Best Italy Guidebooks 2019 Reviewed - Advice on Choosing & Planning.

What's the Top Italy Travel Guidebook for Rome, Florence & Venice? 

Which Is Recommended? Rick Steves Italy guidebook or Lonely Planet Italy guidebook? 

Early Italy Guidebook 'The Spell of Southern Shores' 1914
1914 Ms. Mason began in Liguria and visited
Portofino: 'the quaintest fishing village under
the sky'.Cinque Terre was not yet famous.
Let's start off on the right foot: there are no best travel guidebooks. All have strengths and weaknesses, and all travelers have different approaches and needs. We have recently finished reviewing almost all the popular Italy travel guidebooks. Here we list the Italy travel guidebooks that we would buy if traveling to a dozen Italian cities or regions. So what kind of travelers are we?

We usually do self-guided trips with a relaxed schedule, by train to large cities and typically by car otherwise. We want a guide with a practical, well-organized approach without superficial writing. Beyond basic facts, we want cultural insight, helpful advice, historical background, and a large selection of sights both great and small -  with particulars about hours and prices.

We don't look for guidebook hotel and restaurant recommendations because they give just a limited number of popular places, making it hard to avoid the beaten path. The books can't match online sources where you can learn about virtually all the choices along with recent feedback. Fortunately, Italy now has lots of free wifi, and almost all accommodations will have quite good wifi service.  See Hotels & Restaurant Selection below for how we typically decide on hotels and restaurants.

Finally, we greatly value comprehensive coverage in a guidebook since the internet makes it easier to vary from a planned itinerary to respond to weather, crowds, or new information. We change plans during almost every trip as we discover new aspects of an area, and hopefully your guide books will help you take advantage of the serendipity that makes travel so enjoyable.

Travel Guidebooks - The Publishers Reviewed

All the publishers have a somewhat different approach that defines their line of books. Here's our viewpoint on the widely available brands, listed by our general preference.

Lonely Planet Travel Guides.  Popular for a reason, the Lonely Planet books provide comprehensive coverage with well written information on a subject area along with good maps. Presented neutrally without many photos, they are a useful resource for the traveler who wants to be able to change plans mid-trip. Helpful travel tips are often right on the money. Some guidebooks are not updated often, so check the publication date.

Rick Steves Travel Guides.  By far the best-selling Italian guidebook series on Amazon, it's not hard to see the appeal. Not only are the areas covered well, the books include thoughtful opinions which help the traveler choose. Good maps, not a lot of photos, frequently updated editions. However, the books do not attempt to cover every possible place to see; rather the most representative are selected.

Rough Guides.  Similar to the Lonely Planet formula, the Rough Guides have a journalistic approach to writing and cover many aspects of the subject area. Good maps, though not a large number, and fewer photos. There are now almost no regional and city paperback editions for Italy, and most of the Kindle regional and city editions are simply slices of the Rough Guide Italy book.

DK Eyewitness Guides.  This series is known for visually appealing design with photos, illustrations, and good maps. However, the series has comparatively less practical travel information, even though they often include fascinating sidebars. We think they are best for pre-trip travel inspiration or as a 2nd guide rather than the primary on-the-road guide. An updated design is now being rolled out, and some 2019 editions weigh less and offer somewhat better organization.

Fodor's Travel Guides.  These books have a pleasant, positive attitude toward the subject city or region. While they provide basic information and decent coverage of many sights, they generally don't give a feeling for the attractions nor much info outside the mainstream. Good enough for travelers with a defined itinerary with just a couple of days per stop, but you will definitely need to supplement the maps.

Frommer Travel Guides.  For us, the Frommer books are like a Chevy Impala: they get you where your going, but there are no thrills. The analogy is helped by the larger type they use. Frommer books are criticized for lacking relevant information, and the descriptions do tend to be short. However, they cover some places other books do not. Overall, they do the job if your needs and time are limited - say for a cruise ship's ports and excursions.

The Best Italy Guidebooks by Category
    Early Italy Guidebook 'The Spell of Sicily' 1922
    1922 Monroe had a special perspective on
    Sicily. A Stanford-educated Professor of
    Psychology, he wrote 5 books on Europe.
  • Scroll down to see our recommended travel guides by area - as well as a few added map and book ideas.
Italy - Entire Country              Naples
Italy - Best of                            Puglia
Italy - Southern                        Rome
Amalfi Coast                            Sicily
Cinque Terre                            Sardinia
Florence                                   Tuscany
Italian Lakes                            Venice

▸Guidebooks in each category are in order of our preference.
▸These books have both Paperback and Kindle editions.
▸ On Amazon UK the Kindle editions are in the Kindle store.
▸Clicking a link doesn't affect your price, but helps us help travelers.
▸See About Us and Disclosure below where we gently seek your encouragement.

