Exploring Northern Italy in 10 days (we manage to throw in 24 hours in France too!) Part 1/2

PRE-PLANNING

Flying in through Milan, and we are deciding where to go. After much discussion, we decided to get a mix of big cities (Milan, Venice, with a touch of countryside at Tuscany and plus some hiking exercise at Cinqueterre). That was what we thought before the trip. It was a pretty last minute trip and super peak summer holiday period which coincides with Italian holiday week so a lot of accommodation are all booked up. So, after booking 3 nights in Milan and one night in Venice, the rest of our trip are really free and easy....

To be honest, I quite enjoyed this free and easy part of our trip. Where we are headed next, where we will be staying are very much up to us. If we like that place a lot, we can stay a couple of days longer. If we wanted to move on, we could. We even decided last minute to cross the border and get a taste of French food for a change. That is something we could not have done if we plan our trip beforehand.

So in the end, we did Milan (the city itself, Lake Como) and after 24 hours in Venice, we hopped onto our rented car and headed to Tuscany, enjoying the outskirt area, a medieval town of San Gimignano, not forgetting the touristy Leaning Tower of Pisa. From there, we headed to a UNESCO protected site of Cinqueterre, hopping between the five fishing villages with crystal clear water and steep cliffs. And out of a sudden, we found ourself in Nice, France having the best French cuisine along one of the narrow alley. It was indeed a wonderful FREE and EASY trip with lots of last minute booking, research and we are glad our two kids who tagged along also had the best times of their life!

A glimpse of our journey:

Milano, one of our favourite city during the trip
Exploring alley and waterway of Venice
Pretty and scenic Tuscany
UNESCO site Cinque Terre 
A day in Nice, France 

TIPS:

1. Lake Como was actually a huge place, with many small town lining the lakes.... major town are Como, Bellagio... and many small towns - stay overnight or day trip can be done from Milan. If going by train, be sure to book ticket ahead as it may be sold out or have to wait an hour or more at the train station if buying on the spot (speaking from experience!)

2. Need to prebook Skip The Line The Last Supper - limited availability online as the visitor per time slot is limited.

3. Car rental is cheap but driving and parking in city is horrendous (bad traffic and expensive parking charges)- train is an option. Choose the faster train (they have different type of train, check on their website- note the travelling time), can reach faster than driving.

4. For outskirt area, great for self drive. We enjoy driving past corn field, sunflower field etc.

5. For Venice, can consider staying in Mestre area if want to be out of the crowded area. Alternatively stay in Verona (I heard it is an amazing place and do day trip to Venice), Verona is an hour away from Venice by train. By the way, Verona is famous for Romeo and Juliet!

6. When dining in Italy, do note that some restaurant have cover charge per person. It can be around 2-3 Euros per pax. If you have many travelling together, the cover charge itself can be pretty significant in your bill.

7. In order to qualify for tax refund, you have to spend a minimum amount in that particular shop. It varies between countries for example minimum spend of Euro $158 in Italy and Euro $175 in France. Technically speaking, you get 12% tax refund but you get charged a two times processing fees. Once when you get the duty free form filled up at the mall where you make the purchase and when you get your money refunded at the tax refund counter at the airport. If you make your purchases outside the country you are flying off, you need to get your item checked at their "Custom" counter before q-ing at the tax refund counter.

8. You can book your accommodation at the usual places.... agoda.com , last minute.com , booking.com or airbnb.... and you can check out https://www.agriturismo.it/en/ as well. It list the agriculture-type of accommodation, farmhouse, vineyard etc and I think it is amazing to stay in one of these during our trip. Do note that not all the accommodation feature air conditioning so if that matters to you, do make an enquiry before making your booking.

p/s: I highly recommanded https://www.agriturismo.it/en/farmhouse/tuscany/pisa/FattoriaFibbiano-9591027/index.html . We had an amazing 4 days 3 nights here and it is absolutely wonderful place to be. Tranquil, peaceful and perfect place to relax.

DAY 0

Off we go!

Arriving into Milan EK091 touch down at 8.30pm.

The queue at the airport is crazy. If you are booking a car to take you into the town, do take this into consideration and book the car at a slightly later timing.

Check into hotel, rest.

