Last December we did a road trip from Zürich to Italy, visiting several cities in the north and the central part of the country. We packed our stuff and along with our two four-legged kids headed south to The Boot.
We weren’t sure what to expect since this was the first time we drove for so long in Europe, during winter and with the dogs. We were a little bit concerned about encountering ice or snow in the mountains or not being able to find pet friendly accommodations. To our surprise, the roads were in impeccable conditions, very well maintained. We hit no ice or snow and we felt safe on the road.
We also had no issues finding pet friendly accommodations. We booked some of the places in advance, but not all of them since we didn’t want to stick to a schedule. We wanted to allow ourselves more freedom to discover new places and have the flexibility to stay longer or leave early from one place depending whether we liked it or not.
We visited 9 cities in Italy, plus the tiny country of The Vatican. Traveling during low season, despite the cold, has great advantages. The lines are not too long compared with the high season months of June, July and August, when the cities are packed with tour buses and groups of loud students. There were tourists of course, but most of them were actually Italians who like to visit other cities when they are less crowded with tourists from other countries.
First stop: Padova
The friars, the people of Padua, and the ever increasing number of pilgrims who visited the tomb of the Saint all worked together to begin construction on a majestic basilica. In 1263 the friars transferred St. Anthony’s remains into the new church built in his honor. When the casket holding his body was opened to verify its contents, the tongue and the vocal cords of the Saint, the instruments with which he had glorified God in so many homilies, were found to be intact.
Next stop: Venice
We left the car parked at “Piazzale Roma” in Venice. That is the closest parking lot before entering the pedestrian/boat only part of the city. Some people recommended us to leave the car at Tronchetto, but some reviews stated Piazzale is safer. We also made the reservation for Piazzale Roma online saving ourselves a couple of euros. At the end it was 5 euros more expensive than Tronchetto.
We took the traghetto (water taxi) to San Zaccaria where our Airbnb apartment was located.
On our way to the apartment we made a mandatory stop to buy vin brulé (hot wine) and snap some photos
We took a free walking tour the next day we took a free walking tour with Freetourvenice. We walked for several hours and visited the Jewish ghetto and even the gondola factory where we saw workers actually building one of the most popular symbols of Venice.
In the afternoon we took a gondola ride. Here’s a tip: during high season you won’t be able to negotiate the price, but if you are traveling during low season you might be able to. The price for a gondola ride is 80 euros and a gondola can fit up to 6 people. The price is for the ride, not per person, so whether you are one person or a group of 6, the price will be the same.
During the walking tour we met 2 wonderful ladies from London, mother and daughter Suzie and Josie and we decided to share a gondola between the four of us. We were able to negotiate the price down to 65 euros for the ride which we then divided between the four of us. This saved us more than half of the price. This is also good opportunity to meet other people, make new friends while saving some money. We still stay in touch with Susie and Josie and are planning to see them when we go to London in May.
Bacaro Risorto is a great place to grab a quick bite and a drink. Is popular so it is always crowded.
Venice offers excellent sea food. Also finding Santa Claus shopping in Venice in December is possible.
On our last day we took the ferry to the islands of Murano and Burano. Murano is famous for its glass making while the island of Burano is famous for its lacework and colorful homes.
In Murano we visited a glass making factory. We paid 5euros to join a demonstration of glass blowing.
In Burano we strolled up and down its colorful alleys, enjoyed gelato and bought handmade lace napkins.
On our way back to the apartment we saw one of the most original libraries we’ve ever seen: Libreria Acqua Alta. In this library you will found used and new books stacked in gondolas, boats and tanks.
Our last stop in Venice was Ca’ del Sol, where we bought hand made Venetian masks, hoping to return to Venice for the Venetian Carnival in 2016.
I already wrote a blog dedicated exclusively to Verona. We spent 3 nights here, including Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. It was a fantastic culinary experience. In Verona we visited the Verona Arena, a farm, the Christmas Market and Juliet’s house.
In Florence we spent two nights. Besides eating Florentine gelato, we found some time to visit some of the the major attractions like the Duomo, Galleria de’lla accademia which houses the famous David sculpted by Michelangelo, Galleria Uffizi, Ponte Vecchio and a few others.
I also wrote a blog about the 4 days we spent in Rome. We did and saw so much, and still could’ve spent another 4 days. Rome is a great city, filled with history and awesome food.
On our way to Rome we stopped at Orvieto, one of the great and charming Italian hill towns we visited.
Rome & Vatican City
Happy New Year 2015 from Rome!
Calcata & Arezzo
After Rome we were not sure where to go next. We stopped in Calcata, another great hill town and after that we decided to spend the night in Arezzo.
The church in Arezzo
Parma and back to Zürich
Our last stop was Parma. Parma is famous for its Prosciutto di Parma and the Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. They have a nice Saturday market where we found everything from clothes to household items to fresh fruits and vegetables.
Traveling with our four-legged companions in Italy
To book pet friendly places we used Airbnb.com and Booking.com. Make sure to use the filters when searching for pet friendly places to stay, this will save you time and the inconvenient of being rejected if you book an accommodation that doesn’t allow dogs and then you show up with 2 of them. All the places we stayed didn’t charge extra for the dogs, which was a big plus. Some of them went above and beyond to make sure our dogs were comfortable, like bringing beds or blankets for them.
Italians love dogs. We were stopped several times in the street by people who wanted to take pictures of the dogs or simply to pet them. Since it was cold, we let the dogs in the apartment or the hotel room during the days after taking them for a long walk in the morning and the afternoons. Also, because dogs are not allowed in most of the major sight seeing places, it was better for them to stay in a safe and warm place while we hit some of the tourist attractions. But in the smaller cities, like Orvieto, Calcatta and Arezzo they stayed with us all the time. They were even allowed inside the restaurants and sometimes got a better service than we did!
We brought extra sweaters for them and when it was colder we bundled them up to keep them warm. Other times we entered a cafe to warm ourselves up before continuing our walk, but as soon as we noticed they were uncomfortable because of the cold or because they were simply tired, we headed back to the apartment or hotel where they jumped in the bed and fell asleep until we came back. They behave incredibly well. We got excellent reviews on Airbnb by the owners of the apartments where we stayed. They didn’t have any accidents, nor barked when left alone. I can say they are expert travelers now.
Things to bring during a winter road trip with dogs:
- Extra blankets (to protect the furniture of the places we stayed)
- Enough food and treats
- Jackets to keep them warm
- Pet passports, with up to date vaccinations
- Food and water bowls
We had a great time! The food was amazing and the people incredibly helpful. We are thinking about doing something similar next December, but this time we will go even more south, to Sicily and Malta.