Travel Tips

Loving Italy to Death: Tips for Sustainable Travel

As news of popular destinations in Italy like Capri, the Cinque Terre, and Venice becoming so besieged by travelers that residents are exasperated with the crowds and local administrations are considering measures to limit the number of visitors, many Italophiles are asking themselves if they should cut those locations from their itineraries altogether.

guggenheim-venezia-cr-ciu-travel(Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

The answer, of course, is no: these and many other hot spots across Italy have economies driven mainly by tourism, and a precipitous drop would have negative effect for everyone from local hoteliers to the plumbers who keep their faucets from dripping. Instead, it's important to be the right kind of tourist, one who bolsters both the economy and the culture of a destination and helps locals continue to welcome visitors from across the globe with the warm hospitality for which Italy is known.


Christmas in July: What to Expect during a Winter Trip to Italy

The lion's share of visitors to Italy plan their trips during the high season summer months, but Italy in the winter has a singular charm as the cities empty of tourists and locals return to their daily routine, the biggest museums and attractions are delightfully quiet, and the cooler temperatures make it more pleasant to tour, despite the shorter days.

january-travel-italy-ciutravel-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

What can you expect during a winter holiday trip to Italy? Here are some of the seasonal specialties and activities that can be the highlight of a vacation during the most wonderful time of the year:

december-pienza-tuscany-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Christmas in July: Why Winter is the Time to Visit Rome, Florence, and Venice

The torrid heat wave in Italy has been all over the international news. Rome's ubiquitous public drinking fountains have been shut off for the first time in history, wildfires on Mount Vesuvius are darkening the skies over Naples, and Florence and most of surrounding Tuscany have been on red alert for high temperatures for weeks.

Maria in Portofino(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Though Italy is beautiful on any day and in any season, when the mercury shoots sky-high, it can be a challenge to fully appreciate the charm of the Bel Paese. During these languid July afternoons spent digesting our pasta lunch in comfort of a powerful fan, we are reminded of why a winter visit to Italy can be so rewarding, and why now is the time to start planning.

christmas-gubbio-italy-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)


Italy's Islands: The Tuscan Archipelago

The Tuscan landscape is known for its rolling countryside, dotted with hilltop villages and covered by a picturesque patchwork of thick oak woods, tidy vineyards, and rich farmland. Lesser known is the region's archipelago, a chain of seven islands including Giglio, Capraia, Montecristo, Pianosa, Giannutri, Gorgona, and Elba located just off the coast that are part of the Tuscan Archipelago National Park. Beloved for their pristine flora and crystalline waters, these beautiful islands are said to have divine origins: when the goddess Venus emerged from the sea, her necklace broke and seven pearls fell into the water, from which sprang these legendary islands.

Laconella(Photo by Maurizio Abbiateci via Flickr)

The Tuscan Archipelago was Italy's first major marine park and is the largest protected marine area in Europe. Though largely unknown to international tourists, these islands are a popular destination for Italians during the summer months who flock to the immaculate beaches, tiny resort towns, and excellent dive sites. To visit the islands, there is ferry service from the Tuscan coast or the main island of Elba, or you can book a private speedboat to island hop at your own pace.


On Your Best Behavior: Dos and Don'ts While Traveling in Italy

Over the past few years in Italy, there seems to have been a spike in reported incidents of - to put it broadly - bad behavior among tourists. Damage to artistic treasures has been the worst consequence, of course, but the growing sense of entitled disrespect has cast a pall on the welcome that many of Italy's cities have extended to international visitors for centuries, and led local and national governments to pass a number of new ordinances and measures to protect both the dignity and decorum of Italy's elegant art capitals and their works of public art.

pantheon-rome-italy-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Though a few cases of the disrespectful or destructive behavior have been malicious vandalism, most incidents have been caused by a simple lack of awareness of the local rules and customs, or a bit too much focus on that perfect selfie. Here we'll brush up on some guidelines for enjoying Italy without damaging its priceless art or offending its friendly citizens, so Italy can continue to be the breathtakingly beautiful and warmly welcoming Bel Paese the world has grown to love.


