Quick Guide: The Mamma Mia of your Italy trip planning sorted!

2018-05-06 15:39
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Italy is one of those destinations most people dream of visiting. Like Britain's London or France's Paris, all wanderlust-filled roads eventually lead you to Rome. 

But from its fine Renaissance Heritage draw-cards to its sublime Amalfi Coast beaches, there is just so much to check off the Italy bucket list. 

It can be daunting.

With more iconic sites than most countries - Italy hugs the Mediterranean, offering a culturally rich and diverse travel experience.

There is also no doubt, Italy has left a powerful mark on Western culture and cuisine – harkening back to its Roman empire days - from its famous art, culture, food, wine, lifestyle, theatre, music, design and of course style. 

The capital city of Rome, home to the Vatican, is a hallmark destination for art and ancient ruins but with distinct hubs across its northern and southern regions – you’ll have to be an organised traveller to make the most of it.

Your passport will be richer just by adding one of its major cities over and above the Capital – be it Milan, Venice or its more remote wine regions such as Chianti.

The romance of Venice, the city of canals calls all lovers to come and take a Gondola cruise and Milan legacy as a fashion capital lives on.

Travel Advisory 07/09/2018

READ: A no-chow zone? Florence to ban eating on pavements, tourists could face up to R9k in fines 

Florence, home to Renaissance masterpieces such as Michelangelo’s "David" and Brunelleschi's Duomo are all worthwhile, not forgetting the master work of Leonardo da Vinci.

Here's what you need to know if you go:

  • Visas: South Africans do require a Schengen visa. The process takes between a week to 10 days. Click here to check what you need to apply 
  • Passport validity:  It must be valid for 6 months with at least 3 blank pages in your passport.
  • Costs: 30 days or less stay - R897; 30 days or more stay - R1 482

TRAVEL PLANNING: UK, US and Australia visa costs: What South Africans can expect to pay in 2018

Useful app to download: Rome Airports app for flight information.

  • Flight Route Access:

In April 2018 Alitalia relaunched a direct route between Rome and Johannesburg after 17 years.  An average economy class ticket starts at about R6 000.

South African have access to Italy via two major port cities: Rome and Milan. The most affordable flights to Italy are often stopover flights, operated by airlines such as Emirates, Etihad Airways, SAA, Royal Air Maroc, Ethiopian Airlines and Lufthansa. Kenyan Airways also offers a two-stop route for under R6 000.   

UPDATE: Alitalia launches new direct SA flight route with lesser-known Italy and cruise tourism drawcards for locals

  • Flight time: Rome (13 hours and 25 minutes long) and Milan (13 hours long).
  • Currency: Euro (€)
  • Medical and health:

Cases of mosquito-borne disease Chikungunya were reported in Rome at the end of 2017. Always check with a GP if you’re concerned about visiting a certain destination. Use a mosquito repellent.

Don't skip your travel and medical insurance - also a key requirement for your schengen visa application.

  • Religion:  Predominantly Roman Catholic. It is home to Protestant and Jewish communities as well as a growing Muslim immigrant community.
  • Travel Adapter: Yes - 230V, 50Hz (European or Italian plug)
  • Country code:  +39
  • Time Zone: UTC+1, currently there is no time difference between SA and Italy.
  • Emergencies: dial 112
  • Public Transport

The Metropolitana is the easiest way to get around Italy.

It operates daily, including weekends from 5.30am to 11.30pm daily (weekend hours are slightly extended).

Tickets are sold through self-service machines at stations. A 100-minute ticket is about €1.50. A 72-hour ticket will set you back €18.  It helps that kids under 10 can ride for free.

Uber or a taxi are also widely available. Taxis are identifiable as white cars with the word “taxi” written on the roof. These are the only ones licensed by the council. 

Click here to check rail connection information from Italy’s main airports.

Useful App to download: Uber Rome for getting around.

  • Climate:  

Conditions vary from the north to the south of Italy. The north of the country is located between the Alps and the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines. Expect very cold winters and very hot, particularly humid summers. Central Italy sees milder conditions, with slight seasonal changes. Cold conditions are less intense in the country’s central parts than in the north.

The mercury rises to around 30°C in August and sinks to about 4°C during winter season. However, heavy rain is rare, with light showers mostly experienced during November and February.

Winter is mild across southern Italy and its islands, while spring and autumn temperatures are an extension of summer conditions.  

  • Best time to go:

As with any popular destination the peaks times, mostly during summer can be crowded and expensive.  April, May, June, September and October a clear of the traffic jam highs of summer, making these months a really good time to go. 

Late spring and the hot summer months can get a bit much. It’s important to note, most central spots shut down for August though, heading to the cooler, albeit more crowded coastal regions during this time.

  • Language: Italian (official); minor German, French and Slovene-speaking communities

Useful phrases to know:

In the main tourist centres English is widely spoken. Not so much in rural areas and the south of Rome. Learn a few key phrases to make your stay more enjoyable.

Useful app to download - Duolingo makes learning a new language easy and fun. 

  • Greeting – Buongiorno (good day) or buona sera (good evening) or Ciao (hello) - pronounced ‘chow’, can be used as both hello and goodbye.
  • Yes (si)
  • How much is this (quanto costa)?
  • Thank you (grazie)
  • Beautiful (bellisima)
  • Delicious (delizioso)
  • Oh my goodness (mamma mia)!
  • Excuse me, where’s…. (mi scusi, dov'è ...?) 
  • Ice cream (gelato)
  • Wine menu, please (la carta dei vini, per favore)

Practical Tips

  • Restaurants usually charge a cover rate (known as coperto) estimated between €2-3. This mostly goes to the owner though, so if service isn’t included, a 10% tip is in order.
  • Tap water is of high quality, with freestanding fountains dotted around the city being ideal for filling up your water bottle
  • Make sure you order you coffee correctly. Ordering a cappuccino late afternoon is frowned upon (but do it if you’re okay with being singled out as a tourist). Caffe lattes should be enjoyed in the morning. ­­­­­­ Espressos are a post-noon coffee, pick-me-up. Light on caffeine? Simply opt for a macchiato.
  • Be modest when visiting religious sites -  shoulders, torsos and thighs should be covered out of respect.
  • Italians are known for their style, so keep the shorts and sandals for the beach and pack some smart-casual clothes for the evenings.
  • The Italians usually kiss on both cheeks – mostly for friends and relations. Only use first names if invited.
  • You can expect to do a lot of walking so comfortable shoes are a good idea.