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Overview

Italy

Escape to a world of beauty with Italy holidays. Italy is subdivided into 20 regions and their respective capital cities, with highlights including the Tuscan city of Florence, Venice and its famous canals, the ancient capital Rome, the Almalfi Coast and the island of Sicily. Italy's appeal is derived from its ancient architecture, historical significance, its beautiful coastlines and the pleasant Mediterranean climate of its southern regions.

Italy tours traverse its unique geography from the Alps at its border with France to Sicily's year-round sunshine. The country is home to many internationally renowned tourist attractions, including the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Rome's Colosseum, and the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. Italy is also synonymous with high fashion as the birthplace of the Armani, Fendi, Gucci, Prada and Dolce and Gabbana labels.

Flights to Italy can take you to picturesque Tuscany and its capital Florence, considered the birthplace of the Renaissance movement – cultural and artistic rebirth of the Middle Ages which produced Michelangelo and Leonardo De Vinci's finest work. A UNESCO-protected city, Florence is ranked as one of the most beautiful cities in the world courtesy of its fabulous architecture and stunning art collections. Michelangelo's most famous statue 'David' is housed in the city's Academy of Fine Arts gallery.

Just a short trip north of Florence, the romantic river city of Venice entices visitors with its stunning cityscape. Situated on 118 islands linked by a series of bridges and canals, Venice is known the world over as 'The Floating City'. Take a gondola ride through the canals to experience the city's breathtaking architecture or visit Venice's unforgettably impressive church, St Marks Basilica.

Italy's capital Rome is steeped in history. The Colosseum is a monument to Rome's ancient history, while Old Masters such as Michelangelo, Carvaggio and Bernini are exhibited in the oldest galleries in the world at Capitoline Museums. Meanwhile, the Pope holds regular audiences in St Peter's Square and Michelangelo's masterpiece in the Sistine Chapel remains one of the great artworks of all time.

South of Rome, the Almalfi Coast's stunning cliff-face architecture seems to tumbles into the ocean. Located on the Mediterranean Sea, the weather is near perfect year-round (though very hot in summer). Many hotels operate lifts down the steep cliffs to the private beaches equipped with beach umbrellas and chairs, along with your own private waiter to help you refuel on Italy's famous pizza and wine.

The famous island of Sicily is surrounded by deep blue oceans which contrast markedly with the whitewashed buildings dotted along the island's cliff-tops. Some of the most beautiful vistas in Italy abound in the Siclian towns of Palmero, Messina and Catania, which maintain a distinct way of life separate from the hustle and bustle of the mainland.

There's no reason to delay, so book your flights to Italy to explore one of Europe's most absorbing destinations today.

Basics

Time
GMT +1 (GMT +2 during daylight saving)

Electricity
Electrical current in Italy is 230 volts, 50Hz. A variety of plugs are in use including the European-style two-pin plug.

Language
The official language of Italy is Italian. English is understood in the larger cities but not in the more remote parts of the country.

Health
There are no specific health risks associated with travel to Italy and you should be able to travel without special vaccinations and medications. Vaccinations for MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) and tetanus-diphtheria may be recommended by your doctor if you are not up to date. An influenza vaccine is a good idea if you are travelling to Italy between November and April. Cases of bird flu were found in swans in southern Italy and Sicily, but there is a low risk of human infection; as a precaution all close contact with wild, caged and domestic birds should be avoided, and poultry and egg dishes should be cooked thoroughly. Medical facilities in Italy are good but travel insurance is still recommended for non-EU citizens as medical attention can be expensive. EU citizens can make use of Italy's health services provided they have a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). Although it should be possible to get most medication in Italy, travel authorities always suggest that you take any prescribed medication that you require with you, in its original packaging, and with a signed and dated letter from your doctor explaining what it is and why you need it.

Tipping
Tipping is customary in Italy and 10 to 15 percent of the bill is acceptable in restaurants (unless, as is increasingly the case, a 15 percent service charge has already been added to the bill). Hotels add a service charge of 15 to 18 percent, but it is customary to tip the service staff extra. Italians rarely tip taxi drivers, but a 5 to 10 percent tip is always appreciated.