The Best Things in Rome are Free

Italy's Minister for Culture, Dario Franceschini, made news this past week by proposing a “moderate” ticket fee to enter one of Rome’s most beloved and visited sights: the Pantheon. Though this stunning Roman monument dates from 120 A.D. it has been a Catholic church for the past 1,000 years and, as such, has been famously free of charge.

pantheon-rome-italy-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Franceschini claimed that the funds from ticket sales would go towards the cost of maintenance and management, but this did nothing to quell the backlash from locals and travelers alike who were less than enthusiastic about the idea of having to purchase a ticket if the minister's proposal is approved over the next twelve months.

In light of the possibility that the Pantheon may soon no longer top lists of free things to do in Rome, here are a couple of other great ideas for things to do in the Eternal City that won't break the bank:


Closed for...? Italy's National Holidays

It never fails. You've carefully planned your Italian itinerary, making sure to schedule around the country's major holidays so you won't miss any of the most important sights, but show up at promptly at opening time only to find the museum or archaeological site is mysteriously closed. How can that be? You were sure Christmas Day was yesterday!

(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Though Italy shares many important Christian holidays with the US, the calendar also includes a number of extra holidays, including days tacked on to those you may already know and holidays that are not celebrated in the US. Here is a quick guide to Italy's major holidays when you are most likely to find museums, churches, archaeological sites, and even restaurants and shops closed. (Note: all Italian holidays are celebrated on the exact date - there is no compensating Monday or Friday off when a holiday falls on the weekend)


Strikes, Illness, and Theft: The Best Ways to Deal with the Worst in Italy Travel

Everyone hopes their vacation will go off without a hitch, especially when it involves traveling overseas in a non-English speaking country. It can be difficult to navigate a menu in a foreign language, so the thought of navigating the police station or emergency room strikes fear into the heart of most travelers. Unfortunately, in travel as in life, sometimes unforeseen events throw a monkey wrench into the best-laid plans, leading to anxious, wasted days during your trip.

Here is a quick guide on how to deal with the three most common travel problems in Italy, and how to avoid going from minor inconvenience to full-blown travel disaster.

Early Flight Out of Rome? Overnight in Fiumicino

One of the biggest logistical conundrums when planning a trip to Italy is how to best handle the arrival and departure days. Arrivals are often an easy case of being picked up by a driver and whisked to your first destination for a relaxing meal and refreshing night of sleep, but departure days can be a bit trickier. Travelers are caught between wanting to take advantage of every minute of their trip, while taking into account morning flights that often require check in hours before the departure time.

fiumicino-departure-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

For those departing from Rome's Fiumicino airport, the options have long been either staying in the center of Rome and having to endure a dawn wake up call, or spending the night at one of the anonymous airport hotels the night before your flight and finishing off a fabulous trip with a whimper not a bang.

Instead, consider staying right in the seaside town of Fiumicino on your last night, which is just minutes from the airport but has enough authentic vibe to make you feel as if you haven't wasted a second in Italy.


Staying Fit while Traveling in Italy

We've all been there: the New Year's resolution to get into shape, followed by a few months of serious commitment, healthy eating, a fitness routine, and the first gratifying results. Then, of course, comes that spring or summer vacation that throws you completely off track and ends with a few extra pounds and a feeling of having to start back at square one.

a way to a healthy life(Photo by Dr. Abdullah Naser via Flickr)

Italy is a country that can easily lead you off course if you're not careful. The food here is divine, and the pace slow. Weeks of long, leisurely meals followed by an afternoon siesta, and you are bound to come back with both suitcases and waistband straining at the excess weight. If you would like to limit the damage during your trip, here are a few tips to staying fit and (reasonably) trim while visiting the Bel Paese.


