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italy 'grand tour' 2020

Hello fellow travelers!
(This is a new country focussed version of the thread I posted in "General Europe')
I am starting to think seriously about a ‘Grand- Tour’ of sorts, in June - August of 2020. Basically, an art, history and architectural exploration of Italy for about 30 to 50 days. Think Kenneth Clarks 'Civilization'. No itinerary yet. I am thrifty but not a backpacker and willing to save time over money. A little bit about me. Filmmaker and a College Professor; AARP's been hounding me to join since 2012! Traveling solo. I hope to connect with you in the next couple of months. I am looking for suggestions, tips, and thoughts. Books, articles, websites, other forums, must-see and avoids, trains and planes, Airbnb - any and everything that might help me on the journey. In return, I promise to share my experience and stories with you. Thank you!

Posted by
2491 posts

If you haven't been to Orvieto, it's cathedral is a must-see. Have you read Ross KIng's "Brunelleschi's Dome"? If not, it takes your appreciation of the Duomo dome to a whole new level.

Posted by
51 posts

just a little cut and paste from the old thread for context

i have been to italy several times - was married to an italian after all. seen a bit of the main sites in venice, rome, flourence, milan. also some of the smaller towns in northern italy. now I want to go further off the beaten path. places like matera, orvieto and agrigento. visit the places that i missed previously, the uffizi and the academia in venice. revisiting the caravaggio's of rome won't be a hardship either!

Posted by
584 posts

Two questions first --- are you also interested in food or wine? And are you OK with renting a car when necessary?

Posted by
17148 posts

Places you haven't mentioned seeing that I liked are listed below. I'm interested in architecture and art but history not so much, except for 20th-century history.

  • Orvieto: There's more to see there than you'd expect of a place its size.
  • Ravenna: The mosaics are stunning and the historic center of the town is very pretty.
  • Assisi: Get away from the magnificent basilica and the town isn't touristy at all. Head uphill to step back into the middle ages.
  • Padua: It's a lively university town with very nice historic district and some interesting sights. The Scrovegni Chapel must be pre-booked. It makes a good base for visiting Vicenza (Palladian architecture), Verona and Ferrara.
  • Dolomites: Great weather break. The very pretty valley towns of Bolzano (home of the Iceman) and Bressanone can be broiling hot in the summer. Stay up in the mountains in a place like Ortisei.
  • Turin: I haven't been there yet, but it is widely praised.
Posted by
5934 posts

Also: “somewhat” off the beaten path:
Piemonte based in Alba, Puglia with side trip to Matera, Dolomites basing in Ortisei, Bologna, , Umbria basing in Spello. The Veneto region too, Vicenza, Bassano de Grappa, Palladian architecture there.

Posted by
1271 posts

Have you been to Padova, and seen the Scrovegni Chapel? That would be a ‘must’, if not. Requires advance reservations. Also, if you’ll be in Venice, highly recommend getting a Chorus Pass, to see the art in a number of different churches all around the city.

Posted by
2901 posts

I have just finished planning our April trip to Trentino-Alto Adige and Friuli Venezia Giulia. They are a bit off the main tourist tracks; and, therefore, a bit less expensive than other areas. There’s plenty of ancient Roman, medieval, Renaissance and later art and architecture to explore; and the scenery in the Dolomites is breathtaking.
As for other stand outs, Orvieto, Ravenna, and Padova, for sure. Parma also has a marvelous duomo and baptistery.
We also loved a trip where we spent a good amount of time exploring less tourism-impacted parts of Tuscany, like its coastal areas. One town we visited, Pietrasanta, is almost entirely devoted to sculpture. We found several sculpture gardens to visit in that region.

Posted by
11732 posts

Florence, Florence, Florence and, hmmm, how 'bout some more Florence? It has a ridiculous wealth of art, and the architecture is nothing to sneeze at either.

Yep, the mosaics in Ravenna are supposed to be insane and are on my list for next time.

Rome: churches, churches and more churches. They are the art-geek-on-a-budget's dream as many of them are packed with priceless artistic treasures and almost of the them are free! A few of them incorporated Roman basilicas, baths or temples into their floorplans and foundations. Anyway, they are all different so it's not as if you've seen one, you've seen them all. If interested, give us a shout and we'll provide a list of the better ones? Florence has some outstanding basilicas and whatnot as well.

Oh, and Galleria Borghese should be on your Rome list for the Bernini collection ALONE.

https://galleriaborghese.beniculturali.it/en/visita/
https://www.tosc.it/tickets.html
(if the ticketing site doesn't come up in English, you can select language in the menu box, lower right of the page)

A couple of books: HV Morton's "A Traveller in Rome" and "A traveller in Italy", written in 1957 and 1964, respectively. The journalist's engaging historical narratives, as he travels around the city/country, made for couldn't-put-them-down reads.

https://www.amazon.com/Traveller-Italy-H-v-Morton/dp/0306810786
https://www.amazon.com/Traveller-Rome-H-v-Morton/dp/0306811316

Posted by
2491 posts

Absolutely see St. Clemente church in Rome. All the layers of history are so interesting.I also love the Gothic church- Santa Maria sopra Minerva-near the Pantheon.

