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Driving, Europe, Italy, Travel

5 Day Road Trip from Rome to Florence

May 8, 2017
5 Day Road Trip from Rome to Florence
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For the past two summers, I have rented a car in Italy. Not only do I feel a little more local when I do this, but it also allows me to see the smaller towns that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise. Don’t worry driving in Italy isn’t as scary as people make it sound and Italian road trip is one of the best road trips!

Renting a Car

Renting a car in Italy is easy. I would recommend using Auto Europe, click here to check rates. I used them the last time I rented a car in Italy for the month, and they offered the best rates.

Rome is my starting point for renting a car because I cannot drive a manual transmission and there are more automatic cars available in Rome. Also, the rental desks are open till midnight. If you want to spend time in Rome, then I recommend renting the car after your time in Rome as parking in Rome is difficult and expensive.

Day 1 – Rome to Amelia

Once you arrive at the Rome Fiumicino Airport and rent your car, get on the road to your first stop or stay the night to rest up. If you come late in the day or are jet lagged, I recommend spending the night at the Hilton Rome Airport, check rates here. It is a short walk to the terminal and will allow you not to have to rent the car right after getting off the plane.

The first stop is the Parco di Monstri in Bomarzo, about one hour and a half from the Rome airport. This historic park is full of scary and wacky sculptures. Built by Pier Francesco Orsini in memory of his wife, Giulia Farnese in the 16th century. Both from well known Italian families.  The park is only accessible by car, so it is a must do while on a road trip in Italy. Allow 1-2 hours to explore the whole park.

5 Day Road Trip from Rome to Florence

The next stop is Amelia, which is only about 45 minutes away from the park. Amelia is one of my favorite towns in Italy, and some say it is the oldest city in Umbria. The walls are ancient and in fantastic condition. There is an archaeology museum and many beautiful churches to explore. For dinner, I recommend La Locanda del Conte Nitto, which has beautiful food and views of the ancient streets of Amelia.

5 Day Road Trip from Rome to Florence

Day 2 – Amelia to Assisi

Spend the morning finishing exploring Amelia and then head to the town of Assisi. If Assisi sounds familiar, it is because it is where St. Francis of Assisi was born. At the end of the town is the famous Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi. The Basilica is stunning with views outside of the surrounding valley and colorful frescos inside. I recommend going early to beat the crowds.

5 Day Road Trip from Rome to Florence

After that walk, through the town to the other side and head to the Rocca Maggiore. The Rocca Maggiore is the town’s ancient defense fort and overlooks the whole area. If you head to the top of the tower, you get an even better view.

5 Day Road Trip from Rome to Florence

Stay the night in Assisi. You will want to, after all that walking. There is a public car park near the Nun Assisi Relais & Spa Museum hotel, which is the hotel I recommend in Assisi, check the rates here. Not only are the rooms located in a historic nunnery, but the hotel has a spa located in the Roman baths below. You can get a massage till eight at night, which is just the cure for you aching feet. Not only that you can eat with great views at the in-house restaurant of Eat Out, where the menu is seasonal and local.

Day 3 – Assisi to Gubbio

After enjoying your breakfast in Assisi, take the short drive to Perugia. Perugia is the capital of Umbria. It is known for its celebration of the arts. The highlight here is seeing the underground fortress, Rocca Paolina. The fort was started in 1540, and most of it was destroyed by the 19th century. Now you can explore the cellars and basements that are still standing.

Find more history in the short drive to Gubbio. Gubbio is a town built into the side of a small mountain and makes for stunning views of the city and the valley below. Due to it being integrated into the side of the mountain, you can take elevators from different levels of the town. There are tons of things to see in this city, but the architecture of dark gray stone buildings is intriguing and makes you fee like you have stepped back in time.

5 Day Road Trip from Rome to Florence

Make sure you make it to the top level of the town to see the Cathedral of Gubbio. It has a stain glass window that is gorgeous. The views from up here are almost a must see. If you are really brave, you can take the funicular up to Basilica of Saint Ubaldo.

Day 4 – Gubbio to Siena

Spend a few hours in the morning exploring the things you didn’t get to see yesterday in Gubbio. Don’t forget to see the Palazzo dei Consoli built in the 14th century with running water. Then make a long drive to Siena. You are now in Tuscany! The entire historic center of Siena has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The highlight of this is the Siena Cathedral with its amazing gothic architecture.

5 Day Road Trip from Rome to FlorenceThen make a long drive to Siena. You are now in Tuscany! The entire historic center of Siena has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The highlight of this is the Siena Cathedral with its amazing gothic architecture.

