Italy dips down out of Europe and into the Mediterranean like a womens leg firmly planted in a sleek stiletto, so its hardly surprising that Italians are known for their impeccable style and fashionable dress sense. Theyre also known for once having an empire that stretched across the globe, and for having the most spectacular churches, frescos, sculptures and Renaissance paintings in all of Europe.
The Italy of today is littered with the relics of more than 3,000 years of history, and an atmosphere that ranges from the Armani-wearing-scooter-driving-espresso-drinking buzz of its cities to the quiet, pastoral existence of its hillside olive farms and seaside fishing villages.
From the depths of the canals in Venice, which floats on a series of islands in an Adriatic lagoon, and the bleached sands of San Remo on the Riviera, to the rocky crags of the Alps, Dolomites and Apennines, Italy has everything from beach holidays to luxury mountain ski resorts.
Italys cities reveal awe-inspiring architecture from the curved arches of the Ponte Vecchio in Florence to the crumbling magnificence of the Colosseum in Rome. Home of da Vinci, Michelangelo, Carvaggio and Botticelli, its artworks are a visual delight to all visitors.
Nestled into the outskirts of Rome is the independent Vatican City, the seat of the Pope and home to the famous St Peters Basilica and the Sistine Chapel. The influence of the Holy Catholic Church on the people of Italy is still evident today in a series of holy festivals, carnivals, and parades involving young and old alike in almost every city, town and village.
Italy has a largely temperate climate with regional variations. In summer the Northern parts of Italy are warm with occasional rainfall, the central region is somewhat stifled by humidity and the south scorches under the dry heat. In winter, conditions in Milan, Turin and Venice are dominated by cold, damp and fog and Tuscanys winter temperatures approach freezing, while temperatures in the south of the country are more favourable averaging 50-60F (10-20C). Most people visit Italy between June and August, however the best time to visit is in Spring (April-May) and Autumn (September-October) when the weather is good and the tourists are few. The sea is warm enough for swimming between June and September. Most Italians take their vacation in August and many shops and restaurants are closed during this period. The ski season runs between December and April and the best time to walk in the Alps is between June and September.
Italy - The land of 'la dolce vita', Italy is at its best in spring (April-May) and autumn (October-November). During these seasons, the scenery is beautiful, the temperatures are pleasant and there are relatively few crowds.
Try to avoid August, as this is the time that most Italians take their vacations, and many shops and businesses are closed as a result.
The ski season generally lasts from December to late March; sea swimming is best between June and September; and July and September are the best months for walking in the Alps.
The further south you go, the longer you can linger into November and December without feeling the pinch of winter.
Italy's multitude of festivals and traditional events may be a factor in planning your visit. Easter, in particular, is celebrated fervently, and every second town has a festive Saint's day.