Dining with Artusi - Where Italian Cookbooks Began.

Enjoy The Original Artusi Recipes from 'The Art of Eating Well'. 

Visit the Restaurant or Fabulous Festival Dedicated to Artusi in his Emilia-Romagna Hometown. 

The Founder of Italian Cooking with 'L'arte di Mangiar Bene' Becomes Real for Food Lovers.

In a country of epic heroes, grand empires, and daring military conquests one of my very favorite famous people is a mild mannered retired silk merchant who enjoyed eating the local dishes when he traveled around Italy in the 1800's.

Why is he of any note? Because he is Pellegrino Artusi - the author of  'Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well' (La Scienza in cucina e l'Arte di mangiar bene).  Today anyone with a word processor and access to the internet can be a culinary author - I'm guilty myself. But in Artusi's day it was a new concept, and although to the modern reader the recipes sometimes appear a bit vague (a pinch of salt, cook until done) they were marvels of precision in their day.

Not only that, he was so committed to his endeavor that when publishers rejected his book, he self-published the work. One of the best-selling non-fiction books in Italian history - in 1891.

And today in his hometown, there's a restaurant that offers dishes made from his original recipes, as well as a large festival dedicated to Pellegrino Artusi.

Pellegrino Artusi's 1846 Papal State passport from Pope Pius IX
Artusi's 1846 passport from Pope Pius IX was
required to travel the Italian peninsula even
from the Papal State to the Duchy of Tuscany!

Artusi oversaw the recipes, while his cook and butler, Marietta Sabatini and Francesco Ruffili, measured, recorded, tested, tasted, tweaked, and refined. Not only was the approach new, the timing for a national cuisine was perfect: Italy had been fully unified only in 1871, and 20 years later his book was on sale to the first truly Italian generation. Making Italy into a unified nation was a long process that continues to this day. To form a modern republic from the individualistic dominions that had occupied the Italian peninsula for centuries presented some serious assimilation issues.

Recognizing dishes from any region other than Tuscany as Italian was radically inclusive. Recipes from Piemonte, Liguria, Calabria, even Sardinia and Sicily were included in a book about Italian food! Artusi is widely recognized as one of the important cultural unifying forces in changing Italy from an area of fiefdoms and regions into a national entity. He wrote engagingly and fluently in the new “Italian” language, was elegant and polished and comprehensible, and he interspersed his recipes with anecdotes and reflections to make the book enjoyable reading.

Rocca Albornoziana  fortress of Forlimpopoli, Emilia-Romagna.
The Rocca Albornoziana  in the center of Forlimpopoli, Emilia-Romagna.
The 14th Century fortress is surrounded by the Artusi Festa each June.
Artusi was born in 1820, when the world was very different. His hometown, Forlimpopoli, was close to Bologna, and after a prosperous and comfortable childhood he spent a lot of time in Bologna, socializing with the students at the University and enjoying life. So far, so good, but in 1851 there was a famous bandit called “ Il Passatore”, The Smuggler, who terrorized the wealthy. The Smuggler came to Forlimpopoli with his band of thugs and raided the local theatre on the night of a popular play. He held the audience hostage until they paid up, then released them slowly, and his men attacked and raped some of the young women. Artusi's sister Gertrude was among the victims of the vicious attack, and never recovered; she was institutionalized for life. The times were violent, disorderly, dangerous, and it was no coincidence that the next year the family moved to Firenze.

A Classic Italian Hike for Families, Couples, Trekkers.

A Guide to One of Italy's Best Easy Hike Destinations. 

  A Great Thing To Do with Children & Teens. A Stunning Picnic Spot. 

An Excellent Attraction near Reggio Emilia (1 hr.)  Parma & Modena (1¼)  Liguria & Lunigiana (1½).  

The Pietra of Bismantova provides spectacular views & an easy hike.
The Pietra of Bismantova provides spectacular views, but the easiest trail only takes 20 minutes and it's family friendly.

Treat yourself and your family to one of the great natural attractions of Italy. This spectacular geologic feature will remain in your memory and your photos for much longer than a postcard or the next spaghetti bolognese.

The oddly named Stone of Bismantova will surprise you with a majesty that speaks to the nature in your soul. It stands above its surroundings as a sentinel, as a symbol, as an aspiration. Primitive man climbed it, ascetics were drawn to it, local culture incorporated it, Italian youth are introduced to nature by it, and you can easily experience it for yourself.

