{ask me anything about anywhere} “What Should I Do in Rome, Tuscany, and Venice?”

People ask me for travel advice all the time, and sometimes I just don’t get around to blogging about it in advance. Here’s your chance to ask me anything about anywhere! If I have any good intel–I’ll gladly share it with you.

The question: “This summer, I’m going to Italy- biking from Rome to Venice, through Tuscany, with lots of stops in between. What are your favorite things to see, eat, and do there?”

How can I tell you all the things to do in Italy? This will barely scratch the surface! Let me get this out of the way first: I haven’t been to Rome in quite some time, so I will point you to some fine recommendations from Heidi of 101 Cookbooks for that. I’m also incredibly partial to the New York Times “36 Hours” column… and luckily for you, they have a recent one on Rome.

Of course, I like to plan ahead, so if I were heading to Rome I’d be considering a stay at the modern budget Orange Hotel, the colorful Capo d’Africa, or the tucked-away and charming Inn at the Spanish Steps. For a more luxurious splurge, I might go for the newly revamped Hotel de Russie. Tablet Hotels has a long list of unique Rome hotels to book (including the four I just mentioned), so if you need a place to stay, I’d start browsing photos, reading editorials, and checking availability.

Moving on to Tuscany, which is one of those places that looks exactly how you’ve imagined, only much better. You may have heard this already, but in Tuscany it’s fun to stay in an agriturismo–a guesthouse on a farm. I would recommend you look on Trip Advisor for reviews and email them to see if they’re available. There is a wide range of really down-home to fancy shmancy, which is where Trip Advisor comes in to help a lot.

My husband’s favorite town in Tuscany has got to be Siena. I don’t really need to tell you what to do there because once you’re in the old town you’ll just figure it out. Each summer, they have a horse race called the Palio in their shell-shaped piazza–something I would definitely like to witness in my lifetime!  We missed it by a week on our last trip. If you’d like to plan on that, it’s held every July 2nd and August 16th.

The tiny hilltop hamlet of Panzano is where you’ll find the famous “butcher of Tuscany” Dario Cecchini–if you are a meat lover, or any kind of food lover, I can’t stress highly enough my wish for you to eat at Solociccia, a restaurant with communal seating and 6 courses of meat with wine for 30 euros. (“Solociccia” means “only meat.”)It’s one of the most engaging and enjoyable restaurants I’ve ever experienced. We made a reservation on the same day over the phone; it’s not open every day so check ahead. There are two other Dario Cecchini restaurants, and yes, I know (and envy) people who have tried all three in one weekend. Dario+ (fka Mac Dario) is more casual, while Officina della Bistecca is the most upscale and focuses on steak.

A visit to Dario’s butcher shop, Antica Macelleria, is a must as well. When you arrive, you’ll most likely be greeted  by the ever-theatrical Dario wasn’t holding court in the street with his striped pants, bottle of homemade chianti in one hand, and teetering tower of drinking glasses in the other. Don’t worry–he’ll offer you a glass.

San Gimignano is one of the most postcard-perfect Tuscan towns–a town of many towers. It’s lovely and charming. And don’t forget to drink some Vernaccia de San Gimignano, it will be hot and you will need the refreshment from this excellent local white wine.

Monteriggioni an old walled town between Siena and San Gimignano. It’s a relaxed, quiet place to stop for lunch and walk the upper walls for views across the Tuscan landscape. If you were traveling with kids, I’d recommend Monteriggioni for the small medieval museum that charms kids and adults alike, with coats of chain mail, swords, and armor to try on. There are two terrific restaurants in the main square of Monteriggioni: Pozzo and Remo.

Other Tuscan towns that hold some interest for me are Volterra, named for its many stone vaults, and Parma, the birthplace of two of the finest foods known to humankind: parmigiano and prosciutto. Greve in Chianti was highly unexciting, I would not recommend it. Castellina in Chianti is much cuter and sweeter, but not worth a special trip. Of course, the aforementioned Panzano is in a much better hilltop setting than Greve and just a couple kilometers away.

