My Trip to Italy and Guide for Backpackers
A round trip through Italy, and also with your own car. That certainly comes to mind when you think of holidays in Italy. But on such a road trip you get to know a lot of a country. For many it is the perfect holiday to live in a beautiful apartment or a chic hotel, to lie on the beach, to read a good book and just relax.
I am rather the vagabond vacationer. I have to see something new. I need culture. I love Italian food. In short, I have to drive around. Of course, I cannot travel all over Italy on our tour. There are just too many cities that interest me.
Day 1: Venice
We rented a car on the internet. The owner called us as soon as we arrived in the lagoon city of Venice. He came to pick us up and took us to the rental agency. We book an Italian car. Once the formalities are completed, we head to our hotel. 10 years later, we are back in Venice. We park the car at the hotel. Our hotel is located 5 minutes from the Rialto Bridge, with our room overlooking the canal.
To reach the center of Venice, we took the bus to Piazza Roma. This is relatively cheap and you can easily travel in the Vaporetto (the water bus) in the city center. We see the famous gondolas as we stroll along the grand canal by Vaporetto. We also see the Grand Canal palaces. We go to the lido (island at the end of Venice) with the Vaporetto to swim at the beach of Lido.
To appreciate Venice, we get lost in the small streets, to discover many places and take the many bridges. There are very chic cafes around St. Mark's Square. What am I in love with this city? Especially in the evening, when the day trippers are gone, and we have the city almost alone, it is just beautiful. Behind every street corner, behind each bridge, there is a new postcard motif.
Day 2: Verona
We head to Verona. We have a small stop on the road to taste their paninis and especially drink. It is very hot. We took the highway to Verona. Yes, in Italy, there are also tolls! We booked a room at the hotel that is a little outdated but of Italian style. To get to the center of Verona, we opt for the bus that has a stop in front of the hotel.
We bought our tickets at the hotel because Verona is a small town with small streets, where cars do not have the right to move and therefore, it is difficult to park. We descended in front of the Roman arenas. It is the 3rd largest amphitheater in Italy and the best-preserved arena. It has become one of the largest opera houses in the world with 22,000 spectators.
Our next stop is Casa di Giulietta or Juliet's house. Who does not know the story of Romeo and Juliet? Lots of lovers from all over the world come to see the magic balcony. We see the walls of the entrance porch, fully covered with sweet notes in all languages, stuck with vile chewing gum. As a token of their love, the lovers pose a padlock. If you have a broken heart, you can write to Juliette, and she will answer you!
We move through Piazza Delle Erbe. This is the ancient Roman forum, now the most beautiful square in Verona. We stroll along the Adige and stop in front of the Duomo. There are very nice houses on small streets. We were surprised that the shops close so early at night (7:30 pm) for a tourist place.
We returned late to the hotel after some difficulty finding the bus stop back! Because the bus stops in the city are very badly indicated we must ask the driver to stop. We stayed next to the church with the sound of the bell every 30 minutes (except at night).
Day 3: Milan
We were woken up at 7am. We head to Lake Como. We pass by the city of Brescia. From Brescia, we went to Lake Iseo. We stayed for a while taking pictures because it was really too pretty. It was a real puzzle of a landscape with the Alps in the background! You can swim in the summer! The most beautiful place to admire the lake is in my opinion from the city of Sarnico.
There are small bridges from which we have great views of the lake. All while eating an ice cream is the best! We head to Bergamo, in the plain of Po in the morning. The city has been preserved since the 16th century and is completely surrounded by ramparts on which one can walk. Once up, we go around the old public square from where we can admire the civic tower, which rings 100 strokes every night. We also visit the Duomo (the Cathedral) and the Colleoni Chapel.
We reach Bellagio, a very nice little village on the shores of Lake Como. Bellagio is known for its stairs. It takes two and a half hours. We stayed at a hotel located in the top of Bellagio. We had to pass in the small streets of the village. This is a typical Italian hotel, a little dated, with a very small parking (little room to go inside).
