The Diversity of The Dolomites

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Le Dolomiti aren’t generally top of mind for Americans planning an Italian adventure but they should definitely be added to the list. Located along the Italian-Austrian border, just a few hours north of Venice, the Dolomites offer a breath of fresh air and scenery that will leave you speechless. Jagged pale mountains tower over green rolling hills, towns and villages mix Austrian Chalets with sunny Italian piazzas, medieval churches, and modern world-renowned restaurants. Reliable snowfall creates a winter wonderland of luxury ski resorts and breathtaking snowshoeing paths, while the lush alpine meadows burst into bloom along the hundreds of hiking trails and glacial lakes in the summer. These mountains are a nature lover’s paradise, but you don’t have to be an expert hiker or mountaineer to enjoy the trails, which range from leisurely walks to rock climbing. The Dolomites are a great travel alternative to the Swiss Alps and the perfect starting or ending to your adventure around “The Boot.”

 

The Basics

looking down on a winding road surrounded by trees

Getting Oriented: If you’re not familiar with exactly where the Dolomites are, that’s okay. You’re not alone. Here’s a helpful map to put the general location in perspective.

Getting Around: The closest airports available are either Venice or Innsbruck and from there you’ll need to take a bus, train, or car into the mountains. Towns both large and small are connected by a network of bus and rail lines, so getting around without a car isn’t impossible. However, if you want to be on your own schedule and arrive early at the more popular sights, we recommend renting a car. The famous Grande Strada Delle Dolomiti cuts through three alpine passes and is one of the most beautiful scenic roads in Europe. With lots of twists and turns without being too hair-raising, driving this road is reason enough to rent a car — just make sure you get an International Driver’s Permit before you arrive! 

[Photo Credit: Luke Stackpoole via Unsplash]

Weather- the Dolomites are characterized by short summers and snowy winters. Though both seasons enjoy brilliant sunshine since the Dolomites receive more sun than any other region of the Alps. There are two peak tourist seasons: the height of summer and the depth of winter. In the in-between seasons, you’ll find very few crowds but unpredictable weather, and most businesses and mountain huts closed. Summer Season begins in mid-June and lasts through August for warm sunny days. For all things snowy, the winter season lasts from December until the last snow in early April. 

an imposing spire mountain towers above a small local Inn in the Dolomites Italy

Rifugio – in addition to the range of wellness spas, hotels, chalets, and alpine cabins, the Dolomites give you the option of staying in a rifugio. Meaning refuge, these small inns are dotted along the trails in the heart of the mountains. When hiking from peak to peak you can stop for a delicious warm meal, a hot shower, and a bed for the night. You’re always welcome to stop in for a bite, but beds will have to be reserved well in advance. Rifugios are only open during the peak seasons and range from a dorm bed to romantic private rooms. Waking up to see the sunrise while ensconced in the mountain peaks makes staying at least one night in a rifugio a must-do when hiking in the Dolomites. 

[Photo Credit:Ruud Luijten via Unsplash]

Multiple Languages – due to its diverse history of cultures and borders, the Dolomites have four official languages: Italian, German, Ladin, and Friulan. German and Italian are spoken equally depending on the town and the person. In this case, multiple languages mean at least two names for each place! The German and the Italian names often don’t resemble each other in the slightest. While the buses and s,.[igns will have both the German and Italian versions when you ask the locals you may only get one or the other. We recommend noting down both names to help minimize your confusion. 

Where to Stay

With 26 mountain ranges stretching across five provinces, the Dolomites cover a lot of ground. To make sure you don’t spend more time driving than experiencing, we recommend selecting only 2-3 areas to explore during your trip. The most popular regions in the Dolomites can be broken up into about 5 slightly overlapping areas, each with diverse highlights but all with stunning beauty and excellent outdoor activities.

