|These days people asking me to set out an
itinerary for Italy call me, quite often. People want to know what they
MUST see, how long they should stay and what type of accommodations they
can expect. Here are my suggestions. Time is your decision. Cost too, I
The first decision is choice of city to fly into. I
suggest Milan, or Venice. These northern cities give you a chance to start
with exceptional choices. You can do it all backwards but Milan is my
first choice going and Rome is the choice for coming home.
Milan has a few things to see but it’s not my favorite
place. You should stay for two nights. Use the first day to get your jet
lag out of the way. You do that by getting out and moving around. Then
when you fall asleep around ten or eleven you will have a long night to
In Milan you should see La Scala, even if it’s only
the museum. The problem now is that La Scala is closed for repairs that
will take about two years. If the museum is available, try it. If not, go
through the Victor Emmanuel plaza. Here the stores and restaurants are
upscale. It’s famous and shielded from the rain. The architecture is
wonderful especially when you consider it’s over 100 years old. Of
course the Duomo and the Duomo square will take your breath away. Go up on
the roof. Saints will surround you. And for those who love clothing
design, it all starts here. This is the fashion center of Italy.
A car can be picked up at the central station so select
a hotel nearby. You can get to the area by train, bus or taxi from the
airport. Malpensa is far from the city. Linate is very close.
But Milan is only a jumping off point. Get your car
early in the morning and head to Como to the north. This city is
surrounded by mountains and on a long pristine lake. Visit the city then
drive up the western shore past Villa d’Este, one of the chicest hotels
in Europe and on to Cadanabbia. There you can see the botanical gardens at
Villa Carlotta near the Hotel Tremezzo Palace, a great place to stay,
visit or have lunch. Just in front of the Villa is a ferry stop and
it’s only 11 minutes to the Mecca of Lake Como, peaceful Bellagio. There
are a number of hotels to choose from and great restaurants with superb
mountain views. You can return to the south end of the lake on the
Bellagio side or return to Cadanabbia and go back to Como the same way.
The Grand Hotel Como at the entrance of the town is a good place to stay.
It’s modern and has all the amenities, even a putting green.
Heading east from Como, I’d plan to spend a few hours
in Bergamo. It’s a delightful old city that most tourists miss. Then on
to Venice, unless you decide to see Verona. Remember, Juliet’s balcony
is based on a story. It is not real. Romeo and Juliet are created
characters by a great author.
Venice is a different story. Here you have many
decisions. If you still have that car, find a place in Mestre and go into
Venice by city bus or train. Otherwise you have to park it for the whole
time you’re in the city. The only thing I will recommend is that you
start on the Grand Canal from Piazzale Roma. Just relax as the vaporetto
wends its noisy way down under the Rialto Bridge to St Mark’s Square.
The Cathedral is worth a visit as is the Ducal Palace and Bridge of Sighs
behind it. Then meander through the narrow streets. If you have time and
read the signs, you can walk back to the Rialto area or back to where you
started. The train station and city buses are right there. This is not the
place for me to tell you what to see in Venice but do beware of these
salesmen who offer you a free ride to the Merano Glass Works. It’s
actually a nice boat ride and an interesting process of crating objects
from molten glass but beware. The salesmen take over and it’s easy to
put a dent in your credit card before you leave. You can probably get the
same things in the Venice shops but they also come at a price. A word
about gondolas. They are fun, safe, romantic and very expensive. Try the
smaller canals. Henry James said the Grand Canal was the ‘great street
of Venice’. That’s true but there are too many motor boats for gliding
in a gondola.
It’s only 20 K to Padua, or Padova, as they call it.
They have some interesting churches and an unusual park adorned with
countless statues. It’s a famous historical site involving Galileo and
there’s an interesting cemetery, but keep your visit short. There’s
From here the drive is through Bologna where it makes
sense to eat in the old square. Bologna and food are one. After a brief
visit you should head for Florence. There’s actually too much to say
about this gem of Europe. Shop, walk, eat ice cream and take a walking
tour with a guide. The Duomo, bell tower and baptistery doors are a must
as is the Ponte Vecchio and Ufizzi gallery. Add Santa Croce and perhaps
the old synagogue and then just meander and enjoy one of the wonders of
You may want to visit nearby Fiesole in the hills above
the town. You can drive or go up by city bus. The view of Florence is
marvelous if there is no smog and here, perched on a mountaintop is a
Roman amphitheatre and museum. Even the statue in the main square of
Garibaldi shaking hands with Victor Emmanuel is worth pausing over. It
depicts the unification of Italy in mid 18th century. Coming down, notice
the villas hanging on the cliffs. Da Vinci used these hills when he
experimented with flight.
From Florence you can do day trips. I suggest Lucca and
Pisa if it moves you. Lucca, to me, is the more exciting of the two. Pisa
is crowded with souvenir hawkers and traffic. See the tower, perhaps spend
an hour in the old city then head south towards Sienna. Lucca is a walled
city with a warren of tiny alleyways offering interesting wears and eating
I love Sienna, especially early in the morning when the
mist is rising and the city is waking up. Even before the stores open,
there’s a tranquility around Campo Square in the shadow of the bell
tower or around the unique Duomo. This walled city is the site of the
famous Palio (horse race) twice each summer. It would be fun to see but
you might find it a bit crowded and difficult to find a hotel.
