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Italy

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Mediterranean Europe : Italy
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[[File:noframe|250px|frameless|Italy]]
Location
[[File:LocationItaly.png|250px|frameless]]
Flag
[[File:It-flag.png|108px|frameless]]
Quick Facts
Capital Rome
Government republic
Currency euro € (EUR)
Area 301,230 sq km
Population 58,133,509 (July 2006 est.)
Language Italian (official); minor German, French and Slovene-speaking communities
Religion predominately Roman Catholic (official) with mature Protestant and Jewish communities and a growing Muslim immigrant community
Electricity 230V/50Hz (European or Italian plug)
Country code +39
Internet TLD .it
Time Zone UTC +1

Italy [1] (Italian: Italia) is a large country in Southern Europe. It is home to the greatest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites - art and monuments are everywhere around the country. It is also famous worldwide for its cuisine, its fashion, the luxury sports cars and motorcycles, as well as for its beautiful coasts, lakes and mountains (the Alps and Appennines).

Regions

It-map.png

North - The North of Italy is the country's most populated and developed portion. Cities like Turin, Milan, Bologna, Verona and Venice share the region's visitors with beautiful landscapes like the Lake Como area, impressive mountains such as the Dolomites and the Italian Alps and first-class ski resorts like Cortina d'Ampezzo and others.

Central Italy breathes history and art. Rome boasts the remaining wonders of the Roman Empire and some of the world's best known landmarks such as the Colosseum. Florence, cradle of the Renaissance, is Tuscany's top attraction, whereas nearby cities like Siena, Pisa and Lucca have much to offer to those looking for the country's rich history and cultural heritage.

Southern Italy - Bustling Naples, the dramatic ruins of Pompeii, the romantic Amalfi Coast and laidback Apulia, as well as up-and-coming agritourism help making Italy's less visited region a great place to explore.

Italian islands - Sardinia (Sardegna) and Sicily (Sicilia), the large island located to the south of the Italian peninsula (the "ball" to Italy's "boot")

Cities

Of the hundreds of Italian cities, here are ten of its most famous:

  • Rome - (Roma): the capital, both of Italy and of the ancient Roman Empire; center of the Roman Catholic Church (the Vatican).
  • Bologna - A major trade fair city.
  • Florence - (Firenze): History, art, architecture. Uffizi gallery, David of Michelangelo Buonarroti.
  • Genoa - (Genova) a vibrant and historical port city, birth place of Columbus.
  • Milan - (Milano) - shares with Paris the title of fashion capital of the world and is the main financial and business center in the country.
  • Pisa - home of the famous Leaning Tower.
  • Turin - (Torino): first capital of Italy, great baroque city full of history, art and architecture.
  • Venice - (Venezia): History, art. Saint Mark's Piazza. The city is built on a lagoon, filled with canals, with no roads for cars. Very poetic and romantic.
  • Verona - a restored Roman coliseum is the stage for modern opera productions(It also where Romeo & Juliet is based)

Other destinations

  • Capri and Ischia - the famed islands in the Bay of Naples
  • Cinque Terre - five tiny, scenic, towns strung along the steep vineyard-laced coast of Liguria
  • Vatican City - the independent city-state and seat of the Pope, head of the Roman Catholic Church
  • Lago di Garda - A beautiful lake in Northern Italy
  • Italian Alps, including The Dolomites - Some of the most beautiful mountains there are

Understand

Climate

The climate of the coastal regions is a typical Mediterranean climate with mild winters and generally hot and dry summers.

Italy and the large islands of Sicily and Sardinia have very changeable weather in autumn, winter, and spring in marked contrast to the settled sunny weather of summer. Disturbed weather can continue into late May and may commence any time after early September. Throughout the winter, however, cloudy rainy days alternate with spells of mild, sunny weather.

The least number of rainy days and the highest number of hours of sunshine occur in the extreme south of the mainland and in Sicily and Sardinia. Here sunshine averages from four to five hours a day in winter and up to ten or eleven hours in summer.

Generally, the hottest month is July (where temperatures can reach 32°C/34°C); the coldest month is January; the wettest month is November, with an average rainfall of 129mm; while the driest month is July, with an average rainfall of 15mm.

Further reading

Non-guidebooks about Italy or by Italian writers.

The Travels of Marco Polo by Marco Polo - stories about China by the Venetian traveller

Winter Stars by Beatrice Lao - poems born between the Alps and the Tyrrhenian by the oriental poetess, 988979991X

The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone - a biography of Michelangelo that also paints a lovely portrait of Tuscany and Rome

Get in

By plane

Italy has its own national airline, Alitalia [2], as well as several smaller carriers, such as Meridiana [3]. There are 406 budget routes flown from and within Italy by low cost airlines.

