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On an Italy trip from the top to the toe you will experience the diversity that makes Italy so amazing and keeps us coming back. It’s always great to hear how others go about doing things. It often sparks new ideas and maybe a different way of looking at how and where you’d like to travel.
We talk to Michael Smit, who with his wife Hana, spent 25 days traveling all across Italy, including fitting in a trip to where his grandfather originated from. Their trip took in an enormous variety of locations, including Milan, Florence, Rome, the Amalfi Coast, heading south to Matera in the Basilicata region and Alberobello in Puglia, before heading over to Sicily, where his family heritage was found in the stunning Aeolian Islands.
What you’ll learn in this episode
- In the South of Italy, it’s better to drive or take a tour, as the public transport system is not as good as in the North and Central Italy – where traveling around independently is much easier
- Climbing up the Florence Duomo for the views is well worth it, but if you climb the Campanile Bell Tower, your wonderful views will also include the stunning Duomo rooftops
- You can take some wonderful day trips from Florence – out to amazing towns, as Michael did, including Cortona, Assissi, Monteriggioni, and San Gimignano. Great to give you a taster of somewhere you might like to base yourself on a future Tuscan trip
- The Trastevere neighborhood in Rome is lovely to explore, as well as a great place to stay – with its charming atmosphere and proximity to all the main sites
- When you want to see a lot in a short period of time, a tour, can be a great way of doing that, as well as to have some interesting experiences that could be tricky to arrange by yourself. Michael’s Insight Vacations tour went from Rome to the Amalfi Coast, across to Matera in the region of Basilicata, on to Alberobello in Puglia before the last leg in Sicily
- Experiences that incorporate various local highlights are great – a trip to a restaurant set in a conical white Trulli, which includes being taught pasta making by a nonna – what’s not to love?
- Tours don’t always mean you have to be taken around by a guide. Sometimes you can just book someone to provide transport and point you in the right direction and then leave you to your own devices
- When visiting the places your family originated from, it can sometimes be easier than you think to stumble upon a connection – as Michael did when the first person he chatted to had the family name. Others can be a little more complex than you’d – as they found when they spent a chunk of their day trying to find the entrance to the cemetery where his great grandparents are buried.
- Off the small Aeolian Island of Stromboli, the even smaller Strombolicchio has Italy’s most active volcano which has been erupting for more than 2000 years. It erupts about every twenty minutes and strombolian activity is an actual term that means continuous explosion
- The Valley of the Temples in Agrigento is an ancient Greek settlement in Sicily, on the top of the hill looming over the ocean. It’s incredible these that many of these building are still standing tall after over 2000 years
About our guest – Michael Smit
Michael was born and grew up in Sydney and currently lives in Cabarita in Sydney’s Inner West. He is a professional engineer in the telecommunications industry and has always loved to travel. He and his wife, Hana, have had more opportunities to travel recently, as his daughter is now grown up.
He has Italian heritage, with his grandfather being born in Panarea, in the Aeolian Islands of Sicily. His grandfather moved to Australia and met and married Michael’s Irish grandmother. Michael’s mother married a Dutchman and so he is half Dutch, quarter Italian and quarter Irish. To mix it up further his wife is a Chaldean (a Christian minority) from Iraq.
They’ve been to Italy three times, first in 2009, where they spent 5 days in Rome, secondly in 2017 where they spent 2 days in Venice and then in 2019 they did the 25-day top-to-toe trip we are talking about here.
Places mentioned in the show
- Sforzesco Castle – Castello Sforzesco in Milan originally built in the 15th century later renovated and enlarged, in the 16th and 17th centuries to become one of the largest citadels in Europe. Much of it was rebuilt in the late 1891–1905 and now houses several of the city’s museums and art collections
- Milan Duomo – the city’s majestic Gothic cathedral. Well worth a tour as the interior has incredible stained glass windows if you venture up onto the roof you get great views of the city
- Cortona, Assissi, Monteriggioni, San Gimignano – gorgeous Tuscan towns you can visit on a day trip from Florence
- Uffizi Gallery – incredible gallery in Rome
- Campanile – bell tower in Rome with great views over the city
- Trastevere – neighborhood in Rome full of charm and only a stone-throw from the main sights so great area to stay
- Piazza Navona – famous piazza in Rome
- Campo de Fiori – another square in Rome, famous for its market
- Sorrento – though not strictly on the Amalfi Coast, it is a great base for exploring the area
- Positano – an Amalfi Coast favorite. Find out more about this beautiful town in Positano: Beaches, Boats and Beautiful views
- Capri – the famous, gorgeous, and glamourous island off the Amalfi Coast
- Matera – in the region of Basilicata, known for its cave dwellings
- Alberobello – town in Puglia famous for it’s Trulli
- Taormina – a hilltop town on the east coast of Sicily
- Giardini Naxos – a town situated on a bay that lies between Cape Taormina and Cape Schisò
- Panarea, Vulcano, Lipari, Stomboli – all part of the Aeolian Islands off the coast of Sicily
- Valley of the Temples, Agrigento – read more about it in Valley of the Temples – Visitor Guide and Highlights
- Palermo – the capital city of Sicily
- Insight Vacations – who Michael booked his Top to Toe trip with
- masseria – a fortified village
- orecchiette – pasta shaped like an ear
Resources from Untold Italy
- Planning a trip to Italy? Our How to Plan an Italy Trip guide is a step by step guide covering everything from flight booking and itinerary planning to hotels, accommodation and tours. Perfect for first-timers and those just feeling overwhelmed not knowing where to start or even where to go!
- Listen: discover episodes on planning your travel around Italy – Episode #053: Planning the perfect Italy itinerary with Corinna Cooke, Episode #011: Getting around Italy by train, car, bus, plane and more and Episode #002: Italy Itinerary Planning Tips and listen to some other trip reports in Episode #078 Family adventures in Rome and Sorrento, Episode #082 Returning to Italy again and again and Episode #084 A walking tour of the Amalfi Coast
- 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? You can download a PDF version of the full transcript of this episode.