Please sign in to post.

First Trip to Italy

Hi everyone!
My husband and I (in our 40’s) are taking our first trip to Italy. We are struggling on an itinerary. We’ve gotten a lot of recommendations to do the “big 3” for our first trip - Rome/Florence/Venice. We do want to do some of the traditional touristy stuff like museums and churches but we also want to do a fair amount of just wandering, aperitivo, people watching and just taking it all in. I really like the idea of doing Cinque Terre and doing some hiking and exploring - it looks just magical!

Is it a bad idea to consider including CT in place of Florence? We only have 10 full non travel days and I don’t want to just add it in. But I’m not sure a day trip from Florence would quite do it?

Is 3 nights each in Rome, CT, and Venice a reasonable idea? Or 4 nights in Rome, 2 in CT and 3 in Venice?

There are just far too many choices!! Help!!

Posted by
1183 posts

9 nights is not very long. Unless you have access to the transporter room of the USS Enterprise, you will use about 2 days to travel between Rome, CT and Venice. Check out the travel times on Google Maps.

Are you travelling open jaw i.e flying into Rome and out of Venice? If not, you will need to waste another day returning to Rome.

Your proposed itineraries are doable, but whether they are enjoyable is a different question and is dependent on the individual's tolerance to having to be on the move so much. Good luck.

Posted by
196 posts

Everyone has their favorite places, of course, but I wouldn't miss Florence. It has art, food and a walkable city that are incomparable. Also, if you go out into Tuscany a bit, there is plenty of hiking and countryside to enjoy as well. For me, Venice is a one day experience.

Posted by
16133 posts

It is not a “bad idea” at all to swap Cinque Terre for Florence if that is what you want to do.

Just be warned that the Cinque Terre are very busy and you may not get as much relaxing and aperitivo time as you are picturing, especially if you stay in Vernazza. And depending on when you are going, you may find accommodations pretty much booked up. However, I just took a quick look at our very nice hotel in Manarola, (La Torretta) and they have rooms available even in mid-July, the height of “the season”.

When are you thinking of going? Have you purchased your flights yet?

Posted by
16 posts

Yes we would be flying into Rome and departing back to the US from Venice — no time transporter unfortunately ;) lol

What about Rome to Florence to CT and fly back out of Rome and skip Venice? Or is that a bad idea?

If Rome, Florence, and Venice is really the best first time experience I can go with that, I just really don’t want to spend our entire time visiting art and museums and churches. Is CT not worth all the hassle?

Posted by
16 posts

Flights haven’t been purchased yet - hoping to do that in the next week or so. We are looking at early to mid October.

Posted by
16133 posts

I just read the post above mine. It demonstrates that everyone has a different view—-we love Venice (have spent as much as a month there) and view Florence as skippable on a short visit to Italy.

to answer the question at the end of your post, I would suggest 3 nights Venice, 2 in Cinque Terre, and 4 in Rome. And do fly open-jaw. I know the standard recommendation is into Venice and out of Rome, but if the flight times and prices are better in the other direction, I would do that (into Rome, out of Venice). We actually favor that, as we prefer to arrive in Venice by train. Or look at flying into Milan and heading straight to Venice. That route may offer the best prices, given the pressure put on Venice airport by cruise ship passengers.

Posted by
7627 posts

Personally, Florence has it all over CT. I find the Amalfi Coast better than CT.
Rome deserves 4 days, Florence 3 and Venice 3.

Posted by
16 posts

In the Rome/Florence/Venice itinerary - would it be reasonable to do a CT day trip at least to experience it? Or not worth all the travel for a day trip?

Posted by
1082 posts

What about Rome to Florence to CT and fly back out of Rome and skip Venice?

It's what I'd choose. We've been to Venice and were underwhelmed. If you go to CT then look into taking a ferry to Portovenere. Interesting place to explore and you can even do a lengthy hike back to Riomaggiore although we did not do that hike.

would it be reasonable to do a CT day trip at least to experience it? Or not worth all the travel for a day trip?

