This time of year is perfect for visiting Italy. The crowds have thinned, the weather is still warm, and there is value with hotel rates at some of the most gorgeous properties in the world!
Steve and I headed out for Rome, 30 years after we spent our honeymoon in the Eternal City. We’ve returned with the kids in tow, but this time our luggage was light. We planned to see only sights not visited before, which frees up the schedule to spend a lot of time poking around in gorgeous churches while getting lost on purpose. We did make an exception to see if the Sistine Chapel was less crowded on the Friday night tour. The answer is yes, and it was also really interesting to see the surrounding area at night, all lit up. I was able to connect with a few excellent guides for families, and watched their magic way of breathing life into the ancient city. I visited lots of hotels, and can say with absolute confidence I have two favorites, The de Russie and JK Place. A few of the old standards need to spruce up their decor and do some “welcome wagon” retraining. Our favorite museums were The Capitoline and the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj. It really helps the family’s art collection when you can claim a pope in your lineage! We dined well at casual trattorias, popping into whatever establishment caught the eye as we walked the city.
The train from Rome to Florence was an easy hour and a half. Arriving into the jewel box of a train station at Firenze was a signal that things were going to be different here. The frenzy of Rome and the abundance of churches were traded for spotless cobblestone streets and a more compact area to explore. We went to the Uffizi and made a bee-line to stand in front of Botticelli’s works. It was equally entertaining to watch tourists frame themselves alongside the masterpieces, creating art selfies. The Palazzo Pitti was a place I recalled from art history class, when you had to list the provenance along with identifying the artist. And there they were….all those Carravagios and Rubens. Several important works were hinged so that they flip out from the wall, sort of like a giant screen tv. I suppose this allowed the Medicis to view their collection from wherever they happened to sit in the room. I met with guides who are skilled at retelling the stories of famous occupants of the old palaces. Steve and I discovered the most delicious gelato, and encourage you to remember Gelateria della Passera, where the flavors are made each day from the most delicious fresh fruit and nuts. I had a scoop of pomegranate and another of dark chocolate with flecks of orange. Another great stop is nearby, Gelateria Santa Trinita. This pale pink confection box of a sweets shop offers yummy flavors of gelato and a nice place to sit and rest for a bit. On the way from the Uffizi to the Accademia to see The Big Guy, be sure to stop in to La Menagere. It is a great re-fueling spot for panini and a coffee, to fortify yourself before seeing Michaelangelo’s masterpiece.
I’m back on the train, heading to Milan to meet Ruth. We are attempting to talk our way into seeing The Last Supper. Your travel advisor should book this for you months in advance, as tickets are very limited. Guess we need to find a good one!
P.S. There there a several lesser known versions of The Last Supper in Milan, in case you are shut out of a ticket.