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First Timers, wanting advice on Italy tours

Hello All,

My wife and I are planning a trip to Italy this July (yes, we know it will be hot and busy) and are interested in the Heart of Italy tour. It is our first time to Europe and we will be flying in and out of Rome. We also plan to visit some extended family in Sardinia, but we like the idea of doing a tour first to see a bit of Italy and to get better acclimated to the culture. Would appreciate feedback from folks who have taken this tour (or other RS Italy tours) previously and those who have been to Sardinia.

Thank you.

Posted by
7240 posts

Did the Best of Italy tour which hit 3 of your 4 locations. You should have a wonderful time on the tour.

Posted by
4476 posts

We've done 5 RS tours in Italy, and they were all wonderful. We have not done Heart of Italy, but we've been to all the places it covers on other tours. It's a great way to get, as you say, acclimated to the culture. RS guides see themselves as teachers, and you will learn a lot.

I highly recommend that you sign up for the tour. Sardinia, of course, can be a whole different experience, but having spent a week or two in Italy will be a great start to a wonderful trip.

Edit to add: Hey, Rocket, thanks for the plug! I loved that tour.

Posted by
2586 posts

I’m a veteran of 14 Rick Steves tours, the latest having been Sicily (Fantastico!) last November. I don’t think you could go wrong with any of the tours to Italy. Just choose the one that most interests you.

In September and October of 2016 I did a solo trip to Sardinia with a 4 day side trip to Corsica. Sardinia is a beautiful island. It’s more about the scenery and beaches than museums and historic sites. Easiest way to get there is to fly from Rome to Cágliari which is an interesting city. If you want to explore the island, rent a car but be ready for twisty, hilly roads. My first stop on the island was at an agriturismo in Castiadas in the southeast. After touring the area for a day, I drove up the east coast of the island spending a night each in Orosei and another agriturismo near Arzechena - good location for visiting La Maddelena. I took the ferry from/to Corsica from Santa Teresa Gallura and then drove down the west coast returning to Cágliari. Spent a night each in Alghero and Oristano. In Alghero, don’t miss a boat trip to the Grotto de Nettuno and visit the Roman ruins on the tip of the Sinis Peninsula just west of Oristano. On the way from Oristano to Cágliari, make sure to visit the ancient nuraghe site in Burimini.

Though most of my stops were only for 1 night, I still found the pace to be leisurely, the people wonderful and the food fantastic. If you are going to fly into Cágliari and renting a car, my rental from Europcar through AutoEurope was cheaper at the airport than in the city. Sardinia is beautiful and I would love to return.

Posted by
8060 posts

The Heart of Italy tour was my first RS tour! It was excellent. We had a family group - me, my brother, SIL and their 2 adult sons. It was easier to do a tour to an unfamiliar place than to have to take the responsibility for managing everything myself. It was also a terrific choice for our first RS tour. We didn't know if we would enjoy the tour dynamic and really didn't know what to expect. Turns out we all loved the RS tour, the guide, the set up, the information on history/culture/art/landscape, the food...everything!

I do like your idea of doing the tour first and getting a foundation then visiting family. I hope you can plan to fly in to Rome a few days ahead of the tour. I think every tour I've been on (8 and counting) people have missed the first meet up and welcome dinner due to travel delays. On one tour a couple didn't get there til Day 2. I also need at least 2 nights to recover from jet lag and be able to enjoy all the tour has to offer. The Heart of Italy is short but busy with lots to see and enjoy!

What I liked about this tour was that you got 2 big cities with the stays in Rome and Florence plus a variety of countryside with the stays in the hill town of Volterra and the seaside town of Monterosso. Excellent variety! It is not a museum or church heavy itinerary altho for myself I can do museums and churches every day!

I've also done Village Italy which I thought was wonderful and was in Italy for 8 nights on the 21 day Best of Europe tour covering Venice, Florence, Rome and CT.

ANY RS Italy tour will be awesome!

I'll also add that there was a recent thread from someone wanting advice on what to see in Rome before a Best of Rome tour. You might check that thread out for ideas.

Posted by
2 posts

Thank you for the responses.

