Spring in Italy- Pre-Book? Itinerary?

I just pulled the trigger on a trip to Italy with my wife. She has never been and I am seeing it again after 35 years. We will be in Italy for 13 nights, arriving and and leaving from Rome in late March early April 2014. (an open jaw from Venice just could not be worked out using my miles to buy the flight). So, a few questions. 1. I was thinking of just booking the first few nights in Rome and maybe the last night in Rome. (Our flight out is 6:45pm but I thought we could train back from Venice one day early to prevent any potential mishaps) What are your thoughts on not pre-booking hotels for the rest of our stay? I'm thinking since we are there late March early April, it should be a problem and it would give us ultimate flexibility. 2. My thoughts on an itinerary are 4 nights in Rome, and 3 nights in Florence 3 in Venice and 3 in either the Amalfi Coast (more likely) or Tuscany region. If we do the 3 nights in Amalfi, then we could do a day trip by bus to somewhere in the Tuscany region. 3. What are your thoughts on B&B's vs small boutique or family owned hotels? I have 7 months to plan. We are not "beach people". I plan on using the trains from place to place. (maybe rent a car for a day or two here or there if needed) I don't plan on participating in a tour, but am not adverse to paying "tour guides" in particular locations. I am using a number of websites and videos to brush up on all the tips and tricks to make this a great 30th anniversary celebration, vacation.

Posted by Swan
Napa, CA
2858 posts

Your trip is in March next year? If so, you can probably travel without advance reservations. If your trip is in the late spring, summer, or early fall, it would probably be a good idea to reserve in advance. When traveling if the "off" season, it works to make reservations a day or two in advance as you travel. I've arrived at a hotel without reservation about 10 or 11am and engaged a room for that night. Sometimes I've phoned a day or two in advance.

Posted by Laurel
Rome, Italy
2198 posts

Bravo Michael! We did the RT to/from Rome once before we moved. I would advise going to a distant point the first day and working your way back. You can rest on the train to Venice, for example, and get on local time quickly. This works if you are landing at FCO fairly early in the day, which most flights from the States do. So you might organize as follows Landing Day 1/Night 1: Leonardo Express to Termini, then FrecciaRossa to Venice. You can nap a bit on teh train, check in, take a walk, stay up until 21:00 or so, and be more-or-less on local time by the morning. Nights 2 & 3: Venice Nights 4-5-6: Florence (If you are art museum people, other wise make this 2 nights and add a night to Venice.)
Nights 7-8-9: Tuscan hill town like Cortona, Montalcino or Montepulciano. Rent a car for this portion Nights 10-11-12-13: Rome Amalfi is not within reach, IMHO, with 13 nights. It is VERY far from Tuscany and takes 3 hours minimum to travel from Rome to Naples to Sorrento to Amalfi. (I think this is what you referenced. Forgive me if I misunderstood your intentions.) This itinerary prevents that dreaded one-night-before-we-fly which is a waste. You wrap up in Rome and can take a cab for €48 to FCO in time for your evening flight. We stay in B&Bs, apartments (thru VRBO.com), and small family hotels, never a big brand name chain. It's much more personal, usually less expensive. I always reserve well in advance because I am very picky about where we stay, type of room, location. I don't want to spend travel time working on reservations.

Posted by Laurel
Rome, Italy
2198 posts

Continued.... I also like to take some tours with guides. Tours By Roberto, for example,. does a great wine tour in Tuscany. Walks of Italy is wonderful in Rome for the Vatican, especially the Pristine Sistine Tour. I can recommend Francesca Caruso or Sonia Tavoletta for Ancient Rome: the Colosseo, Palatino and Foro Romano. I also highly recommend the Books "24 Great Walks in Rome" and "24 Great Walks in Venice" for self-guided tours. They will get you into unique locales. Have fun planning!

