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The lagoon and gondolas in Venice
Italy

Italy - What was the best? Worst? And where were we blown?

Italien I was really looking forward to our Italian driving holiday! 10 days on the roads of Lombardy, Veneto, Tuscany, Liguria and Emilio-Romagna, with many bucket list stops along the way. Venice, Cinque Terre, Val d'Orcia, Tuscany, Portofino, Florence, Pisa, Lake Garda and Lake Como - some places I had visited before, others were completely new acquaintances.

The day before yesterday we came home, full of impressions. So many impressions, that it is lucky that I wrote down all the villages and restaurants we visited, otherwise I would have probably already forgotten the names of half of them. So, what happened to the family rating? What was the best, what was the worst and where did we happen to get really blown? And why were we actually stopped by the police?

Most memorable stop

I never thought I'd say it, but I fell head over heels for it Venice. Maybe it was because I had absolutely ZERO expectations and was more set on hating the place than loving it. But when the thousands of day-trippers and cruise travelers left the city in the evening and we had Dorsoduro to ourselves, the real side of Venice came out. Then of course it helped that we stayed in an absolutely magical room in a crazy beautiful little palace right on the canal (see more about this further down).

Gondolas on the Grand Canal in Venice

Worst choice

You should not travel in Italy during Easter. Not because the shops are closed (because they are!), but because all of Europe has a holiday then. Our day at Lake Garda, which we intended to spend in the sun in Sirmione, had to be cancelled. We were stuck in hour-long queues of German cars and nowhere to park. The situation was absolutely hysterical. The motorway to Milan was lined with car accident after car accident and the drive that was supposed to take 1 hour, took 4 hours. Nothing to recommend. I hardly dare to think about what it looks like in Venice or Florence during the Easter weekend, it must be excruciating!

Coziest village

Montepulciano in Tuscany became our favorite village, not only because it's quite big and has a lot to discover, but also because it wasn't overcrowded with busloads of tourists. Here we could walk around and discover all the small streets of the city at our own pace. I would have loved to stay overnight here and visit some of the many wine bars and enjoy the view of the surrounding area. I will remember this place!

Street in Montepulciano, Tuscany
Empty streets in Montepulciano

Smartest transport

To drive a car in Cinque Terre is not particularly time-efficient. The parking spaces are few in the small villages and the roads between the villages are narrow and winding and take a very long time to drive. We therefore parked the car in La Spezia and bought one Cinque Terre day pass on the train. Between the villages it only takes a few minutes by train through the mountain tunnels, which means you can easily experience all the villages in one day if you want. The trains run often and we had no problem getting a seat when we went. Recommended!

the train in Cinque Terre
Waiting for the train in Cinque Terre

The biggest blow

We ate gelato (ice cream) at least once every day. Everywhere. In all cities. The price varied between 1,50-3 euros for one ball and 2,50-5 euros for two balls. We therefore didn't think too much about the price of the ice cream when we ordered cups with two balls in them Florence. Then when we were about to pay, we were having hiccups and shortness of breath at the same time. 27 euros for three ice creams(!). 9 euros for a cup of ice cream?!? OK that there were big ice creams, but we felt really blown away. But it was not possible to regret at the checkout and return an ice cream that you had already licked off... Unfortunately, Florence felt like a city that really did everything to shine and deceive tourists, very sad! Not at all like I remember it from the last time I was here!

Palazzo Madonna
A glass of bubbly on our balcony in Venice. Can it get any better?

Best accommodation

We lived like princes and princesses at Palazzetto Madonna in Venice, with its own small balcony overlooking a canal. If I ever go back to Venice, I would immediately book the same hotel! I will write a separate post about this place, because it was a little gem!

Worst accommodation

We had booked central accommodation in La Spezia at the hotel CDH La Spezia. The first room we got was on floor -2 and stank of chlorine. The cleaning lady must have dropped the chlorine bottle (or something nasty had happened in the room, which they really needed to disinfect à la CSI, but I choose not to think about that). We had to nag us to change rooms, even though the hotel initially tried to get us to stay despite the stinging nose and watery eyes. The best suggestion from the hotel was that two of the three of us could move into another slightly smaller room, because then of course only one of us having to stay in the room(?). After some nagging, we had to change to a smaller double room, with a worse bed for the daughter. Without compensation.

When we then went to sleep, it was not possible to turn off the spotlight in the hall. In all hotels in Italy these lights seem to turn off 2 minutes after the room key card is inserted into its slot. Except here then. We had to call the reception, who came and opened the electrical cabinet (!) and started to mess around. If you turned off all the electricity in the room, the lights went out. Perhaps not entirely unexpected. The receptionist left us without solving the problem and just said "turn the electrical cabinet on and off a bit and pull out the card a few times and it will probably work out". Fantastic service... My husband fiddled and poked and prodded in the electrical box until he finally killed the lights, but it wasn't because of the hotel's help but just because of will and stubbornness.

To top it off, our door was locked before we were to check out, so they had to send the technician to open the door for us to enter. Could maybe have something to do with the fact that we had to poke around a bit in the electrical cabinet? Regardless, I probably don't need to tell you that we will NOT be booking this hotel again.

Best lunch

We ate at an incredible number of wonderful restaurants, mainly osterias. But one experience that I like to highlight is our lunch at Agrihotel Il Palagetto in Tuscany. We had no idea about this place, just happened to pass by just in time for lunch. What we discovered was the most amazing little hotel with miles of views and deliciously good food! We were all alone in the restaurant and the waiter was playing with his little baby when he wasn't serving us. I can still get taste memories of the truffle pasta that Anders ate when I close my eyes. What a place! Check it out if you want to stay in a cozy little hotel with 24 rooms in the middle of some of the most beautiful scenery in Italy!

