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Trip Report An Italian holiday with the family- Venice, Tuscany & the Amalfi Coast

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We are a family of four- the kids are teenagers 13 & 18. We have been to Italy twice before and this summer the plan was to go to only one city- Venice and the rest smaller places during our two week summer holiday. We decided to go to southern Tuscany- the Val d'Orcia , an area we had not been to before. Also, some time on the Amalfi coast, another part of Italy that we would visit for the first time. The challenge was do justice to all three distinctly different areas in a relatively short period of 14 days. Also, we like to stay in nice lodgings but only paying for one hotel room with proper beds (not a pull out couch) for the four of us. The trip worked out extremely well given the logistical challenges.
We flew into Venice mid July and out of Rome two weeks later- I was unable to get a flight out of Naples as desired on the way out.

Itinerary: Day 1 to 4 – Venice
Day 5: Chianti (due to unavailability of the place in the Val d’Orcia on this date)
Day 6-9: Castelmunzio (near Pienza)
Day 10-14: Positano

We landed in Venice (fourth visit for us, second for the kids) to a beautiful sunny July day and went to our hotel near the Accademia bridge by prearranged water taxi from the airport. There is nothing like taking a water taxi to your hotel- the first impression of Venice is stunning by water and the ease of getting the bags into the hotel (their pier was 25 m from the front door on a flat sidewalk). An altogether worthwhile expense (E 100). I had bought Venice Connected vaporetto and museum passes for the 4 days in advance which I picked up at the airport (vaporetto passes, the museum pass is an electronic print out).
We stayed at the Dei Dragommani, a small boutique hotel on the San Marco side of the Accademia bridge but tucked away in an extremely quiet alley just off the Grand canal. Our room was brilliant, a large bedroom with a king size bed and a double bed, a small sitting room, and a top notch bathroom with a huge skylight that could be opened. Also, very fast Wifi and A/C. With multiple Wifi enabled devices between us and no international cellular data plan (outrageously expensive through ATT) Wifi was a must. Also, the location was great, tucked away in a corner of San Marco, 5 minutes walk to the Accademia vaporetto stop and right next to a Grand canal pier for water taxis or gondolas. We did not have a Grand canal view in the family room (as they call it) but that was understood upfront. The hotel breakfast was very good and overall service excellent, great value for the E220 paid per night.

After checking in we decided to go to St. Marks square for a quick lunch and see the Basilica and Dodges palace- I had understood San Marco would be crowded at 2 pm and originally planned to go elsewhere that afternoon but everyone wanted to the square and it was fun. There was a concert there that evening (I think James Taylor) so most of the square was blocked off. We had lunch at a small place (forget the name) close to the Basilica and with no expectations of anything but a tourist trap lunch, were pleasantly surprised with good food, friendly service, an amazing view of the basilica and pretty reasonable prices- a great first meal, and first Bellini in Venice. The line for the basilica was too long so we just did the Doges palace, Our Venice connected passes allowed us to skip the line and walk right in. I remembered it very clearly from our last visit 4 years ago and we spend about 2 hours- spectacular place. Came out and saw the line for the Tower in the square was quite short. Venice connect did not cover this and I don’t think the E32 (E8 each) for the admittedly spectacular, although crowded views at the top were worth it. Spend about 30 minutes here. Walked to the water, the area was now very crowded with tour groups, had a quick gelato and took the vaporetto to the hotel.

I had made dinner reservations at a place that was highly recommended by a friend at the other end of San Marco called Osteria Oliva Nera. Excellent Venetian food and very friendly service by the proprietor and his wife. I can still taste the figs and the sea urchin pasta, the tiramisu was one of the best if not the best, of the entire trip. Only caution, for a neighborhood type of place, the tab was high; its expensive. We got caught in a rainstorm on the way back and got wet (no umbrellas). Took the vaporetto to Accademia.

Over the next few days we explored several different parts of Venice, enjoyed a great afternoon in Murano- it was deserted and really gave us a feel of a local Venice. I paid one quarter of what we were paying in Venice for a bottle of water. Did some shopping at a boutique- the glass stores all had identical stuff. This place was more expensive but had quality stuff.

We did a fairly long gondola ride after turning down ridiculous prices from a few gondoliers and got a wonderful guy who gave us an 1.15 hours ride for E100, half on the grand canal and the rest on the smaller fondamentas. It was just before sunset and we had a great time. We also saw a classical/opera concert in St. Marks square, getting in by being escorted by a waiter from one of the cafes who seated us in a prime spot 50m from the concert patrons who were sitting on uncomfortable looking folding chairs. I must say drinking at this café in the middle (Ok side) of the square listening to someone who sounded remarkably like Pavarotti was divine.

