Posts Tagged ‘Italy travel’

How to Pack for a Trip to Italy

Monday, March 23rd, 2015

As you’re day dreaming of your trip to Italy, it’s easy to image the elegant summer dresses, sharply cut blazers, intricately-painted pottery, and intensely flavored wine you plan to bring home.

But if your suitcase is already jam-packed when you arrive, where are you going to put all these treasures?

How to Pack for Italy: Avoid Packing Like an American

In the eyes of most European travelers, Americans bring “value trunks.”

Not this you will need, but things you might need, or, more appropriately, things in one circumstance it would be nice to have but you won’t require for most of your trip if at all.

Having a large suitcase in Italy is not just an inconvenience to lug around – sometimes it’s impossible to manage. Elevators are scares and stairs are everywhere. Not to mention narrow streets (in Venice, they’re more like corridors) and skinny hallways.

What Do You Need to Pack for Italy

How do you combat luggage bloat?

  • Pick a color palate and stick with it.
  • Plan around (only) a few pairs of shoes (that are comfortable for walking).
  • Check the weather and only pack for temperatures you are actually likely to experience.
  • Skip the hairdryer. Yours will break in Italy and hotels have them anyway.

But as far as Italy-specific packing tips, I’ll be honest with you, no matter how much you love the heels you already have, you’ll find ones you like in Italy more, the same goes for jewelry, blazers, and jeans to name a few.

You see those two bags on the left? That’s all I bring with me. And the small bag is my office.

Laid out on my hotel bed, this is everything I brought with me on my last trip to Italy – even in the winter. You’ll notice dark colors, two pairs of shoes and not a lot of redundancy.

Packing light is a treat for yourself. Besides saving time repacking, your back will thank you!

When Should I Start Planning a Trip to Italy?

Monday, February 16th, 2015

I have a newsflash for North American travelers dreaming of an upcoming trip to Italy: if you’re not careful, the Brits are going to beat you to the best rooms and villas.

There are a lot of questions that I often see about when to book certain parts of your Italian vacation, so let’s unpack to most important ones: when should you book?

Location, Location, Location

Italy is one of the top travel destinations in the world, and there are literally thousands of hotels to choose from in top areas.

In the art cities, Rome, Florence, and Venice, increased tourism from developing countries has put even more pressure on the industry and caused hotels to open far, far (I mean like an hour walk) outside city centers.

Among the thousands, how many hotels are located in the historic center, have magnificent views and balconies, and lie off the main road?

Not that many!

And the whole world is trying to get those rooms, especially the ones in walking distance of the main piazza.

To have the room of your dreams, we need to plan ahead and begin the hotel availability requests months ahead.

When Should I Book Hotels in Italy?

The fact is, Italian hotels (or at least the fantastic, family-owned, conveniently-located ones we want to send you to) are small.

Small like 30 rooms. Maybe 40.

And that means that the people who love these hotels and inns and stay there every year book ahead to ensure they get one of those precious few spots. And travel consultants like me get our clients in as soon as they’ve confirmed their dates.

If you try to snag “one last room” at one of these coveted locations less than 90 days before your reservation date, despite anything your travel advisor does, you risk being told there’s just “no room at the inn.”

These are the boutiques, the hotels that are not only centrally located, but also well-furnished and keeping in the architectural style of the period and area. That’s what you imagine when you picture your ideal Italian vacation, right?

I counsel my clients to book at least January for May rooms, in March, for July, but six months in advance is better. And August books up a year in advance, so that should be done as soon as possible.

Likewise, like seasons of high demand requiring earlier bookings, if you have high demand and need to get multiple rooms at the same property, you should be booking even earlier as well.

Also, as a general rule, the more rooms you need, the earlier you need to book!

Can You Book Italian Hotel Rooms Last-Minute?

For last minute clients, we can probably find you a room.

But we do not want to have to offer you a room in the peripheral area of the city or garden view.

When possible plan ahead, you will be glad that you did.

