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Mar 2, 2008 03:58 PM

Rome to Florence itinerary choices

Looking over maps, guide books, etc., it appears that I have 2 choices for an interesting 5 day drive between Rome and Florence:

Heading north and west (but staying away from the coast), via places like Viterbo, Orvieto, Chiusi, Montepulciano, then Siena, Poggibonsi, Greve in Chianti to Florence.

Or, heading north and east into the mountains, via Rieti, Terni, Spoleto, Norcia, Assisi, Perugia, then Siena and so on to Florence.

Any thoughts on which is the better itinerary (for food and sightseeing)? Are we trying to cover too much area? (I know you could technically do this in one day, but we don't do death marches any more!)

Thanks for any help!

San Francisco, CA

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  1. I would think the foods would be pretty similar following either route. Your 2nd option is a little more "off the beaten path" tourist-wise, which means you might find fewer dining options. However, what you do find might be more "genuine."

    You might want to pick up a copy of the Slow Food Guide to the Osterias of Italy to see if you can find some compelling dining options via either route.

    4 Replies
    1. re: DavidT

      Thanks David. I already have the book, and there seem to be good options either way.

      I wonder if weather would be a factor either way... this will be in early May.


      1. re: waldrons

        I cannot imagine weather would be a material factor. Your two proposed routes cannot be too much more than 60-75 miles apart.

        Another observation is that your first route has a much higher ratio of "name" wine towns & regions (Orvieto, Montepulciano, Greve, etc.). This may be a factor if you are thinking doing any wine tasting, either by visiting wineries or regional enotecas. My copy of the "Wine Atlas of Italy," which is a bit dated, does not show much wine activity in towns such as Rieti, Terni, Spoleto, Norcia, etc. Again, I imagine grapes are grown and wine is made in much of Umbria, but it does not have the name recognition of what you would find on your 1st proposed route.

        1. re: DavidT

          Good point on the wine tasting. That's not high on our list, or at least tasting known wines isn't.

          As to weather, it looked like the 2nd route was more up in the mountains, which I thought might be cooler.


          1. re: waldrons

            To give you an ideawe did the drive many years ago (in one day 1 day) starting in Asissi, through Spoleto (spent a couple hrs there, not real impressed with the town) to Terni for lunch and on through Rieti to Tivoli, and then to Rome for the night. the last part of the drive, over the mountains and down to Tivoli was pretty and we had a good meal at a businessman's restaurant in Terni (I will never forget the guys snoozing and reading comic books in the car park afterwards), but both Rieti and Terni were a bust visually and culturally. Perugia might be a better stop going that way. You might consider going all the way over the mts to the Marche and coming up from there - towns like Urbino, Gubbio, Assisi and Arezzo or even Ravenna (really just a half day's drive from Florence, over the mountains) could be great. Dont know how the route lays out and my experience is out of date but there is good eating, wines and cultural attactions throughout these areas, .

    2. I would recommend your second route, and five days is plenty of time for a leisurely trip. I would start with Orvieto, then on to Spoleto(we stayed in Campello sul Clitunno for 3 days and toured the area). Nearby are Todi, Assisi, Montefalco, and Gubbio, all with very good restaurant options (Taverna del Lupo in Gubbio is unforgettable), and many other interesting small towns. The food in Umbria, though there is an emphasis on meat, also includes freshwater fish, and is IMO more interesting than the food in Tuscany(exception:Buca di San Antonio in Lucca). The scenery in Umbria is spectacular (mountainous and very green) and it is much more off-the-beaten-path than Tuscany.

      1 Reply
      1. re: rrems

        These are great suggestions (and I'll note the specific recommendations in Gubbio and Lucca). Thanks!


      2. Susan, given that wine tasting isn't high on your priority list for the trip, the notion of lacking dining options in Umbria can be dispelled too if you pick up a book called Appetite for Umbria which will keep you well fed and watered. Heartily recommended

        1 Reply
        1. re: Ian_from_England

          There are too many good food books to take with me! (Half my luggage ends up being books or other paperwork!) I don't normally like the idea of electronic books, but for travel the idea has a lot of appeal! But I'll check out Appetite for Umbria and see.....


        2. Susan, it sems to me that the time available is reasonable and you could actually follow "your nose" and cover the best of both itineraries...
          I would go: Orvieto ( via Viterbo with a little detour to Lago di Bolsena), cross over to Spoleto ( via the minor roads) then on to Foligno, Assisi and Gubbio. Back to Perugia, to Arezzo ( via Cortona). From Arezzo make your way to the Chianti area (where I live) from which you can visit Siena and Florence.

          3 Replies
          1. re: pietro

            These are all "tasty" options, and ones I'll take with me (we don't book in advance, but wing it based on conditions and our whims). Thanks, everyone!


            1. re: waldrons


              I almost always book everything in advance in Europe, but in Tuscany and Umbria I did not book anything (with the exception of booking in person 2 hours in advance in Lucca on a Sunday) and had no problem whatsoever.

              1. re: rrems

                I've been visiting this area very regularly for over 20 years, typically in May, September, or October. In that time, the only thing I booked in advance was Vissani, and that was a week in advance. We've only been turned away a couple of times in something like 15 trips. However, we have found small places closed for private parties a number of times. Nowdays it's much easier with cellphones. On Sundays, particularly in May when there are a lot of first comunion celebrations, I'll call an hour or so in advance.

