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Trip Report - February '02 - Dolomites, Florence, Siena, Assisi, Orvieto and more...

Trip Report - February '02 - Dolomites, Florence, Siena, Assisi, Orvieto and more...

Mar 10th, 2002, 08:21 AM
  #1  
Mariarosa
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Trip Report - February '02 - Dolomites, Florence, Siena, Assisi, Orvieto and more...

I used this forum extensively in planning my trip, using the crazy ‘search’ function for pulling old trip reports, so here’s my payback.

This was somewhat of a budget trip, using public transportation. We stayed in 2 and 3 star hotels, and ate at trattorias.

Flight – Arrival – Transfer to Dolomites
Flew Delta from JFK to Malpensa. Flight was waaaay overbooked and they had such a mess that we pulled from the gate 1 hour late.

We had planned to take the bus from MXP to the train station, the train to Trento, and bus to our town in the Dolomites. However, when we arrived there was a driver waiting to take people to the town that we were going. We arranged a ‘deal’, very much ‘under the table’ (50 euros for the two of us) and off we were to the lovely town of…Moena. (Note: There were ski operators taking people to the different resorts, so if you book your ski vacation on your own, you may still be able to offer the driver some cash for your transfers like we did).

Skiing in the Dolomites
Moena, our base in the Dolomites, is a lovely town, strategically located between Val di Fassa and Val di Fiemme. Free public ski-buses connect Moena with ski areas in both valleys. This was our second year in a row skiing in the Dolomites. Last year we skied in Alpe de Suisi. I liked the Moena area better than the Val Gardena area because it has more of an Italian flavor.

We skied in Alpe Lusia, Latemar (both Obereggen and Predazzo), Passo San Pellegrino, Campitello, and Canazei. We thought Latemar was the best – great snow, awesome scenery, and extensive terrain.

We stayed at the Hotel Alle Alpi (www.hotelallealpi.it), which was great. It is family owned and managed. The food was good, and they had an extensive wine list. The hotel had a nice spa. We were able to meet people while sweating in the sauna, turkish bath, etc. Price was very reasonable – 880 Euros for the week, including half board, and we went in the high season.
 
Mar 10th, 2002, 08:23 AM
  #2  
Mariarosa
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FLORENCE

Transportation - From Moena we took the bus to Trento, and the Eurostar from Trento to Florence. Eurostar, second class, was *very* crowded on that Saturday (Feb 23). From SMN train station we walked to our hotel.

Hotel Casci - We stayed at the Casci, based on the many favorable reviews found on this forum. I can say that the Casci is the best 2-star I have ever stayed in Europe. If you want a stylish place to stay, this is *not* the place for you. But if you want a super clean, spacious, room with nice amenities (a fridge, TV with CNN, free internet access), a new bathroom, and a comfortable firm mattress, for a very reasonable price, this is *the* place to stay. Great winter rates (90 euros B&B, 10% discount for cash payment when I showed Margo Classe’s Hello Italy!).

Is there a low season anymore in Florence? There were a lot of tourists for February, compared to my last jaunt to Florence in March of ‘94. Luckily, many seemed mostly interested in the David in the Accademia and the Duomo, so other Florentine treasures, like the Orsanmichelle, were empty (with it’s nice views from the Granary). The Cappelle Medici was almost empty, allowing us to linger in front of Dawn and Dusk and Night and Day. We spent a few hours on Sunday just relaxing in the Boboli Gardens, sampling gelato, and just walking around and enjoying the atmosphere.

Food in Florence
Gusto (Via del Proconsolo 8/10) – a great place to have lunch. They have an extensive list of pizzas, big salads and pastas. Very inexpensive - lunch for 2, including house wine and water, was 20 euros.

Antellasi (Via Faenza 9/r) – we had ravioli, salad with pear and pecorino, peposo alla Fiorentina and bistecca alla Fiorentina. It was good. Dinner for 2, including a bottle of Chianti Classico (Geografico) and 1 dessert was 60 euros.