Alta Pusteria/ Hochpusterta

a beautiful mountain lake surrounded by grey jagged mountains in the Dolomites Italy

In the north-eastern corner, bordering Austria is the very popular area of Alta Pusteria. Along with the charming romantic towns and impressive mountain views, you’ll find a focus on wellness, gastronomy, and some of the most Instagram-famous sights. Alta Pusteria is perfect for tiny churches, extensive bike paths, exploring castles, enjoying lakes, and taking a restorative bath in the sulfurous waters.

[Photo Credit: Jonas Verstuyft via Unsplash]

Top Sites: 
Lago di Braies/Pragser Wildsee– the most famous and most beautiful lake in the Dolomites – enjoy the turquoise water by taking the 3.5km easy walking circuit around it, hire a boat to explore from its center or brave a swim in the glacial waters. 
Tre Cime/Drei Zinnen– the poster picture for the Dolomites, these three tall spires have created their own holiday region and national park. You could spend days hiking the trails in and around them, though their main circuit is a 3hr 10.5km trail. Head counterclockwise on the circuit for the best views from within or get an amazing view of the peaks themselves from the steep trail in Val Fiscalina to Rifugio Locatelli.

Towns to Stay in: 
Dobbiaco/Toblach – the largest and oldest town in the region. This charming village is the closest hub to Lago di Braies. Austrian cottages and luxury food await your stay.
San Candido/Innichen– a delightfully small hamlet close to the Austrian border but still with an Italian piazza in its center. It is often called The Gem of Val Pusteria. 

[Photo Credit: Jeison Higuita via Unsplash]

a turquoise lake reflecting a stoney mountain and surrounding forest with a line of wooden boats and boathouse on Lago di Braies Italy

Belluno/Belum

looking down on a small town between two imposing mountains in the Dolomites Italy

Often considered the gateway to the Dolomites, Belluno is a perfect base for exploring the eastern range. Eighty percent of the mountains are in the Belluno province so the sites to see are extensive. Glaciers, waterfalls, forests, and shopping, Belluno offers a lot of options, making it the perfect spot for those who want to try a bit of everything.

[Photo Credit: Julian Villella via Unsplash]

Top Sights
Rifugio Nuvolau– The oldest rifugio in the Dolomites and one of the best balcony views of the mountains. 
Lago di Sorapis/Sorapissee– the slightly hidden lake is a two-hour hike from Cortina but worth the otherworldly views. 
Lago Misurina/Misurinasee– clear water reflects the contours of the craggy mountains in this Pearl of the Dolomites. Easily reached from Alta Pusteria, this lake’s special microclimate makes it a center for respiratory health.
Val di Zoldo– a small alpine valley that is the heart of the mountaineers’ villages. This hidden gem is not very busy, so it feels very authentic and genuine. From here you can take the trail to Lago Coldai for a swim. 
Monte Cristallo/Hohe Schneide– in the center of the Dolomites, this mountain features four peaks that can be reached by cable car, mountaineering, or skiing. 

Towns to Stay In: 
Cortina d’Ampezzo– the most famous town around, often called the Queen of the Dolomites. Cortina is the jet-set, trendy and worldly fashionista town nestled in mountainous craggy spires. Not only can you easily get to Tre Cime and Lago di Braies from northerly Cortina, but you can also access a huge number of amazing peaks. But Cortina offers more than just alpine lakes and mountain hikes. Enjoy shopping, gastronomy, and entertainment of all kinds. For those who want a rounded luxury Dolomites experience, this is the place to start.

[Photo Credit:Piotr Guzik via Unsplash]

a large lake reflects the green trees and cloudy sky in the Dolomites

Val Gardena/Gröden

an italian espresso in the foreground and a ski resort in the background Dolomites Italy

This is the perfect place for those who want to leave their own transport behind and explore as much as they can from one spot. The beautiful Val Gardena boasts a colorful Ladin culture making it a truly unique experience. This culture-rich valley enjoys a slightly longer summer than other areas- often staying open until mid-October. It also features the most famous ski slopes – Sella Ronda. A network of cable cars and ski lifts connect 300 slopes, meaning you can ski all day without repeating a run.

