Italy is both an ancient land, that has left its mark all across the world, and yet also a new country trying to come together after only 150 years of unification. The density and diversity of the country is extraordinary, with different cultures, cuisines and ways of life hidden across this unique destination. But from Turin to Bari, or from Palermo to Trieste, can you really talk about one single place? Both Northern Italy and Southern Italy are worlds waiting to be discovered in their own right - a collage of regions so different, yet united at the same time.Treasures
To name but a few of Italy's treasures : Tuscany, where every village and every church hides treasures; the eternal, wild Rome; scandalous Naples; the incomparable Pompeii; Romeo and Juliette's Verona - and not to forget, Venice. Considering that every region offers you many reasons to stop, it is not surprising that Italy is the country with more UNESCO World Heritage Sites than any other.World famous cuisine
Italy is renowned the world over for its cuisine. If you want something really refined to eat head to Langhe or Montferrato where the local cuisine has an exceptional reputation. Real Italian pizza lovers know that the birthplace of pizza is Campania, where you can still find top quality recipes for low prices.Rural Italy
Ideal for long weekends in its cities rich with art and history, or for its beautiful beaches, Italy's rustic countryside offers just as much. Visit the Apennines, the Po Valley, the Sicilian volcanoes, or the little-known Dolomites. There are many routes through the national parks, cycle paths across the countryside, or waterways that curious travellers are yet to discover.
Whether it be Pulgia, Umbria or Emilia-Romagna, make sure to take you time: explore the roads less travelled, zig-zag, dawdle, and sink into the lifestyle and landscape of the Italian countryside, with its little-known villages, and search for the goods that each place has to offer.What to do
Everywhere you will discover little treasures, hidden here and there, dotted amongst the abundance of unmissable landmarks. Be it Etruscan, Roman, Renaissance, Baroque - the golden ages of Italian culture have spread across the country. The density of cultural gems forces you to take your time, and to return many more times. And we haven't even gotten started on the festivals, exhibitions, carnivals and concerts... there are always plenty of good reasons to travel to Italy, so be sure to visit and make the most of the Dolce Vita!
Sport lovers should head to the mountains during winter, where the Alps and Dolomites have a whole host of snow sports on offer. If it's waterscapes you're looking for, Lake Como or Lake Maggiore near Milan attract large numbers of tourists year on year.
Tuscany is the ideal getaway for couples, where you will get the chance to visit cultural hotspots from Florence to Assize and Siena. Perouse, capital of the Umbria region is a little mountain paradise often nicknamed the green region.
In Sardinia, Sicily and Elbe the prices are lower and the temperatures hotter. If beaches are really what you're looking for, you'll find the most beautiful ones on the islands.
Visiting Italy is principally a question of timing. To avoid the crowds, overinflated prices and extreme heat, avoid the big cities or the touristic coastline in the summer. During July and August go for lesser known regions such as Emilia-Romagna, Abruzzo or Friuli where you can travel by car, bike or simply by foot. Historical discoveries and pastoral scenes - all in total tranquillity - await you. In Venice, the only period where you can really feel calm and away from the crowds is in January - it is cold and wet, but at least it offers a bit of respite. What's more, if you're lucky enough to be there when it snows, then it is truly magnificent!
For Tuscany, we recommend going in the autumn, with its distinctive and divine sunlight. The relationship between the local population and tourists is different at this period, as in Rome and Naples - where you can visit all year. But going before or after peak seasons will allow you to enjoy it better, and leave you with more memories. Naples in April, where further north spring is just beginning to take hold, is far ahead - and a trip there will be very memorable as a result!
A visit to the Italian islands of Sardinia and Sicily can unfortunately be complicated outside the summer peak season. There are not many flights to take you there - above all to Sardinia - and accommodation is often seasonal. Camping sites, for example, won't be open.
In most cases, there are many low-cost flights between the UK and Italy, especially during the peak summer season (May to October). Look out for deals and book early, especially in order to take advantage of the least expensive flights.
Italy is the home of the Pope, and has a very strong Catholic culture: around 80% of residents are Catholics and 20% go to church every week. It should be remembered to dress discretely when in holy places, which are often watched by guardians.
In the South, there are a number of strongly rooted traditions. After dinner, residents have a siesta (pisolino) then go for a walk (la passeggiata) at around 18h. This is also the time for an aperitivo, where you can sit yourself down on a terrace, buy a drink, and help yourself to an enormous buffet.
Cooking is the second religion of Italians - they usually eat very well and in large amounts. The kitchen table is the centre of family life, with relatives getting together on Sundays for a large lunch. If you go to on, remember not to break the following rules: finish you plate, and never cut your pasta! A traditional meal consists of an antipasti (an amuse-bouche and starter), followed by a primo piatto (pasta or risotto and a soup) then a secondo (main course) and finally a dolce (dessert).
For those who love traditional pizzas, there's nowhere like Campania (Naples) for great pizza at low prices. Bologna is known as "the fat", joining the northern custom of making pasta with cream sauces, and the southern with tomatoes. For those who love truffles, head to Piedmont, Tuscany or Umbria.
For seafood, Puglia and Venice always offer some of the freshest around. Venice's fish market La Pescaria has been there for 600 years. For cheese, there is nothing like burrata, mozzarella di buffalo, pecorino, gorgonzola or of course parmesan.
When it comes to wine, you will find great whites in Cinque Terre, reds in Piedmont and the wine-growing regions of Valpolicella and Soave. Sardinia hides an excellent production of whites and reds, which are often not exported. If you are in Verona in the last weekend of May, be sure to tour wine cellars as part of the Cantine Apete (open cellar) celebration. It is also here, in the city of Romeo and Juliet, where you can head to VinItaly at the end of March, the largest wine showcasing event in the world.
All in all, Italian food is a dimension of the country itself. Eating is a window into the history, culture and tradition of the land.