Italy Beyond The Obvious Tailored. Travel. Italy. Thu, 23 Jul 2015 18:45:04 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Your Roman Holiday: Experience Vintage Glamour in Rome Thu, 23 Jul 2015 18:28:55 +0000 This is a guest post by Jonathon Spada – thank you Jonathon!

First-time visitors to Rome are often enchanted by the vintage glamour from the classic mid-century films set in the Eternal City. A happy-go-lucky Audrey Hepburn atop a vintage Vespa zipping through narrow, winding streets or a gorgeous Anita Ekberg splashing around the Trevi Fountain set the bar high for many visiting Rome. While the stars gracing the silver screen may have changed over the years, the vintage glamour in Rome is far from gone.

For those seeking to follow in the footsteps of the vintage elite, this list is for you! Read recommendations below for restaurants, shopping, art and architecture, as well as locations for an afternoon picnic and bike ride to live out your dreams for your very own Roman holiday.

Restaurants Via Margutta Rome

Restaurants on Via Margutta in Rome by Margutta Glamour Studios


Experience Vintage Glamour in Rome: Restaurants

Let’s start with the most famous: the street Via Veneto, still one of the most prestigious in Rome, opens onto the south-east edge of Villa Borghese gardens, winding its way to Piazza Barberini. The street was immortalized as a destination for the who’s who of cinema starlets when it was featured in Federico Fellini’s 1960 film La Dolce Vita, especially the Café de Paris (Via Veneto, 90) and Harry’s Bar (Via Veneto, 150) which still serve up espressos to VIPs today.

There’s nothing more glamorous than a meal with a view, and Rome can deliver with some fabulous al fresco terraces. The terraces belonging to the iconic Hotel Hassler, the Cavalieri, the Grand Hotel Palace, and Hotel Minerva, are some of the most distinguished locations with celebrity chefs serving award-winning menus amidst stunning panoramic views that have hosted the vintage glamour crowd for decades. If you’d like to indulge at one of these hotels without breaking the bank, just grab a prosecco at sunset. Rome at dusk is nothing short of spectacular.

Via Margutta, a “hidden” parallel to Via Babuino off Piazza di Spagna, holds many local claims to fame. It was here that John Bradley, Gregory Peck’s character in Roman Holiday, lived at no. 51. It was also the residential street for many of Rome’s celebrities through the decades, including Federico Fellini and Picasso for a brief stint in 1917. Today the charming street is lined with galleries, small artisanal shops, and restaurants, including Osteria Margutta (Via Margutta, 82), historically known as the meeting place for many of the internationally famous artists who lived and worked here, including Italo Calvino, Giorgio De Chirico, and Pier Paolo Pasolini to name a few.


Missoni Store, Piazza di Spagna, Rome, shopping

Missoni Store, Piazza di Spagna, Roma by Roberto Ventre on Flickr

Experience Vintage Glamour in Rome: Shopping

The most glamorous shopping district in Rome remains the Tridente district, delineated by three ‘prongs’ that lead to Piazza del Popolo – Via di Ripetta, Via del Corso, and Via del Babuino. The cross streets in this area are home to international and local boutique ateliers for fashion, art, home decor, and antiquities. Here you’ll find all of the global fashion houses – Gucci, Bulgari, Fendi, Prada, Chanel, Dolce & Gabbana, Louis Vuitton, and so on. Here you’ll find Via Condotti, the so-called “5th Avenue” of Rome and a very popular street to see and be seen. If you’re looking for a taste of local fashion, organize an appointment to visit the André Laug showroom in Piazza di Spagna or check out G’local in Campo Marzio. Or for one-of-a-kind finds, head to La Bottega Margutta on Via Margutta, 58 or get a personalized marble engraving for as little as €15 from the Bottega del Marmoraro di Sandro Fiorentini also on Via Margutta.


Palazzo della Civilta' del Lavoro, Roma

Palazzo della Civilta’ del Lavoro by Pietro Motta on Flickr

Experience Vintage Glamour in Rome: Art and Architecture

Of course Rome is known for its wealth of ancient, Byzantine, and Renaissance art and architecture but the vintage glamour scene lends itself to a different era – that of modern art from the early 20th century and onwards.

The Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna near the north-west end of the Villa Borghese gardens has an impressive permanent collection and a constantly changing wealth of temporary exhibitions. Or if you’re looking for something a little more intimate, head back to Via Margutta where you’ll find plenty of local artist-run galleries featuring both vintage and contemporary works.

The architecture in Rome is an extraordinary tapestry of contrasting styles from different centuries built on top, next to, and inside each other. To stroll characteristically charming narrow streets in Rome, check out the Monti neighborhood (the area north of Via Cavour) or the Jewish Ghetto (near Campo de’ Fiori and Largo Argentina). It’s easy to get lost around Campo de’ Fiori, but head to nearby Via Giulia for an exceptionally stunning walk.

The Esposizione Universale Roma, or EUR neighbrohood was a massive urban planning project in the 1930s under Benito Mussolini. Destined to be the host for the 1942 World Expo but ultimately never took place due to the Second World War, the quarter is known for several Fascist Era architectural monuments, such as the square colosseum and artificial lake. The stark architecture contrasts with that of the center but brims with mid-century elegance. A lovely stroll and coffee along Via Europa or around the artifical lake, laghetto dell’EUR, feels like a step back in time.


Villa Borghese, Temple of Asclepius, Rome Italy

The Temple of Asclepius, Villa Borghese, Rome. Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Experience Vintage Glamour in Rome: Picnics and Bike riding

The vintage glamour of summer in Rome is immortalized by movie stars on bicycles, vespas, and indulging in lazy picnics in Rome’s beautiful parks. Bicycles and Vespa rentals can be rented through a many different companies, but the most popular is Bici Baci, which has several rental locations throughout the city.

The Villa Borghese Gardens have plenty of lovely spots for a picnic with scenic views. There’s a particularly peaceful and shady spot that faces the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna in the north-west end of the park. Villa Borghese is a great place to rent a bicycle or golf cart and go for a ride. Take your bike to the Giardino del Lago, which features a picturesque pond and manicured gardens.

In addition to Villa Borghese, Villa Doria Pamphili (near Trastevere and the Vatican) and Villa Ada (in the north end of Rome) are the two other largest public parks that are perfect for a giro on 2 wheels. For something more central, right around the corner from the Colosseum is Villa Celimontana. Surrounded by the ruins of prestigious Roman palaces of the Oppian Hill, the park is less vast but features plenty of places to sit down, lay out a blanket and relax for a few hours away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Via Appia Antica, the original road into the ancient city of Rome, is another fabulous bike route where several stops can be made along the way to visit catacombs, ruins of ancient villas, and even drink refreshing spring water from the Ninfeo di Egeria, which is naturally sparkling. The vintage glamour of Rome best marketed by the beautiful women and men in the cinema of the 1950s and 1960s can still be experienced today and add a particularly sophisticated layer to your own Roman holiday.


About the author:

Jonathon Dominic Spada manages Margutta Glamour Studios, a collection of 4 elegant vacation rentals repurposed from historic artist lofts and studios, located on Rome’s distinguished “artists’ street” – Via Margutta. Margutta Glamour Studios are perfect for families or couples seeking to experience the elegant lifestyle of the vintage glamour in Rome. We offer professional wedding and event planning services as well.

