Cool things to do in Italy
One of the great things about Italy is that its long thin shape means that when you get fed up with sightseeing you are but a relatively short distance from a beach. But when you get there you might be rather confused, especially if you come from a country where beach access is free to all.
In theory that is the case in Italy but as with a lot of things in this country the practice may be somewhat different to the law. Many stretches of beach, particularly those close to urban areas, are let out to private concessions. In the season they cover almost all the beach with rows and rows of sunbeds (lettini) and umbrellas (ombrelloni). You have the right to pass through these establishments without being charged to get to the sea, and should be able to walk along the sea in front of them. More affordable are the beaches in Calabria, most are free, you will only need to pay for the eventual equipment you want to rent.
South of Rome there are 20 km of free beach at the Circeo National Park. This is thanks to Dr. Mario Valeriani, who was in charge of that area afterWWII and never gave permissions to build anything, in spite of the very generous bribes offered by a multitude of would be investors and private millionaires, as he though this was a natural marvel that was to remain as it was intended. So today we can all enjoy this stretch of nature. You can bring your own chair and sun cover and you will only be charged a parking fee on the main road.
While renting lettini for the day is not particularly expensive at establishments, they can fill up very quickly. There are some free beaches everywhere: they are easily identifiable by the absence of regimented rows of lettini. They can get very crowded: on a Saturday or Sunday in the summer you won’t find an empty stretch of beach anywhere. Most establishments offer full services including entertainment, bar and restaurant, gym classes, kindergarten and much more. Close to urban areas you will never be far from a fish restaurant on the beach or, at the very least, a bar. On the beach, topless women are more or less accepted everywhere but complete nudity is absolutely not accepted anywhere in Italy and it carries a hefty fine and/or arrest.
Italy was the birthplace of Western opera during the late 16th century, and unsurprisingly, Italy is some to some of the world’s most famous opera houses, the best known of which is the Teatro alla Scala in Milan. The first ever opera was Jacopo Peri’s Dafne (now lost), which was premiered at the Palazzo Corsi in Florence in 1598, though the oldest surviving opera that is still regularly performed today is L’Orfeo by Claudio Monteverdi, which was premiered at the court of Mantua in 1607. Yet another important city in the history of opera is Venice, in which the first public opera house was built, allowing paying members of the general public access to what was once court entertainment for the aristocracy. In fact, in the early 18th century, Italian opera was the most popular form of entertainment among the aristocracy in every European country except France, and even operas that premiered in non-Italian speaking areas such as London and Vienna were written in Italian. Many Italian composers, such as Monteverdi, Vivaldi, Rossini, Verdi and Puccini continue to be revered by classical music enthusiasts, and some of their pieces have even found their way into modern pop culture. In addition to the locals, many foreign composers such as Handel and Mozart also composed several critically acclaimed Italian operas which continue to enchant audiences to this day.
Visit the vineyards
Italy is famous for its wine. And its vineyards tend to be in the middle of some beautiful scenery. Taking an organized tour is probably your best bet. Day trips can usually be organized through your hotel if you are staying in a major wine area such as Chianti or through the local tourism office. There are several companies offering longer tours that include meals and accommodation. A simple web search for “Italian vineyard tours” or “wine tour Italy” will find them. Note that these longer tours tend to emphasise good food, great wine and a high standard of accommodation and are thus expensive. If you rent a car and want to organize your own trips, a helpful website is that of the Movimento Turismo del Vino. 3 The Italian page has a link to itinerari which is not available in English. Even if you don’t read Italian you can still find addresses and opening hours of some interesting wine producers. Note that “su prenotazione” means By Appointment Only.
Several companies offer cycling tours of the Italian countryside. They provide cycles, a guide, and transportation for your suitcase, and for you if it all gets a bit too tiring. Tours vary to accommodate different interests. Normally you change city and hotel every day. If you like cycling this is an excellent way of seeing Italy off-the-beaten-track. Search Google, etc. for “Cycle Tours Italy” for companies.
Sailing is one of the best ways to see the Italian islands such as Sardinia and Sicily. Most charter companies offer many options from bareboat to crewed and cabin charter, with all types of the boats.
Italy is a sports crazy nation and as such soccer, Rugby Union and several other sports enjoy a devout if sometimes violent following. In the 1980s Italy was one of the most notable first adopters of American Football in Europe, though corruption in the national federation and scandals have greatly reduced interest in this sport since.
Written by The Travel Valet
Photo courtesy of Fototeca ENIT