Yet another Italy itinerary advice request this time for 3-4 weeks for an old couple

Yeah, I know. Many of you are probably tired of reading these "help me with my itinerary" messages, but I also know that many, many of you have a whole lot to offer to those of us who have never been to Italy yet! So here's my request, please!

We're in or near our 70s, experienced solo (not with tour group) travelers. We want to spend almost all of this coming September in Italy. It'll be our first trip there, having been to many other parts of the globe. We like history, art, classical music/opera, pretty scenery, some easy day hikes (e.g., Cinque Terre), etc. We have a fair amount of flexibility in how long we spend. We don't want to whiz around seeing Italy from a train window, so settling down in a few key spots for a few days at a time is preferable to "if it's Tuesday this must be Tuscany". We are fine with train travel; we will not consider renting a car. We speak "music Italian" only but we've got time to get a little better than that, and we will.

All that having been said, here is one idea that I've worked out for starters. The segments can be rearranged almost at will, but how about this:

  • day 1 fly to Rome
  • day 2 arrive Rome; rest up
  • days 3-6 Rome (e.g., Vatican, Sistine Chapel, the Caesar shuffle, as Rick calls it, etc.)
  • day 7 move to one of the Tuscan towns (but without driving; is that practical?)
  • day 8 relax in a Tuscan town
  • day 9 move to Florence
  • days 10-11 see Florence; Uffizi, duomo, etc.
  • day 12 move to Pisa and lean over
  • day 13 move to Cinque Terre (or would it work to lean over in Pisa on day 12 and still get to CT?)
  • day 14 see Cinque Terre (maybe add another day here?)
  • day 15 move to Milan, mostly to see the Last Supper (I know we'd have to reserve ASAP)
  • day 16 Milan
  • day 17 move to Venice
  • days 18-20 see Venice
  • day 21 fly home (unless we decide to train back to Rome or Milan dep. on $)

I'm curious if we are cutting off our noses to spite our faces to leave out a day or two around the lakes (Como, etc.), the Dolomites, and possibly also Vesuvius. If we had to add a whole extra week, to "do it right" once we're there, that's not out of the question.

Thoughts, anyone?

Thanks!

Tom

Posted by Roberto
Fremont, CA, USA
3314 posts

If you can you should try to fly to Venice or Milan and fly back from Rome (i.e. do the reverse of your plan, starting North and departing from the South).
Venice (or Milan) airports are far from the city and flight back to North America (I assume you write from there) depart in the morning. Rome airport is just 35 min. from the city center, so it's easier to get to in the early hours. As such it is better to arrive at either Milan or Venice, rather than depart from there.

If you don't have a car, you should base yourself in Florence for Tuscany's travel. A small town as a base is not convenient without a car. Florence is the transportation hub of Tuscany and you can reach smaller places by bus/train from Florence. Siena is also ok as a base for some smaller towns south of Siena (Pienza, Montepulciano, Montalcino).

Pisa is not worth more than a short visit just to see the tower. You can do it as a half day trip from Florence (1hr by train) or on the way from FLorence to the Cinque Terre, since you have to change trains in Pisa. 2hrs in Pisa are more than enough.

Try to spend at least 3 nights (2 full days) in Venice (one day visit Murano and Burano), 4 nights (3 full days) in Rome, 2 nights (1 full day) at Cinque Terre, in Florence spend 3 nights (2 full days) just to visit Florence plus as many nights as day trips you want to take to Tuscan towns and countryside (e.g. Chianti hills).

If you decide to add the Naples area (Naples, Pompeii, Amalfi Coast, Capri, Sorrento, etc) you should spend at least 4 nights (3 full days) there. Do that area before Rome if you fly back from Rome. If you fly back from Rome, your last stop in your itinerary should be Rome.

If you decide to add a lake (Como near Milan or Garda near Verona), you should spend at least 2 or 3 nights there.

If you decide to add the Dolomites (e.g. Val Gardena) you should stay at least 2 or 3 nights, however a car is more efficient to visit that area (there are buses though).

Posted by Sharon
Atlanta
2663 posts

Hi Tom,

Here are some possibilities though I think you have a workable itinerary:

I like that you're spending plenty of time in Rome. You'll have time to see many of the sights without feeling too rushed.

