Off The Beaten Path in Paris – 5 Must Do’s in The City of Light!

Paris Off The Beaten Path - Five Must Do's

Paris, one of the most famous and beautiful cities in the world: We are all aware of the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower, but what about those secret, lesser known must sees that are hidden within the historic city?

Here are five of the most interesting sites and activities for a first timer or a Paris regular, that are somewhat off the beaten track.

1. Covered Passages

The covered passages of Paris are an existing remnant of the rise of the middle classes during the Nineteenth Century. These quaint passages can be described as early incarnations of indoor department stores and malls. Less than thirty of these passages still exist in modern-day Paris.

Two of the most famous can be found behind the Palais Royal – the Galerie Vivienne and nearby Galerie Colbert. It’s a wonderful way to experience old culture and a perfect spot to visit when it rains.

2. Canal St. Martin

The picturesque Canal St. Martin is often overlooked by many first time visitors in favor of sites with bigger names, but Parisian locals will tell you it’s hard to find a more beautiful spot in the entire city. The calm and quiet location is perfect for an evening stroll with a loved one. Visitors who enjoy a more structured approach can join one of the walking tours available in the area or hop on a Canauxrama barge for a ride on the canal.

3. Marché de l’Olive

The Rue Riquet neighborhood, languidly stretching from the edge of the 18th arrondissement to the end of the quay of the canal in the 19th arrondissement, was noted as an area famous for its collection of bustling Asian supermarkets and slew of smoke-filled bars and cafés.

The covered Marché La Chapelle is one of the more favored local spots where tourists or foodies can pick up batches of delicious fried tofu, ingredients for Korean staple Kimchi, and other eclectic Asian delights one would normally have trouble finding at the traditional markets.

4. Charming Belleville

Home to one of the city’s more alluring Chinatowns, Belleville has a charm all its own and a distinct bohemian feel. Originally the area was a wine-making village where locals would meet up at country cafes known as guinguettes. Now it’s a working class neighborhood, a mix of cultures and cuisines, and a haven for artists.

Artists and craftsmen in Belleville excelled in everything from woodworking, painting, performance arts, sculptures, photography, video displays, as well as other popular forms of modern street art and graffiti. The Portes Ouvertes des Ateliers de Belleville takes place each May. Artists open their doors for a few days to interested onlookers and tourists, showcasing their work and studio space.

Make time for a visit to the popular Parc des Buttes Chaumont and the lesser known Parc de Belleville,which happens to be the highest park in all of Paris. If you don’t mind the climb, you’ll be rewarded with fabulous panoramic views of the city!

Roman Ruins

It’s pretty well-known that the South of France is littered with Roman ruins, but the good news for history buffs is that Roman roots can also be found in Paris.

Known as Lutetia by the Romans, many hints of Paris’ ancient past are scattered throughout the city. They include a coliseum, pillars, walls and even thermal baths.  The Roman Baths at Cluny and the Archaeological Crypt located near Notre Dame both hold interesting secrets and discoveries about the city’s Roman history.

The Roman amphitheatre, Les Arènes de Lutèce is one of the most intact examples and is used today for concerts and the impromptu game of petanque. More info on a self-guided tour of Roman Paris can be found here.

Need more off the beaten path ideas for Paris? Click here to see how I can help. 

French Language Basics to Learn for Travel

french language for travel

It’s not easy to learn a new language. Frankly, it’s not always at the top of the list when planning a trip to a foreign country either.  Sometimes it doesn’t even make the list.

But if you’ve decided that France is a destination you should visit, then I highly recommend learning some basic French words and phrases that will not only ensure a better travel experience, but will show respect to the locals, which is very important.

One thing to remember – France is very proud of their language, so don’t be surprised (or offended) if someone switches immediately to English when talking with you.  It’s still a good idea to start out in French. Oh, and did I mention, learning a new language can be fun?!

Here’s what I recommend learning if traveling to France:

1.  Learn basic French greetings and use them often, especially when arriving or leaving a hotel, shop or restaurant.  Hello (bonjour), goodbye (au revoir) good evening (bonsoir), good day (bonne journée).  Please (s’il vous plaît) and thank you (merci) are a must.

