Getting there & away
Competition between airlines means you should be able to pick up a reasonably priced fare to Italy, even if you are coming from as far away as Australia. If you live in Europe, you can also travel overland by car, bus or train.
There are plenty of options for entering Italy by train, bus or private vehicle. Bus is the cheapest option but services are less frequent, less comfortable and significantly longer than the train. Check whether you require a visa to pass through any countries on your way.
For advice and tips from travellers who've been there, done that, check out Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree forum.
Dozens of ferry companies connect Italy with virtually every other Mediterranean country. The helpful search engine Traghettionline (www.traghettionline.com) covers all the ferry companies in the Mediterranean; you can also book online. Tickets are most expensive in summer, and many routes are only operated in summer. Prices for vehicles usually vary according to their size. Holders of Eurail and Inter-Rail passes should check with the ferry company if they are entitled to a discount or free passage.
Ferry companies and their destinations:
Endeavor Lines/Hellenic Mediterranean Lines (0831 52 85 31; www.ferries.gr ; Corso Garibaldi 8) Brindisi to Corfu, Igoumenitsa and Patras, and to Cephalonia – from where you can get a ferry to Zante (Schinari).
Grimaldi Ferries (081 49 64 44; www.grimaldi-ferries.com) Plies the Mediterranean between Civitavecchia, Livorno, Salerno and Palermo to Tunisia and Barcelona (the Spain routes are part of the Eurail pass system).
The main points of entry to Italy are the Mont Blanc Tunnel from France at Chamonix, which connects with the A5 for Turin and Milan; the Grand St Bernard tunnel from Switzerland, which also connects with the A5, and the Gotthard tunnel from Switzerland (which will have a new parallel railway tunnel, Gotthard Base Tunnel, possibly by 2015, and which will cut the journey time from Zurich to Milan by one hour); the new Swiss Lötschberg Base Tunnel (opened in 2007) which connects with the century-old Simplon tunnel into Italy; and the Brenner Pass from Austria, which connects with the A22 to Bologna. All are open year-round. Mountain passes are often closed in winter and sometimes even in autumn and spring, making the tunnels a more reliable option. Make sure you have snow chains if driving in winter.
Regular trains on two lines connect Italy with the main cities in Austria and on into Germany, France or Eastern Europe. Those crossing the frontier at the Brenner Pass go to Innsbruck, Stuttgart and Munich. Those crossing at Tarvisio in the east proceed to Vienna, Salzburg and Prague. Trains from Milan head for Switzerland and on into France and the Netherlands. The main international train line to Slovenia crosses near Trieste.
Eurolines (www.eurolines.com) is a consortium of European coach companies that operates across Europe with offices in all major European cities. Italy-bound buses head to Milan, Rome, Florence, Siena or Venice and all come equipped with on-board toilet facilities. You can contact them in your own country or in Italy and their multilingual website gives comprehensive details of prices, passes and travel agencies where you can book tickets.
When driving in Europe always carry proof of ownership of a private vehicle. Third-party motor insurance is also a minimum requirement. Ask your insurer for a European Accident Statement (EAS) form, which can simplify matters in the event of an accident. A European breakdown-assistance policy is also a good investment. In Italy, assistance can be obtained through the Automobile Club Italiano (ACI; 803 116, for 24hr information 02 661 65 116; www.aci.it in Italian).
Every vehicle travelling across an international border should display a nationality plate of its country of registration.
Coming from the UK, you can take your car across to France by ferry or via the Channel Tunnel on Eurotunnel (08705 35 35 35; www.eurotunnel.com). The latter runs 10 crossings (35 minutes) a day between Folkestone and Calais year-round. You pay for the vehicle only and fares vary according to timing, season and advance purchase, but start at UK£49 each way.
If you have the time, train can be a glorious, bygone, relaxing way to travel to Italy, with comfortable couchettes, civilised dining cars, and arrival directly in the centre of your destination city.
The Thomas Cook European Timetable has a complete listing of train schedules. The timetable is updated monthly and available from Thomas Cook offices worldwide for around €15. It is always advisable, and sometimes compulsory, to book seats on international trains to/from Italy. Some of the main international services include transport for private cars. Consider taking long journeys overnight as the €20 or so extra for a sleeper costs substantially less than Italian hotels.
International trains connect with various cities, including the following:
The passenger-train Eurostar (0870 518 61 86; www.eurostar.com) travels between London and Paris, and London and Brussels. Alternatively you can get a train ticket that includes crossing the Channel by ferry, SeaCat or hovercraft.
For the latest fare information on journeys to Italy, including Eurostar fares, contact the Rail Europe Travel Centre (0870 84 88 48; www.raileurope.co.uk). A Trenitalia Pass can be bought in advance in the UK from Rail Pass Direct (0870 084 1413; www.railpassdirect.co.uk) or Rail Choice (www.railchoice.com).
You shouldn’t have many problems finding a reasonably priced flight to Italy. High season is June to September, Christmas and Easter. Shoulder season runs from mid-September to the end of October and again in April. Low season is generally November to March.
