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Trip Report Italy- 18nights, 4 regions!

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First, I thank all the Fodors Folks who have helped me in planning this trip. From general suggestions to specific recommendations, you all are a great resource. I want to split this report into several sections partly because I am a great procrastinator and if I don't just dig in and get started, I'll never post!

First, for new travelers to Europe- and I include myself, as this is only the 4th trip I’ve taken- MIND the number of days and nights you have. For example, we had 18 nights, but that translated into about 12 ½ days of actually seeing and doing. There was one night on the plane going over and two nights coming back, as well as the time it took getting from one place to another. You have to count in that time!!
Second, know what is important to you. You can’t see it all. People ask: “What are the must-see sights?”, but that depends on you. To some, it is important to check off places and get selfies taken. To others, perhaps you have dreamed of seeing the Pantheon or the Elgin Marbles. If you are going to expend the time and money to go to Europe (from the U.S. or farther), you should expend some time in thinking and deciding, and yes, being judgmental. On this trip, I had to cut out Venice in order to see Ravenna, but I have wanted to see the treasures there for many years.
Third, know what your general budget is. I have to say, getting started at this later in life than most has allowed us to spend a bit more on some things which probably aren’t necessary, but are nice. If you are young, GO anyway, stay is hostels or whatever. Yes, you can get slices of pizza or a panini for very little, or you can sit down and have several courses with wine. Just figure out what you can afford and enjoy!
Fourth, and this is my opinion, ask yourself, “What do I really want to see before I die?” Then try to put those in some sort of order. For this trip, it was Rome and Ravenna, with breaks for less structured stays in less chaotic places.

So here was our itinerary:
Day 1 (1 night): Travel
Day 2-6 (5 nights): Rome at Hotel Campo De’ Fiori
Day 7-10 (4 nights): Bevagna at La Corte dei Vasari
Day 11-12 (2 nights): Ravenna at M Club
Day 13- 16 (4 nights): Bellagio at Hotel Belvedere
Day 17-18 (2 nights): travel

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    Sounds wonderful.

    Your four suggestions are what we long-time Fodorites try to get through to every poster who says "I don't know where to start" or "What do you think of this itinerary?"

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    Looking forward to your trip report and what you were able to accomplish in the 5 nights for Rome as I try to plan our trip for next year. How did you like the Rome hotel? Great location? Room quality?

    Typical advice is not to plan more than 2 or 3 major things in a day depending on how far each is to the other. There is just so much to see--hard to narrow down what "our must sees" are in each location.

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    Rome:
    Arrival- We booked a car through the hotel. Being totally jet lagged, it was great to see your name on a slate and be delivered to a place you would never find on your own. LOL. We couldn’t check in for several hours, but they took our luggage and we ventured off to figure out where the heck we were. Right in the middle of lots of stuff it seemed! First stop was Area sacra dell’Argentina, where Caesar REALLY was assassinated. We were able to check into our hotel room overlooking Palazzo Pio Righetti, built on the old Theater of Pompey. No rest and back out on the street to the Parthenon! Every place in Rome is a wonder, but this really, really is! The oculus, art history star, does not disappoint. Obelisks liberated from Egypt abound in Rome and we see several on our way to Piazza Navona, Domitian’s circus and the three fountains. We return to the hotel and the reason I booked it in the first place, the roof top terrace. I looked for a place like I had in Florence, and this popped up. Beautiful views all around and a wonderful place to decompress each evening, write in my journal with a glass of wine in hand. 11 hours of sleep that night….

