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Planning Assistance for Central and Northern Italy

Showing some optimism, we've begun planning a trip for October. Before we get too far into the process I'm hoping to get some logistical input on a few items.

Our plan calls for flying in and out of Detroit. We'd start our trip in Perugia and then proceed to the following cities, in order: Siena, Bologna, Bolzano, Verona and Bergamo. The length of stay in each is undecided but will be a minimum of 3 nights. We'd then fly to Amsterdam for a day or two and catch a non-stop back to Detroit. We plan to rely on mass transit for all travel, including side trips.

We can fly into Florence for essentially the same price as Rome. Doing so avoids a layover in JFK or CDG and it appears that it would perhaps be easier to get to Perugia from Florence. From my research it sounds like flying out of Florence is better avoided. Aside from the occasional weather diversion I haven't seen much on arriving there. We would take the people mover from the airport to S.M.N. and then the bus or train to Perugia. Does this seem reasonable?

My other concern is with how Bergamo is fairing. We know they were hit very hard by the pandemic but haven't been able to find much on how the city is doing. Would it be too soon to visit?

Your input will be appreciated.

Posted by
1522 posts

Hi Phrank from (NW Ohio),

Are you flying directly into Amsterdam from Detroit then take a connecting flight to Florence Italy? I see online that there are direct non-stop flights from Detroit to Amsterdam; that would make the most sense since you are planning to spend a day or two in Amsterdam before returning to the states. From the list of cities you plan to visit on your Tuscan adventure, instead of allocating 3 nights to each city where you have to pack and unpack after a few days, why not base yourself in a central city and do day trips to the choices you listed. It will give you more time to explore the region. For example, you can used Verona as one of your bases and do day trips to Bergamo and Bolzano. Logistically, these cities are not that far apart. You can use Siena as a second base and day trip to Bologna after leaving Perugia.

As far as the state of Bergamo regarding the pandemic, you just have to monitor the situation and CDC guidelines traveling abroad. Hopefully cases will reduced as many people will already be vaccinated by the time you plan to travel. Here is a link you can check periodically regarding Covid impact in the Tuscan towns.

https://www.visittuscany.com/en/coronavirus/index.html

Take care,
RJean

Posted by
104 posts

RJean - Thanks for your reply.

There is a bit of method to my madness when choosing to end in Amsterdam rather than begin there. Doing so seems to make the most sense for progressing from one city to the next and lets us end close to a major airport (MXP).

We actually plan to spend more time in most of the cities. We like to spend time in a location to soak in as much of the local flavor as possible. We will take a few day trips from Siena and Bologna (two of our favorite places) and also at least visit Spello from Perugia. We had a car on our last visit to Umbria and visited other towns.

My big concerns are the advisability of flying into Florence and how Bergamo is fairing with regard to supporting tourists, i.e. are restaurants, lodging, shops, etc opening back up.

Posted by
5709 posts

Here are the final paragraphs of an article that was published yesterday in the NY Times about Bergamo (but of course October is nearly a year away):

“In July in Piazza Pontida, where “We Are Bergamo” signs hung defiantly from the buildings, Roberta Pedretti, 52, went out for an aperitif with other nurses with whom she had become close during the trench warfare of the crisis.

“She looked around at the people filling the bars and restaurants.

““Bergamo is trying to come back but it’s full of fear,” she said then. “It saw too many cadavers. It can’t be like before.”

“In the autumn, cases exploded again, and in November a curfew snuffed out Bergamo’s flickers of social life.

“The funicular railway and the winding staircase that led up to the medieval hilltop town were both deserted. The restaurants were closed. Patrol cars threw blue siren light on the stone walls as they monitored the streets for gatherings.

The “We Are Bergamo” signs had turned weather-beaten and torn. “

Posted by
1801 posts

Personal opinion only here, but you might want to rethink your itinerary to make getting around a little easier. There's no easy way (or at least a semi-direct way) to get from Perugia to Siena without doubling back towards Florence (or Empoli), for example. The train journey requires at least a couple of changes and generally will take you much of a day to accomplish. I see a couple of other connections that fall into the same category.
Better (IMO) to preview your prospective connections using the Trenitalia App https://www.trenitalia.com/it.html to ensure that you know what you'll be getting yourself into before you commit to a specific plan. As it stands now your destinations are so far flung that you may wind up spending a lot more time on the train connecting the various towns than you anticipated, and given the limited amount of time you have all of that time in transit might be put to better use with a more compact ininerary.

