Italy is rich in history, culture, architecture and cuisine. There are so many fascinating places to see and activities to do. It is seemingly impossible to do everything on your bucket list in one trip. If you are planning your first trip to Italy you might find it daunting. My goal is to guide you on pre-planning your trip and to explore some of the lesser known activities that you might want to include on your trip.
First, consider the following question. Are you someone who enjoys learning about new places and meeting the locals or someone who follows the typical tourist activities and enjoys large tour groups? Speaking for myself I like to get off the beaten path with a bit of an unstructured itinerary. I still do my research and note the activities that I want to do but they are not scheduled by day and hour for one city unless a particular event or activity occurs on specific days.
When I travel I like to immerse myself into the history, culture, traditions, and cuisine while meeting the residents. I am not one to sign up for large tours. I think of myself as a traveler, not a tourist. What's the difference between the two? I like think of a traveler as one who is adventurous, open-minded, leaves some flexibility in their travels and who isn't afraid to go to lesser known places and restaurants away from the tourists.
To plan a trip to Italy for such an immersion into the culture let’s first look at some pre-planning I would recommend before you book your trip.
First, ask yourself the following question.
• What excites you most about the country? Shopping, hiking, culture, cuisine, the arts, sports, Italian wine, architecture, etc. Decide on the activities or events you would like to do during your visit. Prioritize them from most important to ones you would do if time allowed. Once you know the activities you enjoy talk with an expert such as Select Italy. They specialize in travel to Italy and work with individuals, couples and groups to help them plan their dream vacation. It's up to you to decide how much or how little planning you want them to do and what part of the trip you will plan yourself.
Second, below is a list of lesser known activities you might consider while in Italy.
• Visit a Winery. Not just any winery. Italy produces the most wine in the world. They have over 350 wine varieties that are found in 20 different regions. It can be daunting to decide which region and wineries to visit. One way is to visit an Italian winery that blends cutting edge architecture with thousands of years of wine making. Read the following expose from Cellar Tours to explore the fusion of architecture and wine making.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention Italy's most iconic Italian wine styles: Barolo, Barbaresco, and Brunello. These wines are linked to the soil, the characteristics distinctive in the land, and where the grapes are sourced. You can travel a few miles away and not produce the same quality wine. Ceretto or the Cube is a well-known winery that has produced Barolo and Barbaresco in the Piedmont region for generations and is on the list of the Cellar Tours.
Another way to explore Italy's wineries is to read Conde' Nest Traveler (A Guide to Italy's Wine Regions). The article helps you to understand the wine regions and the varieties each one produces. They also recommend where to stay and eat and the wines to try in each region. Additionally, your expert on Italy, like Select Italy, is up to date on the latest winery closures due to renovations, etc. Review the tours they offer at food and wine tours.
• Next on the list that you might consider is to sign up for an authentic Italian cooking class or to learn more about Italy's world renown food products. Italy is known for its olive oil, balsamic vinegar, Parmigiano Reggiano cheese as well as other food products. Cooking lessons vary by group size, regional food, and type of venue. Some classes are held in a chef's home while others hold class in a cooking school. Read the following article from Travel Advisor for a good source of information on recommended cooking classes by regions (10 Incredible Italian Food Holidays for 2018.)
Photo courtesy of Janko Ferlic
• As mentioned above, olive oil is well known Italian product that is exported around the world. But did you know that there are schools where you can learn the characteristics that make an exemplary olive oil? You can even attend classes to become an olive oil sommelier in 5 days. If you love to cook or want to be a more informed consumer these activities are an enjoyable way to learn about Italy's top food products. Consider signing up for a class at The Florence School of Olive Oil. Or, take 5 days from your trip to become an Olive Oil Sommelier at Lake Garda from April 9 - 13, 2018. These and other classes are conducted by the Olive Oil Academy in Parma.
• FICO Eately World. This is a 25-acre agrofood theme park in Bologna. They have 40 exhibits that demonstrate how meat, fish, cheese, pasta, oil, beer, and confections are made and processed. They offer 50 cooking classes and events daily and 45 different restaurants to eat and drink. This is the largest agrofood park in the world. Admission is free. To find out more information visit FICO Eately World.
• Have you ever wanted to attend a Formula One auto race? You can review the racing schedule at 2018 FIA Formula One World Championship. The Italian Grand Prix is held September 2, 2018.
Third, after you have come up with your list of activities determine the best time of year to do them. Many Italians take the month of August off to vacation so many of the shops are closed during this time. Discuss this with a travel consultant who specializes in Italy.
Fourth, discuss your budget, activities you would like to do or regions you're interested in visiting with a travel expert. By providing them with your budget and list of activities and events allows them to fit in as much as possible. Provide them with the types of accommodations you prefer (B&B, Airbnb, boutique hotel, or rent a villa). If you rent a villa ask the consultant to look for one in a central location where you can drive to several cities to and from the villa in a single day. This is less hassle than changing accommodations often while traveling.
Fifth, book travel and accommodations early. Italy is a very popular travel destination and many of the bookings are made months in advance. Your travel consultant can assist you with airfare, rail reservations or hiring a car rental.
Sixth, review your credit cards and decide which ones to bring with you. Some credit cards waive the currency conversion fees and include travel insurance. So, there may be no need to purchase travel insurance when your flights are booked.
Lastly, to further prepare for your trip search for meet-up groups or organizations that promote Italian culture and traditions. Usually you can ask questions about trip planning and practice your Italian. For example, in Atlanta where I live is a group called the Italian Conversation Club. You can socialize in a friendly atmosphere and practice your Italian. All language levels are welcome. These clubs are a great way to venture into the Italian culture before your trip. It’s the people I meet during my travels that gives me the greatest joy and enduring memories. I encourage you to engage with the locals as much as possible and learn the basics of the language.
If you have traveled to Italy and know of great hidden restaurants or places to stay that are truly awesome, please reply in a comment to this article with the name of the place, city, and other helpful information, such as a link to their website. I know our audience would appreciate additional recommendations.
We look forward to hearing from you. Happy travels to one of the most beautiful countries in the world.