So if you’re still dreaming of an Italian spring or summer, don’t let the hotel of your dreams fill up without you.

Alitalia’s Got a New Grove: Italy’s National Airline Makes a Comeback

Thursday, January 29th, 2015

alitalia

Italy may be known for style and excellence with most of its major brands—Ferrari, Prada, Alessi—but for decades, Alitalia, the national airline, has been somewhere between a laughing stock and a national embarrassment.

When Emirates started its route between Milan and New York, Italian business people were elated to have an appropriately refined option for important business trips. But now another swanky Middle Eastern airline has thrown its hat in the ring: Etihad.

Etihad and Alitalia: A Five-Star Match Made in Heaven?

Rather than offering Etihad flights, which would be a book since the airline has recently made a splash by offering a full three-room apartment aboard its double-decker A380s, which also have first-class suites big enough to walk around, Etihad has bought a huge stake in flailing Alitalia, which was also recently bailed out by such an unlikely investor as the Italian post office!

This January, the two airline officially announced their new partnership, which is now positioning Alitalia as essentially an arm of Etihad, including allowing members of Alitalia’s MilleMiglia frequent flyer to earn and spend their miles with Etihad and its other partners, which include other European airlines like up-and-coming airberlin.

Etihad has announced that the MilleMiglia program will “expire” at the end of December this year, but there is no work yet on what comes next. Etihad now owns 49% of the airline, so they are setting the agenda moving forward, and it sounds exciting so far.

Alitalia’s New Look and New Routes

As part of the new endeavor with Etihad, Alitalia has also announced a comprehensive restructuring program that includes both cost-cutting—though many wonder what is left to cut—with growth, including the addition of new routes.

From Alitalia’s hub in Rome, new service will connect to San Francisco as well as a collection of global capitals, including Beijing, Seoul, Mexico City, and Santiago, and additional flights will be added to the Chicago and New York routes.

In addition to more flights, Alitalia and Etihad have promised to unveil new food, lounges, and designs for both the crew uniforms and places sometime during the 2015-2017 transition period.

Stay tuned!

Fly to Italy with Emirates for Just $400 Per Person! Today Only

Thursday, January 22nd, 2015

emirates2

In this month’s newsletter, I mentioned that there are some great deals out there for flights, and now the best of the season has made a brief appearance.

Don’t miss out!

Emirates is offering flights for two for $799 all the way through May. Your flight must leave by May 10, but you can return as late as May 31.

This deal ends today, January 22, so hop over and check it out. If you’ve been thinking of going to Italy this year and waiting for the right flight, you won’t find anything better than this.

I haven’t seen flights this low to Italy in May in many, many years.

The offer is only for their New York to Milan route, but for such a low fare, you can easily add a positioning flight from your home airport without breaking the bank.

Also, Emirates offers one of the most comfortable ways to get to Italy, with more legroom in coach than any major domestic or European carriers and top notch customer service.

If you take advantage of this deal, let me know! I’d love to hear you’ve been able to use my advise and emails.

If you don’t catch this deal, Emirates is pretty good about offering flights for around $600 per person, but the rates start to go up as peak season approaches, so this is the best fare you’ll see for late spring.

The Truffle Hunt is On! – How to Get Your Hands on One of Italy’s Favorite Foods

Monday, October 13th, 2014

If you eat truffles in high-end American restaurants, you’ll easily pay hundreds of dollars for a few shavings.

In Italy, especially during the truffle hunting season and the Alba International White Truffle fair, it seems like there’s so many in circulation, it’s hard to understand why prices are so high!

Truffles Cannot be Grown, Only Found

Finding a fist-sized white truffle—white truffles are rarer than black summer truffles—is no easy feat. They’re so hard to come by that truffle hunters go out at night to keep anyone form following them to their best truffle foraging grove.

Dogs—not pigs, who might eat the truffles they find—paw at the ground when they find the scent—and truffle hunters unearth their prize with a special, spade-like digging tool.

