Travelogue: Northern Italy in 14 days

Travelogue: Northern Italy in 14 days

Each month, we give you the floor to tell your best holiday memories. Alex and Marina left with their two children for a fortnight in Italy with the idea of discovering a maximum of places and cities. We love Italy and wanted to share our love for this country with our daughters: for its culture, its history and its gastronomy. When we prepared our trip in the spring, the objective was to visit the northern part of Italy in stages: Bologna, Rome, Florence, Siena, Pisa and finally Liguria (San Remo), a journey of 3,500 kilometres round trip from the Paris region, all by car:-)

Day 1 Sunday : 1st August departure from Chamonix

After a day in Chamonix in Savoie, avoiding driving more than 6 hours a day and therefore spending the whole day on the road, we head for the Mont-Blanc tunnel. As usual during the holidays, we find ourselves in a long line of French cars (for the most part), wishing to go to the Italian side.once we have passed the first Mont-Blanc tunnel, we are finally in Italy in the Aosta valley: no more Savoyard landscapes, it is no longer the same panorama, only a few tens of kilometres away, the climate is much drier. Although the Mont Blanc Tunnel is now behind us, the tunnels are not over at all. This is something to be aware of when you decide to visit Italy by car.

We also discovered the joy of paying a few dozen euros in tolls every 100-200 kilometres. Italian motorways are not cheap, far from it. To go from the Paris region to Rome, you have to pay almost 200 euros in tolls. You have to do the maths: fly on an EasyJet or RyanAir flight or drive, between petrol, tolls and wear and tear on the car, not to mention the time spent on the road, the difference is actually quite small. Another important precaution to take into account once you have crossed the border, pay attention to your gas gauge because between the Aosta Valley and the arrival in Lombardy (around Milan), gas stations are not legion, we had a few scares.Once the 4 hours and a half drive between Chamonix and Bologna, we decided to make a first stop for the evening. We wanted to discover this charming town of which we had read some very positive comments from travellers. We booked a hotel room at the Starhotels Excelsior, very close to the station. Once we had packed our bags, we set off to discover the city in a hurry, as we only had the evening to spare. Here we are, strolling through the city centre for an hour or two, we can see the history and the richness of the heritage. Bologna is not the most famous of Italian cities, but it is full of places to visit: the Piazza Maggiore and the Palazzo dell'Archiginnasio or the Piazza Santo Stefan. The city centre is bourgeois and very gastronomically oriented. Some streets, like Via degli Orefici, are full of restaurants and trattorias.We enjoy stumbling upon a classical music concert playing

Stravinsky's Orpheus in Piazza Maggiore, with the national orchestra in full rehearsal for the next day's broadcast on RAI television. We make a short stop in a Trattoria, our first restaurant in Italy. What better way to start than with a pasta dish. We take the Bolognese speciality (don't talk to them about pasta bolognese, it doesn't exist) but we have to ask for the pastas con ragu (tomato sauce with finely chopped beef). And we finish with an ice cream (Gelato) in the famous chain of artisanal ice creams VENCHI present in many big Italian cities. We lose the artisanal aspect but the quality is really there, and we will have the opportunity to realize it in the following days, the quality of the Italian restaurant is not to be demonstrated anymore: it is necessary to say one thing, we are rarely disappointed. It is a reflex to use Tripadvisor, but we could really do without it if we went by must be said: stopping in this very beautiful city of Bologna is the first good plan of this stay in Italy.

Day 2: arrival in Rome, visit of the city, upper part (Borgese, Trevi fountain) We take the road early in the morning for this second day in Italy. We did well to cut the road in 2 to reach the city of Rome: making the journey by car is quite ambitious as the route is long and complicated. Looking at a map of Italy, you don't realise how hilly this country is. The series of curves and tunnels makes the road really exhausting.

From the outside, the city does not shine by its aestheticism. We head south of the city centre, to a flat booked on an Airbnb. Obviously, our flat is not the only one transformed into an Airbnb accommodation as it is done a lot in the big European tourist capitals. We met other French holidaymakers in the hall of the building, and we decided to stay as close as possible to the city centre so as not to waste time in the metro or car when we had to go back to our flat in the evening. Once we had unloaded all our suitcases in the flat, we left in a hurry; we had no time to lose in discovering the charms of the city of Rome. We brave the heat which is at its peak today.

