Trip Review: Northern Italy + Switzerland (Part 2)
10 DAYS IN NORTHERN ITALY + SWITZERLAND.
SOUNDS AWESOME, RIGHT?
Ok guys, Cam here with the second review of our Northern Italy + Switzerland trip. If you missed my 'Part 1' blog, you can read that here. In that particular blog, I spent most of my time writing about what I was looking forward to most on that trip.
Now, having been back from doing that tour with Tony (who wrote his own blog post and review on it), I've got some keen insight with what to really look forward to most in each and every city. And of course, I'll get right down to it with the no-nonsense approach I usually do in my blogs. Get ready though, I tend to write a lot....
Now, keeping in mind that 10 days is really a long time to go on vacation, I want you to understand this is our biggest and best tour we've made so far. Tony and I were really excited to put this together and now we know every one of these places really well now, and during our time living abroad, had these places pinned down to go out and explore.
Butttttt before you read anything, watch this three-minute video down below of the trip itself. All recorded on the GoPro 5 Black Edition, and edited by our good friends at Squats & Pixels.
So, as many of you already know, this 'Northern Italy + Switzerland' trip takes us through the following cities: Milan, Lake Como, Lugano, Bolzano, Venice and Florence (and more if you're feeling adventurous). So, the easiest way to do this blog will be to review them one by one. Let's start with the arrival and departures though.
If you plan on coming on this tour (in the future, or this August) you're going to want to book your RT flight in and out of Milan. MXP or (Malpensa) is the main international airport in Milan. Which is huge. But, in terms of arrivals, it's fairly cheap to fly into, and has quick, efficient access to the train station in the center of the city (where the VRX team will meet you!). That being said, let's get down to the meat and bones.
What can I say about Milan that you don't already know? It's known as being the, "Fashion capital of the world," and boasts countless 'Design Weeks' for architects, designers, and more.
Not to mention it's literally the New York of Italy. With 1.5 million people in the metropolis alone, Milan has a bustling (and surprisingly efficient subway) as well as hosts countless offices for world-renowned international companies like Red Bull, National Geographic, and many other industries like finance, real estate and more.
Now, having lived previously in both Florence and Rome, I'll admit, I've never been to Milan (and really didn't have the drive to go) but once I was there, I was pleasantly surprised at the ornate architecture, clean city streets and had the efficiency many other Italian cities don't seem to have. The people in Milan felt like they had a 'purpose' and a place to be. Which was a welcome difference to many other place in Italy.
That being said, Tony and I created this VoyEdge RX trip so that we only spent one night in Milan, which was actually perfect. This entire tour was more focused on being outside, closer to nature, and full of hiking and adventure, which Milan wasn't really full of.
THE GOOD: Milan was clean, efficient (especially the subway) and had an awesome CrossFit box at: Porta Ticinese. Plus, the architecture was pretty badass. The Milan Cathedral was pretty mind-blowing as well. Get the sights out of the way and get pumped for Lake Como tomorrow!
THE BAD: You might be a little jet lagged coming into Italy. Plus, there's a lot of people in Milan and it gets pretty hot in the summer. That being said, the espresso (Italy has iced espresso shots in the summer - make sure to get one) and is damn good though. Grab shot or two and get the sightseeing done so you can relax and get ready for the next week!
LAKE COMO, ITALY
The best thing about this trip (in my humble opinion) is that every place you go gets better. Arriving into Milan might seem like a culture shock at first, but when you get to Lake Como, it's seriously mind-blowing. Tall, green mountains, surrounded by a massively calm lake, colorful cliffs and the most perfect, yellow-orange sun you've ever seen. With a small town of about 20-30,000 people, it's not packed at all (in the offseason, at least) but in the summer, you should definitely expect some crowds.
The train ride from Milan to Lake Como is about 35 minutes. Super easy and quick. And it's a welcome change. Once you leave the bustling city center of Milan, you'll notice a difference at how much cleaner the air is in Lake Como. Situated in the mountains, Como is a small sea-side town filled with luscious gardens, and sleek architecture doesn't boast too much and certainly doesn't try to be something it isn't.
You'll see what I mean when you get there, but the fresh food markets, seaside restaurants and amazing gardens WILL leave you breathless. So, on day 2, when you arrive here, check out the scene and small town of 'Como.' There's a 'Birreria' which has over 400 craft beers from around the world and is AWESOME, but don't just take my word for it. GO THERE!
You're also going to hike take the tram up into the mountains and do a three hour hike past George Clooney's house to a small town called, Torno, where you can take the boat back for the late afternoon. I HIGHLY recommend doing it, as the views from up there are absolutely pristine and well worth it. Not to mention, Lake Como itself is astonishing in every single way possible. My point being, Lake Como is an absolute gem. Especially in the summer where it will be warm, but super cool on the water.
