So many dazzling attractions, but its food and wine stand out as favourites of ours, so wine tasting in Italy is always an experience we pursue. Wine, like food (and we’ve touched on food tours in Italy here) tells the story of the land, people and culture. Italy is an exciting country, producing all types of famous drops.
Discovering your perfect wine tasting in Italy experience
With so many options for wine tasting in Italy, where should you start? The country is a big producer of reds, whites and sparkling. You could choose your adventure based on region that you want to visit. Or choose the region based on the wines you want to taste.
Tuscany is obviously very famous, and to stay among the vineyards here is a real treat. We had the chance to visit Tuscany and its wineries a couple of years ago and highly recommend the experience. There’s so much to do though, we need to go back with a bigger and brighter plan!
This year we travelled through the Lombardy and Veneto producing regions. Take a look at the map linked above for more. In Verona we tried some delicious reds from around the region.
In Venice we went to a Prosecco tasting. Some were local blends and others came from Bologna.
We feel there are three simple ways you can discover wines on your trip to Italy.
Wineries are all over Italy, and a great way to get stuck into wine tasting here. Tuscany is a prime example, but you’ll need to know how you want to do it. We needed to drive a lot there, which isn’t ideal if you’re doing a lot of wine tasting in Italy. You can contact wineries in the regions you’re going to, to find out when they’re open and how to take part in tastings. Alternatively, you could search for bus tours (day trip or longer) that take in a number of options.
Destinations tourism websites often offer helpful advice as a first step. But do some research on blogs or YouTube to see if you can uncover smaller local offerings that will give you an even more unique experience.
Wine tasting in Italy at vineyards and wineries is a wonderful opportunity to get underneath the skin of the business. Many of these places are family run with centuries of history behind the land and brand. You learn about production and grape types, and will walk away with a true appreciation for wine production.
If you’re short on time but want a snapshot of the industry in a particular town, look out for short tours or tastings.
In Verona and Venice, Airbnb suggested inexpensive options that were wonderful for a few reasons:
We made new local friends and supported their businesses
They showed us around their back streets and to places we’d never have found on our own on a short break away
We tasted local wines and learnt about the place through the stories of our hosts.
Many local experiences are showing up like this now, if you ask around on TripAdvisor, search Viator, and read tourism websites, Facebook groups, or blogs.
On our travels through Italy I also spotted that many little boutique bars or wine stores offered their own tastings. Admittedly, our Prosecco tasting experience in Venice, while good value and served lovely food and drinks, wasn’t exactly personal. We wanted to learn more about the bubbles we were trying.
That said, plenty of options were on offer through Airbnb, and all over the place (as referenced above), or you could search a hashtag on Instagram for inspiration. Our Prosecco experience was still enjoyable, and it’s a fun way to spend a couple of hours.
These simple tastings are great because they’re in the location where you area already, they’re usually good value for money, and you may even find a favourite boutique store or bar in the process.
Do you have questions, tips or advice on this subject? Let us know in the comments
There’s nothing quite like discovering a place through the eyes of a local. Everywhere in the world has its own culinary traditions and stories. Italy is of course, no exception.
Our week long trip in Italy this past April opened up a plethora of foodie delights we never knew existed. If we’d not found a guide to take us on a food tour (which usually included discovering local secret places too), we’d perhaps not have discovered:
– Aperitivo – the best Italian tradition you’ve never heard of! Start in Milan. For a set price you buy a drink like a cocktail and can indulge in a large buffet too! Read more
– Cichetti – like Spanish tapas, served at bacari, traditional bars, in Venice. Live like a local. Read more
– Italian coffee culture. Start your day drinking a macchiato standing at a bar in a coffee shop. Don’t sit down out the front, you’ll look like a tourist! Cappuccinos or lattes are for the morning only, never after lunch. An espresso is ok at any time of the day. Here’s a quick guide on your options
– Gelato – support local when in Italy. We discover in Italy how to keep the prices down and determine the difference between authentic and not-so… Read more
– Panzerotti (deep fried pizza dough) and the place you should queue up to taste it in Milan. Read more
Why do a walking tour? It’s easy, fun and you get to live like a local for a couple of hours. Not to mention, you can grill your walking and food tour host with any questions you like. Mostly you get an authentic experience that’s inexpensive, and you can find gems off the tourist trail. We took a walking food tour in Verona and Venice, both booked on Airbnb.
