Italy

Table of Contents

We planned this trip to include a balance of city art and architecture and natural beauty and walking. We also tried to intersperse locations with intense sightseeing with more relaxed destinations. We achieved both. 

I visited Venice and Florence in 1983 when I backpacked around Europe. Steve had never been to Italy. We saw a lot and did not feel rushed. We took the train when possible and buses when not and stayed centrally in each location to maximize walking. One pleasant surprise: the food! We like Italian food so we didn’t expect to starve but had no idea every meal would be so delicious. We didn’t have a bad meal the whole trip. We drank more wine than beer too, because wine was relatively cheap and plentiful. And good. I would go back to Italy just to eat. (Not that there isn’t more to see.)

Food & Beverage $46.50*

Average per person per day. Where breakfast wasn't included we bought it from a supermarket. Then we ate one meal out per day. We came close to our $50 daily budget but every meal was delicious.

Lodging $80-218 per night*

Lecce was our cheapest stay, and one of our nicest. Castelrotto was the priciest. We stayed at smaller pensions and liked them all.

Transportation $489 per person*

Transportation includes our train, bus, and ferry fares plus vaporettos (water busses) in Venice and taxis to and from our hotel in Rome.

Entertainment $634 per person*

We did three tours and visited a number of museums. The entrance fees can add up! I included tourist taxes here too. Every town charges them, often in cash only.

* Costs in US dollars at time of trip

Days 1-3: Venice

The Plan: I spent a couple of days in Venice in 1983 and I confess I didn’t love Venice. It didn’t smell very good, for one thing. If it were just me I’d probably skip returning here. But Steve hasn’t seen it and I think he should. I thought about only allowing a single full day here but decided with jet lag and potential delays we should play it safe and spend two days. If we have time and inclination, it looks like a day trip to Padua is easy. Or maybe we just wander the city. We did a food tour with Devour in Barcelona and liked it so we’re going to try one here too. 

The Reality: Venice didn’t smell bad this time. It was beautiful, crowded, and warm and muggy. 

Our sightseeing plans worked well because we were just as exhausted and jetlagged as we expected. It was handy staying near the sights for quick naps in between sights.

  • Day 1
    • St. Mark’s Square
    • Doge’s Palace
    • St. Mark’s Basilica
    • Devour Tour
  • Day 2
    • Wandering the city and cruising the Grand Canal

Days 4-6: The Dolomites

The Plan: I recall the beautiful mountains I saw on the train from Salzburg to Venice in 1983 and want to see them again. This should also be an opportunity to get some walking in. If we get tired of that maybe we’ll hit the museum in Bolzano or take a day trip. We plan to stay in Castelrotto so we’re in the alpine area. I hear Bolzano is not.

The Reality: We did some walking in the beautiful Alpe di Siusi and even saw some great views from the top of the hill right in town. The museum in Bolzano was so far out of the way that we skipped it. We were enjoying being outdoors.

Days 7-10: Lake Como

The Plan: After seeing the lakes in Star Wars and James Bond I wanted to see them in person. We planned four nights here since it will take most of the first day to get here. We’ll be staying in Bellagio since it’s central and I could find someplace to stay that sounded like us. 

The Reality: We did little that we thought we would do. We did more walking than hiking, the ferry there was scenic enough, and the threat of rain kept us closer to home. We still enjoyed ourselves!

  • Day 1: Travel
  • Day 2: Walking Hiking
  • Day 3: Varenna and Villa Melzi
  • Day 4: Shopping (rain)
  • Self-guided ferry tour from Rick Steves’ guide Didn’t feel the need
  • Villa Carlotta Villa Melzi instead

Days 11-14: The Cinque Terre

The Plan: The Cinque Terre looks and sounds beautiful. We picked Monterosso as our base because it should have more tourist infrastructure and is maybe not as steep as others! It sounds like it should be easy to get to the other villages. Once again we’re spending four nights because it will take a while to get here. 

The Reality: We found out the Via dell’Amore had partially reopened so we combined that with village hopping by train. We didn’t hit the beach for long and got lots of walking in. 

  • Day 1: Travel
  • Day 2: Walking in Monterosso
  • Day 3: Via dell’Amore and village hopping
  • Day 4: A walk to to the beach and not much else

Days 15-19: Florence

The Plan: While I was underwhelmed by Venice, I loved Florence when I was here before. There is a lot to see in Florence and with about four and a half days we hope to fit in all of our must-dos without wearing ourselves out. And that we don’t get worn out by the onslaught of art. If time and inclination allows maybe we’ll take a day trip to a smaller town in the area. 