    Day 3- Breakfast in “Negative Zero”, aka downstairs. A terrific buffet each morning with more than you could ever want to eat, along with coffee and/or cappuccino. Again we ventured out and went by the Sacra dell’Argentina, the huge over-the-top monument to Victor Emmanuel to Trajan’s Column and the Imperial Fora. Trajan’s Markets, Caesar’s Forum, Augustus’s Forum, and Nerva’s Forum. This was a self-guided tour with guide books and fairly good signage, as well as some places to stop and contemplate. Across the street where you can look over the ”old Forum” and then up the Capitoline Hill. We visited the Piazza, Michelangelo’s staircase, the Aracoeli Staircase, and at the bottom, the Roman Insula. Then we had lunch! And on to Trastevere. A short walk across the river at the Ponte Sisto and to Santa Maria, one of the oldest Christian churches in Rome. The huge columns were liberated from old Roman buildings. We wandered a bit and then back across the Isola Tibernia, over the Ponte Fabricio, and on to the Theater of Marcellus with the Temple of Apollo. As we head home, we discover the Fontana delle Tartarughe. One thing about wandering in Rome, you will always discover something. We started saying, “What’s that? It looks old.” EVERY thing looks old, only some of it is REALLY old.
    Day 4-We had a tour of Ancient Rome scheduled with Context Tours. Because we had to be at the meeting spot at 8:30 and we wanted breakfast first, we took a cab over. (You could walk it, but we were saving ourselves. LOL) . I am typically not one for organized tours, but we had a great experience with the Verger’s tour at Westminster Abbey several years ago and thought that this would be another good place for a professional guide. To me it was well worth the price. We went from the Colosseum to the Palatine Hill and on to the old Forum. I would not have gotten through the first level in the Colosseum by myself, as I have a tendency to stand and gawk. The tour was four hours long and we learned a lot. The Palatine and the Forum are difficult to interpret, even if you have read up on it. Heck, you are looking at a foundation, a couple of columns or a part of a wall. Getting an indication of what it might have been is very edifying. The small group was great, you could ask questions and the docent was able to gear it to our interests. We were exhausted at the end. I think we may have even found time for a nap that afternoon. We did go to the church “next door” to our hotel, Sant’Andrea della Valle. We were looking at the dome from the roof terrace every evening and thought we should. Of course, like all things in Rome, there is a very small degree of separation. The architect of the dome had received the commission to finish the dome on St Peter’s. Also, there is the La Tosca connection… Back to our roof terrace and a new appreciation of what we are seeing.
    Day 5- I had left this day open for possible explorations. I asked here and I asked our Context docent for museum suggestions for ancient art, life, etc. The National Museum came up multiple times. In fact, our docent felt that one can get a better idea of Roman life in late Republican and Imperial Rome here than in Pompei. I can’t compare, but I know I had a full day and was amazed at the treasures I saw. You can get a single ticket for four museums over three days for 7 euro. We started at Palazzo Massimo alle Terme. Again, we took a taxi over as we weren’t exactly sure where we were going and I was skating on thin ice with the plans for multiple museums in one day with my not-so-interested-in-all-that-old-stuff travel partner… This could have easily taken a day for me, not so much for the sculpture, although the bronzes were cool, but for surprising things: the Lake Nemi boats, “the ivory face”, and the incredible mosaics and frescos on the top floor. We stopped for lunch, then on to the Baths of Diocletian across the street. Again, too much, but I enjoyed the pieces from Mithric and other eastern cults and the ”proto history” section. I let my dearest fellow traveler off back at the hacienda while I went on to the Crypta Balbi, which was next door to the Area Sacra. If you want to get away from the crowds in Rome, go to some of these less well-known spots! I was free to wander and imagine life in the time of Augustus and the early middle ages. Loved this day, perhaps because it was so full of kismet.
    Day 6- Again, up early by taxi to meet our Context tour docent for the Vatican and St Peter’s. I almost completely messed up. I thought we were arriving 15 minutes early, but it turned out we were 15 minutes late. (Look at the time on your reservation!!) And again, I would never have made it out of the first gallery if it hadn’t been for our wonderful docent. We sprinted for the Sistine Chapel (“Don’t look at anything!”) and were able to spend about 20 minutes before the first mass tours showed up. We then went back to the front of the museum and worked our way back. The difference walking through the second time with wall to wall people was really disheartening. I cannot imagine that that much carbon dioxide and moisture can be good for the paintings, nor can the weight be good for the floor. My journal includes pages of what I can remember of our docent’s explanations. The marble stairs reputedly from the senator’s section of the Colosseum. The Belvedere torso and Apollo, Michelangelo’s models for Jesus. Tapestries with optical illusions. The Borgia apartments, so well preserved. Then on to the grotto where the popes are buried. We climb up and arrive in the middle of the basilica near the baldacchino of bronze stripped from the Pantheon. Breath taking. The basilica is full of pilgrims for the jubilee year and of non pilgrims taking selfies. Four hours later, we exit St Peter’s. We have the thought, ever so briefly, of walking to the top of the dome, but instead search for lunch by hiking to Trastevere. Back to the hotel for arrest, a last evening on the terrace and dinner. After dinner, I am exhausted, but beg to go see the Trevi Fountain. We get a cab, see the newly renovated and beautifully lit landmark. After we throw our coins in, we sit for a bit and contemplate the next segment of our trip.

