COVID-19 Travel Advisory: Stay up to date with the latest on the coronavirus pandemic.   Learn More >

Go Back  Fodor's Travel Talk Forums > Destinations > Europe
Reload this Page >

Italy round 4 - Pisa/CT/Parma/Bologna/Milan

Italy round 4 - Pisa/CT/Parma/Bologna/Milan

Old Jun 1st, 2017, 10:23 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 5,476
Italy round 4 - Pisa/CT/Parma/Bologna/Milan

Just returned from 4th Italy trip. Last trip was 16 years ago. This time we visited areas we hadn't been to before. This was a very economical trip. We used frequent flyer miles for tickets, and most accommodations, and food was very reasonable.

Day 1, Thursday

Flew from JFK to Pisa with transfer in Munich.

Day 2, Friday

Arrive Pisa in the early afternoon. Took taxi from airport to B&B (12E). Checked into 4 Rooms (~$100/night. ‘Yellow’ room)

This was handicap accessible room, so had high toilet, and fold out bars in shower and next to bidet. I think the other rooms were bigger and accommodated more people because all the others we saw there had kids. Our room faced a courtyard type area, and there was some street noise of cars driving by when window was opened, but nothing that bothered us. Room did have a/c. This is a bare bones B&B. Perfectly fine, nothing fancy, but very convenient, quiet and clean. Luca the owner was quite the character. Breakfast is OK, coffee very good. The location is right at main touristy entrance to Piazza dei Miracoli (leaning tower, other monuments area). There is an area near the entrance full of souvenir vendors, all selling the same touristy items. Throngs of people arrive in the morning, which appear to be mostly day trippers. This part of town is nothing special but a stone’s throw from the more charming Pisa. Same people also own B&B 7 rooms, in the ‘charming’ area (via Santa Maria), towards the opposite end of the monument area.

After we settled into our room, we walked to the Piazza and purchased the combo ticket for the Baptistery, Cathedral, Museum Senopie and Camposanto (8E). These are truly stunning buildings inside and out. We didn’t spend much time there because we were meeting up with friends shortly after. We never made it to the museum.

Once friends arrived, we met them for lunch near their B&B, 7 rooms where they were staying, on Via Santa Maria. After a nice lunch of pizza and salad we walked around the town, away from the monuments, through Borgo Stretto, Piazza dei Cavalieri and nearby areas. It’s actually a very authentic charming place. Lots of little shops and restaurants. There’s also a university, so lots of college students.

We then returned to B&B to rest and freshen up. Then were meeting again for dinner, eating at a place we noticed earlier during our walk through town, Osteria Rossini at Piazza Dante Alighieri. In the evening, when the day trippers are gone, it is a gem of a town. The restaurant was well reviewed on line. Wine was excellent, food good, but not great. Price was a bargain. Pisa is very reasonable.

Day 3, Saturday

We had 9:30 tickets to climb the tower. I purchased these in advance, since it’s a timed entry with 10 person limit every 15 minutes. I purchased the tickets at They were about $20 each. Just walking into the tower is a strange sensation because of the lean. The climb wasn’t too bad, about 300 steps. The views are worth the climb, and seeing some of the details up close is a treat. I thought it was well worth it.

After that we had planned on a day trip to Lucca. If it had just been my husband and I, we would have taken the train, but our friends wanted to drive (one is mobility impaired, so lots of walking is difficult), and were renting a car for the remainder of their trip. We got off to a slow start because of rental car issues (long story), but finally made it to Lucca. First we all had lunch near where we found a parking space within the walls, where street parking is permitted, at Caffe Monica. Food there was mediocre. The recommended pasta dish, a tortellini was on the bland side.

I had printed out some notes on what to visit. Our friends took a horse buggy tour. Husband and I walked around, visited Duomo di San Martino, Basilica di San Frediano, San Michele in Foro. We also climbed Guinigi tower for wonderful city views. When it was time to meet up with our friends, the weather started changing, the rain was coming. Fortunately we somehow drove away from the worst of it. Driving back into Pisa and finding parking, was a bit of an adventure. Not easy, even with GPS.