Safety
Tourists in Italy should be vigilant to ensure their safety in public places and tourist sites as the Italian Government has warned that the risk of international terrorist attacks has increased. Domestic terrorism continues, but targets are usually Italian authorities; however, there is a possibility of being caught up in attacks. Tourists are vulnerable to pickpocketing and muggings in the bigger cities, particularly on public transport, in crowded areas and around tourist sites, and should exercise caution when carrying large amounts of cash and valuables. Make intelligent use of hotel safes and split valuables between people, bags and pockets to limit the damage if you are pickpocketted. Be particularly careful on bus 64 to St Peter's Square and around the main train station, Termini. Visitors should be wary of groups of children, some of whom will distract attention while the others try to steal what they can. Strikes by transport workers take place regularly throughout Italy and delays are possible. Anti-austerity strikes have also become common and travellers are advised to avoid these mass gatherings which can degenerate into violence.

Customs
In Italy, it is an offence to sit on steps and in courtyards near public buildings, including the main churches in Florence; eating and drinking in the vicinity should also be avoided. Shorts, vests or any other immodest clothing should not be worn inside churches.

Business
Italians can be very formal and old fashioned, but are also warm and welcoming. Face to face communication is best, and often a third party introduction can speed initial negotiations. Business attire is formal and very stylish, and handshakes are the norm. First impressions count for a lot in Italy. Expect plenty of gesticulating and interruptions, or people talking over each other. Business cards are used. Unfortunately the bureaucracy in Italy can slow down deal-making. Business hours are usually 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday, but can vary according to season and region.

Communications
The international access code for Italy is +39. The outgoing code is 00 followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 0044 for the United Kingdom). All numbers must be preceded by 0, whether originating in Italy or out, unless calling a mobile phone. City/area codes are in use, e.g. 02 for Milan and 06 for Rome. There can be high surcharges on calls made from hotels and it is generally cheaper to use a calling card. Public telephone boxes take phone cards for local and international calls, which can be bought from newsagents. The local mobile phone operators use GSM networks and have roaming agreements with most international operators. Internet cafes are available in the main towns and resorts.

Duty Free
Travellers over 17 years from non-EU countries do not have to pay duty on Travellers from EU countries travelling within the EU are limited to 110 litres of beer, 90 litres of wine (of which 60 litres may be sparkling), 20 litres of fortified wine, 10 litres of spirits, 1kg of tobacco, 800 cigarettes, 200 cigars, 1kg of tobacco and 400 cigarellos, perfume up to 50g or 250ml eau de toilette, and other goods for personal consumption to the value of EUR175 per adult or EUR90 for children under 15 years. EU citizens are also able to claim tax back if the VAT rates in Italy are higher than those in their country of residence. Prohibited items include narcotic drugs, medicinal products, arms and weapons, explosives and protected animal and plant species.

Currency

The Euro (EUR) is the official currency, which is divided into 100 cents. Those arriving in Italy with foreign currency can obtain Euros through any bank, ATM or bureaux de change. ATMs are widespread. Travellers cheques can be exchanged with ease in the large cities, not so in the smaller towns. Credit cards are accepted in upmarket establishments and shops around the cities. Banks are closed on weekends, but tend to have better rates than casas de cambios.

EUR 1 = US$ 1.27£ 0.83C$ 1.29A$ 1.23R 10.70EUR 1.00NZ$ 1.60

Note: These currency exchange rates are not updated daily and should be used as a guideline only.

Health

Health Overview
There are no specific health risks associated with travel to Italy and you should be able to travel without special vaccinations and medications. Vaccinations for MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) and tetanus-diphtheria may be recommended by your doctor if you are not up to date. An influenza vaccine is a good idea if you are travelling to Italy between November and April. Cases of bird flu were found in swans in southern Italy and Sicily, but there is a low risk of human infection; as a precaution all close contact with wild, caged and domestic birds should be avoided, and poultry and egg dishes should be cooked thoroughly. Medical facilities in Italy are good but travel insurance is still recommended for non-EU citizens as medical attention can be expensive. EU citizens can make use of Italy's health services provided they have a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). Although it should be possible to get most medication in Italy, travel authorities always suggest that you take any prescribed medication that you require with you, in its original packaging, and with a signed and dated letter from your doctor explaining what it is and why you need it.

Visa

Americans
US citizens must have a passport that is valid upon their arrival in Italy. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days.

UK nationals
British citizens must have a passport that is valid upon their arrival in Italy. Passport exemptions apply to holders of identity cards issued by Gibraltar authories, and endorsed 'Validated for EU travel purposes under the authority of the United Kingdom'. A visa is not required for passports endorsed British Citizen; nor for holders of identity cards issued by Gibraltar authories, and endorsed 'Validated for EU travel purposes under the authority of the United Kingdom'. No visa is required for a stay of up to 90 days, for holders of passports endorsed British National (overseas), British Overseas Territories Citizen (containing a Certificate of Entitlement to the Right of Abode issued by the United Kingdom), and British Subject (containing a Certificate of Entitlement to the Right of Abode issued by the United Kingdom).

