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Help with first time visit to Italy

My husband and I will be traveling to Italy to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. He says this will be his one and only time he will travel this far. We are flying into Venice on the 4th of April ( leaving US on the 3rd) and flying out of Naples on the 18th. I was planning to spend 2 nights Venice, 2 nights Varenna, 2 or 3 nights Florence( with a day trip to Siena) 3 nights Rome, 3 nights Sorrento( with a day down the coast) My husband doesn't really care for big cities, but I do, so I'm trying to compromise. The only thing that I have booked other than airfare is a Scavi tour at 9 am the morning of the 13th. Would love any suggestions for where to stay and if this is too much, or if there is some other way to see more. I would love to spend a little time in Tuscany.
Thanks for any help Beth

Posted by
13 posts

I have already booked the tickets. I used frequent traveler miles. My preference would
have been to fly back from Rome, but I could get seats from Naples and think that we would
like the Amalfi Coast. I may have flexibility of where to fly into and out of if the seats open up.

Posted by
13 posts

I'm also not sure if we want to go to Cinque Terre. I'm certain that is beautiful, but I don't know
if it is worth it since we are going to the Amalfi Coast.

Posted by
2940 posts

One thing I would do is check what you can expect in the way of weather in Varenna in April. Since it will be quite early in the spring, there should be no problem securing lodgings. You might take the chance of not reserving a room there until you get to Venice. If it appears that you'll get bad weather, I'd advise you to skip the lakes area. Not much fun in the rain. Those days could be added to Florence to enable you to make some day trips in Tuscany.

Posted by
9477 posts

Your instincts are good about the Cinque Terre: It is not an optimal time of year there, and since you are going to the Amalfi Coast, you will get a taste of the sea. I would skip Varenna in favor of more time in Tuscany, since you desire more time in Tuscany anyway. Venezia, Tuscany, Rome and Sorrento would make for a lovely and varied trip. You could spend all 5 Tuscan night in Firenze as a base, or spend 3 nights Firenze and 2 nights in a smaller town. Maybe Orvieto (technically Umbria) as it is an easy train trip and along your way to Rome. No car needed with this itinerary.

A word of hope: My husband was reluctant to come to Europe the first time. I worked on him for 20 years. For our 25th anniversary we came to Italy, he reluctantly agreeing to 3 weeks. The 4th day in Italy, in Venezia, he said "This is marvelous! We have to come back." By the end of that trip in Oct 2010, we were planning a return for Dec 2011 and spent an entire month traveling the country. Now we live in Rome and travel as much as possible. Anniversary #30 is in March and we are going to Paris.

Posted by
3807 posts

I'm guessing your Scavi Tour is for the area underneath St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican. If you're interested ancient Roman era archaeological sites, staying in Sorrento offers opportunities to visit Pompeii and Herculaneum, among others. Our B&B owner in Sorrento 2 years ago mentioned that April was the best time to visit there.

Rome also offers the opportunity to go underneath the 11th Century Basilica of San Clemente (near the Colosseum) which itself is an impressive church, but was built on top of a much older church, which was built on top of a Roman pagan temple and other ancient buildings. The underground visit is fascinating, and described in Rick Steves' guidebook..

While Rome is a big city, the central, old part feels somewhat intimate, and your husband might find it quite acceptable. We stayed in the Trastavere area to the west, a neighborhood that feels even smaller, but is close to popular sights. Consider the 2 or 3 day Roma card, which covers public transportation costs in addition to free or reduced admission to many sights.

I wonder if, after this trip, your husband might even entertain another "far" trip?!? Happy anniversary, in advance!

Posted by
3580 posts

I recommend that you skip Varenna and add the time to Venice. Two nights in Venice, with jet-lag, yields just one day there. Unless you are really indifferent to the place, Venice deserves two or three days of exploring. If you add a day to Florence you can take another day trip to somewhere in Tuscany. I would probably visit Lucca. Your trip seems logical and organized, especially if you skip the complications of reaching and leaving Varenna. From Sorrento you can take several day trips: Pompeii, isle of Capri, Amalfi coast.

