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Italy late Sept to early Oct 2015

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We are two women (I suppose we will admit to being seniors) who will start our Italy trip in Venice and work our way South along the Adriatic Coast - possibly by car. Would this be the way to travel so that we can head off the beaten track and stay in B&B's outside of the big cities. Any hints would be helpful.
We think this part of the trip should take about 6-7nights.
How far south would we travel by car as we then want to cross Italy and tour the Amalfi Coast for approx. 6-7 nights. We will want to change from hire car to train travel somewhere before arriving on the West Coast.
We are looking for advice as to whether to be part of a day tour group in Rome or freelance. We would like to hear from anyone who knows of a good tour leader that will not overload us with the history. We would like to know where to stay in Rome in a small B&B with breakfast that is most central to the sites etc.
We then plan to head north to see lots of other fabulous places but for now we would appreciate advice on this leg of the journey.

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    A lot of the B&B's in Rome are not what you would expect. They have no on-site 'family' to turn to and the 'B' is often a voucher for breakfast at a nearby cafe. You may prefer a smaller hotel with some atmosphere.
    6-7 nights is not a long time to do the trip you plan i.e. the Adriatic and then over to the Amalfi Coast. It would be pretty rushed, however if you wanted you could achieve this by dropping your car off at Sorrento and taking the bus or ferry to Positano or Amalfi - depending on what part of the AC you prefer. The ferries are seasonal and stop running at the end of October but this wouldn't affect you. It's a lovely time of year to be on the Amalfi Coast - still busy but not overly so.

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    Thank you RonZ for that information. It is now on my Ipad ready for the trip.
    Bobthenavigator and blueeyecod - we will be in Italy for about 6-8 weeks in total and are starting the trip in Venice as I said in my post. we intend driving down the Adriatic Coast and then using trains and buses and touring back the West Coast through AC including Capri and then Sorrento Pompeii Rome Cinque terre and then through north Italy via Milan and Lake Como and then up into Switzerland .
    I think we have the train situation under control but want to have a mix of modes of travel so Does anyone know of any reasonably priced car/driver hire in Cinque Terre and Amalfi Coast.

    We will also be looking for Friendly reasonably priced accommodation with breakfasts where possible on this trip. Accommodation without a zillion stairs would be good.
    It is my first time in Europe but my travel partner has been before although it was many years ago. We would prefer to stay in a village type situation except in the cities where we would like to be close to the sites. I do use trip advisor but a few clues from people who have had great experiences would be most helpful.

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    Hi cecej - My favourite place in Positano has no 'gazillion stars' lol - but it's an immersion in the 'real' Positano. It's on the 'other side' as in the left (from the sea) or the right (from land) which is the side that doesn't have that quintessential view - but you'll get the feel. I stay here - as do many people - budget Positano but with the authentic feel

    http://www.pensionemarialuisa.com/

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    Many b&bs in Rome have 24-hour staff and serve breakfast on-site, so I would not rule them out, especially since you enjoy friendly accommodation. You only need to read reviews to find out what the situation is. If you are not using booking.com, you should become familier with that website. At the time of year you are traveling you should book places with air conditioning.

    If you have never traveled in Italy before you should be prepared for the fact that almost all hotels and b&bs do not serve a hot breakfast. Instead, you are much more likely to be offered cereals, yoghurts and pastries, and sliced cold meats, cheeses and bread.

    The town of Ravenna on the Adriatic coast has spectacular mosaics which are very much worth seeing, but after that, heading south, a great deal of the coast is developed for mass holidaymaking with modern buildings, and the landscape generally is flat and unscenic, although there are towns along the way of interest. Most people find it much more interesting to take an inland route through the hills and farms of Umbria or Tuscany. Although some of this inland area is very heavily touristed, it is also easy to pick a route going through towns that are charming and beautiful and filled with traditional culture, yet with few tourists.

    Whether you prefer to stick to your plan to travel the Adriatic coast (and turn west near Bari) or take an inland route either through Umbria or Tuscany, people here could probably help you map out a plan if you indicated whether you prefer to "road trip", doing a little driving every day but contiuously moving south, or if you prefer to drive a couple of hours all in one day but then spend time in a "base" visiting the immediately surrounding area.

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    I forgot to add that in le Cinque Terre, no cars are allowed, and there is no road that connects all the villages but a train which does, plus a ferry (if it isn't stormy). As for a driver in the Amalfi, I can recommend this company, http://www.benvenutolimos.com, which is typically priced for the area. You can read reviews on TripAdvisor.

