Italy, how to start, how to travel

Old Nov 16th, 2014, 10:48 AM
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Italy, how to start, how to travel

I have read a lot of postings, but still need help. I read 'trains are slow';' rental cars are OK outside of the big cities'; Maybe it is a combination of trains and cars (and planes?). We plan a trip (14-28 days?) next May/June (when do the schools let out?) and I am not sure where to start, nor how to travel. My wife and I (retired) enjoyed driving around (some highway, some back roads) the French Riviera, Monaco, Switzerland, but dumped the car when we arrived in Paris.
Any benefit to starting in the north and working south (flying in from the U.S.)? Venice, Tuscany, Italian Riviera, and Rome are our must sees; Reading the blogs makes me want to add hill towns, and the Amalfi coast. Then I saw the route from Palermo to Messina, which looked awfully inviting; Is it crazy to consider moving by car and train from Palermo thru Tuscany, to Venice? Also, we prefer a flexible agenda; will we have problems with same day reservations at 4* hotels this time of year?

Thanks for your help getting me started in the right direction.
rmgood is offline  
Old Nov 16th, 2014, 11:43 AM
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IT all starts with you !

You must decide the 3 variables that will determine how much you can see and where you should go:

1. When? [after 17 trips to Italy we prefer May]
2. How long?[ is it 14 or 28--big difference]
3. How much? That may determine how long and where

Take it one step at a time, but start with above.
bobthenavigator is offline  
Old Nov 16th, 2014, 11:45 AM
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That's not true. No trains go as fast as jet planes but Italy has its share of high-speed trains.

Even in small cities or small towns you cannot just drive on all streets. Historic centers are usually closed to non-essential car traffic. You cannot even drive to hotels to unload luggage without proper written authority. Driving on these roads will cause huge fines which will catch up with you at home.

Travel to places that interest you. I would not go to Sicily if all you're going to see is between Palermo and Messina as there are lots of other interesting places you'll miss. Sicily deserves 2 weeks or more.

It's a long way from Palermo to Tuscany, minimum of 12 hours in the daytime; consider flying rather than driving or taking a train.

You can book hotels at the last minute if you're willing to spend time and energy doing so. What will you do? Drive or walk around with luggage looking for hotels? You could do that in the 1990s but it will be more time consuming to do this today. You can check with TIs as some have booking services. I would definitely book hotels in cities.


There are lots of hill towns in Tuscany.

I find reading most blogs to be of little help as there is no depth. How about reading some guide books? They are much more helpful to me.
adrienne is offline  
Old Nov 16th, 2014, 11:47 AM
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Venice is a nice place to fly into as it is a good place to recover from the inevitable jet lag. You could pick up a rental car when you leave there and tour Tuscany by car. You won't want to drive in Florence or other good size towns which have the ZTL or you will get fined.

You have a lot of places on your wish list so you may have to pare that down somewhat. We have just returned from a trip to Italy where we started in Puglia, drove to Le Marche, drove to a hotel on the outskirts of Florence, drove to Rome and then ditched the car. Having a car gives you the freedom to explore on your own time table but is not practical in bigger places.

Trains are good in Italy too.

I would not leave hotels to chance especially in May/June, the places on your must-see list are popular and busy. Also don't judge hotels by the North AMerican starring system, it works differently in Italy.Maybe give us your budget for hotels and people can give you recommendations.
raincitygirl is online now  
Old Nov 16th, 2014, 11:56 AM
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The affirmation "Trains are slow" is not accurate. It depends on where yoo're going. On the high-speed lines, you can get between major cities much faster (and cheaper) than driving. If you're traveling on a slow regional train that stops in every small town, then driving is faster.

Almost every town and city in Italy has a central ZTL (zona traffico limitato, or limited traffic zone). In these zones, you get huge fines for driving without a permit. In small towns, it's easy to avoid the ZTL by parking outside the town wall (or equivalent) and walking in. In large cities, the ZTL is much harder to avoid. My husband and I wouldn't dream of driving to Rome or Florence, unless we had to carry furniture or something.

Rural Tuscany isn't well served by trains, and renting a car there would be advisable. The Italian Riviera is pretty well connected by trains.

Starting in Venice sounds like a good idea. I would then take a train to somewhere in Tuscany where you can rent a car. Florence is not a bad choice, but there are smaller towns as well that have rental agencies.

I don't know what the parking and driving situations are on the Italian Riviera, so I'll leave that part to someone else.

If you visit Tuscany, you'll almost certainly visit a number of hill towns. There are hill towns all over Italy; Umbria, Le Marche, Lazio, and Abruzzo also have some very nice hill towns, usually less overrun by tourists than many of those in Tuscany. You can have a very nice driving tour in any of these regions.

