Intro to Italy
Map of Europe
Europe - Italy
Here you can see that Italy which famously resembles a boot kicking a football is located in southern Europe on the Mediterranean Sea with boarders to the North of France, Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia.
Here you can see that Italy which famously resembles a boot kicking a football is located in southern Europe on the Mediterranean Sea with boarders to the North of France, Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia.
Map of Italy
Italy - Tuscany
Here you can see Tuscany in light green, it is situated in central Italy. The legendary Tuscany climate can be partly attributed to the large coast line and famous landscape of rolling hills which bring a cooling freshness to the Tuscan sun.
Being central, it is said that this is one of the reasons that of all the Italian dialects the best Italian is spoken in Siena - Tuscany.
The Chianti map
Tuscany - The Chianti Region
Most of the property offered on this web site are in or around the Chianti Classico wine producing region of Tuscany.
The Chianti is not a state or province of Italy and although there are the famous five "Chianti Towns" of Greve, Panzano, Castellina, Radda and Gaiole there is no town called Chianti.
The Chianti is a territory denominated by the area's wine growers, Gaiole in Chianti featured on this map is in the centre of the Chianti Classico region.
Italy - IntroductionITALY - INTRODUCTION
Life expectancy: 74 years (men), 81 years (women)
Major language: Italian
Major religion: Christianity
Population: 57.5 million
Size: 301, 323 km squared
Population density: 188.4 people per km
Monetary unit: 1 Euro = 100 cents
Main exports: Machinery and transport equipment, chemicals, clothes, wine
Average annual income: US $20,170
Internet domain: .it
International dialing code: +39
The Italian Parliamentary Constitution came into being on the 1st January 1948.
The highest position is that of President (Presidente della Repubblica).
The Parliament has two chambers, both with equal rights, the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate.
The President is voted in by both Chambers of Parliament in a common hearing. Contrary to the Chamber of Deputies, members of the Senate are voted for on a regional basis.
At the head is the Prime Minister - the government needs the trust of both chambers who have equal authority.
These institutions were created in order to avoid the concentration of power which was responsible for the Fascist regime.
Italy has been a member of NATO since 1949 and member of the UN since 1955.
Italy was one of the founder members of the European Union on 1st January 1952.
The state is divided into 20 Regions, each with their own Governments. Five Regions (Aosta, Sardegna, Sicily, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Trentino Alto Adige) have special status giving them greater autonomy.
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Social ConventionsSocial Conventions
The social structure is heavily influenced by the Roman Catholic church and, generally speaking, family ties are stronger than in most other countries in Western Europe. Normal social courtesies should be observed. Dress is casual in most places, though beachwear should be confined to the beach. Conservative clothes are expected when visiting religious buildings and smaller, traditional communities. Formal wear is usually indicated on invitations. Smoking is prohibited in some public buildings, transport and cinemas. Visitors are warned to take precautions against theft, particularly in the cities.
Tipping: Service charges and state taxes are included in all hotel bills. It is customary to give up to 10% in addition if service has been particularly good; minimum 1 Euro
Required Clothing - Lightweight cottons and linens are worn during the summer, except in the mountains. Lightweight to mediumweights are worn in the south during winter, while warmer clothes are worn elsewhere. Alpine wear is advised for winter mountain resorts.
Country Special EventsCountry Special Events
Traditional festivals are celebrated in most towns and villages in commemoration of local historical or religious events, the most notable and spectacular being the following:
Folklore. Almond Blossom Festival (March).Joust of the Saracen with armoured knights, dating from the 13th century (first Sunday in September).
Joust of the Quintana. Historical pageant with over 1000 people (first Sunday in August).
Celebration of the Holy Week (Easter Week). Calendimaggio (early May). Music and Song contest (annually the first week in May).
'Sagra di San Nicola', historical procession in costume (first Saturday and Sunday in May).
'Sagra di Sant'Efisio', one of the biggest and most colourful processions in the world (May 1).
'Scoppio del Carro', Explosion of the Cart in the Cathedral Square (Easter Sunday); and 'Gioco del Calcio', 16th-century football match in medieval costumes (June).
'Giostra della Quintana' 17th-century joust with 600 knights in costumes (second Sunday in September).
'Festa dei Ceri' race. (May 15).
'Luminaria di Santa Croce'. Illuminations and procession (September 14).Human Chess Game (second weekend in September).
'Festa di San Gennaro', gathering in the Cathedral to pray for the liquefaction of the saint's blood (September 19).
Festival of the Redeemer (last week in August).
Umbria Jazz Winter (New Year).
Umbria Jazz (July).
Celebration of Epiphany according to Byzantine rite (January 6);
Easter celebrations (Easter Sunday).
Historical regatta and illuminations (June).
Epiphany Fair (January 6).
'Festa de'Noantri' (July 16-24).
'Palio dei Balestrieri', medieval contest (second Sunday in September).
'Cavalcata Sarda', traditional procession of over 3000 people on horseback wearing medieval costume (third Sunday in May).
Bareback horse-race (July 2 and August 16).
The Spoleto Festival.
Umbria Jazz Gospel & Soul Easter Festival.
'Il Redentore', procession of gondolas, (mid-July Sat/Sun). Historical regatta (first Sunday in September).
Verona Opera (July September).
Procession of the 'Macchina di Santa Rosa', commemorating the transport of the saint's body to the Church of Santa Rosa (September 3).
Italy - ShoppingItaly - Shopping
Many Italian products are world-famous for their style and quality. Care should be taken when buying antiques since Italy is renowned for skilled imitators. Prices are generally fixed and bargaining is not general practice, although a discount may be given on a large purchase. Florence, Milan and Rome are famous as important fashion centres, but smaller towns also offer good scope for shopping. It is advisable to avoid hawkers or sellers on the beaches. Some places are known for particular products, eg Como (Lombardy) for silk, Prato (Tuscany) for textiles, Empoli (Tuscany) for the production of bottles and glasses in green glass, Deruta (Umbria) and Faenza (Emilia-Romagna) for pottery, Carrara (Tuscany) for marble. Torre Annunziata (Campania) and Alghero (Sardinia) are centres for handicraft products in coral, and in several parts of Sardinia business cards and writing paper made of cork are produced. Cremona (Lombardy) is famous for its handmade violins. Castelfidardo (Marche) is famous for its accordion factories, and for its production of guitars and organs. Two small towns concentrate on producing their speciality: Valenza (Piedmont), which has a large number of goldsmith artisans, and Sulmona (Abruzzo), which produces 'confetti', sugar-coated almonds used all over Italy for wedding celebrations. Vietri sul Mare (Campania) is one of the most important centres of ceramic paving-tiles, and Ravenna (Emilia-Romagna) is famous for mosaics. Main shopping areas are listed below which offer a wide choice of shops and markets. Every shop in the fashionable Via Condotti-Via Sistina area offers a choice of styles, colours and designs rarely matched, but at very high prices. Equally expensive are shops along Via Vittorio Veneto, a street famous for its outdoor cafés. Old books and prints can be bought from bookstalls of Piazza Borghese. Rome's flea market is at Porta Portese in Trastevere on Sunday mornings, selling everything from second-hand shoes to 'genuine antiques'. Industrial wealth is reflected in the chic, elegant shops of Via Montenapoleone. Prices tend to be higher than in other major cities. It is still famous for its glassware, and there is a great deal of both good and bad glass; that made on the island of Murano, where there are also art dealers and skilful goldsmiths, has a reputation for quality. Venetian lace is also exquisite and expensive; however, most of the lace sold is no longer made locally (only lace made on the island of Burano may properly be called Venetian lace). Boasts some of the finest goldsmiths, selling from shops largely concentrated along both sides of the Ponte Vecchio bridge. Florentine jewellery has a particular quality of satin finish called satinato. Much filigree jewellery can also be found. Cameos are another speciality of Florence, carved from exotic shells.In the south there are still families hand-making the same local products as their ancestors: pottery and carpets in each region; filigree jewellery and products of wrought iron and brass in Abruzzo; products in wood in Calabria; corals and cameos in Campania; a variety of textiles, including tablecloths, in Sicily and Sardinia. In Cagliari it is possible to find artistic copies of bronze statuettes from the Nuraghe period of the Sardinian Bronze Age. In the larger towns such as Naples, Bari, Reggio, Calabria, Palermo and Cagliari there are elegant shops with a whole range of Italian products. Many smaller towns have outdoor markets, but souvenirs sold there are sometimes of very low quality, probably mass-produced elsewhere.0830-1230 and 1530-1930 Monday to Saturday, with some variations in northern Italy where the lunch break is shorter and the shops close earlier. Food shops are often closed Wednesday afternoon.