Most of mid-range international flights arrive to the following Italian cities:

  • Milan - with 2 airports: Malpensa (MXP) and Linate (LIN); in addition, Bergamo (BGY - Orio al Serio) is sometimes referred to as "Milan Bergamo"
  • Rome - with two airports: Fiumicino (FCO - Leonardo Da Vinci) and Ciampino (CIA)
  • Bologna (BLQ – Guglielmo Marconi)
  • Pisa (PSA - Galileo Galilei)
  • Turin (TRN – Sandro Pertini)

By train

By car

Italy borders on France, Austria, Switzerland and Slovenia. French and Austrian borders are open,but cars can be stopped behind the border for random checks. Switzerland and Slovenia are not part of the Schengen zone, and full border checks apply - although they have been known to let coaches straight through.

By boat

There are several ferries departing from Greece, Albania, Montenegro and Croatia. Most of them arrive to Venice, Ancona, Bari and Brindisi.

Some regular ferry services connect the island of Corsica in France to Genoa, Livorno, Civitavecchia and North of Sardinia.

Some regular ferry services connect Sicily to some North African harbours.

See

Monuments

UNESCO World Heritage

The Islands

Sicily, Sardinia, Capri, Ischia, Elba, Procida, Aeolian, Tremiti

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.

  • The Academia in Florence, keep one of the most significant sculpture of Michaelangelo, David.
  • Uffizi Museum [4] in Florence, one of the greatest museums in the world, must see. Given the great number of visitors, ticket reserving is a good idea to avoid hours-long queues.
  • Egyptian Museum [5] in Turin, holds the second-largest egyptian collection in the world, behind the Egypt's Cairo Museum collection.
  • The Aquarium [6] in Genoa, one of the largest and most beautiful in the world, is located in the Porto Antico (ancient port) in an area completely renewed by architect Renzo Piano in 1992.
  • Science and Technology Museum [7] 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 [8] 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 [9] in Turin, located inside the wonderful Mole Antonelliana, historical building and symbol of the city.
  • Automobile Museum [10] in Turin, one of the largest in the world, with a 170 car collection covering the entire automobile history.

Get around

By train

The Italian rail system has different train types: TBiz, EurostarItalia, Eurostar City Italia, IntercityPlus, Intercity, Espresso, Interregionale and Regionale, Eurostar Italia and TBiz being the classiest. Generally speaking, for a given distance each tier costs twice as much as the one below it. The train cars used by the TBiz and Eurostar Italia services are far newer than those used by the other types, but are not necessarily more comfortable. In fact, the cars used by Intercity trains might be split up into distinct, six-seater compartments, which is really nice when you're travelling in groups. A new level has been introduced recently. It is called Intercity-plus and it is just a way to have passengers pay more than the intercity fares. Recently, many of Interegionale trains have been classified as Intercity.

The main practical difference between train types is reliability. Intercity services are generally very reliable, but if you need to catch a flight, for example, it might be better to pay extra for the Eurostar Italia. Interregionale and Regionale are less reliable, and stops in many more stations along the way. The other big difference between TBiz, Eurostar Italia, Intercity Plus and Intercity with Interregionale, Regionale and Espresso services is that on the best ones seating reservation is compulsory, where every passenger has a seat allocated to him/her. This means that the train will never (theoretically) be packed with an impossible number of people, but it also means you will need to purchase tickets in advance. Actually, many passengers with tickets for other trains that take a wrong one will have to pay the cheap fine for not having a seat reservation. As a result, on major routes or peak hours, expect to find your seat taken, in this case usually a brief discussion is enough to get your seat. During commuter hours, on major north-south routes during the holidays, or before and after large political demonstrations, trains on the lower train types can become extremely full, to the point where it gets very uncomfortable, in which case you could find yourself sitting on a tiny fold out flap in the hallway, where you'll have to move for everyone passing by.

The pricier train types are usually faster, but there is not a consistent speed difference between trains. The main difference being the number of stops made along the same routes. On some routes, the Eurostar will cut the travel time in half, but on others all trains go more or less at the same speed, and taking the Eurostar Italia might be a waste of money. Just check the FS website or the printed schedule, usually located near the entrance to each platform, to see how long the trip will take.

On long routes, such as Milan - Rome or Milan - Reggio Calabria, Trenitalia operates special night trains Treni Notte. They depart around 10pm and arrive around 6am and don't have beds but it could be a useful options to save money and time.

The ultimate way to get the cheapest train tickets is to leave early in the morning usually before 7:00am.

On the train schedules displayed at each station, every train is listed in different colours (i.e. blue, red, green). The arrival times are listed in parentheses next to the names of each destination. One thing to watch out for is that certain trains only operate seasonally, or for certain time periods (for example, during holidays).

The lines to buy tickets can be very long, and slow, so get to the station early. There are touch-screen ticket machines which are very useful, efficient, and multilingual, but there are never that many, and the lines for those can be very long too.

