Italy

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Italy , officially the Italian Republic , is a large country in Southern Europe. Together with Greece, it is acknowledged as the birthplace of Western culture. Not surprisingly, it is also home to the greatest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the world. High art and monuments are to be found everywhere around the country. It is also famous worldwide for its delicious cuisine, its trendy fashions, luxury sports cars and motorcycles, diverse regional cultures and dialects, as well as for its many beautiful coasts, alpine lakes and mountains (the Alps and Apennines). No wonder it is often nicknamed Il Bel Paese (The Beautiful Country). Two independent mini-states are surrounded entirely by Italy: San Marino and Vatican City. While technically not part of the European Union, both of these states are also part of the Schengen Region and the European Monetary Union, (EMU). Apart from different police uniforms, there is no evident transition from these states and Italy's territory, and the currency is the same. Italian is also the lingua-franca in both city-states. (less...) (more...)

Population: 61,482,297 people
Area: 301,340 km2
Highest point: 4,748 m
Coastline: 7,600 km
Life expectancy: 81.95 years
GDP per capita: $30,600
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About Italy

History

Prehistory

There have certainly been humans on the Italian peninsula for at least 200,000 years. Prior to the Romans, the Etruscan Civilization lasted from prehistory to the founding of Rome. The Etruscans flourished in the centre and north of what is now Italy, particularly in areas now represented by northern Lazio, Umbria and Tuscany. Rome was dominated by the Etruscans until the Romans sacked the nearby Etruscan city of Veii in 396 BC. In the 8th and 7th centuries BC, Greek colonies were established in Sicily and the southern part of the Italy and the Etruscan culture rapidly became influenced by that of Greece. This is well illustrated at some excellent Etruscan museums; Etruscan burial sites are also well worth visiting.

The Roman Empire

Ancient Rome was at first a small village founded around the 8th century BC. In time, it grew into one of the most powerful empires the world has ever seen, covering the whole Mediterranean, including the northern coast of Africa, and as far north as the southern part of Scotland. The Roman empire left a lasting impact on the cultures of Western civilisation, and its influence can still be seen in European cultures today. Its steady decline began in the 2nd century AD, and the empire finally broke into two parts in 285 AD: the Western Roman Empire with its capital in Rome, and the Eastern Roman Empire or Byzantine Empire with its capital in Constantinople. The western part, under attack from the Goths, finally collapsed, leaving the Italian peninsula divided. After this, Rome passed into the so-called Dark Ages. The city itself was sacked by Saracens in 846.

From Independent City States to Unification

Following the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the Italian peninsula was divided into many independent city states, and remained so for the next thousand years.

In the 6th century AD, a Germanic tribe, the Lombards, arrived from the north; hence the present-day northern region of Lombardy. The balance of power between them and other invaders such as the Byzantines, Arabs, and Muslim Saracens, with the Holy Roman Empire and the Papacy meant that it was not possible to unify Italy, although later arrivals such as the Carolingians and the Hohenstaufens managed to impose some control. In the south, the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, a result of unification of the Kingdom of Sicily with the Kingdom of Naples in 1442, had its capital in Naples. In the north, Italy was a collection of small independent city states and kingdoms and would remain so until the 19th century. One of the most influential city states was the Republic of Venice, considered one of the most progressive of its time, which saw the opening of the first public opera house in 1637, and for the first time allowed the general public to enjoy what was once court entertainment reserved for the aristocracy, thus allowing the arts to flourish. People looked to strong men who could bring order to the cities and this is how dynasties such as the Medici in Florence developed. In turn, these families became patrons of the arts, allowing Italy to become the birthplace of the Renaissance, with the emergence of men of genius such as Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. Rome and its surrounding areas became the Papal States, areas in which the Pope in Rome had both religious and political authority.

From 1494 onwards, Italy suffered a series of invasions from the French and the Spanish. The north became dominated by the Austrians.

The Kingdom of Sardinia eventually began the process of unifying Italy in 1815, which ended with the eventual capture of Rome in 1870. The Kingdom of Italy lasted from 1861 to 1946. Giuseppe Garibaldi led a drive for unification in southern Italy, while the north wanted to establish a united Italian state under its rule. The northern kingdom successfully challenged the Austrians and established Turin as capital of the newly formed state. In 1866, Victor Emmanuel II managed to annex Venice. In 1870, shortly after France abandoned it, Italy's capital was moved to Rome. The Pope lost much of his influence, with his political authority now being confined to the Vatican City.

The Kingdom of Italy

After unification, the Kingdom of Italy aspired to overseas colonies like many of its neighbours, and most notably took part in the Scramble for Africa, where it was able to occupy colonies of its own. This culminated in the occupation of Libya, during which Italy scored a decisive victory over the Ottoman Empire.

At the outbreak of World War I, despite officially being in alliance with Germany and Austria-Hungary, Italy initially refused to participate in the war. Eventually, Italy did join in the war, but as part of the Allies with the United Kingdom and France. The eventual victory of the Allies allowed Italy to gain control of what was formerly Austo-Hungarian land. However, Italy was not able to obtain much of what it desired, and this, in addition to the high cost of the war led to discontent among the Italian population. This was eventually taken advantage of by the nationalists, which later evolved into the Fascist movement.

In October 1922, a small National Fascist Party led by Benito Mussolini attempted a coup with its "March on Rome", which resulted in the King forming an alliance with Mussolini. A pact with Germany was concluded by Mussolini in 1936, and a second in 1938. During the Second World War, Italy was invaded by the Allies in June 1943, leading to the collapse of the fascist regime and the arrest, flight, eventual re-capture and death of Mussolini. In September 1943, Italy surrendered. However, fighting continued on its territory for the rest of the war, with the allies fighting those Italian fascists who did not surrender, as well as German forces.