That evening we planned on dinner at the restaurant Luca (also host/owner of 7 rooms) recommended, Osteria I Santi. We thought this was a better than the place the night before.

Returning to our B&B through the Piazza dei Miracola at night is a treat. No throngs of people, just beautiful monuments, lit up and some local college students hanging around.
to be continued...
MFNYC is offline  
Old Jun 1st, 2017, 10:34 AM
Join Date: Feb 2017
Posts: 1,645
Nice to read. Glad you enjoyed Pisa. Sometimes when people ask me about "hidden Tuscany", I tell them to go to Pisa. It's one of Tuscany's best kept secrets if you stay in the parts of town roughly between the piazza San Frediano & piazza San Paolo all'Orto, and visit the monuments at night.
massimop is offline  
Old Jun 1st, 2017, 10:49 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 20,901
MFNYC, I was in the Italian Riviera a few weeks ago too and spent a morning re-visiting the a few Cinque Terre towns. Wonder if we crossed paths? Not sure when you visited...

I gave Pisa a second chance a few years ago after doing just a day trip the first visit. I spent two nights in Pisa, both close to the Arno near the university. I'm glad I did, though I didn't find Pisa particularly charming. But there is certainly much more to Pisa than the super-touristy Field of Miracles that is what 99% of tourists probably think is the "real" Pisa.
Andrew is online now  
Old Jun 1st, 2017, 11:00 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 5,476
Andrew, we were in Manarola, CT 5/21-23.

Massimop, Pisa is also a good home base for day trips. Definitely under the radar. Most people, as Andrew says, think Pisa is the monuments, but it's also a cure town, in a convenient location and very reasonable.
MFNYC is offline  
Old Jun 1st, 2017, 11:10 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 20,901
I was in Camogli 5/22-5/25 and did my day trip to the CT on 5/24 - saw Manarola from the boat, had been there before. Cute little town for sure! Great weather, too, eh?
Andrew is online now  
Old Jun 1st, 2017, 12:01 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 5,476
Day 4, Sunday

We took a taxi to Budget car rental at Pisa airport to pick up our car for the next couple of legs. From there we headed to Manarola. We had booked an AirBNB my daughter previously stayed in, Serravallo vista mare studio apartment ($125/night).

We were given instruction from our AirBNB host, Taziana, where to park and meet up with her or her daughter. We used google maps to navigate. We rented a portable wifi hotspot for the entire trip (cost about $6 per day from Expressowifi, unlimited data and several devices could access at once). As you approach Manarola, there are 3 parking lots. Given this being a weekend (I’m assuming less busy on weekdays), the lots were pretty full. Street parking is also allowed, but not on the curvy parts. I felt more comfortable putting the car in a lot. The first lot was full. As was the 2nd (we were unaware that there was yet another lot a bit closer). We pulled up near the attendant booth, just to ask what the deal was (we didn’t see any spots). We were not in a noted spot, but fortunately attendant said it was OK to keep the car there. The cost was 20E/day. The attendant’s assistant is a cat name Park (we have cats at home that we missed so glad to see one!).

As we were schlepping our bags down the hill toward the meeting point, we did see another lot, but that one also looked completely full. As we were pulling our bags, Taziana saw us. She called her daughter who was waiting by nearby church to help us get our bags up to the apartment (which involved steps and hills, and the handle on our largest bag broke). Also her daughter spoke better English, so did most of the communicating. We thought afterwards that maybe we should have consolidated 2 days worth of gear in 1 small bag, and left the rest in the trunk of the car (not totally sure if this is safe, but dealing with luggage in CT is not the easiest thing. We also packed heavier than was necessary). We had arrived earlier than official check in but because no one had stayed there the night before we were able to get in early.

The apartment is on the 2nd floor of building a stone’s throw from Trattoria dal Billy. It’s a studio, with small, but adequate kitchen (which we never used, but it would have served the purpose if we wanted to). The bathroom was minuscule. The shower stall about as tiny as I’ve ever seen (you could only stand in there 1 way). I would have preferred a slightly roomier bathroom but this was manageable for 2 nights. The apartment also had a small balcony that fits 2 chairs, so you can sip wine and watch the sun set. Taziana’s husband makes his own wine, and 2 bottles were left in the fridge. They are offered for 7E each. We did drink one of them while there.