Learn to cook
One glance across experience promoters like Airbnb or Viator shows just how many cooking tours there are around the world now. Most mean you turn up to someone’s home, or a family restaurant’s kitchen, and spend a few hours learning (or honing) a skill. It might be pasta, desserts or a uniquely local cuisine you’re learning. Either way, what better opportunity do you have to learn about a new place?
The bonus of this type of experience is you’re usually supporting a local business. Win win!
One of our most popular blogs on Travel Live Learn is about pursuing creative travel experiences including this type of trip. Have a read here.
There’s plenty of this type of class or food tour on offer all over Italy. If you have any that you’d recommend, do please share details in the comments below.
Organised coach tours
If you’re fully committed to spending a few days discovering Italy through the eyes of food, there are coach tours available exclusively for this purpose. A simple search, ‘food tour Italy’ brings up a number of options. You might explore the regions we did, like Milan, Verona or Venice. Or, the famous Tuscan food and wine region. There are plenty of small towns that offer amazing insight into food and wine, and if you don’t have a car, a booking like this is the way to go to not miss anything important.
An organised tour takes the stress out of figuring out what to do and may include an itinerary of a few days. You don’t have to worry about driving or finding your way – just focus on what’s important. Your taste buds!
Other ways you can find a food tour in your country or region of choice, might be by searching for recommendations on Tripadvisor, YouTube or running a hashtag search on Instagram for #foodtour, for example.
We discovered the Brussels option on the destination’s tourism website, and our Italy experiences (including wine tastings, which you can read about here) popped up as recommendations alongside our Airbnb bookings.
Do you have tips or a personal example to share, or even questions? Let us know in the comments
Varying images may be conjured in your mind when considering a romantic Romeo and Juliet setting. Perhaps your view is bright and Baz Luhrmann like? Or, splashes of a fabulous stage version you’ve seen somewhere around the world – a ballet?
While I do love all that is this most famous of stories (especially Leo and Claire circa 1996), I hope you’re with me in picturing Verona as the true setting of Romeo and Juliet.
Over the years Verona, Italy kept popping into our sphere. We finally scheduled a trip due to so many friends mentioning the place!
Verona is an easy city to walk around. It’s ideal for a long weekend away, or a longer trip of three or four days.
We incorporated Verona into our train trip itinerary, where we started in Milan and finished in Venice.
There’s plenty of things to do in Verona. It’s not an overwhelming amount of choice though, which we liked.
First of all, there’s Juliet’s balcony Verona, an important part of the Romeo and Juliet narrative here. It’s pretty touristy, but a sentimental must-do in Verona.
For a list of the best things to do in Verona, read on…
Romeo and Juliet setting
If you’re a fan of William Shakespeare as I am, you’ll be interested in this spot as the original Romeo and Juliet setting.
You may want to book additional time in the area to explore other Shakespearean links because did you know Shakespeare set a third of his plays in Italy?
His most famous works are set in Verona, plus nearby Padua, Venice and Rome. It’s not known whether Shakespeare had the chance to visit Italy in his life, but he certainly dreamt of it as a location.
Interesting resources on ‘Shakespeare’s Italy’ include:
‘Secretaries of Juliet’ reply to letters from all over the world from this very space and advise on matters of the heart in a wide variety of languages.
Another nice thing to do if you don’t hit a huge line of people, is pay the small entry fee to get into the house. It’s fun because you to can go up to Juliet’s balcony Verona and get a photo taken. Head inside the old house, explore, walk out onto the balcony and recite a line from the play.
Also remember to take marker (pen). You can add your love note to the millions already scrawled along the walls outside the house.
In need of a little luck? Legend has it that if you touch the right breast of Juliet’s statue underneath Juliet’s balcony in Verona, you’ll find your true love. Every little bit helps, right?!
Things to do in Verona, Italy
Verona itself is a delight.
