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First time in Italy ... in August. Need help with itinerary! (warning: long post)

First post! I've been lurking this forum for a few weeks now and have found it pretty helpful, but most travelers here seem to have the luxury of going during shoulder seasons, and especially October (for truffles, it seems).

Well, my sister and I are going in August :( Apparently this is the absolute worst time to go to Italy. I don't mind the heat and humidity so much, or the crowds, but what really worries me is the mass restaurant closures.

Schedule: (leaving august 5) August 6-August 23.
This is our first time in Italy so we will spend most of our time in Rome, Florence and Venice. We are bookending in Milan (cheaper flights). I don't have a fixed schedule, but I would like to:
-Spend 6 nights in Rome
-3 nights in Venice (we have family there, three nights is a minimum for us)
-to be in Siena for at least a day trip to see the Palio....other than that, I would appreciate any itinerary ideas.
-Florence is more negotiable since we only really want to see the Accademia, Uffizi and Duomo.

My first major question: Where to go in the big three (especially Venice and Florence)?

I understand the restaurant situation is not as bad before the 15th. My thinking is, it would be better to go to Rome after the 15 because there will be enough good restaurants open there compared to smaller towns. Is this correct? I came across a nice blog, Katie Parla's Rome, which has a list of restaurants open in August, so I'm not too worried about Rome, but for everywhere else I'm not finding much luck.

Second major question: Is it worth going to lesser known regions/towns? If so, where?

I think we could spend three nights outside of the big three cities.

I was thinking somewhere in Emilia Romagna. I'm looking at Modena which has Hosteria Giusti, but their website is from 2007, and I've read it is closed? They also have a cheap version of Osteria Francescana, which sounds interesting. I would also like to see Mantova. However, I don't know what restaurants are good there and I fear it small enough that everything will be closed in August.... I really have my heart set on Mantova, for some reason, so is it worth going to in August?

I would love to see Piemonte, but it is too out of the way and we won't have a car.

Aside from the two towns I mentioned, I really have no clue where to go. Since we won't have a car, I would like for our base to be conveniently located and accessible between either Milan and Venice, Venice and Florence, Florence and Rome or Rome and Milan...

I know this was kind of a drawn out, rambling post! I just want to make the most out of a not so ideal situation.

Thanks for your time!

May 12, 2013
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