WHEN TO GO ITALY

Any experienced Italophile will tell you that late spring is the best time to visit. For Naples, Rome, Florence, Venice, and Milan, this is probably true. All of those places can be rainy in the fall, and summer, in my opinion, is out of the question. But the harsh reality is that most people can only take time off in July and August, and if it’s their first time here, they want to see the major attractions. The trouble is that not only is every other North American, Japanese, Australian, and German tourist here in the summer, but many Italians are on vacation, too, and a lot of the shops and cafs are closed for a few weeks at a time. If you must come in the summer, it’s best to avoid the cities and head straight to the sea or the mountains. And book your hotels months in advance. You will get much more out of your first stay in Italy if you come during the off-season. Every region has its own identity that expresses itself best in a particular time of year. Early fall: Piedmont and Tuscany. These are the major winemaking regions, and if you want to taste Nobile di Montepulciano and Barolo, it’s always nice to visit the vineyards when the grapes are still on the vine. Late fall: Emilia-Romagna. This is when the piadine (roll-up) sandwiches and salads yield to the hearty, trademark dishes of the Po River plain: prosciutto and culatello (a prosciutto delicacy), followed by tortellini and ravioli with red Lambrusco wine. Universities are in session, which means a lively atmosphere. Emilia, Bologna especially, is often said to have the highest standard of living in Italy, and also tops the charts for the percentage of people that leave in the summer, when it is a ghost town.

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