On the ground: What the scene in Italy is like right now

Dec 10, 2021

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Now that Italy has reopened, you might be wondering what it’s actually like on the ground. As an American based in Rome, I’ve been here for the duration of the pandemic, so believe me when I say that things feel much more normal now than they did at just about any point since March 2020. Of course, that doesn’t mean that things are exactly as they were before. The pandemic’s effects will still be felt for many months.

Still, a spirit of optimism is finally returning to the air in Italy and can be felt just about everywhere I’ve been. Restaurants are full, hotel occupancy is at an all-time high since the start of the pandemic and a number of new openings are bringing a bit of excitement to the country.

“Travel is tiptoeing back, the tourists are slowly returning to Italy. It’s a pleasure to see them and quite nice that we didn’t automatically spring back to regular tourism levels,” Zoe Shapiro, who just launched Stellavision Travel, a new tour company aimed at female travelers, told TPG. “Slow, sustainable, year-round travel is good for the industry and good for Italy’s historic sites. It’s why we run small group tours at Stellavision, for eight to 10 women. And I think it’s what we’ll experience in 2021 to 2022.”

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Related: Italy is reopening: 11 things I learned as a tourist

Entry requirements

Delta JFK-MXP Alps
(Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

As of June 21, travelers coming from the U.S., Canada, Japan and the EU no longer need to take COVID-tested flights to travel to Italy, but can enter with a “green certificate” instead.

The new ordinance requires such passengers to provide one of the following: proof of vaccination completed at least 14 days prior to entering Italy, a negative antigen or molecular swab test taken within 48 hours prior to entering Italy or proof of having recovered from COVID-19.

Passengers still need to complete the European Digital Passenger Locator form prior to departure. Vaccinated travelers must have received one of the four vaccines approved by the European Medicines Agency (Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson or AstraZeneca).

Due to the recent discovery of the first case of the omicron variant in Italy, the country’s health minister has banned entry to anyone who has traveled to South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia, Lesotho or Eswani in the last 14 days.

Related: Italy further relaxes rules on Americans

Are masks required in Italy?

On June 28, the Italian government lifted the requirement of wearing masks outdoors, except in situations where it’s impossible to maintain social distancing. However, many Italian cities and regions are reimposing mask mandates even outdoors as a precaution against crowding during the busy holiday season. There are currently mask mandates in cities including Rome, Florence, Milan, Venice, Bologna, Bergamo, Padua, Genoa, Turin, Cortina d’Ampezzo and Aosta and regions including Campania, Sicily, Calabria and Alto Adige.

Masks are still required on any form of public transit and when entering enclosed spaces, such as museums, shops and restaurants (except while eating and drinking). They’re also required at archeological sites, even if they’re outside.

What’s open and closed?

Outdoor dining in Naviglio in Milan, Italy
(Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

Just about everything is open: museums, archeological sites, shops, restaurants, bars, beaches, pools and more. However, as of Dec. 6, either the super green pass or basic green pass (see below) is required to dine indoors as well as to visit museums, cinemas, theaters, gyms, swimming pools, amusement parks, spas, festivals, fairs, casinos and sports stadiums.

Another thing to keep in mind is that many museums are requiring visitors to purchase timed tickets in advance in order to better control the number of visitors and ensure social distancing during the pandemic. While some museums (mostly smaller ones) have eliminated this requirement, others still have it in place.

For example, I visited the Giardino dei Tarocchi sculpture garden in Tuscany earlier this summer, and even though it’s almost completely outdoors I had to book timed tickets online. So if museums, archeological sites, and other attractions are part of your travel plans, check in advance to see if they require timed tickets.

What about the green pass?

Italy’s version of the green pass (both the digital and paper versions) is only available to people who have been vaccinated, received a negative test result or recovered from COVID-19 in Italy. Travelers coming from other EU countries can use the green pass issued by their country.

In a tightening of restrictions on anti-vaxxers, the super green pass has just come into effect. The super green pass is the same as the basic green pass except it’s only available to people who have been vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19. And for the period from Dec. 6 until at least Jan. 15, it will be required for indoor dining and recreational activities, including going to the cinema, theater, concerts, etc. During this period, the basic green pass will be required at museums, hotels and all forms of public transportation.

