I was extremely pleased with how our travel agency partnered with me to develop a two-week Italy vacation. I waited 35 years for this trip, and I wanted it to be incredible. We gave very specific instructions--only three museums (but the best three), hotels that were strategically located and with great breakfast buffets, food and wine tours, tours of the "must see" sites when they are the least crowded, etc. I specifically requested meals and/or tours in Trastevere and Rome's Jewish ghetto, both areas known for exceptionally great food. My husband and brother, both engineers, wanted to see the Appian Way and the Aqueducts, I wanted to see catacombs, etc. We all wanted to eat and drink our way through Italy. Our travel agent and I had several phone calls and tweaked the itinerary numerous times to come up with what was ultimately an absolutely phenomenal experience. It was our agent's idea for the day trip to Venice, which was just perfect (he was right about how we would be better off spending more time in Tuscany and Florence rather than in Venice), and the tour guides he selected for our private tours were incredible. Your tour guide can make or break your experience, and we loved every single one of ours. Most had master's degrees in art history or European history. Even our driver in Tuscany was from a family with a local winery (they only produce for themselves), and he was able to add a rich dimension to our winery visits. This trip was fantastico! I also want to add that I am a value shopper and very good with research. There is no way I could have put together this incredibly rich trip with so many tours, meals, drivers and experiences for anywhere near the price that our agent gave us. My husband, brother and brother's girlfriend all agree that this trip was an incredible value considering everything we did. We were given a price per person that included everything, and about 70% of our meals were covered. People who book their own trips can't get the discounts that top-rated tour operators like this company can get.
We tried to come up with our most favorite part, and we couldn't. We loved everything we did. We started with the food and wine tour in Trastevere our first night, and it was terrific. Every day was great. Our stay in Sorrento was especially nice. After the noise of Rome, this beautiful little hotel right near the water was a welcome respite. Its breakfast buffet was extensive and incredible, the rooms were delightful, the hotel has a rooftop terrace where you can enjoy a bottle of wine at night and watch the Mediterranean Sea. The waterfront restaurants were excellent, and we enjoyed exploring downtown Sorrento, which is only a 10-15 minute walk from the hotel. I love pottery, and Sorrento turned out to be the best place to find reasonably priced Italian pottery. We really enjoyed our tour of Pompeii, and then we went to Naples to the Archaeological Museum to see the treasures of Pompeii that had been moved there. After the tour, our driver and tour guide then asked if we wanted to have "pizza by the sea" at a local restaurant where the driver knew the owner. Well, of course we did! We never would have found this place on our own, and we were the only tourists there. The pizza and seafood were absolutely incredible (the desserts were heavenly), and we had a beautiful table outside right by the sea where we could see all the way to Capri. This is what I meant above when I said your tour guides can really make or break your experience. We only went to restaurants recommended by our tour guides, and they never steered us wrong! Our cooking class in Florence was great--we had a blast and learned to make homemade pasta and other Italian specialties, and the winery tours in Tuscany were fantastic. We truly enjoyed our stay in the castle outside Sienna in Tuscany. It was quite the experience. Sienna was awesome--I wish we had scheduled more time there. Again, we had a phenomenal tour guide who recommended a local restaurant and bakery that we never would have found on our own.
We booked our own airfare using frequent flier miles, and we had round trip flights to Rome. Based on our itinerary, it would have made more sense to fly into Rome and fly out of Florence, or fly into Naples and fly out of Florence or Rome. That was my mistake (we booked the round trip flights before we had any idea of an itinerary), and our agent did a stellar job working around it. When we drove through the Amalfi Coast, I think we should have picked one city instead of trying to see three (Ravenna, Amalfi and Positano) in one day. The traffic was so horrendous that we had only about a half hour in each city, and looking back we should have just picked one city and spent all our time there (Positano would win hands down). Other than that, we wouldn't have changed anything other than stay longer, which none of us can do--two full weeks off work was already a stretch. Our travel agent had taken care of every single detail for us, including drivers, tour guides and train tickets, and he also proactively rearranged tours when he learned construction was going to close roads the day of our Aqueducts tour. The only worry we had the entire trip was making sure we got up on time! We had a lot scheduled--we wanted at least one tour or experience every day, and most started at 9:30 or 10 a.m. which gave us the opportunity and time to explore on our own, shop, have leisurely late dinners, share a bottle of wine back at the hotel, and still get 8 hours of sleep. Our trip included 5 nights in Rome, a day driving through the Amalfi Coast, 3 nights in Sorrento (from which we did trips to Pompeii and Naples and avoided the very high hotel rates on the Amalfi Coast), 3 nights in Florence (from which we did the day trip to Venice), and 2 nights in the castle in Tuscany.
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