Few countries can really compete with Italy in terms of architectural, artistic, musical and literary tradition. On the top of that, the food and wine scenery is certainly among the top ones in the world and the incredible landscape variety makes of this country a one-of-a-kind destination for any sort of visitor.
Since the end of WWII, Italy has rapidly reached the other top world economies, still retaining many of the customs and traditions inherited by its rural past. Italy did not actually become a completely unified country until 1861 (even if Rome was regained from the Papal rule only in 1870), largely thanks to the lead of the General Giuseppe Garibaldi. Italians however have retained a strong attachment to their native region or province and most people still find it really hard to find a single identity. This also contributes significantly to the allurement of this country: going from the high peaks of the Alps in the North to the pristine beaches of Sicily and Sardinia, a whole range of different dialects, consuetudes and cuisines can be found in each of the twenty regions composing the Italian territory. Also two of Europe’s smallest countries, the Republic of San Marino and the Vatican, are enclaves in Italy. There are apparently over fifteen minority languages officially recognised in Italy, including native languages! The only other time in history when the peninsula was united was back in the centuries under the control of Roman Empire. Romans submitted Etruscans and other small Italian tribes and conquered some of the Greek colonies on the Southern coast. The name “Italy” itself comes actually from Greek “italos“, which means “calf”. It was originally given to the region of Calabria by Greek settlers in the 8th century BC, and was then extended to the whole peninsula under Roman emperor Augustus.
After falling to Barbarians invaders around the 5th century AD, the medieval papacy instructed Charlemagne to drive out the Lombards from Italy and in the year 800 AD this was crowned King of the Holy Roman Empire. After the death of Charlemagne, a long fight between popes and local kings kept the territory separated for centuries. The South was ruled by a succession of foreign invaders. At the same time, Northern Italy witnessed the rise of many independent city states. Venice, in particular, became a wealthy micro-state, mainly through its control of the spice and silk trade with the East. The jumpstart for the reunification came from the independent kingdom of Piedmont and the initiative of some intellectuals and philosophers who started to spread ideas of independences and freedom from foreign occupiers around the beginning of the 19th century. The fragile Kingdom of Italy which resulted from the process of reunification fell into the promises of the Fascist regime in 1922, which led Italy into WWII few years later. However, following the disaster of the conflict, in 1946 the monarchy was finally abandoned for the republic through a universal suffrage referendum.
The number and kind of activities that is possible to do in a country like Italy are definitely endless. Any city here, large or small, has its own peculiar characteristics. Apart from the massive capital, Rome, known everywhere in the world for its elegance and its huge historical heritage, there are many other cities to visit in both Northern and Southern Italy. Venice, Milan, Turin, Genoa, Bologna, Florence, Pisa, Naples, Palermo and Catania are just few examples. The main cities are all linked together nowadays via bullet trains and within few hours it is possible to travel from one end to the other of the country even without spending waiting time at airports. The good news for lovers of museums and cultural sites is that any city has its own museums, sometimes even with free entrance or not really expensive overall anyway. A good tip to save money is to go for these attractions during the few open days organised the whole year round. Just get ready to queue generally for long hours given the impressive number of visitors, sometimes even hours in the case of the Uffizi in Florence and the Vatican Museums in some periods of the year.
Northern Italy is home to some of the highest range of mountains of the entire Europe, the Alps. In addition the entire peninsula is crossed by a second shorter range called Apennines which apart from the height do not have so much to envy from their “cousins” of the North. Lovers of ski, snowboarders, climbers and hikers will have absolutely plenty of choice. For those preferring instead the charm of warm sands, crystal-clear seawater and relaxing sunbathing the large beaches of Sardinia, Sicily and the rest of Southern Italy are undoubtedly to be considered top destinations. Italy has also many little islands reachable by ferry within few hours. The extra effort of travelling to these peaceful pieces of heaven will generously pay back at the end! Party lovers will probably enjoy more the busy shores of around Rimini and Jesolo, also full of fitness and live music events especially during summer. Finally, if you have more time to spend try to compare the astonishing Portofino and nearby “Cinque Terre” (literally Five Lands: Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore) of the Riviera Ligure with the little pearls spread on the dorsal of the Amalfi Coast (Positano, Ravello, Sorrento, Praiano, Cetara, Maiori, etc.).
If the intent is to indulge in the simple pleasures offered by food and wine, Italy has obviously much to offer in these terms too. Vineyards and cellar tours are hosted everywhere and in almost any time of the year. Food festivals and markets are ubiquitous as well. As mentioned before, traditional cuisine changes deeply from region to region, often even from province to province, and that is one more excuse to visit this incredible country from the head to the tail. One little curiosity here: there are thousands of traditional Italian desserts, among which few examples are represented by the “panettone” from Lombardy, the “panforte” from Siena, the “babà” and “sfogliata” from Campania and the “cannoli” from Sicily. However, the most famous one abroad, the “tiramisu”, was only invented in the last few decades. The name literally means “cheer-me-up”, due to the presence together with a lot of calories of two energetic ingredients: coffee and cocoa.