Dubbed the world's 'living art gallery,' Italy has more culture than you can shake a baton, paintbrush, quill or chisel at. Whether it's a broken pillar rising up through the linoleum floor of a train station or a baroque church overlooking a cracked antique pediment in the forum, history and culture surround you.
Outside there are Etruscan tombs, Greek temples, Roman ruins, Moorish architecture and statue-filled baroque fountains to admire; inside, you can swoon to Roman sculptures, Byzantine mosaics, beatific Madonnas from Giotto to Titian, gargantuan baroque tombs and trompe l'oeil ceilings.
Writers from Virgil, Ovid, Horace, Livy and Cicero to Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio, Ficino, Mirandola and Vasari all sprang from Italian loins.
The Italians were inovative when it came to music, either, as they invented both the piano and our system of musical notation, as well as producing Monteverdi, Vivaldi, Scarlatti, Verdi, Puccini, Bellini and Rossini.
Cinema would not be the same without Italy's Marcello Mastroianni, Anna Magnani, Gina Lollobrigida, Sophia Loren and directors Luchino Visconti, Roberto Rossellini, Frederico Fellini, Michelangelo Antonioni and Bernardo Bertolucci. Great Italians
Modern literary Italian appeared in the 13th and 14th centuries, developing out of its Latin heritage, the country's many dialects and the works of Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio, who wrote chiefly in the Florentine dialect. Though over 80% of the population profess to be Catholic, the number of people who actually practise the religion is surprisingly low: an average of only 25% attend Mass regularly. However, saints' days, first communions and religious festivals never fail to attract large crowds.
Italy's many regional cuisine, while remaining distinctive to their regions of origin, have undergone a pan-Italian fusion in the hands of chefs evolving into a unique cuisine that is justifiably world famous. Cooking styles vary notably, from the rich and creamy dishes of the north to the hot and spicy specialities of the south.
Northern Emilia-Romagna has produced the best known dishes - spaghetti
Bolognese, lasagne and tortellini - and is also home to the best prosciutto and mortadella.
Liguria is the home of pesto, that mainstay of cafs worldwide. Spectacular
vegetable and pasta dishes feature just as predominantly as seafood and exotic
Desserts - cassata, cannoli, zabaglione, granita and marzipan - come into their own in Sicily, while Sardinia is famous for its spit-roasted piglet. Coffee, beer and wine are of course magnificent countrywide.