Italian Lakes (2013)
A-Z: A HANDY SUMMARY OF PRACTICAL INFORMATION
The lakes provide a huge variety of places to stay, from 19th-century villas fit for a queen to 16th-century farmhouses, city-centre designer hotels and campsites. The area is popular with Hollywood film stars, so if you can afford luxury you will not be disappointed. That said, there are options to suit every budget, and below we give contact details for the various types of accommodation. During the peak season of July and August, booking ahead is a must.
Reservations can be made by the tourist offices, but they are often very busy, and you may be handed a photocopied list of rooms in the area and left to fend for yourself. To avoid hassle, book directly before you arrive, and ensure you have written confirmation of your reservation.
Away from the lakes, the option of staying in a converted barn or farm building is increasingly common and is an excellent choice for exploring the hinterland and for more active holidays, such as walking, fishing and cycling. Farmers offer self-contained apartments, but rooms with or without en suites can be found.
An extensive list is available on www.agriturist.it , www.agriturismo.it , www.agriturismo.net or from the head offices of:
Agriturist, Corso Vittorio Emanuele 101, 00186 Roma, tel: 06-685 2337, www.byfarmholidays.com .
Via Manin 20, 58100 Grosseto, tel: 0564-417 418.
Terranostra, Via XXIV Maggio 43, 00187 Roma, tel: 06-4899 3208; www.terranostra.it .
Turismo Verde, Via Mario Fortuny 20, 00196 Roma, tel: 06-3240 111.
An excellent and highly economical way for hikers to explore the mountains, these shelters are basic but often provide hot meals and a warm atmosphere. The Club Alpino Italiano (Via Petrella 19, 20124 Milano) owns nearly 600 huts in the mountain districts. Information and itineraries can be found at The Touring Club Italiano (Corso Italia 10, 20122 Milano, tel: 02-852 6800). Consult www.touringclub.it or www.cai.it for full details.
Bed and Breakfasts
Standards in B&Bs vary (they are usually deemed 1-star or 2-star hotels), but are nevertheless the best way to experience life in an Italian family home. As with youth hostels, this option may be no more economical than staying in a budget hotel, and cash is often the only method of payment available. Consult www.bbitalia.it or www.bbitalia.com , which lists more than 13,500 B&Bs in all categories, from basic to luxurious.
Campsites fill up fast, so booking well ahead is advisable. The cheaper ones are tucked away in peaceful spots away from the main tourist areas, so access to a car is often a must. Chalets and mobile homes are offered on larger campsites in addition to tents; the sites are usually well equipped with pools, mini-supermarkets and games areas. Campsites tend to be closed in winter. A list of campsites with a location map is issued by Confedercampeggio, Via V. Emanuele 11, 50041 Calenzano (Florence), tel: 055-882 391, www.federcampeggio.it . Try also www.camping.it , www.campeggi.it and www.faita.it . Eurocamp (UK tel: 01-606 787 125, www.eurocamp.co.uk ) offers family holidays in permanent tents and self-catering chalets in the lakes.
As is to be expected, the nearer you are to the lakes, the higher the prices. Prime spots on the lake will be vastly more expensive than accommodation with less dramatic views, and especially in more rural areas. Breakfast is usually included, so if you prefer to eat more cheaply, it is worth asking if you can pay for the room only. As always, single travellers are penalised by often having to pay a hefty supplement for their single room.
Hotels are classified as follows: 5-star de luxe, 5-star, 4-star, 3-star, 2-star and 1-star. The term pensione (or pension), that describes a small 1-or 2-star hotel, is now only rarely used in Italy. Locande (inns), the most basic accommodation, are common outside touristy areas, but the name has now been adopted by chic and pricey city-centre hotels and is interchangeable with albergo and hotel .
A further option is motels, some of which come with pools, tennis courts and even beaches. A full list is available through the Italian Tourist Board ( www.enit.it ).
Private Home Stays
Accommodation in private homes is available in most cities and towns in Italy through contacting the local tourist office and asking for un elenco di affittacamere (list of persons letting rooms). As they are not official establishments, the tourist office does not grade them but will recommend the best ones.
Villa and Apartment Rentals
This is a popular, and often more economical way of staying by a lake or in a city centre, and is a good way of sampling local produce – and life – at the shops and markets. With rentals offered from a few nights to around a month, many holiday-makers split their time between two or three areas. Rental accommodation is increasingly listed privately on the internet and is often far cheaper this way, but a large number of companies offer extensive choices, often as part of a package:
Tel: +44 (0)20-8666 0407 www.italianbreaks.com
Holiday Homes in Italy
Tel: +44 (0)845-229 7057, www.holidayhomesinitaly.co.uk
Summer in Italy
Tel: US and Canada toll free: 1 800-509 8194 UK toll free: 0800-047 0248 International: +41 91-220 0567 www.summerinitaly.com .
