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Episode #151: 2023 Italy trip planning with 2022 hindsight

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If you’re planning a trip to Italy in 2023 or beyond, it can be invaluable to learn from the lessons of 2022 travelers – about what has changed, any mistakes they’ve made & other tips & tricks. Recent events have meant changes to world travel in general and Italy is no exception, and with Bella Italia being more popular than ever, it’s good to think about how best to strategize your planning for the ultimate Italy trip.

Show notes
Untold Travel founder Katy spent a total of 8 weeks in Italy this year and has learned some valuable lessons along the way. She was glad she was able to spend so much time in her beloved Italy this year, gathering inspiration and ideas for years to come and wants to share everything she has learned with you. 

What you’ll learn in this episode

There are many reasons why we all love Italy – the people, the history, the food, the architecture, the art, and the combination of all of the above. This leads to Italy being very popular, and we can’t see that changing anytime soon. For many of us, it’s also one of those places that you want to keep returning to – going deeper into and exploring. Most people will want to go back a second, third, fourth time, or until they lose count. Part of the reason it’s so great to keep going back. Italy is very diverse. You can spend time in the north in Piedmontewhere it’s mountainous with lakes and beautiful wooded hills and with vineyards that go on for miles. But then you can go south to Puglia where the landscape and culture are completely different. They have ancient olive trees in red earth, branching out as far as the eye can see. A total contrast between just two of the Italian regions. 

In Italy, tourism in 2022 was busier than in 2019 and that’s without any Chinese or Russian tourists due to world events – who usually make up a decent percentage of the tourists. 

Katy and many others who visited Italy in 2022 found it to be incredibly busy in the major tourist areas –  Rome, Florence, Venice, parts of Tuscany, the Cinque Terre, the Amalfi Coast, and around Lake Como. If you like to wing it when you travel, it’s probably best to avoid these areas. You can go free and easy in Italy but it would have to be outside the main tourist areas and attractions.

If you don’t do some serious forward planning here you may get frustrated and find limited availability and very high prices, so we suggest you get organized as soon as possible. 

How to get organized?

Book your flights and accommodation as soon as you can!

We heard from Glam Guide author Corinna Cooke in our last episode on what to wear in Italy about how some of her favorite accommodation options had already been snapped up for September 2023! This is especially true if you’re traveling as a larger group or are a family with more than 2 kids when accommodation options are limited in this category so get onto this job straight away.

Booking your accommodation

If you’re planning to travel in 2023 you should get onto this job straight away. We always use Booking.com or the Plum Guides for accommodation in Italy, You can see the type of room that you’re getting, there are lots of pictures, you can read lots of reviews, and the cancelation clauses are very clear.

A lot of people like to book direct to hotels in Italy, and we understand that direct, more money goes to the end accommodation and perhaps if you’re re-visiting somewhere you’re familiar with, that makes sense. However, what we find, unfortunately, is that the booking systems of many, (even higher-end) accommodation in Italy, are not very good. Often you can’t book online booking and not only does it take a lot of time to be going backwards and forwards with lots of emails, but it also means any cancellations or changes become tricky. Booking.com does give an incredibly easy experience and the details should outline exactly what you’re going to get and they do actually providing a pretty good service to these operators, as they would likely not be able to be found so easily and get so many bookings themselves.

TIP: work out where you want to stay in the major cities and narrow down your choices from there. 

We have many useful accommodation guides to help you book your travel:

Rome

When in Rome, Katy really likes to stay around the Pantheon area because you can walk to almost everywhere you want to go, so you won’t probably need too many taxis or use public transportation. It’s got a really nice vibe,  there are lots of restaurants and fun things to do and there are ruins around every corner. It’s a travel rut that she’s decided to stay in for the foreseeable future. We think it’s the perfect option for first-timers too. Other great options are near the Colosseum and in the vibrant Trastevere neighborhood.

Venice

Tuscany

Amalfi Coast

Other Italy

Reviews – read, re-read and read again

Don’t just skim the reviews – read and re-read them. They can be invaluable to give you real insights into a place. If you don’t like being in a noisy area, people will often say on the reviews, if it was really noisy because of the bar next door.

Consider your location carefully

You might, for instance, find a place that sounds perfect for you – with excellent reviews, very close to San Marco Square in Venice but do stop and consider how are you going to get there with your luggage and then continue with your onward journey – it is zero fun squeezing onto a crowded Vaporetto (especially if you’ve got bulky luggage or children in tow).

Airport transfers

Busy tourism also means lots of lines and waiting, so get ahead of that as much as you can. Sure you might have to spend a few more euros organizing a transfer from the airport to your accommodation but consider waiting 30-40 minutes for a taxi and eating into your precious vacation time and it can get more complicated if there are more than 4 of you as you won’t fit into the standard size taxi. Prebooking a transfer can save a lot of hassle. We have guides detailing the alternative ways to transfer, how to book and the average costs, for Rome airport transfers and Venice airport transfers

Tours and attractions

Tours and attractions do need you to book ahead of time. and it’s important that you do that because especially in the summer time, the early morning slots go first and it can get really, really hot inside the Colosseum and also the Vatican Museums where there is no air conditioning. So booking ahead and grabbing the better time slots in the morning means you’re sorted and then you can do your wandering later in the day. Alternatively, evening slots when it’s cooler and also often magical, book up quickly.