The Pietra of Bismantova dominates the surrounding area
Dante alluded to the mountain as Purgatory and the top as the
Garden of Eden. So says every hiker.  CC by Paolo da Reggio
You will see its unmistakable form rising isolated from the landscape from miles away. The Pietra dominates the surrounding area - overlooking it from a height of about 300 meters (1,000 feet) and many sections of the cliffs are 100 meters high!  It is roughly one kilometer long by 240 meters wide.

The unique shape is due to the type of limestone which forms the mountain. Simply put, it resisted erosion better than the surrounding area over the last 20 million years. The rock was formed from sediments in an ancient sea and there are fossils in some areas as well as visible patterns from undersea currents during deposition. The rocks are partly sandstone but mostly calcarenite which is the limestone equivalent of sandstone. This is formed from deposits of carbonate bits that were pressed together into rock from diverse sources such as sand-sized limestone fragments, shells, corals, shark teeth, oodles of ooids (precipitated calcite), etc.

Of course, it was inhabited by prehistoric people - there's a Copper & Bronze Age archeological site and a necropolis near the Pietra's base at Campo Pianelli.  Subsequently, there's evidence that site was used by Etruscans and Celtic-Ligurian tribes. Naturally, the Pietra was fortified, probably until the 15th C. - first by the Romans, then the Byzantines, the Longobards, then Charlemagne, and finally by Matilda of Canossa. There little evidence left of the fortifications today.

The views from the cliffs of Italy's Bismantova are endless.
The views from the top of Bismantova are endless.

For the surrounding towns. the history concerning the Pietra is religious - involving devotion and pilgrimage to the Madonna della Pietra. The Eremo di Bismantova (Hermitage) at the base was established by Benedictines in the 1400's and rebuilt in the 1600's. There are frescos inside from the 1400's, including a depiction of the Madonna. Today, the Eremo is part of the Marian order.

Dante Alighieri visited Pietra di Bismantova in 1307. The Mountain of Purgatorio, mentioned in Canto IV of Purgatorio in the "Divine Comedy", was seemingly inspired by Pietra's unique formation. As if to inspire hikers, the Garden of Eden was located on top.

In the last few centuries, the summit was only used for grazing which explains the nice pastures and the easy views we enjoy. Slowly, the trees are regaining control, but it's slow going due to the altitude and the nearby Alps.  Today the Pietra di Bismantova is protected as part of the National Park of the Apennines. Parco Nazional Apennino Tosco-Emiliano (EN)

The starting point of Pietra di Bismantova activity is Piazzale Dante at the end of Via Bismantova in Castelnovo ne' Monte (RE). See GETTING THERE below. There is free parking as well as the Eremo (Hermitage) nearby, the Rifugio di Bismantova bar-restaurant and the Albergo Forestiera.

Before you go: Download this Pietra Bismantova Hiking Map to a portable device. Why? It is clearer than the posted map on site, and there are no trail signs or maps on the actual summit. There are also no services on the summit, so at least take sufficient water with you.

The easy hiking trail on Italy's Pietra di Bismantova in October.
The easy hiking trail on Italy's Pietra di Bismantova in October.

This is an active recreational attraction, so there are several choices.  The most popular climb is a section of Trail 697 which angles directly to the top. It's the shortest, it's not particularly hard, and takes about 20 minutes. The second most popular is the 6 km. 'L'anello della Pietra' (Ring around the Stone) using Trail 697 which combines a very scenic nature walk around the Pietra with a visit to the summit. It takes about 2 hours.  Both routes leave from Piazzale Dante and below we describe both ascents, as well as the most popular part of the summit and the descent they share. We think school-aged children who like hiking will have no problems with these two hikes.

Other recreational options include:
-Several other trails, such as Trail 699, which are steeper, rockier, and reach the top from different directions.
-Two via ferrata routes are in place for an alpine experience (i.e. straight up).
-There are also many sport rock climbing opportunities on the cliffs with numerous bolts apparent.
-Climbing (bouldering) is also an attraction on the gigantic fallen rocks around the base of the Pietra.

A Beautiful Seaside Walk along the Portofino Coast.

The Red Carpet Walk from Rapallo to Santa Margherita.  

A Great Thing to Do - Explore Between Rapallo & Santa Margherita.

 Enjoy the Attraction of Villas, Free Beaches, Grand Hotels and a Baroque Church.