Posted by
51 posts

hello all,
got back from work and what a pleasant surprise waiting for me! thank you for your tips and suggestions.

@nancys8: food and wine is not of particular interest but certainly like to have good meals when i can. i don't drive and will be relying on public transportation. i am not averse to taxi's and ride-share if needed.

@acravan: orveito, ravanna, assisi & padua are on my list. i will add vicenza, and ferrara. isn't verona a kind of tourist trap relying on a myth? i am not much of a mountain/seaside guy. i would rather relax in venice!

@suki: i'll consider alba, spello, vicenza & bassano del grappa. matera is definitely on my list, i have been to Bologna. so much to see!

@inbsig: padova is on my list. never been.

@carlos: will add volterra

@rosalyn: been to parma! being a cinematographer by trade i tend to seek out paintings over sculpture, though looking at the pieta at the vatican was one of the most sublime moments i have ever had!

@kathy: i have been to florence only for a day. yes, i know it's a crime! it's on my definite list this time. of course rome. most memorable experience there; san giovanni in laterno, caravaggio's in santa mari del poplo and 'stumbling' upon the forum at night. finally, yes hv morton's 'a traveller in italy' is one of my favourite travel books!

@cala: didn't see st. clemente and santa maria sopra minerva the two times i have been to rome. i am definitely returning, so on my list now.

Posted by
51 posts

a couple of more mundane questions this time.

how long before the departure should one buy outbound and return flights to the usa? i read somewhere, the sweet spot is 3 months early. is this a myth? i am planning on june 10 for lift-off. that would put the decision at around march 10.

-per rick 'open-jaw' is an option. i always thought that was more expensive compared to return from the arrival destination.

thanks!

Posted by
1517 posts

Well, we ignored the "myth" part of Verona and enjoyed the fabulous arena, great castle, the river and its stone bridge, the Roman Theater, the botanical garden, and I was especially taken with the San Zeno basilica. In short, Verona has at least as much to recommend it as many of the other places on your list.

EDITED to add: No, "open jaw," which you will find as "multi-city" on airline websites, is usually about the same price as a round-trip to/from one airport. Do some research now, checking on that possibility, so you'll be ready to book when you think it's time. (I'm an early booker myself - just like to get that locked in. And I seriously doubt that fares will go down between now and mid March.)

Posted by
51 posts

thanks, janet! so in your opinion book even earlier than march 10?

Posted by
14035 posts

Read the Blue Guides for Italy, which focus on art, architecture and archaeology.

Verona - it's opera season during your trip. It will be crowded and hard to get a room even in advance.

As a thrifty traveler, I book all my hotels and trains well in advance. I save money on the trains and I believe I get the best deals on rooms. The first time I went to Italy in 2008, I booked rooms 3 months in advance for mid-October and that was fine. Now I find that I need to book much farther out even though I have switched to traveling in low season - in February!

I know some on the forum are spontaneous, booking rooms only a day or two ahead. Maybe they can speak to the viability of winging it in Italy in summer. And speaking of summer, are you okay with hot, often humid conditions? Will you need AC at night (most of us do)?

Posted by
17148 posts

There's no magic time for getting a good airfare, but it gets risky if you push too close to the departure date. I'm of the "start looking at Google Flights as soon as you know where and when" school of thought. My goal is to get an idea of what the "normal" fare is and try to buy on a dip. You're pretty late for information-gathering, though.

Are you going to fly out of GSO, or do you have a way to get to RDU or CLT? Minor airports are often expensive to fly out of.

Posted by
51 posts

@chani: yes i am trying to locate the blue guides currently. i would prefer digital downloads. good tip about verona. it's on my list but not at the top. as far as summer my schedule is synced to my teaching. summer is the longest break i have. as far as the heat well, grew up in kolkata but got spoiled for 32 years in southern california (familiar with the desert parts too) before moving to nc recently. in short, i know heat, don't particularly like it, but will deal with it! i do want ac when i sleep though, haha!

Posted by
51 posts

@acravan: i have been researching flights for a bit now. you mentioned 'buying on a dip'. how do you figure out when that dip is? i will definitely buy at least 3 months out, if not sooner. as far as lift-off point all options are open. yes, i am considering rdu and clt but found some of the cheapest fares from jfk to fco. i have to get to jfk though. i would like to run this idea by you. what if i flew from gso to jfk separately? so far the combined gso - jfk + jfk -fco fare is about half of what it is for clt - fco. i would fly in to ny in the morning and fly out in the evening. that way i would have a good cushion for delays and i could go into the city for a couple of hours. what do you think?

by the way if anyone else have ideas about bookings please share! also what's your opinion of norwegian, non stop from jfk to fco?