And while truffle hunts for tourists can make the whole thing look simple, digging up handfuls of black truffles in just a couple hours, it can take trained truffle hunters and their dogs weeks to come upon the massive truffles you see at the market, often pulling 12-or-more-hour days all the while.

The International Truffle Fair

In the end, the hunt is worth it though. At the international fair, white truffles can fetch 3,000 euros a kilo!

When I saw hunters selling their wares out of the trunk of their car on the side of the road, though, the truffles were going for 250 euro a kilo.

For consumer, it is a huge savings to get them from the source, before they go through layers of middlemen at the markets and restaurants to finally reach your plate.

Cooking with Real Truffles at Home

For cooking yourself, it’s best to get the grated truffles stored in oil, but if you get your hands on the real thing, there are two perfect ways to enjoy it.

In our newsletter, we showcased a recipe for Tajarin with Truffles, the traditional handmade Piemontese pasta that is the best loved accompaniment for these treasured tubers.

But my favorite way to enjoy them—which also happens to be the most simple—is grated over fried eggs.

How to Tip in Italy: The Italian Concierge Tipping Guide

Monday, August 4th, 2014

How much should you tip in Italy? What is a “normal” percentage to tip in Rome? These Italian tipping custom questions t some point in your trip to Italy, these questions

If you leave a “normal” American tip, depending on where you are, the recipient may try to give it back to you, saying you paid too much. The waiter may even run out of the restaurant after you!

But this typically happens more in smaller towns, the kind of places where the proprietor is much more likely to give you an after-dinner amaro for free or take dessert off your bill for no reason than stiff you on extra service charges.

What to Tip in Restaurants in Italy

Rome, famously, has outlawed several types of service fees and charges added to the bill in light of confused visitors who don’t understand why they are being charged for bread even when they didn’t ask for or eat the bread.

Still there are many places where various fees, including for service, are added to your check automatically. You’ll usually see one fee called the coperto or pane, which is not for bread but actually more of a per person basic charge for dining in a restaurant.

“Servizio,” or service, is also often charged automatically on restaurant bills, in part because waiters in Italy are paid very differently than in the U.S. (i.e. better), but also because you will often be helped by multiple people throughout your meal.

You don’t really have to leave anything in addition to this, but it is customary to round the bill and leave some extra “spiccioli” or loose change with the rest of the bill.

Tipping for Taxis and Other Services in Italy

Outside restaurants, the tipping situation is much easier to navigate. In taxis, tipping is not necessary and you can tell them to keep the change.

For porters or maids at the hotel, follow the standard one euro per bag or room night formula

For guides, translators, drivers and other special, personalized services, tip as you feel appropriate, but 10-20 euros for a full-day is customary.

Italian Tipping Vocabulary

  • conto: the bill
  • coperto: the base per person cost of dining in a restaurant. Though it is often thought of as a fee for bread and water, you must pay it even if you don’t partake in those “complimentary” offerings
  • servizio: fixed service charge—usually an amount though sometimes a percentage—that appears on restaurant bills
  • incluso: included
  • spiccioli: small change or loose change. Often referrers to very small denominations, but it typically used just to mean whatever random change you have in your pocket.

Italian Soccer Games: Experience the Rush in Person

Monday, July 21st, 2014

italian soccer game

Photo by Flickr user John Wood

Italian soccer season begins in August, and let me tell you, in Italy, soccer is serious business.

Italians even have a different name for the sport than most European languages – calcio rather than futbol – because they’ve been playing some version of the sport since Roman times!

Next to a meal with an Italian family or a palio celebration, attending a soccer game in Italy is one of the best ways to dive into and fully experience Italian culture.

How to Get Tickets to an Italian Soccer Game

italian soccer game

Photo by Flickr user Nick

As most Italians take an extended summer holiday, the soccer season runs from August through May. Sunday is the most popular day for games, followed by Saturday.

