Italiaoutdoors Custom Vacation Planner and Guide

Italy After COVID Planning a Safe Vacation and Travel Ideas

There is still the cloud of COVID 19 floating over most of the world, and Italy has been pretty hard hit. Travel may or may not open up in the following months but just in case we thought to cover a few of the better social distancing travel options to consider as you plan your Italian vacation. As we mentioned in a previous option travel is changing and those who are more flexible and spend some time researching their destination will be safer and more relaxed as they explore. April is a great time to visit but you do need to understand the flow of the local tempo. THE MOUNTAINS  Dolomites and Alps: April is the closing weeks of the ski season for lower elevation and the peak period to upper elevation areas in Alps. Easter has been the traditional date of closure for resorts in the Dolomites and Prealps but when Easter falls with the month of March most resorts will stay open until 1 April. Sometimes depending on weather they will remain open a couple of weeks into April. This is a time period where you can ski in the morning and be on the beach in the afternoon working on an early season tan. This year there has been a large accumlation of snow thus far so it could keep the resorts open a week or to longer. If you are looking for a ski vacation you will need to head to Cervina, Monte Rosa, Val Senales, or even Solda which all sit about 2000 meters. This is the best time to ski these locations for good weather and solid conditions. Most of these resorts can be skied until late May and even early June. Hiking in the Mountains of either the Alps or Dolomites are nearly impossible about 1500 meters. On the northern slopes you will find snow fields and many couloirs will be filled with snow making most trails impassable without technical material. Plus many of the rifugio will close at the end of the ski resort closing to refit and vacation prior to the opening of the hiking season in the month of June.

The Northern Cites

Northern Cities: This is a great time to consider a bike tour thought the walled cities of the Veneto or perhaps a urban trek utilizing the train to move for destination to destination. The crowds are less and with the ever changing weather you would have plenty of flexibity thoughtout the day. Also this is not a bad time to visit the northern lakes of Lago di Garda, Lago di Como, and Lago Maggiore. Climbing and Bouldering: If you are looking for a road trip to climb or mix a few days in during your adventure this is the prime time to visit Finale Liguria, Arco, Frentillo, Sperlonga and other southern sites. The temperature is good and the rock acts as a nice solarium making it a very enjoyable time. With less crowds in the towns there is plenty of time to climb and visit each day.

Central Italy

Central Italy: Again the upper elevations will still most likely have snow, especially Gran Sasso in Abruzzo, but the hill towns of Tuscany and Umbria are starting to bloom and this is the time to see the green fields. Weather is good for biking and this is the time of year that made Tuscany a cycling destination years ago. Traffic is moderate and most of the towns are not over crowded, as in later months. Riding south of Siena or over in the Assisi and Belvanga area of Umbria is a great choice, the routes can be challenging for those in less fitness so consider an E bike. Along the coastline there are a few places that are popular for wind surfing, and although there are not a lot of climbing destinations there are a few worthwhile sites to visit.

Exploring Southern Italy

Southern Italy: April is a quite time for most tourist destinations with many places still closed for the winter. It has gotten better over the past few years but I am not sure how COVID is going to impact hotels and other services. However, Sicily is always a great choice at this time of year especially the Aolie Islands. One of my favorite visits has been Salina and Lipari in April to bike or walk. Also exploring the southern area is very enjoying with warm but not to hot weather and smaller crowds. But as I said before services and support facilities are hit and miss. Other active vacation spots to consider are: Sardinia, this is a great time to enjoy bouldering and climbing, mountain, and small boat sailing. There are also several coastline hikes to explore and you are apt to find small beaches void of tourist. If you are in Italy in the last part of the months consider a bike ride or walk in southern Marche and northern Abruzzo to visit Monti Sibillini. Or wind surfing in the Gargano area of Puglia the winds are good daily and the coastline line towns a hidden treat to explore.

For more travel ideas check out our travel guide and for specific questions or assistance in preparing an itinerary drop us a note at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., for food and wine vacations check out our web site at Italiaoutdoors Food and Wine

Read more: Italy After COVID Custom Vacation Planning and Guide

Italiaoutdoors Travel Guide

5 THINGS TO KNOW AS YOU PLAN FOR A VISIT TO VENICE

Planning Your Venice Adventure

Enchanting, fascinating, and beautiful, Venice remains one of the most-visited places in Italy. That being said? No matter how much you’ve read up on the city, some things about it can be surprising! Here, the top six things we find people have said they wished they’d known about Venice on before their adventure there. Keep these in mind as you plan your Italian Adventure or if you have additional questions drop us a line.

