Ah, to travel in bella Italia. The country with the most musical-sounding language, the best operas, gorgeous fashion, delicious food, and sports cars. What’s not to like? Well, there is one drawback from a solo female travel perspective. Read on for this revelation and for some essential travel tips for those of you visiting Italy for the first time.
ITALY TRAVEL ESSENTIALS
Visa: Italy is both an EU country and is part of the Schengen Agreement bloc which allows for free movement between Schengen member countries – a combination of EU and non-EU countries. Not all EU countries are members of Schengen. A Schengen visa entitles its holder to travel within Schengen countries for a period of no more than 90 days in a 180 day period.
For further information on Schengen travel refer to the European Commission website.
Language: Italian is a full communication experience and words are only one part of it. Tone, gesticulation, body language and what you wear are considered tools of communication in Italy. In fact, hand signals have their own set of meanings. Have a look at this video from CNN Travel to help you decipher Italian hand gestures.
Saying that, if you have knowledge of Spanish or French then Italian will be significantly easier for you to understand and learn as all three stem from Latin. English fluency isn’t all that common in Italy so be prepared to do some homework prior to your visit. Here are some common Italian phrases for tourists with their English translation:
Ladies, a lack of fluency in your own language will not impede an Italian man from chatting you up. Whoever said confidence is everything when learning/speaking another language must have been Italian.
Best time to visit Italy: July and August are hot, crowded and expensive, particularly in the cities. May, June and September are excellent months for beach holidays in the south of the country. November to February sees the north of the country plunge into single digit figures on the Celsius scale whilst Rome and further south has a typical Mediterranean climate of mild winters.
Electrical plugs in Italy: The standard continental European type which is the two round pin plug/socket of 220V-240V.
Food: Most people visiting Italy for the first time look forward to the food and they are not disappointed. Italian food needs no introduction although, outside of major tourist centres, the late-serving of the evening meal (after 9pm usually) can be problematic. So of all of the travel tips listed here for those visiting Italy for the first time being prepared for the dearth of food between the hours of 3pm to 9pm is high priority!
Breakfast is typically coffee and a pastry. The best breakfast I’ve experienced was during my stay at the gorgeous Locando Alfieri B&B in Termoli which had an astonishing array of pastries and cakes.
Lunch is usually two courses out of a maximum of five but for evening meals diners usually have all five. A meal is structured as follows:
Antipasto – Appetiser (Cheeses, light meats such as salami, breads or bruschetta)
Primo – First course (Pasta, soup or risotto)
Secondo – Second course (Fish or meat)
Contorno – Side dish (vegetables)
Dolce – Dessert
That’s a general idea of meal structure in Italy but the composition of the courses will have regional variations. Italy only became a united country in 1861. Prior to that it consisted of different regions and kingdoms, and this is reflected in the food.
Meals are served with wine and water. Meals are followed by coffee and a digestivo such as the highly-recommended limoncello or other liqueurs. Italian wines don’t disappoint but it’s the country’s liqueurs which are the real surprise. Limoncello, Amaretto, Frangelico, Mirto from Sardinia, Sambuca and Grappa are some of my favourites. If you know more please comment below.
Not feeling peckish enough for a full meal? Then head to a pizzeria. And don’t leave Italy without tasting the ice-cream!
Travel in Italy: For long distances Italy’s train network is excellent. For further information check out Trenitalia’s website. Rome’s metro is equally good. Rome’s main railway station, Termini, is one of Europe’s biggest and busiest so be prepared for a lot of walking!
For bus travel in Italy check out the GoEuro website.
As for driving, every day is Formula 1 day in Italy. The Irish Department of Foreign Affairs advises to exercise caution as traffic can be faster-paced than in Ireland and driving customs are different. For comparison, driving in Ireland is challenging! Italy is, after all, the home of Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Lancia and Maserati (i.e. fast cars).
Insurance excesses on rental cars are large for a good reason. I found driving in Sardinia to be reasonably do-able but other travellers’ accounts of driving elsewhere in Italy sound like the definition of madness.
The Arts in Italy: If you’re looking for beauty you’ve come to the right place. Major cultural movements had their origins in Italy including the Renaissance and Baroque periods with Da Vinci, Michaelangelo, Botticelli, Donatello, Machiavelli and Galileo as the major players. Artistic relics of the Roman Empire are dotted around Europe and the Middle East. And Italy has more UNESCO World Heritage sites than any other country.
Opera is an Italian concept – Rossini, Verdi and Puccini the most well-known composers. In fact, many of the technical terms used in music are Italian words. Continue reading this blog post to sounds of Verdi’s La Traviata.
Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano books have been made into a TV series which is well worth a look at for the scenery, if one wants to engage in a little armchair travel.
And as for Italy’s film industry, it is imperative that you watch Cinema Paradiso, the Oscar-winning film which introduced me to the wonderful world of international language cinema and which I’ve already blogged about in my TV Paradiso post.
Is Italy safe to visit: I have always travelled solo in Italy and have never felt any major threat but, then again, I have always taken the usual precautions. Graffiti seems to be everywhere.
Culturally, like my own country, Italy struggles to understand the concept of solo female travel and so be prepared for questions and comments a plenty as to why you’re there without a significant other. Whilst in many other countries locals see a solo female traveller as an opportunity to share their stories, in Italy (and in my own country) it is an opportunity to judge you, although I didn’t encounter this viewpoint in Sardinia.
On the other hand, Italy is one of the most popular countries in the world for romantic travel and honeymoons!
I had never heard of the Tremiti Islands until I read an article in the Irish Times about Italy’s best kept secret. Located in the Adriatic Sea, the pine-covered Tremiti Islands are all about pristine coves, the salty sea air and relaxation far from the crowds.
Looking for the perfect beach holiday? Then look no further than the glorious island of Sardinia, the second largest in the Mediterranean Sea. My blog post discovers the beaches of North Sardinia and the towns of Alghero and Santa Teresa di Gallura. The celebrity hangout of the Costa Smeralda is also summarised.
VISITING ITALY FOR THE FIRST TIME: BOOKS AND RESOURCES
I’m a fan of Lonely Planet and can recommend their general Italy guide and their guide specific to Sardinia. Italy is a very visual country and no better guide than the DK Eyewitness series to showcase it.
Classic Italian films worth checking out are Cinema Paradiso and La vita è bella (Life is Beautiful). Gorgeous Sicily is also well-showcased in the TV series Inspector Montalbano which is based on the books by Andrea Camilleri.