For Day 7, you could easily take the train to Orvieto--it's in Umbria rather than Tuscany but it's a lovely hill town and an easy train ride from Rome.

One night stays are a bit challenging on a relaxed itinerary--you could save Pisa for another trip and add it to Florence or Cinque Terre.

Could you squeeze in an additional night for Cinque Terre? That would be best, I think.

It depends on how much you want to see The Last Supper but you could skip Milan and add Verona or more time in Venice. As Roberto suggested, fly home from Venice if you can.

Save the rest for your next trip to Italy!

Posted by Zoe
Toledo, Ohio, US
2465 posts

Sounds like a great trip. I avoid one-night stays when possible. I agree that Pisa can be a half-day trip. If you want to see Leonardo's Last Supper in Milano, do it. There are some other sight there, too: the Castello Sforzesco, the Brera Gallery, and the Duomo (you can take an elevator to the rooftop and hang out with the gargoyles).

If you have a chance, check the events calendar in Lucca (Puccini's hometown) or Parma for opera or concert performances that are in smaller venues/smaller cities.

Roberto is right about flying into Milan or Venice and out of Rome (after the Amalfi Coast if that makes the cut).

Posted by Sherry
Campbell River, Canada
198 posts

Hi Tom, Just wanted to add my recommendation to start in Venice or 1st night in Milan with the Last Supper viewing and then on to Venice. My reasons include the early departures from Marco Polo airport VCE and we also like to start with the dates when the weather should be warm in the north then travel south as the month goes on where the weather is still very warm in early October. If you can stretch to one more week I would add in 2-3 nights in the Dolomites (from Venice) and 4 nights in Sorrento as a base to experience the Amalfi coast and the Pompeii excavations. When we travelled to Italy in the spring, we started in Rome and worked our way north. Have a great trip.

Posted by Tom
Easley, SC, USA
268 posts

Thank you, everyone, for these great suggestions!

I did some more reading after posting the original itinerary. I found out how much fun it'd be to walk around the Dolomites for a day (at least). I also found out it'd be fun to use Sorrento as a base for visiting Pompeii and taking a bus ride (if my heart can take it!) to Sorento, for the views from the bus window!

I'm delighted to read so many of you adding your reinforcement to these ideas, and also for confirming some of my initial guesses at how long to spend in each place, etc.

So my latest revision has us flying straight to Venice (3 nts), and then, in this order, Castlerotto (2 nts; a full day for easy hikes); Milan (3 nts, Last Supper, etc.); Cinque Terre (3 nts; at least two full days for easy hikes); Pisa en route to Florence (4 nts); some Tuscan town from Florence, possibly en route to Rome; Rome (3 nts, 3 full days); Sorrento (3 nts; Pompeii, Salerno day trips); back to Rome overnight for flight home from there.

My questions now: Would only one full day in Milan be enough, since seeing the Last Supper by itself takes a short time once scheduled? I'm inclined to think it would be. Depending on travel times from Castlerotto, we'd have part of the day we'd make that trip, plus the time the next day before and after whenever we see the Last Supper.

If we plan on spending the better part of a full day at the Uffizi alone, would two more full days in Florence be right, or would one more be enough? Eventually, even I have too much art for one trip!

Could we see Tuscan countryside scenery (rather than just walking around another small-medium town) simply by taking the train or buses over the right routes as we move from Florence to Rome?

Thanks again, everyone.

Tom

Posted by Laurel
Rome, Italy
2198 posts

Hi Tom! First let me say, you are not old! Many of us are over 60 and still going strong! You are going to have such a wonderful trip! as to your most recent questions...
Would only one full day in Milan be enough, since seeing the Last Supper by itself takes a short time once scheduled? - Yes, absolutely! Get that Last Supper reservation as soon as you can and make it and the Duomo your Milan itinerary, then move on.
If we plan on spending the better part of a full day at the Uffizi alone, would two more full days in Florence be right, or would one more be enough? - Yes. I'd be hard-pressed to think you could spend more than 3 hours in the Uffizi. We went to Firenze recently and saw five museums in 2 days. That was ENOUGH.
Could we see Tuscan countryside scenery (rather than just walking around another small-medium town) simply by taking the train or buses over the right routes as we move from Florence to Rome? - Unfortunately no. It's a pretty trip but not the best of Tuscany. But while in Firenze, you could take a day tour of Chianti, for example, and see some countryside while someone else drives. We liked Tours By Roberto out of Siena, but I am sure there are others.