To avoid queues at the station you can reserve tickets in advance via the internet at the Trenitalia website. You can then either print out your reservation details or have them sent by SMS to your mobile phone. Phones do not need to be Italian. The conductor will validate your reservation details when you are on the train and provide you with your ticket.

Eurostar trains can fill up, so if you're on a tight schedule you should buy those tickets in advance. If you are running late and don't have time to buy a ticket, you can just jump on the train, but you will have to pay extra when the conductor (il controllore) comes around (a flat fee, somewhere around 5-10 euro) and they don't take credit cards. Technically, if you don't have a ticket you are supposed to find the conductor yourself and buy one (otherwise you have to pay another fee - approx. 20 euro), but for foreigners it's enough to just stammer something about being late and they will almost never hassle you about this.

Also, the way the system works is that unless you validate the ticket by inserting it into one of the yellow boxes on the platform (it says Convalida on the box), you could keep using it for months. The yellow box just stamps a date on the ticket, so the conductor knows you weren't planning on using that ticket again. Technically, a ticket that isn't validated is just like not having a ticket: you have to buy another. It is quite important not to forget to validate your ticket as the conductors are generally not tolerant in this particular matter.

The cheapest way to travel in a region is to buy a zone ticket card. A chart displayed near the validating machine tells you how many zones you must pay between stations. To buy a zone card for the next region you would have to get off the train at the last station and because the stops are so short you would have to board the next train (usually in about 1 hour).

As of January 10, 2005 a smoking ban in public places went into effect in Italy. You will be subject to fines for smoking on any Italian train.

There are special deals offered too...some of them are reserved to foreign tourist and others are available to locals. Some deals are passes that allow travel during a chosen period, while other special offers are normal tickets sold at decent prices with some restrictions. Before you choose to buy a pass, check first if it is cheaper than buying a normal ticket (or better, a discounted normal ticket, if available).

If you are travelling a lot, and you're not Italian, you can get a TRENITALIA PASS: you buy a number of days of travel to be used within 2 months, however you still have to pay a supplement on the compulsory reservation services, i.e. TBiz, Eurostar Italia, Intercity Plus and Intercity which will between EUR 5.00 and EUR 25.00 depending on the train type. Details are on the Trenitalia website [11], and also on RailChoice website at [12].

By car

Italy has a well-developed system of highways in the northern side of the country while in the southern it's a bit worse for quality and extension. Every highway is identified by an A followed by a number. Most of the highways (autostrade) are toll roads. Some have toll station giving you access to a section, others have entrance and exit toll stations. Don't lose your entrance ticket or you will be charged for the longest distance (example: if you are on A1 Milano-Napoli at Milan toll station you'll be charged for the entire 700km distance). All the blue lanes (marked "Viacard") of toll stations, accept major credit cards as well as pre-paid card (Viacard) you can buy at tobacconist, Autogrill, gas stations.

Many italians uses an electronic pay-toll device, and there's reserved lanes marked in Yellow with the sign "Telepass" or a simply "T". Driving through those lanes (controlled by camera system) without the device will result in a fine of 50 euros and a payment of the toll from the longest distance. Due to agreement with other countries,if you're foreigner, you'll pay also extra cost for locating you in your country.

Policemen sometimes read your ticket at the toll station to see how long you took since joining the autoroute: they can use that info to give you a speeding ticket. Even if speeding is very common on Italian Highways, be aware that there are a number of automatic and almost invisible system to punish speeding and hazardous driving. If you don't know the road very well you should probably keep a reasonable speed.

Since 2006, some highways are checked by the "Tutor", an automatic system that checks your average speed on a long section (5-10 kms).

A good clue of a nearby check system is when cars around you suddenly reduce speed. If you see a lot of cars keeping themselves just under the limit and nobody overtaking, you'd better do the same.

Speed limits are:

  • 130 km/h on highways (autostrade);
  • 110 km/h on freeways (superstrade);
  • 90 km/h on single-lane roads;
  • 50 km/h inside cities.

Italian laws allow a 5% (minumum 5 km/h) tolerance on local speed limit. Fines are generally very expensive.

Motorbikes should drive always with the headlights on, for other vehicles that applies only outside cities.

Drink and driving is a controversial issue. The tolerated limit is 0.50g/L in blood, being above this limit is thus illegal and can entitle you an expensive fine and licence withdraw and maybe also a night in jail, but you'll find that people of every age are not significantly worried for that and there's nothing such designated driver or else. All passengers are required to wear their seat belt and children under 10 must use the back seat. Unless clearly posted on the road you are using, you are supposed to yield to any vehicle coming from your right from another public thoroughfare. Signposts used in Italy are patterned according to EU recommendations and use mostly pictograms (not text) but there are minor differences (example: highways directions are written on green background while the white stands for local roads and blue for the remaining).

There is also an Italian carpool agency called ViaVai.

