orvieto italy

Question:

Hi Wendy,

We’re taking a mother-daughter trip to Italy for my daughter’s college graduation. We’ll be in Rome for four days, then Florence for six days, in early June.  We want to make day trips from Florence to Lucca, Pisa, a few Tuscan villages, and possibly Cinque Terre. What’s the best way to get around efficiently in our limited time? What are the best day trips from Florence?

Thanks,

—Donna

Answer:

Donna, if I were you, I’d use a combination of trains and private drivers.  I’ve driven from Rome to Florence, and all over Tuscany, in a rental car, and I have to tell you that it’s not very efficient. You can easily get lost because of poor signage and confusing roads, get fined for breaking rules you didn’t know exist, and waste untold hours searching for parking spots, especially in June—a peak month for tourist crowds. You can’t drive into the historic centers of cities like Florence and Siena anyway—although you can drive in circles around them for hours, following the signs for “centro”  yet never reaching it.

Trains are a good solution for certain day trips from Florence—say, to Pisa and Lucca, which you can combine in one day by train (especially in June, when you have many hours of daylight to play with). For certain day trips, though, you need a car—especially if you want a proper experience of the hill towns of Tuscany.  As for Cinque Terre, it makes no sense to do that as a day trip from Florence; it takes too long to get there, whether by train or car.

Your best option, if your budget allows, is to hire a knowledgeable private driver for the day trip to Tuscan villages, especially if you want to see Chianti, the legendary wine region between Florence and Siena, and if you plan to do any wine tasting there.  You might also hire a driver for the trip from Rome to Florence. True, you could easily take the train, but then you’d miss must-see stops in between, such as the grand Umbrian hill town of Orvieto.

I asked Maria Gabriella Landers of Concierge in Umbria, an Italy travel specialist who arranges magically efficient itineraries with private drivers, to share her advice for you:

“Travelers to Italy can be smart about when to utilize a driver. Do it on a day when you’re changing hotel locations, so you have the convenience of a driver when you have luggage, and so you can make sightseeing stops between those locations—such as these stops between Rome, Florence, and Venice.  Stopping in Orvieto or Siena, or in the hill towns of Chianti, en route from Rome to Florence adds color and contrast to an itinerary focused on the bigger cities.

Once you’re in Florence, you could do a day trip, with a driver, to visit San Gimignano, Monteriggioni, Radda, and Gaiole, and stop by a couple of vineyards—all in one day. There are also lots of tiny, charming villages just outside Florence—Vinci, for instance, which is Leonardo da Vinci’s home town and has spectacular views, as well as a da Vinci museum and the house where he was born. You could also do a day trip to Montepulciano and Pienza (90 minutes by car).”

As for day trips from Florence that you can execute comfortably by public transportation, here are Maria’s suggestions:

  • Lucca and Pisa. You can work the trains so as to visit both in one day. Check Trenitalia for schedules; be sure to enter the city names in Italian—e.g., Firenze for Florence, Roma for Rome. Keep in mind that the Leaning Tower of Pisa is a 20-minute walk from the train station.
  • Bologna. It’s just half an hour by train.
  • Fiesole and Settignano. You can take city buses from Florence to visit these two charming and historically rich towns in the hills outside of Florence.
  • For a bit of fresh air without really leaving town, you can walk up to the Piazzale Michelangelo and stroll along the hills to Via San Leonardo and Villa Strozzi.