DAY 1

Lake Como day trip - we took a train to Como, followed by ferry to Bellagio, another ferry to Varenna and then took a train back to Milan from Varenna. It was a full day , we left our hotel at 11am and only came back at 10pm.


This holiday has been somewhat different from our previous one. Two years back when we had our family trip to Melbourne, I could remember that we had to slip in nap time in between our itinerary whether its a proper nap back in our hotel or a nap in the car while driving in between destination. But now the kids (aged 5 and 7) are perfectly fine going out for one full day means we get to check out more sights every day! :)

Lake Como is highly recommended for a day out or even better, an overnight stay. Picture yourself strolling along the famed lake, surrounded by mountains, alpine trees and beautiful houses. If you are lucky, you might even see George Clooney in person.

Taken by hubby's new toy...

My favourite shot of Lake Como
p/s: Do check out the train/ferry timing beforehand or when you reach each town to plan how long you can explore a particular town. Note that the ferry from Como to Bellagio takes one hour! and it is also an hour by train from Milan to Como/Varenna.

DAY 2

We booked a SKIP THE LINE The Last Supper Tour plus walk round Milan city tour on viator so we were at the Duomo by 8.15am. It is nice to be there early as there are so little tourist snapping photos and we get the cathedral all to ourselves.

Duomo...
While everyone is enjoying the grandeur of Milano Duomo, my kids enjoyed feeding the pigeons...
Shortly our tour guide came and we walk around the duomo, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele ii, La Scala Theatre, Sforza Castle and we finish with a tour of the ever famous mural painting of The Last Supper in Convent of Santa Maria della Grazie.
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele ii
It was a half day tour and soon we found ourselves enjoying lunch at Caffe Mercanti (https://www.zomato.com/milano/mercanti-caffe-duomo-milano/menu) , with a view of Duomo. I particularly love my Spaghetti Vongole and we finish with a gelato from Venchi next door.

We were up really early today for walking tour and an afternoon nap is a must.

Enjoying our evening at Navigli
Along the canal at Navigli, lined two rows of restaurant, many of which offers aperitivo. It is an Italian tradition for a drinks and some appetiser before dinner. Although it is called the appetiser, the food selection is wide and for tourist, this can definitely double up as dinner. So what you do is pay 10 euros for a drink and you get assess to the amazing selection of appetiser. There are many restaurants along the canal which offers this and you can take your pick.


p/s: To get to Navigli area, take the metro and alight at Porta Genova. Navigli is a mere 2 minutes walk from the metro. Enjoy!

DAY 3

We checked out in the morning and onboard train to Venezia Santa Lucia. We booked via https://www.italotreno.it/en and there was a promo. Kids travel free!

Within 2.5 hours, we could see the train moving towards Venice, the city of bridges.

A glimpse of Venice city slowly moving into sights.
Leaving the train station, the floating city greeted us. It is indeed a charming city.

We wanted to take the water bus to our hotel but ended up walking as the queue are really long. It is quite tedious to walk around Venice when you are lugging luggages.

Hence some tips: take the water bus or bring really light luggage or stay at a hotel near the train station.

We checked in at Locanda ai Bareteri and went for lunch at Dal Moro's Fresh Pasta To Go (https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g187870-d3356272-Reviews-Dal_Moro_s_Fresh_Pasta_to_Go-Venice_Veneto.html). A great place if you are looking for on the go lunch at reasonable price. Pasta cost  5-8. I highly recommend getting their tiramisu, its yummy @ €3.50.

Our lunch.
Tips for booking hotel in Venice: Not all hotels have air conditioner and lift. Do check prior to booking.

After lunch, we walked to St Mark's Square, enjoying the view of Basilica Campanile. We then took a water taxi to enjoy Venice from another perspective.

Water taxi cost  20 per person for a 24 hours pass.

Onboard water taxi
We alight at Rialto Bridge and went for rooftop access at DFS. I highly recommend booking the rooftop access @ DFS to view Venice from a higher ground. I love the view here and great for photo taking!

My favourite view
T Fondaco Rooftop Viewing- book here: https://www.dfs.com/en/venice/t-fondaco-rooftop-terrace
Its free entrance but each time slot is limited to 15 mins and 80 pax. Book early to avoid disappointment.

