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susan
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I'm traveling to Italy in the beginning of June with a friend. It's my first trip there and I'm so excited, but at the same time overwhelmed with all the dining options. After being on this board for a few years, I know that this is exactly the right place to go to for help.

We are starting in Rome for a few days, then to Florence, Portofino/Cinque Terre, and then to Venice.

I would really appreciate recommendations from each city, looking for a few top notch dinners, and great places for lunch, etc. I would like to have the best of each city in terms of superb local Italian cooking, from high end to casual.

Thank you and I'll be sure to report back.

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In Rome, last year, we ate at a the restaurant owned by a friend of a friend (Mauro) called "Club Machiavelli".  It was FANTASTIC, a super-locals place, without a lot of tourists. In a bit of a strange area near Victor Emmanuelle park, down an alley.  Nothing fancy inside, but a lot of personal care and attention, and amazing food.

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See, this is exactly what I mean! I would have never in a million years found this place if you hadn't written in.  I just read the reviews of  this restaurant and it looks terrific! I will definitely make a reservation here for one of our nights, thank you very much Rieux. I can't wait to go there.

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You can start here (click to go to the thread):  Rome, Tuscany, Florence, Venice.  Some are more current than others. You can also search the Intrepid Traveler forum for specific restaurants, or other towns, using the Search field at the top right of the screen.

I'll be in Rome later this month and will be sure to post any suggestions I have. I've found the blog on this site very helpful: Eating Italy Food Tours. I'm doing one of their tours (Taste of Testaccio).  This writer has restaurant suggestions for Rome and Florence on her site: Elizabeth Minchilli.

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A couple of questions: are you open to eating stuff that is more "local" than the flavors/cuts that are traditionally found here?  Not necessarily things like tripe, etc but not filets and broiled chicken either.  If so, here are some interesting places you might want to go to on the non-expensive side of things:

Rome: I'll leave it to others to give you the upscale or more traditional Rome places in the major areas of the city.  However, there's an area called Testaccio that we really like.  Our favorite place there is Perilli, which is low keyed and local, but may not be the best for first time tourists.  However, take a look at their website and see.  If not, there is a place named Flavio al Velavevodetto that has a great outdoor area and you select your wine by going to their wall and checking out the bottles and prices the way you would in a wine store.  Both of these have traditional pastas of the area and are written up by Eliz. Minchilli on her blog  http://www.elizabethminchilliinrome.com/page/2/?s=testaccio   There are also quite a number of great moderately priced places in the old Jewish area of Rome and a lot of these are in threads on Chowhound's Italy board:  http://chowhound.chow.com/boards/58

Florence: we spent a month there last summer and my reviews are on this chowhound thread: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/911705.  

Remember that dinners in both cities really get going after 8:30pm and most places are busy until 10pm.  Florence has a rich tradition of places putting out free food for drinkers during their equivalent of "happy hour" ("appertivos") and there's a neighborhood behind the church of Santo Spirito on the other side of the Arno (Oltr'arno) that has a # of such cafes.  There's one in the Santa Croce area as well (Sant Ambroggio).  Central Market is great at lunch time.

Since I mentioned Eliz. Minchilli (and now I see that goldenticket has as well), I should mention that, in addition to her blog, she does food tours in Rome &, most importantly, has apps called "Florence Eats", "Rome Eats" and I think "Venice Eats" that are incredible bargains at under $5 each and that we used to find some great places.  Have fun.

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If you don't have a place to stay in Florence yet, you might consider my college friend's flat: http://www.vrbo.com/432656. She is from the US, married an Italian man, and she works for the active travel company Butterfield & Robinson so she could be really useful for recommendations on lots of things on top of having a very cool and affordable place.

Pax,

Brian

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I'm traveling to Italy in the beginning of June with a friend. It's my first trip there and I'm so excited, but at the same time overwhelmed with all the dining options. After being on this board for a few years, I know that this is exactly the right place to go to for help.

We are starting in Rome for a few days, then to Florence, Portofino/Cinque Terre, and then to Venice.

I would really appreciate recommendations from each city, looking for a few top notch dinners, and great places for lunch, etc. I would like to have the best of each city in terms of superb local Italian cooking, from high end to casual.

Thank you and I'll be sure to report back.

Here is a post of mine on Chowhound.  I believe that I was the first to write about the 10 seat Il Ridotto in English and it has now received a Michelin star.  The chef/owner takes your order personally and then goes into the kitchen, prepares it, and then serves it.  An extraordinary experience that is among the most personal, the most romantic in all of Italy.  Along with Alle Testiere (24 seats and now included in every guidebook about Venice) you must reserve several weeks or more in advance.  My wife and I go back to Italy in early May and these will be our last two meals (also Verona, Bolzano and Cortina). We already have our reservations.  I must also add that I am honored that Il Ridotto cites me on their webpage along with Michelin and Gambero Rosso (!!!): Click on the "Chowhound" link. I should add here that my friends are tired of hearing me milk this for all I am worth!!!

I envy you for your first trip to Italy:  wow!

I still remember my first trip and it was the most impressionable, the best.  I've been everywhere you are going (don't drive in Portofino) and you will return with memories for a lifetime.  I would also add that if you and/or your friend are adventurous and independent I would seriously suggest renting a car and driving from Florence to Venice via Bologna which receives far too little press on American message boards.  I also wouldn't discount just getting lost-wherever-you go and the adventure of finding your way.

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Would highly recommend the Florence Eats app for Florence.  We used it a lot to figure out lunch and dinners and the reviews were quite accurate.  By far the best food we had in Florence on a trip this past summer was Enoteca Pitti Gola.  Amazing rustic, home cooked food. Not a restaurant really, more a wine bar with a small menu.  But food was amazing (as was the wine).

