Ciao! Benvenuto in Italia
From the mountainous north to the sun-drenched south, Italy is a land of stark contrasts. With a landscape that ranges from snow topped mountains to rolling hills filled with vineyards, deep lakes and stunning turquoise beaches, ancient villages cling to cliffsides while modern dwellings appear in major cities, there is something here to suit everyone.
Italy as a country is relatively new, originally existing as a series of city-states at constant war, the region finally came together as one in 1870 to form the Kingdom of Italy.
Overall, there are 20 regioni (regions) that form Italy, broken down into 3 main sections – the North, South and Central Italy. The regioni are further divided into areas called provincie (provinces). These areas all have distinct histories, cultures and even dialects, making each regioni a destination of its own.
Below I break down the regions so you can easily navigate your way around this mesmerising country.
Known as the economic hub of Italy, the north is home to many of Italy’s major tourist hot spots, welcoming millions of visitors every year.
For such a relatively small area, the landscape is incredibly varied, while the food and culture have all been impacted by their neighbours France, Switzerland and Austria. From the adventure filled Alps to the gondolas of Venice, historic towns filled with ancient structures, incredible nature reserves, rolling vineyards, awe inspiring art and of course, dramatic coastlines.
The North-West area of Italy includes Aosta Valley, Liguria, Lombardy and Piedmont. Milan is the main city in this section.
The North-East area covers Emilia-Romagna, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Trentino-South Tyrol and Veneto. Bologna is the main city here, though you would be forgiven for thinking it was Venice!
VALLE D’AOSTA (Aosta Valley) (North–West Italy)
Bordered by France on one side, and the Alps on another, the Aosta Valley has had a distinct French influence on its culture, food and even dialect. In fact, French is one of the primary languages of this area, along with a regional French-Provençal dialect called Valdôtain.
The Aosta Valley is largely alpine, and it is here that you will find world-class skiing locations such as Mont Blanc, Gran Paradiso, Monte Rosa and the Matterhorn.
PIEDMONT (North–West Italy)
Like the Valle d’Aosta, Piedmont has had a strong French influence, but that is where the similarities largely end. Piedmont’s landscape ranges from rice paddies to rolling hills covered in vineyards and imposing alps.
Piedmont is considered the industrial centre of Italy, covering everything from vehicle manufacturing to electronics, textiles, food (think Nutella, Lavazza coffee & white truffles) and even jewellery. Turin in the main city here.
LIGURIA (North–West Italy)
Home to the Italian Riviera or Riviera ligure, Liguria is home to some of Italy’s prettiest coastlines, and most dramatic. Stretching from the border of France and the Côte d’Azur past the bustling port city of Genoa, this region is filled with pastel-coloured homes clustered on cliff edges (hello Cinque Terre!) and is a popular holiday destination for Italians.
Come here to visit Italy’s largest port city, Genoa, and hike between the villages that make up Cinque Terre – the views are worth the walk.
LOMBARDY (North–West Italy)
Home to settlements since the prehistoric age, Lombardy is an incredibly diverse region that attracts countless visitors every year. From the hustle & bustle of finance and fashion hub Milan to the stunning Lake Como, beautiful historic cities such as Bergamo and Mantua, national parks, rolling plains and even alps, the only thing missing from this region it seems, is a beach!
The largest cities here are Milan, Como, Brescia, Bergamo and Monza.
FRIULI VENEZIA GIULIA (North-East Italy)
Tucked away in the very top eastern corner is the region of Friuli Venezia Giulia, sharing borders with Slovenia, Austria and the Adriatic Sea, this is a unique area with a long and rich history.
Due to the strategic location of this region, archaeologists have found evidence dating back to the Bronze age of people, though the ancient Romans were the ones to establish trade centres and cities such as Trieste, Aquileia and Cividale during the 3rd Century BC.
From Venetian villas to medieval castles, seaside resorts, ancient Roman ruins, incredible white wine, skiing in the Alps and exploring museums there is plenty to see and do in this off-forgotten section of Italy.
TRENTINO-SOUTH TYROL (North-East Italy)
Bordering Austria and Switzerland, the region of Trentino-South Tyrol is home to the dramatic Dolomites and alpine region. You could be forgiven for not feeling as though you are in Italy, as the influence of Switzerland, Germany and Austria are definitely felt.
This is the area to visit if you love hiking, mountain climbing, skiing and even cycling through the mountains. You can even sit back and explore the area by the train network which runs with Swiss precision… from buses, cable cars, the Rittner Bahn narrow-gage railway and even funiculars, a lack of a car will not be an issue to visit the majority of Trentino-South Tyrol.
Don’t forget to visit the thermal spas around Lake Garda and the gorgeous thirteenth century castles in Bolzano.
VENETO (North-East Italy)
Last, but far from least, is the Veneto Region. The most famous cities in this region are of course, the city of Venice and Verona, home of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. This region alone is so diverse that traversing from one end to the other can feel like you are visiting different countries, instead of parts of one region.
Dramatic mountains, canals, nature reserves, ancient Roman ruins, gothic churches, awe-inspiring art, hills of vineyards, sandy beaches and who can forget the food?
A must see is an open-air opera in the Verona Arena… followed by a visit to Padua to see the frescoes in the Scrovegni Chapel by Giotto.
EMILIA-ROMAGNA (North-Central Italy)
You may not be familiar with the regions name, but you will certainly recognise some of its cities – Bologna, home to one of world’s oldest operating universities, Ravenna with its Byzantine mosaics along the Adriatic coast, Parma famous for its parmesan cheese and ham, and Modena the home of balsamic vinegar (and the original Ferrari Museum!).
Central Italy is the heart of Italy… home to the foodie haven of Tuscany, the ancient capital of Rome, medieval hilltop towns of Umbria and renaissance Florence. Flanked on one side by the Adriatic, and the other by the Mediterranean, central Italy is well connected by high speed and local trains, making it easy to explore.
Home to the Italian capital Rome, Lazio’s landscape is filled with traces of the ancient Etruscans and Romans who occupied the region during the 7th and 3rd centuries BC. Look for volcanic lakes, hot springs, sparkling blue beaches along the Mediterranean coast, olive groves, vineyards and mountains.
Rome of course is a must-visit for everything from ancient ruins to the latest fashion, or you could visit the stunning villas in Tivoli, or for something unusual, take a day trip to the Civita di Bagnoregio (dying city) built by the Etruscans on a remote hilltop, and accessible today by a footbridge from a nearby town.