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NEW TO ITALY-just want to eat, drink and explore but first need help!! :)

Hi Italy Experts!

My husband and I (mid/late twenties-active/adventurous) are heading to Italy for the first time in late June and are firming up our Itinerary and plans. We are SO excited and a tiny bit overwhelmed by the endless amounts of information out there. We haven't officially clicked "BOOK" yet on anything so we are open to re-organizing suggestions if you think something would work better. Are there any areas that you recommend shaving a day off of and adding to another region? Or cutting completely?

We would also love to hear any suggestions for must sees & must eats in any of our main areas: Venice, Florence, Cinque Terre, Tuscany, Umbria. We tend to like non-touristy restaurants/authentic "where the locals go to eat" places. We are looking to have a farm-to-table, agriturismo experience in Tuscany/Umbria and would love suggestions on how to make this possible!

Do you recommend any amazing Agrutrismos to stay at, cooking/wine classes to take, towns to visit, etc.? Does it make sense to split Tuscany and Umbria or would one home base suffice?

We're currently planning to rent a car in Siena and drive through Tuscany with little trips to towns. We would then plan to drop the rental car off in Umbria before hoping on a train to Rome to fly out. Or would we be fine driving our rental car to return it in Rome?

Timing: June 19th (land in Venice)-July 4th (fly out of Rome); 16 days

Current Itinerary:

Day 1-Land in Venice

Day 2-Venice

Day 3-Venice

Day 4-Morning Train To Florence

Day 5-Florence

Day 6-Florence

Day 7-Morning Train to Cinque Terre

Day 8-Cinque Terre

Day 9-Cinque Terre

Day 10-Train to either Florence or Siena to pick up rental car

Day 11-Tuscany

Day 12-Tuscany

Day 13-Tuscany

Day 14-Umbria

Day 15-Umbria

Day 16-Train to Rome; Fly out of Rome back to NY :(

THANK YOU IN ADVANCE!

Kim

Posted by
784 posts

What, no time in Rome!?! Frankly I'd shave some time from the Cinque Terre and put it in Rome. The Cinque Terre are indeed beautiful but 1 night and 2 days can be enough. In late June you might find reservations a bit difficult for some places - so have a plan "B" when you start your hunt. The small hilltop towns of Tuscany are well worth the time and effort. Maybe you could base yourselves in or near Siena and day trip from there (certainly beats packing and unpacking every night). Umbria is my personal favorite - not overrun yet with tourists. Assisi is a very special experience no matter what your religious persuasion. Art, food, views, history (medieval city on top of Roman city on top of Etruscan city), and no air pollution! Orvieto is also high on my list for a day trip. Rome! Romantic, exciting, historical, contemporary and oh so Italian! Venice! You don't look at art here, you wander among it as a participant not a spectator.

Trains are amazing in Italy. Start by looking at schedules (www.trenitalia.it) and notice that there are a variety of fares and speeds to consider. The earlier you book the lower the ticket price - but you have to commit to specific departure times for the cheapest seats. The summer schedule won't be up until probably late May but you'll get a good idea of schedules if you look now.

Can't help you with lodgings - I always stay in the same hotels or rent the same apartments each year. You're in for an amazing time - I bet you start making plans to return before you even get on the plane to go there!

Posted by
3475 posts

If you wish to visit Tuscany from the CT the easiest way is to train to La Spezia, taxi to car rental.
We use kemwel or auto Europe.

Drive to...http://www.borgorapale.it/. This agriturismo is located on the edge of Tuscany and Umbria.
They may have a rental available. If they do, download their PDF it has an immense amount of valuable
information. The family that owns it are wonderful hosts.

Use http://www.rome2rio.com/ for estimates on travel time between locations.

Posted by
784 posts

I almost forgot my favorite subjects: food and wine! Walk around, avoid places that post a"tourist menu", eat after 9pm, gotta wait? it must be good!, loud beats quiet every time, sit outside!!!! and ask the owner to "felice mi fai" (make me happy) and give a euro amount to include house wine (always a good choice). Don't be stingy but 40 euro a person can go a long way! I did that once in Rome and all the other diners started ordering their favorites for me to try in small (?) portions. Dinner becomes a party, strangers become friends, other tourists are heard to say "we should have ordered what he ordered." Be adventurous!!!! And plan on being there for quite a while. Be picky because it is possible to get a bad meal - those are the places where everyone is speaking English and it really looks dull. Get off the main tourist path!