Museums: Accademia- I love the Venetian school paintings and the Accademia collection is one of my favorite collections at any museum globally. We had to pay- Venice connected does not work here but surprisingly at 10 am there was absolutely no line and we enjoyed 2 hours with very few people. Also liked the Ca d’Oro, one of the great showpieces of the grand canal with exquisite tapestries and other works of art. Another recommended palace turned museum is the Ca Rezzonico, showcasing 18th century Venice- just beautiful. Also visited several church’s with amazing ceiling art- for ex. The Scuola Grande dei Carmeni with Tiepolo paintings.Also San Nicholo Dei Mendecoli, a magnificent 12th century church.

Walks:

We did the Ghost walk with Venice walks recommended by someone on this board. It was great- meeting at the Rialto bridge at 8 pm with an American lady who lives in Venice. A very interesting 90 minute walk which the kids really liked. We also loved walking around Dursoduro – San Barnaba which is a floating vegetable and fruit barge, Fondemenda Gheradini is a lovely canal to walk by. Campo Santa Margherita is fun to hang around with nice cafes and fish sellers. Ponti dei Pugni is a beautiful bridge where vivious fights used to take place. Also walks around the Rialto area, San Polo and Santa Croce, all of which have a distinct look and feel, in terms of neighborhood.

Restaurants: I want to mention one more memorable meal- Locanda Moutin in Dorsoduro. This according to Fodors was a place “Peggy Guggenheim used to take famous painters—including Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko—to this archetypal Venetian inn not far from her Palazzo Venier dei Leoni. The walls are still covered with modern art, but it's far from the haute bohemian hangout it used to be (except for when the Biennale crowd takes over)”.The restaurant had been recommended by friends and was not far from our hotel near the Accademia Bridge. We had a great evening in their lovely space under an arch covered with plants and vines. Each glass on the table is different (looks like Murano). Our waiter was very friendly and funny, spoke good English and really looked after us. The food was very good. One of our favorite meals in Venice.

Tuscany: We rented a car from Europcar in Piazzale Roma, and took a water taxi from the hotel (had to due to a vaporetto strike on our last day). Had to wait for close to an hour as the office was overwhelmed and had to drive the car over the bridge from the mainland. My Garmin Nuvi GPS with the Italy map, which I had carried with me from home, worked quite well and we were soon in Chianti. We stayed at Villa Talente in San Casciano in Val di Pisa, about 30 km south of Florence, for the one night, and the GPS got us to within a few hundred feet but then directed us to the wrong place at the bottom of a tight narrow dirt road, so we had to ask someone – anyone soon made it. Surrounded by Chianti vineyards, the Villa Talente is set in a restored 13th century villa; stunning property with an infinity edged pool overlooking the Chianti hills, lemon trees and olive groves, some surrounding the pool. Our room was two floors with the kids in a sleeping loft with drop dead views over the valley. Breakfast was superb, but there was no other food on site. However, they make their own wine which was plentiful. We went to town for lunch, but almost everything was closed and had a simple cold cut and bruchetta lunch at the one place that was open. The rest of the afternoon was spent taking full advantage of the hot day and the stunning pool. Dinner was about 20 minutes away at a place called Mamarossa where we were the only tourists. Had a great meal with chiana beef Florentine steak that they sell by the weight- 1.3 kilos was more than enough for all of us.

On the way to Pienza we spent the morning in Greve in Chianti and enjoyed the market day, but the village was jammed with tourists and we made our way to Pienza which involved getting onto the highway again and exiting further south. We were staying at Le Casine di Castello and the owner meets guests at the gas station in Pienza to personally escort them to Castelmunzio. We stayed in the "Il Cielo" townhouse and it was just perfect for us. The place has three floors, two bedrooms, a big bathroom with a window overlooking the valley, a second bathroom (no shower), a fully equipped kitchen and a clothes washing machine. Also a private terrace with sweeping views. Castelmunzio is a great location just 9 km from Pienza but with a quiet, small town feel, yet easy access to the finest of the area. It was a great location to come home to each evening. Perhaps the best part is the excellent infrastructure provided by the amazing Isabella Moricciani who runs an Agriturismo in Pienza and has some properties in Castelmunzio. She has produced the most comprehensive set of instructions for the house, directions and information on the area (you have to see her binders to believe them), a complimentary cell phone for your use, daily activities, most unique for her guests you can join at will etc, etc. Normally, the townhouses only rent by the week but there was availability for the days we wanted (except the first day). We even got to see her brand new high end property in Castelmunzio called Casa Morriciani that is fantastic with four ensuite bedrooms all done in impeccable style.

