Last summer, we went on our “Grand Europe Trip,” thinking it would be our last big vacation in a long while. One year later, we’re going back around the same time of year. Life is funny that way….I waited almost 10 years to go back to that part of the world, and now, while living SO far away in Hawaii, I find myself back there twice in the span of 12 months. I’m not complaining, that’s for sure.
When we chose to visit last summer in July/August, every blog post and travel book I read said to AVOID those months, specifically August, when planning a trip to Europe and especially when visiting Italy. That was the time that worked for us, so we went for it anyway, expecting massive crowds and peak pricing. Surprise, surprise, that was EXACTLY what we found. But guess what? It didn’t affect the enjoyment of our trip (okay, maybe a few times, but barely) and we are going back AGAIN this July. Yes, people can be annoying, and yes, some places are so impacted that it’s hard to get dinner reservations, or find an inexpensive hotel, but regardless of these issues, we had the most amazing trip of our lives last year and I think you can too.
A few things we learned when traveling through Italy in August.
#1 – Most Italians take the month of August off. And a very large majority of them travel to the beautiful coastal locations like Capri and the Amalfi Coast. Personally, we loved this. There were tourists around, but mostly we were traveling in the places the Italians loved, and we love Italians, so we loved this!
#2 – Major cities like Rome & Florence were MUCH less packed for the reason I listed above. There was less traffic, less congestion, and the cities felt almost empty in comparison to when I visited in non-summer months in the past. The best part about this was that we booked a wine tasting tour through Chianti from Florence and although it was supposed to accommodate 8-16 people, we were the ONLY ones who booked the trip. So we had our very own Sommoleir drive us to and from Chianti and personally take us to each winery and teach us about the history of the area, the wineries and the vineyards, all for the price of a group tour. It was the highlight of our stay in Florence. We used the company FlorenceTown and did the Small-Group Tuscany Wine Tour and I couldn’t recommend it more. My best advice is to stick to small tours if you do any of them at all. Our Cinque Terre tour experience wasn’t as great… (See #4).
#3 – It pays to WAKE UP EARLY! If you want a spot at the beach, you can have one! Just show up early and enjoy some time to yourselves before the other tourists arrive. If you were up late the night before, wake up early anyway! You can always nap on the beach. Our early morning on the beach in Positano was one of our favorite times – we rented chairs by 8am and hopped in the sea before anyone else arrived. It was beautiful and we felt like we had the whole beach to ourselves.
#4 – We will never again take a large tour-bus to a new city. Specifically, to Cinque Terre. I visited this beautiful place back in 2007 when you could hike straight through all 5 towns, but this time we took a group tour bus from Florence because of our limited time. There were about 60 of us on this bus and to be real…the tour was pretty terrible. They drove us to each town or we all took the train or a boat together in towns you couldn’t drive to. It was disorganized, and basically complete chaos. At one point, our tour guide didn’t even get on our boat because it was too full, so we waited for him at the next town until he finally showed not knowing where he was or if he’d make it. The cities were packed and we felt trapped with this big group. We still had a good time, enjoyed the beautiful views, even jumped in the sea..but we learned our lesson. We got away from the tour as often as we could, but each stop was so short it was hard to have much time to explore. My advice? Do some research and take the train yourself so you can go where you want, when you want! (We used Accord Innovative Tour Solutions and would not recommend it AT ALL. It could have just been our lack-luster tour guide, but the whole organization and layout of the tour was pretty bad).
#5 – We learned that every trip you take is what you make it. You can let the crowds and prices deter you from going, or get you down once you’re there..You can take a bad tour and get frustrated, or you can learn things about yourself and how you prefer to travel. You can find ways to escape the crowds (or embrace them) and enjoy every moment. If August is the only time you can go, I say, GO! If you have the right attitude, the right travel partner (even if that partner is yourself) you can still have the best trip of your life, just like we did.