2.  Learn yes (oui) and no (non).

3.  Learn the correct way to address someone – be it a man, women or young women.  Monsieur, Madame and Mademoiselle, respectively.

4.  Learn to count to at least 10, the days of the week and how to tell time.  This will come in handy for deciphering opening and closing days/times for restaurants and museums, or reading train and bus schedules.  Another thing to keep in mind, France generally follows military time.

5. Learn how to ask a French person if they speak English (parlez vous Anglais) and know how to respond if they ask if you speak French. Assuming you don’t, say (désolé, non parle pas Français).  Don’t forget to front load the question with your pleasant greeting words – like Bonjour Madame, or Pardon, etc, etc….. remember, those French are all about the manners.

6.  Learn some question words. You know the ones.  How, Who, What, Why, When and Where. Perhaps the most important would be where (où), since you will likely be asking for directions. Asking for the bathroom (où sont les toilettes s’il vous plaît) is a popular and important one!

7.  Learn the most important vocabulary words for your trip.  Words like restaurant, hotel, train station and museum will certainly come up quite a bit during travel. But if you’re a shopper, wine lover, foodie or history buff – then it may be a good idea to research common words or phrases that you’ll use often. Don’t overload your brain with lots of shopping phrases if you don’t plan on visiting stores, try to stick to your theme.

8.  If you have an allergy to a certain food or need to eat gluten-free (sans gluten) or organic (bio) – well, you best commit phrases like that to memory.  You can also save them in your phone, or carry around an index card with those phrases written down.  If you’re afraid of not being able to pronounce the phrases correctly, you can just whip out your phone or index card and voilà! 

French Language Resources

If you’re interested in resources for learning French, you can have a look at this post or read my review of Mango Languages. Even though the topic was Italian, the info can also be used for French.

Bonne Chance!

  • Planning a trip to France, but don’t know where to start? My travel consult might be the perfect fit!

 

 

The Trulli of Alberobello in Puglia

When I traveled to Alberobello in Puglia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, I was immediately enchanted by trulli that are scattered all over town.  Trulli (plural of trullo) are little stone houses with unique conical roofs.  They are tiny, white and look like they were plucked straight from a fairytale.

Havens for Hobbits.  Lairs of Lilliputians. And it just so happens, you could also stay in a trullo.

From the top of the old town, you can see the jumble of trulli rooftops

trulli in alberobello puglia

Though they are similar, they aren’t identical.  I enjoyed strolling through town, admiring each one. Some are smaller, some larger.  Each has a different type of door, some are adorned with flowers, others are rather unremarkable.

The cone-shaped roofs are actually stacked, but not cemented together.  According to legend, these were designed purposefully to be taken apart at a moments notice, so that when the King came to town, the roof could be dismantled quickly, to avoid a tax inspection. Clever, very clever.

Come along for a stroll, I’ll show you some of my favorite trulli photos from Alberobello

trulli in alberobello in puglia

I loved this one with the fruit tree that frames the entrance.

trulli in alberobello puglia

The trained and trellised ivy looks graceful climbing up this facade.

white trulli alberobello

This stark white and weathered trulli looks like it needs some tender loving care.

trulli with pine tree alberobello

This owner used pine trees to dress theirs up. The iron exterior lamp centered over the front door, draws your eye up.

door of trulli in alberobello

You can see the textures of actual stone in this facade. The rustic wooden door with striped green curtains are homey.

a row of trulli in alberobello

A row of trulli along Alberobello’s main street are filled with tourist shops.  Check out the pagan symbols painted on each rooftop.

trullo with pretty window

The greenery spilling out of the tiny window must be their version of a window box.

trullo entrance alberobello

This is the most charming entranceway, the only one I saw with a garden gate.

trullo with pink roses alberobello

This close-up is perhaps my favorite. The cloud looks like smoke trailing from the roof and the wild pink roses pop  against the white.

