| 6.7°C Dublin

10 reasons to visit Italy

You probably won't need much to tempt you to Italy this summer, but in case you do, here are 10 more enticements

National celebrations

Italy is celebrating 150 years as a unified nation with a summer of special events centred on Turin. Called Esperienza Italia, it lasts from March to November and highlights all things Italian, from concerts and opera performances to craft exhibitions and sporting events. For further information see italia150.it and italia2011.it.

Offers from operators

Citalia (01-433 1040; citalia.com) is one of the specialist tour operators that have recognised the need to highlight affordable options. Its website has a special offers section with a regularly updated Top 10 Offers, plus a list of hotels offering free nights, 15pc discounts for early booking, and free stays for children.

Bucolic bargains

It is possible to halve the cost of a handsome stone villa on a bucolic Italian hillside by renting in less-visited Umbria -- Le Marche, Abruzzo and Puglia -- as opposed to Tuscany. Outside high season, many owners will also be flexible about start dates, so you can take a cheaper, mid-week flight.

The new Sicily

Tour operators are piling into Sicily this summer as more boutique hotels and villas are renovated for the tourist market. There's a clutch of major hotel openings, too.

The new Grand Hotel Piazza Borsa in Palermo (piazzaborsa.it) occupies a convent, a church and a former bank in the historic centre. On the coast, Orient-Express hotels has reopened the Grand Hotel Timeo in Taormina (grand hoteltimeo.com), which overlooks the Greek theatre and has a rare heated outdoor pool.

Another newcomer is Villa Sant'Andrea (hotelvillasantandrea. com), which has a private beach and spa.

In Ragusa, the five-star Donnafugata Golf Resort, a one-hour drive from Catania airport, has two championship courses, a golf academy and a spa (nh-hotels.com).

Unruined Rome

In Rome, the Colosseum's underground chambers and top tier are open to the public for the first time in 30 years. Beneath the arena are the perfectly preserved fifth-century quarters where gladiators prepared for battle, and from the third seating tier there is an outstanding view over the city.

Visits are guided and must be booked at least a day in advance by calling 0039 063 996 7700 (English spoken after the Italian). For more information see pierreci.it.

Head to the toe

Once an impoverished, insular place, the province of Calabria has benefited from a big injection of EU cash to build roads, tart up towns and villages and improve access to ancient sites.

The toe of Italy is a good option for the more adventurous, budget-conscious family.

There are long, unspoilt stretches of sand, family-focused hotels, and day trips into the high mountains and across the sea to Stromboli's volcano.

Weekend Magazine