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Italy 2010 - Lake Garda to Rome via Dolomites, Verona, Bologna and Tuscany

Italy 2010 - Lake Garda to Rome via Dolomites, Verona, Bologna and Tuscany

Old Oct 16th, 2010, 02:03 PM
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Italy 2010 - Lake Garda to Rome via Dolomites, Verona, Bologna and Tuscany

Between July 09 and January 10 we developed our itinerary for a 5 week trip to Italy, with a lot of help from various Fodors contributors. A big thank you to those who did comment; even if we did not adopt your particular suggestions it was very helpful to have your ideas.

We have now been back a few days and I have managed to put together a report for our first week - I'll progressively add the subsequent weeks over the next day or so. If anyone would like more infomation about places we stayed, things we did etc, I'll be happy to respond.

We arrived safely and on time at Milan airport on Saturday morning after an okay flight but we did have a lot of turbulence - nothing too scary but lasting a couple of hours. Thai airlines service was fine and we had the impression that the food had improved somewhat compared to our previous trips.

At Milan, I wasn't happy with the car offered - too small - and they gave us a Fiat Bravo instead. That was fine but then they had to give us another one as the boot (trunk)wouldn't lock. So, eventually, in our third car, we headed off for Lake Garda and promptly came to a standstill on the Milan bypass for about 30 minutes as we waited for an accident to be cleared. Once we got going properly it was an easy drive to Desanzano on the southern coast of Lake Garda and we found our hotel without too much trouble. We picked the Admiral Hotel Villa Erme, between Desenzano and Sirmione, and we were quite happy with it although if I was to return I would prefer to be in one of those towns (although that would be much more expensive)


After checking in and unpacking a few things we took a short drive along the coast to Sirmione, a fortified town on a narrow peninsula. The town was lovely but absolutely packed with people; almost shoulder to shoulder around the castle and main square. We walked part way around the peninsula and away from the castle it was much less crowded. It was a glorious day, about 26 degrees and sunny, and we stopped at a beachside café for cold drinks and a sandwich before making our way back to the car and then to the hotel. By that time we were feeling the effects of jetlag so we set the alarm and took a nap for a couple of hours followed by a short walk from the hotel to have dinner at Rossi & Rossi, a pizzeria-restaurant. This was a good choice - an attractive and lively place with good service and the pizzas were excellent. Back to the hotel and to bed about 10:00 pm, not too bad for our first day.

On Sunday we started with a walk around Desenzano which was a very pleasant & picturesque lakeside town. We had originally planned to drive to Ortisei via the west coast of Lake Garda, doing a recommended scenic drive through the Tremosine along the way, but it was clear that this would not work due to the traffic around the lake so we decided to do the drive on Sunday.

It took a couple of hours to work our way north through numerous towns and tunnels to the start point of the drive which climbed steeply away from the lake. This road was quite an experience, hairpin after hairpin, tunnels, narrow roads, and lots of traffic. At one point I had Heather monitoring how close the car was to guardrails on her side (the doorhandles were over the guardrails but the bodywork had a centimetre to spare) while I folded my outside mirror so that the downward traffic could get past. As we climbed we started to come across alpine meadows and villages with fantastic views back across the lake. We stopped for lunch and coffee at Piève at a little café overlooking the lake and then continued the drive southwards and back down to the lake coast.

We stopped at Salo on the way back - a very attractive town spread out along the lake, with some beautiful buildings and lots of activity. It was quite hot so a gelato seemed appropriate to help us back to the car. Back at the hotel we tried out the pool - rather cool - then headed back into Desanzano for dinner at a restaurant alongside the port. Food was quite good and sitting outside in the old town was very nice.

The next day we had to drive to Ortisei, about 225 kms, and we took the autostrada up the eastern side of the lake but made a detour about halfway up to visit Riva del Garda, at the extreme northern tip of the lake. This was a good move as Riva was a charming town and we spent about 2 hours there wandering around, admiring the buildings and the lake views before resuming our northward journey.

Back onto the autostrada to Bolzano where we first missed our exit for Ortisei and had to come back on the minor road and then found our apartment after just a couple of missed turns. It was very comfortable and really well placed within easy walking distance of the town. After settling in we took a stroll around town in the warm afternoon sunshine and found Ortisei to be a picture postcard alpine village, bathed in afternoon sunshine, with plenty of restaurants, cafés, and other shops.


On Tuesday we woke to find that the bright sunny weather had disappeared, the clouds were low in the valley, and it was raining. With 4 full days in the area we had planned to buy a 3 day Gardena Pass giving unlimited use of most of the lifts in the valley as well as the bus service between the valley towns but there wasn't much point in buying the pass if all the lifts just took us up into the clouds. We decided to defer a decision on the pass until the next day. After a stroll around town and a coffee (no problem finding good coffee in Italy by the way) and a visit to the Tourist Office we decided to go for a drive along the valley to see the next 2 towns, St Christina and Selva, with thoughts that we may continue to Cortina to try the Great Dolomites Road. We stopped at Selva for a short walk around - another lovely town and it would also have been good as a base - then continued towards Cortina but stopped after a few kms as the visibility was getting worse - I could barely see the edge of the road let alone the scenery. Back at Ortisei we went for a walk along the path that connects the major valley towns - a pleasant walk with nice views of the valley, but not really what we came for.

