April is upon us and while it has been very cold in the CT area, I have been very fortunate to enjoy some spring in Italy! I am very excited to share our one week itinerary to Florence and Venice, Italy.
While we have traveled to Mexico and other spots, it had been awhile since we made it to Europe. Our trip really could not have been more perfect and while I was originally worried we were trying to do too much in one week – our experience proved otherwise. CG1 is studying abroad in Florence so this trip was a must (of course) to visit her. Today’s post (and possibly a few future posts) will go over what we did, where we stayed, ate and other important tips to plan a fun one week itinerary for Florence and Venice, Italy. Our trip also included visiting the CinqueTerre and Siena, Pisa, San Gimignano as well as the Tuscan countryside.
Travel to Florence Practical Details
Being in CT, we decided to fly out of JFK, the largest airport in the New York area that has most of the international flights. We flew to Zurich, had a short layover and then headed to Florence. Of note, you do not need to claim your bags at a stop over in Zurich if flying Swiss Air (of course check to be sure). They checked our bags right through.We were greeted with the most amazing sunrise over the Swiss alps – breathtaking (see photo below). We left around 4:30 EST and without delays on Swiss Air landed in Florence at around 9 a.m. The Florence airport is on the small side and easy to navigate. We quickly picked up our luggage. There is a taxi stand outside the entrance and it was very simple to take a taxi. We confirmed the price (about $26 Euros with a few extra dollars for our luggage).
Day 1 in Florence
We take a cab from the airport to check into the Hotel Orto De Medici. The hotel is lovely and on a quiet street. Our room is off of the courtyard where Michelangelo was a student in the Academy that was held there. It is full of history and close enough to the main sites. We meet CG1 at her apartment and explore (note – better not to sleep if you can avoid it – it is good to be very tired that evening and get over the jet lag).
We walk to the Duomo admiring its dark green and white facade. The Duomo, consecrated in 1436, is a central feature of Renaissance art and easy to use as a landmark. After a lunch at a cafe and more sightseeing, we climb to the Piazza Michelangelo and then head to dinner at Osteria del Gatto e la Volpe for pizza with prosciutto, pistachios and burrata – one of many delicious meals we will eat. I also order the chicken Sorrentino. We head to bed after being finally struck with jet lag.
We are not tired…really…
Day 2 in Florence
We awake on Sunday to a delicious breakfast at the Hotel Orto de Medici. The sun filled atrium is the perfect place to enjoy eggs, pastries, and of course a fresh cappuccino as well as blood orange juice that is fresh squeezed with a special machine.
The first Sunday of the month, the museums are free in Florence which is perfect. We head to the Accademia to see David. David is as impressive and memorable as I recall when I visited my own junior semester abroad. I still love Botticelli’s Venus and so many other incredible paintings.
I had not visited the Church of Santa Croce before and wanted to see it this time so we headed there right after the Accademia. Santa Croce is a gorgeous church off of a plaza where jousts used to take place. Galileo and Michelangelo are buried there.
Santa Croce is not too far from the leather market and surrounding shops. It is time for some retail therapy, and I buy an Italian wool scarf from a boutique, and an orange pebbled leather bag from the leather market.
Lunch is at the Mercato Centrale which reminds me of Chelsea Place in NYC. Full of stalls with the most delicious pizza, panini, fresh pasta with wine bars not far away. We have a panini. Italian food here is so fresh. Even something simple like salami on bread takes on a new dimension. You can taste the freshness of the charcuterie, the bread and the olive oil.
Afternoon brings a tour of the Ponte Vecchio (or old bridge as it translates) which stretches over the Arno river. It is full of wonderful shops. We then enjoy an aperitif at CG1’s favorite café which is also a floral shop and boutique. Dinner is at the Trattoria Za Za – very reasonable prices and a lot of food! I particularly loved the spread of Tuscan appetizers.
Tuscany and Florence is known for beef. The Bistecca is a large, t-bone type of meat cooked rare. I pass on this but enjoy the local white beans. Bruschetta is everywhere, and it is, for some reason, so much better than home? The next day we head to Cinque Terre so we turn in for the night at a reasonable hour.