What do you think of the trulli? Would you stay in one, or just admire them from afar?

Want to experience staying in a Trullo? Click here to see how I can help!

What’s new in France for 2014

 

Musée Picasso Paris

Musée Picasso by Pol at Wikimedia Commons

If you’re planning a trip to France in 2014 (or beyond), you’ll be happy to know there are some new and exciting things to look forward to this year.

Here’s a list of some of the things you might want to add to your travel plans.  And if you’re heading to Italy, don’t miss the round up for what’s new in Italy.

Paris (and nearby)

> After a restoration that took five years and went severely over-budget, the Musée Picasso, located in the Hôtel Salé in the Marais will be reopening in June. The garden has been redesigned and they have added a cafe.

> The Musée National Gustave Moreau in the 9th arrondissement reopened in January after a renovation.  The  museum combines the painters small private apartment with a gallery of his paintings.

> The Eiffel Tower won’t be the only popular attraction with an online reservation system in Paris. The Louvre will join the club when it introduces its own online booking system this year. In addition, the area under the famous Louvre Pyramid will introduce a newly reorganized welcome center.

> The Musée de Montmartre will complete its renovation this year and the addition of the newly created Suzanne Valadon studio, will open to the public.

> On April 14th, Parc Zoologique de Paris, part of the Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle, will reopen after a huge renovation project that lasted six years.  A perfect spot for the kids!

> It seems Château de Versailles always has improvements being made.  This year the gorgeous ceiling in the Abundance Salon, was restored.  Also, French architect Dominique Perrault is renovating the Pavilion Dufour and the old wing of the château, which will create new public reception centers, a 200-seat auditorium and a restaurant.  All are all scheduled to open in fall 2014.

> Within walking distance of Château de Versailles is a new spot for both garden and perfume lovers. The Cour du Senteurs, ‘courtyard of fragrances’ combines fragrant boutiques like Diptyque, Guerlain and Lenôtre with elegant gardens. The best part – it’s free.

> The beautiful neo-classical château where Madame de Pompadour reportedly once stayed has reopened after a seven-year and sixty-million-euro renovation. Dubbed ‘Little Versailles’, Châteaux du Champs du Marne is located about 9 miles east of Paris, making it an easy day trip.

South of France

> In Marseille, the Museum of  European and Mediterranean Civilisation, or the MuCEM opened in the Vieux Port (old port) area.  More of a destination than just a museum – it includes a children’s area, two restaurants, a garden and will host cooking demonstration, concerts and other fun events.

> Van Gogh fans will love this new spot in Arles slated to open in April. The Fondation Vincent Van Gogh will be located in the Hôtel Léautaud de Donines and rumor has it, a few original paintings will be on display.

 

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Tips for the Best Cinque Terre Travel Experience

The Cinque Terre is a colorful collection of fishing villages in Italy, along what is known as the Italian Riviera. In recent years, it’s become so popular, that for those looking for a bit quieter, less-touristed and perhaps more authentic experience, I generally recommend staying in one of the other nearby towns,  just a short train or ferry ride away.

Understandably, there are travelers who will stay in one of the five villages. This overview of the Cinque Terre will provide more information on each town. Today I’ll be sharing some tips. Twenty Dos and Don’ts that will help you have a smoother, more enjoyable visit.

Dos and Don'ts for the Cinque Terre Italy

10 Cinque Terre Don’ts

1.  Don’t take a day trip to the Cinque Terre.  You need at least 2-3 days to see it.

2.  Don’t bring a car. You won’t need it. If you must drive to the area, you can leave a car at the parking garage at the La Spezia train station.

3.  Don’t visit in July or August. It’s hot and crowded.

4.  Don’t expect everything to be open in the winter months, many places close up shop and there is no boat service.

5.  Don’t just show up in the summer without a room reservation.

6.  Don’t expect luxury hotels. The laid back area lends itself mostly to room rentals and apartments.

7.  Don’t hike the trails without a pass or paying the required entrance fee.

8.  Don’t expect ferries to run in bad weather.

9.  Don’t do too much pre-planning. There isn’t that much to choose from here. Just hike, wander, eat, enjoy the views. Repeat.