Italian Republic

In 1946, King Umberto II was forced to abdicate and Italy became a republic. In the 1950s, Italy became a member of NATO and allied itself with the United States. The Marshall Plan helped revive the Italian economy which, until the 1960s, enjoyed a period of sustained economic growth. Cities such as Rome returned to being popular tourist destinations, expressed in both American and Italian films such as "Roman Holiday" or "La Dolce Vita". In 1957, Italy became a founding member of the European Economic Community.

From the late 60s till the late 1980s, however, the country experienced an economic crisis. There was a constant fear, both inside and outside Italy (particularly in the USA), that the Communist Party, which regularly polled over 20% of the vote, would one day form a government and all sorts of dirty tricks were concocted to prevent this. From 1992 to the present day, Italy has faced massive government debt and extensive corruption. Scandals have involved all major parties, but especially the Christian Democrats and the Socialists, which were both dissolved. The 1994 elections put media magnate Silvio Berlusconi into the Prime Minister's seat; he was twice been defeated, but emerged triumphant again in the 2008 election.

Despite Unification having lasted for over 150 years, there remain significant divisions in Italy. The northern part of the country is richer and more industrialized than the south and many northerners object to being effectively asked to subsidise southerners. The Northern League political party pushes for greater autonomy for the north and for reduced fund transfers to the south. On one thing the people of the north and the south can agree: none of them likes paying for the enormous bureaucracy that is based in Rome.

Climate

The climate of Italy is highly diverse, and could be far from the stereotypical Mediterranean climate. Most of Italy has hot, dry summers, with July being the hottest month of the year. Winters are cold and damp in the North, and milder in the South. Conditions on peninsular coastal areas can be very different from the interior's higher ground and valleys, particularly during the winter months when the higher altitudes tend to be cold, wet, and often snowy. The Alps have a mountain climate, with cool summers and very cold winters.

Activities

One of the great things about Italy is that its long thin shape means that when you get fed up with sightseeing you are but a relatively short distance from a beach. But when you get there you might be rather confused, especially if you come from a country where beach access is free to all.

In theory that is the case in Italy but as with a lot of things in this country the practice may be somewhat different to the law. Many stretches of beach, particularly those close to urban areas, are let out to private concessions. In the season they cover almost all the beach with rows and rows of sunbeds (lettini) and umbrellas (ombrelloni). You have the right to pass through these establishments without being charged to get to the sea, and should be able to walk along the sea in front of them. More affordable are the beaches in Calabria, most are free, you will only need to pay for the eventual equipment you want to rent.

South of Rome there are 20 km of free beach at the Circeo National Park. This is thanks to Dr. Mario Valeriani, who was in charge of that area after WWII and never gave permissions to build anything, in spite of the very generous bribes offered by a multitude of would be investors and private millionaires, as he though this was a natural marvel that was to remain as it was intended. So today we can all enjoy this stretch of nature. You can bring your own chair and sun cover and you will only be charged a parking fee on the main road.

While renting lettini for the day is not particularly expensive at establishments, they can fill up very quickly. There are some free beaches everywhere: they are easily identifiable by the absence of regimented rows of lettini. They can get very crowded: on a Saturday or Sunday in the summer you won’t find an empty stretch of beach anywhere. Most establishments offer full services including entertainment, bar and restaurant, gym classes, kindergarten and much more. Close to urban areas you will never be far from a fish restaurant on the beach or, at the very least, a bar. On the beach, topless women are more or less accepted everywhere but complete nudity is absolutely not accepted anywhere in Italy and it carries a hefty fine and/or arrest.[8]

Classical music

Italy was the birthplace of Western opera during the late 16th century, and unsurprisingly, Italy is some to some of the world's most famous opera houses, the best known of which is the Teatro alla Scala in Milan. The first ever opera was Jacopo Peri's Dafne (now lost), which was premiered at the Palazzo Corsi in Florence in 1598, though the oldest surviving opera that is still regularly performed today is L'Orfeo by Claudio Monteverdi, which was premiered at the court of Mantua in 1607. Yet another important city in the history of opera is Venice, in which the first public opera house was built, allowing paying members of the general public access to what was once court entertainment for the aristocracy. In fact, in the early 18th century, Italian opera was the most popular form of entertainment among the aristocracy in every European country except France, and even operas that premiered in non-Italian speaking areas such as London and Vienna were written in Italian. Many Italian composers, such as Monteverdi, Vivaldi, Rossini, Verdi and Puccini continue to be revered by classical music enthusiasts, and some of their pieces have even found their way into modern pop culture. In addition to the locals, many foreign composers such as Handel and Mozart also composed several critically acclaimed Italian operas which continue to enchant audiences to this day.

Visit the vineyards

Italy is famous for its wine. And its vineyards tend to be in the middle of some beautiful scenery. Taking an organized tour is probably your best bet. Day trips can usually be organized through your hotel if you are staying in a major wine area such as Chianti or through the local tourism office. There are several companies offering longer tours that include meals and accommodation. A simple web search for “Italian vineyard tours” or “wine tour Italy” will find them. Note that these longer tours tend to emphasise good food, great wine and a high standard of accommodation and are thus expensive. If you rent a car and want to organize your own trips, a helpful website is that of the Movimento Turismo del Vino. [9] The Italian page has a link to itinerari which is not available in English. Even if you don’t read Italian you can still find addresses and opening hours of some interesting wine producers. Note that “su prenotazione” means By Appointment Only.

