Moving on to the rest of my trip! Firenze is always a joy to come back to, and I managed to find a really nice B&B for not too much money in comparison to normal Florentine prices. Casa Del Garbo is really different, and quite lovely. It was actually my first stay in a "luxury B&B" and luxurious it was! And it didn't have the cold feel one sometimes gets in a 5-star hotel.
The people who run it (I think they're a family) are incredibly warm and helpful, and much better with customer service than at many places I've seen. They honestly did everything they could to make me feel like a member of the family, and it worked!
An added plus was the spectacular view from my room, so inspiring! As if Firenze isn't always enough of a draw in and of itself, this little place was a real gem and I think others will find it that way too.
Piazza della Signoria 8
I booked here again as well, very smoothly: www.italiancollection.com/en/la-casa-del-garbo.html
We recently booked through Rome Sweet Home an apartment in Rome with our two daughters travelling for a month in Western Europe. The Lucina Wonderful View Apartment was one of many that we rented over the course of our trip and by far this was the most impressive and I would highly recommend it for a family or a couple travelling in Rome.
The apartment is as beautiful as the pictures show on the website, the location is perfect... you truly feel like you are living in Rome, and the apartment is incredibly well stocked making your stay very enjoyable.
Rome Sweet Home staff was very professional and our greeter was very friendly and helpful.
Via della Vite 32 , 00187 Rome
CiaoRental is an Italian website for holiday rentals. It has many vacation homes listed by owners in many places in Sicily. If you plan to rent homes to visit Sicily and other Italian regions you can find a home along your travel route.
Perched high on the hillside overlooking the sandy bay of Giardini Naxos, Taorimina is a cosmopolitan town with a Greek past. Walk along the main pedestrianised street filled with designer shops and restaurants, to stop at the piazza with a stunning view of the bay dominated by the magnificent Mount Etna.
Take the windy road up even higher to the small village of Castel Mola which looks down on Taormina and the bay, or take the cable car down to Isola Bella and enjoy a swim in the clear sea.
Taormina is in the province of Messina, nearest airport is Catania. Reachable by motorway, shuttle bus or train.
At the southern most point of Sicily, just under the town of Pachino (famous for its tomatoes) you literally reach the end of the road and the point where two seas meet. The waves of the Ionian Sea crash diagonally into the waves of the Tyrrhenian Sea in spectacular style while visitors endeavour to walk through the middle to the small island. A truly exhilarating battle against nature (at least in September when the sea is almost hot). Afterwards, run into the waves from the sandy beach, then sit back and enjoy watching the next batch of vistors try and make the crossing. Then stop at a trattoria for a local fish speciality with of course some pachino tomatoes.
From Pachino, in the south east corner of Sicily, follow the signs to Isola Dei Currenti (its about another 5km). Park at the end of the road, just a couple of minutes on foot to the beach.
Keeping with our summer vacation rental trend, I also found another great deal in the heart of Rome's historic centre. We had some friends joining us from the States that particular week, so the two bedrooms worked out perfectly, seeing as at E1200/week, we basically ended up paying only slightly more than a quadruple room in a B&B... with our own privacy of course, freedom, peace of mind, and the kitchen was lovely too. We love to cook and it was about 5 minutes from Campo de'Fiori's market, so every day we got to enjoy fresh ingredients and try some of the tricks we learned in our very own cooking lesson booked through the agency (they found a WONDERFUL chef who speaks perfect English and was loads of fun)!
The apartment was beautiful, very artistic and luxurious, and the jacuzzi tub was a definite plus. As mentioned, the agency was fabulous and took care of everything for us, the keyholder was a very nice lady who helped us get our bearings, and the private transfer they booked for our friends went smoothly as well. The location, especially for the price, couldn't have possibly been better, and it made returning to Rome the adventure we'd hoped it to be. We definitely plan to use Leisure in Rome on our next trip to Rome, and we hope they still have the same great deals on Bernini!
Via Dei Cartari
and for pictures: www.leisureinrome.com/luxury_apartments-in-navona_square/navona_square_apartment,S,235.html
I'm normally a hotel sort, but an opportunity came up this summer to travel Italy for PLEASURE (instead of business for once) and to keep the costs down, we decided to try something different in a few places.
Le Macchie is a beautiful Tuscan villa split into separate apartments. It's right in the middle of the national park and so absolutely tranquil and peaceful, the minute we arrived we knew we'd made the right decision. Stunning emerald views as far as the eye can see, and we even had a swimming pool to enjoy when the midday heat was on.
The location while peaceful, is still not so far from towns that you can't enjoy a day trip, and the company we used to book our various holiday rentals was excellent and professional. They were also very kind in arranging private olive oil and wine tastings and I must say I'm hard pressed to think of a more fantastic week in my life. The price was very good too.
Here's a link to the people I used with some photos: www.italiancollection.com/en/Le-macchie.html
Last week we walked to Lago Pilato under Monte Vettore in Le Marche, an ancient glacial lake, where legend has it that Pontius Pilate drowned himself. Nowadays it is home to a unique freshwater shrimp.
