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The Perfect Italy Quickie: 10 days, 3 cities, and all the food

Updated: Nov 17, 2022

Italy Quickie


/'ĭt′l-ē,ˈkwikē/

INFORMAL noun


1. a short-term romantic relationship with an Italian man or woman, taking place in the hometown of said person

2. a quick trip to Italy, lasting 10 days or less


Let's talk about #2.


No matter how much we overrun Italy with tourism, it's still the country with beautiful people who dress to the nines to go to the grocery store, the best-value pasta in the world, and table wine that Americans regularly pay $30 / bottle to drink. The fact that you've been there 5x may be a good reason not to spend your summer there, but it doesn't mean you shouldn't stop by for a quick visit.


My Austrian and Chinese friends had an Italian castle wedding last summer so I made it a 10-day, 3-city trip to Rome, Cinque Terre, and Florence. Italy had opened the week before we went, so it was super packed - but we did a few things to ensure that we stayed out of the terror of the crowds, and I recommend anyone doing the same trip to take similar precautions.


In this article, I have some general information about my personal experience in Italy, in June 2022. If you don't feel like reading and just want to watch some videos, you can check out my IG Stories highlight from the trip.


 

Table of Contents for the skimmers:


 

General Italy Travel


Train travel


Italia Rail is the main train for the route that we did. To book, just go online directly to the website and book as fast as you can, because it logs you out after a certain amount of time (I think 10 minutes). This happened to us when we were booking as a group and taking time to make decisions and get our passport info together so just be ready.


Restaurants


If you're going to Italy in high season make reservations beforehand. I know it takes the fun out of it to plan and if that's your style that's great but just know that you won't get some of the really popular places. Not a huge problem because Italy has consistently great value food all over the place. If you have spots in mind, however, you're going to want to reserve. Some places do reservations online, and if not, just call and ask if the person who answers the phone speaks English - many Italians do.


As for timing, when it comes to dinner get ready to adjust your bio clock if you're an American. No one eats dinner at 7:00 or 8:00 in Italy, it's more like 9:00-10:00 so just be ready to embrace it. Sleep in if you can.


COVID


Italy was basically ground zero for Europe during COVID so Italians are. understandably still very cautious. Masks were definitely still in-vogue in June 2022 so make sure you're a good diplomat and bring yours with you everywhere. You can take it off in most places but its a good gesture to offer to wear it. We did have to show proof of vaccination to enter the country and to fly back.


 

Cinque Terre


Cinque Terre means 5 Cities. Because there are 5 of them: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso. (Here's a map of them) Each is a little different and the main event here (besides eating pesto and drinking wine) is hiking between the cities.


The 5 Towns

We stayed in Corniglia, which I think is the best one because it wasn't super crowded like the others (although we didn't see Manarola).


Second best, in my opinion, would be Riomaggiore. I would avoid Vernazza during the day, its super touristy, and it's small, so when they drop the cruise ship off it gets overwhelming. You can also access the cities super easily from each other by train (buy the day pass and expect 15-minute wait times) and, of course, by doing the famous intercity hike.


The Hike: Walk from Town to Town

The hike was way harder for me than I thought it would be, mostly because I have old person knees, and the hike is up and down the entire time, as opposed to hikes where you hike up and then come down.


Each stretch of the hike is different - most importantly in elevation gain/loss. I only did the stretch between Corniglia and Vernazza and I took us less than an hour. In general it says 1.5 hours for each hike but its only less than an hour. It was beautiful - I recommend it - but I don’t know if its the best of the 4 hikes. Vernazza to Monterroso Al Mare is more difficult. It's worth reading more about each one if you’re doing the hike.


You need to get a park pass and you can buy it at the checkpoint (so just go on the hiking path and you'll see the kiosk with the guy), or make it faster by buying one at the train ticket kiosk if you’re already there. Make sure you stop in the some of the cute places hidden in the winding paths on the way and get fresh juice (watermelon, mmm)


The Food: Seafood & Pesto


Cinque is known for its seafood and pesto. I ate pesto every chance I got and also brought some back. However, the seafood is apparently sometimes actually not from Cinque - it's imported from San Diego to China, processed, frozen and sent to Cinque, which is sad and not sustainable. I recommend checking out the restaurants online before you go eat there or get trusted recommendations.


Corniglia Restaurants



This was my favorite dinner in Italy. Our Airbnb host (a Cinque local) recommended it and it's owned and run by a Geppetto-esque little old man. He and the staff are very welcoming and give off a super family-run vibe. Make a reservation and bring cash - they don't take card and the ATMs in Ciqnue always seem to be empty.




