The Antipodean travel company serving world travellers since 1983
History, Art, and Architecture in Small Group Tours of Italy
Once the centre of the Roman Empire and the birthplace of the Renaissance, Italy has much to offer travellers. Florence, the city of important artists and thinkers such as poet Dante Alighieri and political philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli and home of the powerful Medici family, gave birth to the Renaissance and left behind a legacy that shaped the Italy we know today. The city-state of Venice emerged on a lagoon from the ruins of the Roman and Byzantine empires in the 9th century and grew to become the greatest seaport in late medieval Europe and an important centre of commerce linking the continent to the East. And of course, who can resist the beauty of the Eternal City, Rome?
Join Odyssey’s small group tours of Italy and visit the ancient ruins of Pompeii and the Roman Forum, admire the Sistine Chapel and other works of the great artistic masters, and experience the breathtaking scenery of the Amalfi Coast, where whitewashed villages tumble into azure blue seas. After a long day of exploring, dig in and savour Italy’s iconic cuisine. Beyond the (delicious) staples of pizza and pasta, Italy’s food culture is fiercely local, with each region having its own mouth-watering speciality for you to try as you tour the beautiful Italian landscape.
Odyssey travels by coach and occasionally uses local transport, including trains and ferries when operating its small group tours of Italy. Specifics are always outlined in your tour itinerary. Italy has a centralised and impressively extensive rail network that is more affordable than most European rail networks, and is usually the best way to travel from city to city. You can travel between nearly all major cities by train. All up, the Italian Railway System has nearly 20,000km of rail.
In major cities, Odyssey stays in centrally located 3-4 star hotels, with easy access to public transport. In smaller towns or rural areas, we usually stay in family-run hotels or guesthouses. On our longstay tours, during which you spend the length of the tour in a single location, we use serviced apartments.
Odyssey always engages local guides with regional knowledge to ensure an authentic experience during which you can learn as much as possible about the history and culture of places you visit.
Geography, environment, & weather
Perhaps the most famously shaped country in the world, Italy takes the form of a boot kicking Sicily out into the ocean. It borders Switzerland, France, Austria, and Slovenia and is extroardinarily mountainous, the Alps forming its northern boundary. Italy is divided into twenty regions and has a population of around 61 million.
In terms of weather, the climate can vary wildly but it is usually very mild in areas such as Rome, Florence and Tuscany. However, it can get cold at night, especially in the winter, and certain areas can become extremely dry and hot during the summer. And, of course, if you’re planning on heading to the mountains, you’ll need to pack for snow.
World Heritage sites
Italy has an impressive 48 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. You can view the official list of the sites here (http://whc.unesco.org/en/statesparties/IT). While every single site has something of value, here are a few highlights:
- The historic centres of several towns are listed as World Heritage Sits, including those of Florence, Rome, Naples, Urbino, and Siena.
- The Church and Dominican Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, which includes Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper”.
- The Piazza del Duomo in Pisa, a Piazza that contains four cultural monuments including the famous leaning tower.
- The Medici Villas and Gardens in Tuscany.
Festivals & events
Italy is the cultural centre of many artistic and industrial fields, and thus there are plenty of events to look out for across the country and throughout the year. Here are a few that are worth marking on your calendar:
- The Venice Biennale is one of the world’s most spectacular art exhibitions. It was founded in 1895, and takes place every two years.
- Milan Fashion Week is held in September/October and February/March each year; it is among the most popular and influential fashion shows in the world.
- Carnevale, a pre-Lent festival, is popular throughout Italy, but its most famous celebration is the Venice Carnevale, during which revellers wear elaborate masks.
- If you’re even vaguely interested in sports, try not to miss an Italian football match. The atmosphere is extraordinary and the spectacle is unforgettable.
- The Land Where Lemons Grow: The Story of Italy and its Citrus Fruit, by Helena Attlee
- The Rise and Fall of the House of Medici by Christopher Hibbert
- SPQR by Mary Beard
- The Popes: A History by John Julius Norwich
- The Pursuit of Italy: A History of a Land, its Regions and their Peoplesby David Gilmour
Eating & Drinking
Traditionally, Italians enjoy a small breakfast, a single-dish lunch, and a single-dish dinner. Breakfast is often simply a pastry and a cappuccino; drinking a cappuccino later in the day, rather than an espresso, is seen as strange. In smaller towns, shops often close down for around an hour for lunch, which is regarded as the most important meal of the day. Dinner is generally eaten after 8pm.
When eating in Italian bars in city centres, you will likely be charged significantly more if you are seated outside instead of standing at the bar, or ordering takeaway. This is due to establishments being taxed heavily for placing seating outside. Often, when ordering drinks or coffee, you order at the cash register, then take your receipt to the bar staff or barista who will serve you. Tips of a euro or two are generally appreciated.
Here’s a tip: If you are in a large group ordering pastas, try to order the same kind (say, spaghetti or penne), as the pasta itself is often cooked fresh, meaning ordering a variety of pastas can slow down service and frustrate the kitchen.
Health & safety
Smarttraveller.gov provides the latest advice on travelling to Italy. While Italy is largely a safe country for tourists, you will often see signs warning of pickpockets in areas popular with tourists, so it’s important to keep a close eye on your belongings at all times.
Whenever you travel overseas, it’s always wise to take an appropriate travel adaptor. Plugs in Italy have two round pins, so make sure to pick up the right adaptor before your trip.
The city of Rome
Padua, Northern Italy
Opera in Venice
Explore Parma & Bologna
Italy has a single time zone, Central European Time. The nation observes daylight saving time from the last Sunday in March to the last Sunday in October.
If you’re on an Odyssey tour, we take care of tipping. So, when you’re with the group, you don’t need to give it a second thought. However, in your free time, or if travelling independently, it’s essential that you make sure you tip an appropriate amount for services, as is the case throughout much of Europe. It’s customary to tip 10% of the bill at restaurants, or 1 to 3 euro at a more casual establishment. It’s polite to round a bill up to the nearest whole figure or leave the change when buying drinks.
Internet is easily accessible, and most hotels and many cafes will be able to offer it.
It maybe patchy in the more rural parts of Italy.
Check with your cell phone provider to see whether you’re able to make calls and use data while in Italy. Many providers will allow you to pay a daily fee that allows you to make calls and check the internet while only being charged your regular rates. However, be certain to inform your provider that you’re heading overseas, because just like a bank they can turn off your service as a result of unusual activity.
Responsible Travel Tips For Italy
- Learn at least the local greetings to break the ice. Although many locals speak English, The more you know of the native language, the greater your experience of the country will be.
- Carry a card in your wallet or purse from your local hotel, to assist you with the return journey if you do become lost.
- Always ensure that you are covered by travel insurance. If you need advice on this feel free to contact Odyssey and we’ll be able to help.
- When travelling independently, make sure you check the opening hours of shops and museums so that you don’t miss out!
- Also be certain to check whether your trip coincides with any public holidays, so you can plan accordingly.
- Before departing on your trip, contact your bank to inform them that you may be making purchases overseas. Otherwise, they may flag any activity on your account as suspicious.
- Check which ATMs and banks are compatible with your cards, to ensure you can withdraw cash with minimal fees.Before departing, make sure you have a number of euros in a range of denominations. You don’t want to be carrying around enormous amounts of cash, but take enough to make it easy to pay in locations that might not accept credit card. It will also help you avoid card transaction fees, and it makes tipping a breeze.