By bus

Buy bus tickets before boarding from corner stores and other shops. The payment system for most mass transit in Italy (trains, city buses, subway) is based on voluntary payment combined with sporadic enforcement. Specifically, you buy a ticket which can be used at any time (for that level of service, anyway) and when you use it you validate the ticket by sticking it into a machine that stamps a date on it. Once in a while (with varying frequency depending on the mode of transportation) someone will ask you for your ticket and if you don't have one you get a fine, and theoretically (sometimes happens) you can be asked to present to the Police for a formal report. Usually line enforcers aren't very condescending, especially in northern Italy. In almost every city there's a different pricing scheme, so check in advance ticket formulas and availability.

For tourist may be very convenient to buy daily (or multi-day) tickets that allow you to travel as much as you want in a single (or more) day. Every major city also has some type of City Card, a fixed-fee card allowing you to travel on local public transportation, visit a number of museums and giving you discounts on shops, hotels and restaurants.

Check for both these possibilities at local Tourist's Office or on city's website (which is often of the form www.comune.cityname.it as for example www.comune.roma.it).

By thumb

Hitchhiking in Italy is related with the hippies and "on the road" kind of culture. Therefore, it is considered out-dated and useless. You will rarely find Italians hitchhiking unless there's a serious problem with the bus or other means of transportation. Hitchhiking in the summer in touristy areas works okay because you'll get rides from Northern European tourists, and it works okay in very rural areas as long as there is consistent traffic (because you're still playing the odds), but hitchhiking near large cities or along busy routes is extremely frustrating. As long as you stay on the Autostrada, hitching from one "Area Servizio" to the next, you will not have any trouble crossing the country. Off the Autostrada things are a bit more difficult: Italians are generally very friendly and open people, but they're less likely to pick up hitchhikers than anyone else in the world. It is easier to hitchhike out of the Bronx than it is to hitchhike in Italy. Hitchhiking is not recommended for women travelling alone. Hitchhiking along expressways and highways is forbidden.

By Boat

For sailors and non-sailors alike: Italy is best approached from the sea and it is more convenient and comfortable than traditional onshore “tours”. A yacht charter to Italy is the most fulfilling way to experience this magnificent country. Although the yacht charter industry is smaller than one would expect for this incredibly popular tourist destination, there are many reasons to choose a yacht over a more conventional onshore approach. The Italian coast, like the French coast, attracts luxury yacht charters of the highest standards. “Touring” Italy from a private yacht is surprisingly convenient and comfortable. Experience the breathtaking scenery, fascinating history and the unrivaled Italian lifestyle as local Italian people do when on their vacations. Italy’s dramatic coastline is best appreciated from the sea and the Italians know it! In between visiting the numerous cultural destinations for which Italy is renown, there is always time to take a refreshing swim. Most enjoyable, is relishing the fact that from a private yacht you have a certain relief from the crowds and traffic that are traditionally unavoidable in Italy’s most popular destinations. There are major distinct nautical regions in Italy: Tuscany, Amalfi Coast, Sardinia and Sicily. Each has its own flavor and focus. Be sure to plan your itinerary carefully as each region is rewarding in its own particular way.

Sailing in Italy - All types of yachts for charter, skippered and bareboat. Hire a motor boat, sailing boat, exclusive mega yacht, wooden gulet or motor sailer for a pleasant nautical holiday.

Windward Islands - Windward Islands, one of the worlds largest yacht charter companies, can take care of all charter requirements, from bareboat to crewed in Italy, Sicily, Sardinia. Operating from 8 international offices (USA, UK, Germany, France, Spain, Switzerland, Caribbean, Monaco).

Talk

Not surprisingly, Italian is the language spoken by the vast majority of Italians. Parts of the Trentino-Alto Adige region are predominantly German speaking with Ladin, a Rhaeto-Romance language related to Switzerland's Romansh, spoken by a minority. There is a small French-speaking minority in the Valle d'Aosta region and Slovene is spoken by a minority in the Trieste-Gorizia area.

Most likely, if you're trying to speak Italian, then you'll get plenty of help, and they may even try their limited English out on you.

English is spoken fairly commonly on the well-travelled path, but you'll want a good phrasebook for anything remote although even this may not help for the smaller towns and villages as many areas still speak dialects that you won't find in any phrasebooks.

Buy

Italy is part of the Eurozone, so the common currency of the European Union, the Euro (€), is legal tender in Italy.

Italy is quite an expensive country. It has many luxury hotels and posh restaurants. It may cost €40.00 a day if a person self caters, stays in hostel, avoids drinking and doesn't visit too many museums. However, staying in a comfortable hotel, eating out regularly and visiting lots of museums and galleries, may cost a person at least €100-150 a day. Hiring a car may double expenses, so one should visit with enough budget.

All the bills include the service charges, so tipping is not necessary. Tipping the taxi drivers is also not necessary, but a hotel porter may expect a little something.

