Still More Must See Italian Towns Off the Beaten Path

Still More Must See Italian Towns Off the Beaten Path

Italy is a very popular destination no matter what time of year.  I seriously doubt they have an off season like other vacation spots.  I’ve only seen 2 seasons, busy and busier.  It’s said to be empty in August during the dog days of summer when the Italians leave the cities to head for the shores.  Yes it’s less busy in August mostly because the natives are on holiday so you may find shops and restaurants closed for the month, this is true in the smaller towns and cities, not so much in the major ones.  But although the locals have fled the heat the tourists still flock to the big cities like Rome, Florence, and Venice.  That’s why we like to leave the big crowded cities and head over to these 5 Italian towns off the beaten path.

Mind you though we head for the less crowded Italian towns off the beaten path it doesn’t necessarily mean we stay there for days on end, some of them don’t have the accommodations we prefer, like large hotels with air conditioning!  We usually use one of the cities as a hub and take day trips from there when possible.  For us this works out better, but if you’re ok with small hotels, B&Bs, and other types of accommodations then go for it!

Today I’m sharing my 5 favorite Italian towns off the beaten path.  They are by no means the only Italian towns off the beaten path that are worth a visit; in fact in my opinion all Italian towns are worth the visit!

Though many of them don’t boast the large museums and famous art work you’ll find in the larger cities, you’ll be surprised at what you’ll find in many of them.  From quiet piazzas, little trattorias serving awesome regional specialties, quaint wineries where you can participate in the harvest, and interesting festivals and events that some towns are known for.

Matera

Matera is a city in the Basilicata region in Southern Italy.   The modern city of Matera is pretty much a typical town and there’s not a whole lot to do there. It does however boast a very nice pedestrian free zone that connects the two Sasso Districts, Sassi Barisano and Sassi Caveoso.  This zone is lined with shops, restaurants, and churches including the cathedral.  But the main attraction in this city are the Sasso Districts.

Matera  or more specifically the Sassi di Matera (meaning stones of Matera) in my opinion is one of Hollywood’s best kept secrets.  Probably because during the years between the late 1950’s to the early 1990’s Italy would have liked to hide the town from the map.

Matera is definitely off the beaten path.  It’s not so easily accessible and is not on every tourist’s bucket list, although that is changing!  Thanks to Hollywood Matera is getting noticed!  Mel Gibson’s The Passion of The Christ and the most recent Wonder Woman film were both filmed there.

The couple of times we visited Matera it was basically empty, we went in the fall and spring, a great time to go weather wise, specially if you want to walk down to the Sassi.   We didn’t see a lot of tourists in the modern and old sections of the city.  There were a handful of tour groups milling around, but finding a seat at one of the restaurants wasn’t difficult at all!

Matera is said to be the third oldest continuously inhabited place on earth.  Proof of its habitation dates back to the Paleolithic age, yes that’s caveman days, when ancient man found shelter in the caves that dot the walls of the gorge.

Over the years inhabitants built homes, shops, wells, and churches in the caves.  By digging in the soft tufa rock they were able create new spaces and enlarge existing ones.  The cave dwellings and churches don’t look like caves from the outside, everyone one of them has an intricate facade and many are grouped into little “neighborhoods” where several homes share a courtyard.

This worked out well for many years until the town became over populated and living conditions became very unsanitary.  People were living stacked in the caves with no running water, electricity, and poor ventilation; and raw sewage was literally running through the streets.  Diseases were rampant and the infant mortality rate was very high.  It became the shame of Italy and so in the late 1950’s residents, many forcibly, were moved to the modern city above.

The Sasso district was left abandoned for years until some enterprising folks along with help from the government began transforming the caves into luxury hotels, shops, and restaurants.  This pretty much started after the Sasso and the Rupestrian (stone) churches within all became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  So slowly the tourists are beginning to trickle in.  But the tourists that do go are very determined ones because as I said it is quite off the beaten path.

Getting to Matera isn’t difficult if you’re staying in Bari and the surrounding area.  It is connected by light rail the FAL line to Bari.  You can take this very slow train from the FAL tracks located in Bari’s main train station to Matera, that’s the end of the line.  Depending on the train you might have to transfer in Altamura  but no worries, the trains are marked and there are only 2 tracks in Altamura.

For more information on Matera check out my article here!

Bolzano

Another one of my favorite Italian towns off the beaten path is Bolzano.  Again it’s not on every tourist bucket list and those that do make it up to Bolzano are pretty determined tourists.

Bolzano is in the South Tryol region of Northern Italy.  It’s not easily accessible, but can be reached by public transportation for those with a mind to do so.

Located in the the Dolomites/ Italian Alps Bolzano can get fairly busy in the winter as there are ski lodges up in the mountain top.  It’s also a popular place for hikers as there are many beautiful trails in the area.  But having said that it’s still a pretty quiet town, specially in the early fall and late spring when the ski season is over.

Even if you’re not into winter sports or even hiking or trekking there are still plenty of things to do in Bolzano.  You can visit Otzi the iceman, he resides in a freezer in the archaeological museum in town.  His well preserved body was discovered in ice in the Italian Alps and the museum is pretty much dedicated to studying ice mummies.  You can also visit the cathedral located across from the town’s main square, Piazza Walter, some castles in the area, ride the cable car up to Sopra Bolzano where there is a bee museum and other interesting sites, you can dine in the many restaurants, and of course shop in the mall and the open markets.  Or you can stroll by the river and relax in the park along side it.  It’s a wonderful spot for a picnic!