For reservations and more information, visit

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Cività di Bagnoregio: tips for visiting this unique Italian village Wed, 08 Jul 2015 21:50:35 +0000 Civita di Bagnoregio Italy

Civita di Bagnoregio by Joe Mack

With a population of only 20 people and access limited to a pedestrian footbridge, the Italian town of Cività di Bagnoregio is a unique destination and a stop I include frequently in Italy itineraries for travelers going between Rome and Tuscany. But it’s not a good fit for every traveler, so read my tips below. Photographer Joe Mack agreed to let me use his gorgeous photos, and I’ve also included some of his comments from his own trip to this stunning town.


Tips for visiting Cività di Bagnoregio


Bring your walking shoes

As you can see in the photo above, the town of Cività di Bagnoregio is at the end of a footbridge, which is a quarter mile long and fairly steep towards the end. To get to the start of the footbridge from the parking lot, there are also some stairs.

From Joe: “The walk up the ramp towards the town was a bit of a challenge. It is approximately a quarter mile long and uphill. Halfway up the ramp, to our bad luck, a storm broke out. We did have an umbrella but the wind kept turning it inside out. So I’m holding the umbrella, a rolling suitcase and helping steady my wife in what felt like 40 mph winds. Needless to say we were soaked by the time we got to our B&B”. 

If you are traveling with small children or people who cannot do stairs or who would have a problem walking up the ramp at the end of the footbridge, a better stop on the way between Tuscany and Rome might be the Bomarzo Monsters Park.


Civita di Bagnoregio Italy

Facade in Civita by Joe Mack

Don’t bring a checklist

Cività di Bagnoregio is not the sort of place with lots of sights and things “to do”. Follow your nose. Get lost. Explore its small streets and just wander. Enjoy the atmosphere and the valley views. Have lunch. You could also visit the Cività di Bagnoregio Geological Museum, to understand how this town, perched atop a crumbling cliff of tufa limestone, can be saved.

From Joe: “The town is very small. A few B&Bs, a couple restaurants, one or two souvenir shops. I don’t think anyone needs to spend more than a few hours there, or at most stay one night.” 

If you are looking for a stop between Tuscany and Rome where there is more to “do”, I recommend Orvieto.


Civita di Bagnoregio Italy

Door in Civita di Bagnoregio by Joe Mack

Getting to Cività di Bagnoregio: Rent a car

It’s possible, but not easy, to take the train to Cività di Bagnoregio: take the train to Orvieto and then a bus to Cività. However a rental car is the best approach. Note that the town of Cività di Bagnoregio is different than the town of (just) Bagnoregio. Cività di Bagnoregio (you can refer to it as Cività) is about a mile from the town of Bagnoregio. From Bagnoregio, you’ll follow the signs out of town towards Cività, and end up in the parking lot where you’ll park your car. There’s a machine where you can pay for parking, then you’ll pay the town’s entrance fee, and walk across the bridge.


Bring small change

You will need to pre-pay the parking and leave the receipt on your dash so bring coins – 10 euros should be fine for a few hours. Cività is also the only town in Italy asking visitors to pay an entrance fee, but it’s just a few euros and goes towards the town’s much needed structural maintenance. If someone in your party wants to avoid the stairs from the parking lot to the footbridge, there’s a also shuttle that costs a few euros, although note that you still need to walk across the footbridge.


Civita di Bagnoregio Italy

Civita di Bagnoregio by Joe Mack

Make a lunch reservation

There are some good lunch options in Cività but if you arrive at the parking lot and see tour buses (Rick Steves loves this place and doesn’t keep it a secret!), you may have trouble finding somewhere for lunch once across the bridge, especially if you’d prefer outdoor seating on a nice day. There really are just a couple of restaurants and a couple of places to buy a sandwich, that’s about it – no hidden gems here! And, if you arrive at the Cività parking lot and find tour buses, you may want to skip a visit and spend a few hours in Orvieto or Viterbo instead.


Your car should appear completely empty when parked

This tip applies anytime you park a rental car anywhere in Italy, especially at any sort of unmanned parking lot. Car break-ins in Italy are extremely common, but thieves are opportunistic, meaning that if a car appears to be completely empty (even if it is not), they will leave it alone.

So before you arrive at the parking lot, put all of your luggage in the trunk of your car (and if you’re not driving a sedan pull the luggage cover closed). Do not leave anything on the seats — by that I mean do not leave out map, or even a sweater, and certainly not anything of value such as a GPS (or a GPS plug, indicating that the GPS is stored in the glove compartment). The Cività parking lot often has some sort of attendant so in theory that might deter potential thieves, but don’t rely on it. Anything that cannot be completely hidden inside your car’s trunk should be taken with you.


My travelers love this town, and with these tips, I hope you will too! I also included the footbridge in my posts about Italy’s best bridges.


About the photographer: Joe Mack has been a professional photographer since 1996 and says Cività di Bagnoregio is his all-time favorite place to photograph. Visit Joe’s website, I Want To Go There Photography, or his Facebook page for more.

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Lace shops in Burano: excerpt from ’50 Places in Rome, Florence, and Venice Every Woman Should Go’ Mon, 02 Mar 2015 17:54:18 +0000 I loved Susan Van Allen’s book “100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go“, so was happy to hear about her latest book, “50 Places in Rome, Florence, and Venice Every Woman Should Go”. Susan has graciously shared an excerpt from the book on lace shopping in Burano, below, for Italy Beyond the Obvious readers. Burano is one of the more well-known islands in Venice’s lagoon, and is a wonderful day trip from Venice – often combined with the glass-blowers’ island of Murano and the island of Torcello. I particularly love Susan’s Golden Days, advice on putting together the pieces (which can seem overwhelming!) in just one spectacular day. Read to the end of the excerpt for details of a Golden Day on the island of Burano.

Burano lace shops

Author Susan Van Allen with a lace maker on the Venetian island of Burano


Excerpted from “50 Places in Rome, Florence, and Venice Every Woman Should Go”

Lace Shopping in Burano

The island of Burano has been world famous for lace making since the 1500s. The Venetian legend goes that it started when a man who was heading off to sea gave his beloved an intricate piece of seaweed. Pining for him, she took out her needle and copied the design. The more practical story is that these island women were experts at mending their husband’s fishing nets, so when lace making came along they took to it naturally.

Now Burano, a half hour vaporetto ride from Venice, is a delight to discover–vibrantly painted buildings greet you upon arrival and lace shops cover the island’s center. Be aware that much of the lace for sale is no longer island-crafted, in fact much is made in China, so if you want the real thing, check out my recommendations below. Stop by the Museo del Merletto (Lace Museum), to start your shopping expedition. There’s a great video about the history of lacemaking, and elegant displays. Best of all, there are senior citizen signoras working there who have been making lace all their lives. The star of them is Emma Vidal, a 97-year old spunky type, who makes lace without wearing glasses. “The young people don’t do this anymore,” she grumbled, when I sat next to her, marveling over her quick stitching technique. “All they want to do is dance in the discoteca!”
Museo del Merletto, Piazza Baldassare Galuppi 187, Open April-October: 10:00am-6:00pm, November-March: 10:00am-5:00pm, Closed Monday,

The lace making signoras take a lunch break, so stop by between 10am and noon or 2pm to 3:30pm to see them.