10.  Don’t worry too much about picking the right town to base yourself. All are within a few minutes train ride of each other. The only exception might be Corniglia, which is the sleepiest town and has no harbor, so it’s not accessible by boat.

———————————————–

10 Cinque Terre Do’s

1.  Do buy a Cinque Terre card. This allows you unlimited access to all five villages on train and trails.

2.  Do make sure to take some ferry trips between villages, or what I like to call the scenic route.  The views from water are breathtaking.

3.  Do know the train and boat schedule. You certainly don’t want to be forced to hike back or be stranded because you missed the last train of the day.

4.  Do plan on hiking from village to village. If you want an easy walk do the via dell’Amore between Riomaggiore and Manarola.

5.  Do visit the TI (tourist information) in each village for maps, ferry times, info about trail closures.

6.  Do pack light. Them thar hills are steep, you don’t want to be carrying lots of heavy bags.

7.  Do bring good, comfortable shoes for this area. You’ll need them. Fashionistas, this is not the place for stilettos!

8.  Do enjoy lots of local seafood, pesto and Sciacchertà wine, all local specialties.

9.  Do try to fit in a day trip to Santa Margherita Ligure, Portofino or Portovenere if you’re staying more than three days and boats are running.

10. Do NOTHING.  Yes, nothing. Just take time to relax and stare at the landscape and out to sea.

If you need help with your Cinque Terre plans, click here to see how I can help.

 

What’s New in Italy for 2014

What's new in Italy 2014

Some exciting new things are happening in Italy in 2014. From a new museum opening to a helpful app, consider adding any or all of these to your Italy travel plans.

Venice

> If you’ve been to Venice in the summer months, you’ll often get a funky smell wafting from some of the stagnant smaller canals. Well, now there is something to counteract that a bit. A new museum dedicated to the art and history of perfume, located in the 17th century Palazzo Mocenigo.

Parma

> In Fontanellato, a small town near Parma, after eight years in the making, the world’s largest labyrinth is set to open to the public this year. The maze, which is modeled after two Roman mosaics, is made with bamboo hedges and takes up a mere 17 acres on Franco Maria Ricci’s estate.

Rome

> The easiest way to skip the lines at the Colosseum is to hire a private guide or take a tour. Now you can use your smartphone to book tickets and avoid the lines. Signs with QR codes are being posted near the monument – just scan them with any bar code scanner app and then process your tickets with a credit card. Tickets are €13 (which includes a one euro service fee).

> After 12 years of restoration, Santa Maria Antiqua, a church at the Roman Forum will reopen. Located at the bottom of Palentine Hill, the 12th century church, which has an important collection of artwork, will start accepting visitors this spring.

> About 7,000 LED  lights will illuminate the walls and ceiling of the Sistine Chapel beginning in mid-February to help mark the 450th anniversary of Michelangelo’s death. Just don’t go busting out your best version of “You Light Up My Life” unless you want a stern Silenziofrom the guards.

> As of March 1st, Pope Francis is opening up the Castel Gondolfo and the beautiful Barberini Gardens to the public. Located about 10 miles from Rome, it’s a great spot to visit when you when to get out of the city for a day.  The gardens will be open Monday – Saturday.

Florence

> Speaking of Michelangelo, the Uffizi Gallery in Florence added a new room on the second-floor dedicated to the artist. The beautifully restored room contains works including the famous ‘Tondo Doni’ and the statue of ‘Sleeping Ariadne’, which it’s believed he once admired.  They have also added two new ‘Green Rooms’ which contain 39 works of Roman copies of Greek marbles.

> After 27 years, one of the greatest collection of Renaissance tapestries has returned to the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. The tapestries represent biblical stories and the History of Joseph.

> Don’t be surprised if you see scaffolding surrounding Florence’s Baptistery. This year, work will start on restoring the eight sides of the facade and is expected to be completed by the summer 2015.