The following goods may be imported into Italy without incurring customs duty by passengers over 17 years of age arriving from countries outside the EU with goods bought duty-free: 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 100 cigarillos or 250g of tobacco; 750ml of spirits (over 22%) or 2 litres of fortified or sparkling wine; 60g of perfume and 250ml of eau de toilette; 500g of coffee or 200g of coffee extract; 100g of tea or 40g of tea extract. Abolition of duty-free goods within the EU: On June 30 1999, the sale of duty-free alcohol and tobacco at airports and at sea was abolished in all 15 EU member states. Although there are now no limits imposed on importing tobacco and alcohol products from one EU country to another, (with the exceptions of Denmark, Finland and Sweden, where limits are imposed), travellers should note that they may be required to prove at customs that the goods purchased are for personal use only.
Sports and ActivitiesItaly - Sports and Activities
Watersports: Italy has some 8500km (5345 miles) of coastline and remains one of Europe's favourite destinations for beach holidays. Facilities such as sun loungers and deckchairs (which are common on Italian beaches) usually attract a small charge. All types of watersports are available at major resorts. The enduring appeal of the Italian Riviera in Liguria (a 350km/219-mile stretch from France to Tuscany), or of the Adriatic and Amalfi coasts, the latter known for its steeply terraced villages clinging to a rocky coastline, is witnessed by the ever-growing number of visitors. Less busy are the beaches on the islands, in Sicily, which has large sandy stretches on the southern coast, and in Sardinia, much of which is still relatively untouched. Many of Italy's best dive sites are located in Sardinia, and Italy's first surfing school is based in Mauro. Diving courses and equipment hire are also available on the Tremiti Islands (Puglia) in the Adriatic and along the coasts of Tuscany and Liguria. Fishing is excellent throughout Sardinian and Sicilian waters (also renowned for their healthy lobster population), while the rivers in northern Italy, Umbria and Tuscany can offer particularly scenic fishing holidays. For sea fishing, private or chartered boats can be rented. Genoa has frequent yachting regattas, as does Santa Margherita Ligura, where a canoe and small boat regatta is held in July. Sailing is popular on Italy's five major lakes near the Alps in the north - Maggiore, Lugano, Como, Iseo and Garda.
Wintersports: The skiing infrastructure has been greatly improved in recent years, and the facilities at resorts in the Italian Alps now rival those in neighbouring France, Switzerland and Austria. Ski resorts can be broadly split into four geographical areas. To the west of Turin, in the Piedmont region, major resorts include Bardonechia, Sauze, d'Oulx and Sestriere. Further north, the Aosta Valley and its main resorts, such as Courmayeur, Cervinia and La Thuile, are easily reached from France (via the Mont Blanc tunnel from Chamonix) or from Switzerland (via the St Bernard tunnel). To the east, the region across the Swiss border is fairly isolated and accessible via long, winding roads which can be treacherous in bad weather. Driving can be equally difficult in the Dolomites, still further east, but the beautiful scenery more than makes up for it, helping to make this one of Italy's prime skiing destinations; major resorts include Cortina D'Ampezzo (Italy's most upmarket resort), Selva/Sella Ronda and Madonna di Campiglio. Skiing is also possible in Central Italy, in resorts such as Abetone (Tuscany), Campo Imperatore (Lazio), and in several places in Abruzzo, down to Mount Etna in Sicily.
Equestrianism: The biennial Palio bareback horse race in Siena, held on July 2 and August 16, draws thousands of spectators and has been a special event since the 14th century. One of Rome's most prestigious events is its international horse show held in May. There is also flat racing in February at the Capanelle track. Each of the three seasons lasts two months, the second starting in May and the third in September. Trotting races take place at the Villa Gloria track in February, June to November.
Cultural holidays:Italian language and art courses are available throughout Italy. Language courses are often complemented by subjects such as cooking or architecture. Further information can be obtained from the Italian Cultural Institute in London (tel: (020) 7235 1461) or the Italian State Tourist Office (see address section).
Golf: There are first-class golf courses all over Italy, from Lombardy and Trentino in the north, through Tuscany and Lazio, down to Calabria and Sardinia where the golf season is very long, owing to the mild climate.
Italy's most popular spectator sport is soccer (the national team won the World Cup in 1934, 1938 and 1982, and hosted the 1990 event, in which they finished third).
The Giro d'Italia is an internationally renowned cycling race through Italy attracting the world's top cyclists. Motor-racing is held at the Monza autodrome near Milan (Lombardy).
Bocce bowling is as traditional in Italy as it is in France, especially in small villages where it is played on Sunday after High Mass.
Italy by RegionItaly - By Region
Geography - Italy is situated in Europe and attached in the north to the European mainland. To the north the Alps separate Italy from France, Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia.
Climate Summer is hot, especially in the south. Spring and autumn are mild with fine, sunny weather. Winter in the south is much drier and warmer than in northern and central areas. Mountain regions are colder with heavy winter snowfalls.
For ease and speed of reference, the country has been divided into the following areas:
Northern Italy (including the cities of Turin, Milan, Venice, Bologna, Genoa, Trieste and Vicenza);
Central Italy (including the cities of Florence, Pisa, Ancona, Perugia, Rome, Pescara and Campobasso);
Southern Italy (including the cities of Naples, Bari, Potenza and Catanzaro, as well as the resort towns in the Bay of Naples); and
The Islands (Sicily and Sardinia).
Main holiday resorts are included in each section, as well as important religious sites, business centres and a brief mention of the region's art history.
Northern Italy Administrative Regioni: Piedmont, Valle d'Aosta, Liguria, Trentino-Alto Adige, Lombardy, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Veneto and Emilia-Romagna.
PIEDMONT: The densely populated Upper Po Basin is the site of Italy's most important heavy industries, a vast plain pinned to the earth by gargantuan factories and held flat by a harness of motorways. By contrast, the mountains to the west, on the border with France, are sparsely populated and have a wholly pastoral economy. The wine region of Le Langhe offers a landscape of terraced vineyards, old hill-top towns and, owing to the small number of visitors, is a quiet and peaceful region to stay. To the north is Lake Maggiore, the most elegant of the north Italian lakes and popular since Roman times as a retreat for city-dwellers.The best-known wines of this region are Barolo, Italy's most celebrated red, and Asti Spumante, a sparkling white. Barolo wine is produced in the hills surrounding the town of Alba, where there are a number of wine museums. Alba itself is one of the region's most interesting towns, with medieval towers, Baroque and Renaissance architecture, and cobbled streets full of specialist delicatessens and shops. The most exciting time to visit is during the month of October, when the October Festival (involving a donkey race and displays of medieval pageantry) and the Truffle Festival are celebrated. Asti Spumante is produced just outside the town of Asti, a normally quiet little town, except during the month of September when it holds its annual Palio and comes suddenly alive with street banquets, medieval markets, an historic 14th-century parade and a bareback horse-race around the arena of Campo del Palio. Turin(Torino) is the largest city in the region and the fourth-largest in the country. For the first few decades of this century, it was the automobile capital of the world. It was here that the Futurists became so excited with the potential of mechanised transport that they declared Time dead - henceforth, they naïvely declared, everything would be measured in terms of speed alone. The city remains the focus of Italy's automobile industry. Fiat offer guided tours of their headquarters, where a full-scale test track may be found on the roof. Turin does, of course, add up to far more than an infatuation with motor cars. The inhabitants boast that, with its broad, tree-lined avenues flanked by tall, handsome townhouses, it is La Parigi d'Italia, the Italian Paris. Uptown Turin is centred on the main shopping street, via Roma, which links the city's favourite square, the Piazza San Carlo, with its most dramatic building, the baroque Palazzo Madama, which houses the Museum of Ancient Art, one of several nationally important museums in the city, and the Egyptian Museum, the second largest in the world after Cairo. The famous Turin Shroud may be viewed in the 15th-century white marble Cathedral.
