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Trip Report The Birthday Celebration in Italy!

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How do you say Happy Birthday to your spouse on a very special day in a very special way?

The more I thought about it the more I felt I needed to treat it as if directing a show ( since this is what I did before retirement).

The setting would be Italy: Lake Garda, The Dolomites, Tuscany and Casperia
The characters would be The Birthday Girl ( my wife), our two sons and their wives and four granddaughters ages 7, 6, 3 and 7 months.
The celebration would take place in the month of August and we would all gather together at a rented villa in Tuscany.

In planning I needed to reach out to my friends on Fodor's and get some basic ideas on how to plan our trip, check out Tripadvisor for Hotels and B & B's, make flight reservations into Milan and out of Rome ( Delta/ Alitalia), rent a car through Auto Europe/Kemwel, take out Travel Insurance ( Travel Guard) and find a Villa in Tuscany to rent for a week ( which I did through Emma Villas).

The last piece of the puzzle: how to actually " celebrate" her birthday? This would be done by hiring a private chef to cook a dinner for all of us at the Villa which I arranged with ( Chef in Tuscany).

Act 1/ Scene 1

Buon Viaggio! We arranged a limo service to drive us to the airport and had a two hour wait before boarding. I arranged through Delta for extra leg room ( which I absolutely suggest) and after several snacks, dinner, wine, more wine, sleeping, awake, reading, playing games on the computer we arrived at Malpensa Airport in Milan. It was a very easy pickup for our car rental and for the first time we actually had the car we had rented! In the past when we have ordered a small, automatic car we have received a large car! Not this time!! We were ready to drive from Malpensa to Riva Del Garda and together with our luggage ( which barely fit), our GPS ( which we ordered through Auto Europe at a discounted rate) we were ready to begin our journey. Every " scenario" must have its conflicts and dramatic elements so here was mine: where to stay on Lake Garda and once I decided it would be at the north end ( Riva Del Garda) which route to take: the Western or Eastern approach?

I chose Riva because of the many wonderful reviews written on Fodors and also it was closer to our next stop in the Dolomites. Many had written that driving the Western route is a bit riskier with all of its tunnels, narrow lanes, lots of curves, however, we found it to be absolutely safe, extremely picturesque and fun to drive. It took us 3 hours to drive and we arrived at our Hotel Kristal Palace.

Scene 2.
Our Hotel was wonderful! We stayed in the Executive Room and chose the Half Board option ( breakfast and dinner). I arranged to have some flowers, champagne and chocolates to be waiting in the room for us and we dined and drank on our terrace after arriving. The rooftop of the Hotel is surrounded by mountains and there is a pool, bar and many tables set up for breakfast and drinks. Each night there is either live music or a deejay and one could also order some bar food. In 15 minutes we could walk to the ferry along the water where we could see many people sunbathing, swimming and enjoying sailing, windsurfing, biking and just strolling. Our dinners at the Hotel were delicious, plentiful, varied ( and accommodating for my vegetarian wife). For breakfast you had an option to eat downstairs in the dining room or on the rooftop where we chose to eat for the next four mornings. On day 2, we walked to the ferry and headed out to Malcesine. We walked to the top of the castle, had a quick bite in one of the piazzas, bought tickets for the cable car up to Mount Baldo at the castle, walked around at the top ( a bit colder up there) and returned by cable down to town and boarded our ferry back. *** Tip: the lines during Summer at the cable going up to Mount Baldo were very long ( almost an hour) and there was an additional wait to purchase tickets. My advice is to purchase the tickets elsewhere in town and try to go up earlier or later in the day. Malcesine is a beautiful village to walk and explore and have a nice lunch and people watch! Some visitors choose to purchase ferry tickets which allow them to explore more than 1 village in the day, however, we chose not to take this option.

Scene 3

One of the perks of the Hotel is providing free bike rentals. On day 3 we chose to ride to two of the nearby villages: Torbole and Arco. Since my wife was not comfortable with the bike it became a difficult afternoon for us. Although the ride is straight and on a path and takes you through vineyards and mountains on one side and a river on the other it was too long, too hot and too difficult for us. Unfortunately I had an accident hurting my leg and my wife suffered blisters. Both Torbole and Arco are lovely villages to visit and I would absolutely suggest for you to visit them, however, I would think twice before biking there! You can walk to either village ( Torbole is only 1 km), however, Arco is much further ( 5km). If you have a car you can make the trip in 15 minutes or you can take the ferry . Our evening was spent with several couples who we met on the ferry and at the hotel and we listened and danced the night away on the rooftop listening to a live jazz band!

Scene 4

Today we took a drive to Limone ( another village on the lake) which is perhaps 20 minutes away. There wasn't any problem parking the car and we walked down to the village which is right on the water. After strolling through the village we had pizza at a waterfront restaurant and were on our way to visiting Tremosine ( a hilltop village up in the mountains). While the views from Tremosine were beautiful I am not sure I would suggest you to take the time to do so. The only reason we went was because we had been in North Adams, Mass this summer and apparently Tremosine is the sister city of North Adams and we had seen photos that looked enticing. It was a wonderful day of exploration and we really enjoyed our time driving through the villages. You don't have to have a car to see the towns as you can take the ferry or bus. I suggest you have a ferry schedule and try to get out earlier in the day during summer to avoid the heat in the afternoons. We just loved returning to Riva each time we left. Such a beautiful spot with mountains and activity surrounding you. Some might argue that it is best to stay more central in town and close to the ferry, however, we liked the walk, the quiet of our neighborhood and absolutely loved our hotel.

The next day we left Riva Del Garda and head to Orestei in the Dolomites to begin Act 2!

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