Here at Bookings For You, we’re big fans of slow travel. Rather than rushing around trying to fit everything into just one trip, we think it’s much smarter to take your time to really absorb the culture, get to know the locals and simply relax and properly enjoy your surroundings. At the same time, we’re also conscious that the fixed cost of travel (flights, transport and accommodation) means that not everyone has the luxury of being able to visit time and time again and so, particularly for those visiting Italy from further afield, it’s important to balance this slower pace of travel with still being able to tick off some of your Italian bucket list items.
So here’s a suggestion for an itinerary allowing you to explore Italy from top to bottom in four weeks whilst still being able to enjoy the country at a slower pace. Instead of constantly being on the move, we’ve selected a number of ‘bases’ from where you can enjoy some fantastic day trips but also still uncover some of those incredible ‘off the beaten track’ destinations that makes Italy so unique and so special. We’ve also included some of our favourite activities in these must see sites in Italy.
It’s up to you how long you spend in each place or how many bases you choose to stay in. Much of your decision can be based on where you book flights to an from and in which destinations you decide to hire a car. If you have only 2 weeks in Italy, then you may decide to stay in just a couple of places and explore them more fully. But, by choosing an apartment or villa rental in each of these areas and then using this base from which to explore some of our suggested highlights in each area, we think you can enjoy the very best that Italy has to offer.
Base 1: The Italian Lakes
Spend your first week in Italy exploring the Italian Lakes. We’d recommend picking either Lake Garda, Lake Maggiore or Lake Como for your stay. Trying to do all the lakes is just too rushed and we think you’d be better choosing just one as a base.
Our favourite of the lakes is Lake Maggiore. It’s also extremely convenient. Less than an hour from Milan, it’s also under 2.5 hours from Verona and from here, just a 90 minute train journey to Venice. It’s also one of the least well known of the lakes so time spent here will serve as a great contrast to the hustle and bustle of the regional cities. If you’re traveling with teens or adrenaline hungry adults, a favourite of ours is the adventure park found above the western shore of the lake. For your bravery, you’ll be rewarded with the most spectacular panoramic views, followed by an exhilarating 65 metre zip line to return to Italian lakeside paradise. There are so many things to do on Lake Maggiore but some of our favourite towns to visit would include Cannobio, Cannero and Arona. We also highly recommend a trip to the beautiful Borromean Islands and the Santa Caterina Monastery. Or hire a boat and simply enjoy the slower pace of life on the lake waters!
Base 2: Explore Cinque Terre and Tuscany
The Cinque Terre is a group of five villages – Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore – that literally cling on to the rocky cliffs of the Italian Riviera. With their pretty pastel shades, the Cinque Terre is a photographer’s dream. There are few roads here but in their place are a network of coastal trails to be explored on foot (bring sensible shoes!) As a result, we don’t recommend driving here but instead suggest you catch the train from one of Tuscany’s most famous towns, Pisa, a journey which will take you just over an hour on one of the fast trains.
For us, Pisa is just one of a plethora of towns and cities in Tuscany worthy of a visit. Others include Siena, Florence, San Gimignano and Lucca as well as some smaller, lesser known spots such as Volterra, Anghiari, Cetona, Cortona, Montalcino, Montepulciano and Pienza. However, Tuscany can not be fully appreciated without spending at least a couple of days in the rural landscape that connects all these cities. From the Chianti vineyards in the north of Tuscany to the rolling hills of the Val d’Orcia further south, Tuscany’s rural landscape really needs no introduction. If you’re looking for an original holiday activity why not try a an off-road jeep tour around Carrara’s magnificent marble quarries, complete with lardo tasting – I don’t think you can get more Italian than that!
Base 3: Amalfi Coast
This 50 kilometre stretch of coastline in Campania is characterised by sheer cliffs that drop into the turquoise sea below. One of the most beautiful winding coastal roads in the world takes you past pastel-coloured fishing villages as well as grand villas, terraced vineyards, lemon groves and small beaches. Our favourite of the picturesque towns on the Amalfi Coast include Positano, Ravello and Amalfi however, it’s also worth taking a trip to the bustling city of Naples, home to the Italian piazza. It will come as no surprise to learn that many of the activities in this area involve spending time in, on or gazing at the spectacularly azure-blue waters which define this stretch of Italy’s most exclusive coastline. Why not grab your Go-Pro and make some magical underwater memories with a combined boat and guided snorkeling tour? Or for a more adrenaline-fueled experience, soar above this stunning coastline on a parasailing flight adventure. Along with all of this, you’ve got the fascination of the ancient Roman remains at Pompeii and Herculaneum along with the glitz and glamour of the island of Capri and the only active volcano in mainland Europe, Mount Vesuvius.
