Tuscany First Italian Region to Check In with Foursquare

Tuscany Tourism Checks In With FourSquare
Tuscany Tourism Checks In With FourSquare

If you follow this site or my personal website MissAdventures.com, you know that I am gaga for gadgets, social media, and the latest technology. So, I was delighted when Visit Tuscany, the tourism board of the famous Italian region, contacted me to get the word out about its partnership with FourSquare, the social media check-in application. I see this as a great opportunity for such a solid, well-known travel brand like Tuscany to embrace the future of travel marketing. (Just think – you could be the Mayor of the Uffizi Gallery!) But instead of listening to my opinion on the matter, let’s take a look at the announcement by Visit Tuscany on its new venture. Below is the press release in its entirety.

Visit Tuscany opens Foursquare branded page

Visit Tuscany is the first Italian tourism board to have a branded presence on Foursquare on which members of the region’s social media team provide tips to help travelers discover the best of Tuscany’s places, food, and art.

Foursquare is a location-based service and game that allows individual users to “check in” to places via a mobile application and receive tips – and sometimes special offers – for that location. Foursquare offers select institutions (from the History Channel to the New York Times) a customized branded page that users can “follow” to get tips and sometimes win badges.

The potential of branded pages for tourism was recognized early on by Explore Chicago, the first DMO (Destination Marketing Organization) to partner with Foursquare back in February 2010. They were followed by Visit PA in May of the same year; the first in Europe was Welcome to Yorkshire (September 1 2010).

Visit Tuscany launched its Foursquare page on October 1 2010, making it the first DMO in Italy to have one, and one of the first 10 in the world. Says Michela Simoncini, one of the channel’s administrators and a member of the social media team:

“We are constantly looking for new ways to interact with our visitors. Foursquare is pretty new in Italy but we’re all “tech geeks” here in the office and we see a lot of potential in the app. We hope that the tips we’re adding on Foursquare can help steer tourists towards the artistic and gastronomic excellencies of our region.”

Foursquare has a captive audience with the growing worldwide market of smartphone users – 29.7% in the USA and 28% in Italy according to recent Nielsen data; 4.5 million of these are already on Foursquare, and the Visit Tuscany team expects to see numbers in Italy (where it is still very much a niche market) grow quickly.

As of December 2010, Visit Tuscany has 1600 followers on its branded page and people have “done” 300 of the tips, from sampling street food in Florence to looking at Renaissance frescoes in Arezzo.

In fact, when it comes to tourism, the Region of Tuscany is full of firsts. Florence, in Tuscany, was recently voted by Tripadvisor as the number one culture and sightseeing destination in the world. Wanting to help travelers discover all that the region has to offer, in 2009 Tuscany was the first DMO in Italy to form a full-time “social media team” with official facebook fan page, vertical blogs, an iphone app and much more in its network. So being “first” also on Foursquare was a logical step within a larger digital strategy.


Photo © FourSquare

Navmii Italy iPhone App and Giveaway

Navmii Italy GPS app for the iPhone
Italy is a joy to drive around, but it can be hell if you get lost. With that in mind, Navmii GPS Live, came out with a specialized iPhone app just for Italy. With the launch of Navmii GPS Live Italy in July 2010, Italy became the 10th European country to get a “fully functioning GPS navigation for less than the cost of a paper map.” Thus, for $4.99, you can get dozens of Italy maps as well as enjoy a GPS system for a fraction of the cost of a whole GPS device.

I am writing about Navmii because its developers recently contacted me about reviewing the device and running a contest for my readers (details below!). While I really wanted to try the app out for myself – I’m a glutton for iPhone apps – I knew that I wouldn’t have a chance to do it this fall. Luckily, I found that Navmii had also contacted my friend Alex Roe of Blog From Italy for a review of Navmii Italy, and he gives a very thorough one. Here is Alex’s summary:

Navmii GPS Live for Italy iPhone App


  • Very Easy to use – once you are familiar with it.
  • Uncluttered maps, clear graphics.
  • Quick.
  • Clear directions, generally.
  • Useful favourites and recent destinations route memory system for regularly used journeys. Useful on holiday for those hotel to beach and back trips, too.
  • Bargain price – no monthly charges.


  • The GPS voice is a little quiet, so the iPhone needs to be integrated into car audio system, if possible.
  • Directions given can be a slightly confusing at times.
  • No ‘fastest route’ or advanced features – but at this price, it’s not to be expected. Navmii got me there!

Navmii GPS Italy Giveaway

As I mentioned above, Navmii has offered to give three of my lucky readers a chance to win their app and try it out on their next vacation to Italy. Alas, dear readers, you must do some investigative work to win this free app!