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

Unless it says otherwise the price includes IVA (same as VAT) of 20%. On some product, such as books, IVA is 4%. 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.

Italian fashion is renowned worldwide. Many of the world's most famous international brands have their headquarters in Italy. The two key areas for high-class shopping are Via della Spiga and Via Montenapoleone (and surroundings), in Milan and via Condotti in Rome, but you'll find flagship stores in almost every major city.

Eat

Cuisine

Italian food inside of Italy is different than Italian in America or western Europe. Italian food is based upon a few simple 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 differ 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. 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, rarely, if ever lettuce. Also, a traditional Italian meal is separated into several sections: antipasto (marinated vegetables, etc), primo (pasta or rice dish), secondo (meat course), dolce (dessert). Salads often come with the secondo. Americans will notice that Italian pasta often has a myriad of sauces rather than simply tomato and alfredo. Also, Italian pasta is often served with much less sauce than in America.

Like the language and culture, food in Italy is also very different region by region. Pasta and olive oil are considered the characteristics of southern Italian food, while northern food focuses on rice and butter (although today there are many many exceptions). 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. As guideline, in the south cuisine is focused on pasta and dessert, while at north meat is king, but this rule can be very different depending where you are.

Pizza is also very different than what Americans are used to...thick, greasy, and unhealthy. In Italy, pizza is very thin, flexible, and very good for you. It's made with fresh natural non-preservative ingredients. After Italian pizza, the American kind will never be as good again.

A note about breakfast in Italy: breakfast in America is often seen as a large meal (eggs, bacon, juice, toast, coffee, fruit, etc). In Italy, this is not the case. Breakfast for Italians might be coffee with a pastry (cappuccino e brioche) or a piece of bread and cold cuts or cheese. The cappuccino is one shot of espresso, one part steamed milk, one part foamed milk with an optional dusting of chocolate. Unless you know for certain otherwise, you should not expect a large breakfast in Italy. Another enjoyable Italian breakfast item is cornetto (pl. cornetti): a light pastry often filled with cream or nutella.

Usually Italian meals are: small breakfast, one-dish lunch, one-dish dinner. Coffee is welcomed at nearly every hour, especially around 10AM and at the end of a meal.

Breakfast is small in Italy, but boy do they make up for the lost time at lunch and dinner. Dinner, and especially lunch, are seen as huge social time.

Lunch is seen as the most important part of the day, so much that they have one hour reserved for eating and another for napping. All shops close down and resume after the two hour break period. To get around this businesses stay open later. And, good luck trying to find a place open during the so-called "pausa pranzo" (siesta time).

Please remember that in Italy cuisine is a kind of art (great chefs as Gualtiero Marchesi or Gianfranco Vissani are considered half way between TV stars and magician) and Italians generally don't like any foreigner who asks always for spaghetti or pizza, so please, 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.

Specialties

  • Risotto - 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 ristotto, in addition or in place of a signature pasta dish (risotto alla Milanese is famous Italian classic).
  • Arancini - Balls of rice with tomato sauce, eggs, and cheese that are deep fried. They are a southern Italian specialty, 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.
  • Gelato This is the Italian version for ice cream, The non-fruit flavors are usually made only with milk. The fruit flavors are non-dairy. It's fresh as a sorbet, but tastier. There are many flavours: coffee, chocolate, fruit, tiramisù... To try absolutely.
  • Tiramisù Italian cake made with coffee, mascarpone, cookies and cocoa powder on the top. The name means "pick-me-up."

Cheese and sausages

In Italy you can find nearly 400 kinds of cheese, including the famous Parmigiano Reggiano, and 300 types of sausages.

If you want a real kick, then try to find one of the huge open markets, usually on Saturdays, to see all the types of cheeses and meats in action.

Restaurants

Italian restaurants and bars charge more (typically double) if you eat seated at a table rather than standing at the bar or taking your order to go. There is usually small, very small print on the menus to tell you this. Some menus may also indicate a coperto (cover charge) or servizio (service charge).

Traditional meal includes (in order) antipasto (starter), primo (first dish - pasta or rice dishes), secondo (second dish - meat or fish dishes), served together with contorno (mostly vegetables), cheeses/fruit, dessert, coffee, spirits. Italians usually have all of them served and restaurants expect customers to follow this scheme; elegant or ancient restaurants usually refuse to make changes to proposed dishes (exceptions warmly granted for babies or unhealthy people) or to serve them in a different order, and they absolutely don't serve cappuccino between primo and secondo.

Agree whether you want primo (pasta or rice dishes) or secondo (meat dishes - if you want vegetables too look under contorni and order them as sides). 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/pizza and your friend has a steak you will get your pasta dish, and probably when you've finished eating the steak will arrive. It's slightly frowned upon to ask them to bring primo and secondo dishes at the same time (or "funny" changes like having a secondo before a primo). They may well say yes...and then not do it. Bad luck if you're doing the Atkins diet...

