North East Italy Roadtrip: One week guide
So you are thinking about an Italy roadtrip but you are not sure exactly which of the 20 regions of the Bel Paese (Italy) to visit? Let me help you with this one week guide for your North East Italy roadtrip, which will guide you through the discovery of breath-taking Alpine vistas, gorgeous lakes, wine-cladded slopes and Venice’s palazzos. You weren’t thinking to go to Italy and not visiting Venice, where you?
In the famous words of D.H. Lawrence: “For us to go to Italy and to penetrate into Italy is like a most fascinating act of self-discovery.” This act of self-discovery will be short (but one week), time to maximise it in this one week guide for a North East Italy Roadtrip by focussing on two regions: South Tyrol and Venice.
North East Italy Roadtrip
Part One: South Tyrol
Things to know about the region of South Tyrol
Perched on the Italian-facing side of the Dolomites Alps, Sud Tirol is the northernmost point of Italy and in many senses a natural continuation of Austria, with which it borders. The connection between the two places goes beyond geographical proximity and extends to culture and language: The feeling Sud Tirol gives is indeed more akin to the one you could experience in Innsbruck or Munich rather than in the neighbouring regions of Italy and the region – although officially bilingual – is primarily a German-speaking autonomous region where Italian is often only a second language for its inhabitants. This situation resulted from the treaties ending the First World War, when Italy annexed the province from the ashes of the defunct Austrian-Hungarian Empire, an arrangement kept after World War II and finally ratified in the 1970 with an agreement between Austria and Italy which resulted in greater autonomy for the region. Be sure to brush up on those German skills for this part of your North East Italy Roadtrip.
North East Italy roadtrip itinerary through South Tyrol
As this is guide focuses on a one week itinerary for your North East Italy roadtrip, the time spent in South Tyrol is short and sweet – a mere 4 days. It is nowhere near enough (you will not want to leave, I can guarantee you that) but it will give you a good first taste of the region.
Should you be looking into doing day hikes than my friend Charlotte has you covered. Head over to her blog for all information on day hikes in the Dolomites. If wine is your jam, you might want to delve deeper into the various wine regions Italy has to offer, chances are high you might want to extend your trip to Italy after discovering them.
We started our North East Italy roadtrip in Bolzano, Sud Tirol’s capital, a lovely city of ancient merchant origins. This heritage is still clearly visible in the city’s buildings and many squares, where today like in the Middle Age city markets are hosted. The city can be visited in a couple of days, enough to enjoy its slow pace and the main sights, among which Walther Square, the 15th century Cathedral and Castle Maretsch deserve a special mention. A note for the passionate mountaineer: Bolzano hosts Reinhold Messner’s Messner Mountain Museum.
Lago di Carezza/ Karersee
North East Italy is also famous for the host of gorgeous lakes and Bolzano is the perfect launching pod for the Lago di Carezza/ Karersee, a 30-minute scenic drive from South Tyrol’s capital. The lake is a stunning if small example of alpine lake, with brimming green water surrounded by evergreen trees and with the Dolomites in the backdrop. We visited it the same day we arrived in Bolzano. I guess the picture below will explain why
Val Pusteria and Tré Cime
From Bolzano we then started driving slowly East, towards Val Pusteria where we had our second hotel. You might wonder why we took this part of the Italy roadtrip slowely… The answer is twofold: First we would not have ever missed the beautiful Alpi di Siusi, the biggest mountain highland in Europe. They offer kilometres over kilometres of hikes and mountain paths, which will welcome both the novice and the most hardened mountaineer. The second reason lies in South Tyrol’s Wine Route – an area comprises between Nalles in the North and Salorno in the South – a gorgeous stretch where bending roads are surrounded by vineyards full of grapes that will later produce the famous South Tyrol’s white wines.
Arrived in Val Pusteria we stopped in San Candido, where we lodged at the amazing Leitlhof Hotel, a real stunner perfectly positioned between the main sights of the region: Lago di Braies, Lago di Dobbiaco, Brunico and the world-famous Tre Cime di Lavaredo. Words are at fault when trying to describe the beauty of this region. No roadtrip to North East Italy is complete without seeing them. Take a look for yourself.
What to eat and drink in South Tyrol
Vegetarian food in South Tyrol
Let’s be honest: You are planning a roadtrip to Italy, therefore you must already be dreaming of all the food and wine you will be eating. The Bel Paese might be known all over the world for spaghetti a la bolognese (spoiler alert, they do not exist in Italy), Pasta alla Carbonara and Lasagne, but that’s not what you will find in the North East Italy and more specifically in South Tyrol, where the typical cuisine will surprise you for being closer to the one of continental Europe than the traditional Italian one. Traditionally heavy on the meat, starches and cheese among its most famous dishes are the Canederli (boiled dumplings, traditionally done with the available leftovers), the Ravioli alla Pusterese/Schlutzkrapfen (stuffed pasta made from rye and wheat flour and usually served with butter and parmesan) and the Austrian-originated Strudel and Kaiserschmarrn (fluffy shredded pancake with jam).
