Updated: Jan 7, 2020
Thinking of a city break in Italy? So did we! And we discovered some less touristic places to eat and sleep that might be useful to any of you!
Italy is one of the most complex countries in Europe and it would probably take a life time to explore all of it. From beautiful scenery to incredible cities, from architecture to design and fashion, from culture to delicious food, Italy has it all!
We won`t start by giving general facts about Italy because we assume you know that already.
Instead, we will just share our experience in Italy and all the nice places we discovered in the hope that you will get a benefit out of it.
As opposed to the other articles posted here, this one could even be called a mini-article. But also a city break is basically a mini-trip, isn`t it?
We will also skip the part of how to get there because it`s pretty obvious, will all these low cost airlines flying everywhere in Italy. 😊
Regarding how to get around Italy, we must say that renting a car is the best option! Although the public transport is very well developed, if you are doing a city-break and therefore you are short of time, driving will save you a lot of precious time!
We mostly used Europcar but, to be honest, we were not 100% happy. Unfortunately, this is a common issue in Italy when it comes to car rental and it happens on of the companies.
We didn`t have major issues as we purchased a full premium coverage but they charged us before picking up the car and we were supposed to just pay the toll fees after we return the car. ( We used a tele-pass for toll fees ). What happened instead was that we got a second charge on the debit card with the same amount for the car plus the toll fees. So, in the end, the first amount was just blocked and it`s still blocked at the time I`m writing this article. Hopefully, we will get it back in the coming days.
On top of that, their call center couldn`t offer me too many explanations of why I have two charges on the same card and they give me an e-mail address instead. In the end, I managed to find out what happened by calling my bank. But this is just a waste of time and energy for nothing!
However, this only happens in Italy, as I mentioned before. We used Europcar in other countries and the whole process went smooth.
Useful tip when it comes to Europcar: always reserve online only the car ( without any other extras such as protection packages ) and maybe consider not purchasing any automatic device for paying the toll.
When you do this and buy the protection at the counter, your deposit will significantly reduce as opposed to buying it online. We know, it doesn`t make any sense but, oh well, this is their policy.
Where to go
Most of the times we flew in and out of Milan ( Bergamo or Malpensa ) due to the best time schedule for Bucharest. But from here you can basically go anywhere in the northern part of Italy.
There are few options that are worth experiencing, depending on the length of your stay:
Option 1: 2 days - Cinque Terre and Tuscany
Option 2: 3 days - Cinque Terre, Tuscany and Venice
Option 3: 2 days - Milan, Bellagio and Lake Como
Option 4: 2 days - Milan and Bergamo ( Citta Alta )
Of course, there are many other options and combinations but we will focus on what we did.
We usually try to find less touristic places but in Italy this is really difficult. However, going off peak season might help you to get slightly less crowded places. 😊
Lately, we did 2 city - breaks in the north of Italy: the first one lasted 2 days and included Milan, Lake Como and Bellagio and the second one lasted 3 days and included Cinque Terre, Tuscany and a bit of Venice. We will only talk about the second city break, though.
This is a destination that should be on everyone`s bucket list!
The Cinque Terre meaning "Five Earths" is a coastal area within Liguria, in the northwest of Italy. It lies west of La Spezia and comprises five villages: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. The coastline, the five villages and the surrounding hillsides are all part of the Cinque Terre National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
The Cinque Terre area is a popular tourist destination. Over the centuries, people have built terraces on the rugged, steep landscape right up to the cliffs that overlook the sea. Paths, trains and boats connect the villages and cars cannot reach them from the outside. At least, not all of them.
There are regular trains running between the villages and it takes in between 5 to 10 minutes to travel from one to another. We personally left our car in La Spezia and we purchased train tickets. However, Google Maps shows some car route options for some of the villages, so you could try to reach by car as well, just we have no idea if there is any public parking available.
Allow at least a day for visiting.
Who hasn`t heard about Tuscany?
