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9 Days in Central Italy in March (Spoleto, Ascoli and ?.) Ideas welcome!

9 Days in Central Italy in March (Spoleto, Ascoli and ?.) Ideas welcome!

Jan 5th, 2013, 10:10 PM
  #1  
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9 Days in Central Italy in March (Spoleto, Ascoli and ?.) Ideas welcome!

Hello,
I am planning a trip to Italy in March and would be glad to have some help with my planning.

I'll be arriving around March 5th to meet my daughter and we need to be near Pisa for a 6-day course on cured meats on the 14th. She will have been in Europe for 8 weeks: around 7 weeks in Portugal and Spain and then in Italy for 10 days with her Grandma.

DD & Grandma will stay in Montepulciano for 4 nights, Assisi for 2, Lucca for 1 and then they fly to Sardinia to visit friends for 4 days. Finally, they have a night in Florence before Grandma flies home. Some of you may have helped her with her trip planning (screen name, Bubblywine.)

I've been to Italy many times including a wonderful trip w/ DD to Bologna, Venice, Florence, Assisi and Rome. Our interests are food (especially salami), wine, ART, scenery, people, charming towns and cities. We spent a week in Rome a few years ago, and I was just there in October, so even though it's March and expect to see a little rain or chilly weather, we'd prefer to stay in central Italy. We'll rent a car in Spoleto and return it to Pisa.

Tentatively, here's our itinerary:
3 nights Spoleto (meet DD there). We'll visit Norcia & Montefalco. Staying at Hotel Charleston.

2 nights at Agriturismo Ramuse in Force, the Marche. They serve dinner and I'd like to visit the charming hill towns in that area of the Marche.

2 nights in Ascoli Piceno. I'd like to visit Pescara and L'Aquila and...other places I haven't researched yet. Suggestions are welcome. I just re-read Flame123's recent trip report for ideas.

2 nights....where? We could simply add another night to Spoleto and Ascoli - or 2 more to Spoleto. Or, we could go to Urbino. I was there in 2001 and loved it. Or we could stay in Arezzo or Umbertide or some place along the way to Pisa. So many options!

What would you recommend? We'd both enjoy seeing great art, churches and charming towns. DD would welcome a place with a great wine bar. Thoughts?

Thanks in advance for your help!
rosetravels is offline  
Jan 5th, 2013, 10:39 PM
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Rosetravels, you might enjoy my trip report. We were just in that area in September

http://www.fodors.com/community/euro...l-ascolana.cfm

We also overnighted in Sansepolcro. Nice little town.
You'll find the Sansepolcro review at the end of this report

http://www.fodors.com/community/euro...-di-seppie.cfm
sundriedpachino is offline  
Jan 5th, 2013, 11:37 PM
  #3  
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sundriedpachino - thanks for the links! Sansepolcro sounds really lovely, it's on the way, and it has art. I enjoyed your report of Ascoli Piceno - I can't wait to go there!
rosetravels is offline  
Jan 6th, 2013, 09:10 AM
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Ramuse in Force looks wonderful. We loved our drive through the Sibillini mountains, by way of Visso and Castelluccio, very beautiful. From what I've read, there could be snow in the mountains into the month of May.
You will definitely need an overnight somewhere between Ascoli and Pisa. Depending on your route you might want to stop in Ravenna to see the mosaics there, if you haven't already seen them.
sundriedpachino is offline  
Jan 6th, 2013, 09:21 AM
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Also, Rosetravels, you might enjoy the slow food references in this link to the Sibillini park, including Norcia

http://www.sibillini.net/en/IL_PARCO...ici/index.html

Notice the menu on the left side.
sundriedpachino is offline  
Jan 6th, 2013, 09:27 AM
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I visited Castelluccio once, in late May, and if the weather permits will definitely go there again. It was a strange and beautiful place, I thought. My husband and I stayed there overnight and we had dinner in the Taverna and talked with the owner. At that time (2001) he said there had not been a baby born in the town in 15 years. I thought that must be the definition of sadness. Adding to that feeling of melancholy, we were there in a howling storm.