Run by the AIG (Associazione Italiana Alberghi per la Gioventu’), affiliated to Hostelling International (HI), these are an excellent way of holidaying economically if travelling alone or with a family, and are much more sociable. A dorm bed costs around €18–25, a family room €15–20 per person.
In addition to the official HI hostels, a growing number of independent hostels offers accommodation at similar prices and often these are in more central locations; check www.hostelworld.com .
Self-catering kitchens and/or budget cafés are provided, as are discounted facilities such as bike and canoe hire. Like campsites, these are often tucked away from the main tourist drag and can therefore also mean a hop onto public transport to sightsee.
Strictly speaking, you need to be a member of HI to use the facilities at HI hostels, but it is not always required. Join your home organisation before you leave, and you can then also book ahead through its Booking Network.
Australia, tel: 02-9261 1111, www.yha.org.au .
England and Wales, tel: 0800-019 1700, www.yha.org.uk .
Ireland, tel: +353 1-830 4555, www.anoige.ie .
Italy, tel: 06-487 1152, www.aighostels.com .
New Zealand, tel: 0800-278 299, www.yha.co.nz .
Scotland, tel: 0345-293 7373, www.syha.org.uk .
US, tel: 240-650 2100, www.hiayh.org .
For entry into villas and gardens, expect to pay in the region of €2–8; for museums and art galleries, €4–12.
Budgeting for Your Trip
Italy is one of the priciest countries in Europe, and Milan the dearest city in Italy, so a trip here will never be a bargain. However, there are ways of keeping costs down, such as shopping at factory outlets for designer clothes and staying in family-run guesthouses rather than grand hotels. Expect to spend €100–180 on a standard double room in a 3-star hotel, although prices will be highest on the lakes in July and August; Milan, so hot its residents flee to the lakes at this time, will be cheaper.
Getting around by public transport is cheap: a one-day travel card in Milan, for example, will cost €4.50. Taxis and car rental are not advisable if your pockets are not deep: a taxi journey of 7km (4.5 miles) costs around €25, more than twice the cost of a single train ticket from Milan to Como. A day’s car hire will set you back around €80, with a litre of petrol roughly €1.70.
An evening meal can cost €25–60 (more if somewhere grand), while a pizza and a beer costs around €15. An alcoholic drink (beer or spirits) costs double the price of a soft drink, at around €3–4; local wine not much more.
Italians love children, and you will find that they are accepted – even doted on – even in smart restaurants. You can expect reduced entry for kids to museums and other attractions; admission is often free for under-6s. You will also pay less for kids’ tickets on trains, and you are likely to be charged a small fee (20–30 percent of the room price) for a cot or bed for a young child in your room.
In summer, beware of soaring temperatures: the sunscreen sold in Italy is often a lower factor than you might choose for your children, so it’s best to come prepared.
Differences in altitude and microclimates on the Italian Lakes means you should come prepared for extremes. Milan can be swelteringly hot, especially in August when temperatures rise well above 30°C (90°F) and the humidity is high – which is why the only people around are tourists; locals have fled to the cooler lakes.
The lakes’ microclimate keeps them mild in winter and pleasant in summer, but a day trip up into the mountains can see the temperature drop significantly even in July and August. It is therefore advisable to pack sweaters and jackets as well as sun cream in your day-bag to cope with the extremes in altitude.
When to visit
The best times to visit are in May, June and September when the temperature is balmy, not baking, and the evenings cool. July and August can get very hot, but things cool down off-season (October–Easter) when rain and heavy fog roll in and icy winds sweep down from the Alps. Midwinter is ski season in the northern areas of Trentino and it’s also a good time for a bargain city break.
What to wear
The Italian Lakes and Milan are known for their fashion and glamour, so it is worth packing something smart/trendy for dining out (although jackets and ties are rarely required for men) and for shopping. Bare legs are frowned upon when visiting religious buildings, and all visitors should have their shoulders covered.
The sun can be deceptively strong in high summer, so sun hats, long sleeves and high-factor sun lotion are recommended. Rain is a feature of winter, but it is wise to pack a raincoat and umbrella whatever time of year you go.
Shoes should be suitable for walking, especially on cobbled streets and for climbing steps, and have good grip to reduce the chance of slipping on boats.
Crime and Safety
Italy is a safe country and violent crime is rare, but petty crime is quite common, especially in tourist hotspots. As in all big cities around the world, watch out for pickpocketing and bag-snatching, and do not leave valuables in the car (if you really must, do not leave them on display). Crowded streets, busy tourist areas and train and bus stations are notorious targets, so it is wise to take basic precautions: keep a firm hand on your bag and camera and leave your valuables (including credit cards and extra money) in the hotel safe.
As always, take out adequate insurance coverage before leaving. If you are the victim of a crime or lose anything of value, it is essential to make a report (denuncia) at the nearest police station (questura) as soon as possible and get documentation to support your insurance. Be prepared to wait.
For help in an emergency, dial 113 for the local police, or 112 for the Carabinieri, the national police force.