> After a visitor damaged a few statues last September and restoration of Palazzina del Cavaliere, the Porcelain Museum at the Boboli Gardens has reopened.

> A new branch of the Italian food emporium Eataly has opened in Florence on the Via Martelli. If you’re thinking of a visit, don’t forget to read these tips for how to visit.

> All aboard the Nature Train In Tuscany. After a 20 year hiatus, the steam train that runs thru the Val d’Orcia and Amiata Valley has been put back into service. It’s a perfect way to explore beautiful landscapes, Tuscan villages, churches and food festivals, the slow way.

Sicily

> Palermo just opened an open-air museum called Ecomuseo Mare Memoria Viva, The Museum of the Living Sea.  It’s dedicated to the area’s relationship with the sea. More information n the project is available on the website.

If you’re planning to travel to Italy this year, click here to see how I can help.

What to Expect from Visiting a Bar in Italy and Popular Coffee Drinks

When traveling to Italy, one of the most pleasurable ways to soak up the Italian culture is by spending time at a bar, either inside or at a table outside on the terrace. In Italy, a cafe is usually called a bar, which should not be confused with the American version of a bar, and it’s a regular part of  life for Italians.

Bar in Bari, Puglia Italy

To make matters a bit more confusing, a caffè isn’t what you call a bar, but you’ll see the word caffè in the names of some bars – like Antico Caffè de Brasile. It’s also what you order if you want a shot of espresso – un caffè.

Yeah, I know, clear as a carafe of four-day old Maxwell House. Don’t worry,  just keeping pounding shots – you’ll be so amped-up and focused on getting your next caffeine fix, none of this will matter.

Since it helps to be armed in advance about what to know when visiting a bar in Italy, here are some things to take note of.  As a bonus, because this post is focused on drinking coffee at the bar, I’ve included some definitions of popular Italian coffee drinks.

At the Italian Cafe - Rome Italy

A few facts about Italian Bars

● Locals tend to belly up to the bar for their espresso, down it in a shot and run

● Cappuccino is only taken in the morning for breakfast, never after 12pm. Follow this rule if you want to blend in like a local and not pegged for a tourist

● Generally, standing at the bar inside is the least expensive option, followed by sitting inside; sitting outside is most expensive – and can often be double the cost.  Sitting outside at the cafes in Venice can be very expensive, but worth it

● You will not be rushed to leave your seat. You can sip a beverage and spend hours relaxing, writing in your journal or filling out postcards without worry. Often you’ll have to ask the waiter for the check (il conto) and this is perfectly normal.

● If ordering at the bar, order and pay the cashier first, then go to the bartender, (barista) with your receipt in hand and order your drink

● When sitting outside, you’ll notice sometimes tables are set up with the chairs facing the street, instead of facing each other. It may seem a bit awkward, but this offers prime people watching real estate, so sit and watch life go by – it’s very entertaining!

Cappuccino at a cafe in Rome

A few types of Italian coffee beverages

  •  caffé  - strong shot of espresso
  •  doppio - a double shot of espresso
  • caffé ristretto - espresso with less water – stronger taste
  • caffè lungo or americano- espresso diluted with more water- weaker taste
  • caffè latte- shot of espresso with lots of warm milk
  • caffè corretto – espresso ‘corrected’ with shot of liquor (sambuca, grappa are popular)
  • cappuccino- equal parts espresso, steamed milk and milk foam
  • caffè macchiato - espresso ‘stained’ with a little milk
  • caffè freddo - ice coffee
  • shakerato – a hot weather drink of espresso, sugar and ice, shaken until foamy

What’s your favorite Italian coffee beverage? 

Italian Wine : Lombardy’s Award-Winning Sfursat Made From Chiavennasca

Once a year, hundreds of wine producers gather under one roof for VinItaly, an Italian wine lovers paradise. During my last visit I was lucky enough to attend a seminar and wine tasting involving a grape called Chiavennasca, which is grown in an area called Valtellina, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Lombardy region in northern Italy.

