|Country Information & Lifestyle|
La Dolce Vita
Italy is a most intriguing and seductive country full of excitable people with a zest for life, the birthplace of Michelangelo, Raphael, Botticelli and the home of beautiful, romantic cities such as Venice, Rome, Florence and Milan. Let your love affair with Italy start right here.
Situated in Mediterranean Europe the Republic of Italy includes the enclave of Campione in Switzerland, and the states of San Marino and the Vatican City. Italy borders France in the north-west, Switzerland and Austria in the north and Slovenia in the north-east. The peninsula is surrounded by sea, and the landscape in Italy is very varied.
Characterised predominantly by two mountain chains, the Alps, stretching for over 600 miles from east to west, and the Apennines, with peaks rising to over 14,000 ft including Mont Blanc, the Matterhorn and the bewitching Dolomites with their extraordinary beauty.
In the foothills of the Alps are the lakes of Maggiore, Como, Iseo and Garda, and the main archipelagos are the Tremiti Islands in the Adriatic Sea, the Pontine Islands, the Aeolinan Islands and Egadi Islands in the Tyrrhenian sea off the coast of Sicily.
The term "pretty as a picture" could have been coined for Lake Maggiore: Vibrant towns on its shores... ornate gardens located on tiny islands...the majesty of the neighboring Alps... Verbania sits on the western shore at the southern end of the long lake, which snakes up into Switzerland. An esplanade skirts the lakefront, with cafes and bars galore. A large, tree-studded park hosts concerts in the summer and there's a sandy beach for swimming and sun bathing.
There are beautiful gardens where you'll find rare and exotic plants. One of the most renowned is Villa Taranto, the dream of a Scottish sea captain who imported trees and plants from around the world and built his villa there. Close by, on the island of Isola Bella, is another wonderful garden. Here white peacocks strut around displaying their amazing plumage.
If you tire of gardens, you can ride cable cars to craggy mountaintops or take ferries to historical islands with elegant baroque palaces. Small, picturesque villages are plentiful on the lake-shore. There is a lovely cafe-lined waterfront promenade and a stunning 15th-century cathedral.
Ferries run frequently from here to the Swiss artist colony of Arona and to the larger town of Locarno, in Switzerland, which holds an international film festival each August.
Inland you will find timeless villages, historic walled towns, olive, lemon and orange groves, and art treasure almost around every corner. A large part of central Italy has green hilly landscape through which the rivers Tiber and Arno flow.
Italy in general has one of the best climates in Europe but can be varied, with winter in the Alps cold with crisp, blue skies and snow covered, a skiers paradise. The best winter weather is found on the Italian Riviera, the Amalfi coast and the islands of Sicily and Sardinia. In summer the further south, the hotter it becomes, with the sea reaching over 80 degrees in August.
Italian cuisine is world famous for its rich flavor and delicious taste. The most famous dish of all is of course pasta which has more than 400 forms and served with a variety of sauces, and of course, pizza known all over the world. Most of the great Italian dishes come from peasant heritage, and while all Italian cuisine is delicious and flavorful, there are several dishes that are more popular in certain areas, and some that are unique to that area.
In Sicily fish is popular as a main course, and in Sardinia suckling pig and wild boar, roasted on a spit with hearty stewed beans, vegetables and dry bread is a traditional meal. In Veneto risotto with fish and seafood are served close to the coast and farther inland pumpkin, asparagus, radicchio and frog's legs are used.
In Lombardy rice is very popular ingredient and is used in soups, as well as risotto, and at the village festival in Mantua, tortellini di zucca, ravioli with pumpkin filling, is served with butter, followed by turkey stuffed with chicken. In Emilia-Romagna cured hams and mortadella are very popular dishes and game meats are often used, whilst Bologna serves wonderful mortadella and lasagna and Piacenza is known as the home of tortellini.
In Tuscany the white truffle is the most popular ingredient for producing delicious dishes. These flavoured truffles are served during October and November and Umbria is famous for their use of black truffles. These are just a few of the local dishes and no doubt on your travels you will taste many more and find your own special favourite. Dining in Italy is an experience you will never forget.
