April 29, 2011, 08:58 PM
Advice and suggestions needed!
Myself and husband, along with 3 other couples are arriving in Italy mid-September for a 2 week vacation, and are looking for some advice about where to go and what to see. We definitely want to visit the Tuscany region, including Cinque Terre but there has also some discussion about trying to get a visit in to Venice. Our other factor is that we are flying from Canada both in and out of Rome, as they were the most reasonable and flexible flights we could find. However, as a group we visited Rome 2 years ago (loved it!) but don't need to see it again... Our thoughts were to rent a car in Rome, and drive to the tuscany region - perhaps rent a villa for a week and day-trip from there - and then take a bit of a road trip the second week to incorporate some other sights. We are also open to the idea of a villa for the entire 2 week period, and using it as our home base - if that makes sense geographically....
So we would love to know:
1. What are the must-see areas or towns/villages? And how long in each spot? Where to start?
2. Is renting cars our best option? (keeping in mind there are 8 of us - which means 2 cars) And what about for the trip to/from Rome? Would it be better to take the train into Tuscany and pick up cars there?
3. Any other suggestions other than Venice for additional sightseeing? I have heard that you don't want to drive in Venice (if it is anything like Rome, I understand why!)
Thanks in advance for any and all input!
one more thought
I also forgot to mention that as a group it would be appealing if we could find a villa/farmhouse or the like (large enough to accommodate 8), that operates as a B & B where there may be an option to have meals prepared for us. Suggestions anyone?
lots to do... maybe you should stay in Tuscany on this trip!
Wow lots of questions so let's see how to tackle them.... first, considering you have two weeks, you will have a chance to see each place you go to without being in a hurry.
The places we suggest for a first time visit to Tuscany are all listed here, so start by getting an idea of places to visit and see from here: 7 day itinerary in Tuscany.
1. rental cars vs train - you're going to have to run some test reservations on both a car rental site (try Auto Europe's car rental search engine , it searches across various car rental companies in the same way some other aggregators do
and once you reserve tells you which agency to go to) as well as trenitalia.com to see cost of train tickets.... regardless of your choice of whether to rent in Rome or in Florence, keep in mind that a car is definitely a necessity to move around Tuscany......... so if you're renting, you might just do it from the start (I see one way train ticket from Rome to Florence costs 30-45 euro per person). So even two cars might be cheaper than rental+train.
2. The main sights in Venice are on the islands -- so you have to drive to Venice Mestre (land) and park there and then take the train (less than 5 min ride) into the island or a boat shuttle.
3. Accommodation choices: there are many villas that offer B&B service (some offer just breakfast, others will also offer dinner if reserved) but keep in mind these are the ones that set up as a B&B and not as apartments (these generally are "self-catering") or as a villa offered as a whole. Off the top of my head, I do know of two that would be perfect:
Villa Dianella - has 4 bedrooms so perfect for your group, and set up as a B&B so offers breakfast. As they offer cooking classes for guests, there is a kitchen available so contact them directly and ask whether upon request they can cook for your group. They are located near Vinci, pretty centrally located in Tuscany which would make it a good base for two entire weeks.
Tenuta Quadrifoglio - another great possibility, as it offers apartments as well as rooms and breakfast is also available to guests staying in the apartments - also very centrally located near Gambassi Terme and has chefs on hand for lunches and dinners (make sure to contact them and ask)
4. itinerary: this is very subjective and depends on what your group wants to do, your likes and interests... you ask whether there are other places aside from Venice to add to the trip but Venice is already not very close to Tuscany and is a over a 3 hour drive from Florence. It is not a day trip - if you want to fit it in, then you'd have to likely decide to not stay in Tuscany for the two weeks and move up north before heading back south. There are other places to see, but depending on your interests some will be more appealing that others. Some choices: Bologna, Verona, Padova and Ravenna are all beautiful cities which you could fit in if you want to do a week in Tuscany and another week further north. Cinque Terre is much closer and doable with Tuscany. What you end up doing depends on whether you love art and culture, history, great food and wine, hiking and walking... a mixture of all of the above! The good thing is that Tuscany and Italy for that matter gives you a chance to do a lot of all of these things.
A tentative itinerary for Tuscany and Cinque Terre could look like this:
Even if you choose to say in the Tuscan countryside the whole two weeks, you could spend one week closer to Florence and Pisa and then move the second week and stay closer to Siena and southern Tuscany. This way you reduce travel times and concentrate day trips to the area where you currently are.