If you go to Siena in the summer, try to be there around the historic Palio di Siena. It is a medieval horse race that takes place in the Piazza del Campo. Who doesn’t want to see men ride horses through an ancient town in costume!

Day 5 – Siena to Florence

Given the short drive from Siena to Florence, you can spend the morning in Siena before heading to my favorite city in Italy, Florence. You will begin to see the rolling hills of Tuscany on this route. Driving through Umbria has you driving through the mountains, but now you will drive between them.

In Florence, you will return your rental car as driving in the historic center of Florence is limited to residences and can carry hefty fines if you do. Parking is also expensive. You will most likely have to return the car at the Florence airport. You can then take a taxi or the “Vola in Bus” shuttle, which takes you to the Florence train station.

There is so much to see in Florence, so you will need a few days to see it all. But on this first day, I recommend finding a museum that interests you and only do that on the first day. This way you won’t wear yourself out and can enjoy Florence to the fullest. I recommend the Hotel Plaza Lucchesi in Florence. I have stayed here on every trip I have had in Florence, check rates here.

5 Day Road Trip from Rome to FlorenceBook tickets in advance and see the Uffizi Gallery on the second day. You will avoid the long lines to get in this way. The Uffizi Gallery has something for every art lover. Be sure to see Botticelli’s Birth of Venus while you are there.

Have you gone on an Italian road trip, what was your favorite place? Share with us in the comments.

Driving, Europe, Travel

Dropped into a Fairy Tale in Slovenia

May 6, 2016

 

Dropped into a Fairy Tale in SloveniaThere is only one way to describe Slovenia, like a fairy tale! From the minute I stepped out of the airport and was presented with an amazing view of a snowcapped mountain to the fields of dandelions along the highway, Slovenia never disappointed. Even though I was there for a work conference, I would have been happy just to stare at Slovenia if I didn’t get time to sightsee. Lucky me, though, as I had one day to do some sightseeing outside of the conference.

Dropped into a Fairy Tale in Slovenia

Dropped into a Fairy Tale in Slovenia

The conference was in a small town called Radenci. Radenci is a spa town located on the eastern side of Slovenia near the Austrian border. While the hotel was not great, the surrounding area was beautiful. There is a park outside the hotel, which I am still not 100% on the official name of, but if you google Radenci Park, it comes up. The park seems to be the old town center with the old spa hotels located in the park. In the summer, there are restaurants in the park and a waterpark. Winter had just left Slovenia, and the flowers and trees in the park knew it!

Dropped into a Fairy Tale in Slovenia

Dropped into a Fairy Tale in Slovenia

Dropped into a Fairy Tale in Slovenia

I have really come to love driving in a foreign country. I see small towns and get a feel for how the locals drive. Unfortunately, on this trip, I didn’t have a data connection so I couldn’t take any side trips. Each adorable town had at least one tall church steeple that I could see from the highway that made me want to exit every few minutes. Many of these towns were on the tops of hills and mountains. Slovenia was dotted with small farms and cows throughout.

Dropped into a Fairy Tale in Slovenia

Dropped into a Fairy Tale in Slovenia

After spending two days in Radenci at the conference and walking most of the small town, I started my drive back across the country towards Ljubljana, the country’s capital to make my way to Lake Bled. Lake Bled is the country’s most well-known sightseeing spot and is highly photogenic as is the surrounding countryside. The lake itself is a stunning shade of green turquoise with a bright green forest surrounding it. The day I was there it was sunny with a slight breeze, and it was perfect.

Dropped into a Fairy Tale in Slovenia

There is an island in the lake that houses a church, The Church of the Assumption of Mary. Due to several earthquakes, it has been rebuilt several times, and the current church was built in the 17th century. There is also a bell tower on the island that you can climb to the top of to see the inner workings of the bell and to get a higher view of the surrounding area. First, though, you have to get out there! To get to Bled Island, you can either row yourself out in a rented rowboat or take a traditional plenta rowboat to the island. The plenta is a small shallow boat that is rowed by one person and could hold about 20 people. The plenta oarsman is a coveted position in Bled and is handed down in generations in families. The boat seemed a bit unstable as I got in, but once we were under weigh it was more stable. The ride over took about 15 minutes and the boats wait for you for 50 minutes, which is plenty of time to see everything on the island and have coffee at the shop. Of course, you have to climb 99 steps to get to the church, but it is worth every stair.

Dropped into a Fairy Tale in Slovenia

The church is very small and unfortunately, was undergoing some restoration work when I was there, so I could not see the frescos that it is known for. However, I did ring the wishing bell! Legend has it that if you ring the bell three times, you will receive your wish. The sound was so beautiful; I wanted to keep ringing it. It was even better when I went outside and heard others ring it. Right outside the church is the bell tower, in which you will have to climb another set of stairs to reach the top. After all, that stair climbing you can have a rest in the coffee shop or wander around the island to take photos of the surrounding Julian Alps.

