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Matera, Italy (Shutterstock)

Italy, the home of ancient treasures and world-famous cuisine, is one of Europe’s most desirable destinations. This can have its blessings and its curses, with the deluge of visitors that descend on Venice every summer now a case study in overtourism. But to focus on the hotspots – the Renaissance art of Florence, the picturesque Amalfi Coast, the ruins and relics of capital Rome – is to miss the point. Italy is one giant archeological site, and in its islands, peaks and 7,500km of coastline you can find endless joy.

Take its cities. Bologna’s UNESCO-listed porticoes, historic university and iconic pasta dishes encasulate everything spectacular about Italy’s lesser-sung towns, as does misty Bergamo, a hilltop gem encircled by Venetian walls. Then there’s the decidedly un-Italian Trieste, a former Austro-Hungarian port bedecked in Viennese-style cafes and wrapped by peaks on one side and the twinkling Adriatic on the other.

There are unsung regions, too. Italy’s traditionally poorer south is now charming visitors who want to explore beyond the Roman towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Puglia’s villages of white-washed ‘trulli’ (medieval dry stone huts) and Basilicata’s magnificent cave city, Matera, draw you into another era, while down in Italy’s ‘toe’ you can soak up the sun-baked villages and towns of Calabria or escape to timeless Sicily.

Further north, Umbria offers everything that makes Tuscany irresistible – truffles, wine, hilltop medieval villages – except for the crowds. Vineyards roll across Piedmont, beautiful lakes scatter Lombardy, and the Dolomites lend themselves to Alpine adventures, whatever time of the year you visit.

Above all, there’s the history. Italy racks up nearly 60 UNESCO World Heritage sites – the most in the world – but the Romans weren’t the only conquerors here. On Tuscany’s west coast you’ll find the lesser-seen relics of the Etruscans, the first superpower on the Western Med, and over in the Tuscan Archipelago you can see where Napoleon was exiled before his final fruitless attempt to make Europe his plaything.


You can’t miss

Rome, Florence and Venice’s cultural gems may hog the limelight, but Italy is home to a range of UNESCO sites that fly under the radar…
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When to go to Italy

Italy is a year-round destination, but many of its honeypot sites tend to be swarmed by tourists during the summer months. Try visiting during the cooler seasons of spring and autumn. You’ll avoid the hordes and prices will drop.


International airports

Leonardo da Vinci–Fiumicino Airport is 30km west of Rome. Milan Malpensa Airport is 50 km from Milan. Bologna Guglielmo Marconi Airport is 10km from Bologna. Naples International Airport is 5km north of Naples.

Getting around in Italy

Public transport is good in Italy, though tends to become sparser the more you get into the rural areas, particularly in the south. Trains, buses, boats and ferries can help you travel across the country with ease.

Rail travel is a great option for city hopping. Services are mostly operated by Trenitalia and range from slow services, which stop at most stations, to high-speed trains, though rival Italo services now compete on some of the busier lines. Specialist trains are also making a comeback, with the Venice-Simplon Orient Express and the Orient Express La Dolce Vita connecting Italy to Paris in style.

Travelling by car gives you more freedom for exploring the coast and countryside, and is invaluable in rural and mountain areas; attempting to explore Umbria, the Dolomites or the southern regions without a car will see you miss out on some impossibly beautiful spots.


Health & safety

Italy is generally a very safe country for visitors, with few health concerns.

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