CNT Editor's Itinerary for the Amalfi Coast

Last Call! When Conde Nast Traveler invited us to create an Editor's Itinerary for their readers in July of last year, we were happy to share some of our favorite picturesque destinations, unforgettable experiences, and expert guides in one of the most spectacular areas in Italy: the Amalfi Coast.

amalfi-coast-boat-tour-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Our custom Amalfi Coast Editor's Itinerary includes a four night stay in one of our favorite hotels, a private boat tour along the coast, a cooking lesson with one of Sorrento's most acclaimed chefs, and a guided tour of Pompeii.

monastero-santa-rosa-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

You'll explore the famed fishing villages along the Amalfi Coast, the dramatic countryside above the coast along the fabulous “Path of the Gods” hiking trail, and the vibrant city center of Naples, with its historic artisan workshops and tailors. Let our personally vetted local guides and experts share with their insider knowledge of one of Italy's most beautiful corners.

Untitled(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

A few spaces remain for this exclusive Amalfi Coast Editor's Itinerary, so take advantage of the personal service and years of experience that come with our private custom travel services at an unbeatable price. Savor a few days on the coast with this itinerary for a short break, or extend your trip by adding other Italian destinations.

amalfi-coast-boat-tour-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Contact us for more information about this Editor's Itinerary, or click the CNT link for additional details and to book. We hope to share the best of the Amalfi Coast and its history and culture with you!

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Why 2016 Is the Year for Italy

Italy is always a good idea. Whether your travel style can be categorized as art & culture, food & wine, nature & scenery, or unapologetic R&R, Italy will satisfy.

pantheon-rome-italy-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

That said, Italy in 2016 is an especially good idea. With the euro weak against the dollar, airfare wars, and more diverse accommodation options than ever before, this is the year to make the most of your Italy travel budget. You'll find you can spend less on the trip nuts and bolts and more on unique, authentic experiences that make your visit to Italy more memorable.

Need more nudging? Here are a few other reasons why 2016 is the year you should make the leap for your trip to Italy:

Acqua Alta in Venice: A Survival Guide

There are a number of advantages to visiting Venice during the winter, most importantly the significantly smaller number of of tourists swarming the streets. In addition, low season prices make the cost of accommodation a bit less steep, the winding canals and tiny back alleys are often shrouded in a romantic mist, and, of course, La Serenissima's opulent Carnevale celebrations bring the city out of its winter slumber for a few weeks each January and February.

San Marco(Photo by Kyle Van Horn via Flickr)

There is one downside to a stay in Venice in late autumn and winter, however: acqua alta. Acqua alta, or “high water” is caused by a combination of tides and winds which force sea water into the Venetian Lagoon, which in turn rises above the level of the city streets, flooding the low-lying areas of this island city. Though locals are used to acqua alta, and the city is quick to set up walkways and alternative routes, this sudden flood of icy, sludgy sea water can cause consternation and inconvenience to visitors. Here's a quick survival guide for a low season/high water visit:

What To Do In Italy When It Rains

There's no denying that Italy is most enchanting when the weather is balmy. We especially love the spring and fall, when the air is so crisp that every view looks like a vintage postcard, you can comfortably tour even through the warmest hours of the afternoon, and the days are long enough to explore until evening.

umbrellas at yellow house
(Photo by Steve Hardy via Flickr)

Unfortunately, these are the same months in which the weather can be unpredictable and sudden showers can disrupt your carefully laid plans. One of the keys to a successful trip is being a bit flexible when the weather throws you for a loop, and finding a “Plan B” which will fill those wet hours or days with activities and experiences which keep you engaged...and dry! As Brian observed, “We were in Pienza the other day in the rain and saw a couple getting their bikes OFF their cars and setting out to ride around the countryside in pretty heavy rain. They didn't look very happy. A better idea - park the car and go have a leisurely lunch and a glass of wine.”

Here are a few ideas for those unforeseen stormy days when your plans of walking tours or countryside bike rides are better postponed:

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.

Guide to Grocery Shopping in Italy

One of the most enjoyable aspects of visiting Italy is eating out. From elegant ristoranti to homey trattorie, this country is where you will have some of the most unforgettable meals of your life.

Sometimes, however, there can be too much of a good thing. After dining out for days at a time, you may have the urge to prepare a meal for yourself - if you have access to a kitchen while traveling - so you can take a break from the more elaborate restaurant fare and not have to bother with sitting down and being served.