A classic example is in Milan, people often miss out on The Last Supper painting as people think they can just turn up and buy tickets, whereas you need to book those tickets well in advance. Typically in Italy, the tickets aren’t released until 30 to 60 days in advance, but if you book a tour, you can get ahead of those.

Best booking and tour sites

Other tour and ticket resources:

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Consider a trip to the Amalfi Coast carefully

There has never been a busier time on the Amalfi Coast than between May and October in 2022. It was very crowded, very expensive, and generally not relaxing. Katy experienced this herself and feedback from both visitors and people working there is that, whilst people are happy to have tourists back, it was pretty overwhelming. 

We understand that it might be your dream to visit the Amalfi Coast, but do consider that the photos you see on Instagram and on the internet are potentially not what you are likely to experience. If do go in there with your eyes wide open in that regard, then that’s good, but if you’re expecting sweeping vistas with no people and beaches that are relaxing, then, unfortunately, you probably (unless you do a ton of research about the secret stuff) you may not find quite what you were hoping for.

Positano

Katy had some feedback from a listener that there weren’t very many restaurants listed in our Positano guide. The reason is that it’s a really small town – there simply are not that many restaurants there. If you’re going to join the many flocking to Positano, expect it to be crowded and expensive. If it’s not – fantastic, lucky you, but unfortunately the less-crowded times tend to be out of season when lots of things are shut. Even getting there and getting out, can be hard work because obviously, you can either go by road or by ferry.

When we think of Positano, we think of luxury. But when we generally think of what luxury is – crowded is not it. We think of unique and special experiences and having things more to ourselves. There’s a gap between those two concepts of Positano and luxury. Unless, of course, you are a movie star and you’re staying at some of the really lux hotels where you can afford to do everything privately.

There are plenty of other options in Itlay and even along the Amalfi Coast itself – Minori, Maori, and Ravello for instance. Some of them even have a sandy beach, which is not what you’re going to find in Positano.

If Katy had five days to spend somewhere on the coast, she would spend it in Puglia, rather than the Amalfi Coast – because it’s just a different and much more relaxed vibe. There are still beach clubs and the usual seaside benefits, but it’s not that hustle that you’re going to get on the Amalfi Coast. 

When to go

Katy did travel this year in May, June, and early July, and then in late September and early October – when everywhere was super busy and crowded. These are not the times she’d prefer to travel in Italy – she much prefers to go in April/May and October/November. That’s because she’s generally not going for the beach, she’s going for a different reason. Some people want to go during beach-friendly times, but also many people can’t travel during non-peak times due to work and family commitments. But in April/May, and October/November it’s not as crowded, there are more festivals and exciting things happening in the Spring and Harvest time.

Where to go

Reflecting on her time in Italy in 2022, it was really the smaller towns, countryside areas, and lesser-known regions that had something really special – that Katy enjoyed the most. 

Cilento Coast

As we said, you don’t always have flexibility regarding when to go and next year Katy is going back to Italy in September to coincide with the school holidays in Australia. So they are planning to head south of the Amalfi Coast to the Cilento coast. We’ve talked about Cilento in an earlier podcast episode with Danielle Oteri. They are headed to the beautiful small hotel Danielle’s family has down there. There are fantastic beaches, beach clubs, life-changing buffalo mozzarella, it’s cheaper and it’s not that difficult to get.

Umbria

Umbria has just made Lonely Planet’s must-visit list for 2023, thanks to its incredible food culture, so the cat’s out of the bag on that one, but it’s still of the main tourist trails. Umbria is a stunning region and there are so few tourists there – despite being right next to Tuscany. You would need a car to get around, or you can join a tour (like our Untold Italy Umbria tours). It’s a beautiful, rustic region with amazing food.

Emilia Romagna

This region around Bologna, Modena, and Palma is definitely one for foodies. There’s the Parmigiano Reggiano, the Prosciutto di Palma, the Balsamic vinegar de Modena just for starters. The people there are so charming and friendly, there are cute little towns and did we mention the food? We can’t understand why more people aren’t going there. Katy went to the dairy where Stanley Tucci went, in his Searching for Italy series, and where Massimo Bottura, one of the best chefs in the world, gets his cheese from. Katy’s son got so excited by what he learned about balsamic vinegar that at just he’s nine years old, he wants to be a balsamic vinegar producer. What an experience!

Lombardy and Veneto

Two glorious regions, full of lakes and mountains. These are areas that can be quite busy because they are popular with European travelers, but you don’t see many people English-speakers there. It’s another beautiful area with friendly people, and delicious food – well worth exploring.

Puglia

A magical region of the south with distinct architecture, friendly people, and different but delicious food – especially seafood. It’s just one of those places where you just think ‘wow, I just definitely need to go come back here’. There’s fascinating history, delightful beaches, and port towns, the famous Trulli and inland, the olive trees in the red earth groves.

First time?