(We take the metro line B towards the city centre and its famous Piazza di Popolo. This square, located in the heart of the historic city centre, is already a great place to visit. Historically, it is the starting point of the Via Flaminia, an important Roman road that led to Rimini and to the north of Italy. In the centre of the square stands an obelisk with intriguing hieroglyphics. We then take the splendid staircase leading to the 80-hectare municipal park where the Villa Borghese is nestled and where we will seek some shade. This upper part has a false air of the Bois Boulogne for its small ponds and the boat rides with more character. The comparison stops there.

Once out of the gardens, we went back down to the city centre to the Trevi Fountain, another highly iconic place in Rome. Like any good tourist, we took a series of photos and made a wish by throwing a coin into the fountain... It must be said that we never tire of contemplating this majestic fountain with its countless sculptures and its resolutely baroque style.We got out of the flow of tourists around the Trevi Fountain and took the metro back to our accommodation to finish our day and refresh ourselves. It was a day, well afternoon, quite intense with about fifteen kilometres done. The city of Rome stretches over a few kilometres, it's on foot that the visit is the most captivating as we discover architectural wonders at each corner, but at the end of the day, we must admit that we are panic-stricken to see the number of steps taken on our connected watch :-)!


Day 3: visit of the ancient part of Rome (Colosseum, Forum, Mount Palatine)

Third day in Rome, the sun is still present and very early in the morning. The third day in Rome, the sun is still very present and very early in the morning, which means that coming to Rome in August, you are exposed to high temperatures. If you don't like the sun and high temperatures, you should come here in spring or late autumn! Direction the Colosseum, which is quite close to our flat, we go back up to the Circus Maximus, a few hundred meters away.

We booked the visit (yes, it is also an obligation to anticipate in these times of COVID, all visits are by reservation only and require the Sanitary Pass).The entrance to the Colosseum is smooth. We spend the morning walking up and down the spans of this incredible site of antiquity, proof of the excellence of Roman civilisation in its time.

Although partially destroyed and having suffered much damage over the centuries, the Colosseum remains sufficiently preserved to understand all the history hidden behind its walls. In turn, as a place of drama with its legendary circus games, then as a place for water jousts, and even as a religious place (converted into a chapel), we learn a little more about the history of this fabulous site. It is hard to imagine that tens of thousands of spectators gathered there to watch the killing of animals and regularly gladiators or slaves. With our 21st century eyes, this may seem insane to us. After a fresh break at lunchtime, we reserve our afternoon for a visit to the spectacular ruins of the Roman Forum, followed by a walk on Mount Palatine, the most famous of Rome's hills, where legend claims that the she-wolf nursed the two founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus. This legend, which is present everywhere in the city, tells us that Romulus killed his brother before founding Rome on the river bank. Once this legend is in mind and you have arrived on this hill, you must of course see the splendid Domus Flavia palace, the Stadium of Domitian or the House of Augustus. And finally, of course, you must take the time to contemplate the beautiful views of Rome from its heights.

You can see all the historical spots of the city: St. Peter's Basilica, St. Peter's Square, St. Angel's Castle, the Pantheon dome etc. The tour ends here after a good day of sightseeing under a blazing sun! Think of your water bottles or water bottles before the morning walk, it is more than useful, you can then fill them in the drinking water fountains present everywhere in the city.


Day 4: visit of the Vatican and the Castel Sant'AngeloLast day of visit in Rome, today.


We set our visits to the north of the Tiber in an area that is a little more out of the way, but no less interesting: the Vatican! Whether you are an atheist or not, the Vatican is a must-see! Once there, you feel the weight of history. Everything seems frozen. You are struck by the immensity of the buildings and the aspect so intact and grandiose.

The interior of St. Peter's Basilica is of course the focal point of the visit. We are pleasantly surprised that, despite these COVID times, we do not have to queue for an hour or two, as we feared before leaving in the morning. Before leaving, we contemplate Saint Peter's Square. Before leaving, we contemplate St Peter's Square and imagine a mass celebrated by the Pope from the window in front of 200,000 faithful. After this morning of visit, we stop to eat, the occasion before leaving Rome to taste one of the great culinary specialities of the area: the saltimbocca alla romana. We are not disappointed, this veal cutlet with an aromatic white wine sauce and sage is just delicious. We have one of our best welcomes of the holiday in this little restaurant near St. Peter's Square (Address: ristorante Venerina, Borgo Pio, 38, 00193 Roma).In the afternoon we finish with a visit to the Castel Sant'Angelo not far from the Vatican, one of the only buildings that has followed the development of the city of Rome for about 2000 years, remaining in a decent state.The roofs of the castle are again a great opportunity to see Rome from above and to take some nice photos.

