Recommendations...Italy

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DidItMyWay
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Recommendations...Italy

Post by DidItMyWay » Fri Jul 14, 2017 11:14 am

We are going to try to book a trip to Italy for a family vacation next summer and are in the preliminary planning stages.

We are looking at tour vs. going on our own, but are leaning towards a tour at this point.

We don't need 5 star hotels, because we will be out and about all day trying to see as much as we car. Just nice, air-conditioned, hotels in safe areas are fine with us.

We will have 10-14 days (going to try to do 14, because I know there is so much to see) and would like to hit Rome, Florence, and Venice if possible. However, we are open to other itineraries.

Am familiar with Perillo tours, which is on the expensive side because they use top of the line hotels. Am considering Perillo based on their reputation and customer satisfaction, but I'm thinking there are other tour groups that are also good and less expensive.

Anyone have a great experience or any recommendations they can share?

RRAAYY3
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Re: Recommendations...Italy

Post by RRAAYY3 » Fri Jul 14, 2017 11:21 am

I did 3 weeks in Italy ... airBNB is amazing, you'll get unbelievable locations for a fraction of the price - you can search by amenities (private rooms, AC, etc.)

Do not do more than 2 days in Venice. Walk around, enjoy the seafood, drink a bunch of wine ... and head to Florence. Incredible city, no matter how long you stay, you'll want to go back. Rome is essentially NYC ... crowded, tourists, mediocre food you need to know where to go for quality Italian food.

for 2 weeks ... 2-3 days in Venice, 7 days Florence, 2-3 days in Rome

Thesaints
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Re: Recommendations...Italy

Post by Thesaints » Fri Jul 14, 2017 11:34 am

Rome in August is Hell.

jebmke
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Re: Recommendations...Italy

Post by jebmke » Fri Jul 14, 2017 11:43 am

Thesaints wrote:Rome in August is Hell.
Yes, late summer in Italy can be brutal - except maybe mountains and far north.
When you discover that you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount.

Drew777
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Re: Recommendations...Italy

Post by Drew777 » Fri Jul 14, 2017 11:46 am

If tours are your thing that's fine, but I would much rather do it on my own. I prefer having the freedom to what I want when I want and not be stuck to just hitting up all of the typical tourist attractions. My sister's family did just do a tour of Europe with a few stops in Italy, and they did enjoy it. I think you could do the same thing much cheaper on your own though. The only place I've been in Italy is Milan, which I wouldn't really recommend going out of your way to see. I am planning a trip back to Italy next year and plan on visiting Rome, Florence, and the Amalfi Coast. I'm leaning towards 4 nights in Rome, 2 in Florence, and 2 at the Amalfi Coast.

As far as the weather in Italy, I wouldn't say summers are that bad really. But I guess it depends on what you're used to, temperatures in the 80s would be a cool summer for me.

carolinaman
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Re: Recommendations...Italy

Post by carolinaman » Fri Jul 14, 2017 12:05 pm

I visited Rome, Florence,Tuscany, Pompeii and Amalfi Coast 2 years ago. I was disappointed with Rome. It was crowded, lots of tourist, mediocre food, some sites were less than expected, etc. The best thing was I stayed at an excellent and affordable hotel looking out at the Pantheon. Florence was nice, much more compact than Rome but still lots to see. I liked touring the hill towns of Tuscany and thought the Amalfi Coast was fabulous.

I do recommend getting a tour company (I used local tours for various sites but not one for all which I think is best) because language was more of an impediment than I expected, even in Rome. The train system in Italy is very good and enables you to travel from city to city but you will need a car or tour company for Tuscany and Amalfi.

