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My 'short and sweet" trip report of our 3 week trip to Italy

My 'short and sweet" trip report of our 3 week trip to Italy

Jun 17th, 2006, 05:14 PM
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My 'short and sweet" trip report of our 3 week trip to Italy

My husband and I, and our long time friends, planned a trip to Italy last fall, the first for all of us. We decided to go to Rome, Venice, the Cinque Terre and Lake Como.....with an 8 day hiking tour thrown in the middle. We booked the hiking tour, that part was easy, and then had to figure out where we would go, how we would get there and for how long. I was extremely concerned about nothing but the train travel. For some reason, it panicked me. I had posted questions about it on Fodors and received some encouraging comments back, so we all thought we'd give it a shot.

Our itinerary was as follows:
Fly into Rome: 4 nights in Rome
Train to Florence
Bus to Fiesole
Hiking Tour: 8 nights
Bus from Fiesole to Florence
Train from Florence to Monterosso
Monterosso: 2 nights
Train from Monterosso to Varenna, Lake Como
Varenna: 3 nights
Train from Varenna to Venice
Venice: 2 nights
Fly directly home from Venice

We did not have a good experience with our limo driver but hoped things would get better. They did.

Rome hotel: Albergo del Senato. Based on so many good comments on this board and Trip Advisor. We really enjoyed this hotel. The location was perfect for us as it was centrally located to what we wanted to see. It is a spotless hotel with a great breakfast. There is a beautiful rooftop bar with a fantastic view of Rome. We took advantage of it every evening. My husband and I had a room overlooking the Pantheon. It had a small balcony which was more than adequate. We had dinner one night at Armondo al Pantheon, and it was delicious. Cost: 88 Euros for the 4 of us, including wine. We were so surprised to see that people were still arriving at the restaurants in the square at 11:00 at night.

We went to Pantheon Travel (nearby) to purchase train tickets. We bought all tickets that day at a cost of 120 Euros per person. I don't know if that was a good price but Pantheon told us they do not charge a fee for their service.

I'll work on some more of this tomorrow.
olijoc is offline  
Jun 17th, 2006, 05:40 PM
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Off to a good start on your report. Where were the train tickets to?
laartista is offline  
Jun 17th, 2006, 05:41 PM
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Sounds lovely. Looking forward to more.
gracieb is offline  
Jun 17th, 2006, 06:39 PM
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leaving on thursday for trip that includes CT and Lake Como, so interested in hearing details about those places. thanks.
alison is offline  
Jun 18th, 2006, 02:29 AM
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laartista: The train tickets were from Rome to Florence (1st class Eurostar), Florence to Monterosso (1st, with a change of trains in LaSpezia), Monterosso to Varenna (1st, with a change in Milan) and Varenna to Venice (1st, same change in Milan).

alison: We spent 2 nights in Monterosso and 3 in Varenna and I wish we'd reversed it. In Monterosso we ate at Ciak and it was delicious, cost 65 Euros each couple. There's also a gelateria on the main street, I don't remember the name, but when you exit the train station to the main street, go left and it's a little up on your right, on the beach side. The tables are under a roof/canopy, the view is breathtaking and it wasn't crowded. We had pasta and salads one day for lunch, so-so, but I had a tuna panini that was really good. Another good restaurant was Belvedere. We hiked the trail from Monterosso to Vernazza and found it to be strenuous, and we had just come off an 8 day hiking tour! But it was hot, that made it more difficult. I could've used an oxygen tank by the time we got to Vernazza. We had planned to hike all 4 routes but after that 1st one, decided to sit in Vernazza, have a beer and look at the water!

In Varenna it's quieter except on the weekend. We ate at the Hotel Milano's restaurant, La Vista, good food, slow service, 25 Euros per person, not incl. wine. Also ate at Vecchia Varenna on the main street. The food was allright, I don't really remember much about it, but it was about 80-90 Euros per couple. We got an all day pass for the ferry (10 Euros per person) that goes to about 6 towns. It was fun and a great way to have a beautiful view of the lake. We really enjoyed Mennagio on the walk we took along the water, near Victoria Hotel. Bellagio was beautiful but we weren't interested in shopping, however, there are many nice restaurants. The ones by the water are great for a beautiful view but not for the food. Enjoy your trip and have a wonderful time!
olijoc is offline  
Jun 18th, 2006, 03:13 AM
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ROME: I'd read so much about pick pockets etc., that I was a little paranoid I guess. I shouldn't have been. Rome felt no less safe than any other large city. None of us at any time felt at all threatened by pickpockets of any sort. I think the best thing we did in Rome was to use Angel Tours for a Vatican tour. I had reserved on-line with them, 25 Euros each, and we met the "Angels" at the obelisk in the square. Our Angel Liz was fantastic, but the best thing was that because we were on an Angel Tour, we went to the head of the line. I can't tell you how guilty I felt doing that because the line was extremely long and it was very hot, and I still don't understand why our tour went ahead and some others didn't, such as a Rick Steves tour group. We thoroughly enjoyed our tour. I would spend more time in St. Peter's Basilica next time, it was overwhelming and beautiful.

