Definitely one of the most beautiful countries in terms of scenery, food and people. It’s no wonder Italy is so high on people’s list of countries to visit. Phoebe was obsessed with Italy growing up, so we had no choice but to go to ‘The Boot’ to feed her addiction.
Italy is part of the Schengen area, so no need to get a specific Italian visa if you’re an Aussie (or from any other western country). Do keep in mind though, as it is part of the Schengen zone, you can only travel in this area for 90 days in a 180 day period.
- The Italian economy benefits significantly from your cash as a tourist. As a result most people speak English – but trying your hand at a bit of Italian is much appreciated by the locals.
- Watch out for pickpockets in the major tourist areas of big cities, and on public transport.
- When you get the bill at pretty much any restaurant you’ll notice an extra Euro or 2 per person, this is the service fee or bread fee (most places will still charge you for bread – even if you don’t eat it, so dig in!)
- Alitalia lost Sue Lane’s (Phoebe’s mum) bag. What made matters worst was they wouldn’t give her updates in their search for the bag. As a result, the incompetent mob at Alitalia sent Sue’s bag back to Australia instead of to where she currently was traveling. Fly Alitalia at your own risk!
- We were in Italy for a week and a half, and spent about $100 AUD per person per day. We were eating out pretty much every night, so we went a little over budget.
- The train network in Italy is amazing, but if you want cheap fares be sure to book well in advance.
- When travelling via train make sure to validate your ticket! There are machines at all stations to do this (although they are not very obvious), and if you don’t validate, the ticket inspector will hit you with a 60 EURO fine!
- Check out: The easiest way to see the 5 villages of Cinque Terre is to get the Cinque Terre train pass. This pass gives you unlimited train travel around the 5 villages. With the train line cutting through the cliffs, you’ll find train stations right in the middle of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Vernazza and Monterosso. You have to get a shuttle bus from the Corniglia train station to get up to the centre of the village. You can hike the Cinque Terre trail but sections of it was closed when we were there due to coastal erosion. If you are going to hike it make sure you start early, and start in Monterosso and work your way south…trust me. Rock jumping off the coast of Tellaro – you’ll see locals doing it in summer, so why not join in.
- Eat: We could go on forever about what to eat in Italy, EVERYTHING IS DELICIOUS! Staying by the sea naturally we had to have seafood pasta, Josh had a fresh fish ravioli which was to die for.
- We stayed at: South of Cinque Terre there’s a quieter area known as The Gulf of Poets. Within this group of towns is a small village called Tellaro. It has absolutely all of the charm of the villages in Cinque Terre WITHOUT the crowds. We stayed in a small lighthouse-like flat, right on the water, with Phoebe’s parents (who found the place on Airbnb). To get there we caught the train from Pisa to Sarzana then got a transfer to Tellaro. NOTE: Tellaro is a small village with one tiny road in and out -there are regular buses that take you to Lerici, and from there you can go to La Spezia or Sarzana.
- Check out: Well we had to check out the one thing that everyone checks out in Pisa…McDonalds…nah just joking…The Leaning Tower of Pisa. After seeing countless photos of it, it’s actually quite impressive seeing it in real life. And yes, we did spend a good 30 minutes trying to get the novelty photo of holding up the Leaning Tower.
- Eat: Josh had the best Calzone he’s ever had in his life – we’ve got to give a shout out to Voglia di Pizza in Calci who produced this culinary masterpiece. It’s a nice, modest family restaurant in a small Tuscan town that’s great value for money.
- We stayed at: Phoebe’s parents (Sue and Graham) found a loft up the hill from Calci in Castelmaggiore – a small Tuscan town on the hill amongst the olive groves (Only 30 min bus ride from Pisa). It was a fantastic experience to stay in a smaller village. We found this place through Airbnb.
- Check out: We only spent a day in Florence, so we didn’t get to see everything we wanted to – but we still crammed in a lot. The famous Ponte Vecchio is a must see – battle the crowds walking over the bridge, then walk up the river to get a photo. Piazzale Michelangelo provides a breathtaking vista of the city – it’s also not a bad place to propose to that special someone (congratulations Hamish Lane and Anne O’Connor). That great big church in the middle of the city is the Duomo and it’s definitely worth checking out. Remember to wear conservative dress and if you want to walk right up the top of the dome you have to book ahead.
- Eat: Gelato! If you walk around Florence you’ll find a place selling gelato pretty much everywhere you look. We recommend Vivoli for an authentic gelato.
- We stayed at: Castelmaggiore and just made the trip to Florence a day trip by catching a bus into Pisa ,then catching the fast train from there to Florence Santa Maria Novella station.