Grocery Store, Amalfi, Italy -- Oceania Mediterranean Cruise 2008 0422 N(Photo by Joe Ross via Flickr)

Luckily, the wonderful dishes you find eating out are founded on excellent ingredients which are easy to come by at Italian grocery stores, so you can pick up a few things at the local shop or supermarket and throw together a delicious home-cooked meal without too much fuss. Along with your shopping, you'll also take home the unique experience of viewing Italian culture through the lens of its familiar-yet-slightly-different food shopping venues, from outdoor markets to supermarkets.

Here are some tips to navigate grocery shopping in Italy:

Surviving Italy's Heatwave

The biggest news in Italy right now is the historic heatwave, which began a few weeks ago and seems to reluctant to leave...especially in the famously torrid cities of Rome and Florence.

hot-in-italy(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

If you are traveling in Italy during the summer, record breaking heatwave or not, you are likely to run into some sweltering Mediterranean weather. In this country in which air conditioning is not a given, it sometimes feels as if there is no respite. Here are some tips for finding a way to enjoy hot summer days in Italy without risking heatstroke!

Cellphones in Italy

It has become more and more important for travelers to have a working cellphone while abroad, both to be able to make and receive calls and to access the web. Everything from trip itineraries and maps to hotel and flight confirmations can be conveniently stored and accessed on smartphones, making travel logistics much more streamlined and easier to organize.

cellphone-italy(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Though most new phones purchased in the US will work in Italy with an American cellphone plan, traveling with your US SIM card using roaming services can be prohibitively expensive; you can quickly accumulate hundreds of dollars of charges, especially for overseas data roaming. Before you leave, check with your carrier about international plans which give you competitive rates for calls, texts, and data. We recently used T-Mobile during our last Italy trip, and were very happy with the unlimited data and texts included in our plan.

If you would rather not switch plans, another option is to purchase an Italian SIM card for use in your US phone while in Italy, which is quite simple to do and relatively inexpensive. Here's a quick guide:

Travel Advisory: Rome Fiumicino Airport

One the night of May 6th, a fire due to a short circuit broke out in Rome Fiumcino's international terminal, gutting a shopping area in Terminal 3 and causing dozens of flights to be cancelled or delayed, and of course travel complications for thousands of passengers. Considering that even more people are flying through Fiumicino (Leonardo da Vinci) airport this year than in past years (up 8% over last year), there is a fair amount of misery in store before and/or after your Italian vacation if you are flying through Rome.

FCO departure gates C(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

More than a month after the fire, the terminal is still not fully functional and travelers can expect some delays and inconvenience. Here's what we found after flying through Fiumicino last week:

How to Claim VAT Refunds in Italy

Claiming VAT (sales tax, or IVA in Italian) refunds in Italy is one of those situations which seems like a no-brainer in theory, but in practice the logistics and timing can often be dauntingly complicated. As Brian says, “It's not a slam dunk that is always worth the effort.” That said, if you have spent a significant amount of money on important purchases while traveling in Italy, you may want to dedicate the extra thought and time to pursuing a refund of the 20% EU Value-Added Tax that is applied on all consumer goods—excluding meal and accommodation costs, unless you are traveling for business--in Italy.

NOT only the Devil wears Prada!(Photo by Marcel Van den Berge via Flickr)


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...

Deciphering Your Restaurant Bill in Italy: Coperto, Servizio, and Tipping

Travelers to Italy often scratch their heads when presented with their restaurant bill. Though sales tax is (thankfully) included in the item prices, a number of mystery charges suddenly seem to surface when it is time to settle up. To avoid unpleasant surprises, here’s a quick overview of what these charges mean and when they apply:

Aperitivo(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

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)

Ordering at a Restaurant in Italy: Rules and Exceptions

There are many ordinary tasks and common customs that are daunting for a first time traveler to any country, including Italy. Things as simple as friendly greetings (buongiorno before lunch, buona sera after), purchases (money is placed on the counter, not directly in the hand; the same is true for your change), and business hours (ah, the beloved early afternoon riposo closure) require thought and a bit of getting used to...and as soon as you feel you’ve gotten the hang of it, you run into an exception.


