31 December 2017

2017 highlights and hotels

As usual I've had had some rewarding travels in Italy in 2017. Here are some of the highlights, along with the hotels/B&Bs I've stayed in and would recommend.


Venice is always a highlight and as usual I spent time there throughout the year. The best bits included spring when wisteria spills over walls, a summertime laze on the beach, and finally hot chocolate, empty calli and Christmas lights in December.

View from Pensione Accademia - Villa Maravege
On the Lido in July

This year I've stayed a couple of times at Suite in Venice ai Carmini, serviced apartments in Dorsoduro which have rather soulless interiors, but are extremely convenient and picturesquely placed, with canal views. (In the absence of a desk, I fashioned a window workstation from an ironing board). In summer the flats were convenient for boats to the Lido and for their laundry facilities.
A bright December day in Dorsoduro

In spring I stayed for one night at a hotel I've often admired, the gloriously-situated Pensione Accademia Villa Maravege, which is at a junction of canals, with pretty gardens. Old-fashioned and atmospheric,  this would be ideal for a first Venice trip or a follow-up.

> All about Venice
> I wrote this piece about where to stay in summer in Venice


Naples is a city which I've always found chaotic, alarming and dirty. It is indeed all those things, but it's also colourful, dramatic and endlessly fascinating. I stayed there in March, enjoyed some welcome, warming spring sunshine, and explored the historic centre, the catacombs and the museums, and I was converted. There are far too many highlights to list, but I particularly enjoyed the underground tours of catacombs and ancient aqueducts - absolutely unmissable, the views over the city from Castel Sant'Elmo, and the art collection at the Museo di Capodimonte. Naples's archaeological museum is of course one of the best in the world. I also met some enthusiastic young Neapolitans opening the rough and neglected bits of their city to tourism, which I found very inspiring.

Napoli in spring
Visiting Naples I stayed in the Hotel Piazza Bellini, very conveniently located for seeing central Naples safely and without too much stress. I was extremely impressed and I think it would be hard to find a better city centre hotel - healthy/tasty food next door, good location, modern comfort, helpful staff.

> More about Naples
Underground Naples - Bourbon tunnel


The beautiful island of Capri is one of my favourite places in Italy, and I already know the island well - so this year, with only two nights on the island, I set out to explore a footpath I hadn't previously braved. The Sentiero dei Fortini hugs an unvisited rocky shoreline, connecting old forts built by the English and French during the Napoleonic wars. I'd been reading up on history so this was a fascinating walk for many reasons. Although only March, the day was hot and sunny and the footpath beautiful - until  I reached a steep rocky section where vertigo nearly broke my resolve to continue. There wasn't another soul to be seen, though the path was well-maintained and ornamented with pretty painted ceramic tiles bearing information on local wildlife and history. Finally reaching the more visited environs of the island's lighthouse, I shared a bus back into Anacapri with locals including a woman who'd been out collecting wild asparagus.

Hidden Capri

I like staying in quiet Anacapri, which has a local village atmosphere compared to touristy Capri town. This year I stayed in the friendly family-run B&B Antico Monastero di Anacapri. My room was structurally a part of the adjacent church (San Michele, with its wonderful maiolica floor), and had once been the choir where nuns would enter the church to sing. A quirky and appealing place to stay for history-lovers.

> Guide to Capri

Hot chocolate and cake on the roof of the Villa San Michele, Anacapri

Campi Flegrei

The volcanic crater of Solfatara

I'd wanted to visit the dangerous, unusual Phlegraean Fields area for ages. Volcanic and threatening, this area near Naples offers very varied sights to the visitor - in a long day trip I managed to tour underground Roman streets in the hilltop town centre of Pozzuoli , abandoned after a series of tremors in the 1980s, the extensive ruins of Roman Baia, and the steaming volcanic crater of Solfatara. I even took a boat trip hoping to see the underwater streets and villas of sunken Baia, though sadly the water wasn't clear enough (a frequent occurrence, to judge by reviews). The public transport was a bit of an adventure, but my route also led me to a marvellous sight I'd never heard of before: the Casina Vanvitelliana on one of the area's round volcanic lakes, Lake Fusaro. Once a hunting lodge for Neapolitan royalty, this little water-pavilion was actually open to the public as I passed by, and it was a great extra to my planned itinerary - plus it gave the chance for some sunset photographs.

Casina Vanvitelliana
'Temple of Mercury', Baia - said to be the earliest large unsupported dome


Like Naples, Bologna was a city I'd only visited briefly before. In spring 2017 I spent a short break getting to know the gourmand university town better. It's a great place to spend a leisurely weekend - enough interesting sights, museums and churches to engage the visitor without being overwhelming. And of course the food and wine are renowned, with lots of welcoming restaurants and bars where you can sample local specialities. I particularly appreciated the food market Mercato di Mezzo, which was great for a busy solo traveller to enjoy a quick tasty plate of pasta and a fine local red wine.
Convenience food, Bologna-style

With an airport very close to the centre of town and bargain British Airways flights, Bologna is a very affordable and easy destination for a short trip. I stayed in the good-value 2-star Hotel Centrale, which was badly in need of a decorative overhaul, but was a practical option right in the heart of town, with very generous breakfasts.
> More about Bologna

Ponza and the southern Lazio coast

At the end of the summer I made a return visit to the island of Ponza - beloved of Romans in August, but not much known outside Italy. I had a terrible ferry-crossing but arrived feeling smug I had been among the few passengers to keep their sea-legs, and amazed at how beautiful the island was - I had forgotten just how attractive the clusters of pastel houses around coves and harbour were. I will write about my visit in detail another time, but I enjoyed glorious views, a walk up Capri's 'mountain' (where I explored a ruined coastguard station), a hike to isolated vineyards where I was invited to an impromptu lunch and wine-drinking session,  and a boat trip to nature reserve island Zannone.

