Italy, the country that gave the world pizza and pasta, Julius Caesar and Sophia Loren, Michelangelo and Gucci, has through its thinkers, writers and artists, made contributions to western culture that have affected the lives of billions for over 2,000 years.

Italy dangles from the centre of western Europe like a stocking filled with marvels, some as inspiring as Venice, St Mark’s Basilica and Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper, others as strange and unexpected as the pagan tombs lying deep beneath St Peter’s in Rome. There are the snowy peaks of the Alps in the north, the gently smoking caldera of Mount Etna in Sicily, the picture-perfect villages of the Italian Riviera, the Renaissance wonders of Florence, the pastoral landscapes of Tuscany and Umbria, the sparkling Bay of Naples dotted with islands and of course, Rome, the Eternal City.

Whilst the cities are living repositories of the country’s amazing history they also offer smart shopping options and vibrant nightlife and are a must for most visitors. The countryside of Italy should not be missed. The calm, serene beauty of the Italian lakes and the jagged peaks of the Dolomites in the north, the Apennines flanked by rolling countryside sprinkled with Lombardy poplars and stately cypresses in the centre and the south’s hot, dry mountain slopes and string of volcanoes all have an appeal that attracts visitors from around the world.