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While we have some traction on this thread going... SOOOooo my Husband would really like to go to Italy, he has never been.  That would be easy to plan, too easy in fact, BUT he has decided to try to convince his parents to go because they constantly talk about going to Italy and will never do it without help.  We would potentially like my Mom to go too because she is a great traveler and it might help facilitate things and well I love my Momma.  His siblings could possibly come, but I am not worried about that part.  Hubby's parents are probably somewhat stereotypical tourists, which is what I am worried about.  They like Marriotts and plans and etc.  They are lovely people, but aren't hey lets jump in a car and just explore types (they would have despised our Croatia trip).

Matt and I were thinking about renting a house or etc somewhere that could serve as like a home base for exploring (or two in two different locations).  I have been to a few different places in Italy- Venice, Florence, Naples, Rome and Verona. I hated Venice and Rome, but I figure they will want to see it. His parents always seem to have vacations that they compare to National Lampoons, I think they need someone to do a lot of leg work and not overplan the itinerary, and just kind of say ok tell me what you have to see and I will get it done, they are more like a one adventure a day type and let's eat on time, but will do a bit more when traveling, and we don't want to set them up for failure, so we would want to try to pick just a couple big things we see.  They love wineries and eating well.  They will want to see tourist stuff.  I thought we could fly into Rome, see all the tourist stuff, then move on to our house(s).  Any thoughts or ideas on best locations for good exploring?  I am thinking off high(er) speed rail line would be good. And then people could have different itineraries if they wanted to see different things too.    I think we could get them on a train, see a city, then come back at the end of the day and they would be ok.  We could potentially do some organized tours, hop on off buses, etc, so they aren't too worn out. But maybe some days in between doing fun stuff nearby, so I don't want to stay somewhere not near anything. (But anything could be wineries, small towns, etc). And because it could potentially be a big group, then if we got back I could cook, or etc.

I know like Florence to Bologna is 30 mins, Bologna to Venice 1 hour 30 mins to 2 hours, bologna to Milan about 1 hour train times, so that might be a good middle point? I have never been to Bologna.  Any other thoughts on good jumping off points?  Favorite places in Italy that you think would be fun? I am more interested in good food markets, eating, drinking and driving around in a convertible, but this is not going to be my trip, but some good markets, eating and drinking would be nice.  Anyway the trip will be far out, if his Mother doesn't retire this year would need to revolve around a school schedule.

I also wanted to see has anyone been to Italy during like Christmas break time, and if that is doable, or too much closed?

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While we have some traction on this thread going... SOOOooo my Husband would really like to go to Italy, he has never been.  That would be easy to plan, too easy in fact, BUT he has decided to try to convince his parents to go because they constantly talk about going to Italy and will never do it without help.  We would potentially like my Mom to go too because she is a great traveler and it might help facilitate things and well I love my Momma.  His siblings could possibly come, but I am not worried about that part.  Hubby's parents are probably somewhat stereotypical tourists, which is what I am worried about.  They like Marriotts and plans and etc.  They are lovely people, but aren't hey lets jump in a car and just explore types (they would have despised our Croatia trip).

Matt and I were thinking about renting a house or etc somewhere that could serve as like a home base for exploring (or two in two different locations).  I have been to a few different places in Italy- Venice, Florence, Naples, Rome and Verona. I hated Venice and Rome, but I figure they will want to see it. His parents always seem to have vacations that they compare to National Lampoons, I think they need someone to do a lot of leg work and not overplan the itinerary, and just kind of say ok tell me what you have to see and I will get it done, they are more like a one adventure a day type and let's eat on time, but will do a bit more when traveling, and we don't want to set them up for failure, so we would want to try to pick just a couple big things we see.  They love wineries and eating well.  They will want to see tourist stuff.  I thought we could fly into Rome, see all the tourist stuff, then move on to our house(s).  Any thoughts or ideas on best locations for good exploring?  I am thinking off high(er) speed rail line would be good. And then people could have different itineraries if they wanted to see different things too.    I think we could get them on a train, see a city, then come back at the end of the day and they would be ok.  We could potentially do some organized tours, hop on off buses, etc, so they aren't too worn out. But maybe some days in between doing fun stuff nearby, so I don't want to stay somewhere not near anything. (But anything could be wineries, small towns, etc). And because it could potentially be a big group, then if we got back I could cook, or etc.

I know like Florence to Bologna is 30 mins, Bologna to Venice 1 hour 30 mins to 2 hours, bologna to Milan about 1 hour train times, so that might be a good middle point? I have never been to Bologna.  Any other thoughts on good jumping off points?  Favorite places in Italy that you think would be fun? I am more interested in good food markets, eating, drinking and driving around in a convertible, but this is not going to be my trip, but some good markets, eating and drinking would be nice.  Anyway the trip will be far out, if his Mother doesn't retire this year would need to revolve around a school schedule.

I also wanted to see has anyone been to Italy during like Christmas break time, and if that is doable, or too much closed?

Bologna.

Soave. (a 1,000+ year old walled city which is the headquarters of the wine consortium of the Veneto; and one turn off of the Autostrada, a km away).

Bologna to Mantova.  Bologna to Rimini.  Bologa to San Marino.  Bologna to Panzano.  Bologna to Deruta.  Soave to Lake Garda and Bellagio.  Soave to Cortina.  (The Dolomites!) Soave to Bassano en Grappa.  Soave to Bolzano (The Dolomites!).

All of these are driving.  Of course Bologna could be the base for a train, too, but Soave is halfway between Verona and Vicenza, almost a gateway to the Dolomites and very close to the lakes.  Venice is an easy 45 minutes or so east with one turn.

