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Italy road-trip itinerary suggestions and tips?

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Hi everyone,

My husband and I are traveling through Italy for 2 weeks. We live in Los Angeles and want to go towards the end of September/Early October as we've read that's the best time to visit.

We plan to land in Rome or Naples and rent a car and drive everywhere. This is more of a road trip excursion than a R&R getaway, and let me state that I totally understand we are a bit ambitious in tucking all these towns into 2 weeks but we are totally fine with that. We love being on the road and love the idea of a "shot gun" Italy tour. That said, this is NOT final. It's close but more of our "ideal" itinerary and based on feedback and more research we will be tightening it up a bit. If you have ideas about small towns worth seeing, or some cities you'd favor over others, (and why), would love to hear from you.

At the moment we would really like to visit these towns in this order. I've mapped it all out and most of these drives are 2.5 hours. The biggest stretch is driving from the Amalfi Coast to Florence (5 hours). The arrow indicates a drive from > to and I've included tentatively how many nights we think we'll spend. Some towns we think we'll just poke around.

Land in Rome / 2 nights
Rome > Naples / 0 nights
Naples > Positano (Amalfi Coast) / 2 nights
Positano > Florence / 2 nights
Florence > Arezzo Chianti and/or Siena / 2 nights
Tuscan towns > Vernazza (Cinque Terre) / 1 night
Vernazza > Portofino / 0 night
Portofino > Parma or Modena / 1 night
Parma/Modena > Verona / 0 night
Verona > Venice / 1 night
Venice > Milan / 1 night


Overall, would love to hear your suggestions about the best places to eat in these towns (including what to eat), great B&Bs and fun non-touristy things to do. Since it's pretty easy to find all the tourist attractions.

Also:

1) Are there downsides to flying into Naples vs Rome?

2) Which Tuscan towns are not to be missed? Simply put, all the towns I've read about sound epic. Anyone with a great experience in any of these towns or a town not listed? Note: we love good wine, but not snobs in the least. I'd prioritize 1) lush scenery 2) epic / beautiful B&B to stay in 3) good wine (pretty sure there's no shortage of that anywhere tbh)

3) Where should we stay in Cinque Terre? I've heard all 5 towns are all a day trip away from one another but any suggestions?

4) If you had to choose, is it worth spending a night in Portofino or saving that night for one of the smaller northern Italian towns like Parma, Modena, Verona etc? OR, doing away with all of these small towns (maybe just stopping off in Parma to eat Prosciutto) and staying an additional night in either Milan or Venice, which I'm thinking might be a better less-rushed way to end our trip.

5) So I've heard how tourist-y and overrun Venice has become. I also know we must go visit because we'll probably never be back. Any tips?

6) Any ideas on how best to navigate into Venice? What's the best route to get there from essentially what will be Cinque Terre? This also depends on question 4, and wether you favor any combination of the northern Italy towns.

7) Anyone been to Lake Como? It sounds idyllic and great and since it'll be so close I thought we should allot a night to it (like splitting one night between Lake Como and 1 in Milan).

8) What am I missing in Rome?
Colosseum
Vatican city: Sistine chapel / St. peters basilica / museums
Piazza Navona
Pantheon
Borghese Gallery
MACRO


9) Florence? Academia de Belle Arti de Firenze / Statue of David / anything else?


Things to consider (we love):
Food
Pizza
Historic small towns
Antiques and small-town shopping
Art museums (would like to see some contemporary art along with all the historic stuff)
Local-only spots that are NOT packed with tourists (bars? restaurants? comedy clubs?)
Nature and the outdoors

TL;DR

What and where should we eat in Italy?


If you read all of this, bless your soul. And thank you in advance.

  • Report Abuse

    You have a lot of places to see in a short trip. For starters I will answer question 1. There is nothing wrong with flying into Naples, in fact I would suggest you fly into your farthest point first, i.e. Naples and see what you want to see there and then head up to Rome.

    Driving on the Amalfi coast is not for the faint of heart. We did it in mid October so it was not as busy as the summer time, but parking can be difficult and the roads are narrow and winding and there are places you have to stop and back up to allow on coming buses to come around the corner from the opposite direction. You can YouTube it and see a video of what it is like.

