Traveling Italy by car

Driving through Italy, visiting picturesque cities and countryside is a wonderful experience. You should plan your trip ahead. Book places to stay overnight and make sure to divert from the highway as often as possible to admire mountains, rocky coastline and paved countryside roads that will create unforgettable memories all along the way.
Our trip started at Bergamo Airport where we picked up pre-booked car. We drove total of 1400 km, starting in Bergamo and followed by Genoa – Cinque Terre – Pisa – Lucca – Tuscany’s towns – Venice – Verona – and back to Bergamo.

Genoa

Genoa

Genoa is a lovely port city with a medieval charm. A distance from Bergamo Airport to Genoa is approximately 200 km and trip took us about 2h30min. We booked Hotel Actor for one night only. The place is located in residential part of Genoa, about 10min walk from the city centre. Friendly atmosphere, cleanliness and reasonably priced rooms, make this hotel a perfect stay for a few nights. Genoa historic centre is a maze of squares and narrow alleyways called caruggi. We spent few hours just wandering the streets and had finished that day in one of many restaurants you can find along the way, enjoying absolutely delicious seafood specialities and pesto dishes. We also experienced buzzing city’s nightlife on the way back to our hotel.

Genoa

Genoa

If you only have one day for sightseeing, do not miss: Piazza di Ferrari with its beautiful fountain, well known street of Via Garibaldi – a historic walking area with a display of 16th century residences and mansions, Lighthouse of Genoa, an Old Port and the most important – do not leave Genoa without trying a famous pesto. Basil plants have special conditions for growing here, uncommon in other parts of Italy. You have a chance to eat the finest here. Genoa may not be as popular as other destinations in Italy but in my opinion is underrated by tourism. The city has a lot in offer and between sightseeing, dinning and shopping can easily keep you entertained for several days.    

Genoa

Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre is a string of five villages set on the most beautiful, dramatic scenery of Ligurian coast. You will need at least 5-7 days to fully explore and enjoy all five. We planned to visit two of them but lack of parking spaces pushed us straight to Manarola. Distance from Genoa to Manarola is approximately 120 km anDriving through Italy, visiting picturesque cities and countryside is a wonderful experience. the trip takes about 2h. You can take the highway (Autostrada) for most of the drive but the fun starts when you leave it - then the road gets narrower giving you an exciting experience of driving in a scenic, beautiful countryside with an amazing coastline views. Car traffic is restricted in all of the villages but dedicated public parking areas are located just outside of them. Be advised that parking there is costly and usually full in busy summer months.

 

Manarola

Manarola

Manarola is the second smaller of the famous Cinque Terre towns. It is absolutely charming place with its brightly coloured houses tucked into steep terraces, lemon groves and vineyards. We took a walk across the town, towards its coast and then up the hill to enjoy stunning views. We had a lunch in Marina Piccola, beautifully located restaurant with crashing views and delicious food.
After visiting Manarola we drove throughout La Spezia town to the very crowded Pisa. We covered distance of approximately 90 km and the trip took about 1h30mins.

La Spezia

Pisa

Pisa – Tuscany’s town famous for its Leaning Tower. Few dedicated public car parks are available onsite and we chose the closest one to the main entrance. We had to queue for about 10 minutes though to get a space. We visited touristic part of the town only – Square of Miracles, Tower of Pisa, Cathedral and Baptistery. 

Pisa

We had our lunch in a restaurant just outside the main gate. It was typical touristic, tasteless food and I don't even want to mention the name of this place. Square of Miracles in Pisa is unbelievably crowded with people taking exactly the same photos of others trying to support the Leaning Tower. This place is hardly enjoyable but it is definitely worth seeing once in a lifetime, so take a deep breath and give it a go.

Pisa

Lucca

Lucca in the Tuscany is known as a town of one hundred churches. It’s located only 20 km from Pisa and we chose this place for our overnight stay. We pre booked Hotel Napoleon. The hotel is located very close to the old city centre, rooms are a bit old fashioned but very clean. Friendly atmosphere, location and tempting price, makes this place ideal for a short stopover. Lucca was the most pleasant surprise for me. It was supposed to be only a stopover but I instantly fell in love with this place. This charming town should not be missed while visiting Tuscany. Even though we only scratched its surface during one day visit, its beauty makes us to return here in the future. 

Lucca

Gelateria in Lucca

The old city centre is closed to traffic so we had to leave our car in a car park outside its walls. Well preserved Renaissance walls surrounding old town invites you for a walk along the top. The long promenade between green grass, trees and flowers is a one of the Lucca’s main attractions. When you cross the walls, you enter the paradise. Multiple cobblestone streets will lead you to Lucca’s most charming places and squares. Shopping district is absolutely fantastic, so make sure you have some spare time at hand. The old town in evening hours is bustling with people and many open air restaurants. One romantic evening and one day of wandering streets and shops of Lucca was definitely all too short. Make sure you won’t miss this little Tuscany’s gem.

