If you like to travel efficiently, tackling Italy by visiting the Italian triumvirate of Rome, Florence and Venice makes a lot of sense. So much art and history are crammed into these very different cultural hubs that many plan to spend all of their time only within their walls (or waters in the case of Venice). After Ellen’s Ten Day, Five Cities and my own based on her Italian Inspiration, our recommendation, though, is Don’t.
If you build in time in your itinerary to visit the lesser-known towns and villages, your understanding of Italy will grow exponentially. Last year, Ellen described favorite stops in Siena and Ravenna. These small cities gave her a taste of the regional pride and uniqueness characterizing this country that was only united just over 150 years ago. The treasures and pleasures found on our brief visits to the following three completely different sites were well worth the travel time as they charmed and wowed us and left us longing to return.
Doesn’t everyone in grade school learn about Mount Vesusvius blowing its top in AD 79 and wiping out Pompeii? You envision the catastrophic event in your elementary mind, and it remains a bit of a curiosity, but you aren’t sure why it’s important. When I discovered on TripAdvisor that tours from Rome to Pompeii (just outside of Naples) were available, I thought it might be a perfect day trip for the men in my life. Not only was I right, we now all understand why Pompeii makes the grammar school curriculum.
Pompeii is so much more than you can imagine. The residents of this advanced merchant society
would probably be happy in our modern world. Archaelogists have discovered so much about the capitalist economy of this small city as they have unearthed
beautiful homes and
fairly sophisticated plumbing and decoration.
From all estimations, Pompeii was a clean and very livable place.
The ash that blew out of Vesuvius settled over the town without burning it like lava would have done. The ash actually protected the contents,
and what has carefully been unearthed is nothing short of remarkable. As we walked through and actually touched these ancient ruins, our fabulous private tour guide, Rossana Frattolillo, brought Pompeii’s daily life
vividly to life, and our way of thinking about people who lived during the time of Christ has been completely revised. Anyone interested in understanding history really must visit Pompeii.
Europeans are more familiar with this remote part of the Italian Riviera than Americans. Located on the northwestern coast of Italy, the Cinque Terra is comprised of five towns perched sometimes precariously on mountainous terrain dropping into the sea.
Picturesque seems inadequate yet the only word available to describe the charms of this area.
We started our tour of the area in Portovenere, a delightful town in its own right that captured the fancy of Lord Byron.
Feasting on the local
trofie pasta with fresh pesto was one of the highlights not only of the day but of our whole Italian visit, it was that good. Having arrived from the southeast, Portovenere is the perfect place to start a day-long visit to the towns of the Cinque Terra.
The best way to visit these towns is by ferry, train or feet (hiking). The steep terrain and skinny switchbacks make driving almost prohibitive, and parking is scarce to non-existent in all of the towns except Monterosso. With our time constraints,
the ferry was our best option, and when we happened to get a glimpse of a very crowded train car, we were glad to have taken the water route despite a few rain showers.
From south to north, the towns of the Cinque Terra are
We had time to visit only the highlighted three and found each to have a different personality: sleepy in Manarola, hopping in Vernazza, and resort-ey in Monterosso. Wishing that we had time to linger longer, especially on the beach in Monterosso, we all vowed to return for a relaxing vacation.
Our friend and local businessman, Franco Ambrogio of Franco’s Fine Clothiers, was born and raised just outside of Lucca.
We’ve heard a lot about this town and the villa that he renovated for many years, but we were still delightfully surprised when we finally got to explore Lucca for ourselves. An hour and a half east of Florence by local train, Lucca is a fortress city whose
ahead-of-its-time walls discouraged invaders for centuries.
The tops of the walls are wider than two-lane roads in most places and make the perfect place for bike-riding. We explored the town on a gorgeous Sunday afternoon when most of the town’s residents seemed to be out riding or walking.
Everyone we saw was happy just to enjoy the beauty of this prosperous town,
and I would love to return with more time to explore each shop and alley.
I hope these pictures convey
at least a bit of the uniqueness of each of these spots. Did they whet your appetite for visiting some of the more out of the way places in Italy? Let us know if you have added any of them to your bucket list.