A combination of reward flight availability and our love of good food took us to Northern Italy from Singapore. We flew into Milan, but didn’t stay, instead hopping a train from the airport to Ferrara and then, a few days later, to Vicenza. This was our third visit to Italy and we’d already been to the more popular, well-known cities like Florence, Rome, Bologna, and Venice. We like to seek out less touristy spots and thought these two cities would be a good entry back into Europe after so much time away.
Three days in Ferrara
Ferrara is in the Emilia-Romagna region of Northern Italy. It’s got great food (but honestly, we’ve never been anywhere in Italy that didn’t), a big castle, and well-preserved city walls. It’s also known to be one of Italy’s most bike-friendly cities, so it was really easy to get around.
Biking around the city
We rented bikes for one day through our hotel, Bed & Bike. They offer very reasonably priced, large rooms and bike rentals – what more could we ask for! The bikes were perfect for riding around the city. We first did what many long-term travelers do when they get to a new place… laundry!
This laundromat was a bit outside the main touristic center, but super quick to get to by bike. We explored the neighborhood while waiting for our clothes and came upon the Acquedotto Monumentale, which as it turns out, is one of the most important meeting places in the city. The piazza was pretty and green and quiet and there was a farmer’s market going on. It felt like a very local spot.
Later, we rode our bikes along the city walls. There’s a path that goes around the whole inner city. You can ride or walk below the walls or on the walls themselves. We chose to ride on the ground, through the parks. But another day we did take a stroll atop the walls. If you have the time, we would recommend both!
The historical center
The historical center of Ferrara is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Castello Estense (Este Castle) is a very well-preserved medieval castle, which sits in the center of the city. Complete with moats, it’s quite an impressive building. You can tour the castle, and its Renaissance-era palace, but we didn’t – preferring (as usual) to just marvel at it from the outside.
Nearby is the also impressive Ferrara Cathedral. It stands at the Piazza Trento-Trieste, which is a popular spot. There’s a market there on the weekends and people just enjoy hanging out there in general.
All throughout the historical center are perfectly Italian, narrow, winding streets that you can enjoy getting lost wandering through (because how lost can you really get in such a small city like Ferrara). We did this every day and every evening to find new spots to have aperitivo.
Three days in Vicenza
Vicenza is about one hour north of Ferrara by train. It is a beautiful city with an interesting architectural style. It felt more ornate than Ferrara. We enjoyed three days there exploring its nooks and crannies.
The city of Palladio
We found two more magnificent buildings by Palladio just a few minutes from the very center of the city…
In addition to all the Palladio, there are so many other beautiful buildings and sites throughout the city. It’s always a pleasure to wander through small Italian streets, but Vicenza was in a league of its own with the interesting architecture and colors everywhere.
Getting an amazing view of the city
We were in Vicenza on Easter Sunday and nothing was open. So we took a long walk up to the Church of St. Mary of Mount Berico. There are two options for the walk from the city center – up a pretty big set of stairs or up a longer incline. The latter takes you through a series of archways. We chose the former – but still got to walk through the final archway on the final stretch up to the church and viewing area. Note: Sarah wisely brought her portable oxygen concentrator for this one!
The archways and church itself are impressive, but the true reward is the view from the top. It wasn’t the clearest day, but we could still see a tremendous view of the city including the Palladian Basilica and the mountains in the background.
Supporting the local club
We love going to international sporting events, but football is our favorite. Our hotel in Vicenza was right across from the local football team’s arena and we were lucky to be there when they were playing. We’ve been to football matches of all sizes, from the small in Inverness, Scotland to the large in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. The big ones are fun, but you definitely get a better local feel from the tinier teams. Sadly, Vicenza lost the match we saw, but we still had a great time.
Eats and drinks (aka, pizza and aperitivo)
We discovered the joy of aperitivo – the Italian happy hour – on a trip to Northern Italy a few years ago. It was perfect for us on this trip since we were jetlagged and didn’t always want a big meal. Sarah’s favorite thing to drink in Italy is the aperol spritz, especially when it’s accompanied by copious amounts of Italian appetizers. We could recommend places in both Ferrara and Vicenza to have aperitivo, but think part of the fun of it is wandering about, peeking your head in somewhere and deciding if the spread of food is worth the 3 euro cost of a spritz.
Good pizza is hard to find in this world. Growing up in New York, we both had pretty good access to it throughout our lives. But this past year, it was lacking. So we were psyched to get to Italy and eat it all up. We found two great spots in Ferrara and Vicenza that we would go back to in a heartbeat.
Pizza Da Ignazio in Vicenza saved us. As we previously mentioned, we were there on Easter Sunday. In case you’ve never been to a small Italian city on Easter, everything is closed. So we ordered enough pizza on Saturday to hold us over on Sunday. Their pizzas were huge with chewy crusts. It’s a bit outside the city center, but worth the walk if you’ve got a big party of hungry people.
The pizza from Andrea and Lauretta was the first thing we ate in Ferrara after a long journey from Singapore via Milan. Their personal pizzas had a super thin, delicious crust and a choice of interesting toppings. We enjoyed it so much we ate there again for lunch one
We’re really glad we made the decision to check out these two new smaller Italian cities. Even though they were only an hour away from each other, they were both very different, had a lot to offer, and we definitely can’t decide which we enjoyed more!