You love the Italian language, I know. And Italy. The places, the landscape, the food, the dolce vita…
Italy, in the mind (and heart) of foreigners, is a happy place, where people enjoy a slow life, filled with scrumptious meals, sunsets with a view, music that lights up our days and evenings.
How much of this is just a cliché?
There isn’t a right or wrong answer, as we say in Italian: la bellezza è negli occhi di guarda, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Can you visualize this scene:
having a glass of wine at the border of a vineyard, in the light breeze of a May evening in Tuscany, sweet hills rolling down in front of you, the smell of freshly cooked food pervading the air
How magnificent it is, is up to you, you decide the degree of beauty. The emotions that such an experience awake, are often enough for many people to decide to learn Italian and visit the country, maybe even move there for a while, or for ever.
I cannot deny the power of this visualization, and I am very lucky to have experienced it in real life. For as much as it sounds like a stereotype, I must admit, as an Italian, that everything in Italy is fascinating, we just don’t always recognize the beauty of little (and big!) things because we are used to them. This is true for both our artistic heritage and our language.
Traveling to Italy is a dream for many, many people. There is so much to see, to do, to eat that it can even be overwhelming! Indeed, planning a trip to Italy is not as easy as it seems.
Even though Italy is not a big country, there are plenty of places to visit, so be very specific when you plan your stay. You may be tempted to do one of those “10 cities in 10 days” tours because you don’t know when or if you’ll be able to go to Italy again and you don’t want to miss anything. But, please don’t fall into the FOMO trap, it’s the enemy of a well-planned travel – that you will actually enjoy.
My recommendation is to select a few cities or areas that are near to each other and well connected. You are looking for a life-changing experience, not for something you can show off on your social media. So take some time to do your research and choose what is closer to your heart.
If you have Italian ancestors maybe you can start with their hometown and plan your vacation from there. Even if it is a tiny village that seems to be in the middle of nowhere, don’t worry, you are in Italy and there is always something close to visit – a museum, a beach, ancient ruins, an organic farm, a lake, an MB trail, etc.
The best times to visit Italy are spring and late summer/beginning of fall, but vacations are in summer, for most of us and even for Italians.
There are two major problems when traveling to Italy in full summer: the heat and the closed stores. This happens in August in a lot of towns because everybody goes on holiday!
So you may find deserted streets in a city and overcrowded beaches (and highways) – this literally happened to me in Puglia a few years ago: after driving around for about an hour to find a parking spot for our car, we finally went to the beach, only to find out that there was no space left for even a towel on the sand! So we stayed in the street, under a tree, and after a while we noticed that a line of people was forming, waiting for us to go away from the shade! In a couple of hours or so, most people went home so we took our car again and went to our favourite beach for a long walk right before sunset.
How to solve the problem of closed stores? If you are in the South, don’t panic. It’s so hot that they have different opening hours in summer: a few hours in the morning and then late in the afternoon. So don’t even bother melting in the sun to find an open alimentari, just go after 5 pm – an alimentari is a mini-market kind of store, usually family run, that still survives in smaller towns.
If you are in the North or in Central Italy, and you are not in a typical Italian holiday location, then you can potentially find a lot of closed businesses (clothes shops, restaurants, bars, etc.). Things are changing lately because even Italians are anticipating or postponing their holidays, so even in August you can plan a *shopping-satisfactory* vacation.
But the heat? Even though you cannot totally avoid it, there are some tricks that you can use when planning your trip.
The Italian summer blooms with events of all kinds and many are indeed by night. So you may want to take these recommendations into account:
- Schedule your visits/tours for the early morning or the late afternoon, try to avoid the hottest time of the day (12 pm to 4 pm). I know this sounds obvious, but when you are in another country and you are not sure of how things work, every detail counts.
- Look for events that are held at night (craft shows, cinema, museums nights, etc).
- Buy your tickets in advance. Many museums and historical sites offer the option of booking your ticket/entrance. Take advantage of this when possible, you will avoid hours-long lines under the burning sun.
- Reserve your table inside (with air conditioning) for lunch, and for dinner, if the temperature is bearable enough, eat outside. But don’t ask for “al fresco”, instead ask for “un tavolo fuori/all’aperto/nel giardino esterno”.
- If you are going to the beach, in Italy we have spiaggia libera and bagni or lidi. At a bagno, you can find everything you need (umbrellas, beach chairs, bar, restaurant, toilet, etc), but before checking in, ask what is included in the tariff. If you know in advance how long you are going to stay, you can also get a weekly or monthly price – some of these structures are really crowded in August and they give priority to returning customers.
These suggestions are easily implemented if you are in Tuscany – and I only mention Tuscany because it’s where I live, so I know it better than any other place, but every Italian region has its own events and festivals.
In Lucca, for example, shops are open until midnight every Thursday of the month of July. This is very convenient if you have spent the day at the beach and don’t want to give up on shopping. Plus, July is the month of seasonal sales so it’s a win-win.
One thing that I love about summer is going to the cinema outside, in a villa garden or a park. In Lucca the back garden of Villa Bottini hosts almost three months worth of movies, every night (from blockbusters to elite). Movies are in Italian, but some smaller “cineforum” often offer original versions, so check if there are any in the area you will be staying.
If you are an art lover, Tuscany has a lot to give you, but waiting for hours in a steaming street with no shade is not worth it. In Florence you can go to museums by night and enjoy art at the right temperature!
Also, don’t forget that you can reserve your ticket, so you don’t have to stand in line for too long, here you can check how it works at the Uffizi.
Here in Tuscany there are also many festivals that include food, music, markets, street performers. Some of these food festivals are called sagra, they are very popular and usually you can have good food for a good price. And it’s also very likely for you to find a dance-floor where older couples dance traditional Italian dances. La sagra is often the best option when you come from the beach and it’s a little late already and you don’t want to cook at home.
There is also another kind of festival that has a lot of success and it is medieval/fantasy inspired (check la Festa dell’unicorno for example). At this kind of festivals you are free – actually you are encouraged, to dress like your heroes and perform in the streets. Of course, there is also a lot of food and merchandise stalls.
Mercantia festival is another very popular one, it’s a street theater event that takes place in an ancient borgo for a few days every summer, it is definitely worth a visit. You will discover amazing artists and crafters.
Of course, there is a lot of music too: Lucca Summer Festival, Pistoia Blues, Barga Jazz, Festival Puccini, and many many more, just do a little research to find where your favourite music festival is happening.
I could write for another hour, there is really a lot you can do in Tuscany, and a lot you can do without “suffering” too much because of the heat.
I just would like to share with you a couple more links that I think you are going to love:
- Tuscan cooking classes in the Siena countryside at Juls’ Kitchen;
- A Girl in Florence that knows all the best spots in the city;
You can find a lot of useful information on their sites that will help you plan your visit to Tuscany.