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Gap Year In Italy

Famous for its pizza, ancient capital city and favourable weather, it's easy to see why this country makes the list for many gap year travellers.

Why visit Italy during a Gap year? 

What did the Romans do for us? - Temples, roads, aqueducts, oh - and the wine.

Then there was the Renaissance – art, architecture, science, and still the wine.

There are many places to visit; people tend to concentrate on Rome, Florence, Venice and, perhaps Naples. Well, there are many other parts of Italy off the main tourist tracks, so let’s have a look at a few.

What to see and do on your Italy Gap year

Pescara, on the Adriatic Sea, is not a tourist hotspot; it’s a port, as its name suggests a fishing port.

It is the birthplace of one of Italy’s most colourful literary figures, Gabriele D’Annunzio (1863-1938) a novelist, poet, playwright and musician (he collaborated with Debussy and Mascagni) he is, possibly better known for his later military and political exploits.

At the age of 55 he was serving in the Italian air force, and in major feat in the annuls of early aviation lead a 700 mile round trip flight to Vienna to drop propaganda leaflets.

More controversially in 1919 angered by the proposed loss the city of Fiume (now Rijeka in Croatia) despite it have a majority Italian population, he led a force of Italian irregulars who expelled the occupying British and French forces.

However, the Italian nation was not grateful and blockaded the port forcing his withdrawal. Pescara has a museum dedicated to D’Annunzio.

Having made the Croatian connection; Pescara offers ferry and hydrofoil services to Split in Croatia.

In Split you will find the Palace of Emperor Diocletian; a complex covering a nine acre site built for the retirement of the emperor on 1st. May 305 AD.

Now most Roman Emperors didn’t plan their retirement, others planned to retire them, or they died in office.

Diocletian was that rare politician, someone who kept their promise.

He said he would retire after 21 years as emperor, and that’s what he did. Later, when a group of senators tried to persuade to return he said “no thanks, I’m enjoying my palace”, and now you can enjoy it too.

For fans of Formula One, Pescara is the birthplace of Jarno Trulli and Vitantonio Liuzzi and, if you are ever on the TV Pointless, Pescara held a World Championship Grand Prix in 1957 on the longest circuit in F1 history with a sixteen mile lap (The Nurburgring Nordschleife,  used for World Championship Grand Prix up to 1984 is 12.93 miles per lap).

Genoa is a port city in the north west of country, close to where the 'boot' makes a sharp turn to the west; hence, it is believed Genoa’s name derives from the Latin for knee.

Modestly know as 'la superba', the superb one, you may feel at home here due to its flag, the cross of St. George, being exactly the same as England’s flag.

The Genoese flag is older. And some sources have it that English ships under the protection of the Genoese in the Mediterranean flew this flag which was later adopted as a national symbol.

The city is a mixture of ancient narrow streets (caruggi) small squares, and the modern architecture of home town boy Renzo Piano (most famous for his work on the Georges Pompidou Centre in Paris) and other local architects.

Places to see include the Palazzo Ducale – the Doge’s Palace (did you think only Venice had a Doge? Must confess ....) 

The palace was originally constructed in the Twelfth Century; the current building dates from 1539.

The first Doge of Genoa was Simone Boccanegra, the subject of Verdi’s 1857 opera.

Simone is poisoned in 1383, which makes him a good subject for Italian Opera. More details on the Palazzo at www.palazzoducale.genova.it

Adjacent to the palace is the main square, the Piazzo de Ferrari with its equestrian statue of the all Italian hero Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807-1882). Not far away on the Vico Dritto di Ponticello is the alleged home of Genoa’s most famous son, Christopher Columbus.

Not a lot of evidence that it was his house, but you can take a picture and tell your friends it was.

Lanterna is Genoa’s lighthouse; this current incarnation was built in 1543, although there has been a light here since the 12th Century. 

At 117 metres above sea level it is one of the tallest of the world’s lighthouses (definitions vary). There is a nearby museum which gives the history of the light, and has information on the history and development of Genoa. More details can be found at www.linguri.org/lanterna/lighthouse.asp

Sardinia has been described as Italy’s 'other island' – the other island being Sicily. This is probably because, although Sardinia is the second largest island in the Mediterranean, it is smaller than Sicily and less visited. Nevertheless it has some attractions for the inquisitive visitor.

The interior of Sardinia is mountainous with four main ranges, the highest peak being Punta La Marmora at 1,834 metres.  Although there are few rivers the scenery is spectacular due to the erosion of various rock formations.

An interesting way to see some of this scenery is via, Il Trenino Verde  - the Little Green Train.

According to the website, www.sardiniapoint.it  DH Lawrence said in 1921, "It’s a strange railway. It shoots up hills and down in to valleys and races around sudden curves with the greatest nonchalance".

I don’t know if that sounds reassuring, but you weren’t going just to lie on the beach were you? There are four routes offered by IL Trenino; details on these, timetables and fares are on the above website.

From the train you will see Nuraghi, cone shaped structures (there are over seven hundred of them on the island) products of the Bronze Age Nuraghic Civilisation who inhabited the island in the middle/late Bronze Age.

The function of these structures is disputed, though it fair to say that as they differ in their layout they probably served different functions in different areas.

The most well known is Su Nuraxi at Barumini, a commune situated fifty kilometres north of the capital Cagliari.

Visiting many of these sites will be a trek.

Cagliari is not a particular interesting city. Like Rome it is built on seven hills and boasts a Roman Amphitheatre and their vital contribution to living on a dry island, the aqueduct and water storage cisterns.

Within striking distance of Cagliari is Nora, a pre-Roman city abandoned during the 8th. Century AD.  Most of it has not been excavated and is best seen as an outdoor museum.

Let’s conclude with food. Italian cuisine is known for utilising a limited number of high quality ingredients. 

Personal likes are Fegato alla Veneziana (OK – it’s liver and onion – but delicious) and Zeppola – a filled doughnut.

Different fillings –butter and honey is number one. Worth pointing out that cuisine tends to be regional, so it is unlikely that you would find both of these on the same menu.

General Information for Gap year travellers

Italy is a very straightforward country to visit.

Currently a visa is not required for tourism; this is most unlikely to change in the near future, but as always it is prudent to check at the planning stage.

The acceptance of credit/debit cards is widespread in Italy, but not as widespread as in some other countries. Small businesses including restaurants may require cash; so check before tucking in.

Do (I must confess that I forgot last time) to tell your credit/debit card company that you intend to use your cards abroad during specified dates, to avoid potential embarrassment!

Don’t forget your plug adaptor for all your electric gizmos. The Italian system uses round pin plugs and sockets.