The area surrounding Castelmunzio is in the middle of the Crete Senese, with stunning views of cypress tree lined roads and farmhouses surrounded by cypress trees on little hills. These are juxtaposed against open green and yellow fields creating the classic Tuscan landscape. South of Pienza are some truly beautiful drives which are burned in my mind and pictures. We drove all over and stopped at numerous hilltop towns and small villages. We did not go to Siena, given the short stay in the area. Coming home each night to our base in Castelmunzio with no parking issues and almost no tourists was a treat as this is a destination in itself.

We visited Pienza, Montalcino, Montefollinico, Montepulciano, San Quirico d'Orcia, Bagno Vignoni (we bathed in the Hotel Posta Marcucci’s hot springs one night under moonlight with a hilltop illuminated village in the distance. Catelmunzio is right next to the Sant'Anna in Campregna abbey where the English patient movie was shot, with beautiful frescos and its definitely worth going to. Another place we loved was the Abbey of Sant'Antimo (Abbazia di Sant'Antimo) which is a Romanesque church, with the chanting monks near Montelcino. We also spent a few hours at Castello Banfi sampling their Brunello di Montelcinos. This was the best winery we went to.

Restaurants:
Montefollinico: 13 Gobbi: Single best pasta dish of the trip. The highlight was the pasta that they immerse in a huge wheel of pecorino cheese table-side. Great service, lovely outdoor space.
Pienza: Sette di Vino is an usual restaurant in that it does not serve pasta, steaks or coffee. What you need to do here is let the owner decide what you eat- its tapas style and it really works. Wonderful little tidbits, toasted bread with all kinds of toppings, hams, salads, cooked vegetables, all really tasty and served with flair. They put a bottle of house wine on the table but only charge for what you drink. This is great for someone who has had lots of heavy meals and wants a lighter meal one day. Also very reasonably priced- E 100 for 4 of us.
Montelcino: I forget the name of the place. It’s a huge wine store inside the castle at the very top. Decent food, great wine by the glass including high end, rare Brunellos.
Bagno Vignoni: Osteria del Leone: Beautiful patio, friendly service and decent food. We had a nice evening, everyone else’s food was great, my pasta was unexpectedly cold and they had reheating problems. But overall quite good, not worth the drive to Bagno Vignoni to eat but fine in conjunction with a vist to the thermal baths.

A few other meals were in private farms etc arranged by Isabella, which were more akin to eating home food in Italy.

Amalfi Coast: The drive from Castelmunzio to Sorrento took 4.5 hours, our GPS made us take a strange route through the center of Naples but traffic was basically quite light. We got into Sorrento and then the GPS had some difficulty getting us to the car return office but we made it. Our next lodging for the last 5 nights was in Positano at a B&B and the owner had arranged for a car to pick us up from Sorrento. Villa Mary in Positano completed my hit parade of picking 4 perfect places for us. We stayed in the "Diana" room at Villa Mary. Tatziana and Antonio are just wonderful hosts who help with all the details for travel, reservations and general advice in the area. The room itself is spectacular- very large with a cathedral ceiling, a large completely private terrace with great view over Positano and a small section of the ocean (you cannot see the beach or Positano harbor) and a top notch huge bathroom.

The location is high up in town, the walk down is no problem, about 12 to 15 minutes to the beach, the walk up is hard, basically the town bus is your friend. We bought a large bunch of discounted tickets at the store opposite the main bus stop in town (E 1.2 instead of E1.6 on the bus). And its about a 7 minute drive to the Villa Mary stop, then 5 more minutes of fairly steep stairs.

Positano was a great base for us to explore the AC. It has the right mix of tourist infrastructure, and classic local vertical village- the area near Villa Mary is almost entirely local, compared to down by the beach which is anything but. Swimming in the sea looking up at Positano is an amazing treat. Its definitely worth spending a day on a covered beach-chair in Positano experiencing the beach culture and restaurants/ watering holes nearby. There is also decent shopping (especially if you like quality linen), great restaurants (our best meal in Italy was at one of them) and a lively buzz. This is not the place for quiet contemplation, the polar opposite of the Castelmunzio, a sleepy walled Tuscan village.

We went to Amalfi and Ravello by Sita bus, a few steps down from Villa Mary. I had expected to love Ravello and was not disappointed. Villa Rufulo and Villa Citrone were breathtaking, we were there in the middle of the Ravello music festival and although I was planning to attend one day, the timing –starts at 9.30 pm- practically needed an overnight stay. Had an amazing lunch at Hotel Villa Rufulo. The views up there are truly breathtaking. Amalfi turned out to be a pleasant surprise. As you walked away from the tourist hub, it felt a bit like being in a mini Naples- we bought a lot of lemon based confectionary to take back in Amalfi and there were also reasonably priced linen clothes but not Positano had better stuff at considerably higher prices. The Catherdal in Amalfi (Cattedrale di Sant'Andrea/Duomo di Amalfi) was unexpectedly good- we really enjoyed our visit. Also, having a drink at the café at the Piazza del Duomo at the base of the Cathedral steps with a grand view of the entire Cathedral.