Bolzano is an Italian town with a German feel.  The residents speak both languages, the buildings look more German than Italian, some folks do dress in lederhosen, and the cuisine features both Italian and German/Austrian dishes.

You can get to Bolzano by train from Italy, Germany, and Austrian.  From Northern Italy there is a high speed train that leaves from Verona Porta Nuova station.  The ride takes just under an hour and a half.

For more information on Bolzano check out my article here!

Padua

Padua is a town located in the Veneto region, a train ride away from Venice.

It’s a college town that’s a bit off the beaten path, at least the tourists don’t crowd there as they do in nearby Venice and Verona.  It does get a bit busy when there are festivals and concerts in town, but other than that it’s pretty quiet.

There are several churches and chapels in town that are worth visiting, but to me the best feature is the Prato della Valle, the oval green space in the middle of town.  It is a huge space said to be one of Europe’s oldest and largest squares, even though it’s oval shape it’s still considered a square.  It is bordered by a moat and is accessible by crossing one of the 4 bridges. Positioned around the moat are statues of Padova’s important citizens.  I love this place!  It’s a great place to let kids run around!

The square has some restaurants and bars around it, but for more food choices and shopping you can wander the shaded streets that connect the square to the museums and university.  Like I said it’s hardly ever crowded and is a relaxing place to spend half the day just wandering and sipping wine with a fine meal in one of its many restaurants.

For more information on Padua check out my article here!

Vicenza

Vicenza is a city in the Veneto region of Northern Italy.  It’s about a 45 minute train ride away from Venice.

For those interested in architecture, particularly the designs of Palladio then Vicenza is on their bucket list.  This little Italian town is home to most of Palladio’s work.

Here you’ll find his Basillica, Teatro Olipico, La Rotonda (the villa that inspired Thomas Jefferson when he designed Montecello), and a handful of other villas.

You can also make your way up to Monte Berico where you’ll find a church and a spectacular view of the town below.  Other tourist sites in the area include a museum dedicated to all things Palladio, wineries, olive groves and presses, and a lively market in the main square on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

For more information on Vicenza read my article here!

Marostica

Marostica is a town on the side of a hill in the Vicenza province in Northern Italy’s Veneto region.  It’s claim to fame is its live chess game the town puts on ever 2 years – every even year to be exact.

Yes a live chess game right in the main town square in front of the castle.  Very Alice in Wonderland!  It is definitely an Italian town off the beaten path!  It’s not the easiest place to get to unless you have a car.  The closest train station is in Bassano del Grappa and from there you must take the bus to Marostica.  But unless the chess festival is going on (September on even numbered years) you’ll more than likely have the town to yourself.  There’s not much to do there, specially when there are no chess matches, but you can explore the 2 castles and the churches then relax at the town square.  Very restful!  A great place to get away from the maddening crowds!

Ready for an Italian adventure?  Call Savvy Nana Travel, we’ll help you plan an adventure of a lifetime!

 

 

 

 

5 More Must See Italian Towns Off The Beaten Path

5 More Must See Italian Towns Off The Beaten Path

Last week I share 5 must see Italian towns that were not quite off the beaten path but were far enough down the bucket list to be less crowded.  This week I’m share 5 more towns that are a bit more off the beaten path and will more than likely be even less crowded.  These 5 must see Italian towns will surely be less crowded than any of the major cities that tourists flock to.

These 5 must see Italian towns may not be home to works by the Masters, boast huge cathedrals, or have major archaeological excavations,  but each of them have a charm of their own.  Many are home to some fine churches with beautiful works of art and some interesting ancient sites.  And of course they all have charming piazzas and cobble stone alleys just waiting to be explored.  Best of all you might be lucky enough to find that you have the place almost to yourself, at least you don’t have to worry about inattentive or rude tourists shoving you out of the way or photo bombing your pictures!

Assisi

Assisi is a must see Italian town in the province of Perugia in Italy’s Umbria region.  Though not quite off the beaten path, it is after all easily accessible by local trains and buses, it is a town rich in religious, historical, and archaeological sites.

Assisi is most famous for being the birthplace of St. Francis of Assisi who was born in this town in 1182.  He founded the Franciscans in 1209 which are a related group of mendicant religious orders with in the Catholic Church.  The Sister of St. Claire are part of this order as Francis and Claire were contemporaries in Assisi and both were dedicated to prayer and ministry of the poor, the sick, and animals.  And yes, St. Francis of Assisi is the Patron Saint of Italy as well as the Patron Saint of Animals, Merchants (he was a fabric merchant before he founded his order), and Ecologists (because of his great love of nature).

Today the Basilica of St Francis is a huge complex built to follow the slope of the mountain side.  The lower basilica houses the tomb of St. Francis.  Facing this basilica on the other side of the town is the Basilica of St. Claire and is where St. Claire is entombed beneath the main altar.

Assisi is also home to the ruins of a first century Roman amphitheater.  It has seen its share of war and blood shed throughout the ages having been sacked by the Ostogoths in the 4th. century, conquered by Fredrick I (Barbarossa)  in the 12th. century, and sacked again by Napoleon.  It also played a heroic role during WWII when the city gave asylum to persecuted refugees, mainly Jews whom the locals hid in convents dressed as nuns and friars.  Many were provided with false documents. Assisi became one of the main centers for the Italian Resistance movement.  Such generosity and heroism earned the city a gold medal for civilian honor.

Assisi’s winding streets are filled with shops selling local crafts and religious artifacts.  It is a popular pilgrimage destination and is filled with devout pilgrims on Sundays and the feast days of the Saints.  So unless you are on a pilgrimage it’s probably not a great idea to visit town on those days.  A weekday visit is much less crowded and you have the town almost to yourself!

