Overview: Despite incessant praise, travelling in Italy remains one of those rare experiences in life – like a perfect spring day or the power of first love – that cannot be overrated. In few places do history, art, fashion, food and la dolce vita (the good life) intermingle so effortlessly. There are sunny isles and electric blue surf, glacial northern lakes and fiery southern volcanoes and an urban landscape that harbors more UNESCO World Heritage sites than any other country in the world. Few places offer such variety and few visitors leave without a fervent desire to return.
Understandably, the artistic and architectural treasures of Rome, Venice, Florence and Naples draw visitors to them like moths to a flame. Not content with conquering most of the known world and bringing it within the embrace of the Roman Empire, the Venetians dispatched Marco Polo to unchartered lands right off the map, while Giotto, da Vinci, Brunelleschi and Michelangelo set the tone for the great ‘rebirth’ of Western art and architecture, the Renaissance.
Look around you at all those splendid palaces, paintings, churches and monuments and you may wonder if there isn’t something in your delicately floral prosecco with its overtones of apples and pears. Actually, there is: hundreds of years of hard graft and an unswerving devotion to traditional techniques and terroir. From the neatly banded stone terraces of the Cinque Terre, which snake from sea level to crest gravity-defying precipices, to the blousy hillsides of Chianti, the riverine plain of the Po valley and the volcanic slopes of Etna, like its art, are designed to elevate regional cuisine and your general wellbeing.
As the endless parade of courses start arriving, you’ll notice that the country much like its cuisine is an endless feast of experiences. No matter how much you gorge yourself, you’ll always feel as though you haven’t made it past the first course. The choice is dazzling and bewildering. So take the advice of the locals. Slow down, sit back, tuck that napkin in and simply promise to come again.
At a glance:
- Population: ~60 million
- Capital city: Rome (pop. 2.7 million)
- Area: 301,400 sq. kms
- Currency: Euro (EUR)
- Time zone: UTC + 1 / Summer UTC +2
- Religion: Christian (mainly Catholic).