I’m happy to report I have a few questions to write answers to over the next few weeks, all about Sicily. It’s so exciting that so many people are planning to come and visit this Spring and Summer. It’s my pleasure to help you out.
We all know we need a little vacation after the stress of the last three years; let’s not get into that, shall we? But I’m sure a little wander around Sicily, a good meal, a glass of good white or red from Etna, and a moment to soak up some rays on the island of the sun is an excellent way of healing from all of the stress and trauma associated with the pandemic.
Here’s the first query from an old high school friend I am so happy to have reconnected with. She’s travelling to Italy with her family, and here is her message:
Exciting times here; my hubby and I booked a holiday to Italy and Croatia for September, and I was wondering if you had any tips or recommendations for places to see and things to do
We plan on starting in Rome, heading to Naples, visiting Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast, before returning to Milan and the Italian Alps before making our way to Croatia. We will have about four weeks all up.
I love to hear any of your ideas.
Here’s what I thought of for them.
First of all, how exciting you are making a trip to Italy this year! So you arrive at Rome, then you are looking to go to Naples and the Amalfi coast, and then you want to head up to Milano. Four whole weeks in Italy!
The first thing that comes to mind is that you are arriving after the summer rush, which is so good; this year, it’s planning to be a bumper one for tourism in Italy, so expect things still to be quite busy even in September. Anyone who arrives in July can expect the peak summer holiday time in Italy, so be prepared for some significant confusion, heat and traffic. I advise you to avoid hiring a car where possible; it is quick and easy to get to and from the major cities by train. You only need to download the Treni Italia app, and you can buy tickets online.
I suggest hiring a car only if you want to get out of a major city, away from the traffic and confusion, for a leisurely day trip at your own pace. You only need to pick and explore a town at your own pace. There are plenty of small towns to explore off the beaten track.
A helpful web sight that can give you some ideas is Walks of Italy which offers up some great ideas for major cities such as Rome, Florence and Milan. They have everything from private museum tours, walks and food tasting. It is always a good idea to book tickets to museums early online so you can avoid lines, and this is something they can do for you.
If you decide which galleries to visit beforehand, you can usually go to the gallery’s web page and book tickets directly from them; that way, you avoid the lines.
In Rome, the Vatican museum is utterly chaotic; you will be in line for hours, and there is no way of getting around that. I suggest going to other art galleries like the Villa Borghese, visiting St Peters’s Basilica and avoiding the Vatican altogether (unless you can find some private tour to avoid the lines!!) Try to keep away from the central neighbourhoods of Rome; try heading towards the Trastevere area, one of the most picturesque areas of Rome.
Be aware that trains from Rome down south are pretty slow, so give yourself plenty of time for delays and speedbumps on the way to Napoli. Always take a packed lunch, water and snacks, as things are expensive on the trains, and you never know when you’ll be stuck on a train because of inevitable delays.
Also, be careful about pickpockets and people who try to get you to buy something along the side of the road. Thieves are a big problem in major cities as they constantly target tourists.
The general rule is to keep passports in your hotel or a safe place. Also, don’t wear expensive jewellery that is easily snatched. These are general rules for all over the world, not just Italy. Keep an eye on your camera. Perhaps leave your expensive one at home and use your phone, which is less conspicuous.
The simple rule is don’t be flashy with your dress; keep it simple and comfortable. Turn your backpack around to carry it in front of you, so you can be aware of anyone trying to open a zip. I’m sorry to say petty crime is on the rise in Italy, so just be mindful of your surroundings and stay safe.
The Amalfi coast is filled with places to see, including many gorgeous small towns to visit, including Positano, Capri (which is an island off Naples), Amalfi, Ravello, Nerano, Sorrento, Piraiano, Sant-Agata sui due Golfi and Ischia (yet another beautiful little island to visit). The coastline is very rugged, and the roads are tight and winding, so you might want to stick to the bus unless you are a confident rally driver.
If you are on Instagram, this great influencer posts regular suggestions for day trips around Naples and has her own travel company. I think she’s already booked out this year, but if anyone wants to book with her in the future, check out Sarah L. Thompson
Recently Treni Italia has announced a new high-speed train from Rome to Milan, which can get you from the capital to the Northern city in two hours and forty-five minutes. Unless you are in a hurry, I suggest you get on a slower train or get off somewhere in between and explore.
From Naples up towards Milan, there are many Italian regions to explore.
In Lazio, outside of the capital, there are many places to visit, like Viterbo, Rieti, Frazinone and even Latina just south of Rome with its suggestive coastline known as la riviera di Ulisse (Ulysses Riviera), 100 km of sandy beaches and resort towns like Sperlonga, Gaeta and San Felice Circeo.
Above Lazio, there is Tuscany (Toscana), one of the best regions to visit in Italy; it is also the most popular. Of course, you mustn’t miss the capital Florence (Firenze); it’s a stunning Renaissance city filled with history, art and fine cuisine. It isn’t a massive city like Rome or Milan, so negotiating is easier. But it is crazy in the summer. So once again, book any museum tickets early! If you must see Michelangelo-s David, he is in the Accademia with Michelangelo-s suggestive unfinished sculptures, but once again, be prepared for confusion and crowds.
