Thank you for organizing a wonderful and unique trip. Here is some detailed feedback, sorry if it is disorganized! A couple of thoughts regarding American tourists. I know we tend to be spoiled since most American hotels are new and modern. A few things you might want to tell your American clients:
The beds tend to be harder in Italy than in the U.S.
The air conditioning in Italy is usually less effective.
There is less drawer space to unpack, so be prepared to leave your clothes in your suitcase.
Logistics: It was very nice having a driver meet us at the airport when we arrived and to get to our next destination along the tour. This was especially helpful at the airport in Rome and arriving in Venice. I can’t imagine getting to a Venice hotel without prearranged transportation! All of our drivers were very nice and helpful.
The Hotel Navona was very nice overall. Excellent location between Piazza Navona and the Pantheon. We were able to walk everywhere in the heart of the city and never had to take a bus or subway. The bed was pretty comfortable.
Frederique gave us a wonderful tour of the Colosseum and Roman Forum on June 3. My wife really enjoyed the tour. I would have liked a few more stories and history of Rome to go along with the facts, but it was very good. The group tour of the Vatican on June 4 was excellent. The guide was very entertaining and the museum highlights were just as interesting as the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s. The Vatican was one of my favorite tours of the entire trip–even though it was not my main reason for going to Rome!
Meals in Rome: We did eat at Cantina e Cucina for lunch, which was quite nice. Thanks for the recommendation. Some of our other favorite meals included: Armando el Pantheon–excellent small, romantic restaurant with delicious food. We also enjoyed Le Mani in Pasta in Travestere, where they greeted us with a free glass of prosecco when we arrived and the seafood was excellent. Duecentogradi at Piazza Risorgimento was an excellent lunch stop near the Vatican with unusual paninis.
Antica Dimora Johlea was a delightful hotel. Wonderful coffee and breakfast, excellent rooftop terrace! Nice sized room and bathroom.
Elana was a wonderful guide on our walking tour of Florence. The cooking class the next day was excellent! I was concerned that it might be wasted time because it was for 5+ hours, but this was one of the favorite parts of our trip. The food market tour was very informative and interesting and our primary chef (Andre) was very interesting and fun as well. This cooking class, along with the Vatican tour, were probably my two favorite planned events on the trip. The Uffizi gallery on June 7 was also very nice. I think we would have enjoyed a guided tour of the Uffizi as well (you might consider that for future clients).
Favorite meals in Florence included Trattoria Da Que Ganzi and Toscanella Osteria, and Geletaria la Carraia for gelato!
There was a mix up at the hotel and we had go to Villa Castello instead of Colombiao. The little apartment and villa was lovely, in the beautiful countryside.Very roomy apartment, gorgeous views of the countryside. Roberta was very nice.
Our GPS could not find the Monterinaldi winery and they had no sign. We started off making very good time from Florence, but ended up about an hour late after getting lost. The winery tour was okay and the lunch and wine tasting was delicious. We were probably a little frustrated after trying to find the right location!
The GPS also had a hard time finding our cheese tour location but we were able to get there on time. We were the only ones there and the factory was empty. The tour was not very exciting but it was wonderful meeting the owner, Guido Pinzani and the cheese tasting was delicious.
Overall, I am not sure how to feel about the wine tour and cheese tour. They both offered good food and an interesting experience, but I doubt I would bother to do either tour again. I thought the food market tour in Florence was much more interesting. On the other hand, Tuscany is famous for wine and cheese. I think I would rather have a special tour at a wine shop or cheese shop where I could sample wines and foods from a variety of producers.
Rosticceria Il Re Gallo was one of our favorite meals in Castellina, A cozy, friendly restaurant with incredible gnocchi with saffron sauce. Tre Porte was also a very nice restaurant, though i think I liked Re Gallo better.
We went to San Gimignano after the cheese tour and then spent our last day in Tuscany with a day trip to Siena. The Cathedral in Siena was one of my favorite places. Beautiful mosaics on the floor, interesting statutes and decoration in the cathedral and the amazing Piccolomini Library of illustrated hymnal books in the church, plus the museum and the crypt. We did not make it to Volterra or Monteriggioni–maybe next time!