I haven’t been to Firenze or Bologna in awhile,  so I’m not qualified to make recommendations.The beauty is that lots of people have  been to those places so getting advice on them should be quite easy.

Moving on from Tuscany on the way to Venice, you will pass through the town of Ferrara, the bicycle town of Italy. It’s an underrated town with an excellent local culinary tradition and old-town charm. Eat at Trattoria da Noemi, which though reasonably casual is in my opinion, one of the best restaurants in Italy. Order the salamina, a pork lover’s delight and a specialty of the town, something like an unholy marriage of salami and chorizo over  mashed potatoes. (Insert Homer Simpson drooling sound.)

Ah, Venezia, one of the most magical cities in the world. You might feel like it’s full of tourists but it will help to remember that ever since they built on water, nearly 500 years ago, the place has been full of tourists! My first bit of advice: get out of the main area of Piazza San Marco. It’s covered in pigeon shit, tourists, and 8 euro cups of coffee. There are literally dozens of lesser piazzas and campos with much more to offer. Last time we stayed near Campo San Giacomo and we spent many an enchanted evening sipping an aperitivo while the neighborhood kids played in the public fountain.

The Peggy Guggenheim Museum is definitely worth a visit; it’s got one of the best modern art collections in the world (and my very favorite Picasso) in an unexpected canal-side setting. Fans of contemporary art should not miss it. Scuola Grande di San Rocco is another worthwhile museum. It’s an old church that’s been covered on the inside–walls, ceilings, staircases, and so forth–with Tintoretto paintings. (My Dad’s favorite, for what it’s worth.)

A day trip to the island of Murano is another of my top recommendations. Murano is the glass-blowing island of Venice and you can stop by working fornaces to see people making glass. It’s also a good spot for buying gifts as there are lots of small (albeit breakable) things to pick up there, and since you can watch the whole process you’re guaranteed your tourist tchotchkes weren’t made in China. You can take a vaporetto (water bus) there or a water taxi. There is a great authentic restaurant along the main strip called Dalla Mora. Order a whole salt-crusted fish and watch the local men argue over soccer.

As for restaurants in Venice, people say it’s hard to eat well there, but if you know where to go, you can find terrific food to rival any in Italy. Some of the very best in my mind are L’Incontro off Santa Margherita, La Zucca by San Giacomo, and for a more pricey but excellent meal try Fiaschettteria Toscana in Canareggio.

I often use Tablet Hotels to find and book interesting hotels throughout the world. I know in Venice they  have some cool ones that are not too expensive, as I’ve had my eye on them: Charming House IQs and Charming House DD 724. If you’d like to rent an apartment, which is terrific when you are travelling with a larger group, VRBO has some excellent ones. The penthouse apartment we stayed in in Venice was via VRBO, and had a fabulous balcony overlooking the canal – Dimora Tintoretto at the Casa dei Pittori. It was by a fabulous Campo and close to the train station and great restaurants and cafes.

For gelato: This is my husband’s area of expertise. Grom on San Barnaba is his favorite. My mom calls it the “BiRite Creamery of Venice”. Gelateria San Stae is my favorite, especially the very very dark cioccolato flavor.

A few general tips about Italy…

  • Don’t forget to eat a gelato in each and every town until you find the very best one.
  • Mark Bittman has some good recommendations on restaurants–search them in the New York Times and bring printouts with you.
  • They always say “get lost in Venice” and it sounds a bit trite, but it’s actually good advice. Hopefully not TOO lost though.
  • To get double espresso you have to ask for “doppio”. The only word my Italian husband actually learned to say in Italian.

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1 Response

  1. Wendy says:

    Hi I’m going to Italy in summer. I’m on a budget. I would like to eat where the local eat. Also need help with what clothes to wear. I would like to places that not attractions. You know unusual places maybe things to do. Thank you so much. Wendy