Duty-free and tax-free goods are no longer available to EU residents, but there are no limits on how much you can buy on journeys within the EU, as long as you can prove it is for personal use. There are guidance levels:
3,200 cigarettes or 400 cigarillos or 200 cigars or 3kg of smoking tobacco;
10 litres of spirits; 20 litres of fortified wine; 90 litres of wine; 110 litres of beer.
Duty-free is still available to those travelling outside the EU, and allowances are as follows:
Australia: A$900 worth of goods (A$450 for under-18s and sea crew members) including gifts; plus 2.25 litres of alcohol; and 50 cigarettes, or 50 grams of cigars or tobacco products for each passenger aged 18 years or over. Check with the Australian Customs Service before you go: www.customs.gov.au .
New Zealand: NZ$700 worth of goods (children are eligible for this allowance provided the goods are their own property and a child would reasonably expect to own and use them); plus 50 cigarettes, or 50 grams of tobacco or cigars, or a mixture of all three weighing not more than 50 grams, 4.5 litres of wine or 4.5 litres of beer plus three bottles (or other containers) each containing not more than 1125ml of spirits or liqueur are also allowed. Check with New Zealand customs before travel ( www.customs.govt.nz ).
US: Each US tourist is allowed duty-free US$800 worth of goods purchased abroad. A flat rate of 3 percent is assessed on the next US$1,000 worth of goods purchased.
Luggage and passports are examined on entering and leaving Italy. Free entry is allowed for personal effects. Technically, professional photographers have to carry an ATA Carnet (issued in the UK through the London Chamber of Commerce, 33 Queen Street, London EC4R 1AP, tel: 020-7248 4444) for temporary importation of equipment.
A maximum of four litres of wine or one litre of spirits over 22 percent, 200 cigarettes and a quantity of cigars or pipe tobacco not exceeding 250 grams per person may be brought into the country duty-free. If you arrive in Italy after visiting other countries, you are allowed to carry up to €500 worth of souvenirs and only a verbal declaration is required.
Italy is not easy for disabled visitors, but is making slow progress in improving transport, accommodation and buildings.
New trains and buses are low-level, and more museums now have lifts, ramps and adapted toilets, and recent laws require restaurants, bars and hotels to provide spacious and specially adapted toilets. The new legislation does not, however, necessarily cover access to the facilities.
Accessible Italy , Via C. Manetti 34, 47891 Dogana, Repubblica di San Marino, tel: +39 378-941 111 or 378-0549-941 111, www.accessibleitaly.com , a not-for-profit organisation, offers tours to foreigners with disabilities as well as listings of accessible wedding locations.
For US visitors, the Society for Accessible Travel and Hospitality (sath), 347 5th Avenue, New York, NY 10016, tel: 212-447 7284, www.sath.org , provides access information for a large number of airlines.
In the UK, Disability Rights UK , Ground Floor, CAN Mezzanine, 49-51 East Rd, London, N1 6AH, tel: 020-7250 8181, www.disabilityrightsuk.org , has comprehensive disability information.
Access at Last is a ‘one-stop-shop’ for accessible accommodation and services with a worldwide database of places to stay: www.accessatlast.com
112 Police (Carabinieri)
113 Local Police (Polizia Statale)
115 Fire Brigade (Vigili del Fuoco)
116 Roadside assistance (Soccorso Stradale)
118 Ambulance (Ambulanza)
Italy uses 220v and two-pin plugs. Adaptors for British three-pin appliances can be purchased from airports or department stores in the city. Confusingly, outlets can be for small or close-set pins or wide and large pins. Some plugpoints may have overlapping holes to accept either older or newer types, but it may be sensible to have an adaptor for both types. You will need a transformer to use 100–120v appliances.
Embassies & Consulates
Embassies and consulates in Italy
Australia: Embassy, Via Antonio Bosio 5, 00161 Rome, tel: 06-852 721.
Consulate General, Via Borgogna 2, 20122 Milan, tel: 02-776 741; www.italy.embassy.gov.au .
Canada: Embassy, Via Zara 30, 00198 Rome, tel: 06-854 441.
Consulate General, Piazza Cavour 3, 20121 Milan, tel: 02-6269 4238; www.canadainternational.gc.ca .
Ireland: Embassy, Villa Spada, Via Giacomo Medici 1, 00153 Rome, tel: 06-585 2381. Consulate General, Piazza San Pietro in Gessate 2, 20122 Milan, tel: 02-5518 7569; www.dfa.ie/irish-embassy/italy .
UK: Embassy, Via XX Settembre 80a, 00187 Rome, tel: 06-4220 0001.
Consulate General, Via S. Paolo 7, 20121 Milan, tel: 02-723 001; www.gov.uk/government/world/italy .
US: Embassy, Via Vittorio Veneto 121, 00187 Rome, tel: 06-46741.
Consulate General: Via Principe Amedeo 2, 20121 Milan, tel: 02-290 351; http://italy.usembassy.gov .
