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Trip report in 21 parts: Tuscany, Venice, Lake Garda, Garmisch, Octoberfest, Lucerne, Alsatian Wine Road, the Rhine

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Background:
First, thank you to those who answered my post concerning how best to file a trip report. This is my first report so I appreciate your help in its preparation. To the extent that my long-windedness permits, I shall try to break it up according to the above headings so that you can easily find the parts that interest you.

This was our 32nd trip to Europe. It did not start out as planned and it shrunk to 25 days rather than 30, but like all our trips it was wonderful. It was scheduled to run from Sept. 11 to October 11. We were in the airport lounge awaiting a boarding call for our flight from MSP to Newark when we noticed people beginning to queue up in front of the television sets. Approximately a half hour from our scheduled departure time we watched in horror as the second plane hit the WTC. My husband immediately raced with others to the ticketing counter as flights to New York and then all flights were canceled. We were rebooked for a flight on the following day, returned home by cab, drove again to the airport for the anticipated noon reopening on the 12th, and returned home again to wait until Sunday the 16th when we were rebooked a fifth time for the flight that finally did take us to Rome. I used the waiting time to send e-mails canceling our hotel reservations for the first part of the trip. When my sister, who was to join us for the first part of the trip, watched her 15 day first ever European vacation melt to 9 days, she threw in the towel and reluctantly canceled completely. We then rerouted our itinerary, dropping stops in Rome, Camogli and Lake Como which we have been to several times but were seeing again for her benefit, and adding time in Tuscany (6 days total) in line with the wonderful reports of this area I’ve read on this site. When we were finally airborne on Sept. 16, I was amazed to find that bad airplane food was just the meal I’d been waiting for.

As usual, I had done extensive preparation for this trip and had it planned carefully day by day complete with hotel reservations for all but one night, 4 or 5 lunch or dinner reservations for “the biggies” I simply had to get to, suggestions for possible lunch and dinner spots at anticipated stops enroute from place to place or while near the major tourist spots in larger cities, etc. Besides the red Michelin guide to Italy, I carried Access guide pages for Venice and Tuscan hill towns, menu translators for French (from Patricia Wells’ guide to France), Italian, and German menus, Wine guides to Alsace and Tuscany and pages from various guidebooks and magazine articles for all the other spots we’d selected, carefully sorted into files that occupied one large accordian pleated masterfile. I was also armed with Michelin and Kummerly and Frey maps of Germany, Tuscany, etc. as well as MapQuest routes from place to place. Some of the most helpful information I found was taken from Wine Spectator issues on the various wine regions we traversed. While we didn’t follow my plan slavishly, all of the research proved useful and even the weight of the files I carried was worth it

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    Tuscany part 1:
    Though we flew into Rome-Fiumicino, we didn’t go into the city, just hopped into our first rental car and took off for Monteriggioni, our first hilltown, recommended by my sister-in-law, and several guidebooks. It was a delight, a walled city with 14 in-tact towers around a central square. The fortifications of the town, that at its peak housed about 150 families, were an interesting reminder that people throughout the ages have learned to live with danger as we in the US now must do. The square was all decked out as if for a festival. Unfortunately there was no festival. Rather the town was being used as the backdrop for an English tv commercial with several of the locals gamely posing as locals seated at a restaurant in the square. I suppose a place as picturesque as Monteriggioni is often chosen for such things. The place reminded me of Pedraza, a tiny town in Spain where we stayed on another trip.

    Although I would never have planned it that way if I’d known that we would just be arriving in the country, my initial plans had us eating that first night at Arnolfo in Colle de Val d’Elsa. I’d not cancelled so we set out tired from jet lag and in the dark to keep our reservations. Unfortunately it was not to be. Try as we might, we simply could not find the restaurant. We found a bar by the same name. We asked many people for directions and even got a map but my Italian is not good and the folks I asked spoke little English and worst of all the city is on two levels and we were on the wrong one. After driving up several dead ends and thinking at one point that we wouldn’t even be able to get the car turned around but would have to abandon it on an empty hilly street we finally gave up and returned to Monteriggioni where we asked our hotel concierge to call the restaurant with our apologies. I was crushed to have missed the opportunity to eat at this fine, highly recommended restaurant and chagrined to have done something I regard as a cardinal sin—canceling a reservation without ample advance warning. It’s the kind of thing that causes places to demand a credit card number or even advance payment but I have to plead that this seemed unavoidable.

    Our hotel in Monterrigioni was wonderful. The only one inside the walls, it’s named reasonably enough Hotel Monteriggioni. It’s shot through with Italian style and had lovely bathrooms and a fine breakfast. At $190 per night double it was only slightly more than I would have expected given its location somewhat off the beaten path. On the otherhand the path in Tuscany is beginning to be beaten to all such places so it shouldn’t be surprising if their prices are moving up in recognition of that fact. We tried to book a second night but the place was fully booked so they must be able to command such prices easily.

    Readers: Despair not, I’ll become less wordy and more to the point as my fingers tire.

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    Tuscany part 2:
    Our second day began with a search for a hotel for our one night without a confirmed reservation. We tried to book at the nearby Borgo San Luigi but it too was full. Too bad. This is a terrific place. Officially its address is Monteriggioni (Siena) but it’s 3 or 4 km from Monteriggioni near Strove set in the woods beyond beautiful Tuscan hills. It’s a beautiful complex with restaurant, pool, main house and several out buildings where they rent by the week, weekend, or day. This is a Relais and Chateaux quality place and with doubles at $206 per night, a steal. If we return to the area, I would certainly to try to book it. We stayed instead nearby at the Hotel Villa Belvedere that did have one room remaining for $145 per night. While nowhere near as nice as the San Luigi, it was clean, again had a nice bathroom, was friendly and most importantly available.

    With our evening’s repose assured, we set out along the Chianti Road, first stopping to check out a nearby villa we’d seen advertised on the internet. It looked as good as the pictures but we were prevented from getting a full view by the guard dogs posted at the gate. I’ve always wanted to try renting a place for a week or more and this one looks good but never seem to be able to settle down in one place when I know there’s so much still “out there” to check out and only so much time to do so.

    On the Chianti Trail we went from Castellina to Radda and then Gaiole. Ranking them for scenic content, I’d pick Radda, Gaiole and then Castellina. The towns were smaller than I expected, found along very steep and winding roads, but with really beautiful countryside and plentiful agroturismo villas all along the way. Lunch in Radda was at the Ristorante Vignale, the Michelin top rated place there. It was wonderful. A wood beamed room with ladderback chairs and flowers on all the tables. Our table was set in front of an open, shuttered window with views back down to the Tuscan hills and valleys. Panzanella (bread and tomato salad) was a perfect starter. My husband had pappardelle with boar sauce and I had homemade crepes with eggplant, tomatoes and cheese. We both had duckbreast with balsamic vinegar, honey and rosemary. All this with a bottle of nice Vernaccia style white wine was only $100. It was one of the best, and best value meals of our trip.

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    Tuscany part 3:
    Our next four nights were spent in Pienza at the Chiostro de Pienza. I’d originally booked two nights there and had to cancel since the original days were in the canceled part of our trip but found the hotel most willing to rebook at this later time and for the longer stay. It turned out to be a good pick. We paid about $150 per night for a spacious double room (junior suite type) with views from both our bedroom and bath over the Tuscan hills. I just love a bathroom with a view even if this one had only a shower but no tub. (I remember that the Forum has one reader at least who asks for this information in her quest for useful hotel info.) In planning the trip I considered many hotels and country inns in smaller towns before selecting this one. Being in the center of a town it provided more nearby dining options than we’d have had at a small agroturismo and Pienza itself is neatly situated in the center of lots of the better parts of southern Tuscany making day trips to many places quite easy. In spite of my desire to someday stay in a villa, I have to admit that the ease and centralness of a place like this has its advantages. It also turned out to have a fairly good hotel restaurant though breakfasts were fairly mundane. The one trick was parking. We had to park outside the city walls and walk in to find the hotel, then get a “pass” to drive our car and luggage to the hotel and then each night find a place outside the walls to park the car that wouldn’t infringe on the spaces of the locals and thus be “legal.” After one day we figured it out and everything was fine thereafter.

