Northern Italy 2 week itinerary — it was amazing!

Northern Italy 2 week itinerary — it was amazing!

Pasta, pesto, chianti, espresso, and mountains. These were just a few of the things we loved about Italy. We soaked it all in while we were on our honeymoon. But there was so much more to Italy than these iconic elements that everyone thinks of. If you’re looking to travel to Italy anytime soon, get some inspiration from our northern Italy 2 week itinerary.

AND, if you want any help planning your trip let me know 😉

As we were preparing for our honeymoon and northern Italy 2 week vacation I wrote a post about our plans. You can check out our dreaming here. There are a few things that changed as we found more affordable airfare, and made some arrangements with extended family in Italy. But it’s fun to see how we largely kept to our plan.

In this post however, you will find more details on our accommodation, our real experiences, excursions we recommend, and our honest opinion on the food and wine.

Check out some other Italy travel planning and inspiration posts

Northern Italy 2 week itinerary

This itinerary is special — This itinerary is truly 14 days spent in Italy (or right nearby). We were gone for 17 days, including our travel to and from Italy to the U.S. This was so magical, because if you’re anything like me, you don’t get much vacation time!

We were strategic about the time of summer we went. This mean traveling when my husband is out from teaching for the summer, but also when I had two holidays within a 2 week timespan. That meant using fewer vacation days (ya!).

You can also check out a post I wrote about how to travel when you only get 12 vacation days a year!

Anyway, here we go!

Day 1: arrive

We flew in and out of Geneva. I found a cheaper flight for us into Geneva. Thank you Delta for adding a new flight route (JFK –> GVA). We decided to just go for it.

We flew into Geneva around noon on Day 1. By the time we went through Customs and got into the city, it was mid afternoon. But this was a perfect time of day to walk around for a while, find some dinner, and then fall asleep fairly early because of jet-lag.

If you’re planning a similar trip to northern Italy, you might just want to fly into Italy. Milan might be your best bet. But I wouldn’t get too shy about considering Switzerland right nearby. It was seamless traveling between the two countries.

Resources for Geneva

  • Accommodation: We stayed at a wonderful “hotel” found through Booking. We would highly recommend Vision Apartments. Vision Apartments was just a few blocks away from the Geneva central train station, blocks away from the Lake Geneva canal, minutes from the old town, and very safe.
  • Public transit from the airport: One reason we also loved Vision Apartments was because by booking with them they gave us each a Free Geneva Pass for public transit during our stay. If you get this, download your pass before you arrive at the airport. Follow the signs at the airport to get into the city center and enjoy! This also included yellow water taxis.
  • How to spend 1 day in Geneva

Day 2: Torino, Italy

We took the train early morning from Geneva to Torino, Italy. This included a brief “layover” in Milan. The train ride was spectacular! The views were amazing as we were traveling through the rolling hills and foothills of the Alps. This was about an 8 hour train ride and it was time well spent.

We met a new friend on the train, got espresso from the cafe, read our books, and just enjoyed looking out the window.

Once in Turin (Torino in Italian), we walked from the train station to our Airbnb. We found this super cute Airbnb in the older part of Torino. A studio that had a private courtyard, many locked gates for security, and air-conditioning after lugging our suitcases for quite a while. We would also highly recommend this Airbnb.

Torino is not a city that many tourists think of. But we really enjoyed our time here. Not to mention it was by-far the most affordable part of our trip.

This is where the 2006 Winter Olympics were held, in case you didn’t know!

We were lucky enough to meet some extended (somewhat distant) family that lived here. It was our first time all meeting each other. We had an amazing time (despite using Google Translate to say anything to each other 🙂 ).

They took us on accelerated tour of the city including stops at the River Po, Church of Grande Madre di Dio and the Borgo Medievale palace in the Parco del Valentino. We finished with an amazing hours-long dinner in one of the nearby piazzas.

We had an incredible evening and went back to our Airbnb full of pasta, pizza, prosecco, and lots of laughter and tears.