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    So you start in Venice and then drive down the Adriatic coast. I would go all the way to Puglia - fascinating, beautiful region totally off the 'beaten path'. At least for English speaking tourists - there were a good number of northern Italians, Germans, etc. when we were there but very few English speakers. Here's my trip report with links to photos, I also give the hotel details, but on that portion of that trip we choose easy/safe parking and access to driving for daytrips over quaint hotels. http://www.fodors.com/community/europe/july-in-the-mezzogiorno-3-weeks-in-southern-italy-amalfi-coast-puglia.cfm

    We did it in the reverse of what you'll be doing - we picked up the car in Sorrento after the AC portion and drove, via a couple days in Matera, to Puglia. So given your overall trip you'd just reverse it. So I would advise dropping the car in Sorrento - you don't want or need one in the AC region.

    For the Amalfi Coast the people on this board are pretty much divided between staying in Positano because it is the most beautiful (which it is) or staying in Sorrento because it is also beautiful and has better transport options to the rest of the area (Capri, Positano and Amalfi, Pompei and Herculaneum, Naples, Ischia, etc.). I'm in the group that prefers Sorrento.

    Then train to Rome. Then train to Cinque Terre. I prefer to stay in a slightly larger town when visiting that region - I like Rapallo but also Camogli and Santa Marguerita and visit not just the CT villages which can easily be seen in a day trip, but also Portofino and Portovenere and each of the towns I mentioned. Here's another trip report covering that section (need to scroll down to get to the Italy portion) http://www.fodors.com/community/europe/photo-safari-to-the-south-of-france-the-italian-rivera-and-the-swiss-alps.cfm

    Then train to Lake Como and up into Switzerland.

    If you spent approximately one week Venice/Adriatic, one week Puglia, one week AC, one week Rome, one week Ligurian Riviera/CT, and one week Lake Como and one week Switzerland - that's about seven weeks.

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    If you decide to go all the way to Bari/Puglia before visiting the Amalfi coast it would be better to drop off the car in Salerno and get transportation from there to the Amalfi coast, unless you plan to actually stay in Sorrento.

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    Also, I might as well add that Isabel is correct in pointing out that opinions are divided about the attraction of staying in Sorrento vs. Positano, and also le Cinque Terre vs. the rest of the Italian Riviera, and I will also add opinions divide about the attractions of Puglia too vs other areas of Italy, with some (at least me!) finding it quite unattractive with the exception of some isolated towns and beaches in the southernmost part of it, and those are very touristic.

    So just a reminder all recommendations come from highly personal points of view, and that this board doesn't have all that many people contributing, so worth bearing in mind as you choose.

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    So... you plan to spend 6-8 weeks in Italy and not to visit Florence/Tuscany? My favorite area but as Sandralist says, all recommendations come from hightly personal points of view.

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    I'll add that I also think Tuscany is more interesting than Puglia and if it were my first trip I'd do Tuscany instead of Puglia but you stated that you wanted to drive down the Adriatic and also mentioned 'off the beaten track' so Puglia meets those criteria and Tuscany doesn't. But if you don't have specific reasons for wanting that region I'd do Tuscany instead. However, it's not at all off the beaten track - although there is a reason areas are high on the must see list and that is the case with Tuscany.

    If you did that you'd want a car for that region so you should probably get a map and consider which areas you want and which areas require a car and then figure what order to do things in. But for a trip of about 8 weeks I think figuring approximately a week in each region/base works well. Except for Tuscany and Puglia (and Sicily, and the northern mountains but those weren't on your list) Italy is best done by public transportation in my opinion.

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    There are tons of nice places to stop on the Adriatic side of Italy. This part of Italy is much overlooked by mass tourism, in spite of the fact that it's one of the most beautiful and unspoiled parts of the country. I'll start on the Venice end and work my way south. You can pick and choose!

    Chioggia, on the land side of the lagoon is a very attractive city with canals, but not as many as Venice. They claim to have been more important than Venice in medieval and Renaissance times, and the major city of the Venetian Republic.

    Comacchio, on the Po delta, is another Venetian Republic town of faded glory. It's a charming little town with several canals and a beautiful bridge that crosses several of them. There is a interesting museum devoted to an ancient Roman boat that sank in a stream in the confines of the town. You can see many relics found on the boat, including personal effects of the sailors.

    In Comacchio, you can take a gondola ride for a fraction of the cost of a gondola ride in Venice. Your gondolier won't sing "O Sole Mio" and he may be wearing an undershirt instead of a spiffy uniform. However, he may give you a clamshell with "Souvenir di Comacchio" written on it with nail polish, as ours did. Comacchio is famous for eels, but I've tried them twice and decided there are so many better things to eat that I won't try them again.

    From Comacchio, you can take boat cruises in the bays and inlets of the Delta of the Po. You're sure to see a variety of birds and other marine life.