“A city built on hills arranged like banks of theatre seats.” (BBC Travel)
From its romantic Adige River that runs through the middle of town, linked by pretty bridges to the beautifully maintained ‘old town’. It’s straight out of a Shakespearean romance.
Juliet’s balcony Verona is just one of the things to see here. Another of Verona’s unavoidable wonders is the sublime old town market square, Piazza delle Erbe.
The medieval walls have been beautifully taken care of, and as a result showcase some of the city’s finest architecture and ancient frescoes. They set the scene for a market and dining spot that – while mostly geared towards tourists – has been a meeting spot for people for centuries. That’s pretty special, we think.
Within the square you’ll find the Venetian lion, which has gazed upon visitors since 1405. It was put there to remind residents that Venice was in charge (at that point, anyway).
Look up and around – everywhere
Always look up in old cities. Here, you’ll eventually spot a famous whale’s rib that’s been hanging from an iron chain since at least the 1700s. Legend goes that the whale rib will not fall until a person who has never told a lie walks underneath it.
It’ll probably stay there for a while then. The rib has not fallen, despite Popes and kings testing it.
A little less whimsical is the fact that the rib was likely a souvenir brought home to Verona from the orient by spice traders.
The best things to do in Verona include walking around and exploring along the riverbank, cross bridges, browse in old churches and generally be curious.
We’d advise getting out of the main part of the old town for a better deal on food and coffee. Walk across one of the bridges and see what’s on the other side.
More great things to see in Verona:
Castel St Pietro, positioned on the hill above Verona. You can walk up for a look. It’s a mysterious fort that boasts cypress tree-lined avenue and offers a spectacular view across the city.
Piazza dei Signori, a quiet, beautiful old square boasting lovely medieval arches and architecture.
Toree dei Lamberti. Construction begun on this tower in 1171. You’ll spot it from the Piazza delle Erbe. In the Middle Ages, such towers would have helped to organise life, because the bell would ring to signal a fire, summon war councils and let people know it was time to finish work.
Shopping in the Centro Storico, full of fabulous fashion and gorgeous Italian things to splurge on.
Basilica di San Zeno Maggiore, ‘containing’ the crypt where Romeo and Juliet got married. It’s a typical example of Romanesque architecture with 12th Century bronze doors and a ‘wheel of fortune’ rose window.
Juliet’s tomb, housed in a 13th-century Franciscan convent. This is where Juliet died in the play. People pay tribute here to Juliet and Shakespeare. Even Charles Dickens visited.
Castelvecchio, is the most important military construction of the Scaliger dynasty that ruled Verona in the Middle Ages.
Unmissable is the Verona Arena, a 1st Century open-air Roman amphitheatre that’s still fully operational. Locals and visitors can enjoy opera and concerts in the unique space.
Not only is it one of the best preserved ancient structures in the world, it’s touted as being one of the ten most beautiful places in the world that you could see a live show! The stone structures here have seen everything from gladiator games and jousting competitions to Adele and Elton John in concert.
Verona things to see and do: travel tip
Finally, we’d suggest you book a local experience to get the best out of the place. In Venice and Verona we purchased a walking tour with food experience. Our Verona option was an evening wander with Wonderful Verona.
Across three hours our host, Jessica, introduced us to Verona’s popular and secret sights, while pouring healthy glasses of local wines in choice locations. We’re all pictured above. It was very hard to leave Verona, thanks to this lovely localised experience and our stylish ‘dream loft’ Airbnb.
Got questions or a tip to add? Let us know in the comments below
I had to dig around to find out how to get to Lake Como easily and cheaply, only to discover the Milan to Varenna train trip was my answer.
In the hope we can save someone else the hassle of figuring out how to see Lake Como and Bellagio in a day trip from Milan, details are here.
Why take the Milan to Varenna train route to Lake Como?
We’ve been lucky enough to explore various parts of Italy previously. Rome is excellent, as are Florence, Siena and Tuscany. I didn’t know my way around this area though. I’d been inspired by a colleague at work who suggested getting around Italy by train. On planning a week away in April, Cooper and I chose an itinerary of Milan to Verona to Venice.
