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Need broad planning suggestions for Italy in November

t
themiguel Oct 29, 2012 08:17 AM

Hi everyone,

Going to Italy for my honeymoon from November 18 to early December. Planning to stay in Rome and Florence as well, and have already allocated 8 nights during the first half of our trip between those two locations, and thanks to this board I have some great research in hand for both of those locations. I am now at a bit of a loss on where to go for the remainder of the trip (say November 26-December 3).

Food is the primary concern here - we want to be in areas with delicious food, especially regions specializing in pasta.

It probably makes no sense to head back south, we will devote an entire other trip to that area. Thinking we should devote most of our time to the north/central regions.

Venice - there is the issue of aqua alta in November/December, but I think its probably worthwhile to go for a day or two.

Cinqo Terre - Mostly shuts down in November I hear

Piedmont - White truffle festivals are over by late november when we will be available to go.

If you were planning a dream food trip to Italy during late November/early december, what regions wouldn't you miss?

  1. t
    themiguel Oct 31, 2012 11:12 AM

    Really appreciating all the input from everyone! I think the plan right now is to do a few days in Rome then train to florence, where we will spend around 5 days. Renting a car in florence to explore outlying regions (and hot springs!). Then take train to Torino and rent a car there to stay in Asti or Alba, stay there for three days or so then over to Venice by train for a couple of days then train or plane over to Rome once again for a couple of days before departure.

    I have my restaurant research pretty finalized for Rome/Florence and I think Piemonte. Need to research Venice a bit and broader Tuscany area.

    1 Reply
    1. re: themiguel
      d
      dinwiddie Oct 31, 2012 11:37 AM

      You can get to many places by train, but a car is a godsend when traveling the countryside. We spent our 25th anniversary in Venice, Como,Tuscany and Florence. Got the car as we left Venice, and got rid of it as we got to Florence. Drove all over the place in Tuscany.

      Venice is romantic, but in December will be wet and cold. Be warned that the food there is very tourist oriented. If you are into food the best advice I can give is look for someplace where nobody speaks English and there are no pictures or English menus in the windows. We hgad our best meals in such places.

      I definitely recommend a trip to Sienna, but don't try to drive there on a Wednesday, that is market day and there is nowhere to park. We also took the advice of our hotel folks in Florence and took a local bus to go around the city.

      Make reservations for the Uffizi in advance. I recommend a trip to the Palazzo Pitti too. Lots of great shopping in the area there.

    2. b
      barberinibee Oct 31, 2012 06:04 AM

      What do you like to eat and drink?

      I recommend that you familiarize yourself with regional cuisines and menus and pick on the basis of what you fundamentally like to eat when you order from a menu. There is no "objectively" better cuisine or regional fare. My palate goes for fare different from what is generally recommended as Piemonte's best dishes (although there are many Piemontese dishes, with and without truffles, and above all risotti, that I like).

      Even though you talk of devoting another trip to the South, i think that is too formulaic an approach. It is marvelous, bright food down there if you are an olive oil, seafood, pasta and vegetable lover like. You won't be able to see the South in one more trip anyway, so what not sample some of it now? You will already be in Rome. (I highly recommend you NOT go to Fodor's for your general planning in Italy if you are seeking a sophisticated trip that will put you in proximity to non-touristy restaurants serving something other than "Italian" food.) Napoli is foodie joy to me.

      So think about what your basic food preferences are.

      4 Replies
      1. re: barberinibee
        jen kalb Oct 31, 2012 06:19 AM

        Just to clarify, I do not recommend going over to Fodors for anything relating to food and dining, but if you want advice about trains, historic and cultural attractions, non-food shopping etc that might otherwise drive your trip and your planning, those discussions are offtopic here and tend to get deleted. You also might get itinerary advice over there (some very opinionated tho experienced posters) which may not take you to to the best eating. You have to decide what will be driving your trip and create an itinerary that fits your objectives (I assume relaxation and pleasure rather than boomeranging all over the map) including excellent eating.
        I like Italian dining generally but I am very high on the country or small town restaurant experience right now - and you will generally not be able to experience this without a car.

        I also think, as mentioned above, that the rich meat and pasta-centric menus in the center and especially the north of the country can weigh you down after a while, so that a visit to the coast, a jaunt farther south or even (in a place like Rome or Milan) a switch to non-local regional or fish cuisine can make for a more balanced eating experience

        1. re: jen kalb
          b
          barberinibee Oct 31, 2012 09:51 AM

          I agree non-food related topics are off limits on Chowhound, but if it is allowed to direct people elsewhere for non-food information, then Tripadvisor, Slow Travel or Frommer's are the better resources, and I say that as a resident of italy. Fodor's is just the basement when it comes to accurate or up-to-date logistical information about Italy.

          I also want to take issue with the notion that "the small town restaurant experience" in Italy requires a car. Obviously some countryside restaurants in Italy frequently mentioned on Chowhound require a car or a small loan to pay for taxi fares,. But in reality there are no end of beautiful small towns in Italy with small friendly restaurants that are reachable by train or, in a pinch, a short bus ride. I would estimate that more than 75 percent of restaurants listed in the Slow Food guide are outside of cities but within very easy reach of public transportation. Luchin in Chiavari jumps to mind -- which reminds me: We will ever hear the finish to your Liguria trip, jen?

          1. re: barberinibee
            jen kalb Oct 31, 2012 10:48 AM

            you will...I guess we should not argue here about those other resources, tho 'Ive never cared much for Frommers, Tripadvisor has its own issues not being a real food discussion forum with high standards re food, tho it does seem to be getting more informative as it builds up some local participation; lots of the info on SlowTrav (very good, some of it) is dated. Web discussion forums in general seem to be in a bit of a decline again neither here nor there.

