General Advice for Travel in Italy
Don't try to do or see too much - One mistake
that I think a lot of people make is trying to do too much or
to see too many things. Think about trying to see your own country
in one fell swoop; or even trying to see "all" of the
major U.S. city you are most familiar with in just one
day. It can't be done. Instead, concentrate on seeing a few things
and seeing them well. Take your time and relax; you are on vacation
after all. This strategy includes hopping from one town to another
too often. If you move from one hotel to another every night,
about half of each day will be consumed by packing, traveling,
finding the "new" place, checking in, unpacking, etc.
Instead, consider staying in one place for a few days. You'll
get a better flavor of the place and be more relaxed, too. Don't
make checking an item off a list a substitute for getting a feel
for the spirit of a place.
Get Up Early, Stay up Late - The light is so
beautiful in the morning, and the crowds that throng to popular
places don't arrive until after they've had a proper breakfast.
Getting up early gives you quiet time in a place that you can't
get any other way. Staying up late assures you that you won't
miss the wonderful social time that Italians have late in the
evening. You also will be more tempted to eat your evening meal
when Italians do; sometime around 8:00PM or later. Of course,
this means that you might want to reserve some time in the afternoon
to have a nap; always a good idea in the heat of the day, anyway.
Get off the Beaten Track - Generally speaking,
the farther you get away from large towns and cities, the more "pure" your
Italian experience will be. Think about where you live and about
whether a visitor to your part of the world would get a good
understanding of where you lived by visiting the nearest large
city. I am not suggesting that you ignore the amazing large and
popular cities in Italy, but rather that you balance a visit
to, say, Florence with a few days in the Tuscan countryside.
In other words, watch where the crowds go and then walk or drive
in the opposite direction.
Don't try to keep up with Italian drivers -
The best way to get off the beaten track is to drive a car. Bumping
along a narrow dirt road in Italy is a wonderful thing and finding
that little out-of-the-way chapel or the roadside pizzeria that
will never appear in any guidebook is like finding buried treasure.
This freedom comes with a price in that Italian drivers are usually
better at the craft of driving a car than we are. They are more
accustomed to high speeds, are better at car control and are
more aware of what their cars can and cannot do. Be cautious
and respectful and stay in the right lane (Italians always use
the left lane only for passing). Be careful
when you pass slower traffic because that little speck in your
rearview mirror can become a thundering Alfa, BMW or Mercedes
in a matter of seconds when it is traveling at over 150 MPH.
Look for Agriturismo accommodations - "Agriturismo" is
an Italian concept that makes clean, pleasant rooms available
in farm or other country houses. It's a great way to get a sense
of how people live get to see the way an Italian farm works,
and it also happens to be a very inexpensive way to stay. See
the links section at the bottom of the page
for places to start looking for farm or country stay opportunities.
Eat where locals eat - Italy offers one of
the most satisfyingly wonderful gastronomic cultures on earth.
You can eat well (really well) almost anywhere.I frequently ask
people where I am staying where they go out to eat.. Asking the
desk clerk works, but asking the gardener is even better. I ask
them where they would take their families for a meal, or where
they would go when they want a good meal. What you'll find is
that you can eat great food for small money. Even if you are
too timid to ask someone, see if you can figure out where local
folks eat by going a bit out of the way (see "beaten track" above)
and looking for local cars or foot traffic.
Learn a bit of Italian - Italians know that,
unlike English or Spanish, their language is not very popular
worldwide. Many contemporary Italians speak English and speak
it well. This is especially true in larger cities and more touristy
towns. Still, if you want to get on an Italian's good side (and
be a polite traveler, as well) it pays to learn a bit of Italian
before you go. Take a class, borrow or buy some language tapes
or obtain a book of common phrases and vocabulary words and commit
some of the beautiful Italian language to memory. The Italians
you meet will be pleased that you've at least tried to fit in
to their culture and you'll feel better about yourself.