Resources for Torino, Italy

  • Accommodation: I would highly recommend this Airbnb for anyone interested in staying in Torino for a few days. It was in a good location, was private and secure, had a little balcony for reading in the afternoon, and was a very comfortable place to come back to after a long day exploring.
  • Things to do: Visit the Church of Grande Madre di Dio for some history and view of the city
  • Things to do: walk around the beautiful Parco del Valentino right on the River Po
  • Things to do: Visit the Borgo Medievale Torino, a medieval castle that is a reconstruction of the 15th century castle

Day 3-5: Rural Piemonte, Italy

On day 3, we woke up enjoyed another walk and espresso in Torino and then went to pick up our rental car. We rented a car for the next week to get around some of the more rural parts of northern Italy.

Driving out of Torino was a bit nerve-wrecking. We knew this was going to be a stressful part. We took our time, observed the other cars for rural, and finally made it to the highway. Once we got out of the city, the rest of our driving was pretty easy.

Starting the afternoon of Day 3 to the morning of Day 5 we spent west of Torino in rural Piedmont (or Piemonte in Italian). This region of Italy is made up of rolling hills and the Alps’ foothills just along the France border in northwestern Italy.

We went here because we were doing some genealogy work for my husband’s relatives.

And all I can say, was that it was such a magical time.

We investigated his family history by visiting cemeteries, stopping at a rural town-hall to get some questions answered, meeting with pastors, visiting a local records office in a museum, and spending evening hours sipping local wine and researching.

If ancestry investigating is not a part of your trip in Italy, I would still recommend a couple nights in a more rural area in Italy.

I loved this time to better understand the culture, the language, and to feel more integrated.

We bought groceries, cooked all our meals, found some local wine, and enjoyed coming back to our amazing Airbnb after a long day of “playing genealogist.”

Our Airbnb was nestled up in the hills overlooking the valleys of the Alps. It was a family run-blueberry farm with extremely hospitable people. We are so thankful to Chiara and her family for hosting us. We want to send everyone there who is interested in a rural-Italy-getaway!

Resources for rural Piemonte, Italy

  • Accommodation: This Airbnb was a perfect, relaxing, tranquil environment to rest and soak in the amazing views after a long day of traveling and exploring. We couldn’t recommend Chiara and her family’s stay enough.
  • Car Rental: We rented our car through Sixt and overall have had a good experience with Sixt renting cars internationally. We also used Sixt car rental to travel throughout Croatia (check out our Croatia trip here). One piece of advice for this: make sure you look carefully at what level of protection you want to add to your car rental. I don’t always like to add unnecessary expenses to rentals, but we found out the hard way, that a bit of hail damage (completely unavoidable) costed us some money after our trip….

Day 5-8: Lake Como, Italy

We left rural Piemonte on Day 5 and headed to our next stop: Lake Como. The drive was about 3-4 hours. Depending on how often you stopped. Rest stops for bathrooms, snacks, and espresso were abundant. We did have to bypass Milan which was a little stressful and slowed us down a bit, but overall the drive was pretty easy and BEAUTIFUL!

Oh my — from the moment we exited to find the southern end of Lake Como to our right we were in AWE. This enormous lake that sits surrounded by little mountains is one of the most breathtaking places.

We didn’t realize it at the time — but our drive and our accommodation were only going to get more beautiful.

If you can stay for a few days around Lake Como, I would definitely recommend it. There is a lot to do, but most of all, it’s just worth it to slowly sip morning espresso or evening wine taking in the views.

For accommodation, we prioritized a place with a view that was somewhat affordable. Lake Como is expensive. And as much as I would love white robes and slippers for $1000/night, that’s just not the way we can afford to travel. Can you relate????

But I do pride myself in my ability to find a place with a luxurious view at a mid-budget price.

Which is why we stayed at Il Perlo Panoramic Hotel just above Bellagio. I booked far enough in advance to get us an affordable room, a corner room with a balcony and tall french doors opening up to a spectacular view of the lake. Read below for more information.