[Photo Credit: Vlado Sestan via Unsplash]

Top Sites: 
Seceda Ridgeline– a jaw-dropping photo opportunity, the ridge is a two-hour hike from the gondola or a 5hr hike from the bottom. 
Passo Pordoi– the highest surfaced road through a pass- you can take a cable car to the top and find yourself between the Sella and Marmolada peaks. 
Monte Pic/ Pitschberg– not as well known, but you will be rewarded with stunning 360 views of the more famous peaks and you won’t have to share the view with anyone else. 

Towns to Stay In: 
Ortisei/ St Ulrich– the busiest town in Val Gardena because it’s the perfect home base. With several different chairlifts to the top peaks located in the center of town, you don’t need to worry about driving around to reach the amazing views.
Santa Cristina/St Christina– a tiny town located near Ortisei which gives you access to many of the lesser-known trails with fewer people.

[Photo Credit: Giorgi Shakarashvili via Unsplash]

an imposing mountain ridge with a sheer drop on one side and soft grassy hills on the other and imposing mountains in the background Dolomites Italy

Alta Badia/Hochabtai

grassy hills with a little hamlet in the center give way to forest and then imposing grey mountains in the Dolomites Italy

If you only have a short stay in the Dolomites then Alta Badia is the perfect place to spend it. This area features magical fairytale-like valleys, romantic locales, superb food, and extreme sports. Closely connected with Val Gardena, you’ll find some of the Sella Ronda slopes and the unique Ladin culture here as well. Enjoy the storybook landscapes, wellness facilities, and quiet alpine luxury.

[Photo Credit:Massimiliano Coradini via Unsplash]

Top Sites: 
Piz Boè– the highest peak of the Sella massif- this can be a challenging climb but the on-top-of-the-world feeling is worth it. 
Sasso di Santa Croce/ Ciaval– a breathtaking hike considered one of the most beautiful in the area. With a huge abundance of flora and fauna and mind-boggling views over the lush green valley. 
Cascate del Pisciadù– a picturesque hike through wildflower meadows lead to this thin 150m waterfall. This short hike is about an hour each way and can be done at a leisurely pace. 

Towns to Stay In: 
Corvara/Kurfar is located in the very center. It features many gondolas up to the peaks and is close enough to walk to the nearby villages. You can also enjoy any of the Michelin Star restaurants or play a round of golf at the club.
San Vigilio di Marebbe/ Vigil in Enneberg– a gateway to the Fanes-Sennes natural park this tiny hamlet emphasizes the romantic contrast between the wild and tame landscapes.

Alpe di Siusi/Seiser Alm

a green valley of hills with imposing craggy grey mountains in the background Dolomites Italy

The largest alpine meadow in Europe, with green rolling hills, wooden cabins, and not a car in sight. You can explore the meadows and pastures on horseback, between the scattered farms, or even go bathing in Lake Fie. Gentle soft green meadows and legends of witches and elves make this a delightful spot, especially for families. 

[Photo Credit: Pietro de Grandi via Unsplash]

Towns to Stay In:
Castelrotto/Kastelruth– the largest village at the foot of the region. A resort town that features a family-friendly ski park in the winter and a crisscrossing series of trailheads in the summer. 
Tires/ Tiers– a holiday village that is the definition of ensconcing yourself in nature. This tiny hamlet is best explored in summer with the many trails and climbing routes. 
Bolzano/Bozen– though not strictly in the area, Alpe di Siusi can be easily reached from the large city of Bolzano. This is truly a bustling city with castles, museums, and the opportunity to see the famous Iceman. 

[Photo Credit:Lukas Leitner via Unsplash]

looking at a flower dotted grassy meadow with wooden huts and imposing craggy grey mountains in the background in the Dolomites Italy

The Dolomites offer so many options and so much to explore it’s definitely an Italian destination you will want to visit again and again. If you feel inspired to plan a mountain adventure and need help choosing the best itinerary – let us know!

