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Northern Italy base for 1 to 1.5 wks for very slow travel

Northern Italy base for 1 to 1.5 wks for very slow travel

Old Jan 16th, 2019, 10:03 AM
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Northern Italy base for 1 to 1.5 wks for very slow travel

Some friends of mine are planning a 1 to 1.5 week trip to Italy next June.

Some background. Grandma treats each high school graduate to a trip to a location of their choice. On prior trips graduate's older brother & sister chose tours of Ireland & Italy, and Grandma arranged the travel plans (2-3 days in various cities w/ hotel or apartment in each, rental car, city tours, etc.

This year's luck graduate wants to go to Italy, but has decided he wants to stay in one "small city" as a base, to enjoy some "slow travel."

On the trip will be likely 3 or 4 people.
Grandma = frequent traveler & experienced planner, but no longer an 18yr old, very accommodating but does like to have activities planned.
HS graduate + Maybe brother and/or friend of HS graduate - guests need to pay their own airfare
Adult daughter of Grandma (aunt of graduate) = happy just to go to Italy & do nothing for 2 weeks, so no special requests,

As usual, if you ask people for recommendations you'll get lots of "you must do this" advice, and they have. As a result, their heads are swimming with too much info that doesn't all add up as "must do for them on this trip"

Original idea was rent a countryside townhouse/villa/agritourismo for. Grandma/Grandpa, and adult daughter have stayed in various locations in Tuscany several times and enjoyed the experience, so this is familiar to Grandma who's the one doing the planning. One of the con's they think about this is that if you stay in the countryside, literally everything you do requires arranging transportation - either your own rental car, or whoever currently has the rental car to come get you, or taxi/ride share, etc. So they're thinking a very independent but also often very late rising, and won't be driving 18yr old it may be much better to stay in a small city. That way he can find his own haunts on his own schedule - coffee shop, cafe, town square, etc, and come and go at his own schedule. This is where the search is currently focused: finding a small city that has some life/vibe/culture, but isn't one of the biggies that are overwhelmed all day with tourists.
They may still tag on a few days in a gateway city at start or end - all tbd.

Options that have been floated:

Obviously not all of these are small cities, They're asking me for my inputs, and I'm in turn asking fodors friends. If you had to pick a single place to stay for 1 to 1.5 weeks - especially considering the trip purpose - immersed slow travel focused primarily on the needs of the HS graduate, but considering grandma/daughter as well.

J62 is offline  
Old Jan 16th, 2019, 10:39 AM
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I would suggest Lucca. Charming small city, easy train access to Florence, Pisa, etc. They actually hold a world-class music festival with everything from rock to rap to classical at the beginning of July every year. We stayed in a villa outside of the city, but I am sure there are accommodations to be had within the city.

What a great gift from Grandma!
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Old Jan 16th, 2019, 01:54 PM
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Add Perugia to that list - nice larger hill town and great base for day trips to Gubbio, Assisi, Cortona, Todi and Urbino to start and university town where lots of Americans take summer classes so HS grad may enjoy that.
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Old Jan 16th, 2019, 02:37 PM
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If you don't want cities overwhelmed with tourists all day, that eliminates, without question, Siena, Verona, Florence, Venice, and Assisi. Bologna isn't busy so much with tourists, it's just busy. That leaves Montalcino, and it won't be quiet by day and might be a little too small for your needs. We went to the Perugia chocolate festival one fall and frankly were not in love with the place. Lucca was great. Also, we enjoyed Volterra. We did a similar family trip about 20 years ago, villa rental in the country outside of Spoleto, and we really liked Spoleto.
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Old Jan 16th, 2019, 02:47 PM
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Take a look at Spello in Umbria too.
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Old Jan 16th, 2019, 02:50 PM
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I would vote for Bologna, even though it’s a large city. Due to the vast university population, the graduate would have endless opportunities to socialize with others his age in bars, cafes and clubs. The lively atmosphere, the popularity of aperitivo and easy train rides to towns like Verona, Modena, Parma, Ravenna, Venice and Florence make it a fun city and great base. There’s plenty of history, art, shopping and great food for everyone. If you stay somewhere in the old city, everything, including the train station, is walkable and the portico-covered sidewalks provide relief from Inclement weather if needed.
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Old Jan 16th, 2019, 03:25 PM
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How about Padova? It's a university town with both a younger vibe and history. Venice is an hour away by train and Milan is just under two hours. If things get boring for the graduate, he can hop a train in either direction and be popped in the middle of either city.
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Old Jan 16th, 2019, 03:30 PM
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I think the lucky graduate needs to decide what part/region of Italy he wants to focus on and also define what he means by "small town." The only towns on your list that I consider "small" are Montalcino and Assisi. If you won't have a car, Montalcino is too remote and underserved by public transportation (bus only), and Assisi, though it has good transportation links, tends to be overrun with tour buses during the day.

