Hidden Europe: unique experiences in Europe's cities
Sep 08, 2020 · By Katie Shaw
Europe’s cities are treasure troves of culture, teeming with iconic, must-see sights to enthral even the most seasoned of tourists.Read more
The land of the Romans and the Renaissance, of food and fashion and of myths and Michelangelo, Italy is an enigmatic mix of fascinating history and culture. As the center of one of the first true centres of human civilisation in the world, Rome makes for a historical safari of ancient proportions. At its heart sits the majestic Colosseum, the largest amphitheatre in the world and an incredible reminder of the power of the Roman Empire. A short distance away is the smallest sovereign state in the world and the religious hub for the Catholic church, the magisterial Vatican City. Deep within the tangled web of alleys and walkways that make up Rome lies the babble of the Trevi Fountain, featured in the classic romantic film, 'Three Coins in the Fountain'.
We've created a collection of Italian rail tours that cater for every taste, whether your preference is to admire the architecture that has made cities such as Rome famous, or you wish to escape to the beautiful Italian lakes.
Effortlessly captivating and endlessly inspiring, Italy does everything with flair - and we discover it in the most romantic way possible, from its wonderful network of railways.
The Italy outside of Rome is no less impressive. In the south lies the sun-drenched island of Sicily, with its azure oceans and intrinsically Italian way of life, watched over by the brooding volcano, Mount Etna. Up the western coast of Italy is Pisa, where the ever-baffling Tower of Pisa leans nonchalantly over the cathedral of the city. In the north of the country is the one of the worlds indisputable cities of romance - the 'Floating City' of Venice. Set upon a series of islands divided by a number of canals, this wonderful metropolis is home to St Mark's Square and the Doge's Palace. It also has been the set for hundreds of films across the years as well as the location of William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice. Travel from Venice towards Milan, and you come across the crystalline surface and charming villages of Lake Garda from where expeditions into the snowy mountains of the Italian Alps can be mounted.
Italian culture is a potent cocktail of art, sport and music. As the site of the Renaissance, Italy has produced many of the finest masters of sculpture, painting and architecture in history. Household names such as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael were all born in Italy and many of their works still adorn the monuments and buildings of the Renaissance era including Michelangelo's work on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and Raphael's work in the Palace of the Vatican.
As for music, Italy was the birthplace of opera and the operatic form, with an impressive list of opera composers such as Giuseppe Verdi and Claudio Monteverdi hailing from Italy. Many of the most famous operas in the world are written in Italian and set in Italy including the Marriage of Figaro and Rigoletto. As with much of Europe, Italy's main sport is football. Italians are particularly passionate about football and international tournaments can bring everyday life to a standstill, especially in the rural regions. Their national side is known as the 'azurri' which is 'blue' in Italian, after the colour which the team wears. Some of the biggest teams in Italian club football include Juventus, Inter Milan and A.S Roma
Italy enjoys an exceptional rail network, with rail still a popular method of travel for thousands of Italians daily. Routes run up and down the country and rail offers the perfect way to experience the wonderful Italian countryside, from the rolling vineyards of Tuscany to the cliffs of the southern coast.
A selection of heritage trains also still operates in Italy. One notable example is the Centovalli railway which trawls through the trees, alongside the lakes and over the mountains of northern Italy. The railway's name means 'One Hundred Valleys', which is taken from the many valleys that the line crosses and passes through on its route.
Italy's cuisine needs little introduction; most travellers will be familiar with classic Italian creations such as pizza, spaghetti Bolognese, salami and minestrone soup. As with other countries, however, Italy's food varies greatly between regions which have different traditions and styles of cookery. In general terms, Italian cuisine stems from the simple combination of fresh and flavoursome produce to create colourful dishes that preserve the identity of individual ingredients yet harmonise flavours perfectly. Pasta, polenta and risotto rice are staples of Italian cuisine and to these a variety of meats, fish, vegetables, herbs and sauces can be added to create simple yet utterly delicious meals. These can be accompanied by Italy's famous and excellent wines which include the white Pinot Grigiot, and the red Chianti.
Thanks to a Mediterranean climate, Italy largely enjoys hot, sunny summers and mild, wet winters where snowfall is relatively rare, with the exception of mountainous regions such as the Italian Alps and the Dolomites. Inland summer temperatures usually average between 82 and 91°F, whilst sea breezes lower the temperature slightly along Italy's coasts. Early autumn brings brief thunderstorms but temperatures remain warm and rainfall is short-lived. As such, waterproof clothing is not required and can be kept to a minimum.
Italian is the original Romantic language, with its roots in the Latin, which preceded it as the language of Italy. Nowadays, Italian is fast-paced, expressive and fascinating to listen to. Helpful Italian expressions include 'buongiorno' meaning 'good morning', 'buona sera' meaning 'good afternoon' and 'grazie mille' which means 'thank you very much'. 'Buongiorno' is pronounced 'bwon- jor-noh', 'buonasera' is pronounced 'bwon-ah-ser-a' and 'grazie mille' is 'graz-ee-eh mee-lay'.
Many festival days have their origins in the Catholic faith. One example is the Epiphany which is celebrated on the 6th of January, intended as a day for the birth of Jesus Christ. This day marks the end of the Christmas season and in many ways has similar festivities to Christmas, including children receiving presents from the Befana, a magical old lady. A particular event to watch out for is the Venice Carnival.
This incredible carnival of masks and beautiful costumes happens just before Lent, and features parades and festivities across the city. In restaurants across Italy, a service charge is normally added to the bill which then goes to the staff. A small tip of €2 or €3 is always appreciated, however.
Italian people are open, passionate and talkative. The city population can tend to be more temperamental and reserved while the country people are often more friendly and welcoming.
Helping you plan your tour to Italy