Another day was spent in Capri- we took the fast boat at 10 am from Positano and it was a 35 minute ride to Capri. Were blessed with yet another picture perfect day. Took the furnicular up and spent the morning exploring Capri town. The shops here were the highest-end (made Positano look inexpensive) with astronomical, make that ridiculous, prices- a shirt for E500! I had made reservations at Le Grottelle which was a bit of a hike (20 minute) but it was yet another great lunch- tied with Villa Rufulo in Ravello for best dining view. Then took the internal Capri bus to AnaCapri and back. Finally we rented a beautiful wooden motorboat for a two hour private cruise around the island. This turned out to be exceptional afternoon, due to both the fantastic weather and the very friendly boat captain who took pictures of us in the grottos and under the Faraglione, the three famous rocks off Capri, and let the kids drive the boat (in open water only). It was well worth the price. Capri from the sea is something else. A highlight was when we sailed past the natural arch and spotted Le Grottelle on top where we had taken pictures of the boats below from our table at lunch!

Amalfi Coast Restaurants:
Positano: Max: Max turned out to be, quite unexpectedly, our best fine dining experience in Italy. And that is saying a lot as we went to fabulous places in Venice, Tuscany and the AC. Superb service, a sophisticated atmosphere (great vibe) and of course delectable food and presentation. Strongly recommended and well worth the splurge- around E 250 for 4 with a modest bottle of wine.
Lo Guaraccino: Its true, the world’s best view for a Pizzeria. We loved this place and went there twice for lunch in our 5 days in Positano. The finest view of all the places we went in Positano, very friendly, great Pizzas and seafood, reasonably priced, but the overall atmosphere and drop dead views make this a gem. It surprised me it does not seem to be very popular and was mostly empty on the two occasions we were there and two others in the evening when we walked by.
Next2: We went here on our last night in Positano and Italy. After 2 weeks of fabulous dining we wanted somewhere "different" but still local, Italian food. Next2 fit the bill- its modern, minimalist, reminded me of places in Santorini, Greece. We loved the location on an upper part of town but easily accessible via the indispensable internal town bus. We sat outside amidst a wine linen decor, even the servers wear white linen. The food and presentation were very good and the service excellent. It fit the bill for us perfectly- not the first place I would go to in Positano, but one to try.
Chez Black: We walked in for dinner without a reservation and the owner himself seated us at a nice table one level from the sidewalk. We had good service, the people watching was a lot of fun, this is a place where celebrities in Positano come to dine, we saw an Italian actress and her entourage. The food was decent, and the bill, for Positano, not bad. Good for one meal, not in the same league as the best places, but fun.
Ravello: Hotel Villa Rufulo: Fabulous location, high end feel, very formal, but friendly service and great food. Prefer lunch due to the drop dead view. And, surprisingly good value. What else could you want
Capti: Le Grottelle: We had a memorable lunch. It was a bit of a hike from the main area in Capri town but well worth it- very few people, and a drop dead view through a natural arch. Excellent food and friendly, professional service. The pasta of the day with Branzino was really, really good. The entire atmosphere along with the grand panoramic view makes this an excellent spot for lunch. .

On the last day we had hired a car and driver to take us to Pompeii where he waited for 2 hours before dropping us at Naples station for our trip to Rome airport and the flight home. Pompeii was fascinating, but very crowded and the day was quite hot. I probably made a mistake by not hiring a guide as we only saw a few highlights and missed some others, but no matter, by this point we were winding up.

Overall, we were blessed with superb weather, cool for July in Italy, especially in AC, and mostly sunny- a wonderful trip.

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    Thank you AKR for a really great trip report, full of wonderful details. Sounds like you did a superb job of finding perfect accomodations for your family and I've made note of several places for future trip reference. I've been to several of the restaurants you noted, and agree with your assessments. We had a wonderful Sunday lunch on a rainy day in Pienza at Sette di Vino, when it was full of Italian families - great food as well as atmosphere. The scamorza was so good! And our favorite meal in Positano was at Lo Guarracino, which felt like a little hidden gem. Thanks for sharing and bringing back fond memories.

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    Hi AKR,

    we spent a week in Venice with our kids when they were about the same age as yours and we all loved it. like you say, there is nothing like arriving in Venice in a motorscafi, and for 4 people it isn't outrageously expensive. we had museum and vaporetto passes too which IMO are well worth the cost for the flexibility and convenience they give you.

    one tip [for you or for others] - if you cross over to the island of San Giorgio, you can go up that campanile at less cost and with a far shorter queue. the view is just the same!

    keep it coming!

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    What a fabulous trip and a perfect trip report.
    Isabella showed us her new apt. in Castelmuzio---what a fabulous place---best I have seen. We also had a nice lunch in town as well.

