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Over 13 days in August of 2013, we drove through Italy covering ground from Venice to Rome, traveling through Cinque Terre, Pisa, Florence and including a fascinating journey through Tuscany. Three of these towns also made it to the list of Top 5 smallest European towns we have stayed at.
Here is our itinerary, touching upon the places we stayed at and the number of days spent at each location. 13 days does not even scratch the surface, but does give you a good teaser to come back to the country to spend better time at locations that you found most enjoyable.
We flew into Venice on a muggy August afternoon, took the water taxi into the city, stayed very close to San Marco square anticipating all the morning photography, and spent 2 days exploring Venice, Murano and Burano. The hotel we stayed at, Al Codega, was nothing special nor anything terrible. Great location and reasonably comfortable.
Day 3, driving out from Venice, we drove to Verona primarily for the opera taking place in the Roman Arena (shown on the left). Of course, taking a detour to the Romeo and Juliet house was interesting. We camped at the fabulous Ca’ Maddalena in the adjoining town of Villafranca di Verona for the night.
On Day 4, we drove through the town of Borghetto, stopping for a home cooked meal at a roadside mom and pop restaurant before heading down to La Spezia. Dropping the car at the station, we hopped on a quick 20 minute train ride to Manarola in Cinque Terre. Affitacamere San Giorgio was a clean spacious hotel close to the cliff-side facade of the town and a hop away from the station. Manarola, or for that matter any Cinque Terre town, would be a fabulous place to spend the night.
The next day, we took the train back to La Spezia and drove to Florence with a quick stopover at the Leaning Tower in Pisa. We were finally in Tuscany, and three of our most magical hotel stay experiences took place over the next 3 days. Starting with I Parigi Corbinelli about 30 minutes from Florence, where we ended up getting the entire top floor of what seemed like a medieval castle, along with terrace access. This bed and breakfast is highly highly recommended.
Day 6 was spent exploring Florence, but we headed out late evening towards Palazzo San Lorenzo where we spent the night in another marvelous hotel in the fascinating medieval town of Colle di Val d’Elsa.
The next morning, we drove down to San Gimignano (featured on the left) for the morning, stopping along the myriad sunflower fields in full bloom all along the roadside, spending the night at yet another fabulous agrotourismo mansion, Fattoria Pieve a Salti near the small town of Buonconvento. This was probably the most isolated and yet, charming, stay we have had in Europe till this point in time.
Day 8 was again about Tuscany, but primarily about wine and vineyards. We drove around the Val d’Orcia, from Montalcino to Montepulciano and numerous other towns in between. The highlight was a visit to Castello Banfi and our discovery of Pecorino cheese with honey. Hundreds of miles of rolling hills covered with vineyards and their castellos with carefully manicured gardens dotting those hillsides – simply fascinating. One could retire here.
We drove down to Assisi for staying the night on Day 8 at Hotel Berti – conveniently located but nothing out of the ordinary. We spent the next day exploring Assisi before finally heading down to Rome and dropping the car. From now on we were on foot, cab, and tourist bus. That evening, we ended up exploring the Trevi Fountain in Rome as it was pretty much outside our hotel door.