Lucca

Tuscany

Tuscany with its breath taking landscape is my favourite part of Italy. We drove from Lucca to San Casciano in Val di Pesa where we stayed for four nights. Distance between these two towns is approximately 100 km. San Casciano is truly friendly little town with some boutiques, cafes and restaurants but for our stay we picked Aqua Pietra guesthouse located just outside of the town and surrounded by picturesque vineyards. San Casciano was a perfect base for exploring Tuscany region. We visited Greve in Chianti, Veranazza Castle, Castellina in Chianti, San Gimignano, Volterra and Siena. I will write about Tuscany in a separate blog post.

Tuscany

Venice

Unique city of Venice does not need introduction. Its magical, spectacular scenery is well known world wide.
Distance from San Casciano in Tuscany to Venice is approximately 270 km of mainly very easy to navigate and drive on motorways. Venice was built on more than 100 islands with its canals instead of roads so it wasn’t surprise that we had to leave our car at a public car park. The closest one to the centro storico is on the Piazzale Roma but to avoid enormous traffic, we left car in Tronchetto parking – an artificial island that was designed for this purpose. Daily rate at Tronchetto is €21 but it is still considerately cheaper than parking in the Piazza Roma. From Tronchetto we took Vapporetto No.2 headed towards San Marco Square. It was our second visit to the city and spending a romantic time while loosing ourselves in Venice’s charm was the main reason for it.

Venice

Bridge of Sights

San Marco Square

We booked two nights in Residenza La Loggia, a beautiful boutique hotel in the very heart of Venice. Situated on a narrow and quiet alley, just two minutes walk from San Marco Square and five minutes to Rialto Bridge. The hotel does not have dining room so breakfast is served in rooms what is a really nice touch.
San Marco Square with its beautiful basilica, Gran Canale, Rialto Bridge, Bridge of Sights, Porta della Carta, Arsenal, Burano and Murano Islands, gondola and vaporetto ride are on top of every tourist’s list. The overwhelming feeling that the city has more tourists than residents is not an exaggeration. Take a detour and find hidden streets of Venice, get lost in picturesque alleyways, walk along canals, cross multiple bridges, stroll through the streets at night to feel the romantic atmosphere of the city when day trippers have long gone and eat plenty of gelato – you are in Italy, after all.

Venice

Venice

We also browsed through many shops that sell traditional Venetian masks. Unless you have a weakness for plastic masks made in China, I suggest you to skip most of those places. Instead go straight to Rugadaro Di Sarah Zanarella on Ruga Rialto n.1035, San Marco. Rugadoro is a shop like no other, with unique and distinctive masks that I have never seen before. Incredibly beautiful, completely hand made art at its best. An opportunity to meet and chat with Sarah the artist was a real pleasure.
There is just not enough time to see every bit of the world’s most visited destination. Despite the crowds Venice remains extremely romantic, enchanting and remarkable.
We left Venice in an early morning hours and drove to Bergamo Airport via Verona. The distance between Venice and Verona is approximately 115 km and the drive took us about 1h30min.

Basilica San Marco

San Marco Square

Venice

Venetian mask

Verona

Verona, medieval old town known as a City of Lovers thanks to Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet. We left our car at Isolo Parking, crossed the Ponte Nuovo bridge and walked along Via Nizza straight to Casa di Gulietta. Juliet’s House is an absolutely overcrowded touristy trap but... lovely little courtyard, the bronze statue of Juliet, the famous balcony and hundreds of love letters attached to to the wall by visitors make this place an attraction that you can not miss - even if William Shakespeare never visited it once. We didn’t want to waste our time on queuing to Juliet’s balcony but instead, we went inside the souvenir shop located just opposite and up the stairs onto the first floor were unobstructed, we took photos of the balcony itself.

View towards Juliet's balcony

Verona

The city of Verona can be comfortably explored on foot and we took a stroll along some of the most important sights. We were absolutely impressed with historic buildings and beautiful squares. We walked around Piazza delle Erba, had a lunch in a restaurant at Piazza del Sigiori, then took a walk along famous shopping street Via Mazzini – lined with Italian boutiques and other tempting shops – followed by Piazza Bra to admire magnificent Arena of Verona. Thanks to a very late evening flight, we had an opportunity to visit this charming place and that few spare hours at our disposal showed me how easy was to fell in love with the City of Lovers.

Verona

P.S. Why Verona was chosen location for Romeo and Juliet play? Long story short: Shakespeare wrote ‘Romeo and Juliet’ based on a poem written by Arthur Brookie ‘The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet’ which was translated version of an Italian novel ‘Giueletta e Romeo’ that was based on Luigi Da Porto’s  ‘Historia Novellamente Ritrovata di Due Amanti’ (A Story Newly Found of Two Noble Lovers). Da Porta dedicated his novel to Lucina, the love of his life who married another man after her guardian and Da Porto’s uncle ended up in conflict. He wrote the tragedy of two characters Romeus and Giulietta, living at that time in Vicenza town, only approximately 40 km from Verona.  

Juliet's balcony

For more descriptive overview of all above cities check out my GoPro video : Holidays in Italy (YouTube channel: stjaro).

Venice

Focaccia bread in Lucca

Lucca

Venice

Genoa

Verona

Venica

Venice

Lucca

Residenza La Loggia Hotel, Venice

Genoa