Cycling tours

Several companies offer cycling tours of the Italian countryside. They provide cycles, a guide, and transportation for your suitcase, and for you if it all gets a bit too tiring. Tours vary to accommodate different interests. Normally you change city and hotel every day. If you like cycling this is an excellent way of seeing Italy off-the-beaten-track. Search Google, etc. for "Cycle Tours Italy" for companies.

Sailing

Sailing is one of the best ways to see the Italian islands such as Sardinia and Sicily. Most charter companies offer many options from bareboat to crewed and cabin charter, with all types of the boats.

Food

Cuisine

Italian food inside of Italy is different than what they call "Italian food" in America. It is truly one of the most diverse in the world, and in any region, or even city and village you go, there are different specialities. For instance, it could be only misleading to say that Northern Italian cuisine is based on hearty, potato and rice-rich meals, Central Italian cuisine is mainly on pastas, roasts and meat, and Southern Italian cuisine on vegetables, pizza, pasta and seafood: there are so many cross-influences that you'd only get confused trying to categorize. And in any case, Italian cuisine, contrary to popular belief, is not just based on pasta and tomato sauce - that's only a tiny snippet of the nation's food; rice, potatoes, lentils, soups and similar meals are very common in some parts of the country. Italian food is based upon so many ingredients and Italians often have very discriminating tastes that may seem strange to Americans and other visitors.

For instance, a sandwich stand might sell 4 different types of ham sandwiches that in each case contain ham, mayonnaise, and cheese. The only thing that may be different between the sandwiches is the type of ham or cheese used in them. Rustichella and panzerotti are two examples of sandwiches well-liked by Italians and tourists alike. Also, Italian sandwiches are quite different from the traditional Italian-American “hero”, “submarine”, or “hoagie” sandwich (which by the way mean nothing to any Italian). Rather than large sandwiches with a piling of meat, vegetables, and cheese, sandwiches in Italy are often quite small, very flat (made even more so when they are quickly heated and pressed on a panini grill), and contain a few simple ingredients with rarely, if ever, lettuce or mayonnaise. The term panini may be somewhat confusing to travellers from Northern Europe where it has erroneously come to mean a flat, heated sandwich on a grill. In Italy the term is equivalent to "bread rolls" (plural - the singular is panino) which can be simple rolls or sometimes with basic filling. However instead of a sandwich why not try a piadina, which is a flat folded bread with filling, served warm and typical of the coast of Emilia-Romagna?

Americans will notice that Italian pasta is usually available with a myriad of sauces rather than simply tomato and Alfredo [10]. Also, Italian pasta is often served with much less sauce than in America. This is, in part, because pasta in a restaurant is usually regarded as the first course of a three- or four-course meal, not a meal in itself.

Structure of a traditional meal: Usually Italian meals for working days are: small breakfast, one-dish lunch, one-dish dinner. Coffee is welcomed at nearly every hour, especially around 10:00 and at the end of a meal. At the weekends and in restaurants (for other occasions), a meal typically consists of: antipasto (appetizers: marinated vegetables, mixed coldcuts, seafood, etc.), primo (pasta or rice dish), secondo (meat or fish course) often with a side dish known as contorno, and dolce (dessert).

Like the language and culture, food in Italy differs region by region. Local ingredients are also very important. In warm Naples, citrus and other fresh fruit play a prominent role in both food and liquor, while in Venice fish is obviously an important traditional ingredient.

A note about breakfast in Italy: This is very light, often just a cappuccino or coffee with a pastry (cappuccino e brioche) or a piece of bread and fruit jam. Unless you know for certain otherwise, you should not expect a large breakfast. It is not customary in Italy to eat eggs and bacon or that sort of foods at breakfast - just the thought of it is revolting to most Italians. In fact, no salty foods are consumed at breakfast, generally speaking. Additionally, cappuccino is a breakfast drink; ordering one after lunch or dinner is considered somewhat strange and considered a typical "tourist thing". A small espresso coffee is considered much more appropriate for digestion.

Another enjoyable Italian breakfast item is cornetto (pl. cornetti): a croissant or light pastry often filled with jam, cream or chocolate.

Lunch is seen as the most important part of the day, so much that Italians have one hour reserved for eating (and in the past, another hour was reserved for napping). All shops close down and resume after the two hour break period. To compensate for this, businesses stay open later than in most other European towns, often until 8 pm. Good luck trying to find a place open during the so-called "pausa pranzo" (lunch break), when visiting a small town, but this is not the case in the city centers of the biggest cities or in shopping malls.

Dinner (i.e. the evening meal) is generally taken late. In the summer, if you are in a restaurant before 8pm you are likely to be eating on your own, and it is quite normal to see families with young children still dining after 10pm.

In Italy cuisine is considered a kind of art. Great chefs such as Gualtiero Marchesi and Gianfranco Vissani are seen as half-way between TV stars and magicians. Italians are extremely proud of their culinary tradition and generally love food and talking about it. However, they are not so fond of common preconceptions, such as that Italian food is only pizza and spaghetti. They also have a distaste for "bastardized" versions of their dishes that are popular elsewhere, and many Italians have a hard time believing that the average foreigner can't get even a basic pasta dish "right".

A note about service: do not expect the kind of dedicated, focused service you will find in American restaurants. In Italy this is considered somewhat annoying and people generally prefer to be left alone when consuming their meal. You should expect the waiter to come and check on you after your first course, maybe to order something as second course.

