What’s new, changing at favorite Italian spots

  • By Rick Steves
  • Friday, February 19, 2010 5:55pm
  • Life

One reason why Italy is so much fun is that it just keeps changing. Here are a few new developments that are handy for you to know if you’ll be visiting the land of “la dolce vita.” (I covered what’s new in Venice and Rome in a previous column.)

Florence still packs them in and for good reason. The Accademia houses Michelangelo’s buff, shepherd-boy masterpiece, “David.” A few blocks away, the Uffizi Gallery has the best collection of Italian paintings anywhere; but it is undergoing a massive renovation to create new exhibition space and entrances.

The construction and reshuffling may affect your visit this year. Paolo Uccello’s “The Battle of San Romano” may be out for restoration, but Raphael’s “Madonna of the Goldfinch” is finally back on display after a laborious 10-year restoration.

To avoid waiting in very long lines, it’s smart to get Uffizi and Accademia reservations in advance. Here are two good ways: through your hotelier (request this service when you book your room) or by phone (from the U.S., dial 011-39-055-294-883). You can book online (www. b-ticket.com/b-ticket/Uffizi), though some of my readers have encountered difficulties using this Web site.

If you’re in Florence during the off-season, October through March, you can probably get into the Uffizi or Accademia without a reservation in late afternoon on weekdays. But wise travelers will avoid potential hassles by making a reservation in advance.

Just a few steps away from the Uffizi, Florence’s Galileo Science Museum is overlooked by many visitors, but this fascinating collection shows another dimension of the Renaissance. The exhibits include many ingenious scientific gadgets and the most famous bottle in Florence — it contains one of Galileo’s fingers. Because of a lengthy renovation, only a few rooms are on view, but it should open in all its glory this spring (www.imss.fi.it).

Milan offers perhaps the most enjoyable look at modern, urban Italy. Its Duomo Museum, which gives meaning to Milan’s richly ornamented cathedral, is scheduled to reopen sometime in 2010 after a long restoration (www.duomomilano.it).

Northeastern Italy’s rugged yet accessible slice of the Alps — called the Dolomites — just got easier to experience. A new, faster cable car dangles above the gateway city of Bolzano to take you to scenic Oberbozen and its Bryce Canyonlike pinnacles.

A free new shuttle bus links my favorite home base in the Dolomites — Castelrotto — with the high Alpine meadowland called Alpi di Siusi (which has its own cable car that lifts hikers even higher). To keep cars from marring the landscape, Castelrotto has two new underground parking lots — one is in front of the bus station.

Italy’s Riviera — at least the five remote villages of the Cinque Terre now protected as a national park — is more welcoming than ever. While hoteliers in this popular region near Genoa are notorious for artificially bumping up prices, travelers have more negotiating power now, because of the economic downturn.

Shop around before you commit to a room. The Cinque Terre Card, which covers a day of hiking in the region’s national park, now also includes a free, three-hour bike rental; bikes are available through tourist offices in the towns of Riomaggiore and Vernazza.

For many years there was no place to check your luggage, but now you can store bags at the national park’s kiosk at Riomaggiore’s train station. A new hostel is now open in Corniglia’s former schoolhouse, offering bright and clean rooms in the least touristy and most remote of the five towns.

Assisi, the birthplace of St. Francis, is notoriously congested with cars and tour buses, but it just got easier to park your car at the edge of town. The Parking Mojano lot, while below the old town, now comes with an escalator that transports you nearly to the Basilica of St. Clare. It’s a blessing.

The Tuscan hill town of Volterra is getting a major tourist transfusion thanks to its connection to the “Twilight” vampire saga. In “New Moon,” a crucial scene between the heroine and her undead boyfriend takes place here. (Ironically, the film version used another hill town — Montepulciano — to shoot the Volterra scenes.)

Vampires or not, Volterra is still one of the best hill towns in Tuscany. And it just got more user friendly; a group of local guides now offers a low-cost, one-hour walk of the town daily from April to September (www.volterrawalkingtour.com).

The tour touches on Volterra’s Etruscan, Roman, and medieval history, as well as the contemporary cultural scene.

Italy may have Europe’s richest (and craziest) culture. These recent changes make it even easier to enjoy — and harder to forget.

Rick Steves (www.ricksteves.com) writes European travel guidebooks and hosts travel shows on public television and public radio. E-mail rick@ricksteves.com, or write to him c/o P.O. Box 2009, Edmonds, WA 98020.

&Copy; 2010 Rick Steves/Tribune Media Services, Inc.

Talk to us

More in Life

Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay walks into the Prohibition Grille along Hewitt Avenue in Everett Wednesday Dec. 5, 2012 while reportedly filming an episode of Kitchen Nightmares at the Everett restaurant. (Mark Mulligan / The Herald)
Even more films and TV shows filmed in Snohomish County

Readers point out projects previously missed in this series, from reality television to low-budget indie films.

Daniella Beccaria / for The Herald

15-month-old Kantu attempts to climb a pumpkin at Stocker Farms in Snohomish on Sunday, September 20th, 2015. Stocker Farms offers a U-pick patch, farm animals and a corn maze.
Best pumpkin patch in Snohomish County

You voted, we tallied, here are the results.

Everett comedian Taylor Clark performs stand-up in 2023 at The Triple Door in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Mike Bryk)
Comedian Taylor Clark to film first special Friday in Everett

The skateboarding funny-man will record an hour of his stand-up at the Historic Everett Theater.

Local musician Alex Johnston, whose newest album "Daylight Fooldream" pairs with short film he made with help from his partner Mikaela Henderson, sits with his morning coffee on Friday, Sept. 15, 2023, at Narrative Coffee in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Folktronica musician shoots 37-minute visual album on iPhone in Everett

Alex Johnston, 31, describes his music as ”if Coldplay and Bon Iver had a love child.”

Death of parent with child. Piece of paper with parents and children is torn in half.
Helping children cope with the hard realities of divorce

I’s important to set aside one’s feelings and find a way to make this challenging transition as comfortable for children as you can.

In Belgium, each type of beer has its own glass – whether wide, tall, or fluted – to show off its distinct qualities.
Rick Steves’ Europe: Bruges brews lift a weary traveler’s spirits

The Belgian city is a mecca for beer lovers from around the world.

Children’s author Barbara Herkert to lead Story Time at Edmonds Bookshop, Friday September 29th, 9:30-10:00 am!
Author to read her new kids book at Edmonds bookstore

Author Barbara Herkert will read “This Old Madrone Tree” Friday at Edmonds Bookshop.

Flowering knotweed Persicaria amplexicaulis firetail in the morning light.
Save for one infamous variety, fleece flowers are easy to fall in love with

This long-blooming, easy-to-grow perennial comes in many desirable varieties. But watch out: One is an invasive knotweed.

A view of King Street Station in Seattle, Washington from an Amtrak Cascades train to Portland, Oregon from Everett, Washington on Wednesday, May 24, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Ride the rails on Amtrak Cascades from Everett to Portland

Make new friends and let Amtrak do the driving on this 5-hour trip past sea, city and forest.

Most Read