August 25, 2019
Follow us on our Italian adventure touring through stunning mountain landscapes, unique historic cities and beautiful seaside during this 10 days road trip.
We tried to avoid too long drives and included some beautiful stopovers on the way instead. Here is our route on a Google Map:
The starting point of our roadtrip was Nuremberg (southern Germany). We took off on a Thursday afternoon to try and avoid all those infamous traffic jams on the way down to Italy typical for a summer Friday. This worked out just great: we drove down Brenner autobahn without any traffic jams all the way to Lake Braies (“Pragser Wildsee” in German, “Lago di Braies” in Italian)!
We stayed in this lovely small pension which was a good deal for the money not far away from Lake Braies. On the next day we had an ambitious goal to catch the sunrise at the lake. Even though it was tough on long sleepers like us, the rewarding view was worth every bit of it!
On our arrival at Lake Braies around 5 a.m. it was peaceful and quite. The parking was free at this hour and the boat house offering great views on the lake (known from hype instagram photos) was not opening until 9 a.m. So we found ourselves a nice spot on a hill next to an even more punctual photographer and waited patiently for the sunrise to break. Even though it was mid of July, the morning air in the mountains was quite cool, so I was happy to have my warm jacket with me.
In the next half an hour we’ve got company of about 10 other photographers and around 6 a.m. we were all rewarded with the dreamlike sunrise views.
After the successful sunrise mission we’ve strengthened ourselves with some pastry and extremely good latte macchiato at this small gas station.
When I saw that one of the route options from Lake Braies to Florence almost crosses through Venice, I knew we cannot leave this stop out. Venice stole my heart once and I could come back over and over again.
The drive was about 3 hours, and giving in our early start in the day, we arrived in Venice as early as 10:30 a.m. We drove on to the island with our car and left it in a garage (26€ for a day, no hourly rate). If you are looking for budget options, you could take a look at the parking possibilities on the mainland and drive in to Venice with a bus or tram.
The way from our parking place to the heart of the city of Venice was actually very enjoyable. While the streets and canals of Venice are adorable everywhere, in this area it was not all that crowded. We had lunch outside of the center as well which was pretty affordable and tasty. And then we dived in into tourist crowds on Piazza San Marco.
After around 5 hours in Venice – which is definitely not enough for this awesome city – we headed out to our second overnight stay place: Florence (Firenze in Italian).
Our beautiful Airbnb was on the 6th floor, had a huge balcony with a nice view and a chic kitchen, so we could enjoy our self-made meals on the balcony! It was a bit loud though, because of the busy street. A special extra bonus was an underground parking right under the house with an elevator going directly to the apartment door! Just what we needed for all our luggage.
To get to the city centre we had to take a train (just 5 minutes ride, but check the schedule, as they are not coming all that often). It is not allowed to enter the city centrum with a car so we just left our car at the apartment.
Our highlights in Florence were strolling through the streets of old town and admiring Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, lunch at Mercato di San Lorenzo, visit to Uffizi gallery, dinner at caffe Cibreo and sunset at Piazzale Michelangelo. More details on that coming soon in my next blog post.
On the next day we headed out of Florence around 10 a.m. to drive through the beautiful Chianti region down to Siena.
We drove through Creve in Chianti where we had a pizza on the main square up to Lamole to enjoy some views on the region from above. Creve in Chianti was not that special of a town, you could also leave it out from your itinerary and spend more time in Siena or visit Monteriggioni instead (unfortunately we did not have time for this one).
From Lamole we headed to Siena. Now this town really exceeded my expectations. I have read about the special main square – Piaza del Campo – but the photos make a poor job transfering a unique view and vibe of this place. You should definitely get there! Every year on 2nd of July and 16th of of August there is a horse race at the square called Palio di Siena.
The streets of Siena were fun to explore and not as crowded as in Florence. We also got inside of Duomo di Siena and its interior was impressive. If we had an extra day on our vacation I would spend the night in Siena and go exploring Val d’Orcia on the next day – the beautiful “real Tuscany” region south from Siena.
After Siena we headed to our next accomodation near San Gimignano. While the villa, the pool and the location were amazing, our room was really (really!) small and the bed was not that comfortable (I actually got a neck pain on the next day), so if you are planning to stay here you might want to go for a bigger (= more expensive) room.
In the evening we drove up to San Gimingano and had a beautiful walk through the peaceful streets and squares of this charming little mountain town. We’ve concluded the evening with a nice dinner at Osteria del Carcere.
On the next day it was raining all day long, from the morning till the evening (yeah, we also did not know such things happen in Italy in July). The temperatures were cooling off quite a bit so we were happy to have our emergency raincoats and warmer clothes with us.
The next stop on our way down to the isle Elba was the village of Volterra. Contrary to popular belief, the scenes from Twilight featuring Volteri family were not really filmed in Volterra, but in Montepulciano. The most impressive sight in Volterra for me were the ancient roman ruins.
On the way from Volterra to Piombino, where the ferry for Elba takes off, we happened to pass an extremely beautiful and photogenic street as well as some awesome sunflower fields. Unfortunately with all the rain those were not suitable conditions for a photoshoot, but guess what: we got right back there on our way back from Elba to make these beautiful photos!
I’ve actually never heard of Elba Island before this trip, and now it’s one of the most beautiful beach vacation destinations I’ve ever been to!
You can get to Portoferraio (the main city of Elba) with one hour ferry ride from Piombino (haven city on the mainland). There are three companies which provide the ferry rides. We bought our tickets on site from Blue Navy and paid 114 euro for two people and a passenger car for the round trip. We faced no difficulties with our ferry ride except the drive in for the car being extremely narrow.