Posted by
17 posts

What a fantastic project!

You've had some wonderful suggestions already - I grew up in Tuscany so here are some thoughts:

Tuscany is beautiful in the local and in the microcosm too - so while you should definitely see the big stuff, I'd make time for the smaller, sideline moments too. You'll need a car and some hiking boots but it's worth it.

For example, around Siena, there is a convent, now in ruins, near Rosia. You drive to an old bridge - the Ponte Della Pia, named after a Sienese heroine exiled to the Maremma in Dante's time. Walk over the bridge and up the path in the woods and you'll come across the "Convento di Santa Lucia" - in ruins now. You can see the outline of the church, quarried for its stone, and the old convent building still standing.

Close by, in the tiny village of Torri, there is a fabulous 13th-century cloister - now privately owned, you can only visit on Monday or Friday mornings. It's breathtaking.

Close to Torri, if you like hiking, there's a longer path that will take you the amusingly named "Castle that only God knows" (Castiglion che Dio sol sa), set in a deep wooded valley, invisible from anywhere around it. If you walk down into the deep valley behind the castle you'll find the ruins of 13th-century mills that powered Siena's very early industrial revolution (probably too big a word, but you get the gist).

After your long walk, head to Orgia, another tiny village with an excellent restaurant where they serve the wild boar they catch in the surrounding forests.

If you like this sort of thing let me know and I'll send you real, useful details. And if you haven't seen it already, watch Tarkovskji's film "Nostalghia" - it's beautiful and tells stories of these places.

Similar places would also be the old roofless abbey of San Galgano, and the Fresco of the Pregnant Madonna by Piero della Francesca...

Last note - if you can, travel May - June - or Sept - Oct rather than through July and August, it'll be quieter and better exploring weather...

Posted by
51 posts

@dan: i hope it turns out the way i am imagining it!
i have not seen 'nostalghia'. i am going to change that this weekend! love tarkovsky - 'stalker' is one of my all-time favorite films. thank you for your suggestions i will add the places to my list. i would be grateful for your other recommendations. i will do my own research if you just point me in the right direction. regarding the timing of my visit. it's really based on my work schedule - summer break is the biggest block of time i have.

Posted by
17148 posts

You only know you've found a dip in airfare if you've been tracking it for awhile and suddenly the fare is lower. Fares can move up and down a lot. I watched one of my itineraries bounce repeatedly between $800 and $1300.

However, you are close enough to your peak-season departure date that it's possible there will be no more dips, just increases. I think the best opportunity for deals on summer flights comes in the fall.

A lot of people have used the technique you're considering--buying a separate ticket between their home airport and a major gateway like NYC. Most of them have come out OK. However, things can go wrong, and a fair number of those folks have taken the conservative approach (I would call it "the prudent approach", but I am not a risk-taker with $$$$ airline tickets on the line) of spending a night at the gateway. Obviously, a night in a place convenient to JFK would not be cheap, and there could be ground-transportation cost as well. Keep in mind that if there's a significant issue with your feeder flight and you miss the outbound transatlantic flight, the return will also be canceled. Last-minute replacement tickets could be horribly costly.

On the return you have to factor in time for Immigration procedures at the US gateway, which calls for a large layover since you will not be protected against either transatlantic delays or long lines at Immigration. When I landed at Dulles a year or two ago, all the computers were down.

Posted by
1517 posts

Yes, in my opinion, book NOW! We are now in our early seventies and decided quite a while back that flying from our home airport was worth extra expense. There are just too many possibilities for things to go wrong: maybe not so bad when you're on the way home, but very upsetting if they happen on the way over to Europe.

Posted by
20 posts

I’d buy flights as soon as you find a good fare. And I mean if you see one don’t wait a day or even hours. Most if not all can be canceled within 24 hours so it’s better to book it than miss out on the fare. That being said you do need to know what is a good fare.
From Charlotte I’ve seen as low as $468 and that’s not on budget airlines. But that’s RARE. I’d say $600-700 would be a really good deal. I was searching for May to June. However, it being closer and you traveling in June you may be looking at a lot more. You can get a good idea of cheaper dates to fly by plugging in some destination cities and dates in google flights, Momondo, Skyscanner and kayak. Look at the monthly calendar and then set up some fare watches with notifications.
This year I got flights separately from clt to Newark and Newark to Paris because it was so cheap that way. I am a little nervous about it but only on the return. We have a huge buffer leaving. If we miss our return flight to charlotte the extra room and flight will still be what we would have paid anyway so I thought it was worth the risk. We will see!!! It depends on your comfort level, but if you can’t find anything lower and it’s half price I’d leave a big buffer and try it.

