Sandeep Ahuja, 38,media marketing professional, took a 14-day driving holiday through Italy with his wife, Anjuli Bhargava. They flew into Venice, took the train between major cities and drove through the Italian countryside, starting with the mountains and finding their way down to the Italian Riviera.
Wasn’t Italy very crowded in the summer?
Not really. We chose to go during May, which is our summer, but the fringe of the season in Europe, just before the crowds arrive. There were fewer tourists almost everywhere (except Florence), so we could travel without any worries.
How much planning and booking did you do for your holiday?
I’ve never pre-booked anything in my life. I like the flexibility of doing what I want. If I like a place, I want to be able to stay there another day, or two. I don’t want to have to rush off because there’s a booking somewhere else. We like to travel with only a broad idea of what we should do and some research on what’s available. Beyond that, it would not be fun for me to have a fully planned itinerary.
From the mountains to the seaside, where did you go?
We drove from Venice to the Dolomites, to a ski resort called Selva. It’s a very pretty Alpine village with lots of little pensiones (local lodges). We chatted with a young schoolgirl who knew a little English. She guided us to a gorgeous farm where the farmer let out a little room above the barn where he kept his cows and sheep, and which looked out onto a rolling meadow. But don’t get the wrong impression—we didn’t stay in a barn. It was spotlessly clean, a completely charming little bed and breakfast to stay at, while we explored the area by car and went on walks and trails. There were families camping, skiing, bicycling in the area. The next day, we even encountered a big group of people on their Harley Davidsons, complete in leather outfits and gear, zipping around the mountainside. Later, we drove further south to Cinque Terre in Liguria, on the Italian Riviera. We stayed in the picturesque town of Vernazza, which is a tourist trap in the daytime, but by evening the bulk of the tourists leave, and it’s quite full of pleasant restaurants and bars. We loved the walks from one town to the next, perched up on the hillside, passing through olive groves overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.
Italy’s famous cities are the biggest tourist draw—didn’t you explore any?
I’d seen Rome on a previous trip, so avoided it because it doesn’t give you a feel of the real Italy at all. From Venice, we took the train to Florence, where we hired another car and drove south. We found Florence terribly crowded and touristy. The day we went, there were 1,500 people standing in line to get into the Duomo, which was a five-hour wait. Completely unnecessary, so we didn’t bother and decided to drive south to wherever we liked. Venice, on the other hand, was wonderful and we spent four nights there at the end. We combed it on foot and found it extremely beautiful and full of character—the cobblestone streets, old houses and bars buzzing with activity—so very alive and interesting.
Which would you rate as your favourite place?
South of Florence in Tuscany, we visited lovely towns such as Sienna and San Gimignano, but our favourite was definitely the Chianti region. We stayed at a small vineyard called Casa Rossa, which is off the main road where you have to go down a dirt track through a forested area. A small wicket gate gives you access to your little cottage in the middle of a lovely undulating vineyard. We were there during bottling season, so we didn’t get to see any of the other processes, but we enjoyed their slightly sour, dry red wine. It’s a small farm; their entire produce is just 4,000 bottles. We loved its isolation; there were no lights or sounds for miles and at night, when we came back a little late, we saw foxes and other little animals in the forest. A little spooky, but we loved it.
As told to Niloufer Venkatraman. Share your last holiday with us at firstname.lastname@example.org