Lake Como is close to Milan, the fashion and business capital of Italy. We knew we’d be flying into Milan, and didn’t want to miss the Lakes region.
At first I considered a guided day tour to Lake Como. It’s a viable yet expensive option. Most of these day trips are about ten to twelve hours long – that’s a big day.
We settled on taking the train from Milan to Varenna, a village on the shores of Lake Como, because:
It’s an easy trip from Milan Central station, just over an hour
It’s inexpensive at just over €6 each way
Taking the ferry to Bellagio from here is easy and inexpensive
Varenna is also a pretty little town on the lake.
How to book and board Milan to Varenna train return
Our tickets were booked through thetrainline.com. I have the Trainline app on my phone that stores the tickets for display at the station or on board.
You’ll book from Milano Centrale (Milano Central station) to Varenna-Esino station.
I booked our fares for specific leave and return times. But, we just missed our train on the Sunday morning and staff said it was fine to take the next one, scheduled an hour later.
Our experience with Milan and Varenna train stations has been that they’re not very well signed. Platforms and trains can be hard to identify. If you’re taking the Milan to Varenna train return trip, give yourself time to get it right.
As we encountered a rainy day, we decided to go back to Milan an hour early. The trains going back are not signed well either. Additionally, they weren’t running to time. Little did we know, the day to follow this, the train to Verona ended up departing ten minutes before our stated ticket time.
At Varenna, we got on the wrong train. In a panic we got off at the next stop, a deserted platform. Fortunately, we could walk back to Varenna in about twenty minutes along the lakeside.
It’s not a big deal, but double check and give yourself time.
Why Lake Como?
Lake Como is the third largest lake in the lake district of Italy. That is behind Garda, which you can spot on the train ride to Varona, and Maggiore. It’s 46km long and at its widest is about 4.5km.
Imagine, snow capped mountains and a mystical body of water, home to centuries-old history and celebrities from near and far. Ferries glide in and out of hills that look like islands rising out of the deep blue. Pink and yellow buildings are tucked together along the bottom edge of the mountains. They’re divided every now and then by an ancient church steeple. Other homes line sections further up these hills. Their views must be marvellous, one can only imagine.
It’s all so pretty, almost looks like they’ve been drawn on. A real life oil painting on a canvas that’s kilometres long.
Roads, rail and tunnels are carved into sheer rock cliffs. Sculpted gardens are set along the waterfront with their Roman statues and water fountains. Little birds dance along cafe tables hoping for crumbs. Dogs chase ducks as clouds float down from the sky. The air is fresh and the world at peace. It’s as lovely as I imagined, and you’ll want to visit here too, trust us.
Exploring Varenna on a day trip from Milan to Lake Como
Varenna is situated in the Lombardy region. It’s very pretty and conveniently is only a five minute walk from the Varenna train station. The village is picture-postcard beautiful with sweet winding alleyways and waterfront dining.
It’s easy to wander up and down the hills and along the lake’s edge, although wear comfortable shoes because the stairways are long and steep.
The option to travel from Milan to Varenna on the train proved a happy escape from the bustle of Milan. Even though we had a rainy day, the place was beautiful – worthwhile.
Getting to Bellagio from Varenna
Many people say Bellagio is the gem of lake Como. It’s a pretty village jutting out into Lake Como and is included on most day trip itineraries to Lake Como from Milan. It’s popular for cobbled lanes and elegant buildings.
It was our intention to visit Bellagio on our day trip from Milan via Varenna. By the time we arrived though, it was pouring rain so we chose to explore Varenna instead. No regrets.
There’s plenty of questions and some confusion on Tripadvisor about how to get to Bellagio and when the ferries go.
Most information is difficult to understand as it’s in Italian and the official website is hard to navigate. Take it from me (I like to be organised), don’t worry at all about it.
The ferry costs about €5 each way, and runs every 30 or 40 minutes. It’s slightly less frequent in winter, but the ferry terminal is manned and there’s plenty to do in Varenna while you wait to board.
