North Italian highlights

As a way of extending summer, my boyfriend and I decided to go on a roadtrip through Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany early this October. Italy isn´t far from where we grew up, so we only booked the first night in a hotel and got into our car. The plan was to go where we wanted, when we wanted and just see how long the weather would stay nice. All in all, we spent around six days exploring and visiting so many beautiful places. Even though I could write a whole blog post about each and every city we saw, I´ll limit myself to presenting my highlight(s).

Venice

We weren´t sure whether or not to go to Venice because of all the tourist groups and the insanely expensive everything. I´m glad we did! The weather wasn´t great, but every corner of this city is gorgeous. Also, as soon as you´re two streets from the main tourist attractions, you´re pretty much alone. All the buildings with pillars and patios… it´s just so dreamy.

Ferrara

We spent our first night in Ferrara, because I knew it was a pretty city and hotels are far more affordable than in the area around Venice. I had been there before for a student exchange, but I was happy to show my boyfriend around. The focal point, a medieval castle called Castello Estense, was beautifully illuminated in the evening. The restaurant you see below is “Schiaccia” and it serves a kind of filled foccacia. Great for a late-night snack.

Bologna

Parking in this city is hell. That´s why we drove into a parking garage and only visited the main tourist area to save time and money. I really liked the contrasting building materials of Basilica of San Petronio and it´s actually free to visit as well.

Modena

We LOVED Modena. The city itself is charming, but what really made it special was our visit to Osteria Ermes. Due to the few tables and many guests, we were seated with two medicine students from Modena and a couple from Los Angeles. We got along so well that they offered to show us around the town. After seeing the main attractions, eating some gelato, drinking an espresso and sitting down in a bar for a “Spritz”, we felt like real Italians.

(Cathedral of Modena during sunset)

La Spezia

La Spezia is the typical starting point for excursions to Cinque Terre. That´s also what we went there for. Unexpectedly, we found it to be a city with its own authentic personality. There´s a market place with cafés all around and countless bakeries to buy very affordable pastries for your trip to Cinque Terre.

Cinque Terre

If you´re planning to take the train to and from Cinque Terre, I´d advise you to get the tickets beforehand or online. It wasn´t even peak season when we went, and the ticket office at the train station in La Spezia was packed. For 16 Euros you can get a day ticket for the hiking paths between the cities of Cinque Terre and use the trains/buses without restrictions. There are also single tickets, but we were glad to have the day pass, because getting from one place to the other involved quite some trial and error. The trains had delays and sometimes didn´t even stop at all train stations.

We took the train to Monterosso al Mare, the northernmost village. Walking along the sparkling Mediterranean Sea was definitely my overall highlight. The hike between Monterosso and its neighboring village Vernazza was quite challenging because of the heat, but well worth it. Corniglia is situated higher up in the mountains and offers panoramic views. Riomaggiore is by far the most touristic out of the five villages and probably has the most expensive restaurants. We ended up eating french fries on a bench overlooking the sea instead of going into a restaurant. I´m not complaining, but the prices are ridiculous.

(Monterosso)

(Convent and cemetery of Monterosso)

(View of Vernazza from the hiking path)

(Vernazza)

(Riomaggiore)

Marina di Torre del Lago Puccini

A trip to Italy isn´t complete without at least a few hours by the beach. On our way to Pisa, we stopped at the beach of Marina di Torre del Lago Puccini. We nearly couldn´t believe our luck when we were able to park our car directly at the beach without having to pay. There were only few people left, most of them belonging to hotels or restaurants. It couldn´t have been more relaxing.

Pisa

As parking within the city walls of Pisa is rather limited and expensive, we opted for a parking lot at Via del Brennero ten minutes from the main attractions. It´s very amusing to watch people make fools of themselves while taking pictures. The buildings are impressive as well, but I was glad to leave after 15 minutes or so and go for an ice cream in a more quiet corner of Pisa.

(Are we at a martial arts convention or what?)

Lucca

Personally, I loved Lucca. Fewer tourists, warm but autumnal weather and beautiful views. There are several towers you can pay to visit, we went with Torre delle Ore. Even though I´m not a big fan of paying for attractions and rarely do, the few euros were really worth the view. I´d even say this was another one of my highlights.

(View from Torre delle Ore)

Florence

Many tourists. So many tourists. I´d have never guessed that this city would be so crowded in October…but it was. The attractions surrounding the famous cathedral are all stunning and so is Santa Croce. Ponte Vecchio actually is nicer viewed from afar than when you´re part of the crowd trying to walk over it.

(Our beautiful fairytale hotel Villa Le Fontanelle)

(View of Florence from our hotel)

(Florence cathedral and surroundings)

(Ponte Vecchio)

San Gimignano

Sitting on a hill in the middle of Tuscany like a bird´s nest, San Gimignano has it´s very own charm. When I think of Tuscany, this place is what pops into my mind. Sadly, the weather had gotten worse, but it wasn´t difficult to imagine what this landscape looks like when it´s sunny. The town offers some more or less impressive buildings and a very famous gelateria (which is said to be the best in the world).

Siena

Siena is similar to San Gimignano, but its buildings and main squares are way more diverse and dazzling. Especially the buildings on and around the square of Siena cathedral are a sight to see. Different materials, patterns, building styles…

That´s it for our trip through Italy. There are still so many places I want to visit in this country, and thankfully I´m sure I´ll have more opportunities to.

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