Two vacations to Italy do not make me an expert but I hope you find the following travel plans, along with hotel and restaurant recommendations helpful. I will forewarn you, we are all about the food and not so much about museums. And we don’t drive. All the travel was done either by train or boat and we stayed within walking distance of both.
The last two weeks of October are a good time to travel as crowds have thinned so hotels are easy to book, allowing last minute travel changes. The weather can be rainy and turn cold. Plan to dress for fall, but do layers just in case you get a hot spell.
Tip: Download the Apps booking.com and TripAdvisor before you leave the States.
Tip: Put an International Plan on your phone with a few hundred MB for data. Leave your phone in airplane mode always, and use the widely available Wi-fi, unless you are lost and then use google maps in walk mode to get yourself un-lost. Also, the plan will allow you to make calls for restaurant reservations!
It is best to book a flight that arrives into Rome’s Fiumicino – Leonardo da Vinci International Airport . Use the commuter trains that leave frequently to get to Rome’s Termini Train station. Hotel Mondial Best Western is just a six minute walk from Termini and in a great location for exploring Rome.
Stay awake as long as possible and explore Rome at night! Go back to the Colosseum and Palatine Hill during the day, but the lighting at night is so romantic!
“Our” restaurant in Rome is Al Moro, which is by the Trevi Fountain area. Do not under any circumstances sit on the patio. Eat like the Romans, with the Romans! Be sure to make a reservation for an inside table, but no earlier than 8:30. I promise you will be surrounded by locals. Interestingly, all of Italy seems to eat dinner at the same time, which is 8:30. Actually even a late seating will work fine, since the waiters are a bit more relaxed. You must get the artichoke, and if you are a mushroom fan, ask for suggestions on porcini dishes. Check out the berry pie dessert in the case at the entrance. It will be gone before the night is out. Look for Fellini’s large portrait in the first room - it was his favorite restaurant.
If you end up by the Spanish Steps around lunch time, there is an excellent panini place with outdoor seating close by. When in northern Italy, don’t miss out on at least one or two orders of mortadella. Panini de Santis Roma would be a great place to check that off your list. Oh, and olive oil is used as a condiment. Feel to pour it on just about anything they serve you - it is so delicious.
From Rome you have a choice to travel north or head south. Let the weather be your guide. Sunny weather forecasted? Head south. We took the train to Salerno (3 hours trip since no high speed offered). The Minihotel B & B was close to the train station, a bit funky but interesting. DO NOT use their restaurant recommendations. Use their free wi-fi and find something on TripAdvisor. Walk the old part of town and visit the Duomo. Make a mental note of how this church will differ from what you will encounter in the north.
In the morning head to the water, walk to the right a 1/4 mile to find the ferry to Amalfi. I hope you have clear skies for this short trip along the Amalfi coast. Amalfi is a great place to stay a few nights and use as jumping off point for Ravello and Positano. Residenza Luce is a family run B&B (Vincenzo and Lidia are wonderful) that we found enjoyable. The Duomo’s bell is a bit of an annoyance but the cacophony of Italian conversation make up for it. Don’t miss eating at L’Abside which is in the piazza close to the B&B. Vincenzo’s sister Giovanna is a server and is just as pleasant as the rest of the family. All the food was good, but don’t miss the tirumasu. We had a lovely evening meal at Eolo. It would have been better had we made reservations for a table with a view but still lovely. They are super helpful picking out your wine for you - thank goodness since the red and white wine books were crazy big. I love the fact that wine and food is extremely regional. Always order wine from the region you are in.
A bus trip up the mountain to Ravello is a must. Hairpin turns on a regular commuter bus is an experience. We walked through the gardens at Villa Rufolo, which is just off the square but I think we made a mistake by not going to Villa Cimbrone Gardens. They say it is a 20 minute walk from the square but well worth it. If you didn’t know the meaning of the word belvedere before Ravello, you will learn it. We walked down to Amalfi and absolutely enjoyed this trek. Follow the signs or use that cell phone data to get your bearings. Wonderful little adventure!
A boat trip to Positano is must. Lovely place, chic, excellent shopping, excellent views, but we were happy to return to our Amalfi base. Use Tripadvisor to find a special place to eat - I am sure there are many.