Aerial of San Michele di Pagana with Pomaro, Trelo (Travello), & Prelo Bays.  Beyond is Santa Margherita & Parco Naturale di Portofino.
A beautiful coastal walk through San Michele di Pagana with its three bays: R. to L. Pomaro, Trelo (Travello), & Prelo.
Santa Margherita is beyond with Parco Naturale di Portofino as a backdrop. Photo: Archivio Storico della Regione Liguria.

It's now a pleasure to walk from Rapallo to Santa Margherita Ligure (SML) along the coast between these pretty Ligurian towns - thanks to recent sidewalk improvements. The walk was inaugurated with the World's Longest Red Carpet - 8 km. from Rapallo to SML to Portofino. The carpet is gone now, of course, but the beauty remains.  This article covers the first half of the coastal walk, the second half is our popular article  Walk or Hike from Santa Margherita to Portofino  which also describes an easy hill hike with beautiful overviews.

The route is full of sea scenes and garden glimpses and villa views so you can really get a feel for this beautiful area.  We recently explored it and we discovered four free beaches (spiaggia libera); a WWI Memorial forest; a Baroque church; and all the while we were surrounded by grand mansions and hotels, gardens and the sea. 

Villa Lagomaggiore in Rapallo on Capo Pomaro (Punta Logon).
Our walk passes inland behind Villa Lagomaggiore on Capo Pomaro.
The walk is great for both kids and adults and the hills are gentle. This route is about 3 km. (2 miles) and it can be done in 45 minutes, but don't you dare hurry. Allow 90 minutes to be leisurely, and it's easy to spend a couple of hours if you are experienced in smelling the roses. It is quite doable with a stroller except harder in the Punta Pagana section where there are two short sandy beaches and two staircases. There are some services at the first beach at Pomaro about 1/3 of the way, but bring some water anyway.

You can create a personalized round trip using the bus that runs along the seaside road or by boarding the ferry at SML or Rapallo or Portofino. See the links at MORE INFO below.

We begin on the western side of Rapallo - across the canal-like Boate river - where we follow Corso Cristoforo Colombo as it heads toward the sea from the intersection with Via Aurelia Occidental. This is near the Hotel Stella and there are blue traffic signs pointing the way to SML and Portofino. As you start, there are good views of Rapallo's extensive harbor which is a major port for private boats of every description and tax bracket. Soon the road  curves away uphill past the Hotel Excelsior Palace. Corso Colombo changes names, but it's always the largest choice. It's known later as Via San Michele di Pagana then as Via Bridiga Morello a/k/a Strada Provinciale 227 (SP227).

We walk all the way from Rapallo to SML on the sidewalk along this road and we just take one detour at Travello. We describe several sights you will miss without that detour around Punta Pagana (a small peninsula), and we add details on some places you'll see along the way.

Pisa Attractions - Whale Watching with Dinosaurs.

The World's Oldest Natural History Museum is a Hidden Gem.

The Answer to: What to Do in Tuscany with Children or on a Rainy Day in Pisa.

A Top Attraction for a Visit Around Pisa - Surrounded by Tuscan Countryside.

Civilization made a giant leap one day in 1591 when a light bulb glowed in the head of Grand Duke Ferdinado I de' Medici of Tuscany. Like a parent teaching a child, this Medici ruler had the noble idea to help ordinary citizens learn about the world while fostering the advance of knowledge. So bright was his light bulb, that it shines still as the Museo Storia Naturale (Museum of Natural History) just 10 km. outside Pisa in Calci.

Pisa Museum of Natural History Mammalian Department diorama of Early Man
Mammalian Department diorama at the Pisa Museum of Natural History. Strutting your stuff never gets old. 
This excellent museum primarily uses the good old tried-and-true, get-up-close-to-the-glass-case method, and it still works wonderfully. There are a some dioramas for the nostalgic, and a few interactive displays for the moderns, but most of the collections wait patiently for your curiosity. The museum is divided into twelve departments so there are too many attractions for our humble article – we'll just try to motivate you to see for yourself.

This Museum is one of the hidden places of Pisa. You won't be crowded and it offers a nice change of pace and subject if your feet are protesting and Renaissance paintings are all starting to look alike. FYI, it's so unknown that only 5% of TripAdvisor reviews are in English yet all the reviews are Good or Excellent. The surrounding countryside is beautiful, the town of Calci is pleasant and has a knockout Romanesque church (see below).

