PHOTO: Sunrise in Venice, Italy. (photo via Flickr/Pedro Szekely)
Heading off to your dream vacation in Italy soon?
Taking in the great game of fútbol at Stadio Olympico? Enjoying the best gelato in Florence? Sipping some wine in the hills of Tuscany?
The more you know about Italy’s customs, the more you’ll fit in and get the most out of your trip. Mario Scalzi of Parker Villas has a few tips:
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Visit one region at a time:
“Italy is comprised of 20 regions more comparable to different countries than states,” said Scalzi, a born-and-bred Bostonian who was schooled in Italy as a child and has been to Italy 300 times.
“Each region has its own unique topography, history, architecture, food, wine, art and traditions. Similar differences apply within each region as county seats originate from independent city-states—often [formerly] at war with its closest neighbor. Today, even the spoken language varies from one valley to the next.”
For example, Tuscany is, of course, Italy's best-known region.
“Beyond the gates of Florence, the Renaissance capital of Tuscany (and the world}, are its ancient rivals: Siena, Pisa & Lucca,” he explains. “Add to Tuscany its wine laden Chianti, Montepulciano and Montalcino hills, and an array of hill towns like San Gimignano, Pienza, Volterra and Cortona, along with the wide sandy beaches of its western coast, and there is plenty to see and do for at least one lifetime.”
No short stays:
“Never stay less than two nights in one place unless it's the airport hotel on your last day,” he said.
“One night stays are a constant schlepp of harried peeks without a glimmer of understanding or experiential value.”
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You can still explore:
“There is a way to strategically taste a few future destinations,” he posited.
“Using Tuscany as the primary goal, land in Rome and fly home from Milan or Venice. Spend the first few nights in Rome. Three would be ideal. Depart Rome after breakfast. Leave by 10am and stop midway for lunch in Orvieto, Umbria.”
Scalzi explained that when your time in Tuscany is over, you can get another taste of Italy, depending on your departure point (Venice or Milan).
“For Milan flights home, stop along the Italian Riviera for two nights,” he said. “Rapallo or Santa Margherita are best bets. Sip cappuccino in Portofino amidst small fishing boats and super-luxury yachts. Even take a day-trip ferry to the Cinque Terre.
For Venice return flights, he suggests leaving Tuscany early and traveling to Bologna, halfway to Venice: “Stay two nights in Venice, and while there, negotiate a 30-minute private gondola ride on quiet inner canals.”
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Get used to late meals:
Scalzi explained that you need to be seated for lunch between 12:30 to 1:30.
“For dinner, from Milan to Rome, gather at the table no earlier than 8pm and no later than 9-9:30. The further south you go, the later one chows. In Sicily, diners typically settle in around 10 to 11pm, even later in summer.”
You won’t starve: “There’s always gelato,” he said.
Have a morning cappuccino:
“Never order it after noon,” he said. “If you require a milk drop, ask for a "macchiato" served in a small espresso cup with a dollop of foamed milk.”