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    Enjoyed your report, thanks for sharing! Relived some memories of tuscany and positano, spent a wonderful week in Montepulciano several years ago and really want to go back to that area again someday. Also love Lo Guarracino, can't wait to revisit in Sept!

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    Hi there,

    your trip sounds amazing. we are going to be in positano in a few weeks and the wooden motorboat trip off of anacapri sounds incredible. did you just go to the waterfront and rent or was it something you had lined up beforehand? would love more info if you have it. can't wait to go back to lo guarrancino!

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    We just went to the waterfront in Capri, the main area just off where the ferry from Positano docks and negotiated a rate with the operator who had a prominent display- you have to walk on to their jetty where the boats are docked and they have a shack.

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    Correcting several typos- the forums need to have an edit function.


    We are a family of four- the kids are teenagers 13 & 18. We have been to Italy twice before and this summer the plan was to go to only one city- Venice and the rest smaller places during our two week summer holiday. We decided to go to southern Tuscany- the Val d'Orcia, an area we had not been to before. Also, some time on the Amalfi coast, another part of Italy that we would visit for the first time. The challenge was to do justice to all three distinctly different areas in a relatively short period of 14 days. Also, we like to stay in nice lodgings but only paying for one hotel room with proper beds (not a pull out couch) for the four of us. The trip worked out extremely well given the logistical challenges.
    We flew into Venice mid July and out of Rome two weeks later- I was unable to get a flight out of Naples as desired on the way out.

    Itinerary: Day 1 to 4 – Venice
    Day 5: Chianti (due to unavailability of the place in the Val d’Orcia on this date)
    Day 6-9: Castelmunzio (near Pienza)
    Day 10-14: Positano

    We landed in Venice (fourth visit for us, second for the kids) to a beautiful sunny July day and went to our hotel near the Accademia bridge by prearranged water taxi from the airport. There is nothing like taking a water taxi to your hotel- the first impression of Venice is stunning by water and the ease of getting the bags into the hotel (their pier was 25 m from the front door on a flat sidewalk). An altogether worthwhile expense (E 100). I had bought Venice Connected vaporetto and museum passes for the 4 days in advance which I picked up at the airport (vaporetto passes, the museum pass is an electronic print out).
    We stayed at the Dei Dragommani, a small boutique hotel on the San Marco side of the Accademia bridge but tucked away in an extremely quiet alley just off the Grand canal. Our room was brilliant, a large bedroom with a king size bed and a double bed, a small sitting room, and a top notch bathroom with a huge skylight that could be opened. Also, very fast Wifi and A/C. With multiple Wifi enabled devices between us and no international cellular data plan (outrageously expensive through ATT) Wifi was a must. Also, the location was great, tucked away in a corner of San Marco, 5 minutes walk to the Accademia vaporetto stop and right next to a Grand canal pier for water taxis or gondolas. We did not have a Grand Canal view in the family room (as they call it) but that was understood upfront. The hotel breakfast was good and overall service excellent, great value for the E220 paid per night.

    After checking in we decided to go to St. Marks square for a quick lunch and see the Basilica and Dodges palace- I had understood San Marco would be crowded at 2 pm and originally planned to go elsewhere that afternoon but everyone wanted to the square and it was fun. There was a concert there that evening (I think James Taylor) so most of the square was blocked off. We had lunch at a small place (forget the name) close to the Basilica and with no expectations of anything but a tourist trap lunch, were pleasantly surprised with good food, friendly service, an amazing view of the basilica and pretty reasonable prices- a great first meal, and first Bellini in Venice. The line for the Basilica was too long (we visited it a few days later) so we just did the Doges palace, Our Venice connected passes allowed us to skip the line and walk right in. I remembered it very clearly from our last visit 4 years ago and we spend about 2 hours- spectacular place. Came out and saw the line for the Tower in the square was quite short. Venice connect did not cover this and I don’t think the E32 (E8 each) for the admittedly spectacular, although crowded views at the top were worth it. Spent about 30 minutes here. Walked to the water, the area was now very crowded with tour groups, had a quick gelato and took the vaporetto to the hotel.

    I had made dinner reservations at a place that was highly recommended by a friend at the other end of San Marco called Osteria Oliva Nera. Excellent Venetian food and very friendly service by the proprietor and his wife. I can still taste the figs and the sea urchin pasta, the tiramisu was one of the best if not the best, of the entire trip. Only caution, for a neighborhood type of place, the tab was high; its expensive. We got caught in a rainstorm on the way back and got wet (no umbrellas). Took the vaporetto to Accademia.