I love Bologna.  It is unknown by most Americans.  They go to Rome, Venice and Florence.  Never visit Bologna or Rimini or the Dolomites.  70, 80 km to the north of Bologna is one of the greatest places on earth to eat.  Well, to dine, too.  But you are ground zero for Reggiano, Balsamic and Parma.  A good friend of mine would strongly encourage you to visit Torino, too and the mountains north of it.

I would also seriously suggest this as a destination for a meal. You could do this and San Marino together.

Don is going to have an opinion on this, too with Cinque Terre.  There would be a lot to be said for spending time there, too.

I would give serious consideration to time in Bologna and time based in Soave.  This is the Soave hotel and the photos will tell you everything.  I must note that almost nobody in Soave speaks English except the Roxy Plaza.  For me that is a huge plus.

Yes, you have to go to Rome and to Florence and to Venice (which we absolutely love but NOT in the summer).  But then you should visit places where there is a very small chance of meeting another American.

We've been to Italy nine or ten times in December and January.  (because of my business I could not take a summer vacation.)  I've never actually been there on Christmas Day but we've been there the week before and the week (s) after.  I remember one of the most crowded streets I have ever seen in Florence the day before.  One of the most romantic nights we have ever had was in Venice when they were erecting the Christmas tree on San Marco square.

I've mentioned this before but riding in the front of Vaporetto (outside of the cabin, on one of the seats in front) is one of the great experiences on earth.  Just riding.  Getting lost wherever it takes you. I believe that Venice in December is night and day different from the spring/summer/fall.  The relative absence of crowds makes a huge difference.

I passionately believe you should rent a car and get lost.  I also understand riding trains for day trips.  But for me nothing takes the place of pointing a car and the adventure of finding whatever is in front of us.  Italy is one of the best places on earth to do this.

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I passionately believe you should rent a car and get lost.  I also understand riding trains for day trips.  But for me nothing takes the place of pointing a car and the adventure of finding whatever is in front of us.  Italy is one of the best places on earth to do this. 

Everyone visits northern Italy as they stick with the usual cities of Rome, Florence, Sienna, Milan, and Venice.I would recommend spending the time in southern Italy. Get a car in Rome and head east/southeast toward Pescara and visit some great small towns on the way (Sulmona (where confetti was created), L'Aquila, Navelli (known for its saffron), Scanno, Pescocostanzo,...). The drive is easy, absolutely beautiful and you will find great markets and restaurants without having to worry about too much pre-planning.

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Everyone visits northern Italy as they stick with the usual cities of Rome, Florence, Sienna, Milan, and Venice.I would recommend spending the time in southern Italy. Get a car in Rome and head east/southeast toward Pescara and visit some great small towns on the way (Sulmona (where confetti was created), L'Aquila, Navelli (known for its saffron), Scanno, Pescocostanzo,...). The drive is easy, absolutely beautiful and you will find great markets and restaurants without having to worry about too much pre-planning.

Thank you mdt, I've spent the last 15 minutes researching Navelli which looks like a fascinating adventure:  http://www.deliciousitaly.com/guide/central-italy-regions/abruzzo-guide/abruzzo-itineraries/item/1062-navelli-plain.html   Saffron and a medieval town!

The Brioni outlet is in Pescara.  I once drove from Rome there believing that I could buy the suit or sportcoat of my lifetime and wear it at high school reunions, retirement parties and anywhere else that I wanted to look like James Bond after an eating binge!

I bought a bathrobe.  A Brioni bathrobe.

I couldn't find anything else in my size.  But i still wear the bathrobe although it's not quite what I would wear to a high school reunion or a retirement party.  But it is what I would wear the next morning and if James Bond gained 50 pounds he would still be comfortable in it, too.

I must add that the coastline which borders the Adriatic, from Rimini through Ancona and to Pescara, is an adventure.  A close friend of mine who was born in Italy and has probably travelled every mile of Autostrada spent his honeymoon in Sicily.  I have never been there but one day I will.

And i will wear my Brioni bathrobe in the hotel room...

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To the OP, I just returned from 9 days in Italy and hope to post my reviews of individual restaurants in their respective city threads, but I will say this for now. If you really care about the quality of food & wine you eat for all/most of your meals, I highly recommend continuing your research and as much as possible booking reservations ahead of time. I had hoped to be able to play things by ear a bit more, and was also pressed for time in the end and couldn't due my due diligence on finding places before I left. Things that I learned - restaurants in Italy are a dime a dozen and you are not by any means guaranteed excellent or even very good food even if you choose places that are "less touristy"/don't have English menus. Also, my experience was that places often were not consistently good across the board, but often seemed to excel in certain areas so knowing what to order can be helpful. Additionally, many of the good restaurants fill up and won't have seats for you if you don't book in advance, even if that means dropping in earlier in the day and setting up a reservation for that evening. Don't get me wrong, there is a lot of good food to be had in Italy including stuff you stumble upon, but there is as much mediocre as there is good and it was, for me at least, sometimes tough to predict which we would end up with.

Any thoughts or ideas on best locations for good exploring?  I am thinking off high(er) speed rail line would be good. And then people could have different itineraries if they wanted to see different things too.  

My two cents - try to limit how much running around you do from city to city. I know the temptation, especially for people who have never been is to go to as many places as you can and that's exactly what I did on this trip. But I think people would do well to take a piece of advice from Rick Steve's and plan your trip assuming you will go back again. In the end, I divied my 9 days up between Florence/Tuscany, the Veneto, & Rome and I felt like all I got was an intro to each place to give me a feel of where I'd want to spend more of my time on my next trip. I was also shocked that I loved Venice & Rome so much more than Florence.

Anyway, given your needs, my suggestion would be to either rent an apartment in Florence (there are good options in the Oltrarno neighborhood as well as in the main downtown area) and then take day trips from there, either using a rental car or using tour services or, alternatively, find a good Agriturismo in Tuscany and then visit Florence, Sienna, and other small Tuscan towns from there. From that area, you can easily train to many of the other key cities - Rome, Milan, Venice, Bologna, etc.