The Reality: We spread the art around enough that we didn’t get fatigued. We didn’t do any day trips but were able to intersperse some of the smaller sights, including the Palazzo Davanzati, which was an unexpected delight. 

  • Day 1
    • Uffizi Gallery
    • Pitti Palace and Oltrarno
  • Day 2
    • Accademia and Duomo Museums
  • Day 3
    • Bargello Museum
    • Boboli Gardens and Palazzo Davanzati
  • Day 4
    • Piazzale Michelangelo and Medici Chapels

Days 20-23: Lecce

The Plan: From Florence to the “Florence of the south.” I wanted a break in the touring frenzy between Florence and Rome, and originally thought about spending three days in Orvieto. Then I realized that by reversing our itinerary for southern Italy we could have that break and end in Rome, for an easier return to the USA.

We don’t have a lot planned for Lecce; this will be more a few days to just “be” and explore spontaneously. 

The Reality: It turned out like I thought. Now that I’ve been to both places though, I think I’d split the time equally between Lecce and Matera.

  • Day 1: Basilica di Santa Croce and other churches
  • Day 2: Wandering the town
  • Day 3: Day trip to Gallipoli

Days 24-25: Matera

The Plan: I went back and forth on Matera, whether it was worth spending a couple of days here or not. In the end I decided that we could fit in a couple of nights. 

Getting to and from here won’t be simple. It looks like the bus from Lecce is quickest and cheapest, but it doesn’t leave until afternoon, so we may end up on a train based on schedule. We’ll see as it gets closer. 

The Reality: I am so glad I made time for this. In fact I wish we’d taken a day from Lecce and spent it here. We spent our one day here wandering around the town and the stassi. With a second day we could have done more of that or gotten out into the countryside. Or just sitting on the terrace enjoying the view! We ended up taking the local train from Bari to get there and found a Trenitalia bus/train combo ticket to get us to Naples, where we could catch a local train to Sorrento.

Days 26-30: Sorrento

The Plan: Sorrento looks like a good base for day trips to other parts of the area, rather than packing up and moving every day. I don’t know that we’ll fit them all in; it will depend on public transportation and how much hiking/walking we feel up to. 

The Reality: Sorrento was a good base (and a nice place altogether) though we ended up with different days trips than we planned. 

We decided against hiking and the hour or two each in Amalfi and Positano was all we needed. 

  • Sentiero degli Dei (Path of the Gods) and Capri
  • Day 1: Wandering Sorrento
  • Day 2: Pompeii and Naples day trip
  • Day 3: Amalfi and Positano
  • Day 4: Inlaid wood museum and shopping

Days 31-35: Rome

The Plan: So many sights to try to pack into probably too little time! I think we will only be able to take so much of Rome, though, so we’ll do the best we can. We’re staying centrally so it will be easier to get around without public transportation. This will be the last mad rush before we head home. 

We hope to fit in the Vittoriano the day we arrive. The Colosseum is on a 24-hour ticket with the Palatine Hill and Roman Forum so we need to do those together. We’ll do St. Peter’s and the Vatican Museums since they’re near each other, along with the Castel Sant’Angelo if we have time. The Pantheon is near where we’re staying. Then we can go the Borghese Gallery if we aren’t satiated with art by then. 

The Reality: We did most of what we planned, in a different order. We walked past the Vittoriano. We did the Pantheon the day we arrived because it was so close. We flipped the days for the Vatican and the Borghese Gallery so we weren’t at St Peter’s on Sunday, and we spent our last day in Trastevere. 

I expected Rome to be more overwhelming. Maybe my evil plan of visiting Rome last so we were warmed up worked?

  • Arrival Day: Pantheon Vittoriano
  • Day 1
    • Colosseum
    • Roman Forum
    • Palatine Hill
    • Capitoline Museums
  • Day 2
    • Borghese Gallery
    • Trevi Fountain
    • Spanish Steps
  • Day 3
    • St. Peter’s Basilica
    • Vatican Museums
    • Castel Sant’Angelo
  • Day 4
    • City walks (Trastevere), gardens, shopping?
book cover
book cover

Resources

  • Rick Steves’ Italy was our primary resource. It was my first time using his guide. I like the introductory walk for each location and the detailed info on buying tickets, etc.
  • We also used Lonely Planet Italy because Rick Steves doesn’t cover some of the places we wanted to go (Lecce and Matera)
  • The Man in Seat 61 has excellent information on train travel
  • Besides offering interesting tours, Devour Tours has great info on eating in cities where they offer tours

Christmas Ornament

octopus ornament

I ate so much delicious octopus on this trip that we decided on an octopus ornament.