A Journey Through Italy’s Best: Rome, Siena & Venice
Gina Cardoni Martin
Italian culture and customs are like no other, drawing individuals all around the world to this country where people seem to simply live better. And still, eating a tartufo at Tre Scalini in the Piazza Navona in Rome, partaking in the festivities surrounding the annual Il Palio horse race in Siena, and walking up the steps of Scala Contarini del Bovolo in Venice are all unique experiences and not well-known tourist stops. All of these sites combined with local cuisine make for a unique excursion. Off-the-beaten-path sites such as the peephole at Piazza Mattei (a surprise awaits) in Rome and a boat ride to Torcello off the coast of Venice are locations that most tourists do not see. This guide will take you walking through these three marvelous cities to experience unknown sites along the way.
The Fora Difference
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Where to stay
The Gritti Palace
Gorgeous palazzo dating to 1475, with knockout views of the Grand Canal and a sublime spa.
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Daily full breakfast, for two guests per bedroom
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Boutique-hotel charmer near Piazza del Popolo, with sumptuous interiors, an elegant bar and a secret garden.
Hotel de Russie
An unabashedly luxe stay from Rocco Forte near the Spanish Steps, set apart by the service and sprawling gardens.
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Daily breakfast buffet for two daily, per bedroom for duration of the stay, served in Hotel restaurant
Complimentary lunch or dinner for two people/room, once during stay
Local traditional gift and special welcome made in chocolate
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Things to do
Rome is rich in history. There's so much to see from the Vatican to the Forum to the Colosseum. Walk and stop by at every corner to marvel at the history. It's also home to four different pastas: cacio e pepe, carbonara, amatriciana and gricia – and you will find each one in different parts of town. For example, Trastevere is home to cacio e pepe.
Siena is in Tuscany and is famous for its annual horse race called Il Palio. It takes place on July 2nd and August 16th each year. All Siena families are part of one of 17 contradas (teams.) Ten of these contradas compete each year in a horse race around Il Campo, the main square. Festivities associated with the race take place all day and it's an honor to win.
Venice is one of the most unique places in the world with its canals. It was once a very rich world power as is evident by touring the Doge's Palace and St. Mark's Square for its trading powers. There are so many niche places to see and you can get lost in the little streets. Visiting The Lido, a beach on the island of Lido, Burano, Murano and Torcello are a highlight.
Places to eat & drink
Eating is a very important part of daily Italian life, and these are a few of my favorite personal spots:
Rosati: A lovely caffe at the Piazza Popolo for great morning coffee.
Pizzeria da Baffetto: A lunch pizzeria located between the Vatican and Trastevere. Please note that no credit cards are accepted as it's cash only.
Nino: A traditional Tuscan restaurant on Via Borgognona serving up excellent dishes and wine and oil from the owner’s own estate.
Settimio All'Arancio: Stop by at this family-run Roman restaurant for their speciality orange ravioli.
Quattro Mori: No fuss restaurant close to the Vatican with reasonable prices.
Dal Toscano: A local favorite restaurant in the neighborhood of Prati near the Vatican specializing in Toscan food and meaty steaks.
Al Mangia: A traditional restaurant on Il Campo with a glorious selection for lunch in Siena.
Antica Trattoria Papei: Behind the town hall of Il Campo, this restaurant serves great pasta with rabbit.
Aciugheta: One special type of food in Venice is cicchetti, a small plate similar to tapas. Bars in Venice serve cicchetti. Customers select from already-made small plates and are served immediately on the bar. This is a local favorite spot for drinks and cicchetti.
Harry's Bar: A lush Hemingway-favorite bar in Venice.
Molino Stucky: A must for a panoramic view of Venice and a place to stop for a Spritz before dinner.
A note from Gina
One thing that I love to tell others is to order "vino della casa," the house wine. It's usually served in a restaurant-specific carafe and is always wonderful. Additionally, all restaurants have a cover charge which is between five and ten euros, and it could be more for higher end restaurants. As I love coffee, coffee generally comes after dessert and does not accompany dessert. "Un cafe normale" is one shot of espresso with no milk. A macchiato is a shot of espresso with a little steamed milk – not the huge drink that Starbucks serves. Cappuccinos and lattes are drunk at breakfast and generally are not drunk throughout the day – only espresso.
Need to Know
When to visit
Summers are hot in Italy. To visit Rome, Siena and Venice, I recommend going in the fall, over the winter holidays or in the spring before school is out in the United States. I personally love any of these cities over the holidays as there are numerous unique traditions specific to each city during this time.
Walking is easy throughout all of these cities and Rome has an easy-to-use metro system. Most sites have tickets to purchase ahead of time and that makes it easy to avoid crowds especially at places like the Sistine Chapel.
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