The tour we are looking at begins on a Sunday afternoon, so we are thinking of flying out the Friday before which will arrive Saturday morning in Rome. Assuming no significant travel delays, I think that should be enough time to get our bearings.

We also see that it is recommended to contact the first hotel we will be staying at with the tour to see if they will extend us the RS rate for the days ahead so we'll plan to do that.

Couple follow-up questions:

How difficult/easy is it to get from FCO to the RS hotel in Rome? Should we consider a car service as first timers?

Is there a good rule of thumb for how much extra money you'll spend per day during the tour? We've read what the tour covers and doesn't cover, but wanted to make a decent assumption of how much extra to plan per day for meals, entertainment, etc.

Renting a car in Sardinia (Italy). Do we need to have anything more than our US driver's license and passport? I see a reference to an international driver's permit? Is this really needed? (Apologies if this info is listed on the website already.)

It also looks like Italy takes speeding very seriously so I assume I shouldn't employ the DFW lead foot driving strategy.

Thanks again.

Posted by
2231 posts

My husband and I are always disoriented on arrival (DOA) at the end of an overnight flight. When you pre-book a car service, all you have to do is follow the crowd to the baggage claim area and look for a sign with your name on it. At that point, saving a few Euros is the farthest thing from my mind.

Posted by
8060 posts

There were 5 of us so I also booked a car service. I waited until later to book and all that was available from one of the recommended ones was a VIP tour for about 1.5 hours with the airport transportation. I went with that figuring we would get oriented. hahaha!! No way a person used to a gridded street system can get oriented to Rome in a van whizzing thru the streets. We did see a lot (didn't really get out except for a few overlooks), the driver was charming and were able to find our way back to a couple of sights we wanted to explore more thoroughly.

Knowing what I know now, I would probably take the train in from the airport and walk to the hotel. We stayed at Hotel Sonya which would have been doable with our carry-on luggage.

First time to Rome, though? I'd probably go with a car service.

Do try to stay at the tour hotel. It is so much easier and they will usually let you stay in the same room.

I think Rick usually suggests $50 or 50€/day for expenses not covered in the tour. I usually mentally budget that but rarely spend that much. The times I have spent that amount (or over it) were in Switzerland when I was paying for some cable car transportation which is expensive. You won't have any of that in Heart of Italy.

Posted by
4476 posts

We budget about $100 per day for the two of us, but we've never spent that much.

The first time we flew in to Rome we took the train - the Leonardo Express. It goes to Termini train station, which is a very easy walk to the tour hotels. They usually use the Aberdeen or Sonia, I believe.

The second time we shared a taxi with some other folks - strangers to us. It wasn't any faster, and of course cost more. The RS office will include suggestions for getting from the airport to the hotel in your pre-tour packet.

Posted by
7240 posts

IDP is required in Italy. When I did a driving trip saw more than one place where the police were pulling cars over at random

Just do a search for "driving in Italy" and there will be an abundance of posts to read

Posted by
37 posts

I took the Heart of Italy tour a few years ago during the first week of July. There was a heat wave on in Italy at that time - record breaking heat. It was hard on me because I live in the Pacific Northwest and the high had been 65 in June. The highs ranged from 98 to 100 while I was on the trip.

The hotels all had (at least some) air conditioning so sleeping was okay. But during the day I got blisters on my sweaty feet the first day and soaked the clothing I was wearing daily. Fortunately I was able to interact with a pharmacist who gave me some costly blister bandaids - a well spent euro per toe sized gel band aid. Water for your water bottles is easy to find. I had taken some packets of electrolytes to add to the water and that really helped the dehydration.
The trip was a great introduction to Italy! I'd definitely recommend.

Despite the heat, I had a marvelous time.
Have fun!!! Sardinia looks like fun too!

Posted by
3443 posts

You asked if you should consider a private car service. The short answer is "Yes". There are many other ways to get there, and many will advise you to use one of them, but after a long flight, some jet lag, not being familiar with the area, there is nothing better than having your private driver meet you inside the terminal and whisk you to your hotel. No fending off the "independent cabs", waiting in the regular taxi line, or just having a "lost" feeling. It is not the cheapest way, but it is definitely the best. We can not say enough good things about Rome Cabs. It is a private car service (not a cab company) but only cost a little more than a regular taxi. We always use them and have always been very pleased. Go to romecabs.com and see what you think. We always send an email and they answer us with a quote within 24 hours. You do have to pay cash (Euros) and the end of the journey but not in advance.