Buy stuff at supermarkets - If you want to
buy things like bottled water or wine, cheese, bread and sausage
for a picnic, you'll save a lot of money by going to supermarkets
instead of the smaller shops. COOP is one of the largest chains,
and you'll find them nearly everywhere. Plus, it's really fun
to see how large the pasta aisle is! The flip side of this is
that when you're in a small town, assembling a meal from separate
visits to the wine shop, the bread shop, the cheese shop and
the meat shop can be a lot of fun and very different from the
way you probably buy food at home.
Eat gelato as often as possible - To say that
gelato is "ice cream" is to do it a supreme disservice.
I'm not sure how they do it, or why we can't seem to make a similar
product in the US, but Italian gelato is one of the greatest
pleasures in the entire country. A serving of gelato can turn
even the most disgruntled tourist into a calm and relaxed citizen
of Italy. Eat it as often as you are able.
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"If Rome were a meal, or a book, or a woman, or a wrinkled,
wise and ancient face, it would be the only face worth studying,
the only woman worth loving, the only book worth reading, the only
meal worth eating. You must go and go and go again." –Anon.
Roma is an astonishing city... Crowded, noisy, bustling, gorgeous,
and just generally fabulous.
It's a great walking city, and, while you can't ever see "all" of
it, you really can see much of what you would want to see by just
hoofing it. Even if you’re just walking through stuff that
isn’t in the guidebooks, it’s fun to see the places Romans
go and eat and shop, etc.
Check out this annotated
map of the city. Print it out to see some numbered spots that
are referenced below. I’ve put some markers in for some of
my favorite spots, and then numbered them. Most of them are in
my favorite neighborhood in Rome, which is the Centro Storico or "historic
It has a wonderful mix of Baroque, Renaissance and Ancient Rome,
with the Piazza
Navona, the Pantheon and
some wonderful churches from various eras. The Pantheon is probably
my favorite building in the world. It’s an amazing structure
that has been in continuous use since Agrippa erected it in 27BC.
Go in and stand directly under the oculus that is in the center of
the dome and look up.
In front of the temple, the piazza centers on Giacomo della Porta's
late-Renaissance fountain and an Egyptian obelisk added in the 18th
century. The cafes around the piazza are fun to sit in for a drink.
As with everywhere in Italy, you’ll pay for the privilege of
sitting down (standing at a bar is always cheaper) but it’s
nice to sit and have a glass of wine and watch as the sun sets on
a building that’s 2000 years old.
If you’re standing facing the Pantheon, off to the left side
is a wonderful little pizzeria, “Pizzeria Minerva” where
you can get a slice of Roman pizza and a cold beer. You can sit inside
or, better, carry it out and sit on the steps of the fountain in
the piazza and eat lunch the way Romans eat it; on the run. I’ve
marked that with a number 1.
Around the left side of the Pantheon, sort of behind it, another
obelisk (on the back of an elephant!) marks the center of Piazza
Minerva . Behind the obelisk, the Chiesa di Santa Maria sopra Minerva
hides some Renaissance masterpieces, including Michelangelo's Christ
Bearing the Cross, an Annunciation by Antoniazzo Romano, and a statue
of St. Sebastian recently attributed to Michelangelo.
If you turn your back on the Pantheon and walk away from it, taking
the righthand choice of the two possible ways, you’ll pass
the second-best (Jeff’s opinion) gelataria in Rome, Della Palma.
It’s a modern iteration of Rome’s obsession with ice
cream. Continue on about 100 yards and take a right on via Uffici
del Vicario and you’ll come to the Mother of all Roman Gelaterias, Giolitti.
This place has been around since 1900. Go at night, preferably after
10:00 or 11:00. Pay for your ice cream at the front counter (most
bars – of any sort - in Italy have you pay for your order before
you order it from the barista) and then elbow your way through the
crowd to the most amazing display of gelati anywhere. Order up from
the barista (get “panna” or whipped cream applied in
a slab-like fashion to the side of the cone) and enjoy. I’ve
marked it with a number 2.
If you are ever starting to be tired or having a bad time in Italy,
have a gelato. Everything gets better after that.