I see you plan on Castelrotto and the Dolomites. We LOVE the Alpe di Siusi and the Val Gardena. Add one more night there if you can. You will be sorry to leave. You can spend one day kicking around the Alpe di Siusi and another taking a bus to Ortisei, where you can ride the funicular up to Raciesa where there is a fabulous easy hike on the other side of the valley. For inspiration, you can read about our experience here.

Buon viaggio!

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
17738 posts

Tom,

It sounds like your plans are starting to get sorted. A few thoughts on each of the places you'll be visiting.....

  • Venice - 3 nights should provide enough time to cover the main sites.
  • Castelrotto - I'd suggest adding 1 night, since it's going to take about 6 hours to get there. You'll first travel by train to Bolzano and then take the Bus to Castelrotto. Three nights would be better as there's LOTS of hiking opportunities in that area.
  • Milan - I'd drop one night, as two should be adequate.
  • Cinque Terre - 3 nights is good. Which of the five towns are you planning to stay in?
  • Pisa - I'm not sure it's worth the effort, but if you're intent on seeing the Tower it is possible, although keep in mind you may have to store your luggage.
  • Florence - 4 nights is good but plan your touring carefully so that you don't waste any time. Note that reservations are advisable for the Uffizi and Accademia.
  • Tuscan hill town - you can easily take a day trip to Siena from Florence. Use the Bus as it drops you in the centre of town, rather than the train station which is at the bottom of the hill. You could also spend a couple of nights in Siena on the way from Florence to Rome.
  • Sorrento - 3 nights should be good, but keep in mind it will take you at least half a day to get there from Rome, when all is considered. Are you clear on the public transit options from Rome to Sorrento? Rather than take a day trip to Salerno, you could instead go to Capri.
  • Rome - If you're planning to use the Leonardo Express for the trip to the airport, DON'T forget to validate your tickets prior to boarding the train! That also applies to riding Buses in Rome.

One other point to mention. Some of your trips may be via Freccia or other premium trains which have compulsory reservations that are specific to train, date and departure time. You MUST be careful to board only the train specified on the ticket, or you could face hefty fines which will be collected on the spot!

Good luck with your planning!

Posted by Roberto
Fremont, CA, USA
3314 posts

In your shoes I don't think I would spend a lot of time in Milan. One day is enough. Years ago we took a colleague of mine to Italy. We landed at Milan Malpensa early in the morning, got to Milano Centrale, put the luggage at the station store. We visited the last supper, attended mass, visited the Duomo, the Galleria and La Scala theater. Then we took the train and we were in Florence by dinner. If you intend to visit Milan, you should land to Milan and visit Milan first, maybe spend one night there, then move to Venice by train.
I'm suggesting this because flying to Milan, rather than Venice is generally cheaper.

Posted by Chani
Tel Aviv
3505 posts

I like Ken's plan, with these comments.

Milan - think about this. If you are going mainly to see the Last Supper, you are using a big chunk of your precious 21 days for a few minutes of viewing. If you drop it completely, then go fro Castelrotto to Florence, then the CT, then Rome, then Sorrento. This way you will be alternating larger city stays with more rural ones.

Pisa - it's easy to leave your luggage at the Pisa Centrale train station and spend half a day seeing the Leaning Tower and the rest of the campus - the baptistry is just lovely. Do this between Florence and the CT.

Sorrento. It's worth more than 3 nights, especially since it's a schlep (but well worth it) to get there and back to Rome. If you have dropped Milan, you can easily add a couple of nights here. Take a day trip to Naples to see the wonderful archaeology museum and a bit of the city, another for Pompeii, and you'll still have plenty of time for Positano, Ravello, and Capri.

The opera season in Verona ends on Sept. 7. If this is a priority, plan soon. I don't know how quickly tickets go, but I do know that they sell out and that hotels also fill up. Verona is a lovely town with lots to see besides.

