italian second honeymoon

Nov 12th, 2007, 04:21 PM
  #1  
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italian second honeymoon

After a few posts, some received better than others, and much online research, we are closing in on a grand 11 days in Italy for June 08 - We are early 50s, love food and wine, and are ok to skip Rome, big cities and museums - Present plans include flying into Pisa, training right to the CT, 2 days of hiking based out of the Francamaria in Vernazza, then 7 days in Barga at Casa Fontana B&B (incredible reviews), and finally 2 days in Venice at Locanda Marinella , where we depart - This will allow us to move only a couple of times, and focus on Tuscany - Barga is close enough to Florence to allow a couple of day trips into town - We really want to focus on soaking in the Tuscany atmosphere, visiting with people, eating and drinking, hiking and relaxing - To that end, We are still struggling with whether or not to rent a car for at least that part of the trip - We don't want to be typical tourists hustling around to see everything in the tour book, but we are concerned that Barga is small and a little out of the way (actually 2 things we like about it)- We also love wine and want to be able to sample the local wines liberally without concern over driving - Putting it all together, we're actually leaning towards not renting a car, despite many posts recommending it is needed to really see Tuscany - Looking for general feedback on the above, as well as these specific questions: 1- suggestions for cooking classes in northern Tuscany, 2- is Sienna too far from Barga to be worth the effort, or is it as unmissable as advertised, 3- unusual experiences in Venice, either early before markets open and tourists descend, or late opportunities for especially romantic sunsets, 4- best suggestions for books or tapes to learn Italian language and/or history (lots out there, but I have come to trust the expert experiences this site has to offer) - Thanks for all the help thus far and into the future - Bynar
bynar is offline  
Nov 12th, 2007, 05:31 PM
  #2  
 
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I don't think Barga is typical of what most people might think of as typical of Tuscany. The Chianti, central and southern parts of Tuscany are more "typical." And I actually like the far northern reaches of Tuscany that are accessible from Barga: odd towns, interesting topography, but not what you might be expecting.

Barga is not very close to Florence. Mappy says an hour and 49 minutes by car on highways.

Siena would be even further.

I suggest rethinking your week if you are planning on spending it in Barga. Have a car. Spend time in Lucca, and then drive north. I have some books that give really great recs for the area north of Barga. Definetly head to the library.

You won't be seeing the kind of art and landscapes that are typically associated with Tuscany. But you will see some interesting sights.

Is your B&B in Barga itself or on the outskirts? If in the town, then the owners should be able to help you with bus transportation. I'm not familiar with trains in that area. If outside town, then I think you will need a car.
tuscanlifeedit is offline  
Nov 12th, 2007, 05:51 PM
  #3  
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Thanks tuscanlifeedit for you feedback - check out casa fontana on trip advisor - page after page of "best place I have ever stayed" - not sure what typical tuscany means exactly, never having been there, but friendly locals, proud of their walled city, eager to visit and share stories, food and wine, beautiful vistas and hills, and few tourists is what I am hoping for and expecting - if it means missing florence as well i can live with that - maybe a compromise would be to rent a car for a 2 or 3 day period in the middle to head out for sienna, chianti.....i just don't want to chase around, especially when it sounds like what we are looking for is right there in barga - bynar
bynar is offline  
Nov 12th, 2007, 06:17 PM
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Definitely rent a car. I like wine too, but I wouldn't choose sampling "liberally" over the opportunity to drive around the area, make spontaneous detours, etc. If you don't drive every day, we won't tell on you.

The Casa Fontana looks lovely and does have great reviews, but there are many wonderful little towns throughout Tuscany, most impossible or time-consuming to reach by public trans. (BTW, the Casa Fontana mentions train service from Barga-Gallicano. Perhaps it's seasonal service, but I couldn't find any current service between Barga-Gal and Pisa, Pistoia or Florence.)
Jean is online now  
Nov 13th, 2007, 02:37 AM
  #5  
 
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bynar,

We just returned from our 2nd honeymoon in Italy.

If you're not set on your accommodations, may I suggest 2 other options:

Vernazza: La Mala http://www.lamala.it/en/index.html
Venice: Locanda Orseolo
http://www.locandaorseolo.com/en/

Both these places blew us away. They were perfect choices for a romantic getaway...even better than the photos on their websites and the top reviews on Tripadvisor.com.

They are splurges, but will be worth every Euro.

I haven't posted our trip report (yet), but hope to in the next couple weeks.