After we settled in we walked downhill towards the water, where most restaurants and shops are. We stopped in Billy’s to make a reservation for that evening. Only indoor tables were available, so if you want to sit outdoors, it may be wise to try to contact them further in advance. We stopped at Aristade for lunch which was good. Then we walked around bit. Went to the train station for info, and also found out that the ferry was not stopping in all 5 towns (Manarola being one of them) due to rough water. We also learned that the lower trails between towns were closed in many parts. The upper trails were open. We considered taking an upper trail to Riomaggiore, but given the poor quality and number of steps heading up to the trail, the heat and the fact that we were tired, we wimped out, and instead returned to apartment to open a bottle of wine!

We had the early dinner at Billy’s, 7pm. We ordered caprese salad to share, and the catch of the day with a side of grilled veggies. The catch was sea bass for 2. It was excellent, and big, could have fed 3 easily. Billy is a character, and hard worker, but smokes like a chimney (in between serving he’s outside lighting up). He’s up at 6:30am, to get the day’s fish, and working lunch and dinner. Having Billy’s nearby came in handy. Whenever we walked back to the apartment, we’d look for the lights he had hanging in the outdoor area. It seemed we never took the same path twice, and could have easily gotten lost without such a popular landmark.

After dinner we walked up the trails on north side of town, uphill a bit, where you can enjoy the beautiful sunsets. The photo ops are endless!

Day 5, Monday

We walked down to Aristade near the tunnel to train station (different location than yesterday lunch place, but same name) for breakfast. Most places aren’t open for breakfast so limited options. They have very tasty omelets and scrambled eggs there, also croissants and other pastry. While in that area, we made a dinner reservation at Il Porticciolo.

We purchased the Cinque Terre Card that includes unlimited train, trail entry, wifi and some other perks (which I can’t remember because we didn’t use), for the day. They also sell 2+ day cards. Each card was 16E. Finding information regarding the ferry seemed to be pretty impossible as far as which towns they can depart/arrive at. Our original plan was to train/hike one way ending up at Monterosso, then take ferry back, but we scrapped that because we were unclear of the ferry stops that day since day before they were limited.

The lower trails were open between Monterosso and Vernazza, and Vernazza and Corniglia. We decided to take the train to Monterosso, then hike to Vernazzo, and if we felt like it, we’d continue to Corniglia and train to the rest, BUT, we boarded the train. It sat in Manarola station for about 45 minutes. Then continued on to Corniglia, where again it sat. Rumor had it there were brake issues. So we decided to get off and hike to Vernazza from there. Corniglia seemed a bit smaller than Manarola, but also very pretty. Walk from train into town, seemed further than the other towns. To reach the hiking trail, there's a climb up zig zagged stairs. Not sure how many flights it was, but seemed to go on forever! This hike was harder and longer than we anticipated, and it was hot! It took about 1 ¾ hrs, which included a stop about 2/3s there at a place where we had fresh squeezed OJ (we had water with us, and that was necessary), and a rested for about 15 minutes. Along the route, it is very scenic, and again, lots of photo ops. Many had hiking sticks, and I can certainly understand why. The footing isn’t always easy.

Vernazzo I really liked, seemed par with Manarola, as far as towns I’d like to stay in. We had lunch by the water (we were quite hungry after the hike). Then strolled around town a bit, and decided to train to the remainder of towns. We then went to Monterosso, which honestly was my least favorite town. Having beach clubs, with cars and parking lots allowed down by the water, seemed to take away from the charm. From there we trained to Riomaggiore, which we really liked as well. Then we trained back to Manarola. My phone registered 90 flights of stairs that day, and we only hiked 1 leg!

Each of the 5 towns is unique, and all charming in their own ways. They all get lots of day trippers, so staying in one is a treat in the evening when the day trippers are gone and you can enjoy the sunsets with a glass of wine, without the mobs of people.