I stayed at Hotel Chiaia di Luna, which had some beautiful outdoor terraces, a breath-taking view of  Chiaia di Luna beach, and the advantage of being one of the only full-service hotels on the island. I felt lucky to have arrived too late for their noisy bar parties, and I didn't care for the irritating ambient music, but on the whole it was a decent place to stay and I'd give it a moderate recommendation - outside the late-night music summer season. On my last visit I'd stayed at Hotel Mari, with constantly-interesting harbour views, and this is another worth considering.

Ristorante Eea
The high point of my stay on Ponza was my last evening, when I enjoyed a perfect meal-with-a-view at the classy restaurant Eea, followed by a walk down a dark and shadowy lane, admiring the moonlight and silhouetted trees on the skyline behind the traditional whitewashed island homes. As I limped (bad knee) the strains of E Lucevan le Stelle echoed through the buildings from an unseen television set. An old woman was sitting quietly listening on her steps in the dark as the tenor sobbed out the aria's climax. It was a magical moment.

> More about Ponza

Before setting sail for Ponza I stayed in the mainland port Formia, where I was lucky enough to be shown around the town's archaeological sights by an enthusiastic local expert. This little, overlooked town had some really impressive sights, including the supposed Tomb of Cicero, a remarkable underground Roman reservoir and some beautiful Roman statues in the small town museum. I also enjoyed the non-touristy vibe and prices at the town's pizza joints and a lovely wine-bar. There's not much accommodation in Formia, even though it's a convenient base. I stayed in the comfortable modern B&B Dall'Architetto, in an architect's studio.

Cisternone Romano, Formia

More about Formia

From Formia I took trains and buses to Sperlonga (one of the first destinations I wrote about for Italy Heaven) and to Gaeta. Sperlonga was as fine as I remembered; a picturesque white-washed town perched on a headland, with a beach walk leading to the archaeological museum and cave-complex of Tiberius's villa. Gaeta was another pretty historic jumble of houses by the sea, where I explored churches and monuments, racing against the lunchtime closing-times and threatening drizzle. My unexpected highlight was the hill walk to a huge Roman mausoleum overlooking the sea - though seeing the magical hand-print left by an infidel pirate was also memorable, as was the handsome Duomo and the local speciality tiella, a kind of pizza pie.

> Sperlonga


A note on accommodation links

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3 November 2017

Forte Marghera, mainland Venice

This afternoon I made a brief trip to Forte Marghera, a 19th-century fort constructed by the Austrian and the French rulers of Venice on the mainland edge of the lagoon nearest to Venice.  Built to defend the city from assaults from the land, it was a heavily armed and carefully engineered island fortress, built to an angular design and protected by a network of canals. It's a strange and crumbling arena of grass, trees, scrub and old military buildings, some falling apart and others restored. You can walk right through, across the double ring of 'moats' and out to the lagoonward side of the central island, where you'll find a landing stage, majestic abandoned brick buildings and places to sit.

A range of varied enterprises are undertaken here, from start-ups to art centres. On the outer ring, on the landward side, are a few rough-and-ready bars and places to eat, with indoor and outdoor seating. In summer this is a very popular destination for an evening out; apparently it gets rammed with people eating and drinking in these unusual out-of-town surroundings. Given the leafy lagoon environment, I can't even begin to imagine how filled with mosquitoes the air must be on summer evenings. When I visited this late autumn afternoon there were just a few people around: some workers, one or two patrons and employees at the bars, a man moving bales of hay, a tractor carrying giant bins across to the mainland. By the scenic outer shore a man sat gazing at the reflections on the still water, and a cluster of teenagers drank and listened to music. A pair of rowers, standing-up Venetian style, were manoeuvring their boat offshore.

I think there were more cats than people. Lots of strays live here, lurking waiting for feeding time or  following their favoured human around. I passed an animal protection HQ with posters advertising adoptee cats, and a hopeful cat sitting on the doorstep.

There isn't much in the way of information available about the various historic buildings and their uses. Some look as though they were barracks, others probably powder stores. A guided tour would probably be fascinating. There's a military museum here, according to a sign at the entrance, open occasionally. As part of an initiative to spread Venice's museum holdings around the lagoon, one draughty old storeroom currently houses a collection of sculptures from Ca' Pesaro in Venice (due to close soon). I had no idea these were here, and it was an atmospheric way to view works of art, alone in this barren reclaimed space with windows and doors open to the green surroundings of the fort.

It's an easy and unusual trip from Venice. Catch tram T1 from Piazzale Roma and travel two stops. The stop is called Forte Marghera. After alighting, cross the road and a few yards to the right you'll find a gravelled footpath leading across a short stretch of countryside.  A few minutes later you come to another road. Cross carefully at the pedestrian crossing. The access lane to Forte Marghera lies ahead, signposted. From its description I did fear this might be a creepy excursion alone, but I didn't encounter any problems and there were a reasonable number of people around.

> Forte Marghera
> Some history (in Italian)
 > Starforts article
> More about Venice

25 July 2017

Where to stay in Venice in summer

As I've just been writing about how to enjoy a summer trip to Venice, I've picked out some good accommodation options for when the weather is hot and the city is crowded. Most are mid-range (3-4 star) options where I've found decent rates, often at short notice. It's important to note that the majority of properties in Venice don't have any outdoor space. Even those that do, rarely have more than a small courtyard garden. Finding space to sit outside or even sunbathe is extremely rare, so if you want a garden or terrace, book a long way in advance. Otherwise, location is the most important factor to consider - how busy is the area, how easily can you get around and how suitable is the location for a summer holiday visit? How near is it to public open spaces or ferry stops for islands and the beach?