    Our first side trip was to Montepulciano, another parking problem with pedestrian only streets that are very uphill. It has lovely shops, several churches and a city hall with Siena-like tower on the main square. We found a nice but small restaurant also on the main square and decided to eat there even though it was not among those my research had suggested we try (I can be flexible even if carrying a ton of preplanned material.) The Ristorante ai Quattro Venti had wonderful food and we congratulated ourselves at snagging the only remaining and only outdoor table set just at the entrance under an umbrella. Turned out the umbrella was a lucky break. Between it and our individual umbrellas my husband and I were able to remain dry through the off and on rain we had during our meal. Proscuitto and figs followed by cloud-like gnocchi with arugula in a wonderful creamy parmesan sauce were worth it even if we damn near froze in the rain. Worth it….at $50 for the two of us with a bottle of Vino Nobile de Montepulciano 1996 it was a steal!

    After lunch we returned to Pienza to explore the city. The cathedral and square built to honor native son Pope Pius II is nice but the main street with its wonderful wine and food shops is even nicer. This is the home of pecorino cheese as you can tell by the smell as you walk along. The small town also boasts a 4 or 5 station internet spot where I was able to establish contact with my grown children back home. The only problem I faced was dealing with the various keyboards. Turns out each country we were in on this trip tends to have one or 2 or 3 keys placed just a little differently on the keyboard than we do it in the US. One of the countries, for instance, reverses the y and the z. Several have the comma and period mixed up. It slows the typing enormously.

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    Tuscany part 4:

    Dinner our first night in Pienza was at Il Prato, again not on my lists. The recommended place was filled. Arugula and pecorino salad, rabbit with garlic and rosemary and potato stuffed with cheese and another Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, this time a 1997, came to $70 for two. Great value.

    I recognize that I must dispense with some of the detail here or lose my audience entirely, so in the interest of brevity, I continue.

    While in Pienza we also did the following:
    Trequendo--walled hill town dating to Etruscan times
    Passignano and Castiglione del Lago on Lake Trasimeno—go to the former, skip the latter. Passignano has nice walking promenade.
    Montefollonico—with lunch at the Michelin 1 star, La Chiusa. I was disappointed that they did not have goat as one of my guidebooks had indicated, but meal was good. Between my husband and myself we managed to down the following: taster of three pastas—ravioli stuffed with ricotta, gnocchi with beef ragu and pappardelle with garlic tomato sauce, crepes stuffed with proscuitto, room temperature goose with tomato confit and duck in wild fennel, caramel ice cream with figs flambé. With prosecco aperitifs and a bottle of Rosso di Montalcino 1997, the total came to $170, again good value for a swell meal in a lovely setting.
    Montefollonico—one of my favorite towns, beautiful views over the countryside. Lovely little arches and gardens and great stone buildings lining narrow streets. Enoteca serving wine samples in Reidel quality crystal glasses had one internet connection so I sipped chianti as I sent messages home. Best internet café I’ve encountered.
    San Antimo abbey--with Gregorian chant by monks in hooded white robes with red sashes. Beautiful church. Lovely spectacle. A little disconcerting, though to see that all the “head monks” wearing the hierarchical regalia were white while all the “worker monks” were black—a pretty stark representation of a kind of “glass ceiling” in operation in this remote, seemingly non-discriminatory place.
    Montalcino—another parking nightmare. A market in full swing was colorful but mostly clothes and household items rather than fruits and veggies like I like. What this place has is wine, wine and more wine. Brunello di Montalcino is everywhere, served even in the touristy tasting room in the fortress in great crystal “big” glasses. The wine is good, too.
    Also check out Caffe Fiaschetteria in Piazza del Popolo main spare that I’d seen in so many pictures. It’s art nouveau bar is very cute. The town is good all the way around—once you get your car parked.
    Montechiello—tiny hilltop village with handwritten sign in glass case denouncing terrorism signed by local dignitaries.
    San Quirico d’Orcia—with collegiata church and boxwood hedge gardens
    Abbazia de Monti Oliveta—large monastery with frescoed cloister that closes from noon to 2 or so (unfortunately arrived at the doors at 11:55)

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    Tuscany part 5:
    Had several more meals in Pienza and surrounding towns but won’t give you a blow by blow on all of them. I found food in Tuscany to be good but not nuanced. Everything is pretty straightforward. Bean soups, sliced proscuitto, grilled meats. We did break down and have bistecca fiorentina. I’ve made it at home and we sat next to an Irish fellow downing one gigantic example before we finally ordered it ourselves. It was more than 2 inches thick and very rare (if you don’t like rare meat never order this, it just can’t be made any other way) and so well-seasoned on the outside, that even though it was sliced, leaving plenty of unseasoned surface, it was perfect without the addition of any salt or pepper. It is a dining experience. Very Tuscan.

    All in all, we loved Tuscany. With the luxury of six days to spend there we were able to go slowly, explore lots of tiny hill towns and do lots of driving through beautiful vistas, seeing rows of cypress trees and fields of gray and green and copper earth and vegetation. It’s magical.

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    Venice part 1:
    We had 5 days in Venice where we’ve been probably 4 or 5 times previously. Still saw new things. Made it a point to explore each of the six areas of the city primarily using the Access guide for Venice. Stayed at the Hotel Flora at about $200 per night. Each time we’ve booked
    into Venice, I’ve looked at the Flora near San Moise church and about 3-4 blocks from St. Mark’s and thought it sounded good. I’d even checked it out in person once. Each time previously we’d opted for a pricier hotel on the Grand Canal. Last time our room at the Bauer Grunewald was $600 per night and I vowed not to do it again. Between then and our most recent visit friends of ours stayed at the Flora and recommended it highly. That sealed it. We finally stayed there and now, I too, am a fan. It has wonderful, friendly service. Our room looked out on the lovely flowered courtyard. (There is no access to the canals and hence, no canal view.) While the room was small and entered via a hallway that smelled a bit dingy (it’s old, after all) it was very clean and had a nice brightly lit bathroom with tub and shower. Breakfasts were pleasant in a small room with red print wallpaper. Same day laundry service proved invaluable. Our friends who joined us for the second part of the trip stayed at the Cavaletto, another hotel I’ve long wanted to try. It’s a Best Western on the Basin de Orseolo just behind St. Mark’s Square. The Basin is what I’ve long referred to as the “gondola bus barn” where they store the gondolas when not in service, so the Cavaletto has a sort of view of a canal. The rate here was higher, around $300+ per night. Our friends who had also stayed in the Bauer on a previous trip were satisfied with the Cavaletto.

    Our entry into Venice has seldom been smooth and this time was no exception. In fact, this was probably the worst. We drove to Piazzale Roma where we were to leave our first rental car. We got there at about 12:45 on Sunday and found the Europcar place easily. The man inside informed me that they closed at 12:30 and that I would have to stand in the 2-3 block long line to enter the garage and park in any available slot on the top floor then bring the keys to the mail slot and insert them with my rental agreement. The line moved one car at a time. As one car left the garage, another was permitted to enter. This took a long time and tried my husband’s little remaining patience. We finally parked the car and extricated ourselves and our luggage to walk in driving rain with heavy bags sans wheels (curses on the three bottles of Tuscan wines we had taken with us) to the water taxis as the wind blew our umbrellas inside out. The Flora, not being on a canal, has no canalside entry so the best we could do was get dropped at a small dock nearby. I’m not a light or nimble individual and could see myself with much less grace than Katherine Hepburn or Claudia Cardinale falling into the canal, but luckily was able to disembark without incident. Exhausted we finally heaved our bags onto the dock and then carried them through narrow alleys to our hotel. Not a great beginning.

