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Falling in love with Italy again! Lake Como, Cinque Terre and Tuscany

Falling in love with Italy again! Lake Como, Cinque Terre and Tuscany

Old Apr 25th, 2024, 07:47 AM
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Originally Posted by coral22
raincitygirl,
Thank you for checking in and sharing your experiences! Did you find issues with crowds? Do you feel like Oltrarno is a good spot for a first time visitor, or that they would miss a lot by not staying in the city center?
I am envious of your frequent visits, that is the way to really experience it! Are you planning any future visits?
Hi coral, yes I am planning future visits. Maybe this fall, but definitely in 2025 when my husband does another of his crazy long bike rides (the Silk Road, June to Oct), I plan to go to Florence and maybe stay a couple of months. Yes Florence is often super crowded, but I have been in early March when it was blissfully uncrowded, last April I was there third week of and it was starting to get quite busy, November it was still fairly busy but do-able.
I think Oltrarno is a good spot for a first time visitor, you can easily walk over to the centro storico, or as we did one day when I took my friend to see the David, we took a cab as we didn't have enough time to walk there. It just depends on what people want in terms of quick access I guess or how long they stay. I tend to stay a while and go back often so don't have to be right next door to the main sites, plus I've seen most of them a few times. I have a couple of friends there plus I love the shopping, dining and just the wonderful vibe of the place. The centre of the city can also be fun to stay in but not when it is busy.
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Old Apr 25th, 2024, 07:53 AM
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Originally Posted by KarenWoo
Coral22, interesting observation about staying in Oltrarni vs the center. I will consider that. We are first time visitors to Florence with the exception of a daytrip in the 1970ís.

We plan on visiting the Duomo, Accademia, and Uffizi for sure. Would the Pitti Palace be more of the same? I was considering Boboli Gardens but will think about that now. Have you visited the Bardini Gardens? Would that be a better choice?

We will have 4 nights in Florence, so about 3.5 days. We are wine drinkers. Would our visit be more varied and interesting if on one of the days we schedule a small private group tour to visit wineries? We could also do this while staying in Tuscany. I realize this is subjective but just interested what you and other Florence visitors recommend.
Karen, I can highly recommend doing a wine tour with these people:https://www.tuscan-wine-tours.com/
They do small group tours with a number of different itineraries. My friend and I did the Super Chianti one in November and it was the perfect day out, can't speak highly enough of them.
For the Bardini garden which month will you be there? Last April I walked up there with a friend to see the wisteria (it was about the third week of April) and it was truly magnificent, plus you get a stunning view of Florence. Well worth the hike up there.
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Old Apr 25th, 2024, 07:54 AM
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Not to be nit picky but can I just say it is Oltrarno not Oltrarni. It means the other side of the Arno.
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Old Apr 25th, 2024, 11:21 AM
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raincitygirl, thanks so much for your advice and for recommending Tuscan Wine Tours.

Good to hear that you like the Bardini gardens. We will be in Florence in May 2025. Do you like Bardini Gardens better than Boboli Gardens?

You are not nitpicking. I prefer to know the correct spelling of names.
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Old Apr 25th, 2024, 11:25 AM
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Thanks, raincitygirl!
It is good to point out the right spelling for future visitors. I have it right in my notes, I must have rushed the spelling.

Our friends, who had never been there, wanted to stay near everything, but in retrospect they said they wished we stayed in Oltrarno.

Karen, I don't know that I would pay Florence hotel prices, to leave for the day to visit a winery. Since you are already heading further into Tuscany, and would have a car, I might do it from there.

In regard to the Pitti Palace, I really enjoyed it, but we had already been to the other places on your list, so that was all we did. It depends how much of an art and history fan you are. DH can only do about 90 minutes at any of the big galleries and I am more in the 3 hour range. I think we get oversaturated and start losing our appreciation for it. I know many can happily stay the entire day. It just depends what style you are.

