Lyndsay Russell visits Italy to assess the reputation of the Latin Love r
He's wonderful. But he's Italian, a girlfriend sighed.

Strange, isn't it. Take two words: "Italian" and "male". Put them together, and they conjure up more adjectives than the Thesaurus: attractive, smooth, well-dressed, courtly, unfaithful, charming, childlike, petulant. But above all, womaniser.

However, this is the new-age Nineties, and they are now our Eurocousins. Hence, in a charitable wave of political correctness it only seems fair to review the reputation of the Latin Lover. Has he evolved into a sharing/caring man, valuing women as equal- or has he remained a chauvinist?

The opportunity to undertake vital international research presented itself unexpectedly during a trip to Italy to cover the singles holiday scene.

Tess, the Sovereign hostess, provided a fascinating start when we headed into a Tuscan grocery shop to buy a few tomatoes. Fussed over by the two old codgers manning the store, every time Tess gave a little giggle and toss of her dark hair, they'd smile and hand us free food. Okay, they couldn't buy us champagne and roses, but they were doing their best.

"Flirting is the way of life out here," grinned Tess. "Most Italians are terribly chauvinistic. But if you can find one with the traditional manners, and a modern view towards women, you've got yourself a prince."

Determined to investigate further, I left the Tuscan hills for Rome. With naked statues and spurting fountains at every street corner, this glorious city oozes passion. Musing whether the word "romance" actually derived from the name "Rome", I asked the woman at the tourist office. Sadly, she was not remotely interested in my love thesis.

I observed the species at length. Groomed to perfection, it has been argued that Italian men are too concerned with the mirror. Even the tramps wear Gucci loafers and matching belt. But to be fair, the race is directly descended from the Roman Empire, anera dedicated to bathing and physical perfection. Not surprisingly, the result now shows in the genes.

Peeking through the clouds of an impossibly frothy cappuccino, I watched the parade of sauntering males, lithe and small-bottomed, tanned and pretty, while each gave me a deliberate look that seemed to say, "I want to travel ... and to give you babies." Generously, they also gave the look to the woman at the next table. And the woman at the table next to her.

The Italian man's love of expensive toys hasn't changed, either. A businessman, nonchalantly standing in front of me, opened his Louis Vuitton shoulder bag and dangled the keys to his nearby Ferrari: "Ciao bella," he called, indicating I should take a ride in his car. How dare he believe a man can pull a woman simply by flaunting his material possessions? No chance. (Besides, he wasn't remotely lithe or small-bottomed.) Moments later, a heated row broke out between four men and a traffic cop. After muchgesticulating and slamming of car doors, they stopped, turning to me to adjudicate. I was stunned. "Typical," smiled Isabella, a 24-year-old student sitting near me. "The trouble is, due to the work situation, most men live at home until their thirties,and the women's role between mother and lover tends to get blurred."

How did she describe the typical male? "Looking for a replacement for mother. We girls know it. They're lovable, but unbelievably childish. Throwing tantrums if they don't get their way. Like little boys, they act and speak impulsively." Maybe this is why Italians are so quick to declare undying devotion. And even faster to lose interest. "True," agreed Isabella. "Like children, they speak from the heart - and don't think through the consequences."

Later that night, I sat on the edge of the Fontana di Trevi, keen to interview the locals. Within minutes, I struck up a conversation with Bruno, 27, a trainee engineer. "So Bruno, tell me ... what do you think about the women's movement?"

"Good for them. It's important they do dance classes to stay beautiful."

It was time to move on to Verona. Destiny told me I would meet a dream Italian under Juliet's balcony. I arrived at sunset, to find ... Japanese tourists swarming around the courtyard flashing more Nikons than David Bailey. On looking up, it was a surreal sight to see Madam Butterfly hanging over the balustrade. But worse was to come. Returning early next morning, I climbed the stairs of the graffiti-ruined house and cried from the balcony, "Romeo, Romeo ... wherefore art thou?" I was answered by an oldman and a drunk.

Finding solace in Romeo's house (it's been turned into a bar) I dreamed of tomorrow, and the gondolas of Venice. Reality came as a shock.

Perched on the end of each boat, singers blared out "O Sole Mio" through portable microphones in the manner of third-rate lounge lizards. The Japanese (the only people who could afford the £70 ride) sat stony-faced. "You ride with me?" said a macho voice. I turned to meet Gino. Curly black hair, gold chains and striped sweater. Central Casting had sent me a gondolier. Explaining I was undertaking research, I asked Gino what he thought of English girls. "I sleep with them, si. I do my bit for tourism andItaly." Does he ever fall in love? "Sure. But then the girls change their schedule and come back. I panic. Women are like fish. After a couple of days you throw them back." He winked. The man was winding me up. "Gino, are you married?" I asked. He grinned. "Casanova no married." With that, he sailed off, blowing me a kiss - and leaving me to believe that the boyish charm of the Italian is a unique gift to Europe.