The region of Tuscany stretches over the slope of the Apennines in front of the Tyrrhenian Sea and has a landscape that is mainly mountainous and hilly, with a flat area besides the sea, the Maremma. The coastline offers long sandy expanses and headlands, and in front of the coast there are small enchanting islands.
Florence is the capital of Tuscany and has 15th century shops on the Ponte Vecchio, Sienna, a well preserved medieval city with the beautiful Piazza del Campo, tradition and art are strong everywhere in Arezzo, Pisa with the famous Leaning Tower, and in addition to art, Tuscany offers outstanding nature scenery, such as the National Park of the Argentario and the Isola of Elba.
Umbria region is mostly mountainous and hilly and presents a landscape rich in woods and water resources. Perugia is the regional capital and Assisi is a superb hill town. To visitors, medieval "hill towns" are like storybook towns that time forgot; they have kept their narrow lanes, massive gates, stone buildings, and other features we find so charming.
Basilicata is possibly the least-known region in Italy. Located at the ankle of the boot, it cuddles up to Puglia, Calabria, and Campania and is the most sparsely-populated part of the country. From the border with Puglia, the plains turn into wavy swaths of billowing wheat, then to rolling hills punctuated by olive groves and topped with grape vines. World-class wine is made here from ancient Greek grapes.
In the heart of wine country is Venosa, a classy town with Roman roots and a sense of elegance. To the west is Melfi, a pretty town with an impressive history. As you travel south, the land rises and peaks begin to appear some 7,325 feet high at the region's loftiest level. Here time-worn towns rest on their hilltops and carry on a way of life that is quickly fading in other regions.
An hour from Trivigno, to the northwest of Potenza, is a pretty, pastel town. Here houses line up along a steep ridge in an orderly jumble, looking more like a sunny coastal town than a hill town. A mountain looms up behind it as a dramatic backdrop. The town's historic centre is a warren of narrow lanes that unfold below the 13th-century castle. There are artisan shops, sidewalk cafes, and a handful of excellent restaurants to enjoy.
Assisi is much more than a pretty hill town. Thousands come to worship in Assisi's magnificent churches, and to pray to Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of Italy who is affectionately called Il Poverello, the Little Poor One, because he lived and preached a life of simplicity and poverty.
The ancient city of Spoleto has important Roman remains, and the cities of Todi, Gubbio, Orvieto and Terni have remarkable traces of Etruscan civilisation. In this area are many castles, historic monuments and fortified villages. The lovely Lake Trasimeno has some gorgeous farmhouses and villas for sale in the region, maybe this could be the area for you if you like living by water.
The region of Abruzzo is essentially hilly and mountainous and stretches from the Apennines to the Adriatic Sea. This area of Central Italy has a rugged and beautiful landscape with peaks often higher than 2,000 meters. In this part of the Adriatic, the long sandy expanses are replaced by steep and rocky coasts. The National Park of Abruzzo in the western region, harbours numerous animal species such as the Marsican bear and grey wolf.
Campania faces the Tyrrhenian Sea, includes one of the finest coastlines in Italy and is extraordinarily rich in remains of the classic antiquity. The hinterland of the region is essentially mountainous, with irregular massifs broken here and there by valleys and plains. Naples is the regional capital, situated in front of the Gulf of Naples with enchanting islands such as Capri, Ischia and Procida just off the coast and waiting for you to visit.
The island of Capri conjurers up romance, mystery, the Blue Grotto and of course love. From Naples the island can be reached in 40 minutes by hydrofoil, or an hour and 20 minutes by traditional ferry. In the period spanning the late eighteenth century and the early nineteen hundreds, a number of fabulously eclectic villas were built on the island, many of which were inhabited, not surprisingly perhaps, by the most eccentric of individuals. The island was perceived as the ideal haven to seek refuge and contemplate the universe, the perfect place where to escape from mankind's daily afflictions.
Visitors to Capri can still find a few secluded corners of the island which, bathed in the island light, surrounded by a hushed calm and with the addition of few meticulously kept vases of flowers, conjure up almost the same atmosphere as a theatre where the spectators have yet to enter. On Capri there are a number of religious festivals which will reveal and help you understand the history of the population that lives there.
