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Italy trip planning Q&A. Welcome to our first Untold Italy Q&A. We thought we would try something different on the show and throw the floor over to you, our listeners. In this episode, we answered some of your burning questions about travel to Italy.
We had some great questions sent in via email and our online community – come along and join us there if you haven’t already. They are all great topics that were fun to answer because it involved a bit more explanation than you can pop into a response on Facebook. The questions range from practical – general travel information to restaurant booking tips, to exploring and inspiration including.. where to find the most romantic towns in Italy.
You’ll learn how to fit Pisa into your itinerary if you’re traveling between Florence and the Cinque Terre, what a “trabocco” is and why you should eat there. Thanks to everyone who wrote in with their questions. This won’t be the last time we do this as it was lots of fun, so stay tuned for more Q & A and Italy travel inspiration in the weeks to come.
For the latest information on travel to Italy including restrictions > click hereclick here to subscribe to podcast updates
Places mentioned in the show
- Pisa – Piazza dei Miracoli is where you will find the Leaning Tower
- La Spezia – main station for the Cinque Terre – there are trains to here from Pisa
- Romantic towns – Lake Orta – Orta San Giulio, Camogli on the Italian Riviera, Ortigia in Sicily, Verona near Lake Garda, and Pienza in Tuscany (plus 50 more small towns in Italy)
- Abruzzo, Molise, Puglia – regions where you will find the trabucco seafood restaurants
Companies and apps mentioned in the show
- Roscioli – Katy and Josie’s favorite restaurant in Rome
- Gucci Osteria by Massimo Bottura – Michelin starred restaurant in Florence by one of the world’s greatest chefs
- Luggage Hero and Radical Storage – useful luggage storage solutions often cheaper than the station option
- Restaurant booking apps: Open Table (Gucci Cafe is on here), The Fork, ResDiary (Roscioli is on here)
- Intrepid – recommended small group tours of Italy, including southern Italy
- Tourradar – group tours marketplace that is useful for finding tours that fit your interest and budget and for itinerary inspiration
Other Q & A Podcast episodes
- How to plan a trip to Italy – our article that takes you step by step through trip planning so you can avoid our mistakes
- Italy Travel Planning – our FREE online community where you can ask questions and get inspiration for planning your trip
- Travel shop where you’ll find items mentioned in the show
Prefer to read along as you listen? Below is a full transcript of this episode.
Ciao and benvenuti to Untold Italy. I’m Josie and I’m Katy and we’re here to help you plan your trip to Italy. Between us, we have many years of travel experience and we want to help you uncover your own as yet untold stories and adventures in Italy. Each episode you’ll hear practical advice, tips and ideas to help you plan your own trips to the magical land of history, stunning landscapes and a whole lot of pasta. We’ll have interviews from experts and focus on local destinations and frequently asked questions about travel in Italy. Thanks for listening and make sure to subscribe to our show now. Let’s get started on your regular dose of Bella Italia.
Ciao a tutti, Hi everyone. Hope the sun is shining and you are happy, safe and well wherever you are in the world. Did you know that even though we are based in Australia, our listeners come from so many different countries – all over the United States, Canada, UK, New Zealand (big hello to our kiwi friends!), South Africa, Norway, Germany, Ireland and of course Australia and Italy. We love this so much. It’s like a big global Italy loving hug. Welcome everyone!
It’s Katy here with a slightly different episode of Untold Italy. Today our episode is driven by you, our listeners, and some of the pressing questions you have about your trips to Italy. We emailed our subscribers and polled our Facebook group and you came up with some wonderful questions that I am thrilled to answer today. The podcast gives us a great opportunity to give a longer, more detailed answer to questions and some I had to do a bit of research for and reach out to my contacts. I even learned a few things and actually added a few to dos to my own list. Honestly, it never stops growing!
Before I get started though, if you would like to join our community on Facebook just search for the Italy Travel Planning group there or you’ll find a link in your podcast app under community. We run a pretty tight ship in our group and keep it fun and energetic. It’s full of people planning trips to Italy with great questions and inspirational photos and articles to help you plan your trip. We are often complimented on how well the group is run and I’m very proud of that. You’ll find positive vibes only in there.
