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Useful Info * Italy

Facts about Italy

Geography
The Italian peninsula covers an area of around 300,000 km. Its most obvious characteristics are its long stretch of coastline extending for nearly 7,500 km and its marked north-south divide, giving rise to a variety of climates and landscapes within the country, from the harsh winters experienced on the Po river plain in the north, to the mild climate enjoyed all year round by the coastal areas and the large islands of Sardinia and Sicily. This makes it the ideal destination any time of the year. The Alps stretch from east to west, having borders with Slovenia, Austria, Switzerland and France. The Apennine mountain range, lower than the Alps, slopes down to the Adriatic Sea and the Po river plain on one side and the Tyrrhenian Sea and Liguria on the other, rather like a backbone extending down to the south of the country.

Politics and society
A parliamentary republic since 1946, with a Head of State elected every seven years by two Assemblies, the Lower House and the Senate, it is governed by the Prime Minister, who is nominated by the President of the Republic. As well as Rome, the capital city since 1871, cities such as Milan, the most important financial and industrial centre, Venice and Florence, a must for art and culture lovers, Naples and Genua, large Mediterranean ports, all play their own significant roles. Rome is also the Papal seat, within the autonomous Vatican City.

Economy
Italy forms part of the G8 group of nations, since it is the sixth world economic power in terms of GDP. After decades of rapid industrial development, Italy now derives 2/3 of its current GDP from the service sector, where tourism plays a major role, even if it has not yet fulfilled its full potential. Many excellent companies and products, famous throughout the world, have emerged from the manufacturing, textiles and food industries. Yet it is the small and family-run businesses that create employment and contribute to the overall wealth of Italy and it is this widespread spirit of enterprise that, according to some analysts, has enabled the country to fare slightly better than others in weathering the current global crisis. There is a marked gap in wealth between the north and the south, with an inadequate infrastructure and the presence of an active underworld making it more difficult to set up companies in the south and on the islands.

Free time
24 National Parks and over 100 protected regional areas safeguard a country of extraordinary natural, historic and archaelogical beauty. Unesco has declared 44 World Heritage sites in our country, which is more than in any other country in the world. Fortunately, in recent years, we have developed an increased sense of environmental awareness and seek to defend all kinds of ecosystems, favoured by a varied climate and landscape featuring high mountain peaks, vast plains and long stretches of coastline. Italy can compete with France as the most important producer of wine in the world and is the greatest exporter.

Practicalities
The time zone is GMT+1, which is one hour ahead of London. From the end of March to the end of October it is ‘summer time’.
The euro is the official currency in Italy. To provide an example, the exchange rate in March 2010 was:
1€ = 1,36$ - 1$ = 0,74€
1€ = 123¥ - 100¥ = 0,82€
1€ = 0,91£ - 1£ = 1,10€
Credit cards are widely accepted, especially in the larger shops and businesses. The motorway network covers the whole of the country and operates via a toll system. Travelling on regional trains is cheap in comparison with other countries. High-speed trains connect Turin, Milan, Bologna, Florence, Rome and Naples and tickets can also be bought for these at a reasonable price.
The electric current is 230V/50Hz, taking two/three-pronged plugs.

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