A Visit to Italy
If you yearn to view living as an art, this is the country for you. Italy embodies a history of the finest things in life, good food, good wine, beautiful couture, exquisite art, antiques, rich colorful fabrics, home decorative arts, and lush garden designs. You can find an abundance of these things in most towns and cities whether they are big or small. Most people begin their discoveries with the two great cities of Rome and Venice. This is not a bad place to start; they are two very different cities with a wealth of sights, sounds and experiences. And, the good news is, they are now joined by a direct high-speed train, the Eurostar Italia.
In a 4 and half hour evening trip you can leave Rome and bed down in Venice, trading streets for canals, and cars for water taxis.
Beginning in Rome...
If you only have a week in Italy, as many Americans going over for the first time do, three days in Rome and two in Venice are a good way to sample la dolce vita. So before you fly into Rome, check out Venere for your desired hotel. If you have a favorite spot, just go to it on their map and up pops all of the hotels in the area at various prices. There are also reviews so you get the latest assessments from the people who are staying there. We like to stay near the Pantheon or on the Via Cavour by the Coliseum, as these are fairly central locations.
A good starting point in Rome is a trip on the Hop on-Hop off bus to get a good overview of the city highlights. You can buy the tickets in advance and get a hotel pickup if you choose to get started with the first morning run. This tour is 90 minutes round trip. Take it all the way around and on the way decide where you want to get off in the next run around. You can get off and on at sites for 24 hours. It's a great way to get around the city that first day.
There are so many things to see and do in Rome it is difficult to narrow them down. The Coliseum, the Roman Forum and the Palatine will leave a lasting impression. If you are intrigued with Roman history you can spend an entire day in this ancient area. The Forum has a wide assortment of ruins from temples to majestic government buildings and private villas. If you decide to spend time in the Forum, pick up one of the small transparency books as you walk in, the transparencies show what the building looked like in Roman times when it was fully in tact. This will help bring the Forum to life. Above the Forum on the hill is the Palatine, home to the emperors and aristocrats of ancient Rome that you can also tour. And if you prefer an indoor activity, pay a visit to the Capitoline Museums designed by Michelangelo in the 16th century; the magnificent palazzos house a fine collection of sculpture and paintings. The walk behind the museums to the Tarpeian Rock affords a fine view of the Roman Forum. This view, and that of the Palazzos, are worth the walk up to the museums even if you don't have time to enter.
In the early evening head across the river to Trastevere. If you take a taxi, the Cathedral Santa Maria Trastevere is a good destination. Try to get there before the church closes, usually around 7 pm., the mosaics are a marvel. This is thought to be the first Christian church in Rome. Trastevere is a wonderfully relaxing neighborhood in which to walk around. There are many shops and restaurants, try La Cornucopia at the Piazza in Piscinula for excellent antipasti and fresh fish, or Da Paris at Piazza San Calisto for homemade pasta and traditional dishes. There are many sidewalk cafes and restaurants to move on to for coffee or a limoncello after dinner.
On day 2 head to Vatican City. This will definitely occupy you for the day. The Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel, the Castel Sant'Angelo and St. Peter's will keep you in awe. A good way to do this and stay out of the long lines into the Vatican Museums is to pre-book a tour of the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel. When you book, you can prearrange a pickup from your hotel in the morning for the 9 AM tour. After the tour you can stay in Vatican City and see St. Peter's and the Castel if time permits. Be sure to take time for those coffees and gelati; it's part of the Italian experience. In Italy you will find that the lunch hour is usually from noon till 3 and shops close from 1 to 3:30 or 4. They then reopen till around 8 pm. After your busy day at the Vatican take a cab for the Aventine area and a restaurant named Perilli a Testaccio at 39 Via Marmorata, have your hotel make a reservation. You will enjoy this place and it will give you a good taste of true Roman cuisine. After dinner, take the taxi to Piazza Navona, this is a magnificent piazza any time of the day but it is particularly beautiful by night. The spectacularly lighted fountains surrounded by luxurious cafes are the perfect end to your day in the eternal city.
On day 3 you must head over to the Piazza di Spagna and the Spanish Steps for a leisurely stroll and some shopping on the Via Condotti. You will find a wide range of designer names and specialty boutiques, jewellery stores and home decor products. From here head to the Piazza della Rotunda and the Pantheon...what a fabulous building! The Pantheon is almost 2000 years old and it has a roof! The rich marble interior is still there for you to see the wonder that was Rome during the Roman Empire. There are a number of sidewalk cafes around the Pantheon Piazza that are great for coffee, lunch and people watching. And right behind the Pantheon is a great little furniture store called Riflessi that will give you a flavor for Italian interior decor. That will probably do it for the day since you need to catch that train to Venice. However, if you stay on in Rome or want to substitute for a previously mentioned site, you might want to visit a scrumptious Palazzo called the Doria Pamphilj not far from the Pantheon. The state apartments and art collection are wonderfully preserved and the audio tour is narrated by a family member who owns the palazzo. It's a wonderful look into life in Rome over the centuries.
