Italy on short notice
February 8, 2015 4:01 PM   Subscribe

Going to Italy this weekend on short notice for a surprise romantic getaway. In last-minute planning mode, need the wisdom of the traveled Hive Mind - where should we go?

We're flying into Milan Malpensa airport arriving Thursday noon, departing from the same airport Monday evening. Due to some unfortunate circumstances this all came together on very short notice and planning is happening right now.

Please correct me if I'm wrong, but Milan doesn't seem too interesting - I'm considering taking the train to Florence or Venice (it appears to be Carnavale in Venice, which could be cool but make lodging tricky). There also appears to be a 2x1 Carnavale special for the train.
Potential itinerary is:
1) Arrive in Milan airport. Train to Milan center. Train to Florence or Venice.
2) Spend majority of time in the one city. Train back to Milan Sunday.
3) Explore Milan Monday morning, return to airport on Monday afternoon.

Not at all averse to finding housing on AirBnB/VRBO, and also have tons of Hilton and SPG points at my disposal.

- would prefer that this trip goes smoothly and would prefer to have the general plans locked down by tomorrow afternoon for reasons involving personal stress levels
- need at least one romantic dinner (can be on the expensive side)
- no concrete budget constraints, but generally tend towards the frugal side
- neither of us have been to any of the aforementioned cities, and I'm definitely willing to entertain other suggestions as well
- type of tourist: Open to most things, neutral on churches/historic sights, nightlife and good food a definite plus, and (for this trip) probably less of an emphasis on museums. Exploring and walking around aimlessly is also a solid option.

The main thing I need help deciding is where to go (and a sanity check on feasibility!)

posted by hot soup to Travel & Transportation around Italy (20 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Stay in Milan. There is plenty to do there for 3 days.

Catch an opera.
Aida opens on Sunday the 15th.

Adding a train trip is silly. I may not want to spend a week in Milan, but I could do two days easily!.

ADI Doria Grand Hotel is $121 per night on It gets okay reviews on Trip Advisor. Ditto the Andreola Hotel.

Why torture yourself with a 2.5 hour train trip, plus going from airport to train station to lodging, etc. That's kid of silly, unless you've seen and done Milan. Check out Weekend in Milan.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:14 PM on February 8, 2015 [3 favorites]

Milan is very very meh. I lived there for more than a decade, it's a city like many many others. I wouldn't waste any time there, really, especially not in winter. The weather is notoriously terrible.

I'm partisan, given that it's where I'm from, but I'd head north towards the lake region. Venice is going to be a madhouse, I'd shoot for Verona and Lake Garda instead.

It's off season, so your choices might be limited, but I'd spend a day in Verona and the weekend in a small town on the lake. Maybe Malcesine, or Limone or Riva del Garda. Riva will definitely give you more stuff to do in the surrounding area. It's awful pretty over there.
posted by lydhre at 4:28 PM on February 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

Cinque Terre is a place that I hope to take my wife for a second honeymoon. Not sure what it is like on the beaches at this time of year, but the towns themselves are beautiful, and you can either take the train or walk between the 5 towns, each with their own character.

It looks like trains between Milan and Cinque Terre should be straightforward.
posted by Gomez_in_the_South at 5:14 PM on February 8, 2015

It's a quick hop n skip on a train over to Como and the Italian lakes. Mega mega romantic to take a ferry down to little villages like Bellagio. Oh my garrrrd, so pretty with the mountains, lake, castles on the shore. And this time of year, wow! Dinner on the lakeside in Como would be beautiful

The Cinque Terre is also gorgeous. I'll second that.
posted by honey-barbara at 5:22 PM on February 8, 2015

Response by poster: Awesome suggestions so far, please keep them coming- it sounds like the crowd wisdom is to stay closer to Milan. I'm a little concerned about the fact that it's the off-season and potentially rainy and cold right now, and came across this article: "Traveling Cinque Terre in the Off-Season".

