A snapshot of the three main regions
Italy can be broken down into three main geographical areas: the north, central, and southern Italy. In the northern region is Italy borders France, Switzerland, Austria, and Slovenia. One geographical feature that many travellers overlook is that Italy’s northern region covers part of the Alps range, which means there are many ski lodges to choose from. For those who like walking tours and scenic views, the Dolomites are a popular destination. For spectacular views there are many gondolas available that reach the higher altitudes- and walking trails too! The big cities in the north are Milan, Venice, Genoa, and Turin.
In the central region of Italy is where you will find popular destinations like Pisa, Florence, Cinque Terra, and Rome! Tuscany and the coast line is simply stunning and a must see. There is one central mountain range that runs a line through Italy, from north to south called, the Appennino. This is what gives this region some beautiful towns nestled in the hills, and some of the twisty-crazy Italian roads. For those who love Italian wines, stop by a vineyard in the Chianti Valley or even take a wine tour.
The southern region is forms the lower part of Italy, containing the Italian Peninsula (lower boot shape), the island of Sicily, and popular destination of the Amalfi coast. This region has a very hot climate, lots of blue waters and sandy beaches. Another main attraction is the spicy foods that come from down south. This is where you’ll find regional foods like Calabrian hot peppers, extra virgin olive oils, pecorino cheeses, and spicy sausages.
For Italians, food is the central focus of all life- family life, friendship, and even business. Italian life is sped up over the years, but tradition still takes hold over sharing food- meal times are enjoyed and not rushed. Just like anywhere in the world, each region is known for certain dishes with specific traditions and specialities. And the foods…well, the ingredients are fresh, simple, regional, in season, and unbelievably divine. Exploring Italian foods is a love affair on its own.
General customs with Italian meal times
Breakfast is a simple affair with coffee and a sweet pastry. Many Italians eat breakfast on their way to work at a stand-up coffee bar. The bars will be busy with a flurry of people, so you’ll push in for service. Espresso is typical coffee enjoyed by Italians and it’s often served black. If you are wanting a milky drink then breakfast is the time to get one.
Lunch is the main event of the day and not to be taken lightly. Lunches can take a couple of hours, so take the time to relax. The first course, Primo, is when you would order your appetizer of pasta! Yep, they have pasta as their first meal. Here’s a heads up for those who are not accustom to order pasta in Italy; pasta dishes are not huge plates of food, Alfredo Fettuccine does not exist here, and meatballs are served separately and never within a pasta! The second course, Seconda, is usually a meat dish served with either vegetables or salad.
Dinners, or evening meals are typically lighter than lunches. Soups, salads, cold meats and cheeses are served at this time. If you are eating in restaurants, you’ll be able to order full meals (similar to lunches), but this is not as common for the typical Italian eating at home.
Getting around Italy
If you are planning to tour Italy by car, the countryside roads are stunning, but the navigating through the cities can be a little daunting. The easiest way to travel through the country is by train, and in some parts the only access in is by train. Most train stations will take you to the centre parts where you need to go, or will be at least within in walking distance. In the major cities public transportation is also fairly easy.
Best time of year to travel to Italy
Depending on what type of vacation you are looking for the summer months are beautiful, warm, and also the busiest time of year. Prices and accommodations can go up and it’s best to plan out your itinerary a few days in advance to ensure you’ll find a decent place to stay. Crowds of tourists are also abundant.
High season is typically the shoulder months of summer: May, June, September, and October. The summer months can be a real scorcher, July and August, particularly in the south or inland. Low season is throughout the winter months, November through to April. This time of year is cooler, which means many of the attractions will close a bit earlier due to the decrease in tourist activity. Take note, if you are travelling in the North during the winter months; be sure to bring winter clothing even for being indoors as some places do not have central heating.
Ready to plan your visit to Italy? Check out these popular guides and trips.