Also if you would like our email updates you can go to untolditaly.com/podcastsubscribe and enter your details. We send you a bonus checklist for planning your trip to Italy when you sign up and never send spam, just our latest articles and podcast episodes about travel in Italy, plus special offers from ourselves and our partners. Hope to see you all there!
Question 1 – when can we travel to Italy
So now to get started with your wonderful questions and the first one is probably not a surprise as it is on everyone’s minds, especially if you don’t live in Europe. Both Terry and Ted wanted to know when they can travel to Italy.
And unfortunately there is no straightforward answer to that. Plus, as we have seen in 2020, things are subject to change at a moment’s notice. But here’s what we do know. Currently (at time of recording on 16th September 2020) residents of most European countries can enter Italy without restriction. You will need a negative covid test if you are coming from Spain, Greece, Croatia or Malta. Residents of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and a handful of other countries like Japan and South Korea may enter for tourism purposes but need to complete a 14 day quarantine.
Most other countries including the United States are only allowed into Italy for emergency reasons only under the categories of work, health, absolute necessity, returning home or to a place of residence or to study. Non married partners are also able to reunite. A 14 day quarantine applies here too. But the point is, most people outside Europe cannot enter Italy as a tourist. And these rules are to stay in place until 7th October. As to when these rules will change, well unfortunately that is anyone’s guess. Over the past few months the Italian government has actually increased restrictions. We do know that the current review point is prior to October 7th.
However, unless something radically changes with the virus situation I don’t see that being lifted unfortunately. Cases of covid are increasing rapidly all over Europe, including Italy. So if anything the rules may become stricter. But really only the government of Italy knows what the plan is and unfortunately I don’t have a direct line there – I wish I did.
I don’t find speculation particularly helpful but I am hopeful that with some medical advancements and other measures that we may see some resumption of travel in early 2021 but it is pure speculation at this point. A week is a long time in 2020 as we know. A lot can change quickly. On our Untold Italy website we have an article that we update as changes happen to travel restrictions. It’s on a button called “2020 travel update” at the top of the page. You can go there for the latest info. Let’s hope we dont need to keep updating that for too many more months and can get to Italy very soon.
So Terry and Ted, I’m sorry I don’t have a more definitive answer for you but stay tuned. As soon as things improve you’ll probably hear me celebrating in Australia.
Question 2 – Do I need to make dinner reservations? And if so what’s the best way?
Ok so onto question two and a question from Cassie who is always a positive and engaged member of our community. Shout out to you Cassie! We appreciate you. Cassie has some great questions about dinner reservations – how far in advance do you make them, do you always need one, is it better to call or use websites to book and are there apps you can use?
Such great questions Cassie and so important to get them right. Nothing worse than wandering around an Italian city knowing there is great food all around you but with no plan on how to access it.
Now there are a few variables here and they are not too different to what happens in most places around the world. You do need to book in advance for popular restaurants like my favorite Roscioli Salumeria in Rome especially at the main dinner time around 8.30 or 9pm. In fact with that place I would always book. You should have seen the sad faces being turned away as we tucked into our pasta in November last year. So for popular places like that make sure to book. And really anything that has been mentioned on the internet by someone of authority like Elizabeth Minchilli, Katie Parla, Rick Steves or even Untold Italy ahem! in english is probably going to fall into that category and need a booking because marketing to english speakers is not the Italians strongest point as a general rule.
Getting a walk up booking also depends on the time of year and time of day. If you eat early by Italian standards 7.30/8.00 pm then you have a better chance of finding a table without booking. In fact, often when we’ve done this to get our sleepy, hungry kids fed we’ve been the only people in the restaurant.
In peak season between May and October in the major tourist areas walk up bookings are less likely as usually there are many non European diners vying for tables. So really, if there is somewhere you want to dine at, then I would advise making reservations. There really is nothing worse than wandering around a strange city when you’re hungry. I rarely make a good restaurant decision then.
