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Italy First Timer (Northern/Tuscany/Cinque Terre recommendations)

Italy First Timer (Northern/Tuscany/Cinque Terre recommendations)

Jul 3rd, 2013, 07:36 PM
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Italy First Timer (Northern/Tuscany/Cinque Terre recommendations)

My husband and I are planning a trip to Italy in October. We normally stick to either South America or South Africa, so this is our first time to Italty and for me, Europe. We only have one week to travel (from Colorado). leaving probably on a Friday,into Italty on a Saturday and return on a Friday or Saturday.

Because we only have one week, and aren't that interested in art, cities, museums,, nor lounging on the beach, we know we need to limit our trip and based on our friends' advice on our preferences, would like plan a trip to Cinque Terre/Sienna/Tuscany. our style is more hiking/active, wine-tasting, great food, farmland, adventure, off the beaten path, etc- we are a very active 30-something couple with no kids.

All that said, we have NO idea where to start, even where to fly into, trains, how much time can we reasonable spend in 6 full days, etc. Any advice would be very much appreciated.
LisaMP is offline  
Jul 3rd, 2013, 08:30 PM
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Should be a great trip no matter what you choose!

For starters, I would recommend that you invest in at least one, if not several, good guide books. Given your stated interests, you might want to consider the Lonely Planet or Rough Guide. (Or hit your local library!)

With only 6 days, I think you will need to be fairly selective. And with an aim to visit in October, you might need to develop some back-up plans in case weather doesn't suit your initial plans. (For example, hiking in the Cinque Terre can be wonderful in October, when there are fewer tourists than during the summer, but you would also face a greater likelihood that a rainstorm will force closerue of the trails.)

Enjoy your planning!
kja is offline  
Jul 3rd, 2013, 11:58 PM
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Are you more concerned about being "first timers" who hit some tourist "must sees" in Italy or are you more interested in getting off the beaten path with great food and wine?

For October, a trip to the truffle and wine country of Piemonte, with forays to the Mediterranean if the weather is nice, is more the match of your "style" and Italy. But that means foregoing the popular tourist magnets and dealing with the fallout when your friends say "What? You went to Italy for the FIRST time and didn't see xxxxxxxx ?!?!?!?!?"

In the exquisitely scenic places your friends have recommended to you, there is plenty of the wonderful things you say you like, but there is also plenty of tourist infrastructure that in some places has converted these places into more of a tourist venue when it comes to the local Italian culture (no longer exists). You will have a harder time finding restaurants staying true to their origins and un-inflected by tourist desires.

WIth only 6 days, it is hard to combine le Cinque Terre and the Siena area. You will lose a lot of time traveling between the two, and then traveling to an airport to fly home. Effectively, you will end up with about 3 days of enjoyment in place. The rest of the time you'll be dealing with airports, train stations or car rental offices.

It is a bit simpler to fly to Milan and head to Piemonte and be in place with a car, and if the weather is grand, go hiking along the Mediterranean for a day or two, and then drive to where you can fly home from Milan.

I don't work for the Piemonte tourist board, but I do think you should give it some consideration. If you also ask your questions on the Slow Travel message board, you will find more travelers there who have been to Piemonte for active travel and food interests than you will on this board, so you can have more information before being steered onto the regular tourist path.

Whatever you choose, have a great trip. The tourist places are popular because they are extremely impressive and people have a lot of fun there, so it is not surprising your friends are enthusiastic about your seeing them too.
stevewith is offline  
Jul 4th, 2013, 07:18 AM
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"are you more interested in getting off the beaten path with great food and wine"
This- thank you for the clarification! These are super helpful recommendations- I really appreciate it!
LisaMP is offline  
Jul 4th, 2013, 07:19 AM
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Steve, thanks for the recommendatinos on Slow Travel board too- this is my first time posting on this web site- I will head over there and also look into Piedmonte-
LisaMP is offline  
Jul 4th, 2013, 07:41 AM
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kja, I think a lot depends on which airport/airports you are able (or want) to use for your trip. Since you'll have to make a connection somewhere, either in the U.S. or Europe, you should investigate your options from Denver at the fare budget you want to spend and see what makes the most sense.