Before you look at the season’s schedule, decide what type of game you want to see. The top teams, those known around the world like AC Milan, Roma, Inter, Fiorentina, play in the Series A, and those tickets can be expensive and hard to come by, especially in the case of important match-ups.

If you want to catch a game, but don’t particularly care who you see, check for any series to see what games are available while you’re in town.

You can often get tickets online, usually from the club or team site, but there are hefty fees that border on scalped ticket prices. The best way to get tickets is in person, at the stadium, but you’ll need to do it in advance and unfortunately most stadiums are well out of the city center and only take cash.

When you buy tickets and arrive at the stadium, you’ll need to show a photo ID as Italian soccer tickets have the attendee’s name printed on them.

Attending an Italian Soccer Game – What You Need to Know

italian soccer game

Photo by Flickr user Fatoom Qoughandoqa

Games between rival teams aren’t just heated; they can be dangerous.

Fans from the away team sit in an enclosed area to keep the home team fans from throwing things at them or attacking them and visa versa. It’s best not only to avoid sporting the away team’s colors, but not to cheer for them at all.

To keep things calm, or at least as calm as possible, Italian stadiums are alcohol-free, though smoking is incredibly common. At the entrance gate, guards check bags for bottled liquids, confiscate any alcohol, and remove the caps from any permitted beverages.

Excited fans tend to throw things on the field, either in happiness or disapproval, and there were some incidents of players being injured by projectile soda bottles several years ago.

But it’s not all dangerous. The enthusiasm is contagious, so don’t be surprised if you leave the game with a new pack of Italian friends.

Navigating Italy by Train

Saturday, May 10th, 2014

On Italy tours, trains are one of the best ways to see the country. You can enjoy the landscape in comfortable surrounds, be transported directly from city center to city center, and not have to work about GPS or parking laws.

When you go to book Italian trains, whether online via Trenitalia or at one of the kiosks in Italian train stations (we’ll be covering how exactly to get your tickets that in our newsletter this month, sign up here), it’s easily to be either confused or overwhelmed.

Italy has so many different types of trains, and often all of them travel the same route. Let’s break it down.

The National Train System

The Italian national rail runs almost all local and regional trains. A few regions have their own systems that are also open to the public, but most trains you’ll end up taking go the Trenitalia, the national system.

Local trains make lots of stops, only have second-class seats, and connect cities that are close by within the same region, like Florence and Siena in Tuscany or Venice and Verona in the Veneto.

There are several levels of trains that go faster than local trains but slower than high speed. And every few years it seems like something new pops up!

Regional trains can also connect you to cities in the same region, but they make fewer stops than local trains and move faster. You can also take regional trains or fast regional trains to move from one region to another where the high-speed trains don’t run or when you don’t want to pay the extra expense of those trains.

Intercity trains were, once upon a time, the fast option, but now they are more or less phased out. You’ll still see them as a slower option on some long distance routes. Likewise, Eurostar was the high-speed option ten years ago, but now they offer another way (at twice the time and often also twice the price) to get between distant cities when the high-speed trains are full.

High-speed Trains: Italo vs. Freccia

For high-speed service, which is what you need to go between major cities such as Milan and Rome or Florence and Venice, you now have two options, thanks to the relative newcomer Italo.

A private company with its own lounges and—in some cases like Rome where it leaves from a secondary station—its own stations, Italo offers a luxury product. Freccia (Italian for arrow) trains from Trenitalia have several levels of premium cabins that offer similar service, but the basic product is quite functional, if not a little cramped, and can be found for great prices if you book in advance.

The Freccia trains cut the time it takes to get around Italy in half, getting you around faster than driving, and even flying in most cases.

The Top Summer Opera Festivals in Italy

Sunday, April 20th, 2014

Opera was made to be sung outside al fresco, when it was first performed in the 15th century at the Palazzo Pitti gardens as part of a Medici family wedding celebration.

While Italy has many famous—and famously decorated—inside opera houses, enjoying its outdoor opera venues is one of the true treats of a summer visit to the peninsula.

