Italy, the country of pizza, pasta, gelato and fine olive oils, the country of taking it easy, at your own pace, enjoying the moment – “Dolce Vita” as the Italian’s might say. When we were planning an adventure for our 2-week Easter break, we had a few ideas whilst browsing cheap flights but first on Laura’s (my girlfriend) list was somewhere that could potentially be warm. Neither of us are particularly drawn to Italy but we do both share a passion for good food and upon looking at the weather forecast for April, it actually seemed like a good choice. It is also a place where neither of us have road-tripped around before having both only visited cities for short breaks in the past.
We booked an inbound flight to Venice and an outbound flight from Rome for 2 weeks later, we then sought out a rental car to be picked up and dropped off accordingly. The rough plan we drew up ended up being the one we stuck to for the most part, ensuring that included a few days where we could make-it-up as we go to give the trip that oh so great spontaneous adventure feel – we also booked accommodation whilst we were out there as to ensure flexibility on where we decided to travel.
The itinerary ended up as follows: 2 nights in Venice, 1 night in Verona, 2 nights in Lake Como, 2 nights in Florence, 1 nights in Piombino, 2 nights in Rome and a last night in Fiomacino (next to Rome airport). As I said before, the only bookings that had been made prior to leaving were the 2 nights in Venice and 2 nights in Rome. We knew that we wanted to visit both Lake Como and Verona but the other places were just where we decided on whilst we were driving about the Italian roads.
Here is a summary of how our trip went, the highs and lows and some of the most notable tips and tricks if you find yourself booking your own Italian adventure.
First stop, Venice. Venice is beautiful and everywhere you turn is a relic of some wondrous cultural history. You can take a picture, literally anywhere (even at the bus station) and its Instagram worthy. However, as well as incredible architecture, museums and cultural delights, there are also a shed load of people. This might be okay for some, but we are not fans of crowded places and we were quickly reminded of this whilst whistling through the zombie like hordes of tourist crowds.
My other qualm with Venice is that it knows it’s good already, and so you get a tourist culture with careless hosts. Restaurants are busy without having to serve decent foods, service is poor, the prices are high and the accommodation was by far the worse we had on the entire trip.
Another thing to note is “neuto libero” which means “free swimming”, it’s an Italian term I will never forget. As swimmers, Laura and I will always ensure we fit our training in when we travel but Italy sure tried to make that difficult for us. In Venice, the first morning we headed to the only pool on the island and had to wait an hour, the second day we just got flat out denied and the reasoning was completely lost in translation. This also resulted in a horrible event where we’d checked out of our room and had no access to showers. We ended up sneaking into a hostel and using the bathrooms… I’d also been on a run so was sweaty betty but I suppose I only fit in with some of the smelly sewers.
Onwards to Verona, we picked up our hire car which was an experience in itself. We took a bus to the mainland and found an office in the middle of an industrial estate that was otherwise deserted. After an awkward chat with an Italian car hire worker who was desperate to take the classic Italian 2+ lunch break, we left with our VW Up! (Just FYI I’m not complaining about the 2+ lunch break situation, I’m maybe just a bit jealous of it…). We headed to the city of Romeo and Juliet in which was our 3rd day of rain. Not ideal, considering our trip was supposed to be for a bit of warmth/sun as well as adventure.
Verona is very pretty with a much friendlier vibe than Venice. It is quaint but this makes for easy getting around. We stayed in an Air BnB close to the centre and found an incredibly unauthentic vegan coffee shop, which refreshingly sold a bunch of foods that weren’t cheese and bread, not that there’s anything wrong with cheese and bread, just there is an abundance of it throughout the country. I had a lovely run along the river and it was nice to be in an area that wasn’t so crowded. It did however, rain the entire time we were there.
Next, we headed down the motorway with a quick stop in Milan, just to get a picture of the Duomo and buy a Bluetooth speaker (our car did not have an auxiliary input), we ended up at the shores of the beautiful Lake Como in a quiet little town called Bellano. This was a highlight of the trip. If you area travelling Europe and going through northern Italy then I recommend Lake Como but I more so recommend staying in Bellano. It’s a proper authentic little Italian town with very few tourists. It has incredible views of the lake and the Swiss alps as a backdrop, it’s simply breath taking.
We spent 3 days in Bellano, visiting the surrounding areas, hiking and living like the locals. Our Air Bnb host was a born and raised Bellano local and he gave us all the best spots to go to, including an incredible bakery for some breakfast pastries which we ate on the lake side before an incredible hike. We even found a pool which we had no trouble getting a swim at, which was rather hilariously, the only one we had no trouble with “nueto libero”. Also, we were welcomed with beautiful sunshine which elevated the entire experience just that bit more.
Our Air Bnb host in Bellano’s sweet endearing grandad told us that Florence was the best Italian City, despite our reluctance to leave the beautiful mountains we headed to the city of Leonardo Da Vinci next. Our Air Bnb in Florence was a loft conversion that looked as though it had come straight out of an Urban Outfitters blog post and both of us were hyped. We headed to a Gelateria in the evening and sat along the river feasting on our 3rd 3 scooper of the trip. Florence is a good vibe and everything is very close together, it has got a crowd of tourists running about the cultural heritage sites but it’s a little more spaced out the dense populations of the narrow Venetian streets. Again, my only problem with Florence is that is rained the entire time, again.
From Florence we decided we’d get out of the City for one last time before showing our rain-kissed faces in Rome. Google Maps showed a nice half way point on the coast by the town called Piombino, which I’d read had beautiful coastal trails for running and hiking. We stayed in a penthouse beach apartment which had another incredible view. That evening we cooked up our own Italian feast with some locally made ravioli which honestly was the best I’ve ever had. We headed to the beach and took in some sea air that was accompanied by the long-lost sun. That sweet vitamin D filled us up with nothing but good vibes and another place that I highly recommend as worth visiting if you’re ever road tripping Italy. I had an absolute beast of a hill session during my run along the beach trail too, my lungs were burning as since arriving in Italy I’d only been running along those flat river paths of the other cities.
Rome was hot. Finally, we’d found the sun, the mission was complete. Unfortunately, by this point in the trip we were dreading heading back into the crowds of tourists that we’d come to realise we loathed. Rome is an amazing city with a lot to offer and again, I had some incredibly good runs along the river – a path that not many people seem to use or be familiar with (if you are looking to avoid the hordes of tourists). Much like Venice, Rome is a city that has a strong tourism influx as it is and therefore, you’re greeted with the usual high prices, low quality goods and service that I think it’s such a shame is sold to people as ‘authentic’. I enjoyed Rome but I must say, if we took anything from this trip it’s that we like places with lakes, mountains, running trails and friendly swimming pools. Fortunate because our next plan is to road trip Austria!
Italy is beautiful and its full of fine food but if you want my advice, go off the beaten path and don’t take the touristic cities as the real deal.
If you want any other advice then feel free to message me.