Bella-Italia: A 3-City Tour
Last spring my husband and I treated ourselves to a whirlwind Italian romp. Over eight days we marveled at the ruins in Rome, discovered some unique ateliers in Florence and became seduced, yet again, by Venice. Our jam-packed journey, including open jaw flight into Rome and out of Venice, train passes and three or four-star hotels cost less than $2100 each (about $500 less than the previous year’s price) — which left some Euros for a few splurges.
Check out the packages at www.transatholidays.com
We know it wasn’t built in a day but here are some eternal musts.
Take a guided tour of this massive shell of an amphitheatre, inaugurated in A.D. 80. Let your imagination transport you back to Roman Empire spectacles that included morning hunting games between exotic beasts, vestal virgins screaming for blood, toga-clad senators, lunchtime pubic executions and the ever-popular gladiator battles in the afternoons.
Michelangelo studied the unique Hadrian-designed dome of Rome’s best-preserved architectural marvel before tackling the cupola of St. Peter’s. Get your java fix at the nearby Caffe Tazzo d’Oro. Down the street is Gamarelli, official tailor to the pope, where clergy and nuns flock for their frocks.
Some of the liveliest bars and restaurants are scattered around the Campo De Fiori. At Ristorante del Pallaro, Largo del Pallaro 15, the slogan is, “Here you’ll eat what we want to feed you.” There’s no menu but you can’t go wrong with Mama Paola’s home cooking.
Steps from the famed Spanish Steps, Palatium Enoteca Reggionale, Via Frattina 94, serves foods and wines of the Lazio region in a high-tech setting.
Treat your feet to a pair of Geox breathable shoes, designed with sweat-wicking technology. www.geox.com
Join the nocturnal romantics who flock to the beautifully illuminated Trevi Fountain, made famous in the 1954 film, Three Coins in the Fountain. Toss your coin, make your wish and then enjoy gourmet ice cream (Fresh walnut and dried fig perhaps?) at San Crispino, Via della Paneterria 42.
For €23 the Roma Pass buys public transport and admission to many museums for 3 days.www.romapass.it
Birthplace of the Renaissance, Florence is Italy’s unrivalled repository of art and architectural masterpieces, thanks to the coffers of the powerful Medicis.
Do you want to see Giotto’s famed Bell Tower? Michelangelo’s David? Or, maybe shop for a gold trinket on the Ponte Vecchio? With so little time and so many choices, I recommend hiring a professional guide who will customize your itinerary. www.sunnytuscany.com
We enjoyed one of our finest meals at Dino, Via Ghibelina 47, where Florentine classics such as gnocchi in gorgonzola sauce, cannelloni beans simmered in tomato, sage and garlic and beef slow-cooked in Chianti with raisins and pine nuts, are served by the charming owner, whose wife, incidentally is from Toronto. www.ristorantedino.it
The friars of the Dominican Order at Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, Villa della Scala 16, have been concocting herbal remedies, pomades and perfumes since 1612. Their Acqua della Regina fragrance was first created for Catharine Medici. Buy a sachet of their pot pourri so you can savour the scent of the Tuscan hills back at home. www.smnovella.com
You enter Florence’s finest leather atelier through the Santa Croce Basilica. Once a monastery for Franciscan Friars, the Scuola del Cuoio produces exquisite creations all made by hand using ancient techniques. Some famous customers include Gwyneth Paltrow and Steven Spielberg. www.leatherschool.com
At the Mercado Centrale, in the heart of the San Lorenzo flea market, vendors are very generous with their free samples of Parmesan spiked with Balsamic, mini prosciutto paninis, olives, pickled garlic and more. Who says there’s no such thing as a free lunch?
Avoid the long lineups to view treasures such as Michelangelo’s colossal David in Florence or the Opera in Venice by reserving online for museums, concerts and more at www.selectitaly.com
Truman Capote opined that, “Venice is like eating an entire box of chocolate liquers at one go.”
Napoleon called St. Mark’s Square, “the drawing room of Europe.” Take a tour of the Doge’s Palace and the jail where Casanova was briefly imprisoned.
Enjoy the local morning market at the Rialto Bridge, then allow yourself to get lost in the maze of narrow passageways, bridges and canals in this oldest part of town.
Dine with locals under the wisteria or inside at the cozy Nono Risorto Osteria, S. Croce 2338.
Sip Prosecco at the posh Hotel Danieli .www.hoteldanielivenice.com
Take home a silk Fortuny lamp.www.venetiastudium.com
Hop vaporetto number one around dusk, just as Venice’s iconic lamplights are casting their mauve glow against the misty sky. Float along the Grand Canal past the Gothic and Renaissance palaces, their grand salons illuminated by Murano-glass chandeliers and their lacy facades seeming to melt into the watery mirror below. Fantasize about masked balls at Carnivale .
The cheapest (and shortest) gondola rides are aboard the traghetti that cross the Grand Canal in several places.
The fare is .60€.
Venice has 400 bridges to clamber up and over, so pack lightly to make the journey from the railway station to your hotel easier.
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