It's up to you. I wouldn't. The actual time on a train from Florence would be 2.5 hours or more, add in some time to get to the train station and you're easily spending more than 6 hours just in travel to and back. Maybe you want to do it anyway but it's the opposite way to spend a day compared to what you initially wrote about "a fair amount of just wandering, aperitivo, people watching and just taking it all in." Many travelers find that less is more. As RS writes, "assume you'll be back".

Posted by
27022 posts

I don't consider any of the possibilities mentioned in this thread a bad decision; I'm confident you'd enjoy any combination of Rome, Florence, Cinque Terre and Venice. Italy has dozens (actually probably hundreds) of wonderful destinations. You need not fear going somewhere not worthwhile. However, one combination of the places under discussion may be better than others for you. (It could be a different combination for another traveler.)

Maybe (or maybe not!) it will help to look at it this way: There are several factors to be considered when putting together an itinerary for a very short trip (which this is, given that you're not just planning to go to one city).

  • Interests of the traveler. (I list this first for a reason! Never mind how important other people think the Renaissance art is in Florence, or the ruins in Rome--but both those cities are very interesting for their atmosphere as well as their most famous sights.)
  • Timing of the trip. Weather and seasonal crowding can significantly affect enjoyment of an otherwise very attractive place. But some places are crowded any time pleasant weather is expected; are you never going to see them?
  • Geography/transportation logistics. Time spent sitting on trains and buses is time not available for real sightseeing.
  • Costs (if finances are an issue for the traveler).

The Cinque Terre area is a victim of its own popularity and can be grossly overrun. I am hopeful that it will not be as bad for you in October as it is May-September. Contemporary photos you see may have been taken in the dead of winter when there aren't so many tourists around. To get a better idea of what you may face, Google Cinque Terre crowds. I will not tell you not to go; I've been there three times myself (though not since the mid-1990s). The villages are beautiful if you can ignore the others walking down the same streets.

By all accounts the villages are much more pleasant early in the morning and in the evening, outside day-tripping hours. I'm not sure how much of an impact the shorter days of October will have. If you want to hike, getting up really high (prepare for many hundreds of steps) will get you away from the worst crowds.

There are beautiful views of the Cinque Terre villages from the ferries--and without being caught up in a throng. The ferries should be running in October. The schedule on this website is from the last week of November 2023. I suppose the ferries might run a bit more frequently in October, but I'm not sure about that.

Cinque Terre ferries

On the other hand, getting to the Cinque Terre is a major time commitment, so you have to balance that against what other enjoyable things you could be doing instead of sitting on trains for so long.

Edited to add: I'll break my own rule (first point above) and say I consider Venice a vastly more interesting destination than the Cinque Terre (which I went to three times, remember, so it's not that I don't like it) except for people who really don't like busy cities. There are indisputably areas of Venice every bit as crowded as the Cinque Terre; it's just that it's very easy in Venice to walk 100 feet or so down a side street, turn a corner, and see...nobody. People who make rushed trips to Venice, staying not much more than a day, often dislike it a lot, because they end up spending all their time in the super-popular areas that all the day-trippers want to see. It's very important in Venice to allow time to wander off the beaten path.

Posted by
16 posts

@acraven this is very helpful!

It sounds like our best bet might be Rome/Florence/Venice with a day trip into someplace like Siena or Bologna might be best for our timing and travel constraints??

Posted by
299 posts

From a "protect the earth" perspective, it's always a good idea to avoid Venice. It's way too crowded, one hears more English and Mandarin than Italian in the streets, it's smelly, overpriced and tacky. And it's sinking into the sea.

All that being said, no one who has the chance should miss seeing it.

