Italy Travel Top Picks 2019

Martha’s Italy 2019 travels took us to Sardinia, Rome, Florence, truffle hunting in Umbria, and several hidden gems. These are my top picks from 2019. Add a couple of these places to your next Italy travel itinerary.


Sardinia was the first place I ever went in Italy and it remains one of my favorite regions. Back in the 1980’s, we spent 5 summers participating in an archaeological survey and excavation in Bauladu, inland from Oristano. Last spring we traveled with our friends from Simple Italy, re-visiting some of our favorite places and exploring a few new ones. We went back to what was one of our favorite restaurants when we were based in Sedilo, Ristorante da Armando, now run by Armando’s son. For that part of the trip we based ourselves in Milis, a pretty town known for growing oranges. We even had a special tour with mayor.

We then moved on to Nuoro, one of the island’s biggest cities that’s a good base for visiting the traditional villages of the mountains. Nuoro has an amazing ethnographic museum (formerly the costume museum but now greatly expanded) that gives an excellent introduction into all facets of traditional Sardinian life as well as several other museums. Some of the villages are painted with murals while others are known for their traditional crafts, such as mask-making. On Easter we drove up into the mountains to the village of Fonni, the highest village on the island, and arrived just in time for the Easter procession, a great experience.

fonni mural photo
Murals in Fonni, Barbagia Mountains Village

Truffle Hunting in Umbria

I wasn’t so keen on going on a truffle hunt but this one turned out to be an amazing experience. In the Umbrian hills, Wild Foods Italy offers truffle hunting experiences that are much more than just watching a dog find truffles. On this experience we got an in-depth look at rural life, from shepherds and farmers to homemade wine, salami, and pasta. The walk with the truffle hunters and their dogs was great and informative. The morning was followed by foods made with fresh truffles. It’s in an unusual town, entirely owned by descendants of the original families who founded it in the late 15th century. For luxury lodging in the country, stay in one of the 2 rooms at the Black Truffle Lodge.

truffle hunter and dog
Truffle Hunter and Dog

Mondavio, Le Marche

Last spring our friends from Anitas Feast joined us for a few days in Mondavio, a hidden gem with a picturesque historic center and castle, in central Italy’s Le Marche region. We used Mondavio as a base for exploring the area including the larger town of Sassoferrato and Cartoceto, a charming village that’s home to Gastronomia Beltrami, a wonderful deli that sells fabulous goat and sheep cheeses and olive oil produced on their farm.

mondavio castle
Mondavio's Castle at Town Entrance


One of the highlights of this year’s stays in Rome was taking a cooking class with Walks of Italy . We enjoyed making two kinds of pasta, ravioli and pasta alla chitarra. Our instructors were great and I felt successful in my pasta attempts, something that’s not always the case for me. Our class included an introduction to vegetables at the market, Prosecco, a recipe book, and a lunch with our two pastas, served with wine.

We also took a day trip to the town of Bracciano, above Lake Bracciano, about an hour train ride from Trastevere station. Bracciano has a small medieval center and one of the best castles I’ve ever visited. More than 20 rooms inside the castle are decorated with amazing frescoes, paintings, and period furniture. Bracciano makes a relaxing short escape from the crowds of Rome, but our friends stayed for a few nights and recommend using it as a base to explore the area too.

bracciano castle photo
Bracciano Castle and Bell Tower from the Main Piazza

Tuscany: Carrara, Panzano, and Pisa

This spring we explored several places in Tuscany with our friends from A Path to Lunch. They know the town of Carrara very well and took us on a little walking tour with a snack stop for gnam gnam, a local specialty. Carrara sits below the famous Carrara marble quarries, where Michelangelo is said to have sourced his marble.

In Panzano, we had lunch at the Officina della Bisteca, owned by the famous butcher, Dario Cecchini. It was a fabulous lunch at communal tables by the meat grill, lasting several hours. I opted for the vegetarian menu, which was also great, so don’t miss the experience just because you don’t eat meat. We stayed at Casa Morosini, a very nice vacation house, a short walk from town.

In Pisa we visited the newly opened Pisa Historic Ship Museum, a huge museum that covers much of Pisa’s history, especially its maritime history.

carrara piazza
Piazza Alberica, Carrara by James Martin


Exploring with locals is always a great way to visit. In fall we were lucky to join our friends in visiting their relatives in the town of Bene Vagienna, between Mondovi’ and Barolo in the Langhe wine area. Bene Vagienna turned out to be an interesting little town, a good place to take part in local life. While there, we visited the Sanctuary of Vicoforte, with the world’s largest elliptical dome and the town of Mondovi’. We’ll be writing more about this Piemonte visit soon.

mondovi photo
Main Square in the Medieval Quarter of Mondovi' Alto


In Florence, we were honored to be invited to the press event for the unveiling of the recently restored 16th century painting of the Last Supper by Plautilla Nelli, Florence’s first female artist. Visitors to the Santa Maria Novella Basilica monastery museum can now view this magnificent painting, following a 4 year restoration made possible by Advancing Women Artists.

the last supper painting in florence
Plautilla Nelli's 16th Century Painting of the Last Supper in Florence
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Italy Travel Top Picks 2019 originally appeared on , updated: Dec 30, 2022.