Note the closed dates when scheduling, Duomo is closed on Sunday and the rest are closed on Monday. Pitti Palace is open Tuesday nights. Maybe save Pitti for last and see how much more interest you have, we just walked right in. But, for the rest, going at the earliest openings, would be my preference.
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Old Apr 25th, 2024, 04:08 PM
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Originally Posted by KarenWoo
raincitygirl, thanks so much for your advice and for recommending Tuscan Wine Tours.

Good to hear that you like the Bardini gardens. We will be in Florence in May 2025. Do you like Bardini Gardens better than Boboli Gardens?

You are not nitpicking. I prefer to know the correct spelling of names.
Karen, I think Giardino Bardini is included in the ticket to the Pitti and Giardino Boboli. The wisteria will be over by May I think. Boboli is larger, both are built on the side of a hill so there is quite a bit of climbing, it's not all flat. They are Italianate gardens and if you are used to English style gardens or big lush with flowers gardens you have seen in North America, they aren't like that. The Bardini garden is stunning during the wisteria blooming, has a super view and also has a beautiful loggia where you can sit outside and enjoy a drink and a snack while admiring the view. I don't know that I can pick a favourite. You can Google for photos of both and see what you think if you have time constraints and need to choose.
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Old Apr 26th, 2024, 06:12 AM
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Originally Posted by coral22
Thanks, raincitygirl!
It is good to point out the right spelling for future visitors. I have it right in my notes, I must have rushed the spelling.

Our friends, who had never been there, wanted to stay near everything, but in retrospect they said they wished we stayed in Oltrarno.

Karen, I don't know that I would pay Florence hotel prices, to leave for the day to visit a winery. Since you are already heading further into Tuscany, and would have a car, I might do it from there.

In regard to the Pitti Palace, I really enjoyed it, but we had already been to the other places on your list, so that was all we did. It depends how much of an art and history fan you are. DH can only do about 90 minutes at any of the big galleries and I am more in the 3 hour range. I think we get oversaturated and start losing our appreciation for it. I know many can happily stay the entire day. It just depends what style you are.

Note the closed dates when scheduling, Duomo is closed on Sunday and the rest are closed on Monday. Pitti Palace is open Tuesday nights. Maybe save Pitti for last and see how much more interest you have, we just walked right in. But, for the rest, going at the earliest openings, would be my preference.
coral22, thanks so much for taking the time to respond. We enjoy art and history museums but we like a balance. We don't want to spend all of our time indoors especially when the weather is nice. We also like to have time for exploring neighborhoods, having a drink at cafes, etc. For example, when we visited Madrid, we spent about 4.5 hours at the Prado and that included lunch. When we left, the weather was beautiful so we spent the rest of the day outdoors. The next day we spent about 3 hours at the Reina Sofia. My husband didn't want to visit the Thyssen because he felt we had seen enough art. So with something like the Pitti we can save that for last as you suggest, if we find we have the time.

That's a good point about staying in Florence instead of leaving for a day. It will make more sense to do a winery tour when we are in the Tuscan countryside.
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Old Apr 26th, 2024, 06:14 AM
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Originally Posted by raincitygirl
Karen, I think Giardino Bardini is included in the ticket to the Pitti and Giardino Boboli. The wisteria will be over by May I think. Boboli is larger, both are built on the side of a hill so there is quite a bit of climbing, it's not all flat. They are Italianate gardens and if you are used to English style gardens or big lush with flowers gardens you have seen in North America, they aren't like that. The Bardini garden is stunning during the wisteria blooming, has a super view and also has a beautiful loggia where you can sit outside and enjoy a drink and a snack while admiring the view. I don't know that I can pick a favourite. You can Google for photos of both and see what you think if you have time constraints and need to choose.
raincitygirl, thanks for your helpful comments and descriptions! Good idea about googling photos. Will check out videos, too.
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Old Apr 26th, 2024, 08:10 AM
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You're welcome Karen. In regards to the wine touring in the countryside, just be aware that most of the wineries there require you to book in advance, you can't just drive around and drop in like the wineries in California for example. In that case it can be easier to find someone who does a wine tour from wherever you end up staying there. Some towns like Montepulciano or Greve in Chianti will have tasting rooms you can drop into.
Some of the really large wineries like Antinori for example will allow a drop in and tasting in the wine shop.
Also good to note is that DUI is taken very seriously and the limit is really low.