            Of course I agree about small friendly restaurants in smaller towns being reachable by public transportation, but that really works rest from a base location (i.e. Arezzo from Florence or Verona or Padova from Venice) - its not practical if you want to make stops along a travel route and are carrying bags. On our recent trip, we made a stop for lunch/touring in Pisa, but of course that is one of the few stations that has a baggage deposit. Second, there are some of the restaurants here that really need a car or expensive taxi ride to visit. La Brinca (yes I will write about it), Nonna Nina, many of the restaurants in Lombardy, Piedmont dand E-R discussed on this Board fall into that category. I spent a couple of days last year researching how to get from my home base in Gardone Riviera to Dal Pescatore in Canneto Oglio by public transport, At best, it was very roundabout and long, really impractical. I wound up in Cremona instead and given the 95 degree heat, was heartily glad I wasnt waling through the cornfields to DP. Even for places that notionally have a train line like Rubiera, where the Clinica Gastronomica sits, it is next to impossible to find train or bus info even locally - we wound up having to drive from there to tour nearby Modena. So I think a car can be very nice for leisurely touring and eating as long as big cities arent involved.

            1. re: jen kalb
              b
              barberinibee Nov 1, 2012 07:39 AM

              Again, I really woudn't discourage foodies from exploring Italy by train, without a car. I am not disagreeing that having a car gets you to some restaurants a train won't, and we all agree that any travel message board is NOT the place to go for food recs.

              But I want to lay down a marker here that there are many very small towns (not cities) on good train lines in Italy where you can eat just as well as you can in the countryside. Even people who like having a "base" can stay in these towns for a week and go in several directions using public transportation and within less than 1/2 hour get excellent food for lunch or dinner in an impressive variety of small, homey family run places of high quality. Needless to say, for people willing to actually travel, and forego this idea of having a "base", the opportunities for good eating are even more fantastic, and there is no problem with luggage if you have a hotel room or choose an albergo ristorante.

              Many of these small towns are so off the standard, repetitive tourist radar for Italy that even foodies somehow wind up with the impression that only hilly Tuscany, hilly Umbria and hilly Piemonte have small towns of charm with lovable Slow Food restaurants within them, and therefore one needs a car to track down the best eating. But pick up any Slow Food guide from recent years and you can see it isn't true.

              I just want to underscore this on Chowhound, because Italy is starting to be reduced to something akin to American suburbia, and foodies eager to eat well in Italy deserve to know that restaurants in the countryside without train access are not always superior to trattorie in small towns with it.

              Hope the recovery from Sandy moves swiftly and you were not severely affected.

      2. e
        ekc Oct 29, 2012 12:11 PM

        We had a fantastic trip 2 years ago, when we spend 3 nights in Parma and 3 nights near Alba. Wonderful food in both regions and I would return in a heartbeat. However, heed Jen's advice that you need to figure out your mode of transportation and that will help refine your destination options.

        1 Reply
        1. re: ekc
          d
          DavidT Oct 29, 2012 12:18 PM

          Yes, I think you could visit the cities in Emilia-Romagna pretty easily by train, but I would definitely want to have a car if traveling in Piemonte.

        2. jen kalb Oct 29, 2012 11:27 AM

          Although this is not a trip planning board - you need to go to Fodors etc for broader advice on this score - you need to consider your eating plans/food explorations as part of a broader plan for your trip - where will your trip begin and end, what do you want to be doing when you arent eating, what will your mode of transportation be. If you want to keep your transportation simple (trains or planes), you will probably also want to limit your destinations to major cities and travel light. If you plan to be driving, It might be nice to spend your last week travelling by car from Venice to Piedmont, and stopping in some of the wonderful towns and culinary hotspots along the way, for example Verona, Mantova and the restaurants in the nearby Lombardy countryside, as well as in the very nearby parts of Emilia Romagna, etc.,. Or arcing from Florence up to Piedmont ad then over to Venice, exploring some of the fine towns and country restaurants along the way. There will be plenty of wonderful mushrooms, game, cool weather soups, etc, perfect for such a trip.

          Since the foods of E-R, Lombardy, and Piedmont are rich, meaty and buttery, you may find yourself being maxed out in your palate and calorically with too long a string of these dishes and not enough exercise!.
          Could be a reason to end with the leaner menu in Venice.

          1. l
            lisaonthecape Oct 29, 2012 10:36 AM

            Piemonte would be my top choice, too, but if you're looking for another location as well, I would think about the Emilia-Romagna region--the wonderfully rich foods are better suited to cooler months, in my view. Parma is a lovely city and might make a good home base in the region.

            1. d
              DavidT Oct 29, 2012 09:10 AM

              For food, I would certainly head to Piemonte. Just because the truffle festivals have ended, it does not mean truffles will no longer be available while dining there. Regardless, the cuisine of Piemonte (especially the wines, stews, roasts, filled pastas and braises) is among the very best in Italy and is well suited to dining in the winter months.

              I visited Piemonte in the last week of November several years ago and ate very, very well there. Even if you don't get to taste any truffles, you will not regret going there.

              I can't imagine reading this current thread and not wanting to go to Piemonte:

              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/768883

              1 Reply
              1. re: DavidT
                t
                themiguel Oct 29, 2012 10:12 AM

                Thanks David, in the back of my mind I was thinking Piemonte was a cant miss regardless of any festivals, and this just confirmed it. Will look for lodging in Asti or Alba and do some research.

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