Posted by
7213 posts

Hi, do you have a Rick Steves guidebook? If so, read the chapters on the cities you are considering. Then write down what you would do in each for 2-3 full days each. Between Cinque Terre, Venice, Florence and Rome, your ideas that you write down will tell you which of the cities you want on your own itinerary. Maybe the issue you’re having is that you’re listening to others’ expectations of where you should go vs. what would make a great trip for you.

Posted by
27022 posts

I'd be careful about planning a side trip when you have just 10 days, but Siena is an easy bus trip from Florence that probably doesn't need to be pre-planned (I'm not positive whether the buses ever sell out), so you could see what you think after spending your first day in Florence. Siena is very different, and less crowded, so it would give you some variety.

I enjoyed Bologna a great deal, but I had a lot of time to spend there. Bologna doesn't have a long list of "wow" sights from which you could select a few to see in a relatively short time. Instead, it has a huge medieval center that's great for wandering around. Thus Bologna's an excellent place to go for multiple days, when you'd have time to wander at will, soaking up the atmosphere, and take some of the fabulous side trips that are so practical from Bologna (Ravenna with its killer mosaics, Modena, Parma, etc.).

I think you'll find plenty to keep you busy in Venice/Florence/Rome, but the are good side trips available from each of them if you find you've unexpectedly had enough of the local scene.

Posted by
16 posts

Thanks Jean - I think you might be right! This is just so different from the typical vacation my husband and I take (always a beach/island vacation) that I’m not even sure what to expect!

But I did order the Best of Italy Book from Rick Steve and I’ll spend some time reviewing it to try and help narrow it down!

Posted by
16133 posts

If Rome, Florence, and Venice is really the best first time experience I can go with that, I just really don’t want >to spend our entire time visiting art and museums and churches. Is CT not worth all the hassle?

You get lots of different opinions. I feel strongly that there is no “ones size fits all” and no “must sees” for everyone in Italy. Nor can I agree that Rome, Florence, and Venice are “the best first time experience” for Italy. All three are big cities packed with tourists (even in October), and offer little of the “dolce far niente” (the “joy of doing nothing”) that so many look forward to in Italy. You need a smaller town for that.

You have said a number of things that lead me to believe you are looking for a bit of that dolce far niente: “ We also want to do a fair amount of just wandering, aperitivo, people watching and just taking it all in” and “ This is just so different from the typical vacation my husband and I take (always a beach/island vacation) that I’m not even sure what to expect.” I think that people who insist you MUST see the “big 3” on your first visit to Italy are not looking at you as an individual. I really like Jean’s advice:

Maybe the issue you’re having is that you’re listening to others’ expectations of where you should go vs. what >would make a great trip for you.

You have seen such diverse opinions on where to go, with people on both sides expressing their opposite opinions on Venice in particular. How can you choose which advice to take? One person says they “have been to Venice and were underwhelmed”. But the devil is in the details. When did they go, what did they do, how long did they stay? I just goes to show that Venice is not for everyone. As does this post, parts of which I totally agree with, and parts which I think are incorrect:

From a "protect the earth" perspective, it's always a good idea to avoid Venice. It's way too crowded . . .

Venice is indeed too crowded, and I wish people who do not passionately want to see Venice, and take time to learn a bit about her history and culture would stay away.

. . . .one hears more English and Mandarin than Italian in the streets, it's smelly, overpriced and tacky. And it's >sinking into the sea.

The last 2 times we have been there (September of 2022 and Sept. 2023), we saw very few if any Chinese tourists; at least we heard no Mandarin apart from the Asian shopkeepers, restaurant owners, and other working people. And in the back streets of Santa Croce, well away from San Marco, we heard only Italian tourists speaking in 2022. In 2023 we started hearing German, French and English in addition, but English was still not in the majority.

Yes, Venice expensive, due to the cost of moving goods in and trash out all by boat. Smelly? In the 2 months total we have spent there, we experienced nothing “smelly”. But we have not been there in the height of summer. Tacky? You will find tacky tourist shops in Rome, Florence, and any other tourist meccas as well. The trick is to avoid them and find the authentic shops; they do exist.