Another recommendation to consider: (due to travel time between locations) add a night to Venice and Cinque Terre. We did 7 nights in Tuscany and it was beautiful, but we also had 4 nights in Venice and 3 in CT which were perfect.

Ciao....for now!
adventureseeker is offline  
Nov 13th, 2007, 02:40 AM
  #6  
 
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Bynar:

I had posted this on another thread:

We were just in Venice for 4 glorious days. I can't imagine staying any less on your first trip.

I second all the above recommendations....here are a few of our "musts"

*One of our favorite things to do was to wander just before sunrise. St. Mark's Square (we avoided it any other time) was empty and beautiful with the sunrise over the campanile. We also saw Venice come to life and it was fascinating seeing how the city operates (Venetians going to work, how trash is collected, supplies, etc.). DEFINITELY go to the Rialto and Fish Markets in early morning to see it being set up. There was such a vibe going on. The Rialto bridge is at it's finest when you're the only one on it.

*We also took the #1 and #82 Vaporetto up and down the canal (both at sunrise and after dark) which was breathtaking.

*If you opt to do the Gondola ride, we took ours at 11pm when not a soul was on the canal and we had it all to ourselves. It was utterly romantic and magical. This is the priciest time to ride, but it will be worth every euro!

*Find your favorite campo (ours was San Stefano and S. Giacomo dellí Orio). We would sit for hours and watch the kids play and the world go by.

*Check out a non-descript church. You will be amazed. I was drawn to a quaint church smack dab in the middle of a slew of shops and when I walked in, I was utterly speechless. Take your time, open your eyes and you'll see the most amazing art and architecture where you least expect it.

And....top of the list: make time to wander aimlessly with the goal of getting lost. This is the art of seeing Venice at it's absolute finest.

Here's what I wouldn't bother with:

*La Fenice (Opera house) AUDIO tour (I read City of Falling Angels and was anxious to do the tour). The audio guide was long and boring. The only worthwhile part of the tour was we were fortunate to observe Male Sopranos auditioning while we sat in the theatre boxes.

*being anywhere near St. Mark's Square during the day (it is WAY overcrowded with day trippers and cruise passengers). When we first walked through here, it held no essence for me until we went back late at night to hear the orchestras play.

*a gondola ride during the day....way too crowded.

*be careful of art overload: we did the Ca' Rezzonico and Palazzo Grassi (excellent modern art exhibit...very avante garde) back to back and were fried. Be sure to take a long break in between and not rush to do it all on schedule.







adventureseeker is offline  
Nov 13th, 2007, 06:37 AM
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I think tuscanlifeedit meant that the terrain and geography of Barga, while of course in Tuscany, is not typical of the most common image of the Tuscan countryside. (Though we all agree that it's beautiful.)

I would also strongly suggest that you rent a car. You don't have to be the "typical tourists hustling around to see everything in the tour book" just because you have a car - the car will merely allow you to enjoy the beauty of the area that you're in. (In fact, I'm willing to bet that many guidebooks won't have a lot of info on the area around Barga.) Just because you have a car doesn't mean that you have to use it to drive the 1 hr 49 min. to Florence, or the much further trip (2 hr 17 min) to Siena. As beautiful as Siena is, that would be too far for me (as would Florence).

Rent a car, concentrate on northern Tuscany, and use your car to wander the beautiful, small roads in the immediate area of Barga. And re Florence, I'd probably instead spend 1 or 2 nights there before heading to Venice, rather than travelling almost 4 hours round trip to day trip there from Barga.

If you visit any cities in the northern Tuscany area near(ish) Barga, rather than Florence or Siena, I would suggest Lucca. It's only 46 min. away, and it's a gorgeous walled city, with remnants of Romans days, not touristy. My parents, when they visited, rented bikes and rode them along the top of the city walls. Another possibility is Collodi, the birthplace of the creator of Pinocchio - a nice little town, as is nearby Pescia. But keep in mind that Barga is more than a "little" out of the way - all of those towns are almost an hour from Barga.

You might want to do something I did the last time we visited San Gimignano (I'm not suggesting you visit there, either this trip - also too far). I took out my detailed Michelin map, found small towns that were near San Gimignano (up to 20 km away), then googled those towns to see what was there. Places like that may be too small to make it into most English-written guidebooks, but still be cute, and have maybe an old castle or church that makes for a good visit. Looking at Barga on mappy.com, it looks like going north will get you to Castelnuovo di Garfagnana, which looks like the main town of the area.

