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Trip Reports: 3 weeks Italy and 1 week England

Trip Reports: 3 weeks Italy and 1 week England

Aug 31st, 2007, 05:15 AM
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Trip Reports: 3 weeks Italy and 1 week England

Trip Report

I just spent 3 weeks in Italy and then, separately, a week in England and here goes a brief trip report.

We flew American airlines via London Gatwick (What a breeze of an international connection! An absolute dream compared to Paris and Frankfurt). Arrived into Torino and spent 8 days in with Italian family in Torino and in the mountain valleys of Piemonte. We did spend two nights at the Le Meridien Lingotto in Torino which was comfortable and interesting. I have to say that while I love modern decor, the rooms were actually too far in this arena actually seemed a bit spartan, but the bathrooms were great. And you can't beat the uniqueness of the historic racing track on the roof. Walking distance to some restaurants. The Le Meridien Art and Tech (5 star) next door was actually closed for the season, but should repopen soon.

The valleys of Piemonte are a dream - untouristed and very special. And for that reason I don't want to name specific names; if you have the interest and will to find these places then you will find them. Heavenly green mountain towers, authentic mountain cuisine (fresh homemade sausage ragu over polenta, or gorgonzola and lardo in polenta, wonderful), and friendly people.

Torino is great, visited for the first time the Palazzo Barolo in the city center, very historic, Mozart played there as a child, it was a meeting place for the European Masons, etc. etc. Ate at a Michelin restaurant of authentic Torinese cuisine - asparagus flan, tomato soup with serra (the Piemonte version of ricotta), and those fabulous homemade grissini.

I took the highspeed Eurostar from Torino to Rome, with a couple of stops in Milan, Bologna, Florence. This trip took 6 hours. It is a seasonal service, running in the summer I believe. Quick and fairly easy; long but the quickest way by train.

I then visited my cousins in Sora, Lazio, which is a fantastic, historic area. I learned more dialect this visit; the dialect here is very close to the ancient Romans: in Latin for "let's go" it is "eamus" and in Soranese dialect it is "o! iami!". Right on the border of the Kingdom of the two Sicilies and the Papal States, so towns just 6 km away speak the a dialect infused with French (as ironically, my cousins in Piemonte do).

Anyway, in and near Sora you can visit the birthplace of Cicero, which is now a medieval church built into a Roman temple (as is the cathedral of Sora). The most staggeringly beautiful thing I saw in Italy this trip was the crypt of San Domenico beneath this church - something out of a movie, low intersecting vaulted ceilings, short columns, very very special, unbelievable architecture from 1000 years ago, it took my breath away.

In the hills above the Lazio towns you can find fabulous but simple restaurants - open air dining, perfect temperatures (a cool respite from the hot lowlands), wonderful grilled meats, fresh cheeses, dozens of different vegetable dishes. The Italians eat much less pasta in the hot summer months, focusing instead on the bountiful vegetable dishes, with grilled meats and light cheeses. Beautiful beautiful fresh air dining experiences, clean air, low murmur of other diners talking softly, the clinking of glasses, the swish of the waiters in family run places. Lovely.

I also visited Sardinia for the first time. The water here is truly lovely. Every day I swam and swam in the clear green blue sea. We stayed at the Li Cuncheddi on the northeast shore. This is a true European experience, perhaps not for every American. Meal plan is required, and dinner is a 8, no flexibility there. You can eat lunch, but most Italians just have a gelato or a salad or fruit while spending the whole day in the sun. Many children, mostly Italian and German. I really liked this place, although the bathrooms were a little weird.

We also hired a boat for a full days exploration of the Arcipelago della Maddalena. This place looks like Tahiti. The water is even clearer and more beautiful here than near Olbia - it sparkles at every inch of depth - like swimming in a gorgeous sparkling swimming pool. Several villas and hotels here.

I also visited the legendary hotels Cala di Volpe and Romazzino, built in the 60's and 70s by the Aga Khan.

We took the ferry both ways on the Moby, talk to me about this if you're interested. We all agreed next time it would be better to have flown. The ferries really very in length, from 4 hours to 14.

I also spent a bit of time in Rome, visiting hotels like the Hassler, De Russie and one of my favorites (!) the Rome Airport Hilton. Rome has always been my favorite city, and it was delightful to be back.

I have to say that I have read many posts here on Fodors complaining about the many Americans in Italy, but I saw hardly any Americans (of which I am proudly one of course) except for in Rome, on the Eurostar, and at the Airport Hilton. Americans mostly keep to the well-trafficked route of Venice-Florence-Rome-Amalfi. This is generally for good reason, because off this beaten path it can be difficult (not always of course) to find English-speakers to assist with directions to restaurants, hotels, etc. The thing about Italy off the beaten path, is that often the best restaurants, the most charming hotels, the best shopping, are hidden away.

Speaking of shopping, I had quite a bit of fun shopping in the Italian outlets. These are generally in industrial areas, a small very very simple shop with no marketing of decor, but incredible, name brand bargains, all made in Italy. Amazing prices. Italian shops in city centers will often quadruple the price of what you can find in the outlets.

Okay, so that's my Italy summary, on to the UK.

