Rick Steves' Travel Blog

I'm sharing my travel experiences, candid opinions and what's on my mind. If you think it's inappropriate for a travel writer to stir up discussion on his blog with political observations and insights gained from traveling abroad, you may not want to read any further. — Rick

  • We are monitoring this blog carefully for inappropriate posts. Before you post, read our Community Guidelines.

I capped my Italy travels this year in the great city of Milano. And even though I’ve been coming here for a long time, I enjoyed some great new sights. Here’s a first-time-ever listing that will be part of the new and improved Rick Steves’ Italy guidebook for 2014.

Milan's rejuvenated old industrial canal is becoming one of the city's top nightspots.

Milan’s rejuvenated old industrial canal is becoming one of the city’s top nightspots.

Naviglio Grande
Milan, while far from any major lake or river, has a sizable port. It’s called “The Big Canal.” Since 1170, a canal has connected Milan with the Mediterranean via the Ticino River (which flows into the Po River on its way to the Adriatic Sea). Five hundred years ago, Leonardo helped further develop the city’s canals and designed a modern lock system. Then, during the booming Industrial Age in the 19th century—and especially with the flurry of construction after Italian unification—the canals were busy shipping in the marble and stone needed to make Milan the great city it is today. In fact, a canal (filled in in the 1930s) once circled the walls of the city and allowed barges to dock with their stone right at the building site of the great cathedral. And in the 1950s, landlocked Milan was actually the seventh-biggest port in Italy, as its canals were instrumental in the rebuilding of the bombed-out city. Today, disused train tracks parallel the canal, old warehouse buildings recall the area’s working-class heritage, and former workers’ tenements—once squalid and undesirable—are much in demand and being renovated smartly. While recently rough and characteristic, today the area is trendy, traffic-free, and pricey—thriving with inviting bars and eateries.

The canal district, with its lively restaurants and bars lining the old industrial canal that once so busily served the city, is an understandably popular destination for dinner or evening fun. To get here, ride the Metro to Porta Genova, exit following signs to Via Casale, walk the length of Via Casale one block directly to the canal, climb halfway across the metal bridge, and survey the scene. To the left, on both sides of the canal, are plenty of great places to eat and drink. The best bars line the canal within a half-block of the bridge.

Eating at the Canal
Consider ending your day at the port of Milan. The Naviglio Grande has a bustling collection of bars and restaurants where you have your choice of memorable and affordable options that will come with a great people scene.

La Vineria is a fun place, serving wine from giant vats and cheap and fun plates of cheese and meats to a cool crowd with streetside seating (open daily, June-Sept dinner only from 15:30, Oct-May lunch and dinner except no lunch on Mon, Via Casale 4, tel. 02-8324-2440).

Pizzeria Tradizionale is a local favorite for pizza (open daily, at the far end of canal walk, Ripa di Porta Ticinese 7).

Ristorante Brellin is the top romantic splurge, with a dressy crowd and fine food. The menu is international while clinging to a bit of tradition (€14 pastas, €24 secondi, daily 12:30-15:30 & 19:00-24:00, behind the old laundry tubs at Vicolo dei Lavandai, tel. 02-5810-1351, www.brellin.it).

Osteria Cucina Fusetti is a charming little place serving good Sardinian cuisine. What’s that? Giuseppe speaks English, and enjoys explaining (€8 pastas, €15 secondi, closed Sun; near the curved bridge with the zigzag design at the Japanese restaurant, go away from canal to Via Fusetti 1; mobile. 340-861-2676).

Pizzeria Spaghetteria La Magolfa is a local fixture offering good, cheap €5 salads, pastas, and pizzas. You can sit inside, on a veranda, or at a table on the street. For €15, two people could split a hearty pizza and a good bottle of wine and get full…and a bit drunk (no cover, a long block off canal at end of Via M. Fusetti at Via Magolfa 15, tel. 02/832-1696).

