This was our second custom trip with Zicasso. Last year, my husband and I booked a custom trip to Costa Rica using a local travel agency in Costa Rica recommended by Zicasso. We were soooo pleased with our ENTIRE travel experience, we decided using Zicasso and local travel agencies was the ONLY way to travel and booked our family trip to Italy immediately--10 months in advance! Although my husband and I are seasoned international travelers and have been to Italy before, this trip was designed for our granddaughters (18 and 16 years old) for their first international travel experience.
Like in our previous experience with Zicasso, they recommended two local travel agencies in Italy. We interviewed both agencies and immediately decided on this company and our travel agent. We could not have been more pleased with EVERYTHING she did for us!
The Planning Experience: We had one phone conversation with our travel agent about the kind of travel experiences we wanted for our granddaughters. Then about a week later, she sent us an itinerary that not only met ALL of our requirements but exceeded our expectations! It was sooooo perfect…our agent gave us everything we wanted and much, much more. Seriously, we did not change anything!
Our Italy trip was 11 full days and 10 nights. We requested a custom trip for the four of us and our travel agent planned and arranged EVERYTHING: all of our accommodations, transportation & transfers in Italy, drivers, tour guides, entrance tickets, etc. She also personally recommended restaurants and provided shopping information for our granddaughters for all of places we visited.
We were sooooo impressed with our travel agent's organization and attention to detail. Several weeks before our departure, she sent all of our travel documents (detailed daily itinerary, vouchers for accommodations, tour guides, entrance tickets, train tickets, etc.) In addition, when we arrived in Italy at our hotel, we received a welcome package, which included an Italian smartphone with all of our travel documents loaded on it! She had also preloaded all phone numbers: our hotels, guides, drivers, and of course her cell number. Similarly, the GPS app had addresses for everything on our itinerary preloaded as well!
The Trip Experience: Could not have been better! Literally, everything went according to our plans. We LOVED all of our accommodations, travel experiences, drivers, and tour guides. Everyone was punctual, very friendly and quite accommodating. All of our tour guides were of the highest caliber, very well educated, passionate about their heritage and sharing their knowledge with us. We thoroughly enjoyed ALL of them.
Our agent planned and orchestrated EVERYTHING on this trip for us…all we had to do was show up! She planned a balance of experiences, (not too many antiquities tours, museums or cathedrals) with a blend of “must see” (“best of”) for each city/area, AS WELL AS off the beaten track “fun” experiences. We had requested authentic experiences with local people / small communities / villages where we could visit with local craft/artisans, farmers, and experience the Italian culture. Of course, with our teenage granddaughters, we required plenty of time for shopping at boutiques where they could buy clothes & accessories that they could not buy in the United States. The result was literally beyond our wildest dreams….our agent gave us the trip of a lifetime and we will cherish memories of this trip forever! We are forever indebted to her!
There were soooo many memorable parts of our trip….it was hard to narrow it down!
· Rome (3 days & nights) was the perfect city to begin our trip:
o Hotel: a small, boutique type hotel in a 14th-century stone building with modern accommodations, which provided an amazing, very impressive, complimentary breakfast buffet! (We have never seen anything quite like it!) In addition, we had complimentary access to their chic spa (an indoor pool with massage jets, a sauna and a steam room) built into the ruins of the ancient Theatre of Pompey! We also thoroughly enjoyed the rooftop bar with great views of the city every night before and after dinner! J Our hotel was centrally located near the city center, so it was easy for us to explore Rome on our own. We absolutely loved it!
o Vespa Tour: Our first morning in Rome, we had a 4 hour escorted Vespa Tour (ie, 4 Vespas and 4 drivers with Max as our guide). It was definitely a major highlight of our entire Italy trip and gave us a unique overview of Rome. Our tour guide, a native Roman, was fantastic! Rather than taking a predetermined route, he gave us a custom tour, taking into account what we were already scheduled to see during our time in Rome. He showed us places we would have missed otherwise. Our guide was superb in explaining the different areas where we stopped and ensured we had enough time for photos. We went everywhere including Piazzale Garibaldi (the top of the largest hill overlooking all of Rome) for the canon being fire at noon to synchronize Rome’s church bells! As well as the Knights of Malta Gate on Rome's Aventine Hill which has the most incredible view of St. Peter's dome through the gate keyhole! Our Vespa drivers navigated the narrow streets of Rome very safely and ensured all of us were having a good time. We highly recommend this experience for all ages…teenagers AND senior citizens!
o Our private guided tours of the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, Moses in the Basilica di San Pietro in Vincoli, the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel, St. Peter's Basilica and the Pieta were all fabulous thanks to our tour guides who gave us a custom VIP tours. Both of our tour guide very accommodating and helpful.
