Shaped like a wellington boot stretching south into the Mediterranean, Italy is a land of contrasts, from the Alpine pastures of the far north to the sun-baked plains of the south, from relative affluence in the north to extreme poverty in the north, from petty crime and prostitution in the north to organised crime of every sort in the south.

Visitors to Italy are well advised to take every precaution against theft. Some actually advise leaving your passport and credit cards in your hotel safe, and that is probably good advice if you are intending to go out and hit the vino to an immoderate extent. On the whole, however, I have found the Italians no more dishonest than many other countries and the normal precautions of keeping your valuables in an out-of-sight and zippered pocket is sufficient.

On the other hand, driving in Italy is probably worse than you can expect. Mad Italians disregarding all the rules of the road, road signs that are usually absent and always misleading when present, suicidal scooterists and only slightly more careful pedestrians, all combine to make a motor tour of Italy an experience to remember - usually in nightmares.

As for cuisine, if you are passionate about pasta and pizza, you will be in heaven. Otherwise you would be well advised to take some tins of baked beans with you. With your supplies thus assured, you can sit back and enjoy the wonderful music, the glorious scenery, the awe-inspiring motorways, the verve and exhuberance of Italian life, and the legendary beauty of Italian women. (I am told that the men are equally attractive, but that is a subject on which I am not qualified to comment.)