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Como and Florence

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We are returning to Italy, but this time visiting the Lake Como area and to Florence. we have been in Florence 2 years ago so no need to do the touristy stuff. We will head more to the country side during the day. However, as far as the Como area, we will be there for 3-4 days and the. Drive from Como, to Florence, making a stop or 2 along the way.

1) looking what should we do I the Como area. We are foodies, like little shops and cute villages/towns. Is it better to have car or travel by public transportation here?
2) driving fromcomo to Florence, where should we stop along the way. I was thinking Parma and Modena and surrounding areas.
3) cinque terre from Florence, is it worth a day trip? We've been to the amalfi coast, and will be coming back for the lake Como area, so I imagine it will be quite similar?

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    When driving from Milan to Florence or vv. I sometimes stop in Parma, parking my car at the Toschi car silo and having lunch at Trattoria Rigoletto near the teatro Regio. If you want a more original detour, stop in Busseto - the village where Verdi was born - and have lunch (sort of) at Salsamenteria verdiana (reserve places in advance).

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    There are several cute villages, and lots of luxurious 19th century villas, with formal gardens, in the middle part of Lake Como, near Bellagio. The one I liked best was Varenna. We're not foodies, but we're Italian (by adoption in my case), and we found the restaurants in the area to be overpriced and mediocre. I suppose that's to be expected in a location where the foreign tourists outnumber the Italians by about ten to one. However, we didn't do any advance research.

    You can get around the lake very easily by boat, and there are day passes, as well as passes for longer periods. We stayed in Bellagio, where public transportation and taxis all stop operating at what seemed to us, accustomed to Italian practice, a very early hour. If I were to return, which is not likely, I'd stay nearer the boat dock, because the last boats arrived after all other transportation was stopped for the night.

    I'm pretty sure the town of Como is more active at night, and probably has a much wider choice of restaurants, although it's not in the most scenic part of the lake. If you stay in Como, a car might make more sense. You can reach both Bellagio and Varenna by car, as well as Menaggio on the other side of the lake, but traveling between those towns is much quicker by boat.

    What time of year will you be in Italy? The villas on Lake Como have large gardens, which largely feature azaleas and rhododendrons. I don't know if you like gardens, but when we went there in mid-June, they were finished blooming and there wasn't much else in the way of flowering plants at that time. They would have been beautiful in mid-May, I think.

    It's about a four-hour drive from Como to Florence, if you'll have a car, so you wouldn't have time for much sightseeing that day. I think I would stop in either Piacenza or Parma; Parma is about half-way, and should be "foodie" heaven, no?. The train is a little faster, with a change in Milan. The train from Milan stops only in Bologna, where there is a luggage storage facility, which would allow you to go into the center and have a good meal.

    If your main focus is the countryside, I would recommend heading straight to a rural lodging instead of staying in Florence. If you don't have a car yet, you could pick one up at Florence airport, which is well outside the central limited traffic zone. You could take either a bus or taxi from the train station to the airport. Siena is about 45 minutes south of Florence by car, and there are plenty of attractive areas, including the whole Chianti area, to stay in between, and even more if you continue south of Siena. However, if you go that far, I wouldn't advise a long stop along the road.

    I don't consider the Cinque Terre to be a reasonable day trip from Florence. The tiny towns are practically sinking under the weight of tourists in the high season, and a high percentage of these tourists are day trippers, many on cruise tours. If you stay at least two nights, you can enjoy the towns outside of day-tour hours, and you'd have time to do some serious hiking. (Some of the easier lower trails have been closed for several years do to the risk of landslides.)

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    bvlenci, Thanks for all the insight. We are going in June. We'll stay closer to Bellagio. We plan to rent a car in Milan and drive to Florence from there after the Lombardy region, making stops in between. We don't mind being on the road for a longer period of time, so we'll make 2-3 stops. Once getting to Florence, we plan to also drive around Chianti and surrounding areas. We will be staying in an Apartment in Florence where we stayed previously.

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    I don't know if you're aware that central Florence is one big limited traffic zone (ZTL). I myself wouldn't take a car into central Florence. If you're sure your apartment isn't in a ZTL, and that there's a foolproof way to get to it without crossing a ZTL, then perhaps it's all right. Otherwise, you risk getting large fines any time you enter a ZTL. The car rental company will give your contact information to the police, and make a hefty charge to your credit card for their trouble, and then the actual fine will follow months later.

    My choice would be to rent the car just for a day trip while you're in Florence. In fact, if your focus is a rural area, I wouldn't stay in Florence at all, because you'll waste a lot of time getting out of and back into the city.

    If you take the train to Florence, you'd be able to stop over in Bologna, which is the Italian capital of gastronomy. The central market has a wide selection of local specialties, and there are many excellent restaurants there. Since I'm not a foodie, someone else may be able to advise you better, but I've had many great meals in Bologna.

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