Is Italy Dangerous for Visitors?

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My answer to this is ‘yes and no’, or as the Italians would say ‘Ni’ (no+ si = ni!).

Although Italy is famed for its organized crime, crimes against tourists have generally been opportunistic and non-violent.  By and large, this is still the case and it’s quite simple to keep yourself (and your wallet) safe on holiday.

Italy has a large Roma gypsy population which live in camps, mostly outside large cities.  Over 86% of Italians have an unfavorable impression of the zingari, due to the belief that they are responsible for much of the crimes in city centers,  yet successive governments attempts to find a ‘solution’, have been unsuccessful.  They are certainly well-organized, with large groups coming into city centers each day.  Men and older women visit the residential neighborhoods where they fish through the trash bins for metal which can be sold, the children and young mothers, generally target the metros, train stations and other crowds where they will create a distraction while one of them robs onlookers.

On buses and in other crowds, pickpockets are less easy to spot. Visitors wrongly assume they are safe in a museum and stop paying attention.  Consider that Vatican City has a crime rate 20 times higher than Italy’s due to the number of thefts in the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica!

AVOIDING PICKPOCKETS

The easy solution to this, is to make sure you travel with a small bag that you can wear across you that closes well, for example with along zipper, button or popper which cannot be easily opened without you feeling it. On transport, you can easily hold this in front of you or put it under your coat. Never wear a backpack on your back on public transport or in a crowd, it might not be easy to open, but that won’t stop somebody cutting into it.

KEEP YOUR PASSPORT SAFE

Here there’s another easy solution: don’t carry your passport around with you! Take a copy and keep the original safe in your hotel.

CASH OR CARD?

Don’t carry large amounts of cash around with you.  Slowly Italy is getting used to the idea of making small payments with a credit or debit card, yet cash remains popular, so you’ll want to have some on you.  In restaurants, and for larger purchases, use your card.

DRIVING

Think carefully about where you are going to drive in Italy.   Behind the wheel, a lot of otherwise quite sane Italians, develop a god-complex and commonly ignore the speed limit and (especially in the south) traffic lights as well.  Italians as young as 14 can drive scooters and subcompact cars, so be aware that there are a lot of very new drivers on the roads and consider hiring an experienced local driver or taking public transport instead.

WALKING ALONE AT NIGHT

Recently there has been a rise in attacks in Rome on young foreign women walking alone at night, particularly in the area around the railway station.  Avoid walking alone late, or taking roads which are poorly lit.  Many bars stay open until 2am, so there should be people around, but if there aren’t and you don’t speak the language, use the MyTaxi app to get a lift back to your hotel.

AT THE AIRPORT

Reports that airport baggage handlers have been caught stealing from suitcases are not infrequent, so padlocks or secure wrapping your bags are definitely a good idea.  

WATCH OUT FOR THE WILDLIFE

Starlings over Rome
Starlings over Rome

You’ve probably already started sniggering, but this is serious!  When you are visiting Rome, take particular care when walking near the river because of the large number of starlings that nest in the trees there.  Every evening you can see them swirling in impressive patterns over the city, but as they come to nest, things can turn dangerous thanks to the oiliness of their droppings after a day munching olives in the countryside!  Drivers who helplessly try to clean their windows, only succeed in further obscuring their vision and no banana skin in the world is as effective, once it starts raining, in bringing unsuspecting pedestrians painfully to their knees!

Great Reasons to Visit Italy in Winter

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You probably think of Italy for your summer vacation, but if you’re planning on visiting the cities, or are a fan of winter sports, then it can be the perfect place for a winter getaway too.

1. Amazing prices

In most cities, hotel prices can be reduced by as much as half in the winter months, so you can save money AND choose hotels in great locations with fantastic views.

Florence Duomo from your bedroom window

2. Fewer crowds

You won’t get pushed around the sites and museums like you will in the summer, and there are fewer large tourist groups blocking the narrow museum corridors.

No line outside the Colosseum
Where is everyone? Outside the Colosseum on a November morning

3. Winter Sports

Running east to west at the north of the country are the beautiful Alps provide a natural border with France, Austria and Switzerland.  In the Val d’Aosta region, you’ll find Monte Bianco (Mont Blanc), the highest peak in the Alps, where it is usually possible to snow all year round.  Courmayeur is one of the most popular destinations, having great shopping, food, views and climbing in summer, as well as some challenging skiing.

On the other side of the country, are the Dolomites, a UNESCO World Heritage site.  Technically part of the Alps, they stretch through the Veneto and Alto Adige regions.  If you are looking for somewhere special, follow the well-to-do Italians to Cortina d’Ampezzo, a favored location for the traditional settimana bianca (‘white week’ aka  annual skiing holiday).

Italy’s other mountain range is the Apennines, which run down the center of the country.  The highest part is in the region of Abruzzo, just a few hours from Rome.

If you fancy skiing in warmer climates, head down to Sicily where you can sun yourself while skiing on the slopes of Europe’s highest volcano!  The slopes on Mount Etna aren’t as impressive as the ones in the north, but if you want to say you’ve skied down a volcano, then it’s the place to go!  And the views are unparalleled .

The Italian Alps

4. Mild Weather

Italy is so long, that it’s hard to generalize about the weather. In many years (this one being an exception), warm temperatures continue in Sicily into November, and it’s still possible to take a dip in the sea! Further north, November can be rainy, but by December it’s not usually to have a sunny Christmas in Rome (cold, but sunny).

Christmas in Florence

5. Christmas Markets

Italy has some great Christmas markets, especially up in the north where the German influence is stronger.  Check out 10 of the best here.

Christmas Market of Bolzano

6. Harvest Time

Late October through November is a great time for food lovers to come to Italy.  During this time, olives are harvested and taken to the local olive mill, where each family will jealously guard their olives, until they are turned into the green-gold elixir which is THE essential ingredient in all Italian cooking!