We spent our time at Lake Como doing what we do best, walking around and getting lost 🙂

Il Perlo hotel is about a 25 minute walk up the hill from Bellagio. We loved the walk into town. We were told about a secret or more local walking path into town. And we loved walking down this every day. It was ancient cobblestone pathways for foot and small cars. We weaved in and out of little, old towns, walked by little bars with men chatting in the afternoon, stopped and dreamt about owning the abandoned home overlooking the lake, and voiced “Buongiorno” to anyone we passed by.

We spent one whole day with a ferry pass, walking around Bellagio, taking pictures in Varenna, and breathing in fewer crowds in Menaggio. The ferry rides were about 20-30 minutes from one town to the next and the views from the water offered differing views from the land.

We had a simple and affordable lunch at a bistro in Varenna where we were given a couple glasses of rose on the house. Menaggio was where we walked around with some delicious gelato (limon became my favorite!).

Often times, we just ended up back at our hotel in the evening for the hotel restaurant and drinks on the huge terrazzo overlooking the lake. It was a dream!

Resources for Lake Como, Italy

  • Accommodation: Il Perlo Panoramic Hotel. We really loved Il Perlo hotel. The hotel actually is geared towards bicyclists. You can rent bicycles from them if you enjoy that. But the hotel also has a huge terrace with lake views that brings in locals and other tourists for a drink or nice dinner at the restaurant.
  • Things to do: Take the ferry from Bellagio, Varenna, to Menaggio
  • Things to do: Visit at least one Villa. We visited Villa Monastero in Varenna, which is maybe one of the most picturesque villas in the area. You can easily purchase tickets spontaneously. It has a beautiful botanical garden, including a cafe overlooking the water if you want a break, and is a place you could easily spend an hour or two walking around.
  • Things to do: get lost walking around the small towns outside of the bigger touristy areas.
  • Things to do: visit a beach. You will find so many once you’re there. Tip: bring water-shoes or a cheaper flip-flop for the beach. The beaches are very pebble-y and with lots of larger rocks in the water.

Day 8-9: Chianti in Tuscany, Italy

Neither one of us was ready to leave Lake Como. But it’s a strange feeling to be simultaneously sad to leave a place you can’t get enough of while also yearning to experience your next destination.

That was Tuscany. We only had 1 night in Tuscany. If we had more time to be in Italy, this would have been where we would have added more nights.

But I’m not sure we would have taken away a night in another place to add more here.

We booked ourselves up for Tuscany because of our limited time! You all know what that means: lots of wine tasting.

Our first stop was in the Gaiole in Chianti region of Tuscany. Through Airbnb Experiences we booked a winery tour and wine tasting at Le Miccine Organic Winery. We learned so much from Federico and Paula about what they do and the culture of wineries in Tuscany. And the highlight was to sit down and tast several of the wines that they have perfected through hard work. I highly recommend you do a winery tour and tasting while in Tuscany.

If you don’t like wine, you will still learn a lot! And often times they also produce olive oil.

After one winery tasting, we made our way to our accommodation for the night, Badia a Coltibuono. Badia Coltibuono is 1000 years old and was an old monastery. It’s an afternoon visit all on it’s own. They also produce wine and offer a winery tour and tasting. You best believe we did this too!

The winery tour taught us a lot about the history of this old monastery, the farmstay experience, and the evolution of their wine making. It brought us to the cellar or basement of this ancient facility where there were barrels and barrels and barrels. We got to see old bottles of wine from the 1940’s — Wow!!

Badia Coltibuono was such a relaxing stay. Although it was short, we LOVED the garden restaurant. We ate delicious food overlooking the back private garden.

It was a welcome surprise, when we woke up the next morning to enjoy our breakfast and espresso in the same area.