And yes, Venice is sinking into the sea.

All that being said, no one who has the chance should miss seeing it.

Here I do not agree. As I said above, only people with a burning desire to experience to experience what Venice has to offer should put it on their itinerary. No one should go to Venice, or Florence, or Rome, just because others say they “should” or “must” go.

So what can you do? Watch the RS videos, if you haven’t already. Do you need help finding them on the website? They are all available here: https://www.ricksteves.com/watch-read-listen/video/tv-show

Just scroll down to “Italy” and find the videos to watch online. Also look at guidebooks, both RS and others. See if your library has some DK Eyewitness guides with photos. Maybe something in the photos will call to you.

Posted by
11132 posts

If Venice Florence -Rome are your destinations, you may want to look at doing them in that order.

In general it is usually easier to get a departing flight from Rome at a reasonable time that it is from Venice. And FCO is easier to get to from Rome than VCE from the island area of Venice.

However not knowing where 'home' is for you, that may not be an issue.

For the time you have, trying to work in the CT, is going to use up a lot of time on a train that could be put to better use.

My $0.02

Posted by
4668 posts

We love Venice and have been there three times, and planning to return. I find it magical. We stay on the quiet back canals, Cannaregio area , where you can take sunset pix without anyone one else in the pix. And, the nearest vaporetto stop is just a ten minute walk from the Cannaregio area. If you avoid St Marks Square and Rialto, or just walk through these areas to say you've seen them, you can relax and experience a quieter and calmer Venice, sipping you cocktails on the peaceful back canals.
Plsease note that flying into Venice is easier than flying out, especially if you end up with an early morning flight out of Venice.
I'm going to throw another variable into your thoughts-
How about Venice > Lake Como > Florence? You could fly into either Milan or Venice. Rome is much more chaotic, as a large city, and perhaps make Rome on a subsequent trip? And Lake Como is beautiful, but hasn't yet been spoiled by the cruise lines bringing the crowds. Milan to Lake Como is an hour on the regional train.

If possible, can you add another day or two to your trip ? That would make a real difference in the pace of your travel. International travel is exhausting, and an extra day or so would allow you to actually relax a bit.
Also, watch some u- tube videos of on-the-ground crowd experiences in the CT. Another area ruined by its Instagram success, and another area where the traditional shoulder seasons are disappearing.

Have a great trip, and keep us posted. We are definitely returning to Venice and Lake Como in 2025.
Safe travels!

Posted by
464 posts

On our first trip to Italy we visited Rome, Cinque Terre, and Florence. You could do 3 nights Rome, train to Monterosso in the Cinque Terre for 2-3 nights, train to Florence for 2 nights and train to Rome for one night to fly home from there. We were glad that we went to the Cinque Terre. It was great to enjoy natural beauty and a seaside location. Mornings and evenings were lovely there. Otherwise we would have had museum overload. We have been to Italy other times to visit Venice, Stresa, and Milan which were also great. On a third trip we visited Naples, Positano on the Amalfi Coast, and Sorrento. Italy is wonderful. Have a great trip!

Posted by
5 posts

3rd times a charm for me in April! I’m taking my granddaughter for her 16th birthday along with my daughter. I want her to experience her first trip to Europe with me. I am the tour guide and we are flying from SFO to Rome (3 nights) Florence (3 nights) and Venice (2 nights) during her spring break. Rome will be the typical tourist spots…Vatican etc. We then will take the train to Florence. I’ll be taking them on a bus tour to Siena, San Gimignano, Pisa and a winery for lunch. It’s a full day trip but I know they’ll like it. There’s a lot to do and see in Florence but you could take a day trip to CT. Back on the train to Venice to explore day 1. Day 2 will be heading out on the water taxis to the quaint islands of Burano and Murano. The only thing I might be sorry for is not starting in Venice. Our flight is at 6:30am and will be on a water taxi at 3am! Oh well they are young and I’m 70 who does not sleep the best! Lol