Posted by
13 posts

I will definitely reconsider Varenna. Should I get train tickets ahead or is it just as easy to get them there?
I appreciate all of the suggestions and would love any specific information on accommodations. I do have RS 2015 Italy. Several of the places he suggests are already booked. Will it be easy to travel by train only with this itinerary? Thanks so much for all of the great information, I am so excited about this trip!

Posted by
3374 posts

Agree with Swan. Skip Varanna and add that time (and perhaps an additional day) to Venice. As you finalize you itinerary, remember the time lost in transit. Train tickets are easy to buy there. TC

Posted by
31140 posts

Beth,

In my first reply, I didn't mean to suggest that you should add the Cinque Terre to your list, but only to provide an example of a trip with a similar theme. At that time of the year, the C.T. will just be getting started for the season, so it will likely be quiet, and if the weather is inclement it wouldn't be too pleasant.

I tend to agree somewhat with the other comments about Varenna. The historical high for Varenna in April is 17C / 63F, with a low of 6C / 43F, but I believe the 2014 numbers were higher than these. Rainfall average is 12 days during the month. If you happen to arrive there in good weather, it should be a reasonably pleasant stay, but of course it's a "gamble".

One other thing about Varenna is that it's somewhat of an "outlier" in terms of efficient transportation to fit with your other destinations. That means more of your very short travel time will be spent getting there and back. Realistically the travel time to and from Varenna is going to be 4-6 hours each way, when all is considered. In contrast, the trip from Venice to Florence will be a quick two hours. On that trip, note that your departure station will be Venezia Santa Lucia and your arrival station Firenze SMN. Florence is the capital of Tuscany, so if your desire is to spend more time there, you might want to add more time in Florence and take day trips to Siena (as you mentioned), but also Lucca or even the Cinque Terre for a quick look. I'd also suggest adding one night to Rome, as there's a LOT to see there.

For the trip to Sorrento, the "usual" travel method is to travel via high speed Freccia train from Roma Termini to Napoli Centrale (you could also use the competing Italo trains on that route). After arrival in Naples, its' necessary to transfer to the Circumvesuviana commuter train for the trip to Sorrento. The Circumvesuviana has a bit of a "reputation" for pickpockets and other scammers, so I wanted to mention that. There was a recent report here from one traveller who related a story of a tourist who had their luggage set on fire while riding the train. However, having said that I've never had any problems on the Circumvesuviana, nor have many other travellers here.

If you'd prefer somewhat more comfortable transportation for the trip from Napoli Centrale to Sorrento, you could also consider a private driver. It will be more expensive but may be a nicer travel experience on a 25th anniversary trip. I believe Rick uses the Monetti Taxi service (details in the guidebook). I tried to access their website to provide a link, but all kinds of red flags popped up (that's no indicator of their service, only that their website has issues). If your budget allows, you could also use them for trips to Positano, Paestum or other locations in that area. If you plan to visit Pompeii or Ercolano, the easiest method is via Circumvesuviana and for that short trip without luggage, you likely won't have any problems (but you'll still have to be vigilant and wear a Money Belt).

Posted by
13 posts

So, I am now going to stay 3 nights in Venice, 4 nights in Florence, 4 nights in Rome, and 3 nights in Sorrento. I need some advice as to where to stay in Sorrento. The information you guys have shared has been awesome and so helpful. Thanks for everything, I already feel so much better prepared.

Posted by
1538 posts

That sounds perfect.

We bought our train tickets from Venice to Florence in advance- 3 months? Paid 48euros each I believe. You are then locked into that train but that wasn't an issue for us.

Glad to see you added the third night to Venice. We enjoyed everything we did there.
Secret itineraries tour, vaporetto to Burano, cicchetti tour with Alessandro.

I wish we had done 4 nights in Florence- we had 3.

We were both surprised at how much we loved Rome. We had the same concerns and agree that it does not feel like a big city, very walkable, so much history, art, fabulous sights. We stayed 5 nights thinking that if /when we go back to Italy we could skip Rome! I'd go back to Rome again for sure.
We took 3 tours with Walks of Italy- loved them all.
Do not miss the Borghese.

