Europe Travel

North Italian Road Trip- The Ultimate Guide

My latest travels led me to tick a dream trip off my bucket list. I’ve always dreamed about taking a road trip through Italy and was determined that this summer was going to see my dream trip become a reality. Of course I had my ideal itinerary in my mind but when I researched the trip a bit more I realised I was being a bit ambitious with how much we could cover in the time we had. Needless to say, I had to narrow it down. So instead of trying to cram everything into one trip, I focused on Northern Italy.

 

Planning- 

When it came to planning I had a rough idea of the route I wanted to take. I researched certain Italian road trip routes on other blogs and travel websites and got a sense of what was doable. A good search engine I use for travel planning is Pinterest. I find the most useful blogs through that means of research.

Once I had a rough route, I then placed the destinations into google maps to see how long each journey was. The last thing I wanted was to be driving for most of the day to get to a certain destination. Thankfully Italy isn’t the largest country so trip times were usually around the 2 1/2 hour mark.

Once I knew the amount of driving it helped me make a solid route. Then based on that knowledge I was able to decide which areas where best to book accommodation around. I decided to book all accommodation before we left just because it was high summer and I figured good accommodation would be hard to find last minute. I booked the accommodation a month beforehand and used either Airbnb or Agriturismo(an Italian website that offers beautiful farm stays).

 We also booked the car online before we left, we shopped around but to be honest most of the rental companies were in and around the same price. We went with Europcar and rented a Fiat 500, obviously. 

I’m a huge foodie, so for restaurant planning, I did a lot of research on Pinterest, reading blogs and trip advisor to scout out good restaurants. I also asked our Hosts if they had any local recommendations and most of the time they were happy to share their favourite restaurants. In Italy, it is also really common to have reservations for dinner no matter the day. I tried to book ahead if the option was available online or just chance ringing ahead and hope they spoke English, which nine times out of ten they did.

 

Route-

For our route, we flew into Rome and spent two days exploring before starting on our road trip. Because of this we didn’t bother getting the car for the days we were in Rome, we picked it up early on the third morning and set out on the road. For Rome, recommendations check out my 48-hour guide here.

From Rome we drove up through Umbria, we stopped off at Assisi first, which was incredible. I would highly recommend checking out the Cathedral at the edge of the town. It is stunning, complete with three levels and three different churches stacked on top of each other. Well worth checking out. We grabbed lunch here as well, we went to Osteria La Piazzetta Dell’Erba and got the most amazing truffle risotto. I would highly recommend.

Driving through Umbria we passed a few of the smaller towns, which are all  located on top of hills and look stunning. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the time to stop off in them all but I would love to go back and spend more time in Umbria it really is a hidden gem. There were hardly any tourists in the towns we stopped off in, which made it feel like we had a lot more room to explore.

    

Next stop was the capital of Umbria, Perugia. Another beautiful city on top of a hill. While we were there, a jazz festival on with live jazz concerts in the main square. We grabbed Gelato from L’artigiano Del Gelato, which was awesome and sat on the steps of the town hall and listened to some music. 

From Perugia, we headed towards our accommodation for the night which was situated about half an hour from Siena. We stayed in a beautiful Tuscan farmhouse, the host was super helpful and recommended some restaurants in the local town for dinner. We went to Sira e Remino and it was one of my favourite dinners we had the entire trip.

The next day we set off to Siena. Notable things to see in Siena is Duomo di Siena, which is a really cool black and white Cathedral, the price to get in for us wasn’t worth it but it is still cool to see up close. Piazza del Campo and Pubblico Palace, the main square and the town hall, Siena’s main square is interesting because instead of being round or square like many other Italian cities it is in the shape of a fan. If you have the time definitely check out Fortezza Medicea, the fort itself isn’t that interesting but you can get a great photo with the city in the background. We stopped for a coffee and some Pastries in Caffè Nannini, this spot had an array of baked goods and sweet treats and the coffee was great.

Next, we went on to Florence, now annoyingly it pissed rain the entire time we were in Florence so I don’t have the best recommendations for Florence. We went to see the cathedral of course but couldn’t actually figure out where to buy tickets. Turns out you need to buy them online, which I think I read beforehand but at the time wasn’t planning on going into the church. It was only because it was raining I thought about going in. Another thing I checked the day before was to get tickets for the museum Accademia Gallery, where Michelangelo’s famous Statue David resides but it is closed on Mondays, which is the day we were there. We went to a highly recommended restaurant to try out some Florentine steaks, but to be honest, I didn’t think the food was that great and the steak wasn’t anything special so I wouldn’t recommend it. We stayed in Florence in an Airbnb outside the city, it was a handy spot with parking and close to the tram which got you into the city centre within 20 minutes.

