By: Vince Todaro, Travel Consultant
For my first time visiting Italy, we decided to go on the Italy Bellissimo with Trafalgar tour. My wife and I took our oldest son as a memorable graduation gift, and we are so glad that we did!
Upon arrival at the airport, we met our transfer bus at 9:30am, and it was only a 20 minute ride to the hotel. We met our guide Lisa and checked in at the Hotel Tiberio. The room was elegant, and had a separate area for my son. Later, we met the group for a welcome dinner, and took an orientation drive to view the Vatican and St. Peter’s Basilica.
The second day, started out with a walking tour of Rome. We took beautiful pictures, and tossed coins in the Trevi Fountain to secure another visit to this beautiful city in the future.
We then marveled over the breath taking Pantheon. I did not know that this was the oldest structure with a dome in Rome, as well as the best preserved in all of Rome’s buildings! By 12:30, we were on our way to the magnificent Colosseum. The lines were pretty chaotic and long. Our local guide, Donatella, steered us away from the chaos and into a separate VIP line, where we walked straight in with little delay.
After an early breakfast, we were well on our way to Pompeii and the mysterious Mount Vesuvius. This is about a three, beautiful, picturesque- hour drive. There were plenty of picture options prior to arriving this well- anticipated archaeological site.
Again, we skipped the long lines, and entered the site with ease. Our local guide’s name was Enrico, or “Mario Poppins” because of his big red umbrella that was always easily seen while we were taking in these incredible sights. As a local, and well known expert, he had so much knowledge, that we found him very informative as well as entertaining.
This took us until about 11:00, and most of us were now looking forward to our optional mozzarella farm lunch. The owner of the farm, Rosa, showed how they have been making this delicious cheese, and other cheeses, for several generations. On this farm, they have olive and lemon groves. We enjoyed a hunger-satisfying lunch with the freshest ingredients possible, while amidst a breath taking view of the Bay of Naples.
After trying their homemade lemonciello and olive oil, we had the opportunity to purchase some to take back with us. With the wine and lemonciello tasting, we were all certainly relaxed yet eager to see our hotel on the Isle of Capri.
A 40 minute ferry and 15 minute funicular ride up a mountain, we arrived at the amazing Isle of Capri. The views again were breathtaking! We stayed at the beautiful Regina Cristina for two nights while on the island.
After breakfast, we had a relaxed start to our walking orientation tour of the Isle of Capri. This can be a bit of a busy island due to its size and beauty. One of the main reasons we chose this tour, was because it spent two nights on the isle. The cruisers leave around 4-6 pm, so you share the island with the locals in the evening.
Our local guide was Antoineta. She also escorted us on our optional cruise around the island. We took the most amazing pictures of the Blue Grotto while floating around this beautiful island. In some spots, it looks like there are lights beaming from below. This is from the sun reflecting off the limestone.
After the cruise, we took the convertible Fiat taxi on the Mamma Mia Highway. Again, the views were getting increasingly better as we wound up narrow streets with hairpin curves. This ultimately took us to the single chair funicular to “Anacapri,” which was over 900 feet at its highest point. This is a truly spectacular 360 degree view from the top of Mount Solaro.
We did a lot of shopping as the prices were actually pretty reasonable. It amazed me as to how much we had seen thus far in just the first few days. We now looked forward to what Assissi had to bring.
The Cenacolo Hotel in Assisi was walking distance from St. Francis Basilica, as well as where he was buried. We arrived early, and had to wait about 5 minutes to enter. When we entered, we were the only people inside. We had a local specialist walk us through and explain all of the beautiful paintings. This is his life story painted on the ceiling of the church. I was moved so much by this as his delivery was so animated. St. Francis is buried here, and we had the opportunity to visit the tomb. This experience was so moving for me. To be standing next to a Saint that is often referred to as the second Jesus. While we were exiting, I saw another popular first class tour operator just arriving. It was already packed at this time and they were a group of close to 50. Happy to be with Trafalgar!
We then were off to the Floating City! When we arrived Venice, our director, Lesa had our water taxis meet us right on time. We took the taxis through the Grand Canal, what a site to see! The must-do optional excursion was next and my wife was extremely excited to be floating in a handmade gondola. When it was our turn to get on the boat, Lesa, mentioned that there were going to be two other people joining us. In comes an accordion player and a singer! We were serenaded all though the canals of Venice! There were five gondolas in our “fleet”. I just happened to be on the third where the musicians got on. This was a beautiful experience! We then checked into our hotel for some free time and a chance to explore on our own for a bit.
St. Mark’s Square had a variety of everything, from quaint coffee shops, restaurants with delicious food and amazing espressos to hundreds of small shops with great deals on clothing and jewelry. I also had the opportunity to meet the owner of a family coffee shop with the same last name as mine – Al Todaro Ristorante!
In Florence we visited Piazza della Signoria, and saw all of the statues in the square from a copy of David, to Hercules and Cacus, to Perseus with the head of Medusa, and plenty more. There is an optional excursion to The Academia Gallery, in which you can see Michelangelo’s original David and The Slaves and plenty of other fantastic paintings and sculptures.
Related: Travel Like A Local With Trafalgar!
After driving through the beautiful Tuscan Hill Country and Siena, we arrived in Rome to complete our tour of the Vatican and St. Peters Basilica. On most dates, this is done in the beginning of the tour but because our Day 2 was a Sunday, the museums were closed. Again, the crowds were in the thousands, but we were able to get right in to The Vatican, Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica with little to no wait. Television and all of the pictures do not do any justice as this is a must experience at first hand.
As the tour drew to a close, we checked in to our hotel and met a couple hours later for our Farewell (Party) Dinner. The delicious, homemade food was never-ending, the wine didn’t stop pouring, and the music brought this truly magical Roman evening to a perfect end of a Must Do tour!
Italy Bellissimo with Trafalgar was exactly as it’s titled – Beautiful Italy. I felt that we saw all what we wanted to see. We stayed busy, but still had plenty of time for ourselves to enjoy. I would certainly recommend this tour for first time travelers to Italy.
By: Vince Todaro
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