Canadians
Canadian citizens must have a passport that is valid upon their arrival in Italy. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days.

Australians
Australian citizens must have a passport that is valid upon their arrival in Italy. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days.

South Africans
South African citizens must have a passport that is valid upon their arrival, and a valid Schengen visa, to enter Italy.

Irish nationals
Irish citizens must have a passport that is valid upon their arrival in Italy. No visa is required.

New Zealanders
New Zealand citizens must have a passport that is valid upon their arrival in Italy. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days.

Passport/Visa Note
The borderless region known as the Schengen Area includes the following countries: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. All these countries issue a standard Schengen visa that has a multiple entry option, and which allows the holder to travel freely within the borders of all the aforementioned countries. Furthermore, all foreign passengers to Italy must hold visible proof of financial means to support themselves while in the country, return/onward tickets, and the necessary travel documentation for their next destination. Note that visitors may be refused entry, either for public security, tranquillity, order or health reasons. Extensions of stay in Italy are possible, by applying to local authorities. NOTE: It is highly recommended that your passport has at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.

Note: Passport and visa requirements are liable to change at short notice. Travellers are advised to check their entry requirements with their embassy or consulate.

Contacts

Italy Tourism
Italian Tourist Board: +39 06 49711 or www.enit.it

Foreign Embassies in Italy
United States Embassy, Rome: +39 06 46741.
British Embassy, Rome: +39 06 4220 0001/ 4220.
Canadian Embassy, Rome: +39 06 85444 2911.
Australian Embassy, Rome: +39 06 852 721.
South African Embassy, Rome: +39 06 852 541.
Irish Embassy, Rome: +39 06 697 9121.
New Zealand Embassy, Rome: +39 06 853 7501.

Italy Embassies
Italian Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 612 4400.
Italian Embassy, London, United Kingdom: +44 (0)20 7312 2200.
Italian Embassy, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 232 2401.
Italian Embassy, Canberra, Australia: +61 (0)2 6273 3333.
Italian Embassy, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 (0)12 423 0000.
Italian Embassy, Dublin, Ireland: +353 (0)1 660 1744.
Italian Embassy, Wellington, New Zealand: +64 (0)4 473 5339.

Regions and Cities

Rome

Rome

The eternal city of Rome, constructed of ruins and in whose name the Caesars sought to claim the world, opens for the visitor like a living museum. The centuries peel back with each new vista in this great city of gladiators, lunatic drivers and sumptuous pasta dishes. Vespas, nippy little Fiats and red sports cars speed past trendy sidewalk bistros and nightclubs, revealing the Rome of Fellini's La Dolce Vita; while the chillingly stark facades of the Stadio Olimpico complex remind visitors of Mussolini's attempts to reinvent the architecture of the Caesars.

For a taste of the Baroque, visitors need only climb the famous Spanish Steps, walk through the Piazza Navona or toss a coin into the beautiful Trevi Fountain. Renaissance splendour is perhaps best revealed in the Pope's residence, the Vatican Palace, or in Michelangelo's efforts on the roof of the Sistine Chapel. From early Christian Basilicas to the Roman Forum, the Colosseum and the Pantheon, the sequence of history trails back to the height of the Roman Empire.

It may sound like a city of contrasts, but Rome's timeless magic lies in its ability to blend the old with the new. Empires have risen and fallen, old gods have been replaced with new ones, but Rome remains.



Tuscany

Tuscany

Tuscany's rolling hills are garlanded with cypress trees, lush vines and olive groves, that make way here and there for sleepy villages and medieval hill-towns. The area rests languidly in the middle of the Italian peninsula, with parts stretching to the coastline of the Tyrrhenian Sea. Snaking through the Tuscan landscape from Florence to Pisa and soaking its thirsty banks is the Arno River. Akin to the gentle flow of a river is the ebb of life in the region. People work in the fields in much the same way as their ancestors did before them, producing some of Italy's finest wines and olive oils. From this same landscape emerges a profusion of art and architecture that has grafted Italy onto the world's cultural map. Tuscany was the birthplace of the Renaissance, a period of unprecedented innovation in art, architecture and humanist scholarship. The grandeur of the High Renaissance was enjoyed during the Medici family's reign, when they commissioned the art and architecture that lives on within the elegant precincts of Florence.

