Dear Fathom: We are getting married in June, and we want to honeymoon in Italy. Neither of us has ever been, and we want to experience as much as possible. Our loose idea is to spend ten days traveling through Tuscany, Florence, Rome, and the Amalfi Coast, and we want it to be authentic more than strictly high-end. Help, please.
Italy is the honeymoon vacation spot that keeps on giving. We answer queries regarding travel in Italy all the time, and Pavia even wrote a first-timer's guide last year. The country is a rare example of a destination that is completely entrenched in Old World traditions and, at the same time, completely attuned to the needs and wants of modern tourists.
Being that it's your honeymoon, my vote is to scale back on the number of destinations in order to leave room for spontaneous add-ons depending on how you feel. Better to spend time getting into the rhythm of a few places. The trip will be more meaningful that way. You won't regret passing by the Colosseum one more time or having a few extra hours to linger over proscuitto, wine, and candlelight. For a ten-day trip, I suggest one of to itineraries: Rome/Florence/Tuscany OR Rome/Florence/Amalfi Coast. Don't try to do it all. Leave something for your anniverary trip.
First thing’s first: Buy H.V. Morton’s A Traveler in Italy, which is the most lovely and descriptive expression of life in the country. Read this out loud while on the road, on the beach, and on your patio. It was written in 1957, but it's like the Medici and Venetian marauder stories have gotten any less scandalous.
DAYS 1-3: ROME
Rome gets better the more time you spend there. Take three full days.
Where to Sleep
An apartment rental is a nice option in this city, especially if you want to feel like a local. (Save the splurging for lazing about the countryside.) For hotels, I recommend Hotel Locarno for the 1930s feel, great locale, and free bicycles (a GREAT way to cover a lot of ground), and the sweet, small, special, and well-priced Relais Teatro Argentina. See if you can book the room called Siepe. Palazzo Manfredi is a boutique hotel staring right at the Colosseum. JK Place Rome is the new splurge in town.
Where to Eat
Roscioli (Via dei Giubbonari 21) is an upscale Italian delicatessen and high end restaurant all in one. Make reservations in person, or have the hotel call ahead. It's the best. Baffetto (Via del Governo Vecchio 114) is easily one of the most classic pizza spots, and its two central locations (Piazza del Teatro di Pompeo 18 has a more extensive menu) make it more accessible than many others. Volpetti (Via Marmorata, 47) is an excellent specialty foods shop in Testaccio where you can taste and try prepared foods, fresh breads, and savory baked goods. They will vacuum pack your cured meat so that you can stuff it in your suitcase. Bar del fico (Piazza del Fico 26) is a modern restaurant that spills out onto the pretty little piazza where locals gather to play chess in the afternoons. Fatamorgana Gelato (Via Laurina 10, Via Aosta 3, Via Roma Libera 11, and more) makes gelato (baklava, cream with figs, grapefruit) with natural ingredients.
What to See
Download a historical guide book to your tablet so that you can ID buildings and cross-reference all the crazy old stuff you keep running into. Spend a morning in the Jewish Quarter. The Pantheon is tourist mayhem, but try the evenings before it closes. The Colosseum is definitely worth a full tour. Take a leisurely stroll through the Roman Forum, Baths of Caracalla, and the Circus Maximus. Centrale Martinmartini (Via Ostiense 106) is a little known museum of Ancient Roman sculptures showcased in a defunct power station. The gardens of Villa Borghese (Piazzale Flaminio) are excellent for a picnic lunch, an afternoon nap, and a bit of serenity. There's also a house filled with Bernini sculptures and Egyptian mosaics.
How to do The Sistine Chapel (Vatican City): Buy a breakfast brioche and a cup of coffee and get on line before it opens. You'll have to wait, but it's pretty mellow in the early morning. While everyone else is shuffling through the museum, make a beeline for The Sistine Chapel and spend at least 30 minutes looking up at the ceiling. Once you get your fill, work your way forward, then spin through the place again, more slowly, until you make your way to the Sistina once more. Raphael's tapestries are another highlight, but it's honestly just worth it alone for the ceiling. After you’ve had your fill of St. Peter's (and have wept in front of the Pietá, a masterpiece sculpted by a then fourteen-year-old Michelangelo), go to Pizzarium (Via della Meloria 43) for a masterful lunch.
Check out our Rome guide for more ideas.
DAYS 4-6: FAST TRAIN TO FLORENCE (1.5 Hours)
Florence is a jewel box of a city, manageable and pedestrian-friendly. Sure, you can rush around for two days, but why not take three to really get a feel for the place. The trove of art is unparalleled, and it's nice to feel like you have time to breathe between full, heady days of art tours and historical facts. Break up all that art consumption with tripe sandwiches and shopping sprees.