Italian embassies abroad
Australia: Embassy, 12 Grey St, Deakin, Canberra, act 2600, tel: 02-6273 3333, www.ambcanberra.esteri.it .
Consulates: Melbourne, tel: 03-9867 5744 and Sydney, tel: 02-9392 7900.
Canada: Embassy, 275 Slater St, Ottawa, ON K1P 5H9, tel: 1613-234 2401, www.ambottawa.esteri.it .
Consulates: Montreal, tel: 514-849 8351 and Toronto, tel: 416-977 1566.
Ireland: Embassy, 63–65 Northumberland Rd, Dublin 4, tel: 31-660 1744, www.ambdublino.esteri.it .
New Zealand: Embassy, 34–38 Grant Rd, PO Box 463, Thorndon, Wellington, tel: 04-473 5399, www.ambwellington.esteri.it .
UK: Embassy, 14 Three King’s Yard, London W1K 4EH, tel: 020-7312 2200, www.amblondra.esteri.it .
Consulates: London, tel: 020-7235 9371, Edinburgh, tel: 0131-220 3695, and Manchester, tel: 0161-236 9024.
US: Embassy, 3000 Whitehaven St NW, Washington DC 20008, tel: 202-612 4400, www.ambwashingtondc.esteri.it .
Consulates: Chicago, tel: 312-467 1550, New York, tel: 212-737 9100, San Francisco, tel: 415-292 9210.
Festivals and Events
Milan – Epiphany: Costumed parade of the Three Wise Men, from the Duomo to Sant’Eustorgio.
Brescia province – Musiche dal Mondo: Major series of classical concerts and recitals running from December to March ( www.bresciatourism.it ).
Salò, Garda: Classical musical performances (every Sunday afternoon in the resort).
Ascona, Lake Maggiore (1 Jan): Firework display.
All Italy – Carnival (dates vary): celebrated in February or March. Verona Bacanal del Gnoco.
Franciacorta Carnival, Erbusco – Allegorical floats parade in the heart of sparkling wine country; similar ones take place in Bergamo, Varese, Bormio, Schignano, Arco, as well as in Pisogne and Clusane on Lake Iseo.
Milan – Carnevale Ambrosiano: Celebration of the city’s patron saint, with children’s costumed parades and chiacchiere , special biscuits.
Milan – Fashion collections: invitation-only shows held during Fashion Week at end Feb/early Mar.
Mid-March: Cantine Aperte, “Open Wine Estates”. A chance to visit many estates in Lombardy and other regions for tastings ( www.bresciatourism.it ).
Easter is celebrated throughout the region with parades, markets and fairs.
Trento – 15 April: Motorbike Blessing – Trento’s archbishop blesses around 1,000 motorbikes in the Piazza Duomo.
Mid–end May: Open palazzi , with guided tours in Trento and its suburbs ( www.cultura.trentino.it ).
End Apr–beginning May: Trento Film Festival ( www.trentofestival.it ).
Orta San Guilio – 1–31: “Ortafiori” Flower Festival. Camellia flower show.
Omegna – 31 May: Madonna del Lago procession at 8.30pm, Bagnella.
Brescia – mid-May: Mille Miglia, the country’s best-known vintage car rally, from Brescia to Rome and back, with concerts and events staged en route ( www.1000miglia.eu ).
Stresa – May and June: International Organ Festival.
Lake Maggiore – 17: Locarno – Strawberry Festival.
25–8: Ascona – International Street Artists Festival.
27: Brissago – Fish Festival.
Erbusco, Franciacorta – Festival d’estate Franciacorta: wine and food festival ( www.franciacorta.net/en/festival/ ).
Brescia – Brescia con Gusto: Three-day food fair around Brescia’s courtyards and city squares, with tastings of oil, cheeses, sardines and lake fish.
Como – Until Aug: Lario Jazz and Rhythm ’n’ Blues festival; famous artists performing in different villages around the lake ( www.provincia.como.it ).
St John’s Day/Sagra di San Giovanni: The Isola di Comacina commemorates the destruction of its 12th-century city with a huge firework display.
Lake Lugano – Estival Jazz Lugano – end June–early July: free concerts in Mendrisio and Lugano.
Lake Orta – Mid-June: Week-long Festival Cusiano di Musica Antica.
Festival of Ancient Music in Orta San Giulio.
Amenoblues Festival, Ameno – June and July: A highlight in the blues jazz calendar ( www.amenoblues.it ).
Trento – mid-end June, Festival of San Vigilio: The town celebrates its patron saint through historical re-enactments ( www.festevigiliane.it ).
Verona – Opera season begins in the famous open-air Roman Amphitheatre. Until Sept ( www.arena.it ).
June–Sept Provincia in Festival: Music, theatre, dance and cinema ( www.provinciainfestival.it ).
June–Aug: live music in Piazza Grande in Locarno.
Firework displays: at Limone, Salò, Sirmione, Riva and in Omegna (Lake Orta) in August; Locarno and Muralto in Lake Maggiore, and also Lake Como (Festival dei Fuochi) in late June and especially in Gravedona (midsummer feast, 14 Aug).