Navona isn’t too far from the Pantheon; it’s a
great people watching place and the home of some amazing sculptural
fountains by Bernini, including the “Quattro Fiume” or “Four
Rivers” which dominates the center. The piazza itself is
in the shape of an old amphitheater. Walking north out of the piazza
and a bit east, you will find the Church of San Luigi dei Francesi
at Via Santa Giovanna d'Arco 5
This is my very favorite art experience in Roma. This church is
the seat of French Catholicism in Roma, and is home to three of Caravaggio's
most famous paintings, including The
Calling of St. Matthew. Open F-W 7:30am-12:30pm and 3:30-7pm,
Th 7:30am-12:30pm.). Go in and go down the left aisle all the way
to the front of the church. Put a Euro (pronounced “Oooo-roh” by
the Italians, by the way, not “Yur-oh”) coin into the
box on the front wall and you’ll get a few minutes of illumination
of one of the greatest paintings of the Baroque. Not only that, but
you’ll be among just a handful of people who will visit the
church that day. I’ve marked this with a number 3.
If you walk south out of the Piazza Navona, you will come to the
Campo di Fiore. Fiore is “flower” in Italian and if you
go there in the morning, you will be treated to an amazing display
of fresh food and housewares from vendors. In the evening, there
are flower vendors and some great bars and fun restaurants.
A couple of nice places for dinner would be places near the Pantheon.
One is my favorite, a place called “Il Buco” (literally
translated to be “the hole” but it really means “the
mouth”). I’ve marked that with a number 4;
it’s at Via Sant’Ignazio, 8.
Marked with a number 5 is Pizzeria
La Sacrestia, at Seminario, 89, which is very near the Pantheon.
It’s a great place for a pizza, but also for a more hearty
meal. A bit farther down (away from the Pantheon) the same street
is another nice, modest place called Due Colonne.
One last Roman suggestion, both for dinner and for the fun of it
is to visit the Jewish Ghetto neighborhood. In old (not ancient)
Rome, Jews used to be locked up at night in a section of the city.
Therefore, there is a neighborhood that has kept the traditions of
old Jewish Rome (Judaism being Italy’s second most popular
religion). There is a restaurant there called Trattoria Giggetto at
Via del Portico d’Ottavio 2 (marked with a number 6).
Eat outside if the weather is nice enough, and you’ll be eating
under the “Portico d’ Ottavia” or Portal of Octavius,
one of Rome’s emperors. For antipasti (starters) you should
order “carciofi alla giudea” and you’ll have a
deep-fried artichoke that is amazingly wonderful. If you order “baccala’” you’ll
have fried cod, also scrumptious. Both are old Roman-Jewish specialties,
and are enjoyed by few Roman tourists and both are also astonishingly
Update! A 2004 revelation is that the world's
most transcendent coffee experience can be had just steps away from the Pantheon. I
had long thought that Cafe Tazza d'Oro ("Cup of Gold")
was the Roman coffee experience. I was wrong. This summer, I experienced
coffee at Cafe Sant'
Go to the cashier and ask for a "gran caffé." After you pay, cross the room to the well-worn
and lovingly dented zinc counter and put your ticket
down, asking the counter man for a caffé, and wait. As you wait,
the barrista who makes the coffee is shielded from the public view
by some panels on either side of his espresso machine. Apparently,
some alchemy is employed in the process and it's a trade secret.
When your coffee arrives, you will see a thick (nearly quarter-inch)
head of "crema" or foamy coffee essence on the top -
I've never seen anything quite like it. Nor have I tasted anything
it. The coffee is rich, intense, aromatic and absolutely astonishing.
To find Sant' Eustachio, face the Pantheon and walk past it, leaving
it to your left. Turn right on the street that is on the back
of the Pantheon, go one block and look for the unassuming storefront
on your left.
To download the Roma suggestions and map as a printable PDF file, click
here. (about a 1.2 Megabyte download)
Places to stay in Roma:
del Senato - A great place to stay that has one of the
best views of any hotel in the world - It looks right out at
the facade of the Pantheon. It's become pricey in recent years, though.
Santa Chiara - Behind the Pantheon, near the Piazza Minerva.
Portoghesi - A nice place that is about halfway between
the Tiber and the Pantheon.
Due Torre - located on a very small street that is hard
to find, it is not too far distant from the Piazza Navona.
