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Oct 17, 2010 08:13 PM

Treating my mother to her first trip to Europe/Italy - but where??


I am returning to Europe again next month and am flying my mother in for my last performance in Prague as she has never been to Europe before. Then I am planning to show her around Prague and Paris before bringing her to Italy. She is 60 years old but loves to travel. We both love good food (obviously being a frequent CH'er, you know that food is very important to me!) and also love absorbing the culture of our surroundings and seeing beautiful things.

We will be going in the first or second week of December for about 5 or 6 days and am thinking we can go to 2 places. I am torn about renting a car vs. training it. Neither of us has driven in Europe before and I don't want us to get stressed. I also don't know if she might prefer to have a city vibe where she can see things in close proximity or if she would like going from small town to small town. Should I stay in a nice hotel in a big city and make day trips? Or should I stay in a nice B&B outside and go from there? We will just be two ladies on our own.

I've already been (myself) to Rome (I somehow did not care for Rome so much), Florence, Cinque Terre, Montalcino, Siena, and Spoleto, but do not mind going back to a place to show it to my mother. I really want to go all out on this trip and book wonderful places to stay and treat my mother to the best food and the best experience. Some places I was considering are Torino/Piedmont, Bologna, Florence, Sardinia, Sicily (Siracusa), Venice, Tuscany/Umbria (Lucca, San Gimignano, Siena, Assisi, Montalcino, etc), Naples/Amalfi Coast.

What do you all recommend and what and where do you recommend eating where? I am interested in probably one fine dining meal and many rustic, homey, soulful, nonna type places, great Italian pastries (anything involving ricotta!!), and perhaps one great pizzeria. Please help me create an amazing experience for my mother! Thank you so much!!

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  1. You really should take 15-20 minutes and scroll thru the many, many helpful & informative posts that have been made here on this board over the past 6-12 months. The food and the sights in Italy can vary be region. You should think about what kind of both you & your Mom might enjoy. You can also search the board naming a specific region (Tuscany, Piemonte, le Marche, etc.) or a specific town or city.

    I would recommend picking up an English-language copy of the Slow Food "Guide to the Osterias of Italy." I would also recommend Fred Plotkin's "Italy For The Gourmet Traveler." If nothing else, the latter will give you a very good sense of how the cuisines vary from region to region.

    2 Replies
    1. re: DavidT

      Thanks DavidT. I read Fred Plotkin's Q&A on the NYTimes and have pored over many of the posts here on CH (and all over the internet) for more like 15 - 20 hours.

      I guess I just can't tell from the posts here which regions will be good to visit at that time in December and what might be comfortable for a 60 year old woman and whether or not renting a car would be practical for the two of us. Also can't tell which combination of cities would make the most sense.

      Also, I'm just generally interested to hear what each CH member considers their favorite region of Italy for eating and why.

      1. re: j.jessica.lee

        Here is a link to a recent thread discussing the beat eating regions in Italy:

        As a 61-year old man, I would have no problem going to any region of Italy in December. This board is supposed to limit its discussion to food & dining and not delve into general travel matters.

    2. This is a tough one for the board as Italy is such a diverse country with good food just about every region. You know your mother better than anyone on this board. Since this is her first trip to Italy, does she want to do the 'greatest hits' or prefer more of hidden gems. Does she like cities with all the museums as well as other cultural events such as opera and music? Is history important? Shopping? Can she cope with the colder weather in the North in December? Does she prefer natural scenery over cities? Without doubt, Sicily or Sardinia are best by car that will take all 5/6 days and will be very quiet in December. You stated that you did not care for Rome. What are the reasons? Will you have the same opinions with other big cities such as Naples. There was an earlier posts about the best food regions and the consensus seems to be Emilia-Romagne and Piedmont.

      4 Replies
      1. re: PBSF

        Thanks PBSF!

        Ah, okay, I will specify what I am asking. How cold does it get in the North around Venice and Bologna and in the Piemonte? How warm is it on the islands of Sicilia and Sardegna? How are the islands of Sicilia and Sardegna different? Is it possible to do a "greatest hit" city for a day and a half and then spend the rest of the time going around the countryside? Which area+city pairing would make the most sense there?

        I did not like Rome partially because I was unable to get above the fact that there were so many tourists. In Paris and Prague, somehow, this has never really bothered me, but in Rome it did. This time, however, it will be in December. And I will not be seeing Rome alone. I was alone at the time and didn't have anyone to share the experience with and it might have become overwhelming to deal with on my own.

        I read somewhere that the Amalfi Coast closes down for the winter - is this the case? Should I scratch the Amalfi/Naples from my list?

        Thank you SO much for your very helpful reply!