You don’t really hear much about wines from that area, so I was intrigued and excited to learn about this grape unknown to me and sample the wines. And it’s downright fun to say Chiavennasca. Though it’s a lot harder after several glasses of wine. Trust me.

I’m sure many of you are familiar with Nebbiolo, which is the main red wine grape grown in Piedmont.  Well, Chiavennasca is the local name for the same grape, which is actually thought to be older than its Piedmontese counterpart, dating back to the Etruscan times.

The sub-alpine climate and more northerly location produce a very different wine than your Borolos and Barbarescos. Nebbiolo will always be a star in Piedmont – but in Lombardy, its Chiavennasca.

nino negri valtellina

gorgeous views of the valley

Valtellina is located in the Adda Valley, which is about 40km wide, runs east to west near the Adda River and is bordered by Switzerland.  All of the vineyards in the area are grown on extremely steep terraces cut into rocky mountain slopes, which is a marvel to look at, but also presents challenges for caring for and harvesting the grapes.

terraced vines nino negri vineyards

Terraced vines cut into the rocky mountains

The vines, which are anywhere from one to one-hundred years old are cultivated by hand, and have been for over ten centuries, which is reflected in both the price and the limited quantities of wine produced.

Two of the main varietals have earned DOCG distinction – Valtellina Superiore and Sfursat. Today I am going to talk about Sfursat.

Sfursat (Sforzato)

This wine is the most typical and oldest of Valtellina wines.  It’s made with 100% Chiavennasca using the same process as Amarone, (another favorite Italian wine) known as appassimento.

Basically, small clusters of sun-exposed grapes are kept on the vines as long as possible to ripen.  In late September, highly skilled workers harvest the grapes by hand and place them in wooden crates – in a single layer. No bruising these delicate juicy orbs! Next, they’re taken back to fruit sheds (by helicopter!) to dry in a cool, well-ventilated area for 100 days.

chiavennasca grapes drying - appassimento

chiavennasca grapes drying

During that time, the grapes shrivel and loose 30-40% of their water and you’re left with intensely concentrated juice in fruit resembling raisins. It takes about one kilo of grapes just to make one bottle of Sfursat.

After spending about two years fermenting in barrel and bottle, the result is an intense, rich, even elegant garnet red wine, with a high alcohol content, with flavors that can include ripe red fruit, prune, coffee, chocolate, tobacco and spices like vanilla and cinnamon, depending on the vintage.

These wines age very well, some vintages can last 20-30 years. Sfursat is also very versatile – you can drink it on its own, pair it with aged cheese (try bitto) or with a meal of pasta, game, or red meat.

Bottom line : If you love Amarone, you’ll love Sfursat.

nino negri wine estate

Nino Negri

One of the oldest and most esteemed wine producers in Valtellina is Nino Negri, who has been a symbol in the valley since 1897.  The winery is located in Chiuro, in an old 15th century castle known as Castello Quadro.

Negri has been making their Sfursat “5 Stelle” since 1983.  Their 2001 Sfursat was awarded ‘Best Italian Red Wine’ by Gambero Rosso, which is no small feat. And their winemaker, Casimiro Maule, who’s been at the helm since 1971, was crowned winemaker of the year in 2007.  So you know you’re getting quality wines made by very talented and passionate people.

Since only the best grapes are chosen to make this style of wine, they don’t produce Sfursat every year. And when they do, only a select 25% of grapes make the cut.  Their Sfursat is aged for 18 months in new French oak barrique, bottled and held for another six months before release.

nino negri

Negri winery

Since Negri was the featured producer at VinItaly, I participated in a vertical tasting (which means tasting several different vintages of the same exact wine) of their Sfursat.  We sampled Sfursat 5 Stelle Vallentina DOCG vintages 1997, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2007 and 2009.

They were all very good, but my personal fave was 2001, which had a cherry aroma and flavor, as well as a mineral quality and a long finish. I also liked the 2009, which is the most current vintage.  But if you have the opportunity to try any of them, I wouldn’t hesitate one bit!