June 11 we drove from Castellina to Levanto with a stop for lunch in Pisa. Stopping in Pisa was very pleasant. The tower is gorgeous and looked amazing. I could imagine spending more time in Pisa, though I don’t know what the other sights are. From Pisa it was an easy drive to Levanto.
Hotel La Giada Del Mesco was wonderful! John Luc and the staff were very friendly and inviting. The location and view were breathtaking! The room was small but clean with a gorgeous view. Comfortable bed, friendly staff, excellent breakfast, beautiful location, good air conditioning.
We visited all five villages. The train system was very easy to use, but on the first day, they began cancelling trains late in the afternoon so we had a harder time returning to Levanto. We enjoyed strolling through all five villages and on the last day, we took the ferry from Riomaggiore back to Levanto. Before our trip, I was thinking we should stay in one of the villages instead of Levanto, but I am glad you chose the hotel for us. It was a wonderful hotel and staff, and I liked the fact that Levanto was a little bigger and slightly more spread out. It is easy to see that thousands of tourists pass from one Cinque Terre village to the next like a river of people. Levanto felt much more laid back and less crowded but we still got to spend time in each of the villages.
Getting to Bologna was relatively easy, though it would have been very helpful if the Bologna map had a mark indicating the location of the parking garage. Our tour guide was Luca and he was very nice but not as polished as our other guides. Neptune’s Fountain and the history of Bologna was interesting, but the lunch was disappointing. We did enjoy seeing Bologna, but if we were to do the trip over again, we would skip Bologna. Instead, we would drop off the rental car in La Spezia and take a train to Venice. This way we would not need to leave Levanto so early or have to spend most of the day driving.
Hotel Georgione: The hotel was in a wonderful location and had a nice staff. Good breakfast, excellent location, comfortable bed.
Venice was a very unique city and we loved it! Patrizia was an excellent guide, very friendly and knowledgeable. She was one of my favorite guides on the trip. She even tried to give us a tour of the Cathedral but it was closed for a special event. I would recommend that you arrange a guided tour of the cathedral and doge’s palace and clock tower for your clients. I am sure we would have found that very interesting as well.
The only disappointment in Venice was the gondola ride. We were really looking forward to a romantic ride. When we arrived at Danieli Pier, none of the gondoliers seemed to be in a good mood and they were not interested in taking us or the other customers who were there. They pointed us to a boat and did not speak to us at all as we got in or left the pier. They gave us a 25-30 minute ride. The ride itself was very pleasant and our gondelier was fine, but I felt like we were treated coldly by the staff. I know a gondola ride is very expensive, so I was expecting friendlier service.
THANK YOU again for arranging our final meal at Il Ridotto, which was wonderful. We also had some delicious cicheti at Osteria Sacro e Profano.
FINAL RANDOM THOUGHTS:
We really loved our trip! Each location was different and unique. Rome felt ancient and yet still a living city. Florence, Siena, and San Gimignano were beautiful. Next time, we would make an effort to go to the Boboli Gardens and perhaps a guided tour of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. Castellina was a very cute little village with nice little art shops and history. Levanto and Cinque Terre were gorgeous and picturesque. Venice was the most unique city I have ever seen, though it is sad that the population is now small so it feels like the entire city is a large tourist attraction. We would happily go back to each location on our tour.
For your future clients, I might suggest the following: If you provided them with small guide book before the trip that talks about the history and culture of each region they will visit. They could read the book on the plane and then have a better sense of what to look for, notice, or do in each region. Driving was not a problem for me (though Amber was a bit nervous on the mountain roads). The only frustration was that the GPS could not find many of the locations or addresses and there were a few times where it tried to take us on a road that was closed and a few times when the GPS said we were off the road and it could not show where we were. I wish AVIS had updated the maps in their GPS. Next time, I would bring my own GPS with a new map of Italy.
Thanks again for everything Daniela! Feel free to call or email me if you have questions. I will send some photos in a separate email.
Matt and Amber
Matthew Jackson – (State College, PA), JUNE 2013