Italy experiences

Don't just see Italy: experience it!

Most people don't come home from a trip raving about the paintings they saw, sharing hilarious tales about the monuments in front of which they posed, or waxing rhapsodic about cathedrals through which they dutifully wandered.

No, the travel stories we tell tend to be about the amazing guided walk we took with an art historian that visited places not in the guidebooks and revealed amazing anecdotes about the palazzi we passed. Or they're about haggling for that great leather jacket in the street market of Florence, or staying on a working farm in Tuscany, or learning to make tagliatelle in Bologna, or hiking the goat paths of the Cinque Terre, or watching an opera in an ancient amphitheater under the stars in Verona, or attending a soccer match in Milan, or getting gondola-driving lessons in Venice, or even just what it was like to indulge in an amazing four-hour dinner at a family trattoria in Rome...

It's what you do on vacation that sticks, not simply what you see.

Here are some of the best activities and experiences that will become the highlights of your trip and make the memories you will treasure and the stories you will tell for the rest of your life.

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Book ahead

While for some activities you can just show up, this is one travel item you really should try to reserve in advance.

Popular activities like cooking classes can sell out.

Many are available only on certain days of the week, so it pays to know that you'll have to set aside, say, Tuesday morning for that guided market walk with a local cookbook author.

Many of the best activities are available by advance booking or appointment only—particularly wineries. Some vineyards welcome walk-ins, true, but many more will give you a cellar tour and wine tasting only if you call ahead a few days (and those tend to be the ones most liberal with the free samples).

If you have your heart set on dining in a particular restaurant, go ahead and call ahead,even if it's just earlier on the same day—though a day ahead is preferable. I have found that a corrollary of Muphy's Law applies to this aspect of travel. Any restaurant I am particularly keen on but blithely assume I can just waltz into will inevitably be filled to the brim: no tables available. However, half the time when I do book a table in advance I'll end up being the only guy in the place (nor near enough for my advance booking to feel like overkill). Still, better safe than sorry. Reserving a table is quick and painless; getting turned away at the door can be crushing.

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