BUBear29
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Re: Recommendations...Italy

Post by BUBear29 » Fri Jul 14, 2017 12:35 pm

go to the cinque terra for a few days. absolutely stunning views and hikes. And its right on th water for some nice beach time
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sperry8
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Re: Recommendations...Italy

Post by sperry8 » Fri Jul 14, 2017 12:43 pm

The standards: Amalfi Coast, Florence, Tuscany (incl Siena and San Gimignano), Venice, Cinque Terre.
Overrated: Rome (but a must see for the history).
Additions: Lake Como (the rich and famous live here... the beauty is the reason), Dolomites (Selva di Val Gardena) - Gorgeous alpine like mountain towns.
Islands: Sardinia and Sicily. Drive a car all around Sicily... beaches and fun!
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barreg
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Re: Recommendations...Italy

Post by barreg » Fri Jul 14, 2017 5:37 pm

We did a 2 week family trip to Italy last summer, all of which was self-planned, and had a great time. Some of the best advice we received before the trip was:

1) Limit your itinerary. This was very difficult advice to follow, as you want to try to see as much as possible, but the day you arrive, the day you leave, and a large part of each day when you change locations, is time you don't have to sightsee. We stayed 3 nights in Venice, 4 nights in Sestri Levante (near Cinque Terre), 3 nights in Tuscany near San Gimignano, and 4 nights in Rome. In every city, with the exception of Rome (I'll explain below), we wished we could have stayed longer, but wouldn't have wanted to have stayed any fewer nights.

2) Apartments are a good option instead of hotels. We stayed in AirBnB and VRBO apartments in Venice, Sestri Levante, and Rome and in a 2 bedroom B&B in Tuscany. Having laundry, air conditioning (critical in summer), fridge, stove, and space in almost every apartment was great, not to mention the kids didn't have to share beds and the apartments were the same price or cheaper than many hotels. Plus, many apartments are in more residential areas, away from the massive crowds of the main tourist sites. However, apartments usually only make sense if you're going to be in a city at least a few nights, as you have to arrange to meet with the owner to get the keys (and only reserve ones with lots of good reviews).

3) Bring a GSM smartphone (e.g. iPhone) and buy a local SIM card and data plan. WI-fi in many places is spotty/slow, and I think we only spent $40 for 2GB of data and 500 minutes of calling. Great for directions (Google Maps works very well with most public transportation routes) and making reservations while you're there. Also, on Google Maps, you can save a map area on your phone ahead of time so that it doesn't use data to access the map and GPS will work without using data.

4) Learn how to say some common Italian phrases and numbers. While most of the larger tourist destinations will have plenty of English speaking waiters, etc., not everyone speaks English. I took an intro to Italian class at a local community college beforehand and it helped a lot. The only downside to learning how to pronounce words correctly is that you sometimes get rapid-fire responses in Italian, since they then assume you know Italian.

5) Pack lightly. Each of our 4 family members had a rolling carry-on suitcase for the 2 weeks. I saw plenty of families struggling to lug huge suitcases around train stations. Plus, if you stay in apartments with laundry, you really only need a few outfits.

6) Check out the Rick Steves and Tripadvisor online forums for Italy. Lots of good advice there. Keep in mind that everyone has their favorite places, so it's always good to find out why they liked them.

We flew into Venice, took the train to Sestri Levante, rented a car for Tuscany, then took the train to Rome. We were there in mid to late June and Tuscany and Rome were horribly hot and humid, which really isn't all that different from a lot of US cities in the Summer, but the difference is that there a lot fewer places with air conditioning in Italy than the US, so it's really hard to escape the heat. I actually really loved Rome, but it was so damn hot, that we didn't have the energy to do half the stuff we'd wanted to, so I hope to return to Rome sometime in April or October. Our last day in Rome, instead of doing any sightseeing, I found an outdoor pool that was a 15 minute train ride away that we hung out at all day, which was a great way to beat the heat.

I planned the entire trip, making good use of the internet forums mentioned above and Google searching. If you go on a tour, you'll have a different experience, since much of the sightseeing will likely be planned out for you.

barreg
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Re: Recommendations...Italy

Post by barreg » Fri Jul 14, 2017 5:42 pm

jebmke wrote:
Thesaints wrote:Rome in August is Hell.
Yes, late summer in Italy can be brutal - except maybe mountains and far north.
Not just late summer, pretty much mid-June to early September. However, getting to sights (e.g. Colosseum) as early in the day as possible helps some, as at least it's generally cooler and less crowded.

