Despite incessant praise, Italy continues to surprise and delight. If you get it right, travelling in the bel paese (beautiful country) is one of those rare experiences in life that cannot be overrated.
In few places do art and life intermingle so effortlessly. This may be the land of Dante, Michelangelo, da Vinci and Botticelli but it's also the home of Salvatore Ferragamo, Giorgio Armani and Gualtiero Marchesi. Food, fashion, art and architecture – you'll quickly learn that the root of Italian pathology is an unswerving dedication to living life well. A surprising number of Italians care deeply about the floral aftertastes of sheep cheese, the correct way to cut marble and the nuances of a Vivaldi concerto. Lurking behind the disinvoltura – the appearance of effortlessness – is a passionate attention to life's fine print. So slow down, start taking note of life's details and enjoy your own bella vita.
Then there's the food. Italy is quite literally a feast of endless courses, but no matter how much you gorge yourself, you'll always feel as though you haven't made it past the antipasti. Even the simplest snack can turn into a revelation, whether you're downing a slice of Slow Food pizza, a paper cone of fritto misto (fried seafood) or pistachio- flavoured gelato. The secret is an intense, even savage, attention to top-notch ingredients and fresh, seasonal produce. Although the origins of Italian food are earthy and rustic, and the Slow Food Movement aims to protect those artisanal roots, the modern Italian kitchen is also endlessly inventive. Get creative in Eataly's Slow Food supermarket, sample top-class wines at Rome's International Wine Academy and tour vineyards and olive groves to learn the latest production techniques that go into making that award-winning wine and olive oil sitting on your dining table.
As if in homage to its people's love of fashion, Italy's outline – a 'boot' – makes it one of the most recognisable countries in the world. It is long and elegant – c'e bella – and is flanked on three sides by four Mediterranean seas (the Adriatic, Ionian, Ligurian and Tyrrhenian). The northern wall of the Alps and the Dolomites frostily encircle the north, fringed by sparkling glacial lakes, while fiery volcanoes – Vesuvius, Etna and Stromboli – simmer in the south. Beyond the stereotypical image of art cities and museums, Italy is a place for doing as well as seeing. What can top descending the vertical chasm of the Gola Su Gorropu gorge or riding cowboy-style across the marshes of the Maremma and diving sun-split waters full of coral and barracuda? So, just when you think every nook and cranny of this amazing country has been explored, experienced and exhausted, do a little reading and discover that some of Italy's best-kept secrets lie right beneath your nose.
Best places to stay in Italy
Mediterranean Europe travel guide
Your journey to Mediterranean Europe starts here. You'll find the tools to plan your adventure: where to go and when, how much to budget, plus info on the region's best festivals.
Lonely Planet's top 10 best value stays for 2014
Amazing experiences aren’t reserved for unlimited budgets. These characterful places to stay around the world offer comfort and charm in superlative settings - all of them are well under US$100 per night, and plenty have dorm beds for only a few dollars. Here are our top 10 wallet-friendly hotels and hostels for 2014. 1...
The top cities in Italy
The top places to experience Italian culture
Italy travel guide - 11th Edition
If you get it right, travelling in the bel paese (beautiful country) is one of those rare experiences in life that cannot be overrated.
An icon of Italy; Renaissance art and picturesque vineyards.
Off the beaten track in Rome
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Best places to eat in Italy
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Skip the Line: Ancient Rome and Colosseum Half-Day Walking Tour
Leave the crowds behind and head straight inside the Colosseum with your skip-the-line entrance ticket! In a group of no more than 25 people, explore the first and second tiers of this A-list attraction with a guide, learning about the gladiators who competed in the Colosseum’s gory gladiatorial games.
Viator VIP: Sistine Chapel Private Viewing and Small-Group Tour of the Vatican's Secret Rooms
See the Vatican as VIPs do – with this once-in-a-lifetime private Sistine Chapel viewing and tour of the Vatican Museum's secret rooms. This exclusive gives you unprecedented VIP access to the magnificent rooms that are usually off-limits to the public, allowing you to see a side of the Vatican that most never will.
Ask the experts: where to go in February
February might be the shortest month, but if you live in the Northern Hemisphere in the tightening grip of winter, it can feel like it goes on forever. Or perhaps you're one of the lucky ones and your world is currently bathed in sun. Either way, February offers a snowy - or sunny - smorgasbord of possibilities for travellers...
Southern Italy travel guide - 1st Edition
Southern Italy is the country at its most intense and most beautiful.
Sights in Italy
Activities in Italy
Tours in Italy
Restaurants in Italy
Budget hotels & hostels
Guesthouses and B&Bs
More of a sugar-spiked espresso than a milky cappuccino, Sicily will reward you with an intense bittersweet experience rather than anything lightweight and frothy.