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Tour Italy Slowly

Arnie Greenberg

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 guess.

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 recuperate.

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 much more.

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 Italy.

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 opportunities.

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 square.

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 sundown.

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.


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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.

Go to: or contact him directly at

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