VALLE D'AOSTA: A ruggedly scenic region at the foot of Europe's highest mountains - Mont Blanc, Monte Rosa, Cervino (Matterhorn) and Gran Paradiso - bordering France and Switzerland. Valle d'Aosta is politically autonomous and to some extent culturally distinct from the rest of Italy; French is spoken as a first language by most of the inhabitants. The picturesque ruins of countless castles and other fortifications testify to the region's immense strategic significance before the era of air travel, it being the gateway to two of the most important routes through the Alps, the Little and Great St Bernard Passes. Tourism, wine-growing, pasturing and iron-working are the major industries. Aosta, the principal city, has many well-preserved Roman and medieval buildings. It was founded in the first century by the Emperor Augustus as a settlement (colonia) for discharged soldiers of the elite Pretorian Guard. The massive Roman city walls are almost complete and, within them, the old town retains the grid-iron street plan characteristic of all such military townships. Two impressive gateways, the Porta Pretoria, formed the main entrance into the old Roman town and a medieval noble family lived in its tower, which now houses temporary exhibitions. Further ancient Roman sites include the Teatro Romano, where theatrical presentations are still shown on a platform overlooking the old theatre; Arco di Augusto, erected in 25BC to honour the Emperor Augustus (for whom the city is named - Aosta being a corruption of Augustus); the Forum and the still well-intact Roman Bridge, which once arched gracefully over the River Buthier, now entirely dried up. There are several fine ski resorts in the area (see below under Ski Resorts), most notably Courmayeur and Breuil-Cervinia. Ibexes may be seen in the Gran Paradiso National Park, a popular destination for hill-walkers and climbers and offers the chance to see wildlife, including the ibex and chamois. The Mont Blanc Tunnel has largely superseded the St Bernard Passes as a major overland freight route.
LIGURIA: 320km (200 miles) of rocky, wooded coastline running from France to Tuscany, where the Italian 'boot' begins. This is the Riviera, Italy's answer to the Côte d'Azur, and there are ample facilities for tourists even in the smallest of ports. The coastal hills are less developed. Genoa, capital of Liguria, has long been an important commercial and military port. The medieval district of the city holds many treasures, such as the Porta Soprana (the old stone entrance gate to the city), the Church of Sant'Agostino (next to the Museo dell'Architectura e Scultura Ligure), the beautiful Church of San Donato, the 12th-century Church of Santa Maria di Castello and the Gothic Cathedral of San Lorenzo. Outside the medieval district, via Garibaldi, where many of the city's richest inhabitants built their palaces, is a beautiful walk, with Palazzo Podesta, Palazzo Bianco (now an art gallery with paintings by Van Dyck and Rubens) and the magnificently decorated Palazzo Rosso (adjacent to Palazzo Bianco and housing paintings by Titian, Caravaggio and Dürer). A tour (once daily in the afternoon) around the Genoa harbour is available, and the city is also recommended for its excellent shopping opportunities.Ligurian resorts are very popular with holidaymakers. Portofino is one of the best known, with its small picturesque harbour full of sleek pleasure yachts, luxury clothes shops, its romantic villas owned by the rich and famous perched on the hillside and the Castello di San Giorgio, sitting high up on a promontory with magnificent views of the Portofino harbour and bay. The beach at Santa Margherita Ligure, just 5km (3 miles) south of Portofino, is an excellent place to swim, with an almost fairytale swimmer's-eye view of the surrounding cliffs and villas from the warm and crystal-clear aquamarine water. Nearby Rapallo, 8km (5 miles) south of Portofino, is a less fashionable but more reasonable town to stay in and is recommended for those seeking a more lively alternative to the quieter and more exclusive resorts of Portofino and Santa Margherita. Other resorts in this region include Ventimiglia, San Remo, Diano Marina, Alassio, Pietra Ligure, Spotorno, Sestri Levante, Lerici and the Cinque Terre, five relatively unspoilt fishing villages.
TRENTINO & ALTO ADIGE: These wholly mountainous regions on the Swiss border straddle the valley of the River Isarco, which flows from the Brenner Pass down into Lake Garda. Germanic and Italian cultures blend here to the extent that, towards the north, German is increasingly found as the first language. The Dolomites to the east are a range of distinctively craggy mountains, isolated to such an extent from both Italy and Switzerland that in the more remote valleys the inhabitants speak Ladin, an ancient Romance language not much different from Latin. Trentois the principal town of Trentino is worth visiting for its wealth of art works, gathered by the dynasty of princes who ruled the area from the 10th-18th centuries. Many of these artistic acquisitions are viewable in the town's museums, which include the Castello di Buonconsiglio, Museo Provinciale d'Arte and the Museo Diocesano Trentino. Bolzanois the principal town of Alto Aldige, further north. A somewhat austere commercial town, it appears as an unlikely portal to one of the most extraordinary panoramic drives in Italy - the mountain route through the Dolomites to Cortina d'Ampezzo called La Grande Strada delle Dolomiti. Upon entering the Val d'Ega, at the beginning of the route, the scenery is suddenly lush with foliage and rocks as the light seeps through the forest trees. About 20km (12 miles) from the beginning of the route is Lake Carezza, a beautiful limpid pool of bright green water reflecting the trees and mountains around it. This is just the beginning of an awe-inspiring passage through the Dolomites and its small alpine towns, ski resorts and endless panoramas of craggy peaks and tree-clad mountainsides. One of the most famous mountain resorts and the second-largest town in this region is Merano, 28km (17 miles) north of Bolzano. Popular for its spas, thermal waters and moderate climate (the temperature tends to remain above freezing all winter, despite its close proximity to a range of snow-laden ski slopes), it is also visually rewarding, with extensive landscaped gardens and a charming mixture of architectural styles from Gothic to Art Nouveau. Other mountain resorts in the region include Solda, Selva di Val Gardena, Santa Cristina, Oritsei, Corvara, Bressanone, Brunico, Vipiteno, Madonna di Campiglio, Canazei, Moena, Pozza di Fassa, San Martino di Castrozza and Riva, which lies at the top of Lake Garda.