Getting to Assisi is fairly easy.  You can get there by train, bus, or private car, and of course you can take a day tour from Rome or Florence.  To get there by train take the train heading to Cortona, get off at Terontola and transfer to a local train to Assisi.  Get off at the main station which is located in the valley and take a taxi or bus up to the town on the mountain.  Of course you could also hike up and pass the areas on the mountains where St. Francis spent time in prayer and contemplation.

Tarquinia

Tarquinia is a must see Italian town located in the Northern Lazio region.

Ancient Tarxuna, as Tarquinia was known is one of the 12 Etruscan cities.  The Etruscans were Italy’s first known civilizations settling in what is now Tuscany, Umbria, and Lazio.  Ancient Tarquinia was one of Eturuia’s most important cities and today is probably the best place to see Etruscan Tombs.  The town and it’s ancient Necropolis is one of central Italy’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

The town is also home to one of the best museums of Etruscan finds outside of Rome.  There you’ll find these fabulous terracotta winged horses that date from the 4th. century BC.  You’ll also see Etruscan sarcophagi and statues as well as clay vessels and intricate funerary gold jewelry.  The archaeological museum is housed in the Palazzo Vitelleschi on Piazza Cavor  the town’s medieval center. The town’s Cathedral boasts good frescoes dating back to 1508 and other interesting churches.

But the town’s real attraction are the Etruscan tombs in the Necropolis.  There are about 6000 tombs dug into the soft tufa dating back from the 6th. to 2nd. Centuries BC.  The tombs are decorated with beautiful frescoes which still look vivid even today.

The Necropolis is located just outside of the town wall.  There is a free bus that run from town to all the sites including the tombs but it’s a nice walk through the town and up to the tombs.

If you wish to visit both the tombs and the museum there’s a combination ticket which allows entrance to both.  I would recommend having a look at the tombs first, there are about 15 or so open each day.  Each tomb is from a different period allowing one to see the different styles thru the ages.  The tombs are protected by these concrete “houses” and you’ll have to walk down some stairs to view the frescoes, definitely worth looking at several at least.  After the Necropolis you can head back to town and make your way to the museum to see some of the artifacts found in the tombs.  Then you can wander thru the medieval streets or have a snack at the piazza.  One of my favorite treats is the ricotta pizza you can find at the local pizzaria!

Getting to Tarquinia is very easy.  From Rome take the train to Tarquinia, it’s about a 1 1/2 to 2 hour ride.  From the station take the bus to the town center.  If you’re on a cruise ship that’s docked in Civitavecchia you can take the Cortal (Blue bus) from Piazza Vittorio and get dropped off by the Tarquinia InfoPoint.  The ride is about 25 minutes.

Bracciano

Bracciano is a small town in the Lazio region.  It is situated above the volcanic lake from whence it’s named.  Lago di Bracciano is the 2nd. largest lake in the region and the 8th. largest in the country.

One can canoe, swim, sail, and even dive in the lake specially during the hot summer months.  The town above offers beautiful views of the lake below.

But it’s real claim to fame is the very well preserved medieval castle called Castello Orsini-Odescalchi which dominates the hilltop town.  This castle was also the venue for Tom Cruise’s wedding to Katie Holmes.

You can take a tour of the castle, it’s huge and very cool!  After you can wander the streets of the old town and stop at one of its fine restaurants for a meal.  In the summer you can camp down by the lake and lounge on the beach or swim, sail, or canoe.  There’s also a ferry that will connect Bracciano to the other 2 towns on the lake.

Getting to Bracciano from Rome is super easy.  Just take a train to Bracciano from Rome’s Ostiense Train Station.  (This is a main hub where the Blue metro line meets the train station – it’s where the Pyramid of Cestius is by Porta San Paolo)

Ostia

The modern town of Ostia is basically a suburb of Rome.  There’s not a whole lot to see and do in the actual town itself.  The main attraction of this town is it’s vast archaeological site called Ostia Antica.

Back in the day it was a very important city because it was Rome’s ancient seaport.  The sea has long receded and it’s no longer a coastal city, but the Archaeological site is fairly well preserved and offers a glimpse at how it was when it was a bustling seaport with over 60,000 residents.

To get to there make your way to the Ostiense Train station or the Piramide Metro (the lines are intertwined here).  Walk over to the Lido line – it uses a metro ticket or pass – and hop on a train.  Get off at the 7th. Stop – Ostia Antica.  From the station walk over the bridge and follow the street to the park entrance.  Buy your ticket at the kiosk before the gate.

 

 

 

Volterra, Palazzo dei Priori

Volterra

Volterra is a walled mountaintop town in Italy’s Tuscany region.  It’s history dates back from the 7th. century BC and has many structures from the Etruscan, Roman, and medieval periods.

It was one of the 12 cities of the Etruscan League and was a very important center in those days.  After the Etruscan era the city became allied to ancient Rome then by the end of the 3rd. Century BC.  In the 5th. Century it was a bishop’s residence the by the 12th. Century was conquered by Florence and fell under Florentine rule.  When Florence fell in 1530 it ended up in the control of the Medici family then from there followed the history of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany.

In pop culture it was an important part of the popular Twilight series written by Stephanie Meyer.  In this series Volterra was home to the Volturi, a group of powerful ancient vampires who essentially ruled over all the vampires in the world.