    If one of you is a very calm driver with good spatial ability then go for it but rent the smallest car you can.

    Also be aware that when you say 2 nights in a place, that gives you one full day to do anything. Most of these places need more than one day.

    You could fly into Naples and take public transit to the Amalfi, then back to Naples and take the fast train to Rome, see what you want to see in Rome, then train to a town in Tuscany and pick up a rental car. ( we used Arezzo)
    Many towns and cities in Italy have the ZTL which are zones which you can't drive into without a resident's permit and you will be subject to a big fine.

    For some of your destinations there isn't really an upside to having a car, but plenty of downsides. The Tuscan countryside is one place where it is a plus to have a car.

    If I were you I'd put all your Tuscan/Florence nights into one town and day trip to others. If you are going to have a car here I'd probably suggest picking a town other than Florence, then just train or bus into Florence for the day.
    Alternatively you could stay in Bagno a Ripoli which is just a few kilometres outside Florence. We stayed at the HOtel Villa Olmi which has free parking and also runs a shuttle into Florence and back. This would allow you to easily get into Florence but also allow you to hop in your car and day trip to the countryside.

    I think you have too many places for two weeks really and are underestimating the time it takes to get between each place, then finding your hotel, parking in the right place etc etc.

    I would leave out the Cinque Terre. It is very crowded with other tourists and the scenery is similar to that of the Amalfi coast. To enjoy the Cinque Terre it is really better to take some time and spend it in a nearby town.

    Also you will find most of your destinations pretty crowded, Italy is really popular and Sept/early October is still a busy time. Not saying that to discourage you, I love Italy and you probably will too but just for you to be prepared.

    Do you want to let us know your nightly budget for hotels? We can help you better if we have that.

  • Report Abuse

    That sounds like a rough trip. I know airfare from the west coast is expensive but you will have a MUCH more enjoyable trip if you slow down and see fewer places and make a plan to return. I'd leave off the CT/Modena/Venice portion. Actually, I'd just visit Rome and Tuscany or Umbria if I only had 12 nights.

    But, with 12 nights you could do something like this:
    Fly to Naples (nice small airport, easy)
    Bus to Positano
    3 nights Positano (gives you 2 days - be sure to hike the Path of the Gods one day)
    Bus to Salerno, train to Rome
    4 nights Rome
    Train to Florence
    2 nights Florence, then pick up rental car
    3 nights Tuscany
    Fly home from Milan or Rome (whichever is cheaper/closer)

    Good luck with your plans!

  • Report Abuse

    There are restrictions on driving in cities. This and more is explained here:

    http://driventoit.blogspot.com.au/

    Rome and Florence are two places where having a car is a big liability. I would dump the car in Salerno [if I had one at all for that area], take a train to Florence. Pick up a car at the Florence airport, possibly drop it at the Chiusi-Chiancano rail station [Hertz] or maybe Orvieto and take the train to Rome, fly out of there. There are other drop-off points depending on where you are going. Sepember we'll have 7 days with a car, staying near Siena an San Gimignano--renting at FLR and dumping in Arezzo. Note that Chiusi is close to the Val d'Orcia, a very beautiful area of Tuscany, towns like Montepulciano, Monticchiello, Pienza and Montalcino.

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    To start, I would reverse the itinerary, fly into in Venice and skip Milan. Fly out of Rome or Naples. This would free up some time for another night in Venice and be a nice start for your trip. Do Verona as a day trip from Venice.

    I understand your desire to see a bit of everything, and that you enjoy a fast pace. Italy, more than any other country I have been to, does not lend itself to this approach. Also, shotgun is one thing, but flyby is another and some of your stops are more that. You can slow down just a bit and still see a lot.

    Some places can been seen and enjoyed in a few hours. Other have so much to see or are so time consuming to get around that you must allow more time. Example: a day or even afternoon in some of the hill towns gives you a good taste of it, but Venice for an afternoon would just be frustration. The Amalfi Coast has Pompeii and other very different towns like Positano, Amalfi, Capri, etc. to explore and the logistics of getting around there are time consuming.