Posted by Maggie
Boscombe, Dorset, UK
960 posts

I think I'd be inclined to drop Milan, or just pass through, if seeing The Last Supper is your main reason for going there. Milan is an easy place to catch the train into and out of again.
The Uffizi- we went. We're both art lovers. But we reached 'saturation point' after 3 hours! That's just a thought for you, you may well love it and want to spend the day there.
Pisa is very easy to get to from Florence, it being the airport that the cheap European airlines fly to for Florence. there are trains and buses every hour.
And I have to add this, because it's my favourite city in Italy- Verona. It's on the main train line from Milan to Venice. You can make a day trip to Lake Como from there too. I think the opera season is still going at the first week of September, and even if you're not keen on opera, going to the Arena is a magical experience.
Have a wonderful time!

Posted by Frank
Tresana, Highlands Ranch, CO, USA
10860 posts

The one thing I get tired of seeing posters in or near 70 claiming to be old!!! Stop it ! If you are traveling, you'r young. If you are sitting in the assisted living, you'r old !!

Posted by Tom
Easley, SC, USA
268 posts

You're right, of course, Frank!

My only point in mentioning my age was to perhaps forestall suggestions that we go parasailing or parachuting! On the other hand, I met a guy recently, my age, who said whenever any of his friends says "let's do ----" his immediate answer is "ok! when?!" He has parachuted out of a plane from 14,000' having paid extra for another guy to jump out first and video him all the way down!

Point taken, Frank, and thanks for the encouragement!

Tom (age 70 but so what?!)

Posted by Rosalyn
Berkeley
1002 posts

I'm 75 and my husband will be very close to 78 when we take our next trip, in May. We travel independently, and carry our own baggage. His vision is bad; but I drive all over, even in Italy. We walk a lot, even climb towers. If you keep fit, 70's is not so old.

Posted by Frank
Tresana, Highlands Ranch, CO, USA
10860 posts

But there are times when I feel my age. Yesterday had to schedule some eye surgery for an eye lid that has quit working right because of "age" so the plastic doc tells me. That is interfering with my scheduled week of skiing.

Posted by April
Portland, OR
246 posts

I agree with others to fly into Venice and out of Rome. I would definitely skip Milan and go to Bellagio instead. We opted for Umbria and Tuscany instead of Cinque Terre because we don't want to bother with the crowds. You could also plan to go down to the Amalfi coast before heading to Rome. Great hiking, food and views.

Have a blast!

Posted by ChristineH
Gettysburg PA
70 posts

My parents 83 and 85 still travel extensively- independently- just spent 1 a month in Prague and vicinity- last year was 6 weeks in Italy.
They did 5 months in India about 10 years ago- with only 1 carry on bag each.
They rode horses across Mongolia and lived in a yurt about 8 years ago.

Dad has had quadruple bypass surgery, prostate cancer. Mom has had hip replacement and a stroke (with few residual side effects). They just keep on going.

They are my idols!

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
17738 posts

Tom,

"My only point in mentioning my age was to perhaps forestall suggestions that we go parasailing or parachuting!"

I'm somewhat "old" too (60+) and have tried Paragliding in Switzerland. If your health allows, there's no reason you can't participate in activities of that kind. I'd like to try sky diving at some point, but haven't done that yet. I wouldn't have any hesitation in taking another tandem paragliding flight.

Posted by Galen
Dallas, United States
389 posts

Hey Tom, we are your age also and spent 4 weeks in Italy last fall. Some thoughts from our experience. We desperately wanted to see the Last Supper and did. For 15 minutes. After the fact and now compared to being in the Dolomites (3 nights), we'd choose the mountains over the painting. Also, on the way to Castelrotto we took time to visit the Ice Man in Bolzano. That was wonderful. And we recommend going to Sorrento. We visited Pompeii from there and consider it a highlight of our trip. I know you'll enjoy your trip.

Posted by Pauline
Livermore, CA
1 posts

Hi Tom,
You are an inspiration. We aren't quite there age-wise, but it won't be that long until we are and we want to be doing the same thing as you--continuing our solo trips (sans tours) to Europe. The best advice we got when planning our first trip to Italy was from a colleague who teaches Italian and lived in Firenze for 20 years--"NO! You don't want 2 days in Pisa!--2 hours!" We took that advice and we were so glad we did. We took the train from Florence to Pisa, stored our luggage (1 carry-on each) at the train station with no hassle at a relatively good price and took a taxi over to the tower. We had plenty of time to enjoy that wonder then retrieved our bags, took taxi to the airport for our Ryan Air flight to France where we then rented a car. We've actually done this twice. It was perfect amount of time--we didn't feel rushed at all. Enjoy your trip!