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Firenze (Florence) & Tuscany
- Firenze -
Firenze is an incredible city, and there's so much to see that (again)
you really can't see it all. Here's one piece of advice that will
be very useful:
A phone number you can call to make reservations at the major museums
in the city.
So, you call these folks up and tell them when you want to go to,
say, the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, or to see the David. The make
a reservation for you and then you arrive and go to a separate window,
pay your admission fee (there's a small fee for taking advantage
of the service, few dollars) and then you walk right in, in front
of all the hordes waiting in the LONG line. It's wonderful.
The few times I've been to Firenze, I've stayed at the Hotel Monna
Via Borgo Pinti, 27
It's quite near the Duomo, and it's small-ish. I haven't been there
in a few years, and prices have gone up, but it's pretty reasonable,
given its location. They have parking for a car, but you don't really
want to be driving in Florence.. It's better (easier) than driving
in Roma, but still is a travail. Better to hang in Florence for a
few days, then rent a car on your way out of the city.
I don’t have many restaurant recommendations for Florence,
save for this one:
This is a famous Florentine restaurant that is quite expensive, but
it also has a small, more family-style “Trattoria” (sometimes
refered to as "Cibreino") behind the restaurant that shares
the menu with the “front of the house” only the prices
are about half. There are some differences (you sit at long tables
with others in the “back room”, the wine list is smaller,
etc) but the food is traditional Tuscan and is really, really good.
Cibreo is located at:
via a. del verrocchio 8r / via dei macci 122r
f tel +39 055 234 11 00
- Toscana -
I think that perhaps the best advice I can give is that you go
off the "beaten track" a bit, and Florence is a great base
for a renting a car and making a daytrip into the countryside, making
sure to avoid the main roads and stick to the "snake-ey" ones,
where you get a sense of what the country really is.
One of my main "loves" in Italy is Tuscany (map). It's
probably the most popular destination in Italy, and for good reason;
it's incredibly beautiful. Florence is amazing; filled with art treasures..
but the countryside outside of Florence is astonishingly beautiful;
little hilltowns with beautiful churches and friendly people.
Perhaps my favorite places in Tuscany are the towns around Siena.
Montalcino, Montepulciano and Pienza are my favorites. I especially
like Pienza; it is a little jewel of a town that is not overly visited,
and has a great hotel and some wonderful restaurants. Here's a nice
Here's another site about Pienza
and the surrounding area.
I've stayed at "Hotel
Relais Il Chiostro di Pienza" a bunch of times.. It's
not cheap, but neither is it *terribly* expensive. It's a wonderful
place to make as your headquarters in central Tuscany.
I've never had any luck with using the website reservation form,
though; I think it goes through some sort of clearing house. Better
to fax them at: 011.39.578.748.440 or email them at: Ilchiostro@jumpy.it
There are several great restaurants in Pienza, but none is finer
than "Il Rosselino". It's a TINY place... 5 tables. A husband
and wife own the place do everything from waiting the tables to cooking.
There's a very small menu which is always based on what ingredients
they have for the day and tell you (In Italian; they speak very little
English--they are great at "sign language") how they will
prepare it. It's a wonderful experience. Pienza is a tiny place,
so you'll have no trouble asking around for the restaurant... stop
by in the afternoon and ask if there is a table available for the
evening and hope the answer is "si!" Phone is: 0578.749.064
Note that this is an expensive place to eat, as befits a meal that
is lovingly prepared by just two people for their clientele. Spluge,
and you won't be sad. There are some other good (and much less expensive)
restaurants in Pienza, namely Da Falco and Il Buco di San Antonio.
As mentioned above, Pienza makes a great base for exploring the
wonderful hilltowns of south-central Tuscany. Montepulciano and Montalcino are
both beautiful as are the much smaller towns nearby.
A couple of kilometers outside of Montepulciano is Sant'Antonio
Country Resort. this is an outstanding place to stay, available
only by the week. It's a high-end agriturismo (at mid-range
prices) with owner/manager
Nico looking after every detail. Highly recommended for its amenities,
great location and wonderful value.