BeneIRA
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Re: Recommendations...Italy

Post by BeneIRA » Fri Jul 14, 2017 6:01 pm

DidItMyWay wrote:We are going to try to book a trip to Italy for a family vacation next summer and are in the preliminary planning stages.

We are looking at tour vs. going on our own, but are leaning towards a tour at this point.

We don't need 5 star hotels, because we will be out and about all day trying to see as much as we car. Just nice, air-conditioned, hotels in safe areas are fine with us.

We will have 10-14 days (going to try to do 14, because I know there is so much to see) and would like to hit Rome, Florence, and Venice if possible. However, we are open to other itineraries.

Am familiar with Perillo tours, which is on the expensive side because they use top of the line hotels. Am considering Perillo based on their reputation and customer satisfaction, but I'm thinking there are other tour groups that are also good and less expensive.

Anyone have a great experience or any recommendations they can share?
You've gotten some good advise already. If you just want to do those three, that works. My wife and I added in Milan and Cinque Terre in 14 days. You could probably fit Cinque Terre into your itinerary, depending on your interests. I would recommend AirBnB and GoWithOh. The latter is an upscale AirBnB that I have had good luck with. It will help in Rome and Florence. I would recommend B&Bs and such over hotels. If you can avoid the summer, or at least go very early or very late in the summer, your trip will be so much better.

Venice: You really only need two days here, max. Venice was so beyond touristy I had a hard time finding Italians. I have heard it referred to as Disneyland and it is accurate. We went to Burano, too, but Venice was easily our least favorite city. We never want to go back.

Rome: Very fast paced, but a lot to see. Book Vatican tickets months ahead. Same goes for the Borghese Gallery. Roma Pass can be a good value. Try to stay away from touristy restaurants if you can. TripAdvisor is your friend here.

Florence: The Firenze Card, if you're staying three days, can be great because you skip the line everywhere with no reservations. This was arguably our most favorite place. There are so many cool museums and the city as a whole is walkable and has a lot of great food. Definitely try Eby's for some great Mexican food. Yes, Mexican food.

Venice: The food is not great, but enjoy the sights.

From place to place, you can take the train. If you book ahead, you should be able ti get tickets on Trenitalia or Italotreno cheaply. Second class is actually acceptable and first class is usually only slightly better for a bit more. Anything over first is excessive. Also, on time is relative. Best of luck.

Lynette
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Re: Recommendations...Italy

Post by Lynette » Fri Jul 14, 2017 6:24 pm

As recommended above, limit the itinerary. I've been to Italy at least four times as I love history. I was disappointed in Florence - horribly overcrowded. If you want to get a taste of Italy and are not used to traveling on your own, go on a tour. Otherwise limit your itinerary. One year, I spent two weeks in Rome and loved it.

SueG5123
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Re: Recommendations...Italy

Post by SueG5123 » Fri Jul 14, 2017 6:50 pm

I took a Perillo tour of Italy (Rome, Sorrento, and Florence) in 2006. It wasn't inexpensive, but I was traveling alone and enjoyed it. Since then, however, I've taken two trips to Italy with Go Ahead tours -- the guides were better, price was better for what you got. Of course, Perillo gives you all meals, and Go Ahead only gives you a "welcome dinner" to each city. Guess it depends on the level of "hand holding" you want, but I preferred Go Ahead between the two.

My opinion, of course.

I want to add that, over the years, as we've gained some experience -- you can really do this independently, if you want. The info is readily available on line, and Italy is very accessible for tourists. Check out Rick Steves' web site.

DidItMyWay
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Re: Recommendations...Italy

Post by DidItMyWay » Fri Jul 14, 2017 8:08 pm

Thanks all!

There is a lot of good info here that I will go through again tomorrow when I am not so tired and research further based on the tips you provided.

You've given me food for thought on the tour vs. on our own question, and now we are leaning towards planning things on our own.

