Italy: A Few Great Reasons to Visit Off-Season

This is the line during the summer to get into Rome's Colisseum. Maybe visiting Italy off season might be a good idea! SelectItaly photo.
This is the line during the summer to get into Rome’s Colosseum. Maybe visiting Italy off-season might be a good idea!

By Max Hartshorne
GoNOMAD Editor

Contrarians rule the roost when it comes to getting more for their money– by carefully choosing the dates they travel to popular destinations. Avoiding travel during the peak seasons pays off in many ways–this is especially true for the country that more people read about than any other–Italy!

Kathy McCabe in her PBS TV series Dream of Italy. Read more about the show and the newsletter of the same name in this story.
Cooking adventures in Italy are great any time of year!

It just makes sense that offseason Italy, like off-season Caribbean, can be a wonderful choice. Just think about what you will be missing.

Mile-Long Line

The mile-long line to get into Rome’s Coliseum, being able to actually walk around in comfort in the vast halls of Florence’s Uffizi Gallery;  much can be said about traveling in the fall or winter to places that can be mobbed during summer months.

We spoke with several travelers who have been visiting Italy on trips organized by Select Italy, and they are all repeat customers, and all found Italy offseason to be just about the best.

Lisa Tamburini traveled to Florence in September in 2013. She said “Given that Italy has a lot of tourism, traveling in late September and October (off-peak) made for fewer lines and fewer crowds in the city.

By having fewer crowds, it made my vacation more relaxing because I was not fighting the crowds in Florence to see its museums and other historical places.

“After touring Florence, I headed to Bologna. Select Italy arranged for a guided tour of The Ancient Taverns in Bologna and a Gourmet Walking Tour of Bologna. As with Florence, traveling off-season allowed a more relaxed paced for my tours.

A bridge in Florence, Italy. Lisa Tamburini photo.

Additionally, I believe that because the Italian service providers had fewer tourist, I received more personalized attention.

Lisa added, ” I also believe I learned more from the tour guides because of the more relaxed pace and because they were not under the same time constraints as they would be in the summer because of later tours for other clients.”

Rowing a river in Italy. Lisa Tamburini photo.

On the company’s Espresso Blog, they provide many good reasons for off-season travel.

“It makes for a much more comfortable trip and also offers many seasonal attractions: from ice skating in the Darsena basin at the heart of Milan before checking out the latest winter fashions to Christmas shopping at Florence’s seasonal markets or admiring hundreds of nativity scenes in Naples historic city center, there is something to do or see in Italy 365 days a year, whatever the weather.”

Amalfi and More

Even though Italy is a modern nation, many of the buildings and homes don’t have air conditioning. That makes it tough when you visit a seaside paradise like Amalfi, where temperatures can soar into triple digits in the peak of summer.

You probably weren’t going to go in the water anyway, so why not go in November or December and see Positano or Ischia in the cooler temps?

Positano is lovely in the summer and still gorgeous in the fall and winter!
Positano is lovely in the summer and still gorgeous off-season in the fall and winter!

Christmas Markets

One of the December highlights has nothing to do with crowds, it’s just the season–Italy is full of Christmas Markets that take the concept of the holiday to a whole new sphere.

Like most Europeans, Italians prefer to buy Christmas gifts at outdoor Christmas markets that spring up in late November across the continent.

Imagine strolling through the crowds, festive lights blinking, a little grog in your mug, and diving into a mercantino di Natale, a Christmas Market?

You can’t find these in July or August, and the selection of hand-crafted one-of-a-kind gifts blows away anything you can find on Amazon or in a shopping mall in the US. Celebrating the season outdoors, in a place like Trento, next to medieval walls, is a whole other experience. It can make Christmas shopping actually fun!

Trento’s Christmas market is one of the most famous in Italy, with 90 stands and plenty of chances to taste local foods and savor locally made wines.

Naples’  Famous Nativity Scenes

Italy is full of Christmas markets--who would want to shop in a mall when you can go to an exciting city center?
Italy is full of Christmas markets–who would want to shop in a mall when you can go to an exciting city center?