Florence is one of the most popular cities in Italy for tourists, and is widely considered one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It is a dreamy destination made up of cobbled streets, picturesque piazzas, a wealth of Renaissance art and architecture, and some of the best galleries and museums in Italy. It is also a conspicuously Tuscan city, with all the sleepy charm of the region and many worthwhile excursions into the countryside.

Tuscany has a mild Mediterranean climate, with hot summers and cool, wet winters. Winter temperatures range from 50°F to 59°F (10°C to 15°C), while summer temperatures range between 77°F and 86°F (25°C and 30°C). Humidity can be high. The best time to visit Tuscany is in May, September and October.



Sardinia

Sardinia

DH Lawrence passed through Sardinia in 1921, remarking on its geographic location as a place 'lost between Europe and Africa and belonging nowhere'. It is off the beaten track, but therein perhaps lies its appeal. The island's beaches are some of the cleanest and least crowded in Italy. The capital is Cagliari, a good base from which to explore other parts of the island. The National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari contains prehistoric tombs and other significant artefacts from the Punic and Roman periods. The resort of Costa Smeralda is a place of luxury and opulence, not suited to budget tourists, although interesting as a short stop. The Spanish-tinted port of Alghero is the favoured package destination, especially among British holidaymakers. The inland town of Nuoro is a good station from which to explore the Gennargentu mountain range and enjoy the traditional village festivals. The Sardinian landscape is peppered with constructions from the ancient Nuragic civilisation. These UNESCO-listed stone structures are unique to Sardinia and are must-see sites. They are, however, not easily accessible as they lie in isolated spots throughout the island.

Sardinia has a typically Mediterranean climate, but the south is generally much drier than the north-western region, which receives a lot of rain in winter. The wettest months are November and December, while July and August are the hottest and the driest, with an average temperature of around 95°F (35°C), and sometimes reaching 104°F (40°C). In winter, temperatures average about 50°F (10°C) along the coast. Spring and early autumn are the best times to visit Sardinia.



Lake Country

Lake Country

The great northern lakes stretch like sparkling, glass-topped vistas within a sequence of long, cavernous valleys descending from the Alps. Lake Como, Lake Maggiore and Lake Garda emit their unique sparkle onto the magnificent surrounding landscape, and attract diverse tourists to their banks. Younger travellers enjoy the sailing and nightlife experience of Lake Garda, Maggiore provides a tranquil, relaxed respite and can be enjoyed from the comforts of its surrounding luxury hotels, while sophisticates from Milan are drawn to the magnetism of Lake Como.

The pristine waters of Lake Como (known locally as Lago Di Como) are framed by craggy backdrops, and magnificent villas festooned with bougainvillea perch over its watery banks. Three long lakes converge to form Lake Como, joining in the Centro Lago area with the four towns of Bellaggio, Tremezzo, Menaggio and Varenna. These can be visited via the boats and buses connecting the towns in all three areas of the lake. Cultural areas of interest include Como's duomo, which combines the best of Gothic and Renaissance elements. Contiguous to this lies the former communal palace, the Broletto, and two blocks from here is the Church of San Fedele. While on holiday in Lake Como, scenic vistas can be explored from a funicolare to Brunate. Hiking trails lead off from here with overnight accommodation en route in the form of baite (modest guesthouses). Across the lake is the Tempio Voltiano, a memorial museum devoted to Alessandro Volta, the inventor of the battery. There is an outdoor market in Como every Tuesday and Thursday morning and the whole day on Sunday; great for holiday bargains.

The holiday retreat of Lake Garda, known locally as Lago di Garda, is the most popular of Italy's northern lakes and has a temperate climate to complement its magnificent setting. The lake towns of Riva, Gardone Riviera and Sirmione can be reached via buses, hydrofoils and ferries from Desenzano. The town of Sirmione boasts the relics of Roman civilisation and a magnificent medieval castle. The Sirmione Spa, the largest privately owned thermal treatment centre in Italy, offers invigorating therapy from its sulphurous waters. Gardone Riviera was once the playground of the rich and famous and is now the recreational haunt for many a tourist. The hills beyond Gardone are perfect for walking and enjoying the scents of nature bursting from the lemon groves. The alpine cliffs, casting their glorious shadows off Riva del Garda, are a perfect spot from which to hike, mountain bike and windsurf. The picturesque pebble beaches provide a slower, languid soaking-up-the-sun holiday experience.