The ferry dock taking you on a short trip to Bellagio is on the waterfront about five minutes from the Varenna train station. You can’t miss it. If the day is clear, you’ll be fortunate to see gorgeous views of the colourful buildings on the hills surrounding the lake.
Questions or comments…
I hope this answers any of your queries or concerns about how to do a self-guided day trip on the train from Milan to Lake Como.
Varenna is a lovely option for its views, ease and style. It’s really simple to get to and from Bellagio. We spoke to the ferry team to clarify this. The train (if you don’t miss it) is comfortable and quick. A paid tour costs a fortune and hours out of your day. Even if you don’t go to Bellagio, Varenna is a beautiful glimpse into the tranquillity that is Lake Como. Despite rain and a number of missed trains, this day out was close to perfect.
On this week long trip, we travelled across the country to Verona and Venice on the train. Click the links to find out more.
Got questions or a tip to add? Let us know in the comments below
We want to help you get your Venice facts in order. Is it magnificent and marvellous or hot and crowded? There’s facts you need to know about Venice before you go, which may make or break your visit. I was totally converted on my second trip. It’s why I want to highlight important travel Venice facts that will help you make the most of your experience.
Venice was our last stop on a self-guided train trip across Italy for one week, beginning in Milan. Our highlights included a day trip to Lake Como; rail to Verona and then to Venice. Click the links to read more about those destinations, and read on for more facts about Venice.
Travel Venice facts
5 facts for starters, about the city…
Venice is built on over 1 million wooden stakes.
There are 118 islands that make up Venice, linked by over 400 bridges (about 70 being private) over more than 170 canals.
In 1608, the Council of Ten approved wearing masks only during the Carnevale in February. Breaking this law meant enduring punishments that ranged from two years in prison to public beating and binding to the ‘pillar of shame’.
Sadly, Venice is sinking at the rate of 1 to 2mm per year.
The population of Venice has decreased from 120,000 to 60,000 in the last 50 years. Apparently Venice could be a ghost town by 2030 with only tourists visiting by day. A sad thought for Venetians, who perceive this level of tourism to be totally unsustainable. So, for us as the travellers, be grateful for the time in the city – seems a lot of sacrifice has taken place for us to enjoy it all.
The weather can be wet or hot, timing is important
If you can be flexible in your travel planning, the top travel Venice fact to work with is that the best times to go are April, May, June, September, and October.
Summer in Venice can be scorching. The first time we visited back in August 2011, we were tired from being on a non-stop tour and drained by the heat. April was near close to perfect though. Venice can also be very wet and flood. The flooding gets to the point where visitors need to buy Wellies (rubber boots). Even waiters in fancy restaurants need to, to get by serving customers seated outdoors.
It doesn’t really matter what time of year you go, Venice is a magnet for people. Main attractions like the Rialto Bridge, St. Mark’s Square and along the Grand Canal are swarming with people – travellers, tour groups, cruise ship stop-over passengers – throughout the day.
During the famous Carnevale in February, the streets get so crowded that distances which would usually take ten minutes to walk might take up to an hour to reach. Our Airbnb experience walking tour guide, Roberto, told us that the city actually constructs lanes, so it’s one way walking to a certain destination, and one way back.
Find a good deal on Airbnb and stay centrally. We were just a couple of minutes walk from the Rialto Bridge. This meant we could get up and go exploring first thing in the morning. Not only was the light lovely, but we weren’t battling crowds to get from A to B.
Additionally, if you want to visit the museums, go early in the morning or late in the afternoon to beat the queues.
Fab Venice fact – some great experiences are FREE
One of the best travel Venice facts that our Airbnb hosts shared with us was to do with the unmissable free view available from the top of Fondaco dei Tedeschi.
This historical building is situated on the Grand Canal, very close to the Rialto Bridge. It’s seen many uses including being used as a trading post for German merchants, a post office during Mussolini’s time, and a customs house under Napoleon.
Today it’s a luxury shopping mall, but at the top you can experience breathtaking rooftop views. It’s absolutely worthwhile, and it’s free, but you need to book your spot.
