I am not one who much believes in bucket lists, but Sharon, my wife of forty years, does and visiting Italy has been right at the top of that list for as long as I have known her. We always talked about spending time in Italy, but other things just seemed to come up (kids, job, moving, new house …). The importance of doing the things your really want to do now came into clear focus for us about eighteen months ago when Sharon was diagnosed with an early stage, but very aggressive breast cancer. After an operation, chemotherapy and radiation her prognosis is great, but it was during those long days of treatment that we decided to check one off her bucket list and do an Italy vacation worthy of her recovery and our 40th wedding anniversary.
Looking for options on the web I came across Zicasso and thought I would give the site a try. After providing some basic information they connected us to a couple of travel advisors, but from the start our travel agent and his team at impressed us with their passion to pull together a trip tailored to the experience we were hoping to have. We spent hours discussing our likes and expectations for this once in a lifetime trip. Their knowledge about Italy was incredible and obviously based on personal experience and relationships in country. They provided us several options for hotels, transportation, tours, experiences and dining. We could decide, or they would provide guidance when we weren’t sure which specific option to choose. Once we agreed to go with this agent's team, they continued to discuss tweaks to the itinerary and patiently fine-tuned our upcoming experience right up to the final payment (which by the way was draft number six).
What was most impressive was the support and help we continued to receive while on our vacation. If we had a question we could call, or e-mail and the response was never more than an hour if not immediate. What was amazing is that every driver, guide, hotel and restaurant reservation was delivered to our expectations. Not one driver or guide was ever late, were personable and spoke good to excellent English. It was also fantastic that we had the same transportation company and usually the same driver for the entire time in each of the four locations we stayed (Chianti, Venice, Sorrento and Rome). Spending time talking with our drivers gave us a chance to learn a little more about daily Italian life and culture. All our tour guides were experts in their city’s history and culture and didn’t just present the information but shared it with personality, humor and some story telling. And thanks to our travel agent, all our hotels knew it was our anniversary trip and had a bottle of prosecco and other goodies waiting for us upon our arrival.
For us, our time in Chianti and along the Amalfi coast was the most enjoyable of our two-week vacation. We found these areas to be a little more relaxing with breath taking scenery. Venice, Florence and Rome are experience one should have, but they are obviously more crowded with tourist and much faster pace. Our fondest memories will be the drives among the rolling vineyards and olive groves in Chianti/Tuscany, the sea views along the Amalfi coast, walking in the smaller towns (Siena, San Gimignano, Pienza, Monteriggioni, Luca, Parma, Amalfi and Positano) and of course the food and wine. That said, some time in Rome, Florence and Venice is recommended because of their historical (cultural) importance and incredible churches and museums. We only had a few hours to visit Uffizi Museum in Florence and Vatican Museum & Sistine Chapel in Vatican City. We could have spent days exploring their hallways and rooms filled with thousands if not hundreds of thousands of paintings, tapestries and statues.
The Vatican with all of it’s riches is a must see, but we most enjoyed our day exploring Hadrian’s Villa and the Villa d’Este in Tivoli just outside Rome. The Villa d ’Este, in particular, is one of the most impressive displays of water fountains and falls we have ever experienced. This was one of the jewels recommend by our travel agent that is a little off the beaten path of many tour groups but one we will never forget.
We are also kind of foodies, so our trip included some special places to eat each with it’s own spectacular view and ambiance. Our trip started with a home cooked lunch at the Tornesi winery in Montalcino overlooking the vineyards of Nobile-Brunello directly from the airport in Rome. The mother was the cook with their 92-year-old grandmother watching the dog outside the bottling building of the winery. Some of the other spectacular lunch/dinner stops included a restaurant in Venice overlooking St. Mark’s Square, a hotel with an incredible view of the Ravello hills, the restaurant on the Isle of Capri which can only be accessed by boat and one in the hills outside of Luca. All with incredible food, wine and postcard views. We never really had a bad meal and even the smaller pizzerias and family restaurants we found on our own had incredible dishes and wonderful wine. We learned early in the trip that the table is yours for the evening, multiple courses will happen, and it is best to share if you want to make it to limoncello (or grappa for me) and gelato.
This trip was definitely worthy of bucket list status and we thank our agent and his team for helping us make it happen seamlessly and without issues. Who knows what tomorrow will bring, but now we have memories of our 40th Anniversary that will last our life time!
Even before we finished our vacation and left Italy we started planning what we would do when (not if) we return. Next time, we will split our time in Chianti/Tuscany and the Amalfi Coast. Arranging transportation and quality drivers will still be important to us, but we don’t think we will need as many guided tours (except when we return to some of the museums). We want to explore more on our own and just take the time to really breath in the culture, food and incredible landscape. We love the sea, so extra time along the coast will be important. I think we would also like to experience Sicily as we heard plenty of good things about that region from some of our drivers and guides.
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