Just this week got back from a trip to England, 5 nights in London and 2 in Yorkshire. While it has rained literally all summer in London, we lucked out with 4 days of sun. London is expensive. People told me prices were essentially double, and that's accurate. Great wonderful hotels like the Stafford, Lanesborough, Mandarin Oriental, Goring, Landmark and Ritz. Not inexpensive, quite the opposite, but very special and all different.

I loved the Tower of England (allot 3 hours for this) and Westminster Abbey. Amazing, intricate history and the Tower is just heaven for kids. (Today, not in the 1400's!)

Yorkshire is great with amazing walking opportunities and really neat castle towns like Ripley. Nice inns and good food.

I had always heard about the poor food in England, but I have to say every meal was great. We stuck to classic English pub food with some Indian and French bistro food thrown in for variety. We had wonderful meals in England. And high tea, quite the occasion especially at the Palm Court at the Ritz!

I flew Virgin Atlantic upper class to and from England and American first class to and from Italy. They both have their pros and cons, but overall American is better - much much more personal space and more comfortable seats. Virgin is cool, but feels a little like a cattle call, which is exactly what you're hoping to avoid by flying first class.

Well, that's essentially a brief summary. If I think of something else I'll add to it.

Cheers,

Ellen Craig
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ellencraig is offline  
Aug 31st, 2007, 04:07 PM
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ellencraig:

Nice report - where did you stay in Yorkshire?

Sandy
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Aug 31st, 2007, 04:17 PM
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Hi Sandy,

If you're looking for a good place to stay in York, I would highly recommend The Blue Bicycle. My family and I just got back. It's primarily a restaurant (and a good one), but they have a few really well done guest rooms. You can click on my name to find a more complete description posted elsewere on this forum. Simply great!!

I would also highly recommend going to Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Gardens, which we traveled to on our way from York to Traquair House in the Scottish Borders. Gorgeous and other-worldy!
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Sep 1st, 2007, 05:13 AM
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Hi Sandy,

We stayed at a friend's home outside Harrogate (a real thatched roof!).

But there are many lovely inns to choose from all over this area. I think that the Boar's Head at Ripley Castle would be a lovely place to stay. We spent a whole day at Ripley castle, the church, the gardens, the grounds, many great walks, and had lunch at the Boar's Head. (So called because in the 1300's, a man named Ingleby saved the life of the English king from a charging boar, Ingleby was knighted and his descendants have lived in this house continuously for 700 years.)

This is a GREAT place for kids, because it provides plenty of opportunities for exploring and moving around. They also have special kids tours of the castle, which are different from the standard castle tour. Also, in the time we were there they had a scarecrow hunt, where elaborately decorated scarecrows were "hidden" all over the grounds and the children had to mark off on their paper which they had found (next to the altar, on top of a gate, in the pub, etc.) Great fun for the kids.

I did not stay at the Boar's Head, but I think it would be a great base. The rooms are simple but nice. Good pub food, really very good.

There are many other inns to choose from in the area, the Blue Lion, Feversham Arms, and Rose Cottages in Shibden Fold outside Halifax.

I loved the spa town of Harrogate, by the way, and would definitely enjoy a future trip of 3-4 days there. Charming, thriving, good restaurants and tea rooms (can't miss Betty's!), and shopping, also antique shopping.

Ellen C.
ellencraig is offline  
Sep 1st, 2007, 08:23 AM
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Hi, thanks for the report, I love finding off the tourist path places. How far would you say Sora is from Rome proper? A day trip do you think?
SeaUrchin is offline  
Sep 1st, 2007, 09:53 AM
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Hi SeaUrchin,

Sora is about 1.5 hrs by car from Rome, but it really depends on traffic.
To reach Sora, either take a car, or else train from Rome to Frosinone and then car or bus.

Do you speak Italian? Not a lot of English is spoken here. The church of San Domenico is a little bit out of the city center, you could probably walk if you like to walk but a car would be better. Throughout most of history, the church was recorded as being in Arpino, which is the official birthplace of Cicero. But Arpino was enveloped by the expansion of Sora, and so technically the church is in Sora.
The cathedral of Sora is right in the center and should not be missed. They are working on opening part of the ancient temple ruins "scavi", but I can't say for sure when it will be open. When I was there the cleaning ladies took a shining to me and gave me a behind the scenes tour of the ancient Roman parts of the church that the public can't see, lucky me! But eventually they will have a public scavi tour option. Or if you hang around and look really interested, maybe make a donation...
I really love Sora. It has a river (sadly very very low right now due to the severe drought) and many beautiful old palazzos. If you are in the area, you may also want to visit Guarcino up in the mountains, famous for their amaretti (DOC, and the best in Italy), and Pescasseroli in nearby Abruzzo. Skip Frosinone, it's a sprawling mass of development.

Ellen C.
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Sep 1st, 2007, 10:41 AM
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ellencraig & cnote:

I appreciated your suggestions on where to stay in York. Always difficult to decide but after looking at lots of places on the web and finding some places not available for our dates we found Bootham Gardens Guesthouse. Looks nice and parking is part of the package www.bootham-gardens-guesthouse.com.

We arrive on Thursday and can stay in the area thru Sunday. I suspect that won't be long enough to do the area justice but will enjoy what time we have.

Sandy




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