(Photos from this trip are located here)
After rescheduling this trip FOUR times due to COVID travel restrictions, we were finally able to head over on September 3 and it was SO worth the wait! There were definitely noticeably fewer tourists than would have been there pre-COVID, which made it possible for us to get lots of great pictures with few to no people in them! And in some of the towns we visited, we didn’t hear any other English being spoken – amazing for Italy! So, on the one hand, it was great for us, as travelers in the country but, for the health of the Italian economy, I do hope tourism picks up soon for them.
A few notes/tips as it relates to the “new normal” situation when visiting Italy:
- Dinner reservations are recommended. Restaurants have limited capacity right now (many have set up makeshift outdoor dining areas) and the first question they ask when you approach is if you have reservations. Thanks to my planning and familiarity with each location, we always did, but we heard them tell others that the wait would be an hour or more without reservations.
- Make sure you have your passport and vaccination card with you at all times. All museums, many churches, tourist sites, etc. required showing these in order to enter. Restaurant requirements seemed to vary by city. Some required proof of vaccination, some required filling out contact tracing forms that they put on the table.
- Masks are being used, especially indoors. All indoor locations (restaurants, museums, churches, etc) required masks. Outdoors, it seemed to be based on individual comfort – we used ours when we felt like we weren’t able to distance from people enough/more crowded outdoor situations.
- Testing – travel requirements at the time of our trip included showing a negative test (rapid test was fine) in order to board the flight to Italy AND a negative test (again, rapid test was fine) to return to the USA. There are places in many of the cities where you can do a rapid test as a walk in, but in order to avoid wasting hours of our precious limited time, I had planned ahead and contacted a lab that I knew would be convenient to our location and made an appointment for us to take the test.
Overview of the route: Originally the trip was planned for 12 days in April 2020, but once we had to postpone, we decided to take advantage of the extra planning time and added a few more days to include a quick visit to the Amalfi Coast. So, the end result was 16 beautiful, sun-filled days including: Cinque Terre, Pisa, Florence, Chianti region, Siena, Cortona, Perugia, Assisi/Spello, Le Marche, Vasto, Paestum, Amalfi Coast/Sorrento, and last but not least, Rome. For those keeping count, we hit 7 of Italy’s 20 regions (Liguria, Tuscany, Umbria, Le Marche, Abruzzo, Campania, Lazio) during this trip (8 if you include driving through Molise)!
Cinque Terre: These are the 5 famous seaside towns on the Ligurian coast, known as the Italian Riviera. We had planned to take a “baby hike” and do just a bit of the piece from Vernazza to Monterosso. But somehow, we talked ourselves into doing the WHOLE thing!!!
Pisa: Since our route was taking us right through Pisa on our way to Florence, we decided to make a pit stop for a few of the classic cheesy tourist pictures of us holding up the Leaning Tower. It was a beautiful day for a visit and we did a quick in and out detour.
Florence: Capital of Tuscany and justifiably one of the most visited cities in Italy. We spent 2 days in this gorgeous city and could have filled up weeks more with all of the sites, architecture, food, etc. Fortunately, this city is pretty compact for visiting so we packed as much as possible into our short visit and even made time for some leather goods shopping at the market.
Siena/Cortona: Making our way to Siena, we made a stop in the Chianti area. More than just a lunch, we were treated to a tasting that included a fantastic meal with what seemed like endless courses paired perfectly with the on-site produced balsamic vinegar and wines. From there, we continued on to our day’s destination, Siena, another beautiful, medieval town in the Tuscany region, famous for its shell-shaped main piazza and their traditional horse races (“Palio”) around that piazza. An evening stroll around the town resulted in my stumbling upon a musician performing in the piazza in front of the Duomo for anyone lucky enough to be present. The ambiance was perfect – nighttime, the Duomo with its dramatic lighting, and the acoustics of the instruments bouncing across the buildings. It gave me chills. The next morning, our pre-planned tour (with reserved tickets) of the rooftop of the Duomo was a highlight of our visit to Siena. Our afternoon excursion to the small town of Cortona, rounded out our exploration of Tuscany. Cortona is famous for being the real and filmed location for the movie Under the Tuscan Sun. We discovered that it’s just as quant and charming as portrayed in the film.