When you say 2 days in the Cinque Terre and 2 days in Venice, do you mean 2 full days, or two nights plus parts of days? If the latter, you don't have much time in either place. You might want to allocate your time a bit differently.

And re Venice, the best way to experience that city is to walk a lot. The further you get from San Marco (while truly a beautiful place), the fewer tourists and more locals there will be. One morning we walked over to San Marco before breakfast, and we enjoyed that as well. A kind of quirky sort of guidebook that we used this last visit to Venice was "Venice for Pleasure," by J.G. Links. He has several different walking routes through the city, and reading his wordy text is like listening to a gossip talk - lots of fun, as well as interesting. The book also includes copies of paintings of various places in Venice throughout history, so his walk will get you to some location, then you can look (in the book) at a painting made of that same location in the 1700s.

Enjoy your trip!
Lexma90 is offline  
Nov 13th, 2007, 06:38 AM
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Barga is rather isolated and not really a good location for Tuscany day trips. You can get small village ambiance in many locations in Tuscany that are much closer to places of interest.
bobthenavigator is offline  
Nov 13th, 2007, 06:59 AM
  #9  
ira
 
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Hi BY,

You could check train schedules from Barga to the rest of the world at www.trenitalia.com/en/index.html and SITA bus schedules at http://tinyurl.com/ybe6xk

I liked an early morning visit to the Rialto fish market to watch them bring in the catch.

ira is offline  
Nov 13th, 2007, 08:09 AM
  #10  
 
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Two days in Venice is far too short a time IMHO. Venice deserves to be savoured slowly- long lunches, slow walking, leisurely visits to the wonderful galleries and churches and trips out on the lagoon to the Lido and/or the islands. Do try to get a copy of the LINKS book "Venice for Pleasure" - it's like having your own private tour guide alongside.
Also Cinque Terre has plenty to occupy more than a couple of days with hikes along the coast, boat trips to Portovenere or Manarola and just people watching by the harbour in Vernazza. I'd cut the time in Barga down to allow for longer in both Venice and C.T. Lucca in my opinion is worth a couple of days at least. The town has a lovely laid-back atmosphere and riding bikes along the walls looking down into the little squares and over the top of buildings is fantastic.
bellini is offline  
Nov 13th, 2007, 08:31 AM
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hi, Bynar,

I absolutely understand what you are after, but I'm not sure that the plan you've hatched is going to achieve it.

assuming you are flying in from the US, are you really restricted to 11 days? after you take into a/c your moves and travel, you are really down to 10 or less; and then you have to factor in possible jet-lag as well which might well wipe out your CT plans.

Have you actually been to Rome? one of the real regrets of my life is that it took me til I was 49 to get there. it would be a fabulous place to end your trip.

if you are still against it, I would do the following:

fly into Venice. there are few things more romantic than a motor taxi ride across the lagoon to Venice. stay 3 nights at least - it would be a great place to recover from any jet-lag.

rent a car that you pick up at the Piazzale Roma in Venice. Drive to your chosen destination in Tuscany. stay as many nights as your itinerary allows.

Drive to the CT - you wil be ready now to enjoy your 2 days hiking.

fly home from Pisa.

if you decide to factor in Rome, after tuscany return your car to a convenient town for getting the train to Rome, and travel on there -but don't do so unless you can give yourselves 3 nights there. fly home from Rome.

happy travels,

regards, ann
annhig is offline  
Nov 13th, 2007, 12:22 PM
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Dear Bynar,

I hope you are not too discouraged by alll the various opinions you have stirred up!

I'd stick to the idea of not doing Rome or Florence this trip (you'll go back someday, for sure) and staying in a village. If you are really 100% sold on the B&B then, stay there and enjoy what you can see and do. I'm sure you will need a car, though.

I suggest you avoid the liberal wine-tasting. You are going to be in unfamiliar countryside with somewhat different rules and signs, so you need your wits about you. OR arrange for a driver to take you to and from places. If you find wine you like, buy a bottle and take it back to Barga and have it with dinner.

The main thing is to be sure your place to stay is compatible with what you want to do and see.

Charnee
charnees is offline  
Nov 13th, 2007, 12:34 PM
  #13  
 
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I agree with Charnee that you shouldn't revamp your entire trip based on the comments here, even though you asked for feedback. It's still your trip.

I still encourage you to rent a car for your time in Barga. Ask Casa Fontana for a recommendation of a cooking class in the area.

Have a great time and please give us a report on the Casa Fontana and the Barga area.
Jean is online now  

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