Posted by Linda
PARK
54 posts

You could go directly to Sorrento from Florence and have all your Rome time at the end when you depart-saves time and hotel changes. We had a driver from Sorrento to Naples train station-worth the $$ and much easier than the local train from Sorrento to Naples and then on to Rome. Linda

Posted by Terri Lynn
Nashville, TN, USA
23 posts

I would add that extra week! I would suggest spending more time in Rome, Venice, and Florence than you have planned. These cities are just wonderful and full of so many things to enjoy, you need more time there! I also want to forewarn you that it is very hard to get The Last Supper tickets. You might call on the day that tickets open up for the day you want to be there and find none available. This is because the painting has been damaged over the years by humidity and since humans give off humidity due to breath, skin evaporation, etc, they limit the visitors to 900 a day then take them in in groups for limited time and then take them out and de-humidify the room before letting in the next group.

To be sure of getting to see this painting (WELL worth it), you can book an hour and a half bus tour or 3 hour bus/walking tour through Autostradale and you are guaranteed to see the painting as well as a lot of other wonderful things in Milan such as Galleria Vittorio Emanuel II, Sforza Castle, the Duomo, and La Scala Opera House to name a few. It is a good bargain. Their website is www.autostradale.it You will be guaranteed to see the painting this way and the tour is just fantastic!!!

You and your wife sound like my husband and me as far as interests go. We too love art, history, classical music, opera, scenery, etc. I am 54 and he is 59. We love Italy and are excited for you to be going to experience it!!! I can assure, I never get tired of seeing people request help with their itineraries. We should all be glad to help one another by sharing whatever knowledge and experience we have.

Posted by rwesme2008
1 posts

Tom, My husband and I, 62 and 57 years young, are in the planning stages for a 3 week Italy tour...similar to what you are going to do. We thought about going with a tour, but I think we'd enjoy doing it on our own...more flexibility. Our biggest fear for us though in this whole process seems to be how to get to the various cities within Italy....buses, trains (so many different one's), etc. We definitely don't want to rent a car so public transport is the preferred method. Have you worked out this piece yet in your itinerary? We have never been to Italy so we're a little intimidated about getting around. Appreciate any advice or words of wisdom you might have about transportation. Thanks, Shelley

Posted by Frank
Tresana, Highlands Ranch, CO, USA
10860 posts

Transportation is easy. Nearly every place you would want to go is connected by rail. Obviously the more rural areas and smaller the town may required a bus for the last leg. But the service is frequent and inexpensive.

Just go to Trenitalia.com, click on the British flag so that it is in English. That will give you all the schedules and pricing. If further out than three months or so, then use the same day of the week next month. Train schedules change very little from quarter to quarter. You can also use bahn.de, the German rail site which has the schedules for all trains in Europe but not the pricing unless it starts or ends in Germany. Bahn.de is a little easier to use if just looking for schedule information. Remember Europe uses the 24 hr clock so 1pm is 1300 and the day/month/year dating. And watch the calenders on the web sites, some start their week with Monday and end with Sat, Sun instead of our pattern which starts the week with Sunday.

Posted by Julie
Bend, OR
24 posts

Tom,

I have spent some time hiking in the Dolomites and intend to return there in September 2014. You will love it! The region is a wonderful mix of Italian and German ancestry and spectacular hiking.

As you do your planning for Castelrotto note that you need to take the bus from Bolzano to Castelrotto. The bus is easily accessed from the train station in Bolzano. It is a 25-40 minute bus ride, inexpensive, with frequent departures. From Castelrotto you can also use the regional bus system to access the villages of Val Gardena. This url will give you access to the bus routing http://www.sad.it/index.php?page=start&lang=it.

Finally, if interest and time permit you may want to consider going to the Archaeological Museum in Bolzano and visiting Otzi, the iceman.

