Following is a glimpse of our two weeks in Italy. We decided to forego the big cities for this trip and instead focus on the countryside, the hilltowns, the people, the food and the wine. We did, however, see a little bit of Rome since we were departing out of there. It was an incredible trip and we can't wait to return!

I had lots of ideas before we set the itinerary but have to give enormous credit to Travel Consultant Sally Watkins for helping us put it all together. She made all the arrangements, offered invaluable advice and was a big reason the trip was so great! Thanks also to all the Fodorites who offered suggestions and advice on the Fodor's Forum.


May 10
Dale, Bob, Brooke and I depart for Italy - flying into Naples via Milan. Flights and transfers went well, only slight delays and very minor turbulence. Marcello was there waiting for us and was a very able driver. Despite the fact that he yammered non-stop about everything and nothing at the same time, he got us to our destination with no problem. Couldn't wait to get out of his van though.

Stopped in Pompeii en route to Positano and was very interesting but we were so tired and it was fairly hot so didn't stay too long or probably fully appreciate the historical site. Would have liked to have seen Herculaneum too, but too tired and ready to get to the hotel. Really glad we were able to experience this incredible view into such an historic event but wouldn't recommend it after traveling for 18 hrs. (We knew this was a possibility but didn't think we'd have another chance to see it.)

The drive to Positano was absolutely enchanting - scary, but enchanting nonetheless. The narrow winding roads, blind curves with motor scooters whizzing by on both sides at breakneck speed took some getting used to but all in all it was fine. The scenery was exquisite and the blue blue water took our breath away! Marcello dropped us off where the main road meets the pedestrian-only alleyway down to the beach. 'Alleyway' doesn't do it justice really, it was an arbor & bougainvillea covered brick path that was beautiful.

May 11 - 14
Our hotel, the Palazzo Murat, was not more than 30 yards from the drop-off point and it was divine. As you walk in there was a beautiful enclosed flower-filled terrace that was the bar/restaurant where cocktails were served in the evening and breakfast in the morning. Right after checking in we parked our tired and thirsty bodies there and learned our first truly useful Italian phrase: "Due bicchiere de vino bianco, per favore " ("Two glasses of white wine, please.") We felt obligated to practice this line repeatedly until we were sure we had it right. It was the least we could do... Many glasses later we were sure not only could we speak Italian, we WERE Italian.

The hotel was beautiful, clean, classy and typically Italian / Mediterranean with tile floors, plaster walls and high ceilings crisscrossed with hard-wood beams. Our room (#5) was exceptional - on the top (3rd) floor and on the corner so had double doors with balconies on two sides. Very large, beautifully appointed (blooming live orchid on antique table in the center of the room) and the bathroom was very large as well. Service and staff were exceptional also. The view was great even though we weren't right on the beach. We were located just behind the dome of the main church so out one window had that view, out the other could see the water and all the buildings built into the mountain.

I think this was probably my favorite hotel of the trip even though the others were very nice too. We had dinner at a little place named Max's about 15 yards from the hotel. Beautiful setting, lovely atmosphere and great service. Food was very good but not great.

May 12
Bob's daughter Tracy got married at sunset today in Positano (a pleasant coincidence we discovered while planning the trip - original itinerary hadn't included the Amalfi Coast until we learned of the nuptial plans). Awoke at 7:00am to the chimes of the church bells, went downstairs to the terrace to drink strong Italian coffee and address postcards. The sleepy town was still an hour from coming to life but before I knew it the cacophony of children laughing, talking and squealing could be heard just beyond the terrace walls. Don't know where they were from, couldn't discern a particular language - just the universal language of happy children.

While Bob & Brooke climbed the 1000 steps to the top of the hill Dale & I decided to be lazy tourists and instead walked and explored the town of Positano most of the morning. We walked up the hill checking out the booths and stores, had a lemon ice (superb) then on our way back down stopped at The Delikatessen and picked up an assortment of anti-pasti (sundried tomatoes, grilled, marinated zucchini & eggplant, tomatoes & mozzarella drizzled with olive oil), a bottle of wine and some bread and headed down to the beach for a 'picnic lunch'. Good choice!

The wedding was beautiful, at sunset on the rooftop terrace of the municipal building officiated by the local magistrate dressed to the nines replete with a very official looking red, white & green sash across his chest. The entire ceremony was in Italian, translated by the wedding coordinator. The municipal building backed up to a row of tightly packed houses and apartments, each with every window open. So behind us you could hear the gentle hum of Italian family life and in front of us was the azure expanse of the Mediterranean. Tradition and a solid base behind you, the whole world ahead of you - great metaphor for a new marriage, don't you think?

After the wedding we drove up to the top of the hill to Montepertuso for dinner at Donna Rosa's. Outstanding food, careful, attentive service and very romantic setting. We sat out on the patio which was lovely. Only downside was the intrusion of the sound of cars and scooters zipping by. Everything else was superb so it was only a minor annoyance.