(On the topic of the train - a 2.5 hr trip is not really a concern, but point taken regarding additional hassle.)
Will try not to threadsit. Would love to hear more thoughts!
posted by hot soup at 5:56 PM on February 8, 2015

Malcesine is gorgeous. Lago di Garda 4 lyfe
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:08 PM on February 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

Many years ago (when i had more energy), we took the train from Milan to Venice (for 1 day), then Venice to Bolognia (2 days) and then to Florence (2 days). Then back to Milan. So it can be done, if you are willing to travel with little luggage and possibly very little sleep. But that doesn't sound romantic. General Italy tips: don't assume English will be spoken. Some places close for a mid day "siesta ". Some major museums like the Uffizi sell advance tickets, which also grant line bypass.
posted by leslievictoria at 6:18 PM on February 8, 2015

I won't post Florence tips here as it seems not fully relevant at the moment, but if you do decide to go, feel free to MeMail me. I spent some time there in spring last year and can give you some dining/gelato suggestions.
posted by shortfuse at 6:34 PM on February 8, 2015

Florence is one of the greatest places in the world. I would move there in a second and never look back. I arrived when the city's bus system was on strike and I had to walk three miles, with my feet already covered in blisters from days past, to get to my hotel. It was painful and I cried like a stupid baby but it doesn't matter because Florence is worth it.

That being said: If you're looking for the trip to "go smoothly", you may just want to stay in Milan. Seriously. It's a weekend, it's last minute, and Italy has a very laid back infrastructure when compared to the tick-tock-by-the-clock pace of U.S. life. Train schedules and reservations and most things, really, are not guaranteed to be as airtight as they are elsewhere. The last thing you want is to feel rushed, or to feel like you're stuck in the purgatory of a train or bus station.

If you were staying for longer, I wouldn't advise against it. It's the fact that it's a weekend and you have limited time, so your best bet is to keep it simple so that it's relaxing and memorable.
posted by nightrecordings at 6:51 PM on February 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

I spent a weekend at Carnavale in Venice when I was in high school, and unless you are willing to splash out on accommodations and be flexible, I would advise against it. Venice in February is cold, and when I was there many of the streets were slightly flooded-- so everything we owned was soaked to our knees and frigid. (The longish walk back to the rented apartment didn't help.) Admittedly, we did everything on a high school budget and skipped all of the fancier parties and dining options! It can be beautiful and filled with wonderful chance encounters, but I suspect that given the time involved and the personal stress level requirement that you shelve Venice for a later time.

Verona is beautiful and fantastic for walking around, aimlessly or not. (Also some lovely museums should you want to spend a little time in one.) I remember that it was an easy train ride from Milan through some lovely areas, and yes, I skipped Milan for two days in Verona. Finding a romantic dinner option should not be a problem. Florence would also be a good weekend option; it might in some ways be the easiest. I have not been to the lake region though, so I can't comment on that. Have fun!
posted by jetlagaddict at 7:11 PM on February 8, 2015

Cinque Terre would be a great choice for a relaxed couple of days - rambling through quaint villages, stunning views, great food. Genoa is also nice in the winter, has lots to do, a great old city and no doubt regular trains to Milan (I've taken the train many times throughout Italy and have found them to be very reliable and on-schedule).
Could you maybe rent a car? It would open up a lot of possibilities. E.g. north of Milan an hour or so, Verbania on Lake Maggiore and Orta San Giulio on Lake Orta are beautiful old towns, but Orta is only accessible by a winding mountain road.
posted by Flashman at 7:19 PM on February 8, 2015

If you stay in Verona, it would be and easy day trip to Venice. The train is just over an hour.
posted by kjs4 at 7:35 PM on February 8, 2015

I would get out of Milan ASAP. It's terribly cold and meh. Venice is likely to be flooded. I would hop on that train directly to Florence. Most of Florence's attractions are inside so rain won't ruin your trip.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:38 PM on February 8, 2015

That's the area grew up in, it all depends what you like to visit as a tourist but this is my totally personal "local" take on the the options mentioned so far:

- Milan: it is true that as a city it is a bit meh, it's not a thrilling place to live in, but it can be lovely enough to visit as a tourist (I love that myself now going back as a tourist) especially for the art and museums, so if you want the least amount of distance and stress in traveling around once you get off the plane, that can be a nice experience if you plan and pick a few things to visit that would interest you;

- Como and the lakes would be best if you had a car to explore around there, along the lake, but Como itself is not that special really, and too touristy;

- Venice, no matter how crowded with tourists, is always beautiful, the train trip from Milan is very pleasant and fast enough, under 3 hours, but it'd be hard to find affordable accomodation for the Carnival on such short notice.