San Gimignano is another wonderful place... a classic
Tuscan hilltown. There is a great hotel in that town that is reasonably
Cisterna". It has a very nice restaurant , "Le Terazze"...
with wonderful views of the countryside. Another good restaurant
in that town is "Le Catane"... you'll eat well there.
In northern Tuscany, Lucca is a great city with
its ancient walls that have remained relatively untouched by the
ravages of time.. There aren't many places to stay in Lucca, but
I found a place in a very, very small town nearby called Montecarlo.
The small hotel/B&B is called Antica
Casa di Rassicurati. It's run by 3 women friends and is as charming
as the town is quiet. There are several good restaurants in the town,
and a great little bar where seemingly everyone hangs out at night.
- Chianti -
The Chianti district is just about smack-dab in the middle of Tuscany.
Chianti is the district where the wine of the same name is produced.
In order to be called Chianti, the wine has to come from that area.
It is beautiful; woods mixed with vineyards poplars. There are hundreds
of places to stay in Chianti. The towns themselves are a bit more
austere than those more popular towns of San Gimingiano, Siena or
The very, very small town of San Sano has a great
little B&B (with a restaurant) and one other restaurant.
The wonderfully romantic Hotel
Residence San Sano is a great place to have a quiet, relaxing
base from which to explore the Chianti region.
Lots of information on the Chianti area is available at this
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Venice is a dream. There is no other way to describe it, though
countless writers and artists have tried.
It is also very crowded. It’s a city that really rewards
getting up very early and exploring before the crowds get too awful.
Then, go back to your room and have a nap during the heat of the
day, returning at 3:00 or 4:00, by the time everyone else is tired
and ready to leave.
Of course, you have to see the main sites of San Marco, etc, but
it’s a really great city to just wander about in. If you get
lost, you can’t get too lost, because you’re on an island
(when you’re in Venice, each time you cross a bridge, you’re
on another island).
Finding reasonable lodging in Venice is tough, but possible. In
the summer of 2003, I stayed at Al
Locanda del Leon. It was high season, but it was under $100 per
night. Not bad in one of Italy's most expensive cities. Friends have
stayed at Hotel
Belle Arti in the Dorsoduro section of Venice and been very happy,
If you find yourself in Piazza San Marco and the crush of tourists
is just too, too much, know that sanctuary is nearby. There is a
place that is literally just 2 minutes from the Venetian Ground Zero,
but is quiet, tranquil and beautiful.
It is the Cloister of Sant’ Apollonia. To reach it, you walk
past the façade of San Marco, leaving the church to your right.
Make your way through the “Piazetta dei Leoncini” (Little
Piazza of the Little Lions) and follow the walkway that goes towards
the back of the cathedral. Avoid the first bridge that you encounter
(which cleverly dead-ends into a glass factory sales outlet). Turn
right, parallel to the canal and cross the next bridge (stopping
to look at the famed “Bridge of Sighs, which stands between
you and the Grand Canal). Once off the bridge, turn immediately right
and you’ll find yourself facing a doorway. Go through and into
the sole remaining Romanesque cloister in Venice. Sit for a while
and soak up the silence, knowing that only 100 feet away, people
are vying for knock-off Gucci bags from the street vendors.
Gondolas are terribly expensive, but fun. In a lot of ways, it’s
a lot more fun to simply watch the gondolas go by, especially at
night on a dark and nearly deserted canal. The only other mode of
water-conveyance that is more expensive than a gondola is a taxi.
Try to avoid them if you are able.
You can get out on the water and move about easily and inexpensively
in one of two ways. The best way is to take the water-busses, or
Vaporetti. These are, in fact, busses that, like street busses in
other cities, stick to regular routes. You can buy a single ticket,
a 24-hour pass or a 72-hour pass. In point of fact, though, it appears
as though no one really every checks tickets on the Vaporetto, so
you could just “roll with it” and see what happens. One
of the best ways to see a lot of the city from the water is the #1
Vaporetto, which makes its way down the Grand Canal, stopping at
every stop. Try to get a seat in the front of the boat. This is especially
fun to do at night.
Another way to get out on the water is to use something called
a Tragetto. These are gondolas, but they aren’t as fancy as
the “ride for fun” gondolas. They have the singular mission
of transporting people across a canal where there is no convenient
bridge. On the other hand, they are cheap and fun, as it’s
mostly locals who use them.