May 13
Bob, Brooke, Mike, Tracy, Dale & I rented a boat with a captain for a day trip to Capri. We were all practically breaking our arms patting ourselves on the back for selecting such a maaaaahvalous excursion when suddenly one engine went out. The captain, who spoke no English (and remember, the only Italian we were confident with involved ordering wine. He was not amused) fussed and fretted and waved his arms A LOT. After about 10 minutes the 'mother ship' pulled up along side to offer assistance. Turns out the engine was out of fuel. Visibly embarrassed (Italian machismo is a force unto itself), our captain sheepishly inserted the 'rescue' fuel line from the other boat and filled the tank. Sure enough, the engine turned over and we were on our way. Total time of delay was not more than 30 minutes or so and drifting leisurely in that crystal clear blue water wasn't so bad - we've been stranded in worse places...

Before docking we circled the island to explore the three grottos, or caves. At one of them there was an opening that led to an inlet on the other side. Feeling brave, Bob, Dale, Brooke & Mike dove into the clear cold water (emphasis on COLD). Shivering, Bob quickly returned to the boat while the others swam through the opening and we picked them up on the other side. We had a good time on Capri but weren't that impressed with the island itself. The scenery was beautiful but it was a very commercial, touristy place. We took the cable car up to the top of the hill then walked down. Lots of upscale shops and stores - we stopped in at a few (do people really go to Capri to buy Prada?) but then found a fun little café and had a glass of wine until the rest of our group met up with us.

Have heard that the best time to see Capri is after the 'day-trippers' have departed - maybe we would have had a different impression if we had done so.

For dinner we went back up the hill to Montepertuso and ate at Il Ritrovo. Out of this world doesn't begin to describe. Unbelievably good food, great service and great atmosphere. Highly recommend this restaurant - try the pasta with porcini wine sauce and the redfish with tomatoes, capers and olives.

May 14
Marcello picked us up and drove us to the station to catch the train to Siena. We arrived earlier than expected so decided to change our tickets to an earlier departure. In my feeble attempt at Italian I must have told the ticket agent that we wanted to spend the ENTIRE day on the train and stop in EVERY teensy station along the way. In addition I must have requested several delays and re-routings but I'm fairly certain that the derailment in Rome that caused the biggest delay was NOT my fault. Finally at 5:00pm we arrived in Siena and after a short taxi ride to the car rental place we were on our way. We missed the turn to Certosa twice and ended up circling the city but finally found our destination!

May 14 - 18
The Certosa Di Maggiano didn't hit me quite right when we first got there but after the first day I loved it. When we drove up, the entrance was so non-descript that we weren't sure we were in the right place. Then when you enter the gate the courtyard is very plain and austere and there was NO ONE in sight. The room was lovely but very formal and totally different from the previous one which was huge and open. This one was chopped up into a sitting room, bedroom and bathroom with much smaller windows. Still, the view was great and the location great also. When I reminded myself that this was a former 17th century monastery it all seemed to fit together.

We explored a little and found beautiful sittings rooms, a library / bar, patios and then the pool area with huge pots of geraniums lining the entire walkway. The second day we sat on the white canvas loveseats by the pool and drank wine while watching the sunset and decided that we really liked the place after all. And the service was impeccable. Paco (our appointed 'server') was a delight and appeared out of nowhere anytime our glass was getting even slightly empty.

Besides the great location, the Certosa's service and attention to detail was impeccable. It has to 'grow' on you, but let it - it's worth it.

After checking in we took a taxi into the city of Siena. Our first step onto the Piazza de Campo was like stepping into a dream. It was so incredible I can't even describe it and after walking around it and then exploring the little roads and alleyways I decided that I never wanted to leave. We ended up going back to the city three times for several hours each and still didn't feel like we had even scratched the surface. Ate in several little out of the way places that I can't even remember the name of - all were excellent.

May 15
Spent the entire day exploring the city of Siena and could have stayed a week. The Siena Cathedral was the highlight of the day - so beautiful and serene. After leaving the cathedral we happened to stumble on to a small workshop carved into a miniscule niche in the wall where they restored paintings. A beautiful old piece was in the final stages of being restored to its original condition. The proprietor was nowhere to be seen so we took some pictures and quietly backed out of his workshop.

For lunch we picked up pizza, some salad, a bottle of wine and sat down right smack in the middle of the Campo for another picnic lunch. At first I thought we might be considered odd but after looking around realized it was kind of like being at the beach - there's always someone odder!

After walking and looking for another couple of hours we were hungry again and in our tourist state of euphoria thought it would be a great idea to do a progressive-type dinner through the numerous café's and restaurants all lined up on the Campo. (Drinks and appetizers at one, first course at the next, second course at the next, so on and so on until you can't eat or drink any more.). Even though all of these places were casual little outdoor cafés we soon realized that this just isn't done in Italy.

