So far I have been on two Intrepid Travel holidays and have had the time of my life, in fact I feel so passionate about Intrepid holidays experiences it’s something I’m happy to support through my writing. Having never travelled before on my own I was naturally apprehensive about the leap, but I couldn’t recommend it enough.
Italy is a place that has to be seen to be believed. From vast decorated churches and palace interiors, unbelievable paintings and beautiful scenery, tasty food and wine italy has a lot to offer.
You’ll begin this trip in the renowned city Rome. TIP: This is the place where you’ll have the best opportunity to see amazing art and sculptures so to avoid disappointment I advice to book the Borghese Gallery and Vatican museums well in advance.
GETTING THERE – I arrived at Ciampino Airport (Rome’s nearest airport), upon walking out of the airport there was a sign for the airport shuttle. I paid a small fair of around 4 euros for an easy 30 minute ride into the centre. TIP: if your considering taking a taxi you may want to check the prices before going as they can be very expensive.
HOTEL – Although most of Rome is all easily walkable it’s important to bear in mind it is a big city with so much to see and do. So I arrived a few days earlier to explore by myself. I chose the Blue Hostel and couldn’t have been happier. And as a bonus I received a free map with recommendations from the charming Italian hosts on where to visit and where to eat.
WALKING AROUND – After you’ve dropped your bags in the hotel and made sure you have a drink, your day bag and your map with you, I thoroughly recommend getting lost in Rome. Don’t be afraid of exploring as you can always go in a cafe to relax, wander around a gallery or ruin and get the tube or a bus back to the hotel. Also Rome is a relatively safe place to walk around at night, but beware of pickpockets and keep your stuff in your bag on your front. In Rome you find you are approached more so than some cities, I just continued walking past suspicious strangers. However sometimes it was easy to tell the difference as I was also approached by some friendly locals who just wanted a chat and to show me the way to the Colosseum. The friendly people is another reason I fell in love with Rome!
MUSEUMS AND GALLERIES
TIP: Intrepid have all the information however I highly recommend pre booking several places if you want to see the best of Rome. My bookings included ‘Night Colosseum Tour with Dark Rome Tours’ (TIP: Check the meeting point, we met at ‘Trajans Column’ 20 minute walk from the colloseum), Borghese Gallery tickets, ‘Vatican Early Access Express Dark Rome Tour’
TOUR DAY1 : MEETING THE GROUP
On Monday evening at around 6pm I met up with the group in the hotel reception back room. Kent our wonderfully eccentric (Monty Python fan) English tour guide introduced himself and went through a brief description of the entire tour. We then went for food as Italians typically eat at 8 so we were right on time.
TOUR DAY 2: Rooming around Rome
We set off for a guided walk around Rome. It’s important to note that Italy is sometimes very rainy but luckily the rain tends to pass over quite quickly so it was sunny in the afternoon. TIP: bring a fully waterproof coat and umbrella as when it rains it pelts it down very fast!
TOUR DAY 2-3: FLORENCE
After a refreshing sleep it’s wonderful to wake up in Florence and explore the small meandering streets, a welcome break from the business of Rome. If you’re an art lover it’s a must to visit the Uffizi Gallery. (TIP: make sure you pre book online as queues are enormous even at the opening time of 8.15) I entered the gallery at 8.15 when it was relatively quiet. Be sure to follow the arrows and room numbers around the gallery so not to miss anything aka The famous Bottichelli painting and the Rembrants are particularly amazing!
The countless leather shops, incredibly friendly shop owners and the food market will leave you easily penniless by the end of the day. Yes you will buy that leather purse, leather bag and the leather jacket. TIP: Do a bit of haggling to get the prices down a smudge more.
TOUR DAY 4-6: LUCCA
Into the Italian countryside lies a small perfectly quaint little Tuscan city called Lucca. We stayed at one of the Intrepid apartments located right in the center. Renowned for its well-preserved Renaissance walls encircling its historic city center and its cobblestone streets Lucca made for a great days bike ride around just outside of these walls. With stunning views of the tuscan landscape to admire.
We attended a Puccini Opera. This was no ordinary Opera though. It was the most amazing concert experience! These were world renowned opera singers in their local surroundings the kind that would normally be seen touring the world and featured on TV programs with big bands. The old Italian church was also a dramatic backdrop with its high decorated ceiling and stunning columns.
On the third day we visited Pisa in the morning a lovely little town with a very tall very famous leaning tower. There were various options for tickets, but it’s well worth seeing everything (cemetery, cathedral, baptistery and the tower of course) as its all within a short walking distance.
It’s the last night in Lucca so our tour guide made us a typical Tuscan dinner in our apartment. This was great fun for us all as we really got to bond as a group more and savour the taste of Italian wine, Procecco and Limoncello!
