Spotlight on Italy
01 February 2017
Italy has more UNESCO World Heritage Cultural Sites than any other country – 50 of them, in fact. When you add to this Italy’s astounding regional diversity, beautiful countryside, sunny beaches, fabulous shopping and fashion, and its incredible food and drink, we can’t understand why we aren’t there already!
Did you know?
- Although the city of Rome was founded in 753 BC, Italy did not become a united country until 1861.
- Italy has over 3,000 museums and the highest number of cultural sites recognized by UNESCO World Heritage.
- The Italian peninsula is home to two micro states, San Marino and the Vatican City.
- Italy is home to three of the largest Cathedrals in the world, St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, the Duomo in Milan and the Duomo in Florence (St. Paul's in London sneaks in to take second place).
- It is also home to three active volcanoes: Mount Etna, Stromboli and Mount Vesuvius. Mount Vesuvius last erupted in 1944, but Stromboli and Mount Etna have erupted more recently – Sicily’s Mount Etna is Europe's largest and most active volcano.
- Italy’s capital, Rome, is famously built on seven hills: Aventine, Caelian, Capitoline, Esquiline, Palatine, Quirinal, and Viminal.
When to visit Italy
- Rome – the Eternal City – can be enjoyed at any time of year.
- Springtime is often touted as the best time to see Venice, but those who love the city often recommend visiting Venice in the wintertime.
- The hillsides around Sorrento are filled with the invigorating scent of lemons and oranges in the Springtime. There is a warmth to the air – perfect for dining al fresco or exploring on foot along the pretty cobbled streets of this idyllic costal town.
- April to October are the best months to travel if you want to make the most of the sunshine. Beaches often don’t open until April, and outdoor hotel pools generally won’t be filled until June.
- Winter snow can be enjoyed in the Italian Dolomites or the Alps – there’s nothing better than finishing a day’s skiing with a huge dish of tasty pasta and some of the most stylish après ski in the world.
- In Sicily, you can enjoy warmer weather even into December – unless you are on its peaks of Piano Battaglia and Mount Etna, which offer skiing opportunities!
Sights to see in Italy
- Rome’s heritage is incredible – don’t miss the Colosseum, Roman Forum, Parco degli Acquedotti or the Pantheon. Villa Medici has spectacular gardens and St Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums are also unmissable.
- Florence is home to some of the world's top art museums. The Uffizi Gallery houses some of the most important works of the Renaissance, including works by Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli and Titian. Meanwhile, Galleria dell’ Accademia is home to Michelangelo’s David.
- Another of Italy’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites is the beautiful Medieval Tuscan hill town, which featured in the James Bond film Quantum of Solace. Siena’s main square, the 13th century Piazza del Campo, hosts the bareback horse race that featured in the film, the Palio di Siena, twice every summer.
- Pisa is a beautiful town to explore on foot, and the sites are close enough to see in one day, including the obligatory half-hour posing in front of the leaning tower to get “that” photo – but are you pushing it over or holding it up?
- Enjoy a pizza in the town that claims its invention – Naples. Then, explore the vast and nearby archaeological sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Buried in metres of ash and pumice after the catastrophic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79AD, these towns offer an unforgettable glimpse into life 2,000 years ago.
Try something a little different…
- Ditch the Venetian water taxi and instead explore Venice’s bàcari Cicchetti. Cicchetti means “very small” in the local dialect – and is something like an Italian version of Tapas. Try these tiny tasty bites at the bàcari of All’ Arco and Antiche Carampane, washed down with a glass of Prosecco
- Florence’s Ponte Vecchio is high up on most tour itineraries, but to admire its Medieval splendour without the close-ups of tourist bric-a-brac, walk along the River Arno to Ponte Santa Trinita for a romantic vista of the old bridge.
- The pretty walled town of Lucca makes a great base from which to explore Tuscany. Accommodation here is cheaper than the neighbouring towns of Pisa or Siena and it is easy to explore on foot or by bicycle. Inside the walls, discover pretty little piazzas, hiding wonderful cafes, shops and restaurants.
- Once favoured by European Aristocracy, now the haunt of celebrities, beautiful Lake Como is framed by the spectacular backdrop of the Grigna mountains, pretty towns with winding cobbled streets and lakeside promenades, and luxury villas perched along the shore. Relax by the lake, hike in the mountains, and enjoy the local café culture for a break with a difference.
- May and June are the perfect months to enjoy the wonderful coves and beaches of Sardinia. The island has some great hiking trails which take in Sardinia’s nuraghi – mysterious Bronze Age stone ruins shaped like beehives – and mix of Carthaginian and Roman ruins, Pisan churches and Spanish Baroque. When you’ve finished exploring, reward yourself with a dinner of fabulous locally-caught seafood.
A taste of Italy
- Each Italian region has very distinct regional styles and specialities, but one thing the best Italian food has in common, wherever in the country, is wonderful, simple, fresh ingredients, cooked well.
- When in Italy, do coffee as the Italian’s do. Cappuccino is a breakfast-only kind of coffee – and you’ll get odd looks if you try to order it after about 11am. Instead, Italians choose an espresso – either a ristretto (short espresso) or lungo (a long espresso).
- For a traditional Christmas treat, try torrone – a sweet honey nougat traditionally flavoured with almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios, and/or chocolate (depending which region you are in). Delicious!
- Sicily is home to fictional detective and food nut Inspector Montalbano but that’s no reason not to enjoy the regional specialities of Arancini, Caponata, Fritto Misto, cannolo and cassata.
- A trip to Italy wouldn’t be complete without at least one gelato! In Rome, head to Gelateria I Caruso.
For more ideas about what to do in Italy, when to go or where to stay, get in touch with your Travel Counsellor.