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    by mkataoka Fodor's Editor | Posted on Nov 28, 16 at 01:31 PM
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Trip Report Spring Trip To Italy -- 2 Weeks -- Venice, Tuscany and Amalfi!

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Five friends -- including insurance executive, professional artist and CRNA (look that one up). I own a TPA organization. 14 day trip. Places stayed - 3 to 5 stars with excellent local flavor. Restaurants - love reds and Italian cooking. Being obsessive, I make reservations over 6 months in advance. In my opinion, the best time to visit Europe is the end of September/first of October. This trip -- April. Took chance on weather and won -- 50s at night and 70ish during day. We found the prices somewhat lower and the crowds less by going in April. Would classify our arrangements as high moderate or would that be low high. Well, you get the idea. Locals did not mind speaking English and all were very helpful. Our group can communicate in Spanish but not Italian. Thanks Fodor's and TripAdvisor friends for assistance. Most of the responses we received in planning this trip were nice and helpful -- seems like there is always a few smart asses/know it alls.

TRAVELING WITH FRIENDS -- Have never had problems traveling with friends. Everybody seems to get along. We do stress feeling free to go out on your own or just rest and read a book. FINANCE suggestion -- this trip we used a VISA card to charge all group meals, entrance tickets, the apartment in Bucine, etc. We just divided up 40/40/20 upon our return. AND, we have a treasurer. We all give the treasurer Euros for cash requirements -- tolls, water taxis, tours (if there is a discount for cash), etc. Worked much better than any other options we have tried. LATE CANCELLATIONS -- have had infrequent problems with this. No problem for the married couples but single person cancellations cause some problems for the single travelers that thought that they were going to split room cost. Don't have a tried and true solution but think, if we do group travel in the future, is once a person commits, they will be responsible for splitting rooms -- come rain or shine. Of course, if we have enough time to find a replacement single traveler -- that eliminates the problem.

VENICE
Stayed: Pensione Accademia. RECOMMEND. Much has been written about this Pensione. Won't bore you by repeating what so many people have said. Moderate finishes. My wife and I stayed in a Junior Suite. We normally stay in Room 12. We paid about $307 which is less than high season. Would recommend Room 10, 12 or one of the Junior Suites. We spent hours drinking great reds and talking. Weather very good -- canceled dinner reservations one night because of rain. Great location and great choice. Good staff -- would stay here again. We took a water taxi from the airport to the hotel -- go ahead and spend the money -- worth it.

Did: walk Venice, visited Burano and Murano. RECOMMEND. My wife and I have visited Venice several times before. We took the valporretta to Burano and Murano. We enjoy visiting Burano -- not Murano. Murano is too 'pushy' for our taste and we don't want either the cheap trinkets or expensive art pieces. However, we were able to fill a bowl in our home with glass candies.

We made Burano lunch reservations way in advance -- Trattoria Gatto Nero. Gets mixed reviews but we thoroughly enjoyed. Sat beside canal and had great service and food. RECOMMEND. NOTE -- many Italian restaurants are slow -- or do not respond to reservation requests. Use your hotel -- they can always make or reconfirm your reservations.

We enjoyed wine at Cantina del Vino gia Schiavi. Located down the street from Accademia. Never disappoints. We ate at Taverna San Travaso. Made reservations in advance and sat in the preferred ground floor.

Used italiarail.com for Frecciarossa train reservations from Venice to Florence. I don't care if I paid a small premium. Website is easy to follow and they ARE VERY fast in responding to email inquiries. We made reservations 4 months to the day in advance and were in Coach 1 -- Executive. We paid $95 for each seat. Look Executive class up on the internet. We had the entire Coach to ourselves and included food and drinks. Minor splurge and worth it. Rented a 9 passenger Mercedes van -- ended up automatic for the 6 days in Tuscany. Used autoeurope/Europcar and was $693 -- full coverage.

TUSCANY
Stayed: Tenuta di Lupinari. RECOMMEND WITH RESERVATIONS. Lupinari is in Bucine -- about an hour south of Florence west of Hwy 1. We have stayed here on several occasions. We have always stayed in the Poggio unit that has three bedrooms and three attached bathrooms. We are very fond of the two sisters and the location. Great for seeing Chianti and the rest of Tuscany. Look it up on the internet. Unfortunately, they lost their father in December. I am unsure of their future. Minor thing but with so many Americans staying at Lupinari, I would strongly suggest some upgrades, including coffee makers in each unit and more hot water. Surrounded by vineyards and olive trees, A very beautiful place. Was very inexpensive at about 1,900E for the week. We left a day early because we wanted to spend more time on the Amalfi coast. Looks like some deferred maintenance as well.

Did: Siena, Montepulciano, San Gimignano, Chianti and Florence.

Siena - ate Antica Osteria da Divo (old burial cave). TripAdvisor number 4 of 418. Outstanding food and ambiance. Highly recommend. Make reservations early. We have been to Siena several times so just walked around. Driving from Bucine to Siena, we drove by the ever present roadside prostitutes. They did not like me taking pictures and shot me the finger. Ate that night at the L'Antico Portale outside of Bucine. They are under new ownership and we enjoyed the food but not as good as it was in prior years. Yes, we would and did return.

