Roadtrip Itinerary: 3 Weeks in Northern Italy
September 2021. There was a lull in the pandemic in Europe, and we were not about to waste it. After working all summer, we set out for three weeks on the road in Northern Italy. This is what we did.
Day 1: Fly into Milan
Depending on your arrival time, but assuming you have at least a few hours in Milan, you should not miss:
Duomo Di Milano, obviously
Arco della Pace
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele
At night explore the Navigli neighbourhood and have dinner at one of the many restaurants. We went to Pizzium.
Day 2: Day trip to Lake Como
Lake Como, or Lago di Como, is truly one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited. Take the train from Milano Centrale to Varenna-Esino. You'll want to start off in this quaint, little town, to truly enjoy it before it comes too busy. Have breakfast at Tutti Frutti right by the water, and then start exploring. Make sure to visit the wonderful gardens of Villa Monastero.
After a few hours in Varenna, take the ferry to Bellagio. Have gelato at Gelateria del Borgo, and walk to the top of Via Giuseppe Garibaldi for one of the most famous street views in Italy. The best part of these Lake Como towns are the narrow, winding streets, so walk a lot not to miss anything.
When you feel like you've seen every little nook of Bellagio, hop right back on the ferry that will take you to Menaggio. Spend some time exploring, and don't miss the wonderful seaside promenade called Viale Benedetto Castelli.
When you have gotten your fill of Lake Como, take the ferry back to Varenna and the train back to Milan. The train ride is just over one hour.
Day 3: Get on the road
It's day 3 and time to pick up that rental car. We rented from Avis at the Milan Airport, and it took more than 2 hours to get the car. The experience wasn't great, but we forgot about it as soon as we hit the road, on our way to Verona.
Make as many stops as you'd like on this 2 hour journey. I'd recommend Bergamo or/and Lake Garda, if you have the time.
Day 4: Verona
In Verona, you'll want to visit
Arena di Verona
Casa di Julieta
Piazza delle Erbe
Viewpoints: Piazzale Castel San Pietro and Castelvecchio Bridge
And as goes for most of the towns on this list: Walk a lot and explore by foot, even outside the most central areas.
Day 5: Spiazzi and driving to the Dolomites
After a nice Italian breakfast, you'll head to Spiazzi to visit the beautiful Madonna della Corona. The sanctuary is built into the cliffside, overlooking the Adige valley from the height of 774 meters. Make sure to get there before the tour buses start arriving. We were there at sunrise and had the place all to ourselves.
After taking in the sights and the town, you'll get back on the road and start the Dolomites leg of this road trip. Your first stop is Bolzano, where you'll want to check out the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology and spend an hour or two exploring the town.
You'll spend the night in the quaint village of Ortisei, right in the centre of Val Gardena.
Day 6: Ortisei
Take a cable car to Seceda and marvel in the alpine wonders. The Seceda ridgeline is a powerful sight to behold. There are several hiking options from here, but you can also opt to simply wander around and treat yourself to a Sachertorte at Baita Sofie Hütte before taking the cable car back down. Spend the rest of the day exploring the village, before driving to Cortina D'Ampezzo in the afternoon or evening.
Day 7: Some of the most famous sights in the Dolomites
Start your day off with a visit to Lago di Braies, before it gets too crowded. It's popular, yes, but for good reason. It's also possible to rent a boat and spend som time on the lake.
Next, you'll drive to San Vigilio where you can experience the largest zipline in Europe, operated by Adrenaline X-Treme Adventures. Zipping through the forest was one of our favorite experiences in the Dolomites.
Lastly, make your way to Santa Maddalena, one of the most picturesque villages in the Dolomites.
Day 8-10: Venice
On the first day of the second week, you'll head to Venice. Venice is an incredibly walkable city, and my favorite thing to do was getting lost in the narrow alleys. You truly never know what lies around the next corner.
Famous sights in Venice include
Piazza San Marco
Bridge of Sighs
Libreria Acqua Alta
If you're up for a splurge one morning, have breakfast at the St. Regis. It's right on the Grand Canal and the view is amazing!