There are many interesting sites to in Volterra including the remains of a Roman Theater, Volterra Cathedral, the main piazza, museums which house works of Tuscan artists and ancient Etruscan funeral urns and other artifacts.  And of course there are the city walls and some very well preserved gates.

Volterra is definitely one of the must see Italian towns which is not on the regular tourist agenda, and that’s a good thing.  Because it’s not on the regular tourist route it’s not at all crowded.  It’s a great town to visit to experience the authentic Tuscany.  But it’s a bit hard to get to.  The easiest way to get to Volterra is by car or if you don’t want to drive or hire a service by tour bus. If you want to get there via public transportation it’s doable, but not so easily done.

Getting there by public transportation involves a couple of train or bus transfer.  You can get there from any of the main Tuscan towns like Florence, Siena, Pisa, or Livorno.  The closest train station to Volterra is Saline di Volterra which can be reached by only by the line running from the coastal town of Cecina.  So from any Tuscan city take the train to Cecina where you can transfer to the coastal line, but be aware that train service is intermittent.  So most folks take the train to Cecina then transfer to a bus to Volterra.

So there you have it; 5 more must see Italian towns that are a bit off the beaten path.  A day trip to any or all of these towns will give you a taste of the real Italy!

5 Must See Italian Towns Off The Beaten Path

5 Must See Italian Towns Off The Beaten Path

italian townsSo you’re going to Italy!  Yaaay you!  Italy is one of my favorite destinations and I’m pretty sure it will be yours too.  I mean what’s not to like?  It’s the land of Da Vinci, Michaelangelo, and Dante; the birthplace of the Renaissance; the home of pizza, pasta, and gelato!  Of course a trip to Italy, specially if it’s your first, will include the must see cities of Rome, Florence, Venice, and Naples.  All definitely worth seeing; and unfortunately all very crowded and pretty overpriced.  So if you have an extra day or so here are 5 must see Italian towns that are a bit off the beaten path, but all well worth the time!

There are many small towns that are worth visiting specially if you’re looking to avoid major crowds.  In this post I’m listing 5 Italian towns that aren’t way off the beaten path and are still on the tourist radar, but don’t attract the massive crowds that fill the streets of Italy’s major cities. These Italian towns aren’t in any particular order and to keep it simple I listed towns that are easily accessible by train from one of the major cities.

italian townsOrvieto

Located in central Italy in the Umbria area Orvieto is a delightful Italian town.  It sits high up on a hill made of volcanic tufo stone offering an extraordinary view of the Umbrian countryside.  It is rich in religious artwork boasting one of the prettiest cathedral facades in my opinion.

Orvieto has 2 distinct areas, the centro storico (old historic town) on the hill top, and the new area below.  The area below is nothing special.  But the historic town above has lots to offer.

One of the town’s highlights is the Duomo or the cathedral.  Construction began in 1290 using a mixture of Gothic and Romanesque styles.  The Duomo is a Roman Catholic church dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.  It features a stained glass rose window, beautiful mosaics, bas reliefs,  and pillars on its facade.  Inside are chapels featuring beautiful artwork and statues made by a variety of Italian masters.

Behind the Duomo are some medieval palaces called the Palazzi Papali.  These museums house much of the artwork, furnishings, and papers from the Duomo.

Orvieto also has a rich underground world that features a network of Etruscan era caves, tunnels, and wells.  Guided tours of the underground caverns give an insight of how ancient Italians lived.  Tour tickets can be purchased from the office in the square across the cathedral.

Another underground feature is St. Patrick’s well.  Built at the behest of Pope Clement VII between 1527 and 1537 the well features a double helix design that effectively allowed people and donkeys to go up and down to get water.  This ensured the hilltop town always had access to water during times of siege.

The town is a bit busy during the day with day trippers from Rome milling about, but mostly they’re concentrated in the Duomo square and the city center which is about a 5 minute walk from there.   But busy in this Italian town is nowhere near what busy is like in Rome!

You can easily get a great table at any of it’s restaurants, something you must do because one of the things the area is famous for is its Classico wine.  Don’t leave town without trying it!

 

My favorite place for awesome views, peace and quite, and a great place if you got kids who need to work off some energy is the park at the edge of town by the funicular station.

The views of the town below and the Umbrian countryside are spectacular!  The park is almost empty, the few times we’ve been there we had the whole park to ourselves!

And there’s playground equipment for the young ones!  Like I said it’s a great place to stop and rest, enjoy the views, and let the kids run around!

Getting to Orvieto is easy.  It’s less than a 90 minute train ride from Rome’s main station Roma Termini.  It is serviced by the slower trains and tickets are super cheap, about 10 Euro each way at most.  You get off at the Orvieto train station which is across the street from the entrance to the hilltop town.

You can walk or take the elevator up to the top or take my favorite mode of transportation there, the funicular.  The funicular takes you up to the edge of town by the park I mentioned.  You can connect to the minibus, the stop is right outside the station, and get dropped off at the Duomo or you can walk up, it’s about a 10 minute uphill walk to the town center.  Buy your tickets at the booth in front of the funicular station below, the ticket is good for the funicular and bus ride.  You can buy round trip tickets and just hop on the bus and funicular for the ride down.

If you drive to Orvieto you can park your car for free at the train station and walk, take the elevator or funicular to the top.

italian townsTivoli

Tivoli is an historic hilltop town in the Lazio region of Italy.  It sits on the Aniene River in the Monti Tiburtini hills.  It is located 19 miles from Rome and can be easily reached by public transportation making it an ideal day trip from that city.

