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Just back from Italy -- Tuscany, the Amalfi coast, and Rome -- trip report!

Just back from Italy -- Tuscany, the Amalfi coast, and Rome -- trip report!

Sep 7th, 2001, 09:55 AM
  #1  
lisa
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Just back from Italy -- Tuscany, the Amalfi coast, and Rome -- trip report!

Just back from a great trip to Italy!

Days 1-4: Flew from Washington Dulles to Amsterdam on Northwest, connected in Amsterdam to a KLM flight to Rome. Both flights allowed 2 carryons which they did not weigh, so we were able to carry on our 22" suitcases which fit in the overhead bins so we did not have to check them. Both flights on time, food OK. Here is a tip if you're flying KLM from Amsterdam to Rome or vice versa: the first several rows of coach actually have business-class sized seats, up until somewhere around row 14 – so if you are flying coach, try to get in the front. You still get coach food, but you get significantly more room in terms of seat width, legroom, and armrests than you do in rows 16 and higher (this was not true on Northwest, which had regular coach seats throughout).

Picked up our rental car at Avis rental counter at FCO without a hitch – a small Fiat Punto with AC but standard transmission which worked out just fine. Drove to Montalcino (which took about 4 hours including 2 stops on the way) where we checked into Vecchia Oliviera for three nights. We LOVED this place. It is a 3-star and cost 300,000 lire per night (around $150) for a double including breakfast, tax, and service. It is in a fantastic location right at the gate to Montalcino, walking distance to everything in town, with free parking, helpful staff, air conditioning, a lovely pool, delicious breakfast (pastries, cold cuts, breads, cereals, cheeses, yogurt, fruit, juice, coffee) and gorgeous views over the surrounding countryside. Highly recommended! We had room 8, "Veronica," which was a very good size, had pretty painted murals on the walls, a minibar, two twin beds, and a nice bathroom with bidet and a jacuzzi tub with hand-held shower (no shower curtain though).
 
Sep 7th, 2001, 09:56 AM
  #2  
lisa
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I enjoyed Tuscany much more than I expected to. The scenery is gorgeous and the food and wine are very good. One day we drove to Pienza and Montepulciano, both of which we enjoyed very much (and caught a street scene in Montepulciano where teams were rolling huge wine barrels uphill which was entertaining). Another day we drove to Siena for the day which was also terrific – went inside the Duomo which was gorgeous, enjoyed the Piazza del Campo and strolling the city. We did a lot of ceramics shopping in all of these towns and found some lovely things. Pienza has FANTASTIC cheese shops and the pecorino is particularly fabulous. In Siena we had an excellent lunch outside at Le Logge (where we met a nice German couple from Bavaria and chatted about all of our travels) and also enjoyed sitting out at a café and having lemonade on the Piazza del Campo later that afternoon. In Montalcino our favorite restaurant was Porta al Cassero -- a tiny little local place, very casual, with great food and inexpensive prices – we enjoyed it so much we went there twice! Fantastic freshly homemade pasta with fresh tomatoes, excellent insalata caprese, great roasted vegetables, and the BEST tiramisu we've ever had (and believe me, we tried a lot of tiramisu while we were in Italy!). I also enjoyed the wild boar with white beans, and we LOVED their house red wine better than any other we had the whole time we were in Italy (and it was so inexpensive!). The staff does not speak English but we managed OK. They have a few tables outside. We did not enjoy the food at Grappolo Blu in Montalcino as much. Much of the food was oversalted. Nice atmosphere, interested service, but overpriced compared to Porta al Cassero and the food wasn't as good. While we enjoyed the towns we visited, we both agreed we were happy that we chose to stay in Montalcino – it was our favorite, so picturesque! Also, there are a couple of excellent gelato shops in Montalcino that we made the most of. The one on the main drag has terrific pistachio! One night after dinner we heard music playing and wandered the streets until we came upon a little courtyard where a band was playing and couples were dancing the tango – it was so fun to watch as we licked our gelato cones.