I myself wouldn't want to drive on the Amalfi Coast. The coastal road is narrow, twisty, and cliff-hanging. In high season, it's bumper to bumper, with tour buses that take up more than their half of the road.

I've never been to Sicily, alas! so I can't help you with that, either. I will say that Sicily probably deserves its own vacation. My husband, in an earlier life, spent a month driving around Sicily with a camper.

It's a long drive from Sicily to Tuscany. There is an overnight ferry to Naples, which would cut out a good deal of the tedious drive. If you try to include Sicily and Tuscany, I'm afraid you might short change both.
bvlenci is offline  
Old Nov 16th, 2014, 12:09 PM
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First of all - in the late spring I would start in the south and head north so you don;t get stuck in really hot weather.

Trains are NOT slow (except the cheapest local trains) but train or car will depend on your specific itinerary. IMHO in big cities a car is a nonsense - but if your are doing countryside or a number of small towns a car is (for us) a necessity.

Agree that you must decide first on a number of days - with 28 you can visit Sicily - with 14 you really can;t unless you are going to do almost nothing else.

Driving on the Amalfi coast is OK if earlier in the year (we've done in May and loved it) but you MUST find a hotel with parking (very few have parking and often it's the more upscale ones). On the other hand, the bus on the coast road can be horrific. Ferry is one of the best means of travel there. I would have a car only if you need it for parts of the trip immediately before and/or after.

And there is no way I would go without reservations - the better places (more pleasant at a reasonable rate) will be sold out long before you go. Trying to fly by seat of pants you will either need VERY big budget or a willingness to give up on a lot of amenities (AC, elevator, private bath, etc). We typically reserve hotels 3 to 4 months in advance to get good deals on places we ant to stay (without spending a fortune).
nytraveler is offline  
Old Nov 16th, 2014, 02:54 PM
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I never reserve hotels very far in advance. I often make trips on the spur of the moment. I can find hotels even at the last minute, but I don't have a list of preferred hotels. I'm just looking for a clean and comfortable room at a reasonable price. It can be tiny, it can be furnished with IKEA Billy furniture, and it doesn't need to have a view. If your exigence level is similar to mine, you can play it by ear. I would at least try to reserve a day before, though. It's no fun to arrive in town tired and realize there's only one agriturismo there, and it's hosting a large wedding.
bvlenci is offline  
Old Nov 16th, 2014, 06:20 PM
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If winging it with hotels will work depends on how flexible you are.

If you want a 4* hotel at a decent price you should be looking months in advance.

If you are flexible as to location, price, amenities, size of room etc - then winging it may work.

We are not flexible on any of those things and have trouble getting vacation tone off together so don;t want to aste any of it looking for places to stay - so reserve in advance for the best deal that meets our needs
nytraveler is offline  
Old Nov 17th, 2014, 12:04 AM
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I had the same thought as nytraveler...start south and head north; we were in Venice last year mid-May and the weather was warm enough to not need a jacket during the day (though all the Italians were wearing theirs, of course.
In the major tourist locations, i.e. Venice and the Amalfi coast, I wouldn't plan on "winging" it. Also, you might want to keep in mind that there are several religious/civil holidays in May so you might make sure you won't be somewhere you have your heart set on seeing on those days, only to find out the museum (or whatever) is closed and 2) many Italians take extended time off(the French have the term to "Faire Le Pont")so around those holidays hotels & the better restaurants will be booked full.

Have agreat time!
klondike is offline  
Old Nov 17th, 2014, 03:26 AM
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I read 'trains are slow'

Huh, there are slow trains and there are fast trains, the slow trains stop at every station while the fast trains don't. It is very unlikely that you will need to take a slow train unless you want to go to some crazy boondock or you start taking local commuter trains somewhere (there are a few places in Rome that hit those descritions.

Perhaps you meant "Cars are slow", because they are, they often are not allowed to go where you want to go, in many cities there move very slowly and finding a car parking space is either expensive or very slow.

Unless you have tonnes of gear I'd avoid cars.

Aircraft can be fast as Al Italia runs a lot of loss making routes so you can get to loads of places cheaply and quickly.
bilboburgler is online now  
Old Nov 17th, 2014, 07:03 AM
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What are all these holidays in May? May 1st is a holiday, but there are no others.
bvlenci is offline  
Old Nov 17th, 2014, 07:08 AM
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I'm certainly flexible about hotel rooms. My main iron-clad requirement is cleanliness, but that's rarely a problem in Italy. Just as an example, though, last summer (July) we made a spur-of-the-moment trip to Rome and got a 4-star central hotel at a big discount, probably because they had unsold rooms.