The waiter at the first place was slightly perturbed that we wouldn't be spending the entire evening with him, the waiter at the second one was even more so. Again, we were delusional and having so much fun that we acted like we didn't notice their state of irritation and moved on to the next place for the next course. I'm afraid we might have given American tourists a bad name but it was so much fun! This event - and many others - caused Dale to repeat 'No wonder they don't like us (tourists), I'm not sure I like us!!!" Exhausted (and full) we took a taxi back to the hotel.

May 16
Our day with Dario Castagno was so much fun and we all had an absolutely fabulous time. He was interesting, informative, entertaining and had such a passion for his beloved Chianti region that by the end of the day we were all charmed with it as well. Dario was such an engaging and colorful character that you couldn't help but hang on his every word and his choice of stops was great.

We visited a large commercial winery (38,000 bottles an hour), a small village (population 50), a small family-run winery (38,000 bottles a year), a beautiful castle, an Etruscan tomb that had been excavated, and the highlight was lunch in the tiny village of Volpaia. We ate at this tiny little restaurant called La Bottega. Hands down the best meal of the trip. The most delicate and unbelievable ravioli I've ever had and the Ribollita was beyond description. We had some great food on the trip - including dinner at the Hassler in Rome but this meal was the BEST.

After the full day tour we all went back to the Certosa and sat around the pool to drink more wine and discuss world politics and life in general as best we could given our slightly inebriated state. We didn't all necessarily agree on the politics but did agree that it had been a delightful day. Also very interesting was hearing Dario's description and explanation of the different districts of Siena, their customs, the history of the still simmering rivalry between the Florentines and the Sienese and also the colorful account of the famous bi-annual Palio horse race.

May 17
Took a day trip to visit some of the hilltowns. First stop: Monteriggioni (small, quaint, authentic, delightful) then San Gimignano (breathtaking and not as touristy as had expected). Lunch in San G. at Osteria Castelvecchio was very good - pasta with wild boar sauce was awesome but Ribollita only fair. House wine was excellent.

Next intended stop was Colle to see the crystal but got turned around and was headed out of town before we realized we'd missed the old part of the city. 3 out of 4 voted to head back to Siena so didn't get a chance to see that one - sometimes democracy stinks (I was the one outvoted). Great day though!!!

May 18
Hated to leave Siena but had to be on our way so we loaded up and headed to Perugia. We took our time on the drive in order to absorb the gorgeous country side we were traversing. Our destination was Castello dell Oscano which come to find out was a little more remote than we had anticipated but well worth the meandering drive to get there. Situated at the top of a hill (aren't all castles?), the view was incredible and the castle itself was wonderful - very authentic (to our naïve eyes anyway) and filled with lovely antiques.

We had wine and snacks on the terrace then dressed for dinner in their restaurant. Dinner was very good but VERY formal. Our server that night was Francesco and he was exceptional. The next night we ate there our server was a prissy snooty doof with a bad attitude. Was a good meal but not nearly as enjoyable.

May 19
Our next adventure was with Peter Kilby for a day tour of the area. We met Peter at the wharf in a small town called Passignano on Lake Trasimeno. Before we headed out we sat at a little café and sipped (chewed?) several espressos and got to know each other a bit. From the start I knew I was going to like this guy - funny, charming, informed and excited about our plans for the day. We drove all over the place and each view and vista was better than the last.

Our first stop was in Montepulciano where we stopped in to visit a coppersmith who was busy crafting a large copper pot as he had done for many years, as had his father and his father's father. We asked if we could buy some of the pieces and he directed us to the shop where all of his wares were displayed and his wife (the 'Minister of the Treasury' he said) could tell us the prices.

We walked over there and were amazed at the row after row of perfect copper pots, pans and decorative pieces, all stamped with his family name. After making our purchases we stopped in for a glass of wine then headed out of the village. On the way out we passed by the copper shop again and the old coppersmith enthusiastically beckoned us to come in where he proceeded to custom-make a Christmas ornament out of a round of copper for each of us. We asked Peter if we should pay him and Peter told us he did it for the love of his craft and his love for the people who appreciate that craft. He did hint that a kiss on the check would be more than ample compensation for his generosity. When Brooke and I leaned over to give him a kiss his face lit up like a beacon and we were sure that in his mind our bill was settled in full.

Next stop was the tiny village of Montecchielo. So small it wasn't on the map, we wound around curving roads for 20 minutes to get there. It was definitely worth the trip for once inside the main gate we discovered a virtually untouched village that welcomed us with open arms. Every corner we turned was like a picture out of a guide book and we wandered through the town snapping picture after picture. Lunch at La Porta was delightful. The goat cheese was the best we'd had yet and the tagliatella with porcini sauce was divine. We also had some kind of dessert - not sure what it was called but it was heavenly - custard, coffee liqueur, amaretto, crispy cookies all in a big parfait-type glass. Wow is all I can say.

