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Travel Tips Italy

Updated on September 10, 2014

Italian Travel Ideas

Italy has a lot to offer, beautiful country, nice climate, delicious food and good wine, just to mention a few things.

Florence, Rome and Venice are three very popular tourist destinations but Italy has much more to offer. The Alps in the north and the long coast line combined with its long history makes Italy a very interesting country. Excellent food and good wine can be found almost everywhere in Italy.

Italy by Train

Travelling around in Italy is easy by rail, the rail network covers virtually every point of interest. Italian trains are not known for their reliability but the high-speed service, Eurostar, is the exception. The regional trains are cheap but slow. Eurostar is expensive but fast and reliable. The Eurostar service between Rome and Florence takes about one and a half hours. During the day you have at least one departure every hour, in both directions. The Eurostar between Rome and Venice takes less than four hours.

The main Eurostar track, from Naples to Milan via Rome, Florence and Bologna, is a good route for tourists. Naples itself is of course worth visiting but don't forget Vesuvius and Pompeii just south of the city. Pompeii was buried under ash and pumice in 79 A.D. and discovered by accident in 1599. It is easy to reach by regional trains from Naples main railway station, Napoli Centrale.

Rome has attracted visitors for thousands of years. If you arrive by train, you will get straight into the middle of the city. The traffic jams in Rome are infamous. The main railway station is Roma Termini and it is possible to walk to the Colosseum. It is a fifteen minute walk and behind the Colosseum you have the ancient Roman Forum. Just be careful, a lot of con artists operate between the railway station and the Colosseum.

Florence has only one problem, it is far too popular. Not only is Florence an interesting city, the whole Tuscany is a beautiful place. From Florence you can reach most of the surrounding places by train. Three of the most popular towns are Pisa, Lucca and Siena which all can be reached by regional train from Florence. Bologna is one of the main railway hubs in Italy. A lot of people are changing trains here but it is well worth staying in Bologna for a day or two. Bologna is well known for its excellent food, not just spaghetti Bolognese. Bologna is also famous for its Porticos (arcades), there is about 38 kilometers of arcades in the city centre.

Milan is the financial center in Italy. The city itself may not be one of the most interesting cities in Italy but it is the gateway to the Alps and northern Europe. Lake Maggiore and Lake Como can both be reached by train from Milan. Turin and Verona are two cities well worth visiting and both are easy to reach by train from Milan.

Here you can learn more about traveling by train in Italy.

The best railways in Italy

Italy has many beautiful places and quite a few interesting railway tracks. Although Tuscany is one of the most beautiful places in Europe, most of the best railway lines are in northern Italy. For example, the track between Turin and Milan offers impressive views of the Alps, especially in winter.

The Bernina Express is one of the most beautiful railway journeys in the world. The line runs between Tirano in northern Italy and Chur in Switzerland. The journey takes about four hours and most of the track is on the Swiss side. The highest point of the track is at 2253 meters altitude. The Bernina Express is operating all year round. The best time to travel is spring, with plenty of snow still in the mountains. In summer you can take a bus between Lugano and Tirano.

Another famous railway is the Centovalli railway between Locarno in Switzerland and Domodossola in Italy. The line started operating in 1923. In summer the trains are frequent, every half an hour. So if you have time, make a couple of stops. In summer you can take the ferry on Lake Maggiore from Stresa or Verbania to Locorno and then the Centovalli train to Domodossola. Then back to Stresa by train from Domodossola.

The track between Verona and Munich via the Brenner Pass is not as beautiful as the Bernina Express but still a nice journey. From Verona you can get to the southern end of Lake Garda by regional train. Both Lake Maggiore and Lake Como can be reached by train from Milan. Another interesting train journey from Milan is the line towards Luzern, going through the Gotthard railway tunnel, the views both before and after the tunnel are impressive. Trains from Milan to Brig in Switzerland use the Simplon tunnel, giving you nice water views along Lake Maggiore and spectacular mountain views both before and after the Simplon tunnel.

If you take the train between Venice and Vienna you will get some good mountain views but you need to change trains. Currently the only direct trains between Venice and Vienna are night trains.

Many of the train services along the coastline have beautiful views as well. The section between the French border and Genoa is one of the best. It is well worth making a couple of breaks in the small towns along the coast.

Here you can read more about the best train journeys.

Driving around Italy

Travelling by train in Italy has many advantages but with a car you have more freedom. Even if the Italian rail network covers most of the country, with a car you can reach much more places. Driving in Italy is a mixed bag, it can be great fun or a horrible experience.

Italy has many excellent freeways, often with little traffic. This is because most freeways are toll road. Driving longer distances can become quite expensive. Driving in the larger cities can be less fun, traffic jams are common and parking is often a big problem. In the cities you must be careful, never leave anything visible in the car. And don't leave anything you don't want to lose in the car.

The autostradas, the Italian freeways, are good for longer distances and some of them are in beautiful places, like the ones coming down from the Alps. The Brenner Pass may not be the most scenic of the passes in the Alps but it is still worth driving down to Lake Garda. The road coming from Mont Blanc tunnel and the Great Saint Bernard is another nice drive. The famous A10 autostrada from Genoa to the French border is another must if you have enough time. The scenery is amazing, both on the Italian side and on the French side.

Driving in the larger city is not for the faint heart but driving in the smaller towns is, in most cases, not too difficult. Streets can be narrow and Italians can park almost anywhere but in most cases, driving in Italian towns is not really problem. Parking is always a problem but as long as you are prepared to walk a bit, parking is possible in the towns.

Fortunately, it is nowadays easy to find the right way. All you need is a GPS navigator, finding the fastest route to your destination. Of course, a map is always good to have but a GPS navigator makes driving in unknown places very easy.

Wine in Italy

Italy is well known for its food and wine. Visitors are often amazed by the diversity of food in Italy. Every region has its own specialties. The same is true for wine, wine is made almost everywhere in Italy. Italy is the biggest wine producer in the world, passing France in 2007. Italy is also the biggest wine exporter in the world, measured in volume, second, after France, measured in dollars.

Wine is produced in all regions in Italy but most of the famous Italian wines come from Piedmont and Tuscany. Both these regions are mainly known for their red wines but you can find good white and sparkling wine in Italy.

Tuscany is well known for its Chianti wines. The Chianti region is not clearly defined but it generally refers to the region between Florence and Siena. Chianti wines used to have a bad reputation. This was because Chianti was often associated with the well-known squat bottle in a wicket basket. Unfortunately, the wine in the bottle was in most cases of low quality. But lately, the producers in Chianti have improved the quality of their wines. The main grape in Chianti wines is Sangiovese, although the grape is known under a number of local names as well. The most common local names are Brunello, Morellino and Prugnolo.

In Piedmont the best wines are made from the Nebbiolo grape, the best known wines are Barolo and Barbaresco. The wines from the Barolo region were the first wines to receive the DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) status, the highest classification in Italy. Barbaresco is close to Barolo but a much smaller region. Thanks to its smaller size and uniform soil quality, Barbaresco wines tend to be more consistent than Chianti and Barolo wines.

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