A four-star hotel would not normally be my first choice in Italy, because they're invariably large hotels. A small hotel, my preference, can't support the staffing levels required to get four stars in the Italian scheme of awarding stars. In this case, I chose the four-star hotel because of the discount.
bvlenci is offline  
Old Nov 17th, 2014, 11:36 AM
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Yes, but if the OP wants the full services that come with a larger 4* hotel - then winging it may leave them either shut out of paying more than they want for more upscale places.

I know some people like to "wing it" - and that's fine if you are flexible, experienced and have time to spend on looking for hotels once you arrive. I have a friend who's retired who travels this way all the time - but she doesn't mind spending the day looking for a place to stay - since she will usually be there 6 or 7 days.
nytraveler is offline  
Old Nov 17th, 2014, 01:43 PM
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>>>Even in small cities or small towns you cannot just drive on all streets. Historic centers are usually closed to non-essential car traffic.>>will we have problems with same day reservations at 4* hotels this time of year
kybourbon is online now  
Old Nov 17th, 2014, 01:47 PM
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You could also take an overnight train from Palermo/Catania and other Sicilian towns to Salerno or Rome or vice versa - I took the train in the daytime and the scenery was not that great - oh nice but kind of so-so. You can also take ferries from Naples to Sicily - overnight.
PalenQ is offline  
Old Nov 18th, 2014, 02:58 AM
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I don't wing it in the sense of arriving in a city without knowing where I'll be staying. I originally said that I usually find hotels at the last minute, by which I mean within a month of my travel. On car trips, I wait even longer, maybe choosing the next lodging when we've decided how long we want to stay where we are.

I responded just because some people give the impression that you'll be left without a roof over your head if you don't reserved months in advance.

On a long trip, the first thing I reserve is the flight. I've found that, on average, I get the best prices from six to eight weeks in advance of the trip. (An exception is travel over Christmas, which I reserve much earlier.) After I've got the flights straightened out, I begin to consider hotels and trains. This means that I'm usually working much closer to the travel date than nytraveler does.

I know very well what stars represent. The amenities usually found in a 4-star hotel (conference room, concierge, exercise room, pool, on site restaurant) don't interest me. I know these things are important to some people. I only wish those who respond to general questions would keep in mind that not everyone is as exigent as they are.

For cleanliness, I rely on reviews; however, as I said above, cleanliness is rarely a problem in Italy. I've never seen a dirty hotel in Italy, unlike some other countries.
bvlenci is offline  
Old Nov 18th, 2014, 04:24 AM
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hi mgood

you could do a great trip starting in Rome, then going south to the Amalfi [no need for a car in either place], getting the train from Naples to Florence, then picking up a car, touring Tuscany and Le Marche and returning the car to Venice.

28 days would probably cover that nicely.

or start in Genova, fly to Naples to see the Amalfi, train to Rome, and back up through Tuscany to Venice.


I think that it's over to you now!
annhig is offline  
Old Nov 18th, 2014, 09:14 AM
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Thanks a million. All good input! Do the car GPS systems in Italy show you the ZTL areas? If one takes a train from Rome to Salerno, how do you 'explore' the Amalfi coast without a car?

I am thinking about 5-7 days in the Tuscany Region, exploring the area by car. Is there a town centrally located with good accommodations, including parking, and most important to my wife, within walking distance of city/town center with shopping and a couple of restaurants?

Thanks again for your help!
rmgood is offline  
Old Nov 18th, 2014, 09:33 AM
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We've done several trips to Italy spanning 10-18 days each. In Tuscany, we stayed at a lovely agritourismo, La Crociona just outside of Montalcino. They have a restaurant, pool and wine room onsite (they grow and bottle both wines and olive oil there). Its rustic but well run. You do have to drive into Montalcino or to small nearby towns and wineries but it was a great respite between Florence and Venice on one trip. Our teen sons loved the pool and countryside quiet and the town had restaurants, shops, grocery and laundromat.
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Old Nov 18th, 2014, 09:44 AM
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Here are several to consider---I love the San Quirico location:

B. IN-TOWN LOCATIONS: For walking convenience to shops & ristorantes.

1. Palazzo del Capitano 170 to 210E
Very nice small hotel in center of San Quirico—perfect location to explore.

2. Vecchia Oliviera 150 to 200E
Nice 4 star hotel at the gate into lovely Montalcino---has pool.

3. Palazzina Cesari 80 to 110E
Lovely small B&B in heart of Montalcino—great value—2 night stay minimum.

4. Locanda di San Francesco 180 to 200E
Nice boutique B&B in a lovely location in Montepulciano—great reviews !

5. Politian apartments Good value apts. with
minimum stay of 3 nights in Montepulciano---helpful host---85E

6. Palazzo Ravizza 170 to 250E
Very nice & popular hotel in Siena with parking.
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