Since itineraries are such a hot topic I thought it might be helpful to post a couple – here’s what I’ve learned and am still learning
- Focus on one or two regions based on the # of days you have – seems many first timers try to cover all the places they’ve heard – if you are anything like me – you’ll be back again and again
- Give the important cities a minimum of 3 full days - not counting the day you arrive or leave (travel days)
- Take advantage of the great fast train service – good service between Milan and Venice and south to Rome opens lots of regional opportunities / day trips
- Take advantage of tour guides – especially in the important cites – a half-day is generally the most my brain can handle – I think of it as an ‘Adult Education’ investment. Sure you can do it on your own but it helps me to efficiently see the important sites and leaves more time to relax and explore after the must sees have been crossed off the list. We used 4 of the guides we found in Rick Steves Italy 2010 and were thrilled with the results.
Here are two of my favorite itineraries, each of them developed the care and advice from Slow Travelers.
6 Rented car, through AutoEurope with GPS, in Florence near city wall / train station - AM Drive starting via S222 – thru Chianti to San Gimignano: stops: Montefioralle; Lamole (lunch), Panzano
6-8 San Gimignano - Hotel - Anticco Pozzo - best enjoyed at night after the tour buses leave
8 Drive - Tuscany -San Gim to Cortona - stops: Montalcino - Sant Antimo Abbey (picnic); Pienza
8-11 Cortona - Hotel Villa Marsili including great day trip to Todi (Umbria)
11 AM Drive from Cortona to Florence return car – train to Venice
11-16 Venice - Hotel - Oltre il giardino
16 Fly Venice - PHL
Itinerary #2 – Just returned on June 6th – Verona – Lake Garda – Rome - Positano
Day # Place 1 Fly PHL to Verona (via Munich)
2-7 Verona – Domus Nova – Day trips by train to Bologna & Vicenza in under an hour
7 AM – Taxi – Verona to Lake Garda - Desenzano then ferry to Gargnano
7-10 Gargnano – Hotel Villa Giulia – Day trips to Sirmione, Limone, Riva via ferry – Amazing!!!
10 Driver from Gargnano to Verona (1 hr) Fast train to Rome (3hrs)
10-12 Rome - Hotel Eden: our Roman death march – never again! Day 1: 6pm walking tour. Day 2: 11am Villa Borghese / 3 pm - Context tour (4hrs)
12 AM Fast train – Rome to Naples (1hr – 35 euro) – driver to Positano (1 hr – 100 euro)
12-16 Positano - Hotel – Albergo Marincanto – Fabulous – but do your homework on rooms – you get what you pay for
16 Driver Positano – Paestum (1.5hrs) – tour (2hrs)– driver to Pompei (1hr) tour (2.5hrs) – train Pompei – Naples (.5hrs) – train Naples to Rome (1hr)– taxi to Hotel Sheraton Roma – a very, very long day! Loved Paestum!
- to focus on what sounds important to you, not just because it's famous and 'everyone' says you must go there. Unless they're paying for your holiday, it's you who decides what's a 'must-see'.
- The deeper you dig, the more there is to see. If you just want to have a photo of 20 famous landmarks then a whistlestop tour is ideal (though perhaps a calendar of Italian sights in your local bookshop might present better value). Spending a little longer in and around that place allows you to get more from the experience.
- (in my case) how to spell itinerary. It's not a word I use (I don't lay out an itinerary beyond dates to change locations if I'm staying in different places), hence I used to spell it wrong!
- Beware of the first day or two. The pain of aircraft travel plus connections (and for many folk, jet lag), may mean you're tired and lethargic. Clever planning can allow for a more relaxing open air destination for those 1st few days.
I'm sure there are more, so I'll let others have a go.
Drink coffee, do stupid things faster
Posts: 930 | Location: UK | Registered: 20 September 2008
Some other idea: 1) Get real about how much you can do in a day taking into account your energy level, meals (unless you picnic, you must eat during specific restaurant opening times), closing times (often 12-4), and travel time 2) Make a prioritized list of OPTIONS from which you choose one or a few each day depending on weather and how you feel. 3) Match your priorities to YOUR interests, not what others think, but mix it up (e.g. 1-2 churchs, 1-2 castles, 1-2 art museums, 1-2 scenic walks, 1-2 archeology museums,...) 4) Remember that in X days you will "see" X days worth; it's not how much area you cover. ---Marlene
Posts: 915 | Location: Boston, MA | Registered: 11 May 2004
Here's one small point that I learned after a first time trip to Italy two years ago : make the extra effort to be well informed about opening hours of businesses. Many times we made our way to small businesses that we were sure would be opened at the hours we planned on arriving there - only to find the places closed. It seems that there is hardly any uniformity when it comes to working hours in Italy. I'm still aching from the misses we had (an apothecary/health store in Genoa, a restaurant in Camogli, and more).
And I fully agree with the other posters who have stressed the importance of seeing what is important to you.
