Capital | Rome
Population | 61,016,804 (July 2011 est.)
Area | 301,230 SQ KM
Official Language | Italian
Holidays | Republic Day, 2 June (1946)
Currency | Euro (EUR)
Time Zone | UTC +1
Best Time to Visit | April to June, when it’s not too crowded or hot
Connecting with the Culture | Hiring a car and driving through the beautiful Tuscan countryside. Feeling history surround you in the ruins of Herculaneum or Pompeii. Queuing for hours to enter the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. Venturing offshore to the less-touristy islands of Sicily and Sardinia. Wandering along the canals of Venice and shelling out the euro for a gondola ride. Window shopping in Milan’s Golden Quad or Rome’s Via del Corso.
Listen | Umberto Eco’s masterful The Name of the Rose, a medieval whodunit with a difference, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s The Leopard charts the demise of Sicilian royalty and rise of Italian nationhood.
Watch | Roman Holiday for a romantic fix or try Fellini’s classic, La Dolce Vita; for a modern view, L’Ultimo Bacio explores issues affecting Italy’s 30-somethings.
Eat | polenta (cornmeal), baccalá (salted cod), risotto nero (flavoured with squid ink), sfogliatella (pastry filled with ricotta), panettone (fruit bread eaten at Christmas).
Drink | expresso (strong coffee), Chianti (Tuscan wine), marsala (sweet wine), grappa (grape-based liqueur).
In a Word | Ciao Bella! (Hi beautiful!)
Characteristics | Beeping Fiats and screeching Vespas; pizza by the slice; Roman ruins; Michelangelo and Leonardo; La Cosa Nostra, Prada, Gucci and Dolce and Gabbana
Surprises | Cappuccinos are considered ‘Americana’ coffee; not every Italian has Mafia connections; pesto originally hailed from Genoa, in Liguria.
NEWS ABOUT ITALY
Venice is sinking. Even faster than we thought.
(Video Al Jazeera, March 28, 2012)