So you want to . . .

So, You Want to Bike in Italy...

One of the things we love about our Italian pied-a-terre in Foligno is how easy and pleasant it is to get around the city center by bike. Unlike most hilltop towns in Umbria, Foligno is located on the valley floor, so its streets are wide and level, and many residents eschew their cars and instead pedal around on their daily errands and to peruse the market and shops. In fact, as in most historic Italian towns, the movement of cars is very restricted in the town center.

giro-d'italia-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

All this to say that we understand how charming it can be to explore Italy by bike, especially in the spring and fall when the weather is cooler, the towns are buzzing with residents, and the countryside particularly picturesque. Cycling in Italy does come with its own set of caveats, however, so if you are interested in toodling around on two wheels, take a look at our tips first.

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So, You Want to Propose in Italy...

It's spring, the season in which “a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love”, according to Tennyson.

Gondolas - Venice(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

You don't have to be a man, nor exceedingly young, to consider Italy the perfectly romantic backdrop if your fancy has indeed turned to love and you are planning an intimate trip for two with a surprise marriage proposal in mind. Italy is a wonderful choice for a honeymoon and an unforgettable setting for getting down on one knee, especially in the spring when the flowers are in full bloom on terraces and pergolas, the weather is warm enough to watch the sun set with a glass of prosecco, and the crowds of the high summer season haven't yet arrived to ruin your private moment.

If you'd like to pop the question with a touch of Italian style, here are a few perfectly magical spots to consider:

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So, You Want to Take a Multigenerational Family Trip to Italy...

It probably came up during a big holiday reunion dinner or weekend, when grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and grandkids were all happily gathered around the table: why don't we all vacation together this year? How about Italy?

Young travelers at a vineyard, Tuscany(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

It's a wonderful idea - and will make for the trip of a lifetime for everyone - but also involves some tricky logistics and careful advanced planning to make sure that the vacation is unforgettable for all the right reasons! If you are considering a family trip that includes everyone from grandparents to the newest arrivals, here are some tips from our years of experience arranging successful multigenerational Italy trips:
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So, You Want to Visit a Spa in Italy...

Italy, with its healthy work/life balance and cultural propensity for careful grooming, is an excellent place to indulge in a bit of luxurious pampering. You'll find a variety of spas and spa-like facilities from north to south - with high standards of professionalism and hygiene, and relatively accessible rates - offering anything from the purely relaxing soak in a hot spring to a more pragmatic mani/pedi to counter the wear and tear of an overseas trip.

Grand Hotel Tremezzo(Photo by GHT via Flickr)

Here are a few basics to help you navigate Italy's spas:
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Visiting Italy in Winter: Do and Don't Destinations

So, you're thinking about taking a winter trip to Italy but aren't sure if it will be worth the effort to visit in the off-season?

dolomites-winter-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Though our favorite times of the year to explore Italy are spring and fall when the weather is mild but the tourist crowds are still manageable, there are certainly destinations in Italy which will delight and captivate even during the winter months. If you are contemplating visiting any time from December to March, here are some spots to avoid and others to consider.
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Everything You Need to Know about Venice's Gondolas

It's not often that we recommend indulging in a “touristy” activity; we love the more hidden and authentic side of Italy, and personalized, local experiences that often aren't accessible to mass tourism. There is one important exception to this bias, however: a ride in one of Venice's iconic gondolas.

Gondolas - Venice(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

As we said in our 48 Hours in Venice guide, “You wouldn’t visit Paris and skip the Eiffel Tower. You wouldn’t visit India and neglect the Taj Mahal. So how could you possibly not indulge in the most iconic of activities in Venice?” Part of this recommendation is based on the pure joy of floating down Venice's picturesque canals in your private luxury sedan of the sea, but part of it is also because the gondola may have become primarily a tourist attraction over the past century, but for most of the last millennium, it was a fundamental part of Venice's culture and daily life.
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So, You Want to Take a Cooking Class....