Lake Maggiore casts a refined glow from its shores, as it is the preferred holiday destination of the elite. The resort town of Stresa is a haven for Italians, French and Germans who flock to its cobbled streets and enjoy the spectacular mountain and lake views from its quarters. Just a heartbeat away from Lake Maggiore lies further splendour in the form of the Borromean Isles. Daily excursion tickets enable adventurous travellers to hop between the islands at their leisure. Of these isles, the Isola Bella is the most visited. Its claim to fame is the magnificent Baroque palace, the Palazzo e Giardini Borromeo, replete with priceless masterpieces, tapestries, furniture and paintings. The terraced gardens reach their dramatic apex with the unicorn, the Borromeo family emblem. On Isola Madre is the Borromeo bambini doll collection, as well as a number of portraits of the family. A magnificent botanical garden flows from the house with plentiful exotic trees, plants and flowers; a must-see while on holiday at Lake Maggiore.



Venice

Venice

Elegant Venetian buildings and palaces peer over the ancient maze of narrow streets and labyrinth of canals that make up this unique city. Tourists naturally flock to Venice to experience its inimitable charm. The downside of this can be felt in the narrow streets and cramped piazzas of its sought-after areas. A good way to get to know a more personal side of Venice is to saunter through its romantic back streets and residential quarters.

Venice rests on one of a series of 117 islands distributed throughout the Venetian lagoon, at the northern end of the Adriatic Sea. This strategic position conferred on Venice economic and defensive advantages over its trading rivals. As the wealth of the city increased and its population grew, the composition of the city grew ever more dense and today only a handful of the islets that constitute the historic centre are not entirely developed.

The historic centre is divided into six quarters (sestieri). These are: San Marco, Dorsoduro, San Polo, Santa Croce, Cannaregio and Castello. The city's main thoroughfare is the Grand Canal that intersects each district as it meanders through the length of Venice, from the railway station to San Marco. An alternative to walking the bewildering streets of Venice is to cruise the waterways onboard the motorboat buses known as vaporetti. These are the less romantic but also less expensive substitutes for the famous gondolas.

Venice extends beyond its six sestieri to the islands of Murano, Burano and Torcello. These are known for glass and lace-making respectively, and Torcello is noted for the magnificent Byzantine Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta that rests on its soil. Trips by boat to the islands provide a pleasant diversion from the busier historic quarters.



Naples

Naples

Italy's third-largest city thrives on the chaos that prevails amid its busy streets. This is the place where pizza was invented, and its restaurants continue to serve some of Italy's finest cuisine.

Sheltered by the Bay of Naples and dominated by the slopes of Mount Vesuvius, Naples is imbued with the best of nature's bounty. The city is somewhat schizophrenic in its juxtaposition of superb museums and Renaissance and Baroque churches alongside crumbling tenement blocks and squalor. Noisy markets sell a collection of items, from high-quality fresh produce to fake designer goods. Roads are characteristically hectic with gung-ho moped drivers weaving wildly through the streets and frustrating traffic jams clogging the city's arteries. Despite these less refined elements, Naples is a fascinating destination and a great base from which to explore the Amalfi Coast, Pompeii and Herculaneum.

The city's transport hub is located around the immense Piazza Garibaldi, on the east side of Naples. The area's growing African population has imbued the streets with the flavours of its immigrants. Southwest from here is the Piazza Bovio, and branching to the left of it, the Piazza Municipio and nearby Piazza del Plebiscito. On the watery edges are the Molo Beverollo and the Stazione Marittima, the point of departure for ferries. From the reaches of Spaccanapoli one can explore the historic part of Naples with its numerous palaces and churches.



Milan

Milan

Sophistication reaches new levels in Milan. The financial and commercial centre of Italy, Milan attracts fashion fundis, opera lovers, the young, the beautiful and the bold. Shopping, eating and clubbing is serious business here - and it is no surprise that the city boasts the world's 'most beautiful shopping mall', the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. Equally vying for admiration are the Milanese icons of La Scala Theatre (Teatro della Scala) and the Gothic Duomo, one of the world's largest churches. Milan's frenetic pace surges ahead in its drive towards progress, forsaking the lengthy siestas enjoyed in other parts of the country. The city's urban tentacles stretch for miles, although the significant historical attractions are contained between the two landmark sites - the Duomo and the Sforzesco Castle. These reside within the inner loop of the city's concentric design, which is split into four squares: Piazza Duomo, Piazza Cairoli, Piazza Cordusio and Piazza San Babila. The modern civic centre lies to the northwest, around Mussolini's colossal train station built in 1931. The skyline around here is dominated by skyscrapers from which the sleek Pirelli Tower emerges. The Fiera district that stretches around Porta Genova station is the hub for trade and fashion fairs.



