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Central Location in Italy

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My sister and I have had a life long dream of touring Italy. We have finally decided to go for a month in 2014 and could use some reccomendations as to a good central location to take some day and weekend trips from. We would prefer a smaller town but with a good transportation base so that we can easily connect with buses and trains. We will not have a car so public transport will be essential.
We are hoping to rent an appartment or villa as a base to come and go from. Is this a good plan or are we better to just arrange hotels as we go? We love to immerse ourselves in different cultures and really get a feel for the people, so we don't plan to be touring the entire time.
Our interests are wide and we can't wait to see the history and art. We also have no itinerary planned yet so any suggestions would be very welcome. Is October a good time to go?? Any tips and suggestions appreciated as it will be our first (of hopefully many) trips to Europe.

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