Posts: 582 | Location: Israel | Registered: 21 July 2007
I pull up Google Maps and Rail Europe to look at the places we are interested - from there I do some distance calculations and take a quick look at hotel and restaurant options to decide on the best home base. Then like Ian and others point out, it's all about how you like to travel.
My travel companions and I have found that a perfect day for us usually has sightseeing in the morning and a 3 or 4 hour break in the afternoon to rest and freshen up, time to SIT and enjoy a glass of wine or an aperitivo.
In places like Florence and Venice, there's so much to see and do, I'm content to stay put. Verona is more compact, and has great rail service for day trips. Tuscany is easy to drive around and there are lots of choices for a home base. In my experience, when driving, 2 small towns in a day was comfortable, 3 was a stretch.
I don't want to be in 'go mode' everyday, ideally I will have at least 2 full days in my base city to wander and relax with a little time for shopping.
Take advantage of tour guides – especially in the important cites – a half-day is generally the most my brain can handle – I think of it as an ‘Adult Education’ investment. Sure you can do it on your own but it helps me to efficiently see the important sites and leaves more time to relax and explore after the must sees have been crossed off the list.
I would like just to thank you for pointing out the importance of hiring a tour guide.
I think a very important thing to note when driving is that the travel times indicated by ViaMichelin or Google Maps are direct/non-stop times. At least an extra 25% (or more!)of the suggested time should be added.
You will stop to take pictures, you will stop to eat, you WILL get lost etc.
If you do get lost, don't panic....you will get there, just perhaps via a more scenic and often enjoyable route.
The best part of driving, especially in Italy, was getting lost and finding some great little town for a refreshment break and to review your maps, yes multiple maps also help, again.
You should better add 25% to google and viamichelin times, *and then* add time for stops, getting lost, etc.
I recently had to drive about 600 km. - that included a 160 km. section with continuos speed limits going from 90 km/h to 110 km/h. There would no way to do that itinerary in the time stated by google without getting a fine from a speed radar.
- Take advantage of tour guides – especially in the important cites – a half-day is generally the most my brain can handle – I think of it as an ‘Adult Education’ investment. Sure you can do it on your own but it helps to efficiently see what you want to see and leaves more time to relax. We used 5 of the guides we found in Rick Steves Italy 2010 and were thrilled with the results.
For those of you who are Rick Steves fans - we learned that he personally vetted each of the tour guides that he recommended (for the cities we visited anyway).
These are valuable trip planning resources - few people know the area better than they do - the right guide can help you find the best transportation options, great restaurants - they know when things are open and can help arrange entry to important sites without waiting in line.
Here are the guides we used:
Verona 3 hrs. - Valeria Biasi firstname.lastname@example.org - 108€ for 3 people
Vicenza 5 hrs- Romina Rampazzo email@example.com - 140€ for 3 people
Rome - Context - Roma Antica Palatine Hill, Forum, and Colosseum - 75€ + 14€ (tickets) per person - these are small group tours of 6 people.
Positano 3 hrs. - Christine Ornelas firstname.lastname@example.org - 40€ for 2 people - includes a tasting of local foods Discover Positano
Paestum and Pompeii - Silvia Braggio email@example.com Paestum 3 hrs - 100€ plus 2 tickets 13€ for 2 people Pompeii 3 hrs - 120€ plus 2 tickets 22€ for 2 people
Favorite Planning Resources - Web: - SlowTravel.com - Forums, questions and advice - Trip Advisor - Reviews for Hotels, Attractions, Things to Do and Forums for cities and regions - I Escape - Hotel pictures, places to go - Karen Brown - hotels, itinerary ideas - Google Maps - driving and walking directions and 'My Maps' - Rail Europe
Reliable Travel Guides - printed Karen Brown - Hotels and Itineraries Rick Steves - Towns, Things to Do, Restaurants, Tour guides Italy Instructions for Use by Nan McElroy - Practical advice for getting around Italy
Trusted Resources and Services: Nan McElroy has helped me on two different trips to Italy.
In Venice, she arranged for her favorite Water Taxi Driver to meet us at the train station, and helped us arrange the perfect gondola tour (away from the 'Gondola Train') with her favorite gondelier - she also gave us the inside scoop on restaurants and attractions
On our most recent trip she arranged multiple train tickets on Trenitalia - difficult to do with US Credit Cards and saved approximately $250 by helping us get 30 day advance purchase discounts - sent paperless tickets and reservation PNRs to my blackberry - no need for ticket validation!!!
Tentative plans for our trip to Italy next May (about 24 nights in Italy, after vising friends in Bordeaux for a few days): Fly into Milan on Easyjet from Bordeaux, arriving early afternoon. 24 hours in Milan (I know, I know), then
- train to CT for 4 nights (Jim and I have hiked the trails before, and our friends are excited to - I'm hoping to do a scuba dive from Riomaggiore)
- train to Rome for a 4 night apartment stay
- train to Tuscany (we haven't settled on a base, so don't know yet where we'll pick up our car) 6 - 7 nights agritourismo
- Venice for 4 nights - apartment
- Ending with 6 nights in Florence (apartment) before returning to Calgary.
