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Autumn 2011 Planning - Venice, Bologna, and ???

Autumn 2011 Planning - Venice, Bologna, and ???

Nov 8th, 2010, 08:08 PM
  #1  
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Autumn 2011 Planning - Venice, Bologna, and ???

Hello all, and thanks so much for all the help you've given in the past! All of it has been a great help, and I'm counting on you again. I am in the early stages of planning for a fall 2011 trip. I plan to fly into Venice and fly out of Rome (most likely, but the departure flight could change.)

We'll be on the ground 17-19 days. The very basic plan so far is:
Arrive Venice - 5 nights.
Train to Bologne - 5 nights (with a couple day trips)
Train or drive to a smallish town in southern Tuscany or maybe Umbria.

At this 3rd location we would like to stay a week in an apartment, or possible agriturismo. We'd like to be close to some restaurants, but a restaurant on site wouldn't be bad either. We will have car for this section, and we'll want to be in a spot to go out exploring (sort of in the shape of a star, if that makes any sense.)

We have been to Italy, twice, but never to any of these locations. Our priorities are a little different in each spot, but overall they are ambience (people-watching, memory-making, and photo-taking,) history and architecture, some art, and, as always, some great food. By great I don't mean fancy, I mean food prepared with love, skill, and pride of place.

After that week, we may spend three or so nights in Rome, as we will be going there to fly. I do have some mixed feelings about that, though. I think I would like to end our trip on what I hope to be our "high" week. Last year we were a week in Rome, and we loved it and know we will go back. Besides all the good food and adventure this year we are also looking for serenity. For all the wonderful things Rome is, serene it is not. I think I would rather plan another trip devoted to the city alone.

Finally, just a few questions about logistics. Where would you recommend picking up the car? We won't need it until after Bologna. Should we pickup in Bologna and drive from there, or would you rec. training south and picking up nearer our destination. For return I thought about driivng to Orvieto and returning the car, spending the day there, and then training to Rome.

Thanks again for all your help!
hanabilly is offline  
Nov 9th, 2010, 03:03 AM
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Starting backwards first:

I don't know what your comfort zone is about driving in Italian cities. To me it is only mildly annoying to drive out of Bologna, and you can eliminate the annoyance entirely by picking up your car at the airport if you like. (The car rental offices are otherwise at the train station, and the airport is a short bus ride from there.)

To me the advantage of picking up a car right away is that you don't have to deal with afternoon office hour closings at rental offices. Meaning, it is often the case by the time you pack up and get on a train and arrive at your next destination to pick up a car, the car rental office is closed.

My advice is to first decide where your next destination is, and then revisit the question of where to pick up a rental car.

As to your next destination, I think the food and wine is better and more "honest" in Umbria overall than in most of touristic Tuscany. My exception to that would be the Maremma area of Tuscany, and areas around Pitigliano in Tuscany.

Not very long ago there was a Fodor's thread in which a Fodor's poster named Franco (who is Italain) talked about having some of the best meals of his life at this unpretentious agriturismo in southern Tuscany, which also happens to be recommended by Fred Plotkin in his famous and authoritative guide to classic Italian cuisine:

http://www.melograno.to/

One advantage of staying In Il Melograno is that if your flight is 10am or later, you could stay there right up until you need to leave for the Rome airport.

Otherwise I find whole swaths of touristic Tuscany pretentious, as photogenic as they are, especially when it comes to food and shopping, where everything is tweaked away from classic farming tradition to satisfy a very affluent touristic trade that now numbers in the millions each year. I think Umbria remains more down to earth, apart from the tourist magnet of Assisi. It is a slightly less picturesque farm landscape, although more relaxing I think. However, most people who prefer Umbria prefer it because its towns are so fascinating and filled with beautiful world-class art. That said, the fortified castle towns of the Tuscan wine country are atmospheric and exquisitely preserved, with striking views over the farmlands, especially in the unusual le Crete Sienese landscape (although many people prefer the manicured "Under the Tuscan Sun" areas around Cortona, Pienza and the val d'Orcia, and you will get plenty of encouragment on Fodor's to go there. Perhaps you can locate the food experience you are seeking there.)