As for Airbnb’s, we had great luck with them last year in Italy. And looking at them now for this May/June trip. It is a big price savings and we really liked having a kitchen to use even though we really didn’t cook much and made good use of the washers because we packed light. Also, it got us right in the center of the action, whereas with a hotel (in most places) we would have been farther out. Just read, read, read the reviews!!! Also, the sooner you book the better the selection.

For high speed trains in Italy, you also need to book well in advance-low cost tickets sell out quickly!!! I believe June is on sale now. Not sure about July or August. For great info on trains check out “the man in seat 61.” Regional trains -don’t book ahead. I compared Trenitalia, italotreno, Rome to Rio and Wanderio for prices. Usually about the same but sometimes one would have a cheaper train the others didn’t.

For towns I’ve only been to a few but I will throw my hat in the ring for Orvieto.

Posted by
51 posts

jrimi thank you for the detailed post! and you are in charlotte!

i am seriously looking at airfares and will commit as soon as i find something. i have lodging and transportation in italy to think about next! may i ask if the weather is your concern regarding your split bookings? are weather delays common during june in these parts? so much to do!!

Posted by
841 posts

There is architecture and there is architecture. It does not mean just checking out old buildings, whatever. Structures have been built in Italy for three thousand years, and are still being built. Some are crap, others engage on an intellectual level.
I can only really comment on the Veneto, but some ideas.
Vicenza for the architecture of Andrea Palladio. The Palladio museum there is a must, it goes to explain why architects all over the world have been inspired by his work, even the Antebellum plantation buildings in the south of the USA are a legacy.

I became hooked on the architecture of Carlo Scarpa, Venice’s best known modern architect, active until 1978. His work reveals Japanese influences, also influences of Frank Lloyd Wright, strongly expressed horizontals and fine detailing. His work is allover Venice, the Olivetti Museum in the Piazza and the intervention in the Querini Stampalia Foundation being maybe his best known. Once you see his work, you will recognise his handwriting everywhere.

Verona, the Castel Vecchio museum is a must, renovations directed by Scarpa, rooms with little gutters around the edge, as though he was expecting water, a la Venezia.

And of course in Venice the Architecture Biennale is happening, showcasing where modern architects are coming from and what they are thinking. Needs a couple of days to do it justice .

From 2016,

https://www.fodors.com/community/europe/venice-september-2016-a-trip-report-sort-of-1132533/

Posted by
841 posts

In Venice, an airbnb place I have stayed twice, 17 nights each time.
Google “a stones throw from the frari” and it will come up.

Posted by
11732 posts

Delighted that you've already found one of Morton's excellent books! I think they're too often passed over due to their long-ago first copyrights, and they aren't usually found in average brick-and-mortar book shops.

Good to know as well that you've already made passing acquaintance with Rome and Florence. It wasn't clear in your first post that this wasn't your first rodeo for both of those cities. :O)

Rome: in case you don't know about this one, spend some time with the website for Parco Appia Antica? We spent a wonderful day exploring a long section of this famous ancient military/trade route (a 10 mile of so piece closest to Rome is a regional park) and some of the interesting relics along the way (a circus; an excavated bath; a catacomb; many crumbling tombs, etc.) Sunday is usually the best day, as they close the thing to traffic on that one; yep, it's still an active throughfare! A further out and somewhat separate section is also an aqueduct park that we've not been to yet. We were fine hiking the thing on foot but bike rentals are also available.

https://www.parcoappiaantica.it
This is an especially useful page for downloading info to take along:
https://www.parcoappiaantica.it/home/risorse-e-utilita/download/category/1-flyer

And this for a quick route overview: we've done the first two sections illustrated, from Casal Rotondo north into Rome, including the dotted yellow line jog over to Via Cristoforo Columbo and up to Terme di Caracalla. You were roughly in that area when you visited San Giovanni in Laterano, which we also did on that same walk. Anyway, we'll start out at Ciampino airport next time (3rd section; Casal Rotondo to Frattocchie) as it's not that much further out, and an easier jumping-on point.

https://www.parcoappiaantica.it/home/itinerari/appia-antica

Accommodations: don't discredit hostels, as they're not just for young backpackers anymore. Quite a number provide private rooms, and as a teacher you might enjoy some interaction with a lively and diverse clientele.

https://www.hostelworld.com
https://www.booking.com

Boy, am I wishing for our Zoe for brilliant input! We sadly lost her a couple of years ago but she was also a college professor, spoke fluent Italian, and spent a large chunk of every summer in Italy (as well as some other countries.) There's still terrific info she'd contributed in the forum archives, especially under "Trip Reports."

