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The Italian landscape is very diversified. Actually there are many different environments in this wonderful country. The most important mountain chains are the Alps and the Apennines. The former are the highest and most fascinating mountains in Europe, separating Italy from France, Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia. The highest peaks include Monte Bianco, Monte Rosa, Cervino and Gran Paradiso. The Alps are not so high in the eastern part, but still very beautiful. The Dolomites, which lie between the valleys of the Adige and Piave rivers, are just an example of this statement. Coming down the Alps towards the south we can find the huge valley where flows the Po (the longest Italian river), which starts its course from Monviso and reaches the Adriatic through an astonishing delta. Between the Alpine arc and the Po Valley there are hills characterised by the presence of large lakes: Lake Maggiore, Lake of Como, Lake of Iseo and Lake of Garda, the Italian largest one. The Apennines is Italy’s backbone, extending from north to south all along the peninsula. The Gran Sasso is the highest mountain of the chain. In the central part of Italy the landscape is predominantly characterised by green hills and also by the presence of some rivers such as Arno and Tevere and some lakes such as Trasimeno, Bolsena and Bracciano. The southern part of the Apennines ends to the east forming the Gargano promontory and to the west forming the Calabrian and Peloritano massif. It then stretches across the Strait of Messina into Sicily.
Concerning the internal borders, it must be said that Italy is divided in 20 regions. Each of them has a capital. Rome is the Italian capital but also the capital of the region Lazio. The other regional capitals are Ancona (of Marche), Aosta (of Valle d’Aosta), Bari (of Puglia), Bologna (of Emilia Romagna), Cagliari (of Sardegna), Campobasso (of Molise), Catanzaro (of Calabria), Firenze (of Toscana), Genova (of Liguria), L’Aquila (of Abruzzo), Milano (of Lombardia), Napoli (of Campania), Palermo (of Sicilia), Perugia (of Umbria), Potenza (of Basilicata), Torino (of Piemonte), Trento (of Trentino Alto Adige), Trieste (of Friuli Venezia Giulia), Venezia (of Veneto). Almost all of these cities are important not only for their size, population and economic activities, but also for their history, their culture and their beauties both natural and architectural. Each of them has its own characteristics and traditions which are jealously guarded by its citizens. Milano (Milan) is the economic engine of the country, it is usually indicated as the industrial, banking and fashion capital of Italy. Torino (Turin), in the northwest of the country, is famous for the car industry but also for its baroque architecture. Genova (Genoa), native city of Columbus, has been for centuries and still is the Italian’s biggest and most important port. Venezia (Venice) with its canals and lagoons which make it unique in the world, is one of the most visited places of the country. Trieste is a nice port near the border with Slovenia. Trento, which has been the location of many past battles and nowadays is strongly characterised by the presence of many German speakers. Bologna is well known for its University and for its culinary traditions. Firenze (Florence), chosen every year by millions of tourists, is a wonderful city breathing history and art from every corner. Ancona, an important port in the Adriatic region. Perugia, which lies right in the centre of the country is the seat of the most important University for Foreigners. L’Aquila, full of steep streets, is a mountain city situated in the Apennines. Napoli (Naples), is the largest and probably most well known city of the South and it’s famous for its picturesque streets and views. Bari, a modern city surrounding a small medieval town. Palermo, highly influenced in its architecture, culture and traditions by the Norman and Arab domination, is the major site of the South together with Napoli. Cagliari, the most populated Sardinian city, is another good example of fusion of different cultures.
Another aspect which deeply characterizes the country is its long coastline. In facts, almost every region is touched by the sea. The environment is really varied: rocky, wooded cliffs are indented by an infinite number of beaches and bays. The coast of Liguria is divided in two Rivieras with Genova in the middle. The western is called Ponente and it’s like an extension of the French Côte d’Azur, with the famous seaside towns Sanremo, Alassio and Varazze. The eastern is called Levante and includes Nervi, Portofino, Santa Margherita, Rapallo and Sestri Levante. Sloping down towards the Tuscanian coast lie other famous seaside resorts such as Forte dei Marmi, Viareggio, Castiglioncello, Porto Santo Stefano, Porto Ercole and the Island of Elba. Keeping on going to the south one finds Ostia, Lido di Roma, Fregene, Anzio, Nettuno (all belonging to Lazio), then in Campania there are the Island of Capri, Sorrento, the Island of Ischia, Positano, Amalfi and Maiori on the Gulf of Napoli. In front of these regions, far from the coast in the middle of the Tyrrenian sea lies Sardinia, a big island which constitutes a region itself and boasts awesome sandy beaches and a marvellous light blue sea. On the other side of Italy, from North to South along the Adriatic Coast: Grado, Lido di Venezia, Lido di Jesolo, Lignano Sabbiadoro and then the very popular string of towns along the Coast of Romagna, among which Milano Marittima, Cervia, Rimini, Riccione and Cattolica are probably the most famous. On the coast of Puglia, one finds the Lido di Siponto on the Gulf of Manfredonia, the enchanting Gargano peninsula and the Tremiti Islands.
