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MartiB Aug 13th, 2007 09:58 AM

Which two cities in Italy for 7 day trip...
Hi Everyone,

I'm a frequent reader of these posts, but have never posted anything myself....until now. I'm planning on taking my boyfriend on a surprise birthday trip to Italy on the first week of November (7 days), and I would love your input as to which two cities I should plan on. We are both chefs, so it goes without saying that eating well will definitely be one of the main goals. This will also be our first time in Italy, and it's always been a dream of his to go there, and I'd like to make it as memorable/romantic as possible. Thanks in advance for all of your answers.


Narnya Aug 13th, 2007 10:03 AM

My favorite city in the world is Florence. It's romantic, visitor-friendly, lots of accessible (public) art, beatiful surrounding scenery, and great food. There are many other wonderful cities in Italy (Rome, Venice, etc.), but Florence is my all-time favorite.

NeoPatrick Aug 13th, 2007 10:10 AM

And to balance that view, Florence is my LEAST favorite city in Italy.

I was going to suggest 4 nights in Rome, then move to a nice town in Tuscany for the other three nights -- Montalcino, Pienza, Montepulciano, even Orvieto?

BigBlueMarble Aug 13th, 2007 10:11 AM

What are your interests? There are countless options. If you want to stick to the main cities you could do Rome & Florence or Florence & Rome. If you love food consider Venice & Modena or Parma. There are lots of foodie things to do in that area, as well as Tuscany.

MartiB Aug 13th, 2007 10:26 AM

Thanks so much for your replies so far! We're mostly interested in food/wine, with a little bit of sightseeing thrown in, although not too much (we'll probably skip the museums, and such), but since it will be our first time, we'll definitely want to see the main sights. I think that I'd definitely like to do Rome, but I'm stuck on another city. Thanks again!


NeoPatrick Aug 13th, 2007 10:30 AM

For the food and wine, I still think you can't beat Tuscany. What about staying at a "villa" or a "winery" or at least a wine town with wonderful restaurants (again Montalcino or Montepulciano.

MartiB Aug 13th, 2007 10:38 AM

That's a terrific idea! Which of the Tuscan towns would you recommend? We're probably going to fly in and out of Rome. Staying at a winery or villa is also a great idea, and something that we'd totally be into. Any thoughts on wineries that allow overnight guests? Thanks!

nytraveler Aug 13th, 2007 10:39 AM

Well if you're real foodies don;t bother with Venice - it's the only place in Italy I've found that has quite a bit of poor - and sometimes also expensive - food. (Way too many tourists who don;t know any better versus relatively few locals.)

I would do Rome and Florence. Different styles of food, different atmospheres and a couple of must see sights in each. And you can easily do day trips into Tuscany from Florence.

NeoPatrick Aug 13th, 2007 10:42 AM

Well, it's hard to beat the Brunellos. Look at this site -- just outside of Montalcino. What's your budget? Be prepared to drool at the website.

dorkforcemom Aug 13th, 2007 10:47 AM

I'm with NeoPatrick on this one - divide between Rome and southern Tuscany. My favorite cities are Pienza, Montepulciano, Montalcino, San Quirico, & San Gimignano. You can easily take the train from Rome to Chiusi where rental car facilities are literally across the street from the small train station. Within 30 minutes, you're in the most beautiful area of Italy. The food & wine choices are abundant. Along with NeoPatricks suggestion, check out these relais as well:
Happy planning!

bxb52 Aug 13th, 2007 10:53 AM

I was in Tuscany this April - also just loved Pienza (it is off the beaten track) cobblestone streets, small shops, great food. Check out Hotel Il Chiostro di Pienza. Nice walking tours in the area. Also had fantastic lunch and wine tasting at Fattoria dei Barbi winery, and cooking class at Il Rigo agriturismo. (they also had rooms to stay that were beautiful.)

MartiB Aug 13th, 2007 10:55 AM

NeoPatrick....DorkforceMom....all I can say is WOW! Thanks so much for this info. I am definitely going to go with one of those. At this point, I'm trying to decide between Montalcino and Pienza. This might be a stupid question, but are there any airports nearby? I was planning on flying out of Rome, but maybe there's a better way?