We walked along the lake and went to the beach, where we swim. The water is a little cool but many people bathe there. We returned because there was a lot of wind and the storm began to arrive. We could walk to the village center along the lake. The staff was very nice.
Stresa looks like Monaco with its vegetation and its flowers along the lake. It looks like Monte Carlo with its palaces along the lake. As we walk along the lake, we see there are also many small beaches where we can swim. We stopped on one there. From Lake Maggiore, we can see the Borromee Islands comprising the Isola Bella.
The next stop on our trip to Italy is the fashion metropolis of Milan. When planning the trip I was not sure if it would be worth a stop in Milan. I had not read so much good about Milan as a destination for a city break. Not every Italy travel guide praises Milan as a tourist attraction.
Since Milan is on our itinerary, I still decide to spend a day here. And I will not be disappointed. We stayed at a hotel with parking that was very well located. Our hotel is a bit out of the city center, so we take the subway to town. The main attraction in Milan is certainly Milan Cathedral. And every travel guide writes that you should visit this best in the morning because then the flow of visitors are not quite so big.
Nevertheless, we start our perfect day in Milan in another district. Brera is the historic bohemian district of Milan. From the Montenapoleone station leaves the metro. When I get off my first look was at the Emporio Armani Caffe. Yes, I'm obviously in a fashion metropolis. Through small streets, we walk to the Brera Academy.
If you walk through the streets, you should definitely throw one or the other view into the courtyards. They are partly beautifully designed. Or just take a look at the upper floors. One discovers here one or the other stucco ceiling.
A look into the courtyards in Milan's Brera district sometimes shows true gems. The street picture changes in the area of Via Fiori Chiari. There are pedestrian zones with small shops. At every corner, we find a bar, a café or a restaurant. We sit down for breakfast in the bar Brera.
With Cappuccino and Cornetto and the stuffed croissants, we watch the hustle and bustle on the street. In the morning fewer tourists seem to walk around than the locals. Somehow I have the impression that everybody knows everybody here. I really like sitting here.
From Brera, it is only a short walk to the 600-year-old Castello Sforzesco. Through a suspension bridge, we enter the courtyard of the castle. Here it is not nearly as pompous as in other castles. The Castello reminds me more of a fortress. In this castle lived and ruled the Dukes of Milan, who obviously put less emphasis on optics than on defense.
There are several museums in this castle, which show, among other things, the last work of Michelangelo or a ceiling fresco by Leonardo da Vinci. Since we only have one day in Milan, and the queue at the entrance to the museum is unfortunately not very short, we look at the castle from the outside and then head towards the city center.
Via Dante is a traffic-calmed, wide shopping street. It leads us almost directly from Castello Sforzesco to Milan Cathedral. Just before we reach the cathedral, we turn off to Piazza Mercanti. I had already read on the internet that this place should be beautiful. And that's exactly what he is. In the Middle Ages, Piazza Mercanti was one of the centers of the city. Here was operated since the 13th-century trade.
Around the rectangular square are beautiful old lodge houses with great balconies. One of the houses seems to stand on stone stilts. Here students and tired tourists bustle in the shade. After an overpriced espresso near the Piazza del Duomo, which still has to be somehow anyway, we continue to the Milan Cathedral.
I am almost awestruck shortly before this magnificent building. Big, bright and with lots of decorations and turrets he stands in front of me. Unfortunately with him also a lot of tourists with their selfie sticks.
In contrast to the Cologne Cathedral, we have to buy a ticket to come to the Milan Cathedral. In front of the ticket counters are the usual long lines. Here I have a good tip for you. At the back of the cathedral is a large building. Again, you can buy the tickets officially.
When we arrive there, there is no queue at all. One can choose between tickets only for the church, or church and the roof of the cathedral. Since we were in Barcelona on the roof of the cathedral in the spring, we decide against it here in Milan. If you have not done something like this, do it. It's worth it.