It is on to Sorrento the next day. You can go by boat or you can have Vincenzo arrange a driver who will stop at vista points along the way. Sorrento is interesting in that it has many English pubs and many English tourists to fill those pubs. I believe Sorrento is the UK’s Bahamas. We stayed at the Hilton at the top of the hill. If you have American Express points, this would be a great place to cash them in. Go for a walk down hill to the old town, shop, go see the cliffs at the cool old hotels, get hungry and thirsty and then sit for a long time in one of the cafes at Piazza Tasso. I thought Bar 2000 was the very best for people watching.
From Sorrento take the ferry for a day trip to Capri. The walk to the ferry is an event in itself. I don’t recommend taxis - too expense! When you get off in Capri make a beeline to the Funicolare. The chic interesting part of the island is at that top. Wander around freely as you can’t get lost, but watch your time for your ferry ride back. Again, use Tripadvisor to find a nice restaurant. We ate at Donna Rachelle and it was wonderful.
You have to take a day and visit both Herculaneum and Pompeii. The train is purely commuter and a bit rough. I suggest you ride first to Scavi di Ercolano. It is a bit of a walk down the hill and not through the nicest town, but the ruins are well worth it. Herculaneum isn’t large but gives you a good sense of the history. Walk back up the hill and now catch the train to the Pompeii. I suggest you eat at one of the tourist cafes before you enter. Pompeii is unbelievably huge and it will take you hours to get through it all. Bring your best walking shoes.
The only proper way to get across the Bay of Naples to Napoli is by ferry. The commuter train, as you will have seen on the Pompeii trip, is NOT good for tourists traveling with luggage. Once in Naples you will take a taxi to the train station. Give yourself enough time in Naples to eat at da Pasqualino. This is an excellent place to get your Naples Pizza and is very close to the station. Buying train tickets can be interesting. You will be approached by people seeking to help, but most likely looking to steal. Be firm and tell them to beat it. You can take a number in the train office and wait to talk to a customer service person. Our guy wasn’t very friendly but he did save us money on our trip to Florence.
Tip: Purchase business class seats so you have an assigned seat and place for your luggage.
Florence, what can I say about Firenze that hasn’t been written? I can tell you about three excellent places to eat. The first two are across the Arno River. Trattoria del Carmine is filled with locals. The menu is only in Italian and they won’t help you much, but it is worth the effort. Watch the time. If they say they open at 12:15, it is a good idea to get there soon after. It will fill to capacity and then close at 2:00. Osteria Toscanella for dinner is great because they speak english and it is located in an old Roman Villa. If they have the dessert Zuccotto - go for it! For lunch the next day hang out in San Lorenzo Square until Trattoria da Gozzi opens at noon. Low key, blue collar and absolutely delicious! Hotels are expensive in Florence. We stayed at the B&B A Florence View, but we opted for the cheapest room without a view. Don’t expect fancy for this price, but it is cool to walk out the front door and be right in front of the cathedral.Saltimbocca
Tip: The waiters will NOT bring you the check until you ask. Either say “Il conto”, make the universal finger motion meaning check, or if all else fails get up to leave. They don't think it rude to ask for the check!
The next stop along the speed train route is Bologna, which is the capital of the Emilia-Romagna region, and is ground zero for the best food in Italy. Find a hotel in the city center and read just a bit about Bologna before you arrive. There is so much history here. Make an 8:30 reservation at Ristorante da Nello al Montegrappa. The food and the atmosphere is perfect.
It is on to Milan for the flight home. We always stay at airport hotels the last night to decrease stress and take advantage of the trains to visit the city the night before. Milano is spectacular! At this point you will have seen a dozen duomos, but the mother of all duomos, is the Duomo di Milano. Make sure you find the oldest shopping mall, the Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele II which is close by. We ended up at one of those cheesy touristy outdoor bars, which was perfect with its space heater (it will be cold in Milan).
I felt like I waited a lifetime to get to Italy but it was well worth the wait. I hope you found this helpful and somewhat interesting.
Ciao Amico!Ristorante I'Abside in Amalfi