There are several islands in the Venetian lagoon worth a visit, but my personal favorite is Burano. Burano is known for its lace-making and colorful houses, and really is the perfect day trip from Venice. Go either early in the morning or in the evening to escape the crowds. The vaporetto ride takes about 45 minutes.
Day 11-12: Cinque Terre
The longest drive you'll have all trip with this itinerary, is the drive from Venice to the Ligurian Coast. Trust me when I say you do not want to drive all the way to Cinque Terre, so park your car in La Spezia and take the train.
Cinque Terre is made up of five small seaside villages: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso. My personal favorite is Riomaggiore, which is where I recommend staying. Check out this amazing Airbnb, which was one of the highlights of our trip. Check in to your accommodation, and spend the first day exploring Riomaggiore. Finish off with take-away pizza and tiramisu from Kepris.
There are popular walking trails between the five villages, and it is possible to do them all in a day. However, two of the trails were closed due to landslide damages when we visited, so we opted for the train, which is a great alternative. Get up early to enjoy at least one village before the crowds set in, and just spend your day exploring every nook and cranny of these quaint villages.
Day 13: Lucca
Buy som pastries for the road at Panificio Rosi, and take the train back to La Spezia. From here you'll head to Lucca, which is only a one hour drive.
Lucca is a city in Tuscany, famous for its walls and well-preserved historic centre. Spend half a day here, and make sure to visit the Piazza dell'Anfiteatro, the Guinigi Tower and the Piazza Napoleone.
Then you'll make the 1,5 hour drive to San Gimignano, where you'll be spending the next couple of nights.
Day 14: San Gimignano & Civita di Bagnoregio
Two hours from San Gimignano, you'll find Civita di Bagnoregio. This place is like straight out of a fairytale and unlike anything I've seen before. This medieval town is situated on top of a hill and can only be reached by a narrow pedestrian bridge. The foundation regularly erodes, which is why Civita is known as the dying city. Only about 15 people live there today, accompanied by a few cats.
Once you've had your fill of this magical place, head back to San Gimignano. Spend your evening strolling through its alleys, and do not miss the historic centre, which is on the UNESCO World Heritage list. In the Piazza della Cisterna, you'll find the Gelateria Dondoli, a gelato shop that won the Gelato World Championship in 2006/2007 and 2008/2009. Apparently, that's a thing.
Day 15: Val d'Orcia
You know those pictures of endless rolling hills, picturesque towns and cypress-lined gravel roads? That's what I have always associated with Tuscany, and let me tell you: that place is real, and it's called Val d'Orcia.
Spend this day just driving the roads of this region. Some nice stopping points are:
Agriturismo Baccoleno Viewpoint
Cipressi di San Quirico d'Orcia
Agriturismo Poggio Covili
Bagni San Filippo
Before the end of the day, head to Florence and check into your accommodation of choice.
Day 16-18: Florence
Let me just start off by recommending a breakfast place that quickly became one of my all-time favorites: Le Vespe Cafe. Just try it.
While in Florence, you shouldn't miss
Piazza da Santa Croce
Palazzo Vecchio + Ponte Vecchio
Piazza del Duomo + Santa Maria del Fiore
Santa Maria Novella
Make sure to include at least one wine tasting experience while in the area. I don't normally opt for organized tours, but at least then you won't have to worry about transportation after having consumed one too many glasses of Chianti.
Day 19-20: Bologna
Bologna surprised me in a positive way. It was one of the few cities where I had no idea what to expect, but I loved the atmosphere. Some of the notable sights include
Piazza Santo Stefano
We spent one of our two days in Bologna in Motor Valley, visiting the museums and factories of Lamborghini, Ferrari and Pagani, which was great if you're even a little into cars.
Day 21: Back to Milan
On our last day we drove back to Milan and checked into the Sheraton Airport Hotel for our early flight the next day. We took the train into the city and managed to squeeze in a visit to the Santa Maria delle Grazie to see the Da Vinci-painting The Last Supper. We finished off with some delicious ravioli and THE best lemon pie at Cafe de Ville.
I feel like we managed to pack a lot into our three weeks on the road, without it ever feeling rushed. My favorite part was Lake Como, Cinque Terre, Val d'Orcia and that we got to experience Venice without the crowds. I can't wait to go back and explore more of this beautiful country. A presto!