This Italian town was on the major trade route between Rome and Abruzzi and has been an important settlement since then.  Because of it’s high altitude the air is cooler and fresher than in Rome making it a popular summer retreat for the moneyed classes of ancient Rome who built elaborate villas in and around the town and bathed in the natural thermal springs located in the plains below the town center.  Today that area is called Bagni di Tivoli and one can still bathe in the thermal springs.

Tivoli as I mentioned is home to several ancient villas the two most famous are Villa d’Este and Villa Adriana which is not located in the town proper but in the plains below.

Villa d’Este is a Renaissance villa built in the 1550’s  for Cardinal Ippolito D’Este, the son of Lucretia Borgia.  The villa was mainly built for entertaining and its interior has lavish frescoes adorning the reception rooms.  But the main attraction of this villa are its spectacular gardens filled with amazing water features.  The gardens were designed to dazzle guests with all sorts of fountains including the Fountain of the Dragons and the enormous Water Organ Fountain which cascades down a huge drop into quiet shady pools below.

The gardens also offer wonderful views of the valley or plains below.  It is one of the most visited villas in the area because it is located near the main bus stop where day trippers from Rome get off.

Villa Adriana is a huge complex envisioned by Emperor Hadrian.  Its grounds are so vast it can be considered a town by most standards and navigating it even with a map can prove daunting.  The villa features lakes, fountains, baths, temples, gardens, and libraries.  For those interested in antiquities the villa is definitely worth a visit.

As I mentioned Villa Adriana is not located in the town proper, instead it is a bus ride away in the plains below.  It is a stop on the regular Rome – Tivoli route.  Just ask the driver where to get off and be prepared to walk the rest of the way.  Or you can take the local bus from the town center which will take you to the villa entrance.

There are other villas and sites in Tivoli that are worth seeing including Villa Gregoriana which is an impressive park set in a gorge that features a 100 meter waterfall; the round temple of Vesta and the ruins of the temple of Sybil both located above the Villa Gregoriana; Ponte Gregoriano which offer views over the gorge, the waterfall, and the temples; Rocca Pia fortress; the ruins of a Roman Ampitheater; the Cathedral of San Lorenzo; and the Church of San Sylvester.

There are several piazzas and quaint alleys to enjoy around town.  You can even see some turret-houses around.  These medieval homes were defensive dwellings built by the residents.  They featured roofed terraces and no front doors, they were accessed on the second floor which could only be reached by climbing a ladder.  There are about 100 of these houses left and many can be seen in Via del Duomo, Via Platone Tiburtino and Via del Colle.

Getting to Tivoli from Rome is fairly easy and very inexpensive, it’s the cost of a metro/bus ticket!  Take the blue metro line Linea B to Ponte Mammalo and transfer onto a Cortel bus to Tivoli.  The ride takes about 40 minutes depending on the traffic. To return just take the bus back to Ponte Mammalo and the metro back to Roma Termini where you can either continue on the blue line or transfer to the red line to reach your destination.

italian townsSiena

Siena is one of the Italian towns in the Tuscany region.  It is arguably the best preserved medieval town in the country.

Siena is not exactly off the beaten path, it has become a major tourist destination. You’ll find everyone gathered in the famous piazza called Il Campo which is the heart of Siena and was the site of the ancient Roman forum.  You’ll find most of the major sites in and around this piazza including the Duomo Siena’s Gothic Cathedral and the Palazzo Publico and its tower the Torre del Mangia which dominates Il Campo.

Il Campo was rebuilt by the  Council of Nine, a quasi-democratic group from 1287 to 1355, the nine sections of the fan-like brick pavement of the piazza represent the council and symbolizes the Madonna’s cloak which is said to shelter Siena.

Siena was said to have been founded by Senius son of Remus one of the two legendary founders of Rome.  Because of this you will find statues of the she-wolf who suckled Remus and Romulus all over Siena.  This wolf is the emblem of this city.

Siena’s historic city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is the home to the world famous Palio the horse race run around the piazza twice every summer.

The museum housed in the Palazzo Publico features some of the best Sienese paintings and frescoes.  The Duomo is full of treasures including the Piccolomini library frescoes.

The piazza itself is rimmed with restaurants and bars and the alleys radiating from the main square are alive with shops.  If you go on a weekend you’ll find this area alive with both tourists and locals.  It may seem crowded but it is a far cry from Florence’s humongous crowds which gather in ever piazza and fill every street.

Siena is an easy day trip from Florence and can be reached by trains departing from the main station Firenze Santa Maria Novella.  Get off in Siena’s main train station and hop a bus to the city center.  From the bus stop it’s about a 5 -10 minute walk to Il Campo.  If you don’t mind long train rides (we don’t) Siena can even be a day trip from Rome, just transfer trains in Florence.

Lucca

Most folks who find themselves in Florence usually head over to Pisa, it seems to be a staple on everyone’s bucket list.  I have no idea why!  Why on earth would one find it enjoyable to jostle the crowds just to peer up at a tower that leans to one side?  The tower which is actually the church’s bell tower, the church, and the baptisary are all located in a small out of the way field in the town of Pisa.  Clearly the town’s claim to fame is the leaning tower and tourists (and pickpockets) flock to it.

Seriously if your only reason to visit Pisa is to see the tower, skip it and buy a postcard, unless of course you have the desire to climb it.  (I don’t know why you would, the only views you’ll see are the surrounding streets filled with residential units.)  Instead head over to Lucca, it’s one of my favorite little Italian towns.