I hope you have a really enjoyable trip!
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Old Apr 29th, 2024, 09:14 AM
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Did you think I forgot you?
We just arrived in London a couple days ago for our anniversary trip, so I finally have moment.

raincitygirl, can you arrange all my trips for me from now on? Your experiences are so wonderful!
Please add any favorite restaurants, shops, etc. We were there such a short time, it sounds like you are a great source.

We had a flight today at noon to Paris that we used miles for. We have had good luck on the Air France, Paris-Houston nonstop heading home with mileage. We have used it for our last 3 trips, another benefit, it gives us a day and half in Paris.We grabbed a pastry when we were out and about yesterday and DH grabbed some coffee nearby this morning. We loved our hotel and the location, but it would have been out of our budget if we didn't get it with miles.

We love to get to the airport early to use the lounge and grab a lite lunch, especially in this time frame. So we got a taxi for the quick 20 minute drive to the airport. We got there 2 hours before the flight, and was that ever a good decision. There was one single line, out of the door that was long. We spied a sign that pointed around the corner to a tagged checked bag deposit area. Thinking we outsmarted the system, we got in the line to self tag our bag, and then headed around the corner to drop it off and head to our gate. Don't do that! No one was there. So we had to get in the long line anyway and we had wasted time. So get in the line right away and take turns getting the baggage tags. They can do it for you, but that part did save time.

Next, on to the "lounge" This serves everyone, this is a small airport. At the front desk, we were informed that there were no seats available, and once entering we realized there was barely standing room available. If you love 1980s cafeteria decor, this is the place for you! There were some tiny sandwiches, cheese, crackers, yogurt, cookies, fruit, nutrition bars and minimal beverages.But remember right when travel resumed after Covid shutdowns and the lounges were closed? I will take it! I grabbed some ham sandwiches, which were fine, yogurt and some water. I also, got some for the flight, with some fruit and cheese and crackers. And, yes, I am that gal that travels with ziplock bags, just in case. And no, I don't have a separate, fully lined bag that I slide an entire tray into. We finally snagged some seats and waited for a gate assignment.

We thought we would go downstairs to the boarding area early. Don't do that! This areas very small. It was body to body and 2 flights were departing at the same time, so no confusion there. Unfortunately, it was lightly raining, and we going outside to climb the stairs to the plane. Not a good hair day! This would be a consideration for those with mobility issues, I assume they have a system for getting wheelchair assisted passengers on. We helped a Mom with about an 18 month old daughter with her bags as she tried to struggle up. They loaded from the front and back, but with no guidance. We tried to guesstimate where we would be in the plane and go to that stairway, but it didn't matter, onboard, we were all swimming up stream, against each other. The flight was full and the coughing onboard was heavy and nonstop, and the usually cool and unflappable Air France flight attendants must have been counting down the minutes. But, we were on our way to Paris!

I will summarize and make recommendations at my next free moment!
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Old Apr 29th, 2024, 03:32 PM
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Hi Coral, ha ha sure I'll organize all your trips for you, you will have to get in line behind all my friends.
Trip planning is a bit of a passion for me, absolutely love it. And now you have just been in London, my very favourite LARGE city in the world. Can never get enough London.
I have so many fave spots in Florence, where to start? Well I am a shopper, being a confirmed clothesaholic, and at this stage of life have more $ to spend on that which helps. One store I love in Oltrarno, across from the Pitti Palace is Casini, owned by Jennifer Tattanelli who is also the designer and a delightful and talented woman. If you want really great quality leather jackets, bags and shoes this is the place but it is not an inexpensive store so not for anyone on a budget. However anything I have purchased here lasts years and she also does have some clothing, dresses, blouses, pants, plus men's shoes and jackets. She has a summer pop-up in the Hamptons and a store in Palm Beach as well. This past November when I popped in they had a ton of stuff with drastically reduced prices, leather jackets and shoes and some bags, I think they brought back things that didn't sell in the US, anyway, looks like they may continue that, if so, bargains to be had.