From Verona in the north, through Italy’s heart—Rome—down to Siracusa in Sicily, summer opera festivals fill historic venues dating back to Roman times with classical music that resonates perfectly with these classic venues.

Siracusa Greek Theatre in Sicily

Dating to the 5th century BC, when Greek culture ruled the world rather than Roman, and Southern Italy was part of Magna Grecia, greater Greece, the Greek Theater of Siracusa is one of the largest ever built by the Ancient Greeks.

While the theater originally held more than 15,000 spectators, several sections, particularly the orchestra and stage, have been dilapidated over the years. After the Greek influence in the area waved, the Romans adapted the theater, which then fell into disuse until the summer theater festival began in 1914.

This anniversary season, three classic plays, Agamemnon and Eumenides by Aschylus and The Wasps by Aristophanes will run from the 9th of May to the 22nd of June.

Arena di Verona

Probably the most well known outdoor theater in Italy, a night at the Arena di Verona—a great city to visit in any season, and just a short train ride from Venice—is a magical experiences, from the candlelit audience to the world famous performers.

The nearly 2,000-year-old theater has run more than 90 seasons of its summer festival, which begins at the end of June, and frequently features direction from Franco Zeffirelli, one of the most noted figures in opera.

Sets and costumes from productions at both the Arena and other noted opera venues around Italy can also be seen at the nearby Lyric Museum on the history of opera and the Arena’s summer opera festival.

Baths of Caracalla in Rome

One of my favorite outdoor summer theaters is right in Rome, at the heart of the cultural capital of ancient society. The Baths of Caracalla, a lovely, well-preserved site worth a visit in its own right, hosts Rome’s Teatro dell’Opera during the summer.

Like the regular season, tickets sell out fast for the operas and ballets performed under the stars. This year, the season runs from the 24th of June through the 9th of August.

What’s in a Name? Your Guide to Italian Restaurant Types

Friday, April 11th, 2014

When you think of different types of dining establishments, most fall into one of two categories-sit down or take out, fine dining or casual, restaurants in cafes.

But in Italy, they seem to have a dizzying number of names for places that, ostensibly, all seem like sit down restaurants: trattoria, ristorante, osteria, enoteca, and the list goes on.

When you’re out in Italy, how do you know what you’re getting? There are basically five grades of sit-down restaurant, two types of wine bars, and two main types of take-out place.

Sit-Down Restaurants:

  • Ristorante – This is the top grade of Italian dining establishments, with conscientious service, fine dining plating and dishes, and often a well-known chef.
  • Trattoria – Trattorias are wonderful casual places to eat, whether for a pre-set lunch menu or a dinner out. They focus on typical Italian fare, without the fusion flare you may see in ristorantes.
  • Osteria – Osterias are much like trattorias, but a bit more casual with a focus on regional specialties.
  • Tavola Calda – In a tavola calda, there is typically no table service. You choose your food from a cafeteria style serving set up. These are primarily in Florence.
  • Pizzeria – In Italy, pizzarias are sit-down restaurants that predominantly serve pizza with wine, a variety of salads, and a few pasta selections.

Wine bars:

  • Enoteca – For a more formal wine tasting experience in line with American wine bars, head to an enoteca. Today, many are high-design and high-tech, though the food options are typically limited.
  • Taverna – Tavernas are more old-fashioned, like an Italian version of a British pub, with wine instead of beer. Food is very traditional, simple fare.

Take-out:

  • Pizza a taglio – For a slice of pizza on the run, look for a pizza a taglio (literally: by the slice). There may be limited seating, but squares of pizza, calzones, and occasionally some desserts are packaged up to take away.
  • Rosticceria – Unlike pizza a taglio places, which expect people to be eating their food on the go, rosticcerias typically serve hot food, primarily meat and roast vegetable dishes, to take and eat at home. If you’re looking for an entire chicken, this is the place.

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