Posted by
9477 posts

Hi Beth.
We stayed in the Hotel Antiche Mura in Sorrento and loved it. For Sorrento, or anywhere, you can always use Booking.com instead of trying to contact each place individually. Booking.com will show you what is available through them for the dates you have. Booking.com does not have an inventory of everything in a location, but it is a good start, and if something that appeals to you is full on Booking.com, contact the hotel or B&B directly as they may still have rooms they are holding.

Buying your Freccia tickets in advance has the benefit of saving you $$. You can buy up to 120 days in advance, and the cheapest tickets go fast. Just be sure of your plans as they are non-refundable.

Posted by
31140 posts

Beth,

A few places you can consider staying in Sorrento.....

  • Hotel Il Nido - it's slightly outside of town on a hill, but they provide frequent Shuttle service to town. Given the location, they have great views and a somewhat quieter ambience.
  • Hotel La Tonnarella - located at the far end of town, but not really a difficult walk into town. Again, it's reasonably quiet and the views from their restaurant over the bay are stunning (especially at night). It's a bit more "upscale" so be sure your budget has some room.
  • Hotel Settimo Cielo - reasonably close to town, and overlooking the bay.
  • Hotel Desiree - more of a "budget" hotel but very comfortable. It's right beside La Tonnarella, and as I recall they share a beach. The staff are wonderful, and their rooftop terrace is a great place to sit in the warm afternoon sun with a glass of Vino or Limoncello and just enjoy the view.

For a 25th anniversary trip, I'd be remiss in not mentioning a fantastic place to enjoy a memorable anniversary dinner. Have a look at the website for L' Antica Trattoria, which is in the main part of town. I found the food to be exceptional, albeit not inexpensive (hopefully that's still the case). I just had a glance at the menu, and found myself reaching for the phone to book a flight to Sorrento. Unfortunately that will have to wait for a future trip.

Posted by
13 posts

We are flying back home onril18 from Naples at 14:50 (2:50pm), should we spend the 17th in Naples is there enough time to stay one more night in Sorrento and leave there early in the morning for Naples?

Posted by
3807 posts

You should easily be able to catch a morning train on the 18th bound for Naples and catch your afternoon plane. If you intended to see any sights in Naples (the Archaeological Museum, which includes artefacts from Pompeii, is an impressive treat), or to have pizza in the place it was created, you might want to get there on the 17th.

Posted by
31140 posts

Beth,

As you have an afternoon flight departure, I'd be tempted to spend the last night in Sorrento. Take the Curreri Viaggi Bus from Sorrento directly to the airport (click the "Bus Routes" and then the "Go There" link for times). A 10:30 departure would get you to the airport at 12:00. There's a slight risk that the Bus could be delayed or whatever, but I'd probably chance it.

Posted by
13 posts

You guys have been so helpful! From Florence would you take an arranged day trip tour to Sienna one day and cinque terra another day or do them independently? I'm also wondering if you guys think Pompeii is worth the effort and a full day? My husband definitely wants to go down the Amalfi Coast and we only have 3 days in Sorrento.

Posted by
31140 posts

Beth,

You can easily take day trips to both Siena and the Cinque Terre on your own. If you plan well, you shouldn't have any problems. The easiest way to get from Florence to Siena is the SITA Bus, and the station for the Bus is very close to Firenze SMN rail station. DON'T forget to validate your ticket prior to boarding the Bus on the day of travel. You'll be dropped at Piazza Gramsci, which is right in the centre of town, rather that at the rail station which is at the bottom of the hill.