TOUR DAY 7-8: CINQUE TERRE
Today we explored one of the beautiful ports on the coast of Cinque Terre (five towns). With stunning scenery and the thin multicoloured terrace buildings it’s easy to relax outside a bar with the typical Italian aperitif Spritz. The clear blue night water in the port quietly splashed the shores as twilight approached. As we waited for the bus to our hotel to arrive the moonlight dock supplied us not only stunning mountain scenery, clear blue skies but also reflections from the boat quietly bobbing on the waterside. I took the opportunity to capture this moment on camera.
The next day we took the train up the coast. The weather was perfect so hiking up the coastal route was a treat. TIP: It’s incredibly steep, but very doable so make sure you have your walking shoes on. When you arrive at the top it’s completely worth the effort for the jaw dropping scenery. There was also a person selling fresh lemonade and various other buskers along the path, a welcome surprise.
We then went for a fabulous boat ride 40 euros. The sea was perfectly calm. We watched the little buildings squashed into the gaps of the land drift away. Typical tuscan dinner of bread, ham and cheese was also included on the boat and of course a spot of Procecco. We saw goats roaming the cliff edges. The skipper also took us into a few of the small caves to spot the jellyfish and admire the rich blue water.
TOUR DAY 9-10: PORTOFINO & ASTI
We took the train to santa margarita, stored our luggage and embarked on an easy stroll across the coast to Portafino. On the way there we came across a small beach where we had some lunch. It’s the only place I took my swimming costume to and went for a dip in the ocean. The water was so clear we could see the rocks beneath and we could taste the salt in the water. Upon arriving in Portafino we went a brief hours shopping/wander around the cutest streets looking at art galleries, clothes shops and on the front the most expensive jewellery shops only millionaires shop at. Plus gazing at the million dollar luxury yachts parked in the bay of Portafino. There was even opportunity to buy some ice cream, but I was too busy photographing the flowers!
In the afternoon we took a ferry back around the coast to the station and it was onto Asti we went.
First we visited a lovely little winery vineyard for a bit of wine tasting.
Then it was a short drive to the countryside and the most delicious food I have ever tasted. If there is one thing that’s another deciding reason to book this route it’s that the food at this small town eatery was absolutely delicious. A taste of the real Italy!
TOUR DAY 11-12: MILAN & LAKE COMO
Milan a towering giant in the north of Italy this city oozes rich grandeur from its grand train station to its staggering gothic masterpiece the Dumono and the beautiful glass ceiling light filled shopping center where we passed through for lunch.
With only a half day in Milan we went straight up the Duomo. From the top of the cathedral the views of detailed gothic columns reaching up to the sky were unbelievable. It felt like you were in a chapter of Lord of the Rings or in Castle Gormenghast.
In the afternoon we travelled to Lake Como. From the crazy busy city of Milan to the quiet picturesque stunning mountain views of Como gave us the perfect setting to wind down after our long journey over Italy. The next day we were given a day boat ticket to zig zag across to each small town on the local ferry. I opted to go to Lenno gardens first by myself. Although it rained and there was thunderstorms the gardens were small, but beautiful and well worth the climb to up the coastal path. In the afternoon I joined the rest of the group in Bellagio where we took the ferry to Varenna. In Varenna we climbed up the mountain to view a mountain waterfall and taste fresh mountain water from the fountain below.
TOUR DAY 13-15 VENICE
The final stop a city so diverse you’ll never get bored in Venice. 3 to 4 days is all that’s really needed althrough I stayed a bit longer to experience the Art Biennale. So on our final two days as a group we dined at a small restaurant round the corner from the hotel and watched the sunset over the bridge. Eating pesto pasta and the most delicious desert called meringata.
To experience the real Venice you must get lost and do a bit of shopping in the process. I booked a weeks boat pass which was 60 euros and took the boat to the main spots I wanted. Murano and Burano was a full days adventure on the boats. I also booked the all museums pass 24 euros, which also included the Doges Palace so saving me some money. Other places I visited included the Gugganheim museum, The International Gallery of Oriental Art,museo corner, St Georgio cathedral and tower.
I also book a Dark Rome Night Tour while I was there which included a 35 minute gondola ride.
So what you ask was my favorite place on this trip? I can honestly say there were things I can say I loved about every location in Italy. The trip was a dream come true, I didn’t want to leave. There is something for everyone in Italy. For me I fell most in love with the mountains of Cinque Terre and Lake Como, but also love the charm of the night lights all over Italy and the cuisine and the wine is amazing. So how can I choose when I love everything! A return to Rome is required though to see St Peters Basilica!