Last year three friends from uni did the organic cooking and farm tour holiday and loved it. A great mix of eating, drinking, cooking, seeing cute farms, lying around and sightseeing.
The cookery courses take place in La Selva, a small hamlet around half an hour from San Gimignano.
Lovely hilltop hotel in Monterosso.
Sparklingly clean rooms, each with a terrace looking out to the Med, and down to the village streets. The hotel grounds abound with citrus trees and rose bushes. The owners are truly wonderful, friendly people. Buffet breakfast is included and delicious. Reasonable rates.
Used to go to Italy quite often in the 70s and 80s and usually had a good time, must have been to Rome 4 or 5 times. Went there about a year ago for a few days in the new year with a Spanish friend who had never been to Italy before. Being from Barcelona we were quite prepared for loads of tourist and after all we were tourists too but never have I experienced a more unfriendly, dishonest and disreputable place or one less sympathetic to us tourists, my friend was really quite shocked.
We were continuously being ripped off, buying a cup of coffee was an act of almost total humiliation as a really creepy waiter would charge you 4,5 or more €s for a cappuccino and the food was just terrible over priced and inedible -- perhaps it was food especially designed for us poor sodding tourists. And this in a wealthy country such as Italy that simply does not have the excuse of poverty were a certain amount of hassle is to be expected. I've just come back from Istanbul. My advice is to go there, you will have a much better time.
Always stamp your trenitalia tickets at the little yellow boxes at the station, otherwise the conductor will charge you 25euros extra.
Any violinists should go to Cremona for the birthplace of stradivari violins and beautiful architecture.
The yellow boxes are usually found at the beginning of a platform. Just stick in the ticket and the end will get stamped.
Cremona is near Brescia and is accessible by train.
Milan (Bergamo) Airport is miles from Milan but only 5km from the insanely beautiful and romantic Bergamo. Stay in the Citta' Alta and dine at La Colombina: small, local, friendly, delicious trattoria. Tricky to find but well worth it. Plenty of other things to see, do and eat as well.
La Colombina, Via Borgo Canale, 12, Bergamo Alta. Closed Monday and Tuesday.
A Cafe-cum-restaurant on the Piazza del Popolo. Very cheap, great tasting authentic food and civilised atmosphere. It has the best beef lasagne I ever tasted for a very reasonable price. Also has great desserts.
Piazza del Popolo. Nearest metro station is Flaminio. It is located on the side of the piazza nearest to the Borghese gardens.
Enoteca Fontana, in Parma, has to be one of the most atmospheric wine bars in Italy. You enter by a small doorway under the arches in Via Farini, and bottles of wine surround you on every side. For around £4 you can buy a glass of wine and a toasted panini (I recommend goats cheese and sun dried tomatoes) and find yourself a place on the wooden benches in the back room to eat and drink, whilst chatting to the locals.
Enoteca Fontana, Via Farini 24, Parma. Tel. 0521 286037
As you take a well-earned rest after ascending 1000m, a feeling of warmth seeps into your trousers - which is par for the course when you are sitting on an active volcano. Regular and spectacular eruptions, as well as the sight of all the cruise ships watching these from the water, are the very convincing reason to make the three hour guided climb up here.
Coming down, although slightly disconcerting as you slide down the ashy slopes, is much quicker. The climb is enlivened by the amazing variety of flora and fauna and of course, the views. It's necessary to have a guide, and trips can be booked from Lipari and the other Aolian islands.
Stromboli, Aolian Islands
A gorgeous terrace with swimming pool and stunning views and in-house beauty treatments more than compensate for plain rooms, but it's the staff who really make this hotel. A room covered in pre-wedding chaos, including floral trimmings, was completely spruced up by bedtime; a late-night impromptu drinks party on the terrace met with free pizza rather than shushing. Drop by for all you can eat breakfast on the terrace, only 15 euros. NB: insurance costs means no irons in hotels.
We rented a flat direct from a Venetian Family just 50m from the Rialto Bridge and shopped at the famous markets for fish and vegetables. Wander the backstreets and copy the local habit of eating ciccetti with a glass of prosecco at any time between 11am and 8pm.
For great value food and wine eat at an enoteca in the quiet areas of Castello or San Polo, for luxury arrive in a water taxi at midnight during Carnevale!
We found or flat at www.holiday-rentals.co.uk
Terme di Merano is a brand new spa centre opened last year in the spa town of Merano, in Italy near the Austrian border. It features a large number of pools (open air -even in winter - and not) and saunas, Turkish baths etc. in a stunning modern building and park from where you can see the mountains. You can book massages and treatments such as wine baths and hay baths...and the prices are reasonable.
The town is lovely, warm (it is set in a south-facing valley) and lively, the mountains around are gorgeous and the trekking fabulous.
The food, beer and wine are excellent (northern Italian and Austrian style food both available).
Just search on the internet for Merano Terme (or Meran in German) and you will find plenty of info.
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
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