Charterhouse (Certosa) of Calci.
CC by Marco Botta Chinnici
The Museum of Natural History was organized by 1595 from diverse existing Medici collections, making it one of the world's oldest museums. It was created as part of the University of Pisa and located at the even older Pisa Botanical Garden – which also still exists near the Leaning Tower. In 1981, the Museum was moved to a wing of the gigantic Carthusian monastery building in Calci, 10 km away.

The Museum has two separately ticketed sections – 1.) The Core Natural History Exhibits and 2.) The Aquarium & Special Exhibits. Our story describes our visit to some departments in both sections. We saved some sections for our next visit.

The Museum's displays are generally English friendly, and the building is quite well adapted for visitors with mobility issues.  Below are sections on TICKETS  and GETTING THERE .

The Carthusian Monastery (a Charterhouse in English, Certosa in Italian) is a separate and interesting Museum well worth a visit. Website: Museo Nazionale della Certosa Calci (IT)  or @certosadicalci on Facebook.  You can download an app named MusAR (IT) to guide you. Even though the app is in Italian, there are a lot of graphics which makes it helpful if you don't parla bene.


The Whale Gallery at the historic Pisa Natural History Museum
The Whale Gallery at the historic Pisa Natural History Museum. One of Europe's largest collection of whale skeletons.

This is Italy's largest collection of whale skeletons. Many are displayed full-sized in a long purpose-built hall, and they are really impressive. You can walk right up to some of them, under some others, and actually inside one. There are collateral displays to help advance your understanding of our blubbery brothers. You will never take whales for granted again.

The Best Tour of Rome's Colosseum Reviewed.

Classic facade of the Roman Colosseum
Today's iconic facade of the Roman Colosseum is actually the original interior facade. The original outer wall was 100,000
 cubic meters of  travertine stone. That stone was later used to build many Roman churches and several  palaces of Popes. 

Is a Colosseum Guided Tour Worth it?

Read our Third Ring Colosseum Tour Review with Tips and Advice. 

Where to Get the Best Photos.   Can We Skip the Line?   Colosseum Guided Tours in English.

Should You Book a Guided Tour or Tour on Your Own?
We have done both, and we believe that a Colosseum tour / Roman Forum tour is the best choice. We visited the Colosseum and the Roman Forum by ourselves on our first trip to Italy in 1984. We enjoyed it a lot, and it was easier then – inexpensive and no security. However, we now know that we missed a lot of the best stuff, and our little guide book skipped over many features that would have really interested us. Both of the sites are just too packed with layers of history and ancient buildings to be enjoyed fully without help.

The arena floor was wood covered with sand, 270 by 160 feet. Underneath were these walls of the hypogeum, a two-story underground of tunnels connecting training rooms for gladiators, cages for wild animals, and storage rooms hidden under the arena floor. Elaborate machines lifted scenery and animals into the arena. Photo from 2nd level with lens at 55mm.

Switch to a new millennium. In May, 2018, we went on a guided tour* of the Colosseum and the Roman Forum and we were blown away by the wonderful experience. Not only were the lines at entry and the security check made easy, but the sites themselves came alive. Our guide presented fascinating history, facts, and anecdotes at every stop, and answered every question we had. It was very much like we had never been there before. Self-guiding is a fun way to see many places, but not the Colosseum and the Forum.

Which Tour - Top Level, Underground or At Night?
Rome Colosseum has good views from Level 1, but it's crowded sometimes.
Access to Level 1 is included with general admission. The
views are good but sometimes you'll have to wait for a spot.
We booked our tour with the The Roman Guy. Founded by a young American - Sean Finelli - just 10 years ago, we selected them because they have a strong customer-oriented attitude and consistently good reputation.  For the Colosseum we chose the 3 hour Restricted Areas Belvedere Top Levels Colosseum Tour which also includes a Roman Forum tour. We especially wanted the special viewpoints for better photos and this tour includes the restricted access third level - a/k/a the Belvedere.  Our second, back-up choice was the best-selling Colosseum Underground Tour with Roman Forum & Palatine Hill.  The group was manageably small – about 15 people, and we each had an earpiece receiver for easy listening. Our guide was Giulia and she was hands down the best guide we’ve ever had in decades of travel. This smart Roman has several advanced degrees in history and was so knowledgeable she never needed to use a script. She is also friendly, unflappable, and dedicated to seeing that we had a good experience. Which we certainly did.

TIP:  If you book a tour with The Roman Guy, use the DISCOUNT PROMO CODE shown below.