At the same time, the grapes are being brought in and soon this year’s vino novello, or ‘new wine’ will be ready for tasting.  Vineyards across the country welcome visitors to come and learn about the wine making process, taste their wines and of course, buy some to send home!

November is also white truffle season in Italy; the most highly-prized of the truffle varieties.   For a fun day, get out in the woods and join the professional hunters and their dogs for a truffle hunt.  Many towns also have special festivals celebrating truffle season, as well as markets selling the local finds.

7. Seasonal Delights

From mid-November, the shops fill up with seasonal goodies which can be hard to find at other times of the year, like pandoro, panettone, torrone, tartufi (chocolate truffles), panforte and panpepato. You can find these throughout Italy, though each region has its own recipes or variations as well.

Torrone

10 Underground Sites to Visit in Rome

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There are plenty of standard tours of underground Rome which will take you to the catacombs on the Appian Way, where you will be led through the catacombs for 20-30 minutes, with another group fast coming up behind you. Then you’ll go to the Capuchin bone crypt, weird but small and finally to the Basilica of San Clemente, just down the road from the Colosseum and so well-known these days that you can rarely enjoy the small underground space.

Yet, for the curious visitor, Rome has a wealth of underground sites which can be visited. Here are just a few of our favourite suggestions:

  1. Vatican Scavi

    Getting tickets for a tour under St. Peter’s Basilica takes a little pre-planning but will, without a doubt, be one of the highlights of your visit to Rome. The ancient necropolis where St. Peter was buried, and on which Constantine built his original basilica, is run by the archaeological office of the Vatican and visitor numbers are strictly controlled each day to protect this special environment. The visit takes you through the foundations of the basilica, down one of the streets of the necropolis, where you can admire some of the painted tombs while the guide tells you the story of the discovery of St. Peter’s tomb.

    To get tickets, you need to write to the Ufficio Scavi with the following information: the exact number of tickets you want (groups can’t exceed 12), the language of the tour, the possible dates, the names of all the participants and your contact details. Without all this information, they won’t process your request!

    Wall Paintings in the Vatican Necropolis
  2. Catacombs of St. Agnes

    Many visitors think that the catacombs are only on the Appian Way, where in reality all the streets which led from Rome were lined with these ancient burial sites.  Easy to get to with the metro (Line B1 to S.Agnese/Annibaliano), are the catacombs of Sant’Agnese, one of the many young Roman women who were martyred for their faith. Go through the church to the tiny office and ask when the next visit in English will be – often times you’ll have the guide (a Christian archaeologist) all to yourself! You may have to wait a bit, but this is such an interesting site. Visit the lovely basilica, with its numerous depictions of female saints, and follow the signs round the back to the church of Santa Costanza, once the mausoleum of Constantine’s daughter, now converted into one of the city’s few round churches. In front of this are the remains of a basilica, also dating back to the Constantinian age.

    The Basilica of Saint Agnes outside the Walls
  3. The Bunkers at Villa Torlonia

    Today, Villa Torlonia is a museum and the gardens are a public park, but during the Fascist period, it was home to the Italian dictator, Mussolini and his family. Around the park are 3 air-raid shelters, built to protect the family when the city was being bombed. Tours of the bunkers are run by the organisation Roma Sotterranea, who you can contact to request tickets or a private visit.

    Inside one of the bunkers at Villa Torlonia
  4. Santa Cecilia in Trastevere

    On the quieter side of Trastevere, the Basilica of Santa Cecilia is dedicated to another of Rome’s young female martyrs. As you enter the basilica, turn to your left and you will find a door to the archaeological area (this closes just before services). Buy a ticket and downstairs you’ll find the remains of a wealthy Roman’s house, where the saint is said to have lived. The explanations are all in Italian and it isn’t always clear what you are looking at, but the space is impressive. At the end you come to the cosmatesque-style crypt containing the relics of St. Cecilia.

    Santa Cecilia in Trastevere
  5. Vicus Caprarius

    This site, not far from the Trevi Fountain, is open to visitors throughout the year (closed Mondays), though it’s far more interesting if you arrange a guided tour with the organisation that is responsible for the site, Archecodomani. The ruins were discovered, as they often are in Rome, during restorations of the building above, in this case, a cinema. Below were discovered part of an ancient domus and the castellum aquae, reservoir constructions for the nearby aqueduct, which still today supplies the Trevi Fountain.

    If you are expecting ruins on the scale of the Colosseum, then you will be disappointed, but it’s an interesting visit for those who are intrigued by the way Rome has developed layer upon layer over time.

    Vicus Caprarius
  6. The Baths of Caracalla (summer months only)

    Under Rome’s largest baths are a complex system of tunnels used to keep the baths heated and serviced. Buy tickets in advance through the Coopculture website and on summer evenings you can visit the baths for this fascinating tour which includes one of Rome’s surviving mithareums, temples dedicated to the Eastern god Mithra. The tour is worth it for this alone. The mithraeum is the largest one known to have existed and, although like the baths it has been looted through over time, still it gives an intriguing idea of what the practices of worship would have been in this ‘mystery religion’.

    The Mithraeum at the Baths of Caracalla
  7. The Underground Basilica at Porta Maggiore

    Another mystery religion can be found under the Rome-Cassino railway line! When the line was being built, an underground basilica, the only known meeting place of the Neo-Pythagorean movement. Unfortunately the basilica is in constant danger from the trains overhead, so you cannot go inside the main structure, but even from the vestibule you can see most of the room and some of the stucco decorations which have survived.

    The basilica can only be visited on the 2nd and 4th Sunday of the month, so tickets need to be booked through Coopculture, well in advance and there is a flat rate for the entrance + guide for up to 20 people.