There is no better lens through which to view and understand Italy's landscape, history, and culture than its cuisine.

cooking-class-roma-cr-maria-landers(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

We encourage travelers to Italy to participate in a cooking class while visiting, and often find that it is one of the most memorable experiences of their entire trip. If you are curious as to how to recreate some of the amazing dishes you've sampled in Italy, there is no better way than hands-on experience.
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So, You Want to See the Pope (or just the Vatican)...

Most sights in Rome don't require a lot of advance planning (unless, of course, you'd like to skip the lines at the Colosseum): the sweeping piazzas, imposing churches, characteristic neighborhoods, and even the Trevi Fountain just involve showing up.

Italy-0039 - The Obelisk(Photo by Dennis Jarvis via Flickr)

An exception to that rule is the Vatican, including the museums, Sistine Chapel, Saint Peter's Basilica, and, for the devout or simply curious, Pope (in the form of a public audience). Here, because of the sheer numbers of visitors, massive size of the place, and ticket logistics, a bit of advance planning and insider information can make the difference between an unforgettable visit and a day spent standing in lines or staring at the backs of thousands of heads.

Here are our tips for a simple Vatican visit and participation in a Papal audience.
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So You Want to Visit Vineyards in Italy?

Getting out into the Italian countryside, driving through the perfectly-aligned rows of grape vines capped with rose bushes at each end, and sampling little-known wines with the families who have been making them for generations – what could be a better way to spend an afternoon in Italy?

Young travelers at a vineyard, Tuscany(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

We have had unforgettable experiences and made life-long friendships while visiting small vineyards in Italy, while also discovering wines that we can’t wait to share. (You can see our favorite spots from 2013 and 2014.)
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Hunting Truffles in Italy

Of all the pleasures unique to Italy in the fall—the soft, golden light, the balmy days and crisp nights, the relative post-summer calm of many of the cities and towns—perhaps the most memorable comes in the form of the deceptively humble yet truly divine truffle.

black-truffles-patrico-umbria-italy-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

One of the world’s most expensive delicacies, truffles can be found all year round depending upon their type and terrain, but the most abundant season is the late autumn when the wood-covered slopes of the central Italian Apennines of Umbria and Tuscany and the Alps in northern Piedmont become treasure troves for local foragers and their faithful trained assistants.
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So, You Want to Honeymoon in Italy...

We customize trips for all sorts of travelers, from those who have been to Italy before but are set on experiencing the truly authentic side of the Bel Paese that we can help provide this time around, to those who are about embark on their very first trip and want every moment perfectly planned; from large, sprawling families of two or three generations, to small groups of friends, happy to be celebrating their “empty nest” with quieter grown-up trips; from new, slightly timid clients, to return adventurers who know exactly what magic we can make.

wedding-car-italy-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

But of all the trips we love to plan and all the clients we love to work with, there is something special about honeymoons and honeymooners. These can be the classic fresh-from-the-wedding honeymoons, the second wow-we’ve-made-it-this-far honeymoons, the pre-moons (yes, we’ve planned proposal trips), the re-moons, and everything in between. Even after dozens of romantic trips planned and taken, we still get just a little starry-eyed when working with our in-love clients. Read More...

So you want to visit a museum in Italy...

Italy is home to an extraordinary amount of art. Roman mosaics and Classical statuary, Romanesque frescoes and Renaissance paintings, Futurist sketches and post-war design: this country is saturated from its public piazzas to its private salons.

Spiral Stairs at the Vatican Museum(Photo by Rene Cunningham via Flickr)

According to most commonly cited estimate, 60% of all the world’s artistic treasures are in Italy (not counting the 50-odd UNESCO World Heritage Sites, which recognize the cultural, archaeological, or scenic value of a certain geographical area). And of those masterpieces, the vast majority are to be found in one of Italy’s many museums. Read More...

So You Want to Hike in Italy...