Front garden of Pensione Accademia - Villa Maravege

Unless you're on a flying visit, I'd recommend avoiding the areas closest to St Mark's and the railway station, otherwise you'll be confronting crowds every time you leave your hotel.

Staying on the Lido can be a good choice if you want to spend time on the beach and save money. I've spent a good-value night at the Hotel Atlanta Augustus, a historic Lido villa in a convenient but quiet location. There's a good range of accommodation on the island, though the best will get booked in advance for the summer months - so plan ahead.

Hotel Atlanta Augustus, Lido

Away from the worst of the crowds in Venice, I've enjoyed a summer stay at Ca' Dogaressa, which is towards the quieter end of the wide Cannaregio canal, an easy ferry journey from the airport, close to boat stops for the Lido, and close to the pretty canals and canalside restaurants of the district. On one of the most picturesque canals in Dorsoduro I've stayed at Hotel Pausania (faded hotel in an ancient palazzo) and Casa Rezzonico (old-fashioned B&B with a pretty garden); this is a laid-back area and though it's near a busy route and a late-night hub, it's also a short walk along back canals to the wide Zattere waterfront and ferries to the Lido.

Garden at Casa Rezzonico

Another good option is staying at the eastern end of the Castello district (see map link below). There's lots of authentic local atmosphere, a leafy park on Sant'Elena, and it's a short trip over to the beach. The drawback is that you're a bit far-flung from some of the other attractive parts of Venice.

If you don't mind a bit of exposure to crowds, staying in the area between the Ca' d'Oro (on the Grand Canal) and the northern shore (Fondamente Nove ferry stop) is convenient for ferries to the northern islands, as well as the vaporetto down the Grand Canal, and you don't have to go too far to find quiet canalsides. I've stayed at the Pesaro Palace which is right on the Grand Canal by the ferry stop, but only ten minutes' walk from Fondamente Nove.

Similarly, in the Dorsoduro district the historic Pensione Accademia - Villa Maravege has a gorgeous canalside location and gardens, is just off a busy thoroughfare but has easy access to several ferry stops and quieter canals. I stayed in spring but I think it would be an oasis of calm in the summer. This would be my overall top pick for a summer hotel stay. This area, between Campo Santa Margherita and the Zattere/San Basilio boat stops, is in general a good zone to pick in summer for combination of mobility and quiet-ish, picturesque canals.

Back garden at Pensione Accademia - Villa Maravege

Parks and gardens in Venice are both an attraction and a threat - lovely surroundings but more risk of mosquitoes. There are a few hotels in Venice which have their own garden. These include the two mentioned above, plus Palazzo AbadessaSan Sebastiano Garden, Hotel Abbazia (close to the station), Ca' Nigra Lagoon Resort (a rose garden on the Grand Canal) and Boscolo Venezia.  If you can afford to splash out, several of Venice's smartest hotels have their own gardens or even pools, including Palazzo Venart on the Grand Canal (garden), and the Giudecca five-star hotels Belmond Hotel Cipriani (garden and pool), the Bauer Palladio Hotel & Spa (garden and spa) and Hilton Molino Stucky (rooftop pool). The San Clemente Palace is even on its own island.

There are ethical issues to staying in an apartment in Venice. Holiday rentals are causing serious problems for the city (discussed in my post How to be a good tourist in Venice). But there is no denying that for tourists, staying in a self-catering apartment can be extremely convenient in the summer. With air-conditioning, a washing machine and cooking facilities you can escape crowds, enjoy some space, wash sweaty/sandy clothes, cook at home, and keep out of the crowds at busy times. Rather than using networks which book direct with owners, consider finding apartments through larger registered agencies and reputable hotel-booking agents in the hopes that you will be staying in a long-established holiday property rather than one recently removed from Venice's housing stock, and that it will be fully registered with appropriate taxes paid. Make sure you follow the city's rules for disposing of rubbish and recycling separately, and remember to show respect and consideration to the residents you'll be sharing buildings with.

Top recommendations

  • Avoid the areas around St Mark's and the railway station (Ferrovia) unless  you don't mind crowds and are in a hurry.
  • Try some of the hotel/B&B suggestions above, and read the latest reviews
  • Follow the map link below and consider: proximity to ferry stops - especially ferries to the seaside and islands; whether the hotel has a garden; whether it has air-conditioning (most do); whether it's on a busy thoroughfare.
  • Cannaregio: a location in the northern or eastern parts of the district, away from the station but close to a ferry stop.
  • Dorsoduro: the area between Campo Santa Margherita (avoid the noisy square itself), and the Zattere and San Basilio ferry stops.
  • Castello: the eastern part of the district.
  • Giudecca: attractive, low-key and quieter island to stay on. However you'll rely on crowded ferries to hop over to Venice.
  • Lido - a good choice if you want to spend time on the beach or take outings to the southern lagoon.

> Find a hotel, B&B or apartment in Venice (with a location map and price guarantee)
> Where to stay in Venice (year-round advice)
> Ferry maps and timetables (so you can check how easily you can get around)
> How to enjoy Venice in summer

On the Lido

19 July 2017

Holiday capsule wardrobe for Italy in summer

If you have time before a trip, it can be an enjoyable part of the anticipation to plan a practical and effective capsule wardrobe to take. I find it very satisfying to have all my clothes hanging in a hotel wardrobe ready to wear, and know that they can all be combined to make appropriate outfits whatever my plans for the day. (I daydream about having a capsule wardrobe at home, but know I could never achieve this, so I just enjoy it on holiday).