    Over the next few days we explored several different parts of Venice, enjoyed a great afternoon in Murano- it was deserted and really gave us a feel of a local Venice. I paid one quarter of what we were paying in Venice for a bottle of water. Did some shopping at a boutique- the glass stores all had identical stuff. This place was more expensive but had quality pieces.

    We did a fairly long gondola ride after turning down ridiculous prices from a few gondoliers and got a wonderful guy who gave us an 1.15 hours ride for E100, half on the grand canal and the rest on the smaller fondamentas. It was just before sunset and we had a great time. We also saw a classical/opera concert in St. Marks square, getting in by being escorted by a waiter from one of the cafes who seated us in a prime spot 50m from the concert patrons who were sitting on uncomfortable looking folding chairs. I must say drinking at this café in the middle (Ok side) of the square listening to someone who sounded remarkably like Pavarotti was divine.

    Museums: Accademia- I love the Venetian school paintings and the Accademia collection is one of my favorite collections at any museum globally. We had to pay- Venice connected does not work here but surprisingly at 10 am there was absolutely no line and we enjoyed 2 hours with very few people. Also liked the Ca d’Oro, one of the great showpieces of the grand canal with exquisite tapestries and other works of art. Another recommended palace turned museum is the Ca Rezzonico, showcasing 18th century Venice- just beautiful. We visited several church’s with amazing ceiling art- for ex. The Scuola Grande dei Carmeni with Tiepolo paintings.Also San Nicholo Dei Mendecoli, a magnificent 12th century church.

    Walks: We did the Ghost walk with Venice walks recommended by someone on this board. It was great- meeting at the Rialto bridge at 8 pm with an American lady who lives in Venice. A very interesting 90 minute walk which the kids really liked. We also loved walking around Dursoduro – San Barnaba which is a floating vegetable and fruit barge, Fondemenda Gheradini is a lovely canal to walk by. Campo Santa Margherita is fun to hang around with nice cafes and fish sellers. Ponti dei Pugni is a beautiful bridge where vicious fights used to take place. Also walks around the Rialto area, San Polo and Santa Croce, all of which have a distinct look and feel, in terms of neighborhood.

    Restaurants: I want to mention one more memorable meal- Locanda Moutin in Dorsoduro. This according to Fodors was a place “Peggy Guggenheim used to take famous painters—including Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko—to this archetypal Venetian inn not far from her Palazzo Venier dei Leoni. The walls are still covered with modern art, but it's far from the haute bohemian hangout it used to be (except for when the Biennale crowd takes over)”.The restaurant had been recommended by friends and was not far from our hotel near the Accademia Bridge. We had a great evening in their lovely space under an arch covered with plants and vines. Each glass on the table is different (looks like Murano). Our waiter was very friendly and funny, spoke good English and really looked after us. The food was very good. One of our favorite meals in Venice.

    Tuscany: We rented a car from Europcar in Piazzale Roma, and took a water taxi from the hotel (I had not originally planned this but there was a vaporetto strike on our last day). We needed to wait for close to an hour as the car rental office was overwhelmed and had to drive the car over the bridge from the mainland. My Garmin Nuvi GPS with the Italy map, which I had carried with me from home, worked quite well and we were soon in Chianti. We stayed at Villa Talente in San Casciano in Val di Pisa, about 30 km south of Florence, for the one night, and the GPS got us to within a few hundred meters but then directed us to the wrong place at the bottom of a tight narrow dirt road, so we had to ask someone for directions – anyway soon made it. Surrounded by Chianti vineyards, the Villa Talente is set in a restored 13th century villa; stunning property with an infinity edged pool overlooking the Chianti hills, lemon trees and olive groves, some surrounding the pool. Our room was two floors with the kids in a sleeping loft with drop dead views over the valley. Breakfast was superb, but there was no other food on site. However, they make their own wine which was plentiful. We went to town for lunch, but almost everything was closed and had a simple cold cut and bruchetta lunch at the one place that was open. The rest of the afternoon was spent taking full advantage of the hot day and the stunning pool. Dinner was about 20 minutes away at a place called Mamarossa where we were the only tourists. Had a great meal with chiana beef Florentine steak that they sell by the weight- one steak weighing1.3 kilos was more than enough for all of us.

    On the way to Pienza we spent the morning in Greve in Chianti and enjoyed the market day, but the village was jammed with tourists and we made our way to Pienza which involved getting onto the highway again and exiting further south. We were staying at Le Casine di Castello and the owner meets guests at the gas station in Pienza to personally escort them to Castelmunzio. We stayed in the "Il Cielo" townhouse and it was just perfect for us. The place has three floors, two bedrooms, a big bathroom with a window overlooking the valley, a second bathroom (no shower), a fully equipped kitchen and a clothes washing machine. Also a private terrace with sweeping views. Castelmunzio is a great location just 9 km from Pienza but with a quiet, small town feel, yet easy access to the finest of the area. It was a great location to come home to each evening. Perhaps the best part is the excellent infrastructure provided by the amazing Isabella Moricciani who runs an Agriturismo in Pienza and has some properties in Castelmunzio. She has produced the most comprehensive set of instructions for the house, directions and information on the area (you have to see her binders to believe them), a complimentary cell phone for your use, daily activities, most unique for her guests you can join at will etc, etc. Normally, the townhouses only rent by the week but there was availability for the days we wanted (except the first day). We even got to see her brand new high end property in Castelmunzio called Casa Morriciani that is fantastic with four ensuite bedrooms all done in impeccable style.

