Getting off the "tourist" trail in Italy

Old Feb 18th, 2010, 10:25 AM
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Getting off the "tourist" trail in Italy

Good Day Fellow Travelrs,

I understand the pit falls of the "Would you choose to go here vs the go there" type questions that those of us planning trips typically send. I know the decisions are personel with many variables.

That said:
Like most in this forum I am planning a return trip to Italy, for mid September. 3 weeks worth. This trip will focus on the north, Venice. Cinque Terre, Lake Como and Milan. My transportation options are flexible (within budget constraints) but I would prefer to travel by train and not rent a car. The plan so far is to fly into Milan, train to Como, boat to Bellagio, 3 nights, train to Venice 4 nights (i can't seem to get enough of Venice). Train to Cinque Terre 3 nights, train to Milan 2 nights and fly home (in and out of Malpensa). I wanted to break up the "culture" with relaxation and nature. I have no issue with communications. I carry an English to Italian dictionary so I can communicate in the native language (at least make the effort)

I have a finite amount of time and $$$ and will have to "sacrafice" one location for another. Example no Lake Como to spend time in smaller towns/cities/areas near Milan or Venice, like the Po Plain, Cremona, Mantua, Verona etc.

The last trip was the "beaten tourist path" Venice 2 days, Florence 2 days, Tuscan Hil towns 6 days (home base was a villia in Montisi) Rome 5 days. Rental car & train transport. We loved it all. The crowds (local and tourists) on May Day. The museums, art, churches, getting lost, food, strolling (people watching with the locals), history as far back as we could find (Etruscan ruins).

What am I missing by not getting off the "beaten tourist path"? I know this is a huge topic on which to comment and the "real answer" depends a lot on what the wife and I like to do and see and eat; however, I would be grateful for any suggestions, and comments. I would like to hear your experiances and recommendations for "off the beaten path" places you found and liked.

Thanks and Regards,

Rolo
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Old Feb 18th, 2010, 10:56 AM
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So, as I understand it, you're looking for advice on where to spend approximately 9 days in northern Italy in September. You will spend 12 days ON "the tourist trail" (Bellagio, Venice, CT), and you're looking for one (or more?) place OFF "the tourist trail."

If you hadn't said no rental car, I would have suggested one of the mountain regions, Trentino-Alto Adige, Friuli Veneto Giulia or west to Aosta. Without a car, I'd go to the Piemonte and pick a smallish town with train service, like Asti or Alba. But, really, without a car you're not going to be far from the tourist trail.
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Old Feb 18th, 2010, 11:04 AM
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Jean,

Thanks I see your posts here frequently. Always good advice. I am not opposed to a rental car. My hope was to get some recommendations "off the trail" places to visit. I am willing to be flexible in order to have the richest experiance possible. I am probably obssesing, but what I saw and learned my first trip was fabulous so I want more!!! My math was not exact. The total time including flying from the US west coast to Milan is 18 days.
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Old Feb 18th, 2010, 11:55 AM
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Hi, Rolo.

Asti in Piemonte, somewhat off the beaten path, holds two memorable events every September which I highly recommend. I attended both of them in 2009. The city is accessible by train, but not overrun with English-speaking tourists.

The medieval "Sagre" should take place on Sunday Sept. 12 2010. It is a 3 hour+ parade with over 3000 costumed participants, flaots, bands, etc. lasting around 4 hours. I was absolutely delighted with this glimpse into the rural life of Piemonte in former times. There is also a gastronomic food festival in the Piazza Campo del Palio that whole day. Here is the Italian link with 2009 data:

http://www.festivaldellesagre.it/

The second event is the oldest bareback horse race in Italy (older than Siena's). The Palio D'Asti should take place on Sunday Sept. 19 in 2010. You can buy tickets on the internet starting about a month before.

http://www.comune.asti.it/manifestaz.../welcome.shtml

Finally, the Douja D'or Wine Festival also takes place during this period. It should be held from Sept. 11 to Sept. 19, 2010. If you enjoy wine-tasting this event is a blast.

Finally, if you don't have a car I can recommend the B&B where I stayed, which is within walking distance of all of the above in the centro storico, but only has three rooms, so I advise booking as early as possible, since September is the busiest time of the year in Asti. Tell Geraldine and Pierluigi I sent you if you go. Rates are very reasonable.

www.villaferrariasti.it

If you do rent a car I recommend staying at Villa Sampaguita, just outside Asti. I have never stayed there, but hosts Tim and Rita are a font of knowledge and often post here. Their villa gets great reviews on trip advisor, and their website also has lots of information about the area.

www.villasampaguita.com

Happy Travels!
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Old Feb 18th, 2010, 12:31 PM
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Based on Gariem's helpful post, I vote Asti (or Alba)! And I'd rent a car for at least a couple of your days in the area.
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Old Feb 18th, 2010, 12:53 PM
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I agree, and do not miss the Palio di Asti.
Here are some reasons why.
http://www.slowphotos.com/photo/show...y.php?cat=4172
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Old Feb 18th, 2010, 01:52 PM
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I'd just relocate from le Cinque Terre to someplace like Sestri Levante and go straight up into the hills, where tourists never go.

Do you really want off the beaten path, or just some place less familar than the places you've named.

