After a few days with my family exploring Slovenia, it was time to move on to the main event: a road trip across Italy. Because it’s crazy expensive to pick up a rental car in one country and drop it off in another, we chose to return our Slovenian rental car and take a shuttle into Italy. After our first night in Venice, we picked up our Italian rental car, which ended up being a ridiculous 9-passenger van. It was hilariously large by European standards, but we decided that we would prefer to all be together rather than split into two cars.
Matthew was our fearless driver for the entire 830-mile journey because he’s the most comfortable driving a manual. He actually enjoys driving, so he was a really good sport about it. I sat in the front with him as the navigator and kept him company. For about 85% of our driving time, the back of the car looked like this:
I think our itinerary was a bit unusual, and it largely stemmed from the fact that Matthew, my mom, my step-dad, and I had been to Italy in the past. Since we’d done most of the highlights before, we chose to focus on things we really wanted to do. We only went to the big tourist attractions that we thought my little brother and sister (the Italy newbies of the group) would actually enjoy.
Here’s a summary of our 8-Day Italian road trip!
Day 1: Venice
We spent a mere 24 hours in Venice. On our 2013 trip honeymoon trip to Italy, Venice was my least favorite city, and I didn’t want to spend much more time there. We knew the kids wouldn’t be interested in seeing museums or other tourist attractions, so we figured one day would be plenty of time to give them the chance to get a feel for the unique city.
I realize that my dislike of Venice is not a widely shared view. It’s not that I hate it or anything, but compared to so many of the other places we visited in 2013 Venice felt inauthentic. It felt like a place that exists for tourists instead of a place where people actually live. I have to admit, though, that if you let yourself get lost wandering through Venice’s alleyways and over its many bridges, there’s charm to be found.
And that’s pretty much all we did in Venice. We took my younger siblings to see St. Mark’s Square, but then we just grabbed some gelato and walked around.
We had some delicious seafood for dinner, and then we wandered some more. Nighttime might be my favorite side of Venice.
Day 2: Driving Day – Venice to Certaldo
This morning, we picked up our trusty van and hit the road, heading towards Tuscany. The drive’s a little long, so we stopped along the way in Bologna to grab some lunch. (Bologna is a beautiful city, one that we visited back in 2013. I wish we had more time to spend there this time around.)
Our final destination was Certaldo, a small town about an hour southeast of Florence. In 2013, Matthew and I went to Florence but didn’t spend time anywhere else in Tuscany. We were dying to see more of the traditional Tuscan hilltop towns and rural views. Thus, this time I chose an Airbnb rental in Tuscany, and figured that Florence would be easily accessible for a day trip should anyone desire it.
That turned out to be a great decision. I think our Airbnb rental in Certaldo was the unanimous favorite out of all the places we stayed during my family’s visit. It was an apartment in a former Benedictine abbey, and it just felt so rustic and charming and…Tuscan. We spent two days there, using it as a base to make road trips to various Tuscan towns.
On the day we arrived, it was already early evening so we didn’t do much. We just bought some groceries to make dinner, settled into our temporary home, and enjoyed some Tuscan wine.
Day 3: Tuscany – San Gimignano and Volterra
This morning, half of the group decided to sleep in, while Matthew, my mom, and I drove to the nearby town of San Gimignano. We ate some delicious pastries, strolled, and enjoyed the atmosphere of the charming town.
Then, because I’m a sucker for views, I insisted that we go to the Palazzo Comunale (a 13th century building that’s the seat of local government) and climb to the top of its tower. San Gimignano is sometimes jokingly referred to as the Medieval Manhattan because its skyline is dotted by towers built during the Middle Ages. At one time there were 72 towers, some as tall as 70 meters, but today only a dozen towers remain. The Palazzo Comunale’s Torre Grossa (“Great Tower”) is the tallest one still standing, at 54 meters. Though the day was cloudy, the views were still beautiful.
We drove back to our house in Certaldo for lunch. Then my mom, step-dad and siblings took the train up to Florence while Matthew and I drove off to check out another Tuscan town: Volterra.
Again, we didn’t have much of an agenda here. We wandered with no idea where we were going. We ate gelato. We sat and people-watched. We saw some awesome Roman ruins standing out against the medieval buildings all around them.
And of course, we climbed a tall tower. In Volterra, it was Palazzo dei Priori, the town hall building constructed in the first half of the 13th century. Thankfully, the sun had come out, so we had a blue sky backdrop as we surveyed the Tuscan countryside.
After a few hours enjoying Volterra just the two of us, we hopped back in the car and returned to our home base in Certaldo where we spent the evening relaxing at home.
Day 4: Driving Day – Certaldo to Montepulciano to Civita di Bagnoregio to Rome
Today the goal was to get from Certaldo to Rome but to enjoy some interesting stops along the way. I chose Montepulciano mainly because I read that climbing the tower of the Palazzo Comunale offered panoramic views of Tuscany unmatched by anything other than a hot air balloon ride.