    The area surrounding Castelmunzio is in the middle of the Crete Senese, with stunning views of cypress tree lined roads and farmhouses surrounded by cypress trees on little hills. These are juxtaposed against open green and yellow fields creating the classic Tuscan landscape. South of Pienza are some truly beautiful drives which are burned in my mind and pictures. We drove all over and stopped at numerous hilltop towns and small villages. We did not go to Siena despite it being one of my favorite larger towns in Tuscany, given our short stay in the area. Coming home each night to our base in Castelmunzio with no parking issues and almost no tourists was a treat as this is a destination in itself.

    We visited Pienza, Montalcino, Montefollinico, Montepulciano, San Quirico d'Orcia, Bagno Vignoni (we bathed in the Hotel Posta Marcucci’s hot springs one night under moonlight with a hilltop illuminated village in the distance. Catelmunzio is right next to the Sant'Anna in Campregna abbey where the English patient movie was shot, with beautiful frescos and its definitely worth going to. Another place we loved was the Abbey of Sant'Antimo (Abbazia di Sant'Antimo) which is a Romanesque church, with the chanting monks near Montelcino. We also spent a few hours at Castello Banfi sampling their Brunello di Montelcinos. This was the best winery we went to.

    Restaurants:
    Montefollinico: 13 Gobbi: Single best pasta dish of the trip. The highlight was the pasta that they immerse in a huge wheel of pecorino cheese table-side. Great service, lovely outdoor space.
    Pienza: Sette di Vino is an usual restaurant in that it does not serve pasta, steaks or coffee. What you need to do here is let the owner decide what you eat- its tapas style and it really works. Wonderful little tidbits, toasted bread with all kinds of toppings, hams, salads, cooked vegetables, all really tasty and served with flair. They put a bottle of house wine on the table but only charge for what you drink. This is great for someone who has had lots of heavy meals and wants a lighter meal one day. Also very reasonably priced- E 100 for 4 of us.
    Montelcino: I forget the name of the place. It’s a huge wine store inside the castle at the very top. Decent food, great wine by the glass including high end, rare Brunellos.
    Bagno Vignoni: Osteria del Leone: Beautiful patio, friendly service and decent food. We had a nice evening, everyone else’s food was great, my pasta was unexpectedly cold and they had reheating problems. But overall quite good, not worth the drive to Bagno Vignoni to eat but fine in conjunction with a vist to the thermal baths.

    A few other meals were in private farms etc arranged by Isabella, which were more akin to eating home food in Italy.

    Amalfi Coast: The drive from Castelmunzio to Sorrento took 4.5 hours, our GPS made us take a strange route off the highway near Naples which took us through the waterfront area and tight narrow streets but traffic was quite light and we soon were on the coastal raod to Sorrento. We got into Sorrento and then the GPS had some difficulty getting us to the car rental return office but we made it. Our next lodging for the last 5 nights in Italy was in Positano at a B&B and the owner had arranged for a car to pick us up from Sorrento. Villa Mary in Positano completed my hit parade of picking 4 perfect places for us. We stayed in the "Diana" room at Villa Mary. Tatziana and Antonio are just wonderful hosts who help with all the details for travel, reservations and general advice in the area. The room itself is spectacular- very large with a cathedral ceiling, a large completely private terrace with great view over Positano and a small section of the ocean (you cannot see the beach or Positano harbor) and a top notch huge bathroom.

    The location is high up in town, the walk down is no problem, about 12 minutes to the beach, the walk up is hard, basically the town bus is your friend. We bought a large bunch of discounted tickets at the store opposite the main bus stop in town (E 1.2 instead of E1.6 on the bus). And it’s about a 7 minute drive to the Villa Mary stop, then 5 more minutes of fairly steep stairs.

    Positano was a great base for us to explore the AC. It has the right mix of tourist infrastructure, and classic local vertical village- the area near Villa Mary is almost entirely local, compared to down by the beach which is anything but. Swimming in the sea looking up at Positano is an amazing treat. It’s definitely worth spending a day on a covered beach-chair in Positano experiencing the beach culture and restaurants/ watering holes nearby. There is also decent shopping (especially if you like quality linen), great restaurants (our best meal in Italy was at one of them) and a lively buzz. This is not the place for quiet contemplation, the polar opposite of the Castelmunzio, a sleepy walled Tuscan village.

