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Need help deciding which airport to fly into...

We just finalized our decision to visit Italy for 11 days this October. I am an avid researcher and use this site for the majority of my research for any trip we take (successfully). I will put in many computer hours reading up for this trip too. But, for now I am attempting to do some quick research on where I want to visit, because I need to book our airline tickets asap. We are using award miles and I have found a couple options, which could disappear at any moment. I definitely don't have time to finalize our plans beforehand. I have never been to Italy so I am starting from scratch.

I don't like to spend a lot of time in cities, except to eat some amazing food. I want to spend my time driving in the countryside, eating and sipping. So, I think I want to visit Tuscany for a few days (yes, I know that is very general) and also spend a few days in Piemonte. My question is, should we fly into Rome and spend 2 nights there and continue on? Or fly into Venice and, after a couple nights, go from there? Either way we will be flying back to NY from Milan airport.

If we fly into Venice I am assuming we would focus more on northern Tuscany. If we fly into Rome then we could more easily focus on southern. I just don't have time to figure out which itinerary I would prefer or makes more sense. I know 11 days is not long, but it is my goal to slow travel as much as possible and get a small feel for those areas of Italy. I am sure we will return.

Thank you for any insight and advice you might offer.

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  1. Is flying into Florence an option? That would plop you in the capital city of Tuscany with Rome, Venice a couple hours by train.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Samalicious

      We would have to leave a day later in order to use our points. I already feel like we don't have enough time.

    2. If you don't mind my saying so, I think your question would be better hashed out on another type of discussion board that is more travel oriented, unless you want to reframe the question and ask for recommendations for which small area of Italy is going to give you the most of what you are dreaming of in terms of going slow and enjoying food and wine. For that discussion, you would get more helpful answers if you included some indication of what you like to eat.

      You seem to want to include non-food related destinations and get advice about including that, so Chowhound moderators will probably kill that discussion anyway.

      Since you say you want to go to Piemonte and Tuscany, and must fly out of Milan, I don't know why you don't simply fly in and out of Milan. But that's what I mean -- engaging in that kind of travel planning is not generally done on Chowhound.

      4 Replies
      1. re: barberinibee

        I was thinking the same thing. Check out the Trip Advisor forum section.

        1. re: barberinibee

          Yes, I understand what you are saying and I woke up this morning realizing that I hadn't really explained properly what I am looking for. I half expected my post to be gone.

          I have to make a decision quickly and would like to visit Tuscany for a few days. When it comes to delicious food and wineries do people prefer southern Tuscany over northern? I think we can only see one smallish area in Tuscany if we want to slow travel.

          It does seem that Rome is more of a food city than Venice. Is that a correct assumption? Although Venice looks beautiful and obviously we could find delicious food there too.

          I have decided to use Alba as our home base for Piemonte. There looks to be a lot around that area within a short drive. I already have Del Belbo da Bardon saved as a possibility for lunch or dinner, along with La Sosta in Montabone and Osteria Veglio as a possibility.

          1. re: JazzyK

            I honestly don't know what a poll of Chowhounders would reveal if the question is whether southern Tuscany or the Chianti area is best for food in October. You will have approximately six meals, maybe fewer, and I tend to think no matter which area you pick, good research between now and October will turn up a dozen promising choices in either area.

            Italy's fast train service now means that even if you had already bought tickets to Rome and suddenly realized you most wanted to be in Chianti, a 90 minute train ride will get you to Florence, or you can make your first stop Arezzo, and in either place you can rent a car. Even if you land in Venice, getting to southern Tuscany is easy, whether you choose to drive or take a train south to Siena or Chiusi and rent a car there.

            That's a long way of saying that if you'd be curious to know if Chowhounders have a definite preference for food opportunities in northern or southern Tuscany, then I suggest putting up a separate question that is just that question, and specify when you are going in October.

            But if you don't get any clear answers, I wouldn't worry terribly about where you land.

            1. re: barberinibee

              I agree, with enough research I am sure I can find delectable meals anywhere in Italy. And that's a great idea to combine the train and a rental car! Thanks for the advice on where to take a train to.

        2. For an 11 day trip, I would focus on just 2 areas, an that would mean 2 different cuisines.
          You can fly into one spot--if Tuscany fly into FLR and you could eat lots of pasta, bistecca, ribollita, Chianti wine--classic Tuscan stuff. Move on to Piemonte--eat truffles, pasta al plin, soft cheese, vitello tonnato, too many wines to list. Fly home from Milan.