Right next to the cathedral is one of the oldest and in my opinion the most beautiful shopping arcades in the world: the Viktor Emanuel Gallery. In this passage is certainly not the shopping in the first place at least not for me. Here is the motto for me: Just look, do not buy. But that's also nice here.
There is a fantastic mosaic floor, stucco on the walls, and great old shops mixed with chic designer shops. Leaving the mall on the north side, we come to Piazza Della Scala. Here is not only the famous opera house, the Teatro Alla Scala but also a statue of Leonardo da Vinci.
A delicious dinner not in the city center, but near our hotel completes my perfect day in Milan. As I sit with my pasta I wonder what my conclusion of Milan will be. There are not only beautiful and perfectly styled people. But besides the people, this is a really nice city. Especially in Brera, which I found extremely charming. We went back to the hotel that was not bad.
Day 4: Siena
We pass the San Siro stadium, before leaving Milan. La Spezia is the ideal place to visit the Cinque Terre National Park. After a three an half hour drive, we arrived at La Spezia. A train allows us to stop in the 5 villages. We stopped at the last village called Monterosso. It is the biggest of the 5 with its beach (pebble beach, with few places because many are private).
We took the train back to the second village, which is one of the most beautiful villages in the Cinque Terre. On arrival, we could see the wild sea. We see a nice panoramic view of the city by accessing the trail behind the church. We took the train back to Riomaggiore. We took the walk of the path of love, walk of 20 minutes to the village of Manarola.
We then head to Tuscany with a stop in Pisa. Apart from its historic center with its tower, its Duomo, there is nothing extraordinary to see in Pisa. It is possible to climb in the tower of Pisa, but it is necessary to reserve in advance. The children under 8 years are not allowed to go up there. The tours of the tower, the museum, the Duomo are not free.
To reach the city center, we took the bus because, in Florence, cars do not move. We visited Florence under a heat (40 degrees). The Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral is a very beautiful masterpiece. To visit it, you must have your shoulders covered, and not be in shorts. You can buy a poncho. The door of the Baptistery is nicknamed the door of paradise. The Ponte Vecchio is the oldest bridge in the city, with its jewelry shops.
We took a hotel a little away from the center, so we could park the car in the parking lot of the hotel and enjoy the pool. As in most Italian cities, it is impossible or forbidden to drive in the streets, and parking is expensive. As a result, we took the bus to the center of Siena.
The hotel staff provided us with information on how to get to the city center, a stop was located right up to the hotel. We had trouble getting back, as the buses never take the same route to and from. We walked in the heat! Siena is known for its ocher houses, its large square-shaped shell St Jacques, and the beautiful Duomo. The visit pays off!
Day 5: Rome
We continue to Rome, the Eternal city. I was really looking forward to it. Again, I was looking for a hotel for a long time. We finally decided against a hotel in Rome. One of the main reasons was the car, which we have with us on our tour. Parking in the city is expensive.
What do I do in Rome on a day? What should I look at? Rome is a fantastic city full of history. There are wonderful fountains and places where you can sit down and drink an espresso. Because we stay in a hotel outside the city, we start our day at the Central Station of Rome, Stazione Termini. Here are the usual hustle and bustle of a central station.
Nevertheless, we get fully motivated in the underground line in the direction of Battistini. The track is full, and to be honest, I have to clench my teeth to keep from getting straight out. At the Ottaviano station, we leave the subway. Okay, there can be no question of empty streets here. The crowds are already heading towards the Vatican.
And in between every 2 meters the street vendors, who want to sell a ticket at the queue. Since we have no intention of going to St. Peter's Basilica or the Vatican Museums, we do not fall for it. You should really think twice about buying these tickets. At the Coliseum, we saw that the queue in front of the ticket booth with the regular day passes was shorter than the queue in front of the entrance without waiting.