You should consider that Italy's most famous dishes like pizza or spaghetti are quite lame for some Italians, and eating in different areas can be an interesting opportunity to taste some less well known local specialties. Even for something as simple as pizza there are significant regional variations. That of Naples has a relatively thick, soft crust while that of Rome is considerably thinner and crustier. (Both styles are thin-crust compared to, for example, American styles of pizza, however.)

When dining out with Italians read the menu and remember that almost every restaurant has a typical dish and some towns have centuries-old traditions that you are invited to learn. People will be most happy when you ask for local specialties and will gladly advise you.

In Northern Italy at around 17:00 most bars will prepare for an aperitivo especially in cosmopolitan Milan, with a series of plates of nibbles, cheese, olives, meat, bruschetta and much more... This is NOT considered a meal and should you indulge yourself in eating as if it was dinner, you would most likely not be very much appreciated. All this food is typically free to anyone who purchases a drink but it is intended to be a premeal snack.

Specialties

Almost every city and region has its own specialties, a brief list of which may include:

  • Risotto – Carnaroli or Arborio or Vialone Nano (etc.) rice that has been sautéed and cooked in a shallow pan with stock. The result is a very creamy and hearty dish. Meat, poultry, seafood, vegetables, and cheeses are almost always added depending on the recipe and the locale. Many restaurants, families, towns, and regions will have a signature risotto or at least style of risotto, in addition or in place of a signature pasta dish (risotto alla Milanese is a famous Italian classic). Risotto is a typical dish in Lombardy and Piedmont.
  • Arancini – Balls of rice with tomato sauce, eggs, peas and mozzarella cheese that are deep fried. They are a specialty from Sicily, though are now quite common all over.
  • Polenta – Yellow corn meal (yellow grits) that has been cooked with stock. It is normally served either creamy, or allowed to set up and then cut into shapes and fried or roasted. It is a very common dish in northern mountain restaurants, usually eaten with deer or boar meat. In the Veneto region the best polenta is "polenta bianca", a special, tasty, and white cornmeal called "biancoperla".
  • Gelato – This is the Italian word for ice cream. The non-fruit flavors are usually made only with milk. Gelato made with water and without dairy ingredients is also known as sorbetto. It's fresh as a sorbet, but tastier. There are many flavors, including coffee, chocolate, fruit, and tiramisù. When buying at a gelateria, you have the choice of having it served in a wafer cone or a tub; in northern Italy you'll pay for every single flavour "ball", and the panna (the milk cream) counts as a flavour; in Rome you can buy a small wafer cone (around 1,80€) a medium one (2,50 €) or a large one (3,00€) without limit of flavours, and the panna is free.
  • Tiramisù – Italian cake made with coffee, mascarpone, and ladyfingers (sometimes rum) with cocoa powder on the top. The name means "pick-me-up".

Pizza

Pizza is a quick and convenient meal. In most cities there are pizza shops that sell by the gram. Look for a sign Pizza al taglio. When ordering, simply point to the display or tell the attendant the type of pizza you would like (e.g. pizza margherita, pizza con patate (roasted or french fries), pizza al prosciutto (ham), etc.) and how much ("Vorrei (due fette - two slices) or (due etti - two-tenths of a kilogram) or simply say "di più - more" or "di meno - less, per favore"). They will slice it, warm it in the oven, fold it in half, and wrap it in paper. Other food shops also sell pizza by the slice. Italians consider those a sort of second class pizza, chosen only when you cannot eat a "real" pizza in a specialized restaurant (Pizzeria). Getting your meal on the run can save money—many sandwich shops charge an additional fee if you want to sit to eat your meal. Remember that in many parts of the country pizzas have a thinner base of bread and less cheese than those found outside Italy. The most authentic, original pizzas is found in Naples - often containing quite a few ingredients.

The traditional, round pizza is found in many restaurants and specialized pizza restaurants (pizzerie). It is rare to find a restaurant that serves pizza at lunchtime, however.

Take-away pizzerias (pizzerie da asporto) are becoming ubiquitous in many cities and towns. These are often run by north African immigrants and quality may vary, though they are almost always cheaper than restaurants (€4-5 for a margherita on average) and are also open at lunchtime (a few are also open all day long). Some will also serve kebab, which may also vary in quality. Though take-away pizzas are also considered "second-class pizza" by most Italians, they are quite popular among the vast population of university students and they are usually located in residential areas. This is not to be confused with the ever so popular "Pizza al Taglio" shops in Rome. These are a sort of traditional fast food in the Capital City and can be found at every corner. Quality is usually very good and pizza is sold by the weight; you choose the piece of pizza you want, then they put it on the scale and tell you the price.

Cheese and sausages

In Italy you can find nearly 800 kinds of cheese, including the famous Parmigiano Reggiano and Grana Padano, and over 400 types of sausages.

If you want a real kick, then try to find one of the huge open markets, which are always open on Saturdays and usually during other days, except Sunday, as well. You will find all types of cheese and meat on display

Restaurants and bars

Italian bars in the center of major cities charge more (typically double whatever the final bill is) if you drink or eat seated at a table outside rather than standing at the bar or taking your order to go. This is because bars are charged a very high tax to place tables and chairs outside, so since most people do not use tables anyway, they had decided long ago to only charge those who do. The further away you are from the center streets, the less this rule is applied. When calling into a bar for a coffee or other drink you first go to the cash register and pay for what you want. You then give the receipt to the barman, who will serve you.

Restaurants always used to charge a small coperto (cover charge). Some years ago attempts were made to outlaw the practice, with limited success. The rule now seems to be that if you have bread a coperto can be charged but if you specifically say that you don't want bread then no coperto can be levied. This has happened mainly because of backpackers who sat at a table, occupied it for an hour by just ordering a drink or a salad and consuming enormous amounts of bread.