Posted by
593 posts

I just wanted to add that as soon as you decide on your tour and dates, you should book your first night in Rome. Hotels will fill up quickly for July, and many may be booked. When you confirm your reservation with a deposit, you will get an email the next day from RS Europe with the name of the first and last hotel. I would contact them immediately by email or phone and book your room.

Posted by
996 posts

My first trip to Europe was to Rome. I remember arriving and being SO excited. I was also SO dazed because of the overnight flight to Rome. I was so eager to arrive that I didn't sleep much at all on the plane.

By the time we'd collected our luggage, I was SO thankful that we'd arranged for a car to pick us up at the airport. I was doubly glad after driving through the streets of Rome. If you can afford it, I'd arrange to have somebody come and pick you up at the airport. It'll hopefully make your arrival more fun and less stressful.

Posted by
31 posts

We stopped in Rome last year on our way back from Greece. We only stayed one night as we were catching the train for Vernazza. We hired a car at the airport for $50 euros. Well worth the money to me. Brand new Mercedes, great driver, and we got to the hotel Sonia with no problem. I personally wouldn't drive in Rome as you'll see when you get there. I could if i have to but the cost is not much to us. We were there just long enough to run around and take some selfies at the main sites. We are heading back though in 2020 for the Best of Italy tour and another trip to Santorini on the side. Enjoy and hope all goes well for you. larry

Posted by
524 posts

If you decide to take a taxi, please make sure it is an official taxi. There are usually guys standing around, inside the terminal, asking if you need transport into Rome. You should walk right past them and out to the front of the terminal, and find the taxi rank. It will be very tempting to stop and make arrangements after flying overnight. Here is a photo of official taxi. Also, some information regarding taxis.

Posted by
11246 posts

"We also see that it is recommended to contact the first hotel we will be staying at with the tour to see if they will extend us the RS rate for the days ahead so we'll plan to do that."

Yes, e-mail them directly, explaining that your are on a Rick Steves tour. And do this as soon as you are sure of your plans, since rooms at the RS Tour hotel are not guaranteed.

"How difficult/easy is it to get from FCO to the RS hotel in Rome? Should we consider a car service as first timers?"

It's not difficult and there are many ways. For first timers and with two people, I think the best ways are either an official taxi from the taxi line at FCO, or a pre-booked car service.

"Renting a car in Sardinia (Italy). Do we need to have anything more than our US driver's license and passport? I see a reference to an international driver's permit? Is this really needed? (Apologies if this info is listed on the website already.)"

Yes, an IDP is legally required. Sometimes it is required at the rental counter, sometimes it is not. But if you are stopped by police for any reason (including a checkpoint where you have done nothing wrong), you'll need it. It is obtained from AAA even if you're not a member, and is good for a year, which can start on any day you choose.

"It also looks like Italy takes speeding very seriously so I assume I shouldn't employ the DFW lead foot driving strategy. "

It's not just that they "take it seriously." Your speed is often monitored by cameras, so if your more than a very slight amount over the limit, it triggers an automatic ticket, that arrives with a picture of your license place. In addition to the standard speed cameras (that measure your speed at a particular point), they also use the Tutor system in places. This captures how long it took you to get from point A to point B; if it's faster than the speed limit allows, you are ticketed for speeding, even if you were not speeding at point A or point B itself. For instance, suppose the speed limit is 80 kilometers per hour, and it's 20 km from point A to B. If you get from A to B in less than 15 minutes, the Tutor system will issue you a ticket for speeding.

Note also that tickets come in two installments. First, there's a fee from your rental company, for turning over your information to the authorities (about €45 euros). You agree to this fee as part of your rental car agreement. Then, many months (sometimes a full year) later, there's the ticket itself.

There are also tickets for driving in bus lanes, and for driving into ZTLs (zono traffio limitato) - areas where cars without permits (that's you) are not allowed. So, start learning the rules now, so you won't be one of the people who come back here and post about how they got lots of tickets "unfairly," for not knowing or following the rules.