Angiolino (Via Santo Spirito 36r) – we had ribollita, gnocchi, Gran Pezzo (a big piece of medium-rare prime rib), and veal stew. This place was atmospheric and absolutely delicious. Dinner for 2, including a bottle of their house Chianti Classico and 1 dessert, was 60 euros.
 
Mar 10th, 2002, 08:25 AM
  #3  
Mariarosa
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SIENA

Transportation - We took the express SITA bus to Siena. There’s about 1 bus each hour (9:10, 10:10, etc.). The bus arrives at Piazza Gramsci, from where it was a 2-minute walk to our hotel.

Piccolo Hotel Il Palio – If they would renovate this hotel, it would be a very nice place to stay, because it has really nice architectural details in the public areas and the rooms (exposed beams in the room, arches everywhere). Unfortunately, the carpeting in the hallways had a faded, ugly brown flowers design, the bathroom was small and older, and the breakfast was only rolls and coffee (or tea or chocolate). On the positive side, the staff was nice, the location was good (on Piazza Sale, convenient for public transportation, and a 10-minute walk to the Campo), the shower had nice pressure and it wasn’t cramped, and the price was right - 56 Euros B&B. For this price, I would stay here again.

I loved Siena. I had visited it as a child, but this was my first time as an adult. Many think of it a touristy town, but it maintains it’s character. We saw people going about their normal lives – grocery shopping, coming out of the movie theatre at around 10 PM, doing the passagiata in the evenings, shopping at regular shops, etc. We spent 1 day and 2 evenings here, and I could have stayed longer.

Food in Siena
Gallo Nero (www.gallonero.it – Via del Porrione, 65). We each had one of their 2 medieval menus. Menu is a deal at 20.50 Euros pp. Walk in the afternoon and make reservations, as this place was packed on a Monday evening in February!

Il Guibellino (Via dei Pellegrini, 26, between duomo and campo). Wonderful risotto, wonderful tortellini in walnut sauce. The lamb chops were good too. Their desserts had exciting names (like Wilma’s Passion) and they were a notch above other desserts we had in Italy (I know that’s hard to believe!). Around 50 Euros for 2, including a half-bottle of their house Chianti Classico.
 
Mar 10th, 2002, 08:26 AM
  #4  
Mariarosa
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San Gimiganano
Did a daytrip by bus from Piazza Gramsci to San Gimi, with a change at Poggibonsi. Buses are at :20 and :40. There are also non-stop buses almost every hour on weekdays. You can pick up schedules at the Sottopassagio underneath P. Gramsci (take the stairs down).

We walked for 4 hours around San Gimi, and it was great. Very few tourists. The Gelateria di Piazza (Piazza della Cisterna 4), which has won many awards, did not disappoint, even though we walked in with high expectations – pistachio, mango, chocolate, crema di Santa Fina, vernacchia, and baccio were all delicious. Yummmmmmm.
 
Mar 10th, 2002, 08:29 AM
  #5  
Mariarosa
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ASSISI

Transportation – took the direct SENA bus. It left at 10:25 AM from the Siena train station, arrived in Assisi at 12:30 PM.

Assisi certainly has a lot to offer, with its beautiful medieval architecture, it’s pink-hued stone houses, and it’s awe-inspiring basilica with beautiful frescoes (Rick Steves has a great self ‘tour’ of it).

However, in 3 trips to Italy in winter, this is the only town that I felt I should have visited from April to October. Many recommended restaurants were closed (including Pallotta, La Fortezza, and Medioevo), and the place where we ate the first night was OK, but uninspiring. There was construction everywhere (and I mean everywhere). From the vantage point in La Rocca, I counted 9 cranes. 9 cranes in a small town like Assisi is quite noticeable! I asked at our hotel and they said that there’s construction year-around because of the earthquake, but there’s more in the winter. And while there weren’t any crowds, there didn’t seem to be many locals either. There didn’t seem to be many stores that didn’t sell -touristy knick-knacks, there weren’t any locals coming back with groceries, there wasn’t a passagiata (or is Assisi too hilly for a passagiata?).