Pisa would be closest/easiest for going to the Cinque Terre and Siena, but you don't want to have super-long layovers to get there that eat into the few days you have. Ditto Milan for the Piemonte area. If it makes the most sense to fly into and out of Rome, then the Cinque Terre is too far with the time you have.

You also need to decide if you're willing/interested in renting a car for part or all of your week or whether you want to rely entirely on public transportation.
Jean is offline  
Jul 4th, 2013, 07:42 AM
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You might want to read this thread for comments on Cinque Terre. Rick Steves has made it a 'must see' for many Americans but the truth is he is also probably responsible for ruining it in a way. It used to be some sleepy villages attached to each other by a path. Now it's tourist mania.


With only 5 or 6 full days, I would move as little as possible. The way to see/do as 'much as possible' is to spend time IN a place, not in BETWEEN places. So my advice would be to pick one place to stay. You can still do a day trip or two without wasting time moving hotels etc.

You don't say where you are flying into and out of. Clearly, the closer to the airport you stay the less time lost getting to/from the airport. If you arrive in early afternoon which is usual with flights from N. America to Europe, then somewhere within a few hours of your arrival airport would make sense. It will differ if you are flying into Milan vs. Rome for example.

If you are really set on the Cinque Terre area then I would suggest Portovenere instead which is more of 'real Italy' and you can easily day trip to CT by ferry.

Frankly, regarding steves commment about, "dealing with the fallout when your friends say "What? You went to Italy for the FIRST time and didn't see xxxxxxxx ?!?!?!?!?"

My response would be, I don't go where the herd goes. You mean you have been to Italy and CT and didn't go to Portovenere? What a shame. CT is like going to Disneyland and saying you visited California. ;-)
Improviser is offline  
Jul 4th, 2013, 07:43 AM
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LisaMP, the above was meant for you, not kja. Sorry for the confusion.
Jean is offline  
Jul 4th, 2013, 10:40 AM
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Thanks everyone thus far- we honestly are not tied to CT at all- just thought the photos looked beautiful- we are completely open and flexible about going anywhere in Italy, but would probably want to stick to northern Italy, away from tourist attractions and cities, and want to eat, drink and hike/be active while still getting a sense of rustic Italian culture- so we are open to ANY suggestions, including dropping CT from the plans
LisaMP is offline  
Jul 4th, 2013, 11:32 AM
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I still think you have to start with which airport you need/want to use. It would also be helpful to know what week in October you're contemplating.

And it wouldn't hurt for you to peruse a guidebook to get a sense of the options in northern Italy.
Jean is offline  
Jul 4th, 2013, 11:33 AM
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And are you open to driving?
Jean is offline  
Jul 4th, 2013, 12:32 PM
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Depending on where you can fly to and from, I think a week in Liguria that included a little CT would make for a wonderful hiking vacation, with fabulous trails and little towns and coastal villages/towns with great food. I don't drink and I'm guessing this isn't the very top wine destination you could choose, but it's damn good for scenery, hiking, and food, and of course they have wine. The Golfo di Tigullio with hiking in the CT and Portofino Promontory would be very nice, if the weather is good.


Not that you want guided walks, but a good intro to the subject and area.

Honestly, in October, you could give yourself a better chance of good weather by heading south instead of north.

Fly into Naples from connecting in Europe, and figure it out from there.
tuscanlifeedit is offline  
Jul 4th, 2013, 01:57 PM
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I've been to the Cinque Terre twice - most recently in the fall of 2011. Yes, it's touristy; yes, there are a lot of Americans...but it's still one of my favorite places in Italy. Hint: pretty much EVERYWHERE in Italy that is interesting/notable is mobbed with American tourists. There are far more tourists in, say, Venice, than in the Cinque Terre. Does that mean one shouldn't visit Venice, either? I'd hope not!

