I posted a similar post for France but I’m branching out to include Italy. I may have the opportunity to spend from mid-June to mid-July in one small city or town. We will be in Rome for the first two weeks of June. Years ago I visited Aix en Provence and loved it for its beautiful old town, the markets, the gift shops, the inexpensive food options (meaning: not a lot of money available for restaurants). Where in Italy might be fun to settle for an extended stay? I won’t have a car so it would be nice to have train or bus access to a few places. Thanks travelers!
For the benefit of others, Aix-en-Provence has a population of just under 150,000. I always wonder what size place a poster is seeking; perhaps that information will help.
All the places I'm named are accessible by train; the Dolomite villages are accessible by public bus.
One place I'd consider would be Padua (population just over 200,000). It didn't feel that large to me. It's a university town with a nice, walkable historic area and enough sights that it gets more space in Rick's guide than Vicenza or Verona. It's a very, very good base for day-trips, putting you within easy reach of Venice (16 min.), Vicenza (under 30 min.), Verona (about 45 min. by $$ Freccia, from 1 hr. up by cheap regional train), and Ferrara (usually 54 min.)
If you'd be willing to stay in a larger city (population under 400,000), Bologna is an obvious option. Again, there's a nice historic center (this one very large, and much of it arcaded) and some interesting sights, though arguably none as important as the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua. But Bologna gives you rail access to such towns as Modena (17 min. by $$ Freccia, from 22 min. by cheap regional train), Parma (47 min. by Freccia; a few cheaper regionals take 58 min.), Ferrara (34 min. by regional), Reggio d'Emila (34 min./44 min.), Florence (37 min. by Freccia), and Ravenna (from 69 min.)
I would not choose southern Italy at this time of year unless I felt I had fully covered the places farther north--not that you're likely to totally avoid the heat in places like Padua and Bologna.
I don't know what would be a practical base for easy trips up into the Dolomites that would also give you access to places other than mountain villages. I think a month would be a long time in mountain villages if you weren't a hiker. I liked Bolzano and the smaller Bressanone, and there are other attractive towns stretched out along that rail line (including Chiusa/Klausen and Merano). Even with some time in mountain villages, I'm not sure there's enough there for a month. Bolzano is at least 1 hr. 43 min. from Verona. Note that there's a real likelihood of needing air conditioning in the valley cities in the summer, and not all the lodgings in places like Bolzano and Bressanone have it. A lot of innkeepers there seem to be mired in the 20th century, pre-climate change.
There might be a good summer spot in northeastern Italy, but I'm not familiar with that area.
My usual caveat applies: It would not be my preference to spend a full month is places of this size. I'd split the time between multiple bases.
Albi, Padua, Vicenza, Treviso, Trieste, Parma.
Verona. Two busy rail lines, classic core, super history, lively, many young people, nice parks and river walks, many short day trips. 250,000 people, but it feels no bigger than Aix.
In researching northern Italy for a 2021 trip that didn't happen, I discovered that the Lombardy, Piedmont and Friuli-Venezia Giulia regions each have a sightseeing card covering very many sights region-wide. These cards are not like city cards that required you to trot through museum after museum in order to break even. With one of the regional cards (which seem to be marketed to locals) you could come out way ahead without rushing if you were interested in a lot of the covered attractions. Obviously, it would be easier to do so if you were spending some time in Milan (Lombardy), Turin (Piedmont) or Trieste (F-VG), but there are a lot of participating sights outside those major cities.
Something to keep in mind if you end up choosing a northern base.
I second the vote for Padova.
It is extremely easy to navigate northern Italy by rail! Padova's train station is a 15 minute walk from the center.
Padova > Vicenza, 15 minutes
Padova > Venice, 30 minutes
Padova > Verona, 45 minutes
Padova > Lake Garda, 1 hour
Padova > Milan, 2 hours
Padova > Bologna, 1 hour
Padova > Florence, 1 hr 45 minutes
Padova > Bolzano, 2 hr, 45 minutes
You will run out of time before you run out of places to visit :)
All of these are wonderful places for me to start researching. I appreciate your taking the time to share your experiences.
When looking at properties to stay, make sure they have a/c.
Also appreciate the words about A/C. I live in a part of California that has always been hot but now we have perhaps 60-75 days over 100 degrees in the summer. So it won’t be worse than here - but I know AC is a life-saver!
We have stayed in Venice for extended periods, the longest period being two months. Veniceis a much more intimate city than one would imaging.
Another vote for Bologna. It isn't exactly small, but offers so many options. There is much to see and do right in the city, with plenty of public transit. Plus it is very walkable. Food is amazing with many choices for markets, reasonably-priced restaurants, and even cooking classses. The tourist info center is exceptionally helpful (at least, it was in 2019!); check their website at bolognawelcome.com. Bologna is a transportation hub, so you have easy access to day trips.
Bologna is a great option, as well as Siena. I had a vehicle and spent a month in Castellina-in-Chianti once, but we found ourselves drawn back to Siena again and again. I wouldn't recommend smaller cities w/o a car as transport is limited, but you shouldn't have a problem being based in Siena. There is so much to explore--- have a great time!