Wine and Wienerschnitzel

I turned fifty this month, and had done a LOT of advance thinking about what I wanted to do to celebrate this milestone. The fact that it would involve travel was a given, but I just couldn’t decide where to go.  Until I received an invitation from AmaWaterways for a wine-themed cruise on the Danube, departing a few days after my birthday!  That was a no-brainer, because I’ve always wanted to try a river cruise; it visited three countries that were new to me; and…well….WINE 😊

Misconceptions About River Cruises

If you’ve not yet done a river cruise, you’ve probably got some of the same pre-conceptions that I did.  I figured I’d be the youngest person on the ship, and that it would be a fairly quiet/relaxing experience. I downloaded a half-dozen books to bring with me, because I assumed there’d be nothing to do at night. All of which was fine. And all of which turned out to be incorrect!

This “old person’s” cruise kicked my fairly-active butt.  We were seeing/doing things from dawn to dusk. With opportunities to hike, bike, and explore (independently and with a group). We ate fabulous multi-course meals, we drank lots of great wine and beer. And at the end of the very full days, all I wanted to do was fall into bed at 9:30/10:00 pm. They offered nightly entertainment, but I only made it to the lounge once to check it out!  It also bears mentioning that I was NOT the youngest person on this sailing. There were definitely some couples in their 30s and 40s, and the majority were in their 50s and 60s. True “seniors” were probably the minority.

AmaWaterways blew me away. And what I now know is that their cruises are aimed at a more active demographic. They do attract more 40- and 50-somethings, with their easy 7-night itineraries, included wine/beer/internet, and onboard gyms, and bikes. The food and the service were far better than anything I’ve experienced on an ocean cruise. Plus,the more intimate size (approx. 160 people) makes it really easy to meet interesting people. I am a total convert, and am already planning my next river cruise!

the deck of the river cruise down the danube

If you want the details of this trip, scroll down.  And if you want to skip ahead to the photos, here’s a link to the entire gallery, taken by my very talented husband.

Our cruise on the AmaSerena was a 7-day “Romantic Danube” itinerary. Sailing from Vilshofen to Budapest, with the added bonus of an onboard wine expert and a handful of special wine tasting experiences along the way. The dates (November 13 – 20) were just before the official beginning of Christmas Market season in Europe (this usually starts around the 20th). But, because of the weather, a couple of cities/towns started their markets a week early and we were able to experience that as well. A totally unexpected bonus!

Munich

We flew into Munich a day early, arriving on Sunday morning. So that we could see a little bit of that city, and adjust to the time difference.  Arrival in Munich was super easy. It’s a big, modern airport, and we had a private driver waiting for us in the arrivals hall. The ride into the city was about 45 minutes, and it would also be easy to take the train if you prefer.

Our hotel – the Sofitel Munich Bayerpost — was right next door to the main train station (the Hauptbahnhof). A very central location, walkable to just about everything you’d want to see/do.  Service was very friendly, our room was ready and we were able to check in at 10 am! The rooms are modern, spacious and light, and the bed was fantastic. We crashed for a quick one-hour power nap, and then headed out in the rain to explore.

Munich overall was a very easy city to walk around, and we felt very safe.  Because it was Sunday, a lot of things weren’t open, but we walked all through the Marienplatz and the Viktualenmarket. They were setting up for Christmas markets, but the stalls were not yet open. We stopped by the famous Hofbrauhaus beer hall. But we were overwhelmed, jet-lagged, and didn’t really want to squeeze into a table with strangers, so we ate across the plaza at an Augustiner restaurant instead. The beers were delicious (our first Hefeweizens!) and we shared a very German snack plate of sausages, cheese, brown bread, shredded horseradish and more.  We had an early bed time that night, and twelve very necessary hours of sleep!

two glasess of beer in Munich

We got up bright and early on Monday, and had breakfast at one of the little coffee shops in the train station next door. Then we checked out, stored our bags with the front desk, and wandered back through the Marienplatz for a little more sightseeing. We rode up the tower at the town hall for the views, and explored the Munich Residence museum (an unexpected gem – like a smaller and less-crowded Versailles!)

 the Munich Residence Museum - a smaller and less croweded versailles

When it was time, we collected our bags and strolled back into the train station. It was very easy to find the correct platform and our train car (they are marked on the outside to indicate 1st and 2nd class). The seats were comfy, the ride was about two hours, and it was very easy to navigate. They announce each upcoming station, and show it on a scrolling monitor as you approach. We hopped off in Vilshofen, consulted our Google maps, and walked to the river bank where the ship was docked.

