One more - Italy trip report ...

Dec 3rd, 2001, 04:17 PM
  #1  
Deb Williford
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One more - Italy trip report ...

Part 1 (Rome & Florence)

Italy was wonderful! It truly was everything I had dreamed of. I only wish we had at least 2 more weeks. We felt that we rushed through many of the things we did but still felt compelled to do them. Thanks to everyone here who helped me plan. Our trip was more to see what Italian living was like rather than to visit museums, monuments & cathdrals, although we did our fair share of that as well. I made a booklet with all the recommendations I had received. Used it for a reference if we came across something interesting. I’m not a great writer but took lots of notes, here are a few of them:

Rome (2 nights)

Definitely need more than 2.5 days. Loved it! Felt we were just getting to know our way around when it was time to leave. Did the majors (Pantheon, Pza Navona, Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, St. Peters (climbed all the way to the top of the Cupola & back down again) & Coloseum).

Stayed at Hotel (Due Torri) - Great & centrally located, just north of Pza Navona. Wonderful staff.

Favorite Rome restaurant - Orso 80. Antipasta abounds & the pasta was great.

First taste of Gelato (by Trevi fountain) – Hazelnut, yum.

Florence (1 night)

Only had a few hours on Saturday. Very crowded with people. Saw the David (wow), Ponte Vechio & Duomo. Beautiful city but didn't have enough time to do it justice. Stayed at Hotel Mario, about 4 blocks from train station. Good location, very helpful staff. Very tired (the trip was just catching up with us). Had panini & bottle of Chianti in room for dinner.

 
Dec 3rd, 2001, 04:19 PM
  #2  
Deb Williford
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Part 2 (Tuscany - Gaoile in Chianti)

Tuscany (7 nights - whole reason for trip)

Bike ride - Tough hills, took the van more than anticipated but still loved it. BackRoads is the company we went with & they are top notch. All 4 & 5 star hotels with great dinner restaurants & wonderful guides. All hotels, most lunches & all but 1 dinner was included in cost so not sure of hotel or most restaurant prices.

Gaoile in Chianti - Hotel L'Ultimo Mulino - 2 nights. Beautiful hotel - old converted mill. We got the suite - still don't know why - but happy to have it. Living room, huge bedroom, 2 large bathrooms (great for washing out a few things). One bathroom had a jacuzzi tub which was great for my sore muscles. Was within walking distance from Ceramiche Rampini. Great ceramics, shipped home & are enjoying everything we bought.

Had great picnic lunches with BackRoads (wonderful spreads - bread, cheese, tomatoes w/ mozarella, roasted onions, pate, pesto, fava beans, wine, salads etc.) Ate at L'Ultimo Mulino for dinner 1st night - Antipasta, ravioli w/cream sauce, spaghetti w/bolognese sauce, eggplant, baked chicken breast & roasted pork & of course plenty of Chianti Classico - excellent. 2nd night ate at Osteria del Castllo di Brolio (Brolio is the guy that discovered the recipe for Chianti Classico). Great meal – Chef came out & addressed our group, he was an Irish guy from south Africa. Stuffed zucchini blossoms, tres mouse (cauliflower, carrot & red pepper), black truffle ravioli w/ white truffle oil, lamb chops & what else? more Chianti Classico.

Visited Badia a Coltibuono – Originally founded by Monks. Great wine & olive oil. Wonderful tour of wine cellar & olive oil manufacturing. Privately owned. They also have cooking classes & you stay there while taking the classes (next time?).
 
Dec 3rd, 2001, 04:21 PM
  #3  
Deb Williford
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Part 3 (Tuscany - Siena, Casole D’Elsa & San Gimignano)

Siena - Park Hotel Siena - 1 night. Outside city, nice hotel but would have preferred to stay in Siena itself. Got there late in the afternoon, explored Siena a bit, loved the Campo. Had a great wine tasting with group & then ate at La Torre just off the Campo – via Salicotto, 7. Best pasta of whole trip. Very casual, no menu, owner comes over & explains menu in very broken english. We took his recommendations & loved it. Also had LaCrema, Gelato from Gelateria on Campo – yum yum.

Rode bikes to next hotel about 18 miles outside Siena – Borgo Pretale – 2 nights. What a great place, if we could afford would make this our home base (for the remainder of our trip). Had pool, tennis, archery, bocci. Very long climb to get there but well worth it.

Ate at Borgo Pretale for dinner twice. Combined dinners included, but not limited to - Canape w/lemon marinated mushrooms, Tuscan appetizer (many different Tuscan meats), Cauliflower flan w/anchovies sauce, Lasagne in leeks & parmigiano sauce, Tomato, bread & basil soup, Sausage stuffed rabbit, Eggplant parmigiano, Sea bass filet baked in potato pastry, Roasted beef shoulder w/porcini mushrooms & fennel pudding & wonderful desserts.

Rode to Casole D’Elsa and then on to San Gimignano (actually took van from Casole to San G.). Loved Casole D’Elsa, favorite small hilltown of whole trip. Quaint, lovely streets, small shops. Had a great picnic lunch just outside of town. San G. is also great, had about 4 hours there, climbed to top of one of the towers. What a view!

