Most towns in Italy are conveniently connected by an efficient rail or bus system, which makes it easy to select a base town for your visit. We chose to stay in Lucca because it has a wide variety of both train and bus connections. This made it easy to plan side trips to the Ligurian Coast as well as short day trips to the towns and countryside nearby. Here are just a few of the options you might consider.
Pisa’s popular Tower
The bus to Pisa is often the quickest way to reach this popular town. If you need to get to the airport in Pisa, the bus is very convenient because it actually stops right at the airport terminal. However, the train is also a nice way to visit Pisa from Lucca. Although the tower and Campo dei Miracoli are impressive, don’t miss the pleasant old city center. Give yourself time to wander the streets to discover the lovely architecture of the old university and the renaissance palaces. This busy university town is a fun place to enjoy lunch or an aperativo in the late afternoon.
Tower View of Lucca
One of my favorite ways to experience Italy is to choose a town and stay for awhile. There are many advantages to staying in one place for more than a few days. First, you can save money by renting an apartment by the week. Even a B&B or hotel will usually give you a better price for a longer stay—four days or more.
Piazza San Frediano
With Italy’s convenient train system, it’s easy to get to other interesting destinations—without the hassle of taking your luggage. Also, you will get to know a town better and you won’t have the stress of trying to navigate a new city (along with your luggage) every few days. When you return to your “home town”, you know where to find your favorite barrista, the neighborhood store, a tasty pasticerria and your lodgings.
The town of Lucca, about halfway between Pisa & Florence, makes a great base for exploring Tuscany. It’s also not that far from the Ligurian Coast, where you can find the popular Cinque Terre towns or Portofino. There’s even some excellent hiking in the nearby Apuan Alps or on the Via Francigena Trail.
Posted in Travel, Tuscany
On the Ligurian Coast between Genoa and Pisa there are many scenic towns and villages. But the most popular destination seems to be the Cinque Terre—five picturesque hill towns that are all part of the Cinque Terre National Park. These colorful villages surrounded by terraced vineyards and olive orchards are all connected by a series of walking trails that meander up and down the verdant hills and finish in one of the charming towns.
Crowds on the Vernazza Trail
Due to the devastating floods of 2011, three of the five trails along the coastline are still closed. This has made the two coastal trails quite quite crowded and popular—the one between Monterosso and Vernazza and the trail that continues from Vernazza to Corniglia. Even in late September, 2015, we found this area just a bit too crowded for our comfort.
The solution for us was the very scenic hike from the town of Levanto heading south to Monterosso, trail #1 & #10 of the Parco Regionale Bracco-Mesco.
Piazza Chanoux in Aosta
For this trip to Italy, we decided to visit Aosta Valley—the smallest of Italy’s twenty regions. This beautiful valley, in the northwest corner of Italy is bordered by the French & Swiss Alps in the north and the scenic Gran Paradiso Park in the south. We based ourselves in the town of Aosta so we could do some day hikes and learn about the area.
There are several advantages to visiting Aosta Valley in the fall. First, there are very few tourists and the trails and towns are uncrowded. Second, the weather can be perfect for hiking, with highs in the low 70’s (Fahrenheit) in the valleys and low 60’s in the higher areas. But because this is between seasons, most of the lifts and funiculars are closed, along with the rifugios that serve food and other refreshments. This limits where you can go and what you can see.
If you don’t speak Italian, you can also try French. Both of these are the official languages of the region. But since the valley is a popular tourist destination, you’ll find many people who speak English.
I’ve taken a bit of a break from writing while enjoying a lovely summer in the Pacific Northwest of America. But finally, we are traveling again and exploring new regions of Italy. Our first stop is the Valle d’Aosta, a region in the Western Alps just below France and Switzerland, and just north of Turin.
View from Aosta City Gate
We chose the pleasant town of Aosta as our base for hiking the many trails available in this area. From this historic town, we have a choice of several valleys with excellent hiking trails. Many offer views of some of the highest peaks in Europe, including Mont Blanc and Monte Cervino (also known as the Matterhorn). It’s also not far to drive a bit south to explore Gran Paradiso, Italy’s first National Park.
The mountains are so close, we just had to take a short day hike.
Montini Ranch Trail
Sonoma, California—one of my favorite small towns—is just one hour northeast of San Francisco. Located in the wine country, near its famous neighbor, Napa, low-key Sonoma is a popular destination for wine aficionados and city folks looking for a weekend get away.
Sonoma Plaza & Park
Unlike many cities in the U.S., Sonoma has a piazza, or what we call “The Plaza”, due to our Spanish roots. It’s fun to explore the small shops, tasting rooms and restaurants that surround the square. But when the sun’s out, head for the park with your picnic lunch and a bottle of wine (which is legal to consume openly here in the wine country). If you happen to visit on a Tuesday, there’s a great Farmers’ Market in the early evening. Many weekends, the Plaza hosts a variety of special events, such as the Plein Air Festival and wine tastings. This is also where you’ll find the Visitor’s Center with much more information about the area.
Golden Gate & Presidio
Each time we return to the Bay Area, we always spend some time in one of my favorite cities—San Francisco. When I first catch sight of the Golden Gate Bridge, it still takes my breath away. Whether a ghostly blur in the morning fog, or a bright orange beacon in the sun, San Francisco’s iconic bridge will always make me smile in wonder.
If you want to experience the Golden Gate bridge and some of the best views of the bridge, itself, skip walking across the span and go to the Presidio of San Francisco instead. You’ll avoid the logjam at the impossibly crowded viewpoint parking areas on both sides of the bridge. The windy walk is not so pleasant due to the noise of so many cars whizzing by that drown out any conversation. If walking the Golden Gate Bridge is on your bucket list—go ahead. But my preference is the nearby Presidio, a former Army Base that has been thoughtfully restored to benefit the people of San Francisco and beyond.
Near Letterman Digital Center
Located in the northern part of the city, near the Golden Gate Bridge, look for the signs on Lombard Street to enter the Lombard Gate of the Presidio. There is still construction going on, so check the park’s website for more updated information. I recommend stopping at the Letterman Digital Arts complex for a quick visit. These Leed Certified buildings beautifully replicate the original Letterman Hospital that served thousands of soldiers and veterans while the fort was still active. They are now home to to Lucas Arts studios and other high tech companies. Take a selfie with Yodo in the garden and then stop by Starbuck’s for a quick espresso. Even at this lower level of the park you can enjoy expansive views of the San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz and the bridge.