We go to St. Peter's Square. Here it is a lot emptier than on the street. I am standing in the middle of the square. In front of me stands probably the most famous church in the world. Many years ago I was here once on New Year's Day to listen to the address of John Paul II. On this late summer morning, the windows remain closed.
Along the Via Conciliazione, we now walk towards the Tiber. Right by the river is the Castel Sant'Angelo, the Castel Sant'Angelo. From the Ponte Sant'Angelo, we get a particularly beautiful view. I like it pretty much here. After shooting some nice photos on the banks of the Tiber, we plunge into the maze of little streets in the center of Rome.
The good thing about Rome is that so many tourist attractions are so close together that you can combine them with a nice walk. And so we stroll along the Via Dei Coronari and other streets to Piazza Navona. There are many nice cafes and restaurants along the way. In any case, you should stop here rather than at the piazza, where the food is really expensive.
Piazza Navona is a large square with several fountains. And while I stand here and let the space act on me, suddenly a man stands next to me and tries to explain something to me in Italian. But in fact, he just tries to make me aware of the building opposite. This is where the Brazilian Embassy has rented. Through the large windows upstairs we catch a glimpse of the grandiose ceiling paintings.
Our next destination is one of the best preserved ancient buildings in Rome: the Pantheon. Before that, we make a detour to the church of Sant'Agostino. I read in the guidebook, which has some nice pictures hanging on the wall: a masterpiece by Caravaggio and a fresco by Raphael.
The Pantheon is awesome. Awesome and impressed I stand in the middle. This dome was actually thought up by humans almost 2000 years ago. They had no computers to calculate the statics. And by the way, when it rains, it actually rains through the big hole into the church. We saw it with our own eyes.
From the Pantheon, you can comfortably continue to the Fontana di Trevi, the famous Trevi Fountain. Knowing well, and being able to guess from the crowds how full it will be there, I skip this tourist attraction today. In Spain, I spent a New Year's Eve with a bottle of sparkling wine as we stood up and looked at the fireworks. That was a great mood back then. New Year's Eve in Rome. I can all but recommend you. Since it was not nearly as full as it is today, on this day in September.
I continue from the Pantheon in the direction of Campo di Fiori, the great flower market. We are not lucky here. Most market stalls were already closed. Unfortunately, I did not pay attention to the planning. The market closes at 1:30 pm. A little disappointed, we look for a bus that takes us to Piazza Venezia.
From Piazza Venezia, we have the lunch in the "old Rome". This place is a good starting point to explore ancient Rome. When getting off the bus, however, my first glance at the huge monument for Vittorio Emanuele II falls. For obvious reasons, the Romans like to call it "typewriter". It's nice, but not really old. If you climb the stairs, you have a nice view over the city. The Trajan's Column was built in 113 after a victorious campaign and shows sometimes life-size scenes of the battles. Behind the monument rises the Capitol Hill and immediately afterward the Foro Romano.
The Capitol Hill has two paths. There is a fairly steep staircase and a slightly more comfortable ascent. The steep staircase leads to the Basilica di Santa Maria in Aracoeli. Take the more comfortable path and enter the Piazza del Campidoglio. I would like to say that we deliberately choose the steep climb.
In fact, I have read myself in the Italy travel guide. In any case, we are so in front of this great church, in which a look inside is really worthwhile. Via the side exit, we go to Capitoline Square, Piazza del Campidoglio. On the Capitoline, the fortunes of the city were passed in Roman times.
Here there is the senatorial palace and the conservatory palace, where everything secular was regulated. Incidentally, the square between the palaces was designed in the 15th century by none other than Michelangelo. From the Via del Campidoglio we have a great view of the Roman Forum and there is a small bar where we drink excellent espresso for very little money.
The Capitol Square, Italian Piazza del Campidoglio, was designed by Michelangelo. Passing the Capitoline Wolf, we descend the hill again. Again and again, I see the views of the Forum Romanum from above. And as always, when I walk through old streets, I imagine how here the Romans walked through the streets almost 3000 years ago. Right here, in the heart of ancient Rome, I find it incredibly beautiful.