A second day in Sienna would mean time to drive for an
hour to San Gimignano, the City of Towers. Built for protection in days
when a single tower on your roof meant protection, there is no other city
with these relics still standing. It’s a nice visit and a great view if
you like climbing. The ice cream is special and the souvenir shops
everywhere. I’d head back to Siena in the evening and have dinner in the
From Sienna try Assisi via Perugia, the home of Bacci
chocolate. Assisi is a religious shrine and burial site of St Francis but
it is pretty and set high on a hill. Here in the Upper Basilica, you can
see Giotto’s famous life cycle frescoes of St Francis, completed in
1300. Giotto is the man who almost single-handedly revived the art
of fresco painting in Italy.
There are parking lots at strategic places and usually
good restaurants to tempt you, especially at the north end of the city
near the tomb, in the lower nave of the Basilica di san Francesco.
South past Spoleto where the great music Festival dei
Due Mondi takes place each summer. Once a battle site, Spoleto is high on
a hill and very visual for a short stay. Spoleto boasts renowned frescoes
by Pinturiccio, one of the great Umbrian artists. The city’s main
building was built as a papal stronghold and became the home of Lucrezia
Borgia. Later it served as a prison. Its called Rocca Albornoz. And like
most cities, there’s a treasured Duomo dating from the 12th century.
Close by, to the west is Todi atop a hill. Go there even if it’s only to
enjoy the Piazza Garibaldi. Todi is teeming with fragrant Piazzas. But
you’re on your way to Rome only a short two hours away.
What can I say about Rome that you don’t already know?
It’s a mega city and traffic snarls everywhere. Select a hotel near the
station; leave your car and walk. I suggest a guided tour. Otherwise you
won’t know what to see or how to get there. I have a few favorite places
to visit including, the Borghese Gardens, Baths of Caracalla, Spanish
Steps and the Fountain of Trevi. (Three coins they say means, one to
assure you’ll return. The second for a mate you might find and the third
for a divorce if it doesn’t work out. That’s what my guide told me the
first time I was there.) Next, go to the Pantheon and marvel at the
architecture, especially the dome. Lunch in the Piazza Navonna before
going to the Vatican he Sistine Chapel.
Examine one of the best statues in Rome and think of the
events that took place in the square 2000 years ago when it was used as an
arena. Don’t forget the Coliseum, the Forum and the baths. Rome is
spread out and much of what was old was destroyed. But it’s Rome, the
center of an empire. There is much to admire. Take time to visit
Michelangelo’s Campidoglio near the ancient Senate.
Just outside Rome is the Villa d’Este at Tivoli, with
its beautiful gardens and fountains. Villa Adriana is nearby. That was
Hadrian’s home. It’s a must.
From Rome, I’d go south towards Naples. The city is
not on most tourist itineraries but this is the area of Herculaneum and
Pompeii, destroyed by nearby Vesuvius. Need I say more? Naples is also the
place you get the hovercraft to Capri. Go atop Anna Capri and try to get
to visit the blue grotto. There’s short ferry to Sorrento or back to
Naples you go for your car. Then follow the bay to Sorrento and on to
Solerno, Amalfi and Positano. Here again, the buildings hug the shore. The
vistas are beyond belief but it’s a little overcrowded with tourists.
If you still have time you can proceed to Sicily. This
is quickly becoming a tourist haven for visitors from all over the world.
Etna is active these days. Beware. But it’s a big island with many safe
havens. It’s a short ferry ride from Reggio di Calabria to Mesina.
Politics run differently on the islands. The other island I recommend is
in the north and reached from Livorno near Pisa. I’m talking about
Corsica. I enjoyed one of the best holidays there. Warning. If you drive
from Calvi to Ajaccio you will see one of the most spectacular drives in
Europe. But there are few guard rails and barely room for cars in both
directions. Drive slowly and plan to stay in or near Piana, about half
way. The hotels are comfortable and the views beyond belief, especially at
The other area you might enjoy is on the Mediterranean
coast north of Livorno. I’m talking of Cinque Terre, the tiny chain of
villages, linked by footpaths facing the water on the hillside. Or, drive
a few miles north on the Autostrada till you come to the road along the
coast leading to Portofino. This little harbor is protected and a dream
for painters. I went there first in the off-season and learned to dip
biscotti in wine just to wile away the hours.
But I’ve covered too much for one holiday. Do it in
pieces. Savor it. Digest it. After all, it’s been there for centuries,
molding itself under that special sky and sun that is truly Italy.
You can Contact Professor Arnie Greenberg at:
Over the past few years, Professor
Greenberg has traveled with groups to France, Italy, Spain, Greece,
Budapest, Vienna, Salzburg, Prague and both Sorrento and the Bay of
Naples plus most of Sicily. His tours traveled to the far reaches of the
globe including Italy and most of
China (Beijing -Hong Kong) and to Russia where his group cruised the waters
from St.Petersburg to Moscow.
"He took a group to Greece and another to northern
Russia. In Nov 07 he took a tour group to much of India and ended his tour
groups by revisiting France. He now travels with his wife and friends. They
winter in Argentina or San Miguel Mexico. His newly found spare time
is taken up with his painting and writing. "I must write every day." His
current work is a cautionary manual for would-be tour leaders.. "So
You Want To Be A Tour Leader."
Arnie now travels with friends. He continues writing
Travel articles about unusual places but often concentrates on novel
writing. Two books based on French Art will be published this year.
Keep reading his web for travel ideas. His next
novel HELLSTORM'S Folly,
will be available this fall. He now
lives in British Columbia.
www.top-travel-ideas.com or contact him directly at
(More about the writer.)