If the graduate can't narrow the geographic scope, can he at least identify the sorts of things he wants to see/do? Does he like museums, art, architecture, food, cars/motorcycles, archeology, sailing, biking, hiking, seaside, mountains???

Do grandma and the other travelers have any say in the final destination? If so, what are their interests (geographic and touring)? Has anyone been to Italy before?

If you plan to spend a few days at either/both ends of the trip in the gateway city/cities, how many days are left for the other destination?
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Old Jan 17th, 2019, 05:55 AM
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I would either pick Venice, Siena, Lucca or even a town in the Dolomites. Venice and Lucca are both on train lines, so day trips are easy. And even though Venice gets mobbed by the day trippers, as long as you stay off the beaten path, you have streets to yourself. Siena has a good bus system to connect you to Florence. And with Lucca, you are never far from the sea by train.

What does he envision himself doing day to day ?
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Old Jan 17th, 2019, 10:22 AM
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Well, I'd make two bases - one in say Venice and one in a smaller Tuscan hill town maybe a week at a farmhouse. Rent a car and motor around Tuscany.
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Old Jan 17th, 2019, 05:00 PM
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Thanks for all the great input. Given all the positive reviews Lucca gets here on fodors that's an intriguing option, especially given the proximity to the sea and being on rail lines to Florence and Pisa makes day trips to those cities easy.

Bookending it with a few days in Venice at the end, away from the immediate center is another interesting idea. I myself spend 4d there on that long trip to Italy many years ago and found the quiet of Venice a nice respite from the bus, truck, scooter, and car traffic of Rome and Florence.

We'll take these ideas to Grandma and HS Grad and see if we can help them firm up a plan. Days and dates are flexible. Grandma is retired, HS grad is well, a HS grad, so there is no firm start and end requirement.
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Old Jan 18th, 2019, 11:10 AM
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In terms of public transportation, Pistoia may be better than Lucca because half the trains going along that route end in Pistoia. That means that getting to Florence and points beyond is more convenient that from Lucca. Pistoia has a nice old town too:

and other pictures around it.

For an different eating experience, go to this place: A restaurant off the beaten track

But my choice would be Bologna. The city itself is worth a visit, and it would be a nice hub get to Florence, Ravenna, Faenza, Parma etc.

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Old Jan 18th, 2019, 12:16 PM
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OK, I can happily humbly brag that DH and I visited all of the towns you first listed, J62. We made bases and took day trips. Below whether they were bases or day trip places:

Sienna: We visited once by train and once by bus. Both stations were well away from the city center and the wonderful Palladio piazza.
Montalcino: Again, a day trip visit (from Perugia) and we hired a driver to visit here. Very pretty. We also visited Montepulciano with the same driver.
Verona: This was a base and we found it easy to take the train to Milan and Vicenzo for day trips. Interesting city itself. Opera!
Florence: Another base and we easily took the train to Siena from here. So much to see one might not need to go too far. We took a bus to Fiesole for pretty views.
Venice: Easy Vap to the train station. We visited Padua, Travisoand Trieste by train from there. Amazing place to walk around. Over the course of several visits, we saw Murano, Burano and the Lido. This is my favorite place for slow savoring. Verona an easy day trip also.
Assisi: This was a wonderful day trip by train from our Spoleto base (we also visited Spello and Orvieto from there).
Bologna: This was a base and we easily trained to Varenna. Faience on my list but we ran out of time. Food a big draw here.

Please report back about your wonderful relative!

Last edited by TDudette; Jan 18th, 2019 at 12:19 PM.
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