THE GOOD: Lake Como is a small enough town that you won't feel overwhelmed whatsoever. Couple that with fresh fruit markets, outside cafes, restaurants, pristine views right on the water and you've got yourself a winning combo. Do the hikes, explore the small charming towns, pack light, converse with locals and there's NO WAY you're going to have a bad time. Trust me on that.
THE KINDA BAD: There's no CrossFit box in Como, but there is one in Lugano, just 25 minutes away via train - where you'll go tomorrow. That and not everyone speaks perfect English in Como. It was April when I was there, so maybe we were a bit out of luck? Anyway, time to bone up on your Italian.
Remember how I said this trip just keeps getting better and better? Well, you'll see why when you get to Lugano. Just a short train ride away, Lugano, Switzerland sits nestled lakeside (to Lake Lugano, duh) just over the mountains from Como.
Having seen a plethora of pictures of Lugano beforehand, I knew it was going to be pretty, but definitely didn't know what to expect. Tony and I got off the 25 minute train ride from Como and were instantly at the top of the town. We were pleasantly surprised to be in Switzerland in such a short amount of time, but for some reason it STILL felt like Italy. All the piazzas names were in Italian, people were speaking Italian, there were Italian restaurants even, but there were so many Swiss Flags around.
It was quite the dichotomy. Anyway, we made our way down to the riviera, which sits adjacent to the calm waters of Lake Lugano and made plans to head to CrossFit Lugano, about a mile away from the riviera into the town. We figured if we grabbed a quick bite to eat, and then headed to the box, we could work it off - and then eat again afterwards before heading back to Como for the night.
If you're not a CrossFitter, and don't want to go to CrossFit Lugano, you can simply hang out among many of the open piazzas and grab some food, or beers outside. There's actually an AWESOME flower garden on the far side of the riviera, right below one of the main hills that I would highly recommend. See the above picture for what I mean...
Anyway, CrossFit Lugano was one of the nicest boxes we've ever been to. With seemingly every piece of equipment a box could have (and Reebok branded signs everywhere) it was clear these guys were serious about their fitness. Tony and I ended up showing up during open gym, so we did some muscle-ups, cleans, wall balls, rowing, thrusters and pull-ups over a series of two longer metcons. We went in feeling a bit tired, but left feeling excited and invigorated. We can't wait to get back there, that's for sure. Not to mention, the staff were super friendly about letting two Americans just show up and do their own thing. Super cool place, kind of pricey drop-in at 25 Swiss Francs, but well worth it.
Lastly, after the WOD (and shower) Tony and I headed back down to the Riviera, where it was a surprising 70 degrees headed into about 5 or 6 o'clock. We meandered down to a bar on the water and grabbed a couple beers to chat about how amazing Lugano is and soak in the sunset over the mountains. We already planned to catch our train ride back at 8:30 pm, but 8 hours in Lugano turned out to be the best decision for a day trip.
THE GOOD: Lugano has something for everyone. CrossFit athlete or not, you can hit up the open piazzas for shopping, dining or something else entirely. Like the rose gardens....Plus, CrossFit Lugano is only about a mile away, so not that much of a hike at all. Just make sure to pack light. You don't want to be lugging stuff around all day.
THE BAD: Lugano is definitely more expensive than Italy (It's a Swiss thing) but you're only there for 8 hours, so have at it! Go buck wild! We really love Lugano, so there isn't much to complain about. Tons of food options, lots of places to see and just a short train ride back to Como. Enjoy your time there.
The people were all super nice and cool, too. Such an awesome mix of Italian-Swiss culture that you truly can't go wrong. It's the best of both worlds and is most definitely off the beaten path.
That being said.....I think Bolzano is my new favorite place. Let's dive in and talk about it.
Bolzano is most definitely the highlight of the trip. I'd personally be a little surprised if you've heard of Bolzano before this blog post, but there's a reason for it. Ready? It might just be the best-kept secret in all of Italy.
After you depart from Lake Como, you'll have to take a train back to Milan, to switch and get on another train to head to Bolzano. Day 4 is actually a bit of a breather, because you'll be zipping across Italy into the other Northern area towards Trento and Bolzano, which is situated at the base of the Dolomite Mountain range and on the border of Austria. Where you'll be hiking into tomorrow on the trip.
That being said, rest up on the train ride. Door to door, it's going to be about 4-5 hours on trains. BUT the scenery is fucking awesome. I don't think I've ever been on a better train ride in my life. The mountains seemingly rose up out of nowhere into the sky and the jagged edges left me in awe from the train.
Luckily, there was no wifi, so Tony and I were left to our own devices, which was a good thing. All we could do was look around and enjoy sights and views like this for about three hours, which was exactly what we needed. Unwind. Unplug and connect with nature.