NeoPatrick Aug 13th, 2007 10:59 AM

Most of Tuscany is only a couple hours from Rome, and you will probably do greater savings flying in and out of there than changing to Pisa or Florence airports.

I have to say, as a town I like Pienza probably the best. But if I were doing a real splurge that Castello Banfi place would be at the top of my list. I can't even bring up the rates, I think my computer goes into shock when I hit that button, even when I turn off the pop-up blocker.

MartiB Aug 13th, 2007 11:06 AM

That's really funny...I thought it was just me, as the rates aren't coming up on my computer either. At any rate, I think that I'll probably go with Pienza. Sounds like it would be a good base. Thank you all for your help!

Sampaguita Aug 13th, 2007 11:08 AM

If you are both chefs, then without a doubt one of your cities should be in Piedmont, home of Italy's best cucina and wine, not to mention thta November is in the prime season for white truffles. Piedmont has been described as "Tuscany without the tourists" and has everything to offer that that region has, hilltop villages, castles,history, culture etc and if you are a serious foodie, then everyone in Italy knows that Piedmont is where its at. You could stay in turin, but I think that the Monferatto and Langhe area around Asti and Alba are the best place to stay to explore the countless wonderful trattorie and osterie.

Second choice for foodies would be Emiglia Romagna around Bologna area, take in Parma and Modena as well.

However if this is your first trip to Italy, then by all means choose a second choice of one of the classic Italian cities, Florence or Venice, it won't be so crowded in November.

faredolce Aug 13th, 2007 11:29 AM

There are lots of good suggestions here, but there are some basic questions that need to be answered.

Where are you flying from?

Is the total trip 7 nights, including the flights in/out?

What is your price range per night per location?

Are you planning to rent a car? Can you rent a car, and are comfortable driving in Italy (which can be great fun!).

Personally, as a chef, I would recommend Rome, and - surprise! - Bologna! From Bologna you can take short train hops to some of the best eating towns around - Modena, Parma, and of course, Bologna itself.

I also think that you could shift your entire trip north, as suggested, and go to Piemonte, another region that every chef should visit. It is the birthplace of the Slow Food movement, and there is incredible eating in both small cities and the capital of Torino. Think Alba, Asti, - uh, it will be truffle season - and any number of other fabulous charming hideaways, all with fantastic food.

I would do Rome/Bologna, or the entire 7 days in Piedmont, some in Torino, and the rest in a small city.

MartiB Aug 13th, 2007 11:40 AM

Aarrgghhh!! Now I'm confused all over again. I'm flying from NY and the trip was supposed to be 7 days, including travel time, but in the past hour, since the most wonderful suggestions have come in, I've increased it to 9 days (not including travel days) flying in and out of Rome, and yes I was planning on renting a car. I've pretty much decided on Rome and I "thought" that I had decided on Pienza....and now I'm wavering...again. So, the consensus is Bologna? Can we drive from Rome to Bologna? Any thoughts on places to stay in Bologna? and while we're on the subject, I was thinking of renting an apt in Rome for our stay there....any thoughts on which part of the city I should look into?

faredolce Aug 13th, 2007 11:47 AM

With 9 days, you could fly open jaw, in or out of Rome and Pisa, and do most of the traveling by train. For instance, fly into Rome, spend 4 nights, take the train to Bologna, spend 3 nights, You can rent a car in Bologna for a day or two to explore, but you could also simply rely on the train.

Spend the last two nights in Florence, and fly out of either Florence (with one stop somewhere) or Pisa (direct to JFK).

Alternatively, you could fly in and out of Milan, rent a car, and eat your way through Piemonte. Nice.

NeoPatrick Aug 13th, 2007 11:56 AM

"So, the consensus is Bologna?"

Whoa! Not from this poster. I've been to Italy many times and for long periods of traveling all over. I've stayed in Bologna and I really enjoyed it. And some will argue that Parma is the greatest food center of Italy, but in your situation to choose between Bologna and a Tuscan hill Town? No brainer -- Tuscany all the way. And don't worry about the "without the tourists of Tuscany". Tuscany will not be crawling with tourists in November!