One thing that could help if it's possible is to fly in/out of different cities. Since I was using airline miles I was able to do that, which made visiting multiple cities a bit more reasonable given my relatively short time there.

I hope that's helpful.

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I always say that you can't stuff more into your trip than the time you have not traveling between cities.  Almost no matter where you go, there are amazing things and treasures to he beheld in Italy.  We try to go to a spot for no less then 4 days and prefer a week.  You can't get the rhythm of a spot in less time.

On our first tip, we spent most of our time in Tuscany and just a little in Rome so I was the opposite of you: loving Florence more than Rome.  But the first time we slowed down and spent the better part of a week in Rome, the magic of Rome hit us full force.  So don't write off Florence by any means.

It took us 6 or 7 trips before we were able to slow down enough just to see the delight of doing nothing in Italy.  Sitting somewhere looking at the wonderful landscape, watching the passegiata in a small town, seeing Vincenza come out to watch Biaggio play soccer, the game projected on the side of one of the beautiful buildings of that city and enjoying the contrast between the boys trying to watch the game and the girls trying to drive the boys crazy, or watching the schoolkids wait for a bus to take them on their field trip.

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On our first tip, we spent most of our time in Tuscany and just a little in Rome so I was the opposite of you: loving Florence more than Rome.  But the first time we slowed down and spent the better part of a week in Rome, the magic of Rome hit us full force.  So don't write off Florence by any means.

 

Oh don't worry, we're just talking about a relative scale here. I fell in love with Italy and am seriously contemplating going back next year, which seems insane given there are so many places I want to travel to that I've never been to (and I have no idea who I'll convince to go with me although traveling solo has never stopped me before). But for whatever reason, Florence didn't grab me immediately the way that Rome & Venice did. It may have just been the circumstances. Or it may have been that I was jetlagged since Florence was my first stop. :P Or that I had higher expectations as I expected Florence to be my favorite city.

I will tell you that seeing the David first thing in the morning when virtually no one else was present in the Galleria dell'Accademia was one of the absolute highlights of my trip. :) Anyone who wants to see it should consider reserving tickets for the first time slot, or doing what I did and be in line 30 minutes before they open to have the same experience. While I'm on a roll, also consider attending a service in one of the religious buildings in any city and see it in the setting it was intended for, largely free of tourists. I did this at the Pantheon and it was again one of the absolute highlights (and I am an atheist, fwiw, although I was raised Catholic).

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You can also go just before closing to see the David and its not too crowded and we never needed reservations.  Florence is a city of hidden treasures...

the Ognissanti

Santa Maria degli Pazzi which has an unrestored, original color Perugino fresco cycle.  He was pre Michaelangelo and one of he foundations of the Renaissance.  

Il Carmine and the fresco cycle there in the Brancacci Chapel.

The Vassari Corridor from the Uffizzi to the Pitti Palace.  A collection of endless self portraits of famous artists.  

There is a series of Last Suppers all over Florence.  We ahve seen about 5 or the 7.  You will find many of them, like all over Florence, "Chiuso per Ristaurao".  

Opera del Santa Maria dei Fiori is the museum of the Duomo and contains the restored originals of so may geat works of art.  If you go to the public space, you are seeing a replica.  

The Opificio di Pietre Dure, the workshop of the "stone paintings" supported over the years by the Medici.  This is amazing but overwealming.  Its also near Mario and a tour of this after 3# of Bistecca is a great way to kill half a day.

Rome is more about big stuff.  But one thing that moved us to tears was the Monument at the Fosse Ardeatine where the German army took reprisals on 355 people in retaliation of the Italian Underground killing 7 German soldiers.  The 355 were trapped in caves and when the army had to retreat, blown up and killed.  Not only can you see the caves and read the story, but the victims were buried in an amazing monument that serves as a biting commentary on war.  We kept on running into a older woman {80s or 90s) who was visiting with her daughter or grandaughter.  They had a huge bunch of flowers and they finally approached the burial site of the old woman's brother and put the flowers in it.  THen the younger girl took the flowers and put the rest in other burial sites till they were gone.  They did this EVERY day and the younger woman kept track of which site she stopped at and began at the next one the next day.  I was in tears at this story and the old woman touched my cheek and wiped up the tear and said i had a good heart crying at someone I didn't even know.  I mumbled something in my broken Italian and she smiled at me.  This is an amazing place, one of the most touching monuments to the utter destruction and insanity of war.  

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Nicely stated Dean.  Our trips to N.Italy over the past 10 or so years didn't leave me wanting to go back to Florence ahead of several other places, like Rome and Venice.  However, the month we spent there last year allowed us to really get the rhythm of the place and so many previously "invisible" things became more available and had us falling in love with the city.  Like the smaller market in Sant'Ambroggio in the morning and the plaza around it that turns into a major community gathering place every night.  Like the mosaic studios that invite you in to watch them work.  Like the Gregorian chanting done every night by the monks at San Miniato al Monte (above Piazza Michelangelo).  And like the availability of the Last Suppers you referenced -- we saw the famous one in Milan several years ago & followed up by going to 4 or 5 of the others around Florence.  Not only are some of them pretty special, but we loved the areas that looking for them led us into - like the one north of Santa Croce in a very residential neighborhood.  Additionally, the restoration scaffolding inside the church of Santa Croce was left up for awhile as the work wound down and we got to climb 7 levels of it to see the works up close & get a highly detailed accounting of what we were seeing.  It's a "hang out" type of city & well worth spending time in. 