I mean, who could get sick of looking at this kind of stuff for 4+ hours?
That being said, once we got into Bolzano, it was clear why it was a special place. Bolzano (or Bozen in German) is the capital of South Tyrol, a province in Italy that borders Austria and Switzerland is known as the, "Gateway to the Dolomites."
And to say it was 'surreal' is a complete understatement. We got off the train, checked in to our AirBnB and headed out to a local Brewery with amazing pork-knuckle and beer. To say the least, it did not disappoint, and Tony was on cloud NINE.
After we wrapped up some dinner, we took a walking tour among the ornate town, from the central square, to the main piazzas, shopping districts and more, it was clear to us Bolzano was the best possible cultural fusion of both Austrian/German and Italian culture.
We actually took off on the other side of the town to play a round of Mini-golf, which of course I won, and Tony ended up paying for the rest of our beers for the night. On the way back, we found the gondola we needed to take up to the top of the mountains tomorrow, and we turned in pretty early so we could get a move on in Bolzano.
We started our Monday morning with a pretty badass view from the Gondola. This is of Bolzano, as we made our way up the mountain.
I'll spare you EVERY detail here, but keep in mind we spent the entire day hiking in the mountains and had an incredible time. The Gondola made it easy to get up to the top, but from there, all the decisions were on you. You could spend 3-4 hours getting lost or hiking the trails up there, or you could take the tram to the top town of Colalbo-Klopenstein, where everyone speaks German and you have incredible views of the Dolomites like this:
Shout out to Kill Cliff for giving us these dope shirts before the trip!
Now, after you got to the main town (if you hiked) you're going to be pretty tired. At this point, you would have left Soprabolzano and literally meandered up (what would have been a 20 minute tram ride) into the mountains and through the winding trails to Colalbo-Klopenstein. Where again, they have incredible food and beer.
That being said, once you've made it to Colalbo, you can take the tram, and then the Gondola back down to Bolzano. But, being the badass Tony is, he wanted to go and hike all the way back down the Dolomites. Which was a HUGE decision. We knew it would add another 4+ hours to our trip, but had the daylight left, so decided to make our way down and tire ourselves out, as we knew it was our last night in Bolzano and we'd be back on the trains tomorrow, so we could sleep and get some rest.
That being said, on the way down (which was steep) we saw Castles and had plenty of water to stay hydrated. We came across some castles, amazing views and had an epic conversation about the future of VoyEdge RX. So good in fact, that we continued it over some amazing German food once we got back into the main square of Bolzano. Pretty much called it a night after that, though.
THE GOOD: I honestly can't say enough GOOD things about Bolzano. The people, the food, the breweries, the hiking, mountains and architecture. Everything was pristine, and it's easily one of my new favorite places in the entire world. This will be the highlight of your trip, I promise.
THE BAD: No CrossFit box! But do you really need one? Seriously, Bolzano is affordable and has so much to offer. Take a hike! Get active, go for a run, do some pistols or pull-ups (there's actually an outdoor gym here).
Venice for the most part, is a tourists dream - and coincidentally, the perfect day trip. While Tony and I decided to skip Venice on this tour (It's really a couples place, anyway) we've been a number of times.
It's gorgeous, yes. But the prices are asinine. Go here for a day, no more and then head to another part of Italy. It's sinking, it's crowded, easily to get lost and expensive.
I know, I know, I'm NOT shitting on Venice, but Italy REALLY has so much more to offer than Venice. Take my word for it. That being said, on the trip, we'll arrive here, do a walking tour together and then will hop back on a train and get to Florence just around dusk.
THE GOOD: Venice is absolutely stunning and gorgeous. Especially during the early morning hours. Get lost, go into some churches and see the sights, but after dark, the city practically shuts down.
THE BAD: During tourist season, Venice is BEYOND packed. Beware of pickpocketers, narrow alleyways and big crowds. See the sights, but take off once you're done. There's really nothing to hang around for, in my humble opinion. Get your photos and get out!
Having lived in Florence, Italy for nearly a year and a half, I fell in love with it deeply. I had a lot of late nights, early mornings and incredible memories here. And you will too, soon enough.
With three whole days here to end the trip, you're going to have a lot to see (including a couple optional day tours I'd highly recommend like Greve in Chianti + Cinque Terre).
Couple things to note here, Florence has a lot for you to do. From going to restaurants, shopping in the leather markets, or waiting in line to see things like the Duomo, the David, or the Uffizi Museum, you're going to have to pick and choose wisely. During the VoyEdge Rx trip, you can go and sightsee, yes. But you'll also have the opportunity to go to a few CF boxes outside the city center too.
I'd highly recommend CrossFit Firenze, even though it's a bit outside the city center (we'll take you there) but for the most part, Florence will be your free time and will be loosely organized for you to enjoy. Our guides will be in close contact, as we'll have several meals here, but this is the oyster of the trip, where we can show you some of our favorite things, or you can venture off and do your own thang.