And if you happen to be staying in southern Switzerland, or in the Italian Lakes Region, a visit to the area would make an unforgettable day trip, provided you have a car.  I can all but guarantee you’d have a fabulous experience touring, tasting and learning more about the elegant wines, surrounded by terraced vineyards and picturesque landscapes.

  • You might be interested in taking a cool virtual tour of the area with narrated details here.

Photos © Fredrick Wildman

Are you a food and wine lover heading to Italy? Find out how I can create a custom foodie adventure.

Surefire Tips To Help You Afford That Overdue Vacation

When I speak with potential clients, one of the biggest concerns that comes up has to do with budget.  Many people dream of traveling to Italy or swoon over the thought of spending time in France, but think they can’t afford it.  Sure, vacations can be expensive, but they don’t have to be.  There are lots of ways to stretch that almighty dollar, and still have an awesome time.

Start by Traveling off-season, which will ensure you’re getting the best bang for your buck. Then follow it up with these surefire tips and you’ll be saying HELL YES to that dream vacation you’ve always wanted to take, but keep putting off because you can’t afford it.

And in case I have to remind you – you work hard and you deserve a nice vacation, don’t you? Yeah, you do.

Limit your destinations

Think twice about an itinerary that includes a world-wind tour of the entire country in ten days. It’s not only unpleasant (think packing and unpacking at each hotel) and not a good use of your time (imagine how many bottles of wine you can drink instead of the aforementioned packing and unpacking), but a good chunk of change will be spent getting from location to location.

Whether you’re buying train or airline tickets, car rental (think gas, insurance, tolls) or hiring a private driver,  your budget will get eaten up faster than you can say “just throw it on the credit card!”

Instead, stay in one spot.  If you’re afraid you’ll be bored – take a day trip in between to split up the time and purchase a last-minute ticket on a local train. Or just rent a car for a day.

As a bonus, you’ll get to immerse yourself in one destination and learn more of the culture, meet more of the locals, even become a regular at your neighborhood café. Double bonus – you’ll have more negotiating power when it comes to asking for a discount for a longer stay at the hotel.

 

Experiment with Airports

One of the largest trip expenses will be airfare, so it makes sense to save as much as you can.  I’ve already shared tips for scoring deals on airfare, but you should also play with airports as well. Sometimes the difference of flying into one airport vs. another can be a few hundred dollars cheaper.  One example is Rome and Milan.  Both are large airports in big Italian cities. And though Rome is a great central base, flying into Milan is consistently less expensive than Rome.  And though I don’t really recommend spending all of your time in Milan, you could easily get to the Italian lakes region or even Piedmont.

And though direct flights are the most convenient – you should also consider booking a connecting flight instead.  Do your homework, research your options. It might just make sense to take advantage of flying into a particular airport and then decide where you’ll actually spend your vacay.

 

Pick Umbria over Tuscany for money saving

Instead of Tuscany, choose Umbria a better value

Photo Credit : Gigi62 on Flickr

Pick a different (less popular) location

Some of the most popular and heavily-touristed destinations command the highest prices.  You can still have a great experience in other lesser-known destinations.  I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t visit the areas that I list here – almost every spot deserves a visit. But if you’re talking saving money – here are some suggestions :

  • Dreaming of Tuscany, choose Umbria or even Le Marche
  • Like the hustle and bustle of Paris – try lesser-known Lyon
  • Rather than the Amalfi Coast, opt for Puglia
  • Like the idea of lounging on the Italian Lakes, avoid Como and try pretty much any of the other four.
  • Leave the glitz and glam of the French Riviera behind and head to the Atlantic side to Normandy or Brittany

You get the idea. Right?

Fill up on Free

The fact that you’re reading this means you’re not going on an overpriced luxury bus tour and you’re traveling independently. So consider yourself lucky because you’ll already be saving a busload boatload of cash.  And since your days are your own to do what you wish, just know that you don’t need to spend a ton of money filling up an itinerary, especially in Italy or France.