Resources for Tuscany, Italy

  • Accommodation: Badia a Coltibuono, an ancient monastery that was built over 1000 years ago. It was extremely relaxing and peaceful here. They have a beautiful restaurant in the garden for hotel guests, a winery where they offer tours and tastings, and large grounds for you to stroll and walk around in. We could not recommend this enough!
  • Things to do: Winery tour and wine tasting at Le Miccine Organic Winery. We learned so much here and can’t thank Federico and Paula enough for hosting us. Federico taught us so much about the history of their winery, how they produce their wines and olive oils, and provided a realistic picture about the challenges and beauty of wineries in Tuscany.
  • Things to do: Winery tour and tasting at a second place. Consider doing a second winery tour for a diverse experience. Ours was with Badia a Coltibuono which was such a great experience as well.

Day 9-11: Florence, Italy

Departing Gaiole in Chianti we headed north to drop our rental car off at the Florence airport.

We hopped on the train into the city, and were so excited to walk through the streets of Florence in search of our hotel.

I have a vivid image turning a corner to see the Duomo right in front of us. We were even more excited when we discovered our hotel had a view — maybe unrivaled anywhere in the city.

For two nights we stayed at La Terraza Sul Duomo right “in the action.” Typically, I don’t love staying in a super touristy part of a city when we travel. This was in a very touristy area. We did hear people at night in the streets and garbage trucks picking up trash during the night. But I actually am still happy we stayed here.

Like I mentioned above, I’m always prioritizing a view (and for a good price). This was a bit more expensive than our other hotels, but it was very comfortable, had GREAT AC (which in Florence in June is a MUST), breakfast included, was steps away from everything we wanted to do, AND most importantly — it had rooftop access.

This sold me! You could bring your rose up there for an after-dinner drink, sip on some early morning espresso and hear the church bells ring. I mean — it’s a dream!

Florence is known for it’s rooftop bars and views. But honestly, we didn’t even need to spend the money checking those all out, because we had one at our hotel.

Florence was very touristy, but we loved Florence. There are so many great things we could say about Florence.

We did a walking tour booked through Viator, went to the Accademia to see the Statue of David, had to find one wine window, got lost walking around early morning with empty streets, and prioritized witnessing the vesper at San Miniato al Monte in the southeastern part of the city where monks sang Gregorian chants. It was so beautiful.

Ugh, we need to go back!

Resources for Florence, Italy

  • Accommodation: La Terraza Sul Duomo. Stay here for great access to all the attractions, simple and delicious breakfast, AC in a comfortable room, and a rooftop for free access anytime during your stay. It is in a very touristy area, but might be worth it if you’re going to be really busy.
  • Things to do: Start your time in Florence with a walking tour! This will help you get oriented to the city and might help you appreciate things more. For example, we learned so much about the Medicci family and the passion of art of Italians in this city especially. We did this walking tour through Viator. It was amazing! It was a perfect way to end the afternoon before wanting to find some dinner and process the day.
  • Things to do: Eat lunch of focaccia at the infamous All’Antico Vinaio in Florence. The lines may seem long, but they move really quick. After a morning of traveling, the focaccia sandwich and cold rose was everything we needed.
  • Things to do: Find a wine window. Wine windows were a popular thing hundreds of years ago when families wanted to sell wine but not have to claim business taxes. So they would secretly sell wine through a little window from their home. They also proved to be extremely helpful during times of pandemics and infections (like the Bubonic plague and…. COVID-19). There are a handful of wine windows you can find throughout the city. We made our way to Babea and had a fun experience. Make sure to check their website. When we were there, the wine window was only open during aperitivo time (~5-7pm)
  • Things to do: Change it up and visit the San Miniato al Monte in the southeastern part of the city. This may not be what all tourists do, but we loved it. Every evening they do a church vesper/prayer service where the public can come in and hear the monks pray in Gregorian chants. It was so beautiful. It was the perfect way to spend our last evening in Florence.
  • Things to do: get lost walking around! We loved just walking around. We had to walk across the Ponte Vecchio crossing the Arno River where businesses line the bridge.
  • Things to do: Probably the most touristy thing we did while in Florence was see the statue of David. It was a must for us and would encourage everyone to do it while they’re in Firenze. I recommend purchasing tickets to the Accademia in advance. Then you will get them validated 15 minutes before your arrival time. There is quite a bit of art in the Accademia and there will be lots of people. But there was something really special about seeing the magnificence of the statue of David as well as all the other art that this country knows how to appreciate.