    The Underground Basilica at Porta Maggiore
  8. San Nicola in Carcere

    This church in the ancient vegetable market, has, like many of Rome’s oldest churches, recycled the materials from previous buildings. On one side is a line of doric columns from one temple and on the other ionic columns from another, which are even more impressive when you go under the church and can appreciate the size of the pedestals on which they stand.

    San Nicola in Carcere
  9. Roman Houses

    On the Celio Hill, under the church of Peter and Paul (Pietro e Paolo) and the most famous of Rome’s ancient houses. As well as seeing beautiful decorations, you’ll also find yourself walking on a Roman street as you move between the different houses and four centuries of history in the Case Romane.

    Case Romane del Celio – The Roman Houses on the Celio Hill

    Other Roman era houses can be found under Palazzo Valentini. Although now a popular site, there is little to see of the houses that once stood here. While listening to a description of life in ancient Rome, light projections indicate where the walls and structures would have been.

  10. Nero’s Golden House

    The most famous house of ancient Rome is undoubtedly the monumental Golden House of the emperor Nero. The underground tour will take you to a small part of the massive ‘pleasure palace’ that once stretched over 100 acres across the city center, but parts of walls can still be seen above ground, and it is the reason Nero’s successor, Vespasian, had the Colosseum built where it stands today. Inside, the size of what little remains is incredible as is the virtual reality reconstruction which attempts to show what the palace and the surrounding landscape would have looked like in Nero’s day.

    Underground at Nero’s Golden House

Four Extreme Sightseeing Ideas for a Unique View of Italy!

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If you are looking to spice up your vacation and take a break from the usual sight-seeing, here are some unique and exciting ways to see a different side of Italy:

 Descending a 15th century castle

About an hour north of Rome, Bracciano Castle, the beautiful ancient building where Tom Cruise got married. The castle overlooks one of Lazio’s loveliest lakes, where locals spend their weekends swimming, canoeing and sunbathing. But there are no end of places to do that. Instead, take a short course in abseiling, and descend the walls of the castle from the battlements for some truly incredible views. €65 per person + entrance ticket to the castle – contact Roberto at: info@recovery-energy.it

Parachuting south of Rome 

Looking to reach greater heights? South of Rome, near the town of Nettuno, try parachuting in tandem with a qualified instructor at the Crazy Fly Center. After a quick lesson on how to jump and land (which they fully expect you to forget!), you’ll be taken up to 4,000 meters, securely strapped to the instructor and will in no time be falling back to earth, with wonderful views out across the countryside on one side and the sea on the other. At the end, they’ll send you home with a DVD of the experience. Costs €200 per person for the flight, insurance and video.

SCUBA diving near Naples  

Pompeii isn’t the only ruined city near Naples. Somehow the ancient pleasure city of Baia has become forgotten over time and over-looked by visitors, thanks to its more famous neighbour. Above ground, there are some wonderful ruins, including the fascinating echo chamber, that are rarely visited, but if you are looking for an usual way to enjoy history, then contact the Centro Sub Campi Flegrei to find out about visiting the part of the city that has sunk below the water level due to local seismic activity. Experienced divers get a choice of sites, and can easily dive several in a day, while they also offer trial divers with instructors for those who have never tried diving before – though, unless you are very keen on having a go at SCUBA diving, the ruins aren’t more than 4-5m below the surface, so are perfect for snorkelling. €35 per dive for PADI qualified divers, €50 for trial dives. Entrance to the archaeological site + amphitheatre at Pozzuoli is €4 per person.

Paragliding over Lake Garda  

If you are visiting the lakes in northern Italy, you’ll find plenty of opportunities for paragliding. On Lake Garda, there are regular tandem flights from Monte Baldo, a short cabal car ride from the shore. In the safe hands of an experienced instructor, all you have to do is enjoy the view and the amazing feeling floating  gently back towards earth!  There are several companies to choose from which offer flights in English, for example: Tandem Paragliding and Flights Tandem. The cost is around €150 per person + €15 for the cabal car.

Our Best-Selling Sightseeing Tours in Italy

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Looking for great activities to add to your vacation? All our tours, both small group and private, guarantee you won’t have to wait in line and unlike many organizations, we only use licensed guides, so there’s no risk of your tour coming to an abrupt end! Below check out our current best-sellers:

  1. Ancient Rome – Colosseum, Forum and Palatine

    In ancient times, the mosquito-infested marshland that lay between the Capital and Palatine hills was drained to build the civic heart of the growing empire. Today, layer upon layer of Republican, Imperial and Christian Rome lie interwoven in the Imperial Forum, where you can see the famous Arch of Titus, depicting the Sack of Jerusalem, the Senate House and the Temple of Vesta, where the Vestal Virgins kept the sacred flame burning to ensure the city’s prosperity. On the Palatine Hill above, the emperors built their palaces, enjoying wonderful views of the Forum on one side and the games in the Circus Maximus on the other. And finally, the Colosseum, built over Nero’s Golden House following his death, to give something back to the city that had suffered so much at his hands.

    The Roman Forum
    The Roman Forum
  2. Pompeii

    When Vesuvius erupted in AD79, the people of Pompeii and Herculaneum were totally unprepared. As you walk round the town’s you’ll see moving evidence of plans the citizens were making for the following hours and how they tried to escape as their homes were covered in ash, lava and molten rock. Without a guide, it can be difficult to determine who lived in each house, or to find your way down the numerous streets to reach the amphitheater, Greek theater, brothel, forum, temples and shops. Even if you aren’t planning on visiting Naples or the Amalfi Coast, Pompeii can easily be reached from Rome in a day.

