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Italy is a fantastic city for a visit, and that is why so many people each year flock to the main cities of Venice, Florence, Milan and Rome. At only around a 2hr plane flight, with gourmet cuisine and fine wine, beautiful weather and a wealth of history, an Italian short breaks, comes easily to mind, when planning your next trip abroad.

We can either choose a cultural city break, some much needed time on a scenic lake, taking in opera in many stunning indoor and outdoor surroundings, or perhaps dressing in style attending a top VIP ball at the yearly Venice Carnival. If celebrating a special birthday or wedding anniversary, the Venice Simplon Orient Express is impossible to disappoint, or for those with a love of history and horse racing, the twice yearly Siena Palio horse race is definitely at the top of your list.

One thing is for sure; any Italian short break has plenty to keep everyone entertained. With many of our clients now looking at other towns and cities to visit, and thereby extending their trip, it seems the perfect time to look at other wonderful places to visit, along with must-do experiences.

Our very good friends at Jen Reviews have been kind enough to share their latest blog entitled “100 Best Things to do in Italy.” It is a very comprehensive list of just some of the amazing Italian short breaks we offer, but also a good reminder of how much more this incredibly versatile country has to offer. There is indeed always one more trip to explore further!

Jen Reviews – 100 Best Things to do in Italy – https://www.jenreviews.com/best-things-to-do-in-italy/

Italian Short Breaks – A New Perspective

There’s nothing like a new year to make you reflect on what needs a bit of improvement, and for a while now our Italian Short Breaks website has been top of the list.

Whilst we know our once in a lifetime, tailor-made breaks are of a very high calibre, the old site did not embody the “WOW” factor of our amazing photos. In short; they didn’t do our breaks justice.

Although I still remember clearly working on the last site as a recent memory, it has actually been a crazy 8 years since we went back to the beginning and worked on a whole new design. Well, now we have done just that! The new site shows off our photos in a way that has the whole team excited, and we hope, you too!

What have we improved? Well, now you can see some of our recommendations on what to do to fill your time with our Optional Extras at the bottom of each day. For those who like to search by theme, you can choose from our Music & Opera, Festivals & Events, Scenic Trains, Private City Breaks, Epic Journeys or Special Occasion regions. If you know where you want to go but want help with how to make the trip work best for you, you can head straight to our Destinations section and click on Florence, Venice, Verona and so many others. Our breaks incorporate both the first timer to the region or the seasoned returner.

If you are the first, our Destination Guides on our main event-led breaks will tell you more about the region, accommodation, what to see and our favourite top tip for getting the most out of your Italian short break. If you have been before, then we have plenty of recommendations for how to personalise your trip to you. Remember, our website is an idea of what we can do and what we recommend, but all can be tailor-made to suit you, whether that involves a second night at the opera or a few days extension to a second city or lake. For those with a bit more time at their disposal, head to our Epic Journeys region, where seeing more of Italy includes three or even four cities.

Be sure to check out our Reviews from previous clients if you have not travelled with us before. This can be found at the bottom of our homepage and our region pages. Feedback is incredibly important to us and the main reason we are so confident in our Italian Short Breaks being once in a lifetime experiences.

A lot of time, energy and creativity, (not to mention patience and good humour!) has gone into this new website, from the Italian Short Breaks and our fantastic design team. We are so excited to be sharing this with you and we hope you love it as much as we do!

Click here for more information.

So you have put the money aside and decided this goes towards your holiday, but now you have to decide which country is top of your list. Not always an easy decision! So why Italy?

Well, out of all the countries in the world Italy is one of the safest places to visit. With only around 2hrs flight time for reaching the north and 3hrs for the south, it is also an easy place to reach without having several days to recover from jetlag. It is perfect for a long week or a two week relaxation. It is versatile enough that the culture lovers can take in a city break or an opera, those wanting fine cuisine have some of the best food and wine in the world, the sea and lakes are wildly calming, and with warm climates for most of the year, there truly is something for everybody. For those who have visited the main cities already, a hire car can be wonderfully liberating for visiting the hilltop towns in between, and you really can make a break your own. The people are friendly and you will be spoilt for choice with souvenirs!

That covers the “why Italy” part, but now having typed into Google some holiday options, a wide array of travel companies come up. Suddenly this can seem as time-consuming as changing your car insurance! Everyone is offering fantastic experiences and you worry about whether you will make the right decision. You could speak to friends and get their recommendations, but this is assuming they have been to Italy recently.