Italy is a country best explored by foot: in its bustling major cities, where just a few cobblestone streets away from the packed tourist sites pretty neighborhood piazzas await discovery; in its sleepy hilltowns, where the winding alleys are too narrow for most cars to navigate; and, most importantly, in its gorgeous countryside, ranging from the rocky Alpine peaks at its northern border to the rolling hills of central Italy and the rugged coastline at its southern shores.

IMG_2575(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)
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So...You Want to Ski in Italy

When thinking of Italy, certain images always spring to mind. The iconic monuments (Rome’s Colosseum, Florence’s Duomo, and Venice’s Grand Canal), the countryside’s rolling vineyards and hilltowns, the rugged coast with its sheer cliffs and tiny, colorful fishing villages. What many tend to forget is that the entire northern border of Italy runs through the Alps and Dolomites, skirting some of the highest and most dramatic mountain peaks in Europe.

Which means, of course, that if you want to ski, Italy is the perfect destination. Read More...

So, You Want to See an Opera in Italy...

There may be no better place to see an opera than Italy, with its rich musical history, stable of illustrious composers, and sumptuously grand landmark theaters. And there may be no better people to advise the traveling opera fan than Brian and Maria, Italy travel experts and professional musicians themselves. Read More...

So You Want to See a Soccer Game in Italy…

It’s football season! By football, of course, we don’t mean that all-American pastime of punting and spiking the old pigskin in the end-zone, but the sport that most of the world calls football -- known as soccer to Americans, and calcio to Italians. Read More...

So You Want to Go Shopping in Italy

shopping in italy strolling the galleria
Photo by Flickr user Dajan

Besides enjoying the scenery, the food, the arts, and the people, shopping in Italy is one of our favorite activities.

What You Need to Know: The Basics


First and foremost, prepare at home to spend abroad. Call your banks and credit card companies to confirm your travel dates and avoid getting your accounts locked for fraud.

Once in Italy, you may find that intriguing shop you’ve got your eye on always looks closed. Shops in Italy often close for a long break for lunch at 1 PM. So while you’re often out of luck at 2 PM, late afternoon openings mean you can shop more or less from 4 PM until dinnertime at 8 PM.


shopping in italy specialty food store
Photo by Flickr user Roboppy

In the shop, start off with a “buongiorno” (good day) or a “buonasera” (good evening) if it’s afternoon to the shopkeeper to get things going on the right foot. Shopping in Italy is a rather collaborative experience; often, the customer isn’t even supposed to touch things.

Discuss, point, or otherwise indicate what you are looking for, and your salesperson will take care of you. In the more popular tourist destinations, the shop personnel generally speak English. In smaller towns or off the beaten track destinations, try out your charade skills.

If you’re making a substantial purchase (more than 155 euros in one shop), consider getting a partial refund on your 21% value-added tax (IVA) payment. You’ll need to start the paperwork at the time of purchase and then visit the customs desk at the airport before leaving Italy.

What Should You Shop For?


Everything?

If only there were enough time and luggage space. These are some of our favorite things to bring home:

Clothing


shopping in italy clothes store
Photo by Flickr user Sifu Renka

Look up how your usual size translates into European measurements for both clothing and shoes (Italy is simply the best place for fine leather goods), but don’t be surprised if you need a larger size. Italian clothing is cut slim. Try everything on before purchasing, as returns are often not possible.

Food & Wine


shopping in italy specialty food panforte
Photo by Flickr user Gashwin

Food stores are where the “look but don’t touch” ethos is most paramount. Let the salesperson give you samples and guide you to something special. But be forewarned: anything fresh – and to U.S. Customs that includes cured meats – can’t come home. Enjoy it while you’re there! Aged cheeses can be brought back so if you want to bring a small wheel of Pecorino from Pienza back home, just ask them to vacuum pack it (sotto vuoto in Italian). Olive oil and wine are ok as well. If you do plan to do some food shopping in Italy, be sure to bring a few ziplock bags with you from home - they are great for keeping any breakage during travel under control.

