Europe’s kinky over-the-knee boot has it all: popes, painters, polenta, paramours, poets, political puerility and potentates. Its dreamy light and sumptuous landscapes seem made for romance, and its three millennia of history, culture and cuisine seduces just about everyone.
You can visit Roman ruins, gawk at Renaissance art, stay in tiny medieval hill towns, go skiing in the Alps, explore the canals of Venice and gaze at beautiful churches. Naturally you can also indulge in the pleasures of la dolce vita: good food, good wine and improving your wardrobe.
From the Arab-Norman and Byzantine wonders of Palermo in Sicily to the majestic peaks of the Dolomites, Italy is a movable feast of endless courses. No matter how much you gorge yourself on its splendours, you always feel you haven’t made it past the antipasti. Few countries offer such variety and few visitors leave without a fervent desire to return. The Italians are not joking when they call their home Il Belpaese, the Beautiful Country.
Full country name: Italian Republic
Area: 301,230 sq km
Population: 57.99 million
Capital City: Rome
Language: Croatian, Italian, French, German, Serbian
Religion: 84% Roman Catholic, 6% Jewish, Muslim and Protestant
Head of State: President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi
Head of Government: Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi
GDP: US$1.45 trillion
GDP per capita: US$25,100
Major Industries: tourism, engineering, textiles, chemicals, food processing, motor vehicles, clothing and footwear
Major Trading Partners: EU (especially Germany, France, UK, Spain, Netherlands), USA
Member of EU: Yes
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. 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.
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