The gondola epitomises Venice, but avoid the temptation of going on an impossibly expensive journey around the canals with a gondolier who looks like an extra from a stage set. Instead, use the gondola as the locals do, as a ferry across the Grand Canal for literally a few pence. Don’t sit down, stand up like the locals do.
The Grand Canal
It tastes better in Venice than anywhere else. Have it as a mid-morning ombra with cicheti (small snacks in bars) or as an aperitif or with your dolci or just for the sake of it. Best drunk standing outside in the sunshine watching the world go by.
All over Venice!
Buy a pass for the vaporetto as soon as you arrive for the number of days you're there. The back of a vaporetto is easily the best (and cheapest) way to see outdoor Venice, and as well, all life is here. The tickets also work for the quicker diretto lines too, and virtually all of the island boats as well.
The nearest supermarket is just around the corner and the kitchen is extremely well equipped. We only cooked in once though, as we wanted to try the many good restaurants in town. The owners picked us up at the airport (for free) when we arrived and took us back to the airport when we left. They left us a lot of useful information about the city as well as guidebooks and maps. The price was excellent too, so we highly recommend this apartment.
www.behindthetower.com; the apartment accommodates up to four people
Lucca is one of my favourite italian cities (prob #1) - everything is wonderful. The medieval wall provides a great palce where everyone rides their bike or walks to work or school, or just for fun. A great place to meet hot guys. The people are great.
Around the centro storicco.
It's this amazing tower with an external spiral staircase. As well as being an amazing and unusual piece of architecture, the view from the top is beautiful. I was thrilled to see the top of people's homes - with gardens and washing - rather than just the top of official buildings.
The most surprising is what you see if you look through a keyhole in the Piazza dei Cavalieri di Malta on the Aventine hill. You can’t miss the door. There’s always someone peering through it. And I won’t ruin the surprise. Open 10-11am Sat.
Priorito di Malta, 3 Piazza dei Cavalieri di Malta; Tel: 06 6758 1234
For peace and tranquillity, visit the islands. There are 118 in the archipelago, but many are flat islets in the lagoon. Take the vaporetto to Torcello, the original settlement that was Venice. This now largely abandoned island was once home to 20 000 people, but now only a handful lives here after decimation by invaders, plague and the gradual silting up of canals into marshes.
To walk the path from the vaporetto landing stage across the ancient bridge with no parapet, the Ponte del Diavolo, is to feel the melancholia of this abandoned place. The original cathedral from the 11th century has a bare simplicity not usual in Venetian churches, but is a place of great calm. This peaceful island has paths along ancient silted-up canals that peter out in grassy fields and thick undergrowth, where the only sounds are that of birdsong and whispering reeds.
In contrast, the island of Burano, once famous for its lace making, is a scaled down version of Venice with small canals, and brightly coloured houses. Keep the church campanile in sight and it is impossible to get lost here, so wander at will and enjoy the sights of fishing vessels moored outside the houses.
The island of Murano, famous for its glass making has organised tours around the factories even to the extent of free rides out to the island, but beware the hard sell. Instead, go on your tourist ticket on the No 52 Vaporetto and enjoy the island without buying what you don’t need and don’t want.
The city festival, on June 16 is the best day to be in Pisa. It is the night before Patron Saint's Day and the city centre becomes a massive street party, with fireworks, music and food. The special thing is that the city is lit by candlelight only. Very, very beautiful.
The Palatine Hill is worth visiting for its own sake as well as being the place to buy a ticket to get you in to the Colosseum. More relaxing than the Roman forum below and a nice place for a picnic if you're there at lunchtime.
Along with Ostia, Antica and the Parthenon one of my Rome highlights. Amazing site with gardens, mosaics, statues and ruins of a magnificent holiday villa, theatre and baths built by the emperor Hadrian. And like Ostia and unlike the sites in Rome itself, relatively crowd free.
Get there by bus from Tivoli
One of the hubs of nightlife in Venice. There's some great bars - Cafe Rosso, Duchamp, and the Orange bar on the square itself, and Cafe Noir and Cafe Blu just round the corner, the latter which has great live music. But it's not all about the nightlife, in the daytime Campo Santa Margherita is a lovely place to sit and relax, watch people go by, feed the sparrows, and grab a slice of delicious pizza from Pizza al Volo.
