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Information Pack on Italy


Italy is a moveable feast of seemingly endless courses. No matter how much you gorge yourself on its artistic and architecture wonders, its culinary delights, its natural splendours, you always feel you haven't made it past the antipasti. Few countries offer such variety and few visitors leave without a fervent desire to come back. There is nothing new in that - Italy has kept travellers spellbound since the earliest days of the Grand Tour.


Italy has been a united country for little more than a century. Its young and troubled national identity barely masks a deeply complex and unevenly woven tapestry. Centuries before the birth of Christ Rome gathered all the peninsula's tribes under its wing and went  on to create one of the greatest empires in history. Upon its collapse, the empire's spiritual successor, the Catholic Church, could not hope to exercise the same kind of central control. A chequer-board of city states and feudal kingdoms jostled for power, until Rome finally fell in 1870 and the Kingdom of Italy was completed.


From all this chaos emerges the astonishing regional variety we see today. The great citta' d'arte (cities of art) are high on everyone's list and all are intrinsically different. Rome, the eternal capital, bristles with proud reminders of its imperial Roman past; Florence and Venice, two of the most powerful trading city states of medieval and Renaissance Italy, are virtually outdoor museums - compact but high dosage shots of art that leave even the hardiest of art lovers and sightseers gasping for air. Many visitors don't stray from these tried and true options, but the entire country is strewn with artistic jewels, from the Norman-Byzantine wonders of Palermo in Sicily to the Baroque marvels of Lecce in Apulia.


Italy exerts as much fascination beyond the city. From the icy walls of the Alps to the splendid beaches of ~Sicily, there is something for everyone. Ski with the chic in Cortina or go hiking in Tuscany's Apuan Alps. Go island hopping in the Aeolian and Egadi groups off Sicily, explore the emerald waters of western Sardinia or go hang-gliding above Umbria's extraordinary Piano Grande plateau.


Your taste buds will demand equal attention. Hundreds of types of pasta are served up and down the country in a variety of sauces that has no apparent end. Regional specialities abound, like basil-based pesto in the north, game-meat sauces in the centre, truffles in Piedmont and Umbria and Sicily's spicy sauces that hark back to the days of its on-time Arab masters. And that's just the first course! Some of the world's finest wines are produced in Italy. Adventure beyond the known and reliable reds of Tuscany and and try the quality drops of Piedmont, the Veneto, great whites and reds in Trentino and Alto Adige, and some robust reds in the south.


The Italians are not joking when they refer to their own country as the Belpaese, the Beautiful Country.


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