Now that we know making reservations is a good idea then when and how should you book. Ok in peak times and for in demand restaurants you should book around 3-4 weeks in advance to avoid disappointment. That was sufficient for me to secure a table at Florence’s Gucci Osteria by Massimo Bottura in early November last year. It was a wonderful dining experience right in the heart of the Piazza della Signoria. A bit of a treat and I loved it! I’d book 2 weeks in advance as a general rule although you can book days before if you’re there November to April. I like to be organized so I mostly book before we depart on our trip.
I think email or even WhatsApp (Italians love WhatsApp!) is the best way to secure your reservation. That way you have written confirmation of your booking and you can use Google translate to help make sure there is no confusion. I think it is ok to write it in English. Just start with a Buongiorno and end with Grazie and include the date, time, number of people and any special requests you may have – like outdoor seating or high chairs
There are also some useful apps like The Fork, Open Table and ResDiary where you can read reviews and access some special offers. The restaurants on there are limited though and mainly in Rome. Roscioli is on ResDiary and the Gucci Osteria is on Open Table but you won’t really get the broad range of options you would in the US, UK or Australia where booking by app is really the main way to book these days.
I’ll put all the links to those in the show notes for you though. I hope that answered your great questions Cassie and that we can start making reservations soon! I need that Roscioli alla gricia!
Question 3 – Should we include Pisa on our itinerary and how to get there
OK onto our next question from Sarah who wrote – Love the podcast! Here’s our question: For our first trip to Italy, is it worth making a stop in Pisa on our way to Florence? Our trip is 16 days in total and includes Rome, Florence, Cinque Terre and Venice.
Thanks for your kind words Sarah and I love the question. Sarah’s itinerary is the classic tour of Italy that is perfect for first timers. It’s great to see that there’s lots of time built in for exploring over 16 days and yes there is a way to add Pisa into your itinerary.
So Pisa is an interesting place, obviously famous for its leaning tower and in fact the whole area surrounding it – the Piazza dei Miracoli – is quite incredible because you also can visit the Cathedral, and Baptistry as well as the Campinile or belltower which we know as the leaning tower. They are full of beautiful art and sculptures and are impressive in their own right. These days most people skip through Pisa to take photos of themselves holding the tower up and other funny poses. And you know what, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. It’s fun and we had a great time enjoying the atmosphere there a few years ago. It was our first time in Pisa and even though we knew it would be busy it is one of those things I guess you just have to see. The tower was built over 800 years ago and has survived 4 earthquakes. It is such a beautiful structure.
So if you’re like us and want to see it, then you need to know a few things. Firstly it does get very very busy with tour bus groups so you need to expect crowds. To avoid these crowds go later in the afternoon when there are fewer buses to contend with. If you want to climb the tower it is best to book in advance so you have a set time that you can work around. You can book in advance 20 days before your visit. The tower is open from 10am to 6pm and often later in summer. There are over 250 steps to climb – no lift!
Pisa itself is a lovely university town that is worth exploring for a day but if you are on a tight schedule, here is a suggestion of how to fit it in as a day stop over if you are going by train from Florence to the Cinque Terre or vice versa. Pisa is actually a stop on your way to La Spezia.
So you take the train to Pisa from Florence or La Spezia and you can leave your luggage at the station and make your way to the tower. There is left luggage facilities at the station or access a luggage storage facility like LuggageHero which will be a nearby hotel or cafe. This is a really great option actually as sometimes the train station luggage holds become quite full. Then it is around a 20 minute walk or a short taxi ride to the tower from the station. Once you’ve spent an hour or two in Pisa simply go the station, collect your luggage and continue your onward journey.
It’s only an hour by train both from La Spezia to Pisa and Florence to Pisa, in fact quicker if you take the frecciarossa fast trains. So you can be having breakfast in Florence, lunch in Pisa and dinner overlooking the sea in the Cinque Terre.
Now obviously you can drive but with your itinerary it is actually much quicker and more convenient to go by train Sarah. We drove from Lucca where we were staying and there are a couple of huge car parks right near the entrance of the main piazza where the tower is but really, unless you plan to explore the countryside and have a base in Tuscany you will be slowed down by a car. Enjoy the train. It’s fabulous!
Hope that answers your question, Sarah. It’s always exciting planning your first trip and Italy will not disappoint. Most of the people in our community on facebook are on their 2nd or subsequent trip. It’s a place that really grabs your heart
Question 1 – What are some romantic towns in Italy?
