More than 150 countries exhibited at The New York Times Travel Show this past weekend—trying to drum up business for their homelands. According to data from program sponsor American Express, U.S. consumers are planning to spend 11 percent more on vacations in 2012 than last year.
Not to dash the hopes of all those vendors but we Inner Italians know that there is only one true destination. To get some tips on how you can better plan your 2012 Italian Adventure, Walter and I attended a Sunday afternoon seminar “Make Your Italian Vacation Dreams Come True,” hosted by author Susan Van Allen.
Planning Your Italian Vacation
“Plan your dream itinerary. Put in everything you want and then cut it in half,” says panelist Kathy McCabe, publisher of the “Dream of Italy” newsletter. (Full disclosure: Sharon contributes articles to DOI.)
“If it’s your first trip and you long to see the art cities of Rome, Florence and Venice, allot at least three nights in each. Remember you’ll spend half a day on the train between destinations,” says McCabe. She even recommends cutting out one city to add a place where you can indulge a special interest. Perhaps the Amalfi Coast from which you can visit the archeological treasures of Pompeii and Naples. Ocean enthusiasts can go scuba diving off of Portofino. Architecture buffs may tour the Palladian villas in the Veneto.
Panelist Gina Ruggiero of Villa Vita International echoed the ‘three night’ dictum. “The longer you’re there, the more you like it.”
I related to the relaxed approach expressed by panelist Yannis Moati of Europe at Cost, “You can’t miss. Every region offers beauty. Get lost and you’ll love it.”
Susan Van Allen advises tacking a visit to the country—the Castelli Romani outside of Rome or the hill town of Fiesole above Florence—even if the city is your primary destination.
Timing Your Italian Vacation
Panelist Tom Paris, of Club ABC, says there are benefits to traveling any time of the year. Go to the mountains in the winter if you love skiing. Go to the seaside in the summer (if you don’t mind crowds.) He recalled a magical December night in Florence when his party exited a restaurant at midnight. Church bells pealed as a soft snow fell. And, if you travel in the off season—roughly November until Easter—you’ll pay less for airfare.
Executing Your Italian Vacation
Tour and travel options within Italy are so varied that it can be daunting to choose one way. Packaged motorcoach. Smaller affinity groups. Train. Rental car. Hired driver. Independent touring. Villa or apartment stays. Day tours. With whom should you book?
The experts agreed that it depends upon your budget and preferences. “Italy has terrific roads,” says Tom Paris. “If you drive in New York City, you can drive in Italy.” (In my opinion, a very big “if.”)
Check out the locales where you want to go and what is the best way to access them. Some out-of-the-way destinations can only be reached by car. Perhaps you might book a car and driver for a day—it may not be as expensive as you might think. If trains are your choice, try to book 90 days in advance for steep discounts.
Finding an Out-of-the-Way Italian Vacation
When Van Allen asked the panelists to name an off-the-radar place they love, there seemed to be a second of hesitation. I believe the question is unanswerable because every square mile in Italy offers a different treasure (as those experienced panelists are well aware.) They recovered, however, and offered up these.
Yannis loves the capital of the region of Emilia-Romagna for the purity of its medieval architecture and richness of its cuisine. Think tortellini, ragù alla Bolognese, prosciutto di parma, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and aceto balsamico.
Paris recommends this Umbrian hill town for its jazz fest. Also Deruta, near Perugia, for its millennium-long maiolica craft.
Ruggiero urges visitors to stay overnight in this exquisite Renaissance Tuscan village. After the day tourists leave, it’s magical. “Zefferelli filmed “Romeo and Juliet” there.”