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    Venice part 2:
    Ok, so once again, I’d best shorten this or bore you to death, Gentle Reader. While in Venice we did or saw the following:

    Explored all six areas of the city, as I said previously.
    Walked Riva Degli Schiavonni and checked out hotels there.
    Had drinks on the floating dock at Europa Regina now a Westin hotel with beautiful views over the Grand Canal to Santa Maria della Salute church.
    Went to the markets behind the Rialto twice. Markets are my favorite things and the fish market in Venice is the best of the best.
    Took vaporetto ride down the Grand Canal.
    Explored Castello area with it’s “real Venice where real Venetians live” atmosphere.
    Shopped in San Polo quarter.
    Saw Sta. Maria Gloriosa dei Frari church. Has beautiful tombs.
    Caught San Marco in the sun. Got into the church just at closing with no line at all.
    Bought a bronze replica of a ferro—the ax-like frontpiece on gondolas—to be mounted in a marble base and shipped home to stand on our fireplace sold to us by a wonderful 70 year old woman who looked 50 and had us sign her “book of good customers”
    Walked Zattere waterfront on the Dorsoduro that faces the Guidecca and saw the gondola repair station
    Took elevator up the campanile of St. Giorgio church for pictures over the city (better views and less crowded than the campanile at St. Mark’s)

    While in Venice we ate at the following:
    (Note on price info: We tend to accompany our meals with good to very good wines which drives the price up. If drinking the house wine or something fairly moderate, the price of meals would probably be about 10 to 15% less than we paid.)
    Many of the better restaurants we ate at turned out to be members of an association called Ristoranti della Buona Accoglienza Venezia. Ask your hotel concierge for a copy of their brochure.
    La Caravella in Hotel Saturnia—good, about $90 for two for lunch.
    Al Borso—very pricey and not worth it. Arrogant service. About $215 for two at dinner.
    Ai Gondolieri on Dorsoduro—very good. Thin slices of porketta and risotto with chanterelles, Vernaccia. $160 for two for lunch.
    Giorgio--on Riva degli Schiavonni with views to St. Giorgio. $80 for dinner for two and terrible. It did, however, provide me the consolation of firmly making my point with my husband that it is usually better to go to a guidebook recommended restaurant than just to wander aimlessly hoping for serendipity to strike.

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    Venice part 3: More meals in Venice
    Monaco and Grand hotel restaurant--on floating dock on Grand Canal Highly recommended. Great location and very good food. Canneloni with spinach and ricotta, monkfish with fennel, veal with gorgonzola sauce, pear tart with caramel sauce. $350 for lunch for four with two bottles of wine probably including one sparkling. A treat.
    Il Cortile—outdoor restaurant of Saturnia hotel in courtyard completely covered by tentlike awning. Ok but not as good as in previous years. Missing price info. Sorry.
    Trattoria da Ignazio—in San Polo area. Excellent. Great young waiter talked us into an all fish lunch. Mixed fish with baby tomatoes and basil, egg noodle pasta with spider crab, fried eel, panna cotta with berries. $176 for lunch for 4, probably including two bottles of wine.
    Harry’s Bar—both we and the friends traveling with us have the cookbook so we had to do the restaurant. It’s as plain upstairs as it is down and almost as crowded. Food is good and very plentiful. Baby shrimps, tagliatelle with mushrooms and san pietro fish with buttered artichoke bottoms and lemon meringue pie. No price info since our friends paid this one but it was high.
    Harry’s Dolci—if you can go to only one of Harry’s places, make it this one and go for lunch. The view is perfect, looking across the Canale de Guidecca to Dorsoduro along the fondamente Zattare. The outdoor tables and chairs are just standard white plastic but the whole thing looks regal set with table cloths and crystal and the food is swell. Bellinis to start then ham and arugula and gnocchi Bolognese. My friend who had been with us to Venice once before and had eaten then at Harry’s Dolci had been thinking fondly of the gnocchi she’d had previously ever since and she wasn’t disappointed after four years.
    Da Fiore—I hate to break ranks with the many on this site who rave about this place, and with Marcella Hazan who calls is the best place for seafood in the Western world, but I found it good but not inspired. First of all it is hard to find. I was glad we scouted it out in daylight before making the trip in the dark for dinner. It’s also not especially interesting from an interior design perspective. The food was good but not great. Had soar—small fishes in sweet/sour sauce with onions and raisins, risotto with shrimp, seabass rolled in spinach with balsamic vinegar. Two bottles of wine including a Barolo that really pleased the men and dinner for four came to $476, not high for a place of such sterling credentials. I just was expecting it to really knock me out and it didn’t. Kind of like how I wasn’t scared when seeing Psycho after all the hype that preceded it.

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    Lake Garda part 1:
    Our exit from Venice was much easier than our entrance. We returned to Piazzale Roma with dread but obtained our second rental car without incident and made our way to Lake Garda. Our first stop was at Pescheria del Garda, a cute little town with a giant 19th century fortress, apparently loyal to the Austrians in times past. Next on to Sirmione, probably Garda’s most touristy town for lunch at the Hotel Grifone under a grape canopy by the shore of the lake. Back on the road from Sirmione to Punta San Vigilio we passed a number of young women dressed in scanty and/or tight fitting garments in very tall shoes. Son of a gun, these were some of the highway hookers the Fodor Forum had been debating just prior to my leaving. I don’t know why it was so jarring to see them on the highway like that. Why should it be any different than seeing them on the streets and sidewalks along Rue St. Denis in Paris, but somehow it was.

    This was an interesting part of the trip. As I think back over it, it’s primary purpose was to stay in hotels rather than to see scenery. We stayed at two hotels each for only a single night and each because either we’d tried to stay there before without success or had stayed there before with much success. The first place was the Locanda San Vigilio. I spotted this in a “Charming Small Hotel Guide” and was intrigued by the picture and description. Previous trips hadn’t permitted us to stop so this time I was determined. It was my favorite hotel of the trip. It and the surrounding estate is owned by a count who is said to take dinner with his guests, but alas not the night we were in residence. The main building of the hotel is set directly on Lake Garda on a spit of land that curves out into the water. The place has that delightful blend of luxury and unadorned crude building materials that often characterizes Italian places. A wedding reception for a German speaking couple and their guests was in progress but the bar with its tables beneath grapevines surrounding the harbor-like area was still open to the other guests so we were treated to the antics of the small children in attendance at the wedding while we sipped bellinis. Very civilized. Our room was actually a separate building with an entry, sitting room, dining area, bathroom on the first floor, a large bedroom and very large bath including a tub on the second floor, and a second bedroom with toilet and shower on the third floor. It cost us about $300 per couple but it was a unique and lovely accommodation. The walk back down to the main building was steep and cobbled but the meal was worth it. Service was very friendly. Décor in the dining room was almost more German or Austrian than Italian, as were many of the guests. Much wood and lots of candles made the place both dark and romantic. Fish buffet then spider crab pasta, pasta with arugula and scallops, seabass with dill. I don’t have price info for the meal but it was probably $300+ for the 4 of us. We were glad the market had closed up that day. A book about the place listed the following notable prior guests: Juan Carlos of Spain, the Prince of Lichtenstein, Churchill, and Vivian Leigh and Sir Laurence Olivier. A picture of Prince Charles signed simply “Charles” sitting in one of the rooms suggested that he too might have stayed there—after the publication of the book. Breakfast was at old tables on the porch surrounding the dining room with arched windows that opened onto the Lake. More stripped down “Italian Style.” Love it.