I didn't do any hiking outside of the Cinque Terre when I was in Italy - but there are plenty of hiking trails in that area. In fact, I'm guessing if you get off the main trails between towns, you'd find them far less crowded.

Here is more information about the trails:


Note that trails can close on short notice due to slides and weather, so check the status before you would arrive!

Weather varies every year, obviously. On my first visit to the CT in mid-October, the weather was still warm. I went swimming in the ocean one day (I stayed in Levanto.) So October can be a great time to visit and perhaps less crowded than September and the summer.

Siena is a wonderful town as well (plenty of tourists there too).
Andrew is online now  
Jul 4th, 2013, 04:58 PM
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They can also close due to the limit on numbers allowed per hour Andrew (yes they have had to institute a quota) but that won't apply in October.

Next time you head that way try Portovenere Andrew. You can still day trip to CQ if you want by ferry.

Of course there is always an original reason why a place is popular with tourists. Rome or Venice or Paris however can absorb a huge number of tourists and still remain Rome, Venice or Paris. The same cannot be said however about the CT. It can and has reached a point at which any 'real Italy' is pretty much gone.

I first visited CT about 25 years ago. It was 5 sleepy villages with a walk between them that was great for scenery. Sleep in one village, get up breakfast and watch village life going on. Walk to the next village, stop for a glass of wine, walk on to the next for lunch and watch life there. Walk back and have dinner before watching evening life and then off to an early bed. No tv, no hotels, nothing open after about 9pm. A great place to just relax, recharge your batteries before moving on to busier places, truly la dolce vita. That is simply no longer the case.

pretty much everywhere of interest in Italy is NOT mobbed with tourists, most places in fact are not, the majority of tourists are probably in fewer than 50 places. American tourists in even less than 50. Think about it. Do you really believe that 'everywhere interesting/notable' in Italy is full of tourists? Not a chance.

Who do you know that has stayed in Porto Venere for example which is actually part of the same Unesco world heritage site as the CT. The difference is that Porto Venere is still pretty much a 'real' town. Those who do know it are usually sailors (that's how I got there the first time) because it is a fairly well known harbour town. It is also referred to as what Portofino was like before tourism spoiled it. There are tourists but not in big numbers.

For the OPs stated desires, "away from tourist attractions and cities, and want to eat, drink and hike/be active while still getting a sense of rustic Italian culture"+ I just don't see staying in the CT as the answer. I agree with tuscanlife it would be possible to include it however and that's why I suggested Porto Venere.

I also agree with tuscanlife that farther south may be a better choice in October but it depends what airport they fly into as well.

What's that saying, 'so many women, so little time'. The same is true of travel, 'so many places, so little time.'
Improviser is offline  
Jul 4th, 2013, 06:34 PM
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Wow- great feedback! Totally overwhelmed about options now- lol- but that isn't a bad thing-
1- we ARE open to flying into any major city, no airfare budgets, so whatever has the least amount of layovers
2- we ARE open to renting a car
3- we are traveling the second week of October- mostly because we did want to get out of the crowds and take advantage offp the off season and dont mind rainier or cooler weather- we didn't think about heading to southern Italy but now that some posters mentioned, may not be a bad idea?

The beauty is we are completely open and have really no agenda about where we go- we just know we want to go to Italy, hike, explore, eat and drink wine in October

I really appreciate all the feedback!
LisaMP is offline  
Jul 4th, 2013, 07:41 PM
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"... so whatever has the least amount of layovers..." That's the part you have to figure out yourself.

If you plan to drive, you'll need to get International Driver Permits. Available at AAA. And you'll need to learn about the limited traffic zones (Zona a Traffico Limitato, aka ZTL) that most cities and towns have instituted. Also, don't speed, or you'll likely be caught by a traffic camera. Lastly, don't drink and drive, as Italian law has a lower blood alcohol threshold and stiffer penalties for violators. Having said all of this, driving in Italy is not difficult if you do your research on routes and ZTLs and pay attention to the signage.