Italian Alps

Italian Alps

The scenic Italian Alps comprise lush valleys and pine forests set against the backdrop of jagged white peaks stretching through the clouds. Towns nestle in the valleys and ski chalets nuzzle into the crevices offered by the generous mountains. Access to the area is provided along train or bus routes snaking through the Alps, but the international cable car connection over the mountains from Chamonix (in eastern France) is by far the most spectacular way to enter the region. Tourists flock to these famously beautiful parts, and the largely French influence is extended to the street names.

The Gran Paradiso National Park is a sublime experience of waterfalls, cliffs and lush vegetation. Hiking is a big attraction along the scenic mountain trails, that stretch for miles and are interrupted only by mountain huts and refuges. The best months for walking are July, August and September, when most of the snow has melted into the thirsty soil. Italy's best ski resorts are in the Valle d'Aosta, within the shadows of Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn. Courmayer and Brevil Cervinia are both world-class resorts and the skiing is augmented by the matchless Italian love for cuisine and fine wines. The Italian Alps ski resorts generally cater for all levels of experience and you don't need to be a great skier to enjoy the slopes.

The valleys and higher mountains of the Italian Alps experience different climates, both in winter and summer. In winter the mountains are snow-covered, but are generally sunny with relatively warm daytime temperatures, while the valleys are often foggy. In summer the valleys experience warm, clear weather, while the mountains are covered in cloud. The altitude of the Alps means that nighttime temperatures will always be quite cold. Summer tends to be the rainy season, with frequent thunderstorms. The warmest temperatures, in winter and summer, are found in the great lakes region.



Sicily

Sicily

Sicily, the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, may be just a short hop from the Italian mainland, across the narrow strait of Messina, but it is a world apart in atmosphere and attitude. Everything Italian seems a little more appetising here - not only the food, but the history and culture as well.

For a long time, Sicily was ignored as a holiday destination, largely because of the Mafia stranglehold and because of the poverty of the people. Today, however, the island is experiencing a tourism boom and a surge in development as the destructive influences of the Mafia wane. Visitors discover that the Sicilian people are gracious, noble and welcoming, and that the island itself offers natural and historic attractions of great beauty and enormous interest.

The main cities of Palermo and Catania feature some of the most exquisite architecture in the world, a legacy of the many great civilisations that have vied for control of this strategically-situated island over the centuries, from the Greeks and Romans, to the Arabs and Normans, to (more recently) the French, Spanish and Italians. There are massive Romanesque cathedrals, the best-preserved Greek temples in the world, Roman amphitheatres and magnificent Baroque palaces. The continuous blue skies and temperate climate, lush vegetation and rich marine life all add to the island's appeal. Nature has given Sicily Mount Etna, Europe's tallest active volcano, a dramatic coastline and fertile soil that gives forth much of the bounty on which the island's unique and delicious cuisine is based.

Sicily has a coastal Mediterranean climate of mild, wet winters and hot, dry summers. The mountainous interior has cooler temperatures, with snowfall during winter; while along the coast, winter temperatures average about 50°F (10°C), and summer temperatures about 84°F (28°C).



Florence

Florence

The principal Tuscan city of Florence (Firenze) nestles below the wooded foothills of the Apennines, along the banks of the Arno River. The works of Botticelli, Michelangelo, Bruneschelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Boccaccio, Alberti, Masaccio, Donatello, Vasari and Fra Angelico imbue the city with the magnificence of their contribution to art and life. The city itself is muse to some and home to many stylish citizens, who enhance the cobbled streets and fashionable piazzas with their inimitable Italian flair.

The heart of the city, where everyone from tourist to tout seems to congregate, is the Piazza de Duomo and the Piazza della Signoria. The statues dominating the Piazza della Signoria commemorate major historical events of the city's life, and the magnificent Palazzo Vecchio still performs its original role as Florence's town hall. The adjacent Uffizi is the oldest art gallery in the world, with a collection of the greatest works of the Renaissance, commissioned largely by the Medici family. The man who founded the great long-ruling Medici dynasty was Cosimo il Vecchio. His legacy is imprinted in the city's northern area, marked by the churches of San Lorenzo, San Marco and the Palazzo Medici Riccardi.