Spring in Sorrento: blue and yellow capsule wardrobe
I travel alone, so my priority is to look relatively smart without drawing unwelcome attention to myself. In Italy the most important wardrobe consideration is appropriateness. Italians are extremely conventional - they will dress in the 'correct' clothing for the time of year (rather than for the temperature), for the time of day, location and activity they're undertaking. I try to conform to this up to a point, without sacrificing personal taste. I aim for amount of 'coverage' that is conventional in Italy, though when the Italians are in long sleeves and it's hot, I'll 'cheat' by going for three-quarter or half-length sleeves.

Looking moderately well-heeled when travelling alone is very helpful, but I wouldn't wear conspicuously valuable jewellery, especially in a city.

If you want to fit in, Italian holiday wear usually includes an elegant lightweight cover-up to wear over swimwear. Daytime wear will be suited to the activity. In general city life, women wear surprisingly dark and tight-fitting clothes despite the hot weather. Evening wear in one of the smarter holiday destinations is typically understated and classy: a billowy dress or a nice top, maybe linen, over linen trousers with smart sandals or moccasins. In most Italian destinations the 'party' type outfits worn by foreigners look over-the-top.

Other important considerations are
- Decency - short shorts and spaghetti straps are only really worn by foreign tourists, and are fairly out of place in Italy, especially away from the seaside or outside the hottest months of the year. (I've seen Italians coming out onto the street to stare at groups of foreign teenagers clad in microshorts in April. ) While I might wear shortish shorts in a resort-type destination, I'd  combine them with a loose blouse. If you want to visit churches or religious sites, you'll need to cover your shoulders, chest and legs above the knee. A large scarf or pashmina is invaluable for this and other purposes. Excesses of foreign flesh either white or sunburnt can attract unfavourable attention - though this is generally easy to ignore if you'd rather.
- Sun exposure - this is another reason for covering up a little.
- Temperature - in summer Italy is very hot indeed, and often humid. Choose unlined dresses, clothes which aren't tight-fitting, and natural fibres like cotton and linen. A bikini top under a loose shirt makes a comfortable combination if you're in a seaside location. Dresses are a good choice too, as long as they're not too short to be versatile. I tend not to take skirts as they can be bulky to pack, revealing in some situations, tend to crease, and can be sweaty around the waist.
- Mosquitoes - I generally wear long linen trousers and closed shoes in the evening and carry a light scarf over my shoulders to avoid being bitten. Looking elegant in a dress requires copious amounts of insect repellent.
- Activities - for hiking I take a pair of lightweight trekking shoes and some convertible trousers. For walking around archaeological sites like Pompeii you'll need comfortable flat shoes or sandals, which may get dusty.
- Care - it's usually possible to borrow an iron and ironing board, but who wants to do the ironing on holiday? Try to pick clothes which don't crease too badly, or be prepared to look a bit rumpled.
- Value - my suitcase has got lost two or three times. It's always turned up, but it's made me aware that there is a risk of losing anything you take on holiday. Also the combination of sunlotion, sweat and dust doesn't do any favours to precious items. I tend to take affordable high-street clothes which are easily replaced. The only luxury items I take are my sunglasses, which I carry in my cabin luggage.

Italy summer capsule wardrobe

This wardrobe was for a five-day combined city and beach break in Venice, but would work anywhere where you plan to do some sightseeing and spend time by the sea or a pool. It includes enough outfits to last  a week or more. The clothes fitted along with my toiletries and other stuff in a small cabin-size suitcase, split between packing cubes.

It's helpful to stick to one or two colours. For this trip I chose mostly blue - light and dark shades of blue, plus some grey-blue, a white blouse and a peach top. This meant everything went together, and maximised the number of combinations I could create. My handbag was dark blue and my beach bag was patterned blue.

Although I could have dressed from this wardrobe for couple of weeks, I found that on 'beach' days I simply wore a bikini and over-dress in the daytime, so some of the items didn't get worn. It is very  helpful to have access to a washing machine, as in a hot climate tops get very sweaty. Alternatively, do some laundry by hand and use a travel clothes line.

As it's an obvious requirement and a personal choice, I haven't bothered to include nightwear or underwear on the list; usually a small choice of the latter in dark and nude colours will be sufficient. Microfibre dries very quickly so is useful for a spot of midweek laundry. I tend to avoid holiday clothes which require packing extra items such as a strapless bra as space in my suitcase is at such a premium.

Three pairs of shoes

Flip-flops - my Havaianas which have lasted for years. For beach, hotel room, pool, short walks.
Flat nude sandals - these go with everything, are comfortable for walking miles and look smart enough for evening. Mine are an old pair from Ecco.
All-weather shoes or canvas shoes - depending on the weather forecast I'd take some closed-in leather/plastic shoes, or canvas shoes (this time I wore white shoes, pictured). These protect feet from mosquitoes at night, are good if it rains, and are practical for travelling.

New Look wide-fit shoes:
a sale bargain & very useful

Beach or pool

Two bikinis
A t-shirt dress cover-up - (or a fancier, floatier cover-up or sarong if it'll only be worn between hotel room and pool). Dark blue, thigh-length, from H&M years ago.
A multi-purpose beach towel like the ones from Hammamas, which fold up small.