When I stayed in Umbria, I stayed at a working olive oil mill that is right at the wall's edge of the town of Montefalco, which is the heart of Umbria's famous great wine, Sagrantino. I found it in Fred Plotkin's guide. It is a B&B, but it also rents a small cottage called the Nest that would be perfect for a week's stay. The Brizi family are amazing hosts.

http://www.frantoiobrizi.it/

If you would prefer an agriturismo stay, on a working farm, there are many in Umbria, and many with restaurants on-site, which I think is a good idea if you are not staying in a town and you plan to drink wine with dinner. I like to use this website plus Tripadvisor to search for agriturismi with restaurants and reviews:

http://en.agriturismo.it/umbria/inde...=&ristorante=1

And this is good website for Umbria overall:

http://www.bellaumbria.net/home_eng.htm

Have a great trip!
zeppole is offline  
Nov 9th, 2010, 03:15 AM
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PS: I wanted to say that Montefalco has several good restaurants, and is centrally located in Umbria, and it is very much a hilltown.

http://www.initaly.com/regions/umbria/michael.htm
zeppole is offline  
Nov 9th, 2010, 06:57 AM
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Umbria is fine, but it is not close to the beauty of south Tuscany. There are good reasons why people have preferred it over the years. Our contrarian, Zeppole, will always suggest an alternative destination just to be contrary. Click on my name for a list of places to stay in south Tuscany---always a delight in the fall.
bobthenavigator is offline  
Nov 9th, 2010, 07:53 AM
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Hanabilly, there is nothing contrarian about offering you recommendations from Fred Plotkin's guide about food for southern Tuscany and Umbria. Once I enter a thread, Bob likes to turn it into and insult match. But I'm hardly alone on Fodor's or in the world in preferring the food and wine experience of Umbria to that of Tuscany. There have been recent posts about it. (Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, too. Many people prefer other scenic areas of Tuscany for the eye-appeal than Bob's tiny area of preference.)

If you follow Bob's advice and click on his name, you'll see most of his posts answering requests for restaurant recommendations in Tuscany begin by declaring: "Nobody has ever called me 'Bob the Foodie'" -- and he isn't kiddig. He proceeds to explain that he plans trips for first-timers to Italy, and his food recommendations are based on these newbies saying they liked these places. You can look those threads up.

You are going to get a lot of pressure on Fodor's to stay in the val d'Orcia, and to downgrade your search for an rural experience of Italy where food is "prepared with love, skill, and pride of place" to one that favors postcard views and scenic driving. But I urge you not devalue your food interests, and wherever you stay, I tend to think that it is on a working farm or winery where you will encounter Italians who take extraordinary pride in the food they produce, rather than in restaurants.

I was thinking that one thing you might consider is taking the 3 days you planned to spend in Rome and spending them on a working farm, winery or olive oil producer in Umbria or in the areas of Tuscany where most foreign vacationers go mainly for a scenic vacation (either the val d'Orcia or Chianti) . But do lodge with a food producer or vintner. Then go for a week to Il Melograno, which is in a very lovely and peaceful area of rural Tuscany, but close enough to Rome's airport to make final nights in Rome unnecessary.

Wherever you go, two things you should be reluctant to let yourself be talked out of -- your full 7 days in a location where food is prepared with love, skill, and pride of place, and the full 7 days of serenity in one location -- meaning, don't be talked into shaving those 7 days down to a split of two locations so you'll be "seeing more."

Okay, for the sake of the serenity of your vacation, I'll get out of this thread, or bob just won't quit.
zeppole is offline  
Nov 9th, 2010, 08:07 AM
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One more note, hanabilly. This is a post that was posted today in another thread (not in response to me or anything I wrote). The poster has much a wider experience of Italy than bob and is a longtime traveler and Fodor's poster:

"On the last trip I went with friends who strongly prefer Tuscany, but I do love Umbria. Did you take those little red trams up to the ancient center from the train station (in Perugia)? We had a nice meal ar La Taverna as well. Did you find and take the escalators in Perugia? I didn't see them on my first trip! The views from Perugia and Assisi upper/old towns are incredible."