The trip to the Cinque Terre is also very easy by train, but will involve at least a couple of changes, either at Pisa Centrale and / or La Spezia, depending on which train you choose. Some of the trains you'll be using will be Regionale, so DON'T forget to validate your tickets! I'd suggest starting in Riomaggiore and working your way north to Monterosso so that you're there at supper time (there are lot of nice restaurants to choose from), and return to Florence after supper. For example on the way to the C.T., you could use a departure from Florence at 08:28, arriving Riomaggiore at 11:18. On the return trip you could use departures either at 19:40 or 21:05, arriving back in Florence at 21:48 or 23:50. I used the later departure when I did that trip last year, and it worked fine. However, don't miss that train, as it's the last one of the night!

Finally, you should be able to tour Pompeii in about four to five hours. The trip via Circumvesuviana from Sorrento to Pompeii Scavi is only about half an hour, as I recall. That's one site where it would be worthwhile to hire a guide, as you'll learn far more about the history. You can either use a guide from the book such as Gaetano Manfredi, or just use one of the guides that will be loitering near the entrance looking for customers.

Spending just one night in Venice it's not enough...al least to see the most important spots of the city you need to stay there 3nights..if you can avoid Varenna and add time there it would be better...
For having updated informations about Venice you can check these two web sites: http://en.venezia.net/ , http://www.comune.venezia.it/flex/cm/pages/ServeBLOB.php/L/IT/IDPagina/1

For infos about Florence: http://www.comune.fi.it/export/sites/retecivica/index.html

Rome: http://www.comune.roma.it/PCR/do/jpsite/Site/home

Naples: http://www.comune.napoli.it/flex/cm/pages/ServeBLOB.php/L/IT/IDPagina/1

Hope you'll enjoy your staying in italy!

Posted by
11852 posts

I'll just add my vote to Laurel's for Hotel Antiche Mura in Sorrento: we really enjoyed that one. I would recommend springing for "comfort room" instead of a standard, it you can swing it. But the location was great, and service was impeccable.

Your newest itinerary looks great. I would just caution about overextending yourself with day trips from Florence? While 4 nights looks like a lot, it'll be closer to just 3 and 1/2 days of sightseeing, and that city begs for time to explore. But you also have the luxury of some flexibility so if you find you've covered what you wish to see in 1 and 1/2 days, then jump on a train to locations further afield. The CT is not wonderful in the rain so base your decisions on weather as well.

A note about tickets? You said you hadn't booked anything but the Scavi tour? I'm unsure of your interests but if you're wishing to visit some of the more notable museums, I'd definitely purchase ahead for the Vatican Museums and the Borghese (pre-reservations are mandatory for that one) in Rome, and the Uffizi and Accademia in Florence. We can provide the resources for booking if you're interested?

As someone else already mentioned, the cities on your list will very likely be a pleasant surprise for The Husband. The historic centers are very old, and don't have skyscrapers or much at all for modern steel-and-glass construction. They will be busy people-wise but they're more compact than you might think, and all three have a different "feel" as far as architecture. There will be some traffic, of course, but not everywhere due to areas which are designated no-drive zones.

And yes, I'll agree that you have plenty of time for getting to Naples on the day of your flight, and the suggestion for taking the Curreri Viaggi Bus was a very good one! In general, airport shuttle buses in Italy are very nice: clean, safe and comfortable.

Posted by
13 posts

I would love the information on the easiest ways to get tickets ahead of time for the museums. My other question is with only 3 days in Sorrento (my husband wants to get a driver for a day drive down the coast) What are your thoughts on going over to Capri for the day or do you guys think that our time is too limited?

Posted by
9477 posts

Regarding your last question about a daytrip to Capri. I think may be trying to do too many side trips in too many places. A day to go down the AmalfiCoast, a day built around Pompeii (and possibly Ercolano as it is on the way), then Capri too seems like a lot. Many people are disappointed in Capri, BTW: too commercial/touristy/what-have-you is what I hear. I hear that opinion so much I am not even interested in going there. I have heard Ischia is very nice, though.

Sometimes it is nice to have an unplanned day so you can take advantage of something you didn't expect, or to recharge the batteries. In Firenze you may find Firenze so compelling you don't care to take side trips. Give yourself permission to change your plan! Same on the A.C. Maybe you'd enjoy a day just walking around Sorrento. We sure did!

