A swath of the Mediterranean coast on Europe’s southern edge, Italy boasts awe-inspiring cities and breathtaking countryside. The country is a leading industrial, economic and political power, a founding member of the European Community (now the EU), NATO and the G-7, and is a strong supporter of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). It is a major wheat producer, a leader in wine and olive production, and a significant manufacturer of machinery, automobiles, chemicals, and plastics. The nation is also a leading tourist destination, attracting millions of visitors each year to its famous historical sites and beautiful beaches.

The capital city of Rome is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with a staggering hoard of art treasures, spanning from ancient Roman ruins to Renaissance masterpieces. Florence’s dazzling collection of masterpieces is housed in its vast museums, including the Uffizi Gallery and the Accademia. The soaring Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, known as the Duomo, is one of the most stunning buildings in Italy. And the awe-inspiring palazzi of the Medici family are home to a wealth of treasures, including the Sistine Chapel.

Italy’s many other cities, towns and villages offer a variety of attractions that will delight visitors. In the north, the lake region of Lombardy is a haven for nature lovers with breathtaking mountains, scenic lakes and luscious forests. Trento’s mountain views and spa hotels are popular with visitors, while the city of Verona attracts visitors seeking a romantic setting—it’s the home of Juliet from Shakespeare’s play.

Other top cities to visit include cosmopolitan Milan, with its fashion houses and opera house; historic Bologna with its medieval towers and gates, churches and palaces; the enchanting Tuscan town of Lucca, where a soaring brick fortress stands in the center of the old town; and the fabled port of Venice, where the famous gondola rides can be taken.

Italian cuisine is legendary, with a huge range of regional dishes based on local ingredients and products. Some of the main foods are bread, pasta and pizza, risotto, meat and fish, and, of course, wine.

Transport: The extensive train network in Italy offers speedy and efficient service to all major cities, making it ideal for travel around the country. Visitors can rent cars, but it’s generally best to use public transportation, as driving in Italy can be stressful and dangerous. It’s also helpful to have a good map of the country in hand, as many streets in larger cities and smaller villages are one-way. It’s also wise to avoid restaurants and cafes that are close to the main landmarks in large cities, as they tend to be overpriced and serve mainly tourists. The same is true for restaurants that display photos of their food and menus in several languages, as they are almost certainly tourist traps. The best way to enjoy the authentic Italian experience is to seek out restaurants frequented by locals. This is easy to do by searching for recommendations on the Internet, asking friends and relatives, and looking at restaurant crowds.

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