To win the app, provide the name and URL of one of the top ten most popular posts about driving on Italofile in the comments below. Only one comment per person and only one URL per comment. The first three readers to guess correctly will will receive a code which they can use in the Apple iStore USA.

iPhone Apps for the Italophile

Ever since getting my iPhone last summer, I have become a completely obsessive iPhone addict. And with iPhone addiction comes app addiction. As of this writing, I have 48 (FORTY-EIGHT!) apps and counting, and that doesn’t include the apps that come pre-installed, such as iTunes and Maps.

Having an affinity for Italy, travel, and photography has definitely influenced my app choices. There certainly are a lot of travel apps that are scrollable guidebooks and audio guides of top attractions. These are useful, but pretty easy to find on your own. In this post, I want to share some of my favorite apps as well as a few others that I think fellow Italophiles will enjoy. By the way, almost all of the apps I list below are free or very cheap ($0.99-$2.99).

Italy-Specific Apps
I haven’t had the pleasure of being in Italy since getting my iPhone, but I like the idea of the following apps. If you have any first-hand experience with these or any other useful, Italy-specific apps, please comment below or contact me on Twitter @italofileblog.

Nike Goal
The first time I came across this free app, I emailed it to Jessica, writer of the Why Go Italy blog and BootsnAll’s resident soccer (calcio) fanatic. Jessica has the iPod Touch and told me she had been enjoying this app for quite a while. It gives you the low-down on upcoming Serie A and Serie B matchups, Italian soccer players, and the shoes that they wear when they score their goals (the last one is the embedded Nike ad hook). All around a fun app for followers of the beautiful game and you don’t have to even be in Italy to appreciate it.

Comuni d’Italia
If you write about Italy or just like to know the basics about its regions and towns, this app allows you to have that information at your fingertips. In Italian, the app lets you drill down by region, province, and comune to find stuff like zip codes, population, telephone prefix (less important in these days of the cell phone), altitude, and patron saint, among other things. The app is not highly interactive, though it does have GPS functionality that I haven’t been able to use. Probably the neatest aspects of this app are that you can quickly find the official website of the community you’re interested in learning about (not always so easy, take it from me) and the list of upcoming festivals (which is, sadly, only a list – no further info is provided). A little wonky, this app, but I like it nonetheless.

First of all, let me just say how much I love the fact that the ubiquitous “i” in iPhone apps also assists in making Italian app names grammatically correct (the trains= i treni, or iTreni). Here’s an app that I like in theory though it hasn’t gotten a lot of great reviews. That may be because the developer is not the Italian train authority Ferrovie dello Stato but an independent app creator who has tapped into the FS’s database. Still, having information about train schedules and real time arrivals and departures on your phone sure beats the old system of checking the board at the station.

iSea: Al Mare
Here’s another app that’s only in Italian, but I can imagine it being a great resource for summer travelers with some basic knowledge of Italian. iSea provides real-time information about Italy’s Blue Flag (Bandiera Blu) beaches, which are the beaches with the safest, cleanest waters. I don’t know how the app taps into this information, but I suppose it could be helpful if you can’t make up your mind between going to Sperlonga or Ansedonia.

This restaurant locater app is in Italian AND English and lets you search for restaurants around you – great if you’re wondering around the backstreets of Florence wondering where to grab a bite without resorting to the tripe truck. You can do a search by city, cuisine, and price, read restaurant reviews and menus, and add any gems you find to your list of favorites. Cities included range from Agrigento to Viterbo and everything in between. So this has the potential to be a very fun app, indeed.

Italian Language Apps

Conjugation Nation (Italian)
If you’re like me – an Italian language learner always looking for the right word – then you will like this app. The app is an interactive quiz that helps you learn verb conjugation, which can be invaluable if you’re in Italy and need to explain what is happening or what just happened.

Flash Cards for Kids (Italian)
I made the mistake early on of downloading a few flash cards apps to entertain my son while we were at restaurants, in airports, or other situations that required his undivided attention while I TCBed (took care of business). He really took to one flash card app that had both English and Spanish components. By “took to” I mean he constantly steals my phone. So I decided to mix it up a bit and find a flash card app for learning Italian. This particular app actually has Italian and French, perfect if you’re an Italo-Francophile like Robin at My Mélange. I’ve written about more iPhone apps for kids over on my personal blog missadventures.com in order to be entered in the BestKidsApps.com iPad contest. Wish me luck!

General Photography Apps
If you’ve got kids or just like to take a lot of photos, you definitely need a good photography app or two. There are a few apps on my phone that I use frequently.