· Tuscany/ Chianti (3 days & nights)
o Hotel in Chianti: a former a monastery dating back to 1000 AD, then turned into a castle and since the mid 1970’s turned into a hotel that has been meticulously restored without sacrificing its historic character. The estate is surrounded by vineyards and a wooded hillside, overlooking a stunning valley of vineyards and olive groves, and is located in the center of an area rich with castles and ruins, ancient abbeys and medieval villages. A perfect location in the middle of the Chianti Classico wine-growing area to relax from the hustle and bustle of the city. We were mesmerized by this place…we had told our agent that we wanted our granddaughters to experience the beauty of the Tuscan countryside and this place was ideal! They fell in LOVE with it!
Our accommodations were stellar! Our spacious rooms were charming, decorated with traditional Tuscan décor, cleaned daily and included evening turn down service! Our granddaughters were soooo delighted. They told us it was probably the nicest place they had ever stayed! At their suggestion, we ended up foregoing some of their “shopping time” in the Tuscan villages so they could get back to the “castle”, swim in the outdoor pool and enjoy the breathtaking views of the valley and estate grounds! We enjoyed a FULL complimentary breakfast daily served on the terrace overlooking the beautiful countryside. Two restaurants at this hotel were available: one more formal, which has a Michelin star, and one more casual. All of the food at this place was exceptional! Likewise, the hotel staff was very accommodating and treated us like royalty!
o Driver/Guide: our driver/guide from throughout our stay in Tuscany was fantastic. He was very accommodating to all of our requests, filled us with knowledge and stories throughout our travels, as well as made recommendations for “special” things not to miss at each of our stops! Our last day with him, he had one last place to take us...it was in his hometown! He treated us to “the BEST gelato in ALL of Tuscany” (if not all of Italy). Our youngest granddaughter and I had gelato EVERY day in Italy…and this gelato was by far the best...soooooo flavorful!
o Pisa & the seashore: One of the few things our granddaughters requested for this trip was to climb the leaning tower of Pisa. So, we traveled by car to Pisa had a delightful lunch, toured the Cathedral and they climbed all the way to the top of the bell tower. (My husband and I made the trip to the top when we were MUCH younger!) They loved it, but probably once will be enough for them, too. Since we were really close to Pisa’s seashore, we asked our driver to modify our plans and make a quick stop at the seashore. He took us to a pavilion on Pisa’s seashore and explained how to get to the shore (it was very rocky). In the meantime, my husband and I found a nice sidewalk café across the street from the seashore and enjoyed a glass of wine and snack while the girls dipped their toes into another ocean, took a few photos and sat on the beach. They were thrilled!
o Cooking Class. We thoroughly enjoyed our hands-on cooking class at the farmhouse in Greve. Our personal chef, was not only informative and patient with us, but entertaining as well! She had recipe handouts for us so we could take notes for the dishes we prepared. We had soooo fun…we took photos and videos and learned new cooking techniques. Our granddaughters are planning to recreate this meal for their friends and family when they got home! As the chef made the final preparations for lunch, we toured the family winery, enjoyed a glass of their wine and relaxed on a shaded patio overlooking the vineyards. To top it off, our meal was really good…..everything was made from scratch and was sooo fresh and tasty!
o We loved our guided Wine Tour in Montalcino and learned how wine is made. We particularly enjoyed the wine tasting! We thoroughly enjoyed our cheese and wine picnic in Montepulciano. We also explored Pienza’s Renaissance town center that has survived the centuries perfectly intact which was fascinating.