The view didn’t let us down. Tuscany stretched out before us in every direction, and we could identify other Tuscan towns that were miles away. I can’t tell you why, but views like this make me feel giddy.
Montepulciano at ground level didn’t let us down either. It was full of quintessential Italy: narrow stone streets, charming alleyways, green shutters, drying laundry, and flowers on windowsills.
From Montepulciano, we continued towards Rome with one more very special stop in mind: a town called Civita di Bagnoregio. My mom and step-dad have a photo of themselves in Bagnoregio from their trip to Italy back in 1997. They didn’t want to miss the opportunity to take their kids back to see it. It’s pretty unique. The town stands on a hill and can only be accessed by a pedestrian bridge. We were short on time, plus you have to pay to go across the bridge, so we just admired it from afar.
From there, it was on to my favorite Italian city: Rome. I was doubly excited because it was also the night my sister Lilly arrived on a flight from the U.S. to join us.
Day 5: Rome
This morning I took my family on a little walking tour to hit a lot of the Rome highlights, including the Trevi fountain, the Pantheon, Piazza Navona, and Campo dei Fiori.
I also took the family to one of my favorite viewpoints in Rome: the Vittorio Emanuele Monument.
If you climb up a lot of stairs, go inside and climb some more stairs, you wind up on the back patio, which has an amazing view over ancient Rome.
From there, Matthew and I met up with my friend Kelsey who happened to be traveling through Rome that day. We spent a few hours with her while my family went home to take a rest from the searing heat.
For dinner, I made reservations for the whole family at a restaurant in the lovely neighborhood of Trastevere. Strolling after dinner along the Tiber River was one of my favorite parts of the day.
Day 6: Rome
This was our morning to see the major ancient Roman sites: the Colosseum, the Forum, and Palatine Hill. The heat was pretty miserable, though, so we did it in an expeditious way. (That was fine because the adults had already been there, and the kids only have so much patience for historical sites.) We went to the Roman Forum first, and I used the Rick Steves app to give a little tour. Then we walked up to Palatine Hill, solely to see the view over the Forum (pictured above). By that time, we were desperate for a respite from the heat, so we grabbed lunch at a nearby restaurant. Finally, after lunch we went to the Colosseum.
In the late afternoon, we grabbed some gelato before hopping back in the rental van to head down to our next destination: Salerno. Salerno is a city on the Amalfi Coast. People visiting the coast typically stay in one of the more famous towns like Amalfi or Positano. Salerno is special to us because my step-sister lived there for about 9 months a few years ago, and Matthew and I spent some time there on our 2013 trip. It’s nice because it’s cheaper, less touristy, and still gives you easy access to the major sites along the coast.
Day 7: Amalfi Coast – Positano
With everyone starting to feel a little worn out, we didn’t wake up early or rush this morning. After a slow start we eventually hopped on a ferry to Positano. Matthew and I didn’t make it to Positano in 2013, so I was excited to have the chance to see it. The ferry ride takes 70 minutes, but the view is amazing the entire way as you pass by the tiny towns that dot the coast.
We didn’t see any “attractions” in Positano. We decided to sit down and have a drink and a snack at a restaurant with a sea view. We chatted, relaxed, and enjoyed the restaurant’s eclectic but fun American music choices. It was a lovely way to spend an afternoon. We also spent some time wandering through Positano’s narrow alleyways and window shopping. (Everything was far too expensive to actually buy.) We caught the last ferry back to Salerno around 6:00 pm.
Day 8: Amalfi Coast – Amalfi to Ravello to Pompeii to Rome
Yesterday we saw the Amalfi Coast by boat, and today we set out to see it by car. Driving along that coastal road, the views are different but just as beautiful. Our first destination was Amalfi town, home to the most unique cathedral that I have ever seen.
After walking around a bit and enjoying a delicious seafood lunch, we got back in the van to drive to destination #2 for the day: Ravello. While Amalfi is down at sea level, Ravello is up on the cliffs looking out over the coast. My very favorite spot in Ravello is Villa Rufelo. It has beautiful gardens with an absolutely stunning view.
Once we had soaked in that view, we hopped into the car once again. We had to return to Rome by the end of the day so that my family could catch their flight the following morning. On the way, though, we made one final stop at Pompeii. Matthew and I loved Pompeii when we saw it back in 2013, but we chose not to go back this time because we wanted to save some money. So we hung out in a coffee shop while my family toured the famous archeological site.
We spent that night in Fiumicino (the town outside of Rome where the airport is located) to make it easier for my family to catch their early morning flight. And just like that, it was time to say goodbye. I’m so grateful that we got to spend that time with my family. It was a whirlwind, and by the end we were all a bit exhausted and crabby. But we also made memories that will last a lifetime. At least, I hope my brother and sister looked up from their iPhones long enough to remember a few things. 😉