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    Lake Garda part 2:
    Upon leaving the San Vigilio we headed to the only Relais and Chateaux hotel we booked on this trip, L’Albereta in Erbusco where we’d eaten on a previous trip and found so attractive we vowed to stay next time we were in the vicinity. This was next time. But first we stopped at Torre del Benaco on Lake Garda just a stone’s throw from San Vigilio. It was a find. Cute, well-kept city with a great waterfront promenade and spiffy little tower. Our reason for going there was to just to get the car ferry across Garda to Moderna to cut drive time to Erbusco but the place was so picturesque we stayed quite a while and walked about. Lunch in Salo before driving on to Erbusco (not much of a town) and L’Albereta (very much of a hotel.) It’s owned by the Moretti family who own the Bellavesta wineries in that Franciacorte region (good sparkling wines) and who also bottle Moretti beer. They’ve hired Gualtiero Marchesi, the Italian Paul Bocuse, to operate the restaurant for the place. He originally had a top restaurant in Milan and did cooking shows on Italian tv. Although the restaurant here was recently reduced by one Michelin star, we found it still very good except for one service lapse. The hotel itself is one of the 4 or 5 most luxurious we’ve ever stayed in and at about $250 a night per double a very good value. Dinner at about $300 for two with good wines was also pretty reasonable. The public rooms vary from modern to ornate. The bar and bartender were swell. The swimming pool waterfall seemed a little Wisconsin Dell’s-like but the appointments in the rooms were lovely—jacuzzi, high power shower, Austrian puff curtains that matched the bedspreads, luxury toiletries, etc. etc. Three of the four of us voted this the favorite hotel of the trip.

    Dinner was a 3+ hour affair. Bellavista champagne, then more champagne and a Bellavista cab/merlot that smelled like shoepolish but tasted great. We started with a tree of 7 or 8 appetizers of the house including thin pressed zucchini leaves and eggplant with hard, sweet candy in a spoon (you had to be there, trust me, it was terrific), cold spaghetti with caviar and chives, roasted porcini mushrooms and suckling pig in caramelized skin then Italian cheeses. The meal was nearly perfect until the raspberry soufflé two of our by now tired party ordered on the promise that it would take only 15 minutes did not come until a half hour later with no apologies.

    As I say, these two days were almost entirely devoted to enjoying the hotels we stayed in. It sounds kind of silly but turned out to be a nice rest in between more intense sightseeing. The only thing that was really pretty weird was splitting the time between two places and having to pack and unpack twice. But sometimes you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. We did it and I’m glad.

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    Garmisch part 1:
    I never plan a trip that just as we’re about to take off, my husband doesn’t say “It sounds wonderful and I know it will be, but somehow at this time of year, it just seems that we ought to be in Germany.” This time instead of wanting to kill him, I cut him off at the pass and planned Germany into it—both to shut him up and to give the couple we were traveling with the opportunity to see some wonderful places they’d never been. We left Erbusco and took off for Germany through the Brenner Pass, stopping only for lunch and a quick look-around in Innsbruck before settling into Garmisch for a four day stay. We stayed at the Alpenhof in the suburb of Grainau, primarily on the strength of the description of it in the Karen Brown guide. It is a great hotel and I too recommend it highly. A double with tub and shower and deck with view of the Zugspitze was $170 per night. It had a nice indoor pool, great public rooms (which the German tourists actually use, playing cards or backgammon or reading papers) and a lovely restaurant furnished floor to ceiling in a warm wormwood with gleaming brass fixtures and soft teal blue banquettes. I coveted their wood. There were also lovely grounds with a stream, bridge and a children’s playhouse.

    Our first night in town and the birthday of one of our traveling companions was spent at an old favorite of ours—the Reindl Grill in the Hotel Partenkirchner Hof. We first went there in 1979 after reading a complimentary article in Gourmet magazine by Lillian Langseth-Christianson about the place and we’ve been going there ever since. They’ve added a wintergarden porch which is where we were seated. First, Krug champagne to celebrate the occasion followed by a Chateau Pibernon red bandol. Lobster bisque and lox, fish soup for another member of the party and veal foot pieces jelled and deep friend with ravigote sauce and potato slices and cucumber in lukewarm mustard dressing for me. It was “French week” at the Reindl Grill as it always seems to be when we’re in Garmisch. Waffles with warm raspberry sauce for some and sorbet for others. A swell birthday meal. The birthday boy must have picked up the check because I find myself without price information on the meal. Sounds kind of tacky but we just split everything right down the middle when we travel together and only trade off paying so that we can sort of balance the frequent flyer points our respective cards give us.

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    Garmisch part 2:

    While in Garmisch and vicinity we saw and did the following:

    Had dinner at the Gasthof Frauendorfer--recommended in most guidebooks for its gemutlichkeit atmosphere. You betcha. Two young boys dancing in leiderhosen and slapping their thighs and shoes, a band with plenty of oompah, and even a yodeler. People at tables linking arms and swaying in time with the music. A little girl all dressed up in her old-fashioned dirndl with newly fashionable bowling shoes. Food was extra plentiful and very cheap. A wonderful, fun evening and all for $86 for four.

    Toured the baroque monastery in Ettal enroute to the Konigschlosser.
    Saw both Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein castles. That’s a tourist story onto itself. Based on info found on this site, I e-mailed ahead for tickets and received my confirmation for Hohenschwangau at 10:35 and Neuschwanstein for 1:05. Even so, our letter said to be at the ticket counter an hour ahead to ensure that we could claim our assigned times. Although late, we were still given our tickets and allowed to huff and puff our way to the Hohenschwangau entrance only to wait several minutes for our guide. The tour in English lasted only 30 minutes or so and would not allow pictures to be taken. When we went previously we’d had a much longer, more informative tour and been allowed to take as many pictures as we could snap. Over-touristing has truly taken its toll. I had originally thought that the length of time between our two scheduled tours was overly long but would permit lunch in between. Not so. With one quick beer stop we were almost late for our second appointment when we had to stand first in the horse carriage line and then in the bus line to obtain transportation to the second castle. In the name of efficiency what used to be a lovely couple of tours has become an all-day grueling ordeal to try to figure out. The castles are still as beautiful and interesting as ever but some of the magic has gone.

    Took a side trip to Wies to visit the roccoco Wieskirche. This too has become touristy in the years since I last saw it. It no longer stands by itself in a pasture with cows grazing around it. The cows are still there though a little further from the entrance to the church but they are now joined by souvenir and soda/ice cream shops. Parking is now 1.5 DM rather than free. The interior is still the some mad marvel of over the top decoration, though perhaps a little cleaner.

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    Garsmisch part 3: more of what we did in Bavaria

    Took the Wankbahn lift to the top of the Wank mountain and strolled around the summit for views of the valley below and of the site of the 1936 Olympics.
    Had a drink at a nice little resort on the Eibsee at the base of the Zugspitse.
    Never made it to Linderhof as we’d intended. Spent time instead strolling about and shopping through Oberammergau and Garmisch-Partenkirchen.
    Saw the Hansel and Gretel and Red Ridinghood Houses in Oberammergau.
    Went to the Octoberfest. Another story.

    The area of Bavaria around Garmisch-Partenkirchen makes what I consider a great place for a first European trip and a great place to take kids for their first taste of Europe. There is lots to see in a compact area—all the castles, mountains, quaint towns. People are friendly and many speak some English due to the heavy US military presence in the area. Kid-friendly and reasonably priced-accommodations and meals are plentiful. And there’s plenty of gemutlichkeit to make it fun for everyone.

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    Octoberfest:
    Although we’ve often been in the Munich area on or around the time of Octoberfest, we’ve never gone to it. My husband hates fairs and crowds so it seemed like a lost cause. The couple we were traveling with were, however, very excited about going so we popped on the train in Garmisch at 7:30 one morning arriving an hour and a half later in Munich with the intent of doing the fest. I had expected everything about this jaunt to be difficult and go wrong and everything went perfectly. Though we’d tried to get advance reservations we were told it was no longer possible but that we shouldn’t have any trouble if we arrived between 10 and 11 a.m. This was confirmed by a group of rowdy kids wearing Octoberfest hats at the entrance to Neuschwanstein who had obviously just been there. And so it was.

