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Thread: Our Trip to Italy

  1. #1
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    Default Our Trip to Italy

    Here are the big lines of our trip to Italy, what we visited and where we stayed. I hope people will be able to get good ideas from this.
    I know this folrum is about Tuscany, but I figured I might as well include info on the other places we visited, Venice, Bologna and Rome. Hey, maybe even the Tuscans here will be able to use it!

    We stayed for 2 weeks in september, starting in Venice, then driving down to Bologna, Tuscany, and finally Rome.

    Warning this will be long!

    Venice:

    We landed in Venice and stayed for 3 nights. We got a mix of good and bad weather. Venice is a very special city, very unique and deserves to be explored. I'd say 3 nights is a minimum if you want to see most of the big sights, but you would be able to see everything in 4-5 days I think.
    Venice is easy to visit on foot, but I think the Vaporetto (water-bus) pass is pretty much mandatory to get around. One very important thing, get a map, even the locals get lost...

    We stayed at B&B Leonardo which is near Campo S. Barnaba in Dorsudoro. I highly recommend the place, it has nice rooms, it is well situated near the more residential area and the university. There are less tourists, less crowd, better and cheaper restaurants. Breakfast was included in the price and Leonardo is great. (110E a night, but might get better price talking to the owner directly instead of booking through venere.com)

    Without going in too many details, here are the highlights of our trip to Venice:

    Burano, a little island about 40 minutes by Vaporetto (Water-taxi). Beautifull town of clean colored little houses. We were there on a sunday and it was lively with people and quite genuine. I highly recommend the trip even if you only have 2 days in Venice, it's the most beautifull part of the city.

    My other recommandation in the Secret Itinerary at the Doge Palace. It's a guided tour of areas of the palace where you normally cannot visit. Very interesting and very instructive. They show you Casanova's cell, the torture chambers and where the secret archives were kept. We got there early on a monday and got the first tour without reservations. That might not be true for higher season.

    Another highlight, culinary this time, is the gelateria named GROM on Campo S. Barnaba. I don't think words can describe it...
    The restaurant on the campo, Onagi (I think...) was also excellent.

    The one big let down we had was San Marco Basilica. It's nice on the outside, but the inside is dark and gloomy and full of toursit. Not worth the wait and the aggravating security guard who doesn't let people with a small camera backpack but will let in a woman with a huge bag/purse...

    Next, Driving to Bologna.

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    We picked up our car at the Avis on Piazzale Roma. We got a nice upgrade to a Fiat Bravo from a Chevy Matiz! YAY!

    We drove on to Bologna and stayed at Hotel Accademia. The hotel is well located and was somewhat cheap (79 euro for the night) but it is a bland place with ugly rooms. Their rooms are smoking and we had to ask to be switched to another room.

    We visited around Bologna for a half day. I'm sure the city has a lot to offer, however, we didn't see much of anything special there. We didn't have much preparation going there so maybe that was why we didn't find anything that interested us in the city.

    We did however eat our best meal of our whole trip to Italy. We ate dinner at Trattoria Anna Maria. It was an incredible culinary experience and that restaurant is my most recommended of the whole trip.

    We left the next day to go Tuscany for 7 days

    Next, Castello di Querceto in the heart of the Chianti...
    Last edited by Mathieu; October 3, 2009 at 05:12 PM.

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    We arrived early at Castello di Querceto. Since our apartment at the castle was not ready, we went to Grève to visit and buy grocery.
    Grève is a beautiful town, the square is a nice place to eat at and walking around the town is pleasant. We really liked the restaurant Le Logge on the piazza. You MUST try their bruschetta and the Honey Truffle & Brie Cortono, the best we had in Italy!
    We saw the Wine Museum and it's worth the visit, quite educating about wine making and the history of the region.

    I woudn't make a detour to visit Grève, but it was a nice place to stay at since it was central to all the locations we were going to. It makes a nice base of operation, I would highly recommend it for people into wine tasting since all the Chianti wineries are close by.

    Our Apartment at Castello di Querceto was awesome. Beautiful old place, the surroundings are marvelous and it's quite cheap (450E for a week!). Julia at reception was very helpful and offered us a free wine tasting on the house. The castle is about halfway between Grève and the A1.

    The following day, we went to Firenze. We only spent a day there and that is my biggest regret of the trip. Lourdes you were right, Firenze deserves at least 2-3 days, even if you don't visit museums.

    We saw the Duomo, but did not climb the dome (my biggest of biggest regret!) and we pretty much skipped by Palazzo Vecchio. Ponte Vecchio is really cool, there is something really european about stores on a bridge! The main place we wanted to visit was the Boboli Garden. We were a bit dissapointed. They are very large and quite impressive, but not very well kept. This surprised me since Italians have a very green thumb. The gardens were pretty dry and just.. empty. This is far from Versailles and even gardens I saw in Germany and other places in France and Italy. You do have a great view of the city from there.