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    Loved our hotel: http://www.hotelcampodefiori.com/en/ It was within walking distance of most of the things we wanted to see. Great soundproofing, as we never heard a sound from the square below. Front desk was terrific. Breakfast was varied and tasty.And the roof terrace was the frosting on the cake.

    All of our meals were within walking distance and all suggested by the front desk personnel:
    Cantina Lucifero and the Taverna Lucifero run by a father and son respectively. We preferred the intimate setting of the Cantina, but the food was great at both. Grilled veg, risotto,beef with souffled potato. They had a special fondue for dessert that others said was great.
    La Pollarola- specializes in fish. We put our faith in the waiter and had a delicious meal: dorado and saltimboca for the non-fish eater. (The fish monger is right between the hotel and this restaurant)
    Grotte Del Teatro Di Pompeo- again, went by waiter's suggestions of veal and lamb, the ubiquitous fried artichoke.Yum.

    We tended to split a first course and then each have a main, shared a dessert and drank house wine. I think these were all 65- 90 euro.

    europeannovice: I agree with you. Do one to two things a day. Leave some room for things that call you when you are there. You can't do it all. We didn't get to the Borghese area, nor were we able to see the Capitoline museaum. But I am happy with what we did see and feel we saw as much as we could in the time we had.

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    Lovely hotel, nice amenities, good location! Thanks for sharing where you stayed plus stories about your days in Rome. I'm with you - a well-chosen tour with a knowledgeable guide is worth every penny. Glad you enjoyed the Ancient Rome Tour. Looking forward to more!

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    BEVAGNA in “OOMBRIA”
    Day 7- Based on the great suggestions here, we booked a car through Eurocar Via Veneto. They were open on a Sunday morning, which was convenient, because we needed a car Sunday morning. Also, it was on the outskirts of the busiest of Rome but again, no traffic on a Sunday morning. We live in a place where you never need a map because you can’t get lost, but we were convinced to rent the GPS system, and are we glad we did. We were on the highway in no time. The blog someone linked: http://driventoit.blogspot.com.au/ was very helpful for the navigator in dealing with signs, toll booths, etc. Zip, zip, zip, and we are in Bevagna. We arrived early at our B&B, La Corte dei Vasari, but our wonderful host Federico, explains where we can park and gives us a map and a key to our rooms. We wander the fairy tale town (see dialogue “In Bruges”), stop for a local Umbrian beer, and totally fall in love with Bevagna. It took about 30 seconds. Later, Federico lays out a spread of local hams, salami, cheese and Umbrian salt-free bread, because of the bad pope who taxed the salt. All of this with a glass of local Montefalco vino rosso. This guy is unbelievable. He asked us about our interests and suggested various day trips. I had Perugia and wine tasting on my list. Luckily for me, our host is from Perugia. And he is very knowledgeable about wine. This is going to be a great stay!
    Day 8- After a wonderful breakfast of cannelloni, torte, other goodies too caloric to remember, yogurt, cereal, espresso and warm milk…we are off to see hill towns. First stop, Spello. “Don’t stay on the main street, go up and down the side streets” said Federico. We spend an hour or so wandering, looking at vistas and taking pictures of alleys with hanging flower baskets. Eventually back to the car and a new waypoint in the Tom Tom, Spoleto. We had great directions on where to park, how to find the “travelator”, and what to see. We stop at the plaza at the Duomo for refreshment, then off to find the Rocca and the bridge. The museum is closed, but we find the 13th or 14th century Ponte delle Torri (built on an old Roman aqueduct) and walk across. Again, the view across the valley is incredible. We head back to our fairytale town and explore before dinner. “Buonasera” as we pass the townspeople on their walks or at their favorite watering holes.
    Day 9- Breakfast and I could get used to this… Today, we are off to Perugia, the capital of Umbria, and a huge city compared to little Bevagna. Rick Steves has a video about this town, which interested me. Here is what we saw: the Rocca Paolina, the Duomo, Etruscan Arch, San Michele Arcangelo (incredible 5-6th century circular “temple”), and the National Museum of Umbrian Archeology. In case you hadn’t noticed, I like old stuff. Etruscan and Umbrian artifacts, jewelry, grave goods, amulets, wine vessels, pre history. Real old stuff. We had some trouble in that when we were ready to eat, it was the time everyone was closed. And this was unfortunate because Federico had given us a couple of great choices to try. We were able to find some Baci, of course, and got a chocolate fix. Dinner back ”home” and we sit up drinking limoncello and grappa and talking with Federico.