Days 4-7: Drove from Montalcino to Positano, which took about 6 hours, as expected. Checked into Albergo Miramare which was EXCELLENT. Another 3-star at the same price – 300,000 lire per night (about $150) for a double including breakfast, tax, and service. The only extra was parking, which was 25,000 lire per day (about $12.50). We had a standard room – smaller than the more expensive versions – but it was lovely, with beautiful tiles, a minibar, and had a HUGE terrace with a table and chairs, and incredible views of Positano and the sea. It also had a very nice bathroom with a great (small) shower (with doors) and bidet. The beds at this place were very firm and comfortable. The staff at the hotel was so helpful and friendly and spoke very good English. We really loved this place. No pool, but the beach is not far. Excellent breakfasts of pastries, fruit, cold cuts, cheeses, cereals, yogurt, breads, juice, and GREAT coffee.
 
Sep 7th, 2001, 09:57 AM
  #3  
lisa
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We enjoyed a very good dinner at Da Vicenzo in Positano – I had delicious seafood risotto and my friend had great gnocchi, and we shared a side of fresh vegetables. Friendly staff and reasonable prices. Afterward we strolled the town and had the BEST gelato at someplace on the main drag – they have a hazelnut flavor that has chunks of chocolate truffles in it (nocciola tartufo) that is AMAZING, and my friend thought the lemon flavor was divine.

While in Positano we took a daytrip one day to Amalfi for lunch (at Santa Caterina, where we sat out on their terrace and enjoyed gorgeous views and good food, if pricey), then to Vietri sul Mare for ceramics shopping (my friend found a few pieces there; I personally didn't think it was worth the trip), and then to Ravello for a FANTASTIC dinner at Cumpa Cosimo which was my favorite meal of the whole trip. We each had the house special of 7 pastas with 7 sauces which was absolutely incredible, the house red wine, and also shared delicious grilled vegetables and (again) tiramisu for dessert. The staff isn't particularly friendly or welcoming but we found this place charming nonetheless. The woman who runs the place (Netta?) is a real character. There is a wonderful ceramics shop in Ravello where we found some great pieces and they have excellent prices including shipping and insurance (already received it all, in perfect condition). We loved the little square in Ravello and were treated to the sight of a wedding party emerging from the small church, and a band playing on the square after dinner – it was fun to watch all the children playing and people milling around in the evening. On our way back from Ravello we stopped at the Africana nightclub which was pretty amusing – it is built into a grotto, with clear tiles in the floor so that you can see the fish swimming around below. Unfortunately there were only about a dozen people there that night, so we didn't stay long.
 
Sep 7th, 2001, 09:58 AM
  #4  
lisa
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The next day we took a daytrip to Capri. Took the ferry, then the funicular, then the bus, then a chairlift to the very top of the island (while my friend shopped in the town of Capri), which was fun. We had a good lunch poolside at the Quisisana hotel. Capri is crowded and I did not care so much for Capri as I did Anacapri. We got a lot of sun on the ferry ride to and from. Back in Positano, we enjoyed a very good dinner at La Cambusa, where my friend had the most incredible spinach ravioli in cream sauce, and I had spaghetti with seafood and tomatoes in garlic and olive oil that was pretty good too.

Days 7-10: Drove from Positano to Rome, with a stop at Pompei on the way. Pompei is hot and dusty and there is a lot to see. We bought a guidebook outside, and armed with a couple of delicious lemon granitas, walked until we could walk no more. I think my favorites were the murals at the House of Venus. It is remarkable to me that anything like this has survived at all.
After Pompei we drove the rest of the way to Rome, and returned the car at FCO. Thanks to the Fodorite who posted the tip about taking the shuttle service from the Hotel Reservations desk at the airport – a great deal at about 37,000 lire for 2 people, and they drove us directly to our hotel (we were the only 2 people in the shuttle!). Quick, efficient, and inexpensive.