The same is true for eating at a restaurant in Italy. Italian meals are articulated into a number of portate, or courses, and it helps to have a general idea of what each means and how to organize both your order and your meal. And then, of course, how to make an exception. Read More...

Bringing Food and Wine Souvenirs Back From Italy

You’ve traveled through Italy, enjoying the art and culture, trying out your newly-acquired Italian phrases on the locals, slowing down over a cappuccino or drinks in the piazza, and—most memorably—savoring some of the best meals of your life. It may be hard to recapture the Italian vibe at home, but you can try to recreate some of the Bel Paese’s iconic dishes. The easiest way, of course, would be to bring a sample of Italy’s excellent quality food back to the US with you, but it’s a good idea to be aware of which foods can and can’t be imported to avoid confiscation or hefty fines at the border. Read More...

Wifi Access in Italy: How to Get Online

Italy is known for many things: its history, culture, cuisine, and general joie de vivre attract travelers from across the globe, making the country one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. Unfortunately, Italy is also famous (or, more accurately, infamous) for its rather impenetrable bureaucracy, tangled laws, and dated infrastructure, making it one of the least “user-friendly” countries in Europe. Read More...

Italy’s Happiest Hour: L’Aperitivo

It is often said that Italy has a “food culture” rather than a “drink culture”, which is largely true. Most socialization happens around the table--not over a round of cocktails--and any sort of gathering necessarily includes a generous buffet ranging from delicate finger foods to hefty lasagne, accompanied by nothing more elaborate than water and wine. Read More...

The Best Beaches for Daytrips from Rome, Florence, and Venice

Here are suggestions for the best beaches for “daycations” from Rome, Florence, or Venice. These, like most Italian beaches, are well organized for daytrippers as the stabilimenti balneari, or beach establishments, almost always include a café (many serving food), bathrooms, shower and changing rooms, and beach chairs and umbrellas to rent by the day. Just bring a bathing suit and towel and enjoy your vacation...from your vacation! Read More...

Ferragosto: Chiuso per ferie

Of all the confounding holidays—of which Italy has many --perhaps the one that most often trips up the traveler is Ferragosto. Read More...

A Note on Tour Guides in Italy

Our tour guides are not only wonderful local contacts and sources of information for our travelers but they are also our eyes and ears. We can't be everywhere at once, and they keep us in tune with the newest and greatest developments in our favorite cities.

From newly unveiled archeological sites in Rome to a once-in-a-lifetime blanket of snow covering central Florence, they are out there every day discovering the new and re-discovering the ancient.

Image © Concierge in Umbria

Italy's Stringent Tour Guide Requirements

In Italy, being a tour guide is not a seasonal occupation or something one does for a few years before moving on to a "career."

It is a licensed specialty, a lifelong occupation that requires years of study and training. Many guides have advanced degrees in art history, ancient history, and languages – often more than one. And if they are guiding our clients we work with and know them personally.

Guides must be licensed by the city or region they guide in, which not only means that they live in and frequently come from the areas they guide in, but they know their area so well that they've passed rigorous exams on the history of their geographic specialty.

Similar to our own belief that an itinerary should be developed around the traveler's needs and interests, first rate, professional tour guides adapt their knowledge to create tailored tours for each traveler they guide.

If there are children in your group for example, a good guide will include things of special interest to their age group that they wouldn't normally include for adults.

We highly recommend local tour guidesImage © Concierge in Umbria

The Guided Tour Experience

When you visit a church or a ruin or a battlefield, that's what you see – carvings, stones, or grass – unless you know what to look for.

Having a person who not only knows what there is to see, but what of those things you are interested in, how and when best to see them, and the logical order to present them in is what turns sight-seeing into a transformational experience, a confrontation with history and culture that brings you into the experience instead of leaving you outside looking in.

