Ancient Romans christened inland Sardinia’s wild mountains and valleys ‘Barbaria’ (barbarian) and left it unconquered. Now Barbagia, it remains untamed, the flanks of the Gennargentu massif carpeted with herb-scented scrub roamed by wild horses. Admire powerful murals in former bandit town Orgosolo, then hike from Is Muralleddas to Texil through woods of oak, chestnut, cherry and cork.
Forget soggy pasta doused in gloopy tomato sauce. A true Italian meal skips delectably through distinctive antipasti appetisers, a small risotto or pasta course (cooked al dente and lightly coated with something interesting), then fish and/or meat courses, ending with sweet stuff and cheeses. Pizza should be thin-crust, herby, not too cheesy, and piping hot from a wood-fired oven.
Tuscany and Umbria have long led the way for Italian farm stay breaks (agriturismi) but recent years have seen a surge in places around the country like Cantabria and Sardinia to enjoy close-to-the-earth bucolic bliss. Options include rustic old houses with tiny groves, gritty muck-in farms or grand country estates with pools alongside the produce!
The Ligurian Sea has one of the Mediterranean's highest concentrations of whales and dolphins in the Pelagos Marine Sanctuary stretching from the mainland to Sardinia. The latter offers a host of memorable dive sites in the sublime Gulf of Oresei: submerged fossil beaches, mysterious ocean caverns and WW2 wrecks, as well as vibrant reefs and colourful swimming things.
The Amalfi coast presents a sophisticated face to the Gulf of Salerno, beaches and marinas interspersing chic towns like Sorrento, Positano and Amalfi, with glamorous hotels dotting steep coastal hills. Unspoilt west coast hikes on the island of Capri plus the vibrant mainland port of Salerno contrast the glamour. And ferries beat the hairpin coast roads for getting around.
Popularity can sometimes make Tuscany's hills, vineyards and jewel-like towns crowded – but no less gorgeous for that. Florence remains a stunning backdrop for Old Master treasures, alongside Gothic Siena and Renaissance Lucca. The high towers of San Gimignano are an iconic Italian skyline. As for that wonky tower in Pisa, they're still pursuing the builder!
Discover an Italian secret right next door to Tuscany. Vineyards and groves flourish in the lee of the snow-capped Apennines or behind cliff-backed Adriatic coves in neighbouring Le Marche. Medieval towns like Assisi, Macerata and Gubbio vie with Renaissance Urbino, gourmet Orvieto and vibrant Perugia. Hikers will love the Parco Nazionale dei Monti Sibillini and the stunning coastal Parco del Conero.
There's more to coffee in Italy than just espresso and cappuccino (named after brown cowls worn by Capuchin monks). Ristretto is super-strong short espresso and lungo a gentler long one. Macchiato is espresso 'stained' with milk. For stronger cappuccino ask for it scuro. Marochino is cappuccino with cocoa. Caffe corretto is espresso spiked with grappa – a real pick-me-up!
The deep channel dredging done to allow cruise ships to sail up Venice's Grand Canal has scarred the fragile eco-system of the lagoon: disturbing marine life plus natural sediment deposition and vital water movements. And all so passengers too lazy to spend a few minutes in a tender can click pics without having to even leave their giant floating hotel.
Italy has five dolphinaria - Rimini, Oltremare, Acquario di Genova, Fasanolandia and Zoomarine – where dolphins are made to perform 'circus' tricks in cramped captive conditions that violate both national and international laws. Only two of the dolphinaria even have a license – the others are technically illegal. Morally, they offend too. Please don't go.
Sardinia's Costa Smeralda is great to preen on a beach drinking cocktails and gawping at mega-yachts. Which seems a huge waste of a distinctive island rich with prehistory, lovely medieval towns, unique food and fantastic character. Even the beaches are better elsewhere on Sardinia: Nora with its Roman amphitheatre; La Pelosa; Baia Chia's towering dunes; the entire Orosei coast.
From Pinocchio's nose to David's penis, if it vaguely has a cultural reference, you'll find it emblazoned on fridge magnets, key rings and aprons. Typical tourist tat flocks to Italy's landmarks, like pigeons to piazzas, and if you're looking for authenticity, steer clear of the stalls surrounding statues and opt for out of the way workshops, markets or agriturismo stores instead.