The western stretches of the city are formed by Florence's railway station at one end and the Ponte Vecchio at the other. The quaint Ponte Vecchio bridge was built in 1345, and was one of the few areas to emerge unscathed from the wartime bombs. Little workshops that used to belong to butchers, tanners and blacksmiths peer onto the river from their timber supports. The church of Santa Maria Novella also rises from the city's western boundaries in true gothic splendour, preserving some of the most important works of art in Florence.

The Oltrarno (meaning 'over the Arno') area became the place from which the Medici ruled from the Palazzo Pitti. The magnificent Boboli Gardens were designed and laid out around it. The area surrounding Via Maggio and Piazza di Santo Spirito boasts a collection of other palazzi built during the 16th and 17th-centuries.



Amalfi Coast

Amalfi Coast

The rugged southern shore dividing the Bay of Naples from the Gulf of Salerno is a restful and picturesque area. Miniature towns shelter in precipitous coastal ravines and tranquil seas calmly lap the shores of quiet pebbled beaches. The Amalfi Coast is a great relaxation spot from which to enjoy coastal Italian culture.

Stretching between the towns of Postiano and Vietri sul Mare, near Salerno, the area is renowned for its breathtaking scenery and towering mountain cliffs that plunge into the Mediterranean Sea. Precariously perched and threatening to tipple into the sea, the small town of Positano is a great attraction for tourists with its cluster of multi-coloured houses and remarkable setting. A cliffside stairway provides the perfect vantage-point from which to admire its glorious sea vistas.

Four miles (6km) down the coast is the quaint town of Praiano, framed by caves, castles and sharp cliffs. A stroll from here towards Amalfi will take you to a ramp leading to Marina di Praia, a 400-year-old fishing village nestled in the embrace of a tiny ravine. Another notable stop between Praiano and Amalfi is the Grotto dello Smeraldo.

The busy seaside town of Amalfi basks in the glory of its longevity as the first Sea Republic of Italy, and as the hometown of Flavio Gioja, the inventor of the compass. It is referred to as the 'pearl of the coast' and has a bit of everything for the weary traveller. A pebble's throw away from here is the quiet village of Atrani. Its tranquil beach rests languidly on the water's edge against a superb backdrop of mountains.

Further down the coast is Minori, notable for its lemon exports, a gentle place with villas and beaches to explore. The quiet town of Ravello retains the charm prized by Bocaccio who dedicated part of his famous work, the Decameron, to the town. The coastal road that twists its way between the rocks affords glimpses of small villages, bays and inlets, and a journey along this southern route will take travellers to towns of worldwide fame as well as to lesser-known spots of equally enchanting beauty.



Civitavecchia

Civitavecchia

Hundreds of thousands of tourists visit Civitavecchia on the west coast of Italy every year, but few see anything of this port-city beyond the harbour, bus terminal or railway station. This is because the historic port has served as the port of Rome for around two millennia, and most are just keen to jump ashore from a cruise liner and head for the attractions of the Eternal City, situated about 50 miles (80km) away.

Those who are forced to kick their heels at a hotel in Civitavecchia for a night or two before embarking or after disembarking from a cruise will not find the city packed with much to see and do. Although it is an ancient port, most of the city's archaeological treasures and old buildings were destroyed during the two World Wars, thanks to its strategic importance as Rome's port. Travelling through the port gate, though, no one can avoid noticing the city's main attraction, the looming 16th-century Fort Michelangelo, commissioned by Pope Julius II and completed by Michelangelo. There are also remains of the old city walls, and a worthy fountain designed by Vanvitelli, close to the Fort and the old Roman harbour. The old part of town features another attractive fountain in the Piazza Leandra, fronting a medieval church. There is also an interesting National Archaeological Museum, which contains exhibits discovered during the harbour restorations and from surrounding archaeological sites. Along the wide seafront avenue stands the unusual Church of the Holy Japanese Martyrs, dedicated to some Franciscan monks who were martyred in Japan in the 16th-century, and decorated with frescoes and mosaics by a Japanese artist. Along the adjacent coast are some enjoyable beaches and an interesting spa resort where the hot springs, known as the Taurine Baths, have been used since the days of Ancient Rome.



Verona

Verona

For most people, Verona is the setting of one of the most famous love stories ever told - William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet - making it one of the most popular holiday destinations for lovers and romantics. Shakespeare said, 'There is no world outside these walls...' and tourists will indeed feel like they are lost inside another world when they enter the gates of the historic city of Verona.