So why Italian Short Breaks? We have been around for over 11 years now and in that time we have really got to know our clients and what makes a perfect break for them. We specialise in special occasion tailor made trips, so often we can be as flexible as you need us to be. The website gives you an overview of what we recommend as a guideline only. We believe in feedback at every step of the process and have many clients who have requests which we look into to see if we can make a reality. If we consistently get bad feedback on a tour or a hotel, we change it.

We also know our breaks. We know the best ways to connect you between cities and make this transition seamless for you. This can be daunting to arrange by yourself. Whilst many of our competitors either look at the ground only arrangements, or the travel but not the tours, or even at adding the tours on and the price ramping up, we look after the whole package for you. If you have your own flights booked or don’t want private transfers as you have a hire car booked, we can also accommodate this.

Rather than sit in an office calling up pages of information on the computer, we have experienced the trips we sell first hand. From my own experience it is clear when you book with a travel company and they don’t know how near the hotel is to the centre of town or how long the transfer to the airport is. This can make you doubtful that the company you have booked with are the best.

The main questions I receive for Italian Short Breaks consist of can I choose which airline I fly with, does this include hold luggage, do I have to go out on set dates only? With the exception of our carnival and Palio horse breaks which are date specific, where there are airline options you can choose the airline you travel with, which airport and which date you travel out and back on, and yes, hold luggage is included. I can’t travel without a suitcase and I don’t expect my clients to either!

The next question I get asked and the reason why to book with Italian Short Breaks is the airport transfers. Many of our competitors opt for group bus transfers which can be up to 40 people at a time, and set hotels that are often not in the centre. This means you have to wait for everyone to be ready before you can leave for the hotel, and being stuck outside of the town can make you feel dependent on others to go for a wander. All the transfers we do are private to you meaning there is no waiting, and our hotels are in the centre so you can take yourself off for a walk or an explore. We understand our clients want to be treated as special and are not part of the group. If you are celebrating a special birthday or wedding anniversary, then this can get your trip off to a good start.

All the hotels we choose are authentic to the region so you won’t be offered hotel chains which have the same look and feel regardless of where you are. We always aim for small to medium hotels to keep the service more specialised to you.

Another reason to choose Italian Short Breaks is we have a very good reputation with our past clients, many of which return to do a further trip or trips with us. It is so important to find a company you trust that once you have, it makes sense to look at what further trips they offer that appeal to you. Unfortunately we have heard from clients when they have had a bad experience in the past and we have to work hard to restore their trust in us. It is always the best feedback received when they tell us we have achieved this.

There are no long-winded menus to go through when you want to call us, you get straight through to the department and even if we are on the phone, we will get straight back to you as soon as we are able. You will stay with the same client manager from the beginning to the end of the process, rather than start again having to explain your query with a different staff member each time. Once we know what you want to do, we send through a full trip proposal which includes all the initial information you need including flight details, prices, hotel options, along with the booking instructions. If the trip proposal is not quite right or if you have been tempted by one or several of our optional extras and want to extend your break, we can revise accordingly.

If you are still unsure, (I’ve saved the best til last!) we have exclusive access to many events which few companies do. If you want to go to the opera, with our Italian suppliers we are able to purchase the best seats for the opera, if attending a Venetian ball has always been on your wish list, we have three fantastic options with some of the best ateliers in Venice, where you can keep your costumes for the duration of your stay and not just the evening of the ball. If witnessing the historical Palio horse race in Siena is top of your list, we have access to a wide range of viewing options. If the Venice Simplon Orient Express is something you have promised yourself or a loved one, we have this too, but why stop when you land in Venice? We add a further 3 nights staying in 5 star Hotel Metropole, very close to St Mark’s Square and include a sunset gondola ride and a Michelin Stared chef gourmet tasting dinner.

And finally, we are always looking at revising our current breaks with new tours and adding in completely new trips when we hear about them. We have to feel passionately about the breaks before we share them. For those interested, please either like us on Facebook or sign up for our newsletter for these updates. We also use these mediums to advertise our other brands – Weekend a la Carte (Europe), Aurora Nights (northern lights trips) and Big 5 Safaris (Africa). Our newsletter goes out around every three weeks so we won’t fill your inbox every day with offers.

Click here to see some of our main breaks.

Recently I got the chance to escape my desk for several weeks and embark on my own Italian short break. The trip began in Venice and wound its way through Florence, Rome, Sorrento and Sicily. Along the way there were also day trips to some of the lesser known cities which just proves how every city in Italy has its own personality and plenty of history.