I suspect Siena would be appealing to you from the size standpoint, and it has a lovely historic center, but I'm not convinced it's convenient for a one-month stay without a car. It just doesn't have the same variety of short side-trips as a lot of the other places mentioned. From looking at a map, you'd think Arezzo would be easy. In theory there are quite a few rail connections every day taking from 1 hr. 43 min. to 2 hr. 30 min., but in the current real world, it appears those fast connections aren't operating consistently, leaving you with fewer and mostly-longer choices. One random example: On Thursday, November 18, if you don't want to get up before the crack of dawn to catch the 6:35 AM train (not on my vacation!), your first option is an 8:48 AM departure that takes over 3 hours. If even that seems a bit too early, you're talking about an 11:18 AM departure that doesn't get you to Arezzo until after 2 PM. The company Tiemme has some buses that are faster than the trains.
There should be bus service from Siena to some of the hill towns in that section of Tuscany, but it's important to check schedules before relying on buses. They often are designed mostly to move workers to their jobs and children to their schools. And a monthly-long diet of hill towns would get very same-y to me.
One advantage of choosing a larger base (for Tuscany that would be Florence) is that most of the bus tours will originate there. If you have some small villages on your wish list, a one-day bus tour can be a good way to string several of them together. It can be hard or even impossible to reach even one tiny village by public bus, and it's very difficult to get to more than two small villages a day in that manner.
Here is a suggestion not mentioned yet. Lago Maggiore!
Am hour + from Milan and lots to do. While Rick Steves only mentions Stresa in his guide, for a 2-4 week stay Verbania would be great. Less expensive than Stresa since Americans don’t visit there. Verbania and Intra tend to be the hub for ferry adventures around the lake.
We lived in Verbania for 2 1/2 years and stayed “home” during summers to enjoy. (No car)
Verbania Pallanza or Suna feels more Italian Village-like than Verbania Intra. City population is 30,000, but everything is within walking distance. Our blog has many of our Lago Maggiore adventures, but to name a few- ferry to Ascona or Locarno Switzerland for the day, ferry to Connobio or Luciano for markets. Ferry across the lake to Laveno for the bucket gondola, ferry to the Borromeo Islands, ferry to Angora Fortress (castle with a large doll museum and view of The Matterhorn).
Train rides could be day trip to Milan, Domodossola (world heritage site). Brig then train to Fiesch, team to Fiescheralp, then tram to glacier. We also did a day trip to Zermatt and then cogwheel train for a closeup of the Matterhorn.
While the train station isn’t in town, easy enough to catch bus to the train station. Also if you are flying in or out of Milan, there is a direct bus that stops at most of the towns on the west side if the lake,
Also hiking around Verbania. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to ask.
Here are some of our Maggiore adventures
Barley’s Lago Maggiore adventures
My vote is for the walkable small city, big town of Bolzano, hands down, esp. if you like mountain communities. My husband and I rented an Airbnb with a balcony and truly enjoyed it. We will go back and could definitely stay for a month.
Midsize city: Florence, Bologna
Both may be unbearably hot, especially Bologna, but they are the best transportation hubs.
Small size city: Siena.
Not a rail hub, but good bus connections to Tuscany’s most famous small towns. May be hot too, but so is the rest of Italy in July.
Small size city: Padua or Verona.
Both are rail hubs, Verona gives you easy access to the la,e Garda and the Dolomites, Padua is good to visit Venice and Ravenna.
A friend told me she thought I’d like Orvieto. Small and quaint but enough shopping and food, not far from Rome. The videos I’m seeing do remind me of the old town in Aix (which is all we ever saw). Any thoughts?
Orvieto is a great place to visit; you could certainly stay a few nights there without running out of things to do, because it has a fair number of sights and the hilltop historic center is very attractive. However, I don't think it's a good hub for a month. There just are not that many practical side-trips. The ones that come to mind are Bagnoregio (for Civita di Bagnoregio) and Bolsena by bus and Arezzo by train. Cortona requires a train/bus combination. There are some trains that will get you to Rome in just over an hour, but your morning options are at 7:25 AM and 10:38 AM (that one's an InterCity, so probably expensive if ticket not purchased really early). And I believe you plan to spend time in Rome before settling into your second location. Viterbo is a worthwhile destination, but the fastest morning train takes 1 hr. 43 min. with a change in Attigliano-Bomarzo. The fastest morning train to Florence takes about 2 hr. 20 min.
The location of the train station down below the historic center--accessed by bus or funivia--adds some time to every side trip taken by rail. That would get old, I think, after a few trips.
However, if you truly want a pretty place just to spend time, without venturing out of the town very often, Orvieto might fit your needs. (I confess I struggle to imagine an American tourist being satisfied to spend a month that way, but no doubt that's a failure on my part.) Orvieto gets a lot of visitors, but many of them are Italian. As of 2015 there were some nice restaurants.