Il Palagetto in Tuscany
Our lunch at Il Palagetto in Tuscany offered beautiful views and good food

Most beautiful scenery

Val d'Orcias rolling green hills of Tuscany looked like a perfect painting. When the sun crept in over the hills and the sun ice caressed the horizon and the towering cypresses - then I was almost ready to start singing a serenade to the glory of nature. Mamma Mia so beautiful!

Toscana

Biggest surprise

Italy must have many more police than we have in Sweden, because we really saw police and military police everywhere. In fact, we were even stopped by the civilian military police - the carabinieri - in the middle of a forest on a potholed road in Liguria. Suddenly they just stood there and beckoned us in with a small shovel. The one policeman came up to the car rudely and started talking a lot in Italian. We looked a bit innocent (because we hadn't broken any rules) and answered nicely “No Italian. English?”. The policeman who had told everything in Italian then looked at his colleague and demonstratively walked away. The colleague thought for a few seconds and then said "Have a nice holiday!" and waved us off. We are still thinking about what they really wanted.

Cinque Terre beach
One of the few beaches in Cinque Terre

Unexpected costs to be reckoned with

There are always some extra fees in Italy. The city tax paid at the hotel (never included in the booking) is often between 2-5 euros per person and day, the road tolls cost us between 5-10 euros per day (depending on how far we drove) and the cover charge at the restaurants (for bread and cutlery) is between 1-5 euros per person. Add this up for the three of us, and in the worst case it can be an extra 55 euros per day. That's quite a lot of money for a 10-day trip... Add to that the parking in Venice costs 21 euros per day, and it's definitely a considerable sum.

The bottom line?

We had a really lovely driving holiday in Italy, the whole family absolutely loved all the impressions, historical places and the well cooked food. The daughter thought Venice and the Leaning Tower of Pisa were the best, I loved the colors of the island of Burano in Venice and the husband loved the hills of Val d'Orcia. It's probably time for me to warn you - there will simply be a lot of Italy in the blog going forward! 🙂

What are your favorite Italian places? And most importantly – were you also blown away by gelato in Florence?

Do you want to read more about Italy? Look into my Italy page!

Cozy Cernobbio on Lake Como
Cozy Cernobbio on Lake Como

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About the blogger

Travel blogger, gastronaut, photographer and family adventurer with over 55 countries in his luggage. Eva loves trips that include beautiful nature, hiking boots and well-cooked food. On the travel blog Rucksack she takes you to all corners of the world with the help of her inspiring pictures and texts.

9 Comments

  • Cathinka - On the fly!
    24 April, 2019 at 18: 20

    Italy simply never goes wrong and yes, we have also been "blown away" in Florence. Two cups of coffee and an ice cream for the daughter definitely overturned that day's budget.
    Packing for Italy in a couple of weeks. Then it will be just over a week of hiking in northern Italy, a completely new part for me.

    Reply
    • Eve on rucksack.see
      24 April, 2019 at 18: 23

      Florence seems to be the worst, I thought Venice would win the con-tourist contest, but where I everything we bought relatively cheap.

      Lovely with northern Italy! I already have tips about some hikes in the area on the blog 🙂

  • Ann-Louise Paulsson
    24 April, 2019 at 19: 10

    What amazing pictures! So looking forward to reading all your upcoming posts about Italy. And how nice that you also liked Venice. I had much the same attitude as you before we went there and completely fell in love with the city.

    Reply
    • Eve on rucksack.see
      24 April, 2019 at 19: 22

      Venice was really special, despite all the pictures I've seen over the years, I probably couldn't really imagine what it would be like. Definitely Bellissima! ❤️

  • Johan
    May 1, 2019 at 16:25 pm

    I fell head over heels for Agrihotel Il Palagetto. Been inside and checked it out and am now thinking about whether that is where Midsummer 2019 will be celebrated 🙂
    Did you see anything more of the hotel itself?

    Reply
    • Eve on rucksack.see
      May 1, 2019 at 16:33 pm

      Of course it's nice - would have liked to have stayed here if we had known about the place! ?
      We were never inside any room, but the food was delicious, the main house super nice and the staff lovely! Located in a good location, with many world heritage sites within day trip distance. By the way, there are many nice reviews of the accommodation on Booking.com to read - they have an average of 8,6 out of 561 reviews!

    • Johan
      May 1, 2019 at 18:01 pm

      Yes, I saw that there were very nice reviews and the price was also very good.
      And there seems to be an opportunity for activities in the area, such as horse riding!

  • Therese Larsson
    22 October, 2021 at 23: 53

    Hello! Viken inspiring blog with fantastic pictures and great tips! Found it now that we (the family) are planning to drive in Italy next summer. We throw ourselves a little as we haven't been there together before. I could imagine following your route quite straight :-) But I'm a bit curious about what budget one should think about.

    Thanks for sharing😊
    Sincerely, Therese

    Reply
    • Eva Gyllenberg
      23 October, 2021 at 10: 28

      Thank you! ❤️ It was a very good driving holiday, not much I would do differently in the time we had. Budget is very difficult! We try to live a bit outside the center, so we can both save money and park the car. In addition, it is usually easier to find larger rooms that take an extra bed outside the city center. I'd say we paid around SEK 1500 per night (for 3 people with breakfast) in most places, with the exception of Venice (where it can be as expensive as it gets - but worth spending a little extra). Food is not that expensive if you stick to neighborhood restaurants and eat lighter for lunch. In addition, it is usually the small places that are the best. After all, you can always avoid toll motorways and save a few hundred Norwegian kroner per day. The distances are not that great and it uses less petrol than you might think. In addition, the rental cars are small and drag a little.

      Hope it helped a little along the way and hope you get off to Italy! It's a route that really takes you to some of Italy's real highlights!
      Regards, Eva

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