Dressing for April showers and April flowers

Think of Italy as a slightly shorter, slightly more slender California. Just as first-time visitors expect all of California to be sunny like Los Angeles only to be shocked at San Francisco fog and Humboldt County rain, so does diverse Italy defy expectations. That means that if you arrive in April, itself a month of variable meteorological conditions, you need clothes to take you across a broad weather spectrum.

Italy's layered approach to climate

Like California, Italy warms as you head south. It's anchored to the continent by the landlocked, mountainous north, the coldest region in the country. As it drops into the Mediterranean, the temperatures increase. Without doubt, you'll find different temperatures in Lake Lugano than you find in Naples any month of the year.

Those who talk about Italy's climate often divide the country into north, central, south and islands. And that's the way you should layer it in your mind when you pack for a trip in April.

April is the coolest month

April is a wonderful time to visit Italy. Mid-spring is shoulder-season, with temperatures off the winter lows but not yet merging into summer heat. And prices are also lower than in peak season.

Average temperatures in the northeast mountains of Italy range from 26 to 38 degrees F. In other northern areas, like Milan, Trieste and Venice, April highs are in the 50s and 60s with lows 20 degrees cooler. In central and southern Italy, including popular tourist towns like Florence, Pisa and Rome, April averages are generally in the mid-60s, and the difference between low and highs decreases as you head south.

April is also wetter in the north of Italy than in the south. For example, Tarviso receives an average of 5 inches of rain in April, while Turin gets 4.5 inches, Florence gets 3.5 and cities on the island of Sardinia average under 2 inches.

Pack a punch, not a bunch

To organize your packing list for Italy, identify where you're going to spend time and what you plan to do. Ideally, you pack clothes that pack a punch but that are completely suited to the activities you intend to engage in. A beginner's sin is to pack too much, so check and recheck your list to be sure you don't overdo it.

The day before you catch the plane out, check the internet to see what the weather has looked like the past few weeks in the places you're going to be visiting. Find an updated forecast and work with this, rather than averages.

What to take? Take easy-care classics wherever you head. If you're going to hang out in trendy fashion centers like Florence, Venice, Siena, Rome or Cinque Terre, pack fashionable accessories like scarves to dress up the look. If you're heading to the mountains, take gloves, warm scarves and warm jackets. What is trendy will vary from one year to another, but if it matters to you, find out, acquire one that looks good on you and pack it.

Leave behind sleeveless tops, beach wear, anything white and high heels. Take long pants, socks, comfortable shoes and boots and sweaters, shirts and hoodies you can layer. You'll probably want a rain jacket, umbrella and waterproof shoes for those occasional rainy days. Take less rather than more and remember: if you forget to bring something, the odds are very great that you'll be able to buy it in Italy.