Thank you so much for putting together the best trip I have ever been on! My mother had the best time seeing each city and not once did she feel as if she had missed out on anything. My sister and brother in law were impressed by the flawless transitions from city to city and the quality of the guides.
The location of each hotel was excellent! Even though we were outside of the major city area, we loved it. The major areas were just steps away and we avoided the loud noises and hustle and bustle of the crowded tourist streets. We had no issues navigating the cities by ourselves and each tour guide was exactly where you said they would be (the picture locations were so helpful!). What helped even more was that each driver was exactly where you said they would be (pictures again made this easy!) and they held signs with my name. As silly as it sounds, it made the trip even more special because we felt like celebrities. We don’t often have our names on signs here in the states and we don’t stay in hotels with such fine furnishings and details as the ones you chose. Hotel Tornabuoni Beacci was on what everyone called the “Fifth Avenue” of Florence! What was also extremely helpful was the guide at the Venice train station. He helped us out of the boat and explained the Italian train system to us. He walked us around the area to show bathrooms and even approximated which track we would use based on the train company.
As for the tour guides, they were some of the best guides I have ever worked with. Isabella was amazing! Her choices for our food tours were phenomenal. When one location was too crowded, she quickly took us to another delicious, small local spot. Monica added to Venice’s charm by providing even more of a historical background. She took her time to explain all parts of the Byzantine influenced Saint Mark’s Basilica. We stopped in the main entry way to let groups go passed as she showed us all the fine details from the floor to the ceiling. City Tours hired a free lance guide named Francesca for the Murano and Burano boat rides. She was funny and informative! We learned some history about each island we passed (who knew that Venice had so many islands nearby!) and where to get the best gelato (Burano across from La Perla lace shop).
Laura showed us the unbelievable art of the Uffizi Gallery. It was clear she has a strong background in art history and a love of her city. She really gave us a greater image of Michelangelo. I loved how she pointed out artists’ self portraits embedded in commissioned pieces. She also recommended a superb restaurant, 4 Leoni. Giuseppe was our Algiers winery driver. He did much more than drive! He stopped to give us the best view from one of the oldest monasteries in Florence. He stopped in a cute town with an amazing butcher shop. We had never seen meat so fresh! And a wild stuffed boar! The winery chosen was terrific. I loved that it was a younger winery started by a young couple. It shows the dedication and love for one’s job that makes the wine taste even better. The tasting was really a small lunch! Altiero is one of the best wineries I have ever been to. The homemade olive oil and the historical context with one of their wines was phenomenal. I loved it. Absolutely loved it. So did my family! Yaris was our next driver, who spent the entire day with us (poor man!). He gave us more historical background, and being my age, gave a different perspective. He explained what each type of wine (DoCG or DoG) meant and how to tell if cheeses are actually the cheese they are called (DoP I think?). When we stopped to admire something, he explained where it came from and how it is used (capers come from a flower!) and explained all about San Gimignano’s twice a year horse race. We were able to witness a drum line processing through the city to celebrate the victory of one particular region. He also recommended a beautiful winery for lunch. Like Altiero, it too was started from humble means and it has grown into a well established winery. The owner’s son himself took care of our tasting and lunch. Everything was fresh and delicious. The views were breathtaking. Both Azienda Agricola Altiero and Podere La Marronaia were breathtaking in both food, wine, and views. We were floored. No wine tasting in New York will ever be as good.
Rome was not what we expected! Everyone who had gone said we would not like it as much as Florence or Venice. To be fair, Florence was all of our favorites but Rome was quite unique in her history and offerings. Luca was an amazing tour guide and bless him as he had to spend three days in a row with us! He was so patient and walked at a slower pace which was great for my mom. The cobblestone of Rome was difficult for her to navigate. He gave so much history and had such a great sense of humor. We could tell he was an experienced guide who takes pride in knowing his city. The restaurants he suggested were all phenomenal. They were definitely not as tourist centered, which we greatly appreciated. We could tell the difference between local spots and tourist traps thanks to Luca. One restaurant in particular, La Carbonara, found in Campo do Fiore was OUTSTANDING. We went just for lunch and everyone agrees it was some of the best food around. Best part for me? They would not speak in English to us. I really appreciated having to use some of the Italian I had learned. I felt less a tourist and more a part of the city. Luca was amazing. He really explained where we were going, why we were following a certain route, how to avoid tourist traps, and where I could find Fanta Lemon (which I am sad to say does not exist in the states.
I apologize for such a length review, but I wanted to ensure each tour guide received due credit.
Emanuela, this trip was beyond my mother’s imagination. She loved every second of it. My sister and brother in law are not into history and church visits, yet they loved every second. Why? Because the tour guides embedded lots of fun historical facts. Because the skip the line tickets were easy to use and we saw how incredulously long the lines got. We loved breezing right in with a special private tour guide. It was all planned with the utmost care. The only thing I wish is that we had taken more time off to see the wonders of Italy. However, in the ten days you planned, we saw everything we wanted to and then even more. My mom is raving about it to all of her friends. She kept a printed itinerary to show off to her friends who have traveled to Italy before, but only doing self led guides or large bus tours. She was so proud to say she had a custom designed trip.
Thank you so very much for making her 60th birthday gift everything she wanted. Moving forward, I will definitely recommended and use Cultural Italy and you for any trips to Italy!