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Best Central Italy location for a weekly rental in late fall?

Best Central Italy location for a weekly rental in late fall?

Jan 3rd, 2015, 05:40 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 217
Best Central Italy location for a weekly rental in late fall?

We have been to Central Italy numerous times in spring, summer and early fall. This year we are thinking about trying it during a different season (late fall / winter). We love Cortona and have rented villas there previously. Besides Cortona, we are contemplating Florence (love it as well). The other place we're considering where we've never been is Bologna.

Given it will be off season, we don't want to stray too far from areas we know since we think you could fall into an area that's too quiet during this season versus on we have some familiarity.

We love restaurants and cooking and smaller towns. My thoughts as follows:

Cortona - great cooking spot and driving day trips

Florence - more central with a restaurant scene. Nice day trip options by train

Bologna - heard good things about the food there

Rome - bigger than we want

Appreciate any thoughts for a home base with good residential options (I'm a little high maintenance on accommodations so want a nice villa/apartment).
TJinSOMA is offline  
Jan 3rd, 2015, 07:29 PM
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Bologna is a wondeful small city with many day trip destinations nearby. Very food centered. We love your other choices too but if you haven't been to Bologna, give this university town a look.
HappyTrvlr is online now  
Jan 3rd, 2015, 08:47 PM
Join Date: Dec 2014
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I'd go for Bologna as well. Late Autumn/Winter is not the best for touring around if you were thinking of renting a car.
There could be snow on the roads.
There's plenty to do in Bologna itself and as HappyTrvlr said lots of day trips by train (Ferrara and Ravenna to name just two. Florence itself is only 35 minutes away by high-speed train).
Appia is offline  
Jan 3rd, 2015, 11:53 PM
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What week are you talking about? Autumn ends Dec 21, and the weather between November and December can be very different, week by week.

Bologna is a cook's paradise, and to go there as someone who cooks, rather than eat in restaurants, will give you the best possible experience of Bologna. But do know that Bologna is culturally and architecturally very different from Tuscan cities and towns, and it is much more busy with traffic than many of the popular Tuscan art cities. It has very good transportation connections for people who want to commute for day trips to other art cities. But if you wanted something smaller and more bijoux, you could consider Modena which also has heavenly markets (but it is usually somewhat more difficult to find rental apartments there). It is not a tourist town so its commercial life will go on buzzing right up to Christmas, but it is much smaller, and with a lot less English spoken. You will probably find few bargains on a high-end rental in Bologna.

You might also consider Arezzo, which is rather like Cortona in feeling but has an economic life independent of tourism which means it won't feel abandoned in the "off-season." From Arezzo you can easily visit Florence, Perugia and Cortona by train, and it also has a car rental office so if you get nice weather you car rent a car and visit scenic Tuscany.

However, if you like Florence, it can be quite wonderful to be there in the off-season, when the crowds have lightened. You can visit Bologna as a day trip from there, and many, many other places along the train lines. Highly inadvisable to use it as a base for car trips.
sandralist is offline  
Jan 4th, 2015, 03:33 AM
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I agree with sandra on Bologna.
Ackislander is offline  
Jan 4th, 2015, 10:20 AM
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Appreciate the thoughtful on point replies. We've been to Arezzo and were much fonder of Cortona. We are likely thinking the first half of December and noted on snow although I'm comfortable with driving in that weather since I've grown up around it and it wouldn't be driving long distances.

Quick follow up question on Bologna from a size/feel perspective - how would you compare the historic center to say Florence, Rome or Cortona? We've done Rome several times and while gorgeous it's a little too "city like" for our taste when in Italy. We tend to like the smaller feel (we live in Yountville, CA and love the walkable nature which is why we love Cortona). That being said, Cortona I think may be a bit small for us for a week since just the two of us.

If we opt for Bologna - any great hidden gems from a market, restaurant or cooking class perspective? Sounds like it may offer a fun balance of each if we find a nice flat and also some "new" day trips for us since we've done most around Florence.
TJinSOMA is offline  
Jan 4th, 2015, 11:32 AM
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In terms of size, walking around historic Bologna, and the amount of time it takes to do it, is comparable in size to Florence, although there is no river to cross. And just like Florence, Bologna has a couple of distinct "neighborhoods" that are quite different in feel from other neighborhoods just a 20 minute walk away. Some can be shabby (like Florence), others are pockets of elegance.

However, Bologna is medieval city that never built much great Renaissance architecture (it never completed its "duomo") so it lacks Florence's dazzling, marble-rich beauty. Not only that, but because Bologna was an important industrial crossroads in Italy and a stronghold of Mussolini, noticeable sections of it were blasted away in WW2 and rebuilt cheaply and unattractively afterwards, and has lots of motor traffic. What gives Bologna its life and charm is the miles and miles of arcades and its deep red medieval architecture, and the combination of 90,000 students and their bookish teachers (it is the oldest university in Europe) plus the bustle of its trade fairs, rather than tourist crowds and boutique tourist shops like Florence. Most nights, the center of Bologna, apart from the student quarter, is pleasantly quiet and peaceful.

