Italy

Italy

It was once said of Italy that it makes you cry twice: once when you see it and once when you leave. Its boot shaped peninsula dangles from the heart of Western Europe, and it’s a country full of surprises and contradictions with more than enough to keep the average traveller entertained. From ancient splendours, exquisite art and quiet rustic charm, to the frantic bustle of its thriving cities like Rome and Milan with their trend setting fashions and gourmet treats, Italy has something for everyone.

Although a relatively young nation, each region has own distinct flavour, culture and cuisine that serves to make travelling through the country a delight. Whether it’s skiing in the breathtaking Dolomites, partying or romancing in Venice, shopping till you drop in Milan or Rome, or relaxing on the breathtaking Amalfi and Riviera coasts, Italy is sure to win your heart.

Cash

The unit of currency in Italy is the Euro.

Approximate conversion rates are:

$1 USD = 1.13 Euro
£1 GBP = 1.6 Euro

Check with your local foreign exchange bureau for up to date currency information.

Although prices have risen in recent years, Italy is comparable to most of Europe. Expect to pay more in the North. For those with shoestring finances, it is possible to live on $35 a day if you stay in a hostel, make your own sandwiches and avoid too many museums and nights out. Another alternative is a pensioni – one and two star hotels run by families.
Since the country is popular with tourists year-round, it is advisable to book well in advance. Be warned though, that some pensionis lack heating and since many are located in central historic buildings, the noise can be considerable. For those with more money to blow looking for the good life, Italy can easily set you back $100 a day.

People

The population of Italy is 57 million with a population density of 197 inhabitants per km sq. The population growth is practically zero, and babies are treated as angels because of their rarity, despite the fact that the large majority of Italians are Roman Catholic.

Traditionally, Italy has been a land of emigration as witnessed by the massive flows of Italians to North and South America during the last and early part of this century and to Australia and to Belgium, Germany and Switzerland since World War Two. In recent years, however, Italy’s rapid economic growth has attracted many immigrants to the country, mainly from North and Sub-Saharan Africa, but also the Philippines, China, South America and most recently from Albania and the former Yugoslavia.

Travel

Italians pride themselves on having the world’s first motorway, built by Mussolini. Today the ‘Autostada’ covers almost 6,000 kms of road. City locals find the best way to get around Italy’s narrow and hectic streets is by moped. In fact, over 2/3 of the country drives them.

For those who prefer a faster and more relaxing mode of travel, Italy boasts one of the most extensive and cheapest railroads in Europe. A basic FS (Italian State Railway pass) costs about £249 for a month. Beware of frequent strikes and pickpockets! Trains are categorized according to their speed, and the newest addition, the Pendolino, is modeled on the comfort of air travel. Complete with hostess service, video screens, dining cars, faxes and telephones, it currently runs between Milan and Rome with additional lines planned for the future.

Air travel is frequent and easy in Italy, particularly the North, with two main airports in Milan and Rome having connections to several smaller ones. Islands such as Sardinia and Sicily are easily accessible by Ferry or Hydrofoil depending on the season.

Food

Italy is a foodie’s heaven, and visitors are spoilt for choice. Try the white truffles, delicious seafood and pesto dishes of Northern Italy, or sample the delights of Emilia-Romagna – home to parmesan cheese and parma ham. In Modena you can enjoy a fizzy glass of Lambrusco wine, sip some chianti, get to grips with grappa, or stop in Naples – the birthplace of pizza. Or for a light snack just sit in a piazza people watching with a cappuccino and some antipasti.

Language

Despite Italy’s past political divisions, there is a basic ethnic and linguistic unity to the country, although there are small minorities of German speakers in the Alto Adige, French speakers in the Valle d’Aosta and Slovene speakers in Friuli. Expect to hear very little English spoken outside of the larger towns and cities.

Climate

Sandwiched between the warm waters of the Mediterranean and the majestic peaks of the Alps, Italy enjoys a relatively mild climate, with the South being hotter and drier. The seaside resorts fill up during the humid summer months, while winter sees skiing in the mountains. During the cool autumn season, the art galleries and museums of the cities become a favourite past time. The hottest month is July and the coldest January. The wettest month is November, whilst the driest month is July.

When to Visit

Spring and Autumn are the best months to travel for the mild climate, though this is when the cities are at their most crowded. Easter sees Rome overrun by pilgrims and tourists, while the Carnival in Venice triples the citiy’s population in February. December to March is perfect for skiers and art lovers as museums are fairly empty. Avoid August for the sweltering temperatures and the fact that the locals evacuate the cities in droves. You may even find getting a meal difficult!

Dress

Light jackets for the autumn drizzle, whilst shorts and t- shirts are fine for summer heat. Winter clothing for the ski slopes. Appropriate dress should be worn by both men and women when entering one of the country’s many churches.

Visas

EU nationals with a valid passport can enter and stay in Italy for an indefinite period. Citizens of the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand need only a valid passport to stay up to 3 months. Once there, you must declare yourself to the police within 8 days.

Working permits can be obtained by submitting an application form, pictures, photocopies of your passport and proof of future employment.

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