LOMBARDY: A prosperous region with fertile soil, a temperate climate and, for the tourist, the spectacular lakes Como, Garda, Maggiore (shared with Piedmont) and Lugano. As in Piedmont, the Po Valley is the site of much heavy industry. High mountains in the north, marking Italy's frontier with Switzerland, provide excellent skiing and climbing. Lombardy's most famous culinary inventions are minestrone soup and osso buco - literally ox knuckles. Milan(Milano) is Italy's most sophisticated city, a financial and commercial centre of world importance and a rival to Paris in the spheres of modern art and fashion. Its international character is marked by a concentration of skyscrapers found nowhere else in Italy, contrasting and competing with the landmarks of historic Milan, but built in the same boastful spirit of civic pride that, 500 years ago, gave the city its splendid Gothic Cathedral. Even today, this is the world's second-largest church, yet despite its size, it creates an impression of delicate and ethereal beauty due to its pale colour and the fine intricate carving that covers its exterior. The whole fabric of the city - its many palaces, piazzas and churches - speaks of centuries of continuous prosperity. The Castello Sforzesco, in the west of the city, is a massive fortified castle, begun by the Viscontis and finished by the Sforzas. It was the political and social bastion of the ruling Sforzas during Milan's peak as a political/cultural centre and many of the Renaissance elite were entertained in its luxurious domains. Its court artists included Leonardo da Vinci and Bramante and it now houses a number of museums. Leonardo da Vinci's famous fresco, The Last Supper, may be viewed at the convent of Santa Maria della Grazie. The Teatro della Scala (La Scala Theatre) remains the undisputed world capital of opera and is well worth viewing for its magnificent opulence. Just south of Milano is the town of Pavia, the ancient capital known as 'the city of 100 towers'. One of these, the Torre Civica, suddenly collapsed in 1989, killing four people. The town also has many interesting churches, including the Renaissance Cathedral, thought to have been worked on by Bramante and da Vinci; the Romanesque San Michele, with an elaborately carved façade; and the 12th-century San Pietro in Cielo d'Oro, with a magnificent 14th-century altarpiece. The Broletto, Pavia's medieval town hall, and the 14th-century Castello, housing an art gallery, archaeology museum and sculpture museum, are also worth visiting. Though sedate and resting in an air of dusty elegance by day, Pavia bursts into life at night when its people come out for their evening promenade and the streets seem to buzz with activity. The Certosa di Pavia, 10km (6 miles) outside of town, is a monastery famous for its lavish design. Originating as the family mausoleum of the Visconti family, it was later finished by the Sforzas and became the dwellings for a Carthusian order of monks sworn to deep contemplation and for whom speech is forbidden. However, a chosen few are allowed to give visitors a guided tour and tell the story behind their palatial surroundings. Cremona, the birthplace of the Stradivarius violin, is a charming haven of historic architecture. A walk around the medieval Piazza del Comune offers various architectural treats: the Torazzo, one of Italy's tallest medieval towers; the Cathedral, with its magnificent astronomical clock; and the Loggia dei Militia, the former headquarters of the town's medieval army. There are also two interesting museums: the Museo Strativariano, housing a wealth of Stradivarius musical instruments, and the Museo Civico, with more Stadivari and some interesting bits and pieces belonging to Garibaldi. Mantua(Mantova) was another Lombardian bastion of the ruling dynasties of the Viscontis and Sforzas. It is also the birthplace of a number of renowned Italians, ranging from Virgil (a statue of whom overlooks the square facing the Broletto, the medieval town hall) to Tazio Nuvolari, one of Italy's most famous racing drivers (for whom there is a small museum dedicated to his accomplishments). Its churches, Sant'Andrea (designed by Alberti and the burial place of Mantua's famous court painter, Mantegna) and the Baroque Cathedral in the Piazza Sordello are both important works of architecture. However, the most famous sites of Mantua are its two palaces: the Palazzo Ducale and the Palazzo del Te. The Palazzo Ducale, once the largest in Europe, was the home of the Gonzagas family, and has a number of impressive paintings by artists such as Rubens and Mantegna. The Palazzo del Te was built as a Renaissance pleasure palace for Frederico Gonzaga (known as a playboy) and his mistress, Isabella. The decorations by Giulio Romano are outstanding and well worth viewing. Bergamo, nestled at the foot of the Bergamese Alps, is made up of two cities - the old and once Venetian-ruled Bergamo Alta (upper Bergamo) and the modern Bergamo Bassa (lower Bergamo). The old city is well appreciated for its ancient Venetian fortifications, palaces, towers and churches, including the 12th-century Palazzo della Ragione, the Torre del Comune, the Cathedral of Bergamo, Colleoni Chapel and the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore. The modern city's main attraction is the Accademia Carrara, one of Italy's largest art collections, with paintings by Canaletto, Botticelli, Mantegna, Carpaccio, Bellini and Lotto, amongst others. The two cities are connected by a funicular railway.The great northern lakes lie in a series of long, deep valleys running down onto the plains from the Alps. Lake Como is perhaps the most attractive, Lake Maggiore the most elegant (and populous) and Lake Garda the wildest and most spectacular. South of Lake Garda lies the peninsula of Sirmione, renowned for its mild, Mediterranean climate, its beautiful countryside and the Caves of Catullo, an archaeological site of a former Roman villa situated on the tip of the peninsula. The Sirmione Spa, the largest privately owned thermal treatment centre in Italy, whose sulphurous waters originate from the depths of Lake Garda, has long been one of Sirmione's main attractions. There is plenty of accommodation available as well as frequent steamer and hydrofoil services to other lakeside towns and villages. Resorts on Lake Maggiore include: Pallanza (where the Villa Taranto has a fine botanical garden), Stresa, Arona, Intra and Orta; on Lake Como: Cadenabbia, Cernobbio, Bellagio, Tremezzo and Menaggio; and on Lake Garda: Limone, Desenzano and Gardone. Lake Lugano lies for the most part in Switzerland.The major mountain resorts, winter and summer, are Livigno (duty-free area), Madesimo, Stelvio, Santa Caterina Valfurva, Bormio, Aprica and Chiesa.
FRIULI-VENEZIA GIULIA: A region in the northeastern corner of Italy bordering Austria and Slovenia. It has changed hands many times over the centuries and Friulian society is a complex mix of cultures. Half of the population speak Friulian, a language closely allied to Latin.In the 18th century, the Austrian Emperors commissioned the construction of a deep-water port at Trieste and so ended Venice's long domination of the Adriatic Sea. The port has remained the most important in the area and, following the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire after World War I, was ceded to Italy. This arrangement was not finally formalised until 1962, when a long-running border dispute with the then Yugoslavia was settled with the aid of the United Nations. Although there are several Roman remains (most notably the 2nd-century theatre), the most prominent buildings are no older than the port. The coast west of Trieste has some excellent beach resorts. Sistiana, Duino, Lignano and Grado are among the most popular. Inland are Udine and Pordenone, agricultural centres on the fertile Friuli plain. Further north are the foothills of the eastern Dolomites and the Julian Alps (part of Slovenia), where ski resorts are now being developed. The road from Udine to Villach in Austria is an important overland freight route; it winds up the dramatic valley of the Isonzo, a river rendered an astonishing shade of blue by minerals leached from the Julian Alps.
VENETO: The Lower Po Valley, the eastern bank of Lake Garda and the eastern Dolomites, occupying what was once the Republic of Venice.Venice (Venezia) stands on an island in a lagoon at the northern end of the Adriatic Sea, a position which gave it unique economic and defensive advantages over its trading rivals. Much of the wealth generated was, of course, invested in the construction of monuments to the glory of both God and the merchants, and Venice must be counted as one of the highlights of any tour of Italy.The city's main monuments - the Doge's Palace, St Mark's Square and the Bridge of Sighs - have gained fame through the innumerable paintings representing them, not least by such artists as Canaletto, but the whole city is in many ways a work of art. Away from the main thoroughfares, it is characterised by little canals, small squares (often containing remarkable Gothic churches) and above all, since it contains no motor traffic, by serenity - the city's ancient name was 'La Serenissima'. One of the most evocative representations of Venice must be in Thomas Mann's book, Death in Venice. Note: The causeway linking the city with the mainland can become very clogged with traffic. Although there is a large car park on the island, it is often easier to park at one of several near the north end of the causeway and continue by foot, bus or taxi; there are also trains connecting with boats.The Venetian aristocracy built many villas in the surrounding countryside; some, including the Villa Pisani at Stra and the Villa Valmarana at Vicenza, are open to the public. Popular Adriatic resorts include Lido di Iesolo, Bibione and Caorle. The city of Padua (Padova) is famous for the great Basilica of St Antony; St Anthony was buried here and it is an important pilgrimage site. The city also contains works by Giotto (Scrovegni Chapel frescoes) and Donatello. Nearby, Abano and Montegrotto provide fully equipped thermal establishments for the treatment of many rheumatic complaints. Vicenzahas a number of fine buildings by Andrea Palladio, whose published analyses of ancient architecture did much to spread the Renaissance throughout Europe. His buildings here include the Basilica Palladiana and the Palazzo Chiericati.Verona, historically associated with, among other things, Shakespeare (Romeo and Juliet and The Two Gentlemen of Verona) contains a well-preserved Roman Arena (operas are staged there in summer), and the lovely but austere Church of San Zeno. This graceful city is surrounded by a river and there are many beautiful bridges, as well as churches, squares and markets.Cortina d'Ampezzois Italy's best-known (but not most challenging) ski resort. The Winter Olympics were held here in 1956. It makes a fine base for exploring the Dolomites in summer.