Some people do strongly prefer Tuscany. Some do love Umbria. Some bully others into taking their preferred vacation. Since you mentioned both Tuscany and Umbria, I thought I would give you a choice between a great food location in southern Tuscany and a great food location in Umbria. I'm really peeved bob came along to try to make it seem like suggesting anyplace but his vacation spot -- hardly known for great food even by bob's estimate -- was something you should rule out as being contrarian advice. Up to you where you go, but Italy is much more interesting place than bob knows.
zeppole is offline  
Nov 9th, 2010, 08:46 AM
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Answering the question about a car pickup first, on our most recent trip to Italy, we picked up our rental car upon leaving Bologna. The rental place was right by the train station, and we had no problems leaving the rental place and getting out of the city. (We drove from there to Ravenna, but I'm guessing you'll probably visit Ravenna as a day trip from Bologna). If it was me, I'd pick up the car upon leaving Bologna, and start the more rural part of your vacation from that point.

Given your reasons for not wanting this particular trip to end in Rome, Zeppole's suggested location sounds good (though I don't know exactly how far it is from the airport). The area around Pitigliano, I found interesting; we only spent one afternoon there, and I'd like to return some day. The tuffa formations all throughout the area give a surreal appearance to the landscape. The Etruscan trails (there's a name for them, which I don't remember right now) are mysterious and appealing. You could easily spend a couple of days here, at the end of your trip.

If you're in search of great local food, also check out the chowhound website; I find it very helpful for information on food and restaurants.

Giving my opinion only, based only on my trips to various (but not all) places in Umbria and Tuscany; as an overall, sweeping generalization, I find southern Tuscany somewhat more beautiful than the areas of Umbria that are around Spello. (I haven't spent much time further south in Umbria, so I can't speak to that area, though I would like to visit Norcia and that area some day, too.) But both are gorgeous and have lots of interesting things to do and good local restaurants. If you're planning to spend a week in your last destination, you may decide that there's more that you want to do in the southern Tuscany area. That would be especially true if you're wine-lovers, and want to visit wineries in the Brunello areas of Tuscany. But, as noted, fewer tourists go to Umbria, if that's a consideration for you.

Re touristy locations, we have visited a number of places in Europe and the U.S. that don't get as many tourists (eastern Slovakia, rural Czech Republic, La Marche area of Italy), as well as those that get lots of tourists. I still like southern Tuscany, even though lots of other people like it too. Because I don't live there, and even after a bunch of trips to Italy, am not an expert or an insider, I don't know that I'd know if a place was pretentious or not authentic. I just enjoy being there.

Rest assured that wherever you choose, you'll have a wonderful experience!
Lexma90 is offline  
Nov 9th, 2010, 05:53 PM
  #8  
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Zeppole, Bob, and Lexma - Thank you all for your responses and I am taking them all in. I'm not ignoring you. I wrote last night before bed, and I am unable to respond from work.
You've all opened up a lot of good possibilities, and got me "unstuck." I have some follow ups that I will get to after dinner. My pasta water is boiling.
hanabilly is offline  
Nov 9th, 2010, 08:20 PM
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As I said, you've all given me good food for thought...thoughts of food, maybe? Last thing I wanted to do is open up any cans of worms to start anything contentious. I have to say, Zeppole, that you've gotten me back on track to what we really wanted to do. We really are country people. In Rome we were like a couple country dogs in the city. (Albeit awe-struck.) We knew on our next trip we wanted to get far more rural. We were thinking (rural) Tuscany, but the information that shows up most regularly here and elsewhere is all very tempting. The area is so beautiful, how could you not want to go there? So, I was creeping towards Val d'Orcia. However, I did have a sneaking feeling that, while I'm sure we'd love it, we'd come away feeling we'd been lured into something more touristed than we were looking for. As for my dear husband, I think he needs a "country" fix to really fall in love with the country as I have. I think the geology around Pitigliano may be the hook he needs. (Along with the food, of course.) Although we have almost never stayed somewhere less than 3 nights, it's easy to feel like you want to see "one more place." Not this time for us. I also love the idea of being able to get to the airport in the morning of our flight. I had never really given the Maremma much thought (even when I read Franco's post.) I think for us, for now, this could be the ticket.
This makes me sigh, though, knowing I will have to leave the heart of Umbria (and other parts of Tuscany) for another time. I do follow all your posts regularly, so know I have to remind myself of one of Bob's best pieces of advice, and that's to plan three trips ahead (three? how about twenty or thirty!) as you'll be back.
Well, this is the bare bones. Started. Now I have to work on flights, as I'll be trying to work that out on miles...
hanabilly is offline  
Nov 9th, 2010, 08:26 PM
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I guess I didn't really say - I'm thinking Melograno is it. Or if by chance it turns out not available, something similar and in that vicinity.
hanabilly is offline  

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