Along the Via Dei Fori Imperiali, which is admittedly not old, but was built by Mussolini, we walk on to the Colosseo. The afternoon sun is burning on my head. Just think of enough water and a hat to go to Rome in the summer. In front of the Colosseo, we meet similar hustle and bustle as in front of St. Peter's Square. Here again, various street vendors try to sell "Skip the line" tickets. As I mentioned at the beginning, there is no need to risk anything here. The queue at the counter was actually shorter.
In the Colosseo itself, it is then contrary to expect not so full, which is probably because the security controls here are similar to those at the airport. People only come in droplets inside. It is late afternoon after visiting this nearly 2000-year-old stadium. In fact, for a short time, we have the idea of putting espresso in one of the adjacent cafes.
But the prices and above all the enormous unfriendliness of the waiters makes us quickly realize, how much nicer it is to walk away a few meters from the tourist attractions. Of course, I cannot miss a garden on my trip to Italy. Just outside Rome, in Tivoli, is the Villa d'Este. This beautiful garden with its countless fountains is not only for the eye.
A nice day is coming to an end. With many beautiful and impressive pictures in mind, we sit down again at the main train station to sit in the quiet and tranquil Frascati in less than 30 minutes.
Day 6: Naples
We continue today to the coast. Our next leg takes us to Naples. Vesuvius is 25 km from Naples. We climb the summit of the Vesuvius and discover its crater. The access to paid parking at 1000 m altitude is dented with very limited places. There are several souvenir shops in the car park as well as on the hiking trail. The climb is easy and lasts 20 mins.
At the beginning of the walk, we can see the first volcano with its lava flow, and also the Bay of Naples. Here we are now at 1200 m altitude where we discover the crater that is 600 m in diameter and 300 m deep. As proof that the volcano is not extinct, we can see fumaroles! The magma is located 8 km below the crater.
After Vesuvius, we leave for Pompei, a gigantic site. As a reminder, Pompeii was buried on August 24, 1979, under the ashes of Vesuvius. There are very few car parks near the site to visit (parking is offered if you eat in the restaurant). It takes 4 hours of visit minimum. After paying the entry fee (free up to 18 years), here we are inside this ancient city, in an overwhelming heat. Fortunately, there are many fountains.
We go to the port of Sorrento for the crossing to the island of Capri. Unfortunately, with traffic jams along the coast, we arrive late. The boat's leave too early to Sorrento (7 am). Capri for us was really over! Maybe another time?
Because of this, we stroll towards the beach. We find a public beach and swim in the Adriatic Sea. Because indeed, there are many private beaches and very few public! Our hotel is located just above Sorrento on Via Nastro Verde. From the terrace, we have an exceptional view over the Gulf of Naples to Vesuvius.
Day 7: Amalfi Coast
We went to southern Italy in the Campania region. After 3 hours of driving along the Amalfi Coast, we arrived in a city of "crazy" people. It is impossible to drive if you do not know how to impose yourself. There is no respect for the rules of the road, no traffic lights.
We roll, we brake, we horn, and we go for it. It's the same for pedestrians, buses, and trams. In short, it's total anarchy. Everyone does what they want. Our hotel is located in the station area. We rushed to park our car in the parking closest to the hotel. The neighborhood is very dirty, and people are out at night very late because of the heat. Luckily our room is on the courtyard side.
In addition, young people play football in the streets between cars and sidewalks. We took the metro. There are 2 lines, an old one and a new line. We went up to Vomero Hill. To get there, we took the funicular. What a change of scenery, we found ourselves in the upscale area of Naples. From the hill, there is a very nice view of the Vesuvius. We go down through the stairs that lead us to the funicular. It is already dark. We go back to the hotel.
