Italy is perhaps Europe’s most illustrious country with a rich history and culture that is so irresistibly enticing to travelers. Between 40 and 50 million foreigners visit Italy each year. Their numbers have increased so dramatically since World War Two that tourism is now Italy's number one industry.
Why do so many come? Their reasons are as various as the resources Italy has to offer. The cognoscenti travel back roads, hoping to find some undiscovered medieval village, some precious fresco hidden in a dusty town. Tour groups speed from Rome to Florence to Venice, admiring the important sights from the air-conditioned comfort of a bus. Students crowd inexpensive pensiones near train stations, eating bread and cheese from markets, traveling cheaply to see in the flesh paintings their professors have flashed on the screen back home. The pious make pilgrimages to St. Peter's, Monte Cassino and Assisi. The affluent stay in the Hassler in Rome and the Danieli in Venice, visit the collections in Milan and shop in the boutiques in Rome's Via Condotti and Milan's Via Monte Napoleone.
Stemming from the glory days of the Roman Empire and the Renaissance, remnants and relics of artwork, monuments, and other architectural displays are ubiquitously scattered throughout every region of Italy. Moreover, longstanding local traditions, religious and secular, continue to perpetuate in the towns and villages. But Italy today is not just known for its artistic, cultural, religious, and architectural legacy, but is famous for many other things, including its high-end fashion, world-class cuisine, Tuscan red wines, luxury sports cars, and its breathtaking landscapes.
Italian fashion is recognized worldwide with a number of famous international brands headquartered in Italy – Gucci, Fendi, and Armani to name a few. High-end shopping can be done at the Via Montenapoleone in Milan and the Condotti in Rome, and there are a number of major shopping centers as well in every major city.
The food in Italy is also first-class. While the fare is very different by region, Italian cuisine in general is characterized by fresh ingredients, which typically include pasta, olive oil, fish, rice, butter, citrus and other fruits. A few Italian specialties include Polenta, a yellow creamy corn meal cooked with stock, Risotto, a creamy rich dish sautéed with meat, seafood, poultry, cheese, and vegetables, and Tiramisu, an Italian cake made with coffee, cocoa, and cookies.
For wine lovers, there are many places in Italy for the connoisseur to tour and taste. Perhaps the best of the bunch is the Piedmont region. It is considered one of Italy’s greatest winegrowing regions, producing the renowned Barolo, Barbersco, Barbera, and Moscato.
Despite all that Italy has to offer, it is possibly the country’s stunning landscapes that mesmerize tourists the most. Italy’s scenery is diverse, and features the Mediterranean sea, islands like Sicily and Sardinia, rivers like the Po, lakes like the Garda, mountains like the Alps and Appennines, and volcanoes like Vesuvius. There are also a number of beach resorts as well, especially in the Bay of Naples on islands like the Ischia.
It has been said that the Italians do not exist, that until now very few Italians have been discovered, and that those who go by the name "Italian" eventually turn out to be Piedmontese, Tuscans, Venetians, Sicilians, Calabrians and so on. Apparently no one has ever been able to classify the Italians: to be born in Palermo, Sicily or in Turin, Piedmont is a classification and a differentiation by itself. One can die of Mafia, the other of unemployment. The testimonies of art, culture, and philosophical and scientific thinking of the Renaissance, and the very architectonic and urban structure of most Italian cities, exercise an irresistible spell on visitors from all countries. Yet the Italian nation — as an autonomous state is a relatively recent creation. The Italians gained their independence and unity a little more than a century ago. So one can easily understand why they do not have a well-developed sense of nationality. The most obvious feature of this retarded process of nation building — easy to detect even by the eye of a foreigner — is the large economic, social and cultural gap between the north and south of the country.
The top tourist destinations in Italy include Rome, Venice, Florence, Milan, Turin, Naples, Palermo, Milan, Pisa, Bologna, Bergamo, and Lucca. A number of other destinations are also notable such as Vatican City, the Capri and Ischia, the Italian Alps and the Dolomites, and the Italian islands of Sardinia and Sicily.
Domestic Air Travel
The major centers—Rome, Milan, Florence, Venice, Naples—and towns of touristic interest are connected by flights provided mostly by Alitalia Airlines. Smaller airlines are ATI, Ali-sarda (to and from Sardinia) and Aligiulia. Flying in Italy is expensive compared to taking the train, but it can be useful for long distances.
For detailed information, you can contact your nearest travel agent or Alitalia offices.
Remember that infants under 2 years, accompanied by an adult, have a 90 per cent discount; children over two years and under 12 have a 50 per cent discount, and young travellers of 12
years to 21 have a 30 per cent discount. If you leave on Saturday and return by the following Sunday, you have a 30 per cent discount on all Alitalia and ATI domestic services.
The cheapest and fastest way to travel in Northern and Central Italy is the train. Sometimes it can be difficult to get from one middle-sized city to another but you can always ask at the "UFFICI INFORMAZIONE F.S." in the main railway stations. Check their number in the directory under "Ferrovie dello State."
Italian trains are divided into several categories. 1) Locale is the slowest and stops almost everywhere; 2) Diretto is faster than locale, but pretty slow; 3) Espresso is the most convenient and relatively quick; 4) Rapido is the best and fastest, but you have to pay an additional charge depending on how many kilometers you have to cover. Some of the rapido type have only first-class fares and obligatory reservations. These are called TEE (Trans Europe Express). There are also the IC trains, i.e. Intercity, which are faster trains connecting Turin, Milan, Venice, Trieste, Genoa and Ventimiglia. They offer reasonable regularity, efficiency and comfort.
Every other train has two different fares: first and second class. The difference between them is limited to the comfort of the seat.
You can buy a ticket at the station or at every F.S. Travel Agency without paying taxes. It is also possible to buy some rail passes, like RIT— RAIL INCLUSIVE TOUR to travel all around Europe—or INTER RAIL for young people under 26. Throughout Italy there is the Italian Kilometric Ticket which is good for 20 trips amounting to 3,000 km. This can be used for two months by as many as 5 people alone or together. A first class kilometric pass costs L. 207,000, second class L. 115,000 if bought at Italian train stations.
F.S. also provides an efficient service between the Continent and Sicily and Sardinia, but it is advisable to book in advance.
Each Province in Italy has its own inter-city bus companies and each company has its own fares and lines. It is almost impossible to list them all. For information check the "Tuttocitta" or ask the EPT offices. It is worthwhile to take buses, especially when you are going to the mountainous interior, because usually buses are cheaper and faster than the train. The ARPA bus line in the Abruzzo is especially efficient, and much faster than the trains.
There are a great many ferryboat and hydrofoil speedboat fines that offer connections between the mainland and Italy's many islands both large and small.