Overall, our first trip to Italy was wonderful. I traveled with my daughter and my sister for an all girls celebration of my daughter's 16th birthday. We wanted to see the most popular sites, but we also asked for cooking classes for a break from touring. Our travel agency did an excellent job with communication throughout the planning stages and incorporating our interests into the itinerary. The hotels they chose to match our budget were excellent. The tour guides were spectacular and very knowledgeable. Each of them kept us engaged, and we felt so lucky to have them as we saw so many tired and wandering tourists in the museums. Most of our itinerary was private which allowed us to see everything we wanted to see before tiring out. We never felt a sense of being lost because of the schedule.
We were pleased with the travel agency, but there were a few things that could have gone more smoothly which is why we gave 4/5 rating. We were told that we would receive a welcome kit on arrival with all the information we would need. We would have preferred to get it earlier as it listed the recommended restaurants, and we assumed, a lot of other great recommendations. They didn't seem to want to disclose anything further until our arrival. About 4 days before the trip we received a final itinerary by email which we reviewed. We flew into Venice on the red eye flight and arrived 2 hours late. When we checked into the hotel, we got the welcome kit, but was disappointed that it was just our final itinerary and a few pages of restaurant recommendations. We didn't look at the kit in detail because we had already reviewed the final itinerary before the trip. We quickly went to get lunch as we were to meet the tour guide in 90 minutes. As we were walking back to the hotel after lunch, we got a call from the tour guide wondering where we were. We apologized and explained that our schedule showed 2:30pm and not 2:00pm. She seemed intent on making the point that we did not look at the correct itinerary. She called the travel agency and told us that they also showed 2:00pm. After the tour, we checked the welcome kit and the itinerary was changed to 2:00pm. However, it would have been appreciated if they emailed us to inform us of the time change since they sent the incorrect final itinerary to us just 4 days earlier. The tour guide even insisted that the time change occurred months ago, but we have the email that shows otherwise. We were also scheduled to have a cooking class near Florence at a Michelin 1 star restaurant. Unfortunately, the restaurant needed to cancel, so they found another class for us, but informed us it would cost more. When questioned about the price, we were told it was also a Michelin 1 star location. When we arrived at the class, there were 2 other tourists attending although we paid for a private class. The chef was very nice, but he was not affiliated with the hotel/restaurant. He worked as a personal chef and was trying to expand his business by teaching classes. We did not feel that we got what we paid for. For those 2 issues, we gave the agency 4 stars.
We loved the cooking class in Bologna. The teacher took us to the local market and taught us so much about the local food. We tasted different aged balsalmic vinegars. We then went to her home and made fresh pasta. We each had a wood board and rolled out our dough. Our other cooking class had the teacher doing most of the work and us mostly observing. This class was completely hands on. We made several types of pasta. She then prepared each type in various ways which we ate in her garden. After lunch, she suggested we go to the local ice cream shop and we had the most delicious ice cream of the whole trip. Another favorite was our day trip to Cinque Terre. Simply beautiful. It was a bit rushed because we only had 5 hours. Next time, we would stay longer to really enjoy it and get into the water.
We would spend an extra day in Venice just to sit at the cafes and enjoy the view. We would also spend an extra day in Cinque Terre. We had one of our cooking classes in Radda in Chianti. It was an hour's drive from our hotel in Florence. We arrived at 5pm just in time for the class and finished just at sunset. The Tuscany view was beautiful and the town was so charming, but we missed all of it. I wish we knew to go earlier and enjoy the area before the class.
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