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/
Siena Palio Packages – Which Viewing Position?
Whether the thoughts of attending the Siena Palio race has always been high on your wish list, or you are in the Tuscany region around the same time, and thought this would be an interesting experience, the details might seem quite daunting for booking the right trip.
Taking into account the race itself only takes 90 seconds as the horses race three times around the campo, doesn’t give you any real understanding of why, the rules and the importance of this historic tradition. Did you know, for example, that the race has been performed twice yearly since 1633? That originally it was buffalos and then later donkeys, before horses were selected to run around the track? With our Siena Palio race package, we provide local Sienese guides who give you a full understanding of all things Palio.
The other main question is where to sit. Fortunately the campo where the horses race, is not flat. There is a higher part where the all-important Mossa (the start and end of the race), takes place. From this part of the track you can see the whole campo as well as the finished line right in front of you.
So, you have the choice of three main types of position to make your Siena Palio package thrilling. Grandstand, balcony or window? The Grandstands are the nearest to the track so the feel of the horses racing past you is so near, you feel you can almost touch them. You are also in good company; the local Sienese choose the grandstand as the best vantage point to see the race. Remember a great deal of money exchanges hand on this race, so a good viewing position is key. However, for those seeking refreshment in the shape of a cold drink or bathroom facilities, you will be required to leave your grandstand position to seek both.
Then there are the balcony positions. Taking place above the grandstands, mean you have a higher viewing location and refreshments are on offer, however, you will have to share them with others, and these positions are very busy, as many people opt for this view.
The final version; the one for those who have a Siena Palio package high on their wish list, and are prepared to invest a little more in their once in a lifetime experience, will opt for window viewing. Taking place above the balconies, you are higher than the other positions, don’t have to share with others and have free use of the refreshments and bathroom facilities. However, remember the buildings were built hundreds of years ago and so are quite a bit smaller on their windows than their modern counterparts, so if you want to see the race and the parades that precede it, you must stand up!
So, what will you choose?
Click here for more information on our Siena Palio packages.
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.
A Venice holiday has the potential of a wide range of experiences. These can accommodate the first timer to this floating city or the seasoned traveller wanting to return for a special occasion with a loved one. Below are a list of the main experiences we can recommend – there is certainly something for everyone!
To really see Venice at its best is to be a part of the carnival. Every year thousands of people flock to see the wonderful array of costumes, but we can do one better! We have the choice of 3 fantastic carnival balls to attend, all in lavish period costumes. There is the Tiepolo Ball for those wanting the most traditional ball, the Mascheranda Ball for the ultimate party ball, and the Doges Ball; the most prestigious VIP ball on offer.
The Venice Simplon Orient Express
If the thought of queuing at the airport fills you with dread, why not let your holiday begin before you arrive in Venice, by travelling on the Venice Simplon Orient Express! This re-mastered train is the epitome of The Roaring Twenties and a wonderful way to begin or end any trip. Five star luxury throughout and hard to beat for a special birthday or wedding anniversary!
A gondola ride is an absolute when you have a Venice holiday, but why not go for the ultimate experience and have a sunset gondola ride? With the day time boats having departed, Venice is a little more peaceful and you can soak up the atmosphere how the city is meant to be seen; by boat.
Tour of the Islands
Venice is so much more than just St Mark’s Square and the immediate areas. A trip by boat to the islands of Murano, Burano and Torcello provides a real understanding of the history of this fantastic region. See glass blowing, lace making and some of the original churches and the cemetery.
La Fenice Opera House
Many people think of La Scala in Milan when they think of opera but Venice has its own fantastic opera house. Same as La Scala there is an opera on most days of the year with a reduced schedule around August and Christmas time only. There are operas to suit both the opera beginner and the connoisseur. We recommend the stall seats highly regarded as the best seats in the house!
Musica a Palazzo
If on the other hand you would like to witness some opera but in a smaller surrounding and without stretching the purse strings quite so much, we can definitely Musica a Palazzo. This stunning palace houses smaller scale operas and love duets to a reduced audience by performing right in front of you! You will feel part of the scene and come away wanting more.
St Mark’s Highlight Tour
If you are a beginner to Venice then a private guided tour of St Mark’s is a good idea. We do include a St Mark’s Card which provides free beat the queues access to both the Doges Palace and St Mark’s Basilica, but if you really want to understand the history of Venice, having your own guide is invaluable. They will take you around both the palace and the basilica including witnessing the prison where Casanova was albeit temporarily housed!
Gourmet Tasting Dinner at The Met
And finally after all that exploring and culture, why not head to The Met Restaurant, conveniently located within 5 star Hotel Metropole, for your gourmet tasting dinner. The meal is prepared by the Michelin Starred chef and you have the choice of 2 tasting menus based on the same ingredients, but cooked in entirely different ways – contemporary and traditional. We would recommend you order one of each as it is fun to compare!
