ITALY Survival guide

Click to follow
The Independent Travel
While Brussels and Bonn bicker with the French about a single European currency, British travellers are already voting with their passports. In this summer's tourism referendum, we are busily forming our own little union with Italy - the only western European country with a currency as poorly as the pound. This Survival Guide gives the low-down on places where we can still afford to be Grand Tourists.

Getting there

This summer sees more flights than ever between Britain and Italy. Scheduled operators include Air UK (0345 666777), Alitalia (0171-602 7111) and British Airways (0345 222111). Lowest fares, including tax, until 30 June: Stansted- Milan, Air UK, pounds 150 (weekend supplement pounds 10); Gatwick-Florence, Alitalia, pounds 192; Manchester-Rome, British Airways, pounds 170. These prices require a minimum stay of a Saturday night. For lower or less restrictive fares, and a range of charter flights, consult specialist agents such as CTS (0171-436 4878), Italy Sky Shuttle (0800 129129) and Lupus Travel (0171- 306 3000).

Alitalia has launched a Europa Pass for students and people under 26. It copies Lufthansa's idea of selling international flight sectors at pounds 59 each (plus tax) on any of the carrier's European services. Italian domestic flights with this deal cost pounds 39 each.

Motorail services are available from Calais to Bologna, Livorno, Milan and Rome, though services are concentrated in July and August. The return fare for a car plus driver to Rome is pounds 655; each additional adult costs pounds 78 (children aged 4-11 are half price). Call 0171-203 7000 for bookings.

Eurolines (01582 404511) operates coaches from London Victoria to Milan (23 hours, pounds 112 return); Venice (27 hours, pounds 123); Florence (28 hours, pounds 125); and Rome (32 hours, pounds 129).

On the rails

With fast and frequent trains, low fares and a range of special deals for foreigners, rail travel is an ideal way to see Italy. One drawback is the veritable tagliatelli of supplements payable for travelling on any but the most modest of trains. But the Italy Railcard includes supplements for everything except the fastest trains. Italian Railways has no London office, so these tickets are sold through Wasteels - on platform 2 at Victoria Station in London (0171-834 7066). If you prefer to buy tickets as you go, then a 100-mile journey (e g Milan-Bologna) costs around pounds 7 on an ordinary train or pounds 10 by express.

Checking in

The Italian State Tourist Office, 1 Princes St, London W1R 8AY (0171- 408 1254) can give details of agencies which specialise in villas, apartments and family-run hotels.

A handful of Italian irritations

1. Beware the law that requires you to pick up the receipt in any hotel, bar or restaurant and take it with you from the premises - you can be fined if you fail to do so. This is a government effort to reduce fraud in the hospitality trade.

2. Recent travellers report that booking clerks at some Italian stations short-change foreign travellers. Clerks correct errors when challenged, but not every traveller notices a "mistake".

3. If you feel airports should be situated somewhere vaguely near the city they serve, then avoid Milan's Malpensa airport. It is many miles from the city and linked by an expensive bus. Fortunately, scheduled flights from the UK use Linate - much closer in, and a quick 50 pence bus ride from the centre.

4. Don't be unwittingly diverted by the Italian road network's scheme. Ordinary roads are shown in blue, while an autostrada is indicated in green - the exact opposite of the system in the UK.

5. "Objects are invariably overpriced, and the traveller should insist upon a liberal discount before purchasing". The advice on Venice, given by the noted guidebook writer and grump Augustus J J Hare, still holds true in the city a century later.

Comments