An Italy road trip was our European dream for Summer 2018. We were definitely aware that it’d burn a hole in our pockets unlike our previous trips (e.g. Asia and Morocco) but you only live once and all that.
Our initial plan was 3 weeks, which shortly turned to 2 weeks and then we settled on 10 days because hotel prices in June are definitely not backpacker friendly!
With only 10 days, we knew we needed to cram, cram, cram and exhaust ourselves if we were to see as many beautiful places as we could. That generally meant waking up at 6am and returning to our room at 10pm so they days felt very long.
There are definitely 2 types of travellers – some prefer to spend longer in one place and get to know it a little better whereas others will run around a place, visit the best spots and best cafes and then move on to the next place.
For this trip, it was simply too hard for us to cut down our list of cities so we ran about and I guess rushed some places.
This Italy road trip itinerary includes the exact destinations we did each day but for a more chilled holiday, we suggest choosing fewer places which suit you best.
Where to fly
From the UK, Milan is the cheapest airport to fly into and for our itinerary, it’s the most convenient. There are frequent flights throughout the day with the majority being Ryanair flights.
We looked into travelling around Italy by train and coach and found that the Italian rail network is brilliant. All the major cities are well connected and no doubt you’ll see some fantastic views. However, with as much as we wanted to see in such little time, we didn’t want to be restricted by timetables so we decided to rent a car.
We rented a car with Locauto which cost us £200 for 9 days (including insurance). We went with the cheapest option and picked up our little Fiat Panda (that Luke insisted on calling Allesandro). Apart from a bruised knee due to a cramped driver’s seat, it served us very well indeed.
First Stop: Genoa
On our first day, we actually spent a lot of time fussing trying to find a shop in Milan that sold a cheap mic for our camera but that is a very boring story so we’ll just carry on.
After the fuss, we drove to our hotel, B&B Da Beppe, in Neroine which is surrounded by beautiful, lush hills but pretty much in the middle of nowhere. A night cost us £36 and our host was lovely! As we arrived late to the hotel, she whipped us up a dinner with a few random things in her fridge and didn’t charge us anything at all. The hotel is only half hour from Genoa city centre so it’s a recommendation from us.
Something that we noticed quite soon about Genoa was the lack of tourists. The streets weren’t busy at all. Even when we visited the beautiful Cathedral of San Lorenzo, we had the place to ourselves except for a couple of locals on their lunch break.
When you begin to walk through the maze of narrow, winding lanes, you feel transported to an older time and begin to notice so many little gems.
We continued to walk aimlessly until we eventually reached the Old Port. The harbour looks very fresh and modern in contrast to the old streets that lead to it (in fact, it looked like a theme park). There’s plenty of waterside restaurants, a large aquarium, Museum of the Sea and a big ass pirate ship.
If you can’t resist a bit of shopping, they’ve got plenty of high street brands such as Zara, H&M, Pimkie, Pull & Bear, Stradivarius, as well as upmarket and boutique shops.
Now on to the subject of coffee, we found a tiny place called Caffetteria Lomellini. The little cafe created so many different, elaborate variations of an espresso. We went simple with a bit of cream and chocolate. As our first Italian coffee, we weren’t disappointed. So strong and sweet, Luke got the shakes!
With more time, we would have visited the fishing village of Boccadasse. It has pastel-coloured houses and a pebble beach, much like what you’d see in Cinque Terre.
Where to park
Our B&B host tipped us on the free parking by the Genoa Football Stadium. Google Maps states it’s a 40-minute walk but it’s more like 20 minutes. Just follow the signs towards the train station and you’ve reached the city centre.
Second Stop: Cinque Terre
After Genoa, we drove to La Spezia (2 hours driving) and left the car in the Train Station Car Park which cost €18 for the day, or roughly €8 for half the day. Our research made it clear that driving and parking in Cinque Terre is a nightmare so if you’re driving, we recommend parking in La Spezia.
From there, we bought the Cinque Terre Pass which costs €16pp. The pass allows you to visit all the Cinque Terre villages throughout the day. Taking the train to each village is simple and quick with the first village being, Riomaggiore, only 7 minutes away.