If you just want some place less famous but with a lot of tourist infrastructure, Piemonte is actually pretty developed for tourism-- including Asti and Alba. I've got nothing against the merely less traveled, but Piemonte is a heavily trafficked tourist destination, if more by Europeans than Americans.

http://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&q=...DPwARYA7LmHYxA

But if you actually want to get off the beaten path, buy either the Cadogan Guide to the Italian Riviera and Piemonte, or the Italian Touring Club Guide to the Italian Riviera and ditch le Cinque Terre and go just about anyplace else in the Ligurian mountains near the coast. One beautiful rural area is above San Remo, like towns of Pigna, Rochetta Nervina -- all the way up into Tende. Another is above Porto Maurzio/Onegila, on up into Triora, Ranzo, Cenova.... if you want something wild and unspoiled and totally rural.

But like I said, you can also just get away from le Cinque Terre, up into the val di Vara (Varese Ligure) into tiny towns like Velva. Stay up in an agriturismo there. Even Castelnuovo di Magra is really off the beaten tourist track -- and it's got a castle, a Van Eyck and Dante lived there. Rick Steves just never went there.

Have fun ditching the rest of us! Go for total obscurity! Italy is almost 100 percent beautiful. Just keep driving. You'll get there.

This is a great web guide to the most beautiful old villages in Italy where Italians still live and tourists mostly don't go. You'll find Triora and Cenova in it, and lots of other places in Northern Italy.

http://www.borghitalia.it/index_en.php
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Old Feb 18th, 2010, 01:53 PM
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PS: You can explore the hills above Sestri Levante by bus.
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Old Feb 18th, 2010, 02:27 PM
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RD, I forgot to add that you should try asking your question here for northern Italy:

http://www.allexperts.com/ep/145-376...Marchesani.htm
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Old Feb 18th, 2010, 03:19 PM
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BTN, Primeranoche, Jean, Gariem,

Thank You Thank You. You are all spot on. This is exactly what I was hoping for. I am not opposed to being on the "beaten path" I just want to experiance more of Italy. Gariem summed it up with his question "Do you really want off the beaten path, or just some place less familar than the places you've named". The answer is yes to both. Thanks for the planning resource recommendations and the specific site suggestions.
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Old Feb 18th, 2010, 03:44 PM
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Terrific info! Bookmarking!
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Old Feb 18th, 2010, 03:45 PM
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Bologna and Verona that are still pretty popular but not quite as visited as the "Big 3" you've already done. Either one would make a great base for visiting smaller towns on day trips since each is a transportation hub with good train and bus connections to other towns in the area.

I have based in Bologna to visit Ravenna, Rimini, and Cesena. Modena and Parma would also be easy from there. While neither Bologna nor Verona are small towns, they are pleasant cities less inundated with tourists with interesting sights and good food. I've based in Verona and visited Vicenza, Padova, Mantova, and Sirmione. It's also possible to reach the Dolomites from there.
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Old Feb 18th, 2010, 03:53 PM
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I think to truly get off the "tourist trail" you must have an interest that takes you from the beaten path. Like interest in a particular artist or type of architecture. A friend of mine ends up off the beaten path because of his interest in cars.
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Old Feb 18th, 2010, 07:04 PM
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You're welcome, rolohof. That was me who "summed it up."

I just want to emphasize to you that you don't have to "sacrifice" any of your itinerary. Instead of basing right in le Cinque Terre. Just move to a less famous, less touristed town on the coast, one where Italians are enjoying, that isn't inundated by foreign tourists. You'll be no less welcome there and you'll be no more than 30-40 minutes from le Cinque Terre, depending where you stay. A little town like Monegila or Zoagli -- both very pretty seasides -- will give you a different feel for Riviera relaxation. A bigger town -- with great swimming and food -- like Sestri Levante or Chiavari will also let you easily hop onto a bus and go right up into the hills and see a whole other side of Italy.

This is true of almost everywhere you plan to go. The untouched Italy is almost always sitting right next to the overtouristed Italy. If you try to take one day in each of your stops to one step off the beaten track, you'll be stunned at what you can experience of Italy without the tourists.

Right next to Venice:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/travel/201...blic-trasnport

On your way to and from Bellagio:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Como

Just 20 minutes from Milan by train:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vigevano

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pavia

So you don't have to change your wish list. If you do want to change it, I agree with ellenem posted. I know less about Asti, and I don't know what time frame your traveling in, but I'm an animal lover, so I wouldn't want to go to the Palio,

Have fun wherever you go. If you end up staying in Sestri Levante or Chiavari, get the tourist office to help you find some hidden treasures.
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Old Feb 23rd, 2010, 02:57 PM
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Thanks again to all that posted here. I just recieved the Cadogan Guide suggested by primeranoche and am strongly reconsidering my original itinerary and focusing on this beautiful area of Italy.

Regards
Rolo
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Old Feb 24th, 2010, 04:41 AM
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On our 'northern' Italy trip, we DID have a car. We very much enjoyed Verona and Ravenna (those mosaics!), and the Dolomites (THE most spectacular hiking) were a highlight of our trip. The only part of Milan we saw was the airport. The 'touristy' places we went to were Venice (which I love too) and Bellagio, which was too beautiful to miss.

Alice
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