If it was really good - go back the next night and you'll be welcomed as family. Gotta stop - this is making me hungry! Enjoy your trip!

Posted by
11983 posts

First and foremost it makes no sense to take the train from the Cinque Terre all the way back to Florence or Siena (which entails 3 separate trains) to pick up a rental car. The most logical choice is to pick up the car in La Spezia, next to the Cinque Terre, and drive from there.

Your plan looks good otherwise, however I'm also surprised you don't want to spend at least 3 nights in Rome. For someone who is new to Italy 3 nights in Rone are a must, especially since you are flying back home from there. See if your boss gives you 3 extra vacation days for Rome and your trip will be perfect

Posted by
7124 posts

I think you may regret not at least seeing the highlights of Rome. Spend the last 2 nights perhaps.
Day 13 - Orvieto
Day 14,15 - Rome

Posted by
14036 posts

I give you permission to skip Rome. I didn't visit Rome on my first trip to Italy and I had a great time. On my last visit, I also skipped Rome, spent my last days in Orvieto, took the train to Rome (Termini) and then the Leonardo Express to the airport. You need to allow about 15 minutes in Termini to get from train to train. The Leonardo runs twice an hour. Buy your tickets for the Leonardo in Orvieto to save time in transfer. Allow 3 hours at the airport. So whether you spend your last night in Orvieto or Rome may depend on the time of your flight home.

Posted by
1054 posts

I'd say skip Florence all together and add Rome in it's place. Train from Venice to CT, then after CT grab your rental car in La Spezia and drive south east thru tuscany (staying in Siena) and bypass Florence sights.

Posted by
1804 posts

I'm with Chani on this one. A visit to Rome is not mandatory on one's first trip to Italy. We too put off Rome until our second trip, and haven't returned on subsequent trips.

However, are you really planning to return to Rome and fly back to NY on the same day? Make sure you have allowed enough time at the airport (some people suggest 3 hours). Unless your flight leaves in the afternoon, it might actually be more prudent to spend your last night in Rome. And in this case, I'd recommend returning to Rome in the morning of Day 15, so you can get a little taste of the city.

Also, are you aware that changes are underway to limit the number of visitors to Cinque Terre? Read the current thread in the Italy forum for details.

And finally, regarding agriturismos, it seems that the search function on this site is working better, so you might find help there. Or look on Trip Advisor/Booking.com for reviews and suggestions.

Posted by
40 posts

Kim, with what little experience I have I would say that the itinerary change that David offers for day 13, 14 and 15 is spot on. Orvieto in Umbria is wonderful and not too far is the incredible Civita di Bagnorigio (sp?) Just getting up to that little hill town is an adventure! It seems a shame to be so close to Rome at the end and not spend 2 nights there. Am excited for you!

Posted by
11983 posts

Don't listen to Robert from Tampa.
Skipping Florence to go to Rome would be a huge mistake.
Florence is more beautiful and it has a better soccer team too (Roma even lost today to Real Madrid in the UEFA Champions' league)

Posted by
235 posts

We have been to Italy twice and have yet to make it to Rome. Florence was wonderful! I want to visit again. We stayed at The Hotel Europa, a lovely family run inn, approximately 2 blocks or so from the Duomo. Maybe one day we will make it to Rome. There are endless wonderful trips to Italy, even without Roma.

Posted by
27 posts

Sorry, but I disagree with most of you about Rome. 16 days in Itsly and no Rome?!? I have been to Rome 3 times and haven't tired of it. (It is also my husband's favorite city now.) First time was the Rick Steves Best of Rome tour for a week over 10 years ago, then again for a day or two on two other trips. It is a magnificent city with so much history, churches, great art, fantastic food, etc... Have also been to Tuscany for a week and Venice for 3 days and those were fantastic trips as well. I don't think you can go wrong visiting anywhere in Italy. If You are going to Italy for the first time and have 16 days, I would concentrate on Venice, Florence, central Tuscany/Umbria/Assisi,, and Rome. Then go back and do Milan, Cinque Terre, Pisa and western Tuscany on a second trip.
Just my humble opinion.
Lisa C.

Posted by
7191 posts

Everybody's got their own advice...but CT is worth about 1 night and Florence??? Well you all can have Florence! Seeing the David is my only draw for the vastly over-Americanized city of Florence. Now Rome can be intense and gritty, but I can't imagine being in Italy for so many days and never see the Colosseum, Piazza Navona, St Peter's, etc.

