Five Things at Which Italy
and Italians Excel

1. Flattery
You’ll find Italians are aggressively complimentary of friends and beautiful strangers alike. A historical tool for both disarming and defusing, flattery is the fulcrum on which Italian society teeters. As Luigi Barzini writes in “The Italians,” “The people have always employed such arts offensively, to gain advantages, destroy rivals and conquer power and wealth”.

And most of us thought that they were just being nice! It sounds as though Mr. Barzini may be a bit Machiavellian in his view.

2. Hot baths
For centuries, Italians have extolled the virtues of a hot bath. Italy pioneered the world’s first large-scale spas, exporting them as they colonized Europe and the peninsula contains nearly 400 spa sites. Watery therapies include island baths (such as those on volcanic Ischia), Tuscan hot springs, mountain baths in the town of Bormio and the thermal park of Lake Garda. Just drinking the mineral-rich water in some places is reputed to be healthy.

3. Beaches
With 4,600 miles of coastline, Italy boasts the most beaches in Europe, as well as 27 marine parks. Summer temperatures peak in many places at just below 86 F, compared with the mid 70s F in France and Portugal. It’s like swimming in tropical waters, minus the sharks. When it comes to beaches, it’s a tough choice between blinding-white dunes, pebble and even turf shores, but 248 Italian beaches have been awarded Blue Flag status for clear waters and unspoiled beauty.

4. Desserts
For sheer volume and variety of treats, nothing beats an Italian dessert. As much as we devour pizza and pasta, the real stars of Italian cuisine are gelato, tiramisu, cannoli, biscotti spumoni, tartufo and zeppoles – Italy has nearly as many signature desserts as it’s had governments. Italian confectioners combine cakes, cookies to create an arsenal of desserts. Ironically, most Italians eat the heavy desserts only on special occasions, preferring a piece of fruit, or chocolate after a meal instead.

5. Sports cars
Italian sports cars elicit more turns per head than even its fashion models do. Porsche makes fantastic cars, but, let’s face it, they are ugly. Italy’s catalog of exotic cars is what Porsche drivers dream about. In 2012, Ferrari sold just 7,000 cars, but it booked $3 billion in revenues. Meanwhile, Lamborghini may be owned by German Audi now, but the lines on the cars still scream Italiano. Pagani, Alfa Romeo, and Maserati – these names bring images to mind that make grown men weak in the knees. Italy may not reach top 20 in global auto production, but for out-of-your-league priced supercars, no other country can outrace Italy.

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