For our final night with the bike tour (at Borgo Pretale), our group ordered every dessert on the menu & we played “take a bite & pass it right”. It was wonderful. They had great wines to select from & we gorged ourselves on both the food & the wine (Brunellos, Super Tuscans (good but overrated in my opinion) & Chianti Classicos).
 
Dec 3rd, 2001, 04:26 PM
  #4  
Deb Williford
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Part 4 (Tuscany - Cortona, Montelcino & Montepulciano)

Took the van back to Siena to get a car for the drive further into Tuscany. Wonderful drive, felt like we were on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Road was very winding & beautiful. We stayed at Parco Fiorito, the next 2 nights. It’s just outside Cortona & a great spot to relax. Its an agriturismo on the outskirts of Cortona. I think it has 6 or 8 apartments. Some in the main building which is a 1565 converted convent from. Great host – Roberto Russo & his family.

Found farm easily enough but now understand everyone’s comments about driving in Tuscany. Roads aren’t well marked & you have to have a real sense of direction in order to not get too lost. All you have to do is find a good turnaround spot – easier said than done.

First night in at farm house - Bought “groceries” at a local market. Had antipasto in our apartment (salami, eggplant, cheese (3 different kinds), pesto, bread & of course wine). All meats are prepared on a local farm, by the family that owns the market. Back at the apartment, there was a crescent moon with Cortona lights in the background. Very soothing.

Next day - Breakfast in apartment, had bought orange & pineapple juice at the market the night before. Didn’t realize until we opened that it was blood red OJ & creamy pineapple juice. Oh my god, how tasty, why can’t we get that here? Drove to Montalcino & Montepulciano. Loved them both. Will stay near these towns the next time & visit more wineries & eat there as well. Visited the Banfi winery, beautiful. Great tasting room. Bought a couple of bottles of Brunello & one of a super Tuscan. Also bought lots of ceramics in Montalcino. Boy were our bags going to be full for the return trip home!

Second night – Decided to eat in Cortona. Walking through town & watching the locals chat & children playing hide & go seek in the Pza della Republica was so nice. Found that most restaurants were booked solid for Saturday nights (we had lost track of what night it was & hadn’t made reservations – big mistake). Ate at Trattoria Dordano – worst meal while in Italy & bad service to boot. Should have known, only restaurant in Cortona that wasn’t booked. Had Strattecialla gelato from Snoopy Gelateria – best of whole trip. It rained cats & dogs during the night, the only rain the entire trip.

Had breakfast w/Roberto, owner of the farm, the next morning. Had the usual yogurt, cereal, etc. but also had pressed bread which you put jam on. This was a real treat. Also had fresh mozarella, which had been brought from Sicily the day before. Don’t think I’ll ever taste mozarella like that again, it was a great.
 
Dec 3rd, 2001, 04:27 PM
  #5  
Deb Williford
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Part 5 (Venice & final)

Venice (3 nights)

Stayed at the Hotel do Pozzi. Good location, just west of St. Marks square. Good sized room but smallest shower so far. A hole in the floor of the bathroom with a shower curtain. Room overlooked a very quiet courtyard. Good breakfast. Very helpful staff.

Really liked Venice as a whole but disappointed in the food. We’re from Florida, weren’t really looking for seafood during our trip. Loved the surrounding neighborhoods of Dorsoduro, San Polo & area N.E. of San Marco. Went to the Guggenheim and Doges Palace liked them both.

Overall

Loved our trip. Would definitely spend more time. Ate Gelato almost every day. Lived off panini & wine for lunch, Would love to visit more wineries. Would learn more Italian. Learned enough to get by & have a very minimal conversation but would have liked to talk more with locals. Glad we took washcloths (cut in half & left behind). What must the Italians think of us? Glad we got to Venice, & would recommend that everyone go there but probably won’t go back. Too much of Italy to see otherwise on our next trip & food there didn’t satisfy us like Rome & Tuscany.

Anyone who is hesitating to go to Italy, don’t - just go. Make sure you spend as much time in each place to get familiar & comfortable before moving on. If you like a place a lot, stay longer. Carry extra bags to bring back purchases. Even though we had some extra room in our bags & took an extra bag, still wound up leaving behind clothes in order to be able to pack purchases. We could have bought more if we had more room to bring back.

Breakfast – loved the yogurt, rolls & the cheese/butter spread.

Pasta – Fresh & simple.

Lemoncello – Loved it so much we’ve made it since returning and savor every sip we have. Have even added lemoncello glasses to our Christmas list (our family just looks at us as if we’ve gone mad).

Wine – Brunello & Chianti Classico. Have bought nothing but Italian wines since our return. While standing in a store it’s great to turn to my husband & say, “hey didn’t we have a bottle of this at …...”

Can’t wait to go back!
 
Dec 3rd, 2001, 05:45 PM
  #6  
Judi
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Hi Debbie, Thanks for writing about your trip. Nice job! I'm glad you had such a good time. I'm proud of you for taking a bike tour; peddling or in the van, it doesn't matter. I hope that you will be able return soon and at a more leisurely pace next time.
 
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