Lace shops in Burano Venice

Other Lace Shops in Burano to enjoy

Merletti d’Arte Martina, Via San Mauro 307,
Come here for lace blouses, in beautiful colors and stylish designs, and a wonderful selection of table and bed linens. There is also an attached museum of antique lace. It’s close to the vaporetto landing, and their back garden is a pleasant place to enjoy a caffe and those special Buranesi cookies.

Emilia Burano, Piazza Galuppi 205,
Gorgeous bed and bath linens in this ultra-elegant shop.

Golden Day: Vaporetto to Burano from the Venice Fondamente Nove stop (Vap#12), and enjoy wandering amidst the colorful homes along the canals, lace shops, making a stop at Museo del Merletto to watch the lacemaking signore in action. Have lunch at Trattoria al Gatto Nero, for charming service and great seafood, prepared with risotto, grilled, or fried. (Fondamenta Giudecca 88, 041 730 120, closed Monday,

50 Places in Rome, Florence and Venice Every Woman Should Go

More information about author Susan Van Allen can be found at her website, including a link to purchase the book. Thank you Susan!

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Italy train travel: top 15 client questions (and instructional video) Thu, 29 Jan 2015 22:50:36 +0000 When I create a custom Italy itinerary for a new client, one of the most important parts of the initial discussion revolves around logistics, and the conversation quickly moves to Italy train travel. Clients want to know:

what’s the best way to travel from A to B within Italy, how long will it take, and how much will it cost?

I’ve got lots of advice on driving in Italy and whether to rent a car, but for Italy itineraries that do not require a car, the Italian train system is incredibly efficient, relatively inexpensive, and much less hassle than driving. Here are the most frequently asked questions I get about Italy train travel, in no particular order.

Train travel Italy


Does the train work with my Italy itinerary?

This is usually the first question people ask and it’s the most complicated question to answer, especially for a beyond-the-obvious Italy itinerary. Italy’s train system is very extensive, so between fast trains and slow trains, travelers can get around most of the country by train. If you’re only traveling between major cities, then the answer is yes, you can do it all by train. If you’re traveling to smaller towns, then the answer is most likely yes, you can travel completely by train, but you will have to check train timetables on The only way to get a definitive answer to this question is to plug your cities into the Trenitalia website and see whether a solution for train travel comes up.


What’s the difference between first class and second class on an Italian train?

Second class on Italian fast trains is actually quite nice, as you can see from this photo.

Italian train travel, second class

But, as you can see, this photo is of an empty train (and the older slow trains are not as nice but they often don’t have first class).  The big difference between first and second class on Italian trains is the level of chaos. Second class is where the majority of Italians travel, so it’s louder and more crowded, with more people yakking on cell phones and getting on and off at each station. If you enjoy immersing yourself in the hustle and bustle of Italian culture, then you’ll enjoy the atmosphere of second class. But, first class tickets are not much more expensive so if you prefer a quieter train experience, then buying first class tickets is probably worth it. And if you really value a quiet train, buy the Business Class silenzio tickets, if offered. It’s worth noting that the seats in first class are a little bit — but not a lot — nicer. The difference between first and second class on Italian trains is nowhere near as large as the difference between first and second class on the airlines.


Can I store my bags near my seat?

As you can see from the photo above, there are overhead storage areas above the seats for bags. And while there are several different configurations for trains, overhead storage space is not big enough for suitcases, so you’ll be able to store your briefcase or laptop or jacket or backpack up there, but not your luggage. When I travel with smaller suitcases I put them in the gap in between the seat backs, if they fit. If you’ve booked a compartment, then you’ll be able to store your luggage inside. The only other alternative is to put them in the luggage storage area near the doors, which looks like this:

Italy train travel, train luggage storage


Is my luggage safe in the luggage storage area on an Italian train?

Yes. At least, you don’t need to travel with a padlock and chain it down. Since the luggage storage is close to the train door, in theory I suppose somebody could grab your bag as they were getting off the train, but I’ve never heard of that happening. That said, if I were traveling with a large Prada suitcase that cost a few thousand dollars empty, I probably wouldn’t put it in that area, or at the very minimum I’d book a seat very nearby to keep an eye on it.


Can I buy food on the train?

Yes, there is a guy with a cart that comes around on some routes, selling sandwiches, snacks, and drinks, but I don’t recommend it.  Unless you buy a bag of potato chips, it’s probably the worst food you’ll eat in Italy. If you are traveling during a meal time, I recommend buying sandwiches in the train station before you get on the train — those are wonderful! And, if your train has a restaurant car, the food there is pretty good.

Italian train travel, panini at Roma Termini train station

Picking a sandwich from a cafe in Roma Termini Train station…. so many options!


Are the bathrooms on Italian trains horrible?

The restrooms on the older slow trains should only be used in case of emergency, but the restrooms on the fast trains are modern and have running water, soap, and paper towels. That said, it doesn’t mean they’re clean. I generally try to avoid bathrooms in train stations and on trains if possible.

Italy train travel, Frecciarossa bathroom

See? Not so bad, as long as it’s clean (and I can’t guarantee that)…



Do I need to buy Italian train tickets in advance?

I recommend buying train tickets for fast trains in advance for a few reasons. First, the prices are lower compared to buying them at the last minute. Second, every now and then, Italian trains sell out. But, when I travel to Italy, even in high season, unless I’m traveling with my kids I do not buy my train tickets in advance, in order to allow more flexibility in my schedule, and (touch wood / tocca ferro!) I’ve never had a problem. Even if you show up at the train station and the train you planned to take is sold out, trains in Italy run so frequently that there will likely be another train departing within a few hours. To buy train tickets in advance, I recommend using the Trenitalia website. Scroll down to see a video for how to buy tickets on this site. Note that this advice is for fast trains, which are the Frecciarossa or Frecciabianca or Frecciargento. For slower trains like Intercity or Regionale, it’s often not possible to buy tickets online in advance. You’ll have to buy them at the train station — but so will everyone else.


How do I buy Italian train tickets online?

[I buy train tickets for Gold and Platinum trip planning clients, but here’s the advice I give my coaching clients.] Use the Trenitalia website and you’ll get a train ticket sent to you in your email which you can print out and bring with you. But really all you need is the PNR number (see example ticket below). In the video below, I show you how I book tickets on the Trenitalia website. I use the Italian version of the website because it’s very straightforward (and last I checked, the English version of the site was not very easy to use). Note that you cannot buy train tickets online earlier than 90 days before the date of travel. So if you do a search for your route and it says your “solution is not available”, don’t assume tickets are sold out. More likely, it’s more than 90 days in advance or you’re trying to book a slow train.


About five minutes after you’ve completed your purchase, you’ll get an email from Trenitalia with an attachment which is your train ticket. It looks like this:

Train travel Italy, Trenitalia email ticket


This ticket is for the fast Frecciarossa train 9572 from Rome’s Termini train station to Florence’s S. M. Novella train station on April 4th, 2015. This train departs at 10.05 am and arrives in Florence at 11.36 am. My clients are booked in carriage #1, seats 12D and 13D. When the conductor comes to check their ticket, all he cares about is that PNR number (which I have blanked out since this trip is in the future). Since I booked the tickets well in advance, they got a great price for a Business class itinerary.