I like the dep't store Rinascente in Piazza della Repubblica in the centre; if you take your passport in to the customer service desk they give you a discount card, I think it's 15%. They have a wonderful rooftop terrace to have lunch.
I love the MaxMara store and Marina Rinaldi, really helpful sales women and gorgeous things. Don't forget you can get the VAT back if you spend 250 euro in any one store. For discounted luxury shopping there is The Mall and a bus leaves every 30 minutes from Santa Maria Novella station to take you there.

Then there is Madova for gloves, that is on the Oltrarno side just after you exit the Ponte Vecchio, they have beautiful gloves in every colour imaginable and you go in, a sales person has you put your hand up, they measure you and they start bringing out gloves to try.
For fabulous costume jewellery in Oltrarno there is Angela Caputi- literally drawers and drawers of yummy items. Via Santo Spirito, 58r and I see now she has another location on the other side at Borgo Santi. Apostoli, 44/46r.

If you want a dress made for a special occasion there is Tiziana Alemanni on via Romana, she is a dressmaker from Sicily, beautiful things, I discovered her on a walking tour of Artisan shops of Oltrarno years ago.
I did a private shopping tour with Jana Soon last April - you can find her on Instagram under shopinflorence, worth every penny.
Coin is a department store which has a nice variety of thing at a lower price point.

We had a lovely aperitivo hour (or two) at Angel Bar on top of the Hotel Calimala, Via dei Lamberti, 5. Very pretty sunset view from there.
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Old Apr 30th, 2024, 07:16 AM
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coral22, Happy Anniversary! How lucky that you are celebrating in London!

raincitygirl, I will print out your comments about fave spots in Florence. I love to buy costume jewelry. And we need to have aperitivo's on a rooftop bar!
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Old May 1st, 2024, 08:11 AM
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The lovely sunset from Angel Bar
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Old May 1st, 2024, 08:17 AM
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KarenWoo, happy shopping. Another fab place for costume jewellery is Bona Tondinelli in Oltrarno on via Maggio, 28r. She has tons of things, some vintage, I got a gorgeous Pierre Cardin large link bracelet from the '60s there. The store is jam packed with things. If you are pressed for time you could google both stores to see which is more you. Angela Caputi is more colourful, large pieces, mostly made of resin, they are her own designs.

And if you like Negronis you can go to the place they were invented: Giacosa1815 in the city centre on via della Spada, 15R. They do traditional ones and other newer versions. I had the Negroni Shakerato which was delicious.
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Old May 1st, 2024, 10:26 AM
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Originally Posted by raincitygirl
KarenWoo, happy shopping. Another fab place for costume jewellery is Bona Tondinelli in Oltrarno on via Maggio, 28r. She has tons of things, some vintage, I got a gorgeous Pierre Cardin large link bracelet from the '60s there. The store is jam packed with things. If you are pressed for time you could google both stores to see which is more you. Angela Caputi is more colourful, large pieces, mostly made of resin, they are her own designs.