Boarding the Ship

Boarding the ship was very casual and easy. There’s no real check-in; you just walk onboard, give the front desk your name, and then relax and have a snack in the lounge until they escort you to your cabin. We were in one of the least expensive cabin categories, which was below the waterline on deck one.  It’s worth noting that this deck is down a spiral staircase, with no elevator access, and it would be tough for anyone with mobility issues. The cabin was very “cozy”, but had more than enough storage space. The bathroom was modern, and the shower was bigger than on an ocean cruise. There were two small windows high on wall, right at water level, and we jokingly called it “duck view”. The cabin was stocked with bottled water, and had free wifi, and a nice Apple TV with Internet and movies. Higher level cabins have French balconies, or twin balconies (part French balcony and part full sit-down balcony), but in the cool/wet fall weather that we experienced all week, we really didn’t miss having the outdoor space.

There was time to stroll around town that afternoon, and then we were officially welcomed with a dockside Oktoberfest celebration hosted by the village of Vilshofen. We enjoyed local beer and pretzels, live music, and even some polka lessons! It could have been hokey, but was actually quite fun and festive, and was a great way to kick off the cruise.   Dinner followed, in the main restaurant, with free-flowing local wine and beer. They really did a nice job of tailoring each night’s menu to the surrounding area, and we enjoyed some very nice German and Austrian wines along the way. Meals were all open-seating, which was good for meeting people, and the food and the service were top notch.

We did not sleep all that well that night, partially due to the time difference and partially due to the noise we could hear. Our location (next to the kitchen and more or less underneath the gangway) was not ideal, and I would choose something further down the hallway next time. Because this was a turnaround night (they were clearly offloading some things from the previous cruise and taking on new provisions, etc. ) there was a lot of foot traffic overhead.

Tuesday morning we were again up bright and early, and enjoyed a lovely breakfast in the main restaurant. Breakfast and lunch onboard was always buffet, with a few additional a la carte items you could order from the waiter. Every morning, outside of the main breakfast hours, they also offered “early” and “late” continental breakfast options in the lounge. It would be impossible to go hungry!

That first morning they had an information session in the lounge to explain the shore excursion options. The cruise director walked us through all the available (included) sightseeing options in each port, and provided details about the variations (i.e. “active walkers”, “slow walkers”, etc.) He also filled us in on a couple of optional ticketed excursions (such as a night at the Vienna concert hall) that were available – at added cost – for anyone who was interested.  It was very helpful, and was a great overview of the days to come.

Passau

After that, we enjoyed a scenic sail down the river to Passau, arriving just after lunch. Although it was cold/breezy, we ventured up to the “sun deck” to see the scenery and take some photos. Unlike some river cruise lines, all AmaWaterways ships have a small pool and lounge chairs up on that deck, and it would be very inviting in the warmer months.

In Passau, we chose to do a hiking tour up to the castle that overlooks the city. The hike was really not difficult, just lots of steps, and we had some interesting commentary/history along the way.  NOTE: For all the guided tours, we had “quiet vox” ear pieces to wear, so that we could hear our guide without having to be right next to him/her. The view from the castle was fabulous, and it would be even better on a sunny day. Afterwards, we had some free time to wander around Passau on our own, and we visited their beautiful cathedral.

We ate dinner that evening at the Chefs Table, which is a lovely room at the stern of the ship, with wraparound windows. It seats about 28 people, and everyone can make reservations at least once during a one-week cruise.  The meal includes a special tasting menu, with wine pairings, great service, and some very interesting and unique dishes. They also brought me a cake and sang Happy Birthday 😊

The entertainment in the lounge that evening was a singer from the UK (she had spent several years in the West End playing Fantine, Evita, etc) and she was great. Unlike on ocean cruises, where an entertainer stays on board for the duration, the river cruises have local talent that get on and off each evening. Once she was done with her set, off she went, and we set sail down the river again.

