A PERFECT FIRST TRIP TO ITALY
Whenever anyone tells me they are planning a trip to Italy, I’m thrilled. It is such a gorgeous, romantic, fascinating, and inspiring country, and it is full of treasures to explore. I’m often asked for my recommendations, so I’ve written a guide here for a three-stop trip, hitting the highlights of Florence, Rome, and the Amalfi Coast. History, art, architecture, the city, the sea, fabulous shopping, great restaurants…this itinerary is what I’d suggest for anyone’s first Italian adventure.
- For day one, hire Paolo Vojnovic to be your tour guide. A Serbian-American art history scholar, Paola has a contagious passion for Italy and leads incredible tours. Over the course of a day, she will guide you through the Pitti Palace, across the Ponte Vecchio, through the arches of the Uffizi Museum, down Via Calzaiuoli, to the Duomo, on to the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore. Paola will teach you about these buildings and Italian history as you walk, and I always encourage people to LOOK UP to see the majesty of the architecture. Her tour continues to the Bell Tower, designed by Giotto. You’ll then walk back to Piazza Signoria, and I suggest lunch at Vini e Vecchi Sapori, a tiny local trattoria with authentic Tuscan flair. Make a reservation! Stretch your legs again to Piazza della Repubblica and watch the sweet children enjoy a merry-go-round ride. Have a coffee at Giubbe Rosse, a famous meeting place for writers and artists. Conclude the afternoon with some shopping, roaming through the surrounding streets, and finish the day at Cammillo Restaurant, one of my favorites in all of Florence.
- For a second Tuscan day, explore the countryside with a driver. My favorite nearby villages are San Gimignano, Siena, Lucca, Arezzo, Montepulciano, and Montalcino. Taste the local wines, enjoy the small shops, and take in the beautiful countryside. My favorite place for lunch is the Antinori winery. A state of the art facility with artisan roots, enjoy a leisurely meal there. After a drive back to Florence and a rest, go to the top of the Excelsior Grand Hotel for a cocktail and light dinner at sunset. The view is glorious!
- Start your third day at the Pitti Palace and the Uffizi. The costume exhibit at the Pitti is my very favorite. Buy a ticket to walk the Vasari Corridor, the secret passageway that connects the Pitti to the Palazzo Vecchio. Stroll to Piazza Santa Croce, one of the largest piazzas in Italy. Visit the church and see Michelangelo’s grave. Stop by the Scuola del Cuoio (leather school) to see artisans making handbags, briefcases, and small gifts– make sure to buy yourself a memento! Meander around the surrounding shops and have dinner at a nearby trattoria or try the fabulous In Tavola cooking academy.
- Mercato Centrale: an incredible market with food vendors and bars
- Piazza Santo Spirito: a famous daily market, lots of great restaurants
- Ortigia: a beautiful shop with wonderful scarves and soaps
- Farmacia di Santa Maria Novella: lovely soaps, perfumes, and other gifts
- Luisa via Roma: chic, interesting, fun clothing
- Loretta Caponi: the most beautiful nightgowns and robes in the world!
- Roberta Firenze: the best leather gloves
- Rinascimento: my favorite department store in Italy--shop and then enjoy the rooftop terrace for a coffee and amazing view!
- Buy tickets to see the Sistine Chapel
- Roam the outside and inside of St. Peter’s Church and the square
- Walk inside the Vatican City
- Walk or drive by the Parthenon and the Pantheon
- Visit Palazzo Borghese and take a walk through the park. There are Sycamore trees everywhere, as well as three-hundred year old Pine trees!
- Enjoy a tartufo ice cream (a fabulous treat– a scoop of gelato with a fudge-like center, coated in a shell of chocolate!) while admiring the Piazza Navona and the Bernini Fountains.
- Dine at Mirabelle Restaurant, at the top of the Splendide Hotel. Ask for a table on the terrace overlooking the lights of the city and the Vatican. Magical!
- Positano. Wear comfortable shoes, and spend the day exploring by foot. Wind your way down the cobblestone streets, and explore the beautiful shops. Ceramica Assunta has my favorite assortment of Italian ceramics, Idillio has the best linen, and Tre Denari is a wonderful spot for leather shoes. Try some limoncello, too! Visit the beautiful Santa Maria Assunta church, and imagine how the builders had to carry all the stones and icons to it by foot! Once you reach the beach, put your feet in the water and enjoy the freshness of the Tyrrhenian Sea. I recommend Tre Sorelle for dinner; don’t miss the pasta con vongole in bianco.
- Split your second day between Amalfi and Ravello. Amalfi was the central shipping village from the 9th-11th centuries. There are beautiful handmade paper stores where I stock up on stationery and journals. Visit the Museo della Cara (the paper museum) to see the original paper machines. Pop into the local shops that sell delicious biscotti, pasta, and limoncello.
- Continue on to Ravello, a spectacular town perched high on the hillside. Roam through the cliffside gardens of Villa Rufolo and Villa Cimbrone. They are out-of-this-world. Have an aperitif at one of these hotels and watch the skies change over the sea.
- For your final day, wake up early and head to the Path of the Gods, a beautiful hike. It will take you 1.5-2 hours each way, and the views of Positano and the Sorrento peninsula are jaw-dropping. Or, hire a boat driver and roam the coastline, stopping in little fishing villages along the way. Either way, it is pure bliss.