Back in September 2015 I went on a coach trip travelling from the top to the tail of my favourite country – Italy! The architecture, the weather and the food are at the forefront of the reasons why I adore visiting Italy, and make an effort to travel there every year. And – if you read my first post – I have chosen to tie the knot there too!
Back in February I wrote the first half of this blog. Days 7-13 took me from Rome to Sicily, I have mapped out the route below.
Day 7: Rome
Rome, Rome, Rome! Where do I start?! Rome will inevitably receive its own blog post from me at some point in the future as it is one of my favourite places. I would go as far as to say it is my favourite, but I’m scared of the commitment! This was the first time Chris and I had visited Rome, and due to our tight itinerary we only had one day to make the most of it.
We didn’t stay in Rome, we stayed within commuting distance and therefore ditched the tour group to jump on a commuter bus into the City. We arrived at Rome bus station between 7.30-8am to grab some breakfast.
We headed straight for the Colosseum as we were worried about gathering crowds. Luckily our tactic worked, but didn’t anticipate that the English speaking tours would be sold out. You can only reach the top & bottom levels of the Colosseum with a guided tour group, so we signed onto an Italian speaking tour and remained quiet! Hence, I would recommend booking online before you visit if you wish to see these areas! One other word of advice – be careful to not to get ripped off for photos with the people dressed like Romans!
The rest of the day consisted of a lot of walking. Having visited a couple of times since, I have mapped out the walking route that I would recommend below – which lets you view most of the famous Roman sites. As recommended in all city locations, check out the side streets for the best priced food.
Once finished walking around, we jumped in a taxi and made our way to the Vatican City. I have found that taxis are a fair price in Rome, so that is no cause for worry. It’s important to note what I mentioned about religious areas and dress codes in Part 1 < http://estimateandexplore.home.blog/2019/02/02/italy-in-13-days-1/ > of this blog – both men and women should consider covering their shoulders and knees to respect the culture.
We always like the head to the highest points wherever possible, so our priority was to get to the top of the Duomo at St Peter’s Basilica – not viewing the Sistine Chapel. This is where you can get the best views of the City. We chose not to view the Sistine Chapel on this occasion, and I would recommend the same to others tight on time. I have since visited the Vatican with more time on my hands and *unpopular opinion alert* I found the art within St Peter’s Basilica more impressive than that within the Sistine Chapel – oops! Entrance to the Basilica is free, but there is often a long queue.
Sadly that’s all we could squeeze into one day in Rome, but I don’t think we could have physically handled much more!
Day 8: Visit Pompeii on the way to Sorrento
In school I was always a bit of a Geography nerd, so Pompeii & Mount Etna were the highlights of the itinerary for me. Most already know the story of Pompeii, so I won’t reiterate. However, the conservation of the ruins is incredible. You are able to view fossilised bodies of the people who were stranded there, even stand inside their homes (and brothels). They are still uncovering the ruins, so you can view some of the current conservation works.
Pompeii is conveniently on the way to the Campania region of Italy, passing Naples on the way to Sorrento. If I was to do this trip again, I would definitely make a stop in Naples. However, the sunset looks all the same from this part of the coastline. If you are lucky enough to visit, I guarantee that you will see one of the most beautiful sunsets of your lifetime from Sorrento!
Days 9 & 10: Isle of Capri & the Almalfi Coast
The next day, we visited the world famous Almalfi Coast. I’m glad we visited here as part of the tour because it is otherwise expensive and pretty tricky to get to. There are absolutely no faults to the Almalfi Coast. If you visit, make sure that you get a boat trip along the coastline – it’s the best way to truly appreciate the beautiful landscape. The rest of the day was spent wandering around cute Italian side streets and sampling Limoncello!
There are a number of ferries that leave the Port of Sorrento daily. We took advantage of this and opted for the extra excursion to the Isle of Capri.
Upon arriving at the Marina Grande in Capri, we were transferred to mini buses to take to us Anacapri – which is the western part of the Isle, referred to as “ana” because it sits higher than the rest of the island.
If you’re scared of heights (or thrills in general) be wary that the journey to the higher parts is not for the faint-hearted! Our tour guide admitted that the locals call the roads the “Mamma Mia hills” – because when you drive on them you shout “Mamma Mia!!!”. We did also notice our driver praying at the wheel when another minibus was heading straight for us. Like I said… not for the faint-hearted! It’s worth noting that the experience is similar on the Almalfi Coast – where the back end of coaches are often hanging off the hills when taking tight turns.
If you are lucky enough to visit here, make sure you take the Monte Solaro chair lift! This takes you to the viewpoint, where you can also enjoy a drink or snack at the bar. The photos barely do the view justice, it was one of the highlights of the trip for me – and the chair lift was fun!
As for the rest of Capri – I wasn’t the biggest fan… Although the island was absolutely stunning, the centre was full of designer shops, there was a small number paparazzi waiting for celebrities to appear from hotels, and the ice cream was very expensive. All in all it just wasn’t really our scene. However, the view from Anacapri made the day worth it.
Day 11: Travel to Sicily & visit Taormina
As the trip was nearly 4 years ago, I can’t quite remember where we stayed in Sicliy – but I know that it was at the foot of Mount Etna. Therefore, the drive between Sorrento and our next destination was about 7 hours long; the longest of our drives on the whole trip.
We set off early in the day, which meant we arrived with enough time to visit Taormina in the late afternoon/evening. Taormina is already one of the major highlights of Sicily, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. There were great viewpoints, great restaurants, and lots of fun references to the Godfather.
I do plan of visiting Taormina again at some point, so it’s safe to say I would definitely recommend!
Day 12: Mount Etna
As I said, as a child I was a massive Geography nerd and therefore, I love volcanoes.
This was the only time in the trip that we hit some friction with the rest of the tour group. We were 2 of the only 4 people that wanted to spend enough time to visit the top of Etna. We were stubborn to say the least. Mount Etna is the largest active volcano in Europe & the peak is 3,350m high. They thought I wasn’t going to go to the top? Please.
Anyway, although there were hikers setting off at the bottom, we opted for the faster route of jumping on the cable car and getting a 4×4 to the top. From memory, this set us back about 60-70 Euros each. I personally thought it was worth it but I have one word of advice… Don’t forget your coat, it’s cold at the top!
Day 13: The Valley of the Temples
It had been a fast-paced holiday, so I was somewhat desperate to spend our last day lounging at the pool. However, Chris managed to convince to take the 6-hour round trip to visit the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento.
If I’m honest, I’d never heard of the place so I wasn’t interested at first but it was a fantastic end to the two weeks of travelling. The Valley of the Temples is one of the best preserved examples of Ancient Greek architecture and hence demonstrates the contrast of Greek vs. Roman culture, where Roman culture was dominant in mainland Italy.
Visiting sites like this can be really difficult in the heat due to the desert like layout and lack of facilities. I had a really similar experience when I visited Paphos Archaeological Park. Make sure you take enough water and sun cream to see you through the visit!
Day 14: Travel Home – depart from Palermo.
Okay, so I lied! This itinerary would actually take 14 days – but who counts the arriving/leaving days anyway?!
We did this tour with Newmarket Holidays, but unfortunately it doesn’t look like they still operate the same itinerary. I would recommend and use them again – but since this trip we have gained a confidence in travelling by ourselves, the train links across Italy are really reliable, cheap, and you can purchase your tickets online before you travel.
All in all, when booking we had agreed that it would be a “once in a lifetime” trip. However, but this trip ignited a love for Italy that we didn’t know we had. We now visit every year, and are getting married in Tuscany next year!
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