My boyfriend and I wanted to spend a week relaxing in Tuscany, somewhere where we could get away from it all but still have the option to get out and do things if we felt the need. We found a real hidden gem – a gorgeous 18th century family run villa, Hotel Villa Lecchi, which was right in the heart of the Chianti wine tasting region…what more could we ask for?!
The villa is surrounded by medieval walls and offers a pretty pool, garden and terrace. Not to be missed is the food served in Hotel Villa Lecchi’s restaurant. It uses traditional recipes and these have earned it a great reputation with both locals and tourists alike and it really does have a great atmosphere.
For those wanting to venture out, there are plenty of opportunities nearby to sample the local wines and bikes can be hired at the hotel to get out and see the stunning local scenery. For those who fancy exploring a bit further afield, Genoa is only a short drive away and offers an abundance of churches, palaces and interesting museums.
We booked through Keyplaces and stayed in a lovely double room, which had air-con, mini fridge etc and was really reasonably priced.
Travel wasn’t included in the price, but we got cheap flights with Meridiana from London to Florence, which is about an hour’s drive away.
Keyplaces - 0845 688 0833 or www.keyplaces.co.uk
Meridiana - www.meridiana.it
Hotel Villa Lecchi is less than 10 miles from San Gimignano.
A friend who lives in Rome took us to Alceste, a shudderingly expensive seafood restaurant near the Piazza Navona, recently and the meal was a disaster. In fact it's been ages since we were so thoroughly ripped off.
Though the three of us speak Italian and explained that we wanted to split an assorted antipasto, we were served three full antipasti, which were awful, and charged for all three. The sea bass cooked in salt looked like it had been dropped on the kitchen floor and service was snarly. Best meal of our trip: Trattoria Monti, a superb little place with delicious food, a Roman crowd and charming waiters.
Trattoria Monti, Via San Vito, 13/A, (011 39) 06 446 6573
In a city where people queue for miles to see a ceiling and flock to the site where thousands were slaughtered for entertainment, the Church of Santa Maria della Concezione is nonetheless an especially bizarre and macabre sight. This Capuchin church on Via Veneto is, in itself, unremarkable – what fascinates is what lies beneath. On entering the catacombs, where the skeletons of over 4,000 monks were interred over a period of a century, a gimlet-eyed woman instructs you sternly not to take photos and to have respect. You then enter to be greeted by the surreal vision of Bone Art: femurs zig-zag up the walls, clavicles form crosses, skulls pile high, under the eye of the flying monk skeleton on the ceiling. So let’s get this straight: taking photos would disrespect the remains, but making a lamp out of a skull is okay? Hmmm…
Location: Via Veneto 27 (near Piazza Barberini).
Crypt open: 9-12, 3-6, Friday-Wednesday.
A good, reasonably priced and atmospheric restaurant with a great location: at the top of the steps (go figure) just off Via Veneto. Get a seat outside, get your order in, sit back and take it all in.
Location: Via San Isidoro 5 (Top of the steps at the end of Via Veneto).
Telephone: (39-6) 4819264.
Brand new bed & breakfast in the city centre 200 metres away from San Peter square. Comfortable, fully furnished rooms with en suite bathrooms, air conditioning, television and wooden floors.
Bassano is in a stunning location, great views in all directions. When you visit you have 3 options, or you could try a combination of options! Stay around the town, go north into the mountains or go south to visit cities such as Vicenza, Padova or Verona.
I have written a guide to Bassano: www.europealacarte.co.uk/Italy/bassano.html
Bergamo is ideal as a short break destination as it is a Ryanair hub (although called their Milan airport). There is a regular service bus into Bergamo city centre. There are a couple of interesting museums, lovely shops and the medieval hilltop town to explore.
I have written a Guide to Bergamo:www.europealacarte.co.uk/Italy/bergamo/.
Lake Iseo lies between Bergamo and Brescia in Lombardy in northern Italy. It is smaller and not so well known as Lake Como and Lake Garda. This is part of the reason why it appeals to me, as it is not so commercialised and is better value for money. Lake Iseo is home to the largest island in a lake in Europe, Monte Isola. No cars are allowed on the island, so it is ideal for walking or cycling. There are many pretty towns and villages around the lakeside. The scenery is very dramatic with sheer sheets of limestone at one point on the western bank and the Pyramids of Zone, earth pinnacles up to 10 metres high, on the eastern side of the lake.
I have written a Guide to Lake Iseo
I had an image in my mind of the quintessential Roman pizzeria: a narrow side street, tables packed with locals, buzzing with conversation, great pizza and pasta at a reasonable price. And then, walking along Via Corso Vittorio Emmanuelle, I glanced left and there it was. Service was fast and unforgiving – you threw that order at a flying waiter and hoped it stuck – the decor simple and the demand huge, as locals lined up three-deep along the wall, looking enviously on as we lucky ones tucked into wood-oven pizzas and cheap beers. All the while the owner – only slightly less intimidating than Tony Soprano – directed the chaos like a cigar-chewing maestro. Great food, drink, company and entertainment. When in Rome...
Address: Vicolo Savelli 13, Rome.
Tel: (39-6) 6861877
Only in Rome does service barely above curt and drinks for a single-figure amount cause an enthusiastic stir. But Enoteca Antica gives both, and much more besides. Reasonable and tasty food, great Erdinger beers for 5 Euros, and – hang on to your seats – service that is genuinely friendly. And then there’s the location – a stone’s throw from the Spanish Steps, in an old wine cavern so atmospheric you can smell the Chianti in the air.
Address: Via della Croce, 76/b, 00187 Rome
Telephone: (39-6) 6790896
Fax: (39-6) 6797544
There's a very high quality company in Rome called Rome Sweet Home that manage a lot of cute apartments in the heart of Rome. I found them with Google but I was very impressed with the service and the quality of the apartment.
Via della Vite 32 00187
In a city of a amazing food, this restaurant topped the list! Typical Tuscan cuisine but with an incredibly vast menu. It has an excellent atmosphere and friendly staff. So good I even bought the recipe book!
Piazza del Mercato Centrale
Subbass is a bar - only opens Fridays. It's smokey chaotic with live music being played by whoever decides to join in this spontaneous acoustic "thing". Clientele is made up of locals and expats from UK, US, NZ, Australia. It stays open till the last client leaves which is usually at the break of dawn. Only Japanese beer is sold and there's not a huge variety of alcohol brands but on average all tastes are satisfied. The atmosphere within is definitely worth a visit. Ring at the doorbell, it's not guaranteed that someone will open. Prices are low and service erratic but nonetheless it's worth a visit. Some evenings are quiet many others are a complete delirium.
Via della vetrina 7 - near Piazza Navona
I just happened to have a small binocular in my bag and it added to my enjoyment of the frescoes, as I could get a really close look. Also spotted someone next to me who had a little handheld mirror to save his neck muscles. Ingenious.
Hey, surfing the net I have found this useful travel guide that gives tons of tips to the independent travellers! Furthermore, I think it is a good source of information because you can deal with hotel's official sites, avoiding paying commission to intermediaries.
Venice has to be explored at 4am. The change in the city is quite simply indescribable to somebody who has only seen it during the tourist-infested day. Wait long enough and you get first the birds, then the dawn, and finally early-bird locals up and about, much friendlier than they are during the day as they presume you are one of them.
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