This is a pretty good youtube for capturing Bologna, although it doesn't give you the life of the student quarter


For people who want to cooking schools, there are several well-regarded cooking teachers, especially for learning to make pasta. Also, the "Home Food" movement was founded in Bologna and still has its headquarters there. This organization arranges meals in the homes of some of Bologna's best home cooks, and such meals (you can see the menus in advance on the web) usually are head and shoulders above eating in Bologna's restaurants serving traditional food to tourists.

The greatest advantage to staying in Bologna apart from the variety of high-quality foods in its markets is the opportunity to visit Ravenna by train, and also Modena, Parma and Ferrara if you feel like it. But Ravenna is an extraordinary sight in Europe.

If you wanted something smaller than Bologna, Modena is worth considering, and it is only 20 minutes from Bologna, making it possible to change trains there and see Ravenna and Parma too, and also unique Mantova in another direction. Some people like Ferrara, also only 20 minutes from Bologna in yet a different direction, but if food is very important to you, Modena and its historic market and balsamic vinegar definitely has the edge, and if you like you can splash out on Osteria Francescana, which regularly turns up on lists of 10 best restaurants in the world, should you have any interest in that type of modern creative cooking (but this, rooted in local tradition).
sandralist is offline  
Jan 4th, 2015, 07:45 PM
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Thanks for the reply. Was surfing the web and found a great looking hotel group that has three properties (Adriano Group) where you would have a kitchenette and could try a few local meals. They are all city center and were big walkers, but any view as to the best area for restaurants and markets (meaning places locals would frequent versus tourists). Thanks
TJinSOMA is offline  
Jan 5th, 2015, 03:43 AM
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I'm familiar with the Adriano Group but have never rented from them (almost did!). They have some very attractive properties, all of them walkable to all the sights of Bologna, and usually the train station as well.

You really needn't worry too much about "tourist traps" or not being surrounded by locals. Bologna is overwhelmingly not a tourist town or touristy place, although you will see small tour groups being led by guides, either through the oldest market area and through piazza Maggiore. It is the case that most locals refuse to pay the higher prices one finds in some of the historic shops for pasta and cheese, etc. and shop in their neighborhood stores and supermarkets. But some of the historic shops have great stuff, and your eye will quickly separate out the stuff packaged for tourists as souvenirs and the basic great food. When arrive your apartment you will surely be met by a local Bolognese familiar with your neighborhood, and ask them which of the very local stores are good. There is often a gem of a bakery or pasta maker or fresh veg seller.

If you look at a map of Bologna and mark the train station at the far north of the city as if it were 12 o'clock, and take the piazza Maggiore as the center of the dial, then the area between 12 and roughly 4 o'clock is the university student quarter. It can be noisy at all hours and the majority of restaurants are low quality. It's great to take a walk up the via Zamboni and stroll a bit through the quarter because the university is such an important part of Bologna (and the major art museum is there if you are interested, and the oratorio of St Cecilia) but It can be a problematic place to stay. On the side of the clock that would 10-12, you have a very modern section of Bologna rebuilt from WW2, and while it is great for access to the train station and surely the least touristy part of the city, most visitors enjoy being in the medieval center -- and just about anyplace else on the clock -- between 4 and 10 -- is fine so long as you are not directly on the via dell'Indipendenza, which can be noisy.

When you eat in traditional restaurants in Bologna don't be surprised if you hear a lot of English spoken. The main clientele for Bologna's restaurants is business travelers, and generally they will speak English with waiters if they don't speak Italian. It doesn't mean you are in a tourist trap.
sandralist is offline  
Jan 5th, 2015, 08:12 AM
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I'd look at Bologna or Modena as well. Might stretch to Padua but I don't know the cooking scene there.
bilboburgler is online now  
Jan 5th, 2015, 08:13 AM
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Just a thought, I'd drop the whole car thing, do it the European way and use trains, bikes and shank's pony.
bilboburgler is online now  
Jan 5th, 2015, 04:20 PM
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Great advice. Itinerary set -

LHR to FCO and train to Florence

2 nights Florence - Stay at St. Regis and eat at a favorite nearby spot and hit the truffle festival. Pick up car on way out of town.

3 or 4 nights Cortona - Rent a villa and hit a few favorite haunts and wander a little with car. Hoping villa may drop one week requirement since early December isn't exactly in high demand.

4 or 5 nights Bologna - Ditch the car and do some nice day trips and/or just enjoy). We're going to stay at one of the Adriano properties as think the modern with a kitchen will be nice when in the city (option to cook or go out).

Bologna to LHR

Thanks again for all the advice and happy with itinerary that blends country/city and familiar/new. Will report back on the food.....
TJinSOMA is offline  

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