PS Mobile
This app from Photoshop is a good app for on-the-go photo editing. You can crop, light-fill, saturate, make black/white or sepia, or utilize effects like sketch, soft focus, and sharpen. Did some tour group step into your otherwise perfect photo of the Colosseum? Crop ’em out!

Pixelpipe is both a web app and an iPhone app that allows you to upload photos to multiple destinations all at one time. My “pipes” include Picasa, Facebook, Flickr, and Kodak Gallery, but there are dozens more, even to FTP – perfect if you have a photo blog. If you’ve read my personal blog, you’ll see in my review of Phanfare that I wasn’t too keen on Pixelpipe. But several updates later, the bugs are sorted out and I am hooked (and less enamored with Phanfare as a result).

Qik Video
If you have an older generation iPhone like I do (in fact, I got mine one week before 3GS came out!), then you don’t have a video camera app installed. This app changes all that. While I love my Flip Camera, sometimes my phone is more handy than my Flip. And, well, with the Qik app I’ve got a video camera and wireless uploading capabilities in one device. Sweet.

Quick Note on International Roaming with the iPhone
Like I said, I haven’t internationally roamed with my iPhone yet. But, in advance of my husband’s recent work trip abroad, I checked into AT&T’s iPhone Tips for International Roamers. Some of the best advice on that sheet is to make sure you use WiFi connections whenever possible and turn off data roaming. And if you want to locate Italian wifi hotspots, there’s actually an app for that, too!

Photo from slipperybrick.com

Google as Tour Guide

google_city_tours_logoFirst they want to scan my copyrighted books and now Google wants to be a tour guide: has Google gone too far this time? I recently received a Google Wave invitation, so I was browsing Google Labs to see what else was on the backburner. It seems that Google will soon be launching City Tours, putting people like me – travel writers – out of business. Or will it?

Here’s Google’s thinking behind City Tours:

Making holiday planning as easy as searching the web. City Tours helps you identify points of interest and plan multi-day trips to most major cities. You just specify the location of your hotel and the length of your trip and City Tours will map out an itinerary for you.

I thought I’d look up Rome as a test. Google presented me with a three-day itinerary – complete with map, of course. The plan included walking time, distance, and links to the sites included on the tour. The first day had me going to locations such as the Museo del Risorgimento, the Pasta Museum, Les Musées du Capitole (Capitoline Museums – Google’s link was spelled the French way), and about five other place. Fine. Some of these sites, especially the Capitoline Museums, are worthy of a first-day visit even for a first-timer. But the itinerary didn’t tell me, for example, that the Pasta Museum is near the Trevi Fountain (though you can see that fact if you zoom in on the map), or that the Museo delle Cere (the Wax Museum) is totally lame.

I’ll give Google points for being able to add/delete sites from an itinerary and change dates. For example, if I were beginning my trip on a Monday (when many museums are closed), the auto-generated agenda ostensibly should steer me towards sites that are actually open. You can also choose the length of your tour, from 1 to 5 days. Unfortunately, when I chose a one-day tour of Rome, Google came up empty-handed. The program should at least generate a basic tour for one day – ya know, Vatican Museums, Spanish Steps, a handful of churches.

So Google City Tours is still in the Labs stage. And, in my opinion, has a long way to go to get it right. Thankfully, I think this tool, like an online translator, is helpful and pretty cool. But, in a field as subjective as travel, nothing beats the human touch.

Am I right?

Photo from Google

Pocket Film Prize: I Make My World

As part of the 53rd Venice Biennale, there is an online video-making competition aimed “at young people from around the world aged between 18 and 26 years of age for video-works made using mobile phones.” To enter Pocket Film Prize: I Make My World,” participants must submit a video of any genre no longer than 1 minute in length and pay a €5 entry fee. Uploads will be accepted until September 30, and prizes will be awarded on October 30.

If you’re a young videographer between 18-26, this is your chance to make history and have your video featured on La Biennale Channel, the video website for the Venice Biennale. Additional details about the competition are available here.

Photo by Fensterbme

Italy Is A-Twitter

It happens to the best of us. We stop to check out a new technology/trend/what-have-you and forget about our blogs.

For the past several months, as I’ve relocated to the U.S. once again and tried to make a nice summer for my two young sons, I’ve certainly had my blog on my mind. Unfortunately, I’ve had the attention span of a [insert distractable creature here – toddler?] and have not had the opportunity to really sit down and write any meaningful blog posts about Italy – my passion.

This is where Twitter comes in.

I signed up for twitter in the spring to see what was all about. What I found was a parallel universe of people dishing out travel, writing, technology, humor, etc., in 140 characters or less. I’ve become hooked – to the detriment of this blog.