Returning to Venice, the starting point of my Italian short break was wonderful. There is always so much to see in Venice that it is best to be prepared and focus in on exactly what you want to do. For first timers this involves St Mark’s Square, for those returning for a second trip or maybe a seasonal returner to Venice, La Fenice Opera House or a tour of the islands of Murano, Burano and Torcello.

The first thing that you always notice with St Mark’s Square is how crowded it is. Most of the people are headed to the main two attractions; the Basilica and the Doges Palace. Whilst the Basilica is free to access, the crowds are not so time friendly, especially for the spring and summer months. There are two way to avoid sometimes excessive queuing for both buildings. The first is by having a Venice St Mark’s Card. This 24hr card provides free access to both sights by way of heading to the Pass Holder Line. This card will only cost you €18 per person and whilst the Basilica does not take long to visit, the Doges Palace does need around two hours, making this card very relevant. The palace itself is beautiful, but there is just as much going on below the ground in the prison accessed through the Bridge of Sighs. The other option is to have a private guided tour. This means no queuing and a thorough understanding of everything you will see.

Arriving on the day into Pisa I once again met the crowds present in Venice. This time however it was still possible to easily find your way around and I did everything I wanted. The buildings around the outside of the church and the Learning Tower are worth a visit. The frescoes are still largely intact, although you might not want to look too closely at the Dantesque vision of Heaven and Hell!

No less beautiful and steeped wildly in Renaissance art is Florence. This city actually packs in probably the most sights in a relatively small place. Having previously spent two weeks there on a different Italian short break, I tried two methods of making the most of my time. The first involved Florence’s equivalent Pass Card, which lasts for 72hrs and provides access to most of the local sights. The cost does make a bit of a dent in the wallet at €72 per person, so you really want to make the most of the three days. Another plus is free access to the buses with the Florence Pass Card. The other way to see Florence’s main attractions is having a Priority Line Pass, which I did for both the Uffizi Gallery and the Accademia Gallery, the latter to see Michelangelo’s statue. I think I would probably still be queuing if I had turned up without a Priority Line Pass!

Onwards to Rome! Again even in May the crowds were already in force in the coliseum, which was worth a visit. Time-wise this does not take too long out of your day though, so very easy to cover the Roman Forum as well. At the time of my visit the Spanish Steps were going through refurbishment, so I was unable to see them in all their glory, but there is always another trip!

After a sweltering day in the heat I arrived in Pompeii for a tour of this incredibly preserved city. The views across Pompeii and the remains of the statues left partially intact made for some interesting photos, including the one below! I don’t think I appreciated just how vast Pompeii was before my visit.

Heading to Amalfi I got to see the coastal roads around Sorrento and Ravello first hand. I’m glad I wasn’t driving as the views around every corner were very distracting! Both places were beautiful, and I particularly recommend the Villa Rufolo Gardens in Ravello. When I came out I had a bit of time to shop and that was when I got to do an impromptu limoncello tasting offered by one of the shops as you walk down the main shopping street. I still have not made my mind up which I liked the most – lemon, melon, chocolate, pistachio or cream flavour!

The last part of the trip was in Taormina in Italy. I had plenty of time here to enjoy the main town, got to witness a wedding, (ironically a wedding reception was held at my hotel that evening – different bride and groom!) and the open-air amphitheater. Whilst gaining access to the amphitheatre was a surprising €10 the view looking through to the bay was well worth the expense.

So, what a trip! As always an Italian short break promises great weather, food, wine and culture – what more do you need?!

Click here for our recommendations on Grand Tour Adventures.

We all know that Italy is a fantastic destination with short flights from the UK, great culture, food, wine and wonderful weather, but do you know the things not to do when you’re on your Italian short break? I went through a list and whilst some of them are well known, others are quite revealing. So if you want to escape on your Italian short break blending in with the locals, here are some things to be aware of:

Etiquette

  • When visiting churches and other holy sights, you must have your shoulders and knees covered at all times. If the heat feels too oppressive for a cardigan, use the excuse to buy a pashmina and drape this around your shoulders. You will stay cool and look very fashionable!
  • Ask the waiter for parmesan cheese on your seafood pasta. Mixing cheese and seafood in Italy is never done. Also, don’t let an Italian witness you cutting your spaghetti with a fork or knife!
  • Don’t expect your pizza to be served with plenty of meat options. Pork is considered the only exception with chicken and beef a no-no. The pork comes in variants usually including prosciutto, and salami.
  • Chicken and pasta do not mix. The Italians feel strongly enough about this rule that out of dozens of pasta sauces available and in use, not one is with chicken as an ingredient.
  • Don’t leave your bread upside down on the table. It is considered bad luck and disrespectful towards the owner of the table.
  • For an Italian eating dinner before 8pm is unheard of. If you get peckish before this time the pasticceria’s will serve hot chocolate and pastries to see you through to the appropriate time. From 7pm an aperitivo is acceptable.