The first time we took a guided tour, we were stunned at the hidden stories, anecdotes, and local legends that our guide showed us. And this was a small town. That we had visited several times. And thought we knew well.

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

Planning a Group Trip to Italy? Start Here

planning group trips to italy country villa
Image © Concierge in Umbria

Your entire extended family has decided to spend 10 days in Italy and you’ve volunteered to plan it. Coraggio - you’ve signed up for a lot!

Let these fundamental questions guide you to a better understanding of how to plan your trip.

How many are you?

planning group trips to italy family dinner
Image © Concierge in Umbria

Don’t say you don’t know. You’re allowed not to know, but don’t try to start planning if you’re still waiting to hear if your sister and her three daughters and their friends might join.

If you don’t know how large your group is, you won’t be able to reserve or put in a deposit on anything. So get that nailed down first.

What is your budget?

This is probably the hardest and most important question to answer before planning begins. Is one generous group member treating everyone or are you sharing the cost evenly? The former scenario is generally easier to plan - one financial decision maker generally guides the group to a quick consensus on a number of trip variables. If, however, people with diverse budgets are traveling together and everyone is splitting the costs equally, things can get dicey. In this case, it is critical to decide on “per person” or “per family group” budget parameters first, as this will determine the level of accommodation and services for your trip. Being up front with each other about the level of accommodations and services you’re willing to divide equally with the other members of the group will get things going in the right direction. That way, if someone in the group wants to splurge on a special activity or upgrade their accommodation, it can easily be added in later.

How do you plan to get around Italy?

You’ll also need to think about how you’re going to travel safely with minimal stress. We have had clients rent a big van with plans to drive themselves around the countryside only to call us on day two to have the van picked up and replaced with a professional driver. Think about it - if no one in your group has ever driven a big van in Florence, SC let alone Florence, Italy, you might want to consider letting someone else do the driving.

As it is, large vans are a rarity in Italy, and anything that fits more than 8 people will be slow and unable to fit into many narrow Italian streets. Whether you drive yourselves or hire help, consider splitting your group into smaller subsets with a smaller minivan each.

Which brings us to . . .

What do you (and everyone else) want to do?

planning group trips to italy family cooking class
Image © Concierge in Umbria

At least in broad strokes, you need some sort of idea as to what interests your group. Food. Wine. Music. Art.

It’s fine to split into a few groups with different interests, but you want to figure that out early on so you can plan your schedule and activities accordingly.

Gather everyone’s one or two top “must do” activities and see if it’s possible to accomplish those items together or if it’s better to have different options available each day.

But who is in charge of collating all that information? It’s important to have a group leader.

The best way to have a great trip as a group is to make sure everyone has a say but then let one person handle the coordination so nothing falls through the cracks.

There will also be times when a quick decision needs to be made, say between one villa and another or one day excursion and another lest both get filled while the whole group deliberates.

planning group trips to italy children in the vineyard
Image © Concierge in Umbria

Have we scared you away from planning a group trip to Italy?

We hope not. (Get re-inspired here!)

But if you’re feeling overwhelmed, give us a call and we’ll make sure your group has the trip of its dreams.

brian maria gabriella signature

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

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?


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


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.


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

When is the Best Time to Visit Italy?

best time to visit italy spring near Perugia
Spring at Terre Margaritelli vineyard near Perugia: © Concierge in Umbria

The first Monday of each month, we examine common questions our clients have about traveling to Italy. This month, we tackle a perennial stickler: when is the best time to visit Italy?

Each Italian season has its own charms. Summer brings music festivals and hiking in the Alps and Dolomites. Fall is for figs, foliage, and foraging for the elusive white truffle. And winter is time for skiing, Christmas holidays, and filling up on the hearty winter fare both require.

But we think spring is the best season of all.

Here are three reasons why:

1. Weather

best time to visit italy spring weater
Gull in Ischia: © Concierge in Umbria

In the summer, Italy is not only hot. In many places it is humid. And crowded. (Two conditions that definitely don’t help each other.) Thanks to its ample Mediterranean coastline, in much of Italy temperatures already creep into the 70s by April. Near the sea and in the tropical pocket around the Lake District, the weather is already nice enough for a bagno (dip in the water) in April or May.

