Spectator sports are popular in Italy, especially the hallowed calcio (football), and there is undying national passion for frenetic motor and cycle races. For visitors to Italy, the most accessible activities are centred on the mountains – where you can climb, ski, paraglide, raft, canoe or simply explore on foot or cycle – and the lake and coastal regions, with plenty of opportunities for swimming, sailing and windsurfing; Campania, Calabria and Sicily are particularly popular for scuba diving and snorkelling.
Football – or calcio – is the national sport, followed fanatically by millions of Italians, and if you’re at all interested in the game it would be a shame to leave the country without attending a partita or football match. The season starts around the middle of August, and finishes in June. Il campionato (the championship) is split into four principal divisions, with the twenty teams in the Serie A being the most prestigious. Matches are normally played on Sunday afternoons, although Saturday, Sunday-evening and Monday games are becoming more common. See w lega-calcio.it for results, a calendar of events and English links to the official team websites. English-language Italian football sites are also worth a look – w football-italia.net or w footballitaliano.co.uk.
Inevitably, tickets for Serie A matches are not cheap, starting at about €25 for “Curva” seats where the tifosi or hard-core fans go, rising to €30–50 for for more widely available distinti tickets in the corners of the stadium, €30–75 for “Tribuna” seats along the side of the pitch, and anything up to €150 for the more comfortable “Poltroncina”, cushioned seats in the centre of the Tribuna. Once at the football match, get into the atmosphere of the occasion by knocking back borghetti – little vials of cold coffee with a drop of spirit added.
You can get tickets from sites like w listicket.it or w seatwave.com, which will either sell you a ticket or give you details of the nearest outlet. You must carry photo ID when you purchase a ticket and when you go to a game.
Other spectator sports
Italy’s chosen sport after football is basketball, introduced from the United States after World War II. Most cities have a team, and Italy is now ranked among the foremost in the world. The teams vying for the top spot are Montepaschi Siena, Cimberio Varese, Emporio Armani Milano, Banco di Sardegna Sassari, Scavolini Siviglia Pesaro, Bennet Cantu, Umana Venezia and CS Bologna. For more details on fixtures and the leagues, see w eurobasket.com/italy/basketball.as.
In a country that has produced Ferrari, Maserati, Alfa Romeo and Fiat, it should come as no surprise that motor racing gives Italians such a buzz. There are grand prix tracks at Monza near Milan (home of the Italian Grand Prix) and at Imola, where the San Marino Grand Prix is held.
The other sport popular with participants and crowds of spectators alike is cycling. At weekends especially, you’ll often see a club group out, dressed in bright team kit, whirring along on their slender machines. The annual Giro d’Italia (w ilgiroditalia.it) in the second half of May is a prestigious event that attracts scores of international participants each year, closing down roads and creating great excitement.
With the Alps right on the doorstep, it’s easy to spend a weekend skiing or snowboarding from Milan, Turin or Venice. Some of the most popular ski resorts are Sestriere and Bardonecchia in Piemonte, Cervinia and Courmayeur in Valle d’Aosta, the Val Gardena and Val di Fassa in the stunning Dolomite mountains of Trentino-Alto Adige and the Veneto – home to one of Italy’s best-known and most exclusive resorts, Cortina d’Ampezzo. Further south you can ski at the small resorts of Abetone and Amiata in Tuscany, Monte Vettore in Le Marche, Gran Sasso and Maiella in Abruzzo, Aspromonte in Calabria and on Mount Etna in Sicily. Contact the regional tourist offices for information about accommodation, ski schools and prices of lift passes.
All of these mountain resorts are equally ideal as bases for summer hiking and climbing, and most areas have detailed maps with itineraries and marked paths. For less strenuous treks, the rolling hills of Tuscany and Umbria make perfect walking and mountain-bike country and numerous tour operators offer independent or escorted tours. Many tourist offices also publish booklets suggesting itineraries.
The extensive Italian coast offers all the usual seaside resort activity and plenty of opportunities for sailing and windsurfing. Scuba diving is popular in Sicily and off most of the smaller islands – you can either join a diving school or rent equipment from one if you’re an experienced diver. You can get a guide and map suggesting sailing itineraries round the coast of southern Italy from the Italian State Tourist Office.
Watersports aren’t just restricted to the coast and can be found in places such as lakes Como and Garda in the north, and Trasimeno and Bolsena further south towards Rome. River canoeing, canyoning and rafting are popular in the mountain areas of the north of the country.
Horseriding is becoming increasingly popular in rural areas and most tourist offices have lists of local stables (maneggio). Many agriturismi also have riding facilities and sometimes offer daily or weekly treks and night rides. Note that Italians rarely wear or provide riding hats.