EMILIA-ROMAGNA: A region of gentle hills between the River Po and the Appennines. As elsewhere in the Po Basin, intensive agriculture is pursued alongside heavy industry. Bolognais one of the oldest cities in Italy and the site of Europe's oldest university. Often overlooked as a tourist destination, it nevertheless possesses a distinctive charm, due largely to the imaginative use of brickwork. Arcades flanking many of the streets add to the appeal. Notable buildings include the Cathedral of San Pietro, the huge Gothic Church of San Petronio, numerous palaces and the Leaning Towers of the Piazza di Porta Ravegnana. The city is also the home of Bolognese meat sauce and the Bologna sausage. Parma boasts a fine Romanesque cathedral and baptistry, and an opera house with strong connections with Verdi, who lived at nearby Sant'Agata. Italy's most celebrated poet, Dante, is buried at Ravenna, the ancient capital of the western Roman Empire during its decline under Gothic and Byzantine domination. The city's former importance is marked by the profusion of extravagant mosaics found in its many Romanesque buildings. The International School of Mosaics at Ravenna is open to foreigners. Faenza(known to the French as 'Faience') is famed for its majolica pottery. This craft has enjoyed a resurgence in recent years under the direction of the Faenza International Institute of Ceramics. Other cities in Emilia-Romagna include Modena and Ferrara, both with many fine palaces associated with the Este family; and Reggio, the old provincial capital. Adriatic resorts include: Rimini, Riccione, Cattolica, Milano Marittima and Cesenatico, all within easy reach of the tiny Republic of San Marino.
Administrative Regioni: Tuscany, Marche, Umbria, Molise Lazio and Abruzzi.
TUSCANY (Toscana): This fertile region lies between the northern Appennines and the Mediterranean Sea. The landscape of Tuscany is, typically, one of vine-covered hills, cypress woods, fields of sunflowers and remote hilltop villages. Chianti, the best-known Italian wine, is made here. There are a number of volcanic spas, most notably Montecatini, Bagni di Lucca, Casciana Terme and Chianciano.Florence (Firenze), the principal Tuscan city, is the world's most celebrated storehouse of Renaissance art and architecture. Set on the banks of the Arno below the wooded foothills of the Appennines, this beautiful city has long been the focus of Italian arts and letters. Dante, Boccaccio, Petrarch, Giotto, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Brunelleschi, Alberti, Masaccio, Donatello, Botticelli, Vasari and Fra Angelico are among the many associated with establishing the pre-eminence of the city. Brunelleschi's revolutionary design for the dome of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore is generally accepted as the first expression of Renaissance ideas in architecture. This dome still dominates the city's roofscape, just as the great Piazza del Duomo at its feet dominates life at street level. The square is ringed with cafés and is a popular meeting point. Between there and the river are many of the best-loved palaces - including Palazzo Strozzi, Palazzo Corsini, Palazzo Rucellai, Palazzo Vecchio and the Uffizi Gallery - whilst close by to the north are the churches of Santa Maria Novella and San Lorenzo (by Brunelleschi, Michelangelo and others), and the Palazzo Medici-Riccordi. The Palazzo Pitti and the Boboli Gardens are just across the river (via the Ponte Vecchio). The Uffizi Gallery houses a celebrated art collection - indeed it claims to hold the finest collections of paintings anywhere in the world. Examples of work start from the transition period when Europe was emerging from the Middle Ages, largely represented by religious paintings and icons (notably by Lorenzo Monaco, Giottino and Gentile da Fabriano), through the highpoint of the Renaissance to the early 18th century. Some of the most famous paintings of each period are in the Uffizi, such as Botticelli's Birth Of Venus, Leonardo da Vinci's Annunciation, Michelangelo's Holy Family, Titian's Urbino Venus and Caravaggio's Young Bacchus. One of the most striking paintings is the Medusa by Caravaggio. Michelangelo's famous statue of David may be viewed at the Accademia di Belle Arti near the University. Siena'smost prosperous era pre-dated the Renaissance and consequently much of the fabric of the city is in the older Gothic and Romanesque styles. There is a fine Gothic and Romanesque Cathedral built in stunning black and white marble with a magnificent interior (visitors dressed inappropriately, ie in short skirts, shorts or skimpy shirts, will be denied entry). The Piazza del Campo, overlooked by the giant campanile of the Palazzo Pubblico, is possibly the most complete Gothic piazza in Italy. The city is an important religious centre, being the birthplace of St Catherine, and there is a church here devoted to her worship. The 700-year-old university holds a summer school in Italian. Siena is probably most famous for its Palios, bareback horse-races which take place every year on July 2 and August 16 around the huge Campo in the centre of Siena. It has been a special event since the 14th century and attracts crowds from all over the world. Pisa, north of Siena, is famous for its Leaning Tower, a free-standing campanile or bell tower associated with the 11th-century Gothic Cathedral nearby. Near the Quadrilateral is the Campo Santo Cemetery. Built in the 13th century to enclose earth brought from Jerusalem, it is a unique collonaded quadrangle in the Tuscan Gothic style. Arezzo, set on a hillside, has both a strong modern and medieval aspect. The Medici Fortress and the Cathedral, built in the 13th-16th centuries, stand majestically on a hilltop overlooking the modern part of town which sits on a plain below. The Piazza Grande is a wonderful medieval square with an old well at its centre, surrounded by impressive historic buildings on all sides: the Palazzo della Fraternità, the church of Santa Maria della Pieve and Loggiato del Vasari (once the residence of Vasari, art historian and patron of many of Italy's most famous painters). The Basilica di San Francesco contains the famous frescoes of Piero della Francesca, Story of the Cross. Amidst all this history, the city still thrives today and is now a centre for antique trade. Other towns of note in Tuscany include Lucca, famous for its one hundred churches and robust city walls; San Gimignano, known as the 'city of beautiful towers' and one of the best-preserved medieval towns in Italy; Volterra, another beautifully preserved medieval town perched on a hilltop; Livorno (Leghorn), the principal commercial port; and Carrara, where high-grade white marble has been quarried since Etruscan times. The coast of Tuscany offers many sandy beaches. Popular beach resorts include Viareggio, Forte dei Marmi, Lido di Camaiore, Marina di Pietrasanta, Marina di Massa, Tirrenia, Castiglione della Pescaia, San Vincenzo, Castiglioncello, Quercianella, Porto Santo Stefano, Porto Ercole, Ansedonia and Talamone. The Tuscan Archipelago is a group of scattered islands lying between Tuscany and Corsica. The best known are Elba and Giglio. There are regular hydrofoil and ferry links with mainland ports. Elba is 28km (17.5 miles) long and 12km (7.5 miles) wide, and can be reached by steamer or hydrofoil from Piombino. Famous as the place where Napoleon was briefly exiled before his final defeat at Waterloo, it has lovely beaches and campsites shaded by pines. Napoleon's two homes can be visited: one, the Palazzina Napoleonica dei Mulini, which he created out of two windmills, situated near the Forte della Stella, Portoferraio and the other, 6km (4 miles) away, the Villa Napoleonica di San Martino, which he set up as his country seat. Near to this villa is the Pinacoteca Foresiana, a neo-classical art gallery built in 1851.
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LE MARCHE: A mountainous agricultural region on the central Adriatic coast south of San Marino. Ancona, the regional capital and largest town in the region, is an important naval and commercial port with several well-preserved Roman remains such as the Arco di Traiano and the Resti di Anfiteatro Romano. Urbino was once Italy's greatest seat of learning and is now a pleasant Renaissance hilltown, its skyline a soaring vista of domes and towers. Also the birthplace of Raphael, several of his works may be viewed in the art gallery at the Ducal Palace, along with works by Piero della Francesca and Titian. Raphael's childhood home is also open for viewing. Loreto is said to be the site of the house of the Virgin Mary and attracts many pilgrims from around the world. According to legend, the house was moved from Nazareth in the 13th century to protect it from marauding Muslims. Angels carried it first to the Balkans then on to Loreto; the journey took four years. The house is enclosed in the elaborate Gothic Sanctuaria della Santa Casa. The Madonna of Loreto was elected patron saint of airmen in 1920. Popular beach resorts include: Gabicce, Pesaro (Rossini's birthplace), Fano, Senigallia, Civitanova, San Benedetto del Tronto, Porto Recanati and Porto Potenza Picena. As elsewhere on the Adriatic coast, beach resorts tend to be highly organised, with tables and sun loungers laid out in neat lines (often very close together). More informal beaches may be found below the spectacular Costa Conero cliffs a few miles south of Ancona.