    Day 10- This morning was for exploring Bevagna. Yes, it is small and the tour buses seem to be able to fit it in during a pit stop. But there a number of treasures in the four city quarters. Federico had given us a map and we found most of the highlights. The mosaics in the old Roman baths were open by reservation only, so we missed them, but the churches, the medieval walls, and the small alleys with colorful wash hanging out were all fair game. I spent 30 minutes looking at the archway and interior of St Michael the Archangel, so you can see how it would have been impossible for me to tour the Vatican Museum on my own. LOL. On our first night, one of the suggestions Federico had made was to see http://wordlesstech.com/carapace-wine-cellar/. This morning, he called to see if we could get a tour in English which he did, at 4pm. First, we drove over to Montefalco, to see the vineyards and the town. Unfortunately it was that 1:30 to 3:30 period when everyone was closed, so we looked at the sculpture exhibit by Sestilio Burattini set up throughout town, looked at the landscape and were off for our tour. As you drive up toward Castlebuono, there is no doubt where you are going as the huge arrow is visible for quite a distance. It turns out we had a private tour and tasting of two of their three wines. Architecture and wine-what could be better? As we were leaving a tour bus of French folk showed up and our private winery was gone. This is our last night in Bevagna, a fairy tale town. You all were right, this area needs more time…

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    Wonderful report! We are just back from our second our second visit to Umbria and still haven't exhausted its riches. If you return, try to visit Gubbio. I think you'd enjoy the museum housed in the Palazzo dei Consoli. I might also suggest a wine tour with Gusto Wine Tours. Mark, the owner, will arrange visits to some of the smaller wineries that you might not discover on your own. We've done two tours with him now and have learned a lot about Umbrian wines (and brought home some wonderful wines).

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    While it is difficult to get information about http://www.cortedevasari.com/, it is highly recommended. E-mail Federico and you will have a quick response. There are only 3 rooms, which probably makes for so few reviews on the big travel sites. We had a two story suite- living room, dining room and kitchenette downstairs, and connected by a narrow spiral staircase, the bedroom and bath up. If you have difficulty negotiating these, you could also just walk up the stairs outside the room. Yes, the shower is small, I read several reviews of this. It's a medieval house (where they made pottery)and not your basic Holiday Inn. If you want to stay for an extended period, the kitchenette would be helpful, but the food is ever so good, I would have difficulty cooking in Italy!

    All dinners were in Bevagna and suggested by our wonderful host. They were all different types of restaurants, but yummy. Bevagna seems to have a large number of eateries for such a small town.
    Il Forno degli Angeli:An informal pizza spot in the medieval section with thin crust delicious pizza. (I have to say that this is the only place we ate the entire trip that had a TV on in the dining area. It was set to some sort of music video station, so at least it wasn't an assault of CNN)
    Scottaditi Osteria Tagliavento: This place is owned by the butcher. Don't go if you are a vegetarian! Ha! I ordered lamb and my plate had enough meat on it for the entire fairy tale town! The plates are definitely enough to share. Some locals, recognizing that we weren't from around there,sent over wine from the bottle they had bought, to make sure we tried Montefalco Rosso.
    Spirito Divino: This was back on one of the side streets, but had excellent signage. It was a bit more ristorante that osteria, great ambiance. Tagliatelle with fava beans and squid kinda place, delicious. We tried Sagrantino with, and passito after dinner.
    La Botega di Assu:This is a tiny place- three tables inside and a couple on the street- and run by the mother of Spirito Divino's chef.It's a *small* fairy tale town. We tried to get in several times and she was closed or didn't have a spot, but the last night we walked by and there was a tavola! We put ourselves in her hands and had a bean soup, pasta amatriciana, Montefalco Rosso Riserva.