Trentino – The Sounds of the Dolomites: “Music in the Mountains”, free open-air festival ( www.visittrentino.it ; www.fassa.com ).
Gardone Riviera – Stagione al Vittoriale. Summer season at the Teatro del Vittoriale, in the amphitheatre of the Vittoriale, D’Annunzio’s home: music, dance, theatre and recitals ( www.anfiteatrodelvittoriale.it ).
Bogliaco di Gargnano – Cento Games: Sailing regatta with some of the boats from the Centomiglia del Garda ( www.centomiglia.it ).
Lake Garda – Palio delle Bisse: Night regatta with a folkloric gondolier-style rowing competition in memory of Venetian rule.
Lake Ledro – Match Race Isaf: America’s Cup in miniature, but female. (Lake Regattas are held throughout the summer on Lake Garda; see www.fragliavelariva.com for details).
Desenzano – Fish festival, with free wine tastings. Settimana della Tinca, Clusane – a week of feasting on the local lake fish, organised by Operatori Turistici Clusane.
Salò – Classical outdoor concerts staged in Piazza Duomo in July and August; also held in Lake Como Aug–Sept.
Como – Stagione Concertistica in Villa Carlotta: classical music concerts in a stunning setting.
Lake Orta – mid-July: Sagra del Pesce di Camogli, Omegna – two-day sea and lake fish festival.
Como – 16: Pognana Lario, Sagra degli Gnocchi – Food festival celebrating gnocchi, prepared by all the women of the village.
Centro Lago – Regatta of the Lucie, the Como standing rowing boats.
Lake Orta – First week: Miasino Classic Jazz Festival ( www.prolocomiasino.it ).
Last two weeks: World Fireworks Championship.
Lake Maggiore – 10 days in early August: Locarno International Film Festival ( www.pardolive.ch ).
Ascona – Sept and Oct: Settimane Musicali concerts held by international ensembles in town and around the lake ( www.settimane-musicali.ch ).
Weekly free classical music concerts are also held throughout the year.
Lake Garda – Centomiglia Regatta: Europe’s most important sailing event starts in Bogliaco but races to Riva, Sirmione, Desenzano and Salo ( www.centomiglia.it ).
Arco – Aug and Sept: Rockmaster, free-climbing world championships staged on Europe’s largest open-air wall: 18 metres (59ft) in height, 650 sq metres (7,000 sq ft) to be climbed and 2,000 mobile grips ( www.rockmaster.com ).
Iseo – Fiera dei Vini: wine fair in Rovato, near Iseo, held first weekend of Sept.
Pisogne – Festa del fungo e della castagna: Autumn festival on Lake Garda devoted to mushrooms and chestnuts, with stands selling local produce of every description ( www.bresciaatavola.it ).
Trentino – Traubenkur – bizarre grape juice cure.
Milan – Spring fashion collections: invitation-only shows held in October Fashion Week.
MVM Milan Fashion Fair (milan-ovendemoda) end of September, based on women’s ready-to-wear, Fiera Milano City ( www.fieramilano.it ).
Val di Fiemme and Val di Fassa – Marcialonga Running Coop: September version of the most famous Italian Nordic skiing race, which shares the same starting and finishing lines: Moena and Cavalese ( www.marcialonga.it ).
Como and area – End Aug–mid-Sept: Palio del Baradello, Historical re-enactment of Barbarossa’s entrance to Como in the 12th century ( www.paliodelbaradello.it ).
Sept/Oct: Miniartextil – International review of contemporary textile art ( www.miniartextil.it ).
Lake Maggiore – First weekend: Locarno Triathlon – the only medium-distance triathlon in Switzerland ( www.3locarno.ch ).
Mid-Sept: Locarno-Monti Wine Festival.
October: Lake Garda Marathon: Begins in Limone on the western shore and finishes in Malcesine on the opposite side, via the northern shore of Riva del Garda, Arco and Torbole ( www.lakegardamarathon.com ).
Lake Garda – Desenzano: October Wine and Chestnut Festival to celebrate the grape harvest, on Lake Garda.
Pucia e Schisa: October barrel race in Erbusco, Franciacorta, plus food and wine fair.
Clusane, Lake Iseo – Vino Novello celebrates local wine and fish dishes.
Milan – “Oh bej Oh bej”: A local holiday in honour of the city’s patron saint; huge Christmas market.
7 Dec: La Scala official opening, with the opera season running until July ( www.teatroallascala.org ).
Christmas Cribs (Presepi): processions and Christmas cribs on display in churches all over the lakes, with a fabulous one set over the water in Desenzano, by the Porto Vecchio.
Como – Città de Balocchi celebrates Christmas with a series of children’s events and fireworks on New Year’s Eve in the main square ( www.cittadeibalocchi.it ).
Lake Maggiore – 26 Nov–6 Jan: Locarno on Ice ( www.locarnoonice.ch ).