We stayed at the Hotel San Rufino. We cannot recommend it. On the upside, it had a nice breakfast (especially considering the size of the hotel), the bathroom was new, it had a good location (off the Duomo), and the walk from Piazza Matteoti was an easy walk (1-2 minute walk, no stairs). However, our room faced a small inside ‘courtyard’ that had a covered ceiling. Our one window opened to this ‘courtyard’ but we couldn’t really open it either because on the ledge of the window sat a cleaning bucket and cleaning supplies! There was absolutely no natural light coming into the room. I asked about changing rooms but my request wasn’t accommodated even though they were far from being full. Again, our options for places to stay in Assisi were quite limited because many nicer cheap places close during the winter.

Restaurant
Osteria Piazzetta delle Erbe (Via S. Gabriele dell Addolorata) – a good place to go if you want a light lunch or a light dinner. They have sandwiches (tortas) on rustic flat breads, many vegetable contorni, a variety of antipasti, and a couple of pasta specials. Inexpensive and light.
 
Mar 10th, 2002, 08:31 AM
  #6  
Mariarosa
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SPELLO & SPOLETO

We visited Spello and Spoleto from Assisi. They are both a short train ride away. Spello is 10 minutes from Assisi and Spoleto is about 1 hour, with a change of trains.

Spello is a small town that is worth a short stop only if you really want to see a small Umbrian town. Otherwise there isn’t much to see and the closest thing to a central piazza has some really ugly modern buildings in it.

Spoleto was awesome! It has a lot to offer the visitor - Roman ruins, medieval streets, a gorgeous Duomo, neat Romanesque churches (Sant Eufemia), a castle looming at the top, and an amazing 13th century bridge. The Piazza del Mercato was full of real people buying food.

Note – we tried to visit the Rocca, but they only offer guided visits, which would be an interesting visit to do. They opened at 3:00 PM in the afternoon, and when we inquired at 3:10, the next visit was at 4:00 PM (and we needed to return to Assis that evening, so we didn’t have enough time to do it). They don’t have English-speakling tours per se, they conduct the tour in the language that is predominant among the visitors.
 
Mar 10th, 2002, 08:34 AM
  #7  
Mariarosa
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ORVIETO

From Assisi we took the train to Orvieto (about 1 hour 45 min. with a change at Orte). We loved Orvieto. Great town, great food and interesting history.

We stayed at the Hotel Duomo, which had received recommendations from other Fodorites. It was great. It has recently been renovated, and went from a 2-star to a 3-star. Everything was brand new. It has big, dramatic modern art in the lobby and in the rooms. The bathroom was spacious and done in marble. The room was tastefully furnished with a very comfortable, firm mattress. Big windows and quiet. Really nice breakfast too. It is family-run by a mom-pop-daughter combo. Super friendly and helpful staff (the daughter speaks English).

Besides seeing the gorgeous duomo, exploring the old cobblestone streets, shopping, and stopping at one of the many wine bars on Corso Cavour to sample wine, Orvieto has all these underground tunnels, and the Tourism Information Office on Piazza Duomo offers intresting and informative guided tours.

Note - we tried to visit a couple of Romanesque churches (San Giovenale and San Lorenzo, which supposedly has an Etruscan sacrificial slab as it’s altar), but they were closed on Saturday (and no orario was posted).

Food in Orvieto
La Grotte del Funaro (Ripa Serancia, 41). We had wonderful ravioli in truffle sauce, ricotta and spinach ravioli in a pink sauce (similar to a vodka sauce), steak with porcini mushrooms, boar steak with rosemary. With a bottle of wine and a shared dessert, it was about 65 euros.

Duca di Orvieto(www.ducadiorvieto.com). They had a special medieval night composed of five courses with paired wines. We arrived at 8:30 and didn't leave until after midnight. This prix-fixe was a deal (60 euros), so definitely check to see if they are offering a special theme night when you visit Orvieto. The chef and the sommelier discussed each course and each wine. It was a wonderful experience on our last night in Italy.
 