Posted by
2291 posts

hey hey akobussen
my own opinion is you are planning too much in your short time of 10 days, counting nights is better. when reserving flights look at arrival and departure times. check in to hotels are 3-4pm and check out is 10-11am, make sure hotel has baggage storage if too early. most due but some don't. you don't want to be pulling/pushing bags until check in over uneven pavement/cobblestones/stairs or steps, over bridges, dealing with jet lag and be grumpy/groggy first day
as many have said, departing venice can be a tough time for transportation to airport leaving "dark thirty" if 6-7am flight. we spent night before at airport hotel or paid for a private water taxi $$$ (motoscafivenezia.it) at 3-3:30am pickup. look also at buses/taxis that leave early morning to airport at piazzale roma.
traveling during sept/oct is a busy/crowded time, it's harvest season, fairs/festivals. there doesn't seem to be an off season anymore with so many people traveling, especially with the "big 3", plus cinque terre, lake como, the amalfi coast. tourists wanted to see the same thing everyone else does, get tickets to attractions months ahead of time, waiting in long lines, restaurants full, pathways packed.
think of the time you will spend on departing morning (packing, shower, breakfast, getting to train station & finding platform, make sure validate ticket before entering platform at machine, traveling time to next place, checking into hotel/leave luggage and then roam around. may take at least half a day. with two nights somewhere, that's one full day to explore
do you have hotels booked? this is your holiday to enjoy even though there are some pitfalls to think about, your decision to drop a place or see all. put on those roller skates, have patience, take time for that glass of wine or apertivo, people watch.
europeforvisitors.com
keep asking questions to help you out. psoters here will give you good bad and ugly
aloha

Posted by
16 posts

Thanks Princess Pupule! Great tips!

If we dropped Venice for our first trip and did Rome to CT to Florence and flew back out of Rome, does that present packing challenges for October? As in, if we swap in CT, would I need more beach clothes and swim suit that I could avoid bringing if we did t go there?

I’ve been looking at some videos as suggested of the “real Cinque Terre” and it looks bonkers busy. Is that really what to expect mid October?! If so I almost think that is a deal breaker by itself! :/

Posted by
16133 posts

A loop from Rome, including Cinque Terre and Florence, would be a much more manageable (and therefore enjoyable) trip for you. I suggest you head straight to Florence first, then CT, and have Rome at the end to make getting to the airport for your flight easy.

October will be less crowded in all 3 places than the height of summer, but still lively and busy. As for packing challenges, I don’t really see any. The temperatures should be moderate (mid-60-s top mid-70’s). You won’t need a lot of “beach clothes” but bring a swimsuit if you like—-we have enjoyed swimming in the Adriatic much further north as late as mid-September. Just note that the beaches of Cinque Terre are not what you might expect.

Posted by
11119 posts

We were in the Cinque Terre before all the large crowds arrived. The only swimming we saw and did was at the beach in Monterosso.

Posted by
16133 posts

We swam off the rocks at Manarola, some 10 years ago, each day we were there. It was great for swimming—-but there was no beach. You entered deep water, great for actual swimming, by a ladder or by jumping or diving from the rocks.

The OP should know that the Cinque Terre are not really a “beach” destination. I believe the only sandy beaches are at Monterosso. Otherwise, it is a very rocky coastline with maybe a pebbled beach at Vernazza. Think Big Sur in California, not Miami Beach or a Caribbean beach.

Posted by
16 posts

Thanks for the clarification! I think many of the videos I’ve seen may be from summer as there are many beach photos. I’m totally fine without the beach situation - I’d prefer it for this trip honestly! We were just thinking that CT would be a little bit of a “change of scenery” from Rome and Florence. Provides a bit of a varied experience versus Rome, Florence, and Venice, no?

I’m still a little nervous about the crowds but maybe I should expect that level of crowdedness in the other cities we plan to visit as well? Is it just a situation where CT is so much more compact that there is less space for the crowds to spread out like there might be in Rome and Florence and Venice?