Linz & Salzburg

Wednesday morning, we were docked in Linz, Austria. We enjoyed a morning walking tour of the city, which is a UNESCO city of “culture and music”, with lots of interesting museums, sculptures, public art installations, etc.  After returning to the ship for a quick lunch, we headed off to Salzburg (the other option would have been the medieval village of Cesky Krumlov, in the Czech Republic, which I also would have loved to have seen) 

The bus ride to Salzburg from Linz was about two hours, and we made a pitstop at Lake Mondsee for bathrooms and photos. (NOTE: those who chose the full-day Salzburg tour spent more time here to see the Sound of Music wedding chapel, which overlooks the lake). At Salzburg, the bus let us off on the edge of the city center, and we did about a 90-minute guided walking tour of Mirabell Gardens, the “Love Locks” bridge, the pedestrian-only city center, and the Cathedral, and then had about 90 minutes on our own, which was perfect. We did some Christmas shopping, and then sat and had coffee and strudel in a cute little café. I would definitely go back to Salzburg if I had the opportunity, as we did not even scratch the surface. There are museums, churches, a fortress overlooking the city, and more.

Durnstein

Thursday was a nice respite from the busy days prior. We were able to sleep in, as the morning schedule was just “scenic cruising in the Wachau Valley”, and we would not be in port until 2 pm. I appreciated that change in pace, and had my first restful night’s sleep of this trip. We had a nice breakfast and then spent some time up on the sun deck in the cold. We were the only ones up there, because it was chilly and windy, but we got to watch as we went through one of many locks, and take pictures of cute little villages, churches and castles along the river banks. The hot chocolate/latte machine in the lounge was much appreciated after that. We did later hear that some fellow passengers had braved the (heated) pool!!

Later that morning, while we cruised down the river, we enjoyed an interesting wine tasting taught by our onboard wine host, and learned about some different California blends. When we eventually docked in Weissenkirchen, we enjoyed an afternoon tour to Durnstein (a short bus ride away). This was a charming Medieval town, surrounded by vineyards, with castle ruins looming above them. Because it was so late in the season, a lot of the shops weren’t open, but we did manage to pick up some locally-made apricot liqueur!

That evening, we did a really nice winetasting tour in Weissenkirchen. We were sorted into small groups, with guides, for a scenic stroll through this wine-making village. Our group ended up at a really cool old wine cellar, where we tasted several different Austrian white wines. For me, the Gruner Veltliner was the clear winner (I didn’t really care for the Austrian Reisling or Chardonnay).

Melk

Friday morning, we were up bright and early (again) for breakfast and a 9 am departure (by bus) for Melk. This is a gorgeous baroque abbey/fortress/church overlooking the river, which has been continuously occupied by monks for 900 years.  Monks still live there now, and run a small and prestigious private school (which our guide had attended!)  We learned a lot about the Reformation, the Counter-Reformation, and the Hapsburgs.

After lunch, we enjoyed a scenic sail down past Durnstein, to leave the Wachau Valley.  When we tied up in Krems, Austria we actually decided to skip the afternoon winetasting excursion (shocking, I know!) in favor of wandering around town on our own. It turned out to be one of my favorite stops. We walked into the pedestrian-only city center, where everything was decorated for Christmas, and we window-shopped our way down every block. There were outdoor kiosks selling mulled wine, and families enjoying a late-afternoon stroll, and the whole thing was picture-postcard-perfect.

