My parents decided that it was time for a family vacation and this time our destination was beautiful Italy. This trip was different from other's because we decided to rent a car and really explore the southern part of Italy - what a trip! Views that Italy has is simply undeniable beautiful.
This was a 9 day self-drive tour for a family of four and our goal was to explore lesser-known regions the best possible way and a road trip is the way to do it. So let me take you on our adventure of discovering Italy. By the way, this was my first time in Italy and there is nothing I would have done differently. I want you to get inspired for some of the most romantic routes or friendly mountain roads that give you the most spectacular coastal scenery. You can adjust the itinerary to suit your needs and your time so let's explore the southern part of Italy.
Landing in Rome!
We decided to land in Rome because it's a major city and everything is available to collect yourself after a long trip. Our plan was to stay the night and start the road trip the next morning. We got to Rome at a decent time, 3:45 pm to be sure which gave us enough time to walk around and explore the city a little. We already rented our car from the airport which was very convenient. However, I would suggest getting a hotel in the town center because it's easier to walk around and see the best parts of Rome. For example, the Trevi Fountain, Colosseum, St. Peter's Basicila, Vatican, and my favorite Spanish steps.
Our first hotel was Hotel Quirinale. < You can Book it here.
It's a 19th-century hotel that had the rustic look and beautiful, huge rooms overlooking the streets of Rome and literally in the center of the city. Heads up: Hotel is constantly booked so make sure to plan ahead. In the price: Free Wi-Fi, breakfast and laundry facilities are included.
Since it's in the center of everything it was 10 minute walks to all the important sightseeing destinations. We decided to check out the Trevi Fountain. You know when you are getting closer because the streets become more crowded. You start to see a lot more tourists and once you get to the fountain, all you see is the sea of heads and cell phones. However, it was beautiful!
This huge archeological site is right in the middle of the center. It seems like the city was built around it because you don't have to go far to see them. The ruins date back to 500 B.C but Julius, Augustus, and Trajan have known to enlarge it over the years. And around the corner from the ruins was the most recognized, international symbol - the Colosseum.
The Colosseum is made out of stone and concrete, built by thousands of slaves. It is the largest amphitheater that offers a long and bloody history of gladiators and animals fighting in 80 A.D. It has 80 entrances and can fit up to 50,000 people to watch the sporting events. Below the Colosseum is where they kept the gladiators and the animals.
Even though the place is half destroyed by earthquakes and fires - there is a lot to explore, learn and also get great selfie shots 🙂
Montecassino is a rocky hill that stretches about 130kilometers. On that beautiful and exquisite mountain lies a monastery called the Montecassino Abbey. Its fame comes from being the World War II battle site and even though it has been damaged several times, it has always come out stronger than ever.
To get to the monastery, you have to drive up the mountain roads and we all know how that feels and looks. Coming from Florida, the flattest place on earth, my stomach didn't take it easy but it was all worth it. The monastery is 20,000 square meters and it can be seen from the closest A1 Highway.
One of my favorite spots was Pompeii. It is about 150 miles south of Rome. It is super close to Naples so if you want to make a quick stop there, you definitely could. However, Pompeii is fairly vast so it will take you the whole day to see everything especially if you end up doing a tour with a guide. As we were approaching you could see the dangerous Mount Vesuvius overlooking the burned city. It looked so far away from where we were yet the explosion was so enormous it dropped miles and miles of ash.
The Mount Vesuvius angry explosion happened in 79 A.D. We all know the story from our high school classes so I won't get into the details but I will say this - It was sad for me. People lived on this exact ground that I'm standing on. I really wanted to see the people who are frozen in the positions before dying and that was pretty intense and interesting. The museum, by the entrance, stores all the archeological finds - this is where you find the human and animal skulls.
Getting tickets and getting in was pretty easy for us. There was barely a line but I think it depends on when you go. We got our own tickets that were 20 euros per person. At the booth they also give you a map so you don't get lost or you can even use google maps. One thing that was a complete shock to us all was the fact how enormous the city actually is and how much the archeologists have found. Remember to wear super comfortable shoes, bring a fan and some water if you have to. The ground is super slippery and even with my sneakers I almost fell. So be careful.
