A complete guide to the regions of Italy
Sunday 06 July 1997
This largely German-speaking area of northern Italy, squeezed up against the border with Austria, prefers to call itself Sud Tirol. Visitors come here for winter sports and some of the best wines.
On the east coast of Italy, directly east of Rome, this is one of the emptier, more marginal regions of the country. Having festered for centuries as part of the Kingdom of Naples, it lost most of its population to emigration. In recent years however, its most important town, Pescara, has started to blossom as a coastal resort. Abruzzo is also the region that gave us the word confetti (which here refers to colourful sweets).
This is the region that fills up Italy's heel. In ancient times it was a prominent Greek colony - indeed remnants of Greek language can still be found here to this day. The largest city, Brindisi, is known to backpackers who ride the ferry to the Greek port of Piraeus. With delightful beaches on the Gargano Peninsular, exotic countryside, bizarre conical domed houses (Trulli) and the beautiful Baroque city of Lecce, Apulia deserves a long hard holiday.
This region in the Italian foot, mid-way between heel and toe, takes positive pride in its obscurity. It has a grim, deforested coast in the instep, and its capital city Matera has made a curious tourist attraction out of its notorious poverty - the Sassi are cave neighbourhoods where, until recently, peasants lived with pigs.
Adjacent to Basilicata, and right in the toe next to Sicily, this region has a beautiful name but a horrid history. After a brilliant flowering of Greek culture in the sixth century BC, malarial mosquitoes rendered most of the area virtually uninhabitable until just a few decades ago.
Enveloping the joyously, dangerously chaotic city of Naples, there is enough in this region to keep most people happy for a lifetime - from the flesh-pots of Capri and Ischia, to the ancient cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum in the shadow of Vesuvius.
Another absurdly well-endowed region, immediately to the northeast of Tuscany. Here you'll find not only Italy's great sea-side resort of Rimini, but the cities of Ferrara and Ravenna which once usurped Rome as capital of the ancient world. Trendy Bologna completes the picture.
This untidily-named region is sandwiched between Venice and the Republic of Slovenia and is basically a conglomerate of peoples stuck on the edge of eastern Europe. The peculiar neoclassical city of Trieste, for so long strangled by its cul-de-sac location, is now beginning to come back to life with the opening up of Europe.
This gloomy region is little other than a large back garden for the nation's capital city. For two thousand years Rome tended to tax the region dry; now it is having to subsidize a slow recovery.
The colourful Italian Riviera, a continuation of the dull French Riviera to the west. The short trip by train from Monaco to Ventimiglia is a trip to heaven.
Most of Italy's wealth is generated up here in the fast, nervous city of Milan, which has been making the world's best clothes for a very long time (hence the English word "millinery").
This oddly named region to the east of Umbria is underrated. As well as the snowy peaks of the Sibelline Mountains, it has beaches on the coast and charming renaissance towns in between, including Urbino and Ascoli Piceno.
South of, and even more obscure than Abruzzo, this rarely visited region has customs and a dialect that owe a debt to the proximity of Albania and the Croatian coast. The nearest thing to a coastal resort is Termoli though you won't hear many English accents there.
This haughtily rich and powerful region of the northeast, centred around the city of Turin, was the base from which sprung the drive for Italian unity in the last century. Come here for skiing and high mountain scenery.
High up in the western Dolomites, north of Veneto, this area is mainly good for Alpine activities though the historic city of Trento is also worth a visit.
This tiny area sandwiched between Switzerland and France comprises high mountains and ski resorts. The small regional capital, Aosta, rimmed by mountains, is probably the best located in the country.
If any region can boast cities such as Verona, Vicenza and Padua as mere side-attractions, you might guess that its capital city would be Venice.
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