About Time You Discovered: the Best of Northern ItalyBy Oliver Malin
Italy is everyone’s favourite Instagramable summer holiday. Whether snapping the luxury of Capri, recording the indulgence of the Amalfi coast (enjoy the traffic), or capturing the Colosseum and backs of other tourist heads in Rome; everyone seems to be gunning for the perfect envy-inducing picture.
At About Time, we go one step further to share insider travel tips from shoes worn down from endless queues in international airports, to ensure you have the best time possible. We’ve put together a bespoke guide around Northern Italy, which was retained visually thanks to a Fuji xt2, where size, style and innovation are all equal members of a perfect photographic ménage à trois.
A Guide to Northern Italy: Insider Tips
Time is precious to holidaymakers, so it’s important you use it wisely and not get short-changed for your Instagram. With this in mind, when venturing to the north, here is some advice and thoughts to ponder to help you best plan your Italian job.
Firstly, make sure you travel with someone with an elementary grasp of Italian as English isn’t as widely spoken or understood as we are indulgently lead to believe, even in ‘developed’ Europe. On this topic, if in doubt end all conversations with prego, it’s probably the most useful word/expression in the language, you don’t need to know what it means, but it’s a positive, not an insult.
Another heads up, raise your tolerance to inefficiency, rigid bureaucracy and sniffs of mafia price fixing, it’s all part of the ‘charm’ of a truly Italian holiday experience.
If you want to strike a balance between big city life and more rural abandonment, may we suggest avoiding the likes of Pisa (it’s just a tower) and Sienna (it’s just an old city on a hill with a weird horse race and too many tourists), and invest your hard-earned euros in discovering Luca (it’s a charming walled city with a tall tower you can climb up) and Florence (it’s where the renaissance began and houses the idealised version of man). Yet before any of this, we need a bit of silence, a bit of green, a bit of peril from hungry cinghiali (wild boars). So in the words of Iron Maiden, let’s run to the (Tuscan) Hills.
A Guide to Northern Italy: The Tuscan Hills
As you can see from the snaps above, The Tuscan hills are breathtakingly beautiful, you almost want to eat them. Our advice to kick off your grand tour is to scout an Airbnb for an abode somewhere remote and hilly with a swimming pool. Then rent a trusted Lancia and head somewhere near Montevarchi with a loved one and get lost in nature and rural bliss for a week or so.
Once your internal battery is back to around 60 percent, jump back onto the motorway (by this point you should be slightly acclimatised to how perilously Italians drive, as they all seem to think they are Lewis Hamilton driving a getaway car) and head down towards Grosseto and Punta Ala, where the coastal line offers you stunning beaches and fun fairs within the Tuscan boundaries.
If you expect more than just a cinematic funfair from the Tuscan coast, and don’t fancy wild camping, perhaps treat yourself to a couple of nights at the Gallia Palace Hotel.
Set within the beautiful coastal enclave which is Punta Alla, The Gallia Palace is a delightful journey back to a more classic era of luxury where even the salad is dressed in a black tie for dinner, and you have more cutlery on your table then the posh section of the Titanic. Stylish guests make, what seems, annual pilgrimages to this resort to enjoy the impressive private beach club facilities, by which you are delivered from the hotel right to the beachfront in a noddy style golf cart and can feast on equally impressive cuisine throughout the day right by the side of the Med’s waves crashing around you.
After you’ve topped up your tan and given your Sunday best a few spins, it’s time to head back on the E80 and head to Florence for a splash of culture, wine, and some more wine.
A Guide to Northern Italy: Florence
Florence was our favourite part of the trip, and certainly where we’re eager to return first, and for longer. Stunning architecture aside, it has palpable, youthful energy thanks to its scholastic provision which welcomes in thousands of international students annually.
It has everything you could want from a metropolitan city; an Apple store, Prada, McDonald’s and an Irish bar with everything virtually accessible by foot. If art is your bag, then a trip to the Uffizi gallery is like a pilgrimage to the Vatican for a devout Catholic.
The perfect way to conclude days of art appreciation is to head up to the top the of city and watch the sunset over Florence. You won’t be alone in this activity, but that’s all part of the fun.
After you’ve attempted the steps up and down for the perfect sunset picture, and ran around The Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore naked 3 times, it’s time to pack up your suede loafers and dig out the Breton shirt and take one of the futuristic trains up to Venezia.
A Guide to Northern Italy: Venice
Venice is unlike anywhere on earth, and an ideal location for a creepy horror film, hence the lasting potency of “Don’t look now”. The view out of our bedroom window across gloomy rooftops reeked of foreboding and terror, even the birds were too petrified to utter sounds.
Yet when the storm had passed, all was well in the world and we were free to roam over bridges and by canal-lined streets.
Whilst in the summer months you should have a sporting chance of having the weather on your side, the biggest issue you’ll face in Venice is the sheer number of tourists. And unlike other major European cities, there isn’t an abundance of land for us to be tourists. A nice escape from the crowds and an indulgence in sheer luxury and palatial settings (it was good enough for George Clooney to tie the knot) is The Aman, situated in the middle of the grand canal. Anything on the menu is the best example you’ll probably ever consume, with an ambiance and decor next to none, and another occasion to don your Sunday best, which got an airing earlier by the Tuscan seaside.
Given Venice is orientated around water transport, the same sea-based carriers that take you from one side of the St Marks Square to other, can also show you other gems in the near vicinity. Burano is the first of these gems and a delightful colorful island village to potter around for a few hours and have a bowl of seafood pasta when hunger strikes.
On the way home, why not stop off at the cemetery. This isn’t some morbid, dead celebrity tombstone tour, but an ornate and spellbindingly beautiful white marble resting place of many generations of Venetians. Just make sure you leave by 6 and don’t get locked in as being an island, rescues would struggle to hear your screams!
Venice has carved out quite a niche for being an epicenter of arts festivals on the global jet set calendar. Whether it’s the film festival occurring at the end of Aug/start of Sept, or the art Biennale that stretches from May to November every two years (currently on), you’ll never be without high-brow options and activities aside from canal swimming (never canal swim).
Hopefully, by reading this piece some of you are inspired to jump on a plane and head to some, or all, of the recommended destinations. Venice is actually perfect in late Sept- November given the decreased number of tourists, whilst the autumnal weather makes the streets just that more atmospheric.