Wine in South Tyrol
Wine lovers won’t be surprised: Wine is a very serious thing in North East Italy and an Italian roadtrip is the best way to discover the different vineyards. South Tyrol produces many a fine wine, with a greater emphasis on whites than reds, a characteristics shared with Veneto. Besides the ever-present Chardonnays, Pinot Grigios and Sauvignon Blancs, we focused on the more local Gewürztraminers, Müller Thurgaus, and Rieslings. These alone would deserve coming back to fully explore the richness of South Tyrol’s wine culture.
Find out everything you need to know and more about South Tyrol food and wine here.
If you are curious on how to make your own dishes, have a look here.
Practical information for driving in South Tyrol
Half of the pleasure of a roadtrip is driving and the North East of Italy is not wanting for spectacular roads. In fact, driving in South Tyrol is an absolutely gorgeous experience that will leave you speechless at every corner, between pink-coloured mountains and blue lakes. Speaking of corners: Be prepared for a million ‘Tornanti’ (hairpin bends). If you get carsick (like I do) it might not be a bad idea to hop in the front of the car or even better behind the wheel. Luckily the roads are well kept and drivers respectful of the rules of the road, admittedly to a higher degree than in the more southern part of Italy.
Parking are normally well located (i.e. a short walk from the place you intend to visit) and relatively cheap, but be aware that in high seasons many of the most famous attractions such as Lago di Braies sees the main roads closed from ~9 to ~5 to reduce local congestions and environmental pollution.
Where to stay in South Tyrol
There are plenty of beautiful places to stay in South Tyrol – Simple mountain chalets to 5-star wellness hotels, there is something for everyone. Let the below hotels serve as a little inspiration for you:
Naturhotel Leitlhof: This beautiful 4-star hotel is a 15 minute drive from Lago di Braies. The hotel has a strong sustainability program which can be seen through their efforts to reduce water waste and to work with local produce for their restaurant. In addition the property has a beautiful spa with a sauna that offers views over the nearby mountain range from the comfort of your warm sauna seat. Location: San Candido
Goldstern Townhouse: The beautifully renovated townhouse was converted into a stylish B&B in the heart of Bolzano. Rooms are tastefully decorated with very comfortable matrasses and a luxurious bathroom. Breakfast is Italian and/or continental and the location is an unbeatable 5 minute walk from the city centre.
Hotel Weinegg: If you are into wine, this 5-star hotel might just be the perfect fit as it is surrounded by vineyards and located 2 kilometres from the wine route. It offers a luxury wellness centre and an outdoor hot tub open all year as well as a 25 m pool with white sandy beach. Location: Appiano sulla Strada del Vino
Forestis: Possibly the most epic 5-star hotel in the Dolomites providing unbeatable views over the Dolomites, a beautiful design and rooms filled with plush bathrobes and matrasses. Treat yourself with a bio herbal sauna, or any of the other wellness packages that are on offer. Location: Bressanone
North East Italy Roadtrip
Part Two: Venice
As this is a one week guide for a North East Italy roadtrip, it is sadly time to leave South Tyrol and move on to your next stop. Get ready for Venice!
Practical information about Venice
Venice hardly deserves an introduction. Capital of the Republic of Venice for over a millennium, it was a major financial and maritime power during the Middle Ages and Renaissance, and a staging area for the Crusades, as well as an important centre of commerce. Today’s Venice is the capital of Veneto region and a mandatory stop in any Italy roadtrip as it managed to preserve much of its past glory. Built across 118 islands and connected by over 400 bridges, Venice offers to its many tourists a unique setting that no other city can reproduce, filled with small alleys, majestic Palazzi and more churches than one can visit in a week.
Things to see in Venice
Explore the various neighbourhoods of Venice
The first step to explore the things to see in Venice is to understand is geography: Venice proper is divided in 6 sestieri (neighbourhood) with the one of San Marco having the lion’s share of architectural beauties. With this primacy, however, comes another one: The vast majority of tourists visiting Venice storm the San Marco area and makes it extremely busy (except in COVID time), so you might want to choose your hotel elsewhere for a bit of respite. I stayed in Cannaregio, the biggest and northernmost neighbourhood of Venice and I would definitely recommend it. Despite being quiet and local there are plenty of things to see in this part of Venice. It is full of Bacari (bar) with Venezia’s famous Cicchetti (tapas), it’s a perfect pied-a-terre for exploring the many things to do in Venice. Incidentally, Cannaregio is also home to Venice’s ghetto (the world’s first) and its 5 synagogues, an absolute must-see when in Venice.