That evening we had dinner at Il Porticciolo, which was also very good. Again we shared a catch of the day (seabream), pasta and a salad. Portions were big, plenty to share. We also enjoyed chatting with the people at our neighboring tables.
MFNYC is offline  
Old Jun 1st, 2017, 12:13 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 20,901
I experienced long train days on that same Monday, traveling all the way from Venice to Camogli. The train from Milan to Genoa was delayed about 45 minutes - we also just sat at one station for a good long time. Then the train from Genoa to Camogli was delayed, too, though not quite as long. It's frustrating not knowing what's going on, especially if you can't understand the announcements in Italian.

I didn't care that much for Monterosso, either. I like the other four towns, though. I have had a picture of Riomaggiore from 2007 on my wall at home for years. It was fun to stop and see it again on this trip (and to see what has changed in ten years; one building from my picture from 2007 that had faded paint back then now has a bright, fresh paint job). I like sitting in the little town square in Riomaggiore near the school, because few tourists dwell there, so I can pretend for a moment that the town isn't just for tourists.
Andrew is online now  
Old Jun 1st, 2017, 01:58 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 5,476
Day 4 addendum

Before leaving Pisa, we took one last stroll. Down to the Arno. Also to check out the Synagogue. The Synagogue was not open, and had few marking indicating what it was. If we didn't have the address, we probably would have walked right by it. We did walk by a church, with service in progress. The doors were open, and the choir was singing. The streets were very quiet, so hearing the choir was magical. The riverfront was also very nice, and worth taking a peak at.
MFNYC is offline  
Old Jun 2nd, 2017, 08:54 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 5,476
Day 6, Tuesday

Checked out of AirBNB, then schlepped back to the car, and headed to Parma, where we planned on dropping off the car. On the way we made arrangements to stop at, hence the reason why we had the car in the first place (without this stop, we would have done all trains).

This is a small family winery. Tours are by appointment only, just email [email protected] to make an appointment. Before starting a winery, Giuseppe was an International lawyer in the US. He is originally from Italy but studied law in the DC area. As he approached retirement age, he decided to slow down his law practice and move back to Italy. He bought a rundown villa, formerly used for wine making, outside of Parma. Renovated the place (it had been vacant for 12 years), studied wine making, and started a new business. He’s a very interesting guy, the kind of person you could spend hours just chatting with. His wine making approach is very pure and natural. He only sells directly to some high end restaurants and individuals via mail order. His products are not sold in stores.

We sat with him and he offered us some wine tastings, with a spread of food to go with it. From local meats and cheeses, to some local baked goods to some home made treats (he not only makes wine but can cook!) and evening some chocolate. We really enjoyed the time spent there, the wine we tasted and had more than enough to eat (we went at lunch time, so that worked well!). And we learned a lot about wine making and tasting. We ended up buying 2 bottles. The cost of the tasting and wine purchased came to 70E. I strongly recommend this if you can fit it in your schedule. There are some food tours that stop here as well (will mention later).

From the winery we returned our car outside Parma. It was a bit confusing and we got off the wrong exit from roundabout a few times but finally realized that Budget dropoff is same as Avis (no budget signage but did see Avis). The rental office called a taxi for us, and off we were to our Parma B&B.

We stayed at B&B Pio, steps away from the Cathedral and Baptistry. We were in room 3. This is a charming little B&B. We were given instructions in advance, how to enter the building (key pad combo) and where to find our keys. This was only 80E/night, great bang for the buck!

After settling in, we met up with our friends (who also were in Pisa with us, but went to Florence while we were in CT). They were at the café at Palazzo Della Rose Prati (another nice B&B, where my daughter had stayed a couple of year before but was booked for our dates). We walked around the area a bit with them. Then we went to dinner at Gallo D’Oro. The food here is very good, and portions are huge, especially the salad. The prices are amazingly reasonable, and wine selections very good.