Italy’s main intercontinental gateway is Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci airport (FCO; www.adr.it), better known as Fiumicino airport, but flights also serve Milan’s Malpensa (MXP; www.sea-aeroportomilano.it). Low-cost carriers generally fly into Italy’s regional airports, including Ciampino (CIA; www.adr.it) in Rome, Pisa’s Galileo Galilei (tel: 050 50 07 07; www.pisa-airport.com) and Marco Polo (VCE; www.veniceairport.it) in Venice. Other important provincial airports include Bologna’s Guglielmo Marconi (BLQ; tel: 051 647 96 15; www.bologna-airport.it); Elmas (CAG; tel: 070 211 211; www.sogaer.it) in Cagliari, Sardinia; Capodichino (NAP; tel: 848 88 87 77; www.gesac.it) in Naples; and the Sicilian airport of Palermo (PMO; www.gesap .it; tel: 091 702 01 11).
Alitalia, Italy’s national carrier, was saved from bankruptcy in late 2008 by a consortium of private investors who bought the company from the Italian government. It has since merged with Air One, but both Alitalia and Air One continue to operate.
World aviation has never been so competitive and the internet is fast becoming the easiest way to find and book reasonably priced seats.
Full-time students and those under 26 have access to discounted fares. You have to show a document proving your date of birth or a valid International Student Identity Card (ISIC) when buying your ticket. Other cheap deals are the discounted tickets released to travel agents and specialist discount agencies. Most major cities carry newspapers with Sunday travel sections containing ads for these agencies, often known as brokers, consolidators or bucket shops. Also check the websites directly for deals on low-cost carriers, such as Ryanair, Easyjet and Virgin Express. Note that some have started charging extra for hold luggage.
Many of the major travel websites can offer competitive fares, such as:
Booking Buddy (www.bookingbuddy.com)
Cheap Flights (www.cheapflights.com)
Last minute (www.lastminute.com)
From South Africa many major airlines fly to Italy, most notably: British Airways from Cape Town and Johannesburg through the UK; Air France with connections throughout Europe; and Lufthansa from Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg connecting through Germany. Ethiopian Airlines flies from Johannesburg to Rome. Emirates Airlines flies between Dubai and Rome. In South Africa try Flight Centre (0860 400 727; www.flightcentre.co.za) or STA Travel (0861 781 781; www.statravel.co.za).
Bangkok, Singapore and Hong Kong are the best places to find discount tickets. Cathay Pacific (www.cathaypacific.com) flies nonstop from Hong Kong to Rome. STA Travel (www.statravel.com) has offices in Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand. In Hong Kong many travellers use the Hong Kong Student Travel Bureau (2730 3269; www.hkst.com in Chinese).
Singapore Air flies to Rome three to seven times per week with one or two stops en route. Thai Airways runs regular flights direct from Bangkok to Rome, as well as to Milan Malpensa. Both airlines also have connecting flights with Australia and New Zealand.
Flights from Australia to Europe generally go via Southeast Asian capitals. Qantas and Alitalia have occasional direct flights or more-regular trips that make one stop. Also try Malaysia Airlines and the Star Alliance carriers (www.staralliance.com), such as Thai Airways, Singapore Airlines or Austrian Air. Flights from Perth are generally a few hundred dollars cheaper.
Air Canada flies daily from Toronto to Rome, direct and via Montreal and Frankfurt. British Airways, Air France, KLM and Lufthansa all fly to Italy via their respective home countries. Canada’s main student travel organisation is Travel Cuts (1 866 246 9762; www.travelcuts.com), with offices in all major cities.
All national European carriers offer services to Italy. The largest, Air France, Lufthansa and KLM, have offices in all major European cities. Italy’s national carrier, Alitalia, has a huge range of offers on all European destinations. TAP Portugal serves Portugal.
The cheapest way to fly is via a low-cost airline:
Singapore Airlines flies from Auckland through Singapore to Rome’s Fiumicino – sometimes with more than one stop. New Zealand Air flies via London. Flight Centre (0800 24 35 44; www.flightcentre.co.nz) and STA Travel (0800 47 44 00; www.statravel.co.nz) have offices in Auckland, as well as in various other cities.
The cheapest way to fly between the UK and Ireland and Italy is the no-frills way. EasyJet (www.easyjet.com), flies to Milan, Rome, Pisa, Rimini, Venice, Naples and Palermo. The main competitor is Irish Ryanair (www.ryanair.com) – its tickets are usually cheaper and it flies to more destinations, including Brindisi, Bari, Milan, Parma, Pisa, Rome, Turin, Genoa, Venice, Rimini and Palermo. Some of these routes are seasonal. BMI Baby (www.bmibaby.com) flies to Naples from London and Birmingham (April to October). British Midland also offers some excellent deals. Prices vary wildly according to season and depend on how far in advance you book. Italian Air One (www.flyairone.it) also operates flights between London City Airport and Bari, Brindisi, Palermo, Rome, Turin and Venice.
Most British travel agents are registered with the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA). If you have paid for your flight with an ABTA-registered agent who then goes bust, ABTA will guarantee a refund or some alternative.
Delta Airlines and Alitalia have nonstop daily flights from New York’s JFK airport to Rome Fiumicino and Milan Malpensa, while Continental flies nonstop to both from Newark. American Airlines flies from Chicago and JFK to Rome.
STA Travel (800 781 40 40; www.statravel.com) has offices in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco and many more locations. Fares vary wildly depending on season, availability and luck. Discover Italy (1 866 878 74 77; www.discoveritaly.com) offers flight-, hotel- and villa-booking services.