    I can't find any of my receipts, but I don't think any meal was over 75 euro. We did not see/hear any other Americans in Bevagna and I could have used more time with my Italian app as English was not widely spoken. This was one of the joys of this town.

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    We first visited Bevagna in 2011 when it felt like a gem on the verge of being discovered. We wondered how such a small town could have to many wonderful restaurants? It sounds like you enjoyed the food & the wine as well as the charm of Bevagna & the region.

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    RAVENNA
    Day 11- Up early and one last Umbrian breakfast. Ciao to Federico and we are off. Tom Tom sets the course to Ravenna through Foligno, past Assisi (me, being mean: "
    Hey, there's a church, in case you haven't seen one in a while."), past grapevines and olive orchards, then through tunnels in the mountains, and on to the flat area past the A-14 (?). Things no one told us: The huge gas station/rest stops where they have a full restaurant, snacks, toys, games, Ronco "Set it and Forget It", coffee bar, you name it. They did remind me of the original movie "The Vanishing", so I was kind of spooked. The GPS brought us to a parking lot right next to the M Club. That was easier than I expected. Michael, our host, gave us a thorough orientation and showed us where to park our car (his secure lot, 10 euro per night). No time for rest, with such a short time here. We were out the door about 2:30pm. We bought a ticket for 11,50 euro that includes 5 of the UNESCO World Heritage sites through the Diocese of Ravenna good for 7 days, one entry per monument. We stopped for a pianini (I cannot find this in Google, so I may have gotten the name wrong, but it is the Romagna version of a panini) and a beer. We find the Neonian Baptistry, the Duomo, and the Archepiscopal Museum with the Chapel of St. Andrea. Spaces filled with tiny tiles- the gold ones shimmering- forming birds, flowers, night skies, prophets, apostles and scenes from the life of Christ. Incredible. We looked for Dante's tomb on the way back, but couldn't find it. On to dinner then bed.

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    Day 12- My dearest traveling partner finally says "no mas" and stays at the B&B to do some work remotely by good wifi. Someone has to pay for this vacation! After another terrific breakfast, I took off to see the "so-called mausoleum of Galla Placidia". I don't know why they don't just call it the "chapel probably dedicated to St. Lawrence", but they don't. Signs indicate you can only stay in the so-called mausoleum for 5 minutes because of environmental issues. But the bigger problem is that you go through the Basilica of San Vitale to get there. And by the time I arrived, the cruise ship hordes are huddled around the apse. I was able to get a couple of free lectures and inspect the panels, but by the time I was ready to see the so-called mausoleum, there was a huge line. I went out the front and spoke to one of the guards and asked about the possibility of returning later in the afternoon. He was extremely understanding and said it would be no problem. (This is a good reason to actually stay in Ravenna, not just stop by for a day.) I strolled on to the Arian Baptistry (not included in the ticket, but no charge). Such an unassuming building and I was the only visitor there for some time. The baptistry images start making sense. Sant'Apollinaire Nuovo is next on the trail. The cruise shippers are there too, but the space is more spread out so it's easier to inspect the panels. On the way back to meet up for lunch, I did find Dante's tomb and the spot they hid him during the war. "Abandon all hope!" Evidently I'm not the only Dante fan, as I had to wait to get a picture without other people peering into the doorway. Lunch was at some touristy spot on the Piazza dei Popolo, great people watching. Back to the room for a rest. During this rest,Iread about the Domus of Stone Carpet, just around the corner. This is another example of leaving some time for fate. I was fascinated with this site, just revealed in 1993 when they were digging for an underground parking garage. There are the remains of several buildings spanning Republican to 10-11th century medieval Italy, mainly floor mosaics in situ. More cool old stuff. Around 5:30pm I returned to the Basilica of San Vitale. The same guard waves me through. I was lucky to be able to spend some more time with Justinian and Theodora, minus the crowd. This time, there is only one other person at the so-called mausoleum. No one seems to be keeping track of the 5 minute rule, either. Earlier, I had a moment of mosaic overload, but recovered the moment I walked into this small space with the light making the tiles flicker.

    I gathered up my dear one for a glass of wine at a bar on the corner. Help me with this one: We watched as folks walked up to the coffee bar and got what we called 'a shot and a shot'. A cup of espresso and a shot glass of something.I was too embarrassed to ask. So I'm asking you. Thanks.