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Re: Recommendations...Italy

Post by Grt2bOutdoors » Fri Jul 14, 2017 8:24 pm

Thesaints wrote:Rome in August is Hell.
July is no better...... :oops:
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tennisplyr
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Re: Recommendations...Italy

Post by tennisplyr » Fri Jul 14, 2017 8:40 pm

Been to Italy several times.....lovely country. We've always toured on our own, love the freedom to do what/when we want. Took mass transit to get around. Usually hard to get a bad meal and the history is just fantastic. If I remember, August virtually everything comes to a halt as everyone's on vacation. Tuscany with its small towns is very cool as is the Amalfi Coast. PS, I understand Italian a bit but can't speak very well but English usually works well in the big cities. Airbnb and VRBO are good ways for rooms. Enjoy, it's hard not to.
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renue74
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Re: Recommendations...Italy

Post by renue74 » Fri Jul 14, 2017 9:50 pm

We actually took the Rick Steves tour to Venice, Florence, and Rome a couple years go. I think it was $7K for 2 of us.

We did it in June and it was hot, but we are from the south and it felt the same at home.

I enjoyed the trip and the tour was great. We are in our mid 40s and the group was fairly small....22 people. Each day we had a scheduled tour and then a lot of free time on our on to do things.

Not knowing what to,expect, I was glad we did the tour....but iF I go back, I'll arrange it on my own....now that I know how the train system works, biking my own guides for the sites I want to see, etc.

I agree with the others, Rome in June was very unbearable. Large city, tons of tourists, ok food, etc.

PArt of the RS tour, we stopped in Tuscany for an outdoor lunch and wine tasting at an agritourismo. That was the highlight for me. The farmer discussed how he made olive oil and wine....discussed how is business operated and the view of the Tuscan hillside was great.

Florence was nice as well. So much to see. If you get the RS guidebooks and do your internet due diligence, you could do it on your on.

After the tour...which ended in Rome, we took extra days and went to Pompeii for 1/2 day....the flew back from Naples to Milan on a $30 easyJet.

We then went to Varenna in lake como for a day...which was also great. After 10 days on the tour, it was good to have some strolling time alone.

My wife left earlier than I did....and I took the train to Tirano and then the red train from Tirano to St. Morritz Switzerland. The rid through the mountains was wonderful and I saw snowing falling....in the middle of June....after coming from 90degree temps in the morning.

You must travel with an open mind. Everything will not be exactly as you think it will be, but being optimistic will make your trip educational and fun.

You will enjoy Italy. It's by far one of the best vacations we ever had.

aristotelian
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Re: Recommendations...Italy

Post by aristotelian » Fri Jul 14, 2017 11:22 pm

No tour. We had a fantastic trip mostly centered on the Umbria countryside. Similar to Tuscany but somewhat less touristy. Assisi and Orvieto are great but also enjoyed just driving around from village to village.

I agree on Florence. Worth seeing, but nowhere near as memorable as the countryside due to the hordes of tourists. It seemed there were more Americans (mostly drunken college students on spring break) than Italians in the city.

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Watty
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Re: Recommendations...Italy

Post by Watty » Fri Jul 14, 2017 11:51 pm

As someone else mentioned the Rick Steeves books are very good and I would highly reccomend them.

One option would be to take a one week tour and do the other week on your own.

If you are traveling with younger kids or teenagers then be sure to carefully research the typical mix of people that take that tour. I have not taken a big group tour but my impression from seeing them when was traveling is that some of them attract older people that are don't want to travel on their own. With some tour groups that focus on younger travelers may may have some college age students looking to party which could be an issue if you have older teens that want to hang out with them.

Some of the best places that we have been at in Europe were small hotels and restaurants that were too small for large tour groups and right the historic part of the city. In addition to being convient that also allows you to be there in the morning and evening when it is busy with crowds. I am pretty sure that tour buses would have limitations in getting to the center of a city like Florence and other cities so you may be on the outskirts of the best areas of towns.

We prefer traveling on our own because we can linger in areas where we are having a good time and move on early when we want to. When we are not traveling during the peak travel season will will usually not have hotel reservations except for a few key night so we have a lot of flexibility.

As others have mentioned Italy will be hot in the summer.