    Ravenna is a UNESCO World Heritage site because of its unique early Christian golden mosaics in its ancient churches. Most of these churches were Arian, a branch of early Christianity that was dominant among the German tribes that invaded Italy in the early middle ages. Later this branch of Christianity, which claimed that Jesus was just a man, although also the Son of God, was declared heretical and suppressed by the official church.

    All of the Adriatic Coast from Venice south to Ancona was under Byzantine control after the fall of the western Roman Empire. Saint Mark's Basilica in Venice is a Byzantine-style church. You can also see this influence in the mosaics of Ravenna.

    South of Ravenna, you'll pass San Marino, an independent state (and tax haven) surrounded by Italy. It's usually overrun with tourists who want to tick off another country visited, but there are nice hikes from one guard tower to the other, which few tourists bother to do.

    Inland from San Marino, San Leo, perched on a high cliff, is in my opinion much more impressive, especially seen from the plain below.

    Continuing south, you'll pass the famous Romagnola beach city of Rimini, and the somewhat less famous towns of Riccione and Cattolica. These towns are very popular with tourists from Northern Europe, so the beaches are wall to wall umbrellas in the summer. Slightly inland, Gradara has a large and famous walled castle town, mostly rebuilt in the 20th century. I noticed that from the arrow slits, you could only shoot arrows towards the moon, so I have a feeling they lost the original plans.

    Next you will come to Pesaro, Fano, and Senigallia, three towns whose origins are in ancient Roman times. These are popular beach towns, but none of the three is primarily a beach town. All have large year-round populations, with nice shops and good restaurants year-round. I would rate them in reverse order. Senigallia is my favorite of the three, with a beautiful wide sandy beach, and a lively and attractive town behind it. There is a large fortress, the Rocca, just behind the beach.

    There are two restaurants in Senigallia that each have two Michelin stars, Uliassi and Madonnina del Pescatore. Uliassi is my favorite of the two. There are several other really good restaurants in Senigallia, and also inland.

    The area inland of Pesaro, Fano, and Senigallia is a very beautiful region of foothills, walled hill towns, and rolling fields. The most well know of these towns is the Renaissance city of Urbino, with one of Italy's most beautiful ducal palaces and an ancient university.

    Some of my other favorite towns are Mondavio (very well-preserved medieval fortification), Pergola (whose museum has a rare Roman gilded bronze equestrian statue group), Corinaldo (completely surrounded by medieval walls, with guard towers and ancient gates), Arcevia with at least 7 castles in its territory), and Serra de'Conti (with an interesting museum about the life of cloistered nuns). All of these towns, apart from their specific merits, are charming, small, and well-preserved towns.

    Ancona is in a beautiful position on a bay, and has a wonderful very old Romanesque cathedral on a peak overlooking the bay, but in many ways it doesn't make the most of its advantages. Just south of Ancona, the Riviera del Conero is perhaps the most scenic part of the Adriatic coast, with a string of towns on a bay at the foot of Mount Conero. Portonovo has a particularly beautiful small Romanesque church right on the shore. It has limited visiting hours, but it's beautiful from the outside.

    Inland from Ancona, the Frasassi Caverns are a spectacular cavern system, one of the largest in Europe. I haven't seen a lot of caverns, but this is the best I've seen. The caverns are located in a very beautiful river gorge.

    Loreto is a place of religious pilgrimage, because there's a small Palestinian house inside its basilica that's supposed to be the home of the Virgin Mary. Its age is right, and the house matches the foundations of a part of a house in Palestine that's also supposed to be the house of the Virgin Mary, but it's probably a medieval legend. It was brought to Loreto during the crusades by a family called De Angelis, which led to another legend which recounts a miraculous voyage borne by angels.

    Civitianova Marche is another popular beach town at the mouth of the Potenza river. If you're willing to drive inland for about an hour, you'll come to one of my favorite spots on earth, the Upper Potenza Valley. In and around this valley, Camerino is a medieval city on a hill, with a ducal palace, an old university, good shopping, and a number of excellent restaurants. This is another area with lots of castles, many of which are still privately owned. Some other nice towns in the area are Matelica and San Severino Marche, and the little village of Pioraco. Lots of Italians (including us) have summer homes in this area.

    Continuing south, Fermo is another well-preserved medieval town. Just south of Fermo, the little walled town of Torre di Palme is on a cliff overlooking the sea. It has a few B&Bs, old churches, and at least one good restaurant.

    San Benedetto del Tronto is a popular summer beach town. Inland, the small city of Ascoli Piceno has one of Italy's most beautiful piazzas, and a number of medieval towers.

    I don't know the coastal area of Abruzzo very well, so I'll leave it here. Inland, I really like the town of Sulmona, and there are many attractive little towns in the vicinity.

    The Gargano peninsula in Puglia is very beautiful, although perhaps a little too built up along the coast. Maybe you wouldn't go that far south, though, before turning west.

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