The next day also started gloomy but the forecast was for steady improvement over the next few days so we decided to go for the 3 day pass and take the lift for Mont Seuc at 2005m. From the top we had great views back along the valley but also a panoramic view of the Alpe di Suisi plateau with meadows and forest and the peaks of the Dolomites as a backdrop - still largely shrouded in cloud though. From Mont Seuc we followed a path signposted as 1.5 hours to the Saltria refuge but had to take shelter shortly after as heavy rain moved through. As the rain lightened we set off again and the conditions steadily improved for the rest of the day.

The walk to Saltria was excellent, a clear path through farmland with spectacular views in all directions, particularly to the Sassolungo group of peaks. We stopped at the Saltria refuge for coffee and to plan our next move. The term refuge is a bit misleading as these places are not primitive shelters but offer full service meals and sometimes accommodation. We then took the chairlift further up to the Williams refuge - unfortunately this lift was not included in our pass so we had pay another 16€ - then walked around the base of the Sassolungo peaks intending to take the chair lift down from Mont de Seura to Monte Pana but somehow missed a turn and ended up walking all the way to Monte Pana, which felt like a long way, and then took the chairlift down to St Christina and the bus back to Ortesei. A great walk but we arrived home exhausted.

We tried a nearby hotel restaurant for dinner - the food was OK but the service was terrible, maybe explaining why we were the only guests! After dinner we staggered up the hill to the town hall for a free concert by an enthusiastically conducted local band of percussion, brass and woodwinds. We did enjoy the concert but only stayed about 1/2 hour before making an early exit and heading back to the apartment to collapse.

Thursday started gloomy again but much better then the prior days so we decided on the drive to Cortina and the Dolomites road. We were both very very stiff after our big walk so a lighter day was in order. The drive to Cortina was straightforward with nice scenery and the weather continued to improve as we went along. Spent a short while in Cortina, which seemed a pleasant town but not strikingly different to the mountain towns we'd already seen, before taking the Dolomites Road back. I had been expecting a very difficult, narrow road with tunnels & overhangs but it was actually a very good road; very steep and twisty (24 hairpins up to the Passo Pordoi) but a good drive. I would have liked to have my MX5 (Miata).

We stopped at the Passo Pordoi for a short walk and to take in the spectacular views all around. On the way back we stopped at the Passo Sella and took the lift up to the refuge Demetz which is perched at 2681m right between the 2 major peaks of the Sassolongo group. Spectacular (there's that word again) views back across the area that we had walked the day before. A few flakes of snow falling as we arrived was a nice touch.

I should say that the day before, Heather had sworn that she would ride in an enclosed gondola/telecabin but she would not go on an open chairlift. Within a couple of hours she had ridden the chairlift up from Saltria. The lift up from Passo Sella is by "flying telephone box" (official Fodors terminology). These are enclosed boxes that hold 2 people; they open at the front and the first person has to jump in as it comes past then the second person jumps in a couple of metres further on. At the other end two attendants physically lift/drag the occupants out. I had wanted to go up this lift for the view but I wasn't even going to ask Heather to come however she just decided to give it a go. It was a bit spooky, especially when the lift stopped for about 3 minutes just short of the top and over the longest drop, but it was well worth it.

Friday was our last day and the sunny weather was back. We took a lift from Ortesei to Seceda, on the other side of the valley for our best walk yet. From Seceda we walked around the plateau rim with great views back across the val de Gardena, but also north and west to the snow-covered Alps. We then took a semi-circular walk through varying terrain, from alpine meadows, to rocky outcrops but always with fantastic mountain views. We stopped for a coffee break at the Firenze refuge and then continued on a short climb to the Col Raiser and took a lift down to St Christina. We then took the bus to Selva and the lift to Ciampinol, just for the views really as we had no capacity left for walking. Took the bus back to Ortesei and a well-earned rest before dining at a pizza/past restaurant in town.

Should you be interested in working out where these walks took place relative to each other - try this link:


I have posted some photos here: (Italy 2010 - Lake Garda & Ortesei)


The Val de Gardena is spectacular and we really enjoyed our stay but it was now time to leave for our week in Verona.
GregY2 is offline  
Old Oct 16th, 2010, 02:35 PM
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I am enjoying all your detail; please continue!
jubilada is online now  
Old Oct 16th, 2010, 03:26 PM
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Great photos Greg!
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Old Oct 17th, 2010, 02:29 PM
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ttt for later
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Old Oct 17th, 2010, 11:26 PM
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After leaving Ortisei, we headed down the autrostrada and stopped briefly at Trento for a break and a look around. For a while it seemed that we were going to drive around in circles and leave without finding a park but eventually we did find one and spent an hour or so looking around. Trento is known for it's extensive external frescoes and it was interesting to see some of those and we picked up a bite to eat but then had to get back on the road.

We arrived at Verona at around the time that we had arranged with Alessandra, the owner of our apartment, but then got totally lost as we approached the old town and had to phone Alessandra who came out and gave us directions. We were only 100m or so from where we needed to be but had no idea how to get there. The apartment was great, right in the old town, behind a substantial house which fronts onto via Roma. We had a separate bedroom, kitchen/meals area, bathroom, and living room as well as a large private terrace.


Verona is a fabulous town, with a very well preserved centre and many interesting buildings. We had a stroll around the main streets, went to the supermarket to stock up and then tried dinner at a restaurant recommended by Alessandra, Osteria Casa Vino. The food was really nice but they seemed out of control and the service was very slow.