Lake Maggiore – Dec: Mercatini di Natale Christmas markets.
Gay & Lesbian Travellers
In large towns, and especially in Italy’s gay capital of Milan, homosexuality is accepted, and the growing gay scene reflects this (see www.arcigaymilano.org and www.listalesbica.it ). However, this is a Catholic country, and attitudes become conservative and even homophobic outside tourist areas, where even heavy petting in public is viewed harshly. The age of consent in Italy is 14. The website www.gayfriendlyitaly.com is a guide to the gay scene across the country.
Health & Medical Care
The public health system in Italy is generally excellent and is managed provincially by asl (Azienda Sanitaria Locale), which can provide information on how to find the nearest hospital, clinic or any other medical service you may need. Private hospitals and clinics in Italy are very good, but are expensive if are not covered by medical insurance.
First Aid Service (Pronto Soccorso) with a doctor on hand is found at airports, ports, railway stations and hospitals. If you need an ambulance, you can call 118 from anywhere in Italy. As with any emergency abroad, call your local consul or embassy.
European citizens must have an EHIC (European Health Insurance Card) to be entitled to emergency medical treatment in Italy. They can be applied for in the UK online ( www.ehic.org.uk ), at the post office ( www.postoffice.co.uk) or by phoning 0845-606 2030. There are similar arrangements for citizens of other European Union countries, and Australians are entitled to the same reciprocal arrangement via the Medicare system. Visitors from outside the EU are strongly advised to take out adequate holiday and medical insurance to provide full cover during their stay abroad.
No vaccinations are needed to travel to or from Italy, and tap water is drinkable. It is a good idea to pack high-factor sunscreen (against the sun in summer and to protect from snowburn when skiing) along with mosquito repellent. It is also advisable to cover up as much as possible – the cooling breezes on the lakes mask the sun’s intensity.
The staff in chemists’ shops (farmacie) are extremely knowledgeable about common illnesses and can dispense many more medicines without prescription than in other countries. Pharmacies are identified by a cross, often red or green and usually in neon. Normal pharmacy opening hours are Mon–Fri 9am–1pm and 4–7pm. Every farmacia posts a list of the local chemists who are on emergency duty on the door or listed in the local paper.
Milan – Ospedale Maggiore Policlinicio, Via Francesco Sforza 35, tel: 02-55031.
Lake Maggiore – Italian Red Cross (ambulance): Varese, tel: 0332-813 163; Angera, tel: 0331-930 332; Luino, tel: 0332-510 444; Stresa, tel: 0323-33360; Verbania, tel: 0323-405 000.
There are accident and emergency departments at the following hospitals:
Bergamo – Ospedali Riuniti di Bergamo, Via Tito Livio 2, Bergamo, tel: 035-267 611.
Lake Como – Ospedale Sant’Anna, San Fermo della Battaglia, tel: 031-5851.
Lake Lugano – Ospedale Civico, Via Tesserete 46, tel: 091-811 6111.
Lake Maggiore – Arona, Ospedale SS Trinita’, Via S. Carlo 11, tel: 0322-5161. Cittiglio (near Laveno Mombello), Ospedale di Circolo, Via Guglielmo Marconi 40, tel: 0332-603 000. Luino, Ospedale di Circolo, Via Forlanini 6, tel: 0332-539 111.
Trento – S. Chiara Hospital L.go Medaglie D’Oro 9, 38100 Trento, tel: 0461-903 111.
Varese – Ospedale di Circolo, Fondazione Macchi, Viale Borri 57, tel: 0332-278 111.
Verona – Ospedale Policlinico di Borgo Roma, Via delle Menegone 10, Verona, tel: 045-812 4848.
There are left-luggage facilities at all airports and major railway stations with full security measures, but it isn’t a cheap option. Most hotels are happy to store your luggage for you if you arrive early or have a late flight. Make sure your bags are properly secured.
Milan – Council Office: Via Friuli, 30, tel: 02-8845 3900. Open daily 8.30am–4pm.
Train: Stazione Centrale, tel: 02-8845 3900. Open Mon–Fri 8.30am–4pm.
Maps are found in stationery shops, large news-stands and petrol stations. Tourist offices usually provide free city maps. Stockists in London include: Stanfords , 12–14 Long Acre, London WC2E 9LP, tel: 020-7836 1321, www.stanfords.co.uk .
Insight Fleximap Lake Garda & Veron a is a useful, waterproof map with all the detailed area and town plans you will need for your trip, as well as the lowdown on all top attractions and practical information.
Italian newspapers are regionally based, with each large Italian town producing its own newspaper. A few newspapers, La Stampa , Il Corriere della Sera and La Repubblica , have a national following. English-language newspapers can be bought (at great expense) in major towns and tourism resorts.
Television is deregulated in Italy, so as well as the three national channels, RAI 1, 2 and 3, there are a huge number of other channels offering an array of chat, quiz and music shows. The main ones are Canale 5, Rete 4, Italia 1, La7 and MTV.
