Cynthia and Alicia (mother and daughter) reached out to me about a family “escape” to Italy. They had a very specific window of opportunity, and a pretty good idea of the things that the two couples wanted to see and experience, but they wanted my help putting it all together seamlessly. Together, the three of us crafted an amazing exploration of northern Italy, with some history, some culture, some gorgeous scenery, lots of fabulous food and wine, and even a quick test-drive in a Ferrari 🙂 Can’t wait to help them with their next adventure!
Here is my synopsis of our trip! It really was truly amazing.
I really liked Aer Lingus as an airline. I thought they were efficient, clean and had all the amenities I want when traveling overseas. The only challenge we faced was having the layover in Dublin in the middle of the night for us. None of us were able to get much sleep at any point during the flights or in the Dublin airport, so we were totally exhausted our first day in Milan. But we pushed through and didn’t nap! On the way back, going through U.S. Customs in Dublin was a dream!
As I said, we were exhausted our first day! We arrived at the hotel and one of the rooms was ready, so we stored all of our luggage in that room, changed and headed out towards Piazza Duomo to start exploring and grab lunch. The Best Western Galles was my least favorite hotel, but I think that’s only because of the particular room Jay & I stayed in. It was on the ground floor, (very tiny, which we expected because it’s Europe, but this felt extra small!) and the bathroom and shower were very tiny too! My parents’ room was much better, on the fifth floor, was larger and had much more counter space in the bathroom. I have a feeling that the ground floor rooms were designed differently, but maybe it’s possible to request a room on the upper floors next time. Everything else about the hotel was great – the staff very helpful and breakfast was great – everything you could possibly want (just a little crowded on Sunday, but the week was quieter!)
Our first day, we had lunch in a restaurant in Galleria Vittorio Emanuele (pricey, but pretty and we were exhausted and starving lol). After lunch we strolled around there, went into some stores and then went to the Duomo Museum which was really cool. After the museum, we decided to head back to the hotel so mom and dad could check into their room. We changed for dinner and went to a place called Ristorante d’Oro (recommended by the hotel and only a five minute walk from there). We didn’t have a bad meal the entire trip, but this was one of the best! They had papa pomodoro (bready tomato soup) which is one of our favorites, and we had previously in Rome and Florence.
The next day, we went to Sforza Castle and toured the museum there and saw Michelangelo’s Pieta. We then strolled down Via Dante and had lunch outside along the way. We then met up with our group for the walking tour. This walking tour was great! Our tour guide was incredibly knowledgeable, especially when it came to the Last Supper – she told us so many things you would never know by just looking at it. The tour was the perfect length for us, and we were able to see the important highlights of Milan. We then had an aperitivo and later dinner. The aperitivo trend was one of my favorite things about this trip!
The next day was my favorite part of the whole trip – Lake Como. We took a 10:20 train to Varenna (the train was about an hour). Once we arrived in Varenna, we hopped on the ferry to Bellagio, with the plan to come back to Varenna later on. I have decided that Lake Como is the most beautiful place I have ever seen. The scenery is incredible. I could not stop taking photos! In Bellagio, we climbed the cobblestone steps and shopped along the way, visited a church and then did a 3 wine tasting with lunch at a place called Aperitivo Et Al – this was fabulous. Our waiter explained each wine we were drinking in great detail (and very good English) and the lunch was great! We then hopped back on the ferry and went back to Varenna. Varenna was beautiful too – we strolled along the passarella (pedestrian bridge right along the water), went into a few shops, took a ton of photos, climbed more cobblestone steps lol and then settled into a place right on the water for an aperitivo. We then went to dinner at Ristorante La Vista. This place was incredible. It sits up high and has beautiful views of the lake. We sat outside and watched the sun set. After a nice long scenic dinner, we headed back to the train at 9:37. I think Jay and I have our sights set on retirement in Bellagio haha! It was simply magical.