Sunday was to be a rest day so started with a coffee at a nearby café followed by a leisurely stroll around the town. It was very busy with stalls set up in piazza Bra, in front of the arena, performers, including very loud bands of drummers, wandering around, and the finishing line for a marathon being set up; the town had a really lively feel. After lunch at the flat we went out again, going a bit further into some areas we had not got to in the morning, then stopped for a cold drink and a bit of people-watching. Heather cooked dinner and after, we set out to make one of the hard decisions - where to buy our gelati. Walking around with our gelati we came across a piazza which was set up for an event. It turned out to be the grand final of the regional medieval flag-throwing competition so we decided to stay and watch a bit. Once the competition started the wandering drummers we saw earlier were explained, as each town had it's own band of drummers and horns. We only watched three groups - each team had two main participants who started with 2 flags each, then graduated to 4, then to 6, throwing them into the air, so that they were fully extended at maximum height, then catching them with hands & feet. A spectacular event to start our week.

Monday we bought the 3 day Verona pass which gets us into most sites of interest and set off, in the rain, first to the basilica San Zeno which was covered in scaffolding but very impressive indoors with paneled bronze doors, and colourful frescoes and other decoration. Back to the apartment for lunch on our terrace and then to the Castevecchio castle & museum, just at the end of our street and with an impressive collection of statues, paintings and frescoes, as well as good views from the ramparts back across the town. We then walked to the Duomo and another church and then back to the café di Teatro for an afternoon coffee. On the way we noticed that the Czech Philharmonic orchestra & choir were performing Beethoven's 9th symphony on Tuesday night so, on an impulse, we bought tickets.

On Tuesday we drove to Vicenza, about 50 kms away. Vicenza is noted for it's Palladian architecture, not a style that I know much about. We called at the tourist office and got a copy of the Palladio walk and set off but only saw about half the buildings, some were undergoing renovations and some we couldn't find. The town itself looked good with a pedestrianised centre and lots of activity but I don't think we really did it justice. We then drove further north to Asolo which was said to be a charming hill town. While it was pleasant enough it really wasn't very spectacular and had a bit of a run-down look. Drove back to Verona in plenty of time for our concert which was excellent.

The next day was the last for our 3 day pass so we made sure we visited the roman theatre and it's museum, the roman arena and the torre dei Lamberti, as well as taking advantage of a discount to see a photographic exhibition in an exhibition space underground, built around roman foundations. The pass was good value and we saved more than the purchase price even using it across only 2 days.

On Thursday we drove to Mantova, about 40 kms away. This was a lovely town, with a lake on 3 sides, and some spectacular buildings, notably the palazzo Ducale, really several buildings joined together, with an enormous collection of paintings and some lovely frescoes and ceilings. While there I saw a promotion for a 3 day classic racing car event, the Gran Premier Nuvolari, but of course it started the next day. The route does cross our planned path so I'll watch for it over the weekend.

Friday was spent in Verona, just looking around, writing some postcards, and starting to pack for the move to Bologna. We returned to the Osteria Casa Vino for dinner, a little earlier this time, and service was much improved; the food was again excellent. We loved Verona and will be sad to leave but that's how it goes; we were sad to leave Ortisei as well.

More photos here: Italy 2010 - Verona

GregY2 is offline  
Old Oct 18th, 2010, 04:29 AM
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I'm enjoying your report and photos. I'm glad the weather cleared for you in the Val Gardena and that you were able to enjoy the drives, the Passo Sella lift and the walk down from Seceda--also some of our favorites! Looking forward to more.
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Old Oct 18th, 2010, 09:28 AM
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Greg, I enjoyed reading about your Dolomites adventure very much! My DH and I are going there next September for our Delayed Honeymoon and are really looking forward to doing some hiking. Can you tell me please when exactly you were there to have so much rain? Our plan is to be there the second week of September for 4 full days of hiking.

I haven't started thinking about hotels yet but we do know we want to stay in Ortesei, like you did, just to have something to do in the evenings or cafes etc. At this point all I know is I want somewhere with breakfast included, and a kitchen where we can make our own dinners. I looked at the website for the hotel and I could only find rates per week. Do they have special per-night rates?

thanks very much! Your photos are great and I loved to see where I'll be going!
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Old Oct 18th, 2010, 05:59 PM
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Hi MS_go, your 'live' trip report was part of the inspiration for our trip to the Dolomites.

hikrchick, we were there from 6th to 12th September. Weather in the mountains is always uncertain but our research before we left suggested that we were likely to have good weather in early September. It was lovely the day we arrived and also for our last day, I think you just have to pick a time based on averages and then hope for the best. While we were disappointed that we didn't get great weather for all of our 4 days, it certainly didn't spoil our visit.

The place we stayed was a self-catering apartment - although the cooking facilities were very limited - rather then a hotel so wouldn't suit you if you are looking for breakfast. It was only available by the week - although we only stayed 5 nights, we paid for a full week as the rates were very reasonable. There were several hotels in Ortesei but we didn't really look closely at them. I doubt that you will get breakfast and kitchen - if you want a kitchen I think you'd need to do your own breakfast.

Next instalment will be posted shortly.
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Old Oct 18th, 2010, 07:56 PM
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We had a last coffee at Verona Saturday morning and checked out of our apartment just as the clouds opened. I had gone down the car park earlier and moved the car to within 200-300 metres of the apartment but even so we were both utterly drenched by the time we got to the car.