My favourite museums in Florence are the vast Uffizzi; you could spend the whole morning there and not see everything, but that’s where all the major Italian renaissance artists are. Also, the Pitti Palace will be much less crowded; it is a massive palace with numerous museums and gardens to explore. If you get tired, you can always head to the nearby Boboli Gardens and chill; you will be overwhelmed by all the art. The beauty of Italy is that you can quickly grab a takeaway cooked meal from a rosticceria; even supermarkets make cooked meals.
There are many simple, quick and easy ways to eat in Italy. You can grab a panino and a bottle of wine or beer at a supermarket and have a picnic (you can consume alcohol in public with no problems, Italy is very civilised that way). Or you can grab a big slice of takeaway pizza, which is also available by the piece at quick takeaway pizza al taglio pizzerias. My favourite thing is to find an open-air market that sells fruit, vegetables and other local products and buy a whole heap of fresh fruit for snacks.
The biggest markets in the heart of Florence are those of San Lorenzo, and the world-famous leather markets are must-sees (remember to try and get a discount and bargain a little). But there are markets around the cities in different neighbourhoods, but they get there early because they sell out or close around midday.
If you stay at a B&B, you can always make a quick meal of cold cuts, cheeses, pasta, vegetables and fruits. Don’t forget the wine! Many enoteca and osteria or wine bars will allow you to taste, buy and eat with your wine.
If you get tired of waiting in line to see art, head to a church, there are so many to explore. I could do a whole article on Churches to see in Florence; they are all dripping in art, are free to visit, and are usually not as busy as the museums.
Please note that buying single bottles of water in stores is expensive in Rome, Florence, Milan, and other Italian cities. I suggest heading to your nearest supermarket, purchasing a pack of bottled and storing it in your hotel room. Or even better still, have a big reusable water bottle and refill it at any water fountain. The locals either buy their water or fill it at the fountains. All cities control their water quality, and the water in Italy is fantastic to drink. And it’s free!
What I suggest to do instead of embarking on a long and winding road trip from Rome up towards Milan, it will be too busy, and the roads will be under repair 100 per cent because Italian infrastructure is continually being repaired and maintained. You should catch a train to Florence (or any other major city you choose) and then base yourself there to make day trips as you please. It’s easy to hire a car to explore nearby towns on day trips.
Around Florence, for example, Lucca, Siena, San Gimignano, Viareggio and Fiesoli are just outside of Florence (you can catch a bus up there). Lucca is my favourite Tuscan town, a little place filled with palaces and churches and surrounded by these vast medieval walls dotted with gardens; you can easily hire a bike and ride around the whole down looking at the city from its walls.
Montepulciano and Orvieto are beautiful little towns deep within the Tuscan wine-producing area, which is better reached by car. You can easily find a great Agriturismo to stay at, a farm-style hotel that will allow you to soak in the beautiful countryside and taste the local products.
Agriturismo or farm stay vacations are so popular in Italy and are usually comprised of converted villas and old farm properties in the countryside that usually cook up local produce in guaranteed authentic homestyle cooking. The accommodation is generally comfortable and casual but worth the trouble. Please look at Agriturismo Italy to see farm stay properties all over Italy; it’ll give you an idea of what I mean.
I think Airbnb works very well here in Italy; if you are looking for a place to stay, it has an excellent search engine. If you choose a home with a so-called super host, you will get invaluable advice on where to eat, what to see, and any local events happening in the summer.
Many events in the summer in Italy are not advertised beforehand; each town organises open-air concerts, food festivals (sagras) and exhibitions advertised locally with posters and flyers. If you see a sagra advertised, I encourage you to go.
Each food festival is dedicated to a local product, and for a few euros, you can usually get a free meal with some entertainment. There are festivals devoted to everything from fagioli (beans) to salami, gelato, and artichokes, depending on what is grown in that particular town—or also dedicated to a specific dish or pasta.
If you are on Instagram, plenty of new generation influencers and Italian tourism accounts will give you ideas about where to visit and, importantly, where to eat. For example kacierose for Florence and tripsst.rome for Rome. If you search; you can fall into a bit of a rabbit hole, there is so much info online.
Above Tuscany, towards Milan and Lombardy, there is Emilia Romagna, a deeply neglected region by tourists. Still, it will give you one of the best, most authentic Italian experiences. The food culture of Emilia Romagna is filled with lasagna, tortellini and Parma ham, amongst endless wines and desserts. Each city has its character and is filled with beautiful architecture and history.
Italy is a living, breathing museum and food hall with endless things to see and taste. Food is the practised religion on the peninsula and surrounding islands.
The main cities in Emilia are one more beautiful than the next. They include the capital Bologna, the seaside resort of Rimini, Ravenna, the birthplace of Dante, Parma, the home of Giuseppe Verdi and the best ham you will ever taste, Modena, Ferrara, Reggio Emilia and Piacenza. There are hundreds of cities to visit and dozens of small, suggestive little towns. Once again, it is easy to base yourself in a major city and explore other places.
Heading toward Milan or Milano, the Lombardy (Lombardia) region is also filled with endless places to explore. Apart from the capital of Milano, there are also the splendid cities of Brescia, Monza, Bergamo, Pavia, Cremona and many more. The choice is endless.
I hope I haven’t confused you with my suggestions, but Italy is a vibrant tourist place. Rest assured, there is no way you can see everything, so be sure to do some research and choose what speaks louder to you.
Enjoy and have fun in the bel paese.
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