The next day we got up, had the hotel call us a taxi, and took our train to Bologna. We found the trains this entire trip to be extremely easy to use and on time. We got off our train, and walked right to the Starhotels Excelsior. This was by far my favorite hotel. It was the most modern and very spacious (we did end up upgrading to deluxe rooms for another 20 Euros per night because those rooms were ready, but we were anxious to drop our suitcases and change our clothes). The breakfast here was equally great. We then set out for the day to explore. I have to say, I LOVED Bologna! Such a cute, quaint and old city. We strolled down Via dell’Indipendenza. It was a little late for lunch, so at first we had trouble finding a place that was open until we happened upon this place that looked like a deli. The owner was there and welcomed us in even though he was about to close. At first we had trouble with this menu – it was centered around this food called “Tigella”. ??? The owner swooped in to help. We soon learned the Tigella is local to Bologna, and is this type of bread (kind of like an English Muffin) that comes in all kinds of flavors (wheat, white, truffle, etc.) The owner ended up giving us a tasting of everything. He brought us three baskets of Tigella bread, then three plates of meats and cheeses to make sandwiches with the Tigella. It was INCREDIBLE – I am attaching a photo of it. This was the best lunch we had the entire trip! After lunch, Jay and I climbed one of the towers of Bologna (mom and dad opted out of this one lol) 498 steep steps to the top, but so worth it. The views of the city were incredible! After our descent, we did a little shopping, then went back to the hotel to change for dinner. We had dinner at this really cool place that we had found during the day (I forget the name of it though!)
The next day was the Food & Ferrari Tour. What an incredible day! I cannot say enough good things about this tour. I am so glad the guys wanted to drive Ferraris because it allowed us to experience this amazing tour. First of all, our tour guide, Olga, was hands down the best tour guide I have ever had on any trip I have ever been on. She was so nice, accommodating to everyone on our tour, so knowledgeable, and most importantly so enthusiastic about everything we were doing – you would never know that she does this almost every day! We went to a Parmesan factory where we got really lucky because the inspector was there, so we got to see how they inspect the cheese. We then went to the prosciutto factory, where again, we got really lucky because the inspector was there too! At each of these places, Olga took us through the entire factory step by step, then we did tastings of each with endless amounts of Lambrusco (Olga just kept magically pulling bottles out lol!) We then went to the balsamic vinegar factory which was SO COOL – I had no idea how they make it, and we are now all balsamic vinegar snobs. We had another incredible tour from the owner (and his 5-year old daughter too – so cute!) and then another tasting there – balsamic vinegar on cheese, balsamic vinegar on gelato….on everything. It was awesome! Then on to the Ferrari museum! The car that Jay had reserved to drive was not available, so he ended up selecting another one, the California Turbo (that came with a passenger – yay for me!) Dad also selected a passenger car. While waiting for the test drive, we toured the museum and Olga, being amazing again, took us through the museum and gave us a tour. The test drive was….scary…exhilarating…thought we might die…but ultimately we lived to tell the tale lol! Jay drove with the instructor in the front seat and me in the back seat. They take you through the town of Modena…on the very narrow roads…with other cars on the road…and at certain points let you go as fast as you can (the instructor was pushing Jay’s leg down on the gas HAHA!) Jay absolutely loved it. I had fun too, but was kind of glad when it was over and we were still alive haha. We then were to head to lunch with the rest of the group. Because we were the only ones to do test drives, the rest of the group had already gone to the restaurant so Olga sent the bus driver back to pick us up (again, so accommodating). We met up with the rest of the group, had an amazing 7 course lunch and lots of wine (which I needed after that test drive LOL). After lunch, we went up to the kitchen were two women were preparing stuffed tortellini by hand for that night’s dinner. They let us in the kitchen to observe and we actually got to try to make some tortellini with them! After that, we headed back to Bologna and were dropped back at our hotel at around 6:00. We went to our rooms, then went to dinner close by on recommendation from the hotel.