And, just so you know, even the second week of October is not the "off season" everywhere in Italy. Some places will still be very crowded, and, depending on where you want to go, it's not too early to be booking lodging.
Jean is offline  
Jul 4th, 2013, 08:19 PM
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I'm not a huge hiker, but have done some slightly more serious walks in Italy. The very best hiking I've ever done in Italy was on Capri. Never more beautiful walks, anywhere that I've been. I've walked some of the CT paths, and if you ask me, ain't nothin' compared to the coastal hikes on Capri.

I try not to dwell on my heart condition, but one thing about it that bums me out is that I probably won't ever be able to do those walks on Capri again.

Another amazing hiking destination was La Verna, the monastery in northern Tuscany founded by San Francesco, and where, according to his legend, he received the stigmata. Very serious walkers and bikers in that area.

Portovenere is mentioned above, and I've seen hikers set off there for the walk over the hills to the CT trails and other Ligurian trails. Portovenere has incredible, and I mean incredible, seafood.

You can go to several places and walk forever with gorgeous scenery. Coastal would be my first choice, then mountains, I guess. We are headed to the Dolomites in September, but I will be walking, or even strolling, alas, and not hiking.
tuscanlifeedit is offline  
Jul 4th, 2013, 09:19 PM
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We spent 6 weeks in Italy last Fall , wonderful! It was not our first time. To be concise, I would not make the CT my main destination. It was was quaint, but not at all my favorite place in Italy.
A few years ago we were in the Northern area by the Dolomites and the Lakes district. But that was 3 weeks also! We spent 3-4 nights in Castelrotto. Much more Austrian than Italian in feel but you can maybe go to Venice (the Italian city experience!) and go north - we stayed one night in tiny Asolo on the way. Wonderful mountains with lots of hiking.
OR the beautiful area between Florence and Siena in Tuscany is also beautiful.
I could easily spend a week in Orvieto and its surrounds. Throw a dart at a map!
We did get a few days of downpours in mid October but not bad.
Remember, you really can't go wrong in Italy! Enjoy
nanael is offline  
Jul 5th, 2013, 05:48 AM
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Thanks again- I just checked and our best option for our buck and travel time from Denver seems to be Milan- compared to Naples for Amalfi travel, Rome or Florence- Milan is significantly cheaper and requires less time and travel- so perhaps Liguria and Santa Margherita (sp?) and Portovenere? Or the piedmonte area?
The airport decision helps to narrow it down- so at least now we know whereabouts to exlore
LisaMP is offline  
Jul 5th, 2013, 07:18 AM
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Yes, you really need to pin down the airport as that deterimes what area. For hiking, this is a good site:

If you fly to Milan then the lakes become an option. Lake Como or Lake Garda are easy to reach. Both offer hiking to whatever degree you want.

I recall having lunch at a lakeside village (Malcesine, Lake Garda) one year. Just wanting a light lunch, we only ordered an appletizer which was more than enough for us with bread and a glass of wine. It seems to take a long time just to get a plate of pasta (Tortellini) but when it arrived we realized the pasta was fresh, as in made for us right then. We've been ruined for pasta ever since.

Sitting right (within feet) at the lakeside, sipping wine and eating the best pasta I've ever tasted, life doesn't get any better.

With only a week one of the lake areas might work. Should I throw this in? From Garda it is entirely possible to drive just a bit south early in the morning to Venice. The main Milan to Venice rail line is at the south end of the lake and it takes about 1.5 hours to Venice. While just a day in Venice is not really enough, if needs must it is a heck of a day trip destination.

Or a day trip to Verona is even closer if you happen to be a big Romeo and Juliet fan.

The problem is there are simply so many places you could go Lisa and so many that could be suggested. We are now approaching the point where you might as well read a good guidebook and pick one. A guidebook is after all simply a list of suggestions and we can't list them all here.
Improviser is offline  

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