After dinner, our friends returned to their hotel (NH hotel near the train station, all that was available when they booked). We walked around a bit afterwards, but were tired so called it a day.
MFNYC is offline  
Old Jun 2nd, 2017, 09:03 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 5,476
Also, wanted to add, that B&B Pio had a common space on the top floor, with a kitchenette, tables and chairs, a small balcony and free snacks and refreshments, along with various brochures and maps.
MFNYC is offline  
Old Jun 2nd, 2017, 09:55 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 20,901
How did you like Parma in general? I visited a few years ago and loved it - also stayed close to the center. I visited on a Saturday night, so the town was lively and busy at night.
Andrew is online now  
Old Jun 2nd, 2017, 10:13 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 5,476
We liked Parma. No tourists! Great food and very reasonable. We could have easily spent a little more time there.
MFNYC is offline  
Old Jun 2nd, 2017, 10:22 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 5,476
Day 7, Wednesday

Woke up early. Had planned private food tour, and pick up was 8:30. Breakfast was 2 doors down at Tiffany’s. Pastries, sandwiches, even hard boiled eggs are available, along with fresh squeezed OJ and whatever kind of coffee you want. All seemed to be unlimited as well!

We had arranged the food tour with Alice Rossi, [email protected] at They also offer tours combining food with Tomasetti Family Winery and some other options as well. Alice was not available to guide us but set us up with her colleague, Angelo Fanzini, [email protected]. We were going with our friends and decided to hire a driver (also through Alice), figuring it will be more comfortable for all of us. The other option is to do your own driving where you follow the guide in his/her car. Our driver, Carlo, had a roomy van. More than enough space for all of us. The tour for the 4 of us was 230E + lunch at 25E each. The driver was an additional 180E.

After our pickup, we drove to NH hotel to pick up our friends. They had a later start than us, so did not have breakfast or even coffee beforehand. Our first stop was a family run Reggiano Parmesan factory. Angelo kindly arranged for their morning coffee. Angelo took us through the factory, explained the process from start to finish, as we watched the work being done. After the tour was complete we tasted differently aged cheeses, and bought a couple of things at the shop there.

The next stop was a Parma ham factory, also a small family run business. Again we toured the factory and saw the various steps involved with producing the best product. No tasting at this factory, but with the lunch that followed.

We then drove to an Agritourism winery up on a hill for lunch, Il Vigneto Barbiano di Felino. There is a spectacular view from here, and we had a picture perfect day to go with it. We had a 5 course meal prepared by Chef Fabio who came out to greet us. The meal started with a plate of Parma ham, followed by a couple of small plates then a delicious home made ravioli. We finished the meal off with a plate of assorted desserts and coffee and an after dinner liquor.

We had driven by a castle (Castle of Felino) enroute, and Angelo asked the driver to pull over in a spot where we can take picture with the castle in the background. After lunch we went to a Balsamic producer which was also a small family run winery. He explained the process, and showed us around. The owner, offered us tastings. Bottle of the balsamic are available for purchase. This concluded our tour, but we enjoyed not only the tours, but our time with Angelo. He is extremely knowledgeable and engaging.

We had the driver drop us off at the Galleria Nazionale/Teatro Farness. Our friends went there. My husband and I went to see the baptistery, Cathedral. and Chiesa di San Giovanni Evangelista. The ticket to the Baptistery also included the Diocesan Museum. We did not have time for the museum, but were told we could come back the next day.

We had a huge lunch, so did not need another big meal. We met our friends at their hotel. Brought a bottle of Tomesetti Wine (merlot), and sat in their lobby area, ordered some appetizers to have with the wine. Then ordered dessert to celebrate our friendship (friends live in Europe so we don’t see them often), and also upcoming events (anniversaries). Our friends were returning home the next day.

The NH hotel is a business type hotel, with modern décor, but no charm, or even indication that it is in Italy. Also the station location isn’t as charming as the center (in fact not charming at all), but would be adequate if that was all that’s available. We had walked there from Pio, but took a taxi back.
MFNYC is offline  
Old Jun 2nd, 2017, 11:34 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 5,476
Day 8, Thursday

Today was Parma checkout day. We had to be out of the room by 11am, but were told we could leave our luggage in a designated spot in the building lobby, so after breakfast, then a quick walk across the river to check out a market (that was underwhelming), we left the room, and brought our bags to the lobby. There were still a few places we wanted to visit before leaving Parma.