Day 3 Hiking the Cinque Terre
On Monday we wake early to head to Cinque Terre, a UNESCO protected site and national park. The park is also the third most visited site in all of Italy. It is pouring rain in Florence (is this not a great day to hike the Cinque Terre we ask ourselves?). I have booked this tour through Viator which we had an excellent experience with for all of our excursions.
Our guide is Alessandro, and he is excellent. We take a coach bus to La Spezia, which at one time was a beautiful city that was included in the “Grand Tour” for wealthy Americans. Sadly it was destroyed in WWII – even the cathedral and a hospital were bombed. We pass marble quarries on the way. Apparently Italy is a huge producer of both marble and marble dust. L’Oreal owns the mountain where so much of the dust comes from as make up uses a lot of marble dust (as does tooth paste!).
We take the train to Manorola for the first views of the Tyrrhenian sea. Luck arrives with good weather. We walk to Corniglia where we dine at Ristorante Cecio. Lunch includes a seafood appetizer and a delicious pasta with home made pesto. Pesto here includes seasonal nuts, basil, green beans and even potatoes.
After lunch we hike and are not disappointed.
This region, Liguria, is known for seafood. According to our guide, everyone in the Cinque Terre knows how to scuba dive as they go down into the crevices to fish for octopus.
After lunch we hike to Vernazza. The hike is fairly challenging so much of the group decides to forgo it. We forge on – the views are beautiful and there are air bnbs along the way (which I would love to stay at!).
Vernazza is our favorite town. There is a small beach, a beautiful church and a number of cafés. We sit down and enjoy the local Limoncino (similar to Limoncello but not the same). We buy some souvenirs in the local shops. We then head to Manorola which is the largest town and in our opinion, not as charming. You can take a boat here but the weather did not permit it so we moved onto Rio Maggiore.
Rio Maggiore is gorgeous. The best photo is here and we love the colorful houses and bright fishing boats that line the beach. We buy a bottle of the local, white wine to enjoy later. Tiny vineyards dot the hillsides (along with other crops) and the local, small farmers can sell to the larger cooperative to make wine to sell.
We return around 8:15 and are tired so we head to the Mercato for some wine and food from the stalls.
Day 4 Onward to Venice
CG2 and I are up early to head to Venice. We enjoy a last breakfast at the Orto de Medici, take a short walk in the area and then head to the train station. The station is quite large with numerous boutiques. We enjoy shopping a bit before boarding our train. Our hotel is about fifteen minutes from the train station.
The Hotel Moresco in Venice is a gem. We are greeted with a glass of prosecco in the lovely parlor adorned with stained glass windows and beautiful, antique furnishings. The hotel is in the Dorsoduro neighborhood of Venice which is quieter but still lively. We walk to the Piazza San Marco, the Rialto bridge and shop a bit. We love a small leather and paper boutique where the artisan is cutting paper and leather in front of us. We purchase a journal and a paper book mark for CG2.
The hotel offers cicchetti, or Venetian snacks with an assortment of drinks. The food is delicious and the ambience relaxing. Our fellow guests are largely British. We venture out for dinner and happen upon the Osteria Oniga. The place is crowded and has more than one table of Americans (it is top ranked on Trip Advisor). The black “cuttlefish” pasta is divine. I have the three course menu which includes “sour sardines” (sardines with sauerkraut).
Day 5 Tour of Basilica and Doge’s Palace in Venice
Wednesday: The hotel has a delicious buffet with eggs made to order. Honeycomb honey is delicious by the way (they serve an entire honeycomb on the buffet!).
We stroll and shop the morning, stopping for artichoke pizza (the food is amazing here and each restaurant is charming – even for simple food!). We have a tour booked at 2 p.m. to see the Basilica di San Marco and the Doges Palace. Our tour guide, Nicoletta, gives us an in depth tour. So much to learn! The church is over a thousand years old and is full of tiny (real) gold mosaic pieces. St. Mark’s “relics” are here. Each ceiling is even more fantastic than the next. Apparently the Doge was head of the church (it did not report into Rome). The style is modeled after the St. Sofia in Istanbul. Our tour includes the balcony where we can see the Piazza San Marco as well as the bell tower and working clock which has two statues that move when the time changes.