Posted by
51 posts

hello all,
well, i did it! booked my ticket. round trip on norweigian lax-fco-lax. $1161 (flex+). june 6 to aug 5. if you are wondering why i chose to fly out of the other side of the country, it's because i'll already be there due to a gig. the best part is that the trip to and from nc and ca is paid for. perhaps not the cheapest fare i could have found but the pros outweighed the cons. non-stop! meals and checked bag included and 787 aircraft (i am an avgeek), i expect cramped seating but i am not a big guy and i usually manage. another less expensive decision i made was to buy the travelpro Maxlite 5 20"Rolling Duffel. i have a short trip coming up to chicago. will be good trial run.

now on to the real fun part. figuring out what to do in italy itself!

thanks for your previous replies everyone!
@aussie: although old is my taste i do like some modern architecture as well. looking forward to seeing the calatrava's bridge in venice. he is probably my favorite current architect. i am by no means an expert in architecture but i'll check out carlo scarpa's work. vicenza is on my list for the same reason you mention. i'll definitely look up the airbnb as well.

@kathy: thanks for suggesting hostels. i certainly don't mind the company of young people, (how could i not given my job!), but i will confine myself to private rooms at night. i will check out the parco appia antica - did not get there previously.

Posted by
20 posts

No, weather doesn't concern me. Our flight home is out of CDG and has a layover in Munich then on to Newark. From what I've read, Munich isn't prone to delays. My concern is that our buffer at Newark is exactly 3 hours which is cutting it a little close for comfort. But as I said, it won't be the end of the world. Flights from NYC to CLT aren't too much thankfully!
Saw you got your flight! That's one major concern down. And for a summer flight that's prob not a bad price.
I completely forgot to mention we aren't checking bags so a checked bag does add to the cost.

I also forgot trainline as another site to check train tickets.
BTW-if you are on a nicer train (ie-high speed) the second class is very nice. I wouldn't pay more for first class.

Posted by
841 posts

Calatrava’s work is interesting, as is his bridge.
Said bridge is cursed by most Venetians. Glass treads and therefore slippery when wet. The number of people who have fallen is legion. Difficult to traverse with wheeled luggage, I helped a friend move a bunch of Ikea bookcases over that bridge, a challenge I shall not forget in a hurry.
The bubble for the disabled never works, although does feature in a novel written by a writer resident in Venice.

Posted by
51 posts

@at aussie: haha, i have read the horror stories about the bridge and the bubble! apparently calatrava got fined for 'poor design'. his response was 'i did the asthetics not the construction'!

Posted by
51 posts

hello all!
i am wondering if you use a trip planner app/site? i have been using tripadvisor just to enter the names of places that all of you have suggested. how about something like the 'visit a city' app? any suggestion you may have is, as always, most welcome.

Posted by
17148 posts

Are you looking for sightseeing information? If so, a good guidebook will serve you much better than Trip Advisor. I used to take a quick look there to see whether there was something obscure but interesting to me that the guidebooks overlooked (which does happen), but I think they've redesigned the website; it's nearly useless to me now.

Rick is selective in the cities he covers, so you'll need more. Maybe Rough or Lonely Planet?

Posted by
51 posts

thanks acraven! oh, i am just using tripadvisor to enter the names so that i don't forget. i am looking at the blue guides. whichever i get i will probably download the digital version. i don't want to carry a bulky heavy book.

Posted by
841 posts

A book you might consider is Secret Venice by Jonglez. I have it in hard copy, but it is available on Kindle.
The book walks you through a bunch of things, like the ice house in the Hotel Doges, or the white paving stone set in the pavement at Castello, attesting to the somewhat strained relationship between Doge and Patriarch.
The book draws you away from the more populous places, although there is a great description and explanation of the iconography of the capital carvings on the Doge loggia. All up there are about 150 entries, so you are never too far from away from a point of interest.

And here is a secret that does not make the book. Facing the Doge palace, your back to the Grand Canal, third column from the corner, it a little bit out of line if you look carefully. Stand with your back to the column and try and inch yourself around it. You will find you can’t, you fall off each time. Condemned criminals were given this test, if they made it around they were spared, otherwise, well, not. The Venetian equivalent of the ducking stool.

And a piece of advice - it is bad luck, really bad luck, to walk between the two columns in the Piazetta. The guy who figured how to raise the columns was given, as a reward, licence to operate gaming tables between the columns. These became too popular, so the Republic used the air space between the columns for public hangings. I’m not Venetian, yet I never walk between the columns.

Posted by
14035 posts

A heads-up on private rooms in hostels. They are very popular. If you don't book well in advance, you will probably be out of luck. Expect them to be prepaid with no possibility of changes or refunds. Use hostelworld.com and hostelz.com to search and to read reviews. Some hostels are party central, others strictly enforce quiet hours, and some are in-between.

Posted by
4538 posts

Thanks Kathy for mentioning our dear late friend Zoe!

Alomaker,

You’ll find most of Zoe’s inspirational trip reports here: Remembering Zoe...

Enjoy planning your “Grand Tour”!