We've been to Ravenna several times - IMHO it is one of the most beautiful places in Italy. I'm always astonished at how few visitors are there. I'll ask DD if she'd like to go again.

I haven't been to Visso so that's on the list now (weather permitting - it looks like it may be at a higher elevation.)

I don't have to be in Pisa until 2 in the afternoon on the 14th so we could leave the Marche that morning. But I keep looking at the map and I see so many wonderful places in between. I don't know how I'd manage to just blow past them!
rosetravels is offline  
Jan 6th, 2013, 09:33 AM
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I'm just wondering what route you are planning from Ascoli to Pisa. Through the mountains and with some stops, it took us the better part of a day from Spoleto to Ascoli.
sundriedpachino is offline  
Jan 6th, 2013, 10:09 AM
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I do plan to take the slow route going from Spoleto to Ascoli. I remember driving that gorgeous river valley years ago and want to take my time this year and explore a bit. But if we end up staying in Ascoli until the morning of the 14th, we'd follow the via Michelin suggestions and it's 5.25 hours. There's a quicker route to Umbria (tunnel?) and we'd go past Perugia then head towards Firenze and on to Pisa.

But I don't think that's what we want to do. I'd prefer to go a slower 'road trip' route to Pisa with an overnight or two along the way. DD has said she doesn't want to stay just one night anywhere. But we may end up doing that. For instance, I can see staying in Urbino one night and then a place like Sansepolcro on the 13th, with a 2 1/2 hour drive to Pisa on the 14th.

Once we reach Pisa - we're actually in Garfagnana - DD will be staying with me while I take this course and she'll have the car to explore during the day. Fun!
rosetravels is offline  
Jan 6th, 2013, 10:14 AM
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sundriedpachino - thank you for the link! Interesting cured meats to seek out. I hope we'll be able to visit Visso as it looks like there are delicious foods to try there.
rosetravels is offline  
Jan 6th, 2013, 02:51 PM
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Visso is lovely, and if you are interested in salami, it is worth a stop.

In March, you are likely to find that you are not able to go to many of the higher elevations, in particular in Abruzzo and I doubt you will want to go up into the Sibillini mountains. The weather is just too cold and foggy up there, or snowy and icy. I could be wrong, but definitely check it out.

Most of Le Marche will be accessible to you, especially the southern half. When in Ascoli Piceno, try the mind-blowing liqueur at Melitt -- but not before driving.

If you stay in Urbina, Hotel NeNe is a place with good food, if they are even open in March. It's just outside Urbino. But as cured meat specialists, you might prefer to stay in Carpegna, which is three hours from Ascoli Piceno on the coastal road.

http://www.insidelemarche.com/web/it...pegna-ham.aspx

From Carpegna you have a 4 hour drive to the Pisa area, via Sansepolcro/Arezzo, but you might want to make a detour for lunch at La Petraia in Radda in Chianti and ask to look around

http://www.lapetraia.com/animals.php

http://hipparis.com/2009/09/26/la-pe...e-tuscan-meal/

Or you could skip Carpegna and head straight to La Petraia from Ascoli Piceno and stay there for the night.
goldenautumn is offline  
Jan 6th, 2013, 02:52 PM
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Sorry, I meant Urbino, not Urbina.
goldenautumn is offline  
Jan 6th, 2013, 03:05 PM
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So here's what looks like a nice agriturismo near Carpegna

http://www.agriturismo.it/en/farmhou...6/reviews.html
goldenautumn is offline  
Jan 6th, 2013, 06:12 PM
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Thanks goldenautumn! I do think Urbino is a good idea as I think DD would love it.

La Petraia website is down and it's not coming up on Booking.com for the night I'd need. That's too bad as it sounds delicious from the blog post.