The circular walk is 20km and quite a challenge in places, but the spectacular scenery makes it all worth while. We have walked various sections of the gran' Anello (a 120km ring) in the Sibillini Mountains of Marche. There is a great map for the area, the 1:25,000 scale Club Alpino Italiano map of Parco Nazionale Dei Monti Sibillini. You can buy it in any local tabacchi around the national park or buy it in advance via www.sibillini-walks.com/index.html.
There is also a guidebook that explains the nine-day route, but if not, try this link where you can buy it direct from the National Park emporio.parks.it/product_info.php
There are some great rifugi (refuges) that you can stay at: www.parks.it/parco.nazionale.monti.sibillini/Esog.php or eat at. Many of them are newly restored.
On our hiking holiday we ate at 3 rifugi at Monte Amandola, at Ragno near Pintura and Il Tribbio at Lake Fiastra and have to say that the food at all was superb.
If you contact the national park they will also arrange a guide if you need it. Alternatively, Spring CAI and the National Park organise excursions and treks. The CAI walks can be found on the board on the right in sarnano as you enter the centro storico. The national park guided walks are listed on this page and need to be prebooked via the email address. www.sibillini.net/chiedi_sibilla/indexVisiteGuidate.html
If you need more information, free walking itineraries or a lovely place to stay on the edge of the park try www.villasanraffaello.com/free-time/marche-hiking-walking.html
Sarnano, Macerata, Le Marche, Italy
Again, when you feel like really pampering yourself and giving yourself a five star holiday, L'Elisa is amazing. So peaceful, so relaxing, and really elegant. It's got every amenity you can dream of, and the wireless access throughout is great. I always love anywhere with a pool too, and it's truly beautiful to look at as well as swim in. The rooms are amazingly comfortable. I just love the sheer elegance of the place; decor, rich fabrics, it's got a very fairy tale feel to it, which goes with the general ambiance of Lucca itself, so it's very appropriate. Lucca is a wonderful place that should be experienced, and I've always enjoyed how conveniently close it is to Siena, Pisa, and other places I like to travel to. It's very nice when you need something a little less hectic. The fabulous thing here too was how great the staff were, they literally will help with every miniscule request you may have, and I think the service deserves a 6th star for the place. Beautiful, absolutely beautiful.
Via Nuova Per Pisa, 1952. But you may want to see some pictures too:
Ca'delle Acque is a very central bed and breakfast in Venice and still a good budget place. Just five minutes by feet from Rialto and S. Mark´s square, a gem of simplicity and praticality.
Very special build, a room per floor and a beautiful private terrace overlooking a canal if you have the lucky to stay in the suite.
Normally I stick with hotels but I've heard really great things about apartment rentals and so maybe a year or so ago decided to try them too. Obviously there is no reception desk, concierge you can pester with your every query, and though apartments come stocked with all one needs, you do need to buy your own supplies (hand soap, shampoo, toilet paper - at least if you need more than three rolls for a week).
Still, apartments are often just as central, lovely, and as well managed and stocked as hotels with the added benefit of complete privacy which I find extremely attractive.
Besides that, I find (now that I frequent rentals more), apartment keyholders are usually bi- or trilingual and very helpful at explaining all in the area/apartment, which is definitely a higher degree of service than one gets checking into the average B&B/hotel.
Anyway, Bellotto was the right place at the right time, enhanced by the fact the agency responded quickly (normally these things take like 2-3 days if you're not using a major agency like Venere, but I like the personal attention to be honest), and in English, since my Italian is functional but very sad when written.
For two people this studio was absolutely perfect. It's a 10 minute walk from St. Peter's and a 10 minute bus ride from Piazza Navona, and buses come every 10 minutes or so. Walking is only half an hour anyway. The kitchenette is perfect for simple things because I don't really need an oven on holiday and everything important is there, and we were on the top floor, with an elevator, which I know is quite difficult to find on a budget in the absolute historic centre. I actually liked this neighbourhood better since it's more the way real locals live, the prices they pay, bus service is frequent, and the peace and quiet simply can't be beat. Nor can the lovely little balcony, which is totally secluded and private, so it's a wonderfully peaceful place. I also like the bright colours in the studio, uniqueness is always welcome!
The agency who booked us was fabulous and helpful, and I was glad to see they work with such wonderfully responsible owners who are soooooo very helpful. They live across the hall and the top floor is private, just their apartment and ours, and the floor itself is only accessed by a key, so it's very very secure and no worries about thieving maids or people in general. Perfect, lovely, and convenient, this apartment is amazing for any single person or couple that wants some unforgettable time in the Eternal City.
The site I booked through: www.leisureinrome.com/_apartments_in_rome-in-san_pietro/vatican_apartment,S,435.html
The owners deal directly with them and so the service is 5 star at a normal price!
Montepulciano itself is a wonderful base for day trips throughout the region, and it really struck me since it's not as touristy and packed as many other places feel. It's still got its fair share of travellers, but it's not as stifling as say, Venice can be.