1) "Maddalena Pizzeria" - excellent pizza. Nice service. Near the Pantheon
2) "La Scaletta" - near the Pantheon. Good pizza but watch out for blatant overcharges that you're 'stuck' with.
3) "Armondo al Pantheon" - excellent meal and service. Friendly staff. Closed weekends.
4) "L'Arcano Ristorante" - on Via dei Pastini. Good pasta, horrible meat dishes, poor service.
5) "Da Fortunato" - near Pantheon. Excellent food, (Salmon with Amalfi lemon Sauce was to die for), decent service.
6) "La Cononica" in Trastevere. Good food, bad attitudes.

We did all the touristy things in Rome and enjoyed all of them.
olijoc is offline  
Jun 18th, 2006, 03:47 AM
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Does anyone know how to get this back into the "Italy" section of the forum? I don't know what I did to put it into Europe.
olijoc is offline  
Jun 18th, 2006, 04:30 AM
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Hello olijoc,

It is one and the same. There isn't a separate Italy section so just keep posting your report here.

Tell me about Venice, please. After many trips to Italy, we are going for the first time to Venice this summer. Where did you stay, dine? How did you get from airport or parking piazza to yuour hotel?

Marianna is offline  
Jun 18th, 2006, 05:43 AM
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Hi oli,

Very interesting report.

>I still don't understand why our tour went ahead and some others didn't, <

Some tour companies have better connections than others.

Your Angel Tours is a keeper.

ira is offline  
Jun 18th, 2006, 07:05 AM
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I think 120 E was a good price for all those tickets per person.

I also ate at Ciak in Monterosso-Pesto with Gnocchi. I remember that I had never seen pesto so bright green ever. It was delicious!

great report.
laartista is offline  
Jun 18th, 2006, 09:30 AM
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After Rome, we took the train to Florence and then the bus to Fiesole, where we caught up with our tour group. I have to laugh at my fear of the Italian train system. Before we left for Italy I was such a wreck about the trains, but it was so easy, as long as you watch for the destination stations. I would not hesitate to use the trains and certainly would prefer them to driving in Italy.

One thing I might add to anyone unfamiliar with the train station toilets in Rome and Florence (as we were): bring a little change in with you as they charge .50-.70 to use the facilities.

We spent 1 night in Fiesole, (2 great restaurants there were Perseus and Ferro Battuto. Nothing fancy but excellent food), then began the hiking tour, with some stops in towns along the way. We went through:
1) San Gimigiano: although very touristy it is beautiful. I wish we'd had space for purchases because there were many nice ladies' bags in the lovely shops. Also, there were all different kinds of pasta in different shapes and colors. I thought it best to wait a bit to buy the pasta so it didn't go home as elbow macaroni.
2) Greve: a small beautiful little town with nice shops and a few cafes.
3) Siena: really lovely, crowded. We didn't have enough time here.
4) Volpaia: A pretty little town, not too crowded, peaceful.

After the hiking tour was over, we took the train from Florence to LaSpezia and then on to Monterosso. When going on to the local Cinque Terre train, get off at the 2nd station with the name LaSpezia in it. We all really enjoyed Monterosso, which I was happy about as I had hoped to stay in Vernazza (because of Rick Steves' glowing recommendations)but there were no hotels available when we booked and I was glad we had not stayed in Vernazza, as Monterosso seemed to offer much more. Here we stayed in a B & B/small hotel by the name of Ca' du Gigante. This hotel was a real little gem, spotless, great breakfast and had a lovely manager by the name of Maria who was truly a pleasure as well as a big help when we had questions. It does not have a water view but we thought that its location just off the main street was fine.

VARENNA in LAKE COMO: The train from Monterosso to Varenna, with a change in Milan, was long. We brought along sandwiches and water. Lake Como is very beautiful and Varenna has a small town feel to it. Here we stayed at the Hotel Milano. I didn't like it but from the reports I've read on Trip Advisor, I am in the minority. We had drinks at the Nilus Bar as well as the place right across the walkway from Nilus. Both were lovely to sit at and soak up the scenery.

laartista; I'd forgotten about the pesto. I also had that, and mussels, and it was the best pesto I think I've ever eaten. That's another thing (pesto in jars) I wish I'd purchased but didn't.