Posted by
2389 posts

I’d just stick to the big 3. 3-3-3 is fine - I did 4-3-3 last trip ( actually we had 2 days between Rome and Florence in Assissi - a surprise for my wife who is a St. Francis fan ). If I were to add a day to Rome, I’d take it away from Florence.

Posted by
16133 posts

I would say it is the day-trippers (mainly cruise ship passengers) that make the Cinque Terre so crowded. But in the mornings and evenings, before they arrive and after they depart, it is much calmer and more pleasant. The overnight capacity of the villages is limited.

We stayed in Manarola, and the only time we were bothered by crowds was in Vernazza. We hiked there, found the village so packed we decided to depart ASAP, and had to wait for 2 trains to go by before we could push our way onto the third to get back to Manarola.

Posted by
54 posts

I'll chime in to throw a wrinkle. My husband and I (50s/60s) visited Italy for the first time ever last May (his first time ever to Europe). We didn't go to Rome OR Florence OR Venice. (I can hear the internet gasping -- we also had local friends do some gasping as well, but whatever). We had 8 nights and flew into and out of Milan. We also really wanted to just sink into the 'experience' and wanted to see some art and churches, but it was more about the food and the wandering and the challenge of a new language and navigating.

So after one night in Milan (where we visited the Duomo, gawked at high end fashion, visited the castle/fort), we headed north of Milan. Spent 2 nights on Lake Orta, 2 nights in Stressa on Lake Maggiore and then 3 nights in Cannero (on Lake Maggiore). We did a lot of walking/hiking, a lot of garden visiting and plenty of "sitting at a cafe table watching the world go by". Traveled mostly by train, ferry, and foot using a supported self-guided itinerary from InnTravel.

This spring we're headed back to Italy -- to Rome and then Puglia (for more hiking/walking and hopefully swimming). (Yes, still no Florence or Venice, LOL). I am looking forward to a bit more deep dive into history and art in Rome but also balancing that with true relaxation and slow pace of walking in the South. But this is is how I generally travel/vacation -- I'm a camper or a backpacker who likes to settle into somewhere for at least a few days to just slow the heck down. Sure some people will think or say "you went all the way to Italy and didn't see X" but I know that I went all the way to Italy and saw backyard gardens and goats with bells around their necks and 2 hour lunches and time to sit by a lake with nowhere else to be :).

It's going to be awesome whatever you do!

Posted by
411 posts

Our first Italy trip wasn't the big three either--we spent 8 days on Capri ( with overnights in Naples, and side trip Sorrento and Pompeii). We still have never been to Venice. Florence was a day trip during a wedding, and Rome was just an overnight with a quick morning walk before catching the train to the wedding. Subsequent trips have all been in Piedmont region (NW Italy--French/Italian border area).

Posted by
4287 posts

Be sure to consider just how much time it is on a train to get from Rome to CT and from CT to Venice. It is not inconsequential.
I have been to Italy 7 times without visiting Rome, Florence, or Venice, so I am a bit of an outlier, but I would not devote that much time to transit.
Also, CT is very weather dependent. In October I would book something that I could cancel.

Posted by
2291 posts

hey hey akobussen
i'm not saying you should leave out venice, just things to consider. better to fly into venice (VCE) (better place for jetlag & just roaming around) and out of rome (FCO). where are you flying from in the USA?
you seem so adament about going to cinque terre for the "magic", go for it. the train will be about 5+ hours from venice.
look at flying to rome, then directly to florence for 3 days, train to CT for 3 days, then back to rome for last 3-4 days. spend last days in rome and close to airport to fly home. like others have said, reasonable departure times and more flights to chose from. always look at the times leaving, looking at 3 hours at airport before flight. look at transportation from airport to rome or florence. decide what's best for you, ask more questions or ideas. you'll have fun and enjoy yourself that you may be planning your next trip on your flight home ha ha.
aloha

Posted by
16 posts

We are flying from Chicago. We are currently deciding between Rome/Florence/CT (direct flights into and out of Rome) or Rome/Florence/Venice (direct flight into Rome and direct back out of Venice)

Posted by
4668 posts

FYI-
It can be hard to fly out of Venice if it's an early morning flight. The challenge is getting to the airport at 6:30 am. Perhaps flip the itinerary? Venice is a great locale for working off jet lag. Have a great trip!

