About Practical information
By air Use a price comparison website such as www.skyscanner.net to check the hundreds of cheap flights available to Milan, Bologna, Florence (Pisa and Florence itself), Rome, Venice and elsewhere in Italy and Sicily. Don’t forget that regular airlines such as British Airways can offer prices that compete with the budget airlines at certain off peak periods and/or if you book far enough ahead. Paying a little bit extra for a noticeably more humane experience than Ryanair seems like money well spent to many frequent fliers.
If flying for the first time into Rome’s Fiumcino Airport and then hiring a car, be warned that finding the car hire desks is not entitrely straight forward and nor is returning your car. The desks are located a ten-minute walk from the arrivals area in multi storey car parks separate from the arrivals/departures building.
By rail The Eurail Pass, available only to non-European nationals, provides an economic and practical means of unlimited travel throughout Italy (and continental Europe). Certain age groups are eligible for valuable discounts. Enquire at a main railway station.
European nationals can buy similar unlimited travel passes (in the U.K, the InterRail Pass) for railway journeys in Europe but outside their own country, with discounts for certain age groups. See www.interrail.eu
The main railway routes into Italy are from Paris to Turin; from Paris along the south coast of France to Ventimiglia; from Basle to Milan and from Munich south over the Brenner Pass. You can put a car on express sleeper trains in many northern European cities, for example, Calais (France)-Bologna or Düsseldorf-Genoa – at a price.
Trains in Italy are classified into five classes. The top service is Eurostar – fast trains between major cities only. Then comes Intercity and IntercityPlus, which stop more often, but not in small towns or villages; likewise Intercity Notte, but at night. Next comes Espresso – the cheapest trains for long journeys, basic in terms of comfort. Lastly, Interregionale, Regionale and Diretto, which slow, medium distance trains with not much comfort.
By bus The cheapest and least comfortable option: it takes between 30 and 40 hours to get from northern Europe to Rome, up to 48 from London.
By car The main routes into Italy are via the French, Swiss and Austrian Alpine passes, and also along the south coast of France via Nice and Menton to Ventimiglia. The Mont Blanc and Grand St Bernard toll tunnels are open all year, as is the Brenner Pass; the Simplon is now usually open in winter. The Mont Blanc tunnel costs E42.40 one way from the French side or more, depending on the size of the vehicle. The Grand St Bernard costs E25.10 or more, one way. Beware of speed cameras inside these tunnels – they impose on-the-spot fines as you emerge, if you break the limit.
By rail Italian railways have five standard categories of train: see above under By rail. You can buy first and second class tickets, except on local/commuter lines. Second is about two-third cost of first. Return tickets are double that of singles. Families and groups get substantial reductions. Buy your ticket before boarding and get it stamped at the yellow machine on the platform.
For long-distance trains, prior reservation at a station or travel agent is advisable. (The environmentally-friendly Ecostar is more expensive.)
Car sleeper services connect northern Italian cities with the south and Sicily. The farther you travel, the cheaper the rate.
By car The motorway system is comprehensive, but except south of Salerno, near Naples, and on sections by-passing cities, you have to pay tolls.
Cities, and A-class roads are normally very congested. Do not contemplate driving in Rome, Florence or Naples unless you have nerves of steel. Florence and Milan are particularly inconvenient cities for drivers. Moreover, the Italian authorities have taken enthusiastically to the concept of tow-away zones, so park with caution. You may find it worth buying a Disco Orario from a car accessory shop. In places where parking is restricted to certain time limits, you set the disc to your time of arrival.
Driving regulations: Motoring laws follow European norms. Reflective warning triangles, to be placed 50 m behind your car when broken down, are obligatory. Fines for speeding are severe and may be imposed on the spot. Speed limits are complex: 50 kph in towns; 70 on ‘urban highways’; 90 kph in the country; 90 or 110 depending on conditions on ‘main extra-urban roads’; and 130 or 150 kph on motorways – mainly depending on number of lanes. .
Off the motorways, petrol stations close for up to three hours at lunchtime, usually Saturday pm and all day Sunday.