Some restaurants now levy a service charge, but this is far from common. In Italian restaurants a large tip is never expected. The customary 15% of the United States may cause an Italian waiter to drop dead with a heart attack. Just leave a Euro or two and they will be more than happy.

The traditional meal can include (in order) antipasto (starter of cold seafood, gratinated vegetables or ham and salami), primo (first dish - pasta or rice dishes), secondo (second dish - meat or fish dishes), served together with contorno (mostly vegetables), cheeses/fruit, dessert, coffee, and spirits. Upmarket restaurants usually refuse to make changes to proposed dishes (exceptions warmly granted for babies or people on special diets). Mid-range restaurants are usually more accommodating. For example, a simple pasta with tomato sauce may not be on the menu but a restaurant will nearly always be willing to cook one for kids who turn their noses up at everything else on the menu.

If you are in a large group (say four or more) then it is appreciated if you don't all order a totally different pasta. While the sauces are pre-cooked the pasta is cooked fresh and it is difficult for the restaurant if one person wants spaghetti, another fettuccine, a third rigatoni, a fourth penne and a fifth farfalle (butterfly shaped pasta). If you attempt such an order you will invariably be told that you will have a long wait (because the time required for cooking isn't the same for all the types of pasta)!

When pizza is ordered, it is served as a primo (even if formally it is not considered as such), together with other primi. If you order a pasta or pizza and your friend has a steak you will get your pasta dish, and probably when you've finished eating the steak will arrive. If you want primo and secondo dishes to be brought at the same time you have to ask.

Restaurants which propose diet food, very few, usually write it clearly in menus and even outside; others usually don't have any dietetic resources.

To avoid cover charges, and if you are on a strict budget,almost all the railway stations of Italy have a buffet or self-service restaurant ( Termini station in Rome is a great example of the latter). These are always reasonably priced, and generally the food is of a high quality.

Gastronomia

A Gastronomia is a kind of self-service restaurant (normally you tell the staff what you want rather than serving yourself) that also offers take-aways. This can give a good opportunity to sample traditional Italian dishes at fairly low cost. Note that these are not buffet restaurants. You pay according to what you order.

Drinks

Bars, like restaurants, are non-smoking.

Italians enjoy going out during the evenings, so it's common to have a drink in a bar before dinner. It is called Aperitivo. Within the last couple years, started by Milan, a lot of bars have started offering fixed-price cocktails at aperitivo hours (18 - 21) with a free, and often a very good, buffet meal. It's now widely considered stylish to have this kind of aperitivo (called Happy Hour) instead of a structured meal before going out to dance or whatever.

While safe to drink, the tap water in some peninsular parts of Italy can be cloudy with a slight off taste. Most Italians prefer bottled water, which is served in restaurants. Make sure you let the waiter/waitress know you want regular water (acqua rubinetto) or else you could get water with either natural gas or with added carbonation (frizzante).

Rome, in particular, has exceptional pride in the quality of its water. This goes right back to the building of aqueducts channeling pure mountain water to all the citizens of Rome during Roman times. Don't waste plastic bottles. You can refill your drinking containers and bottles at any of the constant running taps and fountains dotted around the city, safe in the knowledge that you are getting excellent quality cool spring water - try it!

Wine

Italian wine is exported all over the world, and names like Barolo, Brunello and Chianti are known everywhere. In Italy wine is a substantial topic, a sort of test which can ensure either respect or lack of attention from an entire restaurant staff. Doing your homework ensures that you will get better service, better wine and in the end may even pay less.

So before reaching Italy, try to learn a little about the most important wines of the region you are planning to visit. This will greatly increase you enjoyment. Italian cuisine varies greatly from region to region (sometimes also from town to town), and wine reflects this variety. Italians have a long tradition of matching wines with dishes and often every dish has an appropriate wine. The popular "color rule" (red wines with meat dishes, white wines with fish) can be happily broken when proposed by a sommelier or when you really know what you are doing: Italy has many strong white wines to serve with meat (a Sicilian or Tuscan chardonnay), as well as delicate red wines for fish (perhaps an Alto Adige pinot noir).

Unlike in the UK, for example, the price mark-ups charged by restaurants for wines on their wine list are not usually excessive, giving you a chance to experiment. In the big cities, there are also many wine bars, where you can taste different wines by the glass, at the same time as eating some delicious snacks. Unlike in many other countries it is unusual for restaurants to serve wine by the glass.

The vino della casa (house wine) can be an excellent drinking opportunity in small villages far from towns (especially in Tuscany), where it could be what the patron would really personally drink or could even be the restaurant's own product. It tends to be a safe choice in decent restaurants in cities as well. Vino della casa may come bottled but in lower-priced restaurants it is still just as likely to be available in a carafe of one quarter, one half or one litre. As a general rule, if the restaurant seems honest and not too geared for tourists, the house wine is usually not too bad. That said, some house wines can be dreadful and give you a nasty head the next morning. If it doesn't taste too good it probably won't do you much good, so send it back and order from the wine list.

Italians are justly proud of their wines and foreign wines are rarely served, but many foreign grapes like cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay are increasingly being used.

Beer

Although wine is a traditional everyday product, beer is very common as well. Beer did not belong to the Italian tradition in the way that wine does, but in the last 30-odd years there has been an explosion of English-style pubs in every town, big or small, with usually a huge selection of any kind of beer, ale, stout and cider, from every country in the world. Major Italian beers include Peroni and Moretti and these are usually the ones offered by daytime cafes. If you are serious about beer drinking, there are many bars that specialise in serving a wide range of bottled beers (see city articles for more details), as well as Irish pubs and similar establishments. There is an increasing number of micro-breweries around the country. They often are run by local beer enthusiasts turned brewers, running small breweries with a pub attached. Their association is called Unionbirrai [11].