    After walking about Munich for an hour or so to see the Marienplatz and the Rathaus and tour the Fruenkirche, we hailed a taxi that dropped us off at the entrance to the park. We walked right in. There’s no admission. I had expected it to be solid beer tents and found it much more like our state fair—only with more beer. We actually ate and drank in two tents/buildings, drank in another one or two and walked into another 3 or 4 just to see what they looked like. Our first and longest stop was at Spaten which was beautiful in blue and white ribbons with wooden cut-outs of people in dirndls and leiderhosen. We had really tasty food there—filet mignon and slices of roast beef—Argentinian so the menu said—scalloped potatoes, carrots and green beans. We also had a stein or two of the local brew. Aside from pop for children, they serve only beer in full liter steins. No wine. No water. No milk. We met and talked to more people we didn’t understand but enjoyed meeting than I’ve ever done before. Nice old folks enjoying a day out—it was German Unification day, a national holiday so it was doubly crowded. Rowdy young things. Great old guys in hats with feather brushes on them. One guy who looked like Austin Powers in leiderhosen snorting pinches of snuff. By the last tent, Augustiner if I remember and I’m not so sure I do, we too were linking arms and swaying in tune with the music and lifting out glasses to the continuous, “Ein Prosit, Ein Prosit.”

    By three o’clock or so we’d had as much beer as we could drink and the crowds were beginning to get to us so we beat a hasty retreat and caught a cab back to the Bahnhof where we quickly hopped aboard our return train to Garmisch—and slept the whole way back. Round trip second class train tickets were only $5 apiece. Beers were about $6. We never went on any of the rides and I can’t imagine how any of the other revelers could either. Security was really cursory. I had my handbag mildly fumbled in a couple of times but it certainly wouldn’t have been anything to deter a determined terrorist. On the other hand when a fight broke out between a couple of young lads, security types descended in seconds and shuffled them out before too many other customers were drenched in beer. All in all it’s a lovely party. I’d go again. We were there on October 3 and the temperature as we were leaving was a warm 28 degrees Celsius.

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    Lucerne and Liechtenstein:
    We left Garmisch in the rain but it was light enough not to hinder our views of the mountains and valleys we traversed to our next stop in Lucerne Switzerland. Lunch was in Liechtenstein at the Torkel restaurant in the shadow of the Prince’s castle in Vaduz, the capitol of the country. We had last been here in 1973 on our first trip to Europe. Then the Prince’s wine which is served at the restaurant was pretty terrible. Either our tastes or the Prince’s wines have changed, because this time they were quite drinkable, both the bottle of reisling and the glass of rose. The restaurant too had undergone a tremendous transformation. The Chef is a member of the Chain de Rotissiers. We were seated in a lovely outdoor area covered by an awning with very nice furnishings. The food was some of the best on our trip. We had the daily menu for 59 swiss franc, about $40 US. Tomato tartare with tuna curry topping and balsamic basted greens. Bresse chicken with potato stuffed wontons and Brussels sprouts with bacon. Cheeses and candied coconut sticks and other dessert tidbits finished lunch off.

    We moved on through ever more idyllic mountain/valley scenery to Lucerne, parked near the Palace Hotel, walked under the chestnut trees on the lovely promenade along the Lake of the Four Cantons, strolled about the city a bit and went to the tourist office to get directions to our hotel, the Seehotel Kastanienbaum in a suburb of the same name. Though it was my friend’s second favorite hotel for the view it provided, I was disappointed in it. It was just too modern and Americanized for my tastes. It did, however, have nice amenities, a fine restaurant, good parking, a shower and tub, and beautiful views of the lake and the Burgenstock hotel complex on the adjoining mountain. It also had a very nice breakfast buffet with boiled and scrambled eggs and great cheese, swiss of course, who’da thunk it? Price per double per night was $290.

    Although the steamers that ply the lake actually stopped directly at our hotel, the schedule wasn’t too good, so we went into Lucerne to look around a bit before catching the boat from there to take a trip around the lake. Stopped to see the lion monument, one of the most beautiful and poignant stone monuments ever, to the swiss guards killed defending the king of France. Walked along the river that flows through the town and is crossed by two wooden covered bridges with paintings throughout, one of which burned within the last 5 years or so but has been restored already.

    We took the steamer (a quaint little throwback to earlier, more genteel times) as far as Vitznau on the northern shore of the lake where we stopped for a wonderful lunch at the 5 star Park Hotel. It is truly one of the grand old hotels but recently refurbished and positively spiffy. A wonderful place to spend an afternoon having salmon tartare and nibbling off a great cheese cart. On return to Lucerne we went to dinner at a pretty minimal restaurant, the Zum Pfistern, that was, however, hosting an interesting local group of English speakers. The purpose of the group is for people of any background to speak English to each other so as not to lose their knowledge of the language. We had a passing cheese fondue, terrible cremant d’alsace and even worse Barolo. How could I have remembered the place from previous trips as being ok?

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    Alsatian Wine Road part 1:
    We booked three nights in Alsace, staying at the Parc Hotel in Obernai, instead of in Colmar as we’d done previously because I wanted to spend more time exploring the cute little towns along the Route des Vins than in the larger towns. It was another inspired choice. Though it was too cool for us to use the outdoor pool, we enjoyed the deck we had that overlooked it and the garden area. Our room had a nice sitting area and ample bedroom space and a nicely appointed bathroom with bath and shower. No bathroom view but nice fixtures. We never saw it but took their word for it that the hotel had a bowling alley. It also had a small boutique that sold fois gras, what else? Best of all it had its own cyber corner where we could use a slow but workable computer to check e-mail and communicate with those back home. Sure wish more hotels would see the virtue to having such facilities and equipment. Had good buffet breakfasts. The restaurant which was very nice and had excellent food, was only open one of the three nights we were there, which is why we paid a slightly lower rate for our room on the other two nights. $150 and 136 per double. Really great rates for the amenities this hotel had. I recommend it without reservation—but you’d do well to reserve since one of the nights it was fully booked.

    While in Alsace we went to or saw the following:
    Hussern-des-Chateau, the highest point on the wine road with a nice, if modern, hotel and restaurant.
    Egusheim—where they were celebrating the new wine.
    Barr—also a wine festival, this one very big and most unserious.
    Obernai—a delightful town that features dances in the square with folks in native Alsatian costume on Saturdays, not because it’s a festival, but just because it’s Saturday and that’s what you do in a quaint, cute Alsatian tourist town on Saturdays.
    Strasbourg—cathedral, Petit France with its canals and Maison des Tanneurs covered in geraniums.
    Riquewihr—the quintessential Alsatian wine village with fountains and flowers everywhere, as seen in the Epcot France movie. The entire city is an historic monument. Tables with new wine line the street. It’s pretty good but I don’t think it would be wise to drink too much of it. As we left full sun on the vineyards, or winefields as I call them, showed the yellowing leaves off to complete advantage.
    Kayserberg—the hometown of Albert Schweitzer. Why did he ever leave? It’s perfectly lovely made more so by a market in the square that adjoins the Schweitzer museum.
    Colmar—where we saw the Musee Unterlinden with the Grunerwald alterpiece and the many lovely old buildings in the old part of town and had the ultimate Alsatian meal—sauerkraut with park shoulder, sauerkraut with 6 different kinds of meat (choucroute royale in the local parlance), backoeffe—the potato, onion and three meats casserole the local ladies used to seal with a flour and water paste and leave at the bakery to stew while they did their laundry, and my personal favorite potaoes with munster cheese, all topped off with reisling and chateauneuf-du-pape.
    Haut-Koenigsbourg—the castle restored by Kaiser Wilhelm that we could schlep up to the in rain but not see the inside of owing to a partial strike by the employees.