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It's been years since I was in Italy, although when I lived in Switzerland in the mid 70's we were down there all the time it seemed.  But here's where I'm going with this.  In the posts above, everybody is talking about Rome and Florence and so on -- cities. That's how most people experience Italy. And there are delights to be found there for sure.  But you're shortchanging yourself if your trip to Italy consists of taking trains from city to city and only spending time in cities.  You must also see the countryside.  Rent a car and point it off in some direction or other -- consult Michelin for some ideas.  Just go.  Get lost. Don't worry.  Where exactly you go is secondary.  Just drive, and stop and take it in whenever a place looks interesting, which it will, a lot.  Go up to the lakes.  Find one of the fortified hill towns like the photo Joe posted just above.  Everyone must do this if they plan to really see, and experience, Italy.

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It's been years since I was in Italy, although when I lived in Switzerland in the mid 70's we were down there all the time it seemed.  But here's where I'm going with this.  In the posts above, everybody is talking about Rome and Florence and so on -- cities. That's how most people experience Italy. And there are delights to be found there for sure.  But you're shortchanging yourself if your trip to Italy consists of taking trains from city to city and only spending time in cities.  You must also see the countryside.  Rent a car and point it off in some direction or other -- consult Michelin for some ideas.  Just go.  Get lost. Don't worry.  Where exactly you go is secondary.  Just drive, and stop and take it in whenever a place looks interesting, which it will, a lot.  Go up to the lakes.  Find one of the fortified hill towns like the photo Joe posted just above.  Everyone must do this if they plan to really see, and experience, Italy.

I want to start by saying that I am absolutely not disagreeing with you.  Getting out of the cities and driving around, letting it all sink in, meeting people & "getting lost" is absolutely a great experience.  However, just as an additional thought: isn't that true just about everywhere?  When friends come to this country or when we meet & wind up hanging out with tourists from, say, France, in Brooklyn (both have been recent situations), we always wind up seeing if they have enough time to explore the Hudson River Valley or other nearby points upstate NY & encourage them to do so.  Otherwise, just like you state, their opinion of the essence of NY is skewed/warped and they think all is like "the city".  Similarly, one of our trips to New Orleans was heightened when we drove out to the middle of Louisiana and visited areas around Rain, St. Martinville and the quiet swamp areas near there without real destinations in mind.  In Italy, I wouldn't trade our car explorations of Umbrian towns/villages or our wanderings around Parma and points south for another week in Milan or even Venice.  Again, no disagreement, just musing over how travel is so much better when you can give yourself time to explore outside the narrow bounds of "tourist cities" or go back enough to do both.  Of course, to do this, you need time &, unfortunately, it seems that Choirgirl21 hardly had any to spare -- maybe next trip?

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Of course, to do this, you need time &, unfortunately, it seems that Choirgirl21 hardly had any to spare -- maybe next trip?

We spent time driving/stopping in the countryside, both in Tuscany and the Veneto. I thought my feedback included recommendations to get out into the countryside, I was just suggesting to avoid jumping from city to city in an effort to see all of the big ones at the expense of really exploring an area or two.

On the countryside note though, one of my favorite spots was Pienza, a tiny little walled city in southern Tuscany where you can walk from one end of the city to the other in 5 minutes if you're taking a leisurely stroll and the home of some amazing Pecorino cheese. If anyone happens to go there, there's a wonderful little shop called Ri Crea Ri toward one end of town where the owner makes incredibly creative items all from recycled materials. I brought home a scarf made from bits of wool the local ladies would otherwise end up discarding. I can also recommend a great apartment with stunning views of the Tuscan countryside within the town walls if anyone is interested. From there you could easily venture to Montalcino or Montepulciano (recommend wine tasting in the Fortress in Montalcino for a nice, if expensive side by side comparison of some high quality brunellos) or further out into the countryside to visit wineries.

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I want to start by saying that I am absolutely not disagreeing with you.  Getting out of the cities and driving around, letting it all sink in, meeting people & "getting lost" is absolutely a great experience.  However, just as an additional thought: isn't that true just about everywhere?  When friends come to this country or when we meet & wind up hanging out with tourists from, say, France, in Brooklyn (both have been recent situations), we always wind up seeing if they have enough time to explore the Hudson River Valley or other nearby points upstate NY & encourage them to do so.  Otherwise, just like you state, their opinion of the essence of NY is skewed/warped and they think all is like "the city".  Similarly, one of our trips to New Orleans was heightened when we drove out to the middle of Louisiana and visited areas around Rain, St. Martinville and the quiet swamp areas near there without real destinations in mind.  In Italy, I wouldn't trade our car explorations of Umbrian towns/villages or our wanderings around Parma and points south for another week in Milan or even Venice.  Again, no disagreement, just musing over how travel is so much better when you can give yourself time to explore outside the narrow bounds of "tourist cities" or go back enough to do both.  Of course, to do this, you need time &, unfortunately, it seems that Choirgirl21 hardly had any to spare -- maybe next trip?

I couldn't agree more.

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My wife and I have recently decided that we're going to travel to Italy (it will be my first time travelling to Europe) in late October.  As I genuinely love Italian wines (particularly from the Tuscany and Veneto regions), I wanted to reach out through this forum to see if anyone had specific wineries they would recommend.  A few points:

The areas we'd be travelling to are:

Fly into Rome

Montalcino

Cinque Terre

Verona / Venice

We're going to take some of the advice and rent a car and travel through the country side and at the moment it looks like we're going to leverage some of the "agratourismo" lodgings in the country (we have not booked just yet).  We're not shooting to hit a lot of "touristy" places, instead the focus is more on visiting some interesting wineries and restaurants.

Any recommendations on places in any of those locales (in addition to the pretty robust thread above), particularly wineries that others have visited, would be greatly appreciated!

