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Booked a trip to Italy... Need suggestions!

sphenequeen

Brilliant_Rock
Joined
Oct 16, 2009
Messages
640
Hello!

My husband and I booked a trip to Italy for this October to celebrate our 5th wedding anniversary. We are SUPER excited as this is our first big trip together. I have never been to Europe and cannot wait to go. We will be there for a week and are staying in Chianti - 30 minutes outside of Florence.

If anyone has been to Tuscany and can gives us some tips or advice, I would greatly appreciate it. We have our flight booked and a villa for a week, but that is as far as we've gotten. We will be renting a car to take day trips.

Any and all suggestions are welcome! I appreciate all of it.

Thanks!
 

kama_s

Ideal_Rock
Premium
Joined
Jul 12, 2008
Messages
3,617
I have no advice for you, but just wanted to add that I think you're going to have a blast! We just booked our trip to Italy as well! I've never been to Italy and have always wanted to go visit. We're going for three weeks to Rome, Florence (just a hal day tour of Chianti), Venice, a week around the Amalfi coast and a few nights at our friend's house in Salerno.

Rome is fairly close to Florence, so if you wanted to venture out of the Tuscan region, it's less than a 2 hour train to Roma. That said, who in their right mind would ever want to leave Tuscany?!
 

sphenequeen

Brilliant_Rock
Joined
Oct 16, 2009
Messages
640
Kama_S,

Thank you for the reply! I WISH I was going as long as you were... That is amazing. Since we are taking day trips, I do not think we will make it to Venice, but we plan to see Rome for sure.

There has to be at least a few people on this forum who have been to this region and have eaten at some great places and have seen some amazing things! Do tell!
 

diva rose

Shiny_Rock
Joined
Apr 9, 2010
Messages
451
Would you consider going to Cinque Terre?
It's close to Tuscany - I would highly recommend it.

This is where my hubby and I stayed - we both loved it and it was our favourite of our Italy trip.
http://www.torrettas.com/
 

rainwood

Brilliant_Rock
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Mar 29, 2005
Messages
1,486
Pienza is a lovely little town in Tuscany, easy to see in an afternoon. It was one of our favorite spots to relax and have a nice meal. Don't underestimate how much driving is needed to visit places in Tuscany. The towns are not far apart distance wise, but each is at the top of its own hill and has a winding, twisty road to get there.

And don't drive in Florence. Most of it is closed to cars unless you have a special pass or are staying in the city, plus traffic can be crazy. If you drive there, find a parking lot on the outskirts of town, and then walk in or take a bus. Enjoy!
 

Asu

Shiny_Rock
Joined
Jul 13, 2008
Messages
224
I was born in Tuscany,so it holds a special place in my heart.That being said,there are so many places to see,you would need a month!Lucca,Pisa,Firenze,Siena,Massa (my city :bigsmile: )and the close towns,Prato,Pistoia,Arezzo...sooo many places.All are beautiful,so it's just a matter of choice.Just make sure you spend a morning in Colonnata and get to eat the Lardo :lickout: I go there at least once a year,I just can't get enough :D
 

sphenequeen

Brilliant_Rock
Joined
Oct 16, 2009
Messages
640
Well... I don't have a month. I know I cannot see everything which is why I was hoping for some direction on those who have visited.

Cinque Terre is on the list and so is Sienna.

Rainwood, thank you for the tip on driving. I will definitely allow myself more time to get to places and consider that I might have to park outside of the cities and take public transportation in.
 

NewEnglandLady

Ideal_Rock
Joined
Jul 27, 2007
Messages
6,299
You are going to have an amazing trip! I absolutely loved Italy and I would love to go back to explore Tuscani and the Amalfi Coast.

Florence is the perfect walkable city--we took a walking tour while there and loved it. We also downloaded Rick Steves' Florence Walking tour and it was one of my favorite Rick Steves tours. I highly recommend it.

As for Rome, I would recommend going to the Borghese Museum. It's not one of the bigger museums, so often people overlook it, but it was probably my favorite museum in Rome.

Have a fabulous time!!
 

Asu

Shiny_Rock
Joined
Jul 13, 2008
Messages
224
sphenequeen|1309959840|2962706 said:
Well... I don't have a month. I know I cannot see everything which is why I was hoping for some direction on those who have visited.

