One of the most coveted perks at Travelzoo is the Travelzoo Experience, in which Deal Experts and other employees take advantage of the same travel, entertainment and local deals we publish to our subscribers and report back on their experience.
For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to visit Italy. Finally, after spotting a great flight deal through Fly.com from San Francisco to Rome, I decided to jump on the chance to take this year’s Experience trip in this beautiful country.
My husband and I knew that though we were flying into Rome we wanted to be able to visit many cities throughout Italy during our weeklong trip. We briefly considered renting a car, but then realized that traveling by train would not only be cheaper, but would be a much more relaxing choice for us on vacation. One important thing we discovered on our first day was that the express trains require advanced seat reservations for an additional fee. This was easy to do at the train station with little notice, but it is best to get all those reservations out of the way early in the trip. We saw several people get fined on the train for being onboard without a pass.
Immediately upon landing we hopped on an express train to Florence, where we spent our first three nights of the trip. We were in walking distance to so many historical landmarks -- Palazzo Vechio, the Medici Chapel, the Duomo -- so we quickly grabbed a panini and walked over to start seeing the sites.
We wanted to visit as many museums as possible during our short trip, so we purchased the Firenze Card (50 euros per person), which allows entrance to 50 museums, gardens, villas and more over a 72-hour period. You can buy a card at any of the museums on the list. The best part was we also got to skip the long lines wrapped outside many of the most popular museums, like the Uffizi Gallery.
After a whirlwind three days in Florence, we were off on the train to our next stop -- Lucca. This is a charming small town that is still surrounded by a medieval wall, now covered in bike & walking paths and parks. You can easily rent a bike from vendors near the wall (or just stroll around it and head back and forth into town as we did). At the end of the day we shared aperitivos and snacks at a local shop. Who wouldn’t fall in love with a country that considers pre-dinner drinks a daily event? Drinks were followed by a delicious dinner at a hidden restaurant that was recommended by the owners of our B&B.
The next morning we headed back to the train for the next leg of our journey -- we headed out of Tuscany and into the Emilia-Romagna Region in Northern Italy -- first stop Bologna and then on to Parma. The highlight of the entire trip: visiting a small farm in Parma where we were able to watch a family making wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese!
The best moments we spent in Italy were those outside the most popular tourist areas. We walked the winding streets in search of hidden pasticcerias, cafes, trattorias and gelaterias. We sampled everything that caught our eye, discovering what the local or typical cuisine in every town was.
From the moment we arrived in Italy we knew we would love to return and spend more time exploring and experiencing the unique history and customs (and food!) of each region. We’ll never forget this amazing experience.