Energy is very expensive in Europe and just because a hotel has air conditioning doesn't mean that it will work all that well so be sure to read reviews about the hotel to see if that has been an issue for other travelers.
DidItMyWay wrote:We will have 10-14 days (going to try to do 14, because I know there is so much to see)
With the flight travel time and adapting to jet lag the first day that is still a pretty short time. Every time you go from one city to another that will eat up the better part of day in travel time too. If at all possible it would be good to try to extend the trip. The incremental costs of staying an extra night is not very much especially if you spend those nights outside a major city where the hotels usually cost less. Being out of the large cities some will also be a good break. If there is one person that cannot take an extra week then the others could still spend some extra time there.
DidItMyWay wrote:would like to hit Rome, Florence, and Venice if possible. However, we are open to other itineraries.
There are only so many museums, cathedrals, and palaces that you can see before you get saturated. Even if it means missing some of the other highlights you might want to break those up with some different activities.

otinkyad
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Re: Recommendations...Italy

Post by otinkyad » Sat Jul 15, 2017 2:25 am

Other than it being hot in the summer, I sometimes feel like I must go to a different Italy than others do. Venice, Florence, and Rome are all stupendous, IMO. In all three, I've found that getting 50 yards off the beaten path will get you away from the crowds. Also, the crowds are there for a reason: the art, architecture, and history are among the richest in the world, with antiquity overlapping with the Renaissance. I recommend reading the Agony and the Ecstasy, and Brunelleschi's Dome. Both are excellent in any case, but they go especially well with a visit to Florence and Rome.

A tour is almost guaranteed to put you in the middle of the crowds and keep you there. I would, however, look for a tour guide in Rome, especially for the Vatican Museum (which I would say is skippable; the Sistine Chapel is insanely and uncomfortably crowded, and the rest seemed unexceptional), and also the Forum and Colosseum. They can help skip lines, get better access, and tell you what you are seeing. Otherwise, wandering gently is what Italy is made for.

My sister's mantra is that there are no bad trips to Italy. I agree with others to limit the number of places, though I would find it hard to argue against day trips to Pisa, Lucca, or Hadrian's Villa. But any way you do it, you're going to miss some wonderful things, so you might as well embrace that and not try to see too much.

My favorite thing in Italy is the evenings that seem to last forever, with long, late dinners, and the passeggiata custom that still thrives in many places.

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JD1967
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Re: Recommendations...Italy

Post by JD1967 » Sat Jul 15, 2017 8:34 am

Just went ... Rome very overrated... Florence / Tuscany very underrated ... if I go again ... 2 days in Rome tops just to see the obvious stuff ... but don't stay too long ... remaining days seeing northern Italy / Florence / Tuscany .. id operate out of Florence during that time just to simplify the process.. but you may want to change hotels/cities.. there are a number of unesco world heritage sites in northern Italy that are really worth seeing... good luck

http://whc.unesco.org/en/statesparties/it

carolinaman
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Re: Recommendations...Italy

Post by carolinaman » Sat Jul 15, 2017 9:22 am

Check out www.tripadvisor.com for additional information and advice. I used them before going to Italy 2 years ago and got very good advice, often from local experts. IMO tripadvisor is for travel what bogleheads is for finance.

curmudgeon
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Re: Recommendations...Italy

Post by curmudgeon » Sat Jul 15, 2017 10:25 am

Personally, I really like Venice. But you have to take it at a relaxed pace and avoid the Pl Roma -> San Marco zoo. If you just wander, and get away from the pure tourist areas, there is magic still.

Sienna was another favorite. I much preferred it to Florence.

If you are flexible on your hotel standards (don't need Marriot sized rooms), you can stay closer in and feel more a part of things.

Tours often cut corners on hotels, and stay in the outskirts of town, so look at that closely. It would be no fun being stuck out in a empty business park when the action is downtown.

ray333
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Re: Recommendations...Italy

Post by ray333 » Sat Jul 15, 2017 10:35 am

Rome sucks, and yet is still a must for some sites

Do not waste more than a few days there - book Vatican way in advance, Colliseum night tour is awesome (and less hot/crowded) - then leave.

bluebolt
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Re: Recommendations...Italy

Post by bluebolt » Sat Jul 15, 2017 6:03 pm

I certainly can understand why some folks don't like Rome, but I love it. Have been there a few times and really had a great time every time.