As we left to go to breakfast, another couple staying at the B&B were doing the same so we ended up sitting with them at Tiffany’s. We enjoyed their company. They were very seasoned travelers, and knew Italy well.

After dropping off out bags, we went to Galleria Nazionale/Teatro Farness, which was highly recommended by our friends who had gone the day before. We also used our museum ticket from yesterday to check that out.

We had some lunch after that, then asked Tiffany’s to call a taxi for us to go to the train station. We purchased tickets to Bologna. We paid a little more for the express train. I think they cost about $10 (don’t remember exactly). The ride was about 50 minutes. What we didn’t even realize was that seats were assigned. We just picked a 2nd class car and took 2 seats together. Turned out 1 of them was our assigned seat! The other assigned seat was across the aisle.

From the Bologna station, we took a taxi to our next B&B, Casa Faccioli. Our street was a tiny pedestrian street, so we were dropped near across from the corner. We were greeted by Filippe and Tatiana. Filippe was absolutely charming. He took us to our room, the Guilia Suite. There’s only 1 other room, and that room has the bathroom across the hall. Our suite was stunning. It was a very nice room, with a nice city view from the window. There was a fridge, complimentary water, snacks and coffee maker. The bathroom was huge. Even had robes and slippers. But the real kicker was out terrace. It was incredible, with wonderful views of rooftops, towers, and a church. I could have sat out there all day just listening to the church bells and drinking wine. Part of it was covered, so if it were chilly there was protection. This suite was 160E/night and worth every penny of it.

We then walked around the area a bit. There was an adjacent street, via Altabella, which was filled with vendors, selling mostly snacks, and some other odds and ends (jewelry, scarfs, etc). We picked up some snacks, but the other items were nothing special. Things you would see anywhere. We also walk to Piazza Maggiore and visited Basilica di San Petronio. There is a charge if you want to take photos (2E). We walked around the surrounding area. I loved the streets where the small food markets were (near Eataly). To me that’s heaven. Everything looks so fresh and delicious.

After walking around, I decided it would be a good idea to book a city walking tour for the next day. All that I could find was Friday late afternoon, through the website Viator, so I signed up. Tickets were 17E each. They also offer tours specializing in food.

We returned to the B&B for some wine on our terrace, and to freshen up before going back out for dinner.
MFNYC is offline  
Old Jun 2nd, 2017, 12:08 PM
Join Date: Jun 2008
Posts: 23,544
I'm still "in" Parma with you but wanted to stop to echo how nice Pisa is. DH and I went there twice and made it a base for several bus and train day trips.

Will return later. Thanks for a nice TR.
TDudette is offline  
Old Jun 2nd, 2017, 08:31 PM
Join Date: Apr 2004
Posts: 11,497
You're giving me ideas for a possible future trip. I'm really enjoying your report.

Lee Ann
ElendilPickle is offline  
Old Jun 3rd, 2017, 05:29 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 5,476
I got the idea after helping me daughter planning a similar trip a couple of years ago. She discovered the winery and stayed in the manarola airbnb. My daughter Had found cheap airfare to milan and worked around that. She ended up flying into Venice first and starting there. I've been to Venice twice but never pisa so took it from there instead.
MFNYC is offline  
Old Jun 3rd, 2017, 08:13 AM
Join Date: Dec 2005
Posts: 1,028
MFNYC, thank you for this excellent trip report! I'm particularly interested in your time in Bologna because I'm planning a trip that will have me there over a weekend including a side trip to Ravenna.
bon_voyage is offline  
Old Jun 3rd, 2017, 09:00 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 5,476
bon_voyage, Bologna coming soon. We loved Bologna. And we did take day trip to Ravenna and glad we did.
MFNYC is offline  
Old Jun 3rd, 2017, 10:41 AM
Join Date: May 2008
Posts: 9,036
Enjoying your report. I have four unscheduled days in the middle of an Italy trip next month. Pondering, pondering and it's very helpful to read what you discovered on your journey.
Leely2 is offline  

Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy - Do Not Sell My Personal Information