Day 121-122: Venice
Five days after we’d picked up the keys to our Fiat in Milan, the first and memorable leg of our Italian road trip had come to an end in Venice.
We were warned about the comedown effect of leaving such a breathtaking and peaceful part of the world, only to jump in to the touristic chaos of one of Italy’s top destinations, and we were prepared.
It actually wasn’t so bad. Parts of Venice were overcrowded with all walks of life—which made the people watching quite interesting—but there were plenty of hidden gems.
For two days we explored the floating city on foot, opting out of the expensive €80 30-minute gondola ride through the canals.
Instead we hopped from bridge to bridge, scouting out the quietest and most picturesque spots to take in the beauty of this historic city. Even in peak season, there certainly was no shortage of secluded corners.
On our last morning we woke up at 5:30 to catch the sunrise and wander the empty streets.
It’s amazing how different a place can feel when the environment changes. Without the distraction and noises of crowds or the discomfort of the hot sun, a city can truly be appreciated for what it is.
This was the first time we’ve watched the sunrise on this trip, and that soft pink early morning glow is truly the best time to experience most cities. Absolutely worth the loss of sleep.
Day 123: Venice > Parma
Two days was just enough to get our fill, then it was time for the next rental car! Meet Fritz the Fiat:
The second leg of our road trip would include Cinque Terre on Italy’s Mediterranean coast, followed by a few days in the Tuscan countryside before ending in Florence.
As always, we made no concrete plans in advance—booking our accommodations for the night as we went, sometimes minutes in advance.
The first day after leaving Venice was not exactly what we’d hoped for— it was flat and isolated. We stopped in a few towns only to find them completely empty, like some strange apocalyptic movie we weren’t in on.
Many of you suggested that August was Italy’s vacation month and that everyone was at the beach. We figured they were on an indefinite siesta or hibernating indoors away from the heat. Either way, we went without meals a few times this past week (even the grocery stores shut down!)
Day 124: Levanto
After discovering that there was nothing to see between Venice and the coast (no offense Italy, we still love you!) we arrived in the coastal town of Levanto, just north of Cinque Terre.
There we spent the afternoon swimming in the ocean (our first dip in the Mediterranean, surprisingly!) and filling up on pizza and wine before heading down to La Spezia for the next full day ahead.
Day 125: Cinque Terre
Cinque Terre is Italian for “Five Lands”, describing the five small fishing villages that comprise this famous coastline. With only one day allocated, we decided to squeeze them all in, which was made easy by a railway that connects each one.
Our first stop working from south to north was Riomaggiore:
You have seen this familiar image once or twice, and for good reason as it’s quite a unique view. It was also quite packed, and very hot, so we stayed long enough for a sangria and caprese salad before catching the train to our next stop. These villages are smaller than they look, so you can easily walk every street in under an hour.
Five minutes on the train, and we were in the next town of Manarola.
This village had a more dramatic profile, built up from the face of steep rock, and a larger lagoon for cliff jumpers and sunbathers alike. Our clothes had been sweat through at this point, so we jumped into the crystal teal waters to cool off. This was our favorite stop.
Not wanting to miss the others, we found ourselves on the train once again bound for Corniglia. Several minutes later after delays (the trains tend to be quite unreliable here) we were dropped off quite a distance from our next destination, with a long and steep journey head of us.
We lugged our bags with heavy camera gear up each step, the sun showing no mercy as any last bit of sunscreen melted off. Half a mile uphill later, we entered the town which had significantly less tourists (not surprised due to the hike).
Corniglia doesn’t quite have the postcard picture look as it sits on top of the cliff rather than extending down to the sea, but the narrow streets are quite charming and it’s worth checking out for a quieter experience.
With the clock ticking, we decided to skip the next (fourth) stop and head straight to the fifth and final stop, with plans to return to the fourth town on the way back instead.
The northernmost village of Cinque Terre, Monterosso, is easily the largest of them all with streets big enough for cars. It’s mostly a beach town, spread out along the coast with countless rows of chairs and umbrellas.