Italian drivers couple skill and panache with excitability and impatience. They are by no means the worst in Europe (that distinction belongs to the Portuguese) but the characteristic they call far figura (to make an impression) comes out even in the mildest-mannered when they get behind the wheel. It is not uncommon to be followed for 3 km along a straight road and then to be overtaken on a blind bend.
Right-hand-drive cars are unlikely to be stolen, but auto-theft is a scourge in Italy as elsewhere. Thefts from moving cars is not unknown, so follow the American habit of locking the doors from the inside, at least in cities. Leave nothing visible inside the car. Lock valuables in the boot (trunk) or take them with you. Thefts should be reported to the police; ask for a photocopy of their report if you intend claiming on your insurance.
Taxis These have a characteristic colour in each city and are metered. Charges vary according to location. Rome is among the most expensive, the minimum fare being 3 euros before the meter starts running followed by 1.1 eros per kilometer up to 9.1 km. A taxi from Rome’s FiumcinoAirport to the city center is around 40 euros.
By air Rome, Milan and Florence (two airports each) are the main domestic and international hubs. Between the two cities there are 12 or more flights daily. There are 30 other cities on the mainland, plus three in Sicily and three in Sardinia, with commercial airports. Especially busy in the tourist season are Venice, Rimini, Naples and Catania in Sicily. Domestic flights are cheap and on top of that there are reductions for families and discounts for night flights.
By bus Despite the comprehensive rail service, there are numerous privately-run bus services, especially in remote areas.
Italy has some of the most expensive hotels in the world, including the Cipriani in Venice, charging upwards of 1000 euros a night. On Sardinia’s Costa Smeralda prices are notoriously high too – you can pay more than 600 euros for a standard room at the Hotel Pitrizza, not much less at Cala di Volpe and Romazzino.
Across Italy half board (mezza pensione) where offered can be better value than bed & breakfast. Low season prices can be half high season rates.
More affordable are the numerous alberghi and pensioni, graded by stars. One star means old-fashioned, basic and cheap; two is usually creaky but comfortable; with three you can expect elevators, car parking and TVs in rooms. Lastly there is the locanda, the lodging house typically found in small villages. Here you can expect to pay 30-40 euros a night. Displayed on the door of every room in every hotel and pensione is the official tariff. If you are charged more, demand an explanation. The tariff should show whether taxes, air-conditioning and breakfast are included. Unlike in France, you are not expected to eat in the hotel restaurant; many hotels do not have one.
In coastal areas there are the tourist villages, a relatively new development for Italy, with inexpensive chalet accommodation. Useful also is the agriturismo scheme: converted farm buildings available for bed-and-breakfast. Many have integral kitchens for self-catering; they are nearly always sound value for money, though not necessarily cheap. See www.agriturist.it
More and more visitors to Italy are staying in furnished villas or apartments. Contact a well-known company with a proven track record.
Banks and currency exchange
Banks open Monday to Friday 8 or 8.30-1.30 then 15.00 to 16.00. Very few open on Sat. Currency exchanges (Cambii) keep longer hours, proportionate to the size of place in which they are located. You find them at railway stations as well as airports, ferry terminals and town centres.
Motorways have SOS telephones. On other roads, dial 800.116.800 for assistance – this works on a mobile with a foreign provider.
You must wear a reflective coat if you get out of a car after a breakdown or an accident.
Drinking and smoking regulations
These generally follow EU norms.
As in most of Europe, Italy is 220V, 50 AC. Plugs are two-pronged. Take an adaptor for foreign electrical appliances.
For the general public emergency service dial 113 – this number is manned by multilingual operators, and connects you with the police or the highway police.
For the carabinieri immediate action service (crime and road accidents): dial 112. Use thesee numbers only in real emergencies – vital medical aid, serious personal danger, natural disaster. Otherwise call 800.116.800.
Foreign visitors should read the instructions which come with their travel insurance or travellers’ cheques: they explain exactly how to replace them if lost or stolen.
Reports of lost documents such as passports have to be made on stamped legal paper. For a replacement passport, contact your consulate or telephone 116 for advice.
