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Getting there

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The easiest way to get to Italy is to fly. Price-comparison sites such as w skyscanner.com and w edreams.com are invaluable for bargain-hunting, though it is usually cheaper to make bookings direct through an operator’s website. Rail connections with the rest of Europe are also good and link well into the comprehensive national network.

Flights from the UK and Ireland

Of the scheduled airlines flying the Italian routes, British Airways (w ba.com) and Alitalia (w alitalia.com) regularly serve most of the country including Turin, Milan, Rome, Bologna, Cagliari, Pisa, Verona, Venice, Naples and Catania. The majority of the routes are from London but they also fly from Edinburgh, Manchester, Birmingham and Bristol. Aer Lingus (w aerlingus.com) has direct flights from Dublin to Milan, Bologna, Rome, Catania, Venice and Naples, as well as Cork and Belfast to Rome. Of the low-cost carriers, easyJet (w easyjet.com), Thomson (w http://flights.thomson.co.uk), Jet2 (w jet2.com), flybe (w flybe.com) and Ryanair (w ryanair.com) fly from London and numerous smaller airports to bases throughout Italy and its islands.

Prices depend on how far in advance you book and the popularity of the destination, although season is also a factor: unless you book very well in advance, a ticket to anywhere between June and September will cost more than in the depths of winter (excluding Christmas and New Year). Note also that it is generally more expensive to fly at weekends. Book far enough in advance with one of the low-cost airlines and you can pick up a ticket for under £60 return, even in summer; book anything less than three weeks in advance and this could triple in price. Scheduled airline fares, booked within a month of travel, will cost around £120 out of season, and at least £250 in summer.

Flights from the US and Canada

Between them, Delta (w delta.com), Alitalia (w alitalia.com) and American Airlines (w aa.com) offer daily flights from New York, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Miami and Chicago to Rome and Milan; one short layover greatly extends the network. In addition, many European carriers fly to Italy (via their capitals) from all major US and Canadian cities – for example British Airways (w ba.com) via London, Lufthansa (w lufthansa.com) via Frankfurt, KLM (w klm.com) via Amsterdam, and so on.

The direct scheduled fares don’t vary as much as you might think, and you’ll more often than not be basing your choice around things like flight timings, routes and gateway cities, ticket restrictions, and even the airline’s reputation for comfort and service. The cheapest round-trip fares to Rome or Milan, travelling midweek in low season, start at around US$450 from New York or Boston, and can rise to around US$1200 during the summer, though you can make considerable savings by combining flights from two carriers. Add another US$100–200 for flights from LA, Miami and Chicago. Note that these prices do not include taxes.

Air Canada (w aircanada.com) has flights from Toronto to Rome for around Can$1000.

Flights from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa

Return fares to Rome and Milan from the main cities in Australia go for around Aus$1700 in low season, and around Aus$2000 in high season. You are likely to get most flexibility by travelling with Malaysian (w malaysia-airlines.com), Thai (w thaiair.com), British Airways (w ba.com) or Qantas (w qantas.com), though the cheapest fares are with Air China (w airchina.com).

There are no direct flights to Italy from New Zealand. Return fares to Rome cost from NZ$2000–2500, with operators including Air New Zealand (w airnz.co.nz) and JAL (w jal.com).

Various carriers serve South Africa, usually with a stop in their European or Middle Eastern hub. Return fares start at around ZAR5000.

Trains

Travelling by train to Italy from the UK can be an enjoyable and environmentally friendly way of getting to the country, and you can stop off in other parts of Europe on the way. Trains pass through Paris and head down through France towards Milan. A standard-class return fare from London to Paris using Eurostar (2hr 15min) starts at £70; travelling by high-speed TGV from Paris to Milan (7hr 25min) costs from £95. Fares from Paris to both Rome (15hr) and Venice (13hr) start at £100 return per person in a six-berth couchette.

The Franco-Italian Thello sleeper runs every evening from Paris to Venice via Milan, Padua, Verona and Vicenza; it departs from Paris Gare de Lyon at 7.45pm, and arrives in Venice thirteen hours later. Those heading straight to Rome (11hr 30min) need to change trains in Milan. Accommodation is in four- and six-berth couchettes, and one-, two- and three-berth cabins – the more you pay, the fewer people you share with; women can opt to share with other women if they are travelling alone. All services have a restaurant car and a steward who looks after each carriage. Prices vary hugely depending on the time of year and demand. The standard fare from Paris to Milan is £70, but purchasing tickets online in advance, you can pay as little as £31 (the so-called Smart fare).

If you really want to push the boat out, the Orient Express still runs from London to Venice, offering around thirty hours of pampered luxury starting from £2370, including all meals.