Posted by
51 posts

hello all,
i am now starting to book my lodging and rides around italy. i have a place to stay on arrival in rome and a train ticket to napoli a couple of days later. my plan is (and please comment on it) to head south first. after napoli i am thinking of an overnight ferry to palermo. one thing i am uncertain about is how much time to allocate to each city/town/site. the places i have a handle on are the places i have been to before, rome, florence and venice. sicily, not so much. i am reading and researching but would love input from people who have been there before. i realize that it is a highly subjective issue but i am looking for a rough consensus. as i have mentioned before my interest is art and architecture, not so much the wilderness and definitely not the seaside or resorts. don't care for shopping, nightlife or even food and wine except that i have to eat! by the way, i have allocated only two day for rome initially because i intend to land back at rome after my circuit and perhaps spend up to a week there. on the other hand i am not sure about places like agrigento, siracusa and noto. any perspective from former visitors is most appreciated!

Posted by
51 posts

hello again,
@aussie: love the stories. i'll keep them in mind!
@chani: thanks for the hostel info. so far i am looking at airbnb locations. i also have monasteries as an option.
@priscilla & kathy: i emphasize about your friend. as keanu reevs said in a recent interview 'i know the ones who love us will miss us'. we miss our friends and preserve their memories.

Posted by
1517 posts

I will weigh in on Sicily: "as much time as you can get." We've spent a total of five weeks there (all on public transportation) and still haven't seen it all - and it is wonderful! Also, because of the distance and, it's more difficult to make a return trip there than to the mainland cities you're considering.

Posted by
17148 posts

What Janet said. I always advise an absolute minimum of 2 weeks with a rental car. I found 17-18 days wasn't enough via public transportation, and I skipped all three of the major Greek ruins (Agrigento, Selinunte and Segesta).

Note, too, that Sicily will probably be very, very hot in June. It was for me.

Posted by
51 posts

hi there!
@ janet and acravan: i hear what you are saying! unlike the other parts of italy i don't have a sense of sicily. i hate to ask but when you have a moment, could you post a breakdown of which cities/towns/site you visited and for how long. if you've done it already, a link will be very welcome. i will be relying solely on public transportation and will be starting in palermo. hopefully i can use it as a hub to visit several locations in west and then move to the east and use catania or siracusa as my next hub. my one must see is agrigento.

Posted by
17148 posts

Rick has recently released his first guidebook to Sicily. I highly recommend it (sight unseen). For additional input you could look for a Lonely Planet and/or Rough guide. Old editions can be found online. There is much that I missed in Sicily.

Nights spent by location, with side-trips indicated:

Catania (6): Piazza Armerina (Villa Romana del Casale)/Caltagirone, Mt Etna/Taormina, Enna
Siracusa (4): Noto/Ispica/Modica, Scicli, Ragusa
Palermo (5): Monreale, Cefalu
Trapani (3): Erice, Egadi Islands
Messina (1): Positioning myself for bus to Puglia

The first day in Catania was wasted because I stupidly took the overnight train from Rome. The miserable, sleepless night meant I slept most of the next day, which of course produced jetlag-like results. I spent two days traveling from Catania into the interior; it would have been better to spend 3 nights there. Catania itself needs no more than one full day. It has a nice cathedral, an attractive historic area, and an interesting food market. Alas, I missed the WWII museum so can't tell you how much time that would call for.

I wished for one more night in Siracusa, because Ortygia (medieval center) is lovely, and I was just snatching an hour here and there to see it. Ragusa was my favorite of the Baroque towns (and the largest), but they're all worth visiting. I liked the archaeological museum and archaeological park in Siracusa, though they might pale for an aficionado after a visit to Agrigento.

Palermo is sight-rich, especially in terms of churches and chapels. Although I'm not religious at all, I went to many because there was a lot of architectural variety; their hours vary a lot. Monreale (just outside town) is an absolute must, and the in-town Capella Palatina is almost as spectacular. There are two good food markets and an archaeological museum. Palermo's a large city with a lot of ground to cover. Cefalu is a former fishing village, now beach resort. A few hours were enough for me, but others like it a lot more and enjoy spending a night or two there.

Trapani is attractive. I regretted devoting a day to the Egadi Islands. They're fine, but who needs uncrowded, sandy beaches when there are so many interesting places in Sicily? The medieval hill town of Erice is fabulous (expect the center to be very touristy during the middle of the day); it's reached by a funicular from an obscure part of Trapani, or there's bus service. I'd say Trapani is skippable, though nice. Erice is pretty special.

Messina has an old cathedral, but it's not really a recommended destination, given all that Sicily has to offer. I only went there to catch a bus to Lecce. I walked around for a couple of hours and nothing made me wish I were staying longer.

Only limited time led me to skip the Aeolian Islands, but who knows--I might have been underwhelmed by them as well.