We'll have a list of possiblities for each location, but nothing written in stone except those few things that need to be reserved in advance. Our usual MO is that we leave the apartment about 9:00 and don't return until 4:00 or so, having stopped for several breaks during the day, have a nap, then out at 8:00 or so for supper. We're ok with museum marathons (did 7 hours in the Prado last year) but just as happy to mooch around narrow alleys. Probably our favourite thing is visiting with artisans, and watching them ply their trades. Jim and I have been before and are looking forward to showing our friends our favourite spots. They leave all the planning to me (no pressure!) but we've known each other for more than 30 years, so our likes and dislikes are no secret.
"I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train." Oscar Wilde
Something I have found to be highly valuable is to use a blank calendar with big squares. If you don't have one on on your computer programs, you can dowload one. I customize the calendar for the travel dates.
As you plan your trip, fill in the dates with your plans. I always leave one date BLANK. This allows for unexpected adventures or down days.
As your trip planning unfolds, you can easily see if you have planned too much travel. Before I leave I print the finalized version. As we travel I make notes in the squares of what we did that day. After trip one can easily reconstruct the days' adventures.
I think we disconnect from some of the folks who come here looking for advice. There are a lot of us who have had the luxury of time and opportunity to see a great deal of Italy and to see many places in depth.
For a first time (or few time) traveler, I have no problem looking at an itinerary that takes the most popular sights in a less concentrated manner (kind of like trying the buffet before going back to the same restaurant for a leisurely sit-down dinner at a future time).
I'm also on the other side of the fence regarding tour guides. Guides may or may not have the same agenda as you and they may have incentives to see you spending time in places that you might not want to be in (read "shops"). We're all capable of reading, studying, prioritizing, and route finding and (to me) half the fun of a trip is the sense of discovery (which is not the same as someone pointing to an object and saying, "Here it is".
Posts: 1422 | Location: Northern Virginia | Registered: 22 May 2006
One my most valuable lessons is to not over-plan and fill my time with things that sound good when I am at home. Invariably, when I land in Italy, I meet people who recommend things to do and those have turned out to be some of the most memorable experiences. So, now I only plan the trip in general terms. Once I am in an area, I talk to the locals, find out what is going on, what they like to do, etc. Leave some free time for the unexpected.
Originally posted by Alpinista: ...Guides may or may not have the same agenda as you and they may have incentives to see you spending time in places that you might not want to be in (read "shops"). We're all capable of reading, studying, prioritizing, and route finding and (to me) half the fun of a trip is the sense of discovery (which is not the same as someone pointing to an object and saying, "Here it is".
Alpinista, no self-respecting guide would be guilty of what you described above. I am sure everyone is refering to professional guides who are licenced by the local authorities and not some fly-by-night imposter getting kick-backs from taking people to retail outlets. The value of having a guide is to enhance the experience of the visitor by providing insights beyond the "reading, studying, prioritizing, and route finding", certainly not to replace them. I would personally encourage a balance mix of the two - some amount of guided programme with time for personal exploration. EC
I agree with everything that Alpinista wrote. For most of us, travel to Europe is very expensive and time is limited, and, let's face it, the popular sites are popular for a reason. I try to go off the beaten path and some of those have been probably our most memorable experiences and some I consider our most expensive forgetable exeriences. But I still try not to miss the "must see" sites (although I never did see the "real" David or the Uffizi in Florence because I could not get tickets for the day we were there, but I think I can still die happy or maybe next time...).
I have gotten increasingly cautious of posts that rave "this is my favorite little village in Italy (or France or Spain, etc.)and don't miss it" when there is really nothing there to interest me. To me these places are usually just a cute little out of the way place to have lunch and one looks pretty much like some others that were closer and more convenient. I have found that I have to look at what interests us and fits into our travel plans and itinerary.
Ease of travel has also become important. If some place does not fit easily (and I do mean easily)into our itinerary, oh well, maybe some other time. We are no longer on a non-stop marathon.
Any time I ever hired a guide, in the end, I was disappointed. About halfway through the tour, I was so overloaded with so much, to me sometimes meaningless, information that I just tuned the tour guide out. I have always bought very good, detailed tour books (I prefer the Blue Guides) and do a LOT of research before I leave. Anywhere that I did not hire a guide, I did not feel that I missed anything and we could see what we wanted to see at our own pace. But maybe that was because I did do a lot of research first.
I think this thread would probably be better in "Everything about Travel" rather than Italy. This topic is really appropriate for any travel, not just Italy.
Posts: 49 | Location: Michigan & Key West | Registered: 03 July 2004
Tripit is unbelievable. You'll never go back. You can access it from your iphone and see the latest version even if you do not have a wifi or broadband connection active. Also easy to share with other so they can keep track of your locations.
I am with Vik. I live in Puglia in Southern Italy and whenever I go around Italy to visit the other regions I just make reservations for the first two/three nights. Then the first thing I do is to go to the market (the one where the locals go) and I start meeting local people and ask questions about their favorite foods, restaurants and places to visit. I was always able to see places that I rare read about in tourist guide books.