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The ultimate guide to Italy – Where to go, what to see

Italy is a young country. Doubtless it has the richest history and culture, Italy as a country is only 155 years old. And like wine, it only gets better. A note to us will get you there! But before you go here’s Italy guide that you will need to know all about this country~

Picturesque Italy - Cinque Terre
Image credit – travelsandliving/

Get around: A flawless, but unpredictable, rail network. For the southern states of Italy, road trips are the way to go. You can also travel by public bus. It is extremely important to not only buy your ticket but also to get it validated.

Currency: Euro. It is recommended you carry liquid cash especially while dining. Some joints straight out refuse to accept cards.

City-states: Italy is home to two independent city states within its borders – Vatican city & San Marino. Both have adopted Euro for currency.

On tipping: At almost all places in Italy, tipping is unnecessary. A service charge is already added to your bill.

Also, if hotels ask for your original passport, don’t worry, it’s normal. 

Regions of Italy

First up on your Italy guide, know your regions! There are 20 different regions in Italy with two independent city-states in its frontiers. Here are some of them –

Calabria:

Activity:  Beach   |   Sightseeing   |   Adventure

calabria
Image credit – visititalyalacarte/

The area popularly recognized as the Italian “boot’s toe” on a map, Calabria is a great combination of long stretches of coastline and quaint towns in the mountains. Settle for luxury and comfort? Head to the resort towns of Tropea, Scilla, Paola, Squillace or Scalea – beach hopping all the way. Never settle, want to keep moving? Hike the hills, chance across quaint towns/ villages, fresh air and fresh perspective galore.

Campania:

Activity:  Beach   |   Culture   |   Adventure

campania
Image credit – italiapura/

On the western coast of Italy, Campania is one of the most populated regions of Italy. Pay your homage to pizza with a visit to its birthplace at Naples. Home to the historic Pompeii, there are adventures to be had – hike up to the active volcano of Mount Vesuvius, for instance. For those of you who love sunshine, coastline and everything nice, a drive to/by the famous Amalfi coast is a must.     

Emilia-Romagna:

Activity:  Art   |   Culture   |   Beach   |   Food

emilia-romagna
Image credit – boscolo/

Art enthusiast with a penchant for “authentic” Italian cuisine? Or, at least, the Italian food that you have learnt to call “authentic”? Emilia-Romagna has given the world not only gorgeous churches and art museums to ogle at but also marvellous dishes like prosciutto, parmiggiano-reggiano cheese and tortellini pasta. Love cars? Perhaps visit the factories where world-famous Ferrari, Lamborghini, Pagani, and Maserati cars are made. For the bikers, make your way to Ducati’s factory. Then, there is of course plenty of beaches you can laze around on days you want to soak in the sun.

Lazio:

Activity:  Art   |   Culture   |   Beach

rome-in-lazio
Image credit – thetimes/

  Home to Italy’s capital city of Rome, Lazio lies along the Tyrrhenian sea. While the sights of Rome may take up a large part of your time here, there are a few more gems of Lazio you should make time for. The coast and mountains inland are riveting, of course, but how about a day trip to Ostia Antica – an ancient Roman city now in ruins? Or unwind at the beach resort town of Sperlonga.

Liguria:

Activity:  Nature  |   Beach

cinque-terre-in-liguria
Image credit – zastavki/

The stretch of land that hugs the Ligurian sea, Liguria is home to contrasting sceneries – from the never ending coastline to the inland Apennines mountains. While the picturesque town of Cinque Terre is a major attraction, the historic adventurer Christopher Columbus hails from this region. Plus, if you are into celebrity watching, here’s where most stars like to vacation.   

Lombardy:

Activity:  Sightseeing  |   Lakes   |   Culture

bergamo-in-lombardy
Image credit – miriadna/

On Italy’s northern border sits Lombardy. Surrounded by both ranges of Italian Alps and Italian Appennines, Lombardy is a lake wonderland. It is also home to the world famous racing track at Monza. Its capital city is Milan – offers many day-trip opportunities to sightsee one of Italy’s iconic cathedrals. For a weekend away from the rush, head to beautiful walled city of Bergamo.

