As my ongoing travel to and love affair with Italy continues, I realized last year that all of my trips to Italy–as well as my trips to other European cities–have been in February and July. Of course, this decision has been because of my vacation schedule for my day job–I am a high school English teacher. But it occurred to me that I had never traveled to Italy in the spring, which for me would be sometime from mid-March to mid-April. Last year, I took the opportunity to travel to Florence in March, literally as the spring season was beginning, and it turned out to be a comfortable and exciting time. Traveling in spring though requires some specific planning, depending on the time in spring you are traveling. Here is a list of considerations for spring travel to make your time in Italy a comfortable one.
- Wear layers.
Seems obvious, but wearing layers is crucial. I left my hotel at 8:00am, and the weather was cool. No real coat was necessary, but a good sweater worked wonders. As the day progressed, I would peel off the layers. By 1:00pm I was in short sleeves, sitting in Piazza della Republica enjoying the swarms of people appreciating the sights and sounds of a beautiful spring day. Be warned though. What you wear and what you bring depends on the time of spring you are visiting. March can still be like February, with cold and wet weather. Luckily, when I visited Florence, the temperature reached the low 70s. Most people tell me that their time in early spring was met with very wet weather. As well, where you go is a factor. Northern and southern Italy can vary greatly in temperature and precipitation. So planning is key.
- Bring sunscreen no matter what.
So as I sat midday in Piazza della Repubblica–or Piazza della Signoria, Piazza Santa Croce, Piazza Santa Maria Novella and the smaller but charming Piazza Santa Trinita. Now in short sleeves, I forgot how strong the sun can be having just endured a very cold and snowy winter in New York. I hadn’t realized how my skin was ripe for tanning–or burning in my case. While only March 24th, sunscreen was still a necessity. And whether you experience weather as I did or rainy weather, the sun is just naturally stronger at this time of year. So protect yourself.
Plan your own time to enjoy the outdoor markets, festivals, and walking tours.
While many travelers work hard to see the traditional landmarks of the famed Italian cities, making sure to have the time to walk around on your own is key in spring. You’ve been cooped up, so get out–even get out of the museums and churches. If you are a little uncomfortable on your own, especially when in a city for the first time, try a guided walking tour–whether the tours are for traditional sites or off the beaten path. Spring travel is just before peak season, so costs can be a little bit lower. Also, many more outdoor tours are offered, and these walking tours are more pleasurable because the numbers of people out and about are not as frustrating as in summer months. If you must go inside, consider the museums and churches for the morning and the walking tours for the afternoon. Or forget guided walking tours altogether. Just walk around on your own. Because it is spring, you are more apt to find more outdoor markets and festivals taking place. I have had the most memorable experiences and finds just walking around on my own. More importantly, choosing to spend all day outdoors enables you to work off that scrumptious breakfast and the “I ate too much” lunch without sweating or shivering profusely.
- Spring into the freshest cuisine.
The beginning of spring season also brings the beginning of new foods. Italians are known for their farm-to-table fresh food and strong cooking traditions. And you will only get certain foods at certain times–it is blasphemy to serve something out of season. So make sure you find an authentic restaurant that caters to locals, and then feast on the freshest, most lovingly prepared food of your life. Order such items as asparagus, fava beans, broccoli rabe, and my personal favorite carciofi alla giudia. But order those fried artichokes quickly because they go out of season by the end of the spring season. And you don’t have to feel guilty about anything you are eating–Italians do it right. They cook with olive oil and serve small, manageable portions. Lastly, and this is important, don’t forget the sweets. Strawberries are in season in spring, so try authentic strawberry gelato. And don’t worry, you will walk it all off!
- Get out of town.
If you are traveling to one or several of the mainstays of Italy–Rome, Florence, Venice–take at least one excursion. Go out of town to discover the countryside. Most people like to do this when in Florence, and I would agree. Why? How do you say lots of good wine and good food in beautiful, dream-like settings? Again, prices for these excursions are not as costly as peak season, and while the experience of the wine and food is unbelievable, the journey there is just as glorious. And, as always, you do not have to take a guided excursion. Rent a car or take the train on your own to explore beautiful Tuscan towns like Montepulciano, Siena, San Gimignano, or my favorite, Lucca.