Our Top Levels Colosseum Tour Described.
Rome tour guide with Colosseum in background.
Our Top Level guide Giulia making
sense of the Colosseum's history.
The Colosseum. After we met outside the Colosseum, Giulia guided us through the entrance lines and security with just a small wait. FYI, there's no way to truly Skip-the-Line at the Colosseum. The best you can do is take a guided tour where the wait time to enter and get through security is minimized. Our tour was a morning affair, which we strongly recommend because the longest waits occur when the 3,000 person maximum capacity is reached and new entries are paced – often around late morning.

Once inside, our Roman Guy guide, Giulia, gave us a brief but fascinating architectural and historical overview of the Colosseum so we'd know what we're seeing. Things like where it got it's name (it's not the building size), why there are holes in the walls, why was it preserved at all, how the seats were allocated, what is the connection between the Colosseum and the word 'fornication'. Did you know that the present exterior is actually an interior wall – the original exterior wall is gone – 100,000 cubic meters of stone! Did you know there's no evidence any Christians were martyred here? Freshly and smugly knowledgeable, we then headed up the steep entrance ramp ( a vomitorium in Latin ) to the first ring. 

Italian Food Specialties - The Tramezzino Sandwich

One of the World's Great Sandwiches is Celebrated in Cremona.

The English Tea Sandwich inspired This Edible Palette for Gourmets and Food Artists.

Tramezzino sandwich at Ugo Grill, Cremona with bresaola, caprino, rucola.
The Marcolino Tramezzino at Ugo's in Cremona. Bresaola, caprino, rucola.
Photo Courtesy of Ugo Grill.
Who doesn’t want a delicate and delicious English tea sandwich? I do, you do, pretty much everyone in northern Italy does. The Italian offspring born of this tea sandwich desire is the famous tramezzino. In 1925, Gabriele D’Annuzio invented these sandwiches as an inspired variation on the English version. He worked at Caffè Mulassano in Torino (still there) and he really knew the hungry inclinations of the Torinesi.

So why should a traveler care about a sandwich? Long lunches in Italy are a pleasure, and reason enough to travel to Italy.  But after a few days of long lunches and dinners it can be a relief to have a meal that isn't such a big deal. But a plain ham sandwich isn't an experience you'll remember dreamily in the depths of winter.  This is the time for tramezzini - simple, quick, authentically Italian, delicious and the food of dreams. Can you even imagine prosciutto, shrimp, and cream of asparagus.  How about a gorgonzola and salami tramezzini with mayo?

Cremona Duomo (Cathedral) and the Torazzo Bell Tower.
Cremona Duomo and the Torazzo Bell Tower.
Duomo begun 1107 AD, the Tower finished 1309.

The classic tramezzino is a small delicate sandwich made with two slices of soft white bread, crustless, spread with mayonnaise and filled with any combination of ingredients that satisfies, challenges, or amuses a needy epicure. Of course the concept has evolved and in some places now you might see the name tramezzino applied and/or misapplied to rolled-up sandwiches or toasted creations, and they might be the size of a matchbox or a multilayered affair half the size of a cigar box. Let others do what they may, here we are speaking of the classic version as celebrated in Cremona. They are hand-sized and the filling-to-bread ratio optimizes the taste, not the appearance.

Tramezzino is a diminutive of the word tramezzo, and it’s originally an architectural term meaning the division between spaces. So if you have an empty space involving your stomach between breakfast and lunch, here’s your snack. Today, it’s also used as an inexpensive, infinitely variable, and delicious lunch, an anytime bar snack, or a consolation for Hungarian train passengers (true).

Below Mighty Massa Castle, a Perfect Tordelli Waits.

Tordelli are Tortelli are Tortelloni.  Enjoy this Many Named Pasta at a Tordellaria. 

Eat Massa's Unique Piatto Tipico in an Authentic Local Restaurant.

Malaspina Castle, Massa, Tuscany.
Malaspina Castle still watches over  Massa, Tuscany. CC by Richard  Avery.
At the northern end of Tuscany, hard by the sea and the Apuan Alps, is an interesting provincial capital with a crazy name - Massa. It is full of history and busy people and stone industry enterprise, and has its own lovely beach community. Although some of Massa's historic areas were damaged in WWII bombing, much of the historic center, and one of the largest and fiercest castles in Italy survived. The Castle of the Malaspina, established before 1,000 AD, and first mentioned in documents in 1164, is still powerful looking and fearsome. The Malaspina ruled the area known as Lunigiana for centuries and competed fist-to-fist with all who challenged.   It's fascinating to visit the castle, and you can tour it on weekend and holiday afternoons.  Generally the tours are in Italian, but we've experienced very helpful guides who recognize perplexity in an instant. For hours and fees, see: Castello Malaspina Massa

Dining room at Abacab Ristorante & Tordelleria, Massa, Tuscany, Italy.
Dining room at Abacab Ristorante & Tordelleria, Massa, Tuscany, Italy.