I've driven through the area near Carpegna - years ago - and it took my breath away. It's been on my list to return for a longer stay to enjoy the scenery. It was mid-May when I saw it - how would it be in March? Some places remain stunning even in the winter and some just look drab.
rosetravels is offline  
Jan 7th, 2013, 01:53 AM
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I must say that I tried not to lose any sleep about it, but your plan looks to me to be a pretty aggressive driving itinerary for early March. Anywhere in Italy for the first two weeks of March it would be unusual not to get several days of real rain, not just passing showers, and Umbria in particular is known to be rainy. Force is up fairly high. I don't think you can completely rule out the possibility of snow up there.

If you've already been to Le Marche you know that the roads are very good but they are very twisty and they go through lots of damp forest, which means you need to slow down quite a bit when it is wet (and if it drops below freezing at night, you need watch out for patches of morning ice hanging in there because sun doesn't get through the tree cover). I bring this up because you say you are going to Force and Urbino to explore hilltowns in that area, but your essentially only spending 1 day in each place at a time of year when you may not want to be driving twisty roads at all.

If you go as far as Ascoli Piceno, and the weather turns very rainy, any way you return is no joy to drive in the rain. The mountain pass between Urbino and Arezzo is demanding even in dry weather. If you come back through Spoleto, the river bed road is flat but 2-lane and prone to "laking" (ponding, puddling), so that will slow you down.

Apart from it being a tough time of year to get around in the mountains and the rainiest part of Italy (Umbria is known as the "green heart" for that reason), your itinerary pretty much has you moving away from towns of artistic treasure, especially if you are interested in painting. I don't know if Perugia is too big a city for you to want to visit, but it has what I consider the single finest and most beautiful museum for understanding church frescoes of central Italy. If you have never been, it is very much worth and afternoon of your time. Moving further north, on the way to Pisa, you have Corciano

http://www.borghitalia.it/html/borgo...=elenco&page=1

Citerna

http://www.borghitalia.it/html/borgo...=elenco&page=1

and Sansepolcro. Again, Arezzo might be a bigger town that you are dreaming of, but it is a wonderful place. There are beautiful agriturismi serving dinner right in the hills around there -- like this one, that cures its own hams:

http://www.agriturismo.it/en/farmhou...755/index.html

Just couldn't clear my conscience without telling you that to pack in so much driving in so few days during the first weeks of March could end up meaning tense hours behind the wheel, and not much time to actually explore any destinations. Going as far southeast as Ascoli Piceno for a day, when 2 days later you need to be in the Garfagnana of northwestern Tuscany means you will need to do that drive no matter what the weather is, and you've put a snowy mountain range between yourselves and Pisa.

Central Italy between Spoleto and Pisa is so rich with interesting small towns, good food and wine, agriturismi with restaurants -- the things you say you want -- "wine, ART, scenery, people, charming towns and cities" -- and it is so easy to get off the beaten path there, I feel fairly certain there is no need to fling yourselves over the mountains for the short amount of time you have, and put yourself in so many difficult driving locations during the spring rainy season.
goldenautumn is offline  
Jan 7th, 2013, 04:27 PM
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Very good points. I should also clarify that while I'm keen on an agriturismo, my 30-year old daughter said 2 nights max is plenty and she wants to be in bigger towns like Spoleto. That's why I was thinking of Urbino. But you are right about the roads, I remember them being endlessly twisty in the Marche and it would be dreary in the rain.

I haven't been to Perugia and would be interested in seeing the museum. Arezzo sounds very good. If we don't go to the Marche, would you recommend we go to Tuscany instead?

I also am considering putting together a Plan B in case the weather predictions are for solid rain. All my reservations can be cancelled. (Feel free to suggest a great Plan B!)

Thanks goldenautumn!
rosetravels is offline  
Jan 8th, 2013, 02:51 AM
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Plan B's are always a great thing to have!