In Rome we stayed 3 nights at the Santa Chiara. We had room 422 which was very small for two people, but otherwise comfortable, and had a large balcony. The decor was nothing special but the location of the hotel was perfect. Our double was (again) 300,000 lire per night including breakfast, tax, and service. It had a good-sized bathroom with very nice stall shower and bidet. By the way, the air conditioning in our room worked great – others on this forum had mentioned that the air is shut off at night, but that was not the case for us. This hotel was not as special as the others we stayed at on this trip, but I think in Rome it was good value for the money and certainly clean, comfortable, and well located. The breakfast was very good and consisted of all the same foods that we enjoyed at our other hotel breakfasts. The staff was not particularly friendly but were at least polite and helpful.
 
Sep 7th, 2001, 09:59 AM
  #5  
lisa
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Enjoyed a good – but not great – dinner the first night at Tre Scalini on the Piazza Navona, not far from the hotel. My mushroom risotto was delicious. Afterwards we strolled over to the Trevi Fountain (where we threw in our coins) and got some gelato for dessert, then up to the Spanish Steps, then back to the hotel. Everyone was out walking and enjoying the summer evening in Rome. The next morning we took a 10AM tour of St. Peter's & the Vatican with Walks of Rome. Our guide, Nina, was an American living in Rome. The tour lasted almost 4 hours and cost 85,000 lire per person. It was supposed to be a group tour but we were the only ones who showed up, and that was nice. I had been to St. Peter's and the Vatican before but had never taken a tour, and felt that I got much more out of it this time. In addition, I could appreciate the difference in the colors of the Sistine Chapel ceiling, which are much more vibrant than I remember from before the cleaning. In fact, many of the buildings in Rome looked brighter and cleaner than on my last visit. Afterwards we enjoyed a delicious lunch at Hostaria dei Bastioni, which is just a couple of blocks from the entrance to the Vatican. Highly recommend the spaghetti al amatriciana which has tasty pancetta in it.

That afternoon we split up so that my friend could do some shopping and I could check out the Alfred Eisenstadt exhibit at the Museum of Rome in Trastevere. The Museum itself is nothing to look at, but the exhibit was terrific. Afterwards I enjoyed strolling in Trastevere, a neighborhood in Rome that I had not previously visited. Then I took a cab to the Borghese Gallery. I had no reservation but was able to get a ticket for admission about one-half hour later. By far my favorite piece was the sculpture of Apollo and Daphne, probably the loveliest and most impressive I've seen in my whole life. The whole gallery was impressive, but much smaller than I expected – probably a good thing since by the end of the day I was "museumed-out" and took a cab back to the hotel for a pre-dinner nap. That night we enjoyed a great dinner at Bramante which is on a beautiful little back street full of tiny, vine-covered cafes and restaurants. I had veal in an olive sauce which was flavorful and delicious. We sat outside next to a lovely Venezuelan couple and chatted about all of our respective travels.
 
Sep 7th, 2001, 10:02 AM
  #6  
lisa
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The next day we visited the Pantheon and enjoyed lunch on a café in its square, then toured the Colosseum, walked back past the Forum, where we went our separate ways and met back at the hotel later. That evening we had another good dinner outdoors at a little place called Montevecchio, on a tiny, pretty piazza. I had a lamb carpaccio (OK) and couscous (delicious), followed by a pasta in rabbit sauce which was very good. We lifted our glasses of their tasty house red and toasted to our last night in Rome. Got a final gelato on the way back to our hotel that evening.

The next morning because we had to catch a 6:30 AM flight, we took a cab to the airport, which cost 85,000 for the two of us (not including tip). The driver was very kind in helping us with our ceramics-laden bags. Unlike our flights to Rome, on our return flight KLM was very strict about allowing only 1 carry-on bag which could not exceed 10 kilos, and they did weigh the bags, so we were forced to check luggage, but it worked out fine in the end and everything arrived without mishap (flights on time, etc.).

Any questions, feel free to post here!
 
Sep 7th, 2001, 10:21 AM
  #7  
rob
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Just wanted to added my two cents about the sculpture of Apollo and Daphne: It is easily the most beautiful sculpture I have ever seen in my life (kudos to Bernini). Also, the Borghese is, for my money at least, the nicest gallery I have ever visited.

Thanks for the great report.

