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Italy is situated in Europe. To the north, the Alps separate Italy from France, Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia.
Northern Italy: The Alpine regions, the Po Plain and the Dolomites. Piedmont and Val d'Aosta contain some of the highest mountains in Europe and are good areas for winter sports. Rivers flow down from the mountains passing through the beautiful Italian Lake District (Maggiore, Como, Garda) to the fertile Po Basin, which extends as far south as the bare slopes of the Appennines, and has long been one of Italy's most prosperous regions.
Central Italy: The northern part of the Italian peninsula. Tuscany (Toscana) has a diverse landscape with snow-capped mountains, lush countryside, hills and a long sandy coastline. To the east is Umbria, known as the ‘green heart of Italy'; hilly with broad plains, olive groves and pines, and Le Marche - a region of gentle mountains, rivers and small fertile plains. Further south lies Rome, Italy's capital city. Within its precincts is the Vatican City.
Southern Italy: The south is wilder than the north, with mile upon mile of olive trees, cool forests and rolling hills. Campania consists of flat coastal plains and low mountains, stretching along a rocky coast to the Calabrian border. The islands of Capri, Ischia and Procida in the Tyrrhenian Sea are also part of Campania. Puglia, the ‘heel of the boot', is a landscape of volcanic hills and isolated marshes. Calabria, the ‘toe', is wild, heavily forested and thinly populated.
The Islands: Sicily (Sicilia), visible across a 3km (2-mile) strait from mainland Italy, is famed for its active volcano Mount Etna and lava fields. Sardinia (Sardegna) has a mountainous landscape, fine sandy beaches and rocky offshore islands.
Italian is the official language. Dialects are spoken in different regions. German is spoken in the South Tyrol region (bordering Austria). French is spoken in all the border areas from the Riviera to the area north of Milan (border with France and Switzerland). English, French and German are also spoken in the biggest cities and in tourism and business circles.