Itally operates on the metric system:
One litre = 1.7 pints
(1 imperial gallon = 4.54 litres);
1 U.S. gallon = 3.73 litres. One kilogramme (1,000 grams) = 2.2 lbs.
One kilometre (1,000 metres) = 0.62 miles
To convert kilometres to miles multiply by five and divide by eight, and vice-versa.
The Italian National Health Service operates through local health units – see under Unità Sanitaria Locale in the telephone directory. EU nationals should show their reciprocal health care form (see under Documentation). Pharmacies are usually open same hours as other shops: 9 to 1 and 4 until 8. They are closed on Sundays and on alternate Wednesdays and Saturdays, but they operate a 24-hour service on a rotating shift basis, details of which are displayed on pharmacy doors and windows.
Medicines are rather expensive, and so is dental treatment, which you have to arrange for yourself.
Fall on January 1 and 6; Easter Monday; April 25th; May Day (May 1st); August 15th; December 8th, 25th and 26th. Provincial towns additionally celebrate local feast days.
Banks: see above, under Banks and currency exchange.
Museums and tourist attractions: this site does not give specific opening times for every place, but the following general rules may be useful. State museums, major art galleries, national and regional museums and archaeological sites open 8.15-2 weekdays except Mon. A few popular places open again 4-7 or thereabouts. Special sights such as Pompeii and Herculaneum are open all day in high season, from 9 am to 10 pm.
The Vatican museums have their own timetable: Mon to Sat 9 to 1.45, Easter and Jul-Sep, 8.45-4. They also open on the last Sunday in the month, when admission is free.
Many small churches, being vulnerable to theft, are kept locked – a notice on the door tells you where to find the sacristan. Many more are open to visitors mornings only.
Remember that works of art all over Italy may be covered up for five days preceding Easter Sunday.
Post offices transact business Monday to Friday 8.30 am to 1.30, and 3 to 4; they close around noon on Saturdays. You can buy stamps at tobac-conists and news stands.
Shops keep flexible hours, usually 9 am to 1 pm and 3.30 pm to 7.30 or 8 pm. Most close on Sundays and one (variable) afternoon per week, but in tourist resorts most shops open all day every day. Cafés and coffee bars open 7 am to 10 pm or later.
Post and telephone
Post offices will hold letters addressed to individuals on the move until collected in person. The envelope should carry the name of the recipient, the words Fermo Posta and the name of the locality. The recipient pays a fee to collect the letter.
Public telephones take coins, phone cards or debit/credit cards – however some take only hone cards and some take only coins. Phonecards, known as ‘Scheda Telefonica’ (or Scheda colloquially), are available from Telecom shops, post offices, and many bars and tobacconists. They are especially useful for international calls. Dial 12 for local directory enquiries, 13 for the operator, 113 for the emergency service.
Between 7.30 and 9 am, and in the evening between 6 and 8. Main thoroughfares in and out of Rome and Naples are particularly congested at these times.
The whole country observes Central European Time (GMT plus one hour) and is one hour ahead of the U.K. and six hours ahead of U.S. Eastern Standard Time. Summer Time applies from the last weekend in March (advance one hour) to the last weekend in September (retard one hour).
Despite what some guide books tell you, tipping is now widely frowned on in Italy. There are a few exceptions: all restaurants and a few bars – you can tell by looking for a saucer of coins near the till – and public WCs. In major museums, signs will warn you not to tip the guides. Taxi drivers, of course, will expect something.
See The Italian State Tourist Office or Ente Nazionale del Turismo (ENIT) website, www.enit.it/en This has offices in capital cities all over the world.
Within Italy, tourist information is provided by provincial tourist boards that operate tourist information offices, indicated by an italic i in every place of interest. Regional and provincial boards do not deal directly with the public: they produce the material which information offices distribute free of charge – maps, street plans, leaflets, hotel lists, timetables, programmes of events.
On the outskirts of cities, usually where motorways join the tangenziale, there are enlarged service areas providing tourist information and a hotel booking service. Major tourist attractions are well signposted from motorways, and in many towns there are large yellow plaques headed Itinerario Turistico, listing local attractions.