Banks and most shops are closed on the following holidays, and banks may close early on the preceding day.
1 January (Capodanno) New Year’s Day
6 January (Befana) Epiphany
March/April (Pasqua) Easter Sunday
March/April (Pasquetta) Easter Monday
25 April (Giorno della Liberazione) Liberation Day
1 May (Festa dei Lavoratori) Labour Day
2 June (Festa della Repubblica) Republic Day
15 August (Ferragosto) Assumption of the Blessed
1 November (Ognissanti) All Saints’ Day
8 December (Immacolata Concezione) Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary
25 December (Natale) Christmas
26 December (Santo Stefano) St Stephen’s Day
Offices and shops are also closed in Milan on 7 December, the feast day honouring St Ambrose, the city’s patron saint.
Italy’s currency is the euro (€), which is divided into 100 cents. The currency is available in 500-, 200-, 100-, 50-, 20-, 10- and 5-euro notes, and 2-euro, 1-euro, 50-cent, 20-cent, 10-cent, 5-cent, 2-cent and 1-cent coins.
Switzerland is outside the EU and uses the Swiss franc, divided into 100 cents. In practice, most people will accept euros.
Banks and ATMs
ATMs (bancomat) , are widely available and commonly used. There is usually a small transaction charge. Be aware that there is a limit to the amount you can withdraw each day (usually around €250). UK debit cards can also be used to buy goods in shops, with verification by pin at the checkout.
It is always wise to carry credit cards with you as a back-up, and while some places still insist on cash, this is slowly changing. At restaurants, petrol stations and budget hotels outside tourist areas, check beforehand if there is any doubt. With heightened fraud security, it’s worth telling your credit card company when you are travelling and taking a contact number, or they may refuse payments from an unexpected place. Traveller’s cheques are no longer widely accepted, as atms and credit cards have become the norm.
Banks offer the best rates of exchange, as many small exchange booths (cambio) charge up to 3 percent commission.
Shops and businesses usually open from around 8.30am–1pm and 3.30pm/4pm–7.30pm/8pm, although in the main cities and tourist areas some stay open throughout the day and, increasingly, Sundays too. In smaller towns, it is not uncommon for shops to close on Saturday afternoons and Monday mornings, while Sunday is still a day of rest for all but bars and restaurants.
Churches are generally open from 8.30am–noon and from 4–6pm; major Catholic churches (such as the Duomo in Milan) do not close in the afternoon.
Museums run by the government are supposedly open from Tue–Sat 9am–7pm (Sun 9am–1pm). Others are likely to close over lunch and will have reduced hours in winter.
Most things down on national holidays.
Main post offices in major towns are open all day; otherwise the hours are usually 8am–1.30/2pm Mon–Fri (11.45pm Sat). Note that some counters have different hours (eg registered mail, etc).
Stamps (francobolli) are sold at post offices and tobacconists’ shops (tabacchi) , as well as in some gift shops in tourist areas.
There is also a courier service available at major post offices for sending important documents worldwide guaranteed to arrive within 24/48 hours.
The post office group runs its own courier service, SDA ( www.sda.it ), but American companies FedEx (tel: 800-123 800, www.fedex.com/it_english ) and DHL ( www.dhl.it ) also operate here.
Italy is a Catholic country, with 88 percent of the population describing themselves as Catholic. In general, the Italians are very tolerant of other faiths, and accepting of the tourists that visit their churches. However, behaving appropriately when visiting churches is important: wear respectful attire (your shoulders and knees should be covered), switch off mobile phones and keep noise levels down, especially during services.
European standard GSM mobile/cell phones are widely used. Americans will need a tri-band phone. It may be worth buying an Italian SIM card if you intend to stay for more than a few weeks; buy a “pay as you go” card, normally called scheda prepagata in any mobile-phone shop. It costs €25, €50, €80, €100 or €150. The major networks available are offered by Telecom Italia (TIM), Vodafone and Wind.
Global roaming SIM cards from operators such as Go-Sim ( www.gosim.com ) allow you to receive calls for free in most countries and make them for considerably less than usual.
Coin-operated public telephones are becoming increasingly hard to find in the age of mobile phones, so you will need a phone card (carta telefonica) , which is available from tobacconists, newsstands or post offices in various denominations. You can also make calls from some bars and from post offices by calling scatti (ring first, pay later according to the number of units or scatti used) or using a credit card.
For international calls, the cheapest time to telephone is between 10pm and 8am Monday to Saturday, and all day Sunday, although buying an international phone card can make calling abroad remarkably cheap in a country known for its extremely high tariffs.
www.autostrade.it , www.rac.co.uk , www.theaa.com Driving in Italy and planning your journey from A to B.
www.hellomilano.it Good general site with listings information, advice and maps.
www.italia.it Italian tourism official website.
www.italianlakes.com A dedicated and informative site from an expat American couple, full of tips, advice and itineraries.
www.italia-magazine.co.uk Aimed at travellers and expats, with features on living la dolce vita plus good links.
www.mediasoft.it/piazze Virtually tour the squares of Italy.
www.museionline.info Excellent database on Italian museums
www.parks.it Useful portal about national and regional parks, plus event listings and itineraries.