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My wife and I have recently decided that we're going to travel to Italy (it will be my first time travelling to Europe) in late October.  As I genuinely love Italian wines (particularly from the Tuscany and Veneto regions), I wanted to reach out through this forum to see if anyone had specific wineries they would recommend.  A few points:

The areas we'd be travelling to are:

Fly into Rome

Montalcino

Cinque Terre

Verona / Venice

We're going to take some of the advice and rent a car and travel through the country side and at the moment it looks like we're going to leverage some of the "agratourismo" lodgings in the country (we have not booked just yet).  We're not shooting to hit a lot of "touristy" places, instead the focus is more on visiting some interesting wineries and restaurants.

Any recommendations on places in any of those locales (in addition to the pretty robust thread above), particularly wineries that others have visited, would be greatly appreciated!

How long are you going to be?  To me, to cover that much would take 2.5 weeks.  Cinque Terre in late October, look out for closings.  The area is still recovering from major storms.

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We're planning on going for 2 weeks - I've been working on my wife (after reading the other threads on the value of slowing down while there) but it's a work in progress and I fear it may take a trip that is slightly more rushed than I'd prefer to prove the point.

I also had a friend who lived in Bologna (but visited Cinque Terre and in addition to much of the rest of the country) who mentioned the same thing around the recovery from previous storms.

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How long are you going to be?  To me, to cover that much would take 2.5 weeks.  Cinque Terre in late October, look out for closings.  The area is still recovering from major storms.  

FWIW, I made Cinque Terre a day trip, and the only "thing" I needed there was a restaurant where I could get a quick lunch. I parked in Spezia and took a train to the northernmost village, hiked a few villages southward (stopping for lunch at one of them), and then trained back to Spezia (*) where I had a gnocchi al pesto and carafe of Cinque Terre white, al fresco. Even though I'd choose this as one of my very favorite days in Europe ever, once you've hiked it, you've done it (I know that's superficial, but for my purposes as a tourist it was also true). If I recall, the villages become less spectacular and further apart, the further south you go, and I chose not to walk the last of them - I wanted to be back in Spezia before the sun set (I'll never forget dining al fresco by myself after a long day of walking - it was as good as life gets). When I walked, I gently strolled because this is a place to absorb, but I probably spent half my time just standing on the goat path, gaping at the sheer (literally, sheer) magnificence of it all. I hope it hasn't changed - there certainly isn't *that* much they could do in the way of development.

It was April, and the only person I saw on the entire hike was an elderly lady on the goat path, tending to some sort of gardening, or herding - I can't remember; she spoke no English, I spoke no Italian, and I remember her as being just incredibly nice. However, this was in 1989, and I suspect the tourist rate there has multiplied since then (with its usual negative drawbacks).

I guess that for me, Cinque Terre is best left as a distant memory because I'm afraid that if I ever saw it again, it couldn't possibly live up to the idyllic place that it remains in my mind.

(*) The DC equivalent of this train set-up would be to have Spezia as Rosslyn, the northernmost village as Metro Center, and each of the villages a Metro stop on the way back to Rosslyn. You walk as far as you wish, then just hop on the train at any of the villages, and head back to Spezia. In other words, I urge you to take the morning train all the way out to the northernmost village to begin your day. If things are closed, maybe even pack a little lunch that you bought in Spezia. Sorry to ruin the picture you've painted. :) Also, to the best of my memory, there are no cars in Cinque Terre - this is the only way to get there.

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Two weeks:

Rome 4 night

Montalcino  7 nights

Venezia 3 nights

you will regret trying to do both venice AND montalcino in 2 weeks.  What I would do is.i to see ...

Fly into Rome, get the car, head up the 1 autsostrada to Chiusi and et at La solita Zuppa, then head into Montalcino via Chiancano/Montepulciano.  Use Montalcino as a base from day trips no further north than Monteriggioni or Castellina (bar orso for lunch in the former and Antica Delezia for gelato in the latter, although I hear Bar Orso has music at night now)

Stay in Provincia di Siena in planning your trips to the south and east.  Spend a day in Trequanda and following the Il Sodoma Trail.  Go to Monte Oliveto Maggiore.  Explore south of Montalcino in the Val d'Orcia.  Spend a full day in Sienna.

Drop the car and get on a train to Venice for a wonderful week.  Take a one day train excursion to Padova for a leisurely lunch and the Scrovengi and walking around.

Plan on coming back.

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Incredible thread! You guys are amazing.

I'm going with little sis in November. I went as a college kid with no money and even less taste, so I'm just considering myself as a complete newbie. Sis never went, either. We only have 5.5 days. I know, not a lot. I'm just catching her on her way back home from a wedding in India. I might get a couple of extra days, or even a week, but that would be solo. So, we aren't thinking of this as our "Big Italian Trip". More or less just having some sibling time, but the backdrop happens to be Italy.

I don't think either of us has things on our list that we have to see or do, except see pretty things/places, eat tasty food, drink good wine. We are flying into Rome, and it sounds like everyone recommends renting a car and exploring that way? I remember thinking Florence was beautiful, so the thought was to head up that way early in the AM, and then see various small towns around there. What would be some things you'd consider with our limited time, the fact that we don't have any one thing/place that we absolutely HAVE to see/do, we are completely flexible, we are fairly energetic, not economically constrained, and like hiking/outdoors activities. We are not anti-tour guide, either, especially if someone has a great recommendation.

I guess, just think of it is one segment of what will be multiple trips to Italy in the future. 

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I just didn't love Rome, but again, I went in college, when I had absolutely no money, stayed fairly far out AND there was a transportation strike so it was a fairly brutal part of our backpacking trip.  BUT I think if I could do it again I would like it more, I think you could easily do a couple days in Rome then take the train to Florence which I loved and do a couple days there without needing a car.  But if you want to explore smaller towns you might want a car.  I would think with that a few of days in Rome and one other city (overnight stay) or two small towns (day trips probably) would be all you would really want to cover in a week and could likely do that by train.  I would suggest pulling up the rail map and seeing what towns you can get to within a reasonable period of time and googling.  And then prioritize, either another city or do you want another vibe.  