Dickins & Jones bikini, House of Fraser

Two dresses

Shirt dress - simple navy blue shoulder-covering just-above-the-knee dress for day or night.
Sundress (pictured)
Uniqlo sun-dress: easy-care, easy to wear
& has a built-in bra

Approx six tops

Two loose t-shirts in navy and grey-blue to wear over bikini, with shorts, in hotel room, out walking. Primark sell nice slouchy fit t-shirts in 100% cottton.
Smarter t-shirt - a top that's still comfortable, but looks a bit dressier.
White short-sleeved blouse, ideally lightweight with ventilation
Smart-ish sleeveless top for evenings, peach-coloured.
Light long-sleeved white shirt, plus a slip which to wear under it. Good for evenings or when I want to cover up.
Yellow cardigan (only needed during the colder UK leg of my journey).
New Look blouse

Three bottoms

Blue linen shorts
Pale blue-grey linen-mix trousers
Navy linen-mix trousers
I bought two pairs of Uniqlo trousers to the same design, in different colours, pictured, which are light and cool to wear and have elasticated drawstring waists making them very comfortable for travelling.

Cotton-linen trousers, Uniqlo - not the
smartest but comfy & practical


A blue glass necklace
Dark blue pashmina.
Cream patterned lightweight scarf.
Neckerchief /headscarf in pinks and purples.
Hammamas beach towel/sarong.
Folding blue sun hat.
Dark blue cross-body handbag
Fabric bag for beach/daytime
A small rucksack for expeditions and for minimising back pain.

On the beach, Venice. Beach bag free from Barclays, years ago.


Outdoor gear - if I plan any hiking I take a pair of lightweight outdoor shoes, like North Face Hedgefrogs or Karrimor walking shoes, which are practical for walking and also for travelling, as well as a pair of quick-dry convertible trousers like these.
Rain - I always take either a very light folding cagoule or an umbrella (which can double as a parasol).

New Look yellow crew-neck cardigan

Uniqlo trousers in light blue
Zara bandana-type scarf/neckerchief
Hammamas beach towel

M&S scarf, useful year round as an extra layer, accessory, seat-cover, pashmina etc.

Lightweight scarf, M&S (no longer available)
Top for evening (packs small), worn with light draped scarf & linen trousers, H&M

Shirt dress for day and evening

Beach dress and bikini

Packing for Italy in summer - a sample packing list

I usually travel alone and move between locations, and this affects my packing lists. I need my luggage to be as small, light and manageable as possible, and I aim for simple clothing which won't draw too much attention. If you're planning glam romantic meals or have small children to tumble around with, you'll probably want to tweak the list. If you have assistance with your luggage, or are staying in one venue for your entire stay, you might feel inclined to include more stuff. I aim for the minimum to meet my needs, be prepared for likely eventualities, and to look nicely and appropriately dressed.

City and beach break in summer, 5-7 days: a list for women

This was my list for a week in Venice when I planned to take trips to islands and spend time on the beach. I've de-personalised it slightly,  but it's still a 'women's' packing list. Much of the stuff will still apply to men though. I hope the list might make a good starting point if you're at a loss for what to pack for a summer break in Italy.

Luggage: one cabin-size 4-wheeled suitcase (checked in), one 20-litre rucksack with multiple pockets, one cross-body handbag.

Boarding pass
Tickets and passes for UK travel to airport
Hotel details inc.  map
Travel insurance details, EHIC (health care card), important contact numbers, passport photocopy
Cash, euros
Credit/debit cards
Phone plus EU charger
IT equipment plus adaptor
Camera plus charger plus spare SD card.
Mini tripod
Notebook, pens
Maps, booklets, info, printouts, guidebook*

Umbrella or cagoule
Scarf – 1 heavy, 1 light (large enough to cover shoulders and arms when visiting churches).
Neckerchief to restrain hair when on boats
Folding beach bag or small rucksack
Money belt (useful on beach)

Platypus/water bottle
Snack & favourite teabags
Plastic sandwich-size bags
Laundry liquid
Beach towel (Hammamas)
Minimal jewellery

Flip flops
All-weather shoes

Light long layers for indoors
Two x swimwear
T-shirt dress to wear over swimwear.
Two pairs of light comfortable linen/linen mix trousers for evening and journey
2 t-shirts
Smarter t-shirt or top
Short-sleeved blouse
Sleeveless top
Two dresses
Lightweight long-sleeved shirt
Cardigan or thin jumper

> More detailed suggestions: capsule wardrobe for Italy in summer

Sunlotions (face and body)
Mini bottle of sun lotion
Aftersun with insect repellent
Insect repellent spray
Wet wipes
Mini Swiss Army Knife
Toothpaste and mouthwash
Shower cap
Shower gel
Shampoo and conditioner
Hairbrush and comb
Facial moisturiser with SPF (for when there's not enough sun for proper sun protection)
Hand cream with SPF
Minimal make up (concealer, mascara, eye shadow, lipstick)
Make-up removal wipes
First aid (painkillers, plasters, antiseptic cream etc)
Travel washing line
Hair accessories
Anti-histamines and hydrocortisone cream (both for mosquito bites)

Other personal essentials

*Obviously I don't actually take a guidebook to Venice as I've written my own. But in general I'll take a guidebook, sometimes cut up, to any new destination.

Really useful travel stuff - packing for Italy

Planning what to pack

I travel often, and my Italy trips fall into a limited number of categories. For example: "islands in summer", "ten days touring" or "winter in Venice".

A few years ago I created a ‘master’ packing list on my computer and now I simply amend it for specific occasions, and save each one with a name which will help me refer to it in future, e.g. "Venice July 2017". Next time I travel in summer I’ll probably use this one as a base. There are apps which will help with this kind of thing, but I find a simple document is quick and easy to use. I print it out and tick off the items as I pack them. I also take the piece of paper with me and scribble any notes for future reference on items I might have missed out, or things that proved unnecessary. It can become a geeky obsession as I start thinking of more methods for cross-referencing or feeding in different types of requirement (e.g. rental flats, beach trips)… but spending extra time on this might defeat the object of making travel easier.

