I was asked by friends/family for our trip of a lifetime itinerary we did last summer and finally got a chance to put it all together... After spending months researching here's the result...
Day 1 – Lake Como
Fly to Milan. Take the train to Varennna. Check in at your hotel and have a relaxing lunch at the Nilus bar right on the lake. Tour Varenna, the promenade, the streets, etc. IMO the perfect first stop in Italy. Make reservations at Il Cavatappi for tomorrow. We stayed at Villa Albertina which was perfect for the 4 of us. Its not easy to find a hotel room here that can comfortably accommodate 4.
Day 2 - Lake Como
Take a stroll in the gardens of Villa Cipressi and Villa Monastero. After lunch take a 90 minute taxi boat tour of the lake with Luca (right in front of Vecchia varenna I believe) Take a hike to castle Vezio (must) for breathtaking views of the lake and a picture perfect shot of Varenna from the top. If you speak the language check out the birds of prey exhibit at the castle. Normally its around 4. Enjoy dinner at Il Cavatappi – the only place for dinner I can personally endorse for foodies.
Day 3 – Lake Como
Visit villa Carlotta by taking the ferry to Tremezzo. If I have to pick one absolute must on lake Como it would be lunch at Salice Blu in Bellagio. Chef Luigi not only picked us up from the ferry but also gave us a tour of his garden. Try the Gnocchi and lobster pasta – amazing. Explore Bellagio and marvel at your decision to stay in Varenna ;)
Buy Return tix to Milan somewhere since the station doesnt have a tix booth.
Day 4 – Milan
Take the train to Milan. We statyed at Una Centuary which is close to the central station and perfect for families. Visit to the Duomo and its roof (must) and surrounding areas. If you plan on seeing the last Supper call to make reservations at least a month in advance.
Day 5 – Lake Garda
Pick up car in Milan. If you need automatic reserve well in advance and call to confirm a day before. We rented from Hertz which is a 5 minute walk from the hotel and central station. Drive to Sirmione. Park as close to the town entrance as possible. Tour the castle and the village. I planned on having lunch at Osteria Al Torcol but it was closed so we went to La Roccia around the corner and it turned out to be great. Excellent homemade pasta with Prawns and very good pizzas. After lunch continue on the main road toward the grotte (ancient Roman villa) – stunning setting and an absolute must. Take the drive on the east side of the lake toward Malcesine visiting Torri Del Benaco on the way. Hotel Lido in Malcesine was just fine for a couple of nights.
Day 6 – Lake Garda
Get to mount Baldo entrance early to beat the rush. Takes about 30 minutes to get to the top overall and plan at least 3-4 hours overall. Once on top just take a left and walk - one of the highlights of the entire trip. Have a snack and coffee on the way back, dont eat lunch yet. Once down take a drive to Riva Del Garda which is a spectacular drive in itself. Try having lunch at Pizzeria Leon d'Oro. Amazing Truffle Risotto, Tiramisu and the friendliest waitress of the trip. After lunch explore the town and climb to the top of the bell tower for some nice views. Go back to Malcesine, visit its castle and the rest of the beautiful vilage. We had a couple of dinners there that were not memorable.
Lake Garda should be on top of the list with Venice.
Day 7 – Valpolicella
Another must as far I'm concerned. There are many wineries that you can visit and you must reserve a visit a head of time as you cant just show up. Get familiar with the area on your smart phone map or Google map and email a few places with your date and approx time. We ended up with Fabio Bonazzi, a small family winery that gave us a great tour of their cellars and vineyards. There's another Bonazzi winery which we got to by mistake and they were friendly as well. We also visited Alegrini which is the biggest in the area I believe. We booked a tour of their Villa Della Torre which was great since they also let us take a look at their own cellars.
Now, I'm sure there are plenty of nice places to eat in the area that offer amazing views but as far as food is concerned I imagine that Enoteca Della Valpolicella is hard to beat. Must try the pasta with truffles, ravioli and the delicious pistachio dessert. A very memorable meal.
Try visiting Villa Giona near Castlerotto on the way to Verona. In Verona you can drop off the car if you wish or keep the car for a few more days and drive to Venice instead of taking the train which is what we did.
Try getting to Piazza Bra and visit the arena before it closes if you just staying for a couple of nights like we did. After the big lunch you can have a light dinner somewhere near the Piazza like Osteria Casa Vino. We picked hotel Verona – nice family suite on the top floor not facing the street, perfect for families.
Day 8 – Verona
Visit the old city and its top attractions, the piazzas, Juliet's house, etc. Outside of the main attractions I would suggest visiting the Duomo which to me had a more impressive interior than the Duomo in Milan. Dont miss the Giusti gardens especially if you have small kids who will enjoy running around in the maze, see the turtles and climb the tower in the back.
For dinner go to Osteria Da Ugo for your donkey fix (donkey ravioli a must) and a delicious Bigoli with duck ragu and truffles.
Days 9-12 – Venice
You know what to do. Instead of a daily itinerary here are some tips:
If you have an Iphone or a different smart phone that's “smart”. Open the map where you have Internet connection, zoom in on venice and move the map until you have most of the city loaded. Then while walking in places without internet you can use it as your map and the GPS (blue dot) will still work. I couldnt get lost if I wanted to (we actually tried). Then take a break in a cafe with wifi where you can reload the map if need to.
Visit the main square with some bread to feed the pigeons for a truly spiritual experience.
Take a Gandola ride in one of the more quiet locations like the dorsoduro area off san barnaba.
Do visit the Frari church and Scoula San Rocco - an absolute must
Visit the best mesuem in town - the fish market.
After the the visit to the fish market sample some of that at Antiche
Carampane - try their bay scallops with razor clams. excellent branzino. Iphone map was extremely handy with this location.
Have dinner at osteria alle testiere, try the Branzino and panna Cotta.
Eat Panna Cotta everywhere
Get your meat fix at La Bitta on Mondays since the fish market is closed.
For a quiet stay away from the center check out Ca'Dogaressa - 10 minute
walk from the train station, large venetion style rooms perfect for
families and very friendly
Thats all I got - enjoy Italia!!