Urbino is actually not all that big a town, especially in its central core. It is a pretty sight, but particularly difficult if it rains because the streets are exceptionally vertical, and the road going out of there to Tuscany is difficult even in dry weather.

You can have a great agriturismo experience all through Umbria and Tuscany, so I don't think you need to go up so high as Force. Ascoli Piceno is a lovely town, and I can see why you'd be sorry to miss it, but I would avoid making it your last stop before you need to be in Pisa.

My plan would be:

3 nights Spoleto

2 nights in Ascoli Piceno (visit Norcia on the way)

2 nights in Perugia. (I adored the Hotel Rosalba but there are other good places. Make sure to visit the National Gallery of Umbrian art and eat chocolate (it is very good).

http://www.perugiacittamuseo.it/en/n...of-umbria.html

http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Rev...ia_Umbria.html

2 nights agriturismo near Arezzo

For daytrips from Spoleto, there is Montefalco (don't miss the Gozzoli frescoes) and, if the weather is very nice, visit Visso for lunch. If the weather is not nice, you might be interested in Foligno, which is overlooked by tourists because it is not a picture perfect preserved town, but its churches and small civic museum are stuffed with frescoes. Another possibility for a rainy day is the underground tour of Narnia:

http://www.narnisotterranea.it/INGLESE/index2.htm

But I hope you have a great guidebook for the region because there are lots of lovely sights right inside Spoleto that people sometimes don't realize are there, plus if you are feeling energetic, you can squeeze in visits to places like Bevagna or other small towns you read about in the book.

As for an agriturismo near Arezzo, if you don't want to go into hock for the rest of your life to stay at La Petraia, here are more options

http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Rev...o_Tuscany.html

http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Rev...o_Tuscany.html

http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Rev...o_Tuscany.html

and of course there are a zillion more in the Chianti, but if you stay near Arezzo then you can visit Arezzo, which is a beautiful art town with unusual antiques stores and shopping, and you have your pick of beautiful villages like Poppi, Loro Ciuffeno and Lucignano.

Then you have a fairly short drive to the Garfagnana from there.

If you opt to stay in Perugia, go to the Slow Travel website to get good instructions for driving into town if you don't have a GPS.

buon viaggio!
goldenautumn is offline  
Jan 8th, 2013, 03:06 AM
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Rose, I'm with your DD when it comes to actually staying in a town or small city - there's just so much more to do in the evenings besides sit around and eat! [which I'm certainly in favour of], but personally I prefer the idea of having lunch at an agriturismo rather than staying in one especially if you can combine that with a tour of some kind.

the course in cured meats sounds intriguing - a 6 day course suggests a professional interest. is that right or is this "just" a hobby?
annhig is offline  
Jan 8th, 2013, 04:54 AM
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bookmarking all of these great suggestions
jmct714 is offline  
Jan 8th, 2013, 04:55 AM
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In March, you are not going to find much of anything to do in an Italian town or city at night other than eat. Bars, shops and museums close at 7.30pm. Unless you are going to a concert, only the restaurants are open after that time. It is generally too cold in central Italy in March to be enjoyably strolling around at night after finishing dinner. So you might as well be at an agriturismo with a warm kitchen and a warm staff and a warm bed waiting for you.

Staying at an agriturismo doesn't preclude enjoying towns and cities during the daylight hours. An agriturismo stay can be the best way to understand the dynamics of rural Italy and its food and farming traditions, especially in areas like Umbria and Tuscany, where farming is still such an important part of Italian life and the local economy.

In March, I wouldn't find much to do at night in a Tuscan town unless it was a very touristy one.
goldenautumn is offline  
Jan 8th, 2013, 05:07 AM
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PS, annhg,

I'm curious about which agriturismo you stayed at, and what Tuscan or Umbrian towns you stayed in during winter and what you did at night there. What year was this?
goldenautumn is offline  

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