Lucca is a quaint walled town in Tuscany.  It is famous because of its intact medieval wall that surrounds the town.  It’s a charming little town with lovely piazzas, streets made for wandering, and almost 100 churches (that’s a lot for such a small town!).  You can relax at one of the bars and restaurants and sip on a glass of Lucchesi wine and nibble on rustic dishes prepared with fresh vegetables from nearby Garfagnana.  You can spend the day wandering the alleyways lined with churches and boutiques, or you can walk the walls which in medieval times kept the town safe.

Lucca is a train ride away from Florence which makes it an ideal place for a day trip.  It’s very close to Pisa so if you really must you can take the train to Pisa, pop in to the Campo dei Miracoli to take a selfie with the leaning tower, then double back on the train to Lucca.  At Lucca get off at the main train station and cross the street to the entrance to the walled city.

Cinque Terre

Literally the “5 Lands” Cinque Terre is on the coast of Italy’s Liguria region.  Its coast line, 5 towns (Vernazza, Manarola, Monterossa Al Mare, Riomaggiore, and Corniglia) and the surrounding hills are all part of the Cinque Terre National Park which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Italian towns date back to the 11th. Century.  Over centuries residents have built terraces up the steep rugged cliffs that overlook the cliffs.  The towns are connected by trains, boats, and paths; except Corniglia which is not accessible by boat.

The 5 villages were connected by a path called Sentiero Azzuro but the section between Riomaggiore and Manarola (the path in the picture) called Via Dell’Amore closed in 2012 and is being renovated. It is slated to reopen in 2019.  You can still walk to the villages on a different path but it is not on the water front and is steeper and longer than the original one.

Cinque Terre has become a very  popular tourist destination and can get rather crowded specially in the summer.  But it’s worth the trip specially by ferry just to see the towns built on the sides of the cliff.  Depending on your time you can choose to visit one or all villages.  There are day passes for both trains and ferries that will take you to all the towns you can hop on and off as you please.

Each town has pretty streets to wander thru, not many streets in each town so it’s really hard to get lost.  There are also many restaurants, bars, and shops in the main tourist areas.  And of course you can enjoy the scenery and the water front.

Cinque Terre is a day trip from Genoa or possibly even Florence if you don’t mind the longer train ride.  You can catch the ferries from Genoa’s Old Harbor, La Spezia, Lerici, and Porto Venere.

These are just 5 of my favorite Italian towns, they aren’t so far off the beaten path.  They are all easily accessible by train from one of Italy’s major cities.  But they’re far enough away from the hustle and bustle of Rome, Genoa, or Florence; a visit to any one of them will definitely make your trip more memorable!

Ready to plan your Italian Holiday?  Call Savvy Nana Travel, we’ll design the perfect itinerary just for you!

 

 

5 Unique Ways to Experience Europe

5 Unique Ways to Experience Europe

Is a trip to Europe on your bucket list?  I’m almost certain it is.  I think Europe is on just about everyone’s places to see before you die list.  I can definitely understand why.  I love, love, love Europe!

But Europe means so many different things to each person.  Currently according to the United Nations there are 44 countries on the European continent.  Although it’s the second smallest continent Europe stretches from its border with Asia on the east to its Atlantic coast on the west.  It includes Greenland on the north and meets Africa on the south.  That’s why Europe is such a diverse continent with each country having its own unique history, culture, language, and cuisine.

Most people think a European means traveling to France, Italy, Britain, and Germany.  Those 4 countries are more definitely worth seeing, but they aren’t the only ones worth visiting.  Sure a trip to Europe should include a visit to the Eiffel Tower in Paris, one to the sites of Rome, another to Britain’s Buckingham Palace, and still another to see the castles in Germany; and of course a trip to the Louvre, the Vatican Museum, the British Museum, and the Pergamonmuseum are worthwhile.  But to really experience Europe and all that it has to offer one should include a unique activity or two.

Here are 5 unique  ways to really get the most out of your European vacation!

EuropeTrains

Europe has an amazing train system that connects pretty much every country on the continent to each other.  Trains connect major cities to small towns all over Europe, making trains one of the best ways to travel from country to country.

High speed trains offer several classes of service and rail passes make train travel easy and affordable.  I know trains are my favorite mode of transportation in Europe; trains are comfortable, quick, and easy.  Best of all you avoid the lines at the airports, and you don’t have to get to the station 2 hours before departure like you do at airports, and you don’t have to waste time collecting your luggage when you get to your destination.  Also most main train stations are located in the heart of the city unlike airports which generally are situated miles away from the city center.

And let’s not forget the scenery you can watch pass by on your way to where ever you’re headed.  In fact there are several scenic routes you can go on that will take you past mountains, lakes, valleys, and more.  One such route is Switzerland’s Glacier Express whose route goes thru the Swiss Alps.

Need more rail information click here!  Or check out my article with tips on Italy train travel.

River Cruise

Whether it’s a one hour cruise on the Seine or a week long meander down the Danube a river cruise is a great way to experience Europe.  It gives you a different perspective on a city and allows you to watch some amazing scenery as you slowly drift by castles and villages which you’d never see from a plane or even a bus!

Many big cities on a river have hourly or day sightseeing cruises; Amsterdam, Paris, London, and Bruges just to name a few.

Local Markets

To catch a glimpse of everyday life take a trip to the local markets or head over to the main square on market day.

Everyone goes to the markets so it’s always bustling.  And you’ll be amazed at the different types of foods you’ll find.

A trip to the market is also a great way to try out some local cuisine.  Most markets have kiosks selling prepared food like fried seafood, tapas, and whatever specialties the area is known for.  And don’t forget that markets are the best and least expensive way to put together a picnic lunch, just grab some bread, lunch meats, cheese, and fruit and you’ve got a mouth watering meal!