Visit the various Palazzi and Churches in Venice
But let’s go back to the Palazzi and Churches for which you came to Venice. The first to mention is of course Piazza San Marco, the historical and current heart of the city. Hosting Venice’s cathedral (Basilica di San Marco), Palazzo Ducale (the seat of the Repubblica di Venezia government), and the Clock Tower (the tallest building in Venice, I dare you to reach the top!), the square understand is the focal point of every visit to Venice. The cathedral (currently being restructured) is a masterpiece of Italo-Byzantine architecture dating back from the late 11th century. Palazzo Ducale is an architectonical celebration of Venice grandeur, built to impress the foreign functionaries who would request a meeting with Venice’s greats and that today continue to amaze the museum’s visitors. Integral part of it, and accessible during the Palazzo’s visit, it’s the famous Bridge of Sighs, famous for its beautiful design. It must have not appeared as beautiful to the prisoner walking through it to reach the prisons on the other side of the canal, the reason for the Bridges’ name. A word of advice: Book early in advance to make sure you find a ticket and skip the always long queue, which can be gruesome, especially in the boiling Italian summer.
Other sights not to miss in Venice are the Rialto Bridge, the Ponte dell’Accademia, the Grand Canal and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, which hosts some of the most beautiful oeuvres of 20th European and American art.
Things to do in Venice: Visit Murano and Burano
If you want to take a break from Venice (but probably not from the tourists, especially in high season) I recommend you add Murano and Burano to your list of things to see in Venice. The former, just a small 10-minutes boat ride from Venice, is home to the famous glass-makers, who creates marvellous piece of arts by blowing air into hot glass. Daily guided tours to the factories are available. Burano is a bit further away from the main Venice islands (~45 minutes) and used to be famous for the production of lace. Today Burano’s main attractions are its colourful fishermen houses.
What to eat and drink in Venice
What to drink in Venice
No guide would do justice to Venice’s culinary cuisine if the first thing mentioned wasn’t Aperol Spritz. This cocktail – which dates to the early 1800th – was finally created in its current form in 1919 in neighbouring Pauda by the Barbieri brothers. Today Aperil Spritz is not only a locals’ favourite but a world-famous drink which can be found everywhere in the world, but nowhere as good – and as cheap! – as in Venice.
Final mention of what to drink in Venice has to go to the region’s wine: Veneto is the first producer of wine in Italy and it’s mostly famous for his sparkling wine ‘Prosecco’ and its great local wines Soave and Amarone.
What to eat in Venice
Speaking of it, looking for cheap eats in Venice to fill you up while sipping a spritz? Cicchetti is the term you’ll hear most often referring to the Venetian tradition of antipasti, or Venetian tapas, that is served as a small plate (tapas) or finger food during Aperitivo or Happy Hour. Cicchetti is budget-friendly and traditionally served with a little round shaped glass of wine called an ombra or an Aperol Spritz.
You’ll find all sorts of bites, nibbles, and small plates at bacari bars in Venice. Some of the more common Cicchetti dishes available in Venice include baccalà mantecato, sarde in saor, fritto misto di mare (mixture of fried seafood), or buranelli biscuits for a sweeter taste.
Practical information for your roadtrip to Venice
Where to park in Venice
You’ll be surprise but Venice is a lagoon so no cars are allowed in – unless yours can double as a boat! There are plenty of parking located around the city, so for this part of your roadtrip to North East Italy you will need to park the car. The parking that we found most convenient was the Tronchetto Parking (€21/night).
How to get to Venice from the parking
This parking is perfectly connected to Venice proper by a little electric train called People Mover that for €1.5 will bring you to Piazzale Roma, from where you will be able to take a Vaporetto (€7.5 per 75 minutes) or a Taxi to reach the different parts of the lagoon. Otherwise, Venice proper is easily walkable but be aware that to move from the North islands to the Southern ones you will need a Vaporetto, unless you are willing to walk a fair distance to the bridge that connects you to your desired destination.
Where to stay in Venice
As one of the most visited cities in Italy, it will come to no surprise that the choices for where to stay in Venice are absolutely boundless. To make things easier I have listed a few good options for you to choose from.
- Grand Hotel Palazzo Dei Dogi: Located in the local neighbourhood of Cannaregio, this luxury hotel is an oasis of tranquillity in an otherwise buzzing city. A mere 5 minutes walk from the best ciccheti street in the city! The hotels building is a beautifully renovated palace with the largest private garden in the city.
- Hotel Danieli: If you are looking to splurge a little and want a breathtaking 14th century palace located in the centre of Venice, this is the hotel for you! This 5-star hotel is a mere 200 meters away from the St Mark Square.
- Corte di Gabriela: A 4-star hotel with a strong focus on sustainability. Offering luxury but at a minimal cost to the environment; reducing plastic to a minimum & working together with locals producers & farmers for all (food) items in the hotel
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