I blame the rain - but I guess it just could have been me - for us missing our turn as we left Verona, resulting in a lengthy detour before we could resume our route to Bologna via Ferrara. We planned to spend a couple of hours in Ferrara as we couldn't get into our Bologna apartment until the afternoon but we actually gave up on Ferrara as we could not find the town centre! We drove around for quite a while following signs for parking centro but then they would just disappear and we would find ourselves back on the ring road. Eventually we gave up and returned to the autostrada to head for Bologna where we did find our flat without any problem. The apartment was very comfortable, modern, with lots of room, a large private terrace and secure car parking. It was located outside the historic centre but buses ran right past every few minutes and we had no problem coming & going.


It was said to be 15 minutes to the edge of the historic centre - "straight down that road" and then another 15 minutes to the main piazza so we decided to walk in just to check it out and promptly got lost again, taking at least 30 minutes to find the start of the old town as the rain returned. Bologna is an impressive town featuring extensive arcades over the footpaths - said to be 40 kms of arcading - with very substantial buildings. We had a coffee in the main piazza and bought bus tickets to cover the next couple of days and headed back after just a very quick look around the piazza area. Dinner at Snoopy 2 pizza restaurant just over the road from the flat was OK.

On Sunday we returned to the town centre to wander around a bit and to visit some of the sights. There are a lot of grand buildings but many are in use and access is only possible for those that are now museums. After a quick look at the Duomo we headed for the Torre Asinelli, to climb around 500 steps for a great panoramic view of the city, then visited the Archeological museum and the medieval museum. The medieval museum in particular was excellent. Back to the flat for a break and some lunch and then we returned in the mid-afternoon to visit the music museum, principally to see the building, but the exhibits were interesting as well. Wandered around town a while with a gelato, then back to the flat for dinner at home.

The next morning we returned to the town centre early to visit the Palazzo dell Archiginnassio where an early anatomy theatre was built. It was largely destroyed by bombs in WW2 but an exact replica has been built and was very impressive with elaborate wooden carvings and seating around the marble dissecting table. We were the only people there that morning and the attendant also took us into an elaborately decorated hall that was meant to be closed for a conference. We then returned to the flat and drove to Ravenna, to see spectacular mosaics, extensive roman floors that were only found in 2004, and richly coloured wall & ceiling decorations at 3 different church locations. Ravenna was a very manageable town and this was an excellent visit.

We had only the 3 nights at Bologna, so Tuesday morning was back in the car for the drive to Montepulciano. Quite a bit of traffic & road works on the autostrada but no real issues and we call at Cortona before heading to Montepulciano.

We stopped for a couple of coffee breaks on the autostrada and it is a real contrast with here in Australia, France & the UK where motorway service centres always seem to be expensive and terrible; in Italy the coffee is good, and no more expensive than in cafés, and the food seems fine.

Cortona was a lovely hilltop town and we enjoyed our short visit. This was our first experience with outside escalators - the car park is well down the hill from the town centre and there is an escalator to take you up the hill - very civilised.

Montepulciano is another hilltop village, and our apartment was located somewhere in the one main street that climbs steeply over more than a kilometre. Of course the main street is pedestrianised but I managed to drive all the way up it looking for the apartment; I think I missed all the pedestrians. Our apartment was spacious and well equipped had an authentic Tuscan feel, and the living room and bedrooms had great views over the Tuscan countryside.


On Wednesday we had a look around town then drove to Pienza through lovely Tuscan landscapes. Coming at this time of year meant that we did not see green rolling hills, or sun flowers, as most fields were ploughed but we did have the cypress trees on the skyline and I found the landscape interesting even if it would have been prettier in the spring & summer. We really enjoyed our visit to Pienza, very attractive - and flat - then we continued to Montalcino which was another attractive hill town but somehow didn't excite us - maybe getting tired by then.

We drove back via a different route, just enjoying the scenery and trying to figure out the signpost system: it seems to be mandatory for every signpost with a distance on it to be followed about 500m later with another showing the same figure +/- 2 kms.

The highlight of the next day was Siena. We arrived reasonably early, found the large car park outside town, and took the escalators up - 5 this time - to the town centre. First visit was to the piazza del Campo, where the famous horse race is held each year. A very large semicircular space with impressive buildings all around. One of those buildings is the Museo Civic and we enjoyed our visit there.

Then on to the Duomo where we bought a combined ticket covering several significant religious buildings. The Duomo was spectacular with a very ornate interior. We particularly liked the inlaid mosaic floors and the library room off the main body of the church. We also visited the crypt and baptistery before stopping for a pleasant lunch at le Campane.

We finished with a visit to the museo, included in our ticket, but weren't too excited by what we saw. Probably end of visit syndrome again. The museum entrance included access to "the panorama" and we had to wait 30 minutes to get up to an open air gallery with views of the town.

From Siena we drove through Tuscan countryside to the Abbey Monte Oliveto Maggiore which was mentioned in our guidebooks. Interesting enough but not much to see really. We continued a circuitous drive back to Montepulciano with Heather finding a short cut through probably the only 10 kms of corrugated gravel road in Tuscany. It was scenic though.

On Friday we returned to Cortona for some shopping and then spent the afternoon in Montepulciano as the rain returned after a delightful week of warm sunny days. We went to dinner at the Osteria dell'Acquacheta, a traditional osteria with shared tables. Fortunately we were seated next to English speakers and we had a great night. The restaurant was recommended by a number of previous tenants at our apartment and was noted for it's steaks. We both had fillet steaks which were delicious, and very reasonably priced.