    We went to Amalfi and Ravello by Sita bus, a few steps down from Villa Mary. I had expected to love Ravello and was not disappointed. Villa Rufulo and Villa Citrone were breathtaking, we were there in the middle of the Ravello music festival and although I was planning to attend one day, the timing –starts at 9.30 pm- practically needed an overnight stay. We had an amazing lunch at Hotel Villa Rufulo. The views up there are truly breathtaking. Amalfi turned out to be a pleasant surprise. As you walked away from the tourist hub, it felt a bit like being in a mini Naples- we bought a lot of lemon based confectionary to take back in Amalfi and there were also reasonably priced linen clothes but not Positano had better stuff at considerably higher prices. The Catherdal in Amalfi (Cattedrale di Sant'Andrea/Duomo di Amalfi) was unexpectedly good- we really enjoyed our visit. Also, having a drink at the café at the Piazza del Duomo at the base of the Cathedral steps with a grand view of the entire Cathedral.

    Another day was spent in Capri- we took the fast boat at 10 am from Positano and it was a 35 minute ride to Capri. Were blessed with yet another picture perfect day. Took the furnicular up and spent the morning exploring Capri town. The shops here were the highest-end (made Positano look inexpensive) with astronomical, make that ridiculous, prices- a shirt for E500! I had made lunch reservations at Le Grottelle which was a bit of a hike (20 minute) but it was yet another great lunch- tied with Villa Rufulo in Ravello for best dining view. Then took the internal Capri bus to AnaCapri, explored the town and took the bus back. Finally we rented a beautiful wooden motorboat for a two hour private cruise around the island. This turned out to be exceptional afternoon, due to both the fantastic weather and the very friendly boat captain who took pictures of us in the grottos and under the Faraglione, the three famous rocks off Capri, and let the kids drive the boat (in open water only). It was well worth the price. Capri from the sea is something else. A highlight was when we sailed past the natural arch and spotted Le Grottelle on top where we had taken pictures of the boats below from our table at lunch!

    Amalfi Coast Restaurants:
    Positano: Max: Max turned out to be, quite unexpectedly, our best fine dining experience in Italy. And that is saying a lot as we went to fabulous places in Venice, Tuscany and the AC. Superb service, a sophisticated atmosphere (great vibe) and of course delectable food and presentation. Strongly recommended and well worth the splurge- around E 250 for 4 with a modest bottle of wine.
    Lo Guaraccino: Its true, the world’s most scenic Pizzeria. We loved this place and went there twice for lunch in our 5 days in Positano. The finest view of all the places we went in Positano, very friendly, great Pizzas and seafood, reasonably priced, but the overall atmosphere and drop dead views make this a gem. It surprised me it does not seem to be very popular and was mostly empty on the two occasions we were there and two others in the evening when we walked by.
    Next2: We went here on our last night in Positano and Italy. After 2 weeks of fabulous dining we wanted somewhere "different" but still local, Italian food. Next2 fit the bill- its modern, minimalist, reminded me of places in Santorini, Greece. We loved the location on an upper part of town but easily accessible via the indispensable internal town bus. We sat outside amidst a wine linen decor, even the servers wear white linen. The food and presentation were very good and the service excellent. It fit the bill for us perfectly- not the first place I would go to in Positano, but one to try.
    Chez Black: We walked in for dinner without a reservation and the owner himself seated us at a nice table one level from the sidewalk. We had good service, the people watching was a lot of fun, this is a place where celebrities in Positano come to dine, we saw an Italian actress and her entourage. The food was decent, and the bill, for Positano, not bad. Good for one meal, not in the same league as the best places, but fun.
    Ravello: Hotel Villa Rufulo: Fabulous location, high end feel, very formal, but friendly service and great food. Prefer lunch due to the drop dead view. And, surprisingly good value. What else could you want
    Capti: Le Grottelle: We had a memorable lunch. It was a bit of a hike from the main area in Capri town but well worth it- very few people, and a drop dead view through a natural arch. Excellent food and friendly, professional service. The pasta of the day with Branzino was really, really good. The entire atmosphere along with the grand panoramic view makes this an excellent spot for lunch. .

    On the last day we had hired a car and driver to take us to Pompeii where he waited for 2 hours before dropping us at Naples station for our trip to Rome airport and the flight home. Pompeii was fascinating, but very crowded and the day was quite hot. I probably made a mistake by not hiring a guide as we only saw a few highlights and missed some others, but no matter, by this point we were winding up.

    Overall, we were blessed with superb weather, cool for July in Italy, especially in AC, and mostly sunny- a wonderful trip.

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