Where to Sleep
Request a room overlooking the Arno (tell them it’s your honeymoon!) at the Hotel Continentale. It's a small, modern hotel owned by Ferragamo, and the rooms are all white with billowing curtains. Somewhat incredibly, it's built right next to the Ponte Vecchio, making it very easy to hop over to the cool part of town (south side of the river). Hotel Savoy, perhaps the chicest address in town, is a breath of contemporary fresh air among Renaissance relics. It's located on Piazza della Repubblica, across the street from Cafe Gilli's gorgeous windows.
Villa San Michele is a monastery-turned-luxury-hotel retreat in the hills of Fiesole, about a 15-minute drive from Florence (the hotel has a free shuttle bus going to and from the city). This is a lovely place to stay if you want to bliss out after Rome and don't have time to go to the Tuscan countryside. Even if you decide to stay in Florence, this place is absolutely worth visiting for a long, luxurious lunch or evening aperitivi overlooking the city.
Where to Eat
Antico Noe (Volta di San Piero, 6-red) is a local trattoria that displays the latest seasonal item at the door. Instead of ordering off the menu, point to the display and tell tell them to make you something with the specialties of the season. Vivoli (Via Dell'Isola delle Stinche 7r) is the best spot for gelato. After lunch at Antico Noe, walk over there for an affogato. Cibreo (Via Andrea del Verrocchio 5r) and Borgo San Iacopo (Borgo San Iacopo 62r) are two of the fanciest restos in town. Piazza Santa Spirito has loads of local trattorias and bars and nightime energy. Cafaggi (Via Guelfa 35r) does classic Tuscan food that is very simple and very good. Have a nice big lunch there.
What to See
The Uffizi Gallery (Piazzale degli Uffizi 6) houses the best Renaissance art collection. Absolutely make reservations for a time-slot online, or else you'll have to stand in line for several hours. Palazzo Vecchio and the Duomo: Gorgeous. The Bargello (Via Proconsolo 4) houses loads of Donatello sculptures, and is worth the 90 or so minutes it takes to check out. Brancacci Chapel (Piazza del Carmine) is the inspiration for household Renaissance names (Michelangelo, Botticelli, Raphael, etc.), and takes about 15 minutes to run through. Boboli Gardens of the Pitti Palace (Palazzo Pitti 1) are beautiful for a stroll.
San Miniato Al Monte (Via delle Porte Sante, 3) is a hilltop church that cannot be missed. The walk up into the hills, and the views of Florence, are amazing. At around 6 p.m., monks gather to sing and chant inside the church. It's a lovely place to rest your eyes for 30 minutes. At the little shop next door, you can buy terrific, monk-crafted amaro.
Where to Shop
Via Tournaboni is Florence's fancy shopping strip. Lovely day or night. At the leather market, everything is negotiable. Look for the stands that have shops behind them, because that's the better quality stuff. Santa Maria Novella (Via della Scala 16) and Acqua Flor (Borgo Santa Croce 6) are the two breathtaking boutiques when you can buy souvenir scents, perfumes, and handmade soaps.
Check out our Florence guide for more ideas.
DAYS 7-10: TUSCANY (Option A)
You'll need a car before you head to the hills. That way you can hop around from one town or vineyard or olive grove to the next.
Tucked away in the province of Sienna, Pienza has everything you're looking for in a medieval Tuscan town. It's the land of Pecorino, with tons of cheese shops, a nice artisanal gelateria, and a new boutique hotel called La Bandita Townhouse, right in the center of village. The couple that runs La Bandita happens to also run a country house way out in the hills, in case you are ready for seclusion. You can absolutely set up a cycling trek or drive to nearby Montalcino and Montepulciano for serious wine tasting.
The town's resident butcher, Dario Cecchini, is also its restaurateur and showman. After dinner (and wine and grappa) at his place, you'll be dancing in the streets. Read about (and then make plans for) a Big Night in a Tuscan Butcher Shop.
DAYS 7-10: AMALFI COAST (OPTION B)
Instead of exploring Tuscany, take the high speed train down to Naples. From there, catch a train to Sorrento, then a boat to Capri. Or rent a car to cruise down the coast.
There are many picturesque seaside towns to visit and lots of white-knuckle driving. Vistas are amazing. Seafood is killer. You’ll have downtime for reading and resting between epic meals. Start by driving to Ravello, a stunning town on a cliff, and then work your way back to Sorrento. Here's the guide to Ravello, the highlight being Villa Cimbrone for views and aperitivi. It's romantic as all hell. Take or leave Positano. (It's really touristy.)
If you can spend a night at Don Alfonso, a restaurant and hotel in Sant' Agata Sui Due Golfi, you should. Just look at this food porn! If you spend two nights, take a cooking class before heading to Lo Scoglio, a rustic seaside spot where you will have the best lunch in the entire world. See: More food porn.
BEFORE YOU HEAD HOME
You may decide to pack all of your traveling into one day (if you are coming from Tuscany). But, if you are coming from the south, you may want to spend the last night in Rome. On the way back, if there's an hour or two to kill while in Naples, check your baggage at the train station and run over to Trianon (Via Pietro Colletta, 44/46) for last licks of Neopolitan pizza. That's amore.