· Florence (2 days & nights)
o Apartments: directly across the street from the VIP entrance of the Accademia Gallery. It was an ideal location for us in Florence, because we were in the heart of the city center. Our apartments were in a historic building. The apartment’s interiors were really quite comfortable, spacious, and the perfect combination of classic style and modern conveniences. We had large bathrooms with an impressive modern shower and the kitchens were fully equipped. Yet another delightful travel experience…we felt very much at home and like REAL Florentines! Just steps from our apartment entrance, there was a small grocery store and Piazza San Marco! It was a MARVELOUS location. Because Florence is a city fabulous city for exploring and SHOPPING, we did a lot of walking!
o Michelangelo’s David and Guided Walking Tour of Florence: Our first stop, immediately across the street from our apartments, was see Michelango’s David. It is a breathtaking masterpiece and really something to behold. While we were there, we witnessed a young couple getting engaged! Afterwards, we spent the remainder of the day with our tour guide giving us a wonderful overview of Florence including the Dumo & Giotto Bell tower, Basilica de San Lorenzo, Piazza della Strozzi, Piazza della Repubblica, Piazza della Signoria, and Ponte Vecchio and a stop at the historic Café Gilli for yummy gelato, of course!
o Guided Tour of Historic Artisan Workshops: We thoroughly enjoyed our historic artisan workshop tour and the demonstrations of the intricate and highly detailed mosaics of the Scarpelli family, the gold and bronze artisan jewelry, custom made leather shoes, and marbled papers of Il Papiro.
· Venice (2 days & nights) was the perfect city to end our trip:
o Hotel: a 15th century Moorish palace that has been restored into a hotel with traditional Venetian décor, Murano glass chandeliers and a large terrace right on the Gran Canal! Every day on the terrace, we enjoyed the complimentary breakfast buffet as well as afternoon beverages from the bar as we watched the Venetian parade of boats pass through the Gran Canal. A perfect CENTRAL location that was ideal for us. We were surrounded by great restaurants and boutique shops. It was an easy walk to St. Marks and Doges Palace.
o Guided Walking Tour: Taste of Venice. Late one afternoon, with the assistance of our tour guide, we explored authentic areas of Venice learning about its history, culture, and legends. We stopped at three bacaros, typical Venetian wine bars to enjoy cicchetti, the Venetian style tapas, and Italian and Venetian wines. It was a unique, off the beaten path experience and our tour guide was a delightful…we adored her!
o Escorted Tour of Gran Canal, Murano and Burano islands: Our tour guide was a native Venetian who gave us a wonderful overview of the Venice via the Gran Canal. He explained the city’s history through fascinating stories about Venice. His passion for Venice and his heritage was infectious! He also escorted us to Murano for a glass blowing demonstration and took us on walking tour of Burano. We were enchanted with the tranquility of Burano and its unique, brightly colored houses. Andre also took us to two of the remaining authentic lace stores where we observed elderly ladies working on their intricate lace patterns…truly a work of art.
o Gondola ride: Our granddaughters said that our gondola ride was one of their favorite things. Our Gondolier was adorable and very entertaining, too! So, it was a perfect ending to our entire trip!
· Other highlights:
o High Speed Trains: (Rome to Florence as well as Florence to Venice) were smooth as glass and fast (up to 220 mph/ 360 km/h)...so glad our agent included them, it saved us a lot of time and we enjoyed countryside views as well. It was a new experience for us and we loved it!
o We loved exploring Rome, Florence and Venice on our own. Our trip was not “overly planned”, we had plenty of free time at each of our destinations and our agent provided us recommendations other things to see and do.
o Lodging and accommodations: We asked our agent for small/unique boutique type lodging instead of large hotels. Being centrally located was also important to us so we could easily do whatever we wanted on in our free time without transportation or a guide. Once again, our agent came through for us…she nailed it….it was EXACTLY what we wanted!
We would not change a thing! Honestly, we really cannot think of ANYTHING we would dodifferently. We absolutely loved it all!
Each review is written by a verified traveler who was matched by Zicasso to the reviewed agency. Traveler must have purchased and traveled.
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