafood and provincial herbs and spices. Locally-pressed olive oil is used in countless dishes, as are regional variations on a zesty pesto sauce.

Unpretentious ‘hot tables’ (tavola calda) offer regional, pre-prepared specialities at modest prices. This is food that is picked up while on the move. For a slightly more involved dining experience, stop by a trattoria, where simple dishes and light table service are offered in an unassuming environment. A more sophisticated full-scale lunch is best enjoyed in a ristorante, where typically a great deal of thought has gone into the menu, décor and overall presentation.

After dining, be sure to finish in true Italian form with a shot of espresso—a strong, black coffee with a myriad of serving styles. Drink it straight (caffè), with a touch of milk (macchiato), or with a dollop of foamed milk (macchiato caldo). Espresso can be enhanced with a hint of grappa (a grape liqueur), while lattes and cappuccinos—well-known around the world—are at their best in Italy.

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Travel Tips


Business Hours

Banks: 08:30 to 13:30 and 15:30 to 16:30, M/F
Post Offices: 08:30 to 18:30, M/F
Government Offices: 08:30 to 13:00 and 15:00 to 18:00, M/F
Business Centres: 08:30 to 13:00 and 15:00 to 18:00, M/F
Shops: 09:00 to 13:00 and15:30 to 19:30, M/Sat

Cautions

On the whole, Italy is a well-travelled destination with little to concern visitors. However, there's a well-established organised crime syndicate operating in Italy, but this sector has little interest in the tourist scene and its criminal acts don’t target travellers. Petty crime is an issue for tourists, especially in urban areas and around centres of heavy tourism. Pickpockets work public trains and buses, while purse snatchers occasionally strike on crowded streets. Railway stations are particularly notorious for this sort of crime. Some tourists have also had their rental cars broken into when parked in poorly-lit car parks.

Tourists are sometimes the target of elaborate scams that usually end in a robbing, but exercising caution and common sense keeps most visitors safe. It is wise to decline drinks and food from strangers, as thieves sometimes resort to drugging their marks. To be safe, eat and drink only what you've ordered and take care when travelling after dark. Stick to well-lit, busy districts and travel in groups whenever possible.

Electricity: 230 volts, 50 hertz

Health

Public healthcare infrastructure is adequate in major Italian cities, though it is harder to find comprehensive facilities in more rural parts of the country. Many tourists opt for private clinics where standards are inevitably higher. Visitors are advised not to drink tap water and instead to rely on bottled, boiled or treated water. Drinks with ice should be avoided unless you're confident the ice is factory processed. Raw fruits and vegetables should only be consumed if peeled.

There are no special vaccinations required for travel to Italy, though travellers are advised to seek immunisations against measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) and tetanus-diphtheria. Some healthcare providers recommend influenza vaccinations for travellers during winter months.

Recently, an outbreak of the mosquito-borne chikungunya fever raised eyebrows in Ravenna province. This disease is rarely fatal and is currently under control. To be safe, mosquito repellent and clothing that covers as much skin as possible is recommended for those spending time in Ravenna.

Language

The official language of Italy is Italian, with local dialects in operation throughout the country. There are numerous minority communities of foreign language speakers and border communities are often fluent in neighbouring languages like French, Swiss German and even Greek. English is spoken and understood in metropolitan areas and along the tourist trail, though it's harder to find well-practiced English speakers in more remote parts of the country.

Currency

Italy is part of the European Union, so the euro has been the country's official currency since 2002. Banknotes are issued in: 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500 denominations, with 1 and 2 euro coins. Further, the euro breaks down into 100 cents and coins demark 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 cent denominations.

Currency Exchange

Credit cards are accepted by major hotels, restaurants and supermarkets, with MasterCard and Visa the most popular brands. ATMs are well-located throughout most cities, but travellers sometimes experience problems getting these machines to accept foreign debit cards. Money can be exchanged at exchange booths (known as cambio), post offices and banks. Traveller cheques are plagued with surcharges and less desirable rates, a fact which drives most tourists to rely on their debit cards instead. Banks in some smaller communities won't accept travellers cheques. Larger banks can also issue cash advances against credit cards.

Customs

While duty-free sales are no longer held in the European Union, the following items can be brought into Italy free of duty: 60ml of perfume; 2 litres of wine; 1 litre of spirits; 200 cigarettes; and goods totalling a value of 175 euros. There is not a limitation on the number of euros brought into Italy. Anyone entering Italy must fill out a declaration form which will be handed to customs officials at the time of arrival. Visitors who are not nationals of an EU nation are eligible for VAT (value added tax) reimbursement, either when they leave the country or the EU.

Etiquette

First-time greetings in Italy typically consist of a smile and a handshake. Those who are well-acquainted exchange ‘air’ kisses on the left and right cheek (in that order). Avoid using first names until you've officially been invited to do so. Many Italians also exchange calling cards, a social variant to the business card that lists the person's name, contact information and academic credentials.

First impressions are important to Italians, and the concept of bella forma (or 'good image') plays an important role in social situations. A person's appearance is thought to reflect their education, family ties and social status. Beyond dress and accessories, bella forma is tied up in a person's demeanour and posture. Confidence earns a great deal of respect here.