In the Trieste region it is far more common to drink Slovenian beers and the most popular brands are 'Union' and 'Zlatorag'. Surprisingly it is often cheaper to buy Slovenian beer in Italy (Trieste) than in Slovenia itself.

Other drinks

  • Limoncello. A liquor made of alcohol, lemon peels, and sugar. Limoncello can be considered a "moonshine" type of product (although usually made with legally obtained alcohol) as every Italian family, especially in the middle-south (near Napoli) and southern part of the country, has its own recipe for limoncello. Because lemon trees adapt so well to the Mediterreanean climate, and they produce a large amount of fruit continually throughout their long fruit-bearing season, it is not unusual to find many villa's yards filled with lemon trees bending under the weight of their crop. You can make a lot of lemonade, or better yet, brew your own limoncello. It is mainly considered a dessert liquor, served after a heavy meal (similar to amaretto), and used for different celebrations. The taste can be compared to a very strong and slightly thick lemonade flavor with an alcohol tinge to it. Best served chilled in the freezer in small glasses that have been in the freezer. It is better sipped than treated as a shooter.
  • Grappa is made by distilling grape skins after the juice has been squeezed from them for winemaking, so you could imagine how it might taste. If you're going to drink it, then make sure you get a bottle having been distilled multiple times.

Limoncello and grappa and other similar drinks are usually served after a meal as an aid to digestion. If you are a good customer restaurants will offer a drink to you free of charge, and may even leave the bottle on your table for you to help yourself. Beware that these are very strong drinks.

Coffee

Bars in Italy offer an enormous number of possible permutations for a way of having a cup of coffee. What you won't get, however, is 100 different types of bean; nor will you find "gourmet" coffees. If you like that kind of stuff, better take your own. A bar will make coffee from a commercial blend of beans supplied by just one roaster. There are many companies who supply roast beans and the brand used is usually prominently displayed both inside and outside of the bar.

The following are the most basic preparations of coffee:

  • Caffè or Caffè Normale or Espresso – This is the basic unit of coffee, normally consumed after a meal.
  • Caffè ristretto – This has the same amount of coffee, but less water, thus making it stronger.
  • Caffè lungo – This is the basic unit of coffee but additional water is allowed to go through the ground coffee beans in the machine.
  • Caffè americano – This has much more water and is served in a cappuccino cup. It is more like an American breakfast coffee but the quantity is still far less than you would get in the States.

So far so good. But here the permutations begin. For the same price as a normal coffee, you can ask for a dash of milk to be added to any of the above. This is called macchiato. Hence, caffè lungo macchiato or caffè americano macchiato. But that dash of milk can be either hot (caldo) or cold (freddo). So you can ask, without the barman batting an eye, for a caffè lungo macchiato freddo or a caffè Americano macchiato caldo. Any one of these options can also be had decaffeinated. Ask for caffè decaffeinato. The most popular brand of decaffeinated coffee is HAG and it is quite usual to ask for caffè HAG even if the bar does not use that particular brand.

If you are really in need of a pick-me-up you can ask for a double dose of coffee, or a doppio. You have to specify this when you pay at the cash register and it costs twice as much as a normal coffee. All the above permutations still apply, although a caffè doppio ristretto may be a bit strange.

Additionally, if you need a shot of alcohol, you can ask for a caffè corretto. This usually involves adding grappa, brandy or sambuca; "corrected" being the Italian expression corresponding to "spiked". Normally it is only a plain coffee that is corrected but there is no reason why you could not "correct" any of the above combinations.

Then there are coffee drinks with milk, as follows:

  • Cappuccino – Needs no introduction. If you don’t like the froth you can ask for cappuccino senza schiuma.
  • Caffè latte – Often served in a glass, this is a small amount of coffee with the cup/glass filled up with hot milk.
  • Latte macchiato – This is a glass of milk with a dash of coffee in the top. The milk can be hot or cold.

Finally, in the summer you can have caffè freddo, which is basically plain coffee with ice, caffè freddo "shakerato" (shaked ice coffee) or cappuccino freddo, which is a cold milky coffee without the froth.

This list is by no means exhaustive. With a vivid imagination and a desire to experiment you should be able to find many more permutations. Enjoy!

Shopping

Italy uses the euro (€, EUR) as its money. It is one of 24 European countries that use this common European currency: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain (which are all eurozone countries of the European Union or EU) together with the six non-EU members Andorra, Kosovo, Monaco, Montenegro, San Marino and the Vatican that also solely use euros but have no say in eurozone affairs. These 24 countries together have a population of more than 330 million.

One euro is divided into 100 cents. Except for Kosovo and Montenegro, all issue their own coins with a distinctive, national face. However, all the coins' obverse looks the same, as do all bills or banknotes and all are legal tender in all 24 countries.

Italy can be quite an expensive country. As everywhere, major cities and central locations have a higher cost of life than suburban and rural places. It is a general rule of thumb that Southern Italy is less expensive than Northern Italy, especially for food; this will, of course, vary by location.

Meals can be had from as cheap as 3€ (if you are happy with a sandwich, panini or falafel from a street vendor); restaurant bills can be anything from 10€ (a burger with fries\salad and a soft drink from a pub) to 20€ (a starter, main course and water from a regular restaurant).