    The ruins of Pompeii
    The ruins of Pompeii
  3. Florence Walking Tour and the Accademia

    Florence is known as the ‘cradle of the Renaissance’ and this is largely thanks to the powerful Medici family, wealthy bankers and keen patrons of the arts. They transformed the city, building themselves palaces, a private art gallery, the family tomb and supporting two of the greatest artists of the time: Leonardo da Vinci and the very young Michelangelo. His greatest achievement while in Florence, was undoubtedly the monumental statue of David when he was just 26 years old, which now stands in the Accademia gallery.

    Accademia Gallery, Florence
    Michelangelo’s David in the Accademia Gallery
  4. The Amalfi Coast

    The drive along the Amalfi Coast is probably the most beautiful and most dangerous in Italy. For this reason, we only offer private tours here, with local drivers who know the road and the driving mentality and there’s no risk of half the vehicle hanging off the cliff as you turn the corners! From the safety of your private vehicle, visit towns like Positano, Amalfi and Ravello with plenty of time to walk around, take photos and enjoy lunch, before being taken back to your hotel.

    Amalfi Coast Drive
    The dizzying Amalfi Coast road
  5. Venice Walking Tour and the Doge’s Palace

    Unlike Rome and Florence, there aren’t many ‘sites’ to visit in Venice, the city is an event in itself. Through the street and over the canals, the guide will tell you the fascinating history of this city, how life has developed on the water, the people who have come to live here and how they have influenced the culture. In the Doge’s Palace, experience the Bridge of Sighs as prisoners would once have done….catching their last glimpse of their beloved city, from the inside!

    St. Mark's Sqaure
    St. Mark’s Sqaure, Venice
  6. Rome by Night

    During the day, Rome is full of tour groups and in the summer months, extreme hot to boot! So why not take a leisurely, Italian-style lunch and save the sightseeing for the evening? In the evening, the city’s monuments are beautifully lit and many of them are conveniently close together should you prefer a walking tour, including the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, Piazza Navona, Pantheon and Campo dè Fiori. In car, you can enjoy air-conditioning, as well as sites round the river, like Castel Sant’Angelo, St. Peter’s Basilica and the Tiber Island.

    Rome by Night
    The Trevi Fountain by Night
  7. Wine Tasting in the Orcia Valley

    Not only is it one of Tuscany’s most beautiful areas, it also produces some of its best wine! Appreciate both by visiting a winery or two, as well as the towns of Montalcino (famed for its Brunello di Montalcino), Pienza (to try its delicious pecorino cheese) and Montelpulciano (home to its eponymous Rosso di Montepulcino).

    The Orcia Valley
    The Orcia Valley in Tuscany
  8. The Uffizi Gallery

    Italy’s most visited museum (if we exclude the Vatican), you’ll definitely want to skip the line to get in here. Once the Medici’s private collection, the gallery holds an incredible collection of art from the 13th to 18th centuries, including works by Giotto, Botticelli, Titan, Caravaggio, Michelangelo and Rembrandt.

    Uffizi Gallery, Florence
    Inside the Uffizi Gallery in Florence
  9. Capri

    Boat tours to the island of Capri, leave from both Sorrento and Positano. It’s not hard to take the public ferry and visit the island on your own, though if you are looking to visit the famous ‘Blue Grotto’ and swim in the wonderful clear waters surrounding the island, you’ll need a guide.

    Capri
    The Island of Capri
  10. Lake Como and Lake Garda

    Even if you aren’t planning on visiting the lakes, Italy’s biggest (Garda) and deepest (Como) lakes could still make for an easy day trip, and a welcome change of pace.

    The Italian Lakes
    Lake Como

    Finally, although it’s not technically in Italy, it’s an absolute must-see…

The Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel

Everyone who comes to Rome wants to see Michelangelo’s incredible masterpieces in the Sistine Chapel, but did you know that they are actually located inside the Vatican Museums? The museums were started by Pope Julius II at the same time that he commissioned the re-building of the basilica, Michelangelo to paint the chapel’s ceiling and Raphael to decorate the papal apartments, all of which are open to visitors today. Special tours are available in the early morning, before the public opening.

The Sistine Chapel
The Sistine Chapel in the Vatican Museums

Places to Avoid Driving in Italy

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Italy is one of the most beautiful countries in the world, however many of its most popular cities are difficult and dangerous to bring a car into.  Below we have composed a list of the places in Italy where you should absolutely not drive.

NORTHERN ITALY

Venice

Venice obviously is an island city and people get around here with boats, however even driving to Venice or picking up a car in Venice we don’t really recommend it if you can avoid it.  Dropping a car there is extremely expensive and even getting to the rental facilities from Venice island is also very complicated.

Cinque Terre

The Cinque Terre is Italy’s most visited national park.  These 5 ancient fishing villages that cling to the cliffs, are accessible only by train, water or on foot.  While you can drive into Monterosso al Mare, the largest of the 5 villages, we strongly advise against doing this.  Parking is terribly expensive and the roads are dangerous, while the Cinque Terre Express train runs regularly from La Spezia to Sestri Levante, as does the public ferry.

Genoa, Italian Riviera 

Genoa is a beautiful port-side town on Italy’s riviera, however we certainly do not recommend driving here if you can avoid it.  For one, parking is limited and the the historical center of the city is completely blocked off to traffic which makes it useless and expensive to have a car in this beautiful city.

CENTRAL ITALY

Florence

Like Rome, Florence has sections of the city where traffic is restricted to residents only, limited parking, hefty fines, heavy traffic and on top of all of this, the streets are much smaller than Rome and difficult to navigate. On the other hand, the train station is inside the city and a pleasant 10-15 minute walk from the duomo. Many of the car-rental companies have offices near the station, so if your plan is to drive round Tuscany, you can easily leave after your peaceful visit to Florence….on foot!

