Finding the Heart of Italy: How to Really Experience Italy
Ah, the familiar path through Italy of Rome-Florence-Venice. When travelers begin planning their first trip to Italy, they often feel they have to visit each of the must-see places: Rome, Florence, and Venice. The truth is, you really don’t. Will you miss out on seeing some of the most visited sights in Italy? Yes, absolutely. However, if you can get past the idea of this “must-see” list, deemed imperative by the typical travel guides, you can actually find yourself having very unique and wonderful experiences.
Do you want to explore quaint, hilltop towns, and magical seaside villages? Wander through ruins of ancient Rome without the crowds at the Colosseum? Find the Italy you see in pictures but never quite stumble upon while following the well-trodden path between Rome-Florence-Venice, are waiting in these villages? If you want to really experience Italy, not just see it, jump off the beaten path with me and let’s discover the heart of Italy!
Discovering the Heart of Italy
While it is true that Rome, Florence and Venice hold many of the famous symbols of Italy like the Colosseum, the famous view of Florence and certainly the dreamy canals of Venice, the true heart of Italy beats elsewhere. To find the Italy of everyday Italians, you must step off the tourist trail.
Italy’s smaller towns and rural areas are far less-frequented by most travelers. This is where everyday Italian life happens. These towns are where you will find the true heart of Italy. Many of these, while having their share of tourists, offer you an opportunity to experience their charms without the crowds. No need to wait for the masses to part for a brief moment so you can snap a photo. You will find yourself putting the camera away and just enjoying being a part of the village life.
Wander towns that completely shut down for the afternoon break, known as “riposo” which translates as “rest”. Walk by houses that keep their front door open so neighbors feel free to come and go as they please. Peek in as you pass to get a glimpse of Nonna cooking all afternoon in order to serve dinner with a tired, but satisfied expression to grateful family, young and old. In the evening, have dinner in a little trattoria where the cook prepares your meal from the knowledge he learned from watching Nonna. There is only experience, no recipes!
Once I was wandering through the hilltop town of Pienza in Tuscany. While at times I was walking alongside groups of tourists, there were more moments when I found myself all alone on the side streets. At the end of one of those beautiful streets, I ran into the medieval town wall and was all alone with an amazing view of the peaceful, Tuscan countryside below. Breathtaking. That was a top Tis Travels moment, easily one I’ll never forget. Just me and Tuscany…
It’s Always Best to Have Options
There are options for seeing many beautiful parts of Italy, depending on your preferences. First, instead of visiting all three major stops, choose either Rome or Florence along with Venice which really is one of a kind. Use the time you save to spend some time taking trains, or driving, amongst a few small towns in Tuscany. Even better? Skip Tuscany and head to its less traveled and equally lovely neighbor, Umbria.
If you really want to see Rome, Florence, and Venice, consider staying in a town nearby and taking a train or bus into the city. To access Florence, you can easily stay in neighboring Fiesole, which is just a quick bus ride up the hill. Alternatively, stay a bit further out in nearby Siena, a short train ride away. This is a good travel “hack” as most travelers visit Siena on a day trip and do not spend the night there. If you base there, you can easily visit Florence by train, while enjoying Siena in the evenings, when the crowds leave and you have it more to yourself. It’s truly the best of both worlds!
If you prefer to stay in all of the major towns, choose a hotel, or better yet, an apartment, in a neighborhood outside of the major tourist areas. This will give you a chance to see a part of these lovely cities without all the crowds. While you will run into locals working in shops and restaurants who do not speak English, you will find enough that do. In many neighborhoods that border the major tourist spots, restaurants often have menus in English, either posted or upon request.
Ready to experience Italy? What are you waiting for?
While it can be a tough decision to step off the beaten path, it will be immensely rewarding. However you prefer to travel, just pack your bags and go. The Italians are waiting to welcome you. Buon Viaggio!
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