The important thing here is that you try the basil ice cream, served with olive oil. You may be able to get it somewhere else but this is where I got it.


Riomaggiore Restaurants


Dau Cila is Michelin-mentioned, and we were so disappointed when we found out that our reservation didn't go through because it looked amazing. It's perched in the harbor so you can watch the maritimey action and it has all the vibes. If I was going back I would reserve a table there right now.


The Sunset Cruise


I highly recommend doing a sunset cruise. You get views of the 5 towns that you can't get otherwise, and the cruises are full of 12-15 people, drinking wine and having fun. We found ours through Airbnb experiences and it was great. I recommend bringing snacks too, if you feel like doing the extra work. We brought Caprese and cheese that we bought from the market in Corniglia. It was about $80 per person and lasts 2 hours. Ours left from Riomaggiore. I would recommend visiting Riomaggiore for a few hours before the cruise. Have drinks and shop around, and make sure you have a res at Dau Cila for directly afterword.


Shopping


If you have weight and space in your bag and are on the latter end of the trip buy pesto, marinara sauces, jars of this and that, etc. from the boutique shops in the smaller towns and take them home so you can 1) recreate your Italian gastronomic experience once you get back and remember that American food is terrible in all the ways, and 2) so that you can be that guy that talks non-stop about how you just got back from Europe and how their food and food culture is so great.


Cinque recap in 21 seconds:



 

Florence


Florence was the castle wedding, so I mainly have food and shopping recs here.


Restaurants


Trattoria ZáZá: This place is a Fritz Bernaise, You can’t do any better. The first people we met in Italy (in Rome) suggested it to us, and I think everyone who goes to Florence eats here but it's for good reason. The outside is very cute but don't fall for it - the inside is even better. And the more interior into the restaurant the better the experience. This place seats like 500 people but the atmosphere is diverse from each area of the restaurant to another and has a very old world feel. Every dish we got was amazing, just order whatever sounds good to you.


The Circolo Rondinella del Torrino is apparently a cultural center - I walked by there on the way to another restaurant and thought it was a bar or restaurant. I didn't go in because I had a res somewhere else but it looked like a super cute spot to have a beer. It's on the river, had a live band, outside, Italians…


The restaurant I was walking to is Santarosa Bistrot. It very cute, outdoors with a lot of plants, etc. I think this is a good place for drinks and appetizers because it's so vibey but I actually wasn't super impressed with the dinner.


Shopping


Leather


If you want to buy cool gifts for someone special (or yourself) that are expressly Italian, and specific to Tuscany, Florence is the place to buy leather. It’s relatively inexpensive - but also not actually inexpensive. Florence became a leather artisan hub centuries ago - its their craft. So if you’re in the market for a leather jacket, bag, or boots you should buy it there. There are markets and shops run by non-Italians where you’ll find leather products for really cheap but make sure you know what you’re getting. The craftsmanship on these products is inferior and the leather is likely from China. It's still leather, and it's technically from Florence - so it's not an immediate no for some people. I actually bought a really cute duffle bag for $100 from one of these guys at the market - but just know that if it's inexpensive and from a market or a store run by non-Italians it's probably not real Italian leather.


Perfume


The Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, "since 1221," is an 800-year-old perfume maker and is worth a visit even if you're not in the market for perfume. It's beautiful and a historical marvel. The store looks like a place of worship - the grandiose entrance is covered ceiling to floor in floral arrangements. The elixirs are displayed on hero pillars with very well-dressed, attractive Italians at each one, helping you test out the scents and answering questions about pricing, notes, and undertones of notes. They also have pricey and, I imagine, very high quality skincare products. If you are in the market, I would suggest reading a little about the products and the history of the company. I believe these old European perfume makers generally started out as kind of witch doctors, making tinctures for illnesses and specially skin conditions and some have evolved into perfume and skincare companies. This is my take on it, I don't actually know.




The second most popular liqueur in Italy, traditionally served chilled as an after-dinner digestivo, and is also a popular homemade liqueur.


I don’t know if Florence has better Lemoncello than anywhere else in Italy but this is where I bought mine that I brought home with me to make into a spritzer (Lemoncello and prosecco) and I’m very excited about it. BTW, make sure - if you drink - that you have plenty of limoncello spritzers while you’re in Italy. We found that they aren't really on the menu, or suggested by the waiters, so you have to ask for them. But once we got ahold of our first one we made it a regular thing and I suggest you do the same.