Marianna: After Varenna, we took the train(s) to Venice. I'll post that in a little while. My "short and sweet" has turned out to be a lot longer than I thought it would be.
olijoc is offline  
Jun 18th, 2006, 10:26 AM
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Thanks for filling me in on an areas that we did not get to on our own trip to Italy. Seems there are enough things to keep one going back for a lifetime!
Vera is offline  
Jun 18th, 2006, 04:10 PM
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olijoc, thanks for the tips. we are staying at albergo du lac in varenna, but do have dinner reservations at albergo milano because the 25 euro dinner sounded like a bargain in an area with such expensive restaurants and we will be there on a busy weekend. as for CT, have heard it's easier to hike from vernazza to monterosso, rather than the direction you did it. I hope so! we had considered the same hotel where you stayed, but ended up with a terrace and a view for less money in Levanto instead. we will have a car, so that was also an issue in terms of easy "in and out" for day trips. We have 3 nights varenna, as you did, but 6 nights levanto for CT and day trips. Thanks again for your info and feel free to give any additional advice. we leave thursday. alison
alison is offline  
Jun 18th, 2006, 04:33 PM
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olijoc, we are considering booking Albergo Milano in Varenna. Can you tell me what you didn't like about the hotel? We are basing our choice on all of the favorable trip advisor reviews. Thanks.
Judy is offline  
Jun 18th, 2006, 04:49 PM
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Oh, Lake Como is so beautiful and I was there on a rainy cold day and still thought that. Really enjoying your report.
laartista is offline  
Jun 18th, 2006, 05:55 PM
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Olijoc, I'm really enjoying your trip report!

Alison, what was the name of your hotel in Levanto? We will have a car too, so I'm looking for something similar.
Celiaanne is offline  
Jun 19th, 2006, 02:40 AM
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We stayed at the Locanda Orseolo, and we both think that this was the best hotel experience we've ever had in our lives. This is a small boutique type hotel and the owners and staff were the kindest, most friendly (but not intrusive) and helpful proprietors we have ever encountered. It's a little difficult to find, but when we did, and walked in, Matteo and GiGi said hello to us by name. I guess they were waiting for us. Matteo and his wife Barbara are the owners, and were helped by Francesco and Gigi. There are numerous reports of this B&B/Hotel on Trip Advisor. Too many to read, however, all of them are glowing and well deserved. It's spotless and well located, but just off the main drag enough that it's peaceful. We were so impressed with the warmth and hospitality of the owners/staff that we want to return to Venice just to stay there. Breakfast was also the best we had in Italy.

We took a train into Venice from Lake Como, and after exiting the station, took the #82 vaporetto to our stop near San Marco Square. It was pretty easy to do.

We purchased all day vaporetto passes at the dock near San Marco, then took the boat to Murano, where we changed to the LN boat for Burano. Burano is a charming sea village. Later that evening we also took the vaporetto around the Grand Canal. We didn't bother with the gondolas, too expensive.

We dined the first night at Hosteria Al Vecio Bragosso and the second night at Da Gioia Trattoria (which we happened upon during our walk back to the hotel) but I would not recommend it.

To get to the airport we took the Alilaguna boat. The dock for it is right near the regular vaporetto dock, and it cost 11 Euros per person. It got very crowded and took exactly 70 minutes to reach the airport.

When we go to Venice again, the one thing we would do differently is that we'd take a water taxi right from the hotel to the airport (or vice versa.) Ours would have been 90 Euros for the 4 of us, and the ride would have been 35 mintues. There were also water taxi drivers right at the Alilaguna dock trying to solicit passengers. Their fee was also 90 Euros for the taxi, and they seemed to want at least 5 passengers per boat. We had purchased our Alilaguna tickets the day before we were leaving Venice, but had we known about the water taxis right at the dock, we would have taken them instead. If we were really smart, we would have taken the taxi directly from our hotel. We would also spend more time in Venice. Two nights was not enough.

I really wanted to purchase a mask in Venice and I didn't, so along with the pesto and the leather bags, I'll just have to return soon to Italy. Next time I'll take an empty suitcase along with me on the way over.
olijoc is offline  
Jun 19th, 2006, 05:11 AM
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I honestly don't understand why the Albergo Milano gets such high reviews in Trip Advisor, maybe because the view is great if you have a room with a direct lake view. We had a small lake view room with a balcony but could only use the balcony in the early morning as the sun made it too hot in the afternoon and we had no umbrella. The 2 large balcony rooms, however, have umbrellas.

We did not find Bettina friendly at all, much the opposite, or maybe she just didn't like Americans that week. I don't recall anyone ever saying "Buon Giorgno" much less anything else.

Our room was not particularly clean, however, the breakfast was allright.
olijoc is offline  
Jun 19th, 2006, 09:42 AM
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Thanks, Olijoc, we have booked one of the terrace rooms. I hope they were just having a bad week during your stay.
Judy is offline  
Jun 19th, 2006, 12:48 PM
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Celiaanne, we are staying at Garden Hotel in Levanto next week. they just refurbished their 5th floor rooms with terrace and sea view. it's gotten good reviews on trip advisor. it's also much less than one of the CT towns at 120 euro for july. (rooms without terrace overlooking sea are cheaper)
I will be back mid-july and post a trip report with all details. I've struggled with the decision of where to say. the place this poster stayed in monterroso was one of our choices because i think they have parking and a/c. Of all the trip planning, this was the toughest decision -- where to stay in CT -- and i'm not alone. A/C, parking and easy in and out with car made the decision for us. BTW, the Garden hotel website is apparently NOT reflective of the rooms. I've corresponded with others who stayed there and rec'd photo from the hotel of hte newly-refurbished room where we will be staying. check them out on trip advisor.
alison is offline  

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