I have a couple of restaurant suggestions for Venice:
Ai Cugnai - this is an odd, but fun place that is run by 3 sisters-in-law.
It’s small, reasonable and good. The woman who “runs” the
dining room is a hoot; constantly joking with customers and comparing
various tables’ orders, etc. It’s on the opposite side
of the Grand Canal from San Marco, near the Accademia bridge. To
get there, cross the Accademia Bridge coming from San Marco and take
the street to your left heading away from the bridge. The Hotel Galleria
should be on your left as you walk down this first street. Take your
first left and then look for the Trattoria a few blocks down on your
The other suggestion is also on the “other” side of
the Grand Canal. It’s in the Campo Santa Margherita. If Piazza
San Marco’s hordes and formality is a bit too much for you,
you’ll love the Campo, because it’s informal and more “real”.
There are a couple of good pizzaria/trattorias in the Campo. I’ve
eaten at both and they are both quite good.
A last suggestion for food is a Venetian tradition called a Bacaro.
These are small bars which, from 5 in the afternoon to, say, 8 in
the evening, serve some really great “snack-platters” of
odd (but delicious) tidbits they call “Cichetti” (Chee-keh-tee).
So, if you see a sign for a Bacaro, go in, have a glass of house
wine (usually good and always the cheapest thing) and ask for “Cichetti
Misto” (a mixed platter) and you’ll get a tray of seafood
and roasted veggies and assorted other stuff. Cheap, fun and very “local.” Bacari
are located all over the city.
The North (Piemonte, Lombardia & The Lake Country)
- Piemonte -
In Italian, Piemonte means, quite literally, "feet of the
mountains" and this province of Italy boasts a fine location in the
foothills of the Alps (map).
The great capital city of Torino (Turin) is perhaps one of the most
cosmopolitan in all of Italy. What time I've spent in the province
has been in the northern part, in the fabled "lake country."
The lakes actually span the provinces of Piemonte and Lombardia,
and one of the smallest lakes, Lago Lugano, is my favorite. I highly
recommend the Hotel
Stella d'Italia. It's a reasonably-priced place
right on the lake and with spectacular views. They have a restaurant
on-premises, a small (OK, tiny, but serviceable) swim beach as well
as a dock. We called it "the Agatha Christie Hotel" because the clientelle
when we were there had that sort of British "stiff upper lip" quality.
We kept wondering which of them was the one "whodunnit" (with a pipe
in the study).
The hotel makes a great base for exploring the lake country area,
as well as for daytrips into Switzerland. In fact, the hotel is nearly in Switzerland,
so close is the border.
- Lombardia -
Lombardia (map) is
home to Lake Como, the most famous of all the Italian lake district
lakes. I would guess that few readers of this page will be able to
muster the resources to stay at Villa
it's worth taking a quick trip into the property to look at how the
other half lives. There are countless formal gardens surrounding
the great villas from the 18th and 19th centuries, many of which
are open for tours.
The capital of Lombardia is Milano (Milan), an amazing city of fashion,
art and food. Milano's residents are among the best-dressed people
I've seen anywhere in the world, which is logical, given the city's
status as the fashion
capital of Italy. You can't go anywhere in Milano without running
into some aspect of the food culture that the empire of Peck has
created in the city. Ranging from an amazing deli and food shop to
wine stores, cafes and a world-class restaurant, when in Milano,
you should sample at least some of the gastronomic pleasures of Peck.
Of course, Milano is also the home of Lenoardo's "Last
Supper" painting. Because of a recent (and controversial)
the number of visitors allowed into the small chapel where the painting
is located is very limited. This makes advanced reservations absolutely
necessary. There are many places where you can make these reservations,
but I recommend using my friends at InItaly.com to
reserve a time to see Leonardo's masterwork.
The last major recommendation I have for visitors to Lombardia is
the small, unassuming town of Maleo, about an hour south of Milano.
There, the Columbani family runs Albergo
del Sole (the best website I can find) a bastion of fine food
that, in my experience, is unparalled. It is expensive. Very expensive.