From there we visited the Banfi winery and museum and thoroughly enjoyed tasting the Brunello and other wines they produced. Beautiful grounds and great museum showing the different presses and bottles from hundreds of years ago. Fabulous day!!! ,

May 20
The cooking class planned for this day was at first viewed with skepticism by the two guys in our group but I think they enjoyed it the most as it turned out. We drove to Assisi to meet Letiza Mattiacci, our 'teacher' and proceeded to a cheese shop to purchase a variety of wonderful cheeses, then to the vegetable market for fresh produce, then to another shop for fresh bread. After gathering all the food we drove up to her house - a restored farmhouse in the hills overlooking Assisi.

In her huge kitchen we made fresh pasta (from scratch), two different sauces, strawberries with Amaretto and sweet ricotta cheese and plates and plates of delicious cheeses. We rolled out the ravioli and stuffed it with chard and mozzarella, made tagliatelli, sliced, diced and chopped everything for the sauces (one was a sweet red pepper sauce with porcinis, the other a walnut cream sauce.)

Many hours and much wine later we sat down to a gourmet meal we had prepared ourselves and it was superb! I think the class is scheduled to be from 9:00am - 1:00pm, we actually finished at 4:00pm. We were either very slow learners or having so much fun that we weren't concerned about the time (both, I think!). Letizia was a marvelous hostess and teacher and half the fun was listening to her stories of Italian cooking traditions and watching her move effortlessly through the many steps of preparation. An absolutely delightful day, experience and meal.

May 21
The original plans for this day were for Bob and Brooke to take the train to Rome, Dale & I would see Perugia, Assisi & Orvieto and then the next day turn in the car and train into Rome to meet them. It turned out to be cold and rainy and Dale had seen enough small villages, castles and churches so they triple-teamed me and tried to convince me that the best plan would be for all of us to drive to Rome together that day. Now, I'm not a spontaneous person so all I could think of was we're driving to Rome? Driving INTO Rome? No hotel room? Oh my. Again, sometimes democracy stinks and I had to submit to the majority. I have to admit (and yes, I admitted to them also) that that turned out to be a great plan.

The drive was fun (although Rome traffic WAS NOT), we got there fine and did find a room. It took all four of us to find the Bernini Bristol - Dale driving (very adeptly I must say), Bob navigating, Brooke spotting and calling out the street names and me - well, I was in the back seat with my eyes closed praying fervently that we would survive this hair-brained adventure. We did - and laughed about it for the rest of the trip. Fortunately (and wisely) the only beverages we allowed ourselves were several espressos along the way.

The Bernini Bristol was a beautiful, elegant hotel on the Piazzo Barbarini near the Spanish steps. The view from the 8th floor rooftop restaurant was exceptional and the staff was first class. The rooms were fairly small - as we had expected they would be - but clean and classy. Since Dale & I weren't expected until the next night and they were booked to capacity they recommended another hotel which we ended up staying in both nights. The hotel they sent us to was the just-renovated Albergo Ottocento, two blocks away. It was one street off of the Piazza so the view wasn't great but the room was larger and the relatively large marble bathroom was beautiful. It was a great little hotel - clean, new, elegant and with a very courteous and attentive staff - and was half the price of the Bernini Bristol!

We unpacked, changed into 'fancy' clothes and took a taxi to the Hassler for dinner. Our original plan was to just go there for cocktails and find a lesser-priced place for dinner but to celebrate 'spontaneity' we decided to have dinner there as well. Besides, once we saw the view and it was 10:15pm and we were starving, it made perfect sense. (Of course after four glasses of wine everything makes sense, doesn't it?) Dinner was wonderful, service impeccable, view TO DIE FOR, all in all an excellent experience.

After dinner we went down the Spanish steps, walked around a bit and ended up at the Trevi fountain. After realizing that we had no coins to throw into the fountain we caught a taxi back to the hotel.

May 22
Whirlwind tour of Rome! First, St. Peter's; then the Sistine Chapel; then shopping, lunch, shopping, then the Coliseum, the Forum, the Pantheon, back to the Via Cola di Rienzo for a little more shopping, then back to the hotel - whew! Believe it or not we had an hour to kill before meeting Bob and Brooke for dinner so grabbed a bottle of wine and headed up to the rooftop terrace to relive the day - and the trip.

For dinner we took a taxi to the Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere (the oldest part of Rome) to a little restaurant named Galeassi. Beautiful setting - tables on the patio right on the square - and fabulous food. There was a band playing on the square plus jugglers and street performers so it was an entertaining evening.

May 23
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end so sadly, we boarded the plane for home...already making plans for a return trip!











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