Saturday we left for Lucca after an enjoyable stay. With 3 days in Bologna and 4 days in Montepulciano we missed the luxury of being able to settle in for a full week and were looking forward to our time in Lucca.

As usual, more & bigger photos here: http://picasaweb.google.com.au/GregYeaman (Italy 2010 - Bologna & Montepulciano)
GregY2 is offline  
Old Oct 19th, 2010, 09:24 AM
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I always think it's me when I "miss" the next sign to the "centro storico" or wherever it is I'm looking for.

obviously it's you too!
annhig is offline  
Old Oct 19th, 2010, 10:17 AM
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Grazie Greg,
We will be in that same apt. come next May.
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Old Oct 20th, 2010, 06:38 PM
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After leaving Montepulciano we headed for our next base, Lucca, but visited 2 hill towns along the way. The first was Monteriggioni, recommended by the guide books as a small and well preserved walled hill town and we planned to have our morning coffee, maybe spend an hour or so there. Well the guide books were right, it is small. In fact about 5 minutes to walk from one wall to the other. We were probably there about 1/2 hour then continued to San Gimignano which was somewhat larger and with quite a bit to see. A lot more people too, although not as busy as I had expected; probably a benefit of being late in the season. It's easy to see why this is a popular town, with it's 14 towers, very attractive buildings and piazzas, and great views of the surrounding countryside. We visited the museum, climbed it's tower, and generally wandered around before having lunch in the main square and moving on to Lucca.

At Lucca we had to wait 1/2 hour in the McDonalds car park for our agent to lead us to the apartment. I couldn't understand why we couldn't just meet her there but it turned out that the apartment is part of a 'landlocked' development off it's street address, accessed via 2 boom gates, and an electronic gate. While access is a bit bizarre the flat was very comfortable and just 5 minutes walk from the walls. We had looked at accommodation inside the walls but it would have been a lot more expensive and the car would have been a problem. Pizzas at Trattoria Gost e Mea just down our street were excellent and good value.


A quiet day on Sunday, (just as well, because overnight our street was transformed into a market and we would not have been able to get the car out) starting with a stroll into town, including a visit to the duomo. Lucca has intact town walls about 4 kms long and after lunch we walked about 1/3 of the way around then descended into the town to explore another quarter.

On Monday we drove into the nearby Garfagnana mountains and would have probably seen some lovely scenery if it had not been raining steadily all morning. We stopped at a couple of small villages, Barga & Castelnuova, which would have been much more charming on a clear, dry day and then followed a 'scenic' route through the mountains headed for Carrara where I wanted to see the marble quarries. After missing a turn somewhere we found ourselves returning to Castelnuova for lunch and then struck out again for Carrara. This was more successful as the weather started to clear and we took the right route which had some great views of the mountains, some of the quarries, and the coast. After a stop at the tourist office we had a very quick look at Carrara (which probably warranted a longer stay) and then drove up to the mountains again where we took a 40 minute tour of an underground marble quarry. This was quite interesting although work had finished for the day. At that quarry they had removed single slabs of marble of up to 500 tons.

Tuesday was another day in Lucca and we started by trying a café recommended by a friend Unfortunately, while it was a nice enough café, his taste in coffee obviously differs from ours as the coffee was a bit strong & bitter for us.

Apparently Puccini was born in Lucca and they have concerts in one of the nearby churches almost every day, so we bought tickets for the evening concert of Puccini & Mozart arias. After lunch at the flat we returned and walked the walls in the opposite direction and again entered the town from another side to explore a bit more, splitting up for a while for Heather to take a look at the shops. Coming back we noticed signs saying that Wednesday was also a market day so we had to find somewhere to leave the car overnight as we planned to use it the next day. After dinner at home we went out for the concert which was not long but the singers were quite good and we enjoyed the performance.

The forecast for Wednesday was good so we had planned an excursion to the Cinque Terre, 5 picturesque coastal villages with limited road access, about 100 kms north of Lucca. We left about 8:30 and drove to Monterosso del Mare, the northernmost village and the only one with parking available for non-residents. We left the car there and bought a day ticket for 8.50€, covering access to the trail between the villages and use of the trains. Moving south the villages are Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore and we were advised that the track was closed between Manarola and Corniglia so we caught the next train to Manarola and did the 30 minute walk south to Riomaggiore which was easy walking and offered lovely views of the coast and the villages. We then took a boat back to Manarola to get some views from the sea and had lunch there while waiting for the train to Corniglia, where fortunately Heather noticed the free bus up to the village and saved us the 300 steps up. After looking around the small village we then walked the coastal trail north to Vernazza in about 2 hours - this was quite a tough walk even though we had the better of people coming the other way as we started at the higher village. Finally, we caught another boat back to Monterosso for the drive back to Lucca. This was a long day but very enjoyable. Although individually the villages are crowded and full of tourist shops, they are attractive in themselves and their spectacular location and views made this a very worthwhile day out.

We spent Thursday morning in Lucca, just taking it easy, and climbing the Torre Guinigi for nice views of town - and to see the trees growing on top. After lunch we drove to Pisa, about 30 kms from Lucca, to see the famous Campo dei Miracoli with not only the leaning tower but also the duomo and several other striking buildings. We visited only the duomo; you need to book well in advance to climb the tower, and we weren't really keen to do that anyway. It is interesting how much more striking the tower's lean is to the eye than it appears in photos.