Tuscany:

Activity:  History  |   Food   |   Culture

tuscany
Image credit – telegraph/

With one of the most geographically varied region in Italy, Tuscany or Toscana has given the world Galileo, da Vinci, and Michelangelo. From historic art works to charming medieval hill towns to vineyards – Tuscany has its full of all this and more. Apart from the crowd-pullers that are Florence and Siena, there are lesser explored places waiting to be discovered.  

Veneto:

Activity:  History  |   Food   |   Culture

verona-in-veneto
Image credit – urbanette/

Situated by the Adriatic sea, Veneto is home-ground to the very popular canal city – Venice. This is where all your ride-in-a-gondola dreams will be fulfilled. Besides, you can relive scenes from Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, said to be based in Verona. If the possibility of adventure makes you sit up, take up skiing in Cortina d’Ampezzo. And for some good old wine, head to Valpolicella – the vineyards of Verona.

Famous Festivals

A country can be best explored through its culture. This section of the Italy guide will let you in on where what is celebrated and how.

Calcio Storico

When: June 24

Where: Florence

calcio_storico
Image credit – photonfestival/

The feast day of Florence’s patron saint is commemorated a little differently here – by playing a 16th century sport called Calcio Storico. Combining wrestling, soccer and rugby makes calcio one of the most violent sports known to the modern world.

Carnevale di Ivrea / Battle of Oranges

When: 3rd week of February

Where: Ivrea

carnevale-di-ivrea
Image credit – class24/

A la tomatina turned Italian, townspeople gather and hurl oranges at each other. The willing participants wear long, red Phrygran hats – said to represent freedom. Though many legends surround the origin of this festival, they carry a familiar plotline of standing up to a tyrant. According to one story, the orange may even represent the decapitated head of a tyrant.

Umbria Jazz Festival

When: July 7 – July 16

Where: Umbria

umbria-jazz-festival
Image credit – villavacations/

This jazz festival, set in the medieval town of Perugia, celebrates jazz music and musicians from around the world. Concerts are set all around the city – some of them are even free of cost.

Siena Palio

When: July 2 & August 16

Where: Siena

palio-di-siena
Image credit – blacktomato/

Taking place twice a year, Palio Siena is a horse race that takes place in Piazza del Campo – Siena’s main square. The horse race actually takes place of the fourth day of the festival. The first horse to cross the finish line – even if he arrives without his jockey – wins the race. The winner will be presented with a Drappellone – a silk banner.

Famous Five

Colosseum, Rome

colosseum
Image credit – arounddeglobe

A historic relic of the legacy of Roman empire, it is the one of the oldest amphitheatre that has served as an inspiration for almost any sports stadium today. A stark contrast to the modernity it is surrounded by, it is token of everything Roman. Now the Colosseum even allows one to head to the upper levels for an eye-catching view. 

Gondola ride, Venice

a-gondola-in-venice
Image credit – walksofitaly

 

The quintessential Italian fantasy almost always begins with this scene – a gondolier singing to you as he rows you across canal after canal as the stars light the sky. In Venice, ride a traghetti or a gondola with a view of ancient buildings and more in the backdrop.

Amalfi coast, Campania

road-trip-by-amalfi-coast
Image credit – bbc

A never-ending coastline that is marked at intervals with changing scenery – from crags to charming coastal towns and lush forests, Amalfi is one of the most iconic coasts of Italy. Want some quiet time for yourself? It is surrounded by one of the best hiking trails, too.

Cinque Terre, Liguria

cinque-terre
Image credit – danflyingsolo

An iconic sight attributed to Italy, the Cinque Terre actually translates to ‘Five Villages’, referring to the picturesque villages of Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. All of them are connected a narrow, scenic road through the hills. Village-hop across them, hiking through hills.

Vatican City

vatican-city
Image credit – goldencompass

A visit to Italy will, of course, oblige your itinerary to consist a trip through this city-state. An art wonderland with works like the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica, this also the official residence of the Pope called the Apostolic Palace.