Perugia/Assisi/Spello: Our next stop took us to the capital of the Umbria region, Perugia. A series of escalators provide transportation from the parking lot way up to the center of town. Once there, the town basically consists of a main pedestrian street with a few streets branching off. It’s a very cute town with a young, energetic vibe. And, if you’re a fan of the “Baci” chocolates made by the company “Perugina”, Perugia is your mecca. You can even take a brief tour of the factory at their company headquarters on the outskirts of town. From Perugia, the towns of Assisi and Spello are so close that it’s hard to justify not visiting them. Assisi is a popular stop for those interested in learning more about St Francis and Spello is just a beautiful little (very steep) town famous for their abundance of flowers throughout the village.
Vasto (Le Marche à Adriatic Coast): The next destination on our itinerary was Vasto, located in the province of Chieti, which is in the Abruzzo region. This is a seaside resort town on the Adriatic Coast. Since the drive from Umbria to Vasto would be about 3 ½ hours, we decided to break it up a bit with a couple of stops along the way. Our first stop was in Servigliano (in Le Marche region) for a tasting of local products and on-site produced wines at Fattoria Dezi – not only a great wine-producer over family generations, they’re also friends I love to visit when I can. From there, we drove to the coast and stopped for dinner in Pescara before completing the drive with our arrival in Vasto. Having visited this town for a brief lunch stop back in May of 2019, I was excited to return and be able to spend more time. This is an interesting town with the old center high up on the hillside, which is where our hotel was, and visible from the old town, the beach resorts down the hill with their umbrellas lined up as far as you could see. Our explorations along this coast revealed some of the most beautiful beaches with powder soft sand and the fishing piers for which the coast is known.
Paestum (+ Caserta detour): Greek ruins in Italy? Yes! The town of Paestum with its archeologic park, contains some amazingly well-preserved Greek ruins, including 3 temples which are visibly obvious precursors to the Acropolis in Athens. As we made our way from Paestum to The Amalfi Coast, we made an unscheduled detour in Caserta because we could not be so close to the ancestral hometown of one of our fellow travelers and NOT at least drive through the town! Home for the night was a beautiful spot up a very steep road in the town of Cetara that had a breathtaking view of the Amalfi Coast.
Amalfi Coast/Sorrento/Capri: Our visit along the Amalfi Coast included learning, first hand, how mozzarella (fior di latte – which comes from cows’ milk) and limoncello are made! We took the time to stop in each of the villages along the coast – Ravello, Amalfi, Praiano, Positano, and ultimately arriving at our destination in Sorrento. True to the reputation, the only way to drive from town to town on this coast is via the one twisting, winding road along with everyone else making the same trip. As a driver of a car with manual shift, it is actually fun making all of those twists and turns, plus the views are stunning! What is NOT fun, though, is the traffic including situations where you have a charter bus squeezing past you going the opposite direction. This is when you reach out and pull in the sideview mirrors, hold your breath, and hope that the bus driver is skilled enough to pass you within inches. Fortunately, we had no vehicular incidents along the route and arrived safely in Sorrento, where we were able to park the car and enjoy our stay right on the main pedestrian street which is full of boutiques and restaurants. Our stay in Sorrento included a day trip to Capri/Anacapri where we were lucky enough to visit on a day when the Blue Grotto was open. We patiently waited our turn to enter the grotto, ducking down within the tiny rowboat to avoid hitting our heads as our guide slid the boat through the entrance. Our 5-minute visit inside the grotto was worth the wait though. What an incredible sight!
Tivoli/Rome (+ Strangolagalli detour): For the same reason we made a pitstop in Caserta, we made a small detour in Strangolagalli on our way to Rome. Ancestral town of another of our group, Stangolagalli was a bit off the beaten path and an adorable little town that felt like a suburb type of village. From there, we made our way to Tivoli to visit Villa D’Este, summer palace of the ancient Roman emperors. This palace is worth the time to visit – it’s so peaceful and welcoming with its enchanting fountains throughout, it’s hard to believe you’re just minutes from the bustling city of Rome. And last but definitely not least… Rome! What can I say about my favorite city on the planet? There’s just something about this city that makes it feel so unique, alive, and romantic! Of course, you’ll visit all of the key sites, fountains, and piazzas during your daily explorations of the city. But, make sure to also wander around those sites after dark, when there are fewer tourists and the lighting creates a completely different vibe.
What a fantastic trip this was! If it sounds like something you would enjoy, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me. I would be happy to repeat the route, either as is or with adjustments to suit your preferences. Or if there’s a different route you’d like to try, anywhere in Italy, France and/or Switzerland (or beyond), I would be happy to come up with a custom itinerary! And make sure to check out some of the images from this trip in the website photo gallery!