Posted by
784 posts

Wow! So many and so differing ideas for you to consider. For what it is worth I am in Italy for about 2 months and this will be year 13 in a row. I do Florence about every 5th year. Venice every year. Sorrento every other year. Verona every 3 years. BUT seldom less than 2 weeks in Rome EVERY year. And every year is filled with new experiences and friendly old ones. Cinque Terre? Loved it the 2 times I was there but "been there, done that". Watch films, read guides, stay connected here and go with your passion! Italy is sure to fulfill them!

Posted by
14036 posts

Kim, here's the hard truth. There are many great places to visit in Italy and you must choose. Everyone has their favorite towns and many have one or two "been-there-done-that" towns, and sometimes they are the same towns. Not everyone likes the same things. And the time of year (weather, crowds) can make a big difference on how much you enjoy a place. I love Venice, but I've never been there in summer. Anyway, whatever choices you make mean leaving out a lot of other wonderful towns. . . . and that will be true on every subsequent trip to Italy.

It sounds like you've made a plan that appeals to your interests. From the CT to Umbria you don't need trains so you can book the rest (flights, fast trains) and then work more on the details of your second week, which seems to be the main focus of your questions.

Posted by
9454 posts

Chani took the words right off of my fingertips. Go to the places that call to you. If you miss Rome this time, go next time. We skipped Florence for years. It's nice, and we've been three times now but Rome still holds more interest for us. The key thing is not to overfill your trip so you take time to enjoy where you DO go.

I like your plan. Where, though, in Umbria? Day 16 it might be hard to get to Rome in time to fly so check transportation/travel times carefully.

Posted by
2 posts

Wow! I'm blown away by what a helpful and responsive community Rick Steve's has here in these forums!! Seriously, thank you all. All of your responses were great and we appreciate the various opinions and suggestions! I'm so happy one of you suggested the rental car in La Spezia verses the 3 train connections.

Ultimately, we may try to tack on a few nights in Rome. Especially since we're heading there to fly home. I think what steered us away initially, was that we have often heard mixed reviews from friends about Rome. We also live in the center of New York City, so are trying to escape the crowds & big city and really, like I said, seek out that authentic Italian country side lifestyle. But giving some of your comments, and knowing the history & sites that Rome has, we will try to add a night or two in there.

So a few more questions:

  1. Cinque Terre-Do we need 2 ½ days there? Or could we eliminate day 9? I read through many of the forums and noticed a lot of people feel that it's overwhelmed with tourists and can barely move. I wonder if this holds true during the time we're going (late June-July)?

  2. Regarding Tuscany/Umbria--should we split this between two different home bases? Or can we do day trips?

  3. I would LOVE to hear your suggestions for your off the beaten path restaurants that you've stumbled upon, any full day wine/town tours that you did in Tuscany, and any truly special Agurtrismos that you stayed in and often find yourself dreaming about being back to!

THANK YOU AGAIN or should I say MOLTE GRAZIE!
Kim

Posted by
11613 posts

I have a rotation for Italian cities, too, and Roma always gets two weeks, every year, no matter what. If I'm in Italy, I'm in Roma at some point. But, as Laurel and others point out, it's your trip and you seem very level-headed about it. I think that sometimes people have an idea of what a famous city is like, and reality is a little (or a lot) different. Even if you spend just one night in the Centro Storico in Roma before you fly out, you will have a chance to experience some of the monuments and piazze (illuminated at night).

As for traveling between Umbria and Tuscany, it's fairly easy with a car, but there are many interesting places and the two regions are rather large. For one trip, some friends and I spent a few nights in Siena and a few nights in Assisi, and visited two or three towns nearby every day (Roberto would have been so proud of me).

Posted by
44 posts

These days there isn't 'trip of a lifetime' like there use to be. People travel so much more. Most of us have been to Europe more than once and knew when planning our first trip that it wouldn't be our last. I see no reason for people to cram so much into one trip. I personally don't think it is enjoyable rushing place to place just so you can say you went.

I would either take away CT or Tuscany and add Rome.

Venice,Florence, Rome will forever change your soul.