- Florence takes a bit longer to get to and would deserve longer to visit properly, I would rule it out for such a short trip.

- Cinque Terre is too far from Milan, at least four hours if not longer, and maybe it's just one of those things I don't get but I wouldn't bother really, it seems to be much more loved by foreign tourists than by the Milanese, who usually prefer to drive around and explore smaller and more hidden towns in the Liguria region

Now here's my recommendation, without a doubt: go visit Mantova. It's close to Milan, 1 hour and a half on the train (get the fast one, it's worth it), it's so beautiful, a small jewel, with the most magnificent Renaissance palaces and art and a lovely atmosphere (in September it hosts a literature festival), you can see all of it just walking around, no tourist crowds, it will be mostly locals out and about for the weekend, it has good accomodation of all sorts and for all prices and delicious food (and nice specialties to buy and take home too), really nice little bars and restaurants, and it's by the water, with lovely views, it'd be perfect for a romantic weekend. It's impossible not to fall in love with the place really.

(Yes there's also Verona, it's further off but close enough to Mantova so if you want you could add that too for a quick day trip - but I'd still pick Mantova to stay in, less touristy and it does have something more unique.)
posted by bitteschoen at 7:49 PM on February 8, 2015 [4 favorites]

Also, if I don't recall wrong, Mantova is on the way to Venice by train (Verona being one of the stops too) so, IF you did find a reasonably affordable place to stay in Venice for the Carnival, I'd go for Venice first but you could still do both and spend a day and night in Mantova, on the way or heading back.
posted by bitteschoen at 8:06 PM on February 8, 2015

Thursday through Monday after a long flight? I'd opt to stay in Milan, find the off-the-tourist-track neighborhoods, serendipity and three nights in a nice hotel. Lots of great restaurants in Milan. Weather be damned. That's what I'd do and I love to travel. Have fun no matter what you decide. It's Italy!
posted by lois1950 at 8:37 PM on February 8, 2015

I thought Milan cathedral was worth it, but that was it. The best thing was clambering around on the roof, which might not be worth it in horrible weather.

Echoing all above that Verona is quite lovely, as are some of the towns on the shores of Lake Garda. I also enjoyed an afternoon in Bergamo, which I was only in because I was flying from their random airport, but which had some of the best food of my trip.

I adore Florence, but I mainly adore it for churches and museums and frescos and ice cream and sunsets over the city, and it sounds like you're not in that mindset, and you won't get the weather for it.
posted by kadia_a at 11:34 PM on February 8, 2015

Venice. There is *honestly* nothing like it in the world for exploring and walking around aimlessly. Nap on the train both ways.
posted by ersatzkat at 4:23 AM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think this depends on whether either of you have been to Italy before. If not and you want to get more of a quintessential "Italian experience" you should probably leave Milan for either Florence or Venice like you are considering doing in order to get that. Venice is closer but might be kinda crazy this time of year and maybe even flooded? Como is also a beautiful area so if I were you I would be considering heading there.

If you've already been to Italy and its just good food and nightlife that you are after - as opposed to churches/museums etc., then I would suggest just staying in Milan and not dealing with the trains. Explore the Navigili District. Go to the cafe at the top of La Rinascente for nice views of the Duomo.

Just a general tip regarding traveling around Italy - I've had plans screwed up more than once due to strikes, be it of trains or taxis.

Whatever you decide, have a great trip!
posted by Shadow Boxer at 7:42 AM on February 9, 2015

Vicenza is also gorgeous, though I've only been there on daytrips so I don't know what the accommodation or dining situations are. It's what I pictured Verona would look like. It's on the same Milan-Venice train line as Verona.

Venice during Carnevale is similar to New Orleans during Mardi Gras, in that the crowds and drunkenness feel more "frat party" than "romantic."
posted by jaguar at 10:21 AM on February 9, 2015

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