For our final full day in Lucca we stayed close to home with a coffee at our local café just outside the town walls and spent the morning writing postcards and getting ready for the move to Florence on Saturday. I had planned to rent bikes and do the circuit around the walls but the rain returned and I lost enthusiasm for that. We also visited the Museo Nazionale which had some excellent displays of archeological material as well as medieval and renaissance statuary, wood carvings and paintings. Dinner at Ammodonostra in Lucca was very good and reasonably priced and another excellent gelato each from Fuori dal Centro, just outside the walls in via Borgo Gianotti as we walked back to the flat.

Saturday morning we packed while keeping an eye on the scores from the Australian Rules football grand final where my team was being soundly beaten, then off for the 1 hour drive to Florence.

More photos here: Italy 2010 - Lucca

GregY2 is offline  
Old Oct 21st, 2010, 08:32 AM
Join Date: Jan 2004
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Thank you for posting your experiences--I have enjoyed reading them and seeing your pictures!
Is Barga on the way to the Cinque Terre, or out of the way? We will be going from Florence to Cinque Terre next June, and am wondering if a stop in Lucca and Barga on the way there would be feasible? (Would you recommend a visit to Barga?)
Burley is offline  
Old Oct 21st, 2010, 07:09 PM
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Burley, I doubt that Barga would be worth a detour. It was a nice little town and would have been more attractive had it not been raining, but the drive up from Lucca was not particularly attractive and it would be out of your way I'd think. On the other hand, Lucca is well worth a visit and would certainly be on your route to Cinque Terre.
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Old Oct 21st, 2010, 07:29 PM
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We had an uneventful drive to Florence and dropped off the rental car with no problem - except that I left my bag in the car and had to stop the taxi and run back to get it.

Our flat was spacious and well located right on the river with a great view from the bedroom and only 10 minutes walk from most of central Florence but it did have a couple of negatives - lots of traffic noise in the bedroom, and the the other rooms faced inwards so were a bit dark. Here's the link:


After settling in we took a walk along the river to the Ponte Vecchio, then around town to identify key sites and get a feel for the town. After dinner at the flat we went out again to find the gelateria Vivoli, supposedly the best in Florence; our verdict was that it was very good, if expensive, but that more research was needed.

On Sunday we started with a visit to the Palazzo Vecchio, which we enjoyed; ornate ceilings, tiled floors, frescoes, and some nice furniture. We then walked to the San Lorenzo area and after a quick look at the church we 'found' the Medici library which featured a lovely reading room. We then walked around the other side to check out where the Medici Chapel entrance was and found that there was no queue so we went in there as well. This was a very grand space with impressive tombs and walls of beautifully coloured marble but somehow wasn't what I was expecting: I think maybe I was expecting more ornate decoration with lots of gold. We had booked tickets for the Uffizi in the afternoon to avoid queuing and turned up just ahead of time and were able to go straight in and up 2 big flights of stairs to the galleries. The museum was well worth seeing but we fairly quickly had our fill of the dark religious paintings, notwithstanding that many of them were acknowledged masterpieces. Dinner at Osteria Vini e Cucina di Toscana, which was very good and then a gelato each for the walk back to the apartment.

The next day started with a climb of the dome at the Duomo for views of the interior from the base of the dome and then great views of Florence from the top. We then walked to the train station to buy tickets to Rome for Wednesday morning, followed by a leisurely stroll back through town to the flat for lunch. In the afternoon another walk along the river, past the Ponte Vecchio, and over to the Palazzo Pitti side to check out it's opening times and prices. Heather was interested in seeing the Boboli Gardens but admission was bundled with the Palazzo Pitti tickets and both were closed Monday anyway. We walked back through the tourist area around the Ponte Vecchio and tried the world's most expensive gelati - we ordered without checking the price . . . . 17€ for two! A bit hard to give them back when you've started licking them. I have to say they were very, very good, but that may be a rationalisation.

Tuesday was our last day in Florence and we started with a visit to the Bargello Museum which we thoroughly enjoyed, as much for the building as for the exhibits although there were some ivory carvings, seals, and ceramics that I particularly liked. Neither of us had any great desire to see Michelangelo's David but we did feel a little 'guilty' about being in Florence and not seeing it so we took a walk to the Accademia to check it out. When we got there the queue was 100's metres long so we decided to give it a miss. After another walk along the river to get some photos we took the bus up to Piazza Michelangelo for a panoramic view of Florence and walked back down to start packing.

Overall we certainly enjoyed Florence but I think 3 nights would probably have been enough.

Wednesday morning we took a cab to the station and caught our train for Rome, arriving a few minutes early, then took a cab to our apartment. We had to reject the first taxi as the driver wanted 35€ fixed price, then the next driver had to be reminded to turn the meter on - it cost 12€! Our apartment in Rome was in Trastevere, south of the river from the centre of town. We had trouble choosing a flat for Rome as neither of us had been there before and had no real idea of the pros & cons of various areas. As it happens, Trastevere has been fine, with easy bus & tram access to the main parts of the city but we had not realised how high up the hill we would be, and the walk up & back (when we didn't take a bus) was sometimes a bit of a slog. The flat itself is very roomy and has a nice private terrace with a view across Rome. If we were to come back to Rome I'd be happy to stay in Trastevere again, preferably down on the flat area, but would probably look for somewhere in central Rome.