                On the other hand, our Italian friends will always book in advance when we are going out together. I think this is to save the embarrasment of turning up someplace and finding it full or closed.

                The trick is to always have a backup place in mind. Most of the time you don't have to go far to find good food in this area. If there is someplace you have your heart set on, book in advance.

          2. Since Tuscany (generally your first itinerary) and Umbria (generally your second itinerary) are neighbors, there's a lot of overlap in the cuisine. At the moment, the only distinction I can remember is that duck often appeared on Umbrian menus.

            Norcia is a world-famous destination for pork preparations. The link is so strong that I think the town name -- or a variant -- is synonomous with the word for pork shops, but don't hold me to that. Confirmation someone? Rebuttal?

            The wine of Umbria seems to be retaining its regional flavor more than the wine of Tuscany. I like to drink wine that speaks to me of the land and the specialized grape. As delicious as a Super Tuscan tastes, ultimately, it isn't my favorite. It just tastes more generic than I prefer. And don't get me started on Italian merlot. Ah, but give me a bottle of Umbrian Sagrantino! Earthy. Rustic. And undeniably Umbrian.

            8 Replies
            1. re: Indy 67

              You're right that Norcia is famous for all pork-derived products. But not on the pork chops. People from there used to go all over central Italy to slaughter and process pork ... kind of travelling butchers. So the word " norcino" ( a person from Norcia) still identifies a butcher.
              I agree with you on the SuperTuscans and especially the Merlots but I'm a bit puzzled about the Sagrantino. Earthy ? Rustic? You must have drank some "vino del contadino" passed as sagrantino ... I do agree that those 2 adjectives refer well to umbrian wines in general but a GOOD Sagrantino is like a good Chianti Classico on steroids. And has a price to match.
              To put in perspective the comparison between Tuscany and Umbria one should consider that Tuscany is much bigger, with a far bigger number of appellations, terroirs, climate zones,etc. It could be argued that Umbria could be considered a Tuscan sub-zone.
              However, Susan seems more interested in food than wine and she will spend less and have better food in Umbria than in Tuscany. I wouldn't care for the more celebrated names ( Vissani! he's never in his restaurant, unless you're a celebrity) but go for the small local restaurants in the countryside. Just ask someone locally but double check by asking at least 2 persons :-)

              1. re: pietro

                Thanks for the clarification about "butcher".

                As for my remarks about Sagrantino, I got two wines confused: a Piemonte (don't remember the specific wine) and a Sagrantino. My husband and I had been introduced to both on different trips to Italy and had them again in stateside restaurants. You're quite right that the Sagrantino was elegant and expensive. There's a story associated with our stateside bottle. The chef/owner of the Italian restaurant (located outside of Charleston, SC) had just received a case of Sagrantino at a price point much higher than he ever expected to sell to customers. He anticipated slowly enjoying the contents of that case himself. When we dined there, we got to talking about Italian wine and the owner offered to let us have a bottle for a discount. Caught up in the spirit of the evening and happy to have a chance to drink Sagrantino again, we accepted his offer of $150. This remains the most expensive bottle of wine we've ever purchased in a restaurant.

                1. re: Indy 67

                  Wow! I cannot think of a Sagrantino with that price tag, even with a hefty mark-up for the chef/owner.
                  Would you remember the label/name?
                  It seems to me that by now Susan got more help than she wanted and could use...Hope she unpacks all those restaurant guide books and enjoys herself.

                  1. re: pietro

                    >>Hope she unpacks all those restaurant guide books and enjoys herself.<<

                    How could I not, with all this great advice! ;) Thank you again, everyone!


              2. re: Indy 67

                I think I read that Norceria had become generic for pork butcher shops in other areas of Italy. These places also seem to have these trippy little dioramas with pigs in clothing (reminding me of those poker playing dogs).


                1. re: waldrons

                  Norcino is the butcher. Norcineria is the shop of a "norcino". The word is used all over central Italy but I believe that it is understood outside of it , too. Norcia is also famous for being the birthplace of Saint Benedict ( of Norcia) the founder of the Benedectins order.
                  I don't remember ever seeing those pigs in clothing, unless you're referring to Italian politicians, of course :-)
                  As I said, I believe that Umbria provides earthier and cheaper food than Tuscany. A bit less internationalized and nearer to their roots.

                  1. re: pietro

                    I've seen old-school Italian politicians (and businessmen) at lunch and wow, is that ever an impressive sight! Multiple courses, huge portions... I was exhausted just watching!

                    I've seen the "other" pigs in clothing at a small shop in Florence that I thought referenced Norcia, and on tv shows or guidebooks about Umbria. It seems to me that in Florence it was 2 or 3 pigs sitting around a small table, as if about to eat.


                    1. re: waldrons

                      Italian politicians are famous for devouring lots of money...not just food. If you can read Italian ( and are interested in this depressing subject) I would recommend you read " La Casta" written by two Italian journalists. It makes for unbelievable reading...
                      There are people who collect pig figurines and statuettes. I would imagine that Umbria, and Norcia, are eager to exploit their "piggish" association but I can't say that a buthcher needs to put a little pig in the window to advertise its trade.
                      Here in Radda there's the owner of a local bar whose nickname is " Il Maiale" ( The Pig) beacuse of his untidyness. He has a large collection of statuettes pigs from all over the world sent by customers as he is not ashamed at all of his nickname.