Trip Review and Tips
Who should take this tour:This tour is not recommended for first time visitors to Italy. Other Italian tours have much more interesting itineraries and more bucket list sights. This was our fourth Tauck tour to Italy and ranks in fourth place for those tours (our other tours were Classic Italy:, Tuscany and Cinque Terra: and Rome, the Amalfi Coast and Capri). Not that this was a bad tour, it just wasn't as amazing as the others. Think of this as the been there, done that, looking for something new tour of Italy. With the exception of Venice, all of the destinations were new to us.
TIme to go and weather: This tour is only offered in September and October. That's just perfect. We went the second week of September, and it was in the 80's for most of the trip and 70's towards the end. We had just a half day of rain (I think we were lucky). Go later if you want to be sure to avoid hot weather.
Food: Has anybody had bad food on an Italy trip? We certainly haven't. All on tour lunches and dinners included wine with the meal. Most of the restaurants were on the casual side, with the exception of the Grand Hotel in Stresa. No need for men to bring a jacket. In the past, Tauck dinners in Italy did the full three courses and dessert. On this trip, we were told two courses and dessert. A much more reasonable amount of food. I think you could have done the three courses, if you were a big eater. Lots of special food opportunities in Northern Italy: Balsamic vinegar in Modena, Parmesan in the Parma area, mortadella and other cured meats in Bologna, seafood in Venice. Try the pasta with black squid ink, if you get a chance (but don't get any on you!).
Hotels: All of the hotels were fully up to Tauck standards with awesome locations. All were of the vintage grand hotel variety. The hotel in Stresa (Grand Hotel des Iles Borromees on Lake Maggiore) was exceptional. Each floor had a different decor, and the decor was "over the top." Everyone got a lake view, but I'm not sure this always is the case. Some rooms were larger than others, luck of the draw. The hotel in Venice is right on the Grand Canal. You get to have your morning breakfast on the terrace overlooking the canal - memorable. The hotel is full of pictures of celebrities, politicians and royalty. They clearly got bigger rooms than we did.
Pace: The pace varied, but in general it was on the leisurely side. Some early mornings when moving to a new hotel. Dinners were booked on the early side for Italy (typically 7:30-ish). The service speed was sometimes leisurely, and dinners still could run to nearly 10pm. Try to have your packing done before dinner on the eve of moving to a new hotel. Being Italy, many of the sights required a fair amount of walking and climbing of stairs or hills. Persons with walking difficulties should think twice before booking this tour.
Sights: This trip for me was more about enjoying Italian culture the seeing new sights. Lakes Como and Maggiore were the highlight for my wife and me - beautiful scenery and an island palace with gardens that was a joy to visit. In Miian, DaVinci's Last Supper was not available as part of the tour for our departure. I believe that next year they're dropping it entirely. So, if you want to see it, it's best to make reservations (entry is timed) in advance and do it on your own. The Milan Duomo is the most popular sight in Milan. If you want to go inside and possibly climb to the roof, you will need to do that on your own, as well. You can probably wait and have the hotel concierge make a reservation for you. Since most people on this tour have probably been to Venice before, it's nice that they take you to Torcello and Burano which you probably haven't seen. You also get the Doge's Palace and St. Mark's Basilica as part of tour, but those will be repeats for most visitors. We were supposed to get an after-hours tour of the Basilica, but it wasn't available for our tour. We got a before opening tour of the Doge's Palace instead.
All in all, an enjoyable trip. A good choice for those who are looking for more Italy and haven't been to the north.