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Facts at a Glance
 Full country name: Italian Republic

Area: 301,250 sq km (117,487 sq mi)

Population: 57.6 million

Capital city: Rome (pop 3.6 million)

People: Italian

Languages: standard Italian and numerous dialects, German, French, Slovene

Religions: 85% Roman Catholic, 5% Jewish and Protestant

Government: Republic

Prime Minister: Silvio Berlusconi


Italy's instantly recognisable boot shape kicks its way into the Adriatic, Ionian, Ligurian and Tyrrhenian Seas - all of which form part of the Mediterranean Sea. From west to east, France, Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia form a rugby scrum to the north. The islands of Elba, Sardinia, Ischia, Capri, the Aeolians and Sicily lie offshore. Mountains feature prominently in Italy's topography, and bolster its landlocked borders all the way from Genoa in the west to Trieste in the east. Italy's backbone is formed by the Apennines, extending from Genoa right down to the soccer ball that bounces off the toe of Calabria: Sicily. The Po River Valley in the country's northeast forms the largest lowland area, and is heavily populated and industrialised as a result. Underground rambunctiousness is evident from the country's three active volcanoes - Stromboli in the Aeolian Islands, Vesuvius near Naples and Etna on Sicily - and the devastation wrought by earthquakes, especially fierce in 1908 and 1980. Beauty abounds in Italy but, unfortunately, so does pollution, particularly in the big cities and along the coast.

A couple of millennia of human occupation, coupled with the locals'love of hunting, has extinguished many animal species once endemic to Italy. You might spot a brown bear or a lynx if you're lucky, and the Alpine regions are still home to wolves, marmots, chamois and deer. Mouflon sheep and wild boars and cats can be found on Sardinia, while in the skies falcons, hawks and golden eagles dodge the hunters' birdshot.

Italy's climate varies from north to south and from lowland to mountain top. Winters are long and severe in the Alps, with snow falling as early as mid-September. The northern regions experience chilly winters and hot summers, while conditions become milder as you head south. The sirocco, the hot and humid African wind that affects regions south of Rome, produces at least a couple of stiflingly hot weeks in summer.

Economic Profile
 GDP: US$1.18 trillion

GDP per head: US$20,800

Annual growth: 1.5%

Inflation: 1.8%

Major industries: tourism, engineering, textiles, chemicals, food processing, motor vehicles, clothing & footwear

Major trading partners: EU (esp. Germany, France, UK, Spain, Netherlands), USA

Member of EU: yes

Euro zone participant: yes

Facts for the Traveler
 Visas: Italy, along with Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain, forms part of the border-free travel zone subject to the Schengen Agreement. EU passport holders can come and go as they please. Citizens of the USA, Australia, Canada, Japan and New Zealand are among those who may enter Italy as tourists without a visa and stay up to 90 days.

Health risks: Rabies (only found in the Alpi), Leishmaniasis (in coastal regions) and Lyme Disease

Time: GMT/UTC +1 (+2 in summer)

Electricity: 220V (some 125V still found) 50 Hz

Weights & measures: Metric

Money & Costs
 Currency:euro (EUR), fomerly lira
Relative Costs:

  • Budget: US$5-10
  • Mid-range: US$10-20
  • Top-end: US$20+

  • Lodging

  • Budget: US$10-50
  • Mid-range: US$50-100
  • Top-end: US$100+
  • Those on a tight budget will find eating and sleeping in Italy expensive. Prudent backpackers might squeeze by on around US$35 a day if they stay in hostels, make their own sandwiches, avoid indulging in alcohol and don't visit too many museums. A room in a

    Banks are the most reliable places to change travellers' cheques, and generally offer the best rates; shop around for the lowest commission deals and the shortest queues. Credit cards are widely accepted in Italy. Visa is the easiest card with which to obtain cash advances from banks.

    Service charges are included in your restaurant bill, so you are not expected to tip. It is common practice, however, to leave a small amount. In bars, Italians will usually leave any small change as a tip, but this is by no means obligatory. Be aware that prices in Italian bars and cafes double (sometimes even triple) if you sit down. Tipping taxi drivers is not necessary, but your hotel porter will expect a little something.

    When to Go

    Italy is at its best in spring (April-May) and autumn (October-November). During these seasons, the scenery is beautiful, the temperatures are pleasant and there are relatively few crowds. Try to avoid August, as this is the time that most Italians take their vacations, and many shops and businesses are closed as a result.

    The ski season generally lasts from December to late March; sea swimming is best between June and September; and July and September are the best months for walking in the Alps. The further south you go, the longer you can linger into November and December without feeling the pinch of winter. Italy's multitude of festivals and traditional events may be a factor in planning your visit. Easter, in particular, is celebrated fervently, and every second town has a festive Saint's day.

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