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    Alsace part 2:

    While in Alsace we also ate the following wonderful meals:
    Dinner at our hotel—Foie gras with aspic, Beef filet with vegetables, and the perfect dessert—potato slices bathed in melted munster cheese. Several times in my life I’ve asked for mashed potatoes for dessert (it’s genetic, my mother used to carry her favorite potato peeler with her at all times) but this time the potatoes were actually on the dessert menu, or at least the cheese part of the dessert menu. These people understand.
    Lunch at the Auberge de L’Ill in Illheusern, one of several Michelin 3 stars in Alsace, and generally regarded as the least expensive three star in France. We’d eaten here once before and looked forward to aperitifs in the garden while making our lunch selections but rain forced us inside throughout. We were at least seated in the lovely if modern all-window garden room. We ordered Le Menu. Starter of scallops with mushrooms in mushroom sauce in an itty-bitty cast iron pot. Cold lobster with croquette of tete du veau (veal headcheese), fish course of salmon soufflé Haeberlin with a wonderful buttery cream sauce, lamb rolled in swiss chard with leeks and a tomato filled with something wonderful and tasty that I was at a loss to identify, mashed potatoes with black olives. The best cheese cart of the trip, after all, we’d entered France. Eppoisses that fairly oozed, also mirolles and munster. Dessert of 4 sorbets—cantalope, line raspberry and another red—and fruits including fig slices. Four menus, 4 glasses of champagne, 3 coffees, 2 bottles of good (but inexpensive) Alsatian wines selected by the wine steward and the total bill was only $550. Truly the best value three star in Christendom. The aging but still talented Paul Haeberlin emerged from the kitchens at the end of the meal and sat quietly near the door to greet people as they left rather than do the grandstand walk about the tables thing that so many chefs do. He’s supposed to be somewhat shy but he willingly posed for pictures with my friend and me. What a sweet guy, a classic in the old-world sense. He’s already prospered, may he also live much longer.
    Le Cerf--in Marlenheim at the northern edge of the Route des Vins, a Michelin two-star in a hotel covered in flowers. I especially liked their art selections though the restaurant rooms were fairly ordinary. This was my husband’s favorite for providing him the best oysters and the best langostines he’s ever had in his life. The rest of us also gave it high marks both for food and service. Their amuse buches included a pigs foot tarte. I followed with a very traditional, regional meal—tete de veau in deep-fried crust on salad then choucroute garnie with fois gras, baby blood sausage and other piggy delights, all very good but unfortunately too filling to permit even moi to stuff myself one more time with my favorite potatoes and munster. Dinner for the four of us with two bottles of wine was about $460 and well worth it.

    The Alsatian Wine Road is one of my favorite wine venues. It is terminally cute with half-timbered houses covered in window boxes spilling geraniums everywhere. Each village is more picturesque than the last and all are backgrounded by winefields that go on seemingly forever and are at their peak in the fall as they turn to pure gold. The food is heavy but excellent with several dishes unique to the area and more Michelin stars than most other, far pricier regions of France. Accommodations are plentiful, lovely and high value and if you are lucky enough to catch a wine festival, you’ll have the ultimate Alsatian experience.

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    The Rhine part 1:
    Since our flight home was to be from Frankfurt, I planned a quick stop on the Rhine after leaving Alsace to give our traveling companions one additional taste of Germany. We stayed at the Krone in Assmannshausen just up the river from the more famous Rudesheim. The Krone was another fine pick. It’s a 400+ year old hotel that is pointed out by the tour guides narrating the Rhine cruises as one of the oldest hotels in Germany.
    It’s an experience. Nearly every thing in it is an antique, the furniture in the rooms, the stagheads on the walls, the tiles on the floors. The bathrooms, however, are very modern and ours was beautiful, black and white marble with gold fittings, a Jacuzzi tub (no shower), heated floors, and antique dressing table mirror. This was another bathroom with a view—of the Rhine and the passing barge traffic—and it may have been as large or even larger than the bedroom. The bedroom had a canopy bed with canopy that matched the spreads that matched the drapes. All very tasteful and in keeping with the place which had a wintergarden type room adjoining the downstairs entry room and an outdoor heated pool. All this was in our building that was separate from the main building. It’s a large complex. Dinner was in the main building in one of several dining areas, actually a kind of glassed-in porch with white tablecloths and beautiful crystal that gleamed in the candlelight. A piano and strolling violinist provided a musical backdrop, the kind of elegant touch that seemed natural in a place like this. I started with mushrooms and gnocchi and then my husband and I had the Chateaubriand with veggies and potato gratin for two, just kind of seemed like the right thing to have in a place like the Krone. For all of this luxury and old-world charm we paid about $160 per room and $225 per couple for dinner.

    While staying at the Krone, we took a 4 hour cruise from Rudesheim to St. Goarshausen and back complete with a recording of the siren’s song as we passed the Lorelei, the mountainous curve where a beautiful woman was said to lure sailors to their deaths. We also saw several beautiful castles some of which have been restored and become hotels and youth hostels. The view from the river is very nice and gives the driver who would otherwise have to be glued to the road the opportunity to see it too. If there’s any way you can arrange to get your car transported to your destination it would, however, be preferable to take the cruise only one way. Round trip gets boring as you repeat your journey and the boat seats get hard toward the end of the third hour.

    We also walked about the touristy city of Rudesheim and the somewhat less touristy Assmannshausen. The latter has some interesting buildings and the obligatory geraniums in window boxes and is perfect for an early morning stroll. The former has lots of shops, often specializing in Christmas. Its most famous street is the Doppelgasse, called the world’s happiest street. It is lined with bars and restaurants and when we stopped in one restaurant to have a short beer in their courtyard after climbing up the hills of the town at about 11 a.m., their entertainer was already getting started singing, playing his keyboard and telling jokes even though we were the only customers. His music was being broadcast out into the “happy street” and I suppose it wasn’t long before the house began to fill up.

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    Rhine part 2:
    Our final stop along the Rhine was in Eltville, another cute village with a pedestrian-only street, a nice though modern small church, and a swell restaurant, the Weinpump, that we chanced upon at just the right moment—when everyone needed a bathroom and was tired of walking. From the outside this place looked like your basic German tavern and we’d thought only to stop for a beer and bathroom break but found it to have a nice garden with cute painted walls portraying the wine harvest and excellent food—shrimp cream soup, pork with seasonal mushrooms and cream sauce and brussels sprouts with spaetzle. I must say that overall I found the food in Germany this trip to be much improved over what I’d remembered from previous trips. Most of it was actually very tasty and not nearly as heavy as I’d recalled.

    Our final stop was just a few miles from the Frankfurt-am-Main airport where we’d be taking off the next morning. I’d had a terrible time booking a hotel in Frankfurt. The annual book sellers convention was on and all downtown hotels were booked. Besides the other couple we were traveling with had a 7 a.m. flight and needed to be as close to the airport as possible so they’d not have to start out at 3 in the morning. We ended up at the Kempinski Gravenbruch, an expensive business hotel set in a lovely wooded area within crawling distance of the airport. While the rooms were nicely decorated and the bathrooms superb, the public rooms attractive, etc. etc. this place was so much like an American (or perhaps universal) business upscale hotel that I no longer even felt like we were in Europe. Couple that with the $342 per night price tag on the room and you have the basis for everyone’s voting this one of their least favorite hotels. All it really had to offer us was location and we paid dearly for that.

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    Home again, home again:
    Our flights home on Alitalia from Frankfurt to Milan and then Milan to Boston were uneventful. Though we arrived timely in Boston and had checked the previous day to see that all our flights were still scheduled, we were told that our flight there had been cancelled. While our counter agent made an initial attempt to reschedule us in the 20 minutes remaining until the last available flight to Mpls, she quickly gave up and seemed to become quite nervous as she explained that we’d have to wait until the following morning. I presumed this was because she feared dealing with yet another irate passenger but it may have been because we’d been coded “yellow S” some kind of security coding meaning that at every stop we were searched twice. Must have been our profile or something. At any rate, we spent the last night of our trip at the Logan Hilton with our bags in our room still on the smarte carte that we wheeled from the airport direct to the hotel through a very ritzy reception and wheeled right back again the next morning.

    Our next day flight on Northwest from Boston to MSP was notable only for the presence of an unusually burly steward who seemed unfamiliar with how to open orange juice cartons and replied to a man who thanked him for freshening his drink with a “you betcha” and a thumbs up. We wondered if he might have been a disguised sky marshal, I must say that he didn’t seem like your standard flight attendant.

    Happy to answer any questions for those of you who made it all the way through this lengthy recounting. It was a swell trip with lots of variety, generally good weather (seemed to rain mostly on travel days when we didn’t mind), and great food. Planning pays off.