Happy Travels, Julie

Posted by janettravels44
Chicago
132 posts

We are old travelers and have done 3 weeks in Italy many times. What we like to do is anchor the trip with at least 5 days in a place at each end and in the middle with as few one or two night stops as possible. e.g. FLorence is extremely dense with things to see -- you really need 5 nights 4 full days there and then do a day trip by bus one of those days to Siena one of the most enchanting Tuscan towns and easily reached in about an hour by bus from Florence. By doing this, you reduce the logistics cost in time and bother of moving in and out of hotels and schlepping luggage. You can see my last climb of the Torre Mangia at age 67, a few years back, here. www.janettravels.wordpress.com ; look under the 'Italy' category for the photo journal of the Siena climb.

Siena is a stunning city with one of the most jaw dropping Cathedrals in Europe. We visited it on our first trip to Italy 30 years ago and were hooked. You can also do Pisa from Florence as well as Lucca as a day trip from Florence by train. You could spend a week in an apartment in Florence and do both of these, plus perhaps do a day tour of Chianti wineries or of Tuscan hill towns by bus tour. They are easy to pick up in Florence.

I agree with those who say to start in Milan and fly out of Rome. Venice is a city that repays a few days. Once you have seen the central sites like San Marco and the Doges Palace and perhaps Academia art museum, then have at least one day where you just wander aimlessly as far as your feet will take you. You can't get lost because eventually you run out of islands and can get back to the center by just asking anyone where San Marco is and heading that way.

If you don't have any Italian, learn a few phrases -- greetings, please and thank you, where is -- there are free on line resources as well as tourist CDs to get the minimal skills you need.

By staying in fewer places and doing occasional day trips, you get the variety and coverage you want, while also spending less time getting there and more time being there. We find that traveling as oldies now, we are more interested in comfort and in a relaxed pace than we were30 and 50 years ago when we each began travel and then began travel together.

Posted by david
washington
837 posts

Hi Tom,
Just saw your post and read the first half dozen responses and then got bored. First off, I like your itinerary. Comments on time and airports deserve attention and research. I agree with those who say that you won't see much of Tuscany without a car. Sienna is a nice visit and could be reached either on the way from Rome to Florence or from Florence. But, if you like natural beauty, driving a couple of days, say out of Sienna, would be well worth while. Another are that was mentioned, but that would be better seen by car is the Lake Como area. Cinque Terre area is very nice. One word of caution, if you want to hike, start from the south. The first hike from the north, going south could be challenging. Lastly, I was glad to see Milan mentioned without a lot of negativity. I was shocked to see see Milan discussed without mention of La Scala. You mention opera as an interest. At a minimum, a tour of La Scala is a must and you might want to check in advance to see if a performance fits your schedule.

Posted by janettravels44
Chicago
132 posts

Having done the CT twice, I would disagree about the direction. Yes the first leg from Monterosso to Vernazza is the most difficult but it is not difficult. The other legs are all fairly easy although there are a lot of stairs around Corniglia. The reason to start at Monterosso is that the most spectacular views on the entire trail are entering Vernazza from Monterosso. Yes, you can turn around and look back going the other way -- but that isn't as good as walking towards that spectacular view. That view on a calendar is what brought us to the CT over 30 years ago, before Rick had written about it and when we were the only Americans we met the entire time we were there. There were a handful of German hikers and that was it. It was really a jewel then.

Posted by Carol
Martinez, CA, USA
519 posts

Just one suggestion about your revised itinerary. You could bypass Rome and go directly to Sorrento, then return to Rome for the last 4 nights rather than splitting your time. We did something similar and although it felt silly to stay on the train when it stopped in Rome we were able to enjoy almost an extra day in Rome thanks to not splitting our time.

Posted by viaggiatrice23
5 posts

Hi Tom, great trip. Just be aware that the Cinque Terre is all stairs....think stairs to get to your hotel, and an ENORMOUS amount of stairs to hike between the towns (except in the easy Via dell'Amore, but it will remain closed for the foreseeable future). Hiking in the Cinque Terre presents INCREDIBLE views but the hiking will be stairs or significant change in elevation no matter which trails you take (for example, one of the "easy" hikes is from Vernazza at sea level to the Reggio Monastery at 300 meters above sea level). Just wanted you to be aware because those of us who live in Vernazza continue to be shocked at how many tourists are not prepared for the reality of the Cinque Terre towns and trails. Buon viaggio!