    We left Florence to go to Castello di Verrazzano where we had booked their dinner & degustation named "It's Magic!"
    I recommend this to everyone, that was really incredible. They gave us a tour of the castle, we saw their boars, the cellars, the vino santo, everything! The view from the Castle is breathtaking! Our guide Gillian was awesome. We had a great five course service diner and we got to taste all of their wines, actually, we did much more then just taste it!

    That night was also quite special for us since I proposed to my girlfriend. She said yes so she's my fiancé now!

    Next day, Cinque Terre!
    Last edited by Mathieu; November 2, 2009 at 05:22 AM.

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    The next day, we left very early to go to the Cinque Terre.
    The place is beautiful, incredible, spectacular and just like Venice, quite unique.
    For us, the Cinque Terre were the most beautifull place we visited in Italy. (Sorry Tuscany, you're pretty also!)
    I took tons of photos of the Cinque Terre, but like many sights, it is hard to capture on film.

    We drove to the parking in Riomaggiore. And from there, visited the town. We took the very easy Via Dell'Amore to go to Manarola. It's a nice easy 30 minutes walk which I recommend to everyone. It is very scenic and you get a spectacular view of Riomaggiore and the sea. Bring a lock!
    Manarola and Corniglia are my opinion, the most beautifull of the Cinque Terre towns. To get the picture perfect view, head for the trail that goes to Corniglia. We decided to take the train to go to Corniglia and we were VERY happy about it when we reached Corniglia. Let's just say that the stairs that goes up the cliff to the town are something. I don't recommend them to the elderly or people with children! Corniglia is also beautiful and the panorama from the top of the town is breathtaking. From then, we left by train to go to Vernazza. Vernazza is bigger then the first 3 towns. We enjoyed the panorama from the top of the mountain and walking the tiny little whinding streets. We left by boat to go back to Riomagiorre and then home.

    Cinque Terre is an easy day trip from Florence. But in a day, even visiting only 3-4 of the 5 towns, you have to hurry. It makes for a long and tiring day. If you want to take your time, go to the beach and do some hiking, I recommend you spend 2-3 days there.

    Another thing to consider is the cost. It was expensive to go there. Toll is about 20 euros each way, parking is 17 euros, then you have the train, the boat, the meals, etc. It'S possible it is much cheaper to go there by train.

    Next more of Tuscany
    Last edited by Mathieu; November 4, 2009 at 12:41 AM.

  5. #5
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    These are the places we visited in Tuscany, in no specific order,starting with the vineyards and then other day trips...

    Vineyards.
    Castello di Querceto:
    We stayed there, so the visit and wine tasting was free (yay for free wine!)
    Julia took us around a nice tour of the Castle, which is very beautifull. I would recommend the tasting, they have some very good wines and their cellar is impressive.
    I did not take notes, their Chianti was very good, but their other super tuscans I did not like so much.
    Except for one. their best wine is imho La Corte. Made from 100% Sangiovese, it is quite different, very light and fruity. I believe it was 23E a bottle.

    Montefioralle:
    Montefioralle is a beautiful small town that is now part of Grève. It's about a 5 minutes drive from the town center. We visited there a bit, it's quite spectacular, what a view! We went to a small vineyard named Azienda Montefioralle that was recommended by Lourdes. It's a small family business that produces 6000 bottle a year. It's really just a hobby for Fernando and his family! What a great tasting hobby! Fernando received us on the day he was bottling his wine, so we did not get to visit much, however, we got to eat and taste wine in the middle of the vineyard on a beautiful day, with a breathtaking view of Montefioralle and it's fields behind us. Their Chianti Classico is amazing. Both the normal and riserva wine are the best we had. I think if it keeps well, I might import some in the future. and it was cheap to, Chianti Classico, 12E and the Riserva was 20E I believe. I also got to trade a can of maple syrup to Fernando for a foam shipping box for wine I highly recommend this vineyards to everyone.

    Avignonesi:
    We went to Avignonesi to taste the Vino Nobile de Montepulciano. The winery is very large and the visit was very interesting. Their wine cellar is huge and very impressive. they have gigantic barriques to age their wine! It was very interesting to learn about the fabrication of the Vino Santo. We tasted many wines, but not their Vino Santo (20E for a tasting!) Strangely, I believe the wine that I liked the most was their regular Rosso table wine! Another nice and cheap buy, 7E

    Castello di Verrazano:
    another castle situated in Grève. As I mentionned above, we took the It's Magic dinner (52E per person). The place is beautiful, and offers some truly breathtaking view. The castle even has it's own herd of boar. The meal was excellent, the wine was excelent, the people we met were great, what a night! We got to taste all of their wines, a few time over! Their Chianti Classico Riserva was excellent, 26E (I think, someone gave it to us...) and we also bought a bottle of their Vino Santo, 28E. We learned about dipping our biscotti in the Vino Santo... my mouth still salivates at the thought of that!
    I highly recommend the It's Magic dinner for everyone, you really get your money's worth!

