Italy forms one of the great peninsulas of Southern Europe, along with Iberia and the Balkans. Its shape, like that of a high-heeled boot, is appropriate for a place with such stylish, fashionable people. There are closely to 60 million of them in this rather densely populated country. Dialects of the Italian language include Sicilian and Venetian. They are mutually comprehensible, but considerable differences exist. The terrain is largely mountainous, with plains and coastal lowlands. It can get pretty hot or pretty snowy, depending on where you are and at what time of year.
The arts are strong in Italy, from opera to cinema. Tour the National Museum of Cinema in Turin, or see the sacred Sindone (shroud) across town. You can check out the Leaning Tower of Pisa, or eat a tower of pizza. The ruins of Pompeii are closest to Naples, which is only an hour or two by train from Rome. The modern culture of the mezzogiorno (literally “midday”), the sun-baked South, is worth witnessing while you’re there.
Bread and pasta are important starches in the Italian diet, as are rice and the corn-based polenta. Gnocchi, pasta-like potato dumplings, are worth a try. Typical vegetables include artichokes, mushrooms, pumpkin, tomato, and spinach. Pork products like sausage or prosciutto and cheeses like ricotta or Parmigiano-Reggiano are very popular. Risotto alla milanese, flavored with saffron, is a common side in the North. Ribollita is a hearty rustic Tuscan soup with cannellini beans, leftover bread, and vegetables like chard, carrots, cabbage, and kale. You can find organic Italian, Ayurvedic, or macrobiotic offerings in some urban areas, along with juice bars and natural foods shops. Italians have an approach to food that stresses simplicity and high quality, and it seems to extend to the health food scene. You can savor a bit of dessert (tiramisu and gelato are excellent choices) or a glass of one of many excellent Italian wines with your meal. It is easy to satisfy your stomach and mind in this beautiful country.