Before leaving Rome, we are still missing an essential visit to show the children an emblematic place: the Pantheon. We managed to slip into the queue just before closing time, and we were able to contemplate the interior of the place with its breathtaking open dome, for the time, yet another proof of the architectural talent of the Romans. Finally, before finishing the day, how could we not have an ice cream, it would be a mistake, as the city has some of the best ice cream shops in the country! We opt for Giolitti, the most famous in Rome, near Piazza Navona.

Thursday 5 August: from Rome to Florence, with a stopover in Siena

This Thursday, our reservation comes to an end. We set off again for Florence and the beautiful region of Tuscany. We make a short stopover in Siena to discover the charms of this small Italian provincial town, which is full of charms beyond the famous Piazza Del Campo, located in the historic centre and the setting for the annual horse races, the Palio. This competition, held annually, pits riders representing each of the city's 17 districts against each other.

This unofficial competition is very dangerous, but it has become part of the customs of the local population. Siena is full of other architectural marvels such as the Cathedral of St. Francis or the Duomo di Siena with its typical Tuscan design built in polychrome marble (white, serpentine green and red).but as you walk through the narrow streets you will also find some very nice surprises such as the old wash house situated below the Cathedral of St. Francis. It allows you to sit down in the shade and recharge your batteries in the peace and quiet, far from the crowds of visitors who come to Siena's city centre every day, like a Buddhist monk who stumbled upon it. To eat at any time of the day, small restaurants are easily found. We stop at one of them in via di Città, the Bar Osteria Il Bargello. Here you can find traditional Italian meals: bruschettas, pastas al Ragu and more local meat specialities.

We let ourselves be tempted by a peposo Dell'impruneta. In concrete terms, this is a beef stew with a pepper and red wine sauce (usually Chianti). To get a boost for the end of the day, you can take a break to enjoy another local art of living, a caffé. We take it at a small coffee roaster. We enjoy a home-roasted Arabica, and even a delicious iced coffee creamer. This good address in Siena is Via di Citta' 13, 53100 (Torrefazione Fiorella). For a taste of Italy, this is also a must. Well, clearly we're moving up a level, as a Frenchman, we feel a bit in the amateur division when we drink our espresso capsules from our state-of-the-art Virtuo Nespresso machine. The espresso or Ristretto is a very reduced espresso compared to what we know in France. People with sensitive stomachs should not try it! The Italian purist may look at you with a strange eye, but opt for the Americano, which is more like our long coffee. It's really much more diluted but more bearable, especially for breakfast. We hit the road again after a few hours of sightseeing, heading for Florence, just an hour away. If you decide to go to Tuscany, it's a good plan to know that Siena can be done quite well in a day, having its "base camp" in Florence.

Friday 6th August: 2nd day in Florence

For our first full day in Florence, we decided to start with a visit to one of the jewels of Florentine heritage: the Basilica Santa Croce. Santa Croce is located in the square of the same name, which you can reach from the Duomo (cathedral) by taking via del Proconsolo to the piazza di San Firenze. At the end of the piazza, turn left into borgo de' Greci until you reach the piazza di Santa Croce, the largest Franciscan church in the world, which is over 800 years old. It has a less ostentatious style.

However, it houses treasures in its interior. In the end, it is a veritable Pantheon of the personalities of the Arts and Sciences of the city of Florence. You can see the cenotaph of Dante and the tombs of Michelangelo, Machiavelli, Rossini and Galileo. After this very instructive visit, we stumbled into an alleyway where we noticed an endless queue in front of a sandwich shop. After a quick consultation on Tripadvisor, we understand that we are dealing with a "nugget" for eating on the go: All'Antico Vinaio.

