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When visiting sites such as Pompeii or the Greek temples at Paestum, Agrigento and Selinunte, every care should be taken to minimise your impact on these precious reminders of the world's ancient heritage Clambering all over walls and handling all help speed decay. By leaving things alone, you do your little bit to help preserve them. The sheer volume of people visiting these places is already problematic- in Venice it has been suggested that some sort of restriction should be places on the number of visitors entering the city on any one day.

If you plan to climb volcanoes or walk on isolated mountain paths, always stick to designated trails and follow instructions. They are there not only for your own safety but also to preserve the unique natural environment.

Forest fires are an annual problem during Italian summer. When outdoors, be extremely careful with cigarettes, glass bottles and other potential causes of fire.

Don't use flash when photographing art works in museums, churches and so on. The burst of light can damage the art.

Respect for tradition and religion is deeply rooted in Italy, especially in the south, so be sure to show the proper decorum when visiting churches. If you must talk in churches, do so in a whisper so as not to disturb those who have come to pray. The moral of the story is treat the monuments and works of art, the towns and their people as you would your own prized possessions. Tread softly and with respect.


Local Tourist Offices

The quality of tourist offices in Italy varies dramatically. One office might have enthusiastic staff but no useful printed information, while indifferent and even hostile staff in another might keep a gold mine of brochures hidden under the counter.

Three tiers of tourist office exist: regional, provincial and local. The names of tourist  boards are different throughout the country but they all offer roughly the same services.

Regional offices are generally concerned with promotion, planning, budgeting and other projects far removed from the daily concerns of the humble tourist. Provincial offices are known either as the Ente Provinciale per il Turismo (EPT) or, more commonly as the Azienda di Promozione Turistica (APT), and usually have information on both province and the town. Local offices generally have information only about the town you're in and go by various names. Increasingly common is Informazioni e Assistenza ai Turisti (IAT) but you may also come across Azienda Autonoma di Soggiorno e Turismo (AAST) offices. These are the places to go if you want specific information about bus routes, museums opening times and so on.

In many small towns and villages, the local tourist office is called a Pro Loco. These are often similar to the IAT or AAST offices but on occasion are little more than a meeting place for the local elderly men.

Most EPT, APT and AAST offices will respond to written and telephone requests for information about hotels, apartments for rent and so on.

Tourist offices are generally open 8.30 am to 12.30pm or 1pm and 3pm to around 7pm Monday to Friday. Hours are usually extended in summer, when some offices also open on Saturday or Sunday.

Information booths at most major train stations (and some smaller stations) tend to keep similar hours but in some cases operate only in summer. Staff can usually provide a pianta della citta' (map), elenco degli alberghi (list of hotels) and informazioni sulle attrazioni turistiche (information on the major sights). Many will help you find a hotel.

English and sometimes French or German, is spoken at tourist offices in larger towns and major tourist areas. German is, of course, spoken in Alto Adige. Printed information is generally provided in a variety of languages.

If you are arriving in Rome, you can obtain limited information about the major destinations throughout the country from the APT office (06 488 99 253, fax 06 488  99 228), Via Parigi 11, 00185 Rome, and at the headquarters of Italy's national tourist office, Ente Nazionale Italiano per il Turismo (ENIT; 06 4 97 11, fax 06 446 00185 Rome. Both offices are near Rome's central train station.


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