Expectation

  • Don’t expect timings to be precise! Whilst it is always good to be on time and some places like viewing The Last Supper in Milan insist upon it, you might be waiting when your scheduled tour begins later than planned. This is the case for businesses and shops also, which typically close for lunch but vary on which two days of the week they remain shut.
  • Be street-savvy! Number One on everyone’s must do Venice list is a romantic gondola ride, but the gondoliers are aware of this and tourist prices can range from £45 to £90 if you don’t shop around.
  • Tipping is great for showing your appreciation but it isn’t expected and if the service is not as you would expect it to be, then it is fine to just pay the cost of the service.
  • Don’t overdo it! Human nature is to rush out, buy all the guide books and look at all these great itineraries declaring Rome can be done in a day, but the reality is far from it. The heat and the crowds often make this impossible, plus who wants to spend their holiday fielding from site to site as if at a work conference? Focusing on the main sites of interest to you and whether you can either get a private tour or a beat the queues timed pass, mean you get to enjoy the sites without losing time.
  • Don’t start your first ever Italy adventure off the beaten track. Begin with the main cities – Venice, Rome and Florence and then enjoy the small towns of which Italy is famous for.
  • If you are likely to be out all day, it’s a good idea to take tissues with you. Only some public restrooms have a stock of toilet paper.
  • Make sure you carry some cash with you. Credit cards are not always accepted and frowned upon if spending less than €10.
  • Don’t go home without looking at the leather shoes! Italian shoes are known for their exceptional quality and longevity, caring for your feet for years. Ignore the euro exchange rate which is not always in your favour for this one purchase!

Transport

  • Driving in Italy is one thing, but driving around the Amalfi Coast is not for the faint-hearted. Where possible take taxis or enjoy the walk if nearby.
  • If you’re thinking of taking public transport, make sure you validate your ticket before boarding.
  • It’s almost impossible to pay for petrol with a credit card, so use the cashpoint before a journey and pay in cash.
  • Don’t rely on Google Maps. It is hard to feel confident when Google thinks the best way to reach your Florence hotel is by driving over the Ponte Vecchio! The bridge is for pedestrians only. Stock up on maps instead.

Did you know all of these? I confess I did not. But now you know you can be viewed as a local. If only learning the language was so easy…!

Click here for more information on our Venice trips.

 

There are three main types of travel. The first are the beach holidays. Flights, car hire and a hotel/villa and you’re all set. These are great for when you just want to get away and have a relaxing break. They are perfect for those that don’t want to plan and just decide as they go what they do with tomorrow. This is the sort of trip for someone who wants to keep full control of their schedule. They are simple, easy trips. Pick a beautiful location and half an hour on Expedia, and it’s all done.

The second category is the full set tour package. Whether it is a case of you travelling alone, wanting to meet new people, or whether you are just unsure how to put together everything you want to do, these are the breaks for those wanting someone else to plan out the A’s to B’s. It could be a case of too much to organise or just not knowing how. City breaks are easy to organise, but how about a trip to the arctic on a northern lights holiday? How do you organise a husky sled tour? Or maybe you are travelling around. Organising a trip to Golden Triangle India trip say, would be quite daunting for most people. This is where the tour package excels; it gives you effortless travel without the worry. Trying to arrange this sort of trip would feel like a comparison search for new car insurance at the end of the day, and that rather defeats the point of a wonderful holiday!

But there is a downside to the second category. What if you don’t get on with everyone in the group and you spend part of your coach or cruise trying to avoid set people? Also, it means many early starts, which feels contradictory taking into account that for a few days/week etc you want to escape the alarm clock! Lastly, whilst you’re happy to get up early for a tour you are looking forward to, there are always parts of the ground programme you have no interest in, and that’s when getting out of bed early, packing the case and checking out of your hotel to be driven to the next place, just feels like too much hard work.

Onto category three. At Weekend a la Carte most of our clients have done many of the previous types of trips, and they know what they want. This includes hassle-free travel and to be looked after, but not to be part of a group and have no say on their itinerary. Everything we do is bespoke travel, reaching from an African Big 5 Safari, Venice Carnival package, Northern Lights trips, to city breaks. We know you want control of your holiday, but we also know you want someone else to work on the finer details. Most of our travellers are celebrating special birthdays and wedding anniversaries. These are our forte. We know how to make your trip special. You won’t be waiting for others to get on the bus, we won’t take you places you have no interest in, your hotel won’t be away from all the local sights.