Rob
 
Sep 7th, 2001, 10:41 AM
  #8  
dj
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Lisa,

Great report, as I'm very interested in ceramics, what was the name of the shop in Ravello that you purchased cermamics from (which also shipped them for you)?I understand there are alot of shops in Ravello, but it's nice to know of a reputable one as we would like to ship home our purchase as well.

Did you friend think the trek over to Vietri sul Mare was worth it? We were planning on going there. Thanks.
 
Sep 7th, 2001, 10:52 AM
  #9  
maria
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great posting. We're off to Italy in mid-October almost your same itinerary. Going to Amalfi, Siena, then Rome. Renting car from Avis too, so glad it went well.
 
Sep 7th, 2001, 11:38 AM
  #10  
lisa
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dj: I can't remember the name of the ceramics shop in Ravello, but it was by far the largest in town that we came across, and you can't miss it. As you stand in the square facing the church, there is a little street immediately in front of the church that goes off to the left and I believe it is called Via Roma. As you head down that street (going toward Cumpa Cosimo), you will see the ceramics shop facing you on the right. It is large and has many large pieces outside -- tile tables and the like. They have patterns from all over Italy, including Deruta.

My friend agreed with me that she enjoyed shopping for ceramics in Montalcino and Positano and Ravello more than in Vietri. There are certainly more shops in Vietri, but overall the quality did not seem as good there. One shop in Positano that we both liked a lot was Da Assunta, which is sort of near the Sireneuse hotel. There was another one I can't remember the name of that specialized in a gorgeous orange and green pattern. It is on the main drag in Positano. There was a small shop in Montalcino that we especially liked as well which I will look for the name of.
 
Sep 7th, 2001, 11:40 AM
  #11  
BOB THE NAVIGATOR
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Wow Lisa--great and complete report. It is always a pleasure to hear the candid impressions of people experiencing the many delights of bella Italia. Thanks for sharing with us.
 
Sep 7th, 2001, 12:05 PM
  #12  
nancy
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adding my 2 cents about your lovely report!
 
Sep 7th, 2001, 12:20 PM
  #13  
dj
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Thanks Lisa, I can hardly wait. I better remember to measure the bathroom for the tile's I need (just a few)!

Hubby's gonna love this (I can just here him groaning now), better start feeding him some Peroni beer!
 
Sep 7th, 2001, 12:41 PM
  #14  
robin-k
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Ah, it sounds like a grand time in Italy! Thanks for taking the time & effort to provide your indepth trip report.
 
Sep 7th, 2001, 02:01 PM
  #15  
Modeen
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Thanks for a fun report! Great detail and very interesting to read.
 
Sep 8th, 2001, 01:22 PM
  #16  
Diane
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Thanks Lisa for your great report...

We are off to Rome next week. The restaurant you mentioned Bramante, where exactly is it or near what. ? Thanks ...
 
Sep 10th, 2001, 01:28 PM
  #17  
Rex
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Topping for Lisa.

Searched "amalfi" - - it was number 16 on the list. Last "topping" before this was 48 hours ago, so if you saw it this morning, you didn't realize how far back you were.

Remember when the "new version" of this forum numbered subsequent ("next") pages with 51-100, 101-150, etc. Any point in trying to drum up a new letter-writing campaign? for some of these great features in (anof several of the) new format(s)?

Best wishes,

Rex
 
Sep 10th, 2001, 01:37 PM
  #18  
lisa
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Rex: Thanks for topping so I could respond to Diane, which I thought I already did this morning, but then the post went missing (very bizarre -- the search function must be on the fritz because it didn't work when I tried it earlier).

Diane: Bramante is at 25 via della Pace, very close to Piazza Navona.
Hope you enjoy your trip as much as we did.
 
Sep 10th, 2001, 03:10 PM
  #19  
Rex
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You're welcome - - and what a torrid pace this afternoon! This is number 48 on the first page in less than 90 minutes!
 
Sep 10th, 2001, 06:11 PM
  #20  
dan woodlief
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Thanks for the report Lisa. Your descriptions of the food almost made me drool all over the keyboard, especially the 7 pastas with 7 sauces. I have been wondering about visiting the Borghese. I am afraid I might be museumed out by that point in my trip, but it sounds great.
 

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