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Northern Italy home base

#1
Hello,
We will be visiting Sicily in Sept/Oct 2019 for 10 days and then we would like to find a home base to discover Northern Italy. (haven’t been there yet on any of our Past 5 trips to Italy) We could stay up to 20 more days in this area. We want to have down time as well as day trips.
I was considering Parma or Bologna as a home base, either staying close to train station for easy day trips or outside of town in villa with a car. Would combine car and train for transportation if needed. We do love having the freedom of a car for at least part of a trip to take drives in countrysides etc. I guess our dream would be a home with a lovely kitchen to cook in and mix relaxing days there with days where we could take day trips by car or train. We would want to be close enough if we stayed outside of town to get in at times for dining, shopping, cafes and markets.
I would appreciate any suggestions of where you would base yourself and any names of hotels, apartments, holiday homes, or working farms/wineries with apartments etc. to rent. It doesn’t have to be Parma or Bologna; they were the two towns that seemed to be suggested a lot of the time in my researching so far.
Any advice or suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thank you in advance!
 

jan

100+ Posts
#2
This is a very difficult question. Bologna would be wonderful but not for a car. Verona might suit you--good train access, near to beautiful Lake Garda and lovely country side.
Are you especially into wine, food, art, history or architecture. Those perfereces could influence your myriad choices. Also, maybe with 20 days, split it into 2 places--one in Emilia-Romagna and one in the Veneto. And then there's Lombardia with Lake Como, Bergamo etc. So many wonderful choices!
 

joe

100+ Posts
#3
I guess our dream would be a home with a lovely kitchen to cook in and mix relaxing days there with days where we could take day trips by car or train.
Any advice or suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
Take a map of Northern Italy, and turn it into a dartboard. Stand ten paces away and throw a dart at it with your eyes closed. Anywhere the dart hits, your dream will have come true. ;)
I'd put in a good word for the Piemonte region - an area we keep returning to, and perhaps a bit less frequented by tourists. Very diverse in a scenic context, lots of seasonal events at the time you're going, great hospitality, and no lack of history-related sites. Food is fantastic, like anywhere else in Italy, and maybe even more so...
Our mode of getting to know a new area is changing accommodations every 2-4 days, as we prefer getting to know a smaller area well and doing short day trips, as opposed to long drives back and forth to an accommodation.
In this respect you could divide your time in the area between Ivrea/Biella in the north, Cuneo in the west, Acqui Terme in the south, and Casale Monferrato in the east - just as a general guideline. Torino is a must visit as well - a vibrant and beautiful city.
 
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#4
This is a very difficult question. Bologna would be wonderful but not for a car. Verona might suit you--good train access, near to beautiful Lake Garda and lovely country side.
Are you especially into wine, food, art, history or architecture. Those perfereces could influence your myriad choices. Also, maybe with 20 days, split it into 2 places--one in Emilia-Romagna and one in the Veneto. And then there's Lombardia with Lake Como, Bergamo etc. So many wonderful choices!
 
#5
Thanks Jan,
We enjoy wandering around and then visiting some of the main attractions of an area/town, but also love to enjoy good food, markets, beautiful countrysides, antique markets etc.
It’s so hard to pin down an area, and I’m thinking if we have a month, maybe divide it into 3 different areas and 1being Sicily.
Thanks for your help.
 
#6
Take a map of Northern Italy, and turn it into a dartboard. Stand ten paces away and throw a dart at it with your eyes closed. Anywhere the dart hits, your dream will have come true. ;)
I'd put in a good word for the Piemonte region - an area we keep returning to, and perhaps a bit less frequented by tourists. Very diverse in a scenic context, lots of seasonal events at the time you're going, great hospitality, and no lack of history-related sites. Food is fantastic, like anywhere else in Italy, and maybe even more so...
Our mode of getting to know a new area is changing accommodations every 2-4 days, as we prefer getting to know a smaller area well and doing short day trips, as opposed to long drives back and forth to an accommodation.
In this respect you could divide your time in the area between Ivrea/Biella in the north, Cuneo in the west, Acqui Terme in the south, and Casale Monferrato in the east - just as a general guideline. Torino is a must visit as well - a vibrant and beautiful city.
 
#7
Thanks Joe,
Our 1st intention was planting ourselv es for 3 weeks in 1 spot and really slowing down etc. and unpack. But looking at all the new places we’ve yet to discover in Italy, I get all excited and want to see more!
I guess you’re right, there aren’t too many bad choices. I guess if we plant ourselves close to good train transportation we can easily see many places, or change our plans and move around more.
Thanks for your input.
 
#9
Piemonte really is very special, and there would be plenty of places that allow for being a decent base. On the whole it's more hilly than Emilia-Romagna, so tends to be more scenic. The time of year will be a winner for both. I've no doubt Lombardia would offer similar possibilities.

Expect great food across the whole of this area, plus great walking. Wine can be very special indeed if that's your thing. A number of festivals including truffle festivals large and small. Alba's is the biggie, but it really does get crowded these days, so I'd tend away from basing within the city, as the traffic can get bad with the various events.

I loved the walking around Castino, but then the Langhe wine region has exceptional walking, right through the vineyards. Head up towards Vercelli / Novara and the risotto is as good as you'll find anywhere.