Separately - it's worth its own trip, but Sicily is really an underappreciated (from a tourist perspective) part of Italy. It's a wonderful 7-10 day trip.

gavinman
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Re: Recommendations...Italy

Post by gavinman » Sat Jul 15, 2017 6:13 pm

I've only been to Italy once and only in Rome. I loved it there. I went for work and had some locals as tour guides. We went to many great restaurants that weren't crowded. They also took us to a bunch of non touristy places. I loved it and can't wait to go back.

DidItMyWay
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Re: Recommendations...Italy

Post by DidItMyWay » Sun Jul 16, 2017 11:47 am

Thanks again!

Yes, would like to see/experience a mix of touristy sites and off the beaten path things, so this info is very helpful.

Am not a fan of running around in the heat, but living in Florida, we are used to it. Would love to go in the spring or fall when weather is cooler and it is less expensive, but we will have school-age kids in our party. The last day of school is May 30th, so I am thinking it might be good to go ASAP after that (early June) while some kids are still in school and when it might not be quite as hot as July and August.

JLG1111
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Re: Recommendations...Italy

Post by JLG1111 » Thu Jul 20, 2017 5:24 am

DidItMyWay wrote:Thanks again!

Yes, would like to see/experience a mix of touristy sites and off the beaten path things, so this info is very helpful.

Am not a fan of running around in the heat, but living in Florida, we are used to it. Would love to go in the spring or fall when weather is cooler and it is less expensive, but we will have school-age kids in our party. The last day of school is May 30th, so I am thinking it might be good to go ASAP after that (early June) while some kids are still in school and when it might not be quite as hot as July and August.
Hi there-

We just returned from a two week European trip that included Northern Italy - I just posted in another thread about it. This was my 6th time to Italy (my family is originally from Italy many generations ago) and we absolutely loved the Dolomites in Northern Italy. It is completely different than the typical Italian places most people go to (Rome, Florence, Venice), but it is absolutely magical and breathtaking.

Some more general tips to everyone thinking of going to Italy:

- If you go on an organized tour, you will always be in crowds because, well, you ARE the crowds! The tour groups and especially the cruise ships have lately caused unbelievable crowding in some of the major cities.

- I agree with PPs that my least favorite place to visit is Rome. In my opinion, it is necessary to go to Rome to see the sights, but it is probably going to be the most exhausting/frantic part of your trip to Italy. I would limit my time there.

- The Amalfi Coast is the most beautiful part of Italy, in my eyes. If you could go when it is even less crowded, all the better. Positano and Sorrento are amazing places.

- For those of you looking for a really off-the-beaten-track part of Italy, try the Aeolian Islands off the Northern coast of Sicily. These islands include Lipari, Stromboli and Vulcano, among others. These are small volcanic islands (many of which you can hike up and are fairly active). Very similar to the Greek Isles, actually. You will feel like you are in another world entirely.

Three of my last trips to Italy have been within the past 3 years, so anyone looking for current advice/recommendations can feel free to PM me.

Buon viaggio!

ulvazell
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Re: Recommendations...Italy

Post by ulvazell » Thu Jul 20, 2017 5:48 am

barreg wrote:We did a 2 week family trip to Italy last summer, all of which was self-planned, and had a great time. Some of the best advice we received before the trip was:

1) Limit your itinerary.
This looks like the best advice of all. We are also planning a trip to Italy next year. As with past trips however there is always the temptation to pack every day full so we don't "waste the time". I really hate that phrase. Because of that phrase I usually am exhausted by the end of our trips and need a week to recover. I now prefer the phrase, "spend the time". Sometimes the best time spent is simply having a glass of wine and viewing the beautiful sunset...

Iliketoridemybike
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Re: Recommendations...Italy

Post by Iliketoridemybike » Thu Jul 20, 2017 6:51 am

My 2 cents from going to Italy many times including on bikes and hiking.

Must see:
Rome
Pompeii
Sorrento/Positano/Revello
Bolzano/Dolomites
Tuscan Hill Towns

If you must:
Florence
Genoa/Portofino

Avoid:
Cinque Terre
Venice

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