The travel dates, hotels and duration are for you to decide. We are very flexible! We have many clients who want us to arrange ground only and then leave them to their devices, and if you want a second tiger safari on your Golden Triangle India holiday or a second night at the Verona opera, we can do this. We have been doing it for thirteen years, and are constantly looking at ways to improve our breaks, extensions being one of the main ways. We really do have something for everyone. Why not take a look?

Weekend a la Carte – a chocolate box of trips including Slovenia, Russia, Prague, Jordan, Morocco and Vienna.

Aurora Nights – northern lights inspired trips to Sweden, Norway, Iceland and Greenland.

Italian Short Breaks – Verona Opera, Venice Orient Express Train, Venice Carnival and the Siena Palio.

Big 5 Safaris – South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique and Namibia.

Now the only hard part is for you to decide where your next adventure takes you!

Click here for more information on our Italian Short Breaks.

Florence is the perfect city for any Brit! With fantastic weather, great cuisine, fantastic leather goods and beautiful buildings on every street, there really is something for everyone. The main highlights have to be the Duomo and views from the dome-shaped roof, the Uffizi Gallery for Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus” and Accademia Gallery for Michelangelo’s David Statue.

But Florence has so much more! Wander over the Ponte Vecchio to explore the Pitti Palace and huge gardens along with the Zoological Museum, before crossing the Arno for the Galileo Museum and the Palazzo Vecchio.

Florence is also ideally located in Tuscany, where a day trip can take you in any direction from the Leaning Tower of Pisa and Puccini’s home town of Lucca, to Cinque Terre for the incredible views and the sea, to high towers of San Gimignano and the Siena Palio horse race in the south.

Just be careful if you order a typical Bistecca (beef steak) – in Florence this is 1kg!

Why we love Hotel Brunelleschi

Whilst you can walk end to end in Florence in around 30 minutes, having a central hotel which is around equal distance from each end, has to be a consideration. Whilst many people opt for a hotel very close to the Duomo, this is the busiest area in Florence, and therefore noise levels can be a problem.

Hotel Brunelleschi is located in Piazza della Repubblica, one of the ritziest places in Florence, just a few minutes walk down from the Duomo and the Uffizi Gallery. In the summer months there is usually a carousel and some lively stalls selling good quality leather goods and pashminas in a wide range of colours. The hotel itself is a luxury 4 star hotel with 2 fantastic restaurants, and some rooms have spectacular views of the duomo. Hotel Brunelleschi was created within a circular Byzantine tower and a medieval church, reconstructed, but keeping the original characteristics. Inside you can find a private museum with the ruins discovered during the restoration. It is mentioned in Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code”.

Travel Information

UK Airports

Flying into Florence airport is only possible with direct flights from Gatwick, however, nearby Pisa services many regional UK airports, and then it is only around 1 hour transfer to Florence.

Flight Time

Typically around 2hrs from Gatwick flying into both Florence and Pisa airports.

Weather

The temperatures can vary hugely between the seasons. Autumn hovers around 19-24 celsius, winter 6-10  celsius, spring 15-21 celsius and summer 24 – 32 celsius.

Florence is fortunate in being a good place to visit all year round, however, the best months are early spring and autumn when the weather is cooler and the crowds have reduced.

Currency

The Euro.

Time Zone

Florence is 1 hour ahead of the UK.

Packing List

For spring/summer travel we recommend you bringing sun screen and a hat, along with a good map. Please note Florence is a very humid city, so keeping yourself hydrated is very important, fortunately this is a good excuse to sample some of the wonderful gelato flavours on offer! However, Tuscany can still suffer from the odd wet day, so it is always best to have a light summer mac with a hood in case of a rain cloud.

Unfortunately in the warmer months, sleeping with your window open if you are near to the River Arno can be a problem with mosquitos. Florence has many chemists who offer the best products for both avoiding and dealing with being stung.

It is recommended not to bring a rucksack, as some of the museums and churches will make you leave this in a locker or even refuse entry. The best option is a cross body bag as this is harder for someone unscrupulous to steal. Whilst Florence is generally a safe city, it is wise to be careful of your belongings, especially around the Duomo where the densest crowds are located.

Other Information

Please also be aware that Security is likely to be at the main sights, and so you will probably have your bag and person checked before you enter most places. This is for your own safety and we recommend you comply fully.

A Florence city break, is the perfect trip for anyone wanting to explore beautiful art and scenery. It is my favourite of the Italian cities, and very easy to see why!

Click here for more information on our Florence trips.

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