Travel light, even in your own car. Formal clothes are unncessary for an Italian holiday, unless you stay in the grand hotels. If you visit churches or monasteries, respect local feelings and cover up bare flesh.
While lightweight clothing is de rigueur, take a jersey or sweater for evenings. All summer visitors should have a light raincoat, a pair of light, comfortable shoes and of course a sun hat; in winter you need a heavier coat.
Citizens of the EU, the U.S.A. and other countries require a valid passport or visitor’s card (no visa). Drivers may generally use a current driving licence issued in their known country if they are over 18. To rent a hire car you must produce both parts of you driving licence and in most cases pay with a credit card, not a debit card. If you have no credit card, call the hire company and ask if other arrangements are possible – exceptions can be made, eg providing cash for the insurance excess.Travelling in your own car you need all the usual documentation carried in your own country, eg insurance and registration document, plus some extras. These are listed on motoring organization websites, for example www.rac.co.uk
Medical and travel insurance
EU residents should carry the form entitling them to reciprocal health treatment in other EU states. However, the cost of treatment and medication must be paid for at the time and reclaimed later after a long-winded procedure. Other nationalities are recommended to purchase (or to arrange on an existing policy) medical and travel insurance before departure.
If you buy insurance against loss or theft of personal belongings, read the insurer’s conditions in the event of a claim before you go abroad. They may require you to report loss or theft to the police in order to validate a claim.
The standard unit is the euro. Paper notes are in 5,10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500. The commonest coins are 20 cents, 50 cents and one euro.
Major credit and cheque cards are accepted without demur in all but the smallest pensioni (guest-houses) and trattorie (small restaurants) in rural locations. Some garages still accept only cash.
We recommend a money belt or inside zipped pocket for carrying cash, cheques, cards and passports. Some cities, Rome, Naples, Genoa, Palermo and Bari particularly, are notorious for bag-snatchers who often work in pairs. Carry your bag or purse on the side away from the kerb. In cafés and restaurants keep them on your lap; and be especially vigilant on crowded buses and in street markets.
The regulations follow general EU rules. Instead of the former duty-free allowances, there are now guidelines for individual import and export of such goods as wines, spirits and tobacco across EU borders. Customs officers still maintain their vigilance, often covertly, against prohibited goods such as drugs and weapons which might assist terrorist activity.
Tourist information outside Italy
International telephone calls: from anywhere in the world you connect with Italy by first dialling 0039, then the area code, then the local number.
The Italian State Tourist Office (ENIT) is a department of the Ministry of Transport, not a travel agency. It has branches in most major cities worldwide and provides plenty of useful information.
Local customs: what to expect, how to behave
The Italian’s day begins early and ends late, frequently after midnight. The siesta after the main meal, which is lunch, lasts an hour or two in the north, all afternoon in the south. Early evening is devoted to a promenade (the passeggiata), up and down a main street or square. It fulfills many purposes: gossip, matchmaking, showing off new clothes. Not until 8 or 8.30 do the restaurants start filling up. Theatres, cinemas and the opera begin about then, and go on until midnight.
All but the anarchic young take pride in their personal appearance. Women are extremely fashion-conscious – hence the prevalence of great Italian fashion designers. Since clothes, shoes and jewellery are always stylish, if not always of top quality, men and women manage to look smart even on limited incomes. Leather has an enduring appeal for the Italian.
Don’t be offended by personal questions. Accept compliments about your clothes, your appearance and (if a woman) your beauty in the spirit in which they are made. They are the Italian’s way of being friendly. Don’t take outbursts of Latin emotion too seriously and do not try to compete – the Italian admires the sang-froid traditionally associated with the British and other northern Europeans.
Italy remains in general a patriarchal, separatist society: conscious of the differences between the classes, the sexes, the regions, and not particularly inclined to minimize them.
Petty bureaucracy is rife. You will not reform the system single-handed. Exercise patience, try to smile rather than snarl at the railway booking-office free-for-all and the long queue at the bank which never moves. Having children with you can work wonders in melting bureaucratic indifference.