This is the first part in a 3-part series on how to plan and travel well during your next trip to Italy
Gastronomic ecstasy in Bella Italia
As a frequent traveler to Italy, I’m often asked for advice by new travelers on where to go and how best to experience Italy and its food and wines. Traveling well in Italy, something the Italians call viaggiarbene, is both immensely pleasurable and easy to do — if you plan a bit before you go. Having traveled to Italy over 50 times in the past 15 years, I’ve accumulated some helpful ideas and travel tips that save time and multiply the pleasurable moments of a trip. And since Dall’Uva is all about the pleasure of experiencing artisan wines and connecting you with passionate producers, I’m pleased to share my recommendations on how to maximize the magic of your next trip to Italy.
To be sure, Italy holds the western world’s largest store of cultural treasures. You can spend countless hours exploring the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, the Vatican Museum in Rome, and the Pompeii exhibit in Naples — and you should. But I find exploring the Italy of today, including its rich gastronomic culture, to be more satisfying to the soul. If you want to explore the culinary treasures of Italy as they were meant to be and bypass the manufactured experience most tourists settle for, print out this blog posting and carry a few of my recommendations with you as you travel. I believe you’ll be much more sensually satisfied.
Plan your travel route: Map out your path to maximize visits to cultural sites, wine tastings, and great restaurants.
Buy and use travel, food and wine guidebooks: Current-year guidebooks will save you time and help you find the best activities.
Select a home base from which to explore: Find and book a small home, apartment or hotel centrally located near your desired sites.
Plan to use cash or credit cards: Travel checks are a hassle — use cash or credit cards. Let your bank know you’re traveling, ask them to raise your daily cash advance limit to $500+, and make sure your ATM card will work overseas.
Know before you go.
Traveling to regions that are new to you requires a bit of advance planning if you want to maximize your pleasure while you’re there. All that’s needed is a good map, a travel guide you can trust, and a fine glass of Brunello (a Mastrojanni Brunello 2004 will do) to put you in the mood.
Guidebooks. If you know which cities you’re flying into and out of, and how many days you plan to spend, mapping out an exploration path will depend on what you want to see. Spend some time reviewing a good regional travel guidebook that is updated annually. I find the Frommer’s Italy country guide, and their regional books like Frommer’s Northern Italy quite useful. A particular favorite of mine, the Rick Steves’ Italy guidebooks offer an opinionated summary of the best cultural stops in the major regions. Other good guidebooks include the Lonely Planet Italy country guide, and the Authentic Italy series of guide books by the Touring Club of Italy. For food and wine guidebooks, see my recommendations below.
Maps. To help you gauge the distance between your planned stops, pick up a good 200,000 : 1 or better touring map (the lower the first number, the more detailed the map). My favorite is the Atlante Stradale d’Italia series of maps from the Touring Club of Italy, but they can be tough to find outside of Italy (I buy mine along the A1 Autostrada from Rome to Florence at one of the many Autogrill rest stops). The next best option is
the Michelin Italy Tourist & Motoring Atlas. Since I drive during most of my visits, I recommend the spiral bound regional books. If you just can’t find these super useful map books, you can always pick up a regional fold-out map like the Michelin Italy North-West Map, but these are a pain to use in the car unless you have a sidekick with you in the front passenger seat doing the navigating.
You’ll find an overwhelming selection of guidebooks and maps at most larger bookstores. If you can buy them locally, do it. My favorite bookstore in Portland, Oregon is Powell’s Books in downtown Portland. Practically speaking, you can get just about anything you want from Amazon.com for a fair price, and it’s the best option if you need something quickly or something unusual like the above mentioned maps and guide books.
Itinerary Planning. My best recommendation when selecting sites to visit is this: Assume that you will return to Italy in the future. Be careful not to overbook your time; racing from site to site is not a vacation. Be sure to allocate plenty of time to relax over a fine meal each day. Block out timeslots reserved for no particular activity and savor the uniquely Italian experience of la dolce far niente (the sweetness of doing nothing). You’ll be more refreshed and satisfied while building pleasant memories that last a lifetime.
Next in Part 2: Wine Tasting at Your Favorite Italian Producers.
Do you have an upcoming trip to Italy and are looking for recommendations on places to see and visit? Have a favorite story or experience to share from a recent trip? Join the conversation and don’t be bashful, we’d love to hear your thoughts. If you have a question about Italian wine, food or travel, ask away.
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