Linens


shopping in italy linens
Photo by Flickr user Bart Hanlon

With access to stunning handmade linens like those at Brozzetti (highlighted earlier this month), it’s impossible to resist bringing one of a kind household linens home. Linens make great gifts - they don’t take up a lot of space and aren’t breakable. Brian’s mother advised us long ago to never leave home without a notebook of all of our table measurements. We pass along her wise words.

Pottery & Glassware


shopping in italy pottery
Photo by Flickr user Andrew Batram

If you love painted pottery, you’ll be in heaven. But before you fall in love, ask about shipping. Some of our favorite shops charge (thankfully) by box size not weight, but usually international shipping rates apply and they aren’t “cheap”. You may also receive a bill from US Customs for duty on shipped ceramic items.

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Brian Dore and Maria Gabriella Landers | Contact Us
Condé Nast Traveler Top Travel Specialist: Italy

Want To Rent A Car In Italy: A Few Things To Consider

Image: © Concierge in Umbria
UPDATE: Please see our more recent post on Driving in Italy

Visitors often inquire about driving themselves in Italy.

While this may be an option for some travelers, driving in Italy isn't for everyone, there are some important things (beyond the initial shock that you’ll pay three times as much for an automatic and gas costs around $9 a gallon) to keep in mind if you’re contemplating driving in Italy.

Five Crucial Facts About Driving in Italy


Image: © Concierge in Umbria


(1) Driving in Italy is as aggressive as the stands at the Roma vs. Lazio derby

The Italian Auto Club has even recently launched a program to keep foreigners driving in Italy safe, as 13.5% of foreigners who drive in Italy (compared to only 6.4% of Italian drivers) are involved in accidents each year. A private guide with whom we work in Umbria has a very simple but accurate way of describing successful driving in Italy – “drive where there is space.” If there is space on the road, it is up to you or one of your fellow competitive drivers to fill it. On the Italian roadway your one and only job is to not hit what is in front of you.

(2) You can incur hundreds of euros in fines . . . without being pulled over

If you accidentally drive in a pedestrian-only zone (Florence is full of them), you’ll get a fine for every time you pass a traffic camera. But you can also be pulled over at a roadblock for no apparent reason by police looking for insurance and registration violations. In a rental car, these shouldn't be a problem, but having an International Driving Permit (a translated version of your license available at any AAA) will help things go more smoothly.

Image: © Concierge in Umbria


(3) Country roads aren’t quite roads . . .

Italy is full of “white roads,” so named for the light-colored gravel that takes the place of pavement. Think of them more like long driveways. Though they are often so poorly labeled, you’ll be lucky to find them in the first place. FYI: most villas, country hotels and other places worth visiting in the countryside are located at the end of such roads.

(4) DUI limits are incredibly low

In line with European standards, it is illegal to drive with a blood alcohol level of more than 0.05. For many people that is just one glass of wine. If you are going on a wine tasting excursion, we strongly encourage you to use a driver.

Image: © Concierge in Umbria


(5) Parking is labeled . . . but that doesn’t make it any less confusing

Some parking spots demand that you find the nearest tabaccheria to get your parking ticket, while others require you to place a “parking disk” (like a shop’s “we’ll be back soon” sign) to show when you arrived.

How We Can Help


We book cars for our clients through AutoEurope, the best way to compare rates and get the best price on European car rentals.

But beyond helping you book a car and providing you with a GPS navigator, we can usually have your car dropped off at and picked up from your countryside villa or hotel so there are no worries about getting lost on the way or dealing with the car rental counter after your overnight flight.

We’ll also hook you up with a comprehensive guide to everything you need to know about driving in Italy, from an easy trick to paying less for gas and a guide to navigating Italy’s toll system.

Brian Dore and Maria Gabriella Landers | Contact Us
Condé Nast Traveler Top Travel Specialist: Italy