Which brings me to Taylor’s question!
Taylor wrote –
There are so many questions that I would love to ask. My husband and I were planning a trip for this September but sadly had to cancel. I listen to your show every time one comes out!! I love them all and will be listening again to make sure I caught everything. What I would love to know is, besides the top known places that are visited often. What are the top 5 places that are romantic and a nice place to stay and walk around. A real Italian feel kind of place!
Since we had to place our trip on hold, we plan on saving more so we can go for 2 weeks!
Coming here from America!
I’m so sorry about your trip Taylor. This year has not been easy for any of us but the good news is we can spend a bit longer planning something even more amazing.
Now Everyone has their own definition of what’s romantic so I’ll do my best to answer and explain why I think they are romantic. And hopeful you can slot them into your travel plans
First up I am going to suggest Lake Orta and the town of Orta San Giulio. Many people rush to the big lakes – Como, Garda, Maggiore – but I love this smaller lake close to Milan. Not only does it have the perfect village atmosphere with cobbled streets, draping wisteria, and cafes overlooking the lake. But, the lake itself has an island in the middle that is home to a medieval monastery that seems to rise out of the lake.
Honestly It looks like it landed there straight out of a fairytale. You can get there on a little ferry and wander around. The surrounding area is really lovely too. There’s a whole hilltop where you’ll find a series of chapels devoted to St Francis of Assisi that is actually on UNESCO’s world heritage list. Yes, Lake Orta is definitely one to add to your list.
Secondly I am going to nominate Camogli. This cute fishing village south of Genoa stole my heart when we visited the Italian Riviera. Most visitors head to the Cinque Terre and Portofino, the most famous places in this region. They are, of course, undoubtedly beautiful. But Camogli has the colorful buildings overlooking the Ligurian Sea and a kind of retro relaxed vibe to it without the visitors.. It’s a lovely place to spend a few days, swimming, hiking, eating delicious focaccia and pesto pasta in a charming atmosphere. I can’t think of anything more romantic than that!
Next I am taking you to Sicily where the old town of Syracuse, called Ortigia, stole my heart. Ortigia has narrow streets, Baroque churches and elegant piazzas and it overlooks the sea. The city is over 3000 years old and it is comfortable in its own skin. By that I mean, things go on just as they have for centuries without fuss. You can spend hours just wandering the streets, stopping for a granita (a Sicilian gelato) or popping your head into shops. You can take boat rides or just lounge in the sun.
My fourth pick is Verona and not because it was the home of Shakespeares star crossed lovers Rome and Juliet but because it is simply a charming city and one that I think of often. You can actually visit Juliet’s balcony in Verona and to be honest that’s not great and crammed with visitors. Instead enjoy a walk through the piazzas and marvel at the intact Roman amphitheater that is still used for concerts to this day. Take a walk along the Adige river that flows through the city and cross the Ponte di Castelvecchio to get to the city’s castle. Verona is a dream. Such a pretty city and so romantic!
Lastly – Pienza in Tuscany was actually created as the model Italian town several hundred years ago by an enterprising pope. It’s one of the towns of the Val D’Orcia, the region made famous in the book Under the Tuscan Sun. If you can imagine, this is the place of rolling hills and pointed cypress trees of southern Tuscany. Pienza over looks this valley and there are many vantage points for breathtaking views from the town walls. The towns cobbled streets are also very romantic. They are lined with pot plants and shuttered windows. And in Pienza you’ll find streets named lovingly, Via del Bacio or Kiss Street and it doesnt get any more romantic than that!
I hope that’s given you some inspiration Taylor, it certainly was a tough job narrowing it down to just 5!
Question 5 – How to get around Puglia and eating at a trabucco
And finally onto Kim in Kentucky, USA who had a few questions for us about travel in Puglia. Kim wrote –
Q4 – Really enjoying the podcast while awaiting the opportunity to finally make our trip back to Italy for a month next April.
Have you ever had the experience of dining at a Trabocco? We are hoping to spend some time in the Bari, Brindisi, Alberobello area. Anything you would recommend in the way of travel between locations (we are thinking we will drive)? Would a tour be better… any you would recommend? What are some “don’t miss” sights in those regions… we are wine lovers, too!