We explored the narrow alley in Venice, chanced upon many tiny shops and restaurant tucked among the uncountable bridges and canal. Now I understand the phrase "Get lost in Venice". There are so many alleys and walkway that one could literally got lost here.


I love the shops that sells all the nice Venetian souvenir... the Venetian Mask, Murano glass etc.


And of course no day is complete without a gelato treat. We tried Suso Gelato (http://suso.gelatoteca.it) and its yummy. I love their Opera flavour gelato... bliss!


Rain came upon us in the evening so we couldn't go on a gondola ride. We had dinner nearby at Osteria Ae Sconte... squid, pizza and seabass complete with a bottle of Moscato.



DAY 4

Our hotel in Venice did not come with breakfast so we ate something simple before checking out. We left our belongings at the hotel so that we could enjoy Venice a little bit more before leaving for Tuscany.


We took a gondola ride which cost  80 per gondola. For 20 minutes, we were rowed away along the canal taking photos and enjoying the view.



We couldn't leave without another glimpse of St Mark Square so we went there again to look around. We wanted to go in to the Basilica but the queue is really long so we didn't not wait. It is free to view the ground floor, if you would wish to see other part of the basilica, an entrance fees applies.

I would recommend booking the Skip The Line tour as the queue is really long.


After the lesson yesterday, we took the water taxi to the train station.

A short 10 mins train ride brought us to Venezia Mestre. We have previous booked a car through Hertz and will be collecting our car in Mestre.

We had a quick lunch at Coop Mall, bought some fruits and mineral water. We then headed to Fattorio Fibbiano in Tuscany where we will be staying for the next 3 days. We passed by corn fields, mountain, tunnel, alpine trees and sunflower field on our way there.
Loving this sunflower farm we pass by...
Upon reaching our farm stay at 6.30pm, we checked into our room. Very cosy and tranquil place.

Fattoria Fibbiano: http://www.fattoria-fibbiano.it


They have pizza day once a week and coincidently it was today so our dinner is settled. The owner and his family stays at the farm and they make the dough, prepare the cheese and tomatoes sauce. We could decorate our own pizza with any additional ingredients or just eat it as it is. Pizza is baked in a traditional oven and we had our first authentic Italian pizza.


The owner had a Golden Retriever and the kids absolutely love it.



We rested for the day.

DAY 5

We had a great rest despite the place has no air conditioning. There is a fan and you could keep the wooden door open for ventilation (there is another grill door).


We had breakfast provided and there is cereal, coffee, homemade cake, bread, salami, etc. Loving the idea of having breakfast out in the open. There is also an indoor dining area but the weather is so great so we had to eat outside.

Enjoying the pool
Playground at the farm
We were in no hurry to leave. We just hang around the farm, had a swim, playing at the playground and scribble some drawing. We showered and wash our clothes at the washing machine on site, hang them to dry at the drying racks provided. Then went for lunch nearby at La Locanda Delle Streghe and went back to keep our clothes which had dried by then.

Lunch is amazing! Seafood spaghetti is so good. The seafood is very fresh and the spaghetti is al dente.

After lunch we headed to San Gimignano for a medieval town experience. It was Assumption Day and the parking is horrendous. We went a couple of rounds before finding a parking spot further down the road.


San Gimignano is indeed a really pretty town set above the greenery of Tuscany. We feels we are in a medieval movie.


The World Gelato Championship winner, Gelateria Dondoli (http://www.gelateriadondoli.com) is here so we had to queue up to get a double scoop of their ice cream each. We even met Sir Dondoli in person. It cost  2.50 for two scoop of ice cream. There are so many flavours and you will definitely be spoilt for choices. I personally like the pink grapefruit with sparking wine, it is nice and exotic.

We wanted to see the town of Varenna but as there is no parking, we decided to go back.

For dinner, we just had some instant noodle and fruits in our room as we were all tired after a day out. Plus, we have yet book our accommodation for day 7 so we are in need of some time for research.

Follow the second half of our trip where we visited Leaning Tower of Pisa, UNESCO Heritage Site Cinque Terre and throw in 24 hours in Nice, France as well :)

Part 2/2: https://blessedlittletravelers.blogspot.com/2018/09/exploring-northern-italy-in-10-days-we_27.html

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