Service is always included, either in the display price or a coperto line on the bill; tipping is thus not necessary, but neither is it frowned upon. Tipping taxi drivers is not necessary, but a hotel porter may expect a little something. And unless otherwise stated, prices are inclusive of IVA sales tax (same as VAT), which is 21% for most goods, and 10% in restaurants and hotels. On some products, such as books, IVA is 4%. In practice, you can forget about it since it is universally included in the display price. If you're a non-EU resident, you are entitled to a VAT refund on purchases of goods that will be exported out of the European Union. Shops offering this scheme have a Tax Free sticker outside. Be sure to ask for your tax-free voucher before leaving the store. These goods have to be unused when you pass the customs checkpoint upon leaving the EU.

If you plan to travel through countryside or rural regions you probably should not rely on your credit cards, as in many small towns they're accepted only by a small number of shops and restaurants.

Remember that in Italy (even during the winter months) it remains very common for shops, offices and banks to close for up to 3 hours during the afternoon (often between 12.30 and 15.30). Banks, especially, have short hours with most only being open to the public for about 4 hours in the morning and barely 1 hour in the afternoon.

What to buy

Italy is a great place for all forms of shopping. Most cities, villages and towns, are crammed to the brim with many different forms of shops, from glitzy boutiques and huge shopping malls, to tiny art galleries, small food stores, antique dealers and general newsagents.

  • Food is definitely one of the best souvenirs you can get in Italy. There are thousands of different shapes of pasta (not only spaghetti or macaroni). Then, every Italian region has its typical food like cheese, wine, ham, salami, oil, vinegar, etc. Don't forget to buy Nutella.
  • Italian fashion is renowned worldwide. Many of the world's most famous international brands have their headquarters or were founded in Italy.
  • Jewelry and accessory shops can be found in abundance in Italy. There are loads of jewelry and accessory stores which hail from Italy. Vicenza and Valenza are considered the country's jewelry capitals, which are also famous for their silverware and goldware shops. All over Italy, notably Vicenza, Milan, Valenza, Rome, Naples, Florence and Venice, but also several other cities, you can find hundreds of different jewelry or silverware boutiques. Apart from the famous ones, there are some great quirky and funky jewelry stores scattered around the country.
  • Design and furniture is something Italy is proudly and justifiably famous for. Excellent quality furniture stores can be found all over, but the real place to buy the best deals is Milan. Milan contains among the top design rooms and emporia in the world. For the newest design inventions, attend the Fiera di Milano in Rho, where the latest appliances are exhibited. Many Italian cities have great antique furniture stores. So, you can choose between cutting-edge, avant-garde furniture, or old world antiques to buy in this country, which are, by average, of good quality.
  • Glassware is something which Venice makes uniquely but which is spread around the whole of the country. In Venice is famously the capital of Murano (not the island), or glassware made in different colours. Here, you can get stunning goblets, crystal chandeliers, candlesticks and decorations made in stunning, multi-coloured blown glass, which can be designed in modern, funky arrangements, or the classical old style.
  • Books can be found in bookshops in every small, medium sized or big city. The main book and publishing companies/stores in Italy include Mondadori, Hoepli or Rizzoli. Most big bookstores are found in Milan, Turin and nearby Monza, which are the capitals of Italy's publishing trade (Turin was made World Book Capital in 2006), however cities such as Rome and more boast loads of book shops. 99% of the books sold are in Italian.
  • Art shops can be found all over in Italy, notably the most artistic cities of Florence, Rome and Venice. In Florence, the best place to go for buying art is the Oltrarno, where there are numerous ateliers selling replicas of famous paintings or similar things. Usually, depending in what city you're in, you get replicas of notable works of art found there, but also, you can find rare art shops, sculpture shops, or funky, modern/old stores in several cities.

How to buy

In a small or medium sized shop, it's standard to greet the staff as you enter, not when you approach the counter to pay. A friendly 'Buongiorno' or 'Buonasera' warms the atmosphere. When paying, the staff usually expect you to put coins down on the surface or dish provided, rather than placing money directly into their hands (old money-handling etiquette to avoid messy coin droppings), and they will do the same when giving you your change ('il resto'). This is normal practice and is not intended to be rude.

Haggling is very rare and only ever takes place when dealing with hawkers. They will generally ask for an initial price that is much higher than what they are willing to sell for, and going for the asking price is a sure way to get ripped off. Be advised that oftentimes hawkers sell counterfeit merchandise (in some cases, very believable counterfeits), and that hoping to buy a Gucci purse for 30€ off the street might not be in your best interest. In all other situations, haggling will get you nowhere.

This article is based on Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike 3.0 Licensed text from the article Italy on Wikivoyage.

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Points of Interest in Italy

There is so much to see in Italy that it is difficult to know where to begin. Virtually every small village has an interesting location or two, plus a couple of other things to see.