Restaurants which propose diet food, very few, usually write it clearly in menus and even outside; others usually don't have any dietetic resources, as Italians on a diet don't go to the restaurant.

Italian restaurants are completely non-smoking or have a non-smoking area which is well separated from the smoking area; so says a law, but you will discover that Italians have a friendly approach to laws and rules... This particular law is respected almost everywhere, though. Better anyway to precisely ask for an effective smoking or non-smoking area.

When pets are allowed (not a frequent case), never order ordinary dishes for them; in particular, never ever order meat for your pet, this would seriously upset waiters and other customers. In case of need, you might ask if the chef can kindly propose something (he usually can).

Better to leave tips in cash (not on your credit card).

Out of the restaurant, you might eventually be asked to show your bill and your documents by Guardia di Finanza agents (a police specialized in tax subjects - never in uniform); whatever they show you, immediately try to call #113 (similar to America's 911 - English spoken) and ask for policemen in uniform to help you, it could be a trick to pickpocket you. This kind of controls is effectively frequent (they want to know if the owner regularly recorded your money) and completely legitimate, but pickpocketers find it a good excuse to approach their victims. Call 113 or enter the first shop.

Pizza is a quick and convenient meal. In many large cities there are pizza shops that sell by the gram. When ordering, simply tell the attendant the type of pizza you would like (e.g. pizza margherita, pizza con patata, etc.) and how much ("Vorrei duecento grammi, per favore"). They will slice it, warm it in the oven, fold it in half, and wrap it in paper. Other shops also sell by the slice, similar to American pizza shops. 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.

Drink

Bars, like restaurants, are non-smoking.

Italians enjoy going out during the evenings, so it's normal to have a soft drink in a bar as pre-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 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 many parts of Italy can be cloudy with a slight off taste. Most Italians prefer bottled water, which is served almost exclusively in restaurants. Make sure you let the waiter/waitress know you want regular water or else you could get frizzante (or fizzy club soda water) water.

Wine

The Italian Wine is the most exported all over the World. In Italy the wine is a substantial topic, a sort of test which can ensure you respect or lack of attention from an entire restaurant staff (this is why the first question is what you are going to drink). If you are a true connoisseur, don't allow your waiter to discover it; if you don't know how to distinguish wines other than by their color, don't allow your waiter to figure it out either.

Before reaching Italy, have a quick overview on most important regional types (of the region you are planning to go to) and when on site ask the waiter for one of them (not too young, not too old), he/she will suggest you 4/5 wines (always choose the second or the third one). Pay attention to the fact that as Italian Cuisine can be very different region by region (sometimes also town by town), so it can be with wine. So, for example, avoid asking for a bottle of Chianti if you're not in central Tuscany, Italians are masters to match the exact wine with a dish 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 very strong white wines to serve with meat, as well as very delicate red wines for fish.

The "vino della casa" (home-made wine) can be a good drinking opportunity in small villages far from towns (especially in Tuscany), where it likely could be what the patron would really personally drink and/or produce. Otherwise, it usually is a mixture of low-quality poor wines: low price, low flavor, possible day-after-headaches. Good wine can be very costly, but bad wine is still expensive.

Near the town of Alba (Cuneo Province), in the Piedmont grows the Nebbiolo grape, a noble grape. From this grape is produced the prestigious Barolo wines. It has been called the "king of wine" and the "wine of kings." It is considered one of the world´s best red wines. It is a DOCG wine, made entirely from the Nebbiolo grape. Once you have experienced good examples of this wine, you will begin to understand its nobility.

Foreign wines are rarely served (just check the house wine list), but many grapes have French names (like Cabernet-Sauvignon).

Beer

Beer belongs to the Italian tradition as wine does, therefore pubs serving beer are very common. If you are looking for good beers you won't find any problem, you just have to look around a little bit more. First of all, it is very common to import beers from Germany and Belgium. Irish pubs are very common, too. Besides that, Italy produces ca. 10 type of Beers. The most known are: Peroni Gran Riserva (completely different from the standard Peroni, that is just a plain lager), a double malt strong Lager, and Moretti la Rossa (again, completely different from the standard Moretti lager), a dark Vienna lager. There is also a series of beers called Amarcord made with traditional techniques (they have a website in both Italian and English [www.amarcord.it]). Anyway, if you go to a pub with a big selection of beers, just ask the people working there for a suggestion.

Other drinks

A cold limoncello on a warm night
  • Limoncello. A liquor made of alcohol, lemon peels, and sugar. Limoncello can be considered a "moon shine" type of product as every Italian family, especially in the middle (near Napoli) and southern part of the country, has their 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 room temperature or chilled in the freezer. It is better sipped than treated as a shooter.
  • Don't forget Grappa. You'll either like it or you won't. It's made by fermenting grape stems, 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.

