|Subject: Re: Italy Vacation|
My husband and I returned last week from a wonderful month traveling through Italy. Thanks to everyone for tips and ideas that I garnered from Travelzine! I'm very happy to answer any questions or provide information on our experiences in Italy now that I've returned. We flew San Francisco to Frankfurt (Lufthansa) and then directly into Venice. I was so happy to have learned in time that this was possible as we had originally planned to fly Frankfurt to Milan and then take the train to Venice, a much more difficult and much longer way to arrive in Venice. As we were flying on frequent flyer tickets, flying direct was also much more affordable as we did not have train tickets to pay for. We loved Venice! Such a lovely city! It was very crowded around San Marco and Rialto Bridge, but much less so as we wandered a bit out of the mainstream. We found Venice to be a perfect starting place, as we didn't feel the need to see museums and churches, etc. but could leisurely walk, explore, and just enjoy. We caught up to the time change easily this way. Next we took the train to Florence. Hooray for the efficiency of the Italian rail system! Our concierge at the Danieli in Venice booked all of our train reservations for us through a travel agent. Very easy for us! There is so much to see in Florence! Thank goodness we had caught up in Venice! In Florence we pre arranged a private guide through Florentina Walking Tours (http://www.firenzeantica.org). We had an excellent guide, Simone, who is a native of Florence and very knowledgeable. We saw things that we wouldn't have discovered on our own such as artisans in their workshops, and off the beaten track discoveries. Highly recommended! Florence is a jewel of history and art and charm! Next on to Rome. Again, we prearranged walking tours, semi-private this time, through Scala Reale (http://www.scalareale.org/). We were most pleased with our walking tours. There are many choices, but we chose to tour the Jewish Ghetto and Trastevere, The Vatican (guide Liz Lev is fabulous!), and The Colosseum. (guide Liz Brewster is very good too). Wonderful, informative and well-organized tours, given by knowledgeable guides and well worth the cost. From Rome we traveled by train to Foligno where we picked up our car. In Umbria, we stayed at Santa Maria degli Ancillotti (http://assisi.hypermart.net/) just outside Assisi. Thanks very much to Deb Weber for this tip! What a delightful inn! Beautiful surroundings, fabulous grounds, terrific swimming pool, very gracious hosts (Alex and Caeser will be long in our hearts!) and delicious meals! Breakfast is delightful on the lovely terrace. We chose to have dinner every night as the fool was wonderful and the setting glorious! We visited Assisi and the towns around Umbria each day and returned for a relaxing swim, rest and dinner each evening. We bought a beautiful plate in Deruta from a true artist working in the ancient art! Anyone interested let me know. From Assisi, we drove to Montepulciano. We stayed at Montorio (http://www.island.pi.it/montorio/welcomeing.html) which is an extremely comfortable and lovely inn. It is actually a converted monastery perched on a hilltop just outside Montepulciano. The views are splendid and the accommodations each a small apartment with full kitchen/sitting area, additional room with couch, TV, etc., bedroom and bathroom. Very modern and comfortable. Montepulciano is a charming hill town and from here we easily visited the other charming hill towns of Tuscany. Next up to Castellina in Chianti where we stayed at Villa Casalecchi (http://www.villacasalecchi.it/en/frameset.htm) just outside Castellina. This was another wonderful find! Our room was beautiful and huge! Our windows overlooked the lovely swimming pool, fabulous grounds and acres of olive fields and grape vines! Very comfortable and delightful hotel with fabulous grounds. It has been in the same family for 200 years and the surviving owner (a 92 year old lady) still lives on the first floor in her own suite. Also maintains a lovely dining room for dinner and a wonderful breakfast every day. From here we visited the Chianti area, wineries and charming little towns n the area. From Castellina, we drove to Pisa where we left our car and boarded a train for Santa Margherita Ligure on the Italian Riviera just past Cinque Terre and next to Portofino. In Santa Margherita, we stayed at the Hotel Continental (http://www.hotel-continental.it/) and loved it! What a lovely spot, directly on the sea front and just opposite the harbor and downtown of Santa Margherita. Views are spectacular and the hotel is extremely well maintained. Gorgeous gardens, chaises on rock promontory over the sea, seaside restaurant, and the whole thing! Great restaurant overlooking the Gulfo del Tigulio and the town. Breakfast and dinner here al fresco. Enchanting! We had a room with private (very) deck on the top floor above the sea and overlooking the hotel grounds, ocean and the town. Santa Margherita is a very charming little town with good restaurants, shops, etc. and the feel of everyday life behind the harbor. A wonderful place to unwind and relax after three very busy weeks. Finally, we took the train from Santa Margherita Ligure to Como. From here we shared a cab and traveled the windy road to Bellagio. Bellagio is a beautiful sight! Here we stayed at Hotel Belvedere (http://www.belvederebellagio.com/indexin.html). The hotel is quite nice, over the lake, a short walk to Bellagio with charming shopping streets, the harbor and Lago Bellagio. The dining room is very nice and quite good. Comfortable grounds and swimming pool over looking Lago Lecco. We were not pleased with our room, so moved to the only other available, a very lovely suite overlooking the lake with private veranda. If returning, I#d request a room in the newly constructed tower (connects two of the other buildings) for an experience similar to that of the suite at a lower price. The deluxe hotel in Bellagio is of course the very lovely Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni (http://www.villaserbelloni.it/) which is also very expensive. I did, however, learn of the Residence L#Ulivo (http://www.villaserbelloni.it/800600j/tarif_residence_2003_e.htm), owned by the Villa Serbelloni and complete apartments behind the hotel, rented by the week with full use of hotel facilities, and at a price well below the cost of staying in the hotel itself. Bellagio is beautiful and a wonderful, relaxing place to end a wonderful vacation! Be sure to visit Villa Carlotta (http://www.villacarlotta.it/Hindex.htm) for a special treat while in Bellagio. You can take a boat from the Bellagio lake front terminal directly to Villa Carlotta. All things must end! On our departure day, we took a prearranged taxi (I have the taxi information if anyone is interested) directly from our hotel to Malpensa Airport and then home. An expensive, but trouble free and very comfortable solution. We loved our visit to Italy#Arrivederci!