        1. re: j.jessica.lee

          You are asking questions that are beyond the scope of this board. You should ask your mother where she wants to go. She is only 60, after all. Unless she's been living under a rock, which I doubt, she might well have an opinion about whether she'd like to see Rome, Florence, or Venice. Of course Rome has a lot of tourists. It's Rome, for heaven's sake. Florence seems even more overrun than Rome because its center is smaller and there are more American studients. But that is not a good reason to deprive your mother of seeing these important cities. I'd suggest not driving, but you can take a day trip by train from either Florence or Venice to some nice small destination and see some countryside.

          1. re: mbfant

            Thanks for saying what I was wondering...I'm almost 60 myself and if someone said "she's 60 years old BUT loves to travel" rather than AND, I would be mystified where that was coming from. And to deny someone Rome just because you were in some sort of funk when you were there previously is sort of selfish, IMHO. Of course if your mother is in a wheelchair or a walker, the cobblestones could be a deterrent ;-) Geez. Rome is the greatest city I've ever visited, and I'd love to return someday, although I'm sure I'll be older than 60 the way things are going! I seem to recall that Rome is the same latitude as the Virginia, and the weather comparable. Although they have palm trees.

          2. re: j.jessica.lee

            Since you stated that your mother loves to travel, she must have ideas where she would like to go. Italy is not a 'hidden remote' destination. All the information is out for one to read and decide. There are tons of good general guide books regarding to many of the non-food related questions that you have such as weather, sights, driving logistics, best time of the year to visit, how Sicily differs from Sardinia, etc, etc. As mbfant stated, these questions ares beyond the scope of this board. Yes, the Amalfi Coast will be very quiet in the winter and many places shut down but you will have it to yourself. That is the beauty of traveling off off season. If your mother tells you to decide, it is up to you to figure it out from what knowledge you have about her; her likes and dislikes, etc.

        2. For heaven's sake, of course I asked my mother where she wanted to go! She told me to decide as she has never been before. And I would not "deprive" her of Rome just because I didn't like it last time if I thought she would enjoy it - I am just trying my hardest to make this as special as possible for her as it is her first time to Europe. And as for the 60-year old comment, it was in relation to my father who is 60 and does not like traveling at all.

          1 Reply
          1. re: j.jessica.lee

            My husband is in his 60s and hates traveling too, at least until he gets there! A mother/daughter trip sounds like heaven to me, I wouldn't be able to decide either.

          2. For an initial trip to Italy, you would want your Mother to experience typical Italian culture, food and wine traditions, the special beauties of the place. I would suggest choosing one area and staying in it, not renting a car unless necessary. Even though food may be more specially delicious in one part than another, the national characteristics would be more noticeable than the regional for a first time traveller. My personal suggestion would be to visit Venice and nearby towns, all easily accessible by rail from Venice. You would have a chance to sample the seafood and other cuisines of Venice itself (pizza and meats are also available there) and to travel to beautiful historic towns like Verona and Padua, . The distance to Mantova, Ferrara or Bologna are also not great. All of these destinations would display different land-based cuisines, and a variety of wines. We have been in this area in both December and January and while it can be very chilly (you should look at typical weather forecasts) and while there may be acqua alta it can also be quite temperate. Rome would be more moderate and that would be my second recommendation.

            2 Replies
            1. re: jen kalb

              Or what about Florence and Rome and they are only one and a half hours away from one another by train? I wouldn't go to Sardinia in November....Venice can be very beautiful and souful but possibly rather damp....Bologna is very beautiful as is Siena. There are so many beautiful places in italy to visit - a very hard decision, but a lovely treat. Also look at the opera in Florence if you are there in December?

              1. I would spend a 2-3 days in Bologna and 2-3 days in Florence.

                From Bologna, which is well worth seeing on its own, you can reach nearby cities such as Parma, Ferrara, Modena, etc. easily by train in 45-75 minutes. You can even make a day trip to Rimini (to see the mosaic tiles) or Mantua (to see the Ducal Palace) without much stress.

                After a day or two in Florence, you can rent a car for a day and spend it touring the towns in the Tuscan countryside between Florence & Siena.

                The food and sights are more than worthwhile in both areas. Venice & the Veneto is another excellent choice. The fact of the matter is there a very few bad choices

                1 Reply
                1. re: DavidT

                  I agree, Florence and Bologna or any 'little' city in the Emilia Romagna. Proscuitto in Parma, Balsamic in Modena, and Florence is one of THE amazing cities.

                  Close to each other, train travel is easy enough, you can find quaint places to stay in any of the cities.

                  Just don't try and do 'too much'. Pick Rome and the environs OR Florence OR Venice OR Milan. Spend 2 or 3 days getting to 'know' the bigger city (and art and architecture and people) and then pick a smaller city/town and get to know that as well.

                  The weather will be nicer the farther South you go so that is to be taken into account.

                  Once you have figured out where you want to go, THEN we can have fun helping you with what to eat!!