Sleep

In major cities and touristic areas you can find a good variety of accommodations, from world-class brand hotels to family-managed bed&breakfasts and room rentals, but hostels are really few. Campings are a good way to save money and they're usually well managed, but especially during summer managers tend not to accept last-minute groups of young people (given the high chance of problems that such kind of group of Italian guys tend to cause) so you'd better book in advance. Farmstays are an increasingly popular way to experience Italy, particularly in rural areas of Tuscany, Piedmont, Umbria, Abruzzo, Sardinia and Apulia. It provides a great combination of good and healthy food, wonderful sights and not-so-expensive prices.

Cope

  • Electricity. Italy uses 220V, 50HZ. The plugs are special for Italy. The grounding hole does not work with other systems. The two other holes are too narrow to be used with some plugs. An adapter to convert other plugs to Italian outlets costs €0.80 in supermarkets in Italy.
  • Internet Access. The Italian government has recently passed a law requiring all public-access internet points to keep records of web sites viewed by customers, and even the customer's ID. Accessing e-mail service has been also forbidden. However, if you bring your own laptop you should be able to check e-mail, but not avoid ID recording. Hotels providing Internet access are not required to record ID's if the connection is provided in the guests room, meanwhile if the connection is offered in the main public hall then ID's are required. Publicly available wireless access is forbidden unless the provider has a special government license. This has caused only major phone-like companies to be able to afford that, so wireless access is generally expensive.

Learn

For English-speakers looking to study in Italy, there are a few options. In Rome, Duquesne University, John Cabot, and Temple University maintain campuses. Right outside of Rome the University of Dallas maintains its own campus in Marino. Penn State University has a program that sends architecture students. St. John's University has a graduate program in Rome for International Relations and MBA.

It depends on how you want to learn. Are you interested in studying in a huge touristy city like Florence or Rome? Or, are you interested in learning from a small town on the Italian Riviera. The smaller cities have better opportunity to learn Italian because there's not a lot of English going around. No matter where you decide, Italy is one of the best spots geographically to travel while you're not studying.

Think about learning what the Italians are best at: food, wine, Italian language, architecture, motors (cars and bikes) and interior design.

Work

Work in Italy is very competitive. Unemployment rate is considerably high, compared to other major European countries, and mostly made up of young adults and female. There's a huge underground black market though, where you'll find most of these individuals working. This doesn't mean working in some kind of obscure crime syndicate: most "black" workers can be found in small business as bars, pubs, small shops or construction workers. Although this kind of jobs are illegal (but legal consequences are most on the employer) they're probably the easier thing to find if you're looking for a temporary job.

If you're thinking about establishing a small business be sure to get in contact with local Chamber of Commerce and an accountant and they will help you sorting out the mess of Italian laws, and such.

Stay safe

Like most developed countries, Italy is a very safe country to travel. There are few incidents of terrorism/serious violence and these episodes have been almost exclusively motivated by internal politics. Examples include the 1993 bombing of the Uffizi by the Italian Mafia. Almost every major incident is attributed to organized crime or anarchist movements and rarely, if ever, directed at travelers or foreigners.

Petty crime can be a problem for unwary travelers. Travelers should note that pickpockets often work in pairs or teams, occasionally in conjunction with street vendors. The rate of violent crimes in Italy is considered a "moderate," and while a portion of violent crimes are committed against travelers, it is normally not a problem. However, instances of rape and robbery as a result of drugging are increasing. Travelers should be careful when going out at night alone.

There are many bars in Italy that cater to tourists and foreigners with "home country" themes, calling themselves such things as "American bars" or "Irish pubs". In addition to travelers, these bars attract a large number of Italians who, among other reasons, go there specifically to meet travelers and other foreigners. And while the motivation for the vast majority of these Italians is simply to have a good time with new friends, there can be one or two petty criminals who loiter in and out of these establishments hoping to take advantage of travelers who are disoriented or drunk. Traveling to these places in groups is a simple solution to this problem.

There have been problems in some major Italian cities with police assuming that any Black, East European, or Arab person without an ID card or passport is an illegal immigrant, and treating them accordingly. That could be a considerable problem if you are travelling alone.

For emergencies, call 113 (Polizia), 112 (Carabinieri), 115 (Fire Department) or 118 (Medical Rescue).

Stay healthy

The US Center for Disease Control recommends two vaccines for people traveling to western Europe: Hepatitis A (even though Americans are not at an increased risk) and Hepatitis B.

Italy has a small incidence rate of "Mad Cow" (bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE)) disease--about 14 cases per million head of cattle. Since 2001, when Italy had its high of 48 cases of reported BSE, the reports have dropped to 38 (2002), and 29 (2003). Travelers concerned with this should visit the US Center for Disease Control (CDC) website for information on how to limit their exposure.

Respect

Italians are generally open and friendly, if you use the regular politeness you will have no problem.