UMBRIA: Sometimes referred to as 'the green heart of Italy', Umbria is a small, hilly and fairly untouched region between Tuscany and Marche, with little industry and few towns of any great size. The landscape is similar to that of Tuscany and combines austere medieval architecture and stone farmhouses with gently rolling hills and rivers. Towards the valley of the River Nera and the Sibilline Mountains, the landscape is more rugged, with deep gorges, towns perched on the rocks and wide open spaces, such as the well-known Piano Grande at Castelluccio. Umbria's rich history is still very much in evidence: traces of Umbri, Etruscan and Roman cultures exist alongside Medieval and Renaissance architecture in towns such as Assisi, Perugia, Spoleto and Orvieto or the lesser known towns of Spello, Montefalco, Città della Pieve, Città di Castello, Castiglione del Lago, Narni, Norcia and Montone. Perugia, the capital, has been continuously inhabited for more than 25 centuries and contains many Etruscan and Roman remains. Particularly notable are the ancient Etruscan city walls, the Piazza IV Novembre with the Cathedral, the Fontana Maggiore (Great Fountain) and the Palazzo dei Priori, the town hall, which also houses Umbria's National Gallery with its collection of paintings by Pietro Vannucci, Piero della Francesca, Pinturicchio, and Beato Angelico. The Università per Stranieri (University for Foreigners) offers courses for foreigners wishing to study Italian language and civilisation. Perugia is less than two hours by car from Rome, Florence and Urbino, and one hour from Siena.Assisiis a picturesque medieval hill town to the east of Perugia, famous as the birthplace of St Francis, founder of the Franciscan Order of monks. The life of St Francis is commemorated in 28 frescoes by Giotto in the Basilica di San Francesco, Italy's earliest Gothic church. Other interesting sites include the Roman Temple of Minerva; the Romanesque Cathedrale di San Rufino; the Church of Saint Clare; and the 17th-century Basilica di Santa Maria degli Angeli, which rises above the Chapel of the Porziuncola, the oratory restored by St Francis at the start of the 13th century. Orvieto is a medieval city perched on a volcanic outcrop. The well-preserved city centre has a number of monuments and buildings dating from the Etruscan period. Interesting sites include the Gothic Cathedral; the 13th-century Papal Palace; the Romanesque-Gothic Palazzo del Popolo; and the 16th-century St Patrick's Well. The ancient city of Spoleto, situated on a steep hill at the foot of Monteluco, has many interesting archaeological, medieval and Renaissance monuments, including the classical Arch of Druso, the Roman Theatre, the famous Ponte delle Torre bridge and the Rocca, the fortress built by Gattapone and now used as an exhibition centre. Other important Umbrian towns include Gubbio, a well-preserved medieval town situated at the foot of Mount Ingino and home to the famous Gubbio Tablets - the oldest surviving record of the Umbrian people; and Todi, overlooking the Tiber valley, whose beautiful medieval square is surrounded by a wealth of historic buildings, including the 13th-century Palazzo del Popolo, the Palazzo del Capitano and the Cathedral. Umbria's many historic town centres are complemented by a regional network of museums, the most important of which are the National Gallery of Umbria in Perugia, the Art Gallery in Città di Castello (which includes the Burri collection of modern art) and the Montefalco Gallery. In addition, Umbria's countryside offers opportunities for a variety of outdoor activities, and there are a number of natural areas worth visiting. The Monti Sibillini National Park contains a number of medieval villages and abbeys scattered at the foot of the mountains as well as being home to a variety of native animal and plant species. The Monte Cucco Regional Park, known as 'the belly of the Apennines', contains a complex system of caves, underground waterways and mineral springs. Fossils abound, and the woodlands are untouched. The serene lakes and hills of the Trasimeno Regional Park, refuge for many species of migrating birds, have been reproduced in countless 15th-century paintings. The River Tiber Regional Park, designed to reflect the history of the great river, is characterised by oak woods and the archaeological sites reflecting traces of the Umbri, the Etruscans and the Romans. The River Nera Regional Park contains the rivers Velino and Nera, a lake and the Marmore waterfalls; small fortified towns, monasteries and watch towers are scattered along the river valley. Other parks worth visiting include the Monte Subasio Regional Park, home to the historic town of Assisi; and the Colfiorito Regional Park, where Mount Orve and its prehistoric fortified village are located.
MOLISE: One of the poorest parts of mainland Italy, this area is mountainous with poor soil and a scattered population. It does, however, possess its own rugged beauty. The Matese mountain range is still the haven of wolves and various birds of prey. It also offers some excellent skiing resorts and tends not to be as overcrowded as some of Italy's other skiing areas. The winter sports centre of Campitello Matese is well recommended and for those looking for a quiet place to retreat after a day's skiing, the town of San Massimo is an excellent place to stay, with its peaceful lamplit streets and hospitable people. The largest cities in the region are the industrial towns of Isernia and Campobasso. The only Adriatic resort of any size is Vasto.
LAZIO: On the western side of the Italian 'boot', this is a region of volcanic hills, lakes and fine beaches. Rome the 'eternal city', exerts an enduring fascination over its countless visitors. Capital of Italy and the country's largest city, it is littered with the relics of over 2000 years of history. Only in very few places in the world is the visitor confronted with the past in such an immediate and forceful way. It has a unique atmosphere. The monuments of ancient times and the splendours of the Baroque are the backdrop to the hectic buzz of swarming scooters, bellowing motorists and animated street cafés.The streets contain reminders of all the eras in Rome's rich history - the Colosseum and the Forum are the most famous from the classical period, ancient basilicas bear witness to the early Christian era. As the major city of the Counter-Reformation, it is not surprising that Rome is also infused with the feel of the Baroque. It is, indeed, the influence of the 17th century which defines the city through the work of architects such as Bernini, Maderno and Borromini. The magnificent squares and flamboyant façades mask a wealth of painting and sculpture by some of the greatest high-Rennaisance and Baroque artists - Michelangelo, Bernini, Caravaggio, Caracci and Raphael to name but a few. The Via del Corso, Rome's main thoroughfare, cuts through the length of the city centre from the Piazza Venezia in the south with the vast marble Vittorio Emanuele Monument (erected in the late 19th century to honour Italy's first king and to commemorate the unification of Italy), to emerge in the Piazza del Popolo in the north, beyond which lies the cool green refuge of the Villa Borghese. To the east of the Via del Corso lie the elegant shopping streets including the Via Condotti and the Via Borgognona which lead up to the Piazza di Spagna and the famous Spanish Steps. At the nearby Trevi Fountain visitors guarantee their return to Rome by throwing a coin into the waters. To the west of the Via del Corso a maze of narrow streets winds its way down to the Tiber River. It is here, in the historic centre of Rome, that the most complete ancient Roman structure is found. The Pantheon, on Piazza della Rotonda, was the work of Emperor Hadrian and was finished in AD125. Monumental in scale, the diameter of the dome and its height are precisely equal, while the building's interior is illuminated by the sunlight entering through the 9m (30ft) hole in the dome's roof. Just beyond the Pantheon lies the Piazza Navona. It is a long thin square, on a classical site, but rebuilt in the 17th century at the behest of Pope Innocent X in the high-Baroque style. It is almost entirely enclosed and thronged with people night and day. It is here that the crowds come on a warm summer's evening to sit late into the night on one of the many café terraces and to watch the passing scene. Moving across to the right (west) bank of the Tiber, the Vatican City is an independent sovereign state. The Vatican City is best known to tourists and students of architecture for the magnificent St Peter's Basilica. Visitors are normally admitted to the dome 1615-1800. The Museum & Treasure House is open 0845-1300 and 0845-1600 during the summer months. Leading up to it is the 17th-century St Peter's Square, a superb creation by Bernini. On either side are semi-circular colonnades, and in the centre of the square is an Egyptian obelisk hewn in the reign of Caligula. It is also possible to visit the Necropoli Precostantiniana, the excavations under St Peter's, although permission has to be obtained in advance and is usually granted only to students and teachers with a professional interest in the work being carried out. Contact the Tourist Information Office in St Peter's Square. The Vatican Gardens can be visited only by those on guided tours or bus tours. Tickets are available from the Tourist Information Office in St Peter's Square; it is advisable to apply two days in advance. To