And if you like Negronis you can go to the place they were invented: Giacosa1815 in the city centre on via della Spada, 15R. They do traditional ones and other newer versions. I had the Negroni Shakerato which was delicious.
Thanks for the additional information! I really appreciate it. I am embarrassed to say that I have never had a Negroni! I will have to rectify that in Florence!
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Old May 1st, 2024, 03:11 PM
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You're welcome. I could go on and on lol.
Okay, Negronis, just be aware they are very strong so the traditional one might not be for everyone. My friend didn't like that one but she liked the Negroni Shakerato which is shaken and very cold, and lighter than the original one.
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Old May 2nd, 2024, 09:18 AM
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I've been to Florence a few times but am taking notes from your suggestions, raincitygirl, so thanks. And I love a Negroni!
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Old May 2nd, 2024, 12:45 PM
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You are welcome SusanP! I love a Negroni too.
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Old May 5th, 2024, 02:25 PM
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Just a note to mention that upthread I said you have to spend 250 euro in any one store to claim the VAT back, it was actually 155 euro, and now I am reading that they have lowered that to 70 euro which is even better!
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Old May 8th, 2024, 12:01 PM
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I am back from England!
Thanks, raincitygirl, for all of the suggestions, The Angel Bar looks great!

We had an absolutely wonderful time in Italy!
We had perfect weather, if anything, it was little hot for us in the beginning.
If DH and I had done this trip alone, we would have added a few more days, but having our friends with us made our dinners delightful, full of laughter and remembrances and some one word references that still make us burst out in laughter. It was also nice to have a friend to shop with similar tastes and to spare DH. I bought a casual necklace, bracelet, scarf, Christmas ornament and some small watercolor prints.

If I would change it, I would say:
1 night in Milan, enjoy an afternoon and morning there.
3 or 4 nights Varenna
2 nights Manarola
2 nights San Gimignano
3 nights Pienza
3 nights Florence.
I don't know what to say about Florence. We have been twice before, so we didn't want to do the major attractions, but the crowds are really a consideration. I could see for a first timer, to stay 4 nights and make sure to see one of the big attractions first thing each morning. There are timed entrances for entry, but no limit on how long you can stay, so if people ahead of you are lingering, you will wait outside until there is a safe availability of space. And I think staying in Oltrano would have been a good idea.

The vibes of each place were so different:
Varenna was magical, and serene, with vast calming vistas and it was a relaxed, rejuvenating experience. To me, this would be honeymoon heaven.
Manarola was a glimpse into the past, with its fishing village personality, but now very energetic and lively and was dramatically stunning.

Tuscany was the picture postcard dream. The rolling hills and peaceful surroundings, coupled with charming towns and villages was a nice combination. The crowds here picked up in the afternoons, so head out to some of the popular towns early. And familiarize yourself with the ZTLs and where the parking is. A private driver is a luxury, but so nice for the commentary, avoiding parking and being able to sample the wine.

Florence still has a wonderful magic and a sophistication, just manage your time well.
And everywhere, give yourself some" I can't believe I am here" time to savor it all.

Clothing:
Hey Europe-remember back in the day when you ridiculed me for for my white leather Reeboks? How do you like me now? Wait now I am wearing black trainers, SIGH... I will never get there!
So white leather shoes and jeans everywhere. Lake Como dressed more the weather, so some sandals. White, linen, casual dresses, skirts, nicer short sleeved shirts, some florals, light colored slacks, black slacks and straw hats.
CT was everything you could imagine. Shorts, logo t shirts, sandals, slacks, cotton long sleeved shirts, linen, dresses, and many fashionistas dressed to pose, certainly not to hike.
Heading into Tuscany it was more sedate, with dresses, slacks and nice short sleeved or linen long sleeved tops and not as many sandals. Florence resorted back to all kinds of tourist garb but the locals seemed to be in darker solids. And for dinner, everywhere stepped it up a little.

We were very impressed that the tourist industry personnel were so friendly, helpful and enthusiastic. It was amazing after the record heat and the record crowds.This was October, I would have been burnt out.

We left this trip feeling like we were nurtured and warmly embraced.The lovely people, the delicious food, the stunning vistas, and the golden light created moments that will always be cherished.
I don't know how you could come to this area and not fall in love with it, I know we did!



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