Cinque Terre is made up of 5 villages (hence the ‘Cinque’) that are famous for their rugged cliffs, pastel-coloured houses and cobbled streets. Due to its beauty and uniqueness, Cinque Terre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and rightfully so.
With only half a day, we chose to visit Riomaggiore, Manarola and Vernazza.
Cinque Terre is, of course, beautiful but also crowded when we visited in June. However, the crowds really don’t take away from their beauty and we regret not fitting in a whole day to thoroughly enjoy the colourful seaside villages. An aperol spritz or gelato in each village sounds like a good goal.
We stayed in Albergo Smeraldo (12.4 miles from La Spezia) for £40, it was basic but clean and a convenient place between Portovenere and Florence, which is where we were heading the next day.
Third Stop: Florence
To explore Tuscany, we decided to stay in a converted church hidden in the hills of Tuscany that we managed to come across on booking.com. Chiesa Di San Michele costs £34 a night and exceeded our expectations – beautiful gardens, private balcony, modern bathroom while the room remains traditional. To top it off, a large buffet style spread was included in the price.
The best part is that Florence is only 14.3 miles away.
In every corner of Florence, there’s something to see so when you reach the city, just take walk and explore at your own accord.
The free must-sees include:
- Florence Cathedral
- Ponte Vecchio
- Palazzo Vecchio Courtyard
- Piazzale Michelangelo
- Santa Croce
- San Lorenzo Market
And an ice-cream from Gelateria La Carraia is a must!
Fourth Stop: Siena & San Gimignano
Siena and San Gimignano are both the picture-perfect towns you envision when thinking of Tuscany. They are only an hour’s drive apart so Siena and San Gimignano can both be seen in a day.
Narrow, cobbled streets fill both these charming towns along with medieval architecture.
Siena Cathedral, in particular, is really something to behold. The black and white striped marble links to the black and white horses belonging to Siena’s founders, Senius and Aschius.
In San Gimignano, you will more than likely see a huge queue outside of Gelateria Dondoli. Don’t be put off by the queue, it doesn’t last long and it’s definitely worth it for a taste of their world-famous ice cream.
We can’t suggest many things to do apart from taking a stroll, grabbing a coffee, a compulsory gelato and just take in all the sights.
Fifth Stop: Lake Garda
When we organised our Italy road trip, we knew we had to visit one of Italy’s infamous lakes. When typing each lake into Google, you’ll find it impossible to choose. We settled on Lake Garda simply because our parents had previously visited and were therefore able to recommend specific places to us.
After visiting Tuscany, we thought that its beauty couldn’t be topped. We were wrong.
When we first spotted Lake Garda while driving down the winding roads, we pulled over immediately. We’ve been fortunate enough to visit so many beautiful places but this was in a league of its own.
We stayed in Garda Family House (£47 including breakfast) in Brenzone. The room was pretty basic but with a brilliant view of the lake and only a 10-minute drive from Malcesine.
Malcesine was by far our favourite town. Its cobbled streets are lined with cafes, bars, restaurants and boutiques.
The main tourist attraction of the town is Castello Scaligero, a castle perched on a cliff edge. It costs €6 to enter which isn’t bad for the amazing panoramic view you’re rewarded with once you climb the steeps steps to the top of the tower.
And you cannot leave Lake Garda without taking a dip. It’s blooming cold but clear as hell and so refreshing on those 33°c days.
Sixth Stop: The Dolomites
From Lake Garda, we drove for 2 hours to reach Merano. Merano is a modern, little town in the South Tyrol region. We had the absolute privilege of spending 2 nights at The ImperialArt Boutique & Design Hotel. This hotel is honestly the bee’s knees. Not only did we have a jacuzzi on our balcony, breakfast delivered on a trolley to our room, a huge bath and separate sinks and a ‘proper’ coffee machine but they gave us a pass to Merano’s infamous thermal spa along with a bag with spa essentials like slippers, dressing gown and towel.
The Dolomites are an hour drive from Merano. When you first catch a glimpse of the Dolomites, you know the drive and effort to get there was all worth it. The mountains were breathtaking in the summer so we can’t imagine how majestic they look during the winter months.
There are so many beautiful spots but to name a few:
- Lago di Carezza
- Pragser Wildsee/Lago Di Braies
- Lago di Dobbiaco
- Lago Di Sorapis