What’s the best way to buy tickets in the train station?

The best way to buy tickets in any Italian train station, hands down, is at an automated machine. Large train stations like Roma Termini have dozens of these machines, and they offer the option of choosing a language so it’s incredibly easy to buy tickets. The main thing to remember when using automated machines in Italian train stations is that Italians have switched to credit cards with smart chips and PIN numbers, so if your card does not have a PIN, you should use your debit card in these machines. Otherwise, you’ll get to the screen that says “enter your PIN”, and you won’t have a PIN, and you’ll have to cancel the transaction and go stand in line to buy tickets from a teller.

Italy train travel, Roma Termini ticket machines

One of the many banks of ticket machines at Roma Termini train station


Should I buy a rail pass for Italian train travel?

No. I used to do the math for clients and I finally stopped doing it when I never once recommended to anyone to buy a rail pass, so I’ve stopped spending time on it.

But, if you’d like a longer, more thorough answer with examples, head over to Italy Explained and read my friend Jessica’s excellent and detailed article on how to decide whether to buy a rail pass.


Is taking the train cheaper than renting a car in Italy?

Usually train tickets are cheaper than car rental, but not if you rent from dirt cheap auto dot com (I just made that up but you get the point), and of course it depends on the number of people traveling. The cars I book for my clients are quality cars from reputable car rental companies who offer excellent service and are not dirt cheap, because you get what you pay for. I usually tell people to budget about 80 euros per day for a car that holds 4 people plus luggage, and that price includes the car rental, gas, and tolls. It would be more expensive than 80 euros to buy four one-way tickets from Rome to Florence at the last minute. But, if you buy train tickets in advance (and if you have kids and travel on a Saturday when kids travel free) then it would cost less to buy four train tickets compared to renting a car. Cost should not be the only factor, though. It can be a huge hassle to have a car in Italy.


How do I figure out whether an Italian train station has luggage storage facilities?

If you’re getting off the train to do some sightseeing and then catching another train later in the day, you’ll definitely want to store your luggage at the station. In Italian, luggage storage is called deposito bagagli, and the Trenitalia website lists all services offered in each train station, by region, including whether the station has a deposito bagagli. As an example, here’s the information on all facilities in all train stations in the Veneto region.


I’ve heard about the new Italo trains – should I book with them or with Trenitalia?

Italo is a private train service that launched in 2003 for fast trains only, so that Trenitalia would not have a monopoly on train travel. Italo’s routes are not nearly as comprehensive as Trenitalia’s but its trains are newer. Italo trains use different stations, but those stations are still centrally located in major cities. The ticket prices are in the same ballpark, so if you are doing a lot of train travel on your Italy trip it might be fun to do some Italo and some Trenitalia just to try them both out.  Here’s a good overview comparing Italo and Trenitalia high speed trains.


Italy train travel, Italo train


How far in advance do I need to show up at the train station?

If you already have a train ticket, you don’t need to be at the train station more than about 20 minutes before your train departs. You need to allow time to walk from the front entrance to the departures board and check to see from which platform your train is leaving. Then you just need to have enough time to walk to that platform, and find the car and your seat.   You might need time to buy a panino or have a coffee or use the restroom, and of course, you need leeway because it’s Italy. But that’s it. If you don’t already have a ticket, add 20 minutes to buy a train ticket.


Italian train strikes? What are those?

I’m counting this as one question. Italian trains do go on strike but the good news is that strikes are announced well in advance so if one coincides with your trip, you’ll have time to figure out an alternative method of transport. I’ve written everything you need to know about Italian train strikes here.


Those are the most frequently asked questions I get from clients about Italy train travel, but if you have a question I haven’t covered feel free to leave it in the comments. These are quick questions with relatively short answers, but there’s a lot more to say about Italian train travel. If you are interested in reading more details with examples and lots of additional information about Italy train travel that is not covered here, Jessica from Italy Explained has written an ebook on Italian trains.


Top photo by Mariano Mantel on Flickr; Italo photo by Thierry Ilansades on Flickr. All other photos by Madeline Jhawar

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Luxury in Venice Sat, 10 Jan 2015 00:06:46 +0000 Venice is an incredible destination for a luxury experience, and not just because the city boasts some of Italy’s most expensive hotel rooms. The traditional definition of “luxury” is not hard to come by in Venice, but in my experience, most travelers aren’t looking for VIP-red-carpet treatment. They want to maximize their vacation time in comfort and through unique experiences. And that, they tell me, is money well-spent.

Having access to experiences that are unique and authentic, while also enjoying above-and-beyond service and relaxing in maximum comfort, is an ideal recipe for a luxury vacation in Venice.


Luxury in Venice starts with an opulent hotel with views.

Five star hotels abound in Venice. Splurging on one of Venice’s top hotels means budgeting at least $1,500 per night, per room (and note for families, 4+ person rooms are not common). Maybe you don’t want to spend that much, or maybe you can spend more. But a comfortable hotel where you can relax and recharge is money well spent. For those rates, expect opulent decor, the best views, a centrally located oasis away from the tourist fray, and of course, impeccable service.

On a recent trip to Venice, my kids and I stayed at the Londra Palace Hotel, where I’ve sent many thrilled clients in the past. We arrived by private boat to the hotel’s dock about midnight, and when we awoke the next morning and opened the windows, we were greeted by this view:

Londra Palace Venice Italy, Luxury in Venice

Welcome to Venice! Our view from the Londra Palace Hotel.


Ahh, our own private spot to relax in comfort, smack dab in the center of the city and right on the water. While we ate the plate of cookies and chocolates left by the hotel (before breakfast! said the kids) and enjoyed our private view, here were the crowds just underneath that window:

Venice crowds, luxury in Venice

Crowds heading over the Bridge of Sighs on Riva degli Schiavoni, Venice


With its Byzantine history, hotels in Venice often reflect that unique style of decor. I think the word opulent best describes Venice’s classic hotel decor, as you can see from our suite at the Londra Palace. There are of course hotels with modern design but for anyone who wants to experience the quintessential Venetian style, it’s easy to find rooms with heavy drapes made from luxurious fabrics, rooms with gilt details, and glass chandeliers.

Londra Palace Hotel Venice, Luxury in Venice

Our 3-person suite at the Londra Palace Hotel. That wallpaper was velvet.


The Aman Hotel had recently opened, so after a large buffet breakfast on the terrace, we headed over to visit.  The self-proclaimed “seven star hotel” is right on the Grand Canal and has since made headlines as the location of George Clooney’s wedding. It has a beautiful peaceful inner courtyard, ornate chandeliered ballroom-style-yet-modern lounges, and incredible original frescoes by 18th century artist Giambattista Tiepolo in the common areas and even in some guest rooms.

Aman Hotel Venice, luxury in Venice

The Aman Hotel’s most luxurious room, which sleeps two and costs about $5,000 a night, is covered in original frescoes by 18th century artist Giambattista Tiepolo.


Luxury in Venice is traveling by private water taxi.