1. You will get lost in Venice, often — even with the world’s best maps

I know people who have visited Venice and had it all: lots of previous experience in the city, fluent Italian, and an iPad with GPS-style Google maps. They still got lost (and I find myself confused sometimes after all the years I have been in the city). Venice is a confusing, winding, maze of medieval streets, with the frequent obstacle of a canal blocking your path. Of course, that’s part of Venice’s charm. There’s nothing better than being lost in such an eerily beautiful city. Unless, that is, you want to get to places and see sites in a limited amount of time.This made one thing in particular strike home for us: While it’s always virtually impossible to really “see” or “do” a whole city in just one day, it’s even harder in Venice. So, if you’re looking to check things off the list in a limited amount of time, then either consider extending that amount of time a bit more than you might have originally thought necessary — or consider taking a tour. Because we’ve realized that, while a guide is fantastic for bringing sites alive with stories, or giving insider’s tips to a city, in Venice, a guide is also just crucial for getting you from point A to point B.

2. You can legally board Venice’s public transport without a ticket…

…as long as you immediately notify the boat personnel and buy a ticket on the spot. Otherwise, if the boat is “spot-checked” for tickets, you can be told you’ll have to pay hundreds of euros in fines. Make sure, too, that you always validate your tickets by running them through the small, yellow or white machines near the entrance.

3. All those ferries are expensive;

In general, the cheapest way to get around Venice is to walk. But sometimes, your feet just can’t take it anymore. Also part of the fun of Venice is unlike a normal city, instead of streets, there are canals, and instead of buses and trains, there are boats. The problem is that these boats can be expensive. And we don’t even mean the water taxis. A ticket that lets you travel on the boats for 60 minutes along the Grand Canal, including switches, costs €7.50. To take a traghetto across the Grand Canal for just one trip, it’s €2.50 If you plan to use the boat as much as you would, say, the metro in Rome, therefore, that can add up quickly. But one thing we’ve realized: Most people won’t use the boats in Venice as much as they would use the bus elsewhere. That’s largely because so much of the beauty of Venice (as well as where many hotels and restaurants are!) is in its back streets and piazzas, places that, often times, the boats just can’t get to. In some cases, though, you might plan to take the boats more than a handful of times. So if walking abilities are limited in your group, or if your hotel is conveniently located right near one of the ferry stops, then consider getting one of Venice’s all-inclusive transport passes, good for 12, 24, 36, 48, or 72 hours, or 7 days. To really get bang for your buck, don’t wait until you’re in Venice to buy these: in the “middle/high season” we’re in right now, a 72-hour pass costs €33 on the spot, or €28.05 if you book it through the website Venice Connected. (To get the online discounted rate, you must book at least 7 days in advance). Again, though, remember: To make this particular pass, for example, “worth it,” you’d have to take the €7.00 boats five times or more to merit getting a pass, rather than paying per go. And if you’re like most people, you probably wouldn’t take the boats that often. As well as "free" transport, the Rolling Venice card gets you discount on sites like the Doge's Palace. A couple of other things to keep in mind on the transport front. First, kids under 5 travel free. Second, although there aren’t any reductions for children aged 6 to 14 (they get the adult rate), there is, oddly enough, an option for a reduced fare for youths aged 14 to 29. To take advantage, buy the Rolling Venice card at a variety of points around the city. It costs €4, and with that card, the 3-day pass is just €18. It also gives discounts to various sites around the city.

4. If you want to eat like a Venetian, it’s worth having some restaurants in mind ahead of time. If you want food this good in Venice, you have to know where to look!

If part of the fun of the trip for Italy for you is the food, then have a plan or at least a few places jotted down. We regularly have guests who didn’t do this and wound up spending €45 per person or more on food so bad, they said it was inedible. If you do not plan ahead ask your hotel or if you’re taking a tour in Venice then ask your tour guide where you can go that’s authentic and inexpensive. But be warned sometimes these individuals have special connections with various locations so you still might not get the best options. 

5. Sitting down at a cafe in Venice costs more than anywhere else in Italy.

Anywhere in Italy, when you sit down with that coffee at a cafe or bar, the price goes up. If you drink the same coffee, and eat the same pastry, standing at the counter, the price is lower. That’s why you’ll see so many Italians eating at the counter. In Venice, though, the price difference is even bigger than elsewhere. Take a seat with that cappuccino, and you can expect to pay three, four times what you would standing. Decide to take a seat at a cafe on the Piazza San Marco you could pay as much as 15 euro. Some cafes also tack a huge surcharge onto the bill that isn’t for servizio, it isn’t for pane e copert, it’s for “listening to the band” that they have playing at the tables. To avoid those kinds of surcharges, or the stress of worrying about them, stay away from eating at major tourist sites and always take your coffee at the counter. Every bar must have prices posted for patrons to see.