- Check out: We have a MASSIVE RAP on Naples. After hearing all the stories of how dirty the city is and how unsafe it is, we actually found it to be one of our favourite places. Pompeii is a must see! The ancient city is frozen in time after the eruption of Mt Vesuvius in 79AD. Phoebe cried, she loved it that much. Do a day trip to the Amalfi Coast (see below). Trust us, it’ll blow your mind.
- Eat: Pizza! It was born in Naples! For the best pizza go to Sorbillo, it’s a Michelin star pizzeria so expect a wait because it’s very popular. Pope Francis even blessed Sorbillo’s pizza. Tandem is a very small restaurant that has the BEST ragu on the planet! They bring out a menu that is different types of pasta, and you pick your favourite to go with their famous ragu. If they only serve one dish, it must be good! L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele only serves 2 types of pizza – Marinara and Margherita. Again, must be good! It also features in the movie Eat, Pray Love for all you Julia Roberts fans out there.
- We stayed at: 6 Small Rooms – A really cool little hostel on the 4th floor of an apartment block. Close to AMAZING restaurants and the metro. Shout out to Fred on reception who showed us what to eat, see and do in Napoli!
- Even though we only did a day trip to the Amalfi Coast from Naples, we thought it was so good it deserves its own subheading. We caught the train from Naples to Sorrento, then hired a scooter in Sorrento and rode over the hill to the Amalfi Coast. Expect to pay around 40 Euro during peak season to hire a scooter for the day. There’s not enough superlatives to describe how amazing this stretch of coastline is! A word of warning though, it’s a very hairy, windy road with lots of blind corners. PLUS you have lots of buses using the road as well so don’t get too distracted by the view. Pop down to Positano and Amalfi for a swim along the way, and take in the serenity. We cannot recommend doing this enough!
- Warning: The Circumvesuviana is the train that runs from Naples to Sorrento. It’s the worst train we went on in all of Europe, but it still gets you from A to B. What you have to watch out for is pick pockets! During peak season the train is packed like a hot tin of sardines, which makes for a pick pocketer’s paradise. We actually witnessed an elderly American man get his wallet taken from him – but to his credit he chased the “son of a bitch” off the train, jumped down the stairs and crashed tackled him to get his wallet back. So keep your valuables in a safe place, close to you at all times, or brush up on your hand to hand combat.
- Check out: Where do we start! Because we only had a couple of days in Rome we spent most of our time running around like headless chooks checking out all the major attractions of the Italian capital. But for normal people who prefer not to roam around like a decapitated poultry, you need at least a week here. The Colosseum – Phoebe cried she loved it so much…enough said. The Roman Forum – incredible ancient ruins – just make sure you don’t go there in the middle of the day or you’ll be sweating like a gypsy with a mortgage. Altare della Patria – is also nearby the Roman Forum, and is one of the most impressive modern monuments in the ancient city. Trevi Fountain – you have to see it, get in there and throw a coin over your head…but just remember millions of people have the same idea. Sistine Chapel in Vatican City – beautiful, but again, expect to wait a couple of hours to get inside. St Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City – the holiest of Catholic shrines which also has a much shorter line than that to the Sistine Chapel. Banks of the Tiber river – the western bank near The Tiber Island has some cool pop up bars and food stalls in summer. A great place for an afternoon beverage. Any of the Public Squares (Campo de Fiori, Piazza Navona) – they’re great for people watching. The Pantheon is absolutely beautiful. Spanish Steps – just to say you’ve seen them.
- Eat: Street Food stalls are great in Rome, especially when you’re on the run trying to see everything. All of the supermarket food is also relatively fresh and interesting! Lots of great Trattorias. Make sure to try the Rome-style pizza (square slices), sold by weight.
- We stayed at: Because we were there in July (which is peak season) it was much cheaper for us to stay in a private room through Airbnb. It ended up being cheaper than getting 2 beds in a dodgy-looking hostel dorm.
Did you know?
- Rome wasn’t built in a day…sorry…I had to say it.
- There’s no better place to use the saying “When in Rome…” when you are actually there! Phoebe may have got sick of Josh saying it but hey… “when in Rome.”
- We were told that about 3000 Euros is thrown into the Trevi Fountain everyday with all that money going to the charity Caritas.
- In Italy, you take your espresso standing at the bar. If you sit down, you’ll stand out as a tourist!
It’s no wonder Italy is such a popular destination, even just writing this makes us want to go back so much. I’m salivating just thinking about all that delicious food, it’s a gastronomic paradise! Definitely make sure Italy is on your list.