The Alps extend over 900 kilometers from the Italian border with France to the border with Slovenia. It is characterised by great massifs in the western part, with peaks over 4,000 meters, including Monte Bianco (the European highest mountain), Monte Rosa, Cervino and Gran Paradiso. These giants all lie in the Valle d’Aosta, which is perhaps the most beautiful area in the whole Alpine range. Its landscape is characterised by to an extraordinary natural scenery in which lie ancient monuments and castles. As a consequence, the atmosphere of this region is magic. It is also indicated for tourists who like winter sports or just relax. The most famous towns are probably Cervinia and Courmayeur.
In the eastern part of the Alps lie the Dolomites, which haven’t any of the high peaks above mentioned but are with no doubts among the most fascinating places of the entire alpine range. These mountains wholly belong to the Trentino Alto Adige , which is a sort of immense park of natural beauty. Moreover, it must be said that this region, despite its very northern position, boasts a fantastic weather with frequent warm and sunny days. Merano, Madonna di Campiglio, Canazei, Ortisei and Cortina d’Ampezzo are centres of international renown which during the years have developed a wide offer of health resorts, spas and winter sports centres. Sightseeing lovers can beneficiate of modern transport facilities (such as cable cars and chair lifts) to reach the highest and most celebrated panoramic points with ease.
The Apennines: 'The backbone of Italy' are situated along the full length of the Italian peninsula, starting from the hills of Cadibona (near the city of Savona) ending down into Calabria region. The highest mont of Apennines are the Gran Sasso (9,558 feet) and the Maiella (9,151 feet) where you can play many winter sports in the dedicated area. Variously named from north to south – the Apennines in Emilia and Tuscany, the Apuan Alps in the north of Lucca, the Lattari Mountains between the Gulf of Naples and Salerno, the Matese Mountains also in Campania, the Sila in Calabria and Aspromonte, the southern tip of the Apennines. The mountains of the islands Sicily and Sardinia repeat the natural beauties of the Alps and the Apennines, Etna, an active volcano on Sicily’s eastern coast and snow-capped most of the year, epitomises the incomparable contrast of nature, which is the miracle of Italy.
The three largest lakes are Maggiore, Como, and Garda. These, together with the smaller ones, Orta, Iseo and Idro constitute a second Riviera of resorts with fine hotels and villas on their shores. Many activities like swimming, sailing, golf and tennis can be done from early spring to the late mild autumn. There are many lakes which are not very well known but can be considered real jewels. The most part of them are spread among the valleys of the Alps and include Caldonazzo, Molveno, Levico, Carezza, Misurina and Santa Croce. Other specialities such as boating, bathing and fishing can be done in lakes of central and southern Italy: Trasimeno in Umbria, Bolsena, Bracciano, Nemi, Albano in Lazio; Lucrino and Fusaro near Naples; Varano and Lesina in Puglia.
The ancient Romans knew very well the restorative powers of the mineral waters and mud baths that bubble up from Italian springs. As a matter of fact, the remains of Roman baths can be still seen nowadays in a lot of watering places. The Romanian traditions are still alive in the modern Italy and the accent put on rest and recreation has made many spas into fashionable resort centres with excellent hotels, golf courses and theatres. The most famous spas are Acqui, St.Vincent and Lurisia in Piemonte; San Pellegrino, Salice Terme, Bagni di Bormio and Sirmione in Lombardia; Abano and Montegrotto in Veneto; Merano in Alto Adige; Roncegno and Levico in Trentino; Salsomaggiore in Emilia; Montecatini and Chianciano in Tuscany; Fiuggi in Lazio; Agnano and Castellammare di Stabia in Campania, Ischia Porto on the island of Ischia and Sciacca in Sicily.
The Italian gastronomy, extremely popular worldwide for its simple and genuine tastes, takes its origin from the products which nature offers in great quantity reflecting the good weather conditions of the land. Wine is probably the most famous example in the wide range of typical Italian products. Autumn is the best season for “enoturismo”, which has become very popular due to the growth of wine routes. It is estimated that every year more than two million tourists visit the Italian countryside and its famous wine cellars, most of which have their own vineyards opened to the public. Tourists have also the possibility to taste various home-made products on special occasions in historical buildings and thematic museums. However, people who don’t like organized things have the opportunity of making their own wine route discovery on the basis of their individual tastes and preferences. The wine regions provide an incredible wealth for Italy in economic terms but not only. It’s something that a visitor should not miss during his trip to Italy.
Italy is characterized by the presence of some active volcanoes such as Mount Etna (in Sicily between Catania and Messina, altitude 3323 metres) and Stromboli (Aeolian Islands, 924 metres) and a couple of no more active ones such as Vesuvio (in Campania near Napoli, 1281 metres) and Vulcano (Aeolian Islands, 391 metres).
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