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Pinterest




My Orvieto guide was excited to surprise me with a visit to a very special and obscure site: the underground, fresco-covered, Etruscan tomb of the Hescanas family, which dates back to the fifth century B.C. It happened to be a tomb I knew very well, as for many years (back in the 1980s and 1990s), I would bring my tour groups here. We’d knock on the farmer’s door, and the old man would bring us through the fields, where we’d climb underground into this amazing tomb carved from the tufa rock in the middle of nowhere. We also filmed here in 2000. Today the farmer is gone, his house is abandoned and overgrown, and a local group of archaeologists has the key to the Hescanas tomb. And with the help of my guide, Manuela, I enjoyed a wonderful bit of tour guide nostalgia.

If you can’t see the video below, watch it on YouTube.

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Pinterest




I was doing my best to stay in my hotel room and finish some writing. But there was a Pentecost festival going on outside, and the energy was building. I could hear it out my window. I couldn’t resist, and joined the multitude that had gathered on the square in front of the cathedral, as the citizens of Orvieto had for generations as part of their Pentecost celebrations. The tension built and built…and then, suddenly, it happened: A dove in a little plastic tube rocketed down a zipline and into a nest of fireworks at the front of the church, setting it all ablaze.

This ritual was almost comical. After the fireworks blew off, a fireman climbed up the little tower to see if the dove was OK. He was. And that was great news, as it brings good luck to the town and fertility to the last couple married in Orvieto.

When you travel, you can’t help but bump into festivals. I have to admit, I don’t plan for them. But they seem to come to me.

If you can’t see the video below, watch it on YouTube.

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Pinterest




p39-orvieto-bus

Orvieto is one of the most striking, memorable, and enjoyable hill towns in central Italy. And part of the charm is arriving by train or car (parking in the big, free lot just beyond the train station) and joining the locals to climb the town’s natural fortress hill on a slick funicular. As you step out of the funicular station up top, like clockwork, the hardworking little bus A meets you and zips you deep into town (covered by the same ticket), depositing you right in front of my favorite Gothic cathedral in Italy. From there, you are in a delightful, perfectly preserved, and virtually traffic-free world — within steps of great hotels, restaurants, and museums… not to mention a chapel slathered with dramatic Signorelli frescoes.

All day long, this bus shuttles loads of visitors enthusiastic about eating, sleeping, shopping, and sightseeing in Orvieto. There are lots of other great hill towns in Umbria and Tuscany, but none of them provides such a thoughtful welcome to the tourists who stoke the local economy.

But now, sadly, in a misguided attempt to cut costs, the town council of Orvieto is about to drop the handy shuttle bus from the funicular to Piazza del Duomo. By cancelling Bus A, they’re condemning those arriving in Orvieto to either take a long walk through town with luggage, or take their chances with expensive taxis.

I’ve never done this before, but I’d like to ask anyone who has enjoyed Orvieto’s “Bus A Welcome” to email any or all of the city officials here and briefly explain why you appreciate Bus A, and why canceling it would be a sad move for Orvieto. Thanks.

Orvieto Mayor: sindaco@comune.orvieto.tr.it
Orvieto Councilor of Transportation: g.luciani@comune.orvieto.tr.it
Orvieto Councilor of Culture: m.marino@comune.orvieto.tr.it

 

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Pinterest




A favorite research chore for me in Orvieto is checking my restaurants…and then trying to find even better ones. (Actually, I guess that’s a favorite research chore almost anywhere I go. Hey, it’s a job.) I appreciate what I call “personality-driven restaurants,” where the owner is forever enthusiastic about sharing his love of good cooking. Here at Ristorante La Palomba, when Gianpiero learned my favorite dessert was good cheese with red wine, he made sure I understood what he was serving and that I left with a lifelong memory.

If you can’t see the video below, watch it on YouTube.

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Pinterest




There’s something about Italy’s Amalfi Coast that makes people put up with horrible traffic, high prices, and having to climb up and down every time you want to get somewhere. And yet, it’s been attracting holiday-goers for centuries.

p35-Amalfi-coast

With a million vistas, each one different, I could look out the window all day.

p36-positano

My favorite town to sleep in is Positano — much better than Amalfi or any other town on this stretch of coastline. It’s one of those places made to order for a romantic getaway. And late in May, the weather is just right.

p37-rosticerria

In even the most resorty of places, you can always find a rosticceria, where classic local dishes are cooked up and ready for you to buy by the weight and take out. I don’t know a lot of Italian, but a key phrase I do know is “da portar via” — for the road. You can take your rosticceria meal down to the beach, grab a nice perch, and enjoy a cooked meal at not much more than picnic prices.

p38-ravello

Ravello — famous for its views — is perched more than 1,000 feet above the Mediterranean. And it takes full advantage of every vista. This bar’s little balcony is at what’s called “The Terrace of Infinity.” When you go there, you’ll know why.