I needed all the bases I had, and--as I wrote above--would have benefited from having an additional one in the interior. Train service is somewhat limited in Sicily in the sense that there's little service through the interior and the trains tend to be slow and infrequent. I ended up using a lot of buses (Palermo to Trapani is substantially faster by bus, though there is rail service), and they are not fast. There's also little if any town-to-town bus service on Sundays and holidays, so be very careful about that when you outline your itinerary. Also, there are school-day schedules and non-school-day schedules; good luck with that.

I found it not so easy to find Sicilian bus schedules online, so I just went to the bus station in each city, looked at posted schedules, and asked. Don't expect English to be spoken. The schedules obtained on the ground in Sicily seemed generally reliable, but there was one occasion when an extra bus showed up, so I suppose I might have been lucky that none of the ones I wanted went missing.

Posted by
51 posts

@acraven: thank you so much! exactly the kind of information i was looking for!! i am taking an overnight boat from naples. hope i get to sleep. shared cabin with 3 other people! i was thinking of 4 days there but i think i'll make it 5. i am not big fan of archeological artifacts so i'll give those museums a pass. i'll pass on cefalu too, have no need for resorts or beaches! if i go to trapani it will be to go to erice. i think i'll move on to catania, siracusa and the south next. finally i'll leave from messina and head up the heel, as you did, i suppose. i have been to stromboli many times (my ex 's family have a house there) i loved walking around and indulging in photography. very laid back and not much to see per se. climbed the volcano once. didn't go to any of the other islands. by the way, you mentioned ww2. are you a military history enthusiast? i am, especially aviation and modelmaking is a hobby. i plan to visit the arsenale in venice while i am there.

Posted by
17148 posts

I've taken two overnight ferries in Europe, though not the one you're planning to use. I was able to sleep quite well on both of them. Ferries don't make a bunch of stops during the night at noisy train stations, and the sea is usually reasonably smooth. You can't count on that with train tracks--certainly not the ones between Rome and Sicily! Please report on that ferry trip after you return home. It will help future travelers.

I am interested in WWII and Cold War history--not so much military strategy, more civilian issues. But I've found most 20th-century-history museums do a good job of covering both.

If I never see another pot shard it will be fine with me, but I do like mosaics. That's what the Villa Romana del Casale is known for, but it does take time to get there by public transportation from anywhere along the coast. If you're not a big fan and have no interest in any of the other inland sights, it would be reasonable to bypass it. It's interesting, though, to at least traverse the interior of the island. Few tourists go there, and the terrain is quite different from what you'll see if you just hug the coastline.

Edited to add: I fear I have misled you about Cefalu. It has considerable historic architecture. The area I wandered through was heavily devoted to little shops selling beach gear, which put me off despite the historic surroundings. It's entirely possible I missed the best part of town. I had some detailed information about Palermo, but not much about Cefalu, and it's easy to miss good stuff when you are ill-prepared.

Posted by
51 posts

@ aussie: sweet! i am definitely going there then!

Posted by
4538 posts

Alomaker,
How many nights do you plan to spend exploring Sicily?

This was my itinerary:

  • Palermo 4N - day trip to Cefalù & afternoon to Monreale - magnificent mosaics in both cathedrals.

  • Trapani 5N -separate day trips to Segesta, Erice & Favignana

  • Agrigento 2N- Valley of the Temples

  • Piazza Armerina 2N - Villa Romana del Casale.

  • Siracusa (Ortigia) 5N - day trip to Noto

  • Milazzo 1N

  • Lipari 3N

  • Acireale 3N - day trip to Taormina

Here’s my trip report with more detailed information: My trip to Sicily- In Zoe’s memory...

Enjoy!

Posted by
51 posts

@Priscilla: thank you so much for posting your sicily breakdown!! exactly the information i have been looking for. i think between your and acraven's itinerary i should have no problem deciding. i have total of 57 day in italy. i want to spend about 7 days each in venice and rome (including side/day trip). in sicily i am hoping to spend about 15 to 20 days. my interests are art and architecture almost exclusively. no islands (except stromboli - which i might drop by for a day or 2 just to satisfy my nostalgia), beaches or touristy towns. no archeological museums either. my top priorities are the greek sites. love cathedrals, forts, old towns and villages. older the better (that's why i am debating noto). what do you think? seems like you visited pretty much what i intend to. i just started to read your individual trip reports! thanks.

Posted by
51 posts

hello all,
if there is a specific photography sub-forum please let me know. My question is about film photography as opposed to digital photography, while travelling in italy. i am curious to know about the availability of film and processing options. i would think film and processing is available in at least the cities - rome, milan, venice, palermo, florence etc. any information is most welcome, especially where the big/professional businesses might be located. anyone still shooting film or everyone's gone digital? thanks!

Posted by
17148 posts

If you don't get an answer here after a few days, you might try posting the photography question under "General Europe", just in case a few additional people see it there. If still no luck, Google will probably produce results with patience.