Posted by Carol
Martinez, CA, USA
517 posts

If you could work an open jaw flight, flying into Venice and out of Rome it would save you one day. You could have 3 nights in Venice, 3 in Florence, 3 in Amalfi area, and 4 in Rome. We did a similar trip 2 yrs ago in March using public transportation (Venice, Ravenna, Sorrento, Naples, Rome). We had previously visited Siena, Florence, and Rome. We always prebook our hotels so can't help you there. Amalfi is south of Rome and far from Florence and Venice. Is the order of the towns in your point 2 the order you plan? It's a bit confusing since you also say you will leave Venice one day early to get back to Rome. We try to plan our trips to avoid doubling back and spending more time than needed on trains. Maybe you could clarify your itinerary. As to B&Bs vs family owned hotels - we have found that many B&Bs are family run and there's often not much difference between a small family owned hotel and places called B&Bs. We use booking.com and tripadvisor.com. The descriptions and reviews are very helpful in deciding where to stay. Have fun planning and travelling!

Posted by Chani
Tel Aviv
3505 posts

I would definitely start in Venice, either by train from Rome, or better with open-jaw flights. When you factor in the cost of the train plus the loss of time in "back-tracking" open-jaw is probably worth it. Count days, not nights. You'll have not much more than half a day at the end. You'll need about 4 hours to the airport: back to the hotel to pick up luggage and get to the train station, train to the airport, security and check-in. . .
It can take a long time to get to the train in Venice. It's small, but transportation is slow. A 2-hour train trip eats up 4 hours or more. Venice is the best place to start, easy to get over jetlag while riding up and down the Grand Canal, eating gelato and soaking up the special atmosphere. 2 full days.

Posted by Chani
Tel Aviv
3505 posts

I think the Amalfi Coast is to far for your trip. You'll use up more than 1/2 day in each direction from Rome. I love Verona. It's a good place for one night between Venice and Florence, or you can go early in the morning, leave your bags at the station, and then head to Florence in the evening. There's certainly enough to see to warrant spending 1-1/2 days, and it's so lovely at night. Florence is a mecca for lovers of Renaissance art (especially sculpture) and architecture. If that's not a big attraction for you, one day in the city is enough - easy to do as a day trip from Siena, for instance. If it does appeal to you, 2 full days is a minimum, 3 is still not enough. If you are still in need of another stop, consider Orvieto. If you are bargain-hunting, then whether you reserve or not, you should do your homework now and have a list of potential places to stay before you leave. The only place a car would possibly be useful is if you are spending a few days in Tuscany but not in Florence. Several friends of mine have had great success with renting at a villa in the country and using a rental car to get around.

Posted by Michael
Eagle River, Alaska, United States
10 posts

Thanks. Sorry I wasn't clear on a few things I wrote. (I subsequently edited the post). We are unable to do an open jaw. Unfortunately we have a bad 6 hr layover in london on our way over so we arrive in Rome at 10pm. I we will have been traveling over 21 hrs by arrival so I don't think we will be ready to jump on a train to Venice right away, although it did cross my mind. As far as adding Amalfi, I figured doing it from Rome, not Florence. What I meant, (again poorly worded) was we could get in a day trip from Venice into the Tuscany region and therefore see Amalfi and a bit of Tuscany. We would head South from Rome to amalfi and then from Amalfi to Florence, or possibly in reverse if we headed to Venice first. So, lets try this: Night 1 Rome- Day 1- Walk around Rome first day. Night 2 Rome - Day 2 site see ruins Leave for Venice evening day 2 Night 3,4 5 Venice Night 6,7,8 Florence While in Florence take day trip to somewhere in Tuscany region, either SAN GIMIGNANO, SIENA & CHIANTI or Pisa Train to Naples. day 8. Nights 9,10,11 in Amalfie/Naples Area Back to Rome morning 11 Rest of day in Rome
Night 12,13 in Rome. do Vatican Leave Rome 6:45pm day 13 by the way, we fly to London and spend 3 nights in London before heading back (two full days) How does that sound?

