Italy is one of those countries about which you probably have quite a number of preconceptions before you have put one foot into the country. A country of olive oil and mafia, pasta, wine and sunshine, roman ruins and renaissance palaces, Italy has a lot to offer its visitors. Although some of these images are appealing, it would be a shame if that was the only thing you come away with. Italy is certainly much more complex and interesting than that.
Italy is a modern country with deep Roman Catholic roots, full of interesting stuff for the casual tourist and even more for the educated visitor. It is easy to spend two weeks in major tourist centers without any reason to get bored, but it is equally simple to get off the beaten track. In the north, next to the Alps and the flatlands of the Po river, both cultural jewels and highly developed industrial cities attract. This is where Italy's economic heart beats, but even in the bustling cities, people live the "la vita Italiana".
In Lombardia's capital Milan, city of haute couture and business, you can easily spend weeks without being bored. Bergamo is only an hour away and has an upper Old Town. On every corner you will discover something new. The most famous tourist attractions in the north-east are Venice and Verona, that both let you think of romantic love affairs. To discover the beautiful landscapes around, for example, the Verona province may be even more fascinating. The north-west of Italy is a paradise for every culinary interested traveler. For wine lovers, Piemonte is directly connected with Barolo and Barbaresco, the most famous wines made out of the Nebbiolo fairs make Turin one of the leading Italian cities concerning cultural life. At the same time it is a booming industrial and multimedia city.
The coastal region of Liguria is another highlight. The Riviera delle Palme has no reason to envy its French counterpart. Beaches, countryside, the right climate and old towns like Genoa make this region a must to visit. Mostly undiscovered valleys offer beautiful walking possibilities. The Lunigiana region, Albenga and Ceriale are worth a visit and an even longer stay. Gourmets should not miss the Emilia Romagna, Italy's culinary centre. Bologna, "La Grassa" like the Italians say, is a must see as well as Ravenna with its impressive mosaic works and the Byzantine architecture and last but not least Rimini, on the Adriatic Sea. For Tuscany words fail to describe its beauty: You have to go there to see, smell and experience the beauty of the old towns and lovely valleys yourself. Florence, Lucca, Pisa, Prato and Siena, offer more cultural highlights than some countries as a whole. The way of living does the rest to attract every year millions of visitors. Elba, the island of Napoleans first exile, is only one of seven Tuscan Archipelago islands.
What can we say about Rome? The Eternal City, with its monumental palaces, churches, squares, and fountains still fed by acqueducts with ancient water sources, has to be visited by every Italy traveler. To discover Rome, it is said, "A lifetime is not enough." The southern part of Italy fascinates the traveler with its great hospitality and gorgeous landscapes. Campania has attracted visitors over the centuries: Capri, Ischia, Sorrento and Amalfi became the chosen destinations of visitors from many countries. "To see Naples and then die" is not just an old spell. Try it yourself and even if you don't die, you will surely lose your heart. Sicily the largest island in the Mediterranean has been influenced by the culture of the Greeks, the Romans, the Arabs the Normans and many others. They all loved life on the island and left their marks. Italy has a great climate and the beaches to go with it. Look at the map and you will notice immediately that Italy has a very long coastline. Different mountain chains run through the country and you never have to travel far to find some excellent places to go hiking. Volcanoes like Stromboli or the Etna are still active and can be visited.
For those of you who enjoy walking and climbing, then you will want to go to the Dolomites, this is the Mountain range in Northern Italy that sperates it from Austria and extends westwards to join the Alps.
Major centres include Cortina - famous for hosting the Winter Olympics and still a major ski centre and further South and West is Arco a few kilometers from the Northern tip of Lake Garda.
Cortina can be expensive, this is where the rich and famous like to visit and while drinking your cafe in the main square do not be startled to see film stars saunter past taking in the mountain air, but this area is home to some of the best climbing, walking and mountain biking available in the high Dolomites, Via Ferrattas are a must for those experienced walkers who want just a bit more excitement in thier day, strongly recommended will be the Ivano Dibona High Level Path - but be warned you need to be an exerienced walker, with good equipment and have a head for heights.
Arco has now become a famous venue for climbers all over Europe, in early September one of the Worl Cup climbing events is held here, attracting scores of climbers to watch or participate. There is an excellent camp site at the town, that has am olympic size swimming pool and an indoor climbing wall. The town has arange of bars, cafes and restaurants to suit every pocket, an amble through the old town in the evening is a must, along with a visit to the Castle, but for climbers, walkers and mountain bikers, everything at every grade you ever wanted can be found within a few kilometers of the town.
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