Campo Santa Margherita, Dorsoduro
This is Rome's oldest 'gelateria' (ice cream shop). They make the most delicious ice cream, so creamy and so many different flavours to choose from. Buy an ice cream and go to Piazza della Rotonda (where the Pantheon is) and enjoy it while watching the world go by. Not to be missed, not even in winter!
via Uffici del Vicario, 40
It is a residential retreat and martial arts centre, offering guidance and tuition in meditation and martial arts, and where instructors and teachers of martial arts, yoga, pilates, dance or any other activity can take their students for a training camp or retreat. It is an incredible place.
The staff are wonderful, the facilities (I went there on a memorable long weekend of self-defence training for women only, taught by the owner) are superb. The food is local produce prepared in-house, and the welcome is unbelievable.
The owners have assembled a great team of helpers, and they are really good people. The house and gardens are gorgeous and the surroundings are breathtaking. The cost of a stay with them is low, and is great value.
The Metta Centre
Contrada Villa Saline
Penna San Giovanni(MC) 62020
Budget airlines fly into Pisa - don't bother with the bus, the road is usually very busy into Florence. Get the train, there's a station at Pisa airport with regular trains to Florence; or go to Pisa Central where there are even more trains to Florence and it's cheaper.
Call me perverse but I'm not going to recommend the Tuscany of 'rolling green hills, loan cypresses...' etc etc (ie Chianti). Head north, rather than south when you leave Pisa airport and you come, via the spa town of Bagni di Lucca, to the Garfagnana. This is considerably more rugged and mountainous than southern Tuscany, you are still within reach of the beach, there is skiing up at Abetone, large bits of the Garfagnana are Nature Reserves (Parco della Orecchiella is a must), it's fantastic country for walkers and hikers. We're talking ancient chestnut forests, alpine meadows, caves, spectacular ridges, roaring streams and little mountaintop hamlets that seem to grow from the stone of the hillside. Must sees (there's a list at www.knowital.com/html/lucca_-_the_garfagnana__3_.html include the Caves of the Wind (Grotta del Vento), the Devils Bridge near Bagni di Lucca, the sunken village at Vagli and the sanctuary and museum at San Pellegrino in Alpe.
Trains go into Bagni di Lucca
It is as easy to lose yourself in the alleys as it is to find yourself again. A little piazza may suddenly appear through a Byzantine archway, with a fountain splashing under the washed-out blue of a hot Venetian noon.
Time for lunch before the hours of rest when all Italy slides into a soporific afternoon to arise refreshed for the evening. To walk through the echoing alleyways at this time is to have Venice for yourself. Small arched bridges with parapets of crumbling stone and steps worn hollow in the middle reach over ancient canals. Green water barely moves on the step of an old doorway, whose timbers have baked and slumbered through countless Venetian summers. A nearby church offers sanctuary from the heat and a moment to sit in the cool darkness and wonder how much longer before Venice succumbs to the inevitable.
If you care about the Venetian cityscape at all, you really ought to visit the city's churches. They are a showcase for Venice's unique architectural and artistic heritage and a good way of getting close to it without the mad crush of the Accademia, the Guggenheim or San Marco.
The only problem is that the churches sometimes want you to cross their palms with a little silver. So unless you want to disguise yourself as a nun, it's worth investing in a Chorus Pass. It costs about a fiver, is valid for a year, saves you the effort of finding a lot of change and gets you into around 16 of the city's best ecclesiastical monuments. My personal favourites: Madonna dell'Orto, Santo Stefano and the Frari which is full of masterpieces. Knockout stuff.
If you find the time head for Torcello cathedral. It's got to be one of the most sublime buildings in the lagoon. See if you can make friends with the local cats.
You can buy the Chorus pass at any of the participating churches
Bloody good pizza. The service can be a bit unfriendly, and they rush you a bit, but the pizza is worth it. The location, not far from Piazza Navona, is great as well. It's listed in all the guide books.
Via Governo Vecchio 114, behind Piazza Navona.
We got a very romantic apartment perched above the gossipy little streets of Trastevere with this company, and for only 75 euro a night. It was cheaper than a hotel and much better, because there are no hotels to speak of in this fabulously relaxed district. Frescoes on the ceiling, a great rooftop balcony and all the pavement restaurants below a short stumble away. It absolutely made the holiday.
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