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
17738 posts

Michael, Your second post was "somewhat" more clear, but I have a few thoughts. I've arranged it in a different format, as it's easier for me. D1 - Depart U.S. D2 - Arrive London; 6H layover; flight to Rome; arrive Rome at 22:00
(Take Leonardo Express into city, 35 minutes - DON'T forget to validate tickets - you likely won't arrive until about midnight so that will be it for the day) D3 - Rome D4 - Rome D5 - Train to Venice (leave after breakfast so you have time to check-in to the hotel and do a bit of touring) D6 - Venice D7 - Venice D8 - Train to Florence (after breakfast?) D9 - Florence (reservations advisable for Uffizi & Accademia if you plan on those) D10 - Florence - day trip to Siena (use BUS as the trip is very easy) D11 - Train to Naples (depending on what you plan to see in that area, I'd suggest using Sorrento as a "home base" - you can take a day trip to Naples) D12 - Sorrento? D13 - Sorrento? D14 - Train to Rome D15 - Rome D16 - Flight to London D17 - London D18 - London D19 - Flight to U.S. I realize this version has more days than you listed. I suspect you may have to reduce time in some destinations to make it all work. I'd HIGHLY recommend picking up a copy of the RS Italy 2014 Guidebook, which will be released on 24 October. There's an enormous amount of information there, including hotels, restaurants, sightseeing and transportation, which will help your trip go smoothly. I'd suggest pre-booking accommodations, even at that time of the year. That way you won't have to wander around (which is a waste of touring time), and will have greater choice of the location and price range. Good luck with your planning!

Posted by Sherry
San Jose, CA
1139 posts

A really good option for tour guides in most of the cities you mention is Context Travel. I'd suggest you take a look at their website. I've used them in multiple cities and always had good experiences. Their groups are almost always limited to 6 and will go with fewer. The guides are entertaining and academically well qualified for the tours they lead. And because the groups are so small, they can adapt to group interests. Given the time you have available, I'd drop Amalfi (distance) and spend those days exploring Tuscany or Umbria. FYI, Orvieto is a great hill town an hour from Rome by train. And there are lots of wonderful options from Florence. You might also consider adding those days to Venice and then do some day trips from there (eg, Padua or Verona).

Posted by Michael
Eagle River, Alaska, United States
10 posts

Thanks Ken and Sherry, Ken, you are only off by one extra day. How about this thought. We spend our first night at the Rome Hilton Airport Hotel which is accessible by moving walkway from the Airport. Then, after a good nights sleep, we get up early and take a train to either Venice or to Naples. If we do Naples, then we go Naples (Sorrento)>Venice>Florence>Rome or We get the morning train to Venice and do Venice>Florence>Naples(Sorrento)>Rome. Here is a possible itinerary I have come up with based on some input and a new idea of my own. D1 - Depart U.S. D2 - Arrive London; 6H layover; flight to Rome; arrive Rome at 22:00
Spend the night at the Hilton Airport Hotel. D3 - Morning Flight to Venice (1hr flight to Venice Arrive Venice 11:15 am Day roaming Venice and over night in Venice Day in Venice, Murano Burano-Overnight Venice D4 - Day in Venice Murano Burano overnight in Venice D5 - Day Lv early for Florence (reservations advisable for Uffizi & Accademia if you plan on those) overnight Florence D6 - Day in Florence overnight in Florence D7 - Day in Florence D8 - trip from Florence to Pisa Leave Florence HST to Naples Overnight Naples D9 - Naples to Sorrento and over night D10 - Sorrento day, Overnight in Sorrento D11 - Morning back to Naples train to Rome Rome Overnight D12 - Rome day Overnight Rome D13 - Rome Day Overnight Rome D14 - Rome Day overnight Rome D15 - Rome Morning Early evening Flight to London D16 - London D17 - London D18 - Flight to U.S. Thoughts? Sherry, those tours look interesting. Thoughts? Sherry, those tours look interesting.

Posted by Michael
Seattle, WA, USA
5737 posts

Just to answer your #3 (3. What are your thoughts on B&B's vs small boutique or family owned hotels?), there's very little difference if the hotel is truly small (as in fewer than 10 rooms).

