In honor of my Italian husband's 50th year, we decided that it was time to see Italy. Neither one of us had been there and so we packed up the 9 yr old son and my 22 yr old niece and away we went.
With the help of a very experienced travel agent who specializes in Italian vacations, we came up with an itinerary of 4 days in Rome, 5 days in Florence, 5 days in Sestri Levante (a small resort village on the Ligurian sea, off the coast of the Cinque Terre) and 3 days in Venice.
We rented an apartment in Rome, close to the Spanish steps, very good neighborhood and the apt. was great. What I would have changed was getting an apt. on the first leg of the trip to a place I had not been before. You don't have the help of hotel staff (experienced concierge, etc.) to help guide. We did have books however and we did get by.
The best part of Rome was going to the Vatican and St. Peter's with a private guide (no lines, full of stories and knowledge, and you see the best parts without spending 9 hours there). Highly recommend this!!! Next we went to Florence, where we stayed in a hotel with a pool (a must with a 9 yr old and 95 degree temps). We did day trips to Pisa, Lucca and Montepulciano.
We rented a car which was easy once on the Autostrada but challenging driving thru the heart of Florence. We then drove to the charming town of Sestri Levante (hands down, our favorite place on this trip), where we had 5 days of sunning and swimming. Our hotel, the Hotel Nettuna, on the beach comes with lounge chairs and umbrella for the duration of your stay. This is an Italian tourist town, we could have possibly been the only Americans there.
I highly recommend inserting a chunk of time relaxing amidst all of the sightseeing. We took the ferry to Cinque Terre where we accomplished a very difficult hike from Monterosso to Vernazza (the most difficult of the hikes but with uncompromising and breathtaking views). From there, on to Venice. If there was a way to do Sestri Levante last, I might have (except we flew home from Venice).
After being in an area that was very local and authentic in flavor, it was quite jarring to the system to go to Venice and be one of thousands of tourists. Our hotel was an oasis, however. The Londra Palace was beautiful and calming. All in all, the trip of a lifetime.