  • Etruscan Italy. If you have limited time and no potential to travel outside the main cities, then don't miss the amazing collection at the Etruscan Museum at Villa Giulia in Rome. Hiring a car gives access to the painted tombs and museum of Tarquinia or the enormous burial complex at Cerveteri and those are just the sites within easy reach of Rome.
  • The Greek Influence. Well-preserved Greek temples at Agrigento in the southwest of Sicily and at Paestum, just south of Naples, give a good understanding of the extent of Greek influence on Italy.
  • Roman ruins. From the south, in Sicily, to the north of the country Italy is full of reminders of the Roman empire. In Taormina, Sicily check out the Roman theatre, with excellent views of Mt. Etna on a clear day. Also in Sicily, don't miss the well-preserved mosaics at Piazza Armerina. Moving north to just south of Naples, you find Pompeii and Herculaneum, covered in lava by Mt. Vesuvius and, as a result, amazingly well preserved. To Rome and every street in the center seems to have a few pieces of inscribed Roman stone built into more recent buildings. Don't miss the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Aqueducts, the Appian Way, and a dozen or so museums devoted to Roman ruins. Further north, the Roman amphitheatre at Verona is definitely not to be missed.
  • Christian Italy. The Vatican is the seat of the Roman Catholic Church. Although inside Rome it has the status of a separate state. Don't miss St Peter's and the Vatican Museum. Rome, itself, has over 900 churches; a large number of these are worth a quick visit. Throughout Italy there is some truly amazing Christian architecture covering the Romanesque (700-1200); Gothic (1100-1450); Renaissance (1400-1600); and ornate Baroque (1600-1830) styles. Although theft of artwork has been a problem, major city churches and cathedrals retain an enormous number of paintings and sculptures and others have been moved to city and Church museums. Frescoes and mosaics are everywhere, and quite stunning. Don't just look for churches: in rural areas there are some fascinating monasteries to be discovered. When planning to visit churches, note that all but the largest are usually closed between 12.30 and 15.30.
  • The Byzantine Cities. The Byzantines controlled northern Italy until kicked out by the Lombards in 751. Venice is of course world famous and nearby Chioggia, also in the Lagoon, is a smaller version. Ravenna's churches have some incredible mosaics. Visiting Ravenna requires a bit of a detour, but it is well worth it.
  • The Renaissance.Start with a visit to Piazza Michelangelo in Florence to admire the famous view. Then set about exploring the many museums, both inside and outside Florence, that house Renaissance masterpieces. The Renaissance, or Rebirth, (Rinascimento in Italian) lasted between 14th and 16th centuries and is generally believed to have begun in Florence. The list of famous names is endless: in architecture Ghiberti (the cathedral's bronze doors), Brunelleschi (the dome), and Giotto (the bell tower). In literature: Dante, Petrarch and Machiavelli. In painting and sculpture: Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Donatello, Masaccio and Boticelli.
  • The Streets and squares. You could visit Italy's cities, never go in a church, museum or Roman ruin, and still have a great time. Just wander around, keeping your eyes open. Apart from in the northern Po and Adige valleys most of Italy (including the cities) is hilly or mountainous, giving some great views. Look up when walking around to see amazing roof gardens and classical bell towers. In cities such as Rome, note the continued juxtaposition of expensive stores with small workplaces for artisans. Search for interesting food shops and places to get a good ice cream (gelato). Above all, just enjoy the atmosphere.
  • Operas. If you are interested in the famous Italian Operas, they are on play in various cities: Milan, Verona, Parma, Rome, Venice, Turin, Spoleto, Florence, Palermo.

Monuments

  • UNESCO World Heritage

Islands

  • Sicily,
  • Sardinia,
  • Capri,
  • Ischia,
  • Elba,
  • Procida,
  • Aeolian Islands,
  • Tremiti,
  • Ustica,
  • Pantelleria,
  • Aegadi Islands,
  • Pelagie Islands
  • Dino Island

Museums

Every major city has a number of local museums, but some of them have national and international relevance.

These are some of the most important permanent collections.

  • Uffizi Museum. In Florence, is one of the greatest museums in the world and a must see. Given the great number of visitors, advance ticket reservation is a good idea, to avoid hour-long queues.
  • Brera art gallery. In Milan is a prestigious museum held in a fine 17th-century palace, which boasts several paintings, including notable ones from the Renaissance era.
  • The Etruscan Academy Museum of the City of Cortona. In Cortona, Tuscany.
  • Egyptian Museum. In Turin, holds the second-largest Egyptian collection in the world, after Egypt's Cairo Museum collection.
  • The Aquarium. In Genoa, one of the largest and most beautiful in the world, is in the Porto Antico (ancient port) in an area completely renewed by architect Renzo Piano in 1992.
  • Science and Technology Museum. In Milan, one of the largest in Europe, holds collections about boats, airplanes, trains, cars, motorcycles, radio and energy. Recently has also acquired the Toti submarine, which is open to visitors.
  • Roman Civilization Museum. In Rome, hold the world's largest collection about ancient Rome and a marvellous reproduction (scale 1:250) of the entire Rome area in 325 A.D., the age of Constantine the Great.
  • National Cinema Museum. In Turin, located inside the wonderful Mole Antonelliana, historical building and symbol of the city.
  • Automobile Museum. In Turin, one of the largest in the world, with a 170 car collection covering the entire history of automobiles.
  • The Vatican Museum. Not, strictly speaking, in Italy as the Vatican is a separate territory. Visit the museum to see the Sistine Chapel, the rooms painted by Raphael, some amazing early maps and much, much more.
  • The Etruscan Museum at Villa Giulia, Rome. Amazing collection of Etruscan art.

Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo - Venice

Palazzo dei Conservatori - Rome

Strozzi Palace (Palazzo Strozzi) - Florence

St Mark\'s Campanile - Venice

Correr Civic Museum - Venice

St. Mark\'s Square - Venice

Campo San Polo - Venice

Fortuny Museum - Venice

Capitoline Museum - Rome

Temple of Saturn - Rome

Piazza del Campidoglio - Rome

Foro di Cesare - Rome

Arch of Septimius Severus - Rome

Bridge of Sighs - Venice

Church of San Zaccaria - Venice

Basilica of St Mary of Health - Venice

Santa Maria del Giglio - Venice

Punta della Dogana - Venice

La Fenice Opera House - Venice

Santa Francesca Romana - Rome

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