In the End is Venice worth the effort?

YES, Venice should be on everyone's travel list and a must see.  Venezia is a wonderful visit with the proper planning and knowledge you will be amazed at the history, culture, and unique lifestyle of the city.  Just showing up your experience can be hit or miss and if you just follow the crowds around you will be greatly disappointed. We hope you have a wonderful visit and check out some of our other articles about traveling in Italy. 

Need Help Planning Your Italy Vacation

Italy is one of the most diverse places in the world to visit but there is more to the country then Venice, Florence, Roma, Cinque Terre and a couple of other top attractions.  If you plan you days well and understand how to move around within the country you can a great cost effective vacation full of activity, history, culture, and great food and wine.  Contact us to get the insights to travel in Italy.  We offer: Travel Consultant- book time online for a web chat to answer your questions about traveling in Italy. Travel Planning - need help outlining and planning your adventure in Italy. Scheduled Tours - each month we lead a scheduled tour for those looking to join a small group to explore. Travel support:  Bike Touring - routes, bike rental, bag transfers.  Walking/Hiking Tours - routes, bag transfers. Booking assistance and suggested contacts.

For More Travel Planning Assistance

Read more: 5 Things to know before you get to Venice

Venice Italy

Things to know about taking a gondola ride in venice

One of the main attractions most visits consider when visiting the city of Venice is to take a ride on a gondola, Venezia's iconic mode of transport.

If you take a gondola in Venice:

Negotiate the price in advance. The city rate starts at 80 euros for 40 minutes (and that climbs up to 100 euros for 40 minutes after 7pm), but lots of gondoliers charge more. Make sure you agree on the exact price, and on the number of minutes, before you climb aboard.

Be careful with a concierge. If you shy away from haggling, your hotel concierge can act as the middleman and do the negotiating for you. That’s nice—but it often comes with a big surcharge.

venice14

Know you can have 6 people in total. If you’re traveling with friends, it’s a great way to split the cost.
Remember that it’s expensive for a reason. Are gondoliers taking advantage of tourists? Maybe. But might they have reason? Yes. Venice is a pretty pricey city to live in, and the gondola itself is a big expense, setting a gondolier back some 20,000 euros for a hand-built version.

Carefully pick where you get your gondola. Not all gondolas have the same routes, but you can influence the kind of experience you’ll have depending on where you pick up a gondola. Grab one at the Rialto Bridge, and you’re headed for a trip down the iconic, bustling Grand Canal. Walk down to a side canal, where the water taxis and vaporetti don’t have stands, and you’ll have a more tranquil trip off the beaten path.

Get a receipt and there is no need to tip.  One of the best ways to ensure you are getting a fair cost is to ask for a receipt (scontrino), for every money transaction in Italy, you much have a valid receipt.  Those not giving receipts are doing business 'under the table' or in nero, and if you are stopped by a policemen and asked for your receipt and do not have, you get the ticket.  Secondly, there is no place for tips on an individual Italian tax sheet and Italian's do not tip. In Venice and some bigger tourist cities you will find many service providers sticking their hands out, it is only because they have come to expect Americans to tip.  A tip should be something you want to give to show your appreciation for a great job.

Be aware that you’ve got alternatives. If you simply can’t stomach the price, consider taking a traghetto, which crosses the Grand Canal. The price? Three euros.

Walking in Italy

Italiaoutdoors Custom Travel Planner and Guide

5 TIPS FOR HIKING|WALKING ITALY

Trekking o Escursionismo Italia

I keep saying that the best way to enjoy Italy is by foot with Italy being 75% mountainous there are plenty of treks to enjoy.  Even the popular walking area's like Cinque Terre and the Amalfi Coast you need to be properly prepared and aware. As you are planning your Italian escape look at these suggestion to help you in your planning. You can be walking in the mountains, along the coastline, or urban trekking through one of the regions of Italy by having the right gear will make your trip more enjoyable. 

1. Invest in some Trekking Poles

If you haven’t used trekking poles before, have no fear. You’ll figure out how to use them right away. The Dolomites Alta Via 1 is a difficult trail with varying terrain and steep ascents and descents while Venice has lots of bridges. Trekking poles will help you power up hill, keep your balance when you slip in mud, and reduce the strain on your knees and feet with every step you take. I had good luck with Leki poles, but any type of poles will be better than none.

2. Pack light

It you planning multiday hikes or train backbacking scrutinize every item you bring and bring only the essentials. Remember, you’ll be carrying whatever you pack for around 90 miles and for 6 – 12 hours each day through the challenging Dolomites ot through the city to get to your hotel.

