Of all the countries in Europe, Italy is perhaps the hardest to classify. It is a modern, industrialized nation; it is the harbinger of style, its designers leading the way with each season’s fashions. But it is also a Mediterranean country, with all that it implies.

Agricultural land covers much of the country, a lot of it, especially in the south, still owned under almost feudal conditions. In towns and villages all over the country, life stops during the middle of the day for a siesta. It is also strongly family-oriented, with an emphasis on the traditions and rituals of the Catholic Church.

If there is a single national characteristic, it’s to embrace life to the full, manifest in the hundreds of local festivals taking place on any given day; in the importance placed on good food; and above all in the daily domestic ritual of the collective evening stroll or passeggiata. There is also, of course, the country’s enormous cultural legacy: Tuscany alone has more classified historical monuments than any country in the world and every region retains its own relics of an artistic tradition generally acknowledged to be the world’s richest.