I create a table dividing the page into four, as my packing falls into four basic categories:
1. Essential stuff - passport, documents, devices
2. Accessories and bits and pieces: bag, sunglasses, scarf, kitchen or beach stuff when needed
3. Clothes and shoes
4 Washkit and toiletries

The only section which changes much is the third: clothes and shoes will vary according to season, weather forecast, destination and length of stay. Most of the other items listed are constants. This makes planning and packing a straightforward process which takes very little time. Because the list stays the same and I've packed it scores of times, I also have a good idea of what will fit in.

> Sample packing list - this is a packing list I used on my last trip - although other travellers' needs and strategies will vary, some might find this a useful starting point.

Packing cubes & cabin-sized suitcase. They did fit in!

Basic essentials

What are the essentials for a trip to Italy? Or anywhere, really? Obviously certain items you can't do without – passport, cash, travel tickets and confirmations.  There are essentials which you can generally buy on arrival even if you forget to pack them: toothbrush, pants, sunglasses. Then there are whole categories of item which make travel easier, which could save you in a tricky situation, or which solve problems.
Over the years I've been travelling in Italy I've built up a collection of useful travel accessories and devices. I think they make life much easier.

> My article about packing, on the Italy Heaven website

Here are some of my ideas and packing tips:
- Toiletry bottles. Funnels are your friend. Decant, decant, decant, and use as small a bottle as you can. I never carry more toiletries than I'm likely to use over the duration of my trip. I refill and reuse the same miniature bottles of shampoo, conditioner and shower gel. Decanting sun-protection into a small spray bottle makes it much more portable for beaches and excursions. In the UK Boots and Superdrug both sell decent small bottles - squeezy, spray and other variants
- Plastic bags are also your friend. I buy self-seal sandwich bags from Poundland. They're useful for separating and protecting toiletries, packing food, making picnics, collecting together receipts, shells and pebbles, carrying sun lotions around, keeping cheese in the hotel fridge, waterproofing small valuables, packing pesto in my suitcase...
- Jiffy bags for cameras. Instead of carrying a bulky camera case I often stick my larger camera into a jiffy bag for protection. It'll then fit inside a shoulder bag or rucksack, and won't be obvious to thieves.
- Travel insurance and card details. As well as your insurance documents, keep a list of the cards you have with you and the emergency phone numbers to call in case you lose them. I try to keep copies of my passport and insurance details in a couple of different places in my baggage, and accessible online.

- Waterproofing. I keep a plastic rucksack cover permanently in the side pocket of my travel rucksack, and a clear plastic bin-liner in the front panel of my fabric suitcase. The bin-liner has a rough hole in it to accommodate the suitcase handle, and when it rains I simply pull the bin-liner on over the top of the case. It's a rough and ready solution but has kept my case dry on many occasions.

- Strategic packing. Ideally you should carry overnight essentials in your hand luggage. If your case goes missing, the airline should provide a basic overnight kit - but this is fairly limited. Keep medications, an umbrella and valuables on your person and not in your hold luggage. If you are travelling with a companion, split your belongings between your suitcases so that if one case gets lost, you'll both have some clothes and kit with you.

- Photograph your case. I read this tip somewhere, and now I keep a photo of my suitcase on my phone. It could come in handy for describing your luggage if it goes astray. Possibly photographing the contents would be a good idea for travel insurance purposes too, though I've never had to put this to the test.

- Identify your case. People really do leave the airport with the wrong luggage. Tie a bright ribbon onto your suitcase so that (a) you can spot it easily and (b) to deter another traveller from walking off with it.

Useful travel stuff - shopping links

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I've recently switched from compression bags to these packing cubes and I'm impressed. They keep stuff separate, and make it easy to unpack and repack - and you can leave your clothes in them and use them as storage during your holiday. They're not waterproof so I pack them in my case with the net window facing inwards. By moving the different sizes and shapes around, it is surprisingly easy to fit everything in your suitcase. They'd be great if you're travelling together and want to keep your clothing separate while dividing it between suitcases. I sometimes use a small one in a rucksack for organisation too. They're expensive, but I reckon I'll be using them for a long time.

I replace my platypus occasionally, but I've used these folding bottles for years. They'll fold up in a pocket or handbag, take up the minimum space for the water within them, and are useful for refilling at water fountains. Take them through airport security empty, then fill them at a drinking tap before boarding.

In a hotel room where you can't find the light switch, on an island with no street lights, or in an emergency situation, a torch is really useful.

The only sensible way to take toiletries on holiday, small travel bottles minimise the amount of space that lotions, gels and creams will take up.

A hanging wash bag is invaluable in hotel bathrooms with limited surface space. I've had a sturdy Lifeventure bag for at least ten years now; my travel toiletries reside in it permanently ready for the next journey.

Tiny Swiss Army Knife with tweezers and scissors, this fits within the blade length limits for security screening at most airports, so I travel with it in my hand luggage. Once or twice it's been examined and I have snapped off the longest tool to be on the safe side. Really useful if you're flying hand luggage only or need scissors during your journey.

This lightweight titanium travel cutlery is great for preparing and eating light meals and picnics in your hotel room or on the beach. A pricier but better alternative to a plastic spork.

Doing some washing by hand means you can travel that much lighter. Swimwear, microfibre undies and specialist outdoor gear usually dry very quickly.

