October 4, 2013, 06:10 PM
Bringing College Students to Tuscany
Hello! I'm a college professor in the U.S. planning to bring about 10 college students, and one other faculty member, to Italy in May 2014 for 2 1/2 weeks. I'm trying to keep costs as low as possible, while giving them a variety of different experiences in Italy. We're planning to spend some time in Rome, Florence, maybe Siena... the itinerary is still completely open. Venice, Bologna and Cinque Terre are also being discussed, through we may split the group up and visit one or two of those separately for a few days.
If anyone has suggestions of places to stay for a group of 12-14 people, I'd appreciate it. We'll be relying on public transportation. I'm looking for safe, clean, interesting places (they don't need to be fancy). Breakfast included would be a plus as it will get us starting our day together. Internet access would be nice, but I have no idea if this is the norm in Italian accommodations or not. I'd love to rent a flat sometime during the trip (we could split the group up in two if necessary, if the accommodations are near each other) so that we could have access to a kitchen, but I don't know how practical this would be.
I'd also love suggestions of things to do/see that I might not come across going through the typical travel guides (tripadvisor, Rick Steves, Lonely Planet...) or any 'you absolutely shouldn't miss...' feedback. As I said, I'm trying to make this trip as affordable as I possibly can, so suggestions on free or inexpensive experiences would be great. My favorite moments from trips are often more about meeting locals and finding a way to live 'like a native' if only for an afternoon, so less typical tourist suggestions are certainly welcome.
Thanks so much for any suggestions. By the way, none of us speak Italian, though we'll all be going through a crash course on Italian for travel, so will try to muddle through with help
October 8, 2013, 12:17 PM
Sounds like a magnificent trip for you and your students! As far as experiences or places to see, it would help to know what your students are studying... if they were art students, I'd suggest something different than if they were culinary students ;-) So if you provide just some more general info about your group, I'll try to offer tips on things to see and do... mostly for Tuscany, as my knowledge is more limited of the other parts in Italy to just my own limited experience.
As far as transportation goes, while buses and trains are not expensive in Italy, with a group of up to 14 people consider that maybe a minibus rental might actually turn out to be cheaper for some legs of the trip. You don't need your own means of transport in the cities, such as Rome, Florence or Venice but you do need it to move across Italy. You can check train fares and timetables here: http://www.trenitalia.com/
For example, Rome to Florence one way is around 43 euros per person x 14 = 602 euro.
So I'd recommend to break up the trip and start checking out how much each "leg" would cost using various means, to see whether public transport all the time makes sense. Another example, Florence to Riomaggiore (the first of the 5 towns in Cinque Terre) is 13.50 euro per person (regional trains only have one class and are cheaper, the faster trains that go between the major cities cost more) so train makes sense here.
If you choose to rely on public transport, I'd definitely suggest staying in the cities, not in the countryside where a van rental would be necessary. In Florence, you could stay in apartments/flats so that you can have access to a kitchen. These apartments are very centrally located, with the daily market of San Lorenzo right downstairs and the food market of San Lorenzo (open only in the mornings until 2pm) just a block away. So perfect for taking a few days to rest for restaurants ;-).
There are many more places such as the above, larger apartments that would be perfect for your group, but they are often in the countryside and harder/impossible to reach without your own means of transport. If you had your own vans, I'd actually suggest staying in a villa that you could have for yourselves and using that as a base to then move around Tuscany - Siena, Florence, Pisa, Lucca, San Gimignano, Volterra.
Just some examples:
Fattoria il Lago
Just throwing it out there, because you could theoretically do something like this (not sure of total days but more or less):
Rome - 3 days
Florence/Tuscany -7 days total (one base or divide it in 2 bases)
Cinque Terre - 2 days
Bologna - 2 days
Venice - 2
You'll lose some time traveling but more or less you could make it work out like this. What do you think?
October 10, 2013, 06:31 PM
Thanks for the reply, Lourdes! You've given me some GREAT suggestions - I'll definitely check them out.
The class is on Psychology and Aesthetics. It's a mix of psychology, art, and general honor's students. We want to explore beauty, cultural and personal preferences in the areas of art, music, food, architecture and scent (perfume, in particular). So, to me, Italy is the obvious place to explore beauty and pleasure in all these areas!
I'd love to find apartments/flats for us to stay in for at least part of the trip, even if we have to split up into 2 groups. The idea of going to the local markets and making some of our own meals appeals to me greatly.
I hadn't thought about renting transportation - I'm a little nervous about driving a large vehicle myself. Are there services in Italy where you can hire a driver for a leg of the journey, or does unavailable/expensive for Italy?
Please keep the suggestions coming!
October 17, 2013, 11:42 AM
Then you and your students won't have any problem finding inspiration in Italy at all!
In Florence, then I'd definitely suggest you look at the Palazzo La Medicea, I think it would be perfect for your group to be divided upon various apartments but be centrally located. For such a large group, you do want to get moving now to reserve accommodation sooner rather than later, to be assured of finding a single location with availability for the entire group.
There are certainly places that rent out a minibus - and the driver comes included, they don't expect anyone to get behind the wheel on those. And you can definitely rent those for only certain legs of the journey, that is why you will want to make some calculations on train travel vs. rentals to see which one would end up being cheaper. I'd start calculating on the Trenitalia website cost for each leg you might do by train and then multiply that by 12 or 14 to get a total "transporation" budget. Then contact local companies for price quotes - both for only a leg or for the entire trip, to see if they make an advantageous proposal. Just search on Google for "minibus with driver + city" such as Rome or Florence and go from there.
In Florence, I'd recommend your whole group visits the
"Officina Profumo – Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella" for the perfumes!!
For music, attend an opera or ballet by the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino - http://www.maggiofiorentino.it/
Program for 2014 is not yet up but it should by the end of the year.
October 18, 2013, 04:38 PM
Head down to Piazza della Signoria in the evenings. Often, there are musicians playing near the Loggia. It's FREE! We listened to an orchestra one evening, and twice we were treated to Justyna Maria Janiczak and her guitar. It was a wonderful, relaxing evening!
Originally Posted by Lourdes
October 18, 2013, 07:12 PM
Yes, you can often find impromptu concerts by street musicians across the center, much more often in late spring and summer when the weather is nicer. Also during winter, just not as many.
The organized concerts under the Loggia in Piazza della Signoria are often on that schedule for the Maggio Musicale since they are part of the schedule and will be free. Then there will be music as part of other special events, from the Notte Bianca which generally is at the end of April, European Blue days and such. We post news about those on our blog, so make sure to check that out as well!