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Italy Trip report (with a surprising highlight, ALASSIO)

We just arrived in Nice after a whirlwind 8-day trip through Italy. We hit several hot spots between here and Rome given our limited time. It went like this:

Rome for the ancient history

Florence for the Renaissance art

The Cinque Terre for the rugged natural beauty

Alassio as a random pick on the map for a stopping point on the way to Nice,

There aren’t a lot of revelations about Rome or Florence, they are what you’d expect and we saw the usual sights. The Cinque Terre was far more beautiful - absolutely stunning, actually - than I ever imagined. But it was crawling with Americans - and I mean throngs and throngs and throngs of them. I can’t really complain, because of course we were among the throngs, but there was almost the weird feeling sometimes that we were actually in the States since all the voices we heard were American (and probably Canadian as well, I can’t always tell the difference.)

So anyway, the surprising highlight was Alassio. When I was planning the journey from CT to Nice, it looked like a long train trip so I decided on a last night in Italy along the way to break it up. I considered the halfway point of Genoa, but my google research didn’t sound very appealing (big city and some sketchy areas, I didn’t want to deal with that.). I just started googling the towns along the way one by one. When I got to Alassio, it looked like a beautiful seaside resort on the Riviera, with hotels in walking distance of the train station. BINGO.

Well, it was all that and more. The best part was that we spent a day and night in Alassio and didn’t hear a SINGLE ENGLISH SPEAKER! It is a beautiful small-town Riviera resort, very refined and elegant, yet practically no foreign tourists at the end of September. The weather is still gorgeous, in the mid-70s, and people were on the beaches and swimming. But apparently it is already the off-season and we strolled through quiet streets and had leisurely meals at restaurants where everyone seemed to be a local. There is plenty of shopping in the commercial center near the beach, and the shops are mostly nicer, upscale stores. No beggars, no scam artists, no pushy souvenir vendors, just a nice place to wander, shop, have a cappuccino, dine on fresh seafood, and sit on the public pier admiring the gorgeous view of the Mediterranean without being pushed, shoved, and jostled. No offense to my fellow tourists, I know we all want to see the same sights, and who can blame us, but I REALLY enjoyed a day as apparently the only tourist in town!

We did the whole trip by trains, and I do want to make a comment about that. Just like when I’ve been in France, I find they don’t ever check your tickets on the train. We’ve gone from Rome to Nice, with multiple stops along the way - and of course we paid for every ticket like we’re supposed to - and not once ever showed anyone our tickets. I did all my tickets on the Rome2Rio app, so we had e-tickets. One time I asked a Trenitalia employee on the platform how to validate an e-ticket, and she assured me that it wasn’t necessary. So basically we paid, but we could have NOT paid, it wouldn’t have made any difference. Same thing in the CT where we paid 29 euros each for a two day pass and rode the trains and buses without ever showing our pass to anyone.

Of course I would never steal a ride by hopping on without paying, but I do wonder how many other people are doing that. Even if you risk a fine, you could conceivably get hundreds of euros of free trips before you were ever caught and the fine wouldn’t amount to that. Just wondering why they are so lax is all...

Posted by
21067 posts

The penalty for riding trains without a ticket (or even just with an unvalidated ticket when validation is required) can be rather high. I think you pay the walk-up fare--not any discounted fare that might have been available if you had bought a ticket--plus a substantial fine. I don't know what the fine would be in Italy or France, but I've seen some posted signs, and I remember thinking "That would be painful". The fewer tickets inspectors you see, the higher the fine needs to be, as you pointed out. You may been unusually lucky.

I'm glad you discovered Alassio; I've made a mental note of it. I agree that it is a special experience to feel as if you're the only American in town or virtually so. There are actually lots of places where it still happens. For that matter, you can be the lone American tourist (sometimes the lone touist, period) even in the most touristy cities imaginable it you get away from the top sights. You just need to not schedule yourself so tightly that all your time is spent trotting from the Colosseum to the Trevi Fountain to the Vatican.

Posted by
7699 posts

I’m so happy you found Alassio and had a nice visit there. We had the same “no Americans experience” in lovely Noli, near Alassio, on the Riviera Ponente. Salò on Lake Garda was another lovely town with Americans in sight.

Posted by
4467 posts

Thank you for sharing your post, especially the information about Alassio!

I will be planning a trip soon for my 40-year old daughter to travel with me to Italy next year - her first time to Europe. I just returned from a wonderful trip in France, and I have a feeling our trip next year could end in Nice.

Just to share a comment about train tickets. I moved around a lot during my recent 3-week solo trip in France, and half of those trips, there were either inspectors on the trains checking tickets or our tickets had to be scanned by an inspector near the platform to reach the queue to step onto the train.

When there were inspectors on the train, there was usually one person in my train car paying a fine which also means almost everyone has purchased their tickets. Even if I knew they wouldn’t be checking, I would gladly pay the price each time - so handy & we’ve benefited so much from train travel for our European travels!

Posted by
4467 posts

And I was in Italy for three weeks last year in September, again moving around a lot by train. I do remember occasionally having my ticket checked, and there were even a couple of inspectors who boarded my bus at a stop between Montepulciano & Chuisi’s train station. The bus ticket was just a small ticket similar to a metro ticket, so luckily I knew where I placed it in my day bag!

Posted by
681 posts

Sounds wonderful that you found a little, quiet piece of heaven.

Posted by
207 posts

Tell us more about this wonderful Alassio and where you stayed please. I love Italy and until now, have never heard of this little gem. I travel by train as well and looking for little B&Bs with a local breakfast as I enjoy getting to know the proprietors and locals that way.

