An 11-day plan for a buon anniversario in Italy

Hotels in coastal towns such as Positano can boast spectacular views, but you might have to pay a premium to take them in.
Hotels in coastal towns such as Positano can boast spectacular views, but you might have to pay a premium to take them in. (Paola Ghirotti/fototeca Enit)
By Carol Sottili
Sunday, October 25, 2009

Welcome to our new trip-planning column. I'm so glad our first volunteers, who asked for help with an anniversary jaunt to Italy, didn't want to do Florence, Venice and Rome. That would be just too predictable. I do think they should follow some traditions, though: Throw three coins in Rome's Trevi Fountain (one of my earliest childhood memories), sip a dry Fiano on an outdoor terrace in Amalfi and light a candle in a Sicilian church. Otherwise, here's the plan.

Day one: Take the overnight nonstop on United from Dulles to Rome; round-trip fare in October should be about $650 each. You can get cheaper fares on connecting flights, but if you can avoid a jet-lagged traipse through a confusing airport, it's worth $100. Start tracking fares now at and

Days two and three: Stay put for a couple of nights in Rome, an exasperating and exhilarating amalgam of ancient and modern. In one day of sightseeing, I got pinched in the derriere (granted, the guy was at least 80), was nearly run over by a scooter, watched a nun faint at the sight of the pope, wandered 2,000-year-old ruins and ate the best pistachio gelato ever (

To get to the city from the airport, take the Leonardo Express train to the Rome Termini station. (It's about $16 each way and takes 31 minutes; If you're not within walking distance of your hotel, splurge on a taxi.

Hotels in Rome are relatively expensive, although they usually include breakfast. Best bets on the cheaper end are Hotel Golden (, near the Villa Borghese gardens, and Hotel Giuliana (, near the train station and the Spanish Steps; both are about $180 a night during October. For a nice dinner, Washington Post restaurant critic Tom Sietsema recommends Ristorante Ditirambo (

The city's metro system will get you to most sites; a ticket good for 24 hours throughout the system is about $6. There are also several bus tours that allow you to jump off and on at will: City Sightseeing (, for example, is about $27 per person. The buses go to the major plazas and tourist sites, including the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, St. Peter's Basilica and the Piazza Navona ( is a good site for exploring options).

Days four through six: Head to the Amalfi coast, south of Naples. The coastal route, which basically runs about 30 miles from Sorrento south to Salerno, is a winding, narrow road with 500-foot drop-offs to the sea. Filled with oversize buses, fast scooters and impatient drivers, it is not for driving wimps. But renting a car allows flexibility. A small automatic car (and you'll want it to be both to make parking and driving as simple as possible) should run about $350 for three nights, with pickup at the Rome Termini train station and drop-off at Naples Airport ( I'd start by driving to the southern end (Salerno) and heading north: That way you're on the inside of the road for the trip's duration.

If driving does not sound like fun, take the fast train from Rome Termini to Salerno, which is about a three-hour trip; the InterCity train is cheaper than Eurostar, costing about $43 ( From that point, you can hop the frequent ferries that connect the coast's towns ( or, but service is seasonal, usually running April to October. Or you can take the Sita Bus (; the Web site is in Italian only, but you'll find tickets easy to purchase at kiosks with the Sita logo once you get to Salerno. Make sure you buy before you board.

Hotels along the coast are pricey, especially romantic ones with spectacular views. Your first night, stay in Amalfi, but don't break the bank. Hotel Miramalfi (, a short stroll from the village center, has good views and prices starting at about $210 a night. From Amalfi, you can do a day trip to the historic town of Ravello, which hosts chamber music concerts from March to October, except for August (

Save the splurge for your second night, in Positano. Two choices, both of which will run at least $600 a night: Hotel San Pietro (, which is a bit farther from town, or Le Sirenuse (

For your last night along the coast, Hotel Antiche Mura ( is centrally located in Sorrento and has rooms starting at $180 a night.

Days seven through nine: After you drop off the car at the airport in Naples, take a short flight to Catania, Sicily, on Air Italy ( for about $72 a person. Sicily may be part of Italy in name, but you'll feel as if you've landed in a different country. The language, food, wine and landscapes are different. And within Sicily, each region has a distinct personality. In Mazara del Vallo on the southwest coast, for example, where my husband's grandfather was born, you can see the Tunisian coast and feel the North African influence everywhere, from the signs, posted in both Arabic and Sicilian, to the food; couscous is a popular dish.

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