3. Bring sandals

Most the rifugios require you to remove your boots before entering the main areas of the hut.  Carrying a good part of rudder or plastic sandals or flip flop are a must.  I like carrying a pair of rafting sandals because if I do get a bit of foot soreness I could walk an easy trail with them.    Also, you’ll want the sandals or flip flops for showering to avoid getting athlete’s foot. Plus, they are great for taking your shoes off on longer breaks or when you find a nice cold stream to soak them in.

4. Quick drying clothes

Since carrying a full wardrobe would make your pack unnecessarily heavy, bring clothes that are quick drying so you can wash them at the rifugios or hotel bathroom at the end of each day’s walk. Helly Hanson and Patagonia both make some great clothes that will be comfortable and designed for adventure travelers. Don’t forget to bring your quick drying towel as well.

5. Bring plenty of socks

Be sure to bring multiple pairs of hiking socks. I recommend swapping them out for a fresh pair at lunch – I promise that your feet will thank you. Hang your old ones off the back of your pack so they will air out and dry. It’s amazing the difference that a pair of new socks can make for your comfort.

What Do You Like to Carry in your pack?

If you need a full suggested packing like for hiking drop us a line or check out our hiking Italy guide.  Regardless of being in the Dolomites or visiting the trifecta of Roma. Florence, and Venice with proper planning and knowledge you will be amazed at the history, culture, and unique lifestyle of the Italy. We hope you have a wonderful visit and check out some of our other articles about traveling in Italy.

Need Help Planning Your Italy Vacation

Italy is one of the most diverse places in the world to visit but there is more to the country then Venice, Florence, Roma, Cinque Terre and a couple of other top attractions.  If you plan you days well and understand how to move around within the country you can a great cost effective vacation full of activity, history, culture, and great food and wine.  Contact us to get the insights to travel in Italy.  We offer: Travel Consultant- book time online for a web chat to answer your questions about traveling in Italy. Travel Planning - need help outlining and planning your adventure in Italy. Scheduled Tours - each month we lead a scheduled tour for those looking to join a small group to explore. Travel support:  Bike Touring - routes, bike rental, bag transfers.  Walking/Hiking Tours - routes, bag transfers. Booking assistance and suggested contacts.

For More Travel Planning Assistance

Read more: 5 Tips On Walking In Italy

7 Tips for Traveling in Matera, Italy

Travel guide to Basilicata Italy, city of Matera

ABOUT MATERA, BASILICATA

Matera, lying in a canyon is hauntingly beautiful town in Italy.  Famous for its 'sassi' (stone dwellings) and stunning landscapes, Matera, located on the border of Basilicata and Puglia, is one of our favorite cities in Italy. It’s not only breathtaking, but fascinating: Its history goes back more than 30,000 years.

And? It’s much easier to get to than people think.

Here are 7 things you need to know about Matera. Read on to find why you should add this scenic spot to your next Italy trip!

1. Matera’s famous sassi are not what you think they are.

Travel Guide to Basilicata Italy, Sassi of Matera

Many people think that Matera’s cave dwellings are called “sassi.” They’re not. The sassi (literally meaning “stones”) actually refer to the two neighborhoods of stone dwellings in the ancient town.

Matera’s Neolithic caves

These dwellings, by the way, don’t always look like caves from the outside. (The caves you see in some pictures, like this one to the right, are Palaeolithic caves located across the ravine from Matera’s ancient center). Instead, these dwellings, carved into the rock, look like homes piled one on top of the other. (Their interiors, though, often feel cave-like). It’s an ingenious, and space-saving, design: Step onto one of the narrow lanes between houses, and you’re actually standing on the roof of the house below. It’s also smart when it comes to sharing water, since water would be gathered on the plateau above the town and then come down so that the entire community could share it.

Two main quarters sprung up in Matera that were built this way… and these are the two sassi.

2. Aside from Petra in the country of Jordan, Matera is the oldest continuously-inhabited settlement in history.

Palaeolithic-Caves of Matera, Basilicata Italy

We call the oldest period in human history the “Palaeolithic period,” a time when woolly mammoths roamed the earth and the last Ice Age was just winding down. And guess what? This is when people first settled in Matera. (We’re talking at around about 15,000 B.C.).

What makes Matera different from other Palaeolithic settlements, though, is that those inhabitants, and their ancestors, never left. Instead, they dug in—quite literally. In the Iron and Bronze Ages, newly-equipped with metal tools, settlers dug underground caverns, cisterns, and tombs in the landscape’s soft volcanic stone (called tufa). Famously, they also dug dwellings.