It is a huge area and it`s diverse natural landscape encompasses the rugged Apennines Mountains, the island of Elba’s beaches on the Tyrrhenian Sea and Chianti’s olive groves and vineyards.
One would simply need a lot of time to fully explore it, but at least this is a perfect excuse to always return here. 🙂
There are, of course, thousands of things to do in Tuscany, but, for practical reasons, we will only focus on few here.
We discovered two lovely places for spending the night on www.discovertuscany.com but we booked them via Booking.com. Anyway, apart from accommodation, this website has some other interesting features, so might be useful to check it out!
The first one is in Monsummano Terme, close to Pisa, Lucca and Pistoia. The location is literally on top of a hill and although the villa is completely modernized, it still has its original walls dating back from the fifteenth century. The place is called Relais Villa San Bastiano and can be found either on Booking.com, their website on discovertuscany.com.
We really enjoyed our time there and the location is truly special. It can also be used for weddings or similar events. The owner was really nice and friendly and did his best to make our stay great.
They even have a restaurant over there with a spectacular view - La Foresteria. The food was really good and they have a very nice Tuscan wine selection. We highly recommend it!
The second place is in Vicchio, just northeast of Florence and it`s a tiny little cottage in the middle of the Tuscan landscape. It`s called B&B Le due Volpi because when the first owner came to see the place before buying it, two foxes meet just at the entrance of the house. Cute, isn`t it? 🙂
For reservations, you can find it on Booking.com, as we did, or contact them directly on their website.
Restaurants and wine tasting places
So, apart from La Foresteria, mentioned above, there are some other places that are worth checking.
Another fattoria that delighted us is called Fattoria Pogio Alloro, just north of San Gimignano city. They have a farm, wine cellar and even rooms but what was really amazing is their lunch option! We found it on a website while searching for nice places to eat in San Gimignano and we simply showed up there on a Sunday afternoon, without any reservation. The people were extremely nice and immediately set a table for us, along with other Italian families.
Their menu was fixed and it was basically what they cooked during that day using their own products! And we must say it was A LOT of food! And we`re not only talking about the portions but also the types of dishes. They even customized vegetarian options for us and their lunch offer also included 2 types of wine from their wine cellar! Of course, at some point we just couldn`t eat anymore but it was such a nice experience. Especially if you are a food lover! But, who isn`t an Italian food lover?!?
And, by they way, everything was at a fixed price per person: 35 euros for the regular option and 28 euros for vegetarian option. Including all beverages! Nice, right?
Also, you simply MUST try their Vernaccia wine! For those who don`t know Vernaccia is a white Italian wine, made from the Vernaccia grape, produced in and around the Italian hill town of San Gimignano in Tuscany. Since the Renaissance, it has been considered one of Italy's finest white wines.
If you are interested in which website we got this fattoria from, here`s the website with 5 great farm-to-table restaurants in Tuscany.
If you are a wine lover, here is a website that features a list of wineries where you could do wine tasting.
Places to visit
To be honest, apart from its capital - Florence - Tuscany would be amazing to just drive around all the small villages and towns but we know that`s impossible to do during a city break. A very nice option would also be so rent some bikes and cycle around the villages but this takes time, as well.
We rented a car and just stopped and took pictures wherever it seemed nice. We did a half day stop in San Gimignano which was simply wonderful!
Some other places that were recommended to us by the locals ( but we didn`t have time to check ) are: Lucca, Pistoia, Siena and Monteriggioni. Also, Vicchio and all the surrounding nature would be relaxing!
Even if Venice is a bit far away from Tuscany, we decided to push it a bit and do a stop over there as well. As you may know, Venice is actually very small and you could cover everything in just a day. Some people like it, other people don`t. However, it remains an icon and should be on everyone`s bucket list.
But, after doing all the sight seeing, you would be hungry, right? And you would, perhaps, want to try some local food in some local restaurants?
Next, we invite you to get inspired by our photo gallery. Most of the pictures were taken with our latest photo camera, Sony Alpha 7 III and a Tamron 28-75 mm. Just few of them were taken with our old Olympus OM-D M5.