Posted by
13 posts

Don't worry, right now I'm just gathering information. I am not setting any side trips in stone yet. I'm just trying to get others opinions so it will help make our decisions easier. My husband said he might be more interested in going to Capri than in going to Pompeii. I'm certain that we won't do both. I'm also leaning towards going to Lucca or Pisa or maybe both for the day instead of CT. Thanks to everyone for all of the information, I just recently got RS Italy 2015 and started reading it. One more question I have is about going on the secret itineraries tour in Venice, which tour company would you recommend or is it too time consuming?

Posted by
1538 posts

Book the Secret Itineraries tour directly with Palazzo Ducale- on their website- tours last 1 hour 15 min. Then you are free to continue touring the palace as long as you like.
You will receive a voucher that you then trade for an actual ticket here.
I thought it was a great value for just 20Euros and we thoroughly enjoyed the tour- our guide was very knowledgeable. We had 9 people in our group.

http://palazzoducale.visitmuve.it/en/pianifica-la-tua-visita/secretitineraries/

Just a note- I booked the 11:35 tour before realizing that San Marco Basilica turns the interior lights on for a very short time at 11- so was a bit disappointed that we missed that.

Posted by
3807 posts

We visited Capri as a day trip and were glad for the experience, but although the ferry from Sorrento was able to make the trip across the water, the tide was still too rough that day for boats to get into the Blue Grotto, so we missed that. It was possible to take a separate boat for a tour circling the island, but we didn't do that. Capri does have ancient Roman ruins, at the old palace of Villa Jovis (which involves an uphill walk to reach), but it's not on the scale of the buried cities of Pompeii or Herculaneum (Ercolano).

We also visited Pompeii and Herculaneum and would have spent more time at both if it had been available on our short time there.

Posted by
2940 posts

With just three days allotted to Sorrento, I wouldn't try to include a day on Capri. It depends on your interests, of course, but to me, Pompeii and Herculaneum are top-drawer sights in that area. However, to do both in a day seems like overkill to me. Herculaneum is smaller and has more left there. A very great deal of what was in Pompeii is now in the Archaeological Museum in Naples, so if you can work in a visit there, it would be very worthwhile. Getting a driver for a day to visit the AC towns sounds like a good idea and a lovely splurge. Don't miss Ravello. I think it's the most beautiful of all of them. There are two villas you can visit with gorgeous gardens. One of them (forget which) has stunning views, as well.

Posted by
31140 posts

Beth,

With only a very short three days on the Amalfi Coast, some compromises and choices will be necessary. Does that time include your travel days TO Sorrento? If that's the case, you may only have about 2.5 days for touring there.

While you certainly could visit Capri, that will take the better part of a day. If you're going to make the trip, you may as well make it worthwhile and see Capri (lots of posh shops like Gucci, Prada, Armani and posh hotels, but not much to see in terms of other attractions such as Museums, at least not that I noticed), visit the Blue Grotto if you want (although I'm not sure that's worth the effort) and possibly also visit Ana Capri. Also, I'm not sure how lively it will be there in April, or what the weather will be like.

You may find it helpful to make a list of what you want to see while in Sorrento, ranked in order of priority. That will provide some idea of where you can start paring down the list. As Laurel and others have mentioned, it's also good to leave some free time for just enjoying Sorrento and "recharging".

Posted by
13 posts

Is there much difference in the different train lines ( like from Venice to Florence and then later from Florence to Rome)?

Posted by
14131 posts

The trains from Venice stop in Florence on the way to Rome. There are more trains from Florence to Rome than just those from Venice. The best way to Sorrento is a fast train to Naples (from Rome or Florence) and then the local Circumvesiuviana train from Naples to Sorrento.

I haven't been to Capri, but a number of folks here have said it was a disappointment as a day trip. The towns of Ravello and Positano are very nice day trips by bus from Sorrento. From Positano you can walk down through the town, then take the ferry back to Sorrento.

Posted by
31140 posts

Beth,

"Is there much difference in the different train lines ( like from Venice to Florence and then later from Florence to Rome)?"