Directory enquiries: 12
International enquiries: 176
International reverse charges (collect): 170
When dialling Italy from abroad, dial the country code (00 39) and then the area code including the initial zero.
In Italy, when calling numbers either inside or outside your area, dialling must always be preceded by the area code including the zero.
Area Code (Prefisso Telefonico)
Area codes for some of the principal cities of Italy and in the lakes region:
Lake Garda 0365
Lake Maggiore 0323
Italy is one hour ahead of London and Dublin, eight hours behind Sydney, 10 hours behind Auckland and six hours ahead of New York and Toronto.
Most Italian restaurants impose a cover charge (coperto) for linen, bread and service, but a tip of around 10 percent is appropriate for good service. There is no need to tip anyone else (drivers, concierges, maids) unless they have been especially helpful or if, in a hotel, your stay has been a long one. After dining, it is worth keeping the bill with you until you are at least 100 metres (300ft) away, to comply with Italian law – the restaurant owner (and possibly you) could otherwise face a heavy fine from the Guardia di Finanzia, the tax police.
Tourist offices abroad
The Italian State Tourist Board, enit (Ente Nazionale per il Turismo, Via Marghera 2/6, Rome, tel: 06-49711, www.enit.it ), provides tourist information for the whole country.
UK 1 Princes Street, London W1R 2AY, tel: 020-7408 1254.
US Suite 1565, 630 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10111, tel: 212-245 4822. There are also offices in Chicago, Los Angeles and Canada.
Tourist offices in Italy
Tourist information is available at the Azienda di Promozione Turistica (APT), the main tourist office in each provincial capital, and there are branches at major airports and stations. Most towns also have a tourist office (ufficio di turismo) , while in smaller villages, the comune holds tourist information and some commercial banks and travel agencies publish tourist guides. Office hours for larger towns are usually Mon–Sat 9am–1pm and 4–7pm (sometimes Sun mornings). Smaller offices can be erratic, and in winter may even close.
The Touring Club Italiano (TCI), with offices in almost every major town, provides free information about the area and also produces excellent road and hiking maps. See www.touringclub.it .
Via Gombito 13, Città Alta, tel: 035-242 226.
Urban Center, Viale Papa Giovanni XXIII 57, Città Bassa, tel: 035-210 204.
Airport, arrivals terminal, tel: 035-320 402.
Via Trieste 1, Brescia, tel: 030-240 0357 (City). Piazzale Stazione; tel: 030-837 8559.
Piazza Cavour 17, Como, tel: 031-269712.
Piazza Boldini 2, Gargnano, tel: 0365-791 243.
Corso Repubblica, Gardone Riviera, tel: 0365-20347.
Viale Marconi 2, Sirmione, tel: 030-916 114.
Largo Medaglie d’Oro, Riva del Garda, tel: 0464-554 444, www.gardatrentino.it
Via Capitanato 6/8, Malcesine, tel: 045-740 0044.
Piazzale Aldo Moro, Bardolino, tel: 045-721 0078.
Lake Iseo and Franciacorta
Lungolago Marconi 2/C, Iseo, tel: 030-374 8733. www.iseolake.info and www.bresciatourism.it
FFS, Lugano, tel: 091-923 5120. Piazza Riforma, Palazzo Civico, Lugano, Switzerland, tel: +41 58-866 6600.
Piazza Marconi 16, Stresa, tel: 0323-31308.
Piazza Stazione, SBB Railway Station, Locarno, Switzerland, tel: +41 848- 091 091.
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II (corner Piazza della Scala), tel: 02-8845 5555. www.turismo.milano.it
Via Manci 2, Trento; tel: 0461-216 000.
Via Romagnosi 9; tel: 033-228 1913.
www.vareselandoftourism.it and www.comune.varese.it
Via Degli Alpini 9, Piazza Brà, tel: 045-806 8680.
For a complete list of tourist offices throughout Italy, visit www.enit.it .
Visas and Passports
EU citizens need only a valid photo ID (passport, national ID card or driving licence) to enter Italy; no visa is required. All other nationalities need a valid passport unless you intend to stay for more than 90 days. You must then apply at any police station (questura) for an extension of an additional 90 days with evidence to prove you have adequate means of support. As a rule, permission is granted immediately. Other nationals should consult their embassy about visa requirements before entry.
Don’t forget that parts of the lakes are in Switzerland, so it’s best to carry your passport with you as you travel around.
You must register with the police within three days of entering Italy, although this is automatically done for you if staying at a hotel. The formality is rarely observed, but if you intend to stay for a longer period it is advisable to comply with regulations. You are legally required to carry a form of identification (driving licence, passport, etc) on you at all times.
Weights and Measures
The metric system is used for all weights and measures in Italy.