After settling in we took the steps from the back of the flat down to Trastevere to start getting oriented and to buy a 1-day bus ticket and a Roma pass each. The Roma pass costs 25€ and gives free admission to the first 2 museums/sites visited, discounts on several others, and 3 days unlimited travel on the buses, trams, and the underground. Trastevere is full of restaurants and is very lively in the evening, we had dinner at Antico Ristorante ai Spaghettari which was quite nice, sitting outside on a very mild night.

We had booked admission to the Vatican Museum for 12:30 so spent the morning exploring some of central Rome. The tramline through Trastevere ends at piazza Argentina so we started walking from there, firstly to see the Pantheon, then wandered some minor streets to end up at piazza Navona, followed by a further walk in the general direction of the Vatican, crossing the river near the Castel St Angelo. We then continued towards St Peter's thinking we may visit before our Vatican Museum timeslot but the queues were very long and it was getting hot so we continued our walk around the Vatican walls to the Museum entrance where we were able to enter ahead of our appointed time and without queuing. Long queues for those without reservations. The Vatican Museum is enormous and has a wide range of exhibits, although it was clear that most people were focused on getting to the Sistine Chapel and there were several opportunities to skip galleries to shorten the path for those people. We took the long way of course and saw some really interesting exhibits - the Egyptian and Etruscan galleries for example. The Map Gallery was magnificent, a very long room that could have been in Versailles with an elaborately decorated ceiling and walls lined with large maps of Italian regions and papal states. The Sistine Chapel is the last room on the visit and was certainly impressive although my appreciation of the painting may have been affected somewhat by fatigue by then. Throughout the Museum the crowds had been manageable, but the Sistine Chapel was wall to wall with people. This was October; I wouldn't like to have made this visit in high season. After a stop for coffee and a bite to eat we took the underground to the Spanish Steps, and then walked to the Trevi Fountain, both packed with people. I think the popularity of these places stems from the film 'Roman Holiday' which I've never seen in full but anyway I didn't really get it. Took the tram & bus back for a break and after dinner went out again to see the Pantheon - Navona area at night and then walked to piazza Venezia and caught a bus back to Trastevere.

Friday morning we activated our Roma pass with a visit to the Colosseum and Roman Forum. We took the bus to piazza Venezia and climbed the steps to the Victor Emmanuel monument - the wedding cake - and had our morning coffee there before taking in the views from the terrace. We spent some time trying to find the entrance to the Roman Forum as per our guidebook but eventually found out that we had to enter further round - I thought we may have used up all our walking capacity before we even got in. The ruins are impressive and of course the historical aspects are obvious but they are ruins and I found it hard to get too excited. On the other hand, the Colosseum was more impressive than I'd expected. We've seen roman arenas elsewhere, and the exterior of the one at Nimes is more complete I think, but the Colosseum was bigger than I had expected - colossal even - and I enjoyed this visit. In the afternoon we took tram & bus to visit the Palazzo Massimo, our second Roma pass visit. This was a great visit, with a collection of statues and bronzes, but the highlights were the roman mosaics and a 'reconstructed' roman villa. Took the bus home for a rest and then walked down the hill to Trastevere for dinner & a gelato.

On Saturday we took the tram in and walked to Campo di Fiori, the flower and fruit market, which was OK - I don't get too excited by markets generally. Our guidebook suggested we walk just a short way to piazza Farnese which we did and were surprised to find it full of garbage trucks. It appears that all the little trucks that collect from the narrow streets meet up with their 'mother ship' in this piazza to transfer their loads. I don't think that was what the guidebook had in mind. We basically spent the rest of the day walking around Rome, but did visit a private home, the palazzo Doria Pamphilj, still occupied by the family that built it in the 17th century. the house was filled with art works, most of which I didn't really appreciate, but the rooms were sumptuously furnished and worth seeing for their own sake. We also visited the church of Santa Maria Maggiore which was impressive with beautiful frescoes & mosaics.

For our last day in Rome we took the tram into piazza Argentina and walk to the palazzo Altemps, another admittance covered by our Roma Pass. This is a sculpture museum with some very nice pieces but not really my favourite art form. The building had some nice remnants of frescoes etc but overall this wasn't a very exciting visit. We then spent some time walking around Rome with the aim of doing some gift shopping and covered quite a bit of ground, before going back to the flat to start packing. We returned to the Ristorante Spaghettari for dinner but the service and food was not as good as the first time and that was a bit disappointing for our last night in Rome. We then took the tram to Argentina and walked to the Basilica Saint Ignatzio at 9:00 for a free concert that we had seen advertised earlier that day. The concert was by a Bavarian ensemble & choir and the poster said that there would be music by Charpentier, Purcell and Handel but in fact most of it was by people I'd never heard of and, although it was quite good, we only stayed an hour and returned to get ready for our departure in the morning.

The weather had been good throughout our stay in Rome, low 20's and fine, but overnight the rain came in and we had to wait out front for our car pick up in the rain. We had some anxious moments as the car was late, held up by rain affected traffic, but we got to the airport in good time. At check in we were told that our plane would not be the normal one due to mechanical issues out of Bangkok the day before. It turned out that the 747 must have beene one of the oldest in service and the business class seats did not recline fully and were not power operated. The footrest was not adjustable , the video system was a 6 inch pull-out screen and there was no power to the seats for a PC. We still had plenty of room and the food etc was fine so it wasn't a disaster but the seats would barely meet premium economy standard these days. The staff suggested that we complain and they would offer us a future upgrade as compensation - we'll see.