The next day we got up, explored the park near the hotel and took a walk through an antiques market. Then hopped on the train to Venice! Venice was so beautiful, again I could not stop taking photos! We grabbed a porter and a water taxi and arrived at the hotel. Duodo Palace was so beautiful and has so much character! The location of this hotel was definitely convenient – we never had trouble finding our way back to it and never had to walk too far to any sights. Our rooms were ready, so we checked in and dropped our bags – oh, and about those keys – real keys with a huge tassel that they keep for you at the desk – so cool! The rooms were again small, but the bathrooms were a lot more spacious than the one in Milan. The breakfast here was also very good, and a bonus – they had mimosas here! After checking in, we headed out for lunch to a place on recommendation from the very helpful hotel staff. I wish I could remember the name of it, but dad and I had the best gnocchi we’ve ever had! We then strolled around, went to St. Mark’s Square the Rialto Bridge, and eventually had dinner again on recommendation from the hotel.
The next day, we had our walking tour of Doge’s Palace and St. Mark’s Basilica. Finding our tour guide was a little hectic, but then we figured it out. This group had about 5 tours in 5 difference languages starting at the same time, so it was crowded but we eventually figured it out. Our tour guide was very good and very knowledgeable. This tour was a larger group of people than our previous ones, and everywhere we went there were already a lot of people, so it just felt a little more crowded, but that was Venice in general. Doge’s Palace and the Bridge of Sighs were both incredible. St. Mark’s Basilica was also quite amazing to see, but we all agreed that the tour through there lasted a little too long. After the tour, we grabbed lunch outside near our hotel/La Fenice Opera House and then visited La Fenice – so beautiful! We then headed towards the Rialto and did Gondola rides. This was so much fun – they took us along the Grand Canal and through some side canals. We then did some shopping in the Rialto area. That night, we decided to have dinner by the water near the Rialto (these restaurants might be tourist traps, but hey – “when in Venice” right? and the food was of course superb!).
Our final day in Venice, we went to the Academia Gallery and Peggy Gugenheim Museum (we got a little lost getting to them, but who doesn’t get lost in Venice lol). This was also the only day that we had a little rain on the entire trip! The Academia Gallery (mostly Renaissance art) was amazing, impressive, and so worth it! The Gugenheim (modern art) was not so impressive. It was extremely crowded and tiny (it was Peggy’s former house), but I also think I am biased because I do not like modern art lol. However, there were three paintings that I wanted to see, so once we saw those we headed out. We then had lunch at an adorable restaurant next to the Academia Bridge – amazing paninis! After lunch, we decided to head to Murano. We took the Vaporetto – so cool! We went to the glass museum on Murano which was amazing and then did a little shopping. We then headed back on the vaporetto and got off a St. Mark’s Square. We had an aperitivo at Harry’s American Bar, which is where the Bellini was invented and which Hemingway frequented in the 1940s. We then headed back to the hotel, and got a recommendation from a restaurant. However, when we got to the restaurant, they didn’t have any openings until very late. We happened upon another place called Roso Rosso, who had a table for us available a half hour later. We put our name in, and settled in a nearby bar for another drink (this was the theme of the trip – wine at every opportunity!) Roso Rosso was one of my favorite restaurants – I had THE BEST lasagna I have ever had.
The next day we were picked up by our private water taxi – we were expected them to arrive right outside of the hotel, but instead they were parked in a different canal, so the attendant walked us (about 5 mins) to the taxi. We had to drag our suitcases, but the attendant helped us with them over the one bridge we had to cross, and it really wasn’t too bad. We were dropped at our car, arrived at the airport and on our way home. 🙁
Finally, I have attached a few photos for you. All in all, this was such an incredible trip. It was exactly what we wanted – we were able to see all of the highlights, stay extremely informed and have a ton of fun all while doing a few small tours but mostly exploring on our own. The food, wine, scenery and sights were all amazing. We couldn’t have asked for more perfect weather. It was sunny and in the mid-60s every day, except for our last day in Venice. The Italian people were also all so friendly and helpful. We of course were always overly cautious but honestly came away with the feeling that the Italian people are really very genuine and want to help you. The breakfasts at all three hotels were great, but most importantly the hotels were all clean, comfortable, staff very helpful, and in perfect locations for what we wanted to see. It was so convenient to have our trains and private transfers booked ahead of time as well. I cannot thank you enough for planning this wonderful “escape” for us, Ann! Jay and I have our sights set on another European adventure sometime next year, so don’t be surprised to be hearing from us again soon lol! Thank you again for everything you did for us, and please let me know if you have any questions!