Siena

Siena is a wonderful town located in the region of Tuscany. One of the things that makes it so nice to visit, is the fact that its center is closed to traffic. This means that you have to park outside the town and walk up to the center. If you are planning on using Siena as a base to explore Tuscany, ask our experts about hotel options where parking won’t be an issue.

Rome

Rome is known as the “Eternal City” and it is a must see when coming to Italy, however it is also one of the cities you should avoid bringing a car into for several reasons:

  • Rome doesn’t even have enough parking for its citizens, so parking is consequently very expensive. Worse still, at night, unofficial ‘parking attendants’ hang around car parks and road sides demanding ‘tips’ from drivers to keep an eye on their car!

  • Rome has sections of the city where traffic is limited to residents only and others where even they can’t go! It’s not always easy for visitors to understand when they are entering these areas, so it’s very easy to get fined.

  • Why waste your time sitting in traffic? Rome is a relatively small city, with a high level of car ownership, which means that the traffic is always bad. There’s a reason so many locals have a scooter, as well as a car or two!

  • With all the limited areas and one-way streets, Rome is complicated to get around, so we suggest that you either use the local transport, walk or hire a driver who can take you into areas of the city like only a local can.

    Rome's Limited Traffic Zone
    Sign showing you are entering the ‘limited traffic zone’ of the city center

SOUTHERN ITALY

Amalfi Coast

The Amalfi Coast is certainly one of Italy’s top attractions and with good reason. It considered to be one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world. However, the roads are dangerous and precarious here and parking can cost up to 100 euros a day depending on where you are staying. The famed coastal road may be an attractive James Bond-style challenge to car enthusiasts who look at sharp turns and sheer drops, but the reality is far less entertaining, especially in summer when you are stuck behind half a dozen coaches trying to navigate the bends!

Sorrento

Unlike many of the towns on the Amalfi Coast, Sorrento stays open all-year-round, making it one of Italy’s most visited coastal towns. In Sorrento there are 2 main roads – one going in and one going out.  From May to October, these roads are constantly blocked and parking is extremely expensive, so you will save yourself time and money hiring a driver in and out, rather than taking on the stress of hiring a car.

Capri 

Capri is one of Italy’s most famous and visited islands, however the traffic here is limited to local traffic only, so don’t even try! Add to that the dangerous roads and you will consider yourself lucky to be walking or touring the island with a local driver.

Naples

Even other Italians are nervous about driving here, which should be all you really need to know! Naples is a very large port city, notorious for crime and although they have cleaned things up in recent years, there are still large pot-holes in the roads and many areas of the city are considered unsafe. See Naples and Die so the saying goes, we don’t recommend you risk it!

Palermo

Driving in Sicily is a great way to visit the best of the sites. While much of Italy is connected by an extensive train network, geography and the stunning Lo Zingaro nature reserve, have prevented the entire island being connected. If you have lots of time on your hands, you can travel from Palermo to Siracusa by train in about 5hrs, but not much further, so hiring a car or driver in Sicily is a great idea. But not in Palermo. Sicily’s capital is chaotic, driving is erratic (locals don’t consider a red traffic light a signal to stop!) and grid lock is common. Save yourself the headache and either stay in the city and have a driver pick you up from the airport, or stay outside the city (we love Mondello in summer), where you can park your rental car.

Catania

Narrow streets, dangerous driving and terrible parking facilities may make Catania’s historical center even worse than Palermo for drivers! Just don’t do it!

There are many places in Italy where we do recommend you to drive rather than taking public transport or hiring a car.  For more information about travel in Italy and getting around Italy, get in touch with the experts team@italyvacationspecialists.com

The 10 Best Spa Towns in Italy | Part II

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Now, after last week’s blog about our first top 5 favorite spa towns in Italy, we wanted to let you know the other 5!

Picture yourself sitting in a natural pool of warm water, alternating between the sauna and a cool shower. All around you is peace and quiet; people who are also investing in their health and well-being. Before too long, your mind starts to calm and you can breathe just a little bit easier…wouldn’t that be a wonderful way to bring in 2019?

Did we whet your palette…because here in Italy, you can experience this at one of the multitude of amazing spas and hot springs.

Italy is truly a wonder to visit all year round, and that does not exclude winter! It’s a magical time full of beauty in culture and land, feasting of heart and hand, and yes…so many amazing spa towns to visit and hot springs to soak in!

Without further ado, here are the other 5 of our favorite spa towns in Italy.

Vulcano Hot Springs & Mud Baths

Vulcano Island, Aeolian Islands, Sicily

The combination of these bubbling mud pools and healing thermal waters makes for a great marriage! Enjoy the exfoliating properties of the eathern mud as well as the mineral rich components of the naturally flowing springs. The springs come from the sea bed near by, and compliment your mud bath perfectly.

Porto di Levante is a beautiful village not too far and there are also lovely hikes to enjoy in the surrounding area.

Terme Lunigiana, Calabria

 

Located in the town of Acquapessa, these healing springs have been known for centuries to help heal all types on ailments as related to the skin and more. The territory is that of Calabria , precisely the picturesque valley of the river Bagni that flows into the sea at the Scoglio della Regina, a cliff that divides the beaches of the Involvolata and Acquappesa, to the north, from those of Guardia Piemontese, south, in the Cosenza area.

In the very south of Italy, there is a story that boasts there was a Queen who could not have children and these very thermal waters gave her fertility. Just steps from the stunning Riviera dei Cedri, these spas are of the oldest health resort in Calabria. Bring the whole family for a rejuvenating stay.

Viterbo, Terme Salus

Combine relaxation and elegance at this beautiful hot spring resort in Viterbo. A city in central Italy, enjoy the wide array these springs have to offer. From pools of different temperatures, wellness treatments and facials, this spa will surely leave you feeling beautiful and rested.

