good-humoured and volatile - Italy,
with its golden light, stunning landscapes and rich cultural heritage, has
inspired poets and painters for centuries. Perhaps more than any other country,
it has influenced the course of European development, particularly in culture
and political thought.
Today, besides the renowned cities of Venice, Florence, Siena and Naples, each with its own unique identity and architecture, Italy features romantic medieval hill towns, such as San Gimignano in Tuscany, and unspoilt fishing villages, like Positano on the Amalfi coast. Operatic productions are staged in Verona's ancient amphitheatre, while the influence of Federico Fellini is celebrated in Turin's museum of cinema.
Throughout the country visitors can find vineyards and cellars to taste fine regional wines, workshops where crafts are produced by hand, and friendly trattorie where simple but superb dishes are served.
The most important early settlers were the enigmatic Etruscans, but by the third century BC their culture had been displaced by the mighty city state of Rome.
At its greatest extent, the Roman Empire stretched from Egypt to England and for several centuries conferred on its inhabitants the benefits of the Pax Romana: culture, law, relative peace and comparative prosperity. This sophisticated society left a rich architectural legacy - Rome is still dominated by buildings like the mighty Colosseum.
In the 15th century, Italy was at the heart of the Renaissance, an extraordinary flowering of art and culture. It produced artists such as Fra Angelico, Raphael, Botticelli, Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, whose works take pride of place in Italy's galleries.
Italy combines art, history and contemporary fashion with stunning natural landscapes: the turquoise waters of Sardinia's Costa Smeralda offer one of Europe's most beautiful stretches of sand, sea and sunshine, while the snow-covered slopes of the Dolomite mountains are a haven for winter sports enthusiasts.
With thanks to World Travel Guide
I was lucky enough to spend a year of my life on the shores of Lake Como in Northern Italy in a small city called Lecco. I still remember so clearly my first night after a long flight full of both excitement and nervousness. I was greeted by a huge extended family and taken out to a pizzeria.
It was an absolutely incredible experience. I grew up by the beach, so living so close to the Alps was unlike anything I had seen before. Throughout the year though I travelled to places like Venice, Rome, Sardinia, Florence, Pisa and many more with friends, host families and Rotary. I even went to France with my school!
Food was another part of my exchange that I will never forget. It is a vital part of Italian culture and they make sure you enjoy it! I still crave pizza from the little pizzeria where I was taken by my host family on my first night in Italy.
My best memory was being woken up early by one of my host families and taken on a private helicopter ride over Lake Como. Doing exchange was one of the best decisions of my life and put so many things in perspective for me. I hope that you do too.