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

Aug 23, 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 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 Astra Zeneca).

According to AFAR, Delta and American have suspended their COVID-tested flights and are abiding by the new entry requirements instead.

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. They’re 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 Aug. 6, the 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 began requiring visitors to purchase timed tickets in advance in order to better control the number of visitors and ensure social distancing during the pandemic. And 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.

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 or recovered from COVID-19, you can take an antigen or molecular swab test available at pharmacies throughout Italy, but your 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.

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; white zone means things are (almost) back to normal. Currently, every region is a white zone, but due to the spread of the delta variant, Sicily is at risk of becoming a yellow zone.

“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.” So far, about 60% of Italy’s population is fully vaccinated.

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 three months, I’ve traveled to six other regions (from Lazio to Abruzzo, Tuscany, Umbria, Le Marche, Campania and Sicily) and have never had to present an auto-certification form or COVID-19 test results. PCR test results may be required to enter Italy from another country, but once you’re in Italy you’re free to move around as you please.

What’s new in Italy

In Rome alone there are seven major hotel openings this year, including the Hoxton, Rome (opened in May) as well as upcoming properties by Soho House, W, Edition and Shedir Group, which is behind the luxurious Hotel Vilòn.

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

And 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.

Up north in Portofino, the Belmond Splendido Mare recently emerged from a full renovation. Meanwhile, in Sicily, Villa Igiea just opened its beautiful 19th-century Art Nouveau doors after being taken over and given new life by Rocco Forte Hotels. Four Seasons is also preparing to open 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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