There’s scenery to make your knees go weak and a fierce obsession with food, but Italy’s true seductive powers are in the way it makes you feel. From a brisk stroll through winding cobblestone streets to the chiming of church bells over sun-baked piazzas, this boot-shaped nation is all about living life to its fullest.

With a culture rooted in the past, it’s easy to understand why Italians are so proud of their country. But this ancient heritage also helps to keep Italy on the cutting edge of fashion, art and cuisine.

The country’s food is simply unrivalled. From savory meaty dishes to the delicate taste of freshly squeezed olive oil, the variety is endless. Italians are also famous for their wine, with producers boasting a range of prestigious labels from IGT to DOC (Indicazione Geografica Typica) to DOCG (Denominazione di origine controllata) which have passed rigorous rules on quality.

In the arts, Italy has produced some of Europe’s greatest painters, architects and sculptors over the centuries. These include Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael and Titian. In addition, the country’s literature includes works such as Dante’s Divine Comedy and Machiavelli’s The Prince.

With its stunning lakes and fine beaches, Italy is a natural wonderland. The Dolomites, a mountain range in the north, are particularly impressive. Lake Garda is another popular destination and is home to picture-perfect villages such as Sirmione, Malcesine and Limone sur Garda.

As for the coast, the Cinque Terre National Park is a treat for the eyes. A hike here rewards you with the sight of pastel-painted fishing villages tumbling down cliffs to the sea.

For the sports lovers, Italy is home to some of the world’s most legendary teams such as Juventus, Lazio and Inter Milan. The country’s people are also known for being among the most hospitable on earth. It’s not uncommon for Italians to greet acquaintances with a kiss on the cheek or a handshake and they will often ask after your family, friends and colleagues.

Italians are a sociable bunch and tend to get together for an evening out during the weekdays, especially in the larger cities such as Rome. They will usually meet for aperitivo, which is similar to happy hour in other countries. This will then lead on to pubs and clubs which usually close by 05:00. The further south you go in Italy, the later the nightlife starts with most Italians preferring to rest after work to conserve their energy for weekends.

With a rich history and countless natural and cultural treasures, it’s no surprise that Italy is one of the most visited countries in the world. To help you make the most of your time here, we offer a selection of small-group trips led by our expert Local Insiders. These are designed to take you beyond the usual tourist trails and open up your trip to Italy on a more personal level. From a visit to a Puglian olive farm to scenic treks through the Dolomites, our trips will give you a deeper understanding of this enchanting country.

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