Even if you’re a down-to-earth traveler, there’s no good reason to spend your valuable vacation time in Venice waiting in lines, fighting crowds, figuring out ticket machines, or jostling for standing-only room on Venice’s public boats, called vaporetti. Take a private water taxi directly from the airport to your hotel’s dock for about 100 euros. Hire a private boat for about 120 euros per hour in high season to take you on a tour of the islands of the lagoon, including Murano, Burano, and Torcello.

Venice private water taxi, luxury in Venice

Photo of Venice private water taxi parked near the Rialto Bridge, by Mark Altsteil on Flickr


Luxury in Venice means no lines.

Visit St Mark’s Basilica after hours, taking your time to explore the details, with in-depth explanations from your own private guide. If you’re a guest at the Londra Palace, escape the crowds along Riva degli Schiavoni by booking lunch or a sunset aperitivo on their private rooftop terrace, which has 360 degree views of the city. Here’s my video from the top of the Londra Palace rooftop terrace.

St Mark's Basilica line, luxury in Venice

The line to enter St Mark’s Basilica.


Luxury in Venice means enjoying authentic experiences.

The hotels are expensive, but there are lots of authentic experiences Venice has to offer that don’t cost much. If food and drink are a highlight of your trip, set aside time every day to partake in Venice’s pre-dinner culture. Don’t miss Venice’s iconic pre-dinner drink, the Bellini, especially if you’re there in high season when the peaches are ripe. I love Bellinis but my favorite pre-dinner drink from Venice is the Aperol spritz (it’s an acquired taste, though). I also recommend hiring a local food expert to take you on a tour of Venice’s small bites, or cicchetti, which are a uniquely Venetian experience and are much enhanced, in my opinion, with some explanation.


Cicchetti, small bites Venice

Cicchetti, yum! But yes, you’d probably like to know what you’re eating.

Or hire a personal shopper for a few hours, who can lead you through Venice’s maze of tiny streets, past the tourist shops selling glass, past the crowds of tourists snapping photos in front of Prada — to more artisanal stores, where you can meet paper makers, glass makers, wood workers, shoe makers and more. These artisanal stores are becoming rarer, unfortunately, and so are more difficult to find among the ever-growing selection of stores geared to tourists.

Go behind-the-scenes with local experiences: hire a private guide to take you to the glass-blowing island of Murano for private showings with glass-blowers for a more behind-the-scenes look, while everyone else watches the famous glass-blowing demo of the horse.


Bellini cocktail Venice, luxury in Venice, Londra Palace Hotel Venice

The bar at the Londra Palace Hotel makes the best Bellini I’ve ever had. This was in high season when the variety of peaches used for Bellini are ripe.


Luxury in Venice is not necessarily about spending your life savings or about getting VIP treatment 24/7. It’s about spending your time, money, and energy well. It’s about having access to good advice and excellent local guides in order to create a top-notch experience. [And, if you agree with these sentiments, you’re our ideal client! Let Italy Beyond the Obvious create a luxury Italy itinerary for your family or friends.]


In the interest of full disclosure: our stay at the Londra Palace Hotel was offered by the hotel.

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Tips for multi generational travel in Italy Sat, 06 Dec 2014 00:12:43 +0000 Regardless of the specific destinations included in an Italy itinerary, multi generational trips require a unique approach to planning. This type of trip needs to work for different energy levels and different schedules (naptime!) while allowing quality time together and an amazing experience for travelers of all ages. This summer I planned a trip for 18 of my own family members, ranging in age from 2 to 72. In this post I share five tips for multi generational travel: what to consider if you’d like to plan a this type of trip in Italy. I include examples from my own trip this summer, and suggestions based on other multi generational Italy trips I’ve planned for clients in the past.

multi generational travel tips Italy

Our group listening to the guide, who was about to take us on a hike and give an intro to rock climbing for anyone interested.


Multi generational travel tip #1: Carefully consider accommodation

What to think about…. You are taking this trip to be together, but do you want to be in one house or would people prefer to have nearby yet separate spaces? Do you want be in the countryside with a rental car, or would you prefer to get around by train, and be able to walk out your front door to go to dinner? Would you like to have a front desk available with helpful staff to answer questions, an onsite restaurant or bar where you can order a drink — or is a private villa a better fit for your group?

What we did this summer….. The group wanted to spend time together during fun daytime activities, but our family is spread far and wide, and we’re all used to having our own space. Some families needed an afternoon break for naps or downtime, while others had specific breakfast routines and wanted their own kitchen. There were several family members who didn’t know whether they would be able to join, so we were looking to book a place where we could add or cancel rooms if needed, with a nightly (not a weekly) rate. Booking nightly also allowed some travelers to arrive a day later and depart a day earlier and pay only for the days they stayed, which they appreciated. Finally, although the adults in our group were okay with driving in Italy, we wanted to be walking distance to a town to allow the older kids a bit of independence.

In the end we found the ideal accommodation: we booked self-catering accommodation (read: apartments) that were in one building. The building had a front desk with incredibly helpful staff, a playroom for the kids, a breakfast room which they let us use for evening gatherings, a laundry room, balconies and views, and free parking — yet was a short walk into the center of town. If you’re going to the Dolomites and interested in our specific accommodation, I would highly recommend it: Ciasa Antersies.

What I’ve planned for clients in the past...   For smaller groups, a hotel or city apartment works well. Booking 3 or 4 rooms in a centrally located hotel allows people to get around by train, make use of a helpful front desk, not worry about breakfast, and have many options for walking to dinner. Apartments offer the convenience of a central location and the flexibility of a kitchen. Countryside farmhouses, called agriturismi, are also excellent for family gatherings: guests get to know the owners, have breakfast included, and learn about the animals or the wine or olives or other crops produced. I have had many conversations with clients about villas, and a private countryside villa can certainly be a fantastic solution. However a villa has its limitations. First, any countryside location requires a rental car, which means everyone in the group must be okay to drive in Italy. Also, if you’d like to keep accommodation flexible for travelers who may join your group, a villa is not an expandable accommodation. And finally, villa rentals in Italy are in the vast majority of cases, Saturday-to-Saturday rentals only.

tips for multi generational travel, Italy, Alta Badia, Ciasa Antersies

Sitting on the terrace of my cousin’s apartment drinking Prosecco after a day of walking in those mountains over there.


Multi generational travel tip #2: Plan and pre-book structured yet flexible activities

What to consider…. Do not book your accommodation and then plan to “see what people want to do” every morning, or you will not go anywhere before noon. Book based on interests and make sure there’s some structure – but not too much – to the trip.

What we did this summer…. We had a set meeting time for a pre-booked activity every morning at 9.30 am, but afternoons were flexible. Even with a planned meeting time, there was always someone who forgot something in their room and just had to run upstairs. [Meanwhile, someone else would order a coffee while they waited, and the kids would run off to play on the swings while they were waiting….]. Our morning activities included guided historical hikes, a cooking class, exploring local towns and museums, wine tasting, and one full day excursion: an easy but long bike ride to Austria. After the morning activity, we’d have lunch and then the youngest and the eldest headed back for naps or downtime while the rest of us extended our afternoon with our local guide. We’d then regroup for pre-dinner drinks and dinner.