Italians, especially those in the North, are very different from the stereotype of "pulcinella, pizza and mandolino" seen in American "B" movies (and you won't find roads full of Fiat 500's).

Not surprisingly, for many people this stereotype is quite offensive.

During WWII, Italians had a difficult time under the dictator Benito Mussolini, especially after the infamous alliance with Adolf Hitler fell and the Germans turned into enemies.

Even if you're making a joke, it is not appropriate to make the "Roman salute", or to make fun of Benito Mussolini. Some people might assume you are a "Neo-nazi/Neo-Fascist".

Italy has a high population of senior citizens, and it is wise to be respectful. Do things like offering your seat on a bus if the situation arises.

Contact

Telephone

The telephone system is well diffused in all parts of Italy. Both the wire and mobile systems are widespread.

Telephone numbers used to have separate prefixes (area codes) and a local number. In the 1990's the numbers were unified and nowadays, when calling Italian phones you should always dial the full number. For historical reasons you can still hear of prefix and local number. The number of land lines start with 0. The number of mobile lines start with 3. Numbers starting with 89 are high-fee services. If you don't know somebody's phone number you can dial a variety of recently-established phone services, the most used are 1240, 892424, 892892, but nearly every 12** combination has a different service. Note that most of them have high fees.

To call abroad from Italy you have to dial 00 + country code + local part where the syntax of the local part depends on the country called.

To call Italy from abroad you have to dial international prefix + 39 + local part Note that you should not skip the starting zero of the local part if you are calling an Italian land line.

The Italian calling code is 39. To phone another country, dial 00 followed by the calling code and subscriber number.

In case of emergency call the appropriate number in the list below. Such calls are usually free and calls to 112, 113, 115, 118 can be made from payphones for free without the need of inserting coins. 112 (standard emergency number in GSM specification) can be dialed in any case for free from any mobile phone (even if your credit is empty or if you are in an area covered by a different operator)

  • 112 Carabinieri emergency number - general emergency
  • 113 Police emergency number - general emergency
  • 114 Blue Phone emergency number - children-related emergency (especially various forms of violence)
  • 115 Fire Brigade emergency number
  • 117 Guardia di Finanza - for custom, commercial and tax issues
  • 118 Health emergency number - use this if you need an ambulance, otherwise ask for the local Guardia Medica number and they'll send you a doctor.
  • 803116 A.C.I. (Italian Automobile Club) - road side assistance; this is a service provided to subscribers to ACI or to other Automobile Clubs associated to ARC Europe; if you're not associated to any of them you'll be asked to pay a fare (approx. 80 euros).

Note: this list is not complete (please help us to expand it) Always bring a note about the address and the number of your embassy.

If you are in an emergency and do not know who to call dial 112 or 113 (out of major towns, better to call 113 for English-speaking operators).

Payphones are widely available, especially in stations and airports. The number of payphones has consistently reduced after the introduction of mobile phones. Some payphones work with coins only, some with phone cards only and some with both coins and phone cards. Only a limited number of phones (just a few in main airports) directly accept credit cards.

Mobile phones are heavily used. The main networks are TIM (Telecom Italia Mobile, part of Telecom Italia, formerly state controlled), Vodafone, Wind, and 3 (only UMTS cellphones). Note that cellphones from North America will not work in Italy, unless they are Tri-band. Most of the country is covered by GSM signal, while only a small part (2005) is covered by UMTS signal. A convenient way, if you are coming from abroad and you are going to make a consistent number of calls, is to buy a pay-as-you-go SIM card and put it in your current mobile (if compatible and if your mobile set is not locked). Please note that you may incur in subscription fares. Please note that, as a measure to contrast crime and terrorism, you are required to give a valid form of identification to be able to use the SIM card. Subscription-based mobile phones are subject to a governative tax, to which pay as you go contracts are not subject. Sometimes hotels have mobile phone for customer to borrow.

Costs for calls can vary significantly depending on when, where, from and where to. The cost of calls differs considerably if you call a wired phone or a mobile phone. Usually there is a difference in cost even for incoming calls from abroad. If you can choose, calling the other party's land line could be even 40% cheaper than mobile. Beware of premium rate calls (prefix 892, 899, 12) which can be very expensive. Many companies are shifting their customer service numbers to fixed-rate number (prefix 199), this numbers are at local rate, no matter where are you calling from.

According to national regulations, hotels cannot apply a surcharge on calls made from the hotel (as the switchboard service should be already included as a service paid in the room cost), but to be sure check it before you use.

Calls between landlines are charged at either the local rate or the national rate depending on the originating and destination area codes; if both are the same then the call will be local rate. Note that local calls are not free.



This country guide is usable. It has links to this country's major cities and other destinations (and all are at usable status or better), a valid regional structure and information about this country's currency, language, cuisine, and culture is included. At least the most prominent attraction is identified with directions. An adventurous person could use this article, but please plunge forward and help it grow!


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