I also use your app but have never purchased etickets so very interesting.

Thank you for your report.

Posted by
250 posts

We stayed at Hotel Dei Fiori which was about 1/4 mile from the train station. I wouldn’t say it was a Mom and Pop type establishment at all, in fact it was rather a “luxury” type hotel. The manager at the front desk was extremely polished and suave with exquisite manners. The whole town gave off an air of sophistication and refinement, I wouldn’t say it is a place where rowdy bands of locals are going to be clinking glasses with you in a pub (although that is possible, but that isn’t the kind of places we go to.) However, it wasn’t unbearably chic like some other Riviera resorts, you would feel welcome and comfortable there. Overall, since it was the off-season, it was quiet and slow-paced and nearly devoid of tourists. From what I’ve read, it is mostly frequented by European tourists, so that would explain why we didn’t encounter any other Americans while we were there, although in the high season that might be different.

Posted by
207 posts

Thank you so much for the hotel and the descriptions. It sounds so perfect as I would be there off season as well.

Posted by
167 posts

Thank you for a wonderful report. I'm heading back in April, and I might search out this wonderful spot.

I also want to add that I have ridden many Italian trains, and nearly every time I have been asked for my ticket. I definitely wouldn't chance boarding a train without one.

Ciao!

Posted by
10053 posts

We love those seaside towns in low season and late Sept to early Oct is fabulous! We had a similar experience in Pesaro a couple of years ago and not-too-dissimilar Camogli last year. Good for you finding your own “back door.”

We have had the opposite experience on most Italian trains: they check tickets. Not 100% of the time, but at least 75% over the course of our many trips by train. (I’d venture we've taken 100.) In the Cinque Terre they we’re notorious for evening inspections after the ticket offices closed. This was before the self-service ticket machines became ubiquitous. At least three time we saw Americans caught without tickets on a train after dinner because the ticket office was closed and the capotreno demanded €50 on the spot. Per person.

Posted by
250 posts

@ Laurel: interesting about the ticket checks at Cinque Terre. I have to say that on this whole trip I felt most gypped by the CT card which cost 29 euros each person for two days. We never ended up hiking the path between towns (we just took the train to each town, walked around a couple of hours, then onto the next) Not once did anyone ever check tickets, and there was a mad crush of people getting on the train every time - I don’t doubt for a minute that many of them didn’t pay. Also, the bus trips we took back and forth to Volastra where we stayed they never asked to see it at all.

And even so, I don’t think we took 58 euros worth of train/bus trips anyway. If I had it to do over, I’d just pay as we go.

Now that I’m in France again (the last time was five years ago) they have checked our tickets almost every time. And one time on the metro in Rennes, inspectors were stopping us as we got off asking to see our tickets. So that’s all good. I always buy a ticket anyway, but I’m gratified when they ask to see it.

Posted by
3186 posts

Was English spoken at the hotels and restaurants in Alassio?

Posted by
8 posts

RE checking train tickets: we just took the train from Florence to Venice, and back again. Our tickets were checked both ways, and in fact checked twice on the first ride. Very nice trains, easy ticket purchase (online, from the States prior to trip), I would do that again anytime.

Posted by
743 posts

Lisalu, great to hear more of your trip! Thank you for bringing Alassio to our attention. Amazing how shoulder season can uncover the gems hidden under the summer crowds. We drove past that stretch of coast in August one year and couldn’t bear to wade into the traffic jam. Can’t wait to hear the next installment🙏

Posted by
11288 posts

Thanks for this report, and I hope Alassio stays as you described it!

The thing about random ticket checks is that they are random - meaning, you can take 5 rides and get no ticket checks, or take 5 rides and get 10 ticket checks (I, too, have had the experience of having my ticket checked more than once on a single ride). My two best stories about this:

In Palermo, a friend and I took some time to find a place to buy tickets for a local bus (it wasn't easy to find), then validated them immediately upon boarding. Good thing, because we had not been on the bus more than 60 seconds when we were inspected!

In France headed by train from Bayonne to Hendaye on the Spanish border, I had bought a ticket but had forgotten to validate it in my rush to get to the correct platform with my luggage. I saw a bunch of officials on the train, and at first I thought they were ticket inspectors. I prepared myself to pay the fine (yes it was an "honest mistake" on my part, but rules are rules and I had broken them). Then I realized there were about 10 of them, and they were armed. They were border patrol, and checking tickets was not the reason they were on the train! Judging by the seriousness of their demeanor, they had received a tip about a serous problem and were on their way to deal with it. So, I got lucky that time - but I would never count on such a thing.

Posted by
837 posts

Glad you found Alassio. Like your idea of googling town by town til you found a winner.

Sad about the CT. I was there in 2005 when its busyness felt festive. Ventured back about 10 years ago in March when it was just beginning to open after winter. Want to return once more with my family, but the tourist hordes depress that idea. Maybe I'll google villages down the coast til I find someplace wonderful, then find a boat to float us by the CT.

Posted by
55 posts

Thanks for sharing about your trip. Alassio sounds Wonderful! I hear what you are saying about CT. We stayed in Monterosso al mare which was a really nice quieter place to stay, not overly crowded at all the days we were there the first week of Oct. We hiked over to Vernazza and there were so many people there that we didn't stay long and moved on quickly to the next village. It was like there were several tour busses at once that arrived and you could hardly move through the town. I am sure it would have had an entirely different feel if it was less crowded. I am glad we stayed in Monterosso.