Getting there There are regular high-speed trains running from Rome to Calabria, with journey times just over seven hours.
When to go Spring and autumn, when weather and crowds are bearable.
Urbino What to expect Sitting atop a hill, lording it over miles of glorious countryside, Urbino, home to Raphael, Botticelli and Piero della Francesca during the Renaissance, is these days a well-derserved World Heritage Site.
Where to sleep Albergo Raffaello is set in a former seminary, but forgoes monkish asceticism in favour of comfortable rooms and some excellent views. Vicolino S Margherita 40, www.albergoraffaello.com.
Where to eat and drink Antica Osteria La Guercia: eat excellent local pasta dishes on the terrace or in the rustic dining room, and ask to see the splendid Roman mosaic in the back room. Via Baviera 33, Pésaro.
Getting there Ancona or Rimini airports are nearest (there are regular domestic flights from Milan and Rome). For Urbino, take the train to Pésaro, then jump on a bus.
When to go October or next February for the National Truffle Fairs in Acqulagna. Other notable festivals in the area are held in July and August.
Coast & islands
The Aeolian Islands What to expect This surreal, picturesque cluster of volcanic islands between Naples and Sicily is as diverse as it is extraordinary. Hang out with donkeys on Alicudi and Bergman fans on Stromboli or, best of all, shuttle between all of them.
Where to sleep Diana Brown on Lipari is an affordable, clean 12-roomed B&B where breakfast is served on the sun-drenched terrace. Vico Himera 3, www.dianabrown.it.
Where to eat and drink Hotel Signum on Salina is a treat, serving stunning regional food in one of the archipelago’s nicest hotels. Via Scalo 15, Malfa, Salina.
Getting there Buses run regularly from Catania airport (which in turn can easily be reached from Venice, Rome or Milan) to Messina train station; from there it’s a short walk to the hydrofoil.
When to go Swim in warm seas from late spring to autumn. Avoid winter, when storms can cut off the islands for days.
The Amalfi Coast & Capri What to expect One of the world’s most beautiful and dramatic coastlines is packed with swish shops, smart cafés and great restaurants. Don’t forget your convertible (for sweeping round the hair-raising hairpin bends, of course).
Where to sleep Villa Krupp, perched above the Gardens of Augustus on Capri, used to be Maxim Gorky’s house. It has bright, pretty rooms, some with private terraces. Via Matteotti 12, www.villakrupp.it.
Where to eat Da Gemma in Amalfi has a balcony terrace that’s perfect for people-watching, romantic suppers and dishes of simple, good seafood. Via Fra’ Gerardo Sasso 10, Amalfi.
Getting there The Aeroporto Internazionale di Napoli is 37km away; there are good bus and ferry services connecting Naples with the area.
When to go May or September: in between the heat and crowds are too much, earlier or later everything’s shut.
Bologna What to expect Foodies are well aware of Bologna’s gastronomic heritage, but beyond the great dining lie hundreds of beautiful porticoes lining 40km of the city’s elegant streets.
Where to sleep Porto San Mamolo. A secret garden with pomegranate trees makes this the perfect haunt for the romantically inclined. Vicolo del Falcone 6/8, www.hotelportasanmamolo.it.
Where to eat and drink Nu Lounge Bar. Chilled during the day, rowdy at night, it has a great drinks menu as well as classic pizza and pasta dishes. Via dei Musei 6.
Getting there The Bologna Aerobus runs regularly from the Marconi International Airport. Forli Airport is 60km away.
When to go May, June and around October are the best times.
Ravenna What to expect This small town boasts an array of stunning Byzantine mosaics and was the hub of the ancient world. Bustling but compact and cosmopolitan, there are several beach resorts nearby.
Where to sleep Bed & Breakfast A Casa di Paola has three stylish rooms plus a small apartment for longer stays. Via Paola Costa 31, www.acasadipaola.it.
Where to eat and drink Trattoria La Rustica is a charming restaurant offering local delicacies with a rustic feel. Via Alberoni 55.
Getting there Forli, Rimini and Bologna are the nearest airports, and regular airport buses connect with the railway station.