The volcano Vesuvius ranks among the most explored and well known volcanoes on earth. On clear days you can see the silhouette of the gigantic mountains of the volcano from the Bay of Naples. In 79 AD Mount Vesuvius erupted so suddenly that most residents didn't have time to escape. The fiery mountain buried all living beings under huge amounts of mud and ash and covered Pompeii with a one meter high ash layer.
The surprising eruption also buried the small neighbouring town of Herculaneum under a huge stream of mud mixed with lava, and most residents died a dramatic death under the mud. The excavations of Pompeii show a completely preserved wealthy city which is impressive by its size, numerous wonderful houses, temples, public buildings, wall paintings and thermal springs.
Romantics however prefer the well preserved Herculaneum where you can feel the atmosphere of the past today. The town with its many villas is situated at the sea and has beautiful gardens and flowers. In some cases even the upper floors of the villas and the wooden furniture were preserved. No-one knows when this giant will wake from his sleep but it is kept under the watchful eye of vulcanologist.
A serpentine road takes you to the picturesque town of Ravello which is located on a mountain ledge 350 m above the sea where you can enjoy a gorgeous panorama of the whole Amalfi Coast, the sea and surrounding vineyards. Ravello's romantic city-scape is characterised by Moorish style elements and is defined by medieval alleyways, ancient churches, palaces, beautiful gardens and where the aristocracy built their splendid villas.
The central piazza is the heart of Ravello and is fun in the evening when the locals come out. In the beautiful San Pantaleone Cathedral are two gorgeously decorated Romanesque pulpits. The Villa Cimbrone, built in the 14th century is particularly lovely. From the belevdere are breathtaking view of the coast up to Salerno and the city of Amalfi. Greta Garbo, D.H Lawrence and Winston Churchill spent some wonderful times here.
Richard Wagner rode up from Amalfi on a donkey and declared that the Villa Rudolfo was everything he imagined Klingsor's Castle to be. The villa back in the 11th and 12 the centuries was home to several kings and the only English pope.
Until the end of the 18th century the plain around Paestum was a malarial swamp inhabited by buffalo and their drovers, now the land has been drained but the buffalo remain at the Vancello organic buffalo farm, where you can see the great black beasts wallowing in the mud and watch mozzarella cheese being made.
From Ravello to Amalfi the coast has been under attack for millennia from maritime marauders. As a result every headland has its crumbling watch tower, every viewpoint its guardian castle, every chasm its tiny church, no journey here is dull.
Latium is the cradle of Roman civilisation and is incredibly rich in outstanding relics of the different periods. Rome is the region's capital and has so much for the visitor it is impossible to do this beautiful city justice. Throw a coin in the Trevi Fountain, make a wish and tradition has it that your return to Rome will be guaranteed.
Take the tourist path or go off the usual to discover Rome for yourself. The Piazza Venezia represents the heart of the city, Piazza di Spagna is a masterpiece of the XVIII century with the famous Spanish Steps and St. Peters Square, the majestic entrance to the Vatican City.
The Colosseum took about 10 years to build and was the centre of ancient Roman entertainment where the gladiators and animals combat were held, surely the top attraction in Rome. Rome has been featured in such films as Three Coins in A Fountain, Roman Holiday and La Dolce Vita, and is the perfect place for a honeymoon, special break, or just to meet friends for coffee in a piazza. Wherever you go the city will seduce you and never let you go.
Venice, the Serenissima, really needs no introduction, just the name is enough to conjure up a host of images from gondoliers in striped jerseys, the Rialto Bridge, the Bridge of Sighs, masked costume balls, crumbling palaces facing streets of water, and the islands of the lagoon.
Venice is composed of more than one hundred tiny islets packed closely together around canals, in a lagoon protected from the sea by a long strip of land called the Lido. The canals are the veins through which the city's lifeblood flows, every service from dustmen to the fire brigade must use a boat.