The train lines between the major cities like Venice, Florence and Rome are in most cases high speed Freccia trains, which travel at up to 300 kmH. The competing Italo service also operates high speed trains on those routes. The trains which travel to smaller centres such as Lucca or Siena are often a mixture of Intercity or Regionale trains, which are much slower (but cheaper). You may find it helpful to have a look at the excellent Man in Seat 61 website.

Posted by
11852 posts

Beth, you'd asked about some resources for pre-ordering museum tickets? Here are the big ones for Rome and Florence:

For the Vatican (museums and Vatican-offered tours: must choose a specific entry time):

http://mv.vatican.va/3_EN/pages/MV_Home.html

For Villa Borghese (must choose a specific time slot):

http://www.galleriaborghese.it/borghese/en/edefault.htm

For the Colosseum/Forum/Palatine (this is a combined ticket, and you do not have to choose a specific time):

http://www.coopculture.it/en/the-colosseum.cfm

For Florence:
Uffizi and Accademia:
http://www.b-ticket.com/b-ticket/uffizi/default.aspx

Posted by
13 posts

Thanks so much for the ticket information. I'm so excited about the trip and all of the tips have been so helpful.
If anyone has any more suggestions of things that I should definitely add just let me know. Thanks again.

Posted by
7737 posts

You say your husband doesn't like big cities. But the thing about Rome is that, due to the height limit in effect for all buildings (no taller than St. Peter's) and the compact nature of the historic center, the center of Rome feels more to me like a bunch of active connected villages.

Posted by
13 posts

We are flying into Heathrow but out of Gatwick on our way to Venice, any advice on the most efficient way to do this will be greatly appreciated. We get into Heathrow at 8:05 and fly out of Gatwick at 14:00.

Posted by
3807 posts

A regular, direct bus (well, the English call it "coach") service runs between Heathrow and Gatwick airports. You could also take a cab, but the coach is efficient and will get you there for a decent price. It does take a while to get between the 2 airports, but you will have plenty of time to make the transfer and make your flight at Gatwick.

Posted by
13 posts

I basically have everything booked and ready and am so excited about my upcoming trip. The only detail that I still have
a question about is staying in Sorrento. I have researched and booked at the Hotel Antiche Mura and the Palazzo Marziale, because I couldn't decide between the two. They both have excellent reviews. They are less than 90 euros apart in price. Has anyone stayed at either of the properties that could help me make a final decision. I have until March 15 to make a final decision. I will be staying for 3 nights.

Posted by
360 posts

I think you already have a lot to do in 14 days without adding the CT in there unless it's a trade for Varenna (but I'd go with the others and put the time in to Tuscany) -- that's just so much movement in such a short time that you probably will feel like you don't have quite enough time. We were only in Venice for two nights and we honestly felt like it was more than enough time for the main island, but not if you want to get out to the other islands or outer cities. We took sleeping pills on the plane and were able to sleep enough to stay up to 10:30 on our first night so we didn't have jet lag, thankfully (and then took pills again for that night to get on an Italy sleeping schedule).

When I was planning our trip, we had Venice, Rome, Florence and Tuscany as givens but had to make the choice between the CT and the Amalfi Coast -- everyone I spoke to that had been there before voted for the CT, but we were also going in May and the weather was great (I've heard it can still be rainy in April). I'd look up pictures online (and look at the RS book) and see what areas look more appealing. Everyone has a different experience -- some say they loved Rome, we didn't and would've rather had more than our four days in Tuscany. Tuscany was our favorite area, followed by Cinque Terre and really enjoyed getting out of the big cities (maybe b/c we live in one ourselves?).

Posted by
3807 posts

Hi again bapperson, we stayed at a B&B just outside of Sorrento, so can't offer any personal knowledge of the 2 places you're torn between. Maybe you could stay 1 night in one place and 2 nights in the other ? ;-)

Seriously, if both places look outstanding to you, go with the cheaper one and put that extra 90 euros towards a nice dinner. You'll have a great trip!