Trip Review Italian Lakes, Venice, Florence, Rome

My husband and I just returned from the May 12, 2016 small group tour. It was fantastic, one of the top three trips we have taken with Tauck. I will just share some thoughts on the trip. First, this trip is exhausting. It is rated a 2 for pace and activity level, but it is more like a 3. There were 20 people on the trip, ranging from age 24 to 91, and everyone commented on how physically difficult a trip it was. Not in a bad way, just a fact. There is a ton of walking and getting in and out of boats and gondolas, and everything has steps. There are some elevators, but not generally. The coach cannot stop right at the hotels because the streets are too narrow, and some of the major tourist spots are in the city centers and not accessible by coach. Then you stand in line to get entry for museums and such and stand during tours on hard marble floors. Many days, the only time we sat down all day was at lunch. This is not a complaint--just an advisory. Bring good walking shoes and lots of Advil. But we all managed, and it is worth it. The good news is that you can eat a lot and have an extra glass of wine and not gain a pound.

City by City: BELLAGIO---- We arrived a day early and walked from the hotel to the little village that is right by the hotel. We went to Villa Melzi, just a little way past the main walkway of the village. It has some lovely gardens and views of the lake. Some of the azaleas were still blooming, and the Japanese Maples were outstanding. We had dinner in the hotel's casual dining area that night. The next day it poured down rain all morning, and we stayed in the hotel. We finally ventured out a little past noon to go to the village for lunch and some shopping. There are several cafes and shops on the ground level of the little village right by our hotel. On the first day of the tour, the rain stopped for our boat ride, villa tour, and lunch. Lunch is really a 5 or 6 course feast served at a little place on an island in the lake. The amount of food, and wine, is overwhelming, so you really have to pace yourself. It is truly a beautiful little village and a relaxing start of a busy trip.

VENICE----We arrived for lunch at the hotel, then an afternoon of walking around St. Mark's Square, and visiting the Doge's Palace and the Basilica. Be sure to see the Baptistry across from the Basilica. The next day was free until time for the fun gondola ride. The hotel is right on the canal, easy access to St. Mark's Square for shopping and dining options. As we returned from dinner the second night, it poured down rain (again). We walked along the edge of the square in the covered areas, then had to make a dash across to get to the hotel. At least we saw the square totally empty. Even the pigeons were out of the rain.

FLORENCE----We arrived on a Monday, when all the museums are closed. After lunch at the hotel and a fascinating lecture about Florentine art and history, we set off on a walking tour. The St. Regis Hotel is gorgeous, and the dining room is extra special. The service is fabulous. The next day we went first to the Accademia to see Michelangelo's statue of David. Most impressive, but crammed with people. Then we walked to the Uffizi Gallery to see more and more art, and people. The afternoon was free. As if we had not had enough of museums and art for one day, we went to the Pitti Palace. So worth it. I liked it much better than the Uffizi. There were no lines to buy tickets and no crowds inside What a relief. And the art is wonderful. The Boboli Gardens are at the palace. We looked at them from inside the palace but did not wander through them, mainly because they are uphill, and our feet hurt.

ROME---Another fabulous hotel. We went to St. Peter's Square and went in the Basilica, which is mind boggling in its size and beauty. Pope Francis has declared 2016 to be a Year of Mercy, and he decreed that the Holy Doors to St. Peter's be opened. Google them--very interesting, and we walked through them. The afternoon was free to see some famous places, like the Trevi Fountain, Piazza Navona, and Pantheon. Don't miss these places. The Trevi fountain is insanely crowded, but you have to toss your coin in to wish to return to Rome. We had lunch at a little cafe on Piazza Navona and enjoyed the fountains without huge crowds. The Spanish Steps are under construction, so not much to see there. We had bought tickets to the Borghese Gallery online before we left for the trip. It was a busy afternoon, but we got to see it and then walked, naturally, back to the hotel.
We had our farewell dinner that night since we had to switch that with the Sistine Chapel visit the next evening.