Cuneo a slightly quirky little gem and one where a car is not at all a hindrance.

I do respect your 3 weeks / 1 spot, but I'd say as long as you keep broadly within a region, then 3 separate weeks in 3 locations might give you some wonderful comparisons e.g. Cuneo, Langhe are and Asti, or Aosta, Novara and Ivrea. The combinations are endless (trust me, we've got loads still to cover even after loads of visits)

Culturally I also like your combo of Sicily + the north. The differences should be striking, and I always think such differences are very intriguing to a tourist who wants to get a feel for the underlying culture as well as the more obvious tourist attractions.
 
#10
Piemonte really is very special, and there would be plenty of places that allow for being a decent base. On the whole it's more hilly than Emilia-Romagna, so tends to be more scenic. The time of year will be a winner for both. I've no doubt Lombardia would offer similar possibilities.

Expect great food across the whole of this area, plus great walking. Wine can be very special indeed if that's your thing. A number of festivals including truffle festivals large and small. Alba's is the biggie, but it really does get crowded these days, so I'd tend away from basing within the city, as the traffic can get bad with the various events.

I loved the walking around Castino, but then the Langhe wine region has exceptional walking, right through the vineyards. Head up towards Vercelli / Novara and the risotto is as good as you'll find anywhere.

Cuneo a slightly quirky little gem and one where a car is not at all a hindrance.

I do respect your 3 weeks / 1 spot, but I'd say as long as you keep broadly within a region, then 3 separate weeks in 3 locations might give you some wonderful comparisons e.g. Cuneo, Langhe are and Asti, or Aosta, Novara and Ivrea. The combinations are endless (trust me, we've got loads still to cover even after loads of visits)

Culturally I also like your combo of Sicily + the north. The differences should be striking, and I always think such differences are very intriguing to a tourist who wants to get a feel for the underlying culture as well as the more obvious tourist attractions.
 
#11
Hi Ian,
Thank you for your input.
I’m thinking that 2-3 different places might be more fun:) Were excited to explore this Northern area of Italy.
Everyone’s suggestions and ideas is making me wish it was this year, but we just did Slovenia and Croatia (absolutely loved both!). We were thinking next May, but decided we like the weather in Sept n Oct best for Europe.
I appreciate all you advice.
Thanks! Jody
 
#12
I am quite familiar with the northern part of Italy as I lived near Verona. I particularly enjoyed Parma and Mantova area myself. The food of Emiglia-Romagna is impeccable.
 
#14
Thank you Django,
We were thinking Parma could be a good home base but wondered if it would be better to stay in Bologna because of the train connections.
 
#15
Thank you Django,
We were thinking Parma could be a good home base but wondered if it would be better to stay in Bologna because of the train connections.
The line that tracks via emilia does give you a regular service connecting Parma with Piacenza, Reggio nell'Emilia, Modena and Bologna, so if just staying a week, that's more than enough day trip options. It you could fly from Sicily to Parma, then it's a pleasant small airport. However more likely that Bologna Marconi has the connections and it's also a decent airport to fly into, not that far from the city itself, so airport bus or taxi are options.

Bologna is bigger, and really does reward walking around (and the extensive portici provide cover against the elements). Hotel accomodation always used to be pricey, but apartment rental isn't too badly priced, though can be a mixed bag. The beauty of this is opening up the stunning produce that's all over the city.

On a prior visit we were lucky to coincide our trip (at a similar time of year) with the small truffle festival in Pianoro, a c. 45 min bus ride from the centre of Bologna. One decent sized marquee tent serving simple food (with truffle) and maybe a dozen stalls selling different produce, including truffles. Also a very good mushroom exhibition. Very friendly, sitting at long tables alongside what I presume was mostly locals. I think we were the only non-Italians there. A most enjoyable time.

Yes there are better train connections from Bologna, but really only if going north (e.g. Ferrara), south (e.g. Firenze) and being that little closer, also makes Ravenna and Faenza to the east more accessible.

FWIW we did a 3 location 2 week trip to Emilia-Romagna a few years ago. Ferrara, southern edge of Bologna and Reggio nell'Emilia. If I had the chance to change that, I'd certainly look to be in the centre of Bologna, and I'd be tempted to have Parma instead of Reggio nell'Emilia, even though the latter had it's charms and if looking for somewhere quite untouristy, it has a lovely relaxed feel. Ferrara is a real gem, shockingly under the radar, but I guess Venezia gets all the attention, and what's left gets swallowed up by Verona. I'm not complaining though!

Regards
Ian
 
#17
We really liked Parma - more elegant and easier to get around than we expected, even with the car. There is a lot to see and do there, especially if you like art. Plus rain connections. There are of course a good variety of food and wine tours being right in the "food valley" for parmigiano and prosciutto, among other things. I wished we had scheduled more time there!
 
#18
We really liked Parma - more elegant and easier to get around than we expected, even with the car. There is a lot to see and do there, especially if you like art. Plus rain connections. There are of course a good variety of food and wine tours being right in the "food valley" for parmigiano and prosciutto, among other things. I wished we had scheduled more time there!
 

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