Mar 10th, 2002, 08:37 AM
  #8  
Mariarosa
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Transportation Back
We had a flight out of Rome at 11:50 AM, and we had planned on taking the 7:33 AM train from Orvieto, that would arrive in Termini at 8:23. When we arrived to the train station, there was a train STRIKE!! Because we had to catch a flight, we had no choice but to call a cab to drive us all the way to Rome. This set us back 200 euros. We learned an expensive lesson.

SHOPPING
We traveled light, so most of our ourchases were shoes, wine, and food.

We bought 3 very nice bottles of wine at Enoteca Italiana in Siena (inside the Fortezza Medici). This place is an institution! It's worth visiting just to see their displays of wines from all over Italy. We sampled some of the wines that they offer by the glass. The staff at the Enoteca Toscana section was particularly friendly and helpful.

Any questions? Feel free to ask, we had a great time!
 
Mar 10th, 2002, 09:02 AM
  #9  
Betsy
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Mariarosa! An awesome trip report. Thanks so much for sharing.
 
Mar 10th, 2002, 11:41 AM
  #10  
Dayle
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Mariarose, thanks for such a great & detailed report! Glad you liked Orvieto - we did too.

I skied Cortina & surrounding areas a few years ago & almost went on a ski club trip to Moena. I was dissapointed to miss it so how was the skiing? We found Cortina to be mostly low intermediate level on piste. Did you do any "routes" out of Moena? (Such as the Sella Ronda) Did you rent your equipment? If so, was it in good condition?

Thanks again for the report. It's nice to hear experiences of those going "off season"!
 
Mar 10th, 2002, 12:08 PM
  #11  
Holly
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I was hoping you'd post a report! I've added some of your comments to my trip planning notes. Was there any indication that at least some of the scaffolding will be down by Easter weekend?
 
Mar 11th, 2002, 02:07 PM
  #12  
Mariarosa
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Dayle - the skiing in the Moena area was definitely low intermediate too. I was very happy with it because I am a low intermediate (I started learning last year). My husband is an expert and he didn't find anything to truly challenge him (good thing because all the 'Forsty' beers and the crazy drinks may have impaired his ability to ski his best!). There's a long black that goes all the way down to road level at Alpe Lusia, and connects to a 'skiweg' that you can ski back to Moena. My husband would ski down this long black and I would take the gondola down (no waiting) and my husband would already be waiting for me at the bottom! He said it was more like a difficult red.

The equipment we rented was great! I think it is important to rent on Saturday evening, and not wait until Sunday, because many people arrive on Saturday. Last year we arrived to Castelrotto on a Sunday and I couldn't find a pair of boots that fit me properly. This year, we rented Salomon Crossmax 10 skis. My pair of Salomon boots was fine and my husband rented a pair of Lange boots which were brand new and he really liked them.

We skiied part of the Sella Ronda, but there were strong winds on that day and we were scared of getting stuck in Arabba, so we only did the Canazei-Campitello and part of Val Gardena. I think the Dolomiti people have realized what marketing genius the Sella is because they have created 11 new 'tours'. One of them, the Skitour del Amore sounded really neat - and it started in Alpe Lusia. We tried to do it, but there's a portion of it that goes by bus through a forest reserve, and the buses stop running between 11 and 3 (you know for Italian lunch).

I would love to hear sometime about Cortina, since it looks so lovely in the pictures and we are hooked on this area.

Holly - I asked about buses to Gubbio from Assisi, and at least this time of the year, there weren't any non-stops. So if you decide to include Gubbio, you may want to stay overnight. We will have to visit Gubbio on our next trip!
 
Mar 11th, 2002, 04:23 PM
  #13  
John
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Mariarosa:

I love to read first hand ski reports! Thank You! I have to add Moena to my list of 'Must Do's"! I was going to Cortina this year, but, 9/11 slowed me down..but being laid off stopped me! Could not get that one by the wife!! Oh well, There is always next year!
JOHN
 
Mar 11th, 2002, 04:45 PM
  #14  
Thyra
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Mariarosa, thanks for the wonderful report. Though not a skier, I really appreciated you taking the time to post. So glad you liked the Casci, by far my favorite hotel in Italy. Welcome back!
 