Whatever your time in Rome, be sure to take the time to relax on the various piazzas and enjoy the many beautiful fountains and scenic walks. You can always save that one more site for the next time because everyone wants to return to Rome.
For more information on Rome, see our Rome City Tours page.
On to Venice...
So now you are on your way to the floating city of Venice. It is like no other city on earth. We never tire of Venice; it is a pleasure just to be there. When you arrive at the train station catch a water taxi to your hotel. Again Venere is an excellent site from which to select your hotel. We like to stay a reasonable walking distance to the Piazza San Marco - the Hotel Danieli and the Gritti Palace are two of our favorites. With only two days, this is definitely the area where you will want to stay. Focus your first day on San Marco. Here you will find one of the greatest buildings in all of Europe, the Basilica di San Marco. This is a delicious blend of East and West in architectural and decorative styles. The Doge's Palace is next to the basicila and is a Gothic masterpiece. It takes a great deal of time to go through the palace, so if time is short opt instead for the two hour private tour of St. Mark's square, the basilica and the Doge's Palace; this will allow you to skip the long lines and see all the highlights with an expert tour guide in the least amount of time. Across from the Palace is the Campanile; go up to the top for an expansive view over the rooftops of Venice.
After the view, it's lunch on the Grand Canal. We like the lunch at either the Gritti Palace or the Hotel Monaco & Grand Canal dining areas on the water. Both do a pricey but excellently prepared lunch with a canal side view to watch the picturesque gondolas floating down the Canal.
After lunch you could book a Grand Canal Boat Tour. The tour will give you a detailed narration of the architecture, history and famous residents of the Grand canal, along with a great seat for pictures. But if just seeing it is enough for you, just go to the waterbus stop at San Marco and take the number 1 Vaporetto (as the waterbus is called) for a DIY cruise down the Grand Canal. Try for seats on the back open-air area of the boat; it's best for sightseeing. Get ready to ooh and ahh your way past stunning architecture, rich in color and design. Do a round trip and you will be back at San Marco. This is a great sightseeing tour for very little cost. Now venture off the square in any direction and meander. Be sure to take your camera, a dream shot is just around every corner. As evening draws near head for the Hotel Danieli's rooftop cafe for a Bellini as you look out over one of the best view's of Venice. You've heard about it, now you have to try it, head to Harry's Bar for dinner. If you like risotto, theirs is excellent. And we've found that any place frequented by Hemingway is usually good. Another good alternative near by is Antico Martini, overlooking the Fenice Theatre. After dinner it's back to Piazza San Marco for an after dinner drink or coffee at the famous Florian's Cafe where you will be entertained by a lovely little orchestra while you sip your drinks under the stars.
On day two, you have some options. Take a morning stroll to the Rialto Bridge, a scenic spot and a fun place to shop. Just follow the Rialto Bridge signs from San Marco. Venice is well marked for walking. There are also some welcoming sidewalk cafes along the Grand Canal leading up to the Rialto Bridge for coffee and lunch. If you are ready for a different side of Venice head back to the other side of San Marco to the vaporetto stop San Zaccaria and take the number 14 bus to the island of Burano. Burano is the most colorful island of the lagoon islands. It's a place where you can see fishermen mending their nets, lace makers in action at the Sucola dei Merletti school, and everyday activities like moving by boat. The restaurants on the main square, Piazza Galuppi are just the place for that leisurely Italian lunch of fresh fish and pasta. This island truly reflects everyday Venetian life.
After lunch, it's back to San Marco. If you are into art, the Museo Correr
on the Piazza San Marco and the Academia, a short way down the Grand Canal, are excellent choices. Those most interested in modern art should not miss the Peggy Guggenheim Collection also on the Grand Canal near the Accademia. Every church in Venice has outstanding art and architecture so stop in if one interests you. If you love the Venetian glass you can also go to the island of Murano and see where it is made. (Take the number 41 or 42 waterbus from San Zaccaria station.) And, of course, there is shopping. This is one of the few places on earth where there are some very unique finds that you will not see everywhere else in Europe. The Venetian Glass is exquisite and beautifully displayed, custom made jewellery shops abound with one of a kind pieces, the lovely Venetian masks used for Carnivale are always available along with miniature custom made libraries for your table or wall and architectural pieces reflecting the architecture of Venice. If you want a lasting memory of this magical place, walk a short distance from San Marco to Bottega d'arte, a little boutique art gallery specializing in high quality original art of Venice and the Veneto, find your favorite scene and ship it back to the US. When you receive it on your return, you will smile and remember those special days in Venice.
And just as Rome had places left to see, you know there is more to discover in Venice on that next trip over.