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Italy Itinerary - Please help

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I'm just beginning to plan a trip to Italy for my husband and I. We plan to go in early June 2013 and stay for 15 days. I'm on information overload and don't know where to begin.

Our favorite trips are ones where we allow enough time to experience a place, not just go from one "must-see" museum or sight to the next at a frantic pace.

We love history, anything food related (eating, cooking, learning how a food is made), museums (DH is not a huge fan of art museums, but will spend some time there), markets, architecture, shopping, beautiful countrysides or waterways.

We prefer not to drive, and would instead enjoy taking a train or bus from one place to another.

This will be my husband's first time in Europe. 10 years ago I visited Russia and France, but I've never been to Italy.

All ideas and itineraries would be appreciated!

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    Wow. What an open-ended question. I suggest you get a guidebook or two and start reading about Italy to find what interests the two of you most (as opposed to what all of us here like). For a relatively small country (smaller than California), it has an enormous number of wonderful sightseeing opportunities. Your problem will not be 'what to see' but 'what to leave out.'

    Things to think about while you read about Italy:

    1) For those who don't want a frantic pace, consider 3-4 hotels in 15 days. Every time you move from hotel to hotel, you lose a half day or more.

    2) Consider flying into one city and out of another city and check your flight options before you finalize the itinerary. Flights to the U.S. from Venice, for example, can be crack-of-dawn hassles.

    3) The treasures of Italy are not all in big cities, so think outside the Rome-Florence-Venice box. Try to plan some time in a smaller town with a car so that you can do some exploring. If you can read a map and you're OK driving in a new place, you should have no trouble wandering the roads of the Italian countryside for a few days. You may find it easier than a typical vacation in the U.S. where you tend to stick to freeways/highways.

    4) But between the big cities, Italy's train service is great and, depending on the destination, bus service is good and comfortable.

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    Good for you !
    Start to plan now for 3 trips since eveyone does return.
    Here are some sample itineraries---I would not suggest an all city trip---look at Tuscany or a coastal destination:

    BOB the NAVIGATOR’S FAVORITE ITALY ITINERARIES

    Here is an updated version of my favorite itineraries & my “Bella Italia” photo gallery. I hope you enjoy.
    http://www.slowphotos.com/photo/showgallery.php?cat=3827

    1. BELLA ITALIA: Five destinations in 15 days—car & train travel
    * Arrive in Milan[MXP] & depart from Venice[VCE]or vice versa.
    * Itinerary to include the Italian Lakes, Ligurian coast, rural
    Tuscany, Florence, & Venice. Suggested timing is 3-2-4-2-4.
    * Option: Drop the coast & rent a villa in Tuscany[ 3-7-2-3].
    * Best time to go: May & June or Sept. & Oct.

    2. LA DOLCE VITA: Three destinations in 12 to 14 days-car & train
    * Arrival & departure from Rome[ FCO] or arrival in Naples
    * Itinerary to include Rome, the Amalfi coast, and Tuscany
    * Best time to go: Easter to end of October
    * Option: Fly into Naples & stay at 2 locations on the coast

    3. CLASSIC ITALIA: Three destinations in 12 to 14 days-car & train
    * Arrival & departure from Rome—may start trip in Florence
    * Destinations to include Florence, Rome & Tuscany/Umbria
    * Best time to go: Anytime, but May & Oct. are my favorites
    * Option: Consider a weekly rental in Tuscany/Umbria

    4. SICILIAN CHARMS: Five destinations in 15 days—car travel
    * Connections to Catania & Palermo via Rome or gateway city.
    * Itinerary to include Taormina, Siracusa, Palermo & more.
    * Best time to go: March to November—May is best for flowers
    * See: http://www.slowtrav.com/tr/tripreport.asp?tripid=634

    5. THE VILLAGE SAMPLER: My favorite venues for those who enjoy natural beauty and quaint, small villages. Arranged north to south.
    * Arrive Milan & depart Rome—car travel-- 3 nites per location
    * Itinerary to include Lago Orta, Castelrotto/ Ortisei[Dolomites],
    Portovenere[Liguria], Montalcino[Tuscany], & Spello[Umbria].
    * Best time to go: May to October for the lakes and Dolomites
    * Option: Pick 3 out of 5 and stay longer in Tuscany/Umbria.

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    You might want to locate towns on the major train routes, like between Rome and Florence, Florence and Venice, Venice and Milan, or Rome and Naples and pick out a place to stay. One place we really like for three nights is Orvieto. Bologna, between Venice and Milan (or a fast train trip from Florence) is THE food city of Italy, known as "Bologna the Fat." The pastas there are sublime. The city is interesting because its major streets downtown are covered by porticoes. You can also take side trips by train to Parma and Modena, homes of Parmesan cheese, prosciutto, and balsamic vinegar. (However they were hit hard by the recent earthquake and I don't know how quickly they will be back in operation.)

    Do buy an italy guidebook. For newbies, Rick Steves is good.

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    Thanks so much for your responses. Based on all recommendations it sounds like limiting the hotels to 3 is the best use of our time. I think our greatest interest lies between Rome and Bologna. I had forgotten about the earthquake - thanks charnees for reminding me. I think we would have enjoyed taking the side trips to Parma and Modena, but you are probably right in assuming they wouldn't have things back in order in just a bit more than a year's time.

