In about July, I was still at Uni and I had finished all my exams for the session. I was drained: I had broken up with my boyfriend, I had moved into a different apartment, went back and forth to Italy three times and I was still relatively sick with my eating disorder. I was terribly homesick, and I hadn’t had the time to book anything for the holidays. I came back to my parents’ house, my siblings were not there, my mom neither. Everyone was on vacay, except for my Dad because he can never go in August for his job. I dropped my suitcase and realize: holy s**t, I do need to go on vacation, and I need to go ALONE.
I have always loved solo traveling because I want to be free to do *whatever* the hell I want on vacation, and I love the possibility to meet strangers! Yes, I have a thing with strangers, if you haven’t noticed yet. That seemed a perfect opportunity. My next question was: where? And the answer was literally immediate: by car, around my beautiful motherland <3.
*Italy Road Trip*
The only thing I booked was the first 3 stops, which included a ferry to skip half of the country going down because I would have driven through on my way back to the North (I am from the NW coast). Grabbed my backpack, my car, and started heading towards Tuscany.
It was AMAZING. I saw so much beauty, heritage, art, and so many museums, palazzos, and adorable villages… and ate *SUCH GREAT FOOD*… That I seriously and deeply fell in love again with my mama land. It was just what I needed after months spent in the cold of Northern Europe. I stumbled upon endless UNESCO World Heritage Sites even when I wasn’t looking for them, and untouched wild nature everywhere. It was just great.
Below you can find my stops, suggested places to see, restaurants, and some of the hotels I stayed at. They are not all super cheap, because since many times I stayed over friends’ places, I could splurge a little more on accommodation when I was not a guest. But I loved them all. I will not write about all the places, only those where I had to do a bit more research or where I discovered hidden gems.
Start from: Genoa (Liguria)
Pienza – Val d’Orcia (Tuscany) // 2 days
Rome (Lazio) // 2 days
Tarquinia (Lazio) // 1/2 day
Ferry from Civitavecchia (Lazio) to Termini Imerese (Sicily) // 22h
Palermo (Sicily) // 2 days
Ortygia – Syracuse (Sicily) // 4 days
Tropea (Calabria) // 1/2 day
Rofrano – Cilento and Vallo Diano National Park – Marina di Camerota (Campania) // 3 days
Hercolaneum – Pompeii (Campania) // 2 days
Caserta (Campania) // 1 day
Bologna (Emilia Romagna) // 1/2 day
Ferrara (Emilia Romagna) // 2 days
Padua (Veneto) // 2 days
Vicenza (Veneto) // 1/2 day
End: Genoa (Liguria)
The total was between 21-22 days (I cannot remember well how it went during the overnight ferry because the engine broke down during navigation and it took more than expected).
Pienza and the Gladiator:
Penza is a little, hidden gem in the middle of Val d’Orcia, which is a UNESCO site and exceptionally well maintained. It is the perfect place to relax, less crowded than Volterra, or San Giminiano, but equally stunning. Amazing wine, agriturismi, food choice, artisans’ shops, art and heritage are everywhere. I unplugged and felt on vacation as soon as I got there.
//Tips and Tricks//
The entire Pienza is a UNESCO Site so you cannot park or enter the center with the car unless your hotel gives you a permit to drop your luggage. I decided to stay at a Hotel outside the city walls and go there by car. If you arrive early in the morning, you can find white, free parking outside the walls, but you have to be patient and not arrive at lunchtime when everyone is sitting at a restaurant and won’t move their cars.
//Where I stayed//
I splurged on the hotel. It was my first stay and I needed to RELAX. I had a discount on Booking.com so I paid less. However, it is still expensive. Is it worth it? YES, IT IS. it’s a DREAM PLACE if you want to rest, in a quiet paradise *with olive trees, white horses and infinity pool*.