With beautiful red-tiled rooftops juxtaposed with leafy green trees and the sparkling Adige River that flows through this UNESCO World Heritage Site, Verona is one of the most picturesque destinations in the country. Sadly though, much of the exquisite ancient architecture and ancient Roman monuments were destroyed by a powerful earthquake that rocked the city in 1117, which led to a massive Romanesque rebuilding (evident in structures like the ancient parish of San Giovanni in Valle).

Visit Juliet's house and balcony and rub her statue for good luck; stroll across the Ponte Pietra bridge to admire the views over the Adige River; visit the remains of a 3rd-century Roman gate at the historic Porta Borsari; visit the statue of famed poet Dante Alighieri in the Piazza dei Signori; or marvel at the crumbling but still functional Arena di Verona, an enormous Roman amphitheatre dating back 2,000 years and still boasting the largest opera stage in the world. The best time to visit the Arena is during the 'lyrical season', in the summer, where operas take place inside this ancient theatre on balmy summer nights.

The areas surrounding Verona provide some of Italy's most breathtaking scenery, and a trip to Valpolicella or Soave to sample the renowned wines is something wine-lovers will not want to miss out on; while nearby Lake Garda to the west of Verona is a popular tourist destination, whose shores are home to a number of exclusive hotels and resorts.

After a long day of enjoying the romance, history and splendour of the city of Verona, climb the steps on the hill above the Roman Amphitheatre to the Castell San Pietro (St Peter's Castle) for spectacular views over the city - the perfect setting for a romantic sunset picnic.



Umbria

Umbria

Umbria sits in the shadow of Tuscany, its better-known northern neighbour, but is becoming a favoured destination for those who want to discover rural Italy away from the crowds. The area is predominantly rural, with no major cities and a small population of under a million. Umbria is landlocked, situated in the heart of Italy, north of Rome, with the Marches region to the east, Latium to the south and Tuscany to the north.

The region is dotted with remarkably unspoilt medieval hill towns and villages, ancient castles, Roman ruins and a rolling countryside of forests, olive groves and vineyards. The famous Tuscan towns of Florence, Sienna and Pisa are all within driving distance, but Umbria also has many of its own magnificent sights. These include the cathedral facade in Orvieto, the Roman theatre in Spoleto, and the town of Assisi, whose Basilica ranks among Italy's must-see sights along with Pompeii, St Mark's Square and the Colosseum.

Perugia is the region's main city and is the place to head for shopping, bars or any nightlife, although visitors are more likely to visit Umbria to hike through the unspoilt countryside, slumber by the pool, and enjoy the delicious local wine and food, than to shop and party.

Umbria is only one to two hours drive from either the Rome or Pisa airports, and can be accessed via the A1 toll road which runs through the region from Rome to Florence.



Genoa

Genoa

Those of us who remember our history books recognise Genoa as the birthplace of famous explorer Christopher Columbus. Always an important port city in Italy, for decades Genoa languished behind Rome, Venice and Milan as the tourists passed it by.

This changed dramatically after the European Union nominated Genoa as the European Capital of Culture in 2004. Cruise ships docking in the Porto Antico are now bringing visitors by the thousands, and travellers in Italy are making time in their itineraries to spend several days on holiday in Genoa.

This tourism renaissance is well-deserved, as there are many beautiful and fascinating tourist attractions in Genoa. The medieval district is filled with stunning marble churches and stately palaces, grouped around scenic plazas like the Piazza San Matteo and the Piazza Dante. Visitors should be sure to look for the famous frescoes of the Church of Sant'Agostino and the fanciful Gothic carvings of the Cattedrale San Lorenzo. The Via Garibaldi has a number of impressive Baroque buildings.

There are many interesting museums in the city, dedicated to everything from cultural and natural history to the navy, cathedrals, and royalty of the city's past. There are no fewer than five art museums in Genoa as well.

Though it is Italy's largest medieval town, Genoa's present is just as vibrant as its past. The streets are always buzzing with life, and visitors are spoiled for choice when it comes to restaurants, shops and entertainment. The Porto Antico on the harbour front has been rebuilt from a utilitarian dock to an entertainment area with museums, cinemas, restaurants, and one of the biggest aquariums in Europe along the pretty promenade.

Genoa makes a good base to explore the other towns along the Italian Riviera, including Portofino, Cinque Terre, Rapallo and La Spezia.





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