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
17738 posts

Michael, That's looking better, but I'd have to give it some thought. One thing that stands out are your plans for Day 2 & 3. I always try to avoid the usual airport hassles if at all possible, so would prefer to travel by train from Rome to Venice. It's a much more relaxing and pleasant experience, especially on the Freccia high speed trains that travel at 300 kMH. The one hour flight to Venice will actually be much longer by the time you include check-in, security, waiting times, boarding and de-planing, collecting luggage and then travel from the airport in Venice into the city. In contrast, the 3H:45M train trip will likely be quicker and certainly a nicer trip. In the same situation, I'd book a hotel in Rome and tell them that I'll be a "late arrival" and press-on directly into Rome. There are good hotels in the vicinity of Termini station, so it will be an easy walk to reach the station for the trip to Venice. I'd get a good night's sleep and then head for Venice in the morning after breakfast (since you'll probably be paying for breakfast). If you prefer the other method, go for it. If I can think of further suggestions, I'll post another reply. Cheers!

Posted by Michael
Eagle River, Alaska, United States
10 posts

Thanks Ken. My wife would certainly prefer to take the train. I just wonder if it still might be worthwhile to sleep at the Airport Hilton and get a morning train from there to the Rome Train station to take the high speed train to Venice instead of going from the Airport at 11:00 pm to Rome Central.

Posted by Angela
Vancouver, Wa, Usa
233 posts

How about taking a night train from Rome to Venice? It gives you an extra day of sight seeing, and saves you one night lodging.

Posted by Michael
Eagle River, Alaska, United States
10 posts

Thanks for the thought, but we will have just finished traveling for for almost 24 hours. I think we will need a bed

Posted by Kim
Paris
541 posts

I just worry that late March/early April may be too early in the year for the Amalfi Coast, and you may find lots of things closed (I realize I'm talking to someone from Alaska here, so it's not like I don't think you could handle the temperatures!). My friend went a couple of years ago in April and was a bit disappointed with the closures. I've never been there at that time of year -- anyone else out there have any insight?

Posted by Chani
Tel Aviv
3505 posts

Hi Michael, Pisa There's not much except the cathedral campus. The baptistry is great, the church is very nice and the tower really leans a lot. Unless it is a childhood dream to climb the tower, it's a long way to go - an hour or more on the train each way. Siena's a much better day trip, different from your other destinations. Or just use the time in Florence, Rome or Sorrento. Naples/Sorrento Consider going straight from Florence to Sorrento. Take an early train from Sorrento, check your bags at the station, spend the day in Naples and take a late train to Rome. That will save you one hotel change.

Posted by Michael
Eagle River, Alaska, United States
10 posts

Thank you Chani. Those sound like good suggestions. With 7 months to plan, I am already starting to feel like I am starting to get a handle on it. Now I just have to confirm with my significant other whether she wants to spend the extra 3 nights in the Tuscany region or the Amalfi Coast, like I show on the itinerary. I also have to figure out about the pre-booking of hotel stays in between the first couple of nights and the last night. For instance, when we get to Venice, maybe we feel we have seen what we want after two nights, and want to head south early or can't get enough and want to stay longer. From what I've heard so far, this shouldn't be a problem at this time of year. (late march early april) Thanks again for your input.

Posted by George
Towson
104 posts

Hi Michael - Four years ago we did 3 nights Rome, 2 nights Florence, 3 nights Venice, 3 nights Sorrento, 3 nights Rome in late May\early June, all inter-city travel by train. It was a bit of a grind but worth it for us. We had our reasons for splitting Rome in two the way we did, and all four regions were must see. If I had it to do over again (which may happen next year) I'd probably spring for 2 - 3 more nights to do it at a more leisurely pace. On Amalfi vs Tuscany - Amalfi\Sorrento\Capri is so spectacular and different from the other three places you are visiting that I would pick them over Tuscany. I agonized over this decision when planning our itinerary. In the end I decided I would regret it if I skipped Amalfi. It turns out this was the right decision. That was the favorite part of the trip for my daughter for whom the trip was a gift. :)

Posted by Chani
Tel Aviv
3505 posts

I was in Sorrento in February last year, all the shops and restaurants were open. The elevator from the town center down to the seashore was closed. There were more locals in the restaurants and the streets than there were tourists. I didn't go to Positano or Ravello, my interest on that trip was Pompeii and Ercolano.