Food

Food and dining is a sacred social activity here – even the waiters are aware. For instance, they will leave you to dine without checking up on you every few minutes, they won’t hurry you along to seat more customers. Moreover takeaway is an unfamiliar concept in Italy what with restaurants wanting their customers enjoying their meal.

There is no universal “Italian food”. Every region has its own diverse and mouth-watering palate. Here’s more about Italy and its food.  Meanwhile, this Italy guide will skim through what you can expect to eat where. 

Naples – Pizza

 Neopolitan Pizza
Image credit – vitaitaliantours

The birthplace to this renowned dish loved world over, the very first pizza created was Pizza Margherita – a pizza garnished with tomatoes mozzarella cheese and basil – to represent the colours of Italy’s flag.

Veneto – Bigoli 

bigoli-in-salsa
Image credit – esquire

The bigoli are thick, tubular noodles handmade with buckwheat flour and duck eggs. Generally served with a sauce of red wine, vegetables and roasted duck, the cheese of choice is Parmesan. Cooked often with anchovy and onions, this pasta is garnished with parsley. The Venetian authentic goes by the name ‘Bigoli in Salsa’.

Tuscany – Ribollita

ribollita
Image credit – petitworldcitizen

Called cucina povera or poor man’s food, this dish was invented by servants who had to make do with just leftovers. Prepared to a soup’s consistency, it includes leftover bread, cannellini beans, cabbage, carrot, celery, potato, onions and more.

Emilia-Romagna – Tortellini en Brodo

tortellini-en-brodo
Image credit – foodnetwork

The staple dish of this region the ring-shaped tortellini pasta floats over a simple chicken broth, instead. The brodo sometimes includes beef, bones, tongue, chicken pieces, onion, carrot, and celery. The pasta is filled with veal and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and served on the broth with a sprinkle of Parmesan on the top.

Milan – Osso buco alla Milanese

osso-buco-alla-milanese
Image credit – delonghi

It is cross-cut veal shank cooked in white wine and vegetables and served with a tangy gremolata dip. The cross-cut makes even the marrow edible. Outside Milan it may be served alongside pasta.  

Liguria – Focaccia di recco 

focaccia-di-recco
Image credit – ricette

Hailing from the Ligurian town of Recco, the focaccia is made of thin folds of flour stuffed with fresh and creamy crescenza cheese. Best eaten with cappuccino for breakfast or washed down with local white wine for an evening snack.

Lombardy – Torrone  

torrone
Image credit – irpinianews

A creamy and sticky nougat-like candy, its origin is contended between Lombardy and Sicily. Made with honey, eggs, roasted nuts and citrus zest, thick slabs of these can be seen adorning counters at street shops and cafes. A chocolate dipped torrone is a modern variant of this one.

Florence – Cantucci

cantucci
Image credit – thefoodjourney

Taken best with cappuccino is cantucci – a small almond biscotti. Baked twice, these are also great accompaniments to Vin Santo, a dessert wine that is typically full-bodied and sweet.

Florence – Gelato

Gelato at Florence
Image credit – pinterest

The famous ice cream that has made its way across the continent, gelato finds home at Florence. Creamy gelato scooped over cones are enticing, sure, but here’s how to spot the best gelato in town: don’t get distracted by vivid colours, look for small stores with a display of covered tubs. Also, the best gelato is made in small batches.

Language essentials

people-at-a-cafe-in-italy
Image credit – rd

While carrying a dictionary is handy, here are some phrases and words this Italy guide recommends you aim at practising –

buongiorno / buona sera – Good morning / evening

Mi scusi, posso usare il bagno? – Excuse me, may I use the bathroom please?

Non capisco – I don’t understand

Non parlo italiano – I don’t speak Italian

Parla inglese? – Do you speak English?

Quanto costa/costano? – How much does that cost? (sg./pl.)

Got a hang of these phrases? Here’s how to say them right!

Got a hang of those phrases too? You are Italy ready. Now let’s make your Italian vacation ready – just drop us a note right here.

 

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