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    Julie,
    That was a very thorough report and I'm sure many Fodorites will file it away. I will. Thank you! We were in Alsace in August and missed the villages you mentioned, but did go through Niederbronn les Bains which I thought was an unexpected pleasure. Very much like Baden Baden without the tourists.
    I have done Oktoberfest just once (1997) and the only thing I can add is that when you have a lot of people drinking a lot of beer and eating a lot of sausage and a lot of onions you get a lot of...farting. Whoa! The Germans are literally sitting on a new energy supply during the fest-- ;-)
    BTilke

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    Very impressive Julie,
    You are obviously a great planner. This is a complex itinerary that must have called for many hours of work. I wish I had your food budget--you must be real foodies. Wondeful report.

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    Julie - I loved your report; fun time, well-written, beautifully detailed.

    Check out slowtrav.com. We'd be happy to have you there and you'll read about people who almost exclusively rent villas for their holidays, primarily to England and Italy. Many agencies and rentals have been reviewed. I also wish you'd post, at least the Italy portion of this trip report there.

    Thanks again.

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    Fabulous trip. Someday I'll need to talk my husband into the German itinerary. Our budget will be more modest...however, some of these snide posters seem not to realize that you are quoting Canadian dollars. So that $27,000+ some wag has totalled up is really only about $3000 US (just kidding!)

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    Julie,

    That was a fantastic report and I envy your budget. For the vast majority of us who must operate on a 1/4 of that amount, a bit of advise.

    Having lived in Bologna for 2 years and taken numerous trips to Tuscany and the Lakes (no more than 2 hours to the north or south of Bologna) it is possible to have 90% of Julie's experience and 25% of the cost (but how I would love to do it Julie's way.)

    We have stayed many times in Agriturismi (farms that let rooms) in Tuscany for $25 - 40/night per person, including dinner and breakfast. I am talking home grown vegetables, locally raised meats, homemade pasta, and several courses until you want to burst. One of these was outside Siena with a view of the city. Another was just outside the gates of Montalcino (La Chiusa), a few hundred feet from the Banfi winery.

    We did have lunch once at the Locanda San Vigilio on Lake Garda, and as Julie says, it was fantastic; however, with the Veneto and Tuscany being a great wine producing regions, we were not disappointed with the house wine ever. We were also able to the enjoy the grounds for a couple hours before proceeding to Limone sul Garda. We then contented ourselves with sleeping in a comfortable 4 star hotel for $90/night in Limone.

    Julie is right in saying that Italian food is not nuanced, and I think, the better for the straight forward flavors derived from using only the freshest, local ingredients, prepared in a non-fussy and uncomplicated manner. Remember that Italians refuse to eat bad food, so you can find great food at even the inexpensive places (but keep away from the tourist places in Venice and Florence; if the menu is only in Italian, you're probably safe).

    So don't despair Fodorites. Although Julie's choices were impeccable and her descriptions spot on, you can have an experience every bit as wonderful, at any price point.

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    This is fun. I'm enjoying the responses. To the person who inquired about weight gain--Miss Piggy here gained nary an ounce. We do far more walking while on vacation than while we're home which seems to balance out the rich food. The weight gets gained when I return home and continue to eat like I was still vacationing while getting only finger exercise typing my Fodor report. Never expected to get such a response on the prices of things, provided them mostly because those are the things I see most often questioned when Fodorites respond to postings. In general I try to book into three star hotels in the $150 to 200 range, hopefully staying on the low side. Sometimes I make a special point to try to vary lower priced stays with some in the middle and only one or two at the high end. This trip got driven up because of our desire to stay at a couple of special hotels and because of our lack of choices in Lucerne and Frankfurt. Our meals too tend to run the gamut from pretty inexpensive to quite high. I never detailed the food on several of the lower priced meals because while perfectly fine they weren't the showstoppers so many Fodorites seem to debate about. Special thanks to Russ for pointing out how easy it is to enjoy the same itinerary for considerably less cost. One of our most memorable stops and meals was at the Frauendorfer in Garmisch (technically Partenkirchen) where our meal for 4 with great beer was only $86. On the question of how to carry the money to pay for all of it, my response taken straight from The Graduate is "plastic."

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    Julie

    Awesome trip report! I was able to relive our recent trip to Italy as well as a trip to Germany in 1998. I was glad to read your report on the Hotel Monteriggioni. We also visited the town last month and loved it. We vowed to go back and stay overnight at the hotel someday. It is even possible we were there the same day as you. We were there on September 18th and also saw the filming going on there. Thanks for the report.

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    Julie,

    LOL. Enjoyed your Graduate reference. I'm planning my first trip to Italy since moving back to the US 2 years ago, and you have given me much food for thought. Thanks.

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    Bebe, sorry I missed you. Yes, we were in Monteriggioni on the 18th, having breakfast and packing after our night there on the 17th. This is the second time I've been someplace where a commercial was being filmed. Saw one other in Ramatuelle, France where a Dockers ad was being filmed at our hotel, model jumping about on the roof in odd positions. I'd sure like to see the results of one of these sometime.

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    Julie: Great report!
    2 questions: 1. In Montepulciano and Montalcino (uphill streets and parking problem), are there any buses to take you into the center of town? 2. Did you happen to notice the store price for those 2 famous wines of these towns?
    Thanks. Sal

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    32nd trip you announce right off the bat and then go into your listings at dinner for 2 at $300 as "pretty reasonable" and $476 dinner for 4 as "not high" and $350 dollar LUNCHES
    while you stay in places that run anywhere from $600 a night down to $200 (oh yes there was that bad hotel at $342, remind me not to stay there. Forgot only royalty like you and Prince Charles, or as you call him just Charles, can stay at places like this. Tim figured it out step by step I guess as I just averaged it out as your costs for 2 people only hotels and lunch/dinner at $16,500.

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    Sal, thanks for your question. Aside from the person who asked how much weight I've gained this is the first question I've been asked from my report. Although we are foodies, we don't just eat and drink while we vacation. My husband has 4+ hours of excellent video and between us we shot 32 rolls of film--I'll admit that many of my shots are of markets.

    At any rate to answer your questions, we recall seeing a bus labeled "Centro Storic" pass us several times as we tromped about the steep streets of Montepulciano. We have no such recollections for Montalcino. Though I cannot recall any particular prices exactly wine prices for Vino Nobile and Brunello must vary widely just as prices in California vary widely for Cabernet. In Montalcino especially we saw wine stores with vast selections and we know we saw bottles priced under $10 US. Even if many prices for the Vino Nobile and the Brunello are up there, both areas make a Rosso that is highly respectable and considerably less. We had a couple of Rossos that we liked a lot. If you're a wine buff, this is a wonderful area to go to. Check out A Traveller's Wine Guide to Italy by Stephen Hobley. It not only has great info on wines, it has excellent maps of the areas, good suggestions on hotels and restaurants and great pictures of the areas and their sights.

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    While some of Julie's experiences are beyond the budget of many travelers, I appreciate having the information. There are times when you may want to splurge on a special meal or a special hotel. At least this way you have some input from one who has been there. Not everybody wants to stay in budget hotels. I say if you can afford it, go for it!

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    We made our first trip to Europe in 1973. My husband, who was born in Latvia and spent his early childhood in DP camps in Germany, remembered many sites and felt like he's returned home. I, who only went along for the ride on that first trip, fell instantly in love with the place. Lucky it was that I did. Travel is our joint passion and if one of the other had not enjoyed it, it would be very difficult to stay together with different values--the money goes to fix up the house, oh no it doesn't, it goes for our next trip, is never an argument we have. It pains me mightily to spend money on clothes or furniture, etc. when it could go instead for airline tickets, food or wine.

    At first we were able to go every two or three years, then gradually once a year (almost always in late Sept/early October) and then even twice or three times a year, especially when we hear of a great deal on flights, e.g. $300 or so round trip to AMS. We're retired and can't pass that kind of thing up. All of that has added up to 32 trips to Europe by age 56. I wouldn't trade a minute of them. Our love of travel must be contagious. We've passed it on to our children and to several of our friends. I take almost as much joy from the trips I help plan for them as those I go on myself.