Cooking Class

Food is the universal language so what better way to learn a bit of the culture than at a cooking class at a local farmhouse or restaurant.  Not to mention at the end of the class you get an awesome meal too!

There are all sorts of cooking classes offered, you can go to a one day class or stay at a farmhouse and learn to cook local specialties for a week!

In Italy a pizza or pasta making class is a must, in France a french pastry or macaroon making class is amazing specially for those of use with a sweet tooth, and a gingerbread baking class in Germany is delightful.

 

 

Walk, Walk, and Walk some more!

European cities and towns are seriously walking places; that’s really the only way you’ll see anything.

So bring your waking shoes or hiking boots and wander the streets and squares or the big cities, and hike the paths along the coast, in the forests mountains.  You’ll be amazed at the sights you’ll see!  After all you’ll never know what wonder awaits behind the bend until you get there!

 

Let Savvy Nana Travel help you plan your trip to Europe!

 

 

4 Tips to Moving Your Stuff While Traveling

4 Tips to Moving Your Stuff While Traveling

When planning to travel for adventure or due to duty calls, it is always a hard task to decide on the stuff you need to carry or leave behind. It is also difficult to determine how to move the items across the world or even the states. Some stuff is delicate and requires special handling. Others are too expensive or precious and can be risky and costly if lost or stolen. To ease this hassle while traveling, apply the following tips:

1) Use a Moving Company

If you are in Australia, you may be wondering, “Where do I get credible removalist Melbourne services?” Brilliance Removalists Melbourne helps you move the stuff you need to a location of your choice.

The company has invested in different sized trucks, and this reduces cramping and damage on your stuff, scenarios that may be experienced if you stuffed them in the boot of your car or a smaller truck. They can also help you pack and label your stuff, thus saving time reducing confusion.

They also offer special packaging to fragile items. This helps you receive your stuff in one piece. They have employed qualified and experienced personnel. This ensures that your items are handled safely and carefully. The company has replacement and insurance policies that protect your stuff while on transit in case of any eventualities.

2) Only Carry What You Need

The temptation to carry every little thing in your house can be hard to resist. It can be hard to move the whole house especially if you do not know the size of the house you might be staying in next. You might also have a hard time every time you have to pick up and go to your next travel destination. To ease this, carry only the essentials. This can be done by preparing a packing list that helps your packing process. The items you do not need can be left behind for future use once you come back or give them out. You can also sell and make a few dollars out of the stuff you do not need while traveling.

3) Storage Facilities

While traveling for a long period, it might be costly to move with all your stuff from one place to the other. It is also expensive to pay for an apartment to hold the stuff that you do not need for the period you will be away. To reduce such costs, consider keeping your stuff in a storage unit. The units are locally available and are cheaper. They come in different sizes, but in case all units are of equal sizes and one is not enough, you can get two or several units. The units are safe and secure reducing the risk of losses from burglars. You can also send your items to storage units before you get to your location. Once you get there, you can get your stuff from the storage units and use them.

4) Insure Your Stuff

Items risk being stolen, breaking, or getting their parts damaged while in transit. Some can be salvaged and repaired while others are rendered useless. You can insure your stuff while on transit to cater for any eventuality. This helps reduce losses. It also enables you to get back to your previous position without straining. A local or international insurance company can offer transit insurance. Check and compare prices and terms that each provider sets out to ensure you are fully protected.

5 Unique Activities to Experience Jordan

5 Unique Activities to Experience Jordan

Jordan I have to admit is one of my favorite countries. I love the history (it’s ancient), the culture, the sites, the people, and the food; especially the food!

Jordan is a modern country that sits on ancient land.  Civilization in Jordan pre-dates biblical times.  It  has been home to ancient people since the  Neolithic Period over 12,000 years ago.

In fact some of the first artwork made by humans were discovered in Ayn Ghazal archaeological site in what is now Amman the modern city that is the  country’s capital.  In total 15 pottery statues were unearthed at the site and they are now displayed at the new Jordan Museum in Amman.

The museum is also home to some of the Dead Sea Scrolls including one of the famous copper scrolls.  The Jordan Museum should be on your list of places to visit in Jordan regardless if you’re a history buff or not.  The statues are amazing and the scrolls are definitely intriguing.

But to really experience Jordan step away from the museums and the hustle and bustle of the busy capital and visit some famous and not so famous sites around the country.  Here are 5 unique activities that will make your Jordan vacation truly memorable.

Petra

The ancient Rose City of Petra located in southwest Jordan is arguably one of the most important archaeological sites on earth.  In my opinion it ranks up there with the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt, the Pyramids of Chichen Itza in Mexico, and the UK’s henges.

The city is located in Wadi Musa, the Valley of Moses where according to the holy books Moses struck one of the stones in the desert valley and found water. Nestled between desert canyons and mountains Petra was the thriving trading center and capital of the Nabataean empire between 400 BC and AD 106.  The ancient buildings with elaborate facades were carved out of the sandstone cliffs in the second century AD.

I believe that a trip to Jordan is incomplete if one doesn’t visit the city of Petra.  A trek through Petra is a humbling and awe inspiring experience.  There are many ways to see Petra, the site is huge even though just 15% of the city has been excavated.

I prefer to walk in from the main gates.  To reach the city one must meander thru the twisting canyon called the Siq.  Walking is the best way to see all the features of the Siq including the system of ledges that brought water into the city in ancient times.  You’ll also see some carved mini “temples” and staircases scattered through out the Siq; you never really know what lies beyond the curve until you get there!