*Borgo Sant’Ambrogio (I paid 100/150 per night)
//What to Visit//
Visit Palazzo Piccolomini. It is beautiful, there are very good but cheap guided tours, and you walk through an amazing roof garden and terrace with a view over Val d’Orcia. Then, Walk around the main street and around the walls. It is a fascinating and intact little town, and walking around is an experience on its own.
When you leave, don’t rush. Wait for the late afternoon (the golden hour is *SICK* around Tuscany’s hills) and descend the curvy and hilly SP18. Looks familiar? YES! That is where some scenes of the movie the Gladiator was shot! If you really want to see the same street where Maximus was walking, you need to be a bit adventurous (make sure you have a decent car) and drive a bit of a dirt road. Google “Agriturismo Terrapille”, which is where you have to head to, and google maps will give you two options: TAKE THE LONGEST ONE unless you have a car you feel comfortable with. I took the short one, and I made it, but I had my doubts here and there. It’s VERY narrow, steep and bumpy, BUT, you literally take the same road of Maximo. You choose.
If you are looking for the perfect cypress avenue picture, look for the many “poggio” around Val d’Orcia. My favorite one was Poggio Covili. Absolutely stunning.
Palermo left me speechless. It is overwhelmingly beautiful in its baroque, splendor. You literally breathe the opulence of past richness everywhere, something that is long gone and that it is too expensive to maintain. Every balcony is enriched with decorations, curls, statues, and embellishments. These are eroded by years of insufficient care and confer to Palermo its charm: a place where time seems to have stopped. It left me melancholic and in love, with the beauty and the ugly, the perfumes and the smell of the open markets, the hottest sun I have ever felt and the strong, fascinating and beautiful Sicilian temperament and language.
//Tips and Tricks//
Palermo is messy, and people drive like crazy. STAY CALM, take a deep breath. Don’t get angry and understand that it is part of the local culture to yell, honk, etc. Contact your BB or hotel and ask for help with parking. Be careful that if you want to enter the city center by car, you need to buy a day-pass (a little paper ticket) and send an SMS with your license plate number. You can buy it at many Tabacchino (tobacco shop). Do this *BEFORE* entering the center.
//Where I stayed//
This time I stayed in a B&B. THE CUTEST B&B, with the best breakfast, people, room and in an incredible historical building. I highly suggest this amazing business, right in the heart of Palermo.
//What to Visit//
I will not spend time writing about all those places that you can find on any guide online and offline, because they are all beautiful, ALL worth visiting, and easy to find (the Cathedral, the Norman Palace, I Quattro Canti, Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio, Piazza Pretoria, The Opera Theatre…). I want to suggest a couple of places that are not so easy to find on a map:
Chiesa del Gesù (also known as Casa Professa): a Jesuit church, one of the most beautiful baroque churches in the world, considered a masterpiece of Sicilian Baroque Architecture (XVII cent.) I won’t tell you anything else. JUST GO THERE and tell me how many times you have fainted while looking at *that ceiling*.
Open Markets: pick one or two, mind your expensive iPhone, don’t buy illegal cigarettes, and walk around. Listen to what people say, sing, yell. Have fun. Ask information without letting yourself get intimidated but the rustic look of the owners of the stands:-). It’s funny, yummy, dirty (on the floor), and messy! I loved it.
Get a Gelato or a Granita for breakfast, like the real Sicilians. How to choose? Always look at the color of pistachio: is unnaturally green? Bad place. Go elsewhere. No pistachio? Get the hell out of there! Huge mountains of gelato exposed in the vitrines? HELL NO. Some of the best gelaterie and pastry shops in Palermo: Pasticceria Alba (piazza San Giovanni Bosco, 7), Antico Caffè Spinnato (via Principe di Belmonte, 111) and Antica Gelateria Ilardo (Foro Italico Umberto I, 1), Antica Pasticceria Don Gino (Bagheria – via D. Alighieri, 66).
This is the end of this article! if you want to know more about the following locations, check part II!