Lake Garda

The Lake Garda Thermal Park spans over a large expanse near the village of Cola de Lazise. Full of exotic plants, magnolia and old growth trees, it has two lakes with thermal waters as well as hydro-massage swimming pools. With beautiful fountains and an artificial cave, this is a special place to visit. Enjoy the curative effects of the spa while soaking in the rich scenery of Lake Garda. Open all year round and also at night, come enjoy!

Bagno Vignoni, Tuscany

If you visit the wonderful valley in Tuscany known as Val D’Orca, be sure to stop at these thermal springs. With healing waters that have also been known to have therapeutic qualities since antiquity, you will be delighted to visit Parco dei Mulini for free.

Fun fact: Bagno Vignoni was a healing and refreshment point for numerous pilgrims who traveled the Via Francigena on their way to Rome.

Are you relaxed just from reading this already? We certainly hope we’ve inspired you to come see all the amazing hot springs Italy has to offer for yourself. We’ve visited many of these locations personally and have experienced great healing and relaxing benefits in mind and body!

The 10 Best Spa Towns in Italy: Part I of II

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Read along for the first of our two part series of the 10 best spa towns in Italy.

Did you know that Italy is home to some of the most powerful and rejuvenating healing waters? Found in both destinations of rustic country side and upscale luxury, it’s quite a special way to spend part of your time in Italy.

We have spent years discovering the most remarkable spas all throughout Italy in order to bring them to you!

Whether you’re wanting to soak in natural mineral-rich hot springs with tremendous curative powers, or simply take some time away to unwind and relax with a massage and local ambiance, we’ve got the spot for you.

Read on to discover the wealth of beauty and enjoyment offered in any of these locations!

1. Ischia

Ischia is known as the Green Isle because of its lush green vegetation. As a volcanic island dominated by Mount Epomeo, it is the only place in the area with real sandy beaches. Throughout many places on the island, you can find and enjoy the natural wonders of the healing springs including the natural hot springs of Sorgeto, or at the thermal parks and gardens such as Poseidon or Negombo. You will notice that many places will say ‘terme’, and if so that indicates that they may have their own spring source in their hotel or lodging facility.

For example, the Sorgeto hot springs have rock pools, all with different water temperatures. This way, you can enjoy both cool and warm bathing.

2. Montegrotto Terme, Veneto

Montegrotto Terme is a located in the province of Padua in the region of Veneto. It’s approximately 45 kilometres west of Venice. Part of the Euganee spas, Montegrotto Terme is a spa resort. A popular destination, Italians and Romans in particular have long praised this place for its thermal waters. One of it’s greatest attractions nearby it the Butterfly Arc, which is a ‘butterfly house’ with a gardens and a fairy woodland. It is a mile and a half from the other famous spa town of Abano Terme.

3. Saturnia, Tuscany 

 

A very special destination, Saturnia is located in the region of Tuscany. The enchanting thermal waters here can be enjoyed in several ways. There is free entrance to the lower pools, or there is also the Terme di Saturnia resort to be enjoyed. The free hot springs are called, “Cascate di Mulino“, located less than 6 km outside of the town of Saturnia and 3 km from the Terme di Saturnia Resort.

The town of Saturnia is worth a visit as it is quaintly situated overlooking the thermal springs. According to a historian of 60 BC, the area was populated by pre-classical Greeks. After the Greeks, were the Etruscans, and then the Romans.

A truly wonderful place to visit!

4. Acqui Termi, Piedmont

Acqui Termi means ‘thermal waters’, and these hot springs, located in the province of Piedmont in Northern Italy, have been famous since the region was the Roman town of Aquae Statiellae. In this well known spa town, you can experience the stunning landscapes, delicious food, Dolcetto red wine, and of course, healing thermal waters.

Surrounded by some of the most famous vineyards, Acqui Terme’s sulphur springs bubble up at 167 degrees F. There is a little pavilion in the center of town where you can visit one of two sources of the springs called “La Bollente” (the boiling source), which was designed in 1870 by Giovanni Ceruti.

5. Rapolano Terme, Tuscany

This peaceful spa in an unparalleled landscape is truly worth the visit, and the soak! Located in an iconic part of Tuscany, these healing waters in Siena are situated in a stunning village about 60 km southeast of Florence. Not only does this beautiful town offer its curative waters, but also the beauty of the travertine stone, formed over decades in the waterfalls, springs, and basins where there was limestone.

Stay tuned next week for our part two series of the 10 best spas in Italy!

There is a plethora of wonderful sights and experiences awaiting you in the regenerative land of Italy. Some of them are a little bit tricky to get to, but they all have incredible wonders to behold and we can get you there safely and securely!  For more info, get in touch with us:

Write to us: team@italyvacationspecialists.com 

How to see the Pope in Rome

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When the pope is in Rome (check the Papal schedule here), and there are a few ways to see him:

PAPAL ANGELUS – this takes place every Sunday at midday, when the Pope addresses the crowds in St. Peter’s Square from the window of the papal apartment. The pope greets the people, often in several languages, says the Angelus and gives a papal blessing. In general this takes about 15 minutes, though it can be longer at Christmas and Easter.

PAPAL AUDIENCE – If the Pope is in Rome, the audience is held every Wednesday morning, come rain or shine. If the weather is good, it is in St. Peter’s Square, otherwise it is in the Paul VI Audience Hall to the left of the Basilica.  The audience consists of readings and teachings, mostly in Italian, but the language will vary depending on the crowd.