Cinque Terre is on the list and so is Sienna.

Rainwood, thank you for the tip on driving. I will definitely allow myself more time to get to places and consider that I might have to park outside of the cities and take public transportation in.
Most cities are fairly small,so you will be able to walk around just fine.Florence is so easy to tour by walking around,there are just a bunch of principal streets,so you will memorize them easily.Also,if you go there,just next to the Duomo there is an amazing restaurant,a teeny tiny one,no tables outside,it's pretty much an hallway,but the food is great and the prices really low.
In Florence we stayed here
http://www.bbilmarzoccoflorence.net/
Given that you will be in the Chianti zone,I would do Florence,San Miniato al monte and San Gimignano,Pisa and either Lucca or Arezzo.You can do San Miniato and San Gimignano in one day,morning and afternoon;Florence and Pisa will take a whole day (If you can stay in Florence two day,do),two days to tour the Chianti area,and you have a day left to go to one of the other provinces or visit the Cinque Terre (where you will have to walk,a lot.there are tons of stairs).
 

sphenequeen

Brilliant_Rock
Joined
Oct 16, 2009
Messages
640
Asu|1309960814|2962719 said:
sphenequeen|1309959840|2962706 said:
Well... I don't have a month. I know I cannot see everything which is why I was hoping for some direction on those who have visited.

Cinque Terre is on the list and so is Sienna.

Rainwood, thank you for the tip on driving. I will definitely allow myself more time to get to places and consider that I might have to park outside of the cities and take public transportation in.
Most cities are fairly small,so you will be able to walk around just fine.Florence is so easy to tour by walking around,there are just a bunch of principal streets,so you will memorize them easily.Also,if you go there,just next to the Duomo there is an amazing restaurant,a teeny tiny one,no tables outside,it's pretty much an hallway,but the food is great and the prices really low.
In Florence we stayed here
http://www.bbilmarzoccoflorence.net/
Given that you will be in the Chianti zone,I would do Florence,San Miniato al monte and San Gimignano,Pisa and either Lucca or Arezzo.You can do San Miniato and San Gimignano in one day,morning and afternoon;Florence and Pisa will take a whole day (If you can stay in Florence two day,do),two days to tour the Chianti area,and you have a day left to go to one of the other provinces or visit the Cinque Terre (where you will have to walk,a lot.there are tons of stairs).

Thank you!!!
 

Sundial

Ideal_Rock
Joined
Mar 14, 2005
Messages
5,532
Another recommendation for Sienna and San Gimignano. We loved them both!!!
 

nfowife

Brilliant_Rock
Joined
Mar 15, 2011
Messages
544
I just returned to the US after living in Italy for 2 years. I miss it so much!!

1. You MUST have a GPS. You will seriously be lost (pun intended) without one. We purchased one since we were living there, but you might already own one you can buy the Italy map for or borrow one or even rent one, even if it's expensive it will be absolutely worth it. Especially in Tuscany many of the roads are back roads, dirt roads with no signs whatsoever, not to mention the language barrier. Get one!!!

2. Learn some basic Italian phrases- just please (por favore), thank you (grazie), how much (quanto costa?), where is the bathroom (dove la toilette) are musts. Also know that in Italy in restaurants sevice is S-L-O-W. No one will come ask you if you need more of this or that, or the check. Don't be afraid to wave them down and ask. The universal sign for "check please" is to use your index finger to write on the palm of your opposite hand.

3. We love love loved San Gimignano, it is one of our favorite hill towns in Tuscany. We didn't love Siena as much but it is of course worth seeing :) . I would also recommend going into Perugia as it borders the area and we loved Umbria almost as much as Tuscany. In Florence be sure to make reservations for the museums ahead of time.

4. Get Rick Steve's Italy book, he has tons of helpful advice on the hill towns and Florence.

Have a blast!! I miss Italy.....can't wait to find my way back there again soon.
 

sphenequeen

Brilliant_Rock
Joined
Oct 16, 2009
Messages
640
nfowife, your tips are SO incredibly helpful. I will purchase a GPS and the RIck Steve's book ASAP. Also, the information about booking museum trips ahead of time is great to know.