Vienna

On Saturday, we arrived in Vienna. With so much to see and do in such a big city, the cruise line had given us a lot of options, and we packed our day very full.  We started with a morning walking tour, to get an overview of the city and its history. We saw the famous Lipizzaner Stallions outside the Spanish Riding School, we marveled at St Stephen’s Cathedral, and we learned about Vienna’s café culture. When the tour was over, we stayed in town (rather than riding back to the ship for lunch) and explored a bit on our own. We ate bratwursts at an open-air kiosk, wandered down cobblestone streets, and soaked up the atmosphere. That afternoon, we met back up with the guide for a tour of Schonbrunn Palace, the grand summer residence of the Hapsburg Emperors. The Christmas Market outside the palace had already opened for the season, so we were able to sneak in some souvenir shopping (and some gluhwein sampling 😊 )

Because the Christmas Markets were open, we opted to forego the usual evening tours — a Mozart and Strauss Concert or an evening at a traditional Austrian Heuriger (tavern) — and instead took advantage of a shuttle ride back into the city to spend a few hours at the Christmas Market at the Rathausplatz. There was music, twinkling lights, an open-air skating rink, and lots and lots of stalls selling all sorts of holiday treasures. We picked up some souvenirs for the kids, and thoroughly enjoyed the festive atmosphere.

Budapest

Sunday was our last full day, and unfortunately it was not only cold but rainy. Because of the distance we needed to cover from Vienna to Budapest, the ship actually dropped us all off in Esztergom (about an hour’s drive from the city) so we could board buses and start our tour while the ship continued along the meandering river to eventually catch up with us in the late afternoon. We did a “panoramic” tour of the city. From the bus, and then a drizzly walk through Buda to the Fisherman’s Bastion and the Matthias Church. We had some free time to shop and explore nearby, and then we continued our panoramic tour into the Pest side of the city. We ended up at Heroes Square, where we learned more about the  1956 Uprising, the Cold War, and the modern history of this fascinating city.

That night, the final evening of the cruise, was a definite highlight. We enjoyed the Captain’s cocktail party, and a special farewell dinner, and then the ship left the dock to do a leisurely cruise through the heart of Budapest. With amazing illuminated buildings/palaces/castles/monuments on each side. Everyone was up on the top deck, marveling at the sights. I actually had tears in my eyes, and it was only partially due to all the wine 😊

Final Thoughts

Disembarkation on Monday was handled exceptionally well. We had all been assigned to specific shuttle times, based on our onward plans. So, we were able to sleep in, have some breakfast, and relax in the lounge until called. They loaded us (and our luggage) onto a shuttle and drove us to the airport. There we were met by someone from Amawaterways to hold our hands for the airport check-in, and make sure we were safely on our way.  The whole thing, from beginning to end, was top notch.

These are a few of my favorite things..

Mother/daughter getaways….Surprises….Italy…The Sound of Music….need I go on?  When Katrina contacted me to help put together a fabulous Italian adventure, and told me she wanted to surprise her mom Lori (a lifelong Sound of Music fan) with a stop in Salzburg at the end, I was all in!  We managed to keep the secret until the very end, and the girls had an amazing and — as Katrina describes it — “life-changing” experience.  I will be smiling for weeks 🙂

Hey Ann,

We had an absolutely phenomenal trip!! I feel like the order of things was perfect as we were thrown into the craziness right away in Rome and it only “lightened up” from there. All the hotels were great and very helpful in helping us get our bearings.

Rome was wonderful and we loved the history of everything. It truly made everything back home seem so inferior. The hotel (River Palace) was cozy and nice. The HOHO bus stop was a little further than expected, but once we figured it out we were all good. I did like that it was so close to the Piazza del Popolo which made it very easy to tell the (sometimes scary) taxi drivers where to take us. I also think the extra walking there sort of broke us both in. We could not believe the drivers there and how there were not more accidents. Also made me realize how bad our drivers here actually are 🙂

exploring rome on a mother-daughter getaway

Florence was my mom’s favorite in Italy. The Bernini Palace hotel was absolutely perfect and we really didn’t want to leave. We had figured out the city and felt sort of at home by the end. I mentioned previously that the only hiccup in the itinerary was the thunderstorms, along with my mom being in some pain, kept us from taking the Pisa excursion. That ended up being a good rejuvenation day, so we don’t feel like we lost out on much. One complaint is the guide that we had for the Accademia. While he was knowledgeable and obviously passionate about art, he came off as extremely bitter and patronizing towards tourists. He belittled people for taking photos of a “naked man’s ass” after going on a rather lengthy rant about how this wasn’t a naked man. His name was Angelo, so I don’t know if you want to avoid that tour company or just him in the future, but definitely wanted to mention that. Our Vatican breakfast was such a cool experience and we truly felt like VIPs since we were in before the doors opened and got to eat out on this beautiful rooftop Plaza. We LOVED our guide, Gio.