Posted by Sean
New York
148 posts

I think it's a tease to go to a beach-town in the dead of winter! I would save the Amalfi Coast for a summer trip.

Posted by Michael
Eagle River, Alaska, United States
10 posts

For me, weather in the 50's and 60's IS Summer! Plus, we aren't beach people.

Posted by Kim
Paris
541 posts

Again,for you all I wouldn't think the temperature would be a problem,more a lack of restaurants, hotels,and other things to choose from. In addition, the ferry schedules may be reduced (in fact I'm pretty sure they are); don't know about the buses. I'm not saying definitely don't go there at that time, but do research ahead of time so you can make an informed decision based on what will be available on the dates you'll be there.

Posted by Linda
Bromley, Kent,, UK
1631 posts

The back end of March is one of the times we holiday in Sorrento. Although enough hotels and restos are open the place does not really get going until Easter (April 18 in 2014). We have had, on occasion, trouble getting our first choice accom so unless you are not too fussed about where you stay I would book ahead. Also be prepared for sea crossing cancelations, we have had some high winds during our stays. There are only boat services to Capri and Naples in operation at that time of year.

Posted by Michael
Eagle River, Alaska, United States
10 posts

Thank you Kim, Linda and Chani. We are not "picky" about hotels, or restaurants. I usually look for small family owned B&B's or hotels. My main interest in the Amalfie coast over Tuscany region as an option for 2-3 days was to see the unusual and beautiful ways the homes are set upon the mountainside and the colors. We have also been told not to miss Pompei. Getting around the area and lousy weather (not temps) would certainly be a cause for concern. I understand there are buses that go from town to town and are quite fun and interesting to see as they drive the narrow roads. My bias towards the Amalfi coast vs Tuscany is that my original impression (which may be wrong) is the beauty of the Tuscany region is based on its landscapes. Being from Alaska, I am somewhat jaded as far as beautiful landscapes go. I am also not "into" visiting wineries, although I won't turn down a good glass. Keep the input coming. It is really appreciated. I just got a bag full of books and DVDs from a friend (includes steves dvd's and europe books), but have not had a chance to view them yet.

Posted by Chani
Tel Aviv
3505 posts

Pompeii is easy from Sorrento. The train stops just a few meters from the site entrance. I enjoyed listening to Rick's audio guide of Pompeii - he hits most of the highlights with a few odd bits of information that you probably won't get elsewhere. One of the best parts for me was the Villa dei Misteri. You have to walk out the town gate and a bit farther to get there, interesting walk and well worth the time. OTOH I was told that there's not much to see at the amphitheater at it's also far from the main part of the site, so I skipped it. There is, however, a fine theatre. Whether you spend a day in Naples or not, do try to get to the National Archaeology Museum. The RS Italy book has clear instructions on how to get there from the train station. Most of the art work from the Vesuvian towns is there, and don't miss the adults' only section. Friends told me the best way to see Positano is to take the somewhat hair-raising bus ride from Sorrento to the top, then work your way down to the sea and take the ferry back to Sorrento. I'm going to do that, next time. . . In Sorrento I stayed at a lovely B&B, Magi House. They have 2 rooms and I stayed in both - had to switch in the middle due to a last-minute schedule change (and 3 'apts' too). They have winter rates through April 1, and the early April rates aren't bad either. Both rooms were really charming and the service was more than excellent. I would be happy to share more info and photos too, if you PM me. The cheaper room had a lovely large lavender tile bathroom.

Posted by donna
roswell, ga, usa
996 posts

In all honesty, with your flight over, I'd definitely overnight at the Airport Hilton. The trip to Naples will be shorter than the one to Florence, AND it's Spring, so will be a little warmer to begin your trip that way. The schedule put together by Ken looks good -- as usual. He's the best with these. Chiani's advice re hotels is always also spot on, and I like her travel-style.