Thanks again!
 

rainwood

Brilliant_Rock
Premium
Joined
Mar 29, 2005
Messages
1,486
My best travel advice is something we learned the hard way, which is to SLOW DOWN. When we first started traveling (and definitely on our first trip to Italy), I wanted to see everything because I didn't know if I'd ever be back. The problem is you see everything and experience little.

You're only there for a week so focus on a few areas that are within an easy distance, and have a couple of other interesting destinations if you have more time. If you're staying in Tuscany, stick to Tuscany and figure out what interests you the most. Is it food? Is it wine? Is it Renaissance art? Is it architecture? Is it modern day Italy? Is it scenery? Is it the lifestyle? Then focus on the things you're most interested in and (this is the hard part) SKIP THE REST. It's okay.

And pick your destinations so you're not always in the car. Driving in Italy is fun, but tiring. What works best for us is to pick a destination for the day or couple of days, have a list of some things we might be interested in doing, a couple of restaurants that are supposed to be good and in our price range, and then just let the day unfold. Sometimes, we ended up doing the things we thought, sometimes we'd find other things. But it was way more relaxing and fun than rushing around to see every museum, church, and tourist attraction in town. And get off the tourist track sometimes, including Rick Steves. It can be fun to exchange experiences with your fellow travelers, but sometimes it's more interesting to go in the opposite direction and see what the locals are up to.

We often saved the best restaurants for lunch rather than dinner. Reservations aren't as necessary so we could be flexible, it was usually less money, and we got to enjoy the long leisurely lunch Italy is famous for. Plus a lot of things are closed at lunchtime anyway.

And learn a little Italian. It makes the experience even more fun!
 

Blackpaw

Ideal_Rock
Joined
Jun 26, 2008
Messages
2,469
nfowife im so jealous! can i ask what you did while in italy? i studied there for a couple of months years ago and cant wait to get back for an extended period of time - its just hard to know how i could do that...

Great advice Rainwood, you dont have much time so definitely SLOW DOWN :bigsmile: id stick with tuscany too, florence of course, the hill towns, and id personally skip pisa (unless you really want to see the tower, otherwise i dont think the town has much character).

im sure you're going to have an amazing time no matter what, and seeing as you have a villa booked id almost say dont plan anything just rock up and see what takes your fancy...

although for sure if you're into the museums book ahead, it will save you lots of time in the long run =)
 

sphenequeen

Brilliant_Rock
Joined
Oct 16, 2009
Messages
640
rainwood|1309994298|2963180 said:
My best travel advice is something we learned the hard way, which is to SLOW DOWN. When we first started traveling (and definitely on our first trip to Italy), I wanted to see everything because I didn't know if I'd ever be back. The problem is you see everything and experience little.

You're only there for a week so focus on a few areas that are within an easy distance, and have a couple of other interesting destinations if you have more time. If you're staying in Tuscany, stick to Tuscany and figure out what interests you the most. Is it food? Is it wine? Is it Renaissance art? Is it architecture? Is it modern day Italy? Is it scenery? Is it the lifestyle? Then focus on the things you're most interested in and (this is the hard part) SKIP THE REST. It's okay.

And pick your destinations so you're not always in the car. Driving in Italy is fun, but tiring. What works best for us is to pick a destination for the day or couple of days, have a list of some things we might be interested in doing, a couple of restaurants that are supposed to be good and in our price range, and then just let the day unfold. Sometimes, we ended up doing the things we thought, sometimes we'd find other things. But it was way more relaxing and fun than rushing around to see every museum, church, and tourist attraction in town. And get off the tourist track sometimes, including Rick Steves. It can be fun to exchange experiences with your fellow travelers, but sometimes it's more interesting to go in the opposite direction and see what the locals are up to.

We often saved the best restaurants for lunch rather than dinner. Reservations aren't as necessary so we could be flexible, it was usually less money, and we got to enjoy the long leisurely lunch Italy is famous for. Plus a lot of things are closed at lunchtime anyway.

And learn a little Italian. It makes the experience even more fun!
It is definitely my plan to keep it SLOW. I just want to have an actual VACATION so that I can come back and feel like I did something good for myself (and my husband). I knew not to stick to the touristy stuff which is why I am asking for recommendations and advice here. I do think it is a good idea to get a book so I know what few things I absolutely want to see.

