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Italy is a European country like no other! A wise traveler once said, ‘Put all of Europe on one side and Italy on the other and Italy will still come up trumps’. Maybe it’s as true for their brand of football, wine and food as well, but I guess in his mildly inebriated state he meant it from the tourism point of view! This boot-shaped country has got beautiful landscape with a remarkable coastline and mountains, rolling wine country, an ancient culture which is hard to beat and architecture which will take your breath away. And after you have been suitably mesmerized by Rome, Florence and the Tuscany region, you land up in Venice and think, what the hell were these guys up to? How could they pull off such an incredible feat as building the city of Venice? And then off course there’s the incredible food and wine and the typical Italian way of life ~La Dolce Vita~
1) That Italy is NOT for a hop-skip-jump visit.
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If you are looking at Italy as a 3 night stopover in Rome, don’t waste your time. Go someplace else. That’s a frank advice. You can’t do justice to what this country did in 5000 years and attempt to even try and understand it in 3 days. Minimum spend 10 days. Anything short of that is a blasphemy! Rome and the Vatican needs 4 days; Florence and Tuscany another 4 days; Venice a good 2 full days; Amalfi Coast another 3days. Then there’s Sicily which if you want to get a feel you need 4days. Exploring it would require 6-7 days. And we haven’t covered Milan and the Lake Como region or the Dolomites! So, there you are. In 10 days you would be able to rush through Rome, Florence and a stay in a Tuscan villa, Venice and a bit of the Amalfi Coast.
2) Make a wishlist and dump that checklist.
For those who want to see a bit of everything and have a hassle free guided tour where even your meals are accounted for, go for the coach tours. Yeah bring out your laundry list for Italy! But if you have your own wishlist and want to see the Duomo in Florence at leisure or check out the ambiance of Tuscany by staying on a farm or a villa or want to enter Venice in style aboard a cruising yacht or spend endless hours in a piazza in Rome or stand transfixed for hours on end in front of the Coliseum, or stay in Taormina in Sicily for the awesome views of Mt.Etna and the Mediterranean, then go for the independent holidays. Don’t get chaperoned like on a guided coach tour and spend all your time in the world to savor the beauty of Italy like you would your red wine while seated in a café in front of the Pantheon or at the Trevi fountain!
3) Add that ‘self drive’ star to your trip.
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Firstly, the ‘self-drive’ houseboat holidays near Venice. It’s a lifestyle holiday that’s so reasonably priced that it’s quite unbelievable. Imagine having a private yacht with 1-4 cabins with en suite loos, a small kitchenette, its own music system, the freedom to navigate down the river, choosing where you want to eat, where you want to moor and go for long walks or cycle down pretty pathways in villages you would never have seen otherwise. The second is self drive car holidays all over mainland Italy where we will chalk out your route and book you in pretty places all over Italy. The 3rd is the enchanting and myth laden island of Sicily. From short breaks to 10 day holidays in Sicily and covering Taormina, a climb to Mt. Etna, Cefalu, Palermo, Agrigento etc.
4) Don’t throw caution to the wind.
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They have never given suparis to Indian tourists. Not even in Sicily. At least not yet. The Godfathers are yet to hear about ‘India Shining’ out there. But yes, we keep hearing from people or reading in news that there have been purse snatching or pickpocketing. I have never ‘met’ someone who has been at the wrong end of Italian hospitality. But since they say its that way in Italy, why not just be more careful and don’t go hanging your new Mont Blanc wallet around your neck!
5) Don’t visit at the wrong time of year and regret.
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June to Sep is summer. The scent of a warm summer breeze, pretty cafes open till late at night, fashion laden locals and hordes of mesmerized tourists waltzing down every narrow lane, music pouring out from street corners and pubs. It’s a heady cocktail of splendid architecture, food & wine, fashion, amazing landscapes and warm people. You will find it hard not be swept into the philosophy of La dolce vita. Apr/May & Oct would have a bit of all that but less in its intensity as well as price.
6) Don’t be the last minute Indian while VISA application.
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Not a problem, if you have your papers in order. In perfect order. It’s a Schengen country. But during the summer months, the consulate is loaded with applications, so don’t plan to apply at the last moment.
7) Don’t club in random countries with Italy and regret later.
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France, Switzerland and Austria make a good combination. All of them are well connected by trains. For eg, you can combine Geneva (Switzerland), Chamonix (France) with a trip to Lake Como and Milan in Italy. Or you could wander to the Lake side triangle of Lugano (Switzerland), Como and Maggiore in Italy. The schengen visa will suffice for all these countries.
8) Exercise caution while hotel booking for ultimate savings.
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It depends entirely on your budget and the kind of location you like. But we would advise that in Rome choose a centrally located hotel between the Tiber river and Termini stn. Preferably within walking distance of the metro. In Florence choose any hotel close to the station. It’s a walking town. In Tuscany if you want to stay in a vineyard or on a farm, there are plenty of places to choose from. Check with us for ideas. In Venice, if you stay ‘inside’ Venice city, then prepare to pay a stratospheric price for a measly sized room but you may hear the gondola guys serenade you right below the window! Or you may opt to stay instead at Mestre, which is just across the creek and a 3min train ride away. Here you will get a decent 4 star hotel (eg Hotel Bologna) at the cost of a ‘so-called’ 3star hotel in Venice city.
9) Eat through Italy.
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Italy is a foodie’s delight. The further south you travel the more elaborate the meal becomes, so much so that in Sicily, 1-4pm is siesta time which I guess is more to do with their lunch than with rest. If an Italian decides to host you for lunch or dinner, do keep aside 2-3 hrs for that and no meetings afterwards. Nothing is short of a 3-course meal with wine overflowing. It’s not a Veg food paradise, but veggies will survive well. Indian restaurants are there in the main cities but these are not cheap. A simple dinner for 2 at the only Indian restaurant in Venice will set you back by Euro 40-50. Tap water is safe for drinking in Italy. But then in Italy who drinks water!
Holler if you finally want to take that Italy vacation or just click here to see our awesome Italy package: 16 Days Italy – The Wanderers Way!