Florence recap:


 

Rome


Rome just has so much. So much history, so many museums, so much food.... I'm not going to go into all of it here because that would be a novel but I'll hit some highlights and personal suggestions.


First, make sure you see Rome at night. You'll be plenty busy during the day but do not neglect the nighttime. All the monuments are lit up and it's really beautiful - much more beautiful than during the suntime hours in my opinion. And you can avoid the hoards. Depending on how late you’re out I would recommend getting a Lime bike and seeing the 3 main ones - Trevi Fountain, Colosseum, Vittoriano. Last time I was there we rode around from 2:00-4:00AM and the military was practicing for a parade - it was really cool and we made some military friends.



Sites


If you’re a museum / monument person then you could fill up 2 weeks in Rome. I don’t like to spend all my time on these sites, so here are the ones that I recommend if you’re like me and want to pair down, or just don’t have a lot of time:


The Colosseum (obvi)


Now you can get tours for under the ground level, which is where they kept the gladiators and animals - book ASAP if you want to do this (you should, I think its like +$30). Either way I recommend getting tickets online beforehand to minimize the amount of time you spend in the super hot sun and waiting in line. Your ticket will have an appointment time, which is nice. In other words, you either walk right in or wait for an hour. You'll spend less than an hour here.


Forum


Where all the commerce and political happenings happened - public speeches, criminal trials, commercial affairs... It's next to the Colosseum, so you’ll want to do it right before or after. Get an audio guide and allot for 30-45 minutes.


Vatican


If you’re religious or just want to see some crazy history (I’ve been twice, which was 1x too many times for me). But also you just kind of need to go to the Vatican if you're in Rome. When in Rome. I can do the Vatican in an hour but I think some devotees spend more like 3 hours here. Expect crowds if you're here in high season.


Pantheon


Chances are you’ll be walking next to the Pantheon at some point if you're wandering around the city so you should just pop in and take a look to say that you did.


Neighborhoods


The best neighborhood to stay and hang out in Rome right now is Travestere. It has a ton of restaurants and bars and a cute hipster vibe, and it's not super overrun by tourism yet. At the time of writing.


Hotels


We stayed at the Rome Cavalieri Waldorf and the Pantheon Iconic Rome Hotel, Autograph Collection using Marriott and Hilton points. Note that our choice of hotels was based on the fact that we have a lot of points. They were both super nice and I loved every minute of them, but if you don't have points or a lot of cash they might not make sense for you. That being said:


Rome Cavalieri Waldorf


AMAZING hotel. Grandiose in the most Roman way possible, with a grand room and bar, and a “patio” the size of a small city, where we met a lot of really fun people. The breakfast is just as godly, by the pool, and there are a bunch of Roman baths that you can use anytime. It's 15 minutes from town, but not walking form anywhere - you need to cab it in and out. I think its about $1,000/ night.



Pantheon Iconic Rome Hotel, Autograph Collection


Also about $1,000/ night - tiny modern rooms, feels kind of like a club. The rooftop is the heart and soul of the hotel, but I wouldn’t pay this price for this hotel. You can probably go to the rooftop for drinks and food without staying at there, and I would recommend doing that The view is incredible, overlooking the Pantheon and everything else Roman.


Restaurants


Food Tours


I recommend booking a food tour the first night you’re in Rome. Or even your first night in Italy, if they have good ones in that city. You get a historical and geographical perspective on the city, which will be helpful for the rest of your trip. Plus, you’ll learn about the food - what you like and don't like, and you’ll get recommendations on where to eat from your guide. We did the HJF food tours - The Roman Food tour SRLS, in Travestere and it was absolutely delightful. Our guide was an angel and we had so much fun restaurant hopping, making friends, and learning the rich history of the food and drinks we were ingesting.



Recommended by our food tour guide, this place was really fun and the food was great. It has a family-run atmosphere, and they give you cute little Dixie cups full of prosecco while you're waiting in line. We went simple and got all the pastas and red wines and it turned out great.


After Dinner


Make sure you save energy after dinner to hang in the piazzas. They're all the cute little 'squares' or courtyards you see in the movies where people are hanging around at night drinking wine in the open. They exist in real life too, and if you're in Italy you should make this a nightly routine, even if it's just for one night cap before bed.


Here's the above-mentioned Rome hotspots in 30 seconds:


Any questions let me know below!


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