What I’ve booked for clients in the past…. Family-friendly tours in art museums such as Florence’s Uffizi Gallery and Rome’s Vatican museums can bring history to life for the whole family. Local guides can lead the family on “scavenger hunt” type city walking tours to trick the kids in to learning about medieval history. Hands-on classes like pasta-making, mask-making, cheese-making or pottery painting are fun for everyone. In towns, the kids will often want to scramble up to the top of a tower while grandma & grandpa wait at a cafe in a nearby piazza, with the 2 year old who is chasing pigeons. Teenagers love adrenaline sports and can even ride in the back of a Ferrari. And, a day or half a day at the beach or on a boat is usually a lot of fun.

Easy - but long - bike ride to  Lienz, Austria.

Easy – but long – bike ride to Lienz, Austria.


Multi generational travel tip #3: Have a plan for dinner

What to consider…. Breakfasts are often included with accommodation in Italy, and lunches can be figured out while you’re out and about. But don’t let the crowd get hungry and then start thinking about dinner. Wandering the streets of an Italian medieval hilltown at dinner time, looking for a table for two or four and discussing the options can be fun. But this approach for a table for 10 or more will leave everyone hungry and frustrated, or – best case scenario – seated at an ultra-touristy restaurant, looking at a menu in five languages.

What we did this summer…. We brought in pizza, did potluck-style dinners in the common room, booked a private wine tasting with food (and hired a babysitter), and went out a couple of nights for special meals.

What I’ve booked for clients…..  when people have an eating space large enough for everyone to gather, I usually book a private chef for at least one evening (and there are always leftovers). Ordering pizza is always great (call the local pizzeria and let them know you want it “da asporto” which means “to go” — and you may have to go pick it up). Another great way to eat at home without spending a lot of time cooking is to visit the local rosticceria – a sort of deli serving hot food – which has hot, pre-cooked main courses to serve buffet-style. A huge benefit of having a local cooking space is that the kids can eat early (Italian restaurants open for dinner no earlier than 7.30 pm) and then go to bed or play while the adults catch up on the day’s activities over a glass of wine – and then nobody has to drive home.

tips for multi generational travel, Italy

Several nights, we all contributed to a potluck-style dinner in the common room of our accommodation.


tips for multi generational travel, Italy, Alta Badia

Our fantastic dinner at Pre de Costa restaurant. At sunset, those mountains turned pink.


Multi generational travel tip #4: Set Expectations

What to consider… Italy is a bucket list destination for many travelers. Some of your family members may want to get off the beaten track in Italy while others may want to see the country’s main sights or spend a few days at the beach. Your group may include luxury travelers and budget travelers, so you need to decide what sort of trip it’s going to be (with input, of course) and then set expectations.

What we did this summer… To decide what the itinerary would be, each person got one request. (Interests / requests included: not too hot even though it would be July (!), not too crowded, wine tasting, biking, kid-friendly, good food, cooking class, interesting history, not too far from Padova). We had a few travelers in our group this summer who had never been to Italy before, and when I told them we were spending a week in the Dolomites, they were disappointed that our itinerary didn’t include the main sights of Rome, Florence and Venice. They added ten days to the trip so that by the time they met up with us, they’d already visited Italy’s most famous tourist attractions.

What I’ve done for clients in the past… When I work with people, we spend a lot of time creating the overall itinerary. I brainstorm lots of ideas and send information and links about places and activities and accommodation I think they would like. All the expectations get set during this back and forth discussion, and we make sure that everyone’s priorities are met before we finalize their Italy itinerary.


Multi generational travel tip #5: Don’t be the leader

What to consider…. If you’re the person who is planning to kick start this plan into motion, pat yourself on the back! Planning this sort of trip is a lot of work, and you presumably would like to relax while on vacation with your family. You do not want to fill the role of tour leader for your group. So hire local guides and leave the fun in their hands. Even better, hire Italy Beyond the Obvious and outsource the planning.

What we did this summer….. Having worked as a tour leader in the past, I was happy to take on that role with my family, although I booked one activity with a local guide every day so that I wasn’t in charge of everything all the time.

What I’ve done for clients in the past… The multi generational trips we plan for people at Italy Beyond the Obvious usually start with a conversation in which my new client says that they don’t want to be responsible for creating the trip of a lifetime for every single person on the trip. It’s too much pressure, they tell me. And from there, I take over the Italy planning…

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23 Beyond the Obvious Destinations in Italy (slideshow) Tue, 18 Nov 2014 18:47:44 +0000 Sometimes the best way to get ideas for your next Italian vacation is to look at gorgeous photos, so with that in mind, I created a slideshow of some of my favorite beyond the obvious Italy destinations.

This slideshow does not feature any places in Rome, Florence, Venice, Siena, Pisa, the Cinque Terre, or the Amalfi Coast, and even given that, it was tough to narrow it down to just 23 spots and experiences! The slides in the slideshow below are sort-of-kind-of in geographic order from north to south along the Italian peninsula. Please contact me for further details about any of these places. They are all fantastic spots to include on a unique Italy itinerary!



All photos in this slideshow are either mine or are from the Creative Commons. For more information about the photos please contact me.
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Wine tasting in Italy: Amarone in the Valpolicella Wed, 12 Nov 2014 20:57:56 +0000 Wine tasting in Italy, Valpolicella amarone Vogadori

We spent a wonderful July day wine tasting in Italy’s Valpolicella region, just north of the city of Verona. Heading out of the B&B (scroll down for photos) after breakfast, we drove through the picturesque countryside, explored a couple small towns, and learned more about the full-bodied Amarone wine that has made the area famous. Valpolicella is Latin for “valley of many vineyards”, and although this wine region isn’t nearly as well-known to foreign tourists as, say, Chianti, there are indeed many (many!) vineyards to visit. We could have easily fit in five stops with back-to-back tours but decided to take a slower approach (and some of us didn’t want to dive in to wine tasting straight after breakfast).

Italy wine tasting Valpolicella Le Bignele

Wines of the Valpolicella

It was hard to narrow down the options, but we wanted to meet some smaller producers and see the wine making process from A to Z, so we booked tours at the Vogadori brothers and Le Bignele. In addition to the famous full-bodied Amarone, the area’s vineyards also produce the medium-bodied Ripasso, a dessert wine called Recioto, and the relatively light rosso di Valpolicella, which was our go-to table wine during the years we lived in Milan.

Wine tasting in Italy Valpolicella grapes on vine

The tours started where the process starts: on the land. Alberto, one of the three Vogadori brothers and our host for the first tour, explained that Vogadori grows all their own grapes. No outside grapes or outside wine is brought in to mix with theirs (actually quite a common practice). Earlier this year they installed solar panels, allowing them to generate all their own electricity.

How to make Amarone wine

After the grapes are harvested in October, they rest in crates in order to dry out and to allow the grapes’ natural sugars to become concentrated. This resting period is crucial for a full-bodied wine like Amarone or a sweet dessert wine like Recioto because the wine needs to start its fermentation process with the grapes’ sugars at their peak. Our guides explained that the resting area must be as dry as possible so that mold doesn’t spread through the harvest, and the drying rooms at both vineyards we visited had been specially designed with big open windows so that a natural breeze flowed constantly. Here are the grapes drying in their crates at Le Bignele:

Wine tasting in Italy Valpolicella Amarone grapes Le Bignele

The Amarone and Recioto grapes need to remain in the drying crates for about four months for maximum concentration of sugars, but the grapes used for the lighter rosso di Valpolicella wine only need to dry out for a month before being crushed and transferred into steel tanks for fermentation.  Here’s Silvia, who helps run Le Bignele, showing us the drying room (though as it was July, the crates are stacked and empty).