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Pinterest




With each visit to Sorrento, I book my favorite taxi driver, Raffaele Monetti (he’s been in my Italy guidebook for years), and enjoy a day exploring the jaw-droppingly scenic Amalfi Coast. I can’t imagine trying to enjoy the views while driving, not to mention worrying about parking in the spindly little towns along the coast. A driver costs some money. But what a luxury: You’re dropped off and free to explore until you’re ready to move on. This time, I also booked a local guide to be sure to wring the most value out of the day for the 2014 edition research. With all that help, it was a very productive day.

If you can’t see the video below, watch it on YouTube.

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Pinterest




I just spent two days in Naples, and loved it. It’s one of the most fertile, churning, exuberant, and fun cities in all of Europe. And the entire time, I wondered, “Where are the tourists?” Of course, Naples has a reputation of being dangerous. But I think that any reasonable traveler exercising good common sense will feel comfortable here — and will be well rewarded for their adventurous spirit.

p31-naples-split

Naples’ street plan is 2,500 years old, dating back to the days when it was the Greek city Neapolis. And for all those centuries, an arrow-straight, razor-thin street has cut the city in two. It’s Spaccanapoli, which means “Split Naples.” Exploring it, you become part of this vivid and exuberant stripe of life.

p32-three-on-bike

If exploring Naples, you can just park yourself on a street corner and watch the world roll by — much of it on motorbikes. It’s not unusual to see families of three, or even four, all sharing the family vehicle.

p33-good-menu

A big joy when researching a guidebook chapter on Naples is sorting through all the great restaurants. Characteristic mom-and-pop places cater to locals, serving family recipes at family-friendly prices. My criteria for a good restaurant: in a low-rent location; busy with locals; and with a small, handwritten menu in one language. (It’s small because they’re selling everything they’re cooking; it’s handwritten because it’s shaped by what’s fresh today in the market; and it’s in one language because they cater to locals rather than tourists). Here, pastas and secondi are just €6 (about $8) each. Everything’s delicioso — and I speak from experience.

p34-cruisers-with-book

Naples is a busy cruise port, and the terminal is right in the town center. Adventurous cruise travelers can hop off their ship and venture directly into the urban jungle. I met this American couple deep in Naples, having a great time…with ripped-out pages from my Mediterranean Cruise Ports guidebook. Their big smiles and the way they were using those pages made my day.

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Pinterest




I want to take a quick break from reporting in Italy to talk about my recent posts explaining how we filmed a circumcision party in Turkey. I apologize if the tone of my writing seemed disrespectful of a topic I didn’t realize people were so passionate about. I now understand that caring people feel very strongly about it. And the discussion on my blog has given me a better appreciation for this issue, which is clearly important to many people. Thank you.

For twenty years, I have made TV shows about European culture. I have shown controversial aspects of many cultures, from force-feeding geese for foie gras in France to bullfights in Spain. In each case, I’ve heard from people — whose opinions I respect — who are passionately against what I’ve shown. They have wanted me not to put these things on television. But in my role as a travel writer and TV producer, I have made a decision not to make judgments about institutions that are important to a culture, whatever my own personal feelings about them might be. It’s not my job to censor them from you, my viewers. These things exist, regardless of whether I (or you) agree with them or oppose them. And as travelers, we all have the opportunity to see them, learn from them, and then draw our own conclusions.

Now, back to Italy!

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Pinterest




It seems the people of Naples are endlessly enthusiastic about pizza and the fine differences between different pizzerias. My friend Vincenzo was emoting about his version of the best pizza: “Melts into your mouth, goes straight through the throat and into the stomach. It does not need to be chewed.” I turned my camera on him, and he clammed up a bit…but even so, he gave a sense of the Neapolitan love affair with pizza. The people of Naples claim pizza was born here, and it is clearly the best in Italy. What do you think? Where’s your favorite Italian pizza?

If you can’t see the video below, watch it on YouTube.

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Pinterest