This travel agency came to my rescue! I thought I would plan our trip to Italy myself, but I started late and got bogged in logistics. Our agent responded immediately and helped to plan the entire itinerary based on our interests. A particular luxury of this trip was having all transportation (drivers, routes, departure times, rail tickets) and tour guides prearranged by an expert. This agent uses excellent providers -- all drivers and guides were on time, knew our destinations and time frames, and were very professional and polite. This alone seemed priceless!
Our agent was very responsive to input about tours and my interest in researching and booking some of our hotels directly. She really worked to accommodate our preferences. She did an excellent job, especially given the 3-week time frame for planning and the fact that we communicated totally by email. I also liked working with someone in Italy; I trusted my agent's knowledge of the country and the local tour industry. Although we didn't need to contact her when we were in Italy (especially because EVERYTHING went as planned!), it was nice to know someone so involved in coordinating our trip was available and close by if anything came up.
We really enjoyed the private tours of historical sites, a cooking class and a walking food tour. My husband and I traveled alone and we found doing a few small group tours and classes a great way to socialize with other people. Our group tour of 25 people for the Vatican re-affirmed that a group size of 8 is maximum for us -- too much time was spent keeping the larger group together and the tour was much more impersonal. We especially enjoyed the late afternoon and twilight tours -- the crowds had thinned and certain sites like the Coliseum were so beautiful at this time of day.
Italy is a gorgeous country and we had some 'gasp out loud' moments (e.g. the library in the Sienna duomo and the Tuscan countryside). We hit some big spots on this first trip to Italy (Rome, Sorrento, Florence) but also had a few day trips that gave us exposure to smaller towns and fabulous views. That's was enough to get us thinking about a future 'Italian countryside trip'!
Our two wine tastings were excellent experiences. Our dinners in Sorrento were the most memorable meals -- delicious spaghetti with shrimp in lemon sauce, served in a scooped out lemon. Wonderful!
We kept a few days of our 2-week trip free of pre-booked activities and I'm glad I did -- it gave us a chance do some things spontaneously (based on our mood and the weather), and at least one day just to relax and take a break from a travel schedule.
Our hotels were wonderful -- all located in the historic centers of the cities -- with large rooms, good breakfasts, and within easy walking distance of major attractions. Where we stay is important to us -- we often take a break at our hotel during the day and we get to know the staff over 'multiple day stays'. I appreciated our agent's recommendations and supplemented that with my own research and bookings. The one thing I did book months in advance was a tour of the necropolis at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome -- definitely worth it!
Just about all aspects of the trip were 'perfecto'. If I did anything differently, I would contact a travel specialist like our agent earlier -- this may have opened up even more options and I could have booked some activities, like the tour of the Vatican Museums, earlier to make sure I could get into a small group. Also, we attended the Wednesday Papal Audience -- a wonderful experience -- but I should have picked up my tickets up the day before. The location for ticket pick-up is different on the day of the event and we had a mad scramble trying to find the correct office. We never did find it (you don't have to have tickets, but they make a great souvenir). I wish I would have read about the Papal Audience in advance to have a better idea of the program and where to position yourself. Also, I was surprised at how fabulous late day and twilight tours are -- the views are spectacular! However, we tend to travel in the fall and spring and I need to be aware of time changes so we can plan accordingly. The time changed the day we arrived in Florence and our twilight tour became a nighttime tour -- still very good but that one hour makes a difference as several "highlight spots" had just closed for the day.
A drive of the Amalfi coast was nice, but I wouldn't do it again -- even so late in the season, the road was jammed with tour buses, vans and cars. I can't imagine what it's like in full tourist season; it would definitely be hard to appreciate the beauty of the coast!
All in all, this was an absolutely fabulous trip and there was nothing that we disliked!
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