2. Food

best time to visit italy fried artichokes
Fried artichokes: © Concierge in Umbria

Though every season has its own delicacies, spring is blessed with more than most. Delicate stalks of wild asparagus find their way into subtle risottos and spring pasta “alla carbonara”. Fava beans, a snack that is the sign of warmer times on their way, are eaten on their own or sautéed as a side or base for soup or pasta. Edible fresh flowers garnish dishes while their non-edible cousins adorn the table and the yard.

3. Experiences

best time to visit italy Easter lunch
Easter lunch: © Concierge in Umbria

One of the best spring experiences is actually food related. Foraging has remained an everyday practice in Italy, and spring is the best time to uncover nature's hidden treasures. But spring in Italy offers many other reasons to get outside. Many towns schedule their Palio in May, such as our favorite, the 900-year-old Festa dei Ceri (Festival of the Candles) in Gubbio. And if you can time your trip for Easter, Holy Week, and the Monday national holiday Pasquetta, you'll see a whole new side of Italian culture.

Spring is the ideal time to get out of Italy’s storied cities and experience the delights of its countryside and smaller towns. If you’re looking for ideas for your own spring Italian vacation, we’re happy to help.

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

Condé Nast Traveler: Video Tips from a Specialist

CIU’s Maria Gabriella was featured in a video on Condé Nast Traveler’s Perrin Post this week. The video was taken during the Condé Nast Traveler Top Travel Specialists Summit held at the Ritz-Carlton in Grand Cayman at the beginning of January.

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

Traveling Between Rome, Florence and Venice: Stopovers to Round Out Your Trip

Whether it’s your first trip to Italy or you’ve traveled the Bel Paese so often that you can almost call it your second home, some cities just never get old. As many times as you might visit the cultural capitals of Rome, Florence, and Venice – with all their history, art, and unmistakable Italian vibe – you are bound to discover something new on each trip. That said, though these three cities are among Italy’s most popular destinations, we’ve got a secret.

There’s a lot of Italy left to explore in between. Read More...

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

Why Are There No Deals On Travel To Italy?

 Image: © Concierge in Umbria

The global economy has been in the gutter for the last five years. Mediterranean countries like Spain and Greece are haggling with their EU brethren for astonishingly large bailouts. Italy has implemented such strong austerity measures that there seems to be a protest somewhere in the country every day.

So why are there no deals on travel to Italy?

The Recession's Effects on Italian Tourism

Former Greek tourist hotspots may have turned into ghost towns, but Italy is still building new hotels further and further from popular city centers like Florence to accommodate all the visitors jostling to stay in the peninsula's graceful historical cities.

In fact, as more exotic locations become increasingly inaccessible to the average traveler due to rising flight prices, countries like Italy with frequent flights, many airports, and airline competition to stay flight price inflation see increases in incoming visitors.

Italy is Always in Demand

Italian travel, much like Italian fashion, just never seems to go out of style. So Italian hotels, attractions, and tour operators have no reason to put their wares on sale. Many have even continued to raise their prices right on through the recession. And high-end hotels continue to open at break-neck rates.

As a result, not only can travelers not expect to get deals on travel bookings—even and especially at the last minute—but you might not even be able to stay in good hotels or even major cities if you don't book well in advance.

How Far in Advance Must You Book Travel to Italy?

The short answer? As early as possible.

The longer answer? It depends on the destination and time of year you plan to travel.

There is no specific window, but as soon as you know who/how many people are going and your dates, get the framework of your trip laid out. Spots in the best (not just quality, but quality for price) hotels fill up fast and there often are not many rooms in great establishments, particularly outside the big cities.

Six months ahead is really ideal, and while we can usually find you something closer to your travel dates – even at the last minute – in peak season in major destinations, it will be extremely difficult.

But now is the perfect time to get a head start on your summer and fall travel plans. Check out our top ten favorite Italian experiences for some inspiration.

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