The Ultimate Italian Road Trip
What would you do and what would you see if you won a free road trip in Italy?! Well in this post you'll find out where our guest blog contributor and avid traveler Diana Russler & her husband Bill visited when she won our 7 Night Italian Road Trip Escape sweepstakes last year. Ya, we're jealous too! Read on to find out where you should go if you win the ultimate Italian road trip!
There's nothing quite like the freedom of a road trip, trundling along wherever serendipity takes you. Driving across Italy lends itself well to this type of exploring. The ever-changing succession of remote hill towns, winding mountain roads, coastlines, and castles ensures that there is always something new to see. As winners of a seven-day Italian road trip sweepstakes (which is part of this itinerary), there were three specific locations we were scheduled to visit - Rome, Camogli and Puglia. For the rest of our time, we wandered freely, visiting iconic landmarks and unknown corners, sampling the various regional cuisines and enjoying life on the road for a whole month.
Looking for other things to do in Italy? Check out our other Drive to Discover guides where we explore the best road trips in Italy including a Road Trip through Tuscany for Food & Wine Lovers, an Amalfi Coast itinerary and a guide to UNESCO sites surrounding Venice.
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The adventure starts in Rome on a beautiful sunny autumn day. No matter how many times we visit the city, there is always something new to discover or revisit. This time, recent renovations to the Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, Circus Maximus and other iconic treasures make Rome shine. Our hotel, the ultra-luxurious Palazzo Manfredi
, overlooks the newly restored Colosseum. From its rooftop Michelin-starred restaurant, Aroma, spectacular sunrise and sunsets over the ancient arena, as well as mouthwatering cuisine, are a treat.
A food walking tour of Trastevere
(part of the prize) takes us through cobblestone streets with ivy-covered buildings to the neighborhood where the traditions of Roman cuisine are still preserved. Along the way, we stop at a restaurant/wine bar with a cellar that is 150 years older than the Colosseum, a trattoria with an eclectic menu and mismatched chairs, a shop specializing in pork sausages and a hole-in-the-wall selling Roman street food; fried rice balls and pizza! A cookie bakery and a gelateria round out the walk and our 'meal.'
Next stop: 2 hours & 45 minutes
Driving out of Rome is an adventure all on its own; however, we eventually find ourselves heading north to Montergriggioni. This spectacular Tuscan hill town near Siena is entirely surrounded by a wall, protected with 14 watchtowers. We make this our base for a week exploring the iconic areas of the Crete Senesi and Val d'Orcia, the wine country around Montepulciano and the Strada Chiantigiana between Siena and Florence, including a stop at the Castello di Verrazzano (home of the famous explorer) near Greve.
Day trip ideas from Monteriggioni:
Greve and Castello di Verrazzano Strada Chiantigiana Pienza, Montepulciano Val d'Orcia Crete Senesi.
Next stop: 2 hours & 50 minutes
From Monteriggioni the road takes us northwest towards Genoa. South of the city, the Riviera di Levante (Sunrise Coast) with its cliffs and bays is home to picturesque towns and villages. A hair-raising drive down the cliff road leads to the charming Cenobio Dei Dogi Hotel
in Camogli. Its terrace overlooking the sea is the perfect spot to enjoy an evening aperitivo as the sun dips into the Mediterranean. Steps lead down to the beach where the water is warm enough to swim, even in October.From here, a short walk along the colorful seafront promenade takes us to the harbor where ferries leave for Portofino, the quintessential, most luxurious, coastal village favored by the rich and famous, whose super yachts dot the harbor.
Day trip ideas from Camogli:
Next stop: 1 hour & 12 Minutes
4. Monterosso al Mare
Just south of Camogli are the legendary Cinque Terre - five dramatic medieval cliff-top villages accessible only by train, ferry or on foot. Basing ourselves at the Hotel Pasquale, a delightful family-run residence on the edge of the harbor in Monterosso al Mare, we hike to the village of Vernazza and take the train to Manarola, Riomaggiore and Corniglia. Each has its special charms, and it is difficult to tear oneself away from the magnificent vistas
This is the only village in the Cinque Terre where you can park. Many hotels in Monterosso al Mare have parking available (for a fee) but you must be sure to reserve your spot when you book your room as they go very quickly!
Next stop: 5 hours & 51 minutes
5. Civitella del Tronto
In the mountaintop village of Civitella del Tronto, we are the only guests at the Hotel Zunica, housed in a 17th-century building under the brooding walls of the Fortezza, the largest medieval fortified castle in Europe. The views from our room extend from the Grand Sasso Mountain to the blue Adriatic coastline, shimmering in the morning sunlight.Considered to be one of the best in the province, the hotel restaurant serves a menu that changes with the seasons. A private three-day cooking school provides a hands-on experience shopping for fresh ingredients and then working with the chef to prepare dinner.
Day trip ideas from Civitella del Tronto:
Ascoli Piceno in Le Marche, Gran Sasso National Park, Abruzzo Santo Stefano di Sessanio Abruzzo, Atri Abruzzo, Vasto Abruzzo
Next stop:3 hours & 41 minutes
Our first stop in the Puglia region is Vieste on the Gargano Peninsula, the spur on Italy's boot. Built on top of the steep Pizzomunno cliffs, the city perches on a promontory jutting into the azure Adriatic. Basing ourselves here, we explore the area with a number of day trips, including to the magnificent Castel del Monte, a 13th century citadel and castle built by Emperor Frederick II. Trabucchi, the old, traditional, fishing contraptions dot the coastline, while the rarely visited Tremiti Islands sit a few miles offshore in the Adriatic.Tip: Viste is a resort town with many luxury hotels but accommodations are limited in the off-season.
Day trip ideas from Vieste:
Peschici Isole Tremiti - this would be a boat trip Foresta Umbra Mattinata Trani Bari Castel del Monte
Next stop: 3 hours 21 minutes
Our last stop in Puglia is the fantastic Masseria Il Frantoio
near the so-called 'White City' of Ostuni (in the Salento region). The region is filled with fantastical, conical, stone Trulli structures, medieval castles, and beautiful white sand beaches. Olive trees, some over a thousand years old, stretch to the horizon between ancient stone walls. From here you can explore the iconic towns of Alberobello and Locorotondo as well as several coastal towns, including Ostuni.The Masseria is a 500-year old fortified farm, its unique rooms decorated with some of the artifacts that Armando Balestrazzi and his wife, Rosalba, found when they bought the property some years ago.The Masseria is a 500-year old fortified farm, its unique rooms decorated with some of the artifacts that Armando Balestrazzi and his wife, Rosalba, found when they bought the property some years ago.
Day trip ideas from Ostuni:
Alberobello Locorotondo Martina Franca Brindisi Polignano a Mare Monopoli Lecce
About Diana & Bill
New York-based adventurers, writers and photographers Diana Russler and Bill Gent, delight in sharing their discoveries, especially from lesser-known parts of the world. You can follow their adventures on their blog The Winged Sandles
and on their photography website Allegria Photos
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