You are all SO awesome and I can't wait to share my experience when I get back.
 

Pandora II

Ideal_Rock
Joined
Aug 3, 2006
Messages
9,613
I lived in Arezzo for 6 years, so here are my top tips:

Places to visit:

Montepulciano - (the Vino Nobile is amazing - I opened a bottle of 1998 from Contucci a few weeks ago and it was well worth waiting the 13 years I've had it for!) Also a very pretty town with a lovely church in the valley below.
Siena
Fiesole - (it's in the hills above Florence and has amazing views and good restaurants)
Cortona
Montalcino - (Brunello wine is one of Italy's greats)
Arezzo - pretty town with a huge antiques market on the first weekend of each month, around 20k people come to this each month (it's the largest - and oldest - in Italy). I used to go to a little restaurant called Osteria dell' Agania a lot when I lived there. The owner is completely mad but they do amazing tagliolini with tartufo - truffles - which I still dream about.

Personally I loathe Florence, but most people want to visit it.

One fun place is Petriolo which is famous for its hot springs. I believe they now have a spa there, but we used to go in the evening to the ones along the riverbank. There's a parking place and you walk down and there are loads of little pools full of hot thermal water in the rocks. The ex-bf and I used to take a bottle of prosecco and plonk ourselves in one of the pools and watch the stars (and the nutters jumping in the river to cool off). The police used to come round every now and then to make sure people weren't running about in the nude (topless is fine but not bottomless) which was quite amusing. Anyway as something a bit different I highly recommend it.

Saturnia is another amazing place if you like hot springs. Have a look on google as it's really hard to describe it in a short sentence or two.

October is a great time of year to go but it will be a bit chilly in the evenings so take a jumper and a coat.

Honestly, keep the Cinque Terre for another trip, there are more than enough incredible places in Tuscany and you don't want to spend your whole time in the car if you only have a week - and it's a fair old drive from Chianti. I'd also leave Rome for another time.

You will find that most Italians do not speak English outside the big cities - but they are good at sign language! Tipping is not expected in Italy.
 

sphenequeen

Brilliant_Rock
Joined
Oct 16, 2009
Messages
640
What I am getting from most of you in the know is that I should really explore Tuscany and keep other places in mind for another visit. I am perfectly happy with not being in a car the whole time. I would hate that!

I am going to leave Rome and Cinque Terre out for this trip. I like the idea of staying local.
 

sphenequeen

Brilliant_Rock
Joined
Oct 16, 2009
Messages
640
Thank you all for the advice on Italy - We are leaving on Oct. 14th and we return on Oct. 22nd. I found a great book with tons of visual aids that has assisted me with planning, along with your recommendations. As I said earlier, this is our first BIG trip in 5 years of marriage and we are super excited. I can't wait to share my experience with all of you!
 

moosemom

Shiny_Rock
Joined
Jun 3, 2011
Messages
210
Happy Anniversary and have a wonderful trip. I lived in Italy for three years and so enjoyed the beautiful people, scenery and food. I was able to travel all over and honestly I agree with the others - just concentrate on one area and slow down while you are there. One thing to keep in mind about reading guidebooks is that everyone else that is a tourist is doing the same thing. One thing we found out worked the best for us was asking a local - at your hotel, a restaurant, a cafe etc. what is the best thing to see. We found out we enjoyed our time so much more that way and we weren't running around like crazy following a set plan. If you are going to stay in the Tuscany area I would also put San Gimignano and Siena on the list. Some people love Florence - it is beautiful, but I am not such a big museum person so I enjoyed doing the food and wine thing. I loved Montepulciano and also Perugia (not too far away in Umbria). Have a great time and don't forget to report back to all of us.
 

sphenequeen

Brilliant_Rock
Joined
Oct 16, 2009
Messages
640
Hi Moosemom -

I have Florence, Siena, and San Gimignano on our list and we are keeping the rest pretty loose. The guidebook has been helpful by letting me know "what is where."
 

nfowife

Brilliant_Rock
Joined
Mar 15, 2011
Messages
544
Do you have places to stay? I never told you but we stayed in a few places and our favorite by far was romitorio di serelle. It is an agriturismo (farm house hotel) run by 2 brothers outside San Gimignano. It is breathtaking.
http://www.romitoriodiserelle.it/

They are so nice, and serve wonderful home-cooked meals each night on site. It is truly a dreamy location and very well-located for visiting Tuscany.
We've also stayed in various other places in Tuscany and Umbria and also Florence. In Florence I stayed at a vacation apartment (with my husband and 2 kids) and also at the Hotel Calzaiuoli for a girlfriend's weekend which is smack-dab in the center of everything. Highly recommend and our room came with breakfast that was very delicious.

