Help plan a 3 week Italy Trip
December 28, 2012 7:54 PM   Subscribe

I need help planning a trip to Italy this summer/2013 with my daughter for her 14th birthday (golden). Would like to see parts of the south and North. I am a bit nervous about traveling alone. Looking for tips on two week itinery, lodging, family oriented plans. I would like to start in the south as my mother's family is from Montefaconi, Rome, and then north. I have considered a week long tour in the south and then traveling Rome and northern on our own. Would consider a homebase in the north for 4-5days but where to stay??
posted by snztt99 to Travel & Transportation around Italy (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It has been a long time since I visited Italy, but get to Siena if at all possible.
posted by meinvt at 7:56 PM on December 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

I traveled through Italy about 10 years ago, but I doubt a lot has changed. I found it much more friendly towards tourists than, say, the United States would be if you showed up and tried to tour it on your own. For example, there are great hostels and hotels for reasonable prices in the tourist towns (except Venice - when you go there stay in Padova). And the railway system makes it incredibly easy to hop on and off and see various beautiful sights around the country. Even without speaking a word of Italian I was pretty easily able to navigate the railways. I loved Italy completely and so it's hard to give specific advice because I kind of feel you cannot go wrong. I hit Napoli/Pompeii, Rome, Florence, Bologna, Padova/Venice. Naples was the trashiest and least attractive town, but the gelato and pizza were the best we had anywhere (plus it's easy to access Pompeii from there). Padova was my favorite place to stay, charming little college town.

My only words of caution would be:
- watch out for scammers or pickpockets. I got scammed in Bologna and my ATM card was stolen. Don't trust strangers, even ones who seem nice, when it comes to making financial transactions.
- Maybe it's improved, but when I was there, the area from the train stop walking up to Pompeii was the hugest tourist trap with the worst most overpriced food. Pompeii is pretty cool (and would be cool to bring a 14 year old to) but just pack a lunch when you go and ignore the roadside vendors.
- keep a close eye on your daughter in public areas and on public transit, and be assertive yourself. When I was traveling there, I was a ~20 year old college student. Sadly, the rumors about Italian men are true. A few times, I got unwanted touching on the trains. It was nothing truly aggressive or crude, but it was really awkward and I wish I had been more assertive at that age to tell these guys to shove it and leave me alone. The guidebooks that I used had a little index at the end with a few choice phrases you could use in such situations....
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:13 PM on December 28, 2012

Do not miss Pompeii, it is fabulous. A tour is worth it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:20 PM on December 28, 2012

(treehorn+bunny is not wrong re: the walk from the Pompei Scavi/Villa dei Misteri stop to the actual ruins - it's still a major, major tourist trap, and probably will be until the damn volcano erupts again. The advice of bringing a lunch is good advice; find a shady spot somewhere in the ruins and eat there (though be advised that, at high noon, shade will be hard to come by - the walls are not very high). Bring a big water bottle for each of you.)
posted by AthenaPolias at 8:26 PM on December 28, 2012

If you want to spend a week in southern Italy, and then see Rome properly, you should cross "the north" off your list. Unless maybe you mean a couple days in Florence or a smaller Tuscan town like Siena or Pisa. I would not even consider Venice, Milan, or other cities further north than Tuscany unless you'll either have more time or are open to making your time in the south shorter.

My main advice to you is to decide what you most want to see and be realistic about building your itinerary. You can't really see the whole country in two weeks, and thinking of it as "the north" and "the south" is not really useful for what you want to do.

Go buy one of those big glossy guidebooks and sit down with your daughter and come up with some things you agree are Musts. Then see what parts of the country that puts you in. From there, focus on that part of Italy and what interesting things there are to do that you didn't already know about. Leave plenty of time for relaxing, too.

(FWIW on my most recent trip to Italy -- as a ~30 year old traveling with a girlfriend -- I didn't get a second glance from a single man. Not even one time. Not a leer. Not a rude gesture. Nothing. A friend of mine who was living in Rome at the time agreed that things had really changed. That said, definitely keep an eye on your daughter and make it clear to strangers in public that You Are Her Mama.)
posted by Sara C. at 8:45 PM on December 28, 2012

Rick Steves used to advise people to start in Rome and then go south, letting Rome be a sort of acclimatizing city for the more chaotic Naples. I loved Naples, but it was also where my friend had her wallet lifted (mostly her fault - backpack purses are catnip to pickpockets) and the traffic and confusion can be more stressful. Perhaps starting north and moving south might be better, but of course everyone has different ways of handling the stress of a new city - and then I just reread your question and realized you were thinking of doing the south with a tour, so never mind! Although it is doable on your own - Italy is so tourist friendly.

Pompeii is lovely, but I loved Herculaneum more - it's a slightly smaller site. And all of the stuff they found in both cities is now in the National Archeological Museum in Naples.

Venice is pricy, and I love Padova a lot, but one of the best things about Venice for me was walking around at night.

Do you want to do a sort of "greatest hits of Italy" tour? Because that's a lot of traveling to pack into a relatively short time. Rome alone could soak up all of it.
posted by PussKillian at 8:50 PM on December 28, 2012

Wait a second -- I'm confused now whether you plan to spend two weeks or three weeks in Italy. Also, you mention that your family is from "Montefaconi". Do you mean Montefalconi, in Tuscany?

If you're thinking of a three week trip, and Tuscany is the "south" you were referring to, you really can see a whole lot of the major Trip To Italy stuff. (Though I still think it's best to travel slowly, look for interesting things you didn't already know about, and leave plenty of time to relax.)