Mar 11th, 2002, 05:59 PM
  #15  
Dayle
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Hi fellow skiers! Since some of you are interested, here's my info of our ski trip to Cortina a few years ago. We loved it! Stayed in Cortina at the Grand Hotel Savoia, a 4*. Since it was a club trip, breakfast & dinners were included. Food was great, but not as "Italian" as we had expected. It was explained to us that the Cortina area was Austrian prior to WWII, so more veal, butter etc. Hotel was VERY nice and very European.

Got a major kick out of the passagiata (SP?) where all the local women wear brown mink coats. Has to be mink & has to be brown. We got a picture of a 3 foot high pile of mink in a cafe window.

Skiing around Cortina was great. It was mostly very easy, but we really enjoyed the difference from US skiing. Loved the fact that we could ski from village to village, or down an entire valley & take a cab or bus back! Loved stopping for wonderful lunches on the route. Certainly puts the chili and hot dogs at US resorts to shame!

Our Super Dolomiti lift ticket was good for over 430 lifts, pomas, trams and gondolas. We did our best to ski as many as possible. Skied 2 days around the Cortina area. Skied the Sella Ronda route where the scenery was awesome! We started & finished in Arraba and thought the old single chair lift in Val Gardena was interesting! We drooled over the Marmolada area which could be seen, but not accessed from Arraba. Also skied the Paso di Falzzarego (SP?) where we actually got towed by a local farmer with his horses & sleigh on an uphill portion. Were we ever glad to see him! also took a day trip to Kronplatz on the border and really enjoyed the mountain. The views were again incredible! One run there is 7 km long.

Definitely would go back in a heartbeat. Skiing in Europe costs less than a ski week in the US. Buon viaggio!
 
Mar 11th, 2002, 06:07 PM
  #16  
BOB THE NAVIGATOR
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What a great report---mille grazie !
I love your brevity but still tons of useful information--good job.
 
Mar 12th, 2002, 05:17 AM
  #17  
John
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Dayle:

Great info! I have been skiiing in Euro for over 18 years You just can not beat the "Package Deals" It is worth every jet lagged flight to be skiing the ALPS! If you just want to 'ski' then Vail and most of Utah would be fine...but if you want to really live, breathe, and taste the true ski life then you have to try Europe!!
JOHN
 
Mar 12th, 2002, 03:13 PM
  #18  
Mariarosa
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Thanks Dayle for the Cortina report and to all for your nice comments! What a hoot the story about the farmer with the horse!

Dayle & John, I couldn't agree with you more! I don't think my husband would have gotten me hooked on skiing if it weren't for Italy. Skiing is just an excuse to be in the beautiful mountains eating great food, working on the tan, drinking some Forstys, hanging out in the sauna afterwards. It is such an experience. And all for such a reasonable price.
 
Mar 12th, 2002, 10:02 PM
  #19  
Dayle
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Mariarosa & John! Come on out & ski with us in Utah some time. While it is the US experience, it's still the best snow on earth. I live in Park City & we just had the time of our lives at the Olympics. PS: it's snowing tonight, gotta put the skis in the car...
 
Mar 13th, 2002, 05:33 AM
  #20  
John
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Dayle:

Thanks for the offer! Live in PC!!, now that is sweet!! I have to admit that when I skied "Alta and Snowbird" awhile back, the snow was the deepest and softest that I have ever skied!
All good skiers know that the for pure snow conditions the States have it all over europe, and Utah is the best of the states!....BUT.....Where can I get my Gnocci and Vino in Utah? My Leberkase and Weissbier in Utah? My crepes and cream in Utah? My Schnitzel with Kartofel in Utah? See where my priorities are these days!

I know you know I am exaggerating, just having fun! However, I will say that Utah did the USA proud! That was one beautifully done Olympics!!! Maybe I should put in my resevations for Torino! in 2006!
JOHN
 

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