    My husband is a chef, so I think Bologna is a must, and Rome is also a definite choice for us. The third logical choice is Florence...it's just hard to pass up the smaller towns like Siena (I've watched Under the Tuscan Sun too many times :)

    So if we choose Florence our itinerary would look like this:
    Day 1 Flying
    Days 2-6 Florence
    Days 7-9 Bologna
    Days 10-14 Rome
    Day 15 Flying

    Do I need to tweak the number of days, or does this make sense?

    I will be using frequent flyer miles to book business class seats and I checked with the airline (American) and they don't fly into Florence, so we can fly as far as Rome and will need to book and pay for one way tickets to Florence so I thought it made more sense to finish in Rome.

    Is there a train that runs from Bologna to Rome? Or would we need to change trains in Florence?

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    Several thoughts: bobthenavigator is a good resource. He has been there many times, and gives good advice. His recommendation of considering this trip as one of many is a good one. We were in Italy in the fall of 2011 with some folks who wanted to go to Italy "just one time" and after being there, are already talking about their next trip.

    With respect to your proposed itinerary, I might think about landing in Rome, then immediately taking the train to Bologna and begin that portion of your trip. Following your time there, then train to Florence, and then train to Rome for those days before returning to the US. (IE, Bologna/Florence/Rome "makes sense" geographically.) My wife and I did a Venice/Bologna/Florence/Rome trip this past April/May. Four nights in Venice, two in Bologna, four in Florence and flour in Rome.

    You can book your tickets on the Trinitalia web site. There have been some changes lately in that the "minifares" have been replaced with some other fares, but I have not begun to plan our February 2013 trip, so I don't know the details. But train travel in Italy is easy and dependable.

    I think your number of days in each place makes sense. One other thought -- as you are traveling from city to city, consider fairly early AM trains (not 6AM, but more like 7:30 or so.) as Jean suggested above. Each "move" will take most of the day if you wait until late morning to travel.

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    I’ve taken the responses from my original post and have done a lot of research (Fodor’s trip reports, trains, etc.) in the past week. Special thanks to easygoer, StuDudley, bostonallison and ethansellers for detailed reports with links and photos.

    With my first post I said I didn’t want to rent a car at all. My husband loves to drive but I think he was afraid of taking on too many new experiences since this will be his first trip outside of North America. My second itinerary did not include any “countryside” visiting and that was disappointing us. After talking about the driving he told me the biggest fear was driving in/near the larger cities. Also, I had us staying a longer time in Florence even though art is not a huge priority. So this is my second revision:

    Day 1: Fly to Italy
    Day 2: Arrive Rome, train to Bologna
    Days 3-5: Bologna (full day Italian Days Tour & ½ or full day cooking lesson)
    Day 6: Early morning train to Florence
    Day 7: Florence
    Day 8: Late morning train to Siena, overnight here
    Day 9: Rent car in Siena and drive to Montalcino>San Quirico>Pienza>
    Montpulciano < overnight here
    Day 10: Drive to Chiusi and drop-off car, morning train to Rome
    Days 11-14: Rome
    Day 15: Fly home

    I thought about driving back to Siena so we would keep our hotel count to 4, but staying in Montpulciano seems to make sense with a 30 min. drive to Chiusi the next day (1.5 hr. train vs. the 3+hr. train from Siena).

    Thoughts??

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    Hi Leai,

    Basically, I like your plan above. Here are a couple of thoughts for you -

    Trying to rent your car in Siena, then visit 4 hilltowns in just one day is probably too much. Out of your 4, I've visited Pienza, Montepulciano and Montalcino. There is enough to see and do in all 3 to spend a 1/2 day each at the bare minimum. Keep in mind that the shops all close down for a long lunch (something like 2 or 3 hours), so you should plan your day accordingly.

    Many Fodorites will recommend a max of 2 hilltowns a day. Enjoy the drive there, find parking, hike up to town, stroll/shop, have lunch. Then head to your next hilltown while everything is closed for the afternoon, or take a picnic for along the way.

    Enjoy the drive....to the next town/abbey. Sant' Antimo near Montalcino is beautiful and the monks perform the services in Gregorian Chant. A real highlight.

    Also, a 2 day car rental will probably cost the same as a 3 day. Something to consider in distributing your time.

    I've picked up a rental in Siena, dropped it in Orvieto. I've also picked up in Chiusi and dropped it in Foligno. To me, Orvieto and Foligno were the easiest smaller town locations.

    Driving in the countryside is a joy! Just know the names of the towns along your route to your destination and follow the signs. Roundabouts are your friend!

    Buon viaggio!

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    I agree about the towns closing down between 12-3ish each day...also Sundays as well so plan accordingly. Driving is no problem at all. We find 2 towns about the max we can do...then we head for the relaxation of our agritourismo and pool. You may want to find an agritourismo that serves food in the country so hubby doesn't have to worry about driving after dinner with wine. Plus he wouldn't have to drive into town to get to the hotel every day.

    Enjoy!

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