          You could do the same flying into Venice--focus on the seafood and local wines including Prosecco.

          Staying in the north allows for less travel time, too.

          Splitting it into 2 areas gives you time to focus your palate on the regional differences.

          4 Replies
          1. re: jangita

            Yes, I think that focusing on 2 areas is a priority for me. I don't want to try and see everything my first trip, I want time to relax and enjoy myself. But if we fly into a city we would want to spend a couple nights there too, especially because we will be exhausted from jet lag. And my husband loves cities (and country thank goodness) so he will want to walk around and see the sights.

            1. re: JazzyK

              Totally agree, limit it to 2 areas and enjoy them. Also realize if you do Tuscany (notably the Chianti region) and Piemonte in October, you will be there during truffle, game and local porcini season. Portions in these two areas are generous and the in season specialties tend to go with heavier fare. You may need time to chill, take a walk and get ready for the next feast.

              I personally would not do these 2 in the same trip. While certainly different, the menus tend to be heavy on the meat, heavy on the sauces and, in October, follow the same cacciatore genre of cooking. When you're eating truffles for breakfast, antipasto and pasta for lunch and at least 3 courses for dinner you need to make sure you can handle it, day after day, and still enjoy your time there.

              October is my favorite time in Italy and we spend months here every year. Enjoy, no matter where you go you will eat well, especially if you can avoid the tourist trail.

              1. re: Ray2

                Yes, I am a bit worried about the heaviness of the food in the regions that I want to focus on. That is why I am considering adding in a coastal town for a couple days. Genoa maybe?

                1. re: Ray2

                  @ Ray2

                  Re two topics (one now switched from Italy).

                  I live about 20km. from Lucca and have had decades of experience going to Italian ristorante, trattorie and osterie (almost 2000 meals eaten out) in Tuscany and elsewhere in the north. Almost all of the places I recommend on this board are in very small towns, way off the American/British tourist routes e.g. Calestano, Priocca, Ne', Armentarola, and one I mentioned today in another post, Varigotti.

                  With all due respect, we disagree when you say "Which does sort of indicate responses do not generate conversation." There is a lot of conversation. For example, I think if you look at some of my posts (about Piemonte, Alto-Adige, ER, southern Lombardia), you'll see, in some cases, more than fifty replies and a vibrant discussion. Numerous responses are also rendered to a number of other regular posters. In my mind, this is all to the good and am not sure I understand the points you were trying to make.

                  Again, with all due respect, in one post, you said "Last, we don't go near tourist areas. Not unusual for well traveled people" and in another "I could spend a year in Lucca and not get bored with the restaurants." For a town its size, Lucca is certainly among the most touristed areas in the north of Italy. So... I'm puzzled about the inconsistency. But that is a minor quibble.

                  What I really don't understand is the choice of "non-touristy" restaurants. Too many of the ones you mentioned are supported mainly by tourists (and a few are tourist traps). Certainly Enoteca Marcucci in Pietrasanta, if its still open, fits both categories (it might be closed; The Church did not want to renew its lease). Certainly Buca di Sant'Antonio and Puccini in Lucca, for four or five months a year, are overwhelmingly filled with tourists, but are not tourist traps in the sense that the food is decent (not more), even if the wine lists leave something to be desired. The one that really got me was Da Fiorella in Nicola. From June through August mostly American, British and Germans eat there. There is a non tourist place in town that, in my opinion, has food every bit as good if not better than Fiorella, but in all fairness is lacking a good wine list; but Da Fiorella's is only marginally better.

                  Color me puzzled by some of your comments and recommendations. But... that's what this board is for i.e to have a discussion about what we like and don't like, without ad hominem posts.

            2. We first travelled to Italy 2 years ago. We chose the ER region as being one which offered the sort of food we really loved. Flew in and out of Milan. Based ourselves in Bologna - what a beautiful town. Did day trips to Venice and Florence for lunch. Got a car and drove for a couple of days up around ER and around Parma. Some memorable meals indeed.

              What would we change? Less time in Bologna itself - perhaps a few more days on the road, that was truly wonderful. Also I fell heavily in love with Venice (expecting to hate it) and I would have easily stayed there 2-3 nights.

              Milan makes sense to me as a central point whether you want to go to the middle or to the north. And even then, it's not really that far away from Rome on a fast train!

              I am heading to Rome for a month this September and I am beyond excited, so I hope you have a good time too!

