Plan the perfect trip to Italy – Part 2
Ok, so you know you want to come to Italy for a long-ish vacation, and you have a few ideas of the kind of things you want to do. But you can’t do it all, so how do you choose? Well, one way to do this is to decide at the start what kind of holiday you want to have; what kind of traveller do you want to be?
City-hopper – you plan to hit the big cities, Rome, Venice, Florence, Milan, and spend a few days in each doing the sights, maybe focusing on the restaurants, the shopping, the nightlife, or all of these.
Town-tourist – you plan to stay in smaller towns and villages, with the occasional trip into the big cities. You want to see a lot of different places, experience several kinds of landscape and scenery, and cover a lot of ground.
The country-nomad – you plan to base yourself in one or two locations, stay somewhere nice, and use these home-from-homes as a base for your in-depth exploration of the area.
So let’s look at each of these. As a city-hopper, you won’t be hiring a car, apart from the odd day here and there as a day-excursion. You’ll primarily be getting around on trains, which connect all the major destinations. Trains are fast and cheap, and have excellent restaurant cars – I always head straight there and enjoy a good meal. You’ll be able to see all the major city sights this way, and you’ll be staying in centrally located apartments or hotels. Look for easy access to local transport and decent eateries nearby. It’s a great way to see the major sights in the big cities, but in areas like Tuscany, you’ll miss out on all the beautiful, hard-to-reach hill-top towns. Still, there are enough quality cities in Italy to keep city-hoppers busy for weeks.
As a town-tourist you will hire a car, and flip between smaller towns and villages, staying at B&B’s and hotels, but not spending more than a couple of nights in each place. You’ll make commando-style raids on nearby big cities when they come within striking distance, but use public transport for these, as most popular towns and cities have ZTLs that prohibit entry to those without permits. You’ll pick up lots of tickets if you ignore these. This is a great way to cover a lot of ground, and you’ll have the freedom to go wherever you like. Booking accommodation on-the-fly is viable in off-peak periods if you don’t care too much where you sleep and you don’t mind the stress. It’s a very active vacation, full of movement and variety. It’s always tempting if you’re on a budget, because you feel like you are getting a lot for your money, but it can all seem like a blur of place-names, and a lot of driving around.
The country-nomads have probably been city-hoppers and town-tourists, not necessarily in Italy, but they know it’s not the kind of holiday they want this time. They’ll choose a really nice apartment or villa with a pool, and will plan to spend a fair amount of time enjoying these facilities. They like eating out but won’t want to do that every night, and may enjoy cooking using ingredients bought at local produce markets. They’ll use their accommodation as a base for their exploration of the local area with their hire-car, but won’t necessarily be that set on seeing all the major sights. They prefer areas not packed with tourists, and will use their car to find and experience things more off-the-beaten track. Like nomads, they’ll spend a decent amount of time in each place, usually a week or so, before moving on. It can be a more expensive holiday because the quality of your accommodation will be more important, but you’ll save money in other ways. It’ll be more relaxing overall, and not so schedule-driven. You may do the odd day in the big-city tourist traps, but no more than that. It’s more about the experience than the sight-seeing.
At Patrignone we get to see a lot of travellers from all over the world, and some try to experience all three kinds of travel on the same holiday. But it’s often because they’ve not thought about their travel strategy carefully enough, or they are in a group trying to please everyone at the same time. Some manage to enjoy themselves anyway, but others find the sudden shifts in tempo unsettling. It’s all very well turning up at our quiet, relaxing Agriturismo in the hills after you have had a hard 3-day slog around Venice. “Phew,” you say, as you put your sore feet up and watch the sunset with a large glass of Chianti Classico, “That’s better.” But if you’ve planned to pack-up and move-on 3 days later and face the crowds and heat of Rome, and you find the anxiety levels creeping up again, you know you’ve taken on too much and should have built more nomad-time into your plans.
By all means mix up your travel, spend some time in the larger cities and towns, see the sights, kick-back and relax in the country for a few days. Just think carefully about the kind of holiday you really want. Don’t bully yourself into seeing stuff that others or the guidebooks say “you just have to see”. There’s no such thing. The Uffizi may well hold the greatest collection of Renaissance art on the plant, but unless you’re a serious art lover/historian, do you really want to lose a day of your valuable holiday ticking that particular box just because you think you ought to? Or would you rather spend the afternoon visiting a small winery in the hills hearing some of the stories the wine-maker has to offer? Both are great in their own way, but which is more you? Remember: you can’t do everything. Not this time around.
Lastly, even if you’re compulsion to plan is urging you to account for every single minute, try to remain flexible, and be prepared to ditch your plans at the last minute. As you travel around, you’ll get plenty of advice and ideas from fellow travellers, from your hosts (if you get the opportunity to meet them), and even from shops and restaurants. This advice will be current and local, and way better than anything you get from a guide book. So keep your ears open…
To round up: think carefully, decide what style of holiday is right for you, and pick your itinerary based on these decisions. You’ll go home ticking all your own boxes, and not those dictated to you by guide books and friends.
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By Simon of patrignone.com