Plastic carrier bags do the job ok but proper shoe bags pack more neatly and protect shoes better.

These are the best cheap ear plugs I've found. I never travel without them - useful for hotel room and also if you have noisy neighbours on the plane.

> More about packing for Italy
> Sample packing list

Two packing strategies: Sheldon Cooper and Mr Bean

17 July 2017

How to be a 'good' tourist in Venice (and enjoy the city without infuriating the locals)

Every year Venice begs tourists to behave themselves and respect the city. This year's campaign is #EnjoyRespectVenezia and includes helpful advice for visiting.

Unfortunately the Bad Tourists are usually day-trippers thinking themselves in a Disneyland, who will not do any research, won't have a clue about the real city, and whom these messages will never reach. Life in Venice for locals, workers, and longer-term visitors can become utterly hellish in the summer months when coaches, ferries and cruise ships disgorge tens of thousands of trippers daily. Bins overflow, routes are blocked, boats are overcrowded and the heart of the city becomes a place to be avoided at any cost. There is talk of extra charges for visitors, of turnstiles and of restricting numbers. Locals are given discounts, and priority waterbus boarding, just to make it possible to live here.

Throughout the summer local Venetian newspapers and local conversations feature all the latest tourist misdemeanors: from swimming in the Grand Canal to riding a bicycle through the city. Tolerance gets worn away when residents can no longer go about their everyday lives without obstruction. Low-cost mass tourism is increasing and is seen as the biggest threat to the city's fabric and character. And every year Venice despairs of its future faced with this 'assault'.

There are simple rules which will stop you infuriating Venetians:

1. Walk on the right, and treat the lanes like roads: single file, no stopping, do allow overtaking. Absolutely no bicycles, scooters, roller-skates etc.

2. Leave as little behind as possible. Minimise rubbish, and leave it in bins. Drink from water fountains instead of using and discarding multiple plastic bottles. Do not even think of leaving padlocks on bridges or graffiti on walls (you would be amazed what some tourists think is 'cute').

3. Don't block bridges. Your selfie isn't more important than someone else's right to get to work. Sitting on a bridge with a picnic is the ultimate tourist crime in Venice.

4. No swimwear, no toplessness (both sexes), no stripping off, no bathing in canals.

Venice at night after the day-trippers leave

Going further: 'respecting' the city

The 'respect' which Venice requests is a cultural concept which isn't always obvious to foreign visitors, even the most well-meaning ones. In Italy local residents feel a very profound sense of identification with, and ownership of, their hometown. It isn't just 'a place where they live', and the town centre isn't just a set of streets they visit - it is something much more fundamentally 'theirs'.  Complimenting an Italian's hometown is a guaranteed way to make friends. Conversely, treating their town with disrespect is like entering their home, sticking two fingers up at them, and chucking your rubbish on their carpet. I've rarely encountered the same proprietorial feeling in the UK, except perhaps in a small village. In a city like Venice, which was once a powerful empire, this sense of local pride and partisanship is particularly strong.

It's a different way of thinking to that of many tourists. A visitor might feel they are paying to visit a destination and 'use' it for their pleasure, and that this makes them equal to residents - or even more important. I've heard tourists declare that as 'paying customers' a they can therefore enjoy a destination in any way they choose. But to Italians, visitors are guests. Most Italians don't benefit directly from your visit and may in fact suffer from the consequences of tourism. Again, this is particularly true in Venice.

If you want to feel welcome and avoid giving offence in Italy, you could imagine yourself as a guest in someone's 'drawing room' (it's no chance that many Italian piazzas, including St Mark's Square, have been described as drawing rooms), and act accordingly.

How to show respect to a place, Italian-style

Although I'm writing about Venice, the same basic concepts apply throughout Italy. You'll be more welcome if you remember you're a guest, and that  Venetians feel the city 'belongs' to them (there is some room for debate here, but that's for another time).

Many Venetians have lived among these lanes and canals for their whole lives, and their ancestors for centuries before that. They shopped at these local shops, possibly from the same family of shopkeepers, they may drink at the same cafe their grandfather did. Their families have worshipped at the local church, celebrated weddings and funerals, and joined in the religious feasts to honour historic events like the city's liberation from plague. Venetians live in apartments and the city's network of lanes, canals and campi, grouped into parishes, are like a shared living space for its people: this is where they meet, pass each other daily, hang out, interact and work. When you see the streets in that light, it becomes clearer how irritated and disrespected residents feel when tourists treat Venice as though it is a theme park to amble through. The key to a 'respected' Venice is for all visitors, even day-trippers, to be aware it is a living, historic, proud city, and not to treat it like as though it exists for their entertainment or convenience.

Campo San Giacomo dell'Orio, one of the most 'local' squares in Venice, where toddlers play, schoolchildren grow vegetables, and adults meet to catch up


Italy is still a very conventional country, with rules of 'appropriate' dress and behaviour which are partly a result of the historical dominance of the Catholic Church, and partly a result of taste. Although it won't occur to most tourists, their choice of clothes can give offence in a variety of ways. Wearing swimwear, really skimpy clothes, or men going topless is simply unacceptable anywhere in Italy other than on a beach or building site. In some archaeological sites you'll hear custodians blowing whistles to alert male tourists to put their shirts back on. Walking around Venice as though you are just pottering around  a water park is deeply offensive to Venetians. Occasionally locals will remonstrate with tourists when they strip to bikinis to sunbathe on city benches. In Capri, which also has pedestrian lanes, there was talk of banning wood-soled shoes because of the noise they made; Venice has similarly talked of banning wheeled suitcases.