Montepulciano - ate Locanda Cicolina outside of town. TripAdvisor number 1 of 418. Once again, outstanding food, location and restaurant. Just about 2 or 3 miles from old town. Also have been to Montepulciano several times so we all just enjoyed walking around the town.

San Gimignano - ate in town square. The restaurant of our choice was not open for lunch. Main square food was just fine. Enjoyed having some wine and watching people.

Chianti -- lazy drive through Chianti. Stopped at Barone Ricasoli. This was a return visit and we enjoyed the wine tasting and shopping. They recommended Badia di Coltibuono for lunch. OUTSTANDING. Food and location better than good. Shop at their store at the bottom of the drive up to the restaurant. Highly recommend working this drive AND restaurant into your Tuscany plans.

Florence - took the early train from Bucine into Florence. Again, walked city and then to Piazza de Pitti for lunch. Purchased small sterling/enamel Cavalier King Charles Spaniel piece at Fratelli Peruzzi. My wife is breeder. In the past we have eaten lunch at La Giostra. Loved La Giostra but saw recent mixed reviews. As red wine lovers, we selected Pitti Gola e Cantina. Not to be redundant, loved the people and food. SMALL, SMALL with just a few tables inside and a few more outside. TripAdvisor number 9 or 2000. Had the Wine Tasting Lunch. Purchased a case of wine to be shipped back to USA. Have not received yet so withholding judgment. The owners joked if they were counting on food sales they would be out of business in less than a year. Located Piazza de Pitti. Make reservations early. They were turning away people right and left.

Returned rental car to Europcar Downtown and took Frecciarossa train to Naples. Made reservations on train early and paid $45 each -- Business Class. Again, used italiarail.com. In the past, we have kept rental car and drove to Amalfi Coast. HINT don't make the drive -- turn the car in and take the train. Originally, we had reservations for another van to be picked up in Naples. Did calculations and ended up canceling the van and hiring a limo service. We used the limo service 3 different times and it was no more expensive than a rental van -- which, obviously, we would have had to drive ourselves. You that have driven Amalfi coast know what I am talking about. E160 cash for trip to hotel.

AMALFI COAST
Stayed: Albergo (Hotel) Punta Regina in Positano. Rainbow Limos picked us up at the Naples train station and drove us to our Hotel. My wife and I stayed room 33 - with outdoor hot tub. Was E365/night. Delightful -- really loved the breakfast each morning. On our last trip to Positano, we stayed at the Hotel Miramare. As soon as the escalator is installed from the beach to the hotel, I will start staying there again. Has better view than the Punta Regina but Punta Regina is better since the escalator will never be built. Punta Regina spotless and also has a beautiful view.

Drive Amalfi Coast - Albe, part of the family that owns Rainbow Limos, picked us up for day trip up and down the Amalfi coast. E60 cash per hour. We used his services for 7 hours. Took us places we had never seen before. Spotless Mercedes vehicle. We stopped at Ceramiche Casola -- a ceramic place. We had been there several years ago and I was a little skeptical that they were paying the drivers for bringing us in and the prices may reflect it. This trip, we shopped prices and Cramiche Casola was slightly lower in price. We purchased a table that should arrive this August (ordered from their showroom in Positano). RAINBOW LIMOS IS HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. We were lucky, and right in front of our hotel, Positano was putting on its 2nd annual food festival. Had fun that evening listening to bands and eating good food.

One day we just walked Positano.

Restaurant - ate at the Il Ritrovo. TripAdvisor 3 of 75. The restaurant is high above Positano. They have a cooking school in addition to the restaurant. Some of the best food we had. They pick you up and take you to the restaurant -- actually take you back as well. Owner and waiters had great sense of humor. Very nice view as well. Try the octopus.

NAPLES
Did: Rainbow Limos picked us up from Punta Regina and gave us a short tour of Sorrento and then stopped in Pompeii. After lunch, Albe drove us to Grand Hotel Vesuvio in Naples (E320 cash). Hotel has a great location on waterfront and bar in lobby. My wife and I had a Deluxe King with sea view for E290. We just walked around the boats and castle. Naples, just driving through, does look pitiful.

Ate - our last night in Italy - at the La Cantina dei Lazzari right around the corner from the hotel. TripAdvisor number 28 of 2100. Very convenient location. Food good but not necessarily memorable.

TRIP CONCLUSION
It was a really nice trip to Italy. We love eating and drinking Italy. Our restaurants this trip were probably the best. Not a bad meal. Weather cooperated. We had learned from prior trips: use just one credit card for all travelers whenever possible -- have a treasurer for payment for all of us when cash was better or required (we replenished as necessary) -- don't keep your rental car and drive to Amalfi coast -- go with good friends and a limo service -- go when the euro is weak and don't take pictures of the prostitutes -- well maybe yes on the prostitutes.

We used points for business class tickets on Air France. My wife likes Delta better but I am partial to Air France. We were lucky in that we had the newest fully flat seats on Air France.

Travel days -- 3 nights in Venice -- 6 nights in Tuscany -- 3 nights in Positano -- 1 night in Naples (because had 6:40am flight from Naples to Paris the next morning). By the way, clear day over Europe and we flew right over the snow covered Alps. Got some great photos from the plane.

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