It lacked the unique and compact characteristics of the other four, and the sun was close to setting so we got right back on the train, heading south this time to our final destination.
Vernazza lies just a few minutes south of Monterosso by train, and is another place that may look familiar.
It’s quite possibly the most photogenic of the five lands, and we were fortunate enough to be able to experience it at sunset.
Finally, the temperature had cooled enough to sit outside and we were able to enjoy an
Italian meal by the sea, next to a live poetry reading of Dante (in Italian, so we understood none of it).
Day 126: La Spezia > Tellaro > Pisa
A successful day of sightseeing in the books, we went straight to another coastal town the following day, based on a recommendation from a friend.
Tellaro is about 20 miles south of Cinque Terre, and could easily be considered the sixth village if it were near them.
Much less crowded than its’ famous counterparts, this beauty is equally as charming with views that even surpass them.
We couldn’t stay long though, with just two nights left with our dear Fritz the Fiat.
Ocean views gave way to hills and soon mountains, and we stopped at a hill top castle along the way that caught our eye. Not surprisingly, it turned out to be another empty town, so we ate our picnic lunch and headed for Pisa.
Pisa wasn’t pinned as one of our “must-see places”, but it was directly on the way so we made a quick stop for the obligatory leaning tower photos:
And then finally, we were in Tuscany.
Our first stop was a tiny no-name town, in a €45 B&B with the sweetest old Italian lady who spoke no English but sent us on our way with homemade cakes and biscotti.
The following day was spent driving through the countryside, admiring distant hilltop villas with long and winding cypress tree-lined driveways.
Day 127: Volterra > Monteriggioni > Panzano in Chianti
It’s the hottest, driest time of year and in the middle of a deadly heat wave, so much of the earth is golden yellow with a thick, dusty haze that turns the sky white. Not exactly the lush, green rolling hills I was expecting from Tuscany, though it did become greener as we drove.
Our first stop of the day was a town called Volterra, which is one of a handful of popular tourist destinations in the area. It’s also the home to the Volturi, for any Twilight fans out there 🙂
The villages here are quite different than in France. Most situated on top of a hill, it’s tough to tell them apart, especially after the days of hopping from one to the next blend together. You won’t find any pastels and baby blue shutters here—they’re all built from the same golden brown stone, or plaster painted shades of red and yellow. They certainly love their warm colors!
One great feature Italy shares with its’ European counterparts—doorways full of charm! No shortage of these here:
After Volterra we arrived in Monteriggioni, but after walking around in 43°C heat with no shade (that’s nearly 110° in Fahrenheit) we reluctantly threw in the towel and headed straight for our hotel in Panzano.
Unfortunately we discovered our AirBnb had no AC, so the discomfort continued with tossing and turning in wet sweaty sheets whilst being attacked by mosquitos. At least the view was lovely.
Day 128: Florence
After a restless night of little sleep, we B-lined it straight to Florence where we planned to spend just 24 hours.
Florence, too, was caught in the grips of the heatwave. Without being able to wander outside for long, we chose our top must-see item: the statue of David.
Quite magnificent in person, and the entire museum was a great way to spend a couple hours. Apart from that and walking by a few monuments, we hibernated in our room with the AC on full blast, drinking wine and watching Under the Tuscan sun. Florence, we’ll come back for you another time.
Tuscany was one region of Italy we had set high expectations for, but it’s difficult to fully enjoy the moment when your eyeballs are burning and clothes are melting into your skin as soon as you step outside. I would warn not to visit in summer, though that’s not entirely fair as it is quite hotter than normal this week. We plan to return someday to fully experience what it has to offer—but it will be in the Spring or Fall!
As of today, we have now officially left the Tuscany region as we inch our way towards Rome. In the next post I’ll have more from the next seven nights spent between the rest of Tuscany and Rome, including a”secret” spot that became one of our favorite nights in Italy. Stay tuned for that next week, and make sure to follow my instagram for updates as we continue our trip!