Wine tasting in Italy Valpolicella Le Bignele

The rosso di Valpolicella then ferments in the steel tanks for just two weeks before being transferred to a barrel, while the Amarone ferments in the steel vats for almost two months. As you can see from the sign on the barrel, this batch of Amarone has been aging for more than 2 years. In the end, 100 kg / 220 lbs of grapes produce just 20 litres of Amarone wine, or about 26 bottles.

wine tasting in Italy, Amarone Valpolicella

The wine making process ends with bottling, which is done on site with a completely automated machine in an amazingly small area. A robotic assembly line process makes sure bottles are sterilized, filled, corked, labeled, and boxed.

Wine tasting in Italy, Valpolicella, automated bottling machine

Wine tasting!

The best part of the tour is at the end. Finally, let’s taste some wine! Usually a tasting costs about 10 euros a head, tasting fees are waived if you buy wine. The tasting rooms are gorgeous, with views over the lush Valpolicella countryside (see top photo of the Le Bignele tasting room). We tasted all four types of wine at each wine maker and bought some of everything, including a bottle of olive oil made by Vogadori which is sold only on the premises due to limited supply. Usually there is some sort of small snack to accompany the wine: at Vogadori we had bread sticks and at Le Bignele, Silvia put out a plate of locally made aged goat cheese with the red wines and the traditional cantucci cookies with the dessert wine.

Wine tasting Italy Valpolicella Le Bignele   Wine tasting Italy Valpolicella Fratelli Vogadori

Back at the B&B…

Wine tasting in Italy, Valpolicella

What a fabulous way to relax after six hours of being out and about in 100 degree heat!

Italy wine tasting Valpolicella Pianaura B&B

We ended the day with a lovely dinner at a local restaurant, Osteria Paverno:

Italy wine tasting Valpolicella Osteria Paverno

Here’s the Osteria’s wine list (photo below). If you’ve ever bought Amarone outside of Italy, you know how expensive it is, and you’ll recognize how unbelievably inexpensive these are! We tried to appreciate as many as possible during our few days in wine tasting in the Valpolicella, and we brought a few home, but there were still many that we didn’t have time to try.

wine tasting in Italy, Valpolicella

Getting to and around the Valpolicella wine region

This wine region covers a relatively small area just north of the city of Verona so it’s an easy day trip, or even half-day trip, for anyone visiting Verona. Getting to Verona by train is not hard, but exploring the Valpolicella requires a car. The towns of the Valpolicella are not serviced by trains, and I probably wouldn’t try to get to the vineyards using buses, so either rent a car or book a wine tour or a private driver. As you can see from the tourist map below, the area is full of wine producers, towns, and activities.

Italy wine tasting Valpolicella tourist map

Book wine tastings in advance, or at the very least check opening times and days of the places you want to visit. If you don’t get around to doing any of that, or just prefer to be spontaneous, follow the brown signs that indicate the Valpolicella wine road, which is the brown sign on the bottom in the photo below.

Italy wine tasting Valpolicella wine road sign

Valpolicella driving tip: many of the wineries are signposted, but be aware that even though the sign for a winery may be in the centre of town, the winery itself may be a 10 mile drive into the countryside. If you keep following the signs, you’ll get there, and you’re not being led on a wild goose chase – just know that because there’s a sign doesn’t mean the winery is just around the corner. And as I’ve said before, make sure you have a GPS but cross-check against a paper map. Here I am following my cousin along a “road” he was taking through the vineyard that according to his GPS was the most direct way to get back to our B&B. We cross-checked our paper map and realized it went nowhere, then had to reverse very carefully to get back to the main road.

Wine tasting Italy Valpolicella, driving in the vineyard

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Italian hospitality, home-cooked food and new friends Fri, 31 Oct 2014 18:46:00 +0000 This is a guest post – thank you to Rinita of BonAppetour!

Rome is an absolutely stunning city to experience, even, dare I say it in the heat of August. There is so much to see and to do in Rome. While visiting the gorgeous Trevi fountain one evening, some newly made friends and I along with hundreds of other visitors witnessed a marriage proposal – exciting for us, as we clapped and cheered, and truly memorable for the newly engaged couple. Dining out in Roman restaurants is fun especially around the Pantheon, but after a while I was certainly missing some good home cooking. Lucky for me, my Italian friend Giovanni invited me to a dinner party that his friend Susanna was organising for her friends.

Home cooked Italian food, Rome

Home Cooked Italian Food

That evening, we met Susanna at her lovely roof top home in the quiet neighbourhood of Reggio Emilia, just a short bus ride away. Once there, we were greeted by a spectacular view of the setting sun over the rooftops of Rome. Even Giovanni, who had been living in Rome for five years, had not seen this sort of view. We were served with a tall glass of refreshing traditional lemonade spiced with ginger. Glasses in hand, we were introduced to a number of Susanna’s close friends and everyone made us feel very welcome, as if we were right at home, even though home was half a world away. With bean bags, carpets and cushions spread across the terrace, we settled down comfortably, admiring the skyline and enjoying the company.

Then Susanna brought out the food. My mouth still waters as I remember the bruschetta antipasti, the three-tiered pasta course, the delicious melanzane (eggplant) omelette dish and the best tiramisu I have ever tasted. Food is said to be the universal conversation starter and soon we were all sharing our life and travel experiences. I think at least three languages, if not more, were being spoken throughout the evening and it was simply wonderful. I do not remember when exactly we left but it was definitely very much later with many new connections and friendships freshly kindled. It was an evening to remember and not one everyone who visits the eternal city can boast about.

Food has the ability to evoke strong memories within us. When you eat an excellent pasta dish, it can remind you of the last time you had a good pasta. If you happened to be on an Italian vacation at that time, all those wonderful memories of your summer in Italy, the places you visited and the people you met, come flooding back to you. I was lucky that I had a local friend in the city who had invited me to this gathering, however travellers without a local connection don’t have access to this sort of experience. When I got back, I was inspired to create a community where every traveller can enjoy such a home-dining experience, and go back with cherished memories of new friends and a deeper understanding of local culture.

–Rinita, Co-founder at BonAppetour 

BonAppetour is a trusted community that lets travellers dine with passionate local hosts at their homes! As a guest, not only will you have a taste of authentic home-cooked food but also the chance learn more about the different cultures. Whether you’re a warm host or guest, with BonAppetour, you’ll always be making new friends as you travel, and who knows, they could very well be friends for life!

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Off the beaten path in Italy Thu, 23 Oct 2014 17:42:03 +0000 Because of the name of my company, I get regular requests for itineraries that are at least partly off the beaten track. The definition of off the beaten path in Italy differs depending on how well you know the country. For some, the beaten track includes just Rome, Florence, and Venice, while for others it would certainly include the Amalfi Coast, the Cinque Terre, Pisa, Milan, Siena, and Lake Como.

There are entire regions of Italy that are off the radar of foreign tourists (yet full of Italians exploring their own country), but in my experience most travelers want balance. They want to see the Colosseum in Rome but then escape the tourists for awhile. They want to see the main sights in Florence and then head into the countryside for some independent exploration. With that in mind, the places I recommend below are both easily accessible from Italy’s main sights, yet have fewer foreign travelers.