The scenery is straight from a fairy tale and the cuisine is beyond even that. Mix that with some architecture, and the destination is already perfect.
Perfect places are made more memorable by perfect places to stay, and this place took the cake on my last trip. It used to be a small village actually, but was remodelled as a hotel with all the modern amenities - yet it still has that homey-country feel, almost as if a well loved relative prepared everything exactly to your liking before check in.
Quiet, friendly, and absolutely beautiful with a terrace to take it all in, Borgo Tre Rose has relax written all over it and it's exactly what I wanted. The reception desk isn't 24-hour, but that's ok because at least they tell you. Get all your questions in by 19:30 (it closes at 20:00, so why make a poor receptionist suffer by prattling on at 19:55?....obviously they'll still help you then though, as I found when I needed a phone number urgently) and they're helpful as ever, with warm friendly smiles to boot.
For moments when you're not relaxing, the washing machine and internet point are really really convenient and to relax after all that, there are actually hot springs nearby (S. Albino).
Anyway, a great stay in a great place, and if you have a little more time than I usually do, look into regional wine tastings! Superb!
Via Dei Palazzi, 5 but these people were VERY helpful with all, including directions: www.italiancollection.com/en/hotel-borgo-tre-rose.html
I've never actually been very big on spending extended periods in Milan, but sometimes I have to appease my cousin, and the last three times he really met me halfway since booking was up to him.
He got me a room at Hotel Straf, which was cool enough to almost change my opinion of Milan, and definitely gave me the best stay. The staff was really helpful and professional, but took it to the next level and was genuinely FRIENDLY, which I know can be difficult with large chain hotels in any corner of the world.
24-hour reception and a gym was a nice plus, and leave it to my cousin to find me the place with the best bar :-)
As much as I love Italy for its history and antiquity, as well as ornate elegance, I'm equally drawn to modern decor and this place blows me away each time. The rooms are all unique with their own little touches, which just makes it more fun on every visit. Each time a pleasant surprise awaits me, though I must say I'm honestly in love with the brass and the black stone bathrooms (I can't remember the suite numbers now, sorry!). And the bar having massage chairs and aromatherapy rooms? EXQUISITE, absolutely exquisite! Anyway, this is definitely the place to stay in Milan, and very central, and it's definitely the place I'll be on my next trip.
Also, the booking agency speaks perfect English and is very prompt, so if you don't speak Italian, you can do this all yourself with a really user friendly site and don't have to go through cousins! And of course the hotel staff itself is well versed in more than two languages!
Here's where I booked: www.italiancollection.com/en/hotel-straf.html
Friendly people, cheap prices and nice Florentine furniture. It's an eco-friendly hotel, too.
A superb mountain restaurant with great views and a lovely terrace for al fresco eating- right near the wonderful aquamarine lake Fiastra in Le Marche’s Sibillin Montains. The hearty mountain food is wonderful and includes superb prosciutto, cinghiale in Vernaccia with pappardelle, Stringhozzi with wild herbs and roast vegetables, a wonderful stew with olives and shallots and plates of roast onions with our lamb kebabs. Two courses for €20, three for €25. Beware pasta portions are enormous, share them and hold out for the next course.
Via Monte Coglia, Fiastra, MC, Marche
Tel : 0737 527027
You need to book this little gem a day in advance, but its worth the wait as all ingredients are from Maria's own garden and farmyard including wines honey, fruit and vegetables and most of the poultry. The wild boar is hunted around the ancient village of Sarnano. A visit to Tennacola is like being invited into an Italian home and being treated to the most amazing rustic fayre - a four course meal with wine costs about €20.
Agriturismo Tennacola, Via Romani 446, Sarnano, MC, Marche Italy
Tel 0733 657844
Situated on the road between Belforte and Sarnano, this lovely restored farm serves up succulent meals in a lovely garden setting. Most of the food is grown by the owners or sourced locally and the menu always includes something a bit different. Our dishes ranged from a delicious papardelle with goose ragu and a stinging nettle risotto. The antipasti included the best ciauscolo, a local spreadable salami, meats were tender and tasty and the house wine well sourced and a bargain price.
Agriturismo Ponte degli Schiavi
Via Fornaci 4, Belforte del Chienti, MC, Marche, Italy
Tel: 0733 906117
Set in one of the oldest buildings outside the medieval Centro Storico of Sarnano, the hotel, positioned in a prime position in the main square, has been lovingly restored with an art nouveaux frontage and lavishly styled bar and ristorante. Food ranges from superb pizzas to home made egg pasta, accompanied by a fine wine list and a very naughty gelateria. Prices for a pasta or pizza dish are a very reasonable €7.
Hotel Terme, Piazza della Libertà, Sarnano www.hoteltermesarnano.it/index-en.php Tel +39 0733 657166
Round the corner from the Trevi fountain, a little bit away from the tourist hordes, is the San Crispino gelateria. There's usually a long queue, so you'll know where it is before you get there. The flavours are really inventive - last time I had honey, ginger and cinnamon - and the quality of the gelati is fantastic. Definitely the best gelati in Rome.
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