Those dwellings, and those people, remained throughout the later waves of rulers and empires, from Greeks to Romans to Byzantines. They (and their descendants) are still there today… even though some things are a little different.

3. Matera is where The Passion of the Christ was filmed.

Because of Matera’s unearthly, an ancient beauty, Mel Gibson chose it as the setting for his 2004 The Passion of the Christ. He’s not the first director to have set a Biblical film here: Pasolini’s The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964), Beresford’s King David (1985), and Hardwicke’s The Nativity Story (2006) were all filmed here, as well.

4. In Matera, the living wasn’t always easy

Life in Matera’s stone dwellings: not always so romantic (photo courtesy of Casa Grotta di Vico Solitario). Today, Matera seems incredibly romantic. But it wasn’t always this way. Even now, you can imagine the difficulties of living in the town’s ancient sassi: Homes, stores and churches are connected via narrow paths or stairs, so forget driving from your house to the grocery store. For those used to modern conveniences, living in a stone dwelling in Matera would be challenging!

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, poverty also was rife in Matera, as for so much of southern Italy. People lived in one-room stone homes—or, yes, caves—without heat or plumbing, often with donkeys or other animals sharing the same space. (For the curious, the Casa Grotta di Vico Solitario shows what living in the 1950s would have been like). Malaria was rife. Conditions were so bad that, in 1952, the government of Italy passed a law forcing Matera’s dwellers out of their old quarters and into new, modern buildings. This “new Matera” still exists, up the hill from the ancient sassi, and it’s where the vast majority of Matera’s residents live today.

But in 1993, the area was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. And as Matera has gotten more popular, people have started moving back into the sassi, restoring the stone homes and even opening them as luxury hotels. If Matera’s 19th- and early-20th century inhabitants could see their town now, they’d be astonished!

5. Now’s the time to see Matera’s stone churches.

The rupestrian church of Madonna di Idris in Matera.  The churches of Matera, like the homes, are carved into stone. (These types of churches are called “rupestrian churches”). They date back to the Middle Ages; many have their interiors covered in vibrant frescoes.

A damaged, but still vibrant, fresco in one of Matera’s rupestrian churches. Fascinating and eerie, these churches are also, unfortunately, in not-so-hot shape. While some restorations have taken place, the frescoes remain extremely delicate. And something that’s making them worse? Damage caused by tourists—particularly from touching them. (Frescoes are especially sensitive to moisture, so the natural oils from your skin damage the artwork). In one church after another, you can see where the frescoes have all but completely disappeared in the parts where people have grabbed onto them, such as around doorframes.

So, go see the frescoes now, before they disappear. Contribute to their future restoration with your admission ticket price. And never, ever touch them.

6. If you don’t like stairs, you might not like Matera.

Coming to Matera? Expect to climb some stairs. To get around, even just from your hotel to a church, you will be climbing stairs. Lots of them. And forget about handicap accessibility.

So bring your walking shoes, and prepare to work up a sweat, especially if you’re visiting in the summer. (Because this is Italy’s south, it can be relatively hot even through the end of September).

7. Even though no train to Matera comes up on the Trenitalia website, you don’t need a car or bus to get there

This is something that even seasoned Italy travelers don’t realize: Matera is connected by train to Italy’s other towns!  Confusion comes in because if you go to the Trenitalia website and plug in, say, “Rome” to “Matera,” no solutions come up. But that’s not because there isn’t a train station here. (There is!). It’s because it’s not on the national rail system.

Instead, if you want to travel by train, the easiest way is to first get to Bari (which is connected to the national system, so you can look up times and prices on the Trenitalia site; it’s a 4-hour train ride from Rome to Bari). Then go to the regional train site, Ferrovie Appulo Lucane, putting in “Bari Centrale” as your starting point and “Matera Centrale” as your endpoint. A number of solutions pop up; the ride takes between 1 hour and 15 minutes and 1.5 hours, and the price is nominal (something like 2 euros). From the train station, it’s about a 15-minute walk to the sassi of Matera.

Note that the trains to Matera do not leave from the main part of the Bari Centrale station, but from a smaller station just outside the main one. When you walk outside onto the piazza outside the station, just look to your left, and you should see a building with the words ”Ferrovie Appulo Lucane.” That’s where you want to go.

Because this is a smaller train service, on holidays and Sundays, it might not run. In that case, there’s a bus from Bari to Matera; just ask at the station.

There are also buses to Matera from Rome, Ancona, Florence, and Milan—but in general, we’ve found the train is the fastest, cheapest way to get there