              1. I know some people have a preference for the countryside, but even in the countryside you are primarily visiting small cities, hill towns, etc, I would recommend starting your trip in either Rome or Venice - both are premier cultural destinations, primarily places you would walk around, each with great beauty, artistic and historic interest and distinct cuisines from what you will experience elsewhere, Its hard to imagine a first visit to italy that does not involve Rome, but I think you would appreciate a start in either Venice or Rome. Rome is generally bustling though there are many pockets of peace and quiet whereas Venice, without automotive traffic is relatively quiet if you get out of a limited number of tourist areas ((we started a couple of visits in Venice, and it was an adjustment after the peace and pedestrian/water environment to visit cities with traffic! As a city Milan is less appealing though it too has interest, though I would not want it as my intro to Italy.,

                If Tuscany is a priority and you want to spend time in Piedmont, Id suggest starting in Rome, then Tuscany - you could continue up to Piedmont either along the Ligurian Coast or through Emilia Romagna. Its sort of the beginning of fall at that time - so that there may be a bit of rain - but it is likely to still be warm - we travelled from Rome to Genoa around that same season last year and the weater and menus were still summery although at the end of the trip mushrooms and other late items began to appear,

                Foodwise I dont think that the cuisine of southern and northern tuscany are notbly distinct from each other - there are pockets, like the coast and garfagnana that have their own specialties and the wines differ from town to town.

                If you are really interested in culinary touring, books like Fred Plotkins do a good job of describing the regional cuisines, ajnd a book like the Slowfood Osterie Guide, which lists the specialties of each restaurant, will give you a feel for what you are likely to find,

                4 Replies
                1. re: jen kalb

                  My own feeling is that when somebody tells you they can't imagine visiting Italy except in some certain order, with this first or that last or be sure to include this cultural whatever, then maybe they aren't in the best position to know what hundreds of thousands of other travelers beyond themselves happily discocvered to be a delicious, rewarding introduction to Italy. It is equally valid to make your first trip to Italy about being in the Italian countryside. There are few other places in the modern world like it, and it worth seeing and experience for itself in an unhurried way if you are curious to do so.

                  Sorry, jen, but I think there is no basis for this kind of generalizing and steering. Somebody asked about logistics for a primarily food focused tour with a certain goal of being in the countryside -- where many of us do, in fact, spend our time on farms or wineries, not in visiting cities or towns. And the fact that you don't find tasty Milan appealing culturally -- which I most certainly do as do others -- isn't up for voting here. It's a marvelous food city.

                  1. re: barberinibee

                    Pish tush. I dont expect anyone's trip or tastes to be limited by my opinions or preferences. Everyone comes at this from a different direction, so when I say I have a hard time imagining (not that I CANT imagine), that is because Rome had such a big impact on us

                    In early trips to the country, we loved Rome, Venice and the tuscan country side (not Florence so much) as well as Ravenna, Verona, Parma, Siena and other places. We enjoyed the way that each small city was distinct (even to different colors of stone) from its neighbors,with its own artists, wine and pasta fillings, The very refined yet very local food made in traditional ways and served and eating without hurry. Everybody is entitled to their own slant. Im looking forward to hearing what OP finds on her first journey.

                    Of the three choices, if Tuscany is a central focus, I would lean toward starting in Rome, which would allow for a tour of Tuscany from S to N before heading on toward Piedmont,.
                    Venice to Piedmont gives exposure to several provinces with a variety of fine cuisines and wines, but I think a jog down to Tuscany from Venice and then back up to Piedmont would be less intuitive.

                    I agree that there is plenty of good food as well as fascinating museums churches and fashion on display in Milan, but I hope I am allowed to have my opinion that as a city it is less appealing and remarkable than either Rome or Venice. If OP decides to stop there instead of simply using the airport as a jumping off point, I will be happy to recommend a couple places.

                    1. re: jen kalb

                      Yes, sorry to have reacted as if listening to fingernails on chalkboard. I read too much "gentle" arm twisting and guilt-tripping about first time trips to Italy. Plus, your statements about Milan seemed too declarative to me, as if they were objective truths, not just your reactions passing through.

                  2. re: jen kalb

                    Thank Jen. Some very good advice. I was already thinking of picking up the Plotkin book so that I can get to know the cuisine better by region. Rome is right up my husband's alley, so we may very well just fly into there. But then again Venice might be nice to relax at after an exhausting flight. And I am also tossing around Bologna as an option. I still have not booked my tickets and really have to. I had family at my house for the last few days and haven't had any time ...I'm kinda freaking out about that because these award tickets change constantly.