GETTING TICKETS

Check the date of the audience which are generally announced 3 months in advance:

http://www.vatican.va/various/prefettura/index_en.html

Tickets are required for this event, but they are always free – in fact, you never have to pay to see the Pope. For Americans, the easiest way to get tickets is to email the Pontifical North American College at: visitorsoffice@pnac.org. They will let you know if your request has been confirmed or not, and send you details about picking up your tickets on Tuesday afternoon near the Trevi Fountain.

Alternatively, if you want to pre-book tickets, you can contact the Prefecture of the Papal Household with your request. Fill out the request form and fax it to +39 06 6988 5863. Tickets can then be picked up from the Swiss Guards at the Bronze Door on the right of St. Peter’s Basilica, after security (click here for more details). Tickets are available on Tuesdays between 3pm and 6pm in winter and 3pm and 7pm in summer, and on Wednesday morning between 7am and 10am. Sometimes, it is possible to get tickets without ordering them from the same place.

ON THE DAY

The audience starts at 10.30, but there is generally already a crowd when the gates open at 8am, as everyone wants to be close to the front near the Pope. There are no reserved places, so arrive early if you want to be near the front.

In the summer, you will be very exposed to the sun, so be sure to bring water and a hat as there is little shade in the square.  Even in the summer, dress should be modest, with shoulders and knees covered.

PAPAL MASSES – You need tickets to attend a papal mass as well, and the process of requesting and collecting them is the same as for the audience: fax the request form to the Prefecture of the Papal Household and if you are granted tickets, collect them from the Swiss Guard 3 days before the service.

NB: For audiences and masses you will need to go through a security check point, so it’s advisable not to bring large bags and to ensure you do not have any sharp metal objects with you.

Super-Foods, Super-Wines & Natural Aphrodisiacs Worth Making a Trip to Italy For!

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Italy is one of the most beautiful countries in Europe, renowned throughout the world for its incredible culture, architecture, fashion and stunning landscapes; though Italy’s beauty is not just skin-deep.  Italy was recently voted as one of the healthiest countries in the world. The Mediterranean diet is one of the most nutrient rich and healthy diets you can follow, supporting a lifestyle that increases longevity, vitality and over-all quality of life.

Not surprisingly, food and wine make up a big part of the Italian lifestyle! In moderation many of the foods commonly found in the Italian diet are said to improve health in some astonishing and remarkable ways.

Let’s further explore Italian superfoods!

Tomatoes

Tomatoes are a staple in almost all Italian cuisine. Some studies have shown that tomatoes can aid in fighting breast cancer. So don’t be shy to throw in a can of tomatoes to your stews, soups and pastas. Not only this, but tomatoes are loaded with vitamin C and D.

Olive oil

This Italian staple helps to lower cholesterol, fight heart disease, reduce the risk of certain types of cancer, lower blood sugar level and can aid in getting rid of unwanted belly fat! Boasting tremendous anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, the phytonutient in olive oil, oleocanthal, mimics the effect of ibuprofen in the body in reducing inflammation, therefore decreasing the risk of many health related challenges. It’s also wonderful as a hair mask and to apply on the skin!

Garlic

Garlic is the famous natural antibiotic and is an anti-inflammatory as well as high in vitamin C and A. Sulmona in the central region of Abruzzo, has 2 culinary claims to fame in Italy: sugared almonds and delicate tasting red garlic.  Not only is it delicious, but it contains the highest levels of natural antibiotics of any garlic or onion. In Abruzzo, a time-honoured cold and flu remedy is to simmer a couple of glasses of water with 5 slices of lemon, 1 bay leaf and 2 cloves of unpeeled red garlic as soon as you feel a cold coming on!

Onions

Like garlic, onions have been known since Roman times to have wonderful preventative properties and enhance the body’s immunity – Pliny the Elder documented 30 different ailments which could be treated just by eating onions!  Tropea in Calabria grows Italy’s finest onions, a sweet red variety which science has shown to have better diuretic, hypoglycemic, and anticancer functions than any other onions.  As well as being great for health, its delicate flavour means it is perfect for both cooking and slicing up in colourful summer salads.

Basil

Forget about addictive painkillers because basil provides symptomatic relief for inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.  Its fragrant nature makes it hugely popular in regional dishes throughout Italy, from pizza in Naples to pesto Genovese, Italians simply can’t get enough of it!

Peperoncino

Italian food isn’t known for its spicy dishes, but hot chilli peppers are the most famous ingredient in the southern region of Calabria where they are traditionally grown.  Here you’ll find them stuffed with tuna fish and preserved in olive oil, while further north in Rome, they are used in tomato sauce to make pasta arrabiata.  Their bright red colour means they are high in both vitamins and antioxidants, while the spicy kick stimulates the digestive system and circulation.

Tartufo / Truffle – Tuscany, Umbria, Piedmont, Le Marche

Since ancient times, truffles have been considered one of the best aphrodisiacs around. The scent of this fungus is very similar to the male pheromone androstenone, which is probably why truffles are considered to be effective as an aphrodisiac.  They have also been found to be effective in reducing depression and preventing early ageing and dementia – so definitely worth the extravagance.

Chocolate

For years, travellers to Italy  have been drawn to Sicily’s intriguing history, smoking volcanoes and famed cuisine, but somehow the island’s distinctive chocolate – made in the UNESCO World Heritage town of Modica and inspired by the traditions of the ancient Aztecs – has remained one of the world’s best-kept secrets.  Dark chocolate, flavoured with everything from chilli pepper to sea salt, can aid the circulation, reduce the blood pressure and, of course, do wonders for the mood.

Oranges 

We all know the great benefits of citrus fruits, from boosting the immune system to helping reduce cancer, there’s more than just the taste to recommend them and explain why spremuta d’arancia, freshly-squeezed orange juice, is such a popular order in bars across Italy.  For some of the best, head to Sicily where they grow very sweet blood oranges.

