I’ve already started working on spring Italy trips for 2013, but I sat down to look at where my clients went in 2012, and created this list of top Italy destinations for 2012 based on number of hotel nights per trip. There were a few surprises here – for example, this year the Dolomites didn’t make it onto this list.
1. The Amalfi Coast and Naples: 17%
My clients spent almost one-fifth of their hotel nights on the Amalfi Coast and in Naples. Travelers hiked up Mount Vesuvius, visited the ruins of Pompeii and Paestum, participated in cheese-making at local water buffalo farms, took boat tours of Capri, hiked along the coast, listened to outdoor music at summer festivals, did cooking classes and ceramics classes, hung out at the beach, shopped the bustling city markets of Naples before eating pizza, and of course visited the iconic towns of Sorrento, Positano, Amalfi and Ravello. I guess I’m not surprised it’s number 1.
2. Tuscany and Florence: 16%
A close second was Tuscany which of course includes Florence. Here, clients visited famous works of art with wonderful tour guides, cycled and hiked in the countryside, visited designer outlets and ceramics shops and antiques markets and out-of-the-way small towns, participated in olive and truffle festivals, went to local concerts, tasted wine at vineyards and lazed over long lunches, hit the beach, and hunted sunflowers and poppies in the Tuscan hills.
3. Venice: 15%
The small city of Venice comes in at a close third, after the regions of Tuscany and the Amalfi Coast. As long as expectations are set, everyone loves Venice.
4. Rome: 14%
The only reason Rome isn’t higher on this list is because the majority of my clients had been to Rome before. They went again this year, but often at the beginning or the end of a trip, so they stayed for just 2 or 3 days. Many revisited favorite attractions, and many wanted a more in-depth visit their second or third time around, several were visiting with their kids for the first time, and I created a few itineraries with a Jewish history and culinary focus.
5. Sicily: 10%
Ahh, Sicily. Travelers to Sicily hiked volcanoes and mountains, saw puppet shows and opera performances, did cooking classes and visited olive oil and wine producers, visited Greek and Roman ruins of all kinds, went to the beach, took boats to far-flung islands, ate incredible and fresh food, and drove to tiny towns in the gorgeous and maddening countryside.
6. The Cinque Terre and the Italian Riviera: 8%
I’m happy to see that the Cinque Terre made this list this year. During conversations about the overall itinerary, quite a few travelers chose to not visit the Cinque Terre in 2012 because of the devastating floods that hit in October 2011. They were concerned the infrastructure would not be ready for tourists, and visibility was tough when we were in the planning stages 6 months ahead of time. Interestingly, although the floods seemed to scare off some North American travelers, the Cinque Terre was busier than ever with travelers from Asia and the rest of Europe. My clients not only hiked the famous mule tracks, they ate incredibly well, visited many other towns along the coast, did boat rides, went to festivals, shopped, and even visited vineyards.
7. Milan: 5%
This was a bit of a surprise. I had a handful of business travelers this year who worked in Milan while their families explored, so some of the days I planned here were day trips from Milan. I lived in Milan for years and it’s one of my favorite cities, so I’m always excited when someone wants to visit.
8. Piedmont: 4%
I would push this one WAY up the list if I could (and #9, too!) as Piedmont is an absolutely spectacular region that delights every traveler. My clients hiked in picturesque mountain scenery, went to the beach, went wine tasting and truffle tasting and did cooking classes, ate lots of chocolate, visited pretty small towns and castles, drove through spectacular countryside, and explored the cosmopolitan city of Turin – described by one client as “an absolute gem”. Piedmont is very user-friendly in many ways, but really does require a car, and the vineyards are not set up for tourists as well (compared to, say, Tuscany). But that makes it a fabulous destination for someone who wants to go a little beyond the obvious.
9. Umbria: 3%
Several trips went to Umbria in 2012 with a focus on two things: hiking and wine/food (okay, 3 things.) I had quite a few clients pop into Umbria from either Tuscany or Lazio. For example Orvieto is a great day trip from Rome, and one can easily visit Perugia or Lake Trasimeno from a base in southern Tuscany. About half of this year’s Umbria trips went in the Autumn to take advantage of truffle season, and the olive oil and wine harvests. This region never disappoints and it’s usually much higher on the list.
10. The Lakes District: 2%
Here I included the lakes Como, Maggiore, and Garda. Several trips went to the Lakes this year, but number of hotel nights were low, usually just 2-3 nights per trip. Lakes Como and Maggiore are an easy transition for travelers flying into and out of Milan’s Malpensa airport, and Lake Garda is an easy stop on the way to Venice. Travelers to the Lakes went hiking, took cable cars up the mountain, traveled across the lakes by boat and hydrofoil, and sipped wine lakeside while watching the sunset.
Another surprise was that the city of Bologna almost made the top 10, which is very exciting to me. If I had my way, I’d send more people to Bologna (and Padua, too). Although almost every trip this year included either Rome, Florence, or Venice, I think I only planned one “Italy the Bleedingly Obvious” trip this year (ie Rome, Florence AND Venice). And traveling without clients, I personally visited Rome, Turin and the Piedmont countryside, Bolzano and the Dolomites, and Milan this year. My Italian friends are definitely feeling the country’s economic crisis, but you wouldn’t know it from looking at the tourism industry, and from where I’m sitting, 2013 seems to be shaping up to be at least as strong as 2012.
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