Dropped into a Fairy Tale in Slovenia

A short drive around the lake takes you to Bled Castle, which was built in 1011! The castle now showcases the history of Slovenia in the museum, print works, forge, chapel and a restaurant. There is a replica of a Gutenberg printing press and a copy of the first book ever printed in Slovenian. The location of the castle on a steep cliff gives you excellent views of the lake and valley. The museum is simple but gives you a thorough understanding of the history of Slovenia. The highlights for me were a visit to the chapel and the restaurant. I don’t think I have ever seen a chapel with painted frescos in this salmon hue. The walls were also painted in this color. The restaurant also offered an outstanding view of the lake from its full glass window in the dining room. I know Slovenia has excellent wine, so I ordered a Slovenian wine and stuffed chicken in a king prawn sauce that was melt in your mouth good. All of it was very simple but had great flavor. I owe this to the fact that it was all probably grown within 50 miles or less of Bled.

Dropped into a Fairy Tale in Slovenia

Dropped into a Fairy Tale in Slovenia

Dropped into a Fairy Tale in Slovenia

Dropped into a Fairy Tale in Slovenia

Sadly, I didn’t have time for much else at this point and decided to drive to my hotel for the night. Since my flight was early the next morning, I opted to stay close to the airport instead of in Ljubljana. While the evening was quiet, the scenery was worth it. The tiny village that the hotel was located in was basically a large farm. The house across the street had a barn with cows in it that I could hear. The view from my room was of the breathtaking Julian Alps and even had a small balcony. I spent the evening walking through the town to admire the views and enjoying the fresh air.

Dropped into a Fairy Tale in Slovenia

Dropped into a Fairy Tale in Slovenia

Getting there: Flights to Slovenia will fly into the Ljubljana airport, which is outside the city by about 25 miles. If you want to go to Lake Bled, there is a shuttle from the airport that can also take you into Ljubljana. If you want to go to the eastern side of the country, you can take a train, but I recommend renting a car as the timings are your own and you can see more.

On this short trip of four days, I took over 200 photos. I will post more of them on my Instagram account. Please go have a look for more Slovenia pictures that I have already started to share! 

This park was located right outside my hotel in Radenci, Slovenia. Such a quiet beautiful place! #slovenia

A photo posted by Tiffany (@agirlandherpassport) on

This post contains affiliate links that earn me a commission at no additional costs to you, but allows me to keep sharing my travels with you!

 

 

 

Driving, Europe, Italy

Driving in Italy

July 29, 2015

Italy is now the third foreign country I have driven in! The plan for my trip to Italy was to see friends near Rome and then go to Venice. I knew there were towns along the way I wanted to see and getting to my friend’s house seemed easier by car. After talking to lots of people, I was assured that driving in Italy would be easy compared to driving in Qatar.  This also made it possible for me to make several stops along the way to Venice.

Once I decided to rent a car, I was faced with how to rent a car in Italy. Most major US car rental companies have branches in Italy, but they weren’t always the cheapest option. After I had booked my hotel in Venice using Hotels.com*, I saw that they also did car rental brokering. Essentially, you tell them what you need and they negotiate a price for you. It is all done instantaneously and then you receive a confirmation email with a voucher to present to the car rental agency. Renting the car through Hotels.com was the cheapest option I found.

The other issue was that I don’t know how to drive a manual transmission and the Italians love a manual! Most of the rental cars were manuals and finding the automatic transmission section was hard. Originally, I thought I would drive from Venice to Rome and Venice didn’t have many automatic options. Rome had many more. The Hotels.com car rental process for finding an automatic was easier than the European car rental company sites. You should also be aware that the automatic transmissions were also more expensive than the manuals.

Knowing that towns are old and parking could be an issue, I opted for the smallest car they offered. It ended up being the Fiat 500 you see above.  This was a real benefit when I had to maneuver through the tiny parking garage at my hotel in Verona. It was also good when parking the car in my friends’ small village.  Small cars are very common for these reasons and there seemed to be plenty of them in the rental car garage.

The actual driving!  Here are my tips for driving in Italy both on the highway and in the country. This includes guides to the driving rules.