If you like seeing historical sites, architecture and art then you really can find a lot to do in Rome.  

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Driving in Italy is scary and expensive, and you could easily run up huge fines if you accidentally drive into restricted zones (reserved for locals and licensed tour operators).  After researching the topic, we ended up hiring a driver to see Tuscan hills towns and were glad we did.  

We spent 6 nights in Rome in February and wish we had a lot more time there.  In comparison, we spent 4 nights in Florence and 2 nights in Venice and felt we covered those cities well.  With 5.5 days, I wouldn't bother with Tuscan towns and more long distance travel.  The Roman art musuems and ruins will keep you well occupied.

But do also make time to visit the big cathedrals, esp. St. John at Laterno.  If you want a day trip, Villa d'Este with Villa Adrianna is good.  Or take a train down to Ostia as a more relaxed alternative to Pompeii.  

Stay in the heart of the city (but within 10 minutes walk of a subway station) and PM me if you want food recommendations.  Do Keep your valuables in zipped inside pockets and small change in outside pockets for easy access.  November should be a nice month to visit, not full of throngs of tourists, and not crazy hot.

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If you end up doing a solo leg, one possibility that our driver suggested to us for the future was that he would do city to city transfers.  He is Florence based, but would pick up clients in Rome in the morning, then spend maybe 6 hours with them on a couple Tuscan hills towns and drop them off in Florence (or do this in reverse).  It's certainly more expensive than a train between cities, but you get some sight seeing done and gets to travel on your schedule rather than the train's.  If you want to stay overnight at a hill town, Sienna is a really nice option.

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With less than six days, I would not really recommend trying to do a large number of towns.  My family and I did five towns in seven days last summer and all felt we should have just stayed one place and done road trips by car.  You could easily spend all those days in Rome and not see all the 'must sees'.  If you want to range, though, I'd suggest Orvieto as a good base camp from which to explore so that you aren't packing/unpacking every day.  Ton of great places within 90 minutes drive.  You can also get there by train.

For while you're in Rome, my favorite restaurant is Colline Emiliane.  I'm biased toward Emilia Romagnan cuisine, just to warn you, having gone to school in Bologna, but this restaurant is rarely crowded with tourists, has some great Emilian dishes, and is easy to find.

Enjoy the trip - I'm jealous.

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On May 20, 2016 at 0:35 PM, astrid said:

Driving in Italy is scary and expensive, and you could easily run up huge fines if you accidentally drive into restricted zones (reserved for locals and licensed tour operators).  After researching the topic, we ended up hiring a driver to see Tuscan hills towns and were glad we did.  

We spent 6 nights in Rome in February and wish we had a lot more time there.  In comparison, we spent 4 nights in Florence and 2 nights in Venice and felt we covered those cities well.  With 5.5 days, I wouldn't bother with Tuscan towns and more long distance travel.  The Roman art musuems and ruins will keep you well occupied.

But do also make time to visit the big cathedrals, esp. St. John at Laterno.  If you want a day trip, Villa d'Este with Villa Adrianna is good.  Or take a train down to Ostia as a more relaxed alternative to Pompeii.  

Stay in the heart of the city (but within 10 minutes walk of a subway station) and PM me if you want food recommendations.  Do Keep your valuables in zipped inside pockets and small change in outside pockets for easy access.  November should be a nice month to visit, not full of throngs of tourists, and not crazy hot.

I disagree. We rented a car twice on two different trips to Italy. The price for the rental was reasonable enough, but the cars are generally inadequate (low end, low powered vehicles mainly).

The last time was trip where, when we made our way in to Verona from Lake Como, we had parking in a tiny hotel garage that was so small the hotel folks had to park it for you. Anyway, we went out a few times with the car, always using the same method to get back to the hotel. It seemed a little odd because the area looked kind of sort of like apedestrian only area, but there were no signs indicating this (believe me, I looked all over, several times). Then, on our way out of Verona, we left the same way we had several times before. This time, we were stopped by two walking police officers. They gave us crap about what we were doing wrong, one got kind of gruff and left and then the other one came over and asked us where we were going and we explained we were on our way out of town to head north to Austria. She went over and talked to the other officer and came back a few moments later and said 'Go.' and proceeded to walk us in our car out the last 50 or so feet out of the apparently pedestrian only area. We might have gotten a big fine then, but lucked out.

Previous trips were easier because we generally were not staying in cities (we drove from Firenze to Montalcino, to Modena to Ravenna to Pisa to Bologna, etc). We did drive down a one way street the wrong way once, but the drivers were so casual and nice about our mistake we were relieved.

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Beware.  After returning home from a recent trip partly in Italy I received two charges on my credit card from Hertz, fees for giving my contact info to police authorities, at 35 euros a pop.  When the tickets finally arrived (sent by a third party processor of course, further driving up the fines ultimately to be paid) one was for driving in a restricted zone, which of course I had no idea we were doing, and one was for driving in a lane reserved for something else for 18 seconds I believe it was.  Again I had no idea we were doing anything wrong.  One of those was about 100 euros and the other about 150.  Credits cards accepted of course -- everything done on the net.  Quite the money-maker.

Until this trip I always advised folks to rent a car in Italy.  Now I'm less sure, certainly if driving in cities is involved.  At the very least, don't drive anywhere unless you have seen locals drive in those same spots).

