Dreaming of Italy

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Last summer I had the joy of spending eleven days exploring northern Italy via a series of short train rides.

I didn’t guess that somewhere so close to home would have turned out to be such a memorable holiday, but the mix of glorious sunshine, mesmorising gothic architecture, and probably the best food in the world has got me dreaming of Italy, six months later..

I started in Verona, which happened to coincide with the opening night of the opera (we saw Nabucco). I can’t say I knew what was going on but it was a great experience to spend an evening in the grand amphitheatre. I feel that Verona is a gentle introduction to Italy – it’s fairly small (but enough to do), with medium-level crowds desperate for a snap of Juliet’s Balcony. But it is slightly less spectacular than some of the cities I’ll talk about next. The two nights I spent here was plenty.

We then caught a train (1h 25 mins) to Bologna, which caught my eye, captured my heart and filled my tummy. As the culinary capital of Italy, I was in heaven, and I’d go back to Bologna again just to enjoy the meats, bread, pasta and spumante! My biggest regret was not being able to do a food tour around the market (we were there on a Sunday which is the one day the market is closed).

We then took the 35 minute train to Tuscany’s jewel: Florence. If Bologna is the foodie of the family, Florence is the grand, show off which it’s cathedral the trump card to end all competitions. Ponte Vecchio draws the crowds, but it’s the view from Piazzale Michelangelo that shows the Tuscan architecture at its best.

Our next stop was a chance for a bit of restbite in the beautiful seaside town of Sestri Levante. When I go on longer holidays like this, I like to try and visit somewhere that the locals might go, and Sestri Levante certainly lived up to expectations (there weren’t many Brits around!). Travelling from Florence also meant that we were to travel through Pisa, so we took the opportunity to stop off and have lunch near the famed leaning tower.

We stayed in Sestri Levante for four nights, which might be too much for some of you, but we enjoyed the beach and pool and used it as a base to explore the Cinque Terre. For those that don’t know, the Cinque Terre are five fishing villages that are also UNESCO sites. They are tourist traps which is made worse by their small size, but well worth a visit if you’re in the area (we visited Vernazza and Monterosso).

Our final stop was in Milan, where we stayed for one night to allow us to fly home without going full circle. The cosmoplitan vibe was quite a contrast to the rest of our stops and while I didn’t dislike the city, it just didn’t compare to our previous ten days. We did a nice canal trip and visited the cathedral, but I don’t think it offered anything particularly breathtaking.

Flights: Direct via British Airways – £80pp

Hotels (booked via Hotels.com):

  • Hotel Verona – a nice hotel in a great location and it was reasonably-priced at €139 per night
  • Albergo Centrale – not the most modern hotel but the old Bolognian building was charming, so it didn’t matter. Plus the cost (€77 per night) and good location meant it was a bargain
  • Hotel Ginori al Duomo – good location and access to a pool in the building next door, but one of the more cheaper hotels in the fairly expensive Florence (£154 per night)
  • Suite Hotel Nettuno – we wanted to be right in the centre of Sestri Levante and have access to the beach and a pool, so we did splash out a bit and paid €220 per night. But it was very much worth it!
  • Mercure Milano Centro – Milan is huge and we wanted somewhere fairly accessible without spending too much. This hotel did the job but I wouldn’t want to pay more than the £84 per night that we paid

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