You could fill an entire vacation with free activities.  Or things that only cost a few bucks.  Obviously, you’re going to have to allow yourself a budget for activities, food and incidentals, but you can keep costs to a minimum by working these suggestions into your plans

  • take walks in different neighborhoods
  • window shopping
  • wander around taking photos
  • drive the countryside admiring the views
  • take a hike
  • go on a picnic
  • visit churches
  • hit free museums or look for reduced admission days on those that charge
  • grab a bench in a local park
  • arrange a free city tour (yes some locals actually do this!)
  • make it a beach day
  • take advantage of free concerts

You may also want to check out my tips for eating on the cheap while you’re on vacation.

And speaking of free – I’ve got some more fab ideas for things to do for free or cheap in these cities:

Now over to you. What surefire tips do you have for saving money on your vacations? 

Want more tips like these? You may want to join my newsletter for a dose of Italy, France, food, wine and travel related tidbits!

 

 

 

Things to do in Milan in One Day

Milan is an often overlooked city on many Italy travelers’ itineraries.  But once you compare airfare to Milan and realize it makes an excellent spot to fly into when touring northern Italy, you’ll definitely want to spend some time in the city center. If you find yourself with a day on either end of your trip, here are some things to do in Milan that will give you the best of what the city has to offer.

Best of Milan Duomo

The best place to begin any visit to Milan is at the Duomo. This iconic church has a piazza outside which is perfect for a sit down to get your bearings for a few minutes and adjust to Milanese life. After a few minutes watching the world go by, you can enter the church for free (you know I love free). While the interior is well worth taking some time to soak up, it is the Duomo’s roof which is its major attraction.

You can actually walk on the roof of the Duomo, which offers some reasonable views across the city in good weather. Wandering through the church’s spires is an interesting way to spend an hour or two and you should be rewarded for your efforts with a closer view of the city’s symbol, the Golden Madonna, which is set atop one of the spires.

Milan Sforza Castle

If architecture is your thing, then a visit to Sforza Castle may be in order. With its original foundations dating back to 1358, the castle is steeped in Milan’s history. However, it wasn’t until 1450 that Francesco Sforza, a military power figure during the renaissance period, decided to turn it into his permanent residence and began the long process of construction that would culminate in the castle we see today.

The construction period extended beyond his lifetime and, most notably, Francesco’s fourth son, Ludovico Sforza, drafted in the likes of Leonardo Da Vinci and other renaissance artists to decorate the castle. Coincidentally, Ludovico is also the man who commissioned ‘The Last Supper’.

Milan - The Last Supper

 

Speaking of Da Vinci, his great work, ‘The Last Supper’ is also housed in Milan. The Santa Maria delle Grazie church limits the amount of time which visitors can stay in the same room as the work by selling tickets. And since tickets are often sold out weeks and even months in advance, if you want to include this highlight of the city in your day in Milan, make sure you plan ahead.

Milan Galleria Vittorio Emanuele

The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is the oldest shopping mall in Italy and has an unusual local tradition associated with it which makes it even more worth checking out. In the middle of the mall are four tiled areas representing four northern Italian cities. Turin is represented by a bull. His, ahem, manly bits, have been worn down over the years because people believe that spinning on that particular spot brings good luck. So, spin away.

La Scala is Milan’s famous opera house and while you may not have time to see a show, it’s well worth making some time to visit the museum, which means you also get a chance to see inside the theatre itself, if only briefly. It’s still less expensive and time-consuming than going to see an actual show.  And you won’t have to pack a ball gown.

As the day draws to an end, you’ll want to get yourself to a good spot like Radesky Café, Corso Como 10 or Obikà for aperitivo: the cities almost beatified period between six and eight in the evening, when the bars throw open their doors for pre-dinner drinks, served with a host of complimentary food. Not something to miss out on!

Milan has a lot to see beyond this, but these suggestions will give you a taste of northern Italy’s business metropolis if you only have a day to spare.

 Want to make the most of your time in Milan by hiring a guide, or arranging a private visit to the last supper, get in touch – I’d love to help! 

Photo Credits Flickr : Taboada Testa, Maesk, Keith Havercroft, From the North