Not all the islands in the lagoon are linked to the historic centre by bridges, some are only accessible by boat with trips ranging from 6 minutes to 45 minutes. St Marks Square surely must be one of the most famous in the world, and the stunning Basilica is not to be missed as is taking a coffee in the many restaurants in the area.
San Michele is Venice's public cemetery and the walled island is only a few minutes from the Fondamente Nove vaporetto stop and a surprisingly cheerful place. Murano has been the centre of the Venetian Lagoon's glass-making industry since 1291 AD. You can visit a factory and watch a glass-maker at work and purchase some of the most beautiful glass ware in the world.
Burano, traditionally the lace making island, has an interesting lace museum and is famous for its brightly painted houses, and Torcello once had a population greater than Venice and is just a few minutes from Burano by a connecting boat line. There is a stunning thousand year old cathedral with its stunning Byzantine gold and stone mosaics.
The Lido is a residential suburb with a lively shopping district and you can walk to the beach which is on the opposite side of the narrow island from the boat landing. There are also islands around the lagoon which are very nearly tourist free although they can be reached by public boat service. The Venetian lagoon's smaller islands often had more specific functions, from gunpowder stores to lunatic asylums. Several islands housed monastic communities and two continue to do so.
San Lazzaro degli Armeni is a small island lying west of the Lido, is completely occupied by a monastery and one of the world's foremost centres of Armenian culture. The islet's isolation made it an ideal location for a quarantine station and a leper colony was founded there in the 12th century.
The island was abandoned in the 16th century and in 1717 it was given by the ruling council of Venice to a group of Armenian Monks that escaped Turkish persecution, and five years later placed themselves under the protection of the Pope, they eventually made their way to Venice. The monastery and its gardens, noted for its peacocks, may be reached by vaporetto from Piazza San Marco. In summer there is a guided tour by Father Vertanes and other fathers in several different languages.
Lazzaretto Nuovo is situated in the northern part of the Lagoon and was once a quarantine island. Measuring only nine hectares the island has some recently renovated buildings. For something very different take the hourly ferry to Sant'Erasmo, the largest island in the lagoon,
which is agricultural and produces much of the fresh fruit and vegetables sold in Venice. It lies north of the Lido and was a port attached to Murano in the 8th century.
The fishing town of Chioggia is situated on a small island at the southern entrance to the Lagoon about 25 km south of Venice, causeways connect it to the mainland. Chioggia is a miniature version of Venice with a few canals, characteristic narrow streets, and a few medieval churches. Some of the islands are hard to get to without your own boat but it is always possible to hire your own boatman for the day to explore the abandoned and less touristy islands.
There is a magic to Venice at any time of year even in fog and mist, a trip down the Grand Canal or across the lagoon is filled with fascination.
The Phlegraen Islands are a group of islands created by powerful underwater volcanoes made up of Ischia, Procida and the uninhabited Vivara. The history of these islands is very old, but despite their ancient history, the islands did not preserve many important medieval or archaeological traces.
Vivara is what remains of an underwater crater. Its emerging cone has been attacked and demolished by the waves and the winds. It is a small 34-hectare half-moon-shaped island with only a 3-kilometre coastline. This uninhabited island has become a national park to protect its geographic features, its original vegetation and, principally, its migratory and permanent fauna.
Ischia, the "green island", is the largest island in the Gulf of Naples, located 15 miles from the mainland and can be reached in 80 minutes by ferry, or 40 minutes with the hydrofoil from the harbour in Naples. There are six villages and towns on the island which is rich in Mediterranean vegetation, and big pine woods, which give the island the name of green island.
It is the largest Phlegraean Island, 19 miles from Capri and 5.5 miles from Procida. Ischia grows fantastic wines due to the fertile soil, and you should try a glass or two of Biancolella, a delicious white wine, and the Pere's palumno is a very decent red.
Procida is one of the group between Cape Miseno and Ischia and is less that 4 sq km. The island was created by an eruption of four volcanoes, now dormant and submerged. There are many traditions connected to Holy Week on the island, the most evocative is the Procession of the Apostles of Holy Thursday and the Procession of the Mysteries of Good Friday. Known as the "Girlfriend of the sea", Procida is the Italian island with the highest population density and is connected to Vivara by a bridge.