For example, some day trips in the northern part of Tuscany could be:
2-3 days into Florence
1-2 days between Pisa and Lucca
2 days Cinque Terre (so 1 night out)
Move closer to Siena and then do
1 day in Chianti
1 day San Gimignano and Volterra
2 days Siena and Monteriggioni
2 days Valdorcia
Some accommodations closer to Siena you could look into: San Giovanni in Poggio and Podere Cunina. These are farmhouses offering apartments without meals as a service but you could still ask, it is likely they can organize someone to come in and cook if they are given time to plan it.
Okay hope these suggestions help clear some doubts and help in the planning of your vacation! Have fun planning it all! Just another thought: having two cars might be good especially on those days when you actually want to head in separate directions if you were to have half of the group doing something one day, the other something else.
Post any additional questions you might have, I am sure we can come up with some more suggestions
June 7, 2011, 05:18 AM
Thank you Lourdes, for the answers and comments to questions that were vague at best! Since your reply, we have done some more research and are on track to a plan very similar to what you have described.... Venice is out for this trip (an excuse to come back again!) and we will be picking up our cars in Rome. We have re-thought the idea of staying at countryside villas, and have found accommodations in some areas that will offer a wider variety of options for us in the evenings, keeping in mind that after some of that incredible Italian vino at dinner, nobody will want to have to drive! And we also want to experience some of what Italy offers in the evenings. While some of the farmhouses and country villas look stunning, they are often isolated, and we want to make the most of the time we have, including our evenings! So our first night we are staying just outside of Rome, on the coast, to get a night's sleep and try to rid ourselves of jetlag. From there we are heading to a spot just outside Siena which we have reserved for 5 nights. We'll do your suggested areas of Chianti, San Gimignano, Volterra, Monteriggioni, Siena, and Valdorcia. Next we have 2 nights booked in Florence, although we are unsure of how to go about travelling there. Should we leave our cars at a train station and take the train into Florence for those 2 days? We haven't investigated the parking situation yet. Following this, we have another 4 nights booked in Cinque Terre (Riomaggiore) to fully enjoy that area, including Pisa and Lucca - perhaps enroute to and from Cinque Terre. We were hoping to head back down into the Grosseto area for our last couple days, and at the very least see the Thermal springs, as well as any other suggestions you might have. This will bring us close(r) to the airport for our final day when we don't want alot of driving. Any suggestions of accommodations for this area? We were feeling anxious about not having accommodations booked (considering 8 of us travelling together), so have done so (with the exception of our last 2 nights) but could probably still switch things around, if for some reason you find fault with our plan thus far! We greatly appreciate your input - we want to do our best to see it all, and enjoy it too!!
June 7, 2011, 06:04 PM
itinerary sounds good!
Your plans actually sound great and I wouldn't offer any changes. All of the your choices are good bases to visit the immediate area and do day trips from. I agree that Venice can be left to a future trip, great reason to come back again and for now letting you explore Tuscany better!
Yes, many villas and farmhouses are in the countryside which mean getting back to them after dark if you want to spend dinner out - still possible in your case if 2 are willing to sacrifice themselves to be the designated drivers. Staying within a town, on the other hand, gives you a chance to enjoy dining out and walking back to your lodging, as well as enjoying any evening events taking place. Definitely B&Bs, apartments and hotels in Florence or just outside of Siena will be a better solution.
For Florence, since you've already booked, the best advice now would be to contact your hotel or B&B - depending on their location within the city, you might have parking available to you or you can easily reach it without problems with your cars. If they are within the historical center, make sure to ask them the best way to get to them: you might just have to park outside the boulevard that forms a ring around the center (marks the ZTL or limited traffic area) and then catch a taxi in when you arrive with luggage. You definitely want to avoid driving into the ZTL as the center is guarded with cameras - they take pictures and the fines will catch up to you even a year later through the car rental company.
As for the Grosseto area, if you haven't reserved yet, I highly recommend the rustic atmosphere at the Valentina Nuova farmhouse.
From here you can visit the beaches at Alberese and within the Natural Park of the Maremma (if you can, do a guided visit within the park with guide - it is a great way to see the woods and go up to the watchtowers that remain overlooking the coast). Then as you've already suggested, head to Saturnia to the thermal springs (the free ones along the river are hard to miss, they are at a corner of the road where cars turn into and are leaving but there is parking further along). Another option (but seeing as you won't have that much time in the area you'll have to choose - more ideas for Maremma here) would be to head to Porto Santo Stefano and catch the ferry to Giglio Island and spend the day out on the pebbly beach there, on the opposite side of the harbor.
You've done well booking ahead - with 8 it gets harder to find the right accommodation and it is best to have that already settled. Everything else can be left day to day, so while you might have an idea of what you want to do and see, definitely stay flexible so that you can enjoy the trip to its fullest! I'm sure you will all have a great time and decide to come back again when you can.