mother and daughter ona hill overlooking Florence Italy

Venice was my favorite as I love its charm and uniqueness. It was a challenge to find anything twice because there were many similar street names, but we had a blast getting lost in the streets. I would say fair warning that people should be careful of the porters at that train station. That was the first time they seemed a little aggressive and wanted to charge 10 Euros for carrying out bag down the stairs. The water taxi was very nice and was like a tour in itself. Perfect for arrival and dropped us off steps away from our hotel entrance (Hotel Bisanzio). It was pricey, so we took the water bus back to train station on the way out and it was pretty easy to navigate. Loved learning all of that! We preferred getting lost on the “back roads” and alleyways to the main thoroughfare to avoid the large crowds. It was always easy to find our way back to either San Marco or Rialto Bridge. The Murano/Burano trip was wonderful and I wish we could spend more time in either of those places.

Salzburg. Let’s start at the very beginning… (see what I did there?) I surprised my mom by sneaking in the bathroom while she was in the shower and playing the prelude to the Sound of Music. She jumped out and nearly ran out naked exclaiming “We’re going to Salzburg??” She was ecstatic. The train ride was absolutely breathtaking and you picked us the perfect seats. We sat next to a crazy man who refused to admit that he was in my mom’s seat. There were other empty seats so it was not a problem and we ended up going and sitting in the restaurant car for a while anyway. The only challenge ended up being a great learning experience. The train that we had booked only had about 10 minutes to catch the connection in Rosenheim, which would have been totally fine, but of course the train arrived 10 minutes late and by the time we got a few stops down it was saying 25 minutes delayed. I looked up other connecting trains in Rosenheim and was comforted knowing there were other options, however when we made it to Rosenheim we didn’t have time to get our luggage and get to the door before the train started moving again. We now know that one of us should have gone ahead and hit the button on the door (lesson learned). We ended up riding all the way into Munich and then getting a day ticket on their metro train (only 26 Euros for both) and it got us back to Salzburg. It was sort of like the Amazing Race 🙂 The Sound of Music tour was really great for fans of the movie and really the scenery would have been enjoyable to anyone. I have attached a photo that we took only from memory and only when we got back to the hotel/wifi did we look it up and see how close we got. Freaky!

woman posing as Maria from the Sound of Music on a surprise trip to Salzburg

Munich was great and it was wonderful to see our friends. The hotel (Pullman Munich) was very nice and in a perfect location. Also, two days at Oktoberfest was plenty 🙂

We seriously cannot thank you enough. While I mentioned the few challenges, I want you to know it was a perfect and frankly life-changing trip. Could not have been better.

Thanks so much for your help! I would recommend you to anyone planning a European adventure and now that we have the travel bug, I might reach out to you down the road for our next adventure.

I hope this helps!

Thanks,

Katrina

You provided excellent guidance for us. I appreciated that you really had us think about what was most important to us when we were selecting the right cruise – and not to totally focus on what other people had to say. THANK YOU for helping to make this a memorable trip for our family! It really was a trip of a lifetime!

Clare and Mark (family cruise to Alaska)

The level of service we experienced was out of this world (and we did NOT make it easy on Ann). We weren’t quite sure where we wanted to go, when we would be able to go, or what “vibe” we were going for. After asking us some key questions (what we liked, didn’t like, why, etc.) Ann helped us narrow down our trip details and planned the honeymoon of our dreams. She helped book some of our excursions, answered some emergency questions while abroad and was always available/willing to help. I think it’s safe to say we won’t be using anyone else for future travel planning – Ann is a rockstar!

Carli (Italy and Spain)