If you're thinking of a two week trip, and Montefaconi isn't a typo but a teensy village in Basilicata, then yeah, you're looking at the greatest hits of southern Italy, a few days in Rome, and a few days in one of the popular Tuscan cities or maybe something offbeat like Parma or Ravenna.

Can you describe more clearly the kind of trip you have in mind?
posted by Sara C. at 8:51 PM on December 28, 2012

Would consider a homebase in the north for 4-5days but where to stay?

Bologna. Plenty to do there in the evenings, and good train connections and schedules for day trips as far as Venice, Verona, Florence etc (in various directions).
posted by snuffleupagus at 10:25 PM on December 28, 2012

...Parma, Modena, Ravenna, Ferrara, etc too. If you're a foodie but haven't been to Italy before then be aware that the cuisine is incredibly regional. Unless you specifically want certain things from parts south of Rome, e.g. Sicilian, you are likely to be most interested in northern cuisine--primarily from Emilia-Romagna (Bologna and its surrounds) and parts of Tuscany, with maybe a few Roman items. And Venetian for seafood.
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:56 AM on December 29, 2012

Thank you for the great feedback. Let me clarify a few things. I actually have up to 21 days for our trip. My mother's parents came from the Campania region in a town call Montefalcone ( I spelled it wrong in my earlier post). I really want to take my daughter there. It is a very small town so finding a place to stay near by may be a challenge. Not sure how far it is from Naples. Aside from my desire to see Naples & Montefalcone, (2days) I will focus our trip in Rome (4-5days), and the regions of Toscana, Umbria, Emilia Romagna. Towns in these areas I am considering include: Assisi, Orvieto, Florence, Pisa, Siena, Bolona. Other possibilities: Genoa, Venice. I would like a home base where we could take day trips. I need to be realistic on time and how much we can see. I like the idea of a home base where we then can travel from. Maybe two home bases 4-5 days each??? Cost will be the deciding factor in how long to stay . Please give recommendations on apartment or B&B rentals. For two of us we dont need fancy, just clean, safe, in a central location for train travel and a good value
posted by snztt99 at 7:10 AM on December 29, 2012

Just home from Rome, where I went with my sister, 19-yo girl and 14-yo girl. Things have really changed in the last decade. A lot less unwanted attention, scams, pickpockets, which is very nice. We rented an apartment for 5 days (found it on the internet), it was cheaper than any other option and very comfortable and clean. Everyone we met was polite and friendly. One thing I would say though: dress as normal people, not as if you are on a beach holiday or camping in the woods. Obviously, you will carry cameras, maps and guides, but do so discreetly, in nice shoulder-bags, not knapsacks. Try to study the maps in the mornings, so you don't have to carry them in front of you all day. Looking like a tourist is certain to attract the worst kind of attention, and anyway you can't go into churches with a lot of bare skin.

The girls didn't go anywhere alone, but we were generally relaxed and talked with people we met. One place we went, some young men clearly thought my 14-yo was older than she is, but her sister just said in English, she is 14, lay it off, and they were all excuses right away.

My 14-yo is just beginning to really enjoy all the historical stuff and the art, so it seemed to me to be a good age for this type of travel. She had gotten a camera from her dad for her birthday and has taken hundreds of pictures. We saw the traditional sites and also just walked around, taking in the atmosphere.

Remember: it is generally *a lot* cheaper to eat in traditional small restaurants than in snack bars, chain restaurants or tourist-type restaurants, the service is far better, and it is a better environment for children. Unless a bar has a big "Tavola Calda" sign, which means it serves lunch for ordinary people during their break (not tourists). No one ever believes me on this, so they think Italy is expensive. Believe me. An alternative is asking the people in a grocery store to make you sandwiches for a picnic - most places they will do this.
I haven't been in the south yet, so can't give advice on that. There is so much to see everywhere. I would maybe cut Rome a little short. It's really, really hot in the summer, and not nice. In Tuscany I'd suggest Siena as a base. Siena is lovely, and probably more family-friendly and temperate than Firenze/Florence, I might even skip Firenze altogether, because, like Rome, it's not nice during summer. In my family, we all agree Pisa is the worst waste of time ever, but otherwise Tuscany is wonderful.

Assisi is a must! Go there for a day, maybe stay the night.

Several above have mentioned Bologna as a base for trips around northern Italy. I agree, but an alternative could be Padova, and a focus on the cities of Veneto, all easily accessible by trains and busses. If you go to Venice, you should stay one night at least, there is a completely different atmosphere in the evening, after all the day-trip people have left. Try the Residenzia ai Giardini, a B&B. It is a little off the centre but that is a feature.

Generally, trains are good. But if you stay in Tuscany, you might like to rent a car for a couple of days, to go around to the little hill-top towns and villages, like San Gimignano, Pienza and Montalcino.
posted by mumimor at 7:26 AM on December 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Were your maternal grandparents from Montefalcone di Val Fortore? Did your family stay in touch with any relatives? You might be able to find their contact information in the white pages.

I'm not familiar with Campania, but it looks like Benevento would be a good base if you wanted to focus on Montefalcone. Autolinee Ignelzi has multiple buses between Benevento and Montefalcone. It looks like Benevento has plenty of lodging and there is even a farm house in Montefalcone. It's only a few hours by train from Rome and a couple hours to Naples. If you wanted to spend more time in Naples, perhaps Caserta would be a better base. If your maternal grandparents are from Montefalcione (spelled with an i), Avellino would make a good base and they have a bus as well.

If you're looking for a travel guide, it appears that Frommer's Amalfi Coast with Naples, Capri & Pompeii has information on Benevento and the area.
posted by derforsher at 6:02 PM on December 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

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