Thanks and keep up the great podcast!!!
Ah grazie, thank you Kim. So glad you enjoy the show. Now we do have a full episode planned on Puglia. Actually several! We had 10 days planned here in March this year where we planned to visit all these places. Obviously this did not go ahead, so we are bringing in an expert to tell you all about it very soon.
What I will say though to answer some of your questions, is yes, to make the most of this area you will need a car or to join a tour. The public transport in this area is pretty slow and patchy so unless you have lots of time and are happy with a very slow pace of travel, a car is the best option. We decided to drive after chatting with lots of friends and the driving here is pretty easy and straightforward compared with the more built up areas of Italy further north and close to Naples.
If you were going to choose a tour, you have a few options. Some of the bigger tour companies are extending their reach into Puglia and offering Southern Italy tours that also take in Naples, Amalfi Coast, and Basilicata (for Matera mostly). I know Intrepid have a very highly rated southern Italy tour that does just this. I can’t speak highly enough about Intrepid. I prefer to travel independently now we have small kids but in the past I’ve used them and they are fantastic. Wonderfully designed tours and fantastic guides and they have a strong commitment to working with local communities. I’ll post a link to this tour up on our website for you to take a look. They actually also have a southern Italian food and wine experience which looks pretty amazing too.
If you’d like an active or walking trip there are also some very interesting looking cycling and hiking trips around Puglia which you can do as part of a group or as a self guided experience. And there are lots of food based tours because the cuisine in this part of the world (and the wine!) is extremely delicious, fresh and memorable. Even when I am planning our independent activities I check out what’s on offer on Tourradar. It’s a marketplace for multiday tours with lots of listings. You can see the itineraries and it gives you a rough idea of what’s possible. Of course you cannot possibly replicate the logistics and contacts they have but it’s a good starting point if you enjoy planning all the details of your trip. I’ll put that link up on the notes for this episode of course.
And you also had a question about – trabocco or trabucco. And I absolutely love this question So for all our listeners, a trabocco is kind of an ancient fishing machine made of wood and built on stilts that juts out over the water on the Adriatic Coast. Nets attached to long poles catch fish in a centuries old fishing technique. They are found mostly in the region of Abruzzo along what is known as the Trabocchi coast but also in the regions of Molise and in the north of Puglia in the area of the Gargano National Park. More recently these structures have been renovated and turned into outdoor dining restaurants. They are quite rustic so dont expect a glamorous dining experience. .So if you can imagine, it is a covered wooden platform over the sea and it’s very atmospheric. And of course they generally specialise in fish dishes.
Kim we had one booked for our trip that never went ahead and that was Al Trabucco da Mimi which gets lots of amazing reviews for its updated traditional recipes. I was so excited about it because our whole family loves seafood and there’s nothing better than when it is straight from the sea. Mmmmm spaghetti alle vongole! Yum
We also looked at “il Trabucco”, which is on the coast road between Peschici and Vieste in Punta di Manaccora
Our friends the Italian on Tour who run small group tours in Abruzzo recommend Trabocco punta rocciosa and penelope a mare further north up the coast.
I hope that helps Kim. As I said, we’ll have more on Puglia in upcoming episodes. So stay tuned for that.
Wow, what great questions and they really got me thinking and checking in with my favorite people and resources in Italy for some answers. I hope you all found them useful for your trip planning.
Now we didnt have time this week to do another of the questions that came from Sofija and Lesley. They wanted to know about the smaller, lesser known cities we recommend visiting. That’s such a great question that we’ll do a full episode on it next week. I’m very excited about that! There are so many great options and I’ll cover them in a bit more detail so you can really get a good idea of what’s possible.
So grazie, thank YOU all for your questions. It’s so great to hear that you continue to dream and plan your trips. And I know all our friends in Italy are happy about this too. It’s been a very tough year for everyone.
Grazie, thank you so much for listening and being part of our amazing audience. It would be amazing if you could leave us a rating or review in your favorite podcast app. That keeps us smiling and the creative juices flowing to bring you more about bella Italia. Ciao for now!