Where to rent an apartment in Rome? Stick to the historic center -- Fiori, Navonna, or Pantheon, for example.
Here's the link to the wonderful one we stayed in next to the Pantheon this summer (our fourth and favorite Rome apartment). It's just one flight up, has a wonderful walk in shower as well as the huge tub, a very quiet bedroom, and a great view of the Pantheon and the square in front of it.

but you can book directly with the owner (probably saving a little off the top):
[email protected]

Therese Aug 13th, 2007 11:59 AM

For food and wine, I'd suggest Bologna and Torino.

Bologna's got very good train connections, so unless you have a compelling reason to have a car (and one of them had better not be driving around Rome) I'd stick with the train.

MartiB Aug 13th, 2007 12:17 PM

Thanks to everyone for all of your wonderful suggestions. I think that I'm going to stick with Rome and Pienza for this trip, although I'm getting way ahead of myself, and already planning my second trip, which will surely include Bologna.
NeoPatrick...Thanks for the tip on the apt. It looks great and I'll contact the owner directly. I couldn't really tell from the pics how great of a view of the Pantheon one gets from the living room. Would you consider it a romantic place to stay?

Zerlina Aug 13th, 2007 12:21 PM

Wherever you decide to go, do read up on the cooking of the region. All Italian cooking is regional, and the cooking in Bologna is very different from the cooking in Rome.

Unless you're into "creative" cuisine. That's pretty similar everywhere - including Rome, New York and Singapore.

faredolce Aug 13th, 2007 12:30 PM

Listen, no matter where you go, it will be a blast, and wonderful, and picturesque, and you will have a great time.

But I have to say two things. Having been in Italy in November five times, it is absolutely not true that it won't be crawling with tourists. Not as bad as the summer, but fall is pretty briskly busy.

As for the cuisine, Tuscan cooking is great, but not super varied, and is based on fresh, fresh ingredients, simply prepared. In the fall in Tuscany you will be sure to enjoy porcini, and (in Rome, artichoke season will have begun, as well as puntarelle) boar, chestnuts and many other delectables of the season.

But just to be clear, Tuscan cuisine is not as varied and layered as that of Piemonte, and Emilia-Romagna.

This article from the New York Times illustrates this brilliantly:

Just How Good Can Italy Get?

So enjoy the Val D'Orcia, but be sure to put the other two regions on your list.

StCirq Aug 13th, 2007 12:33 PM

For real foodies....Bologna, Bologna, Bologna!

Then Rome, because it's your first trip to Italy - how could you miss it?

tomassocroccante Aug 13th, 2007 12:40 PM

Hunted around the net for rates on Castello Banfi - not to be found. Has not been reviewed by NYTimes or Travel and Leisure - it looks fantastic. The Ristorante has a Michelin star, by the way.

RE renting a car - if you think you'd like to do it, there's no reason not to have a car to drive from town to town in Tuscany and Umbria. Of course you then have a car to deal with , but you also come and go as you like. If you have several days when you're not staying in a large city and would like to explore by car - especially winery-hopping (keep a designated driver), then do it. On the other hand, if it's the first time for both of you in Italy, maybe it's more relaxing not to deal with a car. And of course, you don't want or need it in town.

I think young chefs in Rome would enjoy Trastevere, and would find it a great area to have an apartment, too. (I tend to like being around the corner from the center of things, rather than spot in the middle.) Lots of good dining options (and food shopping) there and in Testaccio, both the authentic and traditional and the modern variants.

You'll find may specific apartments to look at, Marti, recommended by Fodorites. Just search "Rome apartment" and you'll be swimming in them.

MartiB Aug 13th, 2007 12:46 PM

OK, I'm convinced. At the risk of stretching us a little thinly, I think that I'd like to add Bologna. So, in terms of itinerary.....what do you think the easiest/best way to do it would be? Rome/Pienza/Bologna/Rome? or Bologna first, then Pienza? We're flying in and out of Rome either way. And would renting a car hinder or help? Thanks everyone! You've overwhelmed me! (in a good way :)

Zerlina Aug 13th, 2007 01:02 PM

As I see it, the most time- and cost-efficient would be the following:

Arrive Fiumicino, train to Roma Termini (main railway station), train to Bologna, stay in Bologna.

