Italians are passionate, lively and friendly people. They greet each other with hugs and kisses, and often use effusive gestures when speaking. Food is an important part of their culture, and is offered as a sign of warmth and friendship.
Italian is the main language spoken throughout Italy, however English is often heard in the major cities and tourist areas.
Roman Catholicism is the largest religion in Italy. Other worldwide religions are also represented in smaller numbers.
Italy has a long history supporting artists and the arts, which continues today. Some of the world's greatest artists, composers, musicians and actors have been Italian, including Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Verdi, Giuliani, Bellini, Federico Fellini, Rudolph Valentino, and Sophia Loren, just to name a few.
Superstitions held over from days of old have kept belief in the evil eye, charms, spells and omens alive.
Italian cuisine is legendary, and for a good reason - it's delicious! But pizza and pasta are not the only items on the menu. Escorted tours of Italy are a terrific way to sample the country's delicious food. As you travel to different regions, the local flavors and favorites change with the scenery. Seafood is a popular ingredient, since so much of Italy is on a coast. Pork is also a surprising favorite, particularly in the Emilia-Romagna region. Of course, tomatoes, cheese and olive oil are common ingredients of many Italian dishes. And pasta is, of course, on every menu. If you're the daring food type, ask for a local, seasonal dish and dig in! If not, stick with your favorites - but don't expect to get a pizza with pepperoni if you order a peperoni pizza. Peperoni in Italian means peppers, so you'll get a pizza with peppers, not pepperonis! And by all means, sample the gelato.
Some regional dishes worth trying include:
Venice - risotto, polenta, pasta e fagioli, and tiramisu
Lombardy - rice dishes including risotto alla milanese, ossobuco all milanese, and local cheeses including Robiola, Crescenza, Gorgonzola and Grana Padano
Piedmont - carpaccio, agnolotti, panissa, and pastry and chocolate desserts like gianduiotto and marron glacé
Liguria - savory pies with fresh, local vegetables, cheese, eggs and sometimes seafood, farinata with chick peas, filled pastas, gnocchi and artichokes
Emilia-Romagna - cappelletti, polenta, tortellini, lasagne, Modena's superb balsamic vinegar, local cheeses including Parmigiano Reggiano and Grana Padano, pork products including pancetta, mortadella and coppa, and desserts such as zuppa inglese and pampepato
Tuscany - ribollita, pici, Florentine steak, pappardelle, panforte, and cavallucci
Umbria - favorite Umbrian dishes are often prepared by boiling or roasting the main ingredients with olive oil and herbs.
Campania - fresh seafood, spaghetti covered in sauces prepared with tomatoes, peppers, onions, cheese, clams, shellfish and/or other local options, pizza, timballo, sartù di riso, struffoli, pastiera and babà
Sicily - influenced by many cultures outside of Italy, Sicilian cuisine features eggplants, peppers, tomatoes, tuna, sea bass, swordfish, and other local products. Try the couscous, arancini, pasta alla Norma, caponata, cannoli, granita and cassata
Italy is also known for wine production, so a visit to a cellar or two, and a tasting of the fine varietals and blends is a must!