But, if you can save your Euros elsewhere and are able to splurge
here, it's well worth it. There are but eight rooms in the hotel,
gathered around a central, Italian-zen-like garden. In reality, though,
the hotel is not the main draw. It is the restaurant and the way
in which the Colombani family treats their guests that makes this
place very, very special. An evening meal here is an experience not
to be missed at some point in life. A conversation with one of the
family members about what foods are available and what foods you
like is the start, and shortly after those things are discussed,
astonishing, delicious food begins arriving in waves. It's worth
having a room in the inn to stagger off to after dinner. An Italian-language
web page here has some menus from the restaurant.
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The Cinque Terre
The Cinque Terre (pronounced "Chink-way Tear-ay"), or "Five Lands"
is an area of Liguria that lies north of the city of La Spezia (map).
It has become a very popular tourist destination in recent years,
but, despite that popularity, is still quite peaceful and tranquil.
The "five lands" are five small towns that are perched on the cliffs
above the ocean. The extreme geography of the area has prevented
it from being heavily developed, and accessing the area is best done
by the train that makes the short journey (about 15 minutes) from
La Spezia through the chain of towns. Once in the area, there are
footpaths that traverse the hillsides and allow passage from one
town to the next.
Much of the area is a national
park, so there are some small entry
fees to use some of the footpaths, but this also makes it a wonderfully
well-maintained area and allows it to be protected on into the future.
Rather than re-hash whats' already been written about this marvelous
gem, I'll refer you to this
excellent Cinque Terre page by Adrian von Greyerz. His excellent
resource does a far better job than I could do of detailing the beauties
of this area.
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In 2007, I finally visited the Abruzzo, the least populated
region of Italy. I spent about a week in Santo Stefano di Abruzzo,
which is a remote town (frankly, most of the towns in the Abruzzo
are remote) near the Piano
Grande, a huge national park high in the
I stayed in one of the most interesting hotels I've ever visited, Sextantio,
un Albergo Diffuso.
This "diffused hotel" is a very cool little hotel that's
really a town. Most of a nearly deserted town and has beenconverted
it into a very, very interesting hotel where the rooms are actually
in the old houses that once made up the town. I highly recommend
staying there... hard to get to, but amazing once you're there.You
can read more about it at these links:
In 2008, I went to Scanno,
another small town in the Abruzzo, very high in the mountains. I
devoted one of my Camera Position podcasts to Scanno.
I stayed at La
Caa Costanza B&B which was pleasant (and inexpensive). Costanza
speaks excellent English.
Cartier-Bresson and Mario Giacomelli are photographers who spent
time there and made significant photographs in this very
interesting town. I was there in the spring, but it looks like it's
a very, very busy place in the summer, as I'm sure it's very cool
there then. I was amazed to find that many of the women still dress
in the same costumes that they did in the '50s when Bresson was photographing
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- Sicily -
I visited Sicily (map) in 2002, and I have a few general suggestions
that I can make about traveling in Siciila, and a few specific recommendations
about things to
see and do and places to stay.
If you divided Sicily in half diagonally, my visit was confined
to the southeastern "half" of the island.
One of my first concerns prior to leaving the U.S. was that it
would be hard to secure a ferry ticket. I had had experiences in
of the United States where ferries were booked months in advance
for popular tourist destinations, but this is not the case in Sicily.
If you are in a car, drive to the southern tip of the Calabrian
peninsula and you will find a number of ferry lines and a very
of having you park, buy a ticket and then line up to get your car
onto the ferry. The trip is short from Reggio di Calabria across
to Messina in Sicily and not terribly expensive, either.
Trains regularly make the passage on special "train ferries",
so that's an option, as well. I was, frankly, surprised by the
length of the drive from Roma to Sicila; if I had to do it again,
fly directly into Sicila or take the train there and rent a car
once I got there.
I think you really need a car to get to the "best" spots.
In my experience, Sicily is less expensive than other parts of
Italy, especially if you stay off the beaten track a bit.
Beaches are plentiful and along the southern coast, especially,
there are numerous places where easy public access to beaches is
I stayed in two places in Sicily, with the intention of having
bases" to use for day trips to various sites.