Visiting a church you must go further and cover your chest, shoulders and legs above the knee. Don't take photos of worshippers, or anywhere you are asked not to (it is safer to ask if it's allowed), or treat a church purely as a casual tourist sight. And absolutely no snogging or other excessive displays of affection (I have actually seen this). Historical sites and museums have less severe codes of conduct, but any with a religious or monumental importance are also treated with additional decorum.

Preparation and getting off the beaten track

Knowing about Venice is the key to really appreciating the city. Most summer day-trippers look at the Rialto bridge, look at St. Mark's, eat a picnic or an ice cream, leave some litter and go away again. You will have a much more rewarding visit if you stay longer, explore off the beaten track, and have an idea of the context of what you're seeing. This kind of tourism is also much more acceptable locally. Most Venetians (I hope) wouldn't want to bar all visitors from their city. They know it is wonderful and would like to share it. They'd like you to appreciate the riches of the city beyond St. Mark's - and also for the burden of tourism to be spread out a bit more over the city's area. We all get grumpy when constantly asked directions to St Mark's or the railway station. Ask for a less-visited destination and you might be surprised what a different reception you get.

Accommodation and services - think twice before you save

Airbnb and equivalents have had a very damaging effect on cities like Venice.  I never stay in them for both ethical and safety reasons, but many travellers are happy to save a bit of money and feel as though they're 'living like a local'. Naturally, many property-owners are keen to make a quick tax-free buck, so in the last few years huge numbers of residential flats have been converted to holiday lets which make far more money than longer-term rentals. Locals and would-be residents are priced out of the city, while those remaining have to share buildings with constantly arriving holidaymakers, with all the extra noise, disruption and security issues that involves. Holiday lets very rarely follow the local rules about recycling and reducing waste. They often don't pay any or enough tax to cover the expense they cause, aren't registered and aren't subject to the laws followed by 'official' hotels and B&Bs. To cater for these Airbnbers, local businesses have closed down to be replaced by tourist-friendly supermarkets. It is really much better for Venice, for legitimate business-owners, and for travellers themselves, to stay in mainstream, regulated accommodation which encroaches as little as possible on local housing stock and living conditions.

Shop local and keep the city sustainable

Over the years I've lived in and visited Venice I've seen scores of useful local shops and services disappear. A popular local toy shop now sells the usual masks and handbags. A bakery becomes another Chinese glass and mask shop. A cinema becomes a supermarket. Bookshops are replaced by clothes outlets. Nice food shops become noisy bars, or kebab shops. Antique shops have closed down as the demographic of visitors has shifted. The demand from tourists is making the city harder and harder to live in. As visitors, you can help by avoiding the cheap made-in-China tat. Finances permitting, seek out local artisan craft shops and authentic Murano glass (not always that expensive), patronise small local bakeries and food shops, spend your money in quiet authentic local bars and cafes instead of the flashy tourist traps, visit some of the smaller museums, and when you buy a coffee in an out-of-the-way bar, or eat in a local restaurant, see it as a contribution to a sustainable city as well as an enjoyable meal. In my guidebook I suggest good-value shops, restaurants, bars and cafes which aren't tourist traps and are mostly locally-run.

In Castello, an area which still has a large resident population.

Not a theme park

What not to do

I can't say it enough, Venice isn't yet a theme park, and all lovers of Venice are desperate to save it from that fate. Tourists who treat it like a theme park:
- potter through the lanes, walking on the left, blocking routes and stopping on bridges, without ever being aware that other people might have actual lives to lead
- stop to sunbathe in the city, to dangle feet into dirty canals, or even to swim in the canals - both unhygienic and a hazard to boats
 - drink alcohol in public places and/or get drunk and loud outside people's homes (everywhere in Venice is outside someone's home)
- buy take-away food, thereby contributing little to Venice except the proliferation of smelly fast-food joints
 - eat picnics or take-aways while blocking lanes and bridges or sitting indecorously on the ground (this is actually banned around St Mark's)
 - set up 'camp' in the city to save money
- feed pigeons and seagulls which will remain to plague residents long after the tourists have gone.
- leave litter, graffiti or padlocks.

What to do

- Take time to learn about Venice, and follow the simple rules above and on the council's webpages. Year-round, the majority of tourists behave well, but the unprepared and the careless exceptions give a very bad impression - which could be easily avoided.
- Get off the beaten track and explore remoter areas.
- Remember Venice and its public spaces are home to 60,000 residents.
- As a responsible traveller, consider the local impact of your spending choices.
- Always bear in mind that Venice is not a pretty backdrop to your summer holiday, it is an amazing, complicated, fascinating city which allows you to visit it, under sufferance.
- If you're reading this, you're probably already a perfectly-behaved visitor to Venice. But consider spreading the word among other travellers. Gentle advice to walk on the right could make a very positive difference to a tourist and to everyone they encounter.

Most of all, enjoy and appreciate the city. Even after centuries of tourism, most Venetians are still pleased and proud when they find one or two tourists, guidebook in hand, gazing in admiration at their own obscure parish church or favourite painting. When appreciation, understanding and respect go together then everyone is happy.

> Venice - the Venice section of Italy Heaven, with advice, recommendations and information
> The Italy Heaven Guide to Venice (for Kindle), with detailed information, insider tips, walks to explore the different districts, holiday-planning advice, restaurant recommendations and more.

Venice is watching you
Breaking all the rules of St Mark's Square in one go: picnicking, lying down AND feeding pigeons
Spotted attempting to enter a church: what not to wear
Taking a break on the busiest bridge in Venice
The police stop a man with a bike in St Mark's Square
Blocking a residents' short-cut while eating a take-away - another no-no