If it’s your first trip to Italy, then do go ahead and see those highlights, but if you want the most awesome trip ever – it also pays to be a bit curious. Mix it up with a combination of classic sights and lesser-known areas. For example:

Anacapri

On Capri, most people would just spend their whole time in Capri Town, which is very chic – with all the designer shops, but it is also very popular and very busy. Katy recently stayed in Anacapri, which is a beautiful little town with a more local, neighborhood feel. Her kids made friends with a ceramic seller, who they call their Capri grandfather. You’re away from the hustle and bustle of Capri, but if you want to tip in and quickly and easily see that side of things, before retreating to Anacapri.

Lesser-known Tuscany

Tuscany is huge and there are wonderful well-known places to go like Siena and San Gimignano but they are very popular and get really busy. When Katy and the family when to Arezzo, however, and it was pretty much empty of tourists in a peak time – surprisingly so. If you’re staying in Florence, one day you could do the sights of Florence, and then the next day, jump on the train to Arezzo and just wander around feeling like you’re in a movie scene from the movie Life Is Beautiful. There are lots of towns and cities in Tuscany that you can explore. Who wouldn’t want to be the one to tell your friends that you found this amazing town in Tuscany?

Experiences are everything

A lot of the experiences you can have can be from just simply wandering around the cities, towns, and villages of Italy. But if you want to do a paid immersive experience, you should first think about the things that are going to mean the most to you.

If you want to do a cooking class, choose one that suits your ability and is reflective of the local cuisine. You could learn to make carbonara in Venice – but that’s not what they do – the Romans are the experts on that. If you’re an amazing cook then you could go for something complicated, but it might be it suits you more to find something you can re-create at home and share with family and friends. 

If you love dogs, you could join a truffle hunt. The relationship between the truffle hunter and his dogs is a wonder is incredible to watch. There’s such connection and trust – an amazing relationship. This is another great experience if you love food too – when you get to taste this unique treasure at the end of the hunt.

if you love history, hire a local guide and you can find the sites come alive with their story-telling. We continue to support some of the vendors that we think offer truly outstanding experiences in Italy, like Liv Tours and Take Walks. It depends on your budget and how much time you can afford to spend, but it generally makes a huge difference to your experience because, unfortunately, in Italy, a lot of the sites are not well-marked. Down near Sorrento Untold podcast favorite Pierpaulo of Joe Banana Travel showed Katy’s family a great time in Naples as well as around Pompeii and Herculaneum.

One of the most outstanding experiences they had was staying in an agriturismo (farm stay) near Modena. The family made balsamic vinegar. and Katy’s kids are still talking about that experience – those are the kind of memories that you have that you’re going to take home with immersive experiences. That was the main thing they learned on their trip in 2022 – to have more of those local experiences in the countryside because they’re so very special.

Increasing prices

This will not come as a surprise to anyone, but prices are increasing in Italy, as they are for most services around the world right now. We’re seeing increases of 20-30%, so it can really pay to get in early and lock in pricing now. It is best to act quickly and decisively with bookings and benefit from good deals. 

At the time of recording, there are many Black Friday deals you can take advantage of including 20-25% off day tours and experiences and 40-60% off language courses as an example. Plus lots of deals on travel gear and suitcases etc. 

DISCOVER: Our curated list of Black Friday deals.

We like to think if you make some savings upfront you can then allocate the money saved to something else. Katy made some major purchases on her trips to Italy this year including a linen tablecloth in Sicily with the design of the moor’s head and princess on that she simply can’t wait to get it out at Christmas time. 

Final Thoughts

At Untold Italy, we believe you should travel your own way and learn from your own experiences. When everybody wants to see the same things at the same time, it’s very difficult to convince people to look in different directions. But it is worth really sitting down and thinking about the trip you want to have – you have so many options in Italy and a myriad of ways to spend a few hours. 

Everyone wants to go to the Uffizi Gallery, everyone wants to see David in Florence, and everyone wants to go to the Vatican Museums and see the Sistine Chapel. And we get it – because those are incredible sites and part of the world’s fabric and the legend that is Italy. But if you miss out on seeing any of those major sites you don’t miss. out on seeing Italy. There are so many things you can do in Italy, and we don’t believe that you’ll have any less of an experience if you skip some of those things and choose activities that are a little bit different. Be open to new experiences and choose what’s right for you.

Places mentioned in the show

  • Cilento Coast – The coastal area south of the Amalfi Coast which not only is much quieter but has better beaches. Learn more in Episode #39 Captivating Cilento Coast
  • Umbria – a region in central Italy full of beautiful countryside, amazing food, and friendly people. Learn more in our Umbria guide
  • Emilia Romagna – region in northern Italy, a food mecca for foodies from Italy and all over the world. Learn more in our podcast with local guide Giulia – Episode #114 Welcome to Emilia Romagna
  • Lombardy and Veneto – two northern regions of Italy that are wonderful to explore
  • Puglia – the heal of Italy with gorgeous landscape and coastal times
  • Anacapri – town on Capri with a more intimate and quiet atmosphere
  • Arezzo – charming town in Tuscany off the main tourist track

Resources

Resources from Untold Italy

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Transcript

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