According to Wanted in Rome, Italian authorities will also accept vaccination certificates and medical documents certifying recovery from COVID-19 (in the past six months) from the U.S., U.K., Canada, Israel and Japan. If you have a CDC-issued vaccination card, be sure to bring it with you when you dine indoors or visit museums, archeological sites or any of the other places listed above.

If you have not been vaccinated against or recovered from COVID-19, you can take an antigen or molecular swab test available at pharmacies throughout Italy, but your resulting green pass will only be valid for 48 hours. A green pass obtained via vaccination is valid for 270 days, while one obtained via proof of recovery from COVID-19 is valid for 180 days.

According to Statistica, as of Dec. 8, 84.9% of Italy’s total population over the age of 12 has been fully vaccinated. And as of Oct. 15, all workers in Italy are required to have a green pass, so you can be sure that your waiters, hotel staff and just about anyone else you come into contact with has either been vaccinated, recovered or received a negative test result in the last 48 hours.

Regional differences

Italy’s 20 regions are color-coded based on the number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized in intensive care, with restrictions corresponding to the region’s color. A region going into a red zone signifies a total lockdown, orange zone means a partial lockdown, yellow zone means things are mostly open with some restrictions and white zone means things are (almost) back to normal. Currently, every region is a white zone except for the northern regions of Friuli Venezia Giulia and Alto Adige, which are yellow zones.

“Getting vaccinated is the only way to conclude this dramatic season,” Italy’s health minister Roberto Speranza said, according to the national news agency Ansa, adding, “But I must say that the response of the Italians has been extraordinary, the vaccination campaign is moving forward with significant numbers.”

Moving around Italy

Travel between white zones and yellow zones is allowed without the need to provide the auto-certification form that was previously required to justify your reason for traveling. In the past six months, I’ve traveled to seven other regions (from Lazio to Abruzzo, Tuscany, Umbria, Le Marche, Campania, Sicily and Lombardia) and have never had to present an auto-certification form. The green pass has been required on planes as well as high speed and intercity trains since Sept. 1. Ticket controllers scan the QR code on each passenger’s green pass when they check tickets.

However, the requirements are changing now with the introduction of the super green pass. As of Dec. 6, the basic green pass is required on all forms of public transit, including metros, buses, trams, plus regional and high-speed trains. Wanted in Rome reported that the first fine for violating the new regulations was handed to a commuter on a bus in Rome on Dec. 6.

What’s new in Italy

In Rome alone there are several major hotel openings this year, including the Hoxton, Rome (opened in May), Soho House (currently in a soft opening phase), W (open as of Dec. 6) and Hotel Maalot by Shedir Group, which is behind the luxurious Hotel Vilòn. The Rome Edition will open early in 2022 and there are upcoming properties by Bulgari, Six Senses and Rosewood. Anantara has taken over the historic Palazzo Naiadi on Piazza della Repubblica and will renovate it in 2022.

The city also recently got a Mexican rooftop bar called Hey Güey at Chapter Roma, which became an instant hotspot for locals. And after an 8 million euro (more than $9 million), five-year restoration, the 1st-century B.C. Mausoleum of Augustus (Rome’s first emperor) reopened earlier this year to the public. The first round of tickets sold out within 48 hours.

Rome is far from the only place with exciting new things to do and places to stay. Renowned chef Oliver Glowig recently relocated from Rome to Umbria to launch Locanda Petreja, where he serves gourmet tasting menus using the freshest local ingredients (think black truffles and Cinta Senese pork) at Borgo Petroro, a 13th-century castle transformed into a country house hotel. Also in Umbria, Castello di Reschio debuted an ultra-luxurious hotel designed by Count Benedikt Bolza in an 11th-century castle on the grounds of his family’s massive estate.

Up north in Venice, Ca’ di Dio opened with a sleek modern design by acclaimed designer Patricia Urquiola in the Arsenale arts district. Borgo Santandrea, the first new five-star hotel to open on the Amalfi Coast in 10 years, launched this summer with a stunning mid-century-meets-Mediterranean design and a beach club on a stretch of sandy beach. Meanwhile, in Sicily, Villa Igiea recently opened its beautiful 19th-century Art Nouveau doors after being taken over and given new life by Rocco Forte Hotels. Four Seasons also took over San Domenico Palace in a 14th-century convent in Taormina.

Featured image of Cassino, Italy by Grazyna Myslinkska/EyeEm/Getty Images.

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