Florence Duomo and Piazza San Giovanni in July, high season. Italy Travel.
Italy Travel: Best Places
This is a monster of must-sees, the richest collection of ancient buildings, museums, art and culture in Europe with an amazing history to match.
Rome is a stunning, lived-in art gallery, with more tourist sights than any other city in the world, while Venice is uniquely water-based and strangely enticing, Florence packed with art and architecture in all forms and even small towns such as fortified Lucca offer magical experiences. You might think to rent a family friendly villa in one of these places if you enjoy a ‘home’ environment.
The country embraces spectacular and varied landscapes from northern lakes through rolling hills of Tuscany, dramatic cliffs of Amalfi and on to the emerald coasts of Sardinia, fair beaches (the best are unquestionably on the Italian islands), good food and drink at reasonable prices, a relaxed lifestyle and effervescent local culture. If you prefer to be guided through this mass of sights and history consider travel via Italy small group tours.
Most of the north west coast beaches – the Versilia Coast – are dominated by pay parasols.
• Heavy traffic and borderline insane drivers in some places, though not Venice!
• Pickpockets and bag snatchers are active in big cities, particularly Rome, Naples and Palermo.
• Too many tourists in the summer and too much heat.
• The Italian mainland has a distinct shortage of big, beautiful, sandy beaches – in spite of the lengthy coastline; most good stretches are taken over by pay-parasols.
• There is an oversupply of pizza and pasta joints and a distinct lack of non-Italian resaurants for tourists who need variety. See Italian cuisine
• Rip-offs. Codacons, the Italian consumer watchdog reports mass tourist scams ranging from Rome taxi drivers charging €130 from the airport when the fixed fee is €40; fake parking attendants in Florence, double-charging tourists for water bus tickets in Venice, and generally overcharging foreigners just about anywhere, from bars and restaurants to hairdressers.
However, bars, restaurants and taxis are legally obliged to display tariffs (somewhere! ) so ALWAYS check before you order!
Some useful picture guides:
Vernazza village beach, Cinque Terre, Italy
Mainland beaches tend to be small, pebbly and crowded. The few really good strands of sand, such as in northwest Tuscany on the Italian Riviera, an area known as the Versilia Coast, tend to be overcome by pay-parasol zones, though with occasional narrow strips of free sand for the hoi-polloi.
In other words if you’re driving by and want a dip in the Med you’ll have diffculty finding a place to park your car and a a place to park your butt. However, if you’re ready to pay for a parasol and sun bed then enjoy, though there’s still a parking issue.
Diving and snorkelling
Popular in Sicily and off many of the little islands, among the best is Ustica in the Tyrrhenian Sea, with the first Italian underwater natural reserve (75 minutes from Palermo in Sicily by hydrofoil).
Some of the country’s best dive sites can be found in Sardinia, with diving schools, courses and equipment hire are readily available.
Other possible locations include the Trémiti Islands in the Adriatic sea, with crystal clear water and along the coasts of Tuscany and Liguria.
Suggested sailing routes with guides and maps around the south are available at tourist offices. One of Europe’s most popular sailing locations, especially for small boats and windsurfers is the lake country in the north – Lake Garda, Lake Como, Iseo, Lugano and Maggiore. Lake Como is especially spectacular and safe holiday sailing destination.
Sardinia and Sicily have excellent sea waters, while rivers in Umbria and Tuscany offer the most scenic fishing. Fishing boats can be easily hired.
The official hiking season is from June 20th to September 20th and most ski resorts become excellent bases for walking and mountain biking in summer months. Marked trails and paths are well provided.
Resorts have detailed maps, itineraries and various treks with our without guides can be arranged easily.
The most obvious trekking zone is the Alps in the north, but less challenging trails can be found in Tuscany and Umbria. The islands like Capri, Sicily or Sardinia have plenty of hiking routes too.
Unlike Britain hikers in Italy have unlimited access to the land.
EU citizens do not need visas, nor do many other country residents – including USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland, Israel, and Japan for visits up to 90 days.
Electric sockets are 230v and take 2 round pin plugs.
Violent crime is rare, but pickpockets and bag snatchers may take advantage of carelessness, especially in cities, so use common sense and check Bugbog’s safety pages.
Locals in small towns do not speak much English. Although they will try to understand whatever you say, a few Italian survival words are very useful.
Price wise this country is no longer brilliantly cheap due to the €uro’s strength, but Italian style and taste is still irresistible.
For big labels and sophistication, Milan and Florence are the places to go. If that is not your thing, try Italian eccentricity at smaller boutiques, or fine workmanship in city backstreets.
Visiting local open-air markets for good value clothes and regional foods, especially in Tuscany, as a fun way to absorb local culture.
Being a Catholic nation, Italy has religious events throughout out the year but particularly at Christmas and Easter.
Furthermore there are probably more mad celebrations, historic events and art festivals in Italy than in any other European country – with the possible exception of Spain – especially in the summertime.
February/March: Carnevale (Carnival), although the one in Venice is the most extraordinary for its costumes, atmosphere, and huge crowds, Verona is the best place to go for authenticity. Viareggio (Tuscany) and Arcireale (Sicily) are also good.
Easter: Lo Scoppio del Carro, (Explosion of the Cart), fireworks display on Easter Sunday in Florence at the Duomo of Santa Maria del Fiore.
early May: Cocullo L’Aquila, the Festival of Snakes to celebrate Saint San Domenico.
May: Corsa dei Ceri, (Gubbio), a bizarre medieval event held annually, with a group of men carrying three ceri (20 ft wooden pillars) and racing up to the Basilica.
mid June-August: Verona Opera Season takes place in the Arena, a huge Roman theatre and is perhaps the best-known open air opera in the world. Fantastic performances in a fantastic environment. Tickets start at €10(£6).
late Aug: Venice Film Festival, the world’s oldest international film festival.
September: La Regatta di Venezia (Venice regatta), historic gondola race along the Grand Canal, with people in medieval costumes.
Oct: Olive Oil Festival, (Nationwide).
Driving in Italy
For Europeans, driving in Italy is in theory, a convenient way to get around. In practice it’s extremely stressful though high speeds are possible if you have the right wheels. Read ‘self-drive’ below and take the train!
Signposting in most places, with the exception of on autostrada (motorways), is frequently irregular or non-existant. Rome is particularly bereft of intelligent or sequential directions, so the Bugadvice is get Italy GPS (SatNav) or let the train take the strain.
While rail and bus networks function well when they’re not on strike, the autostrada are scary places unless you’re under 25 or an F1 driver on a day off. Most autostrada are two narrow lanes with trucks and low-power vehicles occupying the right lane apart from sudden and rarely signaled excursions into the overtaking lane where the rest of the traffic is travelling bumper-to-bumper at 160kph+ (100mph+). Frequent speed limit signs are ignored.
The Bugforce was once, for example, in a tight 140kph convoy that went past 60kph limit notices without noticeably slowing. Police speed control appears to be out to lunch, though some villages have green speed cameras that look like litter-bins that may work, though the chances are not high.
The upside is that Italian drivers have excellent reactions, are used to small spaces, high speeds and erratic last-minute actions. They drive according to road conditions, not according to the law.
Furthermore, if a visitor owned a powerful car in which the pedal had never touched the metal, Italy (along with Germany) is the place to give the motor a top-level thrashing; just make sure the insurance in up to date and fully comp (and bring the car papers too. If you don’t have them the police can and will take the car off you until you produce them. )
Finally, parking is complex, with different coloured spaces meaning different things, but the worst thing is there are frequently no parking space at all, underground or overground. Julius Caesar? Pah! Short-ass Smart cars rule in Rome these days.