  1. Italians drive fast! If you don’t want to drive fast, stay out of the far left hand lane. If driving fast makes you nervous, drive in the far right hand lane.
  2. People cut in and out of lanes quickly and closely. Don’t worry about it as this is common and the Italians know what they are doing. A few Italians flashed their lights at me telling me they were coming and to get out of their way.  Get over if you can, but if you can’t just use your signal to indicate that you will get over when able.
  3. Tolls! All the highways have tolls and they are expensive. I spent almost €40 on tolls. Some toll booths are automated and some have a person. Be sure you go in the lane that is marked for cash and not the Telepass, which is like a toll tag. A few seemed to take credit cards as well.
  4. Gas is expensive too.  I spent over €100 on gas for a weeks worth of driving. I did pay for the serviced option because I wasn’t sure which gas to put in the car and I didn’t need to screw that up! There were plenty of service stations all along my routes, even in the villages. The ones in the villages might be self-service at some times of the day and you will have to pay in cash.
  5. Turn your lights even during the day in the country. This is the law.
  6. Going fast in a small car isn’t as scary especially when everyone else is in a small car. However, my car took it’s time getting up to speed on the highway. The usual speed limit on the highway is 130 KPH, which is about 81 MPH and everyone was speeding!
  7. Speed cameras are everywhere. The GPS I rented warned me of them, but the ones in the small towns were not always detected. I have been back less than a week, so I have no idea if I got any tickets yet! Google “speed camera italy” to see what they look like. Some were very obvious and some were not.
  8. Get a GPS. Get it from the rental car company as it will be the most up-to-date with maps and speed cameras. It was more accurate than my Google maps app on my phone.

Overall, I really enjoyed driving in Italy and am now determined to do more driving in other countries. Have you driven in a foreign country? Tell us your tips for driving in that country in the comments

*This post was not sponsored by Hotels.com. 

Driving, Museums, United States

My First Solo Trip Experience

March 10, 2015
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The Breakers Mansion in Newport, RI – Photo courtesy of Wally Gobetz, Flickr

I was telling a story to a friend the other day about my trip to Rhode Island and I realized half way through the telling, that this was my first entirely solo trip. Of course, I had been on planes by myself and done road trips home from college, but this trip I had planned entirely by myself.

In the Fall of 1999, I moved to New York City to do an internship at Saks Fifth Avenue. Much of my free time was spent exploring New York City, but for my birthday, I wanted to do something different. I looked at weekend trips from the city and discovered Newport, Rhode Island and the “summer homes” of New York’s rich. Of course, I am talking old rich. These are the homes of the Astor’s, the Vanderbilt’s and the like. Unfortunately, my fellow fashion friends didn’t want to go or could get time off work. I decided I wasn’t going to let that stop me and I went by myself. Not only did I go on my first solo trip, I also spent my birthday alone for the first time.

I rented a car. This was an entirely new process to me as well.  I had the internet, so I was able to book it online. I had decided that renting a hybrid was most cost efficient as it cost more up front, but fuel would be less. The only thing was I had never been in a hybrid at this point. When I picked up the Toyota Prius, I had no idea how to start it! It was one of the first push button cars. I had to get the rental company to show me how!

The drive up to Rhode Island was great! It was late October and the leaves had changed. I also love to take long drives. I did this frequently in Texas as college was 6 hours away from my parents house.  I also hadn’t driven since I moved to New York City in September and was glad to be in a car.

When I was planning the trip, I knew I wanted to stay in a bed and breakfast not a hotel. My Mom has instilled a love of bed and breakfasts in me from a young age. Thanks Mom! I chose a historic home on the outskirts of Newport. It had lovely views of the water and I had a beautiful room with an attached bath.  To be honest, I don’t remember if the food was good, it was too long ago. However, I do remember the owners being there and telling great stories about the house and rooms.

I love historic homes and going to see massive historic homes was right up my alley.  The mansions were stunning. Looking back, I they remind me of the house in Downton Abbey although more gilded. I saw as many as I could in the two days I was there. I had lovely weather and you could walk from mansion to mansion.

Since it was my birthday, I wanted to go somewhere nice for dinner.  This was my rookie mistake, although I still tend to make this mistake. I didn’t have a reservation anywhere and when I did get one it was for 9pm! I never eat this late, but this time I didn’t care. The waiter was surprised I was by myself and even more surprised when I told him it was my birthday. I had ordered dessert and knowing that I wouldn’t want the whole restaurant to know it was my birthday and I was alone, they didn’t come out and sing but wrote Happy Birthday in chocolate on the plate!

While I didn’t give it much thought at the time, I did pretty good for my first solo trip. Not only did I pick a great place to visit and got there and back with no issues, I also learned I liked traveling by myself and that I could do it and that was probably the most important thing!

 Link to original photo – I usually like to use my own photos in posts, but all these photos are in print format back in Texas!
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