Lemons 

Like oranges, lemons are powerful at preventing and fighting illness.   They also make very good limoncello, a popular drink from Campania and very easy to make at home! Lemon water first thing in the morning is a perfect way to alkalize your system and promotes hydration. They’re great for your skin and work as a wonderful internal astringent! Lemons are known to aid digestion and support weight loss. Packed full of Vitamin C and anti-bacterial, they are even great in your homemade cleaners! Get your daily dose of lemons for luminous skin and a happy belly.

Fish Oil 

One of the pillars of the Mediterranean diet, which, thanks to almost every region of Italy having some coastline, can be found across the country.  Lower in fat than meat, fish is full of good oils which contain Omega-3 fatty acids that promote brain health and lean proteins that fuel the body without adding weight.  Fish oil also increases cardiovascular health and can aid in cancer prevention.

Red Wine

There’s no shortage of wines to choose from in Italy, and vineyards across the country happily open their doors to visitors.  Moderate amounts of red wine provide powerful antioxidants that heal the body at a cellular level, like quercetin and resveratrol.

Oregano (Origanum)  

Its name means ‘mountain joy’, revered as a symbol of happiness by ancient Greeks and Romans. The world wide tradition of newlyweds crowned with a laurel of oregano is attributed to this very symbolic belief! Oregano is native to Europe, North Africa, and parts of Asia, typically in mountainous regions. This is uncelebrated herb can be applied topically to treat a number of skin conditions, such as acne and dandruff. It’s further medicinal benefits include therapeutic effects for digestion and respiratory conditions. Loaded with antioxidants, it’s anti-bacterial and anti-viral– and naturally delicious! It’s known to contain vitamins essential for the body such as Vitamin A, E, C, & K- as well as iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium, folate, and B6!

Saffron

Close-up of a heap of saffron

The aphrodisiac Saffron is a spice that comes from the sativus flower and belong to the iris family. Dating back to Hippocrates, the medicinal benefits of saffron have long been boasted for coughs, colds, insomnia, and heart trouble among others. A primary use of saffron is for dyeing textiles as a single grain of saffron can color 10 gallons of water with its rich golden hue. Known as a very experience spice, there is a very good reason why! So what may that reason be? It’s still harvested and cultivated with it’s most ancient tradition: by hand. As for further health benefits, it’s super high in manganese which helps regulate blood sugar and metabolize carbohydrates. It also offers healthy doses of vitamin C, B6, magnesium, and iron. It’s aphrodisiac properties just make this magical and well revered spice a solid gem!

Prickly Pears (Fichi di India)

Figs, the sweet fruit with seeds and soft skin can be eaten both ripe or dried. Different varieties can have varying colors. Figs can be also used for jam and spreads, to make pies, puddings and preserves. Indian figs are found in the regions of Calabria, Puglia and Sicily. They are known to aid in moderating blood sugar levels, increase circulation, and reduce high blood pressure. They are rich in minerals such as magnesium, manganese, sodium, and calcium. They can help to strengthen bones and control diabetes. Also supporting eye sight, figs are a true superfood!! They are also great for skin and hair and used to treat a number of skin conditions. Don’t miss figs when they’re in season, your body and taste buds will surely thank you!

Pomegranate

Now how many of you have taken the time to cut open and marvel at the wonders of a pomegranate?! This fruit is truly remarkable. It requires patience to de-seed and it’s certainly worth it. Whether you eat the seeds alone, put them in a salad, or make pomegranate juice, every time I eat pomegranate I feel like I’m a part of some special secret. Loaded with antioxidants and vitamin C, they are very supportive of a healthy heart. Really good for digestion, they stimulate natural probiotic bacteria and therefore can fight bacteria growth. They are also anti-inflammatory and greatly support cognitive functioning with their polyphenols so they are a great brain food!

Pomegranates are a natural aphrodisiac. Many cultures has linked this fruit with fertility and abundance for centuries. Pomegranate seed juice is the source of grenadine syrup, which is well known for its use in the traditional nonalcoholic beverage, a Shirley Temple.

If not for the rest listed here, the antioxidant benefits alone are enough reason to enjoy pomegranate whenever possible.

Porcini Mushrooms

Also known as cepes, the scientific name for porcini mushrooms is Boletus edulis. A type of edible mushroom found across parts of North America, Europe, and Asia, it’s known for earthy flavor that can be used in a variety of plates. They are particularly beneficial for aiding in weight loss, promoting digestive health, a plant based source of protein, a high antioxidant count, and anti-inflammatory! Their high fiber content promotes healthy digestion, and just one ounce of dried mushrooms boast a high protein content of 7 grams. It’s often oven-grilled or roasted. They can be added to pasta and risotto! With it’s high iron content, it does make a great option even for meat eaters.

Eggplant

Eggplant (botanical name of Solanum melongena) rich in antioxidants, fiber, potassium, and magnesium, offers of variety of ways to enjoy it from baking, grilling, and broiling. They contain an impressive array of vitamins and minerals such as vitamin C, K, and B6. There are many different varieties of eggplants from small and white to larger and purple. First making their appearance across Europe in the 14th, they remain a staple items in a multitude of Italian dishes. They can aid in digestion, weight loss, prevent anemia, and improve bone health. Most certainly a super food!

We certainly hope that this enticing peek of delicious superfoods celebrated in Italy and among the Mediterranean inspire you to come experience the decadence first hand.

Why not delight your senses and palette with fresh local ingredients that are designed to not only nourish your body, but the spirit too!

We offer seasonal cooking classes and each one of our tours are designed to curate remarkable dining experiences where you personally experience the local fare of the region. Italy’s food practices and culinary expertise is for a reason— centuries of passed down recipes and farming practices that produce the very best of the best!

Email team@italyvacationspecialists.com for a list of our exclusive and affordable Food & Wine tours.