You don’t need me to tell you about twitter, of course. It’s a worldwide trend. Lots of PR firms and tourism agencies are using the power of twitter for marketing. But I was particularly interested in which official Italy tourism boards were tweeting and where some of the most prolific tweeps were tweeting from (if you don’t understand the lingo, google it!). Here is a short run-down. I’m hoping that by getting this blog post/tweet out there that more tourism boards and people from areas not covered below will start tweeting and/or more of my twitter friends will send me leads for more.

Rome Tweeps
@WikiRoma (in Italian)

Venice Tweeps

Tuscany Tweeps

Umbria Tweeps

Campania Tweeps (Naples/Amalfi Coast/Capri)

Sicily Tweeps

Tourism Board Tweeps
@TuscanyTourism – Tuscany Tourism Board
@APTVersilia – the tourism board of the subregion of Versilia in Tuscany
@RegioneVeneto – Veneto region tourism board

You can find more fine tweeters, such as Jessica at Italylogue (@italylogue), by looking at the people I follow by going to my twitter account @italofileblog or checking out #italy via twitter search.

Photo by tentonipete.

The Pope’s Online

You no longer have to go to Rome to have an audience with the Pope. Now, with the new Vatican YouTube channel, the Benedict XVI will come to you. According to Reuters, the daily videos will be about two minutes long and will feature info about church events and the Pope’s activities. Hopefully, the site will include more than just Pope Benedict talking. It’d be neat to see a Vatican tour around Easter and Christmas – I always love to see how St. Peter’s is decked out for the holidays.

Initially, the briefings will be broadcast in English, Spanish, German, and Italian. For more info about the Vatican, you can go to www.vatican.va, where you can also find links to the Vatican’s live radio feed.

Aerial Views of Ancient Rome

Leave it to Google to continue to make geography cool and engaging.

Yesterday, Google revealed the new Ancient Rome 3D layer, which allows viewers to “fly” over the city as it was during the heyday of the Forum and Colosseum. With this new layer, Google is also encouraging educators to use Ancient Rome 3D in their lesson plans and submit such curricula for a chance to win prizes such as a MacBook, digital camera, or $500 for school supplies from Target or Office Depot. According to the Google LatLong blog, this is the “first time” that Google has “incorporated an ancient city in Google Earth.” So, does that mean that fly-overs of Pompeii are not far on the horizon?

Further endearing Google to me more is the company’s recent release of Street Views for Italy. Again, the LatLong blog provides examples of Italian streetscapes, with many more in the works.

Ah, technology…what a wonderful thing.

The Ultimate Italian Driving Adventure

If you’re the type of traveler who likes to go it alone and doesn’t mind injecting a little technological know-how into your trip, then a GPS-driven self-guided tour may be the ticket.

Information about Zephyr Self-Guided Adventures through Italy just crossed our desks over the weekend. The company offers walks, biking, and driving tours through Tuscany, Umbria, and parts of Lazio, all of which are powered by GPS navigation. According to a press release:

The GPS Navigation systems have pre-loaded waypoints along the driving routes and are designed to accompany written turn-by-turn directions. With simple touch commands travelers can easily get from one destination to another. These portable systems not only allow for a comfortable traveling pace, but are also a cheaper alternative to the typical guided vacation.

In addition to the GPS Navigation systems, these driving tours come with a “virtual tour guide” in the form of a Portable Media Player loaded with short videos. In these videos, Zephyr Adventures President Allan Wright gives a daily route talk summarizing what to expect for each day while certified Italian guide (and Zephyr in-country support representative) Giovanni Ramaccioni gives entertaining cultural and historical presentations about sights on the route. The cultural videos were filmed at the exact spots the travelers pass through.

The combination of these two technologies allows for the ultimate driving adventure.

While Zephyr may have touched on a rather novel concept, we also like the fact that they have worked in the price of hotels and rental cars, so you don’t have to do any extra legwork (unless, of course, you choose to walk or bike your way through central Italy). Rates start at $1,250 per person, not including airfare.

A 360-Degree Spin Around Italy

Do you ever feel like you don’t get the whole picture when reading about Italy in guidebooks or on blogs? There are now a couple of websites that go one better than the usual two-dimensional picture.

Expat Peter Ryder, a resident of Sardinia, has two websites that can give you a better picture of the island – www.360sardinia.net and www.360alghero.net. In addition to providing information on where to stay, where to eat, etc., these two sites provide 360° looks at some of the beaches, marinas, and piazze of Sardinia.

Similarly, there’s a newish website called 360travelguide.com that features, according to a press release, the “world’s largest free access panoramic image library.”  For Italy, they offer virtual tours from Amalfi to Verona, as well as user reviews and travel blogs. There’s also an ongoing competition for users who provide reviews to win an iPhone. Ooops…gotta go write a review now…:-)