Base 4: Umbria and Le Marche
Umbria and Marche are both just as beautiful as neighbouring Tuscany, but in both regions you’ll find the crowds far fewer and the experience arguably more authentic. Some of our favourite towns and cities in Umbria include Assisi, Orvieto, Bevagna, Montefalco, Spoleto, Todi and Foligno. But for us, Spello has a charm that is unsurpassed anywhere else. Here you won’t find the inflated tourist prices you’ll find just 15 minutes down the road in Assisi and the locals are incredibly warm and welcoming.
Head across the border to Le Marche and you’ll be marvelling at the spectacular rural landscape. However, Marche can rival its more famous neighbour, Tuscany, when it comes to art and architecture too. After all, Urbino was one of the main centres of the Italian Renaissance and the birthplace of Raphael. Not only that but Marche’s spectacular coastline and beaches such as those nestled under the steep limestone cliffs of Monte Conero can also rival any of the best beaches on the Tuscan coastline. We would also recommend a trip to the spectacular Marmore waterfalls where you will be met with some of Italy’s finest natural water features.
Base 5: Rome
No visit to Italy would be complete without time spent in its capital city, Rome. Whilst Rome is a popular destination for a weekend break, you’d need at least a week to do it justice. A city break in Rome can be a great way to start or end a villa holiday in Italy. With two international airports to choose from, flights to Rome are easy to come by and we have even found a very convenient way to securely store luggage so you can travel hands-free around this magnificent city. Check out our bucket list to Rome for ideas on what to see and do.
Base 6: Puglia and Basilicata
Situated in the ‘heel’ of Italy’s boot, Puglia has been Italy’s up and coming region for the past decade. The Apulian landscape changes quite dramatically from North to South. From the green forests of the Gargano National Park in the North to the rugged cliffs of the seaside town of Polignano a Mare, to the central swathe of inland towns many of which feature in the borghi piu belli d’Italia, and finally to the vineyards of Manduria further south along with the incredible white beaches of Salento, affectionately nicknamed the ‘Maldives of Italy’, Puglia will delight holidaymakers wherever they go. Our favourite towns in Puglia are definitely those in the central swathe of the region though – Ostuni, Alberobello, Cisternino and Locorotondo – along with Otranto and Lecce further south. We guarantee that you will not be disappointed by a visit any of Puglia’s best beaches. There are plenty of activities to enjoy on or in the crystal clear waters that swaddle the dramatic coastline. Our recommendation is to hop aboard a boat or even a SUP and see Italy’s best kept secret for yourself.
Neighbouring Basilicata hasn’t really made it onto the tourist map just yet, with the exception of Matera. Fifty years ago and you wouldn’t have seen a tourist anywhere near Matera (in the 1950s it was a place of slum dwellings) but these days, its sassi have been converted into luxury boutique hotels and upmarket restaurants. Less than 15 minutes from the Puglia border, it’s the perfect trip to combine with any holiday in Puglia.
Base 7: Sicily
It’s easy to forget how vast Sicily is and it would be impossible to do justice to the island even in a couple of weeks. Sicily is home to two of Italy’s four UNESCO Nature World Heritage sites – the Aeolian Islands and Mount Etna, the tallest active volcano in Europe and home to numerous picturesque, tiny villages and hamlets that perch on its fertile slopes. It’s also home to five of Italy’s UNESCO Cultural World Heritage sites – Agrigento, Villa Romana del Casale, Siracusa and the Rocky Necropolis of Pantalica, the Late Baroque towns of the Val di Noto and the Arab Norman Palermo and the Cathedral Churches of Cefalu and Monreale. And there are a plethora of fascinating towns and cities in Sicily to discover too among them Palermo, Siracusa, Ragusa, Piazza Armerina, Noto and Taormina, home to the incredible Teatro Romano.
We recognise that this itinerary excludes some key regions – Emilia Romagna, Sardinia and Calabria to name just a few – and we’re not by any means saying that these aren’t worth a visit. Not in the least! But, with a limited time in Italy, difficult choices have to be made and compromises taken.
If you’re planning an Italian holiday and need some advice on where to stay in Italy, get in touch with Bookings For You and we’d be happy to help provide you with a suggested itinerary for your villa holiday in Italy.