The Best of ITALY, Part 1: The North

Italy is a peninsular Western European country bordered by France, Switzerland, Austria, and Slovenia and which itself surrounds the two enclaved microstates of Vatican City and San Marino. Italy also has a territorial exclave in Switzerland (Campione) and a maritime exclave in Tunisian waters (Lampedusa). Due to its central geographic location, the country has historically been home to a myriad of peoples and cultures, the most predominant being the Indo-European Italic peoples (who gave the peninsula its name), the Phoenicians and Carthaginians (who each founded colonies here), the Greeks (who established settlements in the so-called Magna Graecia of Southern Italy), the Etruscans and Celts (who inhabited central and northern Italy, respectively), and the Latins (who formed the Roman Kingdom beginning in the 8th century BC). By the 1st century, the Roman Empire had emerged as the dominant power in the Mediterranean region in terms of culture, politics, and religion, inaugurating a period of prosperous stability of over 200 years and known today as the Pax Romana (“Roman peace”). After the barbarian invasions and resultant fall of the Western Roman Empire during the Early Middle Ages, numerous maritime republics (such as Venice and Genoa) and rival city-states (especially the theocratic Papal States) rose to great prosperity through trade, commerce, and banking, laying the groundwork for modern capitalism.

Economically, Italy today boasts the world’s 8th-largest economy, maintains the 6th-largest national wealth, and holds the 3rd-largest gold reserve. Politically, it is a founding member of the EU and is an important member of numerous international institutions, including the UN, NATO, WTO, G7, G20, and Council of Europe, and is a part of the Schengen Area. And culturally, Italy has the world’s largest number of World Heritage Sites, with 58, and is the world’s 5th-most visited country.

The northern part of the country is especially known for its sweeping mountain views, beautiful lakes, dramatic coastlines, and unique culinary traditions influenced by neighboring countries such as France, Austria, and Slovenia. Some of the must-see places in this part of the country would have to include:

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