Day 8: Gargano
We are heading to southern Italy, in Puglia. It takes around 4 hours to travel the 320 km where we cross desert roads. The temperatures are higher, with little signs of houses. The fields are burned by the heat. There are very few petrol stations. We stayed in a B&B not far from the historic center, known for its architecture and its 23 churches. We walked in the heat.
We spent the day at the beach of Alimini, one of the most beautiful beaches of the Adriatic Sea. The water is very hot. We bathe without any difficulty. We have some Coconut to refresh. We also visit Otranto, a small village further south. In good weather, you can see the coast of Greece. Here we visit a church with its mosaic floor and its magnificent ceiling. We slept in a Bed and Breakfast in Castellana Grotta, an old farm of the 18th century.
We visit Alberobello, a village that has preserved its Trulli, houses built without mortar with pebbles of limestone collected in the neighboring fields. The technique of construction dates from prehistory, a technique still used in the region of the Apulia. This site is unique because the houses are still inhabited.
We were able to visit one. The village is divided into two parts with a historical part and a more touristic part with its craftsmen and its stores. We spent the day at the beach. So we had to rent a sunbed.
We slept on the heights of Gargano. Our hotel was located near the beach. Fortunately, we were in a very good B&B where the lady, welcomed us very well. She informed us very well and advised us to visit the medieval town of Offagna as there was a medieval festival.
As the restaurant was closed, we had to go to the restaurant located in the hotel across the street. We were the only ones to eat there, so the place is isolated! We were disappointed by the landscape and the beach of Manfredonia and moreover, the storm arrived.
Day 9: Florence
The route from Vieste to Ancona (more than four and half hour drive) along the coast is not the best place to stay. We still went to Falconara Beach, a beach next to the railway line, overlooking factories. The hinterland is beautiful with its valleys. We spent a very good evening inside the castle with its sets, costumes, and shows.
On our way back to the north, we think about where we best stop off. Because the route is too long for us. We opt for the dwarf state of San Marino. We choose Rimini. After 1 hour drive, here we are in Rimini, in the north of Italy, a seaside resort known for its long sandy beaches.
We were allowed to walk along the sea, but we were not allowed to sit with our towels. This is so in Italy (plan a beach budget or waste your time looking for a public beach with a place) because 70% of the beaches are private! We take a short walk along the sea to the city center.
If like me, you are not a fan of party magic, then you should better avoid this city. San Marino, on the other hand, is very worthwhile. The old town of San Marino is very cute, located on a hill and you can walk and stroll here.
Before going to Florence, we stopped at San Marino (25 km from Rimini), the third smallest state in Europe after the Vatican and Monaco. We parked at the funicular car park. We took the pedestrian path (steep climb) to get to the center of the city. It was a very beautiful city with its ramparts, its city center, and its 3 towers.
We continue our way to the North with a stop in Bologna. The road to Bologna is difficult, turns, and many trucks! (one and half hour drive). We slept at the hotel and there we took the bus to the city center. Bologna is known for its towers and its narrow streets with its red houses. Its many arcades make it possible to protect itself from the sun.
We went back down on foot, then left for Florence (two-hour drive, 120 KM), back to Tuscany. Florence is the world capital of art. We stayed at the hotel located less than a km from the center of Florence.
Here are my impressions of Italy. The tour of Italy was beautiful. I have seen so much, met great people, had nice chats and ate the best pasta, pizza, and tiramisu in my life. I liked the beauty and the architectural richness of the cities with its numerous churches, and cathedrals (Duomo).
I liked the Cinque Terre National Park, Vesuvius, and Pompeii. I liked the not too expensive toll, the margarita, the Aperol, the limoncello, the warmth, and the welcome of the Italians. I would not change a station. The duration of the stays in the cities was just right for us. But I would not do this trip again in September.
It was extremely hot. Over 30 degrees on a city tour is not necessarily a feel-good temperature for me. In addition, it was unfortunately very crowded in the tourist centers.