Click here for more information on our Venice breaks.
One of the best stages of planning an Italian short break is when everything is booked and your trip is just round the corner. But whilst making the most of your time abroad is essential, so is making sure you pack correctly. For me half of this is making sure everything fits in my suitcase and I don’t have to worry at the airport bag drop line that my bulging case is over the usual allowance. I’ve yet to learn the secret of hand luggage only!
Other ways to help both with packing and to be prepared on your Italian short break include the must do summer waterproof with hood jacket, (I don’t know where I would be without mine!) and sun block for when the sun comes out. My personal favourite is a fold down water bottle, which makes itself instantly recyclable, along with taking up less space in your bag as you drink, and making sure you have plenty of change for the public toilets. An easy tip here is most coffee shops will let you use their toilet when you buy a cappuccino or an ice cream.
For those like me that love photography it is the usual indecision over how many lenses to take. I try and only take the one main lens, but I do struggle in regards to the obligatory aches endured by hours of having the camera around my neck. I have found a solution to this one! There are straps you can buy which work as a cross-body setup, which means the weight is distributed better, the neck is free from aches, and you have a better control of the camera by your side. I bought one on Amazon for around £30. These straps are padded as well, which with mid-size to full size cameras and hours of walking is definitely a plus!
Another way to save the shoulder aches and reduce the weight of your suitcase is city guides. The days of lugging around huge volumes on holiday are largely gone, but the information is still relevant. There are some great apps out there for providing all of this information through your phone or tablet as well as offline maps. No one likes roaming fees!
If you are travelling around Florence and are staying near the River Arno, I definitely recommend taking some antihistamine cream with you. I was there last September and with the warm temperatures and the windows opened, woke up to a few pesky stings. I have tried on other trips the special anti-mosquito bracelets but the smell of the chemicals was just too strong for me!
The added bonus with apps is the information is updated regularly, whereas your weighty door stop could be a year out of date. The main cities usually have a specific app, but one of the best ones I have found is Mtrip. This app provides weather and public transport which your printed city guide cannot do. But one of the best options I have found is the information on local sites which the offline maps direct you to along with providing opening hours and an approximate cost for entrance to these sights. If you want more functionality or even just checking what is within easy distance to you, the app also has a recommended travel plan for your dates, grouping them by region so you are not walking the ends of the city. This app is great for keeping you up to date with your flights and any changes, along with reminding you when you can check in.
The last thing to mention to help you enjoy your Italian short break is to remember in church your shoulders and knees must be covered. For women this is easily done in regards to either a thin, light cardigan or buying one of the many beautiful colourful scarves that Italy is famous for and wrapping this around your shoulders.
The above should hopefully ensure you have a wonderful Italian short break!
Click here for more information on some of our favourite City 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:
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.
The Siena Palio horse race is a fantastic historical event which takes place in Siena twice a year. During this time you get to see the build up to the race, enjoy watching the selection of horses, jockeys and districts chosen to take place, get a full introduction to the history of the race, along with an open-air good luck dinner, along with witnessing the thrilling race itself.
But the town is perfectly located for much more than just a few nights enjoying the Siena Palio race, before returning home. Florence is a short drive away and boasts some of the best galleries in the world with the Uffizi and Accademia Galleries. With the nearest airport to Siena being Pisa, it is highly expected that either on arrival or departure as your flight times permit, you will spend an hour or two exploring the Leaning Tower.
For those who love the opera you are spoilt with not one but two incredibly scenic options. You can either attend the Verona opera in an open-air Roman arena with amazing acoustics, or head to Lucca where on the Torre del Lago overlooking the lake, the Puccini Opera Festival is held. For Verona the opera season begins around the last week of June each year and finishes around the end of August. Popular operas include Aida, Carmen, Turandot and Madame Butterfly. For the Puccini Festival the season is shorter and runs from mid July to mid August, with main operas including Tosca and La Boheme.
Sometimes though a holiday is as much about exploration as pre-planned excursions, which with a hire car provides ample opportunities. Siena is very near to some wonderful towns including San Gimignano, which is an easy day walking through the medieval town looking at the remaining towers, enjoying some shopping and if you are brave enough wandering through the torture museum!
Depending on how well you know the region, if you wanted to stay a few nights in the countryside, Hotel Le Fontanelle is an excellent option and has incredible vistas, indoor and outdoor pools and a choice of rooms with some including private gardens and balconies.
Recommended activities near the hotel are varied and include wine tasting, cooking lessons, a picnic for 2, horse riding, hot air ballooning, Ferrari test driving, and even a return to San Gimignano for a gourmet dinner in one of the remaining towers, complete with a soprano to serenade you with song as you arrive.
For first timers to Tuscany or regular connoisseurs, the Siena Palio race is only one reason to visit this beautiful region.
Click here for more information on our Palio Siena breaks.
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.