    I had struggled with this part of the trip. I gave up Venice to see Ravenna, and while I have no regrets, it was one of those painful decisions I had to make. If you are interested in mosaics, one day is not enough, although I was not entranced with the city itself. I have a feeling if we had stayed longer and visited the countryside (even getting to Classe) I might feel different. The mosaics are overwhelming and you need some time to process it all. IMHO.

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    We picked M Club: http://m-club.it/?lang=en based on reviews and proximity to the stuff I wanted to see. It was great for both. Michael is a great host and the building has been in his family for many generations. The rooms up in the attic are spacious with large modern bathrooms, but no views. That was okay, as we were exhausted and didn't spend much time there. There are sky lights which lighten up the room. If you are driving, the parking area is very convenient.

    We loved the place we had dinner the first night so much, that we returned the second night. Trattoria Al Rustichello was a 3 minute walk from the M Club. Again, in the trattoria style, the waiter would recite some items, if you said no, he would continue on to something you liked. Lots of Italian extended families sitting at long tables, and we ended up talking to most of the people around us both nights. 45 euro for a couple of plates, a bottle of house wine and a dolci. Very good and recommended.

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    LAKE COMO-BELLAGIO
    Day 13- This was a long driving day. “It was boring but the view was nice. Tom Tom was quiet”, sayeth the driver. We really enjoyed the rest stop/restaurant/gas station/shopping mall today. Lunch included fresh strawberries! Once we passed the Milan signs and we started going up toward the mountains, the excitement grew. I have to say, I was not prepared for the beautiful scenery with the snow capped alps in the background. When we turned onto the last section of tunnels and curvy narrow roads, we were really ready to be there already. Passing bicycles in the dimly lit tunnels and being passed by motorcycles going a zillion kph was not fun. Somehow Tom Tom delivered us right to the parking lot at Hotel Belvedere. We are greeted with a welcome cocktail. Very nice. In my planning, I had delayed the reservations for this part of the trip because I was so worried about the other segments, and there were no lake view rooms available. We made a pitch to them at check-in, but alas, we were destined to overlook a nice park area instead. And we got a large balcony to boot. We headed down to “town” and to get the lay of the land. Suddenly there were American accents, something we really hadn’t heard much so far. We found the ferry docks and took a picture of the (difficult to read) schedule. We went back and opened one of our remaining bottles of Carapace and sit on the balcony toasting our extreme luck to be able to take this vacation. Down again to town and looked around for something quick to eat, as we were pretty exhausted by this time. Eh, a little touristy bar/café. Oh well, we are ready to sleep anyway.