Train to Chiusi, rent car, drive to Pienza, stay in/near Pienza, drive around area, return car in Chiusi, train to Rome.

Stay in Rome, train to Fiumicino, fly out.

Having a car anywhere except in Tuscany is not only expensive, it's useless. And the autoroute between Bologna and Florence is a horror, which is why I suggest the train. Driving into Rome is also something better avoided, in my opinion.

MartiB Aug 13th, 2007 01:12 PM

Thanks for the tip Zerlina. You've reinforced what I was thinking of doing.

Dayle Aug 13th, 2007 02:08 PM

Hi Marti,

I'll join those voting for Rome and Tuscany. I haven't been to Bologna or Parma - yet. However, I'm a big believe of mixing cities with countryside and Rome and Tuscany are wonderful (so is Umbria). I believe November will put you into truffle season too! Yum, yum yum. And the Brunello! Made in heaven. Loved the traditional Tuscan and Roman food.

I think if you try to add Bologna, you will be stretched too thin. You'll definitely be going back anyway, so anything more than 2 destinations in 7 days can happen in the future!

Buon apetito!

Narnya Aug 13th, 2007 02:18 PM

If you're able to extend the trip to 9 days, why are you limited to just two cities?

ira Aug 13th, 2007 02:24 PM

Hi M,

>I'm planning on taking my boyfriend on a surprise birthday trip to Italy on the first week of November (7 days),...

How nice of you. Lucky fellow.

I suggest fly into Venice - 3 nights.
Train to Florence - 3 nights
Daytrip to Bologna
Fly home from Florence FLR of Pisa PSA.

If you have more time, all the better.


tomassocroccante Aug 13th, 2007 02:25 PM

Marti~ If you do decide on Bologna, you could consider flying into or out of Milan, about 100 miles closer to Bologna than Rome. We booked flights into Milan with a train to Bologna (it was easy to be in Bologna around lunchtime ...) a couple of years ago, ending the trip in Rome and flying home from there. I say Milan rather than Venice or closer Florence simply because of the many non stop flights Milan-New York. You would likely find that an easy open jaw ticket to book. Spend a night in Bologna (or even Parma first, if you want the real chef's tour), then head south stopping where you will on the road to Rome. But with that plan, you wouldn't need a long train ride out of or back to Roma. Just another way to do it.

I agree that lots of the suggestions offered you are great ones (many from real experts!), so give yourself a night or two (or more) to look them over, with a map open, thinking about what really appeals.

annhig Aug 13th, 2007 03:10 PM

hi, marti,

I know that many posters have raved about the food in Bologna [and may be right - it's high on my wish list] but the food in Rome was surprisingly good. Definitely better than Florence, and most of what I've eaten in Tuscany.

if you can get open jaw into Milan and out of Rome, I'd go Bologna, drive to Pienza, then drive to orvieto, drop off car, train to rome.

regards, ann

NeoPatrick Aug 13th, 2007 03:57 PM

On that link I did to the Pantheon apt, there is an actual shot out of one of the windows of the Pantheon. You are looking at the side of it, but in the pictures you can see the columns which are part of the front of the Pantheon, and you see into the square in front of it. Yet the apartment, being to the side prevents it from having the constant "roar" of noise you'd have if right on the square.

MartiB Aug 14th, 2007 06:50 AM

Hi Everyone, Thanks so much for all of your great info. I'm making a final decision this weekend (and booking the flights so that I don't change my mind again!), but so far, I'm leaning towards Rome/Bologna/Tuscany/Rome, probably in that order. I'll be sure to give you all a rundown of the trip once I'm back in NY. Can't wait for November 1st! Thanks again!

havepassport Aug 17th, 2007 06:39 AM

Hi MartiB
Don't stress too much- No matter where you go in Italy, you'll have great food and a wonderful time. If you're like me, your first trip will be the reason you need to go back- there is just so much to see and taste still!
Just a few practical suggestions for you:
If you are thinking train travel, order your tickets on-line. Then you can retrieve them from the machine at the station. It saves long lines at the station.
Also, ask your waiter for suggestions. I am a foodie, but little known local or house specialties- yum!!! Enjoy your trip!

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