The Egadi Islands are three mountainous islands that form a mini-archipelago off Trapani, the northwest coast of Sicily. Favignana is the main and largest island, and lies 10 miles off the northwest coast of Sicily, easily accessible from Trapani by high speed jet foil in 20 minutes.
This beautiful Mediterranean island is surrounded by crystal clear turquoise sea and offers an unforgettable experience to whose who treasure their nature and tranquillity. There are two main sandy beaches, and the island is famous for its ancient tuna fishing event called "la mattanza", held every year in May/June.
Favignana is shaped like a butterfly and the main town is located on a narrow strip of land in the middle of the two "wings" which have quite different characteristics. The eastern half of the island is largely flat while the western half is composed of lots of small hills and is a paradise for scuba divers.
Levanzo lies 8 miles to the west, and Marettimo, the second largest of the Aegadian islands, has only 300 inhabitants who mainly live from fishing and traditional hand-crafts,and the ancient Iera Nesos, 24 km west of Trapani, is now reckoned to be part of the group. There are two minor islands, Formica and Maraone lying between Levanzo and Sicily.
The seven Aeolian Islands are situated off the north-eastern coast of Sicily and they vary in character from being rough and untamed in places like the most remote, Filicudi and Alicudi, to Lipari and Panarea which are used to visitors, Salina is introverted and solitary.
The scanty population of the islands, that in certain periods is almost isolated from the rest of the world, mostly subsists on fishing, farming (especially vines and harvesting of capers), quarrying pumice (as on Lipari, although this is a dying trade), for a short season, on tourism. The sea is clear and warm.
Those who seek peace and quiet, far removed from the trappings of worldly life, may choose to go to Alicudi and Filicudi, or Salina, which although more populated and crowded by visitors, is still unspoiled. The same goes for Lipari, Panarea and Vulcano, drawing an ever-increasing number of tourists every year but still providing the ideal context for a perfect holiday.
The largest island is Lipari, the transport hub, and makes a good base. Vulcano is a small island right next to Lipari and is the southern most of the Aeolian islands. It contains several volcanic craters and is dominated by the Gran Cratere volcano. The island is popular for its beaches and mud baths. The Romans believed that Vulcano was the chimney to the God Vulcanus's workshop.
Salina is lush and hilly and some of the film II Postino was shot here. Panarea is a smaller, upmarket island with great views across to Stromboli which is the remotest of the islands and has three active craters. The volcano Sciara del Fuoco, "Stream of Fire", is a big horse shoe depression that has erupted many times and is constantly active with minor eruptions often visible from many points on the island and the surrounding sea.
Sicily is the biggest island in the Mediterranean separated from the Italian peninsula by the Strait of Messina. The coast offers a landscape of fascinating beauty almost everywhere and there are groups of marvellous smaller islands scattered around the coast. Mt Etna, rising in the centre of a volcanic area, is the highest active volcano in Europe. Palmers is the capital which is ruled by a special statue.
Sardinia is the second largest island in the Mediterranean and is formed by a series of mountainous massifs, hills and narrow highlands. The coasts are jagged and rocky, interspersed with marvellous beaches of very fine sand and countless inlets. The seaside landscapes, especially on the Costa Smeralda, are among the most beautiful in the world. Numerous small, enchanting islets are scattered in front of the coasts. The capital Cagliari is ruled by special statute.
In the deep south Puglia truly is the land of olive trees and sunshine. Puglia forms the easternmost part of the peninsula and is known as the heel of Italy. Essentially a flatland with wide arid expanses, terraces and the Gargano peninsula is very dramatic with white cliffs and full of trees.
The unique attraction is the curious dome-shaped trulli houses, the quaint town of Alberobello and the Baroque city of Lecce. Ostuni is known as the "White City" and in the middle of trulli zone. The old town of Gallipoli was built on an islet and is laid out in Muslim style with winding narrow streets and inner courtyards, and is linked to the new town by a bridge.