If you'll be visiting the castle or are shopping in Massa, of course you'd like to know and try some of the food specialties. Well, there's a standout. Tordelli alla massese is rightly famous and it's delicious. It's made with a sturdy egg pasta, a rich and satisfying filling with a 'Massese' taste, and a sauce that's like the country cousin of bolognese: more robust, more sincere, more down to earth. The dish is so much a part of Massa that there are variations on the basic tradition, and there are both shops and restaurants devoted to tordelli.

Italian Time Travel from Tuscan to Etruscan

A Weekend Trip  in Tuscany - Piombino and Populonia.

Midway from Rome to Florence - Visit & Discover the Largest Etruscan City on the Sea.

Silver amphora of Baratti in the Museum of Populonia in Piombino
Detail of the pure silver amphora of Baratti in the Museum of Populonia in Piombino.  One of the finest relics
of Etruscan civilization ever found, it weighs 16 pounds. It was recovered by a Livorno fisherman in 1968. 

We think of the Roman Empire as one of the wellsprings of civilization, as an ancient and powerful state that enabled the rise of western culture. But before Roman times, when the Etruscans were in charge, Rome was a farming village, low on the scale of desirable property. The Etruscan civilization flourished for over half a millennium, from about 900 BC to 300 BC, and left intriguing traces of industry and wealth in many of their ancient centers. Populonia, now a part of Piombino, was once a busy center for Etruscan trade, and was renowned as a smelting facility, since deposits of iron, copper and tin were plentiful in the region. They minted coins, worked metal, grew wine, and traded extensively with Sardinia. Funeral customs were important to the Etruscans, and they buried their dead with painstaking care in special buildings with many personal effects.

Old lights on the way to the sea. Piombino.
Down to the sea. Piombino.

You can have a wonderful introduction to this civilization by visiting Piombino, a rather small (35,000) city in Tuscany just south of Livorno. Most visitors hurry through Piombino on their way the the island of Elba on the ferry from Piombino. That would be a shame - the town is well worth a stop. It makes a great weekend jaunt, and also an excellent stopover when traveling between Rome and Florence. It is packed with interest for history buffs and perfect for kids who are intrigued by hikes, tombs, rocks, or metals. The complete trip really needs a car, although rail connections are possible to Piombino.

Old town Piombino.   Corso Emanuele.
Old town Piombino.   Corso Emanuele.

The historic center of Piombino is small and full of one way streets, but parking is relatively easy on the perimeter, and after you settle in, most of the parts of town you'll want to see are in pedestrian zones. The small cobbled main street winds through the old town to the sea, where there is a walk along the water and a fabulous view of the surrounding islands that make up the Tuscan archipelago, including Elba. The street is lined with restaurants featuring – what else? – fresh seafood. We had lunch at Osteria Mamma Carla, where the staff are friendly, the octopus salad is wonderful and the spaghetti allo scoglio delicious.

Roman mosiac with squid in sunglasses. Museum of Populonia, Piombino.
Roman mosiac with a squid in sunglasses. Museum of Populonia, Piombino.. 
When you're tired of walking around town, it's time for the famous museum, the Museo Archeologico del Territorio di Populonia. We visited in late October, in fact on the last weekend that the site was open to the public, and hours were somewhat restricted – it's best to check before you plan your trip Archaeological Museum of Populonia. It's an easy walk out to the museum from the center of town. The museum itself is beautifully designed, and moves you along through the history of the area. It starts before history began and moves through the bronze age to Etruscans and Romans. The variety of exhibits insures something for everyone. There are early Etruscan arrowheads and spears, which look a lot like rocks to the uninitiated, explanations of early mining, dioramas with hairy people and gorgeous mosaics and an exquisite silver amphora that is as sophisticated as it is lovely. It takes a few hours to wend your way through the exhibits, it's quiet and subtly lit, you'll have a great time.

Every Answer You Need for Your Cinque Terre Trip.

Your Visit Made Easy with Our Travel Guide to Cinque Terre.

 Local Experts Answer 103 FAQ's.

Your fellow Italian travelers give clear answers on every Cinque Terre subject.