Posted by
841 posts

If serious photography is your thing, then the Tre Oci photo gallery on Giudecca in Venice is worth a look. We have visited there half a dozen times, and seen some excellent exhibitions and retrospectives.

It is great to see how a photographer’s “eye” develops over maybe a fifty year period.

Posted by
1517 posts

I can easily tell you which towns we stayed in and where we daytripped. I'd have to dig deeper to tell you how many days we spent in each! First trip: Taormina, Cefalu, Polizzi Generosa, Palermo (visited Monreale), Piazza Armerina, Siracusa (stayed on Ortygia). Second trip: Castellammare del Golfo (visited Scopello), Trapani (visited Segesta, Marsala, Erice), Mazara del Vallo (Castelvetrano/Selinute), Sciacca (Caltabellotta), Agrigento, Ragusa, Noto, Catania, Caltagirone - and then, just across the water - Scilla.

Posted by
51 posts

thank you acraven, aussie and janet for your input!

Posted by
51 posts

hello all,
more thinking and research. i am trying to figure out 'base camps' for my sicily section. i am thinking besides palermo, i would set up in trapani (erice, segasta and possibly selinunte) and siracusa (noto, scicli, modica and ragusa). not sure about catania or enna (armerina, calascibetta and possibly militello, acreide and caltagiorne). what do you think? also, i don't want to spend more than 15 days in sicily. thanks!

Posted by
51 posts

hello all!

this thread's been quiet. another question. should i get travel insurance? the latest news has nothing to do with it. do you get insurance before you travel? cheapest i have found is $120. worth it? thanks.

Posted by
17148 posts

I self-insure for the trip costs because I don't pre-book much, and I avoid non-cancelable hotel rooms unless it's impossible to do so. You can usually get an airline credit for part of your airfare. So the way I usually travel, there's not much on the line. Health concerns are the big risks. My medical insurance covers me overseas. It doesn't cover medical evacuation. While a traveler is unlikely to need that, the cost can be truly catastrophic (way over $100,000) if the need arises--such as after a traffic accident.

I can't see any reason to insure my personal possessions while I'm traveling. I have a high deductible on my homeowner's insurance and am prepared to assume the risk of loss of anything I travel with. The only stuff of significant value would be a smart phone and a tablet computer, neither of them made by Apple.

Posted by
51 posts

hi acraven, thanks! i have a poor high-deductible health plan currently. that's why i am considering additional insurance. i too am not particularly concerned about my personal items. my camera and phone are old and my pad is a surface go. if i have eat bookings so be it.

Posted by
841 posts

You need travel insurance to cover medical costs. We buy insurance with a deductible of about $1000, and self insure for possessions.
But we cannot self insure against catastrophic medical events, evacuation and the like. So we insure, and our insurance for medical is capped at million dollars. That would cover medical evacuation and the like.

Posted by
51 posts

hello all,
i am not going to be panicked by the virus situation and continue to plan. i have purchased my in/out flights and a few journeys in italy already. if governments impose lockdowns/quarantines then i suppose i'll be forced to cancel. hoping things will blow over by june!

A specific question to those who have travelled in sicily. my current thinking is to do a few day trips from palermo then move on to trapani and do a couple of day trips from there. i would go to salinunte for a day, travel to agrigento in the afternoon and stay the night there. perhaps the next afternoon i'll travel to enna and camp there for the night. spend a day or two there. i am uncertain about making my next base camp in catania or carry on to siracusa. finally i would leave from messina for regio calabria. does this route seem reasonable? I have not decided on the time spent in each area but i would like to limit my sicily tour to 15 days or less. what do you all think? thanks.

Posted by
17148 posts

Since I haven't gone to Selinunte or Agrigento, I don't know anything about the transportation links you'll need to make that work. Some Googling of bus City A to City B may be helpful.

I don't think you'll find anyone who doesn't prefer Siracusa to Catania, if that's your question. But Catania does have points of interest: nice outdoor market (if you missed that in Palermo), a neat Duomo, an attractive historic area and a WWII museum (not seen by me). If you want to get up close to Mt. Etna rather than seeing it from the train on your way north as you leave Sicily, Catania's a convenient base for that. You don't have time to see everything on the island, so decide what is most important to you. The world won't end if you have to skip Catania completely. You'll be one among many.

Posted by
51 posts

thanks, arcaven for your reply!

i am not interested in catania except as a 'base camp'. i would rather set up in siracusa as well.

Posted by
51 posts

the last post was on 2/25 but then the world changed. reminds me of the movie title, '28 days later'. well, hope all of you who so kindly answered my questions are safe and sound. i finally just canceled my airline (norwegian) and train (italiarail) bookings and the last 2 airbnb reservations. cancelations went smoothly and norwegian and italiarail were both very proactive with updates and information. i do have a ferry ticket on gnv that i need to deal with next. no updates from them so i will try to navigate their website next. when the time is right again, hope we can all continue on and off the beaten path.