Naples, too, is one of the country’s top Christmas markets, here it’s all centered around Via San Gregorio Armeno. Nativity scenes are a Neapolitan specialty, craftsmen here make terra cotta statuettes of all nativity characters, from Virgin Mary to the Three Wise Men.

They also create figures of local fishermen, winemakers and others. This unheralded city has come a long way from the depths of the recession when garbage-clogged the sidewalks. Naples is back!

Via dei Condotti, Rome, closed down around the Christmas holidays.
Via dei Condotti, Rome, closed down around the Christmas holidays.

Christmas, like it Used To Be

John Henderson is a former sports writer for the Denver Post who retired and moved to Rome a few years ago.

He wrote a story on GoNOMAD about what it’s like there during Christmas time…and for anyone who has ever bemoaned America’s penchant for commercializing the holiday, the way they do Christmas in Rome would make them smile.

“My nearest family is 8,000 miles away, I have no family ties, religion plays no role in my life. Yet Christmas is one of my favorite times in Rome.

This is not only because it’s the slowest month for tourism, but it’s also because Rome has a much more subtle approach to the holiday. Christmas here has meaning. Though most people here are not religious at all, it’s treated as a religious holiday, not the commercial affair it’s evolved in the US.

“Rome may be the world’s best city for walking and it’s even better during Christmas. The busy shopping streets are closed to traffic. On the way down Condotti, I passed Bangladeshis huddled against the cold selling roasted chestnuts which filled the air with that familiar smoky aroma.

I turned down Via del Corso, one of the busiest streets in Rome but half of it is closed to traffic. The entire length of the street reaching all the way to the giant white monument honoring Italian unification, Vittoriano, is lined with big white Christmas balls. It wasn’t ostentatious. It wasn’t colorful. It was just simple and bright.”

Cindy Bigras, who lives in Massachusetts, has been a regular off-season visitor to Italy. She once lived there after college, and still practices and keeps up her Italian language, which she uses a lot when she visits her favorite nation. This fall she and her partner Bill are heading to Rome and ……

Venice's first woman gondolier, in service.
Venice’s first woman gondolier, in service. Randy Slovis photo.

“Rock Star Travelers”

Randy Slovis traveled with to Italy in May and October and said. “The one thing I can say is that with Select Italy my wife and I feel like “rock stars” when we travel.

“A perfect example was our departure from Venice. We knew we had a boat to take us to the airport for our departure. Instead of just going out to a pier, a very amiable English speaking woman came into our hotel. She brought us out to our boat. She then accompanied us to the airport dock.

“She got out with us and brought us to a van for the short trip to the airport which is currently being renovated. She then brought us up to Delta to check in, took us to the VAT refund area and filled out all our forms. THEN, took us to the security line to go to our gate.

“She – via Select Italy – made what could have been a stressful departure and thereby turning our very relaxing vacation into a thrash yet another easy, special time. Select Italy is at its best in taking care of the details you don’t know need to be done.”

Cindy Bigras with a chef in Florence, Italy.
Cindy Bigras with a chef in Florence, Italy

See the “Less Famous” Parts of Italy off Season

Cindy Bigras, a fifty-something financial planner from Holyoke, Mass, is a frequent traveler to Italy. She speaks fluent Italian and had this advice about the timing of your trip to Italy.

“Going offseason, especially if you go to lesser-visited regions, allows you to see Italy as it is day-to-day. There are fewer tourists, you’ll rarely need reservations in restaurants and there will be lots of opportunities to interact with the locals. For me, that’s what is most meaningful about travel.”

Cindy visited Calabria last summer, in the far south, as well as Florence, which she warns, whatever time you visit will still be a crowded scene. “You can’t avoid crowds in places like Florence, where most people go when visiting Italy for the first time.”

“Offseason equates to spending less time waiting in line for tours of the sites and more time soaking in all that Italy offers. Depending on what type of trip you want, I recommend spending time in the lesser-known areas of Italy, like Marche and Abruzzo,  or Calabria,  where you’ll discover things not pictured in all the guide books; there are countless of these unexpected treasures all over the country.”

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