We were living in Naples for 2 years for my DH's job, he is in the military and when we got the opportunity to live there we couldn't pass it up! I really miss the simple life we had over there and all the traveling we got to do. It was so fun and exciting!
 

sphenequeen

Brilliant_Rock
Joined
Oct 16, 2009
Messages
640
nfowife|1316548945|3021561 said:
Do you have places to stay? I never told you but we stayed in a few places and our favorite by far was romitorio di serelle. It is an agriturismo (farm house hotel) run by 2 brothers outside San Gimignano. It is breathtaking.
http://www.romitoriodiserelle.it/
We are staying in an apartment in the Chianti area. We booked one place because you have to commit to one week in order to stay there. We are going to take day trips from our home base. Our plan is to book a few museums in Florence and I have yet to know what I want to visit in Siena and San Gimignano. Any recommendations?
 

Pandora II

Ideal_Rock
Joined
Aug 3, 2006
Messages
9,613
Might be handy...

If in a restaurant there are three things on the menu that look good and you can't decide which to have, then ask if they will do a 'tris' where you get a small amount of all three!

Also worth noting that pasta is a 'primo' (first course) not a 'secondo' (main course) and so will be a much smaller size than many people expect as pasta dishes are seen as main courses. You are not expected to eat all the courses on offer at a restaurant, it's also perfectly acceptable to ask for a primo to be done as a secondo (ie twice as much) or to have two primi etc.

Main course in Italy don't generally come with side-dishes - if you order a steak then that is what will arrive, so make sure you order any side dishes as well.

Always worth asking the staff what they recommend to eat - they usually recommend good things! In Siena, 'pici' pasta are a local dish.

If you are big meat-eaters then the Fiorentina steaks are from a very ancient and HUGE breed of cow called a Chianina (some restaurants put up photos of the cow currently on the menu!) are AMAZING. But they are also enormous so don't order one each unless you plan to sit there all night! It certainly helps to be a meat-eater in Tuscany - if you are vegetarian then the only option used to be 'La Sedano Allegra' in Florence - as it features hugely on the menu. Wild boar (cinghiale), hare (lepre) and rabbit (coniglio) are all really good especially as pasta sauces.

Finally, the Siennese speak a very odd form of Italian where they pronounce the letter 'C' like an 'H', so Luca 'loo-ca' becomes 'loo-ha' and Coca Cola is pronounced as Hoha Hola. You were given some advice on simple phrases like 'per favore', 'grazie' etc above, but I would just say 'il bagno?' (eel ban yo) in a questioning tone - I've never heard anyone use 'la toilette'.

Be warned, Italian public lavatories and those in restaurants etc can be of various types from what is usual in the USA and UK down to a hole in the ground with two footprint bits to put your feet either side (I've seen these in even pretty smart restaurants and it can throw you a little - there is usually a handrail to hold onto while you squat which is advisable especially if you have been enjoying the local wine!). Many bathrooms are also unisex as well.
 

nfowife

Brilliant_Rock
Joined
Mar 15, 2011
Messages
544
If you have the Rick Steves book (if not, get one!) he has good walking tours of both cities. His restaurant recommendations are also usually very good and not super expensive. Also on his website he has some downloadable audio tours of cities and museums. Take a look.
Bring a small bit of TP in a ziploc in your purse- it is more common for a bathroom to have NO TP than to have it. So bring your own if you don't want to do without :)
I had this purse for when we lived in Europe:
http://www.zappos.com/pacsafe-venturesafe-300-vertical-travel-bag-hemlock-green
I never felt unsafe or felt like I was a target for pickpockets, but they do exist in the larger touristy areas. Since I was with my 2 young children and often distracted, having this bag just made me feel more secure since I had my passports, military IDs, etc. with me. Just another thing for peace of mind.
You're going to have a great time!
 
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