Definitely come with a list of things you may want to see, as there will be a lot of people here, and it will be humid. So, definitely coming in with a plan will leave you ahead of the game.
See the Duomo, the David, Piazza Michaelangelo, CrossFit Firenze, The leather markets, the Ponte Vecchio, Gusta Piazza, La Spada and some other things if you can! Florence has so much, you're going to want to see it all, but you're honestly better off picking one thing and sticking with it. Even if you spent a month here, you may not see everything if you want to.
Being one of the most popular study abroad cities in the world, everyone has an opinion on where to go, what to eat, when to do it and what to see. You are so much better off going with the flow. That being said, the summer is STIFLING here and will catch you off-guard. Being the stone city it is, Florence is not too kind in the summer months, so be sure to move slow, hydrate and stay out of the sun and heat if possible.
That being said, it doesn't matter what the weather is when you're looking at an incredible view like this. Make sure you get a bottle of wine and hit the steps of Piazza Michaelangelo. It is the #1 thing to do (for me) in Florence.
Again, more views of Piazza Michaelangelo. Tony and I had a romantic April afternoon watching the sun set up here (JK). But it is the main spot for tourists, visitors and even Italians. You'll never not find it crowded and packed up at the top of the steps. It's just too popular of a place to go. If you're looking for a secret spot, there's another church up the adjacent hill (behind this photo) where you can have an even grander view of Florence. Plus, it's not as packed, but it's a bit more of a hike than usual. Just turn around, and you'll see it.
Trust me, go there. And don't forget to bring your own bottle of wine. It can get expensive if you want to buy a bottle up here with all the other tourists. And don't you dare pay more then 5 euros for a bottle.
And remember, drinking outside = #winning.
THE GOOD: Florence has a never ending list of things to see, do and eat, so you won't ever have trouble filling your to-do list. Plus, there are three boxes here, so you can sweat it off if need be. But for the most part, you'll be walking to a lot of places and that'll be all the workout you need. Trust me. Cobblestones and your shins are NOT a good mix.
THE BAD: Florence is big, yes. But it also gets HOT in the summer. Like, I'm not even joking. Prepare yourself. August may be the worst - and don't say I didn't warn you. Just, hydrate and prepare to be ever so uncomfortable a good majority of the time. Mix in the fact a lot of places don't have AC units (wtf, Italy?!) and you may be in for a long haul. MAYBE.
GREVE IN CHIANTI + cinque terre
Since we end the Northern Italy + Switzerland tour in Florence, we're going to give you the options of going to some amazing places. Greve in Chianti and Cinque Terre are two of those places. Why?
Because they are a short distance away from Florence. So is Siena, Lucca, Rome, Riomaggiore and a couple other fantastic places, so if you want to grab a train and head elsewhere for the day, we'd HIGHLY recommend it.
So, if you want to take a quick ride to Tuscany, take the bus for 2.50 euro and find yourself in Greve in Chianti (the wine-producing region) and rent a vespa for a half-day, or a full one. Either way, you're going to need a map, or just follow your own trail back. And if you're an adrenaline junkie, this is PERFECT for you. As there's a million small towns you'll need to explore, and you can just walk right up to the vineyards and sip some of Tuscany's finest.
Just be aware it's about 70 bucks for the whole day, or 35 for a half day. And yes, you'll have to sign your own death waiver. Watch out for those curvy Italian roads, and even faster cars on the road. Seriously, be careful, have fun and don't drink and drive.
Or, if you're more of a hiking fanatic, you can hike through Italy's most charming terrace-towns, known as Cinque Terre. Just a small train ride away from La Spezia, you can arrive here on the coast and literally walk through all five colorful, cliffside towns. Now, it does get a little warm here in the summer months, but make no mistake, it's beyond gorgeous. And there's a plethora of beaches at the end for you to cool off in.
Add in the fact, this is where pesto was invented, and you know you're going to be in for some seriously good food along the way. It's quite possibly the perfect day trip, and we'll take you here at the end of this amazing itinerary.
THE GOOD: You're not going to find a more adventurous Italian (and Swiss) itinerary than this. Above all, everything with this trip gets BETTER, somehow, as the days go on. Each place is mindblowingly beautiful, and you're constantly going to be in shock and awe and how much magical places can exist. Trust me on this one. This itinerary was MADE, with you in mind. From box drop-ins, group dinners, hikes, this trips is the best of the land, sea, mountains and of course, Italy.
THE BAD: You're never going to want to leave and go back to your old desk job. :)
Click the image below to head to the trip page and see when we're running this trip again - and email me with any questions, comments and concerns at: cam@voyedgeRX.com