Coast Of Amalfi
Amalfi Coast is the prettiest of them all. Seriously, this place is built on a side of the mountain. The views were breathtaking. It's one of the top summer destinations and now I know why. The colorful village homes, lemon groves and delicious and fresh made Italian food, all of this will make you fall in love with Amalfi. All the restaurants are right on the harbor, which makes dining so much more enjoyable. Small city streets and beautiful flowers made up Amalfi Coast.
A lot of small towns and villages make up Amalfi Coast. One of the things I've noticed was that each town had its own unique character and appeal. Sorento, Atrani, and Positano are top places to visit. I look at the Amalfi Coast as both environmental and a historical spot.
I was so sad we didn't stay in Amalfi but there is always next time.
Taormina and Catania are on an island called Sicily. To get there you have to take a ferry which isn't expensive and it takes 20 minutes from coast to coast. Once you get to Sicily, your first destination should be Taormina. I call this place "heaven by the sea". Surrounded by mountains and the Mediterranean sea, there is a lot to see in Sicily.
Since Taormina is one of the top tourist destinations, you will see a lot of shops and restaurants. But the food is something you need to try. My favorite dish was a truffle pizza and till this day, I can't get the taste out of my head. With every bite, it was getting more and more delicious. It was out of this world and so were other dishes such as seafood spaghetti and the prosciutto with melon. Yum Yum!
Sicily has an active volcano called Etna. It is the youngest volcano and she is known to have a little temper. That's my girl! If you would like to read more about her and the cheapest way to explore it, here is the article - Mount Etna! Climbing the active volcano was one of my biggest wishes and I am glad I can mark it off my bucket list. It was an experience I will never forget.
Catania is about an hour drive from Taormina. It is also located on the Island. This city felt like it was more of a college town. There is so much to do here such as the fish market, the Teatro Romano, and Mount Etna.
We stayed at an amazing hotel, in the heart of Catania - Hotel Villa Romeo. Free Wi-Fi and breakfast is included. I really love this hotel because it had the cutest and coziest courtyard where we ate breakfast every morning. This hotel was affordable and super clean.
The fish market is an amazing place to visit if you have never seen it. Even though the smell of fish is everywhere, it was pretty cool to see almost every type of sea animal. You better go there hungry since the food is absolutely delicious.
The Teatro Romano was very educational. It looks like a storefront but it actually is the old ruins of an amphitheater. Catania is the melting pot of ancient and modern architecture.
If you would like to explore an active volcano, Mount Etna is about 40-50 minutes away from Catania. GO AND SEE it - I promise you won't be disappointed 🙂
Back To Rome!
On the way back, we had an extra two days so we decided to explore Rome even more. Vatican City, especially the Sistine Chapel, is what I wanted to see. About 25,000 people visit Vatican City each day, so you can only imagine the line to get in. We also didn't want a tour guide because you are stuck with +100 people and you have to stop every five minutes explaining each piece of history. The best solution is to get an audio guide - this way you can set your own pace and still get all the information.
We got to googling and fond a perfect solution. We paid $200 dollars to get the fast pass. A guide with 50+ people will walk you in (which we waited 20 minutes compared to the 2-hour line) We got super lucky.
Do you remember when I mention 25,000 a people that visit the Vatican every day?! Well, most of them are either in line trying to get in or have made it and are stuck in one room unable to move forward. Getting through room to room was pretty intense. With tour guides stopping every 5 minutes, they were creating a line in the corridors. It took forever to walk through and make it to another room. However, I really wanted to see the Sistine Chapel, so I decided to keep going.
We finally made it to Sistine Chapel. It was sort of unexpected to tell you the truth. I expected a grand hallway leading up to the chapel but it was rather simple and small. We finally get inside and there was a priest leading his service. The whole room was a painting, I have never seeing anything like it. The pictures were not allowed. Which I understand why they want to prevent people taking pictures, however, I traveled thousands of miles and paid thousands of dollars - you better believe that I'm going to take a picture or two. 🙂
Overall, it was a great experience!
I also visited the "Boca Della Verita" the "Mouth of the Truth" marble mask. The myth is that, they used the marbled mask for trials. The said that the face's mouth closes if a liar puts his hand in it. Back in the day it was a great way to see if the person was telling the truth or not.
Spanish steps were awesome to crowd watch. The amount of miles that we walked each day, it was refreshing to sit and relax a little. There are exactly 135 steps and yes I counted them 🙂 On top there is this beautiful church overlooking the city. There are street artists and food vendors. It was busy, fun and enjoyable.