the right of St Peter's stands the Vatican Palace, the Pope's residence. Among the principal features of the Palace are the Stanze, the Sistine Chapel, the Garden House or Belvedere, the Vatican Library and the Vatican Collections, containing major works of art and valuable pictures. The Museum & Treasure House includes the Collection of Antiquities, Museo Pio-Clementino, the Egyptian Museum, the Etruscan Museum and the Museum of Modern Religious Art. There is a restaurant in the museum and a bar and cafeteria on the roof of St Peter's. On the way to the Vatican the visitor will pass the circular hulk of the Castel Sant'Angelo, burial place of the Emperor Hadrian and in later times the papal city's main fortified defence. Moving south, the district of Trastevere is the city's alternative focus and is home to numerous bars, restaurants and nightclubs. The life-long inhabitants of Trastevere regard their home as separate from Rome across the river, an independence that is celebrated every year in July with its Festa Noiantri. Inland from Rome are the hill towns known as the Castelli Romani, which are popular for excursions. Tivoli, just 40km (25 miles) east of Rome, was once the haven of the rich, first in Roman times and later during the Renaissance. It is well-known for its magnificent villas and gardens, such as the Villa d'Este, Villa Gregoriana and, just outside of Tivoli, the Villa Adriana. Frascati, only 20km (12.5 miles) south of Rome, is famous for its Frascati wine, a light, delicate, dry white wine which has an international reputation. Many of the town's restaurants specialise in the local wine and it is widely available in all local shops. Other hill resorts include Genzano, Castel Gandolfo and Rocca di Papa.The presence of malarial mosquitoes in the coastal marshes that once stretched the length of Lazio prevented settlement on any scale. The marshes have been drained and this quiet, gentle coastline can now be enjoyed without risk. Ostia, the ancient port of Rome, is now a well-organised beach resort. Terracina, further south, is a resort with miles of soft, white-sand beaches. The nearby town has a modern quarter offering plenty of shops, cafés and restaurants. The crumbling but lively old part of town is higher up on the hill. The Cathedral is appealing, as is the Roman Temple of Jupiter Anxurus, believed to have been built in the 1st century BC. On the very top of the hill overlooking the sea, it is a perfect place, either by day or night, to view the town of Terracina and, indeed, the entire bay spread out on either side. One of the most popular resorts among the locals is Sperlonga, south of Terracina. The beach there is among the most beautiful in the region and the town itself is reminiscent of a Greek island village. Getting around town can be hard work. Seemingly endless steps wind up and around through white arches and vaulted ceilings only to suddenly open up with spectacular views of the sea and cliffs. Down below, on the far end of the beach, is a romantic-looking grotto beside the remains of the Villa of Tiberius. 30km (20 miles) offshore is the unspoilt island of Ponza. Other resorts in the area include Anzio (site of the Allied Second World War landing), Sabaudia and San Felice Circeo. Civitavecchia is an important naval and merchant port; there are also regular sailings to Sardinia.
ABRUZZI: This region encompasses the highest parts of the great Appennine chain. The northern mountains are generally too desolate for agriculture and much of the land is sparsely populated. A ski resort has been built in the limestone massif of Gran Sasso. The southern uplands are covered with a great forest of beech, which has been designated a national park. Marsican brown bears (unique to Italy), wolves, chamois and eagles may be seen here. L'Aquila, the principal city, contains an imposing castle. Celano is an interesting town, dominated by a turreted castle whose fortified walls provide a walkway around the castle offering picturesque views over the surrounding hilly countryside. The rest of the town appears to be thriving with active and trendy young people, which projects a surprising contrast to the staid medieval architecture.Tagliocozzo, named after the Greek muse of Theatre, appears at first sight to be just like any other town until one discovers the old Renaissance square with its 14th- and 15th-century houses and lantern-lit alleys twisting around behind it. The main Adriatic resorts are Giulianova, Silvi Marina, Francavilla and Montesilvano. Pescara is, as its name implies, primarily a fishing port. Southern Italy Administrative Regioni: Campania, Puglia, Basilicata, Calabria.
CAMPANIA: Called Campania Felix ('blessed country') by the Romans because of its fertile soil, mild climate and (by southern Italian standards) plentiful water. Wine, citrus fruits, tobacco, wheat and vegetables are grown. Naples, the third-largest Italian city, occupies one of the most beautiful natural settings of any city in Europe. Above it is the bare cone of Mount Vesuvius, an active volcano, and beside it the broad sweep of the Bay of Naples and the Tyrrhennian Sea. The city itself is a mad jumble of tenements and traffic, street vendors and crumbling palaces. A toll road leads most of the way up to the summit of Vesuvius (it is the local Lover's Lane); the final few hundred yards involve an energetic scramble up a bare pumice track. The viewing platform is right on the rim of the caldera and provides a dizzying view of both the steam-filled abyss and the whole of the Bay of Naples. Nearby, the remains of Pompeii and Herculaneum, engulfed in the great eruption of AD79, are a unique record of how ordinary 1st-century Romans lived their daily lives. Moulds of people and animals found well-preserved, buried under the burning ash, can be seen at Pompeii, and the decoration in some of the excavated villas is amazingly intact, including numerous wall paintings of gods and humans in scenes ranging from the heroic to the erotic. The city of Caserta was the country seat of the Kings of Naples. The Baroque Royal Palace owes much to Versailles. There are imposing Greek temples at Paestum. The peninsula just south of Naples is one of the most popular regions in Italy for holidaymakers, especially those in search of sun and sand. But the added bonus for many is the extraordinary beauty of the region: sheer craggy cliffs rise over the shimmering blue-green Mediterranean waters, and everywhere there are views of hills and sea. History and culture are also present in abundance and it is easy to understand the persistent attraction of the area for visitors. Sorrento, located on the north side of the peninsula, has attracted artists for centuries. Wagner, Nietzsche and Gorky have spent some time here and Ibsen wrote The Ghosts while in Sorrento (the town does possess a somewhat haunted quality at night, with dimly but artistically lit ruins just visible in the depths of its plunging forested gorges). The Museo Correale in Sorrento has Roman relics and some furniture, paintings and porcelain belonging to the Correale family, but the outside part of the museum is by far the more interesting, with a walk through gardens and vineyards to a promontory overlooking the bay offering a spectacular view of the harbour and the surrounding towns and cliffs. Sorrento is also the closest link to the island of Capri, just off the coast (links are also available from Positano, Amalfi and Naples). Ferries and hydrofoils leave from the harbour throughout the day, arriving at the Marina Grande. Boats are then available from here to Capri's main tourist attraction, the Blue Grotto. Other sites worth seeing include the Villa Tiberio, built as the Roman Emperor Tiberius's retirement villa on the island and notorious for the pursuit of various pleasures which took place inside its once luxurious walls. Now reduced to an organised rubble of stones, it takes some imagining, but the views are superb and almost worth the strenuous 45-minute walk up the hill. The Garden of Augustus, south of the town of Capri, is pretty, but often crowded with tourists. From here there is access to a 'beach' down a winding road where visitors are permitted to swim off the rocks of this wild shore. Ischia, another island in the Bay of Naples, is easily accessible from Sorrento or from Naples. Although larger than Capri, it is not quite so popular with tourists, but well-visited by the locals who appreciate it more for its calm. Amalfi, situated in the middle of the south side of the peninsula, is perhaps the most well-known of the region's resort towns. However, the town still has an authentic air about it, despite its popularity with tourists. The mostly Romanesque Cathedral with its 13th-century bell tower, located in the main square, looks entirely untouched by the contemporary hustle and bustle around it. The Cloister of Paradise, just to the right of the cathedral, also makes good viewing. There are some excellent restaurants and the local wine, Sammarco, bottled in Amalfi, is superb and inexpensive. Perched high above Amalfi, 'closer to the sky than the seashore', as André Gide wrote, is the former independent republic of Ravello. Positano, about 25km (16 miles) along the coast from Amalfi, is a small exclusive resort of great beauty. Heaped high above the coast, its brightly painted houses and bougainvillaea have inspired a thousand picture postcards and draw crowds of visitors every summer. Other Campanian resorts include: Maiori, Vietri sul Mare and Palinuro.