Advance booking on trains is essential (and can often save you quite a lot of money); there are also discounts for children and rail-pass holders. Take into account also that if you travel via Paris on Eurostar you will have to change stations, so you should give yourself a good hour (more like 1hr 30min if you have to queue for metro tickets) to travel on the metro from the Gare du Nord to the Gare de Lyon (for daytime services) or the Gare de Bercy (for sleeper trains). Allow more time for the return journey across Paris, as there is a minimum thirty-minute check-in for Eurostar departures. Note that there are no left-luggage lockers at the Gare de Bercy.

The Man in Seat 61 website (w seat61.com) offers exhaustive information on travelling by train, with details of routes, times and fares.

Rail passes

InterRail and Eurail passes offer unlimited rail travel throughout Italy and other European countries, but must be bought before leaving home. For details of Italy-only passes.

InterRail passes are only available to those who have been resident in Europe for six months or more and are not valid in the country of residence. They come in first- and second-class over-26 and (cheaper) under-26 versions. The passes are available to a combination of countries for five days within a ten-day period (£235 second class, £154 under-26), ten days within a 22-day period (£336 second class, £227 under-26), 22 consecutive days (£435 second class, £290 under-26) or one month unlimited (£562 second class, £372 under-26).

InterRail passes do not include travel between Britain and the Continent, although pass-holders are eligible for discounts on rail travel in Britain and Northern Ireland and cross-Channel ferries, as well as free travel on the Brindisi–Patras ferry between Italy and Greece, and the Villa San Giovanni–Messina crossing to Sicily.

A Eurail Pass is for non-European residents and comes in a variety of forms: Italy only, Italy with France, Greece or Spain, Italy with bordering countries or with twenty other European countries. The pass, which must be purchased before arrival in Europe, allows unlimited free first-class train travel in combinations from ten days to three months. A one-month over-26 pass costs €853 (under-26 €556). There are numerous small-group, youth and saver versions, and passes can be purchased online or from the agents listed below.

Buses

It’s difficult to see why anyone would want to travel to Italy by bus. National Express Eurolines do, however, have occasional bargain offers, and tickets cost from £62 one-way from London to Milan. The Milan service departs daily and takes around 24 hours. On Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday it continues to Parma, Bologna, Florence, Rome and Naples, this last taking a gruelling 36 hours. There are also departures four times a week from London to Venice, taking around 29 hours.

Busabout Explorer is a popular option with backpackers. There are various Italian tours available as well as Europe-wide hop-on, hop-off services for around €490 per person.

Package and special interest holidays

As well as the travel agents offering flight-and-accommodation package deals, an increasing number of operators organize specialist holidays to Italy – covering walking, art and archeology, food and wine, short breaks to coincide with opera festivals or even football matches. If you want to rent a car in Italy, it’s well worth checking fly-drive deals with tour operators (and flight agents) before you leave.

Tour operators

North South Travel UK t 01245 608291, w northsouthtravel.co.uk. Friendly, competitive travel agency offering discounted fares worldwide. Profits are used to support projects in the developing world, especially the promotion of sustainable tourism.

STA Travel UK t 0871 230 0040, US t 1 800 781 4040, Australia t 134 782, New Zealand t 0800 474 400, South Africa t 0861 781 781; w statravel.co.uk. Worldwide specialists in independent travel; also student IDs, travel insurance, car rental, rail passes, and more. Good discounts for students and under-26s.

Trailfinders UK t 0845 058 5858, Ireland t 01 677 7888, Australia t 1300 780 212; w trailfinders.com. One of the best-informed and most efficient agents for independent travellers.

Travel CUTS Canada t 1 866 246 9762, US t 1 800 592 2887; w travelcuts.com. Canadian youth and student travel firm.

USIT Ireland t 01/602 1906, Northern Ireland t 028 9032 7111, w usit.ie. Ireland’s main student and youth travel specialists.

Italy specialists

Abercromie and Kent UK t 0845 485 1520, w abercrombiekent.co.uk. Luxury cultural holidays.

Alternative Travel Group UK t 01865 315 678, w atg-oxford.co.uk. Walking and cycling holidays.

Backroads US t 1 800 462 2848, w backroads.com. Cooking, cycling and hiking holidays, including family trips.

Central Holidays US t 1 800 539 7098, w centralholidays.com. Independent and escorted tours plus city breaks.

CIT US & Canada t 1 800 387 0711, w cittours.ca. Huge range of well-organized themed holidays and tours, plus advice for independent travellers on hotels.

Context Travel w contexttravel.com. Thematic walking tours for the “intellectually curious” in Rome, Florence, Venice and Naples, either in small groups of up to six or privately.

Long Travel UK t 01694 722 193, w long-travel.co.uk. Well-established family company specializing in southern Italy, Sicily and Sardinia.

Martin Randall Travel UK t 020 8742 3355, w martinrandall.com. Cultural tours focusing on art, architecture, music, archeology, gastronomy and history.

Mountain Travel–Sobek US t 1 888 831 7526, w mtsobek.com. Hiking and special interest tours around Italy.

Walkabout Gourmet Adventures Australia t 02 9871 5526, w walkaboutgourmet.com. Classy food, wine and walking tours.

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