Posted by
101 posts

I'll leave it to others to argue the merits of Rome, but I would suggest reducing the number of stops and adding extra days to each location, especially Venice since your first day will be jet-lag recovery. Don't rush through your first trip. You are young. You will return to Italy. As far as agriturismo/cooking classes, check out Madonna del Piatto near Assissi http://madonnadelpiatto.com/about/ . Letizia and her husband run a wonderful B&B and cooking school. It is well off the beaten path and you will need a car, but it is well worth the effort of searching it out.

Posted by
177 posts

We are headed to Tuscany and the lakes region of Italy for 17 days in May. I feel like there are two kinds of trips you can take: a "hit the highlights" of a country or region or a "live like a local" and explore fewer places in-depth. It can be tough to decide! Both trips have merit and in the end, like Rick says, you have to just remind yourself you will come back because there is never enough time!

Much like what you describe, our goal this trip is to mostly avoid tourists and find great local places to eat. My husband I were both foreign exchange students in our youth and often do home exchanges when we travel so we are all about authentic experiences. I recommend you check out this website: http://littleroadseurope.com/
In fact, if you like their FB page, there was a great post today listing 14 or more of their favorite budget restaurants throughout Italy. And their book on Tuscany is worth buying with lots of vetted suggestions for places to stay. We decided to base ourselves in Pienza at an agroturrismo (gazillions of owner-direct listings on websites) and then at an AirBnB in Lunigiana (less expensive, off the beaten path) and again at Lago Maggiore. (Love AirBnB travel. Such a great way to meet locals.)

Another fun thing you might consider is taking an Italian cooking class. I surfed around online and scheduled a market visit and cooking class in someone's private home outside Florence. Oh! And in the vein of eating with locals, this opportunity to enjoy "home restaurants" looks pretty cool too: https://www.bonappetour.com

Enjoy! It will be fabulous.

Posted by
774 posts

On our first trip to Italy, many years ago, we visited only Florence and Venice and surrounds. We visited southern Italy on our next trip to Italy; it worked for us.

Just because lots of people tell you to visit Rome on this trip, doesn't mean it's the trip for you. I can definitely understand living in NYC and wanting to spend your vacation more in the countryside and/or in smaller cities like Venice and Florence. I find that it feels like there are more tourists in Florence because it's an easier city for bus tours to get to. Because Venice is not suitable for large bus tours, there are fewer large tourist groups wandering around. But because Venice is smaller in size, the areas near San Marco can get jam-packed. But head away from San Marco, and the crowds will melt away.

Posted by
433 posts

Your plan is a great beginning. As you add details you will need to allow for travel time which may change how much useful time you have in each place. For example, you will leave the US on day zero, generally losing a day in transit, depending on when you arrive and how jet lag effects you, your Day 1 in Venice may not give you more than a few hours.

Train to CT also takes much of a day. When we arrived in July it was 40 degrees and our host suggested we not hike over the hill south from Monterosa. It was a hot year and that impacted how much we could accomplish bith there and in Florence.

Live like there is no tomorrow and plan to return :-)

Enjoy the planning and the trip.

P.S. I have not yet been to Rome with three trips which included Northern Italy and this year we will only touch the Aosta Valley. So much to see/do/ski and not enough vacation time!

Posted by
14036 posts

Cinque Terre-Do we need 2 ½ days there? Or could we eliminate day 9? I read through many of the forums and noticed a lot of people feel that it's overwhelmed with tourists and can barely move. I wonder if this holds true during the time we're going (late June-July)?

Yes, it holds true then. It depends somewhat on the cruise ship schedules. These ships bring thousands of tourists to the port, with very limited day tour options (CT, Pisa, Florence usually). That time of year, expect most of the rooms in the CT to be filled, so there will be a goodly number of tourists even without cruisers. Personally, I think 1.5 days is all you need, especially for your itinerary since you will have the opportunity to visit many small towns and villages in Tuscany and Umbria. You may even find that there are alternate places to stay along the coast that aren't as crowded.

Posted by
5215 posts

k you've gotten a lot of good advice here. I'll just add a very general comment. Resist the urge to plan every detail down to the hour - every restaurant, and every museum, every train ticket. Many choices and decisions only become clear when you hit the ground and see the lay of the land. Flexibility makes for a good trip.

Posted by
8 posts

I would ask what your objectives are. Do you want to see big Italy or small Italy. Research and do a combination. Practice some Italian. Live it up with locals and you will be okay wherever you go. I read the other comments from these travelers… you can't miss Rome. Really?