Day 11-14: Cinque Terre, Italy

Our final destination on our northern Italy 2 week itinerary was the area of Cinque Terre. Cinque Terre means the “5 lands.” These five little towns are old, colorful fishing villages a couple miles apart from one another nestled into the cliff- and sea-side.

We stayed in the middle of the five villages, Corniglia. While had read that Corniglia is the most difficult to get to and one you could probably miss, I still booked it anyway.

You probably know why.

Because of THE VIEWS!

The truth is we LOVED Corniglia. We stayed at a cute locally owned hotel found through Booking called Affittacamere Arbasia de Ma, Terra Marine. The view here was a close rival to that at Lake Como. I honestly don’t know which one had the better view. Our hotel was up on the third floor, was very spacious and private, with great AC, and a little balcony with views of crushing seaside waves.

Sunsets over the seaside mountains to the north, views of neighbors hanging clothes, the mountainside wineries that were so common in the region. There… was …. so….much….beauty…..

Something about Corniglia felt like home to us. We asked our hotel owner for a restaurant recommendation for dinner. He gave us a great recommendation for a restaurant a little walk away that come to find out — is a Trip Advisor and Rick Steves recommended one: Ristorante Cecia.

Our waiter told us so. He quickly became our friend who we saw multiple times over the next few days. We also made friends with the woman who made our pasta and pesto from scratch.

It didn’t stop there! They brought out their freshly made tiramisu and limon gelato which made our taste buds sing!

And when they heard it was our honeymoon they offered us each a shot of limoncino “on-the-house.”

We spent a day hopping around from each village. One day we just spent time relaxing and soaking in all the views we could from our balcony. We chatted with a lot of the local restaurant owners, and tried to go swimming off of boulders below.

Resources for Cinque Terre, Italy

  • Accommodation: Affittacamere Arbasia de Ma, Terra Marine.
  • Where to eat: there are so many little places you will find. You can’t go wrong. One of our favorites for a view, friendly staff, and delicious locally made food is Ristorante Cecio.
  • Things to do: get lost walking around each town
  • Things to do: spend a day village hopping between the 5 town. Make sure you buy the Cinque Terre Pass for the train. This will allow you unlimited access between the 5 towns. We found out the hard way that the ticket we bought wasn’t the unlimited pass… So make sure you purchase the Cinque Terre card.
  • Things to do: spend a part of one day doing the Cinque Terre hike. The views are beautiful to hike between all five towns. We only did a hike between Vernazza and Corniglia. It was well worth a little physical exertion! You also have to purchase your access to the trail and you can do that the same way you purchase train tickets.
  • Things to do: You could go swimming! Monterosso al Mare definitely has the best beaches and is probably the most family-friendly of all the towns. But you can find access to swimming in each town. We ended up going down to the huge rocks in Corniglia one day. We didn’t jump in the water, because the waves made me nervous. But we did some relaxing sunbathing with our books. It was actually really enjoyable and relaxing.

Day 15-16: Geneva to the United States

I was so sad to wake up on the morning of Day 15. We had a long day ahead of us taking the train back up to Geneva. But again — these train rides are so enjoyable!!

We even had a couple hours to spend getting lunch in Milan.

We had a relaxing evening in Geneva. Geneva was so easy to get around in! After so much traveling it was really nice to end in a place that we felt was so easy to navigate.

Then it was back to the United States.

I hope you find some inspiration with this northern Italy 2 week itinerary. It was our dream honeymoon. But I strongly believe anyone would enjoy this trip, whether you’re traveling solo, with your whole family, or with a couple girlfriends.

Italy is such a wonderful country and there is so much to experience.

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