    Brunello:
    We ran out of time and did not get to go to a Brunella winery, now I have to go back to Tuscany...

    The day trips.
    Lucca & Pisa:
    Both places can easily be visited in a day, and Lucca, even if smaller, probably deserves more time then Pisa. So do the opposite of what we did, go to Pisa, see the leaning tower (and it leans, A LOT) then go to Lucca and spend the rest of the day there!
    The Cathedral of Pisa is really beautiful and it's worth going to not just for the leaning Campanille! We visited the interior of the Cathedral and the Baptistery (skip it! not worth it!). We did not go up the tower, way to expensive! We did take the cheesy tourist holding the tower pictures :P But for a really cool picture, take a picture of the cheesy tourist taking a picture
    Lucca is a beautiful medieval city which is still surrounded by a wall. the wall has been converted into a park and bicycle path and is really enjoyable to walk on. You get a nice view of the city from there. We also visited Pallazzo Pfanerr which has some beautiful typical Italian gardens. The interior of the palace was also very interesting. Really worth a visit and and it's not very time consuming. We also saw the Duomo, but did not go in.

    Siena:
    Siena is a very steep city! Be prepared! It's also an amazing city. Very different from Florence. It's an overgrown Tuscan town really. In Siena, we saw the most beautiful church of Italy. Sure it's not as grand as St-Peters of Rome, but the Duomo's every little nook is decorated. The floors, the walls, the ceiling. Paintings, statues, stripes of marbles, wood, the works! If you see one church when in Italy, make it this one. Take the combined ticket that allows you to see the Duomo, the Baptistery and the Museo dell Opera. We skipped by quickly in the museum not being big fans of Religious art, but the view from the tower is the best one in Siena! Take your time, walk around the city, visit the Palazzo Publico and the Piazza del Campo, the little stores, go in the samll courtyards, there are sights everywhere.

    Road Trip:
    Our last day in Tuscany, we drove down to Rome on the Sr222 and Sr2. It's an amazing drive and you get to see all sorts of different perspectives from the Chianti Hills, to the plains of the south and the sea. We had two stops planned that day, San Gimignano and San Galgano.

    San Gimignano is a city frozen in time. With it's medieval architecture and towers, you feel like you are back 500 years in the past and that you will see knights and horsemen turn around a corner! It's a city where the main attraction is the city itself. so just take your time, walk around, admire the scenery. We spent to little time there!

    San Galgano is an ancient abbey that is in the middle of nowhere. They built a cathedral there, but there was never the population to support it so it fell in ruins. Now only the stone walls and the outbuilding still stands. It's a very mystical and impressive place. There were few tourist when we went and we got to be alone in the cathedral, with the midday sun casting shadows on the dirt ground. It was very special.

    Next, the end of our trip, our last three days in Rome.
    Last edited by Mathieu; November 25, 2009 at 04:25 PM.

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  7. #7
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    Default looking forward to hearing more!

    Ciao Mathieu,

    Can't wait to hear about the rest of your trip! It will certainly be useful to all of us - even if the forum is Tuscany focused, most of us are like yourself and also visit other places in Italy on our trips.
    Your suggestions and impressions will no doubt be useful... actually, I was just in Venice a little over a week ago and wish I had known about there being a GROM there (love the one in Florence!) and about the restaurant in Campo S. Barnaba. I met up with some friends who selected a place on a touristy piazza which left much to be desired, not just price-wise.

    Looking forward to the rest of your posts
    What to see in Tuscany? Check out ideas on our main website DiscoverTuscany.com!!

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  8. #8
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    Ah, I didn't know GROM was a chain. I would have hunted them down in Florence and Rome!

    Generally, I found the found in Venice to be pretty good, even in touristy area.
    It was Rome I was more dissapointed about. Much more expensive and not quite as good as the other places we visited.

  9. #9
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    GROM is a sort of high class, high quality gelato place that has expanded a lot in recent years. I remember when they opened in Florence there were just a few shops in northern Italy and the big news was that they were opening a shop in NYC - now they're all over (but not in Rome, yet) including Paris and Tokyo. They use high quality ingredients and most flavors change with the seasons and they have a flavor of the month. The philosophy is if you're going to have pistachio gelato, get the best pistachios there are (these are generally considered to be the Bronte ones from Sicily) and lemons from Sorrento and so on.

    In Rome, I remember a great gelato place just off Piazza Navona but cannot remember the name... I guess I'll need to go back sometime and get all the info to share with our forum members .
    What to see in Tuscany? Check out ideas on our main website DiscoverTuscany.com!!

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    Well it's been a while since my last post, I figure I should update the thread before I forgot to much about the trip!

    I miss GROM and their increadible Gelato... I miss Italy actually... stupid work!

    I'll post about our day trip to Cinque Terre soon!

    I put our pictures of the trip online: http://picasaweb.google.com/cheshirecatmtl

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