Posted by
104 posts

Robert - thank you for your input. Perugia was originally left off of our list just for the reason you give. I have spent time looking at the Trenitalia site with an eye towards keeping trips under 3 hours as long as we can get to the next town in the early afternoon. My thinking is that we would want to be able to check into our lodging when we arrive so we can drop our luggage asap. So, Perugia may well be cut. I know that Siena adds a good bit of complication but we love the city and this is probably our last trip to Italy.

Thanks again for your thoughts. More agenda tightening is in order.

Posted by
1833 posts
  1. The direct link to the English version of trenitalia.com is www.trenitalia.com/en.html
  2. Train schedules are updated twice an year, on December 13 and June 12. The current schedules are reduced because of Covid, so you can't check today's timetable to get an idea of the train service in October 2021. There seems to be more direct trains from Florence to Perugia than from Rome to Perugia, but it takes almost the same time: 2 hours and something.
  3. Aside from the melodramatic tone typical of NYT's articles, I can't get why Bergamo's shops and restaurants should be closed in October 2021 when they were open in July 2020. The number of cases will be down to July's level in a couple of months; if not, if no vaccine actually worked and in October 2021 Bergamo will still be in lock-down with shops and restaurants closed... I'm afraid that flying into Europe will be a bigger problem than departing from Italy.
  4. There is no People Mover at Florence airport, there is a tramway. The People Mover runs from Pisa's airport to Pisa Central station.
  5. Milan's Linate airport is 50 minutes away from Bergamo, less than 2 hours from Verona.

If I were you I'd drive from Rome's airport to Perugia and then from Perugia to Siena; you can easily drop the car at the bottom of the hill in Siena. Then, after Siena you'd better use trains and buses.

Posted by
17630 posts

As noted, this is not a good time to do a deep dive into transportation schedules, but I wonder whether, once the pandemic abates, there might not be bus service between Siena and Perugia. Given the awkwardness of the train routing, I'd think there would be some demand for a bus alternative.

Posted by
104 posts

Thanks for the insights Dario. I've been using the Tranitalia app just for general ideas as to when trains run and the travel times.

ACraven - in my reading I'm pretty certain that pre-pandemic there was a bus between Siena and Perugia that ran a couple of times a day.

Posted by
595 posts

We've travelled around Umbria using the train and a car on separate trips. Taking the train works but takes more planning and reduces flexibility. With a car you get to leave and arrive when you want. There is (or at least was) a car rental agency right at the Perugia train station where we picked up a car we had reserved from the States, and parked down below the town. So perhaps you'd want to use a car for Perugia and Siena, then drop it off in Florence and take the hi-speed train to Bologna.

Perugia is a charming city. A bit larger than many hilltowns, it was fun to wander around and dine outside on the large square (perhaps less common when you'll be there in October). We used it as a base to explore the region.

Perugia is also a regional bus hub, but I'd be a bit leery of depending on the inter-city bus system to get around Umbria unless you speak Italian (clerks may not speak English, or in some hill towns you buy tickets at the local tabacchi) and/or are tolerant of ambiguity. While anyone is welcome to ride, the bus system is geared towards locals going to work or school. Service times reflect that, as do frequent cancellations based on holidays.

Posted by
1801 posts

If you're open to renting a car for at least a portion of your trip that would simplify the logistics a bit and open up some interesting possibilities for you. The drive from Perugia to Siena is relatively short and scenic, especially if you elect to make a meandering day of it and drive thru the Val D'Orcia. I might even suggest taking a day from Siena, since you're been there, and stop one night in either Montepulciano or Pienza in order to give yourselves plenty of time to explore one of Italy's most scenic areas.
Likewise the drive north from Siena to Florence could be an all day excursion via the very pretty Chiantigiana (SR222 on the map), another of central Italy's prettiest drives with inviting stops along the way for lunch, a coffee, or just a stretch of the legs.
Driving in rural Tuscany and Umbria is a joy, though you need to do some homework beforehand to avoid running afoul of the local ZTL's in some of the hill towns.
Even if you just want to expedite getting from Perugia to Siena it might still be preferable to rent a car for a day for the scenic drive, then drop it in Siena near the train station and be done with it.