It’s also the best way to get your first glimpse of the city, believe me it’s breathtaking!  The narrow Siq opens  up to allow you to set foot in the ancient city and the first sight you will see is the iconic building made famous by the movie Indian Jones and the Last Crusade.  Stepping into the sunshine from the shadows of the Siq is a magical moment!

You can wander the city on foot then catch a donkey  up to the monastery located up a steep path towards the end of the site.

Or if you prefer you can hire a camel to walk you around the city.  On your way out if you’re too tired to walk back to the main gate you and hire a carriage to take you back.

How ever you decide to visit this UNESCO World Heritage Site it is definitely worth the time.  For more information on things to see in Petra click  here!

Wadi Rum Glamping

Wadi Rum is a desert valley in south Jordan known for its spectacular sunsets and topographical formations.

A ride through Wadi Rum is like a voyage through Earth’s topographic evolution.  Many of the formations are older than the Dead Sea Rift which forms the western part of Jordan.

Wadi Rum is a desolate inhospitable place that the local Bedouins have camped in and traveled through  for centuries.  Today Wadi Rum is a protected area where visitors can participate in a variety of activities.

One of the most popular things to do is to stay overnight in a luxurious tent.  A far cry from the tents used by ancient bedouins these modern tents are air conditioned, have running water, and are very comfortable.  Many of the tent resorts or hotels are located deep enough within the preserve that you get a feeling of the isolation.  If you’ve never experienced the saying “as black as night” this is one of the places to do so.  The darkness that surrounds you makes it the perfect place to stargaze for those are the only points of light you’ll mostly see.

You can go trekking on camels, by horseback, or by 4×4 vehicles.  You can even hike, but bring a guide and lots of water if you do.  Or for a very special activity go on a balloon ride at sunrise or sunset.  Spectacular!

Take a Dip in the Dead Sea

The Dead Sea has the lowest elevation and the lowest body of water on the surface of the Earth. Its surface level is over 1400 feet below sea level.

The Dead Sea is actually a landlocked lake located between Israel and Jordan.  Its main source of water other than rain is the Jordan River although there are small tributaries and underground springs which trickle into the lake. But the Dead Sea is the terminus for the flow, in short there is now way out.  So the water accumulated in the lake evaporates and creates salt.

It is famous for it’s healing waters which are said to cure everything from skin disorders to diabetes.  The benefits of the waters are attributed to the high concentration of salts that have accumulated in the lake over centuries.

Because of the extremely high salinity pretty much everything is buoyant in the Dead Sea. So even if you don’t know how to swim you will float, but be aware that even though you float it doesn’t mean you can’t drown.  In fact floating on your stomach is not a great idea, because the water is so buoyant turning and swimming is difficult; so you could get stuck on your stomach and drown!

But with some common sense and caution a dip in the Dead Sea is a must do when in Jordan!

Visit Umm Quais

Umm Quais is both a modern town and ancient city in Northern Jordan.  Known as Gadara in ancient times it was a member of the Decapolis, a group of 10 city/states, that marked the eastern frontier of the Roman Empire.

It was also occupied by the Byzantines and later the Umayyad Dynasty so you’ll find ruins of those ancient civilizations as well.

What makes this town and site unique is it’s location.  Snuggled amid the Golan Heights of Syria, the Jordan Valley of Jordan and the West Bank, and Lake Tiberia (The Sea of Galilee) in Israel Umm Quais quite literally has a view of 3 countries, or 4 on a clear day when one can spot the mountains of Lebanon.

The archaeological site is pretty much off the beaten path so you won’t find it busy at all.  You can sit in the black basalt theater, walk the still paved Decumanus Maximus (main road going east to west) of the city in Roman times, stroll down the Cardo Maximus (Colonnaded main road going north to south), wander the ancient ruins that include a basilica, underground mausoleum, and a 16th. century church; and enjoy a meal at the cafe that’s built into the ruins of an ancient building.  You can even visit the small on site museum that houses finds from the area’s excavation; you may have to round up the person in charge to unlock the building.

Umm Quais is one of my favorite sites, the views from the cafe are amazing.  A trip to Umm Quais can be combined with a trip to Jerash, Irbid, and Ajloun.  All are worth visiting!

Eat!

A trip to Jordan would never be complete without trying all the wonderful food the area has to offer.

Don’t be afraid to try the shawarma and falafel sandwiches being sold on the road; they are amazing not to mention unbelievably cheap!

And then there are the outdoor cafes along the roads, I love the ones in the Shmesani district where the cafes, restaurants, and coffee houses are busy til the wee hours of the night!

For amazing falafel, hummus, and fresh baked bread try out Hashem’s downtown (even the Royals eat there!) or head to one of Abu Jbara’s locations.

For sweet treats nothing beats Habibah.  You can grab some fresh kunafa at the little downtown kiosk where you stand in the alley to eat your delicious cheese pastry or sit down at their new location a block away from Abu Jbara on Medina Street. The new 2 story location is a wonderland of middle eastern and western treats.  You’ll find baklava, kunafa, and maamoul along side ice cream, cakes, french pastries, and chocolates.

If you’re looking for something fancier head over to Reem Alo Bawadi.  The food is excellent and the service outstanding.

What ever you decide to eat you’ll find something for every taste and budget in Amman!  Want more great eats in Amman?  Click here!

Ready for your Jordan adventure?  Call Savvy Nana Travel, we’ll help you plan!