Gifts are opened upon reception and there are a few minor taboos related to gift-giving to avoid. The colour purple has been viewed in a bad light ever since the days of Julius Caesar, so gifts aren't wrapped in this colour or in black (the colour of mourning). Yellow flowers indicate a jealous gift giver and red flowers indicate an unsavoury secret.

Strong tides of Catholicism flow through Italy. While church attendance isn't particularly high, there remains a great deal of respect for the Church and its holy sites. Clergy are always treated with deference and respect.

Dining Etiquette

A traditional Italian dining experience begins with simple, marinated vegetables (antipasto), followed by a starchy dish - either rice or pasta (primo); a meat dish with a salad (secondo); and a sweet dessert (dolce). Coffee in the form of an espresso is served after the meal.

Culinary styles vary significantly across the country. In the north, dishes are centered on risotto, while pasta is more prevalent in the southern, Mediterranean provinces. Locals look first to their regional specialties.

Breakfast is very light, usually consisting of little more than a pastry and a cappuccino. Lunch is more substantial, and most business close their doors for a two-hour lunch break—one hour for eating, and another for napping. Aperitivos, or appetizers, are sought out in the early evening. Dinner, served much later, is another light affair.

Locals are extremely proud of their regional wines and part of the fun of touring each region is the chance to sample the local vintage. While wine is served with the meal itself, dark, sweet liqueurs are often taken afterwards along with a scoop of Italian ice cream (gelato) or a delicious blend of cookies, mascarpone cheese, cocoa and coffee (tiramisu).

Visa and Passports

As visa regulations are under constant revision, visitors are advised to check in with the closest Italian embassy for recent information before setting out. Visits for up to 90 days do not require a visa for citizens of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Switzerland and the United States. Furthermore, citizens of any of the countries forming the European Union can enter without a visa. There is a further agreement known as the Schengen Convention which permits travel between nationals of its 15 member nations.

A visa for one Schengen country allows travel to any other member state for the duration of the visa, though fees may still apply at some borders. Anyone visiting for reasons other than tourism will need to arrange a visa at an Italian embassy or consulate before arriving.

Tourist Information Offices

Tourist information offices are spread across the country, at the regional, provincial and municipal levels. The main office in Rome is found at 5-00185 via Parigi; phone: +39 64 88991;

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Transportation


Italy Map

Airports

Rome's Leonardo da Vinci Airport is the principal gateway for international arrivals, though many international visitors also arrive through Malpensa International Airport in Milan. Flights connect Rome and Milan with countless destinations across the world. In addition, there are numerous discount domestic routes that operate between these gateways and other regional and provincial capitals.

Airlines operating at these airports include (but are not limited to): Air France, British Airways, British Midland, easyJet, Lufthansa, Qantas, Ryanair, Thai International Airways, United Airways and Virgin Express. Intense competition between airlines keeps ticket prices lower during the off-season, though seats are often sold out and therefore more expensive from June to September. Italy's national carrier, Alitalia, operates across Italy. The airline is headquartered in Rome flies to more than 70 international destinations.

The airports at Rome and Milan are world-class, operating multiple terminals and offering exhaustive facilities that cater for tourists and business travellers alike. Ample parking and access for disabled passengers is provided, and public transportation from these airports to their respective city centres is well catered-for.

Public Transport

It is possible to reach Italy overland by bus, hire car or train. Although buses are the least expensive mode of travelling to Italy, most tourists opt to arrive by train, which is a considerably faster and more comfortable mode of transport. Eurolines is the most popular coach company, operating to and from multiple European cities. In Italy, Eurolines travels to Florence, Milan and Rome.

In Rome, travellers can purchase a Rome Travel Pass, which allows one to travel on all public transport in the Rome urban area, though not to the airports. Another convenient way to arrive in Italy is by ferry from any number of neighbouring Mediterranean destinations. Ferries travel to Albania, Croatia, Greece, Montenegro and Spain. Popular ports of arrival in Italy include Ancona, Bari, Brindisi, Naples, Sicily and Venice. It is also possible to arrange transport to and from ports in North Africa.

Within Italy, intercity travel or transport from one side of town to the other is quick and reliable. Ferries and hydrofoils travel from mainland ports to virtually all of the outlying islands, and it's quite possible to travel by ferry from one mainland port to the other on large car ferries. Tickets on these vessels can be booked for simple seats or cabins.

Italy is serviced by an intricate network of railroads between cities. Eurostar is the luxury train, offering fast and comfortable service between major cities at premium prices. InterCity trains serve the same cities however they aren't as luxurious or efficient (nor as expensive). Budget travel by train is made possible by Diretto, InterRegionale and Regionale. These trains make frequent stops and are rarely air-conditioned.

Multiple bus companies travel between Italian cities. These vehicles are very punctual and consistently provide reliable service. However, they're not necessarily cheaper than the train, which means they're often only used by persons travelling to a town that doesn't have a railway station.

Hiring a car is a nice way to travel between cities or enjoy the scenic countryside. However, issues with parking and the high prices of petrol make public transport more attractive to most travellers. If you are staying in just one region, hiring a car is a convenient option.

You must be a minimum of 18 to rent a car in Italy and have held your licence for at least 1 year. Drivers under 25 are subject to a young drivers surcharge. Seatbelts must be warn at all times and children under 12 must also be in appropriate restraints. Italians drive on the right side.

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