The first place was Agriturismo
Gigliotto which is near the city
of Piazza Armerina.
This was a beautiful "Bed & Breakfast" sort of place,
with 15 rooms. There is a restaurant on premises and I would stay
here again without question.
The second place I stayed was a bit "rougher" but still
pleasant (and very, very inexpensive). It was just outside the city
of Floridia, which is a bit west of Siracusa. It is called Agriturismo
Don Mauro and is run by a former US citizen who has lived in Italy
so long that his English is a bit "broken". Tony is a
citrus farmer, and the agriturismo is part of his orange farm.
Sites you shouldn't miss in Sicily include the amazing temples
at Agrigento, the staggeringly large amphitheater in Siracusa and
cities of Ragusa, Noto and Catania (Catania is an island off the
coast of Siracusa and is very, very beautiful).
I could kick myself for not knowing this before I went to Sicily,
but there is a Curto
winery there, not far from where I visited. They have been making
wine on this estate since 1670. I guess
I have a reason to go back, now!
One of the things that really surprised me about Sicily was the
amount of ancient Greek history that is there. The island was considered
Greece's "wine and bread basket" for centuries, so there
are huge installations of ancient Greek ruins there.
Another thing that was fascinating was the way the landscape changed
almost minute-by-minute. There are areas of the island that are
very lush and areas that are nearly lunar.
Puglia (map) is beautiful in a lot of ways. It's odd, in that a
lot of it is "table-top" flat, which is in stark contrast
to most of the rest of the hilly peninsula. There are a couple of
notable cities. One is Alberobello, where there are these very odd,
very cool-looking circular (almost cone-shaped) houses called "Trulli" (singular
is "Trullo") that make up the architecture of most of the
There is also Lecche, which is a jewel of spectacular Baroque architecture.
Ostuni, often referred to as "The White CIty" consists of
whitewashed structures that are reminiscent of Greek villages.
Puglia has a lot
evidence of ancient Greece, which is interesting and fun.
Though I've never visited it, there is also the Gargano Peninsula,
which is a national park that is supposed to be very beautiful.
When I visited Pugila, I stayed in a very rustic, but absolutely
wonderful little Agriturismo called Masseria
in Monopoli, near Bari. It's run by the Contento (trans: "contented")
family who farm olives and breed cows, horses and sheep. The food
is outstanding and it was fun to live on a working farm for a few
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Here are some annotated links to some good and useful sites related
to travel to Italy.
In Italy -
This is a wonderful site that provides travel and lodging assistance
and information for travelers to Italy. They have never steered me
wrong with lodging requests and are the first place I usually turn
to when looking for information about a particular area. They are
experts at finding great B&B and Agriturismo places.
Karen Brown -
One of the first resources I ever used to find lodging in Italy was
a little book by Karen Brown. She still publishes the books (which
are great) but also mirrors a lot of that information on the web.
This is a fantastic resource.
Italy - Good, detailed maps of the whole country, provided
on a region-by-region basis.
I almost always use these folks for car rental. They are usually
least expensive, the cars are in good shape and they are good to
deal with (their offices are located in Maine, USA).
Steves - You might be familiar with Rick's PBS travel programs;
he's been a great influence on travelers who want to get in "through
the back door" in their journeys. This link is to his site's
pages on travel in Italy. You might also want to check out his
Wall" where he gives site visitors the opportunity to
feed back about restaurants, hotels and sites.
La Storia - I've never booked a place through these folks,
but I have stayed at places that they represent. It is a site that
offers lodging in unique, historic structures throughout Italy.
Company - A group that offers apartments and agriturismo accommodations
all over Italy.
Slow Food is an Italian movement that is aimed at making sure that
Italians don't lose sight of the importance of food to their culture.
It's not just the food itself, but the idea that food is meant to
be shared and savored, preferably with loved ones. This site gives
information on traditional restaurants by region, as well as places
to find regional wines and foods.
A site that takes the SlowFood concept to a more commercial level,
and aims at folks who might be interested in traveling, eating and
living "slowly". Agriturismo and apartment stays are offered
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