    Venice has small, very, very different little islands like Burano, lovely for wandering. Venice at night is mystical and magical. Savor it.

    One thing you can do is plan some things that can be canceled or added as you go.

    Examples:
    Rome for 4 nights (3 days). If you actually do see everything you want in 2 days, do a day trip to the hill top town of Orvieto or the ruins of Ostia Antica.

    Venice: Plan 4 nights, 3 days. 1 day Venice, 1 day for the day trip to Verona, and if you are done with Venice, a day trip to Vicenza, Padua, a Brenta canal trip, or Burano.

    Use trains until you actually need the car for the smaller towns and countryside. Trains are easier, cheaper, faster, take you mostly city center to city center, no parking issues, no worry about accidently driving in a forbidden zone.

    Obviously, no car in Venice. Train to towns on the way to Florence. Rent car when leaving Florence. Explore. Lots of options after that.

    You could also do the trip somewhat as Rose Travels suggests, but depart Rome late on Day 3, for the night and next day in Florence.

    4 nights, 3 days for driving around with car.

    Train to Venice. Give yourself at least 2 nights there, since most flights out depart in the very early morning, giving you only one full day.

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    My niece is doing a driving trip right now in Italy. They got a good deal to Milan and rented a car, headed to Tuscany to do wine tours. They stopped the first night in Modena I think. Anyway they then headed to Montalcino for three nights doing wine tours and then went to Positano for two nights, then another little town and now in Sicily. They don't mind driving. Amalfi coast gave her anxiety riding in the car but her SO did great.
    I could not handle all that driving but they are younger and love it. Each his own.

  • Report Abuse

    It looks as if your niece didn't try to fit in so many things though - Verona, Venice, Bologna, the CT, etc. over such a wide area.

    Their trip was more focused. They did not include major cities. They stuck to towns and villages in the countryside.

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    Obviously you have decided on the type of trip you want - lots of drive bys and stop only for meals. Not what I would do but go for it if you want. (But honestly I don;t think it's possible, esp for the places with 0 nights listed.)

    But a couple of notes:

    To spend a full day in a city you have to spend 2 nights there - there is no way around this - it's just logical.

    Almost all cities and towns in Italy have ZTL (pedestrian zone in the center) and if you enter in a car they will catch you (there are cameras everywhere) and you will receive fines for hundreds of $.

    There are some places where you just cannot use a car to see the central major sights (Rome, Florence, Venice). I don't say this to discourage road trips - we have done more than 20 road trips in europe - including some in Italy and they are great for seeing the countryside or small towns (but usually parking on the outskirts).

    But there are places where having a car means parking it in a garage and paying for the car rental - and the $40 or so per night fee for the garage - while it just sits there and you tour the city/town on foot. (Lodgings in europe most often do not have parking unless they are in the countryside.)

    So I wold suggest you lay out your trip day by day, showing where you will wake up, what travel there will be that day and time (take viamichelin.com and add about 1/3), what sights you will see (and the hours they are open) and where you will sleep.

    Not suggesting you change you plan - just be prepared for exactly what you will be doing.

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    Wow, thank you everyone for the helpful suggestions!

    We really had no idea driving around Italy would be so challenging. After your feedback and more research we've decided to abandon the car idea. Mostly.

    We will land in Naples, and take public transit between all the cities from there. The only area we will rent a car will be Tuscany.

    New itinerary: Land in Naples, transit to Amalfi Coast (3 nights), Amalfi Coast to Rome (2 nights), Rome to Florence/Tuscany (4 nights), Tuscany to Venice (3 nights).

    Raincitygirl, our budget for hotels / sleeping arrangements would be between $200-$300 USD at most. Ideally we could get deals on the lower end of that range and spend a couple nights in a nicer hotel. While in Tuscany we plan to do a day trip into Florence but stay in B&Bs in the countryside. For example Casa Portagioia in Arezzo is right up our alley.

    RonZ thanks for the link! I'm going to consult more of Fodor's tuscany driving threads :)

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