The Doges’ Palace is full of Tintoretto murals – each one more impressive than the last. The largest painted canvas in the world is here in the Senate room.
Post tour we relax with a gondola tour which does not disappoint. Something about seeing Venice from the water makes this city even more magical.
We enjoy appetizers again that evening. Dinner is at a darling restaurant where our waiter is fully entertaining. Alexia enjoys the cuttlefish pasta again while I try a sampling of cod.
Day 6 Touring the Venetian Islands of Murano, Burano and Torcello
Thursday: Thursday we are up early to enjoy breakfast. Today we are touring the islands in the Venetian lagoon. I booked a tour to Murano, Burano and Torcello. Originally I thought we might figure out our own water taxis but it was daunting especially as we had to catch a train later that afternoon.
The tour is perfect – a “taste test” of each island. I plan to return to stay longer. On Murano, home to famous blowned glass, we see a short demonstration of glass blowing and then stroll the darling streets that line the canal. We purchase a glass sail boat at a shop where the artisan is in residence.
Burano is my favorite. The houses are so colorful. Burano is known for hand made lace as well as S shaped cookies. We buy some cookies, a tiny Venetian mask and enjoy a tiramisu cannoli.
Torcello is the quietest. Hemingway and Princess Diana have eaten at one of its famous seafood restaurants. There are two very old churches here and the feeling is very peaceful and natural. Back in Venice we have a delicious panini (we marvel at how the simplest food is so good in Italy!). Onward by train back to Florence.
We check into the hotel Perseo. It is not fancy but the people are very friendly and welcoming. It is also right next to the Duomo and close to CG1’s apartment.
Day 7 Siena, Pisa, San Gimignano and Tuscan Winery Lunch
Friday: Our last day will feature a tour of Tuscany and the cities of Pisa, Siena and San Gimignano.
First stop is Siena another UNESCO site,. Siena is an ancient city which once rivaled Florence until much of its population was struck down by the plague. Siena has a number of sestieres (or neighborhoods) each one represented by an animal. The year’s highlight is a horse race where the neighborhoods compete. Siena has a number of rules as it is a UNESCO site. There are approved colors for the building colors and shutters (green, brown, grey).
We visit the impressive cathedral which has one part that was never fully constructed due to the plague. Inside there are statues carved by a young Michelangelo. The floor is inlaid with scenes from the bible and the library is a gem.
Next stop is a Tuscan winery and farmhouse. We sit with two Macedonian women and other study abroad students. The wine is delicious. Lunch starts with charcuterie, cheese, fresh bread with virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Chianti “Classico” (which is the best mark for Chianti) as well as a light white wine. The main course is pasta Bolognese – perfectly cooked with just a little bit of meat and a perfect tomato sauce. Dessert includes a rose wine with some biscotti. Naptime on the bus!
After lunch we visit San Gimignano – a medieval town known for its slim towers and now – award winning gelato. We purchase some divine, lemon soap and of course have to sample the gelato which is the best we have ever had.
The last stop is Pisa. The tower, featured all over the world, is actually beautiful – white with carvings. The basilica is also gorgeous. We have to take the tourist photos.
Back to Florence for our last dinner. We head to Acgua Al Due – which I realize I dined at way back when I visited Florence junior semester abroad. We have a long wait but the food is excellent. The salad sampler is sooo good (especially the pear salad with nuts and cheese). I order chicken with wild mushrooms. The girls have ravioli with pear and cheese. Dessert is the sampler and the tiramisu is more delicious than I remember.
The perfect ending to a fantastic week! Can you do a comprehensive trip to Italy in one week? Well, maybe not…but hopefully you enjoyed this one week itinerary for Florence and Venice Italy!