From Portoferraio it took us around 1 hour to get to our hotel in Patresi, even though the ride was just 30 km. Elba has such a rocky landscape, with narrow serpentine roads that you hardly get to drive faster than 70 km/h.
Located on the western tip of the island, Patresi was definitely worth the drive. We had such an amazing view from our hotel room. And the two wildish beaches in Patresi were to die for. We even got one of them all to ourselves to watch the sun go down into the sea!
After spending two beautiful days on Elba, we headed out to our next stop. After a ferry ride, a photoshooting in the sunflowers and around one and a half hours car ride we arrived at Pisa and got the mandatory Pisa Tower photo.
This proved to be quite challenging because of all the crowds and the fact that you are not allowed to step on the grass in front of the tower. You should be wearing comfortable shoes to be able to climb the fence (which seems to be permitted) and get a photo without all the tourists on it.
After the Pisa experience we drove to our accommodation near Luca. It was a big beautiful house with a garden where we got a spacious room with a private bathroom, nice furniture as well as tea, cookies and a bottle of wine as presents for the guests! The breakfast on the next day was amazing and the host was charming. I’d definitely stay there again!
From the accomodation it was a short drive to Lucca, where we enjoyed a nice evening walk through the streets without that much tourists. A special highlight was the walk on the city walls that have been turned into a big park area surrounding Lucca. Every year, usually in July, an important music event is held in Lucca –Lucca Summer Festival (LSF). During this festival major bands are playing open air concerts on the squares of the historic centre of Lucca. The highlights of LSF 2019 included Toto, Elton John, Macklemore, Eros Ramazzotti, Scorpions and Sting.
If you have more time, you could spend another day in Lucca and surroundings, for example go on a hike or bike trip along the Aqueduct of Nottolini – an impressive stone structure stretching for around 3 km, which used to bring clear mountain water to Lucca back in 19th century.
Next destination was on my bucket list since years. In fact, I even used to have it as a screensaver on my laptop! The beautiful Manarola – one of the five villages of the national park Cinque Terre (translated from Italian as “five lands”).
We visited Chinque Terre by car which proved to be quite a challenge. Narrow roads with LOTS of curves taking forever to drive down and up, overcrowded parking places, about 1 km away from the city center, since driving in with your car is not permitted. All that said, you might consider choosing another means of travel to Cinque Terre. If you spend the night before your visit to Chinque Terre in Spezia (the closest bigger town which is accessible by car and offers cheaper hotel options), you could leave your car there and get a train or boat ticket instead.
There is also a hiking trek going through all the villages of Cinque Terre. As much as we enjoy hiking, that did not seem a tempting idea in the burning July sun. So instead we just drove down to Riomaggiore, Manarola and Monterosso al Mare.
In Riomaggiore we climbed the rocks to reach this beautiful photo spot. You have to stand on your feet (and sometimes also hands) confidently to get there. You’ll also want to have a big sun hat and good sunscreen, because the sun is burning like crazy!
In Manarola we got up to the viewpoint so that I could enjoy the exact view from my screensaver in real life! That was amazing. There is a restaurant around the viewing point which offers this same view from its tables. No wonder that there was a line waiting to get in! If you’d like to have lunch there (and get some genius pics) you might consider coming even before the opening at 12 o’clock or planning in the waiting time.
The last stop in Cinque Terre was Monterosso al Mare where we wanted to jump into the sea for the last time on this trip. Unfortunately, almost all the beaches were not free of charge and it was very difficult to find a spot to drop our things on the narrow “free beach” territory.
After refreshing in the sea we jumped back into the car and drove to our next accommodation in Milan.
The church Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan is home to Leonardo da Vinci’s famous painting “The last supper”. We took the metro ride to the church just to find out that the tickets to see the last supper are sold out for the next two weeks! So if you’d like to see this painting you’d have to book your ticket online in advance.
After the failed attempt to see “The last supper” we got to the heart of Milan – Piazza del Duomo – to enjoy the beautiful Duomo di Milano and Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.
Concluding our Milan visit with a bit of shopping (I guess you can’t leave that out when in Milan) and an overpriced lunch in one of the streets next to the cathedral, we got back to our apartment to pick up our car and drive further to the north.
The next stop on our route was Lavertezzo – a charming little town in the italian speaking part of Switzerland. This town is famous for its church, amazingly clear and beautiful mountain river Verzasca and the nearby 17th century bridge called “Ponte dei Salti” which literally means “jumping bridge”. This was an extremely beautiful place to be, especially in summer, which should totally land on your bucket list or best on your next itinerary!
The river water has a refreshing temperature of around 15 degrees, so many people just relax on the stones and go into the water occasionally for a short refreshment. As we were there, we also witnessed a couple of people jumping into the river from the bridge! Would you dare?
After a much needed rest and a nice breakfast in the garden in this affordable Airbnb, we got onto the last adventure of our roadtrip – Saxer Lücke.
It was raining the whole morning, but as we got to the lift the weather smiled at us as it stopped raining and even a bit of sun came out. Short lift ride followed by around one and a half hours easy hike led us to this amazing view.
Since we only had 10 days for this road trip we tried to fill it with as much cool stuff as could fit in the timeframe and loved every bit of it! We drove over 2500 km and paid over 100 euros toll for the roads. Felix learned to drive “the Italian way” (much less nicer than the “German way”).
My favorite destinations were Elba and Cinque Terre, and those of Felix were Lake Braies, Lavertezzo and Saxer Lücke (I think you can guess which one of us prefers sea and which one the mountains :))