Hi Daniella! I hope you are well. Now that the kids are settled in with school, I have found time to give you some feedback on our trip. First I would like to say that our driver’s, Brando and Giorgio, were outstanding! They were always on time, very kind, helpful, conversational and extremely informative. We learned so much about the Italian way of life by conversing with them and found it most interesting and educational as well. We felt very safe with them and they were extremely helpful in so many ways! Please pass this along to them. All of our drivers in Rome were friendly, timely and expert at driving in the crazy traffic there. We felt safe despite the vespas zooming everywhere.
We found our accommodations during the trip to be overall very nice. Hotel Mascagni was very pleasing with the exception of the toilet not working in our room on our last night there. This was a bit of an inconvenience but we just used the toilet in our kids’ room instead. I did tell the maid about this, but not the desk manager, upon departure. Luciano, the front desk manager at Hotel Mascagni, was very friendly and always helpful. The waiters and maids were all exceptionally nice and professional. Luciano recommended an excellent restaurant our first night there, where we had wonderful food and an excellent and entertaining waiter. The restaurant name escapes me however. He also recommended a little cafe a few blocks away which we loved. Our hotel in Cinque Terre was very pleasing and the owner was particularly kind and welcoming. The breakfast there was absolutely delicious and the rooms were very comfortable, spacious and clean. We enjoyed our stay quite a bit. The boutique hotel that we stayed at in Chianti was an amazing place to stay – absolutely beautiful and impeccable in its style, elegance and cleanliness. The pool overlooking the tuscan hills was breathtaking. We ate at the restaurant three of the four nights there (as well as breakfast) and the food was some of the best we have ever had. The fourth night we chose to eat at a nearby restaurant that was within walking distance. It was nice to have a change of scenery there and the prices were a bit more manageable for a family of five. It was a nice second option close by, although a step down in quality of food and elegance from our hotel restaurant. It too overlooked the countryside vineyards and we watched the sun set from the patio there. All dinners and evenings those nights in Chianti were very enjoyable.
Our tours and guides in Rome and through out the trip were outstanding. We loved the Coliseum and Forum tour with Ana Maria as well as the Vatican tour with Daniella. Both of them were outstanding. Our food tour with Victoria was very fun. She took us many places but the highlight was the gelato place It was one of our favorite foods during the entire trip and was matched by no other gelato on our trip. Victoria said it was one of the two best gelato places in Rome, and we felt fortunate to have been there. We loved seeing the lively neighborhood of Trastavere that she took us to and learned a lot about the food/culture of real Italian people there. Having local guides was much appreciated and really enhanced the experience overall. While in Siena, Fernanda guided us through the winding streets and gave us a thorough and colorful history lesson about contradas and the Palio di Siena, as well as the Duomo there. We found it fascinating! In Chianti, Marco Antonio did a wonderful job of entertaining us on a rainy day in Greve. We hiked the “slow walk” around the countryside in the rain with him as he pointed out interesting facts about the vineyards, olive trees, and castles. The temps had cooled off from the prior 95 deg in Rome, and the rain was light. It felt great. We really enjoyed the hike and all of his insight about the history of that town. In particular, we loved walking through the castle village and learning about how people lived in that time period, as well as the age old wars between Siena and Florence. All of our guides talked alot about this war history which we found very interesting. Due to the rain, we were not able to enjoy lunch in Marco Antonio’s garden but enjoyed a nice lunch in town which he arranged for us. At Cinque Terre, Andrea did a great job of guiding us around the trails and through the villages, again giving us valued insight into the history, agriculture and terrain of this amazing sea side area.
One of the other highlights of the trip was learning so much about wine (in particular Chianti) and cheese (in particular Pecorino). Of the three winery tours we did, we found the first two to be the most authentic and enjoyable. The lunch at the first winery was excellent! We loved Umberto’s San Donato winery and the wine tasting and lunch we were served after the tour. It was our favorite of the three. We were slightly disappointed in PogiAntigo only because it felt more commercial in both the tour and the tasting. We loved the authenticity of Umbertos bed and breakfast location as well as seeing the old buildings there and learning about Umberto and his family history. The trip to the farm where we learned about Pecorino cheese from Ulysses was interesting, and we now have a new appreciation for pecorino cheese. We loved seeing the country side and landscapes from his farm, as well as the sheep and shepherds in the fields there. We found it particularly funny when he asked us if we had been to the home of the world cheese competition in America. We had no clue where this was but as it turns out, its an hour from our home and in the town where both Jack and Quinn now go to college — Madison, Wisconsin. How ironic !
Our stop in San Giminango was exciting with the only disappointment being that we did not have nearly enough time there to explore and shop a little. We had about 1 hour and 15 min, which went very fast. Otherwise we loved seeing it, and wished we could have more slowly toured it and absorbed the history there.
Our travels from one destination to the next over the 11 days went relatively well. As I said, our drivers were great. We were not aware, however, that the country roads would be so winding and hilly. Had we known this, we would have taken Dramamine before our drives through Tuscany, in particular the ride to Greve. Jack and I were quite motion sick. Warning your clients about this so they can be prepared would be very helpful, in our opinion. After learning about the roads, we took dramamine before each long drive and it went much better. We had a little trouble at the train station in La Spezia (I think thats where it was). We arrived plenty early with the help of our great driver. We found our platform but did not know which car was the first class car of the train. We ended up getting on the wrong car with all of our luggage (car 2 and we were in car number 8). We had a brief moment of panic but figured it out with the help of a nice Italian young fellow and after running down the platform at top speed before the train took off, we found our correct car and all was fine. It was quite funny actually. Explaining how to identify the first and second class cars on an Italian train would be something to keep in mind for your clients in the future (we learned they are marked with a large number 1 and 2 on the outside). We now laugh a lot about our stupidity regarding this and consider our blunder one of the comical highlights of the trip. After all, there must be some of this on a trip or a family vacation just isn’t a true family vacation – right ??
There are plenty more highlights from the trip and if I think of any in particular, I will email again. Our trip was overall the trip of a lifetime and we loved it We were thankful that we always had help from you at any point of any day if we needed it. The phone you gave us was a life saver at times and much appreciated. Your attention to our needs was outstanding. Our final thoughts about Italy is that the Italian people are truly unique and we found them to be refreshingly kind, respectful, and appreciative of our touring their home. We always felt safe and welcome. This was the biggest highlight of all. We will be back someday and will contact you again at that time. In the meantime, we have given your name to anyone who asks about our trip and Italian experience.
Amy Weaver and Family (John, Jack, Quinn and Kira)
Amy Weaver (Menomonee Falls – WI) July/August 2019