When to go Late June to early September to catch late-night openings of the mosaics.
Lakes & mountains
The Lakes What to expect Of northern Italy’s spectacular lakes (Maggiore, Como and Orta), Lago d’Orta is our favourite. Don’t miss the medieval town of Orta San Giulio.
Where to sleep Leon d’Oro. A distinctly Alpine-looking hotel on the waterfront. Piazza Motta 43, www.albergoleondoro.it.
Where to eat and drink Taverna Antico Agnello, a rustic, family-run taverna serving hearty food in a snug dining room. There’s a great drinks list and most of the diners are locals, which says a lot about the quality and authenticity of the food. Via Olina 18.
Getting there For Orta, the nearest airport is Milan’s Aeroporto di Malpensa. Take a mainline train service from Stazione Centrale to Novara, then the local service.
When to go April to July. Many places close from October to March.
The Dolomites What to expect Perhaps the most weird and wonderful mountains in the whole of the Alps are ideal for winter skiing or summer rambling and climbing. Don’t forget your camera; as the sun sets the soaring columns and gentle valleys turn a brilliant, blazing pink.
Where to sleep Rifugio Graffer, a remote and beautiful hut set high on the mountainside. You have to ski or walk to get there (luggage transport is available), but it’s worth it for the desserts alone. Madonna di Campiglio, Brenta Dolomites, www.graffer.com.
Where to eat and drink Castel Roncolo Osteria, which offers luscious fresh pasta and local specialities in a wonderful setting. It’s best to book ahead. Bolzana, Via San Antonio 1.
Getting there Brescia, Verona, Treviso and Venice are the nearest airports. All have connecting buses to railway stations for ongoing trains and coaches.
When to go Late June to late September for walking and climbing. Skiing between mid-December and March/April.
Genoa What to expect After a stint as European City of Culture, the birthplace of Christopher Columbus has undergone a cultural and architectural renaissance, and has a medieval old town to rival Venice.
Where to eat and drink Osteria Da Maria serves Genovese fare such as pansotti (ravioli in walnut sauce). Vico Testadoro 14r.
Getting there Genoa’s Cristoforo Columbo airport is 6km west of the centre.
When to go Avoid the too-hot summer by going in spring or autumn.
Turin What to expect Unpretentious and soberly beautiful, Turin is one of Italy’s least explored cities. In 2008, it was World Design City and, thanks to ongoing civic beautification, keeps on getting better.
Where to sleep Hotel Victoria. Family-run for 50 years, the style here is both elegant and cosy. Top floor rooms have mountain views. Via Nino Costa 4, www.hotelvictoria-torino.com.
Where to eat and drink Gramsci for aspirational main courses and posh pizza in a suave, suede-lined dining room. Via Gramsci 12.
Getting there Aeroporto Internazionale Sando Pertini is 16km north of the city. The best way to get into the centre of town is by bus.
When to go This is a year-round destination. Summers are not too hot and winters not too cold.
As the Eurozone credit crisis rages, Jan Fuscoe, editor of Time Out’s Italy: perfect places to stay, eat & explore, shares her euro-saving tip.
How do I avoid the BD7 cappuccino? By bypassing the main piazzas. But remember: you’re paying for the people-watching too, an essential part of any trip to Italy.
I want to speak like a native any tips? Stay with local farmers at an agriturismo, with the bonus of eating fabulous organic food too; en.agriturismo.it or www.agriturismo.com are good.
How do I tell a good, cheap restaurant from a bad, cheap tourist trap? Look who else is eating: if it’s full of tourists, it’s probably been recommended by the hotel you’re staying in. And eat late – after 9pm.
Any recommendations for tasty, cheap tipples? A carafe of house grape is always cheaper than bottled hops or named grapes, and grape in Italy is rarely bad.
Travelling to and around Italy
Gulf Air flies direct to Rome and Milan, with return tickets from BD271. www.gulfair.com. Italy’s train network is efficient, comfortable and relatively inexpensive – book a ticket to any of the listed destinations online. www.trenitalia.com.