From Florence, we drove to Bologna and spent the day exploring. I wrote a whole 24-hour guide on Bologna which you can read here. I loved Bologna and would highly recommend adding it to your route if you can. The following day we drove to Maranello by request of my Boyfriend who wanted to visit the Ferrari Museum. I personally didn’t have much interest in the museum but Claus really enjoyed it. From Modena, we drove down to Lucca. Originally we were going to try to squeeze in Pisa as well but we would be cutting time short and realised that we really enjoyed the towns we visited that weren’t very touristy, so we decided to skip it and spend a bit more time in Lucca. I wrote another 24-hour guide to Lucca just because I enjoyed the town and we stayed in an amazing Airbnb, so check that out here.

From Lucca, we drove up to La Spezia and Cinque Terra. We stayed just outside La Spezia in a little village in the hills. To get to Cinque Terra we parked at the train station in La Spezia and took the train out to the towns. We stopped off at Manarola first. I thought Cinque Terra was stunning, however, it was crowded with tourists. The towns properly wouldn’t be that busy offseason but if you are planning on going just know that the towns are packed. We were a bit underwhelmed by this aspect and decided to go swimming instead. From Manarola you can walk a half an hour along the edge of the cliff to Riomaggiorewe set off to do this but unfortunately, the pathway was closed due to rockfall. I definitely think it would be a lovely walk though and saves you paying €4 for the train to the next town. If you plan on visiting all the towns then get an all-day pass train ticket which cost €16. Whereas a one-way cost between €6-€4 depending on which town you want to visit. Alternatively, there are routes you can take to walk between each town but they can take upwards of 2 hours and in the 30+ degree heat that wasn’t something I was keen on. Because we weren’t too blown away by Cinque Terra I did a quick search and heard that Porto Venere was a cute town 30 minutes away from La Spezia. I’m so glad we decided to go there because it was so nice and quiet, hardly any tourists and just had a bit of an untouched charm about it. We went for dinner in Ristorante Portivene which was a highly rated spot of TripAdvisor (How did we live without it!). This region of Italy is known for its pesto, so it would have been rude not to try some pesto pasta.

 

From La Spezia we drove up along the coast to Portofino, the drive to Portofino is stunning, to one side you pass beautiful towns that are so colourful and to the other, you have the beautiful blue ocean. All I wanted to do was get out and swim. Parking in Portofino was expensive at 5 euro an hour but I mean what can you expect from such a small and popular place. Surprisingly Portofino wasn’t that busy. I was amazed at all the designer boutiques, it was like one of those outlet villages. There isn’t much to do apart from browsing through the shops or sit along the water and drink a coffee or Spritz depending on the time of day. There are plenty of chic restaurants along the water’s edge to choose from.

Driving from Portofino on our way to our Airbnb we stopped off at some beaches to take a quick swim and grab some gelato. We also for the first time took the toll roads to skip driving through the mountains and adding more time on. I discovered this website that lets you accurately add up the cost of your trip using toll roads which is super handy.

Our Airbnb was located 40 minutes outside of Genoa on the top of a mountain. I can’t remember booking it but I’m glad I did because it was such a nice place with no wifi, making it a great place to come for some digital detoxing. The apartment had a beautiful big terrace that had a view of the valley and a glimpse of the ocean. We did plan on exploring Genoa for the rest of the day but we ended up drinking coffee on the terrace, reading and dozing in the sun. Later on, we decided to head into Genoa for dinner, we ventured away from pasta and opted for Pizza instead. Again googling good pizza places, I found Savo, I got the Portofino which had fresh cherry tomatoes and green pesto and it was delicious. Not the cheapest Resturant but definitely recommend because the pizza was great. We went to wander around the city afterwards, but we really weren’t that impressed with it, it was dirty and reminded me of a tacky tourist seaside destination. Of all the places we visited on our road trip we defiantly would recommend skipping Genoa.

From Genoa it was time to drive the last leg of the trip up to Milan. To drive from Genoa to Milan avoiding toll roads was going to take upwards of 4 hours. Eager to avoid that I checked how long it would take on toll roads and how much it would cost, 2 hours at a cost of €12 we were defiantly taking the toll roads! Once we got to Milan we planned to explore Milan and the following day drive to Lake Como before heading to the airport, but we just loved Milan so we stayed the last two days exploring the city. I have written a separate blog post for Milan, which you can read here.

That is it for our road trip through Italy. I am so glad I was able to do this trip it really was such a fun vacation. If you have questions on the trip, just leave a comment below and I’ll answer.

 

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