Otranto on the eastern coast of Apulia is known as the "Door to the East" and was one of the first Greek colonies in Italy in the 13th century from where many soldiers embarked on their way to the Crusades. Lecce has been described as the "Jewel of Puglia" and the "Baroque Florence" looks fantastic at night.
The town of Monte San Angelo is best known for Padre Pio, a priest who came to live there in 1916 and saw an apparition of Jesus with wounds in his hands, feet and chest. After this sighting Padre Pio had marks in the same places from which it is said he lost around a cup of blood a day.
Calabria, the southern most 'toe' of the Italian 'boot', is described by many to be the Mediterranean's best kept secret, offering a glimpse of authentic Italy. Meandering through Calabria is as good as stepping back in time. Only recently discovered by tourists, this region has retained its authentic feel and natural beauty.
Calabria is an area of outstanding national beauty and has not only beautiful beaches and mountains but also national parks. The Aspromonte National Park is home to numerous species, such as, the wolf, the pellegrine falcon and the royal owl. Covered by vast stretches of forest (beech, white firs, black pines and chestnuts), as well as the typical Mediterranean vegetation. Surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea, the park is host to numerous historical sites of artistic and archaeological interest, testaments to a deep seated culture.
Reggio has it all, beautiful Italian architecture, art gallery's and museums, a famous cathedral, and of course its spectacular shopping centred around Garibaldi, the main pedestrian high street, showplace for designer Versace who was born here.
Tropea is perched on a natural rock formation cliff 500 metres above sea level and overlooking the turquoise waters. Situated on one of the most stunning coastlines, no wonder this coast is called La Costa degli Dei, the Coast of the Gods.
Many regard Tropea as Calabria's jewel, the most picturesque of its towns. The old town is the architectural and historical centre of this region with impressive churches, mansions, town houses and the church of Santa Mata dell sola built on a crag of land jutting out to sea.
One of the most important religious places in Tropea is the main Duomo or the cathedral of Tropea. The Norman cathedral is also one of the most interesting buildings in the town, known for its impressive architecture. Inside the cathedral are various beautiful decorations and impressive art works.
Wandering along the narrow streets and piazzas you will find typical Italian pizzerias, little restaurants, pavement cafes and shops. At dusk soak up the atmosphere in one of the cafes in the central piazza the main evening gathering place during holidays in Tropea.
Capo Vaticano is a breathtaking panoramic area of coast full of small bays and sandy beaches with coves and creeks that are a paradise for sun bathing and snorkelling. The landscape is covered in heather, wild flowers, fig trees, rare palms, vineyards and olive trees (some a thousand years old).
Created in the 14th century set in the panoramic hills of Capo Vaticano, Zambrone has the church of San Carlo Borromeo, and in its historic centre there is a big amphitheater which is used by various groups for local art exhibitions and events.
Sera San Bruno is an area situated in the mountain forests of Calabria. People visit the area for its natural beauty and sanctuary as it is considered to be a spiritual area. La Certosa is an area created in the forest on donated land for pilgrimage and is the main tourist attraction in the area. It is also an historic centre rich in local crafts, buildings and famous churches.
Seven islands, Lipari, Salina, Stromboli, Vulcano, Filicudi, Alicudi and Panarea are situated just a short boat ride away from the coast of Calabria in the Tyrrhenian sea. Each Island is steeped in history and culture, and mans presence on them dates back 5000 years. You will find beautiful scenery, volcanoes, castles, thermal resorts, water sports, fishing and of course some spectacular beaches.
Film makers have been using their magnificent scenery since the 1940's. Evidence of the volcanic history of the Islands can be seen in the hot springs and mud baths on Vulcano, just as in the colourful eruptions on Stromboli, one of the most active volcanoes on the planet, which has erupted almost continuously for the last 2000 years, with the lava flowing directly into the sea and even now is still smoking quite happily and the flow of the lava goes directly into the sea like it has peacefully every 20 minutes for the past 2000 years.
There is so much more to Italy, the stunning Dolomites, the gorgeous lakes with villas perched on the water front, and the islands in the lakes where it is possible to put the modern day world behind you, it is impossible to do justice to this beautiful country.
But one thing is certain - Italy will tug at your heartstrings and call you back time and time again.