Posted by
4287 posts

Another thing I would consider is to split it between Rome and Venice only--that gives you so much time for serendipity and wandering. In Venice, you can do day trips to Murano, etc., and wandering is the best thing to do there anyway (you need time to escape the crowds). That would also give you time for day trips from each place.
Then, if you fall in love with Italy, you can return next year for Tuscany and the coast.
I am not trying to dissuade you from CT and hiking, it is just tough to predict the weather in October (when a lot of rain can occur). You would hate to book the perfect place there and then want to cancel, and it is a total drag in bad weather.

Posted by
16 posts

Is it typically rainier in October in CT than if Florence or Venice? What limitations would we have with rainy weather in CT that we wouldn’t have with rainy weather in Florence? I guess I hadn’t really thought about this?

Posted by
11132 posts

What limitations would we have with rainy weather in CT that we wouldn’t have with rainy weather in Florence?

There is very little 'indoor activities' at CT. It is possible the trails could be closed depending on how hard it might be raining, even if you did want to walk/hike in the rain. The weather can also affect the ferry service between the towns. Pretty much leaves you in your room or in a restaurant, if the weather is nasty.

In Florence there is always some sort of indoor place to be that is worth a visit.

Posted by
4287 posts

The landslides that affected CT years ago took place in October, and that is generally when the weather turns. It could also be perfect weather! In a city, you always have indoor stuff. Zilch in tiny villages--though you can do day trips from CT if it comes to that.
I plan outdoors focused trips, so I probably obsess over the weather more than I should. I use Booking.com, which often has a generous cancellation policy but may not give you sufficient time to change course if the forecast is not good.
I'd look closely at the train schedules before deciding.
You have plenty of time to mull it over, good luck!

Posted by
257 posts

We all hear different bells when we hear Italy. We are soon to depart for our third (my fifth) visit to Italy. This time, places we’ve never been before: Sicily, Puglia, the Cilento and Naples.

For me, the one essential place, despite crowds and the changes for the worse in the past 20 years, is Florence. For the art. The birthplace of the Renaissance. Churches with works by Giotto, Masaccio, Fra Angelico, Donatello, Botticelli, Michelangelo and more. Wonderfully walkable. Great gelato … and other dining.

Small cities, towns and villages are wonderful. They have spirit, food, friendly folks and, often, some amazing art. Padova, Lucca, Orvieto and Volterra - to name a few. We’ve enjoyed glorious countryside. Lake Como and Cinque Terre. And we’ve stumbled onto wonderful events: a gelato festival in Orvieto and the Piano City Festival in Milan.

But a few days in Florence with visits to many of its churches, to my way of thinking, is an essential introduction to Italy. As much as, perhaps even more so, than Rome with the Forum, the Capitoline Hill and the Vatican.

You will be back to Italy. You are in your 40s. But I think Florence should be part of your first trip and I suggest 4 nights - just 3 full days. CT vs Venice? I suggest one rather than both. (We were in CT in October 20 years ago for two nights and a day. Gray the day we arrived. Poured the day we left. And gloriously sunny and mid 70s the one full day we were there. We boated from Vernazza to Riomaggiore and walked all the way back. Felt like the day we’d died and gone to heaven. But I gather that the trails are now more hit and miss due to storm damage.) (Twice to Venice, BTW.)

Next time you go to Italy, plan to spend 3 weeks, rather than 10 days if you can. And you still will have to choose what to sacrifice until your third trip.