Every summer thousands of people plan vacations to Italy based on what various guide books say they should see. A guidebook can be a terrific … well … guide, but when your entire trip is just following someone else’s checklist, you’re likely leaving out the very best parts. You’re likely missing your Italy!
Your Italy is what fires you up and gets you excited. It’s what you’re passionate about! Maybe for you it’s hiking, relaxing, exploring, drawing or eating. Although you might visit must-see sites in much-traveled areas, including some of your Italy in your vacation itinerary is what will make your trip all the more special – and unforgettable.
Here are 6 of my favorite ideas (sort of like “theme vacations”) for planning an itinerary that includes your Italy:
1. Village Walks: Villages walks in rural areas of Italy are wonderful because they are, indeed, filled with wonder. A vacation itinerary that centers around village walks might include a visit to a different medieval hill town every day. When my husband, Luigi, and I visit a village that’s new to us, we always walk it first – from bottom to top, and then winding back and forth along its narrow, cobbled lanes. It’s like breathing in the personality of the town, because each it so distinct. Those walks also include chatting with local residents, checking out hours to any museums or shops that catch our attention and (of course) asking around about a good place to lunch or dinner. Our leisurely village walks can easily consume an entire, glorious day.
2. Relaxation (and maybe some serious pampering): If relaxation is your Italy, a thermal springs/spa towns itinerary would be a great big slice of heaven, don’t you think? Of course you could book a week’s stay at any number of big-name spas, but we think trying several is much more interesting. Combine that with a few side trips to local, hot springs and you’ll be experiencing the best of Italy’s thermal soaking opportunities. Check out villages like San Casciano dei Bagni or Bagno Vignoni and where you can find both elegant, spa resorts and hot springs in the nearby countryside. Love that.
3. Culinary: Everyone loves the food and wine in Italy, but loads of visitors mistakenly think that the same dishes are served throughout different regions. Let’s dispel that myth. Not only does each region have its own specific foods, dishes and wines, but individual towns often do, as well. An ideal foodies’ itinerary in central Italy can be a culinary immersion into various areas and their food traditions, including taking part in activities such as hunting truffles, gathering chestnuts, making pasta, harvesting grapes or taking an authentic cooking lesson. Plus, if you stay in an apartment with a small kitchen you can frequent local, fresh food markets and get cooking tips from the vendors (we love doing this!).
4. Exploration: Exploration in rural Italy – specifically of historic sites – is one of our all-time favorite pastimes. From Etruscan necropoli (you can check on my guide book on Etruscan sites here) to Roman battle sites to medieval castles, the vast layers of history in Italy are virtually endless – and spectacularly beautiful. Creating an itinerary around historic sites can be romantic for couples (Special note to women: Men love this stuff!) and loads of fun for families. Plus, exploration should include some hiking, don’t you think? So for those who enjoy active vacations, exploring a different historic site each day is a winner all around. Tip: One interesting way to organize your itinerary is by timeline – Etruscans to Romans to Medieval to Renaissance.
5. Art: Italy is art. I remember my high school art teacher saying that, and he was right. Art is practically everywhere in Italy, and crafting a vacation itinerary around studying, viewing or making art (or all three) is an art-lovers paradise. One of the things we enjoy most about rural areas in central Italy, is that art is so accessible. Priceless masterpieces hang in humble, countryside churches and grand statues and fountains grace quiet piazze. An art-lovers itinerary could easily include daily side trips to towns where master artists worked, as well sketching or painting the very landscapes that inspired them. (My friend, artist and author, Diane Cardaci, makes this a practice!)
6. Spiritual: A spiritual vacation itinerary in less-traveled areas of central Italy should certainly include visits to those magnificent cathedrals that stand in so many historic centers, but that’s only the beginning. Centuries-old monasteries, convents and hermitages dot the countryside throughout Tuscany, Umbria and Lazio. Some are abandoned, some have been converted into hotels or resorts and many continue to operate as they have for hundreds of years. You might take day trips to places like the Abbey of Sant’ Antimo, the Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore or the beautiful and peaceful Celle Hermitage just outside Cortona. Incredible!
Why not consider what you love to do most before planning your Italy vacation? Although you might include in your trip itinerary some of those must-see sites in popular cites (Rome, Florence, Pisa …), why not craft the bulk of your itinerary based on what you’re most passionate about – your Italy – and create the vacation of a lifetime!
Pamela Haack is an Italy travel consultant and author of Off the Beaten Strada: Top 10 Favorite Etruscan Sites. She specializes in creating group trips and personalized experiences for travelers who enjoy active vacations in Italy – off the beaten strada.
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