 

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6 hours ago, johnb said:

Beware.  After returning home from a recent trip partly in Italy I received two charges on my credit card from Hertz, fees for giving my contact info to police authorities, at 35 euros a pop.  When the tickets finally arrived (sent by a third party processor of course, further driving up the fines ultimately to be paid) one was for driving in a restricted zone, which of course I had no idea we were doing, and one was for driving in a lane reserved for something else for 18 seconds I believe it was.  Again I had no idea we were doing anything wrong.  One of those was about 100 euros and the other about 150.  Credits cards accepted of course -- everything done on the net.  Quite the money-maker.

Until this trip I always advised folks to rent a car in Italy.  Now I'm less sure, certainly if driving in cities is involved.  At the very least, don't drive anywhere unless you have seen locals drive in those same spots).

Curious, did you pay the tickets themselves? Why or why not? This sounds ominous, and I've never heard of it before - thanks for the info, and I wonder how many other countries engage in this, and also whether or not your credit report will be adversely effected if you didn't pay the tickets. I'm sorry this happened to you, John.

Maybe it's good to ask rental-car companies what their policies are on this - it sounds like it's ripe for abuse.

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4 hours ago, DonRocks said:

Curious, did you pay the tickets themselves? Why or why not? This sounds ominous, and I've never heard of it before - thanks for the info, and I wonder how many other countries engage in this, and also whether or not your credit report will be adversely effected if you didn't pay the tickets. I'm sorry this happened to you, John.

Maybe it's good to ask rental-car companies what their policies are on this - it sounds like it's ripe for abuse.

Actually it is quite the scam, particularly in Florence which is where one of the tickets I got came from.  Astrid referred to this above, about six posts up.  Here is a link to a pretty thorough discussion of what is going on, with special emphasis on Florence. click  But take it from me it can happen elsewhere too.  Italy just isn't the pleasant place to visit that it used to be.  Local governments can't raise money in the normal ways so they are resorting to scams like this and hitting up the tourists.  I have paid up because delay appears futile.  It seems the rental car company will eventually pay and bill it to you, which apparently they can do even if you no longer have that particular credit card, and if you balk it could make problems from your credit rating. And by then the fine could be significantly larger than it was.  In short, they have you by the short hairs.

I would not be surprised if this becomes such a well-known problem that it starts to have a negative effect on Italian tourism's image (a story on CNN would get the ball rolling) that the national government finally steps in and curbs the worst abuses.  But it apparently hasn't happened yet.  

For now, maybe the south of France is a better option, certainly for those who wish to enjoy the countryside and need their own transportation to do that.

 

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5 hours ago, johnb said:

I would not be surprised if this becomes such a well-known problem that it starts to have a negative effect on Italian tourism's image (a story on CNN would get the ball rolling) that the national government finally steps in and curbs the worst abuses.  But it apparently hasn't happened yet.  

For now, maybe the south of France is a better option, certainly for those who wish to enjoy the countryside and need their own transportation to do that.

Careful with France too - particularly the countryside.  There are speed cameras in all the tiny villages where the speed limit slows to 35 kph - you will get nailed and the fines are quite large for tourists.  Again, they go through the rental agencies. It's not just Italy.

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7 hours ago, zgast said:

Careful with France too - particularly the countryside.  There are speed cameras in all the tiny villages where the speed limit slows to 35 kph - you will get nailed and the fines are quite large for tourists.  Again, they go through the rental agencies. It's not just Italy.

It's a jungle out there.

What really gets me is that the rental agencies (in my case Hertz) know full well about this, but I at least was not given any warning at all, which is the least they could do.  I'd be curious if others have received any warning at the time of rental.

So far I have only heard from them about two infractions, but I have a few months to go before the one-year mark, which I understand is some sort of time limit, so now I get to hang around and wonder if any more will come in.  We'll see.  But the whole thing stinks, and the more I learn about it the more I wonder why somebody, like the EU commission, doesn't crack down on the abusive aspects.  They are entitled to reasonably enforce their regulations, but taking advantage of unaware foreign tourists is not only dirty pool but may well start to hurt them in the long run.  Tourism is a big part of the Italian economy, and you'd think they would think a bit beyond padding their  stream of revenue with these Ferguson-like practices.  

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We first learned about this issue from a family member, who was still getting tickets 2 years after his trip.  He said he paid thousands of Euros in fines already.

And I will say that we got a quote of over 100 euros per day for a basic automatic vehicle, plus had to give permission to the rental company to draw up to 1500 euros to cover any "damages" without any recourse.  Just the basic rental cost was about 3 times the cost of renting a nice automatic in the south of France.

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I'm not judging, but I'd think a car rental would be a last resort. Europe has a variety of public transportation options, and cars are not the necessity they are in most of the US.

Having lived in the UK, Germany, Italy (Rome), and Belgium in the past, I will tell you having a car in a major city is more trouble than it is worth. Gas is expensive, and has many people have mentioned, there are extra fees and hazards associated with driving in European cities. (Big Ben, Parliament).

Unfortunately, I haven't been to Italy in several years, so I can't offer any practical restaurant tips, but I look forward to living vicariously through others.

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15 minutes ago, reedm said:

I'm not judging, but I'd think a car rental would be a last resort. Europe has a variety of public transportation options, and cars are not the necessity they are in most of the US.

Having lived in the UK, Germany, Italy (Rome), and Belgium in the past, I will tell you having a car in a major city is more trouble than it is worth. Gas is expensive, and has many people have mentioned, there are extra fees and hazards associated with driving in European cities. (Big Ben, Parliament).

Unfortunately, I haven't been to Italy in several years, so I can't offer any practical restaurant tips, but I look forward to living vicariously through others.

Having a car *in* a major city is usually more trouble than it's worth (in some cities, you'd have to be crazy), but when getting between cities, having a car can make all the difference between a straight-shot train ride, and meeting your new best friends in some random small-town tavern, and also seeing various sights along the way. It can be a tough balancing act, that's for sure.

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