PUGLIA (Apulia): A southeastern region encompassing the forested crags of the Gargano spur, the mostly flat Salentine peninsula (the 'heel' of Italy) and, between them, the Murge, a limestone plateau riddled with caves (notably at Castellana). With the exception of Bari and Taranto, both large industrial ports, the Apulian economy is wholly agricultural. The main products are tobacco, grapes, vegetables, almonds and olives. Puglia was important in Roman times as the gateway to the eastern Mediterranean. The port of Brindisi, now eclipsed by Bari in commercial terms, was the terminus of the Via Appia, along which Eastern produce was conveyed to Rome and beyond. The Museo Archeologico Provinciale houses many relics from this prosperous era. Virgil died in Brindisi in 19BC. On the Murge plateau between Alberobello and Selva di Fasano, the countryside is littered with thousands of extraordinary stone dwellings known as trulli. Circular with conical roofs (also of stone), they are similar to the more famous nuraghi of Sardinia. At the northern end of the plateau is a unique octagonal castle, the Castella del Monte, built as a hunting lodge in the 13th century by the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II (the self-styled Stupor Mundi, 'Wonder of the World'). Nearby, at Canosa di Puglia, are the extensive remains of the important Roman town of Canusium. The convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in San Giovanni Rotondo is an important pilgrimage site because of its connections with Padre Pio da Petralcina. There are fine beaches on the Adriatic coast between Barletta and Bari.
BASILICATA (Lucania): A remote and mainly mountainous region between Puglia and Calabria. It is heavily forested in the north around Monte Vulture, a large extinct volcano; elsewhere, the hills are flinty and barren. Many rivers flow down from the southern Appennines into the Gulf of Taranto, irrigating the fertile coastal plain behind Metaponto (birthplace of Pythagoras). The population is small. The principal town, Potenza, was almost entirely rebuilt after a severe earthquake in 1857, only to suffer a similar scale of destruction in the Second World War.
CALABRIA: The toe of the 'boot', a spectacularly beautiful region of high mountains, dense forests and relatively empty beaches. Chestnut, beech, oak and pine cover almost half of Calabria and are a rich hunting ground for mushroom enthusiasts. Porcini (boletus edulis), fresh, dried and pickled, therefore adorn the shelves of all the speciality shops of the region. Higher up in the mountains the land only sustains light grazing, but the meadows bloom with a multitude of wild flowers each spring. It is only on isolated patches of reclaimed land on the marshy coast that agriculture is possible and consequently the inhabitants are amongst the poorest in Italy. They are further tormented by frequent earthquakes. Some wolves still survive in the mountains, particularly in the central Sila Massifs. Catanzaro, Cosenza and Reggio, on the straits of Messina, are the major towns. The best beaches are on the west coast. A typical and especially picturesque little town is Tropea, built on the rocks above the Tyrrhenian Sea, with a high street that is at its most busy in the evening and ends abruptly at a panorama platform above the beach. A multitude of shy cats slink through the cobbled alleys undisturbed at siesta time; and secluded sandy coves among outcrops of rock alternate with long stretches of beach as far as the eye can see. The beaches on the east coast of Calabria are rockier and more rugged but even better for undisturbed beach adventures - especially during the often already very warm months of May and June.
SARDINIA: This is the second-largest island in the Mediterranean. Much of Sardinia away from the coasts is an almost lunar landscape of crags and chasms and is largely uninhabited. In recent years, there has been much investment in tourist infrastructure, particularly in the northern area known as the Costa Smeralda and on the west coast near Alghero. This is the only region in Italy without motorways. The Sardinian language is closer to Latin than is modern Italian.Cagliari, the capital, stands in a marshy valley at the south of the island. It was founded by the Phoenicians and subsequently expanded by the Romans, who knew it as Carales. It is today a busy commercial port and site of most of the island's heavy industry.The only other towns of any size are Sassari, in the northwest near the resort area around Alghero; Nuoro, an agricultural town on the edge of the central massif, a good base from which to explore the interior; and Olbia, a fishing port and car-ferry terminus on the edge of the Costa Smeralda. There are numerous Bronze Age remains throughout the islands, the best known being the nuraghi - circular (sometimes conical) stone dwellings. The largest collection of these may be found at Su Nuraxi, about 80km (50 miles) north of Cagliari. Beach resortsinclude: Santa Margherita di Pula, Alghero, Santa Teresa, Porto Cervo, Capo Boi and the island of La Maddalena.
SICILY: Strategically situated between Italy and North Africa and with fertile soil and rich coastal fishing grounds, Sicily has suffered an almost continuous round of invasion for as long as history has been recorded. The Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, Angevins, Aragonese, Bourbons and, most recently, the Germans (and the Allies) during World War II - all have left their mark on this unique island, the most populous in the Mediterranean. The economy is based on the production of citrus fruit, almonds, olives, vegetables, wine (including Marsala), wheat and beans, together with mining, fishing (anchovies, tuna, cuttlefish and swordfish) and the raising of sheep and goats.The capital, Palermo, is a splendid city in a grand style, opulent, vital, full of remarkable architecture, particularly Norman and Baroque. Notable buildings include the Martorana, Santa Maria di Gesu, San Giuseppe dei Teatini and San Cataldo churches, the Cathedral and the Palazzo dei Normanni. The catacombs at the Capuchin Monastery contain thousands of mummified bodies. Syracuseis said to possess the best natural harbour in Italy. The old town stands on a small island just off the coast and contains many historic buildings. Archimedes lived and died here. Catania is a spacious city dating mostly from the 18th century, having been rebuilt following a succession of earthquakes. Europe's largest and most active volcano, Mount Etna, stands nearby and with its fine beaches the city attracts many tourists.Taormina, further up the coast, is an immensely picturesque resort town. Perched on a cliff within sight of Mount Etna, it has fine beaches, a well-preserved Greek theatre, a castle and a cathedral. Messina, a busy port with a deep natural harbour, was almost entirely destroyed by an earthquake in 1908. The Cathedral is an exact reproduction of that destroyed in the 1908 calamity, which was built in the 11th century by King Roger. Sicily is littered with the remains of successive invading cultures and a full listing of important sites is beyond the scope of this entry. The following is a representative selection of sites and buildings: the Norman Cathedral at Monreale, containing an acre and a half of dazzling mosaics; the numerous Greek remains at Agrigénto, said to be better preserved than any in Greece itself; the Greek theatre at Syracuse; the vast Temple of Apollo at Selinunte; and the Byzantine cliff dwellings at Cava d'Ispica near Modica. Popular seaside resorts include Cefalú (near Palermo), Mondello, Acitrezza, Acireale, Taormina (see above) and Tindari. There are extensive sandy beaches on the southern coast. Many attractive small islands surround Sicily, offering excellent facilities for underwater fishing. Accommodation is generally simple (although there are some excellent hotels). These islands are the Lipari Group (Lipari itself, Vulcano, Panarea and Stromboli), Ustica, Favignana, Levanzo, Marettimo, Pantelleria and Lampedusa.
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Our accommodation, which cost less than £800 for the week, is in a converted stone farmhouse next to a 12th Century Franciscan chapel. There is a pergola shaded by vines round the back here we quickly settle into a rhythm of eating long pasta suppers while the shadows lengthen.
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