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Trip Report Italy north to south in 23 days!!

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Grazie Fodorites for helping me plan our wonderful trip to Italy. So many of you spent so much time answering my questions and helping me finalize our itinerary. I feel like it made such a difference in our experience.
This was a 23 day trip of a lifetime that I planned for 12, that' s right for myself and eleven of my friends. Several had never been to Europe before. There were many moving parts and I spent almost a year working on the details and most of it worked.

Here is an overview of what we did and I will be happy to return the favor and answer any questions I can.......

Six of us flew into Zurich, that's right Zurich. After reading numerous trip reports I decided we just had to experience the Bernina Express. We flew into Zurich and trained to Pontresina. We spent three nights at the Hotel Walther. It was a great place to start our trip. We took advantage of their travel package to access the Mouttas Muragl and spent day 2 hiking the Panoramica Weg, An absolutely beautiful day and wonderful hike. Gorgeous views and wild flowers everywhere. Day 2 was not as pretty, it was rainy and misty. We decided not to hike the Fex valley and took the bus to st Moeritz. (I guess I'll just have to go back to finish my hiking.) . Each afternoon we took full advantage of the lovely spa at the Hotel Walther.
The Bernina Express was as wonderful as we had been led to believe. We stood and oohed and ahed the entire trip
The next three days were on Lake Como. We trained to Varenna and stayed at the Albergo Du Lac. I loved their lakeside location, wonderful terrace and friendly attitude. We visited the Monostero garden which was one of my favorites. The next day we ferried to Lenno and had one of the most special meals of my life at Al Veluu. A gorgeous day and a spectacular setting. When we ordered figs and prosciutto they headed to their garden to pick the figs, three kinds. After lunch we toured Villa Carlotta and it's garden.
The following day we spent in Bellagio, shopped, toured the Melzi garden and had a great lunch under the arbor at alle Darsena Loppia. it was another restaurant I found on this forum.

From Varenna we trained to Florence. By this time there were eight of us. Although, I had stressed the advantage of traveling light, this was not the case. Most of my travel companions had one large, heavy suitcase and a small one. When we struggled off the train in Milan we were greeted by someone with a hand truck offering to help us. He carried our luggage to our next train,and deposited us at the wrong end of the cabin. By the time we had pulled the luggage to our seats there were two young women occupying the seats claiming they were theirs. And you guessed it, when they left one of my companions realized her wallet was missing. I can't believe I didn't realize what was happening. But be forewarned!

We were joined by the rest of our crew in Florence .We stayed at the Lungarno Suites and loved it. What a wonderful location, great views of the Ponte Vecchio while enjoying breakfast on their terrace. I had arranged for a guide for two half days, the first an overview of Florence and then an Oltrano artisan's tour. One afternoon some of us toured La Pietra, NYU's location In a Renaissance villa outside of Florence. Elisa Camporeale, a native Florentine did a wonderful job as our guide and she is a docent at La Pietra.

We rented three cars in Florence and all drove to the villa we had rented outside of Panzano down a long, bumpy white road. I had had a difficult time finding a villa for 12 that had air conditioning In the bedrooms. As it turned out we didn't need the air conditioning, but, I was afraid to chance it the first week in September. The villa was lovely and came with the services of a cook and housekeeper on site which was wonderful. We spent hours on the terrace enjoying the incredible view and Alida's equally incredible cooking.

We forced ourselves to leave and tour the countryside. We visited Siena, San Gimignano, Volterra, Radda and several smaller towns. We were lucky enough to get to the Panzano farmer's market on the first Sunday of the month and visited Greve during their wine festival.

Saturday came too quickly and eight of our friends headed back to the States. Four of us kept our rental car and drove to Naples where we ferried to Capri. We spent two nights at the Luna Capri. We loved it's location beyond the piazza and crowds with another incredible view. It's perched on the edge of a cliff with views of the Faraglioni. Enjoyed dinner at the Brunella, a quiet, elegant spot and in the lemon grove at La Paulino's. I had visited Capri on a day tour before, but, this I enjoyed so much more. I loved window shopping and strolling the streets at night and the early morning. We hired a boat for a few hours and explored the coast and finally saw the Blue Grotto.

Our last stop was Ravello and what a high note to end on. It is in a word "exquisite". Our hotel, the Palazzo Avino was too. I could hardly put down my camera. The staff was the finest I have ever experienced, quiet, friendly and efficient. Breakfast or drinks on the terrace were shall I say it again "exquisite"!!! We hiked to Amalfi one day,. Another day we boated down the coast to Positano and back. We loved taking the open topped bus back up to Ravello. We loved exploring the little streets and spending time in the piazza.

Thank you again, Fodorites for all of your help with logistics and wonderful suggestions.

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