Venice facts: Gondola rides need-to-know
A gondola ride ranks highly on most travel bucket-lists, but it can turn out to be very expensive. Know before you go:
– A gondola ride costs around $90
– Typically lasts about 40 minutes
– Your Gondolier knows what they’re doing; they all have to pass extensive training to represent the industry in Venice
– Gondolas hold six people so you can share the ride and split the cost
– Sunset or night rides are spectacular, but you’ll pay more for that experience
– Avoid booking through an agency or hotel, you’re likely to pay extra fees
– Talk to the Gondolier about any requests you have for places to see, and consider skipping the crowded Grand Canal
– Wear sunscreen and a hat during the day.
Local water bus options offer cost-effective travel adventures
If a gondola ride is not within budget, try taking the #1 vaporetto down the Grand Canal instead. It’s like the local ferry and for just over €7!
To and from Santa Lucia train station, or the airport:
If you’re coming into Venice from Santa Lucia train station or the Marco Polo airport, be careful of people coming up to you offering to take you to the water taxi that goes into town. These are quite often private services that cost much more than the public ferries.
Look for route number 2 that does the journey between Santa Lucia railway station and St Mark’s Square, making only five stops including Rialto Bridge, where we got off to meet our Airbnb host.
The Alilaguna ferry will take you to and from Marco Polo airport. We got on near the Rialto Bridge and it cost about €15 one way, and the ride was just over an hour.
You will get lost
The streets of Venice are a maze, and you will get lost. But that’s absolutely fine. Don’t worry, just give yourself time to get places if you happen to have an appointment or need to meet a walking tour.
Google Maps led us into quite a few walls, so don’t rely on it. It’s helpful for finding general direction though, and recommendations on where to find a beer or food.
If the prospect of wandering the streets like a pro (and out of tourists’ way) is appealing, we’d highly recommend you engage a guide for a couple of hours. Roberto from Airbnb Experiences was excellent! His Walk, Eat and Drink in Venice tour took us through charming back streets we’d never have found, and showed us there’s much life away from St Mark’s Square. Contact him directly for details or to arrange a bespoke trip if you like.
Authentic dining options may be hard to spot
When in Venice you want to find yourself a local Bacari. This is a bar that serves wine and typical Venetian snacks. These snacks are referred to as cichetti, which generally means savoury snacks or small side dishes. We learnt more about this on our walking tour, referenced above.
A trip to Italy means eating gelato, especially if the weather is warm. But there’s plenty of inauthentic expensive tourist options you should avoid. It’s always good to support the genuine producers.
Basic rules of authentic gelato are:
Look for the gelato being stored in metal tubs, preferably with lids; plastic tubs are a no-no.
Quality gelato will not have vibrant colours because the aim is to make it with a high proportion of natural ingredients and very little (if any) added colouring.
If the ‘gelato’ is piled up high for display and doesn’t melt it means it’s high in vegetable fats and emulsifiers – it’s not the real deal.
Seasonal fruit flavours are a good sign, anything wild resembling Baskin & Robbins is probably not gelato, but something else, like ice-cream.
Not always, but for the most part, the real gelato is sold away from tourist hot-spots. We found a lovely authentic one in Verona that fits all the criteria here, and it was cheap, unlike rip-off options we’ve seen in Florence and Venice.
There’s much more to see
We’ve not had the chance to day-trip from Venice yet, but we plan to, which is why I’m linking ideas in here.
Let me know in the comments what else you’d recommend.
– The islands, including Murano and Burano, are apparently incredible. Have a read here for a summary on each, and why you should visit.
Travel in Venice: safety, packing and payment advice
Our final tips
Cash or card?
There’s a lot of markets and smaller vendors who require cash payments so do have some on you. Most places take cards though.
We felt safe, but always use common sense in crowded places. Thieves operate in these areas in all big cities. Pay attention to your surroundings, don’t carry things in your pockets, and don’t lose focus because you’re distracted by your phone! We’d suggest ignoring people who try to sell you things on the street too.
Pack light. The streets are old, you’ll walk a lot and the ferries are crowded. The last thing you’ll want is to be hauling a huge suitcase along! Shed your stuff, you won’t need half of it anyway.
Got questions or tips? Please do let us know in the comments below…
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