I am usually a person that likes to plan and map out my trips myself. With the destination being Italy though and not having any first hand knowledge or even friends that have visited more than just the big centers, I decided I would get help. I am so glad I did. From the beginning when I received the two itineraries the one from this travel agency was far better. The other company was local to me so was really leaning towards it, but the contact and follow-up from this company lead me to choose them.
The trip was for a 3 week 20th anniversary vacation and we wanted to pack in as much as possible. Yes I wanted to see the big cities and the big tourist sites in Rome, Florence, Venice, but I also wanted time in the smaller villages and more out of the way locations. I also wanted to complete a bucket list item and drive a Lamborghini!
Working with our agent, I told her that I would rather not stay in hotels but do the bed and breakfast places wherever possible. I find throughout Europe for the B&B to be far superior in offering really beautiful settings and you get to experience more of the culture. All the B&Bs she found ranged from nice to really outstanding. We did have 1 hotel in Capri which was a nice hotel but I would still rank it bellow the B&Bs. We were almost a year in planning the trip and the amount of time our agent put in arranging our trip was huge. With 9 different accommodations, trains, drivers, rental car and all the tours, excursions and skip the line museum passes I am very impressed how smooth things went.
Our only rough spot was at the very start. This agency does not do the flight booking so I had done that. We had a great direct flight but my luggage did not arrive. With only a couple of days at each destination I was worried that I would not have my luggage. It was a struggle also to get a working phone trying to get the sim card working with my old unlocked Blackberry. We had to wait until we got into a bigger center before I even bought the card. This made trying to keep in contact with the airline and find my luggage very difficult. Again our agent really came through for us dealing with the airline and getting my luggage delivered to me on route.
I want to highlight a couple of the real stand out things. The wine "tasting" with supper at Fattoria San Donato near San Gimignano was incredible. They prepared a meal in that beautiful little village consisting of 12 different plates of food of meats, cheeses, salads, breads etc. It was all delicious but we hardly put a good dent in the amount there was there. The wine all comes from their family winery that we saw before the meal. As for the wine tasting he opened 5 bottles of wine for the meal for the 2 of us. I highly recommend this as long as you are staying in the village (or have a driver for after the meal).
For the end of the tour our driver was superb. I have never had a personal driver before. Really felt like being spoiled but when you come right down to it, it is probably the most practical thing to do. The small villages like Postiano, you do not want to have a rental car. There is no where to park, roads are extremely narrow, steep with sharp turns, and almost every vehicle we passed had dents and scratches. He would drive us to our tours, we did not have to worry about the car. We would go on the tour and he would pick us up at the end. Our driver was very friendly, informative and had great recommendations. We especially enjoyed dinner at La Terrarestaurant in Montepertuso (his home village).
I think my favorite day was in Cinque Terre hiking between Montorossa and Corniglia (the first and third village stopping in Vernazza for lunch and a swim). I had my Fitbit on and ended the day with 176 flights of stairs and 25000 steps (about 12 miles). It was absolutely gorgeous.
I think the only thing I would change is the gondola ride in Venice, to not prebook that. There are many places to take it from, any time you want so probably better to just go when you want. Usually the gondolier gets paid directly before the trip but with the pre-book they do not and this seamed to cause a bit of a argument between the gondolier and the person doing the scheduling. As a result, the gondolier was not very happy and it showed. It was still one of those must do things and we still enjoyed it but would suggest not booking that ahead and having it prepaid.
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