If you go there, you will certainly fall for the "Summer" or the "Number 5", as we did. The only sandwiches on offer here are those made from Foccacia. The compositions are relatively simple but so tasty made from home-made cold meats, white hams, pochetta (a kind of cold roast pork very tasty), truffle creams (tartufio!) or potato creams.The rest of the afternoon, we continue our discovery of the city by walking through the different streets of the city, a passage by the Duomo and of course on the Ponte Vecchio with the unavoidable photos associated with it.

And yes, how can we not talk about this bridge, so emblematic of the city of Florence, and even of Italy, surely in the top 5 of the monuments and works of history that are a must see in Italy.

This bridge, despite its simple appearance, is atypical and has a long history of 8 centuries, which is interesting in itself. Initially built in wood in the Middle Ages, it was destroyed around 1300, following a major flood in the city.

At the end of the day, after a few kilometres of walking, we can offer ourselves a small reward, towards the shop of the best ice-cream maker of the city, La Strega Nocciola, for "a gelato": in this shop, there are some exquisite flavours to recommend: the Mayan chocolate (pepper-chili-chocolate) or Dolce Di Fiori (cream flavour)... a pure delight. In general, all the flavours are there, whatever the chosen flavour.

After a few more streets, we decide to have dinner in Piazza della Repubblica, one of the liveliest squares in the city: attracted by the presence of a musician not far from there, making this already lively square even more lively. The opportunity in this trattoria to taste a new Italian speciality that we had not yet had the time to appreciate: gnocchi. A new day ends in this sublime city of Florence.

Saturday August 7: 3rd day to refresh in Florence


For this third day, we slow down the pace of visits, the first 2 days having allowed us to discover the main places to visit and to walk through many streets of the city.

We decided to go this time to a green place more favourable to the stroll.after a quiet morning around the hotel's swimming pool, we took the way to the BOBOLI garden adjacent to the not less famous Pitti Palace in the northern part of Florence. This huge garden overlooks part of the city and is a perfect place to contemplate the beauty of Florence from its heights and to see the surrounding hills typical of Tuscany.

In this summer period, a little advice: don't forget the mosquito repellent. It is an understatement to say that mosquitoes are present wherever you are in Tuscany.


Sunday 8th August: Day 4, contemplating the beauty of Florence, from the heights of the city


Last day of our visit to Florence, we have already taken advantage of this magical city.On this beautiful afternoon, as every day since our arrival in Italy, we decide to take a step up. We go to admire a panorama very popular with tourists for the nice pictures, at the level of Piazzale Michelangelo, with a view over the whole city of Florence. The square itself is quite ugly... It has been tarred and is used as a large car park for visitors in cars and tourist be more quiet, there is a trick which consists in stopping instead at the Palazzo deo Vescovi by the city a few hundred meters from the Piazzale Michelangelo, that shows very strongly, on a small kilometre when you arrive by the centre of Florence... But it is worth it.

It is really situated above the city. This viewpoint is very popular with visitors, but not only. We come across a young married couple posing in front of a fiat 500,... Very nice shot, these grooms have good taste! The end of the day is approaching, we go back to the city centre, which is done very quickly from Piazzale Michelangelo thanks to the countless staircases that lead back to level 0, so to speak. We can relax for a few more moments at a temporary lounge bar set up along the banks of the Arno, which becomes an open-air bar-club at nightfall.

Monday 9 August: change of region, transition from Tuscany to Liguria Imperia


The visit to Tuscany comes to an end today. We return to our hotel room. We will now move closer to France to shorten the distance back home. We are heading for a much lesser known region of Italy: Liguria Imperia. This region borders our region PACA. Today, 4 hours and 30 minutes of driving are waiting for us, interspersed with 2 beautiful visits. First imposed stop in Pisa (which is part of Tuscany, we sometimes forget it).

This city is irrigated by a continuous flow of tourists. We don't miss the traditional trompe l'oeil photo (hand pushing the tower in the foreground). In Piazza dei Miracoli, you can also admire the Tuscan-style church: emblematic polychrome marble. A few hours at the most are enough for this passage through Pisa.

This city does not have the richness of heritage of Siena, which is quite comparable in size, and we quickly set off again towards the outskirts of Genoa, on the Mediterranean coast. This time, we land on the seaside, in the beautiful town of Rapallo. The first idea is to visit the village of Portofino, which we had heard a lot about before coming here, although Portofino is not one of the 5 very famous villages of the 5 Lands that we did not visit before