The next day we had tours of the Forum and then the Colosseum. It is amazing that these ancient structures are still standing, albeit in ruins, and hard to believe that we were walking on the same paths that Julius Caesar trod.
Et tu, Brute???
This day ended with the visit to the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel. When the brochure says "private tour," it is not kidding. We walked through the museums, which were very pretty and interesting. Then the guide opened the doors to the Sistine Chapel, and we walked in. Just our little group of 20 people and 2 guides, all alone with Bernini and Michelangelo.
It was a breath-taking moment for all of us. There were 2 other Tauck groups also on the private visit. But our group was the first in line, therefore the first to go into everything. We had the place to ourselves for at least 10 minutes before the other groups entered. Even with the other groups, there were probably less that 100 people in the chapel. To a person, each one of us agreed that this visit was the highlight of the whole trip!!

One more thing about Rome----On our extra day in Rome, we hired a driver to take us to see VILLA d'ESTE in the little town of Tivoli, about 45 minutes from Rome. The villa and gardens were built in the late 1500's, and they are beautiful. The grounds are filled with blooming roses, walkways, and fountains and more fountains. They are not filled with crowds. It was very relaxing to stroll through the gardens and enjoy something totally different than from what we had been seeing previously. A very nice end to our trip. We left Rome at 9:00 and returned around 1:00. We spent nearly 2 hours in the gardens.

SHOPPING----The shops in Bellagio are really nice, though many are hard to get to because they are on little paths that go up from the main walkway in the village. The steps are steep and made of stone, a bit slippery, and there are no hand rails. Lots of good eating places up the paths also. If you see something you like, get it. The shopping is good in Venice also. When you get away from St. Mark's Square, the prices get better. If you want Venetian glass, get it there: you may not have another chance. These are the best 2 shopping opportunities.
It is difficult to shop in Florence and Rome because they are so big, and things are farther from the hotels. And there is not much time.
When at St. Peter's, there is an official Vatican shop where all the items are said to be blessed. It is a good place to pick up some gifts to take home.

DRESS CODE----During the day, the attire was whatever was comfortable for sight-seeing and walking. Bring an umbrella because you are likely to need it sooner or later. Dinners in the hotels and restaurants were resort casual, but no jeans or shorts. My husband wore golf shirts or long sleeve shirts. He took a sport coat but never wore it. I wore black pants and some sort of top or sweater.

DINING---We just followed the advice of the TA on where to go for dinner. By the end of the trip we pretty much didn't care what it was as long as it was CLOSE to the hotel. We stay an extra day in Rome and had a wonderful dinner at a little place called Ristorante Da Giovanni. Really close to the hotel and very reasonably priced for both food and wine.

GROUP SIZE----If you can, go on the small group tour; we were so glad that we did. There are so many and varied logistics to manage, and it was just so much easier to herd 20 people instead of 40. It is also easier to keep up with your group in the massive crowds in many places. Given the option, will will choose the small group from now on. It is well worth the difference in cost.


I hope future travelers enjoy this trip as much as we did.
Nancy

Comments

  • Thank you for such a good report of your trip. On this trip you did not make stops from point A to point B?
  • To Crackers
    We only made one sightseeing stop, between Florence and Rome, in Siena. We toured the cathedral and had lunch in one of the many cafes lining the edges of the town center where a horse race is held once a year. It was a nice little break except that it was a very steep walk up to the village and back down to where the coach was parked. The drive through Tuscany was scenic, and the gelato was good.
  • Italian Lakes, Venice, Florence, Rome are most beautiful and famous among all travelers. Your trip report is very nice and shows that you enjoyed a lot. I am also planning similar trip but in short time. So please suggest for 3 days trip to Italy. Your trip experience is very helpful for me.
    Please suggest
  • Amoscarter wrote:
    Italian Lakes, Venice, Florence, Rome are most beautiful and famous among all travelers. Your trip report is very nice and shows that you enjoyed a lot. I am also planning similar trip but in short time. So please suggest for 3 days trip to Italy. Your trip experience is very helpful for me.
    Please suggest

    SPAM with hidden link.
  • Dear Dixie Chick,

    Thank you for your detailed review. My husband and I are taking this trip in October of this year. Not a small group, but we are very excited about it. Your insights and recommendations will be very helpful. Much thanks. Nancy Johnson
  • edited August 2017
    My sister in law and I are also taking this trip in October, Nancy Johnson! Hope to meet you and enjoy what sounds to be like a great trip.

    Donna McNally (AvaCakes is my Granddaughter)
  • My wife and I also will be taking the trip in October, but in 2018. I will be interested to hear from those going in October, especially reports on the crowds and the weather...have fun!
  • We are going on this trip late September into October 2018
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