The flight home was otherwise uneventful, we left a little late but arrived a little early. I had booked a car to meet us at the airport through "1300 Pick Up" and the driver was waiting for us when we came out. The car was a current model Statesman and the service quite professional - I'd happily use them again.

As usual, some photos here: http://picasaweb.google.com.au/GregYeaman under Italy 2010 - Florence & Rome

So safely home, time to start planning again!
GregY2 is offline  
Old Oct 22nd, 2010, 09:51 AM
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Our guidebook suggested we walk just a short way to piazza Farnese which we did and were surprised to find it full of garbage trucks. It appears that all the little trucks that collect from the narrow streets meet up with their 'mother ship' in this piazza to transfer their loads. I don't think that was what the guidebook had in mind. >>

I don't know - you go to Rome for local "colour" don't you?

Nice report Greg - thanks.
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Old Oct 23rd, 2010, 05:01 AM
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Great trip report Greg. So very interesting and many of the places we are planning to visit next Sept/Oct.

May I ask a few questions about Italy?
We are thinking of spending 1 week in France (went last year and just have to have another little taste). We then plan to go to Italy by either train or plane. Still at planning stage but thought maybe the following: 3/4 nights Cinque Terre, train to Lucca 3 nights. Then train on to Florence 3/4 nights, maybe train to Siena 3 nights. Pick up car in Siena for 1 week stay in Tuscany maybe base in Pienza or similar.

What are your thoughts? Are you Australian? How did you find the driving? Did you have a GPS. We had one in France and used it for major journeys. Not sure we would be keen to drive into the larger cities in Italy.

I hope you don't mind me asking so many questions. I planned our trip to France for 4 weeks for 6 people and it seemed easier to decide than it has been for Italy.

I'm now going to go back and reread your trip report and check out the useful links. Thank you
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Old Oct 24th, 2010, 01:52 AM
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Hi Aussie_10,
Personally, I think 3-4 nights would be too much for the Cinque Terre. We enjoyed our full day there but would have struggled to fill in extra time. If you just want to chill out in pleasant surroundings then fine but if you are at all active I'd suggest just one night and then move on (depending on your arrival & departure times). If we had driven to La Spezia and taken the train up to Monterosso we would have had less driving and more time on the coast, but we still visited each village, did 2 of the 4 main link walks, had 2 boat rides, had a modest sit-down lunch, and we came to & from Lucca.

On the other hand, you could add a day or two to your Lucca stay, maybe visit Pisa from there by train.

We found 4 nights in Florence fine but I think we would have been happy with just 3.

Siena was lovely but again, I'm not sure that I would spend 3 nights there without a car; maybe arrive in the afternoon for a 2 night stay and leave on the morning of the third day.

Pienza was a nice town and has the advantage of being fairly flat. You could visit many Tuscan towns from there.

We are Australian, from Melbourne, and I have driven quite a lot in Europe, mainly in France. I like to think that I am nearly fluent in left hand drive now. We are part owners of a couple of village houses in France so a lot of our travel has been in France. We do not use a GPS and normally have no trouble navigating but we did get ourselves lost more than usual in Italy. For driving in bigger towns do a search on this forum for ZTL, the traffic limitation zones that exist in many Italian towns.

Happy to respond to any other questions, Italy or France. All this depends on your personal style & interests - what works for us may not work for you.
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Old Oct 24th, 2010, 04:17 AM
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Hi Greg,
After re reading your trip report and checking out all of the links and wonderful photos I was blown away with the beauty of the Ortisei stay. We too love lots of walks and the alpine area was so totally different to my impressions of Italy, but beautiful.

We haven't decided where we will visit for our week in France but after 4 weeks last year I want to have another little taster. Probably go there first. Not sure what order to do Italy (we went there 27 years ago and saw the major sights). I do want to go to Cinque Terre not sure for how long, Lucca looks good, Florence also, Siena is on the list and after checking the link of your stay in Montepulciano it looks great, we would like to spend a week in the area, so it is on the list.

Wasn't too sure about Rome but it looks like it would be the best city to fly home to Sydney from. We would probably have about 3 1/2 weeks in Italy. Not sure on the best order. We would be travelling the last week of September and all of October. Similar to your dates?

We have driven quite a lot in the states and last year our 4 weeks in France (the males liked to drive, I navigated). Its more the cities that scare me. I have heard the trains are good in Italy but we would definitely like to have a car in Tuscany.

I guess the best way to go to Ortisei, would be car from Milan, I noticed that Innsbruck is not too far to the north, is that a possibility coming from that direction. Strasbourg, Alsace area is a possibily for our week in France and I know there is a good train route to Innsbruck from Strasbourg or maybe a flight.

You trip has definitely got me rethinking our routes.
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Old Oct 25th, 2010, 11:24 PM
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Hi Aussie10, we arrived in Milan 4th September and left from Rome 11th October.
I have not been to Innsbruck so can't really comment on coming that way - I know it's not that far. As you would have seen in my report, we drove to Lake Garda and that was quite manageable even after the long flight. I would not have wanted to drive all the way to Ortesei on that first day.

You would not want to drive in the bigger cities but otherwise driving in Italy was not too difficult.

Good luck with your planning; interestingly we are looking at a week in Alsace next year, probably based in Colmar.
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