The country of Italy is actually a peninsula, easily identified by its boot-like shape jutting out from the heart of Europe. It extends from the Alpine mountains of Switzerland and Austria in the north into the Mediterranean Sea, and includes the large islands of Sardinia and Sicily, which bring it almost to the tip of Africa. The extension of this peninsula southward from central Europe suggests a wide variety of climates, although the weather is moderated through much of the country by Italy’s central location within the Mediterranean and the location of major cities along the western or eastern shorelines. The Apennine Mountains form the central “spine” of the country, and here one can see snow in the winter. From Rome southward, the summers are very hot, and travel in the spring or fall brings the nicest weather (and fewer tourists). In the month of August, it seems as if all of the Italian cities, large and small, close down for several weeks so that people can return to their town of origin or escape the summer heat in the treasured mountains and beaches (as Caterina does in the third unit of our book, Conversational Italian for Travelers).
There are two smaller countries within the country of Italy: San Marino along the eastern coast, and Vatican City, just west of Rome. Vatican City is home to the Pope, leader of the Catholic religion. It is the world’s smallest state at 106 acres, with about 500 inhabitants, and surrounded by high stone walls with entryways that are watched over by the Vatican guard. There are long lines in the summer months when Catholics and art lovers visit the famous Basilica of St. Peter and Vatican Museums, which house an extensive collection of artwork and artifacts from Roman times through the centuries. Here too you’ll find the Sistine Chapel, famous for Michaelangelo’s The Creation of Adam on the ceiling. It is helpful to book a tour of the Vatican City and other well-known Italian cultural attractions ahead of time in order to make the most of your vacation. There are many tour books which list telephone numbers and internet sites which make booking a daily tour easy and reliable prior to a trip to Italy.
Which brings us to the question – what is the best time to visit Italy? Of course, the answer is, just about any time! Italy is a country of friendly people, with something for everyone to see and enjoy. The high tourist season for the larger, well-known cities of Rome, Venice and Florence is late May through August (with the best sales the last week in July). There are many other cities and towns to visit year-round, of course, each with its own particular beauty, traditional events, wonderful architecture, food, art, and music. See the third unit of our textbook Conversational Italian for Travelers for lists of wonderful foods found in Italy, and major sites, attractions, and holidays celebrated in Italy today.