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    Julie, I enjoyed your report very much. I am surprised at the negative respones you got because of the amount of money you spent. Hey, people to each his own. If she has it, let her enjoy. I appreciate all the time you took to tell us in detail your experiences rates and all. I envy your 32 trips to Italy. Next June will be the first to Europe for my husband and I. I was a military brat and have been everywhere in the US and I LOVE to travel. I do not know why it took me so long to get going. I used to fear flying. Anyway I would love to e-mail you to get some info on places I intend to go that it seems you did not go this time.I will be in Rome for 4 nights, Venice for three, Florence for 2 and Tuscany for 5. You didn't mention Greve in your list of Chianti towns by scenicness. I want to see Siena, Volterra,Chianti and San Gigmanano. I am hoping you have lots of info. I am looking for a place to base out of in Tuscany. I will e-mail you and hope for you Long response. And I say Go Girl and thank you so much for all the detailed info. Karen

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    Julie, I really enjoyed reading your trip report - very nicely written and packed with useful information. Please don't be deterred by the bitter people who take offense at the amount of money you spent; I find it shocking that someone actually bothered to tally up how much it was! People, none of you know Julie's circumstances and you have no right to criticize. Furthermore, there was not an ounce of "braggadocio" to be found in the report. I've filed it away for future use. Thanks!

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    Julie, thank you for a very thorough and engaging trip report. Lots of useful information.

    And to the petty few (estpecially Kim and Jason) who were taken aback by Julie's means: Grow up. Julie shared a tale of her experiences in the hopes that others would share with her--not to brag about the amount of money she spent. Your posts are pathetic in their transparent envy. Lots of people travel well, as evidenced by the existence of fine hotels and restaurants. You should feel privileged that someone took the time to share their account of these experiences with you as you obviously will not be experiencing them for yourselves.

    (And to Kim--right you are "well off finanacially"; that's why you're so upset that someone else is.)

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    Thanks Julie (and especially thanks for not responding to the venom with equal poison. One does not always fight fire with fire)

    People need to keep in mind that since Julie and her husband are lovers of travel, they obviously put that first in their buget. Instead of splurging on clothes, furniture, they put it toward the travel budget. I wonder how much we spend on new clothes and fixing up the home instead of a travel budget? I bet we could go a lot more places if every time I wanted new shoes, clothes or a little something for the home I put the money in a travel "jar". Hmmmm. Interesting idea...

    There are all kinds of people in this world who have different incomes. They should be treated with respect if they show respect. It's obvious Julie is a class act.

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    Lots of time and effort went into this report and for those familiar with these areas of Italy and Europe, it is most interesting. But I do think that one should be able to offer some constructive cricism without being labeled envious. I know I have some criticisms and they are not due to envy.

    It is really "in your face" to start out a report with this is my 32nd trip to Europe and then to constantly mention the high price of every morsel of food, wine and price of room.

    How would we react if someone told us about the high cost of every item of clothing they were wearing, or the cost of our house, car etc..

    The report would have been more interesting and less irritating if not every dollar amount was listed.

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    Julie,
    thanks for your detailed report with personal touches that I liked very much. Thanks also for your notes.
    I'm an amateur travel counsellor and every trip that I plan for my clients is as if I was going too. So I did with your report.
    Do you know the book "Feeding Frenzy - Across Europe in search of the Perfect Meal" (Stuart Stevens - Atlantic Monthly Press) about a couple that goes to Europe to have a meal in all Michelin's three star restaurants ?
    It is very interesting and amusing.
    Thanks again, Ismael

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    Yes, Ismael, I, too, enjoyed Feeding Frenzy. Food/cooking and travel are my two favorite things so I particularly enjoy books that combine the two. I so enjoy the book and movie or video tips that find their way into these posts. Thanks for reminding me of this fun book.

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    I just want to add that I recently met Julie on this site and she was extremely helpful to me with my travel plans. She even took the time to send me dozens of hotel brochures, right before her own departure, and even wrote me upon her return to make sure I received them. Never did I feel she was pretentious. I never even had an inkling that I was communicating with someone whose finances were well above mine. She respected my "economic status" . I only wish that I could go along with her next time!!
    Thank you again Julie for all your help.

    Denise

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    Julie, Thanks for the trip report. I too, put off buying a new car or painting the house in favor of a trip... and when on vacation, prefer to stay at luxury hotels. I budget approximately $5000/week for a luxury European vacation. K

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    I would just like to chime in on the subject of the price information in the report to say that I am glad to have this information. My budget is well below Julie's, but I will sometimes splurge on something. I wish more Fodorites would put cost information in their reports. I often read about something that sounds wonderful and that I might like to do, but then I have to begin the search for price info to determine whether I can manage it. If they would say, "Our one-day guided tour in Tuscany was so wonderful, and only $400", I would know that I don't have to search for cost info because I can't fit it in my budget for the next trip or two. So keep that price info coming.

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    Comprehensive report Julie, especially if you're into hotels and restaurants. While most posters seem to envy your food budget, what I envy is your joint passion for travel. Every year in our house there's a conversation with me saying "It's been xx years since we went overseas; let's go next year" and the response being "We'll never get the mortgage paid off if we go every few years."

    And we stay in modest B&Bs, partly because of price, but also because they're friendlier and homelier. We also eat in modest restaurants where the locals eat, paying what the locals pay. Again, it's not just price; it's also for the authenticity and appreciative friendliness.

    We had a wonderful example of the latter once in Bacharach am Rhein. (This is a bar story rather than a restaurant one, but it illustrates the point). As is our way, we found a small bar off the tourist beat, frequented only by a handful of locals. We ordered "drei bier, bitte" and attempted to make conversation in our inadequate German. Everyone was polite, some spoke a smattering of English, and we spent a pleasant hour chatting with them and they with us as best we all could. A nice evening.

    End of story? No. Next night we dropped in to the same bar again. The reception was overwhelming. By returning we had shown that our interest not merely the curiosity of "loopies" (the universal word for tourists), but was genuine and sincere. Everyone rushed over to greet us - not politely as before, but exuberantly - and suddenly beers appeared as if by magic in front of us - with schnapps chasers! We didn't have to pay for a thing all night, and later a group of them took us to a nightclub!

    I've done it time and again since, in many countries: found a nice local, attempted the local language, then dropped in again the next night. So far it has never failed to produce genuine hospitality and appreciativeness.

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    Very interesting, if now somewhat historic, report! I know the degree of work it takes to put one of these together. I'm always a bit taken aback by people who plan in this sort of detail and actually stay on the schedule once they get there.

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    Loved the report. Tuscany and the Italian lakes are somewhere out there in a dim future haze for me. I admit that on the detailed reports I skim the foodie sections of xyz wrapped in abc and sauced with ghi. However, I do appreciate knowing the cost of different hotels. I too, like to splurge about every 3rd night on a long trip.

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    To 'russ i' if by some lucky chance you still check out these forums..... ;-)

    Your post here mentioned your staying many times in agriturismi for $25-40/night. Is that even possible now??

    If so, could you mention some of the places you stayed at?

    Also, what is the name of the good 4 start hotel in Limone you mentioned?

    Thanks,

    Mark

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    Just did a search on venice restaurants and found that this old report of mine had gotten some rereading and some nice comments. Gratifying. Thanks. Twoflower, liked your post regarding enjoying a local place and going again to cement your relationships with the local. We do that sometimes with good bars we find. Sad thing is to return to a place several years later and find "your" bar closed or changed. Never feels fair somehow.

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    Julie- Thanks for your detailed report. I would like to follow up on your points on Colmar and the rest of the Alsace region. I am considering staying in the hotel du parc that you mentioned. But also have heard great things about Colmar (which i believe you had visited in a prior trip.) Any tips you could provide on staying in Colmar vs other areas would be much appreciated.
    Thanks

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    We stayed in Colmar on a couple of trips prior to the one detailed in this report and liked Colmar very much. We like the small towns and their atmosphere and hotels better, however, and would stay in Obernai at the Hotel du Parc if we were planning another trip to Alsace this year. There's just something so charming about the small towns of Alsace with their windows brimming with flowers. If you stay more than one night you even start to feel "at home" in your small community.

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