    Day 14- After a late breakfast, we hiked down the hill to the ferry dock. At one point during my planning phase, I saw the rent-a-boat ads and we thought that would be a nice way to get around the lake. It took a nanosecond in the cold and wind to see that would not work, so our idea of seeing the entire lake ended. We also saw that the multi-day ticket didn’t really seem to be a great deal so, we started with Villa Carlotta for today. 9,20 euros each, round trip. The ferry situation was somewhat confusing. We were told which dock (there were several) and the time, but the time part wasn’t very accurate. By the time we got to the other side, we were starting to get hungry and walked north in the wind and cold to the first nice lakeside place we liked and had a lovely lunch in Griante at Belle Isolate. We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the grounds of Villa Carlotta. For people who worry about income inequality today, the 18th century had it all over today. It was a lovely stroll, finally warming up a bit, with plenty of interesting vegetation. We especially enjoyed the warning to stay away from high trees if you hear the wind siren. Like you could get away from them. After looking at so much art over the trip, this was actually very relaxing. Again, the 5:25 return ferry left maybe 30 minutes late. We learned to be patient when dealing with the ferries. Back in crowded Bellagio, we found a gelato shop and indulged. Back to Hotel Belvedere to freshen up, have a before dinner cocktail, and back down to town. This is a great town for walking uphill and downhill and uphill and downhill…
    Day 15- Today is the ferry for Varenna. We now have just about got this mid-lake ferry figured out. This is an ancient fishing village with plenty of step streets to keep you in shape. We really didn’t have a plan, but in reading the information at the tourist office, we contemplate walking up to the castle on the hill. Hmm, 40 minutes hike. What else? We ran into a guy we talked with at the ferry dock yesterday and he suggested Villa Montastero, ”better than Villa Carlotta!” It’s a nice walk and right on the lake. A snack stop at the bottom with wine! What could be better? We have really slowed down our pace and are feeling relaxed. Loved Varenna. I am not unhappy that we choose Bellagio, because touristy as it is, it is in the thick of things on the lake. But if we do go back, I would look into Varenna. When we returned to Bellagio, we walked down to the tip of the peninsula to make reservations for dinner tomorrow. Looks like it will be a memorable last night. But back to the hotel and dinner in tonight.
    Day 16- Last day at the lake. We have a time deciding if it will be Menaggio or exploring our little peninsula, and we decide on the latter. Armed with our map and GPS from my splendid iPhone, we walk to San Giovanni. We live by the sea and have done some sailing, so we were interested in the Museum of Navigational Instruments. This happens to be the life’s work of a delightful man who showed us around his precious collection. Everyone uses auto pilot now, but the history of latitude and longitude, octants, sextants, etc. is covered in his space. If you have an interest in the sea, this is recommended. We drifted through the town and found the Riverside Snack Bar, between the river and on the shore of the lake. The sun is out and they are serving franciacorta by the glass. A spelt and brie Panini and we start reminiscing on this soon-to-be-over trip. The route back takes us by Villa Melzi and the Lido, back to the ferry dock area. We ask about a boat tour, but unless we want a private tour for 240 euro, we are out of luck. We did go back to Hotel Belvedere and sit in the sun. The view over the mountains and lake is spectacular. A rest and we dress a bit for dinner. We chose La Punta mainly for the view and it didn’t disappoint. It’s chilly but we can tough it out. Heck, I’m looking at Switzerland, how can you complain?
    Day 17- In which we check out and drive to our hotel by Malpensa, get lost a couple of times, turn the car back in, eat dinner and sleep. I don’t have much to say. Tired, don’t want to leave, but have to…
    Day 18- Got up, took the shuttle to the airport. It’s a blur, but we got on the plane. A long day and three movies later we were in Miami. Ciao Italia. Cin cin!

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    I picked Bellagio, knowing full well that it was "touristy", because of its position on the lake. The ferry schedule is most accommodating for day tripping and boat tours. And I picked http://www.belvederebellagio.com/en because they are up above the busy part of town and they offered free parking. As I said, we weren't able to get a water view room, but it was easy to enjoy the view from several public areas. It was a quiet retreat from the hustle-bustle of the shopping area. Beautiful heated pool and small spa. Huge breakfast buffet. There were a few minor glitches- we made reservations for dinner there through the front desk that weren't communicated to the dining room and the wifi was hinky- but overall it was a good choice. We thought we might take a day trip with the car, but it ended up parked the entire time.

    Restaurant Bilacus was on a step street and is associated with the wine merchant next door. The outdoor area is huge,but we were happy to be inside, as it was cold. The food was good, service was spotty.
    Hotel Belvedere was expensive, with old world service. As we didn't get the table by the window that we had requested, I was a little peeved. Expensive and the only place we really felt underdressed.
    La Punta has the primo location and view. They specialize in lake fish, lavarello. The service was efficient and friendly. If you look at the reviews of this place, one thing stands out. When we tried to pay with a credit card, we were told that the machines weren't working. There was no offer to take the information manually. We brought cash because I had read about this. I don't know if it's a scam or just that the mountain internet doesn't work. As I said, we went for the location.

    I want to also say that the Riverside Snack Bar lakeside at San Giovanni, was a terrific find. There was a real chef, not just someone warming up paninis. Relaxed service. I suspect this place is packed in the summer, but we had a terrific lunch.

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    Thank you for the detailed and thoughtful trip report. Our family leaves for Italy next week. Our trip will look much different than yours because we will have an 11 & 13 year old with us. Your trip sounds like the empty nest vacation we will plan in 10 years :).

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    family: I only wish I could have traveled as an 11 or 13 year old. I got a late start and am trying to make up for it. ;-) Now to think about the next trip! Have fun and tell your kids how lucky they are.

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    We stayed at Hotel Belvedere on our first visit to Bellagio. We were told that each room had an assigned dining table and that many people returned year after year and had all dinners at the hotel. Maybe that is why you didn't get the table you requested.

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