Get detailed info from experienced travelers on every aspect of the Cinque Terre. When to Go, How Long to Stay, What to See, Best Villages, Avoiding Crowds, Best Guidebook, Parking for the Cinque Terre, etc. We are Mike and Martha from Boston & Italy and we explain more about ourselves at the bottom of the article.
The Cinque Terre Village of Manarola in Twilight
The Cinque Terre Village of Manarola in Twilight          CC by Lorraine Tan

You will have a great visit to Italy's Cinque Terre region. We will also help you decide if you should get a Cinque Terre Card;  which food specialties to eat; find your favorite activity; allay mobility concerns; what to do with children; and even decide what to do if it rains.

You should know that, despite erroneous past news reports, there are no restrictions or quotas or limits or required reservations for travelers to the Cinque Terre.  To insure an enjoyable experience,  the total number of hikers on a few sections of most popular Blue trail is limited to 500 (beginning in June, 2018). The Park says this restriction will affect only peak times on peak days.

This first article does not cover Accommodation, Travel To & From Cinque Terre, or Hiking specifics. Stay tuned: we are writing more now.

Category Index

Click the Section Title to Jump Down

What are the Cinque Terre       Questions about the villages, the land, the fame, the trails.
When to Go       .                        Weather, the temperatures, the crowds, off season, winter.
How Long to Stay                      One day, Four Days,Ten Days.
Cinque Terre Card & App         Get the CT Card & the new Official Cinque Terre Park Hiking App.
What to See & Do                      Sights by Town, Activities, for you, for kids, for teens, in the rain.
What & Where to Eat                 Food specialties, Wine, Restaurant Suggestions,Veggie, Gluten-free.
Information Questions              Guidebooks, Maps, Language, Tour Guides, Websites.
Metaphysical Questions            The good, the bad, the missing, expense, crime, safety, gay-friendly.
Cell phone, wifi, internet           Signal availability, apps, wifi & getting advice.
Cars, Parking, Car Hire             Driving advice, ZTL, dropping off & getting a rental car, parking advice.
Limited Mobility Issues             Stairs, Access, Other lovely level Ligurian Towns.

Click Liguria / Cinque Terre / Portofino Map to see the Cinque Terre towns & nearby Base towns.

What are the Cinque Terre?

Cinque Terre hiking in May. Corniglia from trail 6D
Corniglia from trail 6d  near Volastra in mid May
The Cinque Terre are five small villages and the surrounding coastline in the region of Liguria, Italy. Because land access was (and is) difficult, there has been little modern development. As a result the dramatic, rugged coastline and the five little towns have a timeless romantic aspect. The Cinque Terre along with Portovenere is an Italian National Park and a United Nations' UNESCO World Heritage Site. The five villages have become extremely popular with tourists of every nation, and the Cinque Terre Park is a famous hiking destination thanks to its trails over the stunning seaside hills and through vineyards.

What are the five villages of the Cinque Terre?

  • Monterosso The largest village with the most services
  • Vernazza   The most charming village but often crowded
  • Manarola  Very photogenic with a tiny harbor
  •  Corniglia  High above the sea with the best views
  • Riomaggiore  Characteristic and closest to La Spezia.
The historic neighboring town of Portovenere and nearby offshore islands including
Palmaria are also included in the Cinque Terre UNESCO World Heritage Site designation. 

Which Cinque Terre village is the best?

  • Vernazza is the prettiest and the cutest and the most evocative. 
  • Manarola is the next prettiest and at its best at sunset. 
  • Monterosso has the best accommodations and the best beach.
  •  Corniglia has the best views. 
  • Riomaggiore has characteristic towering buildings .
 We think the result of a visitor popularity contest for Best Village results would be:
 1.) Vernazza  2.) Manarola  3.) Corniglia  4.) Monterosso  5.) Riomaggiore
Plan to Enjoy.
You can have a great trip to the Cinque Terre, but you really must learn and plan. The numbers tell you why. There are six million visitors each year to these five small towns which have a total of 4,000 residents - more visitors per resident than Venice.* We have specific advice below to help you minimize the crowds you encounter. We are not travel writers, we are fellow travelers, so the answers here are intentionally frank. Bear in mind that some of our answers will reflect our orientation toward visitors coming to Italy from abroad on a trip of one to four weeks. We are recently retired photo editors Mike and Martha from Boston and we explain more about ourselves below.

What are the Cinque Terre villages like?

Monterosso  The largest little town with a resort feel & the most restaurants and hotels. The only real beach in CT, some parking & the best train connections. There's an old town and a new section and it's fairly level. Monterosso has the most service and most activity in the Cinque Terre.   What's It Like? - Our Monterosso Photo Gallery Link