Off the beaten path near Venice: Bassano del Grappa

After fighting the crowds in Venice, rent a car and explore the Veneto countryside to the north. Start with some Prosecco tasting near Conegliano or visit Palladian villas. Explore gorgeous rural towns like Asolo and Bassano del Grappa. Visit a great Canova museum and extend the road trip north a couple hours into the incredible Dolomites mountains.

Off the beaten track near Venice, Bassano del Grappa

Photo of Bassano del Grappa from Wikimedia Commons

Off the beaten path in Tuscany: the Maremma

The most well known and hence most touristy places in Tuscany include Lucca and Pisa and San Gimignano, the Chianti region, and the Val D’Orcia area south of Siena. You can certainly get off the beaten track in Tuscany within those areas, say by hiring a guide to take you mountain biking through the vineyards and olive groves in Chianti, or by renting a car and visiting small towns like Panzano in Chianti, Monteriggioni, Certaldo, MontepulcianoPienza, or Bagno Vignoni. The Garfagnana region near Lucca is also a wonderful off the beaten track destination, but my pick for this category is Tuscany’s southwest corner, called the Maremma. (To locate it on a map, find the town of Grosseto.) The Maremma has beautiful coastal scenery, vineyards, small medieval towns, and that beautiful Tuscan countryside. Travelers interested in Etruscan history should visit nearby Pitigliano and Sorano. In chillier weather, soak in the natural hot springs of Saturnia (one of the most repinned images on my Italy Pinterest Board).  Go horseback riding or biking or visit the lovely seaside town of Castiglione della Pescaia.

Off the beaten path in Tuscany Maremma

Maremma by Giovanni on Flickr


Off the beaten path near Rome: the Castelli Romani

It’s easy to get off the beaten path without ever leaving the city of Rome, because there’s so much to see. But when you’ve had enough of the chaos, the nearby Castelli Romani provide a great respite. It’s an area with medieval hill towns, lush green scenery, and volcanic lakes, where wealthy Romans from centuries ago built summer homes with beautiful gardens – now open for visits. The Pope’s summer residence is there, in Castel Gandolfo, and when he’s in town he does a weekly Wednesday audience and Sunday blessing. Visit a winery or two to taste some Frascati wine. For travelers with no car, or who just have time for a day trip from Rome, take the train to Frascati for lunch to get a taste of the scenery, towns, and villas of the Castelli Romani area.

Off the beaten path near Rome, Villa Aldobrandini, Frascati

Photo of the Villa Aldobrandini in Frascati from the Library of Congress


Off the beaten path near Florence: Pistoia

If you want to get off the beaten path in Italy and your itinerary includes Florence, drive or take the train northwest to visit the very pretty town of Pistoia. Explore this lovely town, go for a hike, take a historic train, or go to the city’s Palio in July called the Giostra dell’Orso.

Off the beaten track near Florence


Off the beaten path near the Amalfi Coast: Paestum

In high season, the iconic towns of the Amalfi Coast are packed with travelers, so it’s tough to avoid the crowds in Sorrento, Positano, Ravello, and Capri. You may not want to skip these towns altogether, so consider visiting them from a base in one of the other coastal towns such as Praiano, Amalfi, Atrani, or Cetara, or stay on the island of Ischia rather than Capri. Then leave the majority of tourists behind, and just an hour or so south along the coast are the amazingly well-preserved Greek temples at Paestum. It’s not a huge site that requires as much time as, say, Pompeii, so visit a mozzarella farm or relax on gorgeous sandy beaches for a few days after your visit.

Off the beaten track near the Amalfi Coast, Paestum

Paestum from Wikimedia Commons


Off the beaten path near Lake Como: Lake Maggiore

Before I started my travel business, I didn’t realize that Lake Como was more internationally famous than its next-door neighbor, Lake Maggiore, because my Italian friends visit them equally. But I get regular requests from clients about Lake Como and very few about Lake Maggiore (though I’ve suggested it to many people who want to get off the beaten path and consequently include it itineraries on a regular basis). When people ask about Lake Como, it’s because they’ve heard about pretty lakeside towns with promenades, villas with gardens, picturesque hikes, and mountain and lake scenery They want to relax while enjoying excellent food or a glass of wine with a view. All of those things can be done on Lake Maggiore, with fewer tourists. Not only that, the two lakes are close to each other, so it’s easy to base yourself on one and visit both. Or, base yourself on Lake Lugano, in between the two lakes, and visit all three.

Off the beaten path near Lake Como, Lake Maggiore Italy

Isola Pescatore Photo by Sanjay Jhawar

Off the beaten path near the Cinque Terre: Santa Margherita Ligure

Under an hour up the coast from the iconic Cinque Terre villages is another pretty set of towns on the Portofino peninsula: Santa Margherita Ligure, Portofino, Rapallo, and Camogli are wonderful fishing villages with colorful houses, excellent food, picturesque scenery, and many fewer tourists compared to the Cinque Terre (maybe with the exception of Portofino). Boats, hiking trails, trains, and of course roads (but parking is not fun) connect the towns, and luxury travelers will find better hotel options in this area compared to the Cinque Terre. It’s not far down the coast to visit the iconic five villages, so visit for a day trip, but then come home at the end of the day to a place with fewer foreign tourists.

Off the beaten track near the Cinque Terre, Santa Margherita Ligure Italy

Photo of Santa Margherita Ligure from Wikimedia Commons


Off the beaten path near Bologna: Brisighella

I’m not sure that Bologna is considered to be on the beaten path, but I send enough travelers to that area for cheese tours (Parma), balsamic vinegar tours (Modena), Ferrari test drives, and other foodie experiences, that I seem to book quite a few hotel nights in Bologna. Bologna is a university town and it doesn’t have nearly as many North American travelers as the other places on this list. However, for anyone who wants to get even further off the beaten path, there is a gorgeous little town not far from Bologna called Brisighella, a perfect medieval Italian hilltown. I spent a summer there as a nanny one year, and enjoyed hikes up to the rocca, views over the countryside, the small streets and the amazing food. While I was there, the town’s yearly summer Medieval festival was on and we all dressed up like witches and danced in the streets.

Off the beaten path near Bologna, Brisighella

Photo of Brisighella from

Off the beaten path in Sicily: the Baroque South

A basic Sicily itinerary usually includes Taormina, the Valley of the Temples near Agrigento, Siracusa, and maybe Palermo. Taormina is jam-packed with tourists in high season, especially when the cruise ships come in, but it’s probably worth visiting. But tack on another 3 or so days to your Sicily itinerary and head south from Siracusa to visit the towns of Ragusa, Scicli, Modica, and the old town of Ragusa Ibla [update: and Noto, of course!] in the area known as the Baroque south. It’s possible, but not easy, to get around Sicily by public transport so I’d recommend renting a car (and a GPS!). Explore the beautiful Sicilian countryside or spend a few days on the coast or visit a winery for a tour (don’t just show up, though). If you’re visiting both Siracusa and the Agrigento, the Baroque South is sort of on the way.

Off the beaten path in Sicily, Ragusa Ibla Italy

Photo of Ragusa Ibla by Tango, from Wikimedia Commons

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