A Winter Honeymoon in Northern Italy

Shannon and Lou were excited to have a Christmas Honeymoon in northern Italy. They wanted to see the beauty of the snowy Dolomites and Swiss Alps while still experiencing a few classic Italian spots like Venice, Milan, and Bologna! I was so pleased to hear they enjoyed the delicious food and the stunning landscapes Northern Italy has to offer.

Here’s their trip report:

Hi Ann!

We had an AMAZING time!! We loved every part of the trip. 

view of the grand canale in venice from the Rialto bridge

The Venice hotel [Ca’ Sagredo Hotel] was perfect, very accommodating and they gave us great dinner recommendations for local restaurants to avoid the touristy spots. 

 

 

honeymoon couple in the Dolomites Italy

We absolutely loved the
trip to the Dolomites

[also featured at the top photo]

 

as well as the guided walking tour and the walking food tour.  The only thing that I would maybe tell future guests is the Venice walking food tour was a little heavy on the alcohol (full glass of wine at every stop), which is definitely not a problem, but I could see how it might be if lunch or afternoon drinks before the tour were consumed lol. Regardless we loved it and had a great time but just something to keep in mind!

Bologna was also great, food was absolutely fantastic and we really enjoyed exploring the city.  We LOVED the foody tour to Modena with the winery, balsamic vinegar tour and Parmesan cheese. This tour was one of our favorites by far. The lunch provided was excellent.

The hotel in Bologna [Starhotels Excelsior] was good, the only thing I would maybe warn other guests of is that they do allow smoking in this hotel. We were on a non smoking floor but regardless I think it would be bothersome to some who have asthma/other sensitivities. The proximity to the train station here was very convenient for traveling.

 

We spent the day on Sunday walking up to San Luca from the hotel, which is definitely more than a workout but the views are incredible and highly recommend to anyone else traveling to Bologna with some free time! 

Finally, Milan and our trip to the Swiss Alps were absolutely stunning!

sunrise in northern italy view of cross country skier next to lake

I would recommend anyone taking this trip to find something open to eat in advance to getting on the bus at 0700 in Milan. There was a small stop for coffee/snacks but pretty limited. You were right that most things were closed on 12/24 and 12/25.

 

We also found that mostly everything was closed on the 26th as well- public holiday. Regardless by this point in the trip we were tired and just really happy to relax. It was nice to walk around the city on Christmas without all of the crowds of people.

 

This hotel [Chateau Monfort] was excellent. Staff went above and beyond for us for dinner recommendations and anything else that we needed. Spa here is also excellent if you have future guests looking for that experience- they allow you to use the sauna, salt pool, relaxation room without booking a treatment. I know we discussed with you already but by the 26th we were just kind of done with the tours and decided not to go to Turin, although I’m sure it would have been lovely. We had a great detox day in the spa in its place 🙂

I don’t think there is much we would have done differently! The transfers to and from the airports were extremely helpful to have booked in advance. Additionally, traveling by train between cities was very easy.

Thank you for all of your assistance and guidance! We can’t wait to plan our next trip!!

wintery scene of italian dolomites

Wishing you a happy and healthy New Year!

Shannon and Lou

It’s All About The Details

Judging from the trip report below, Mia and Matt clearly loved their Italian honeymoon! But here’s what jumps out at me the most  —  the things that they’ll remember forever (the things that make or break the overall experience) are NOT the hotels.  Even though that’s what most clients want to focus on when we’re planning the trip. Instead, it’s the finer details. The fabulous tour guide in Rome, whom they invited to have drinks with them afterwards. The private water taxi that whisked them to the airport on their way home from Venice. The food tour in Bologna that she’s been raving about to anyone who will listen. All of that clearly overshadowed the Rome hotel that she thought was “shady”, and I’ll bet she will have forgotten the name of that hotel before her first anniversary — unless she looks back and re-reads this blog post 🙂

ROME

The hotel {Hotel Cecil} was a little shady. The location, yes, is great, but the hotel itself is weird and they were not very helpful or even nice at this hotel.  As for the breakfast in the morning – I spit up the first thing I tried into my napkin… it was disgusting! Thankfully we were not in our room long…..

Now….. as for the guided tour…

honeymoon couple and their guide in rome italy

OH My Goodness – our guide was AMAZING. yes it was a long day touring everything in 90 degree heat and 90% humidity but wow was it worth it. Matt and I lost at least 5 pounds walking around in all that heat! But she made everything fun and exciting and boy did she know her stuff… We even invited her to drinks after, she was that great we had to take a picture with her!

The train was easy to get to and our car service was waiting for us in Naples and was the nicest guy!

SORRENTO

This was the most amazing part of our trip. From the crazy city and walking around we did in Rome, what a relaxing time we had here. And OUR ROOM!!! my god, I couldn’t believe that was ours! it was unreal. It was like I was in a dream. It was the most picturesque place I have ever been to. We even did a day trip to Positano and Amalfi and omg I can’t say enough about this place, the hotel {Hotel Minerva}, the view, the people we met…. Unbelievable

FLORENCE

Ok, not going to lie, we were a little depressed to leave Sorrento for a city but what a lovely place Florence was. Our hotel {Hotel Kraft} was in a great location (right near the American Embassy and walking distance to lots of places) we did some shopping at the Mercato Centrale and had wonderful dinners every night. Our tour to Siena and Chianti was like being in a postcard. Our tour guide was amazing once again and so knowledgeable. Our wine tasting and lunch were delish and it was a memorable excursion.

As for the cooking class – MY FAVORITE!!! I already made a dish we made in Florence at home! I loved loved loved it! and Matt loved it just as much! Check out pics!

new groom learning to make pasta on his honeymoon in italy

BOLOGNA

Our hotel room was HUGE and perfectly located {Al Cappello Rosso}. I loved everything about this city, the people, the food, I would recommend bologna to everyone I meet. That is because we went on the tour of our lives to the prosciutto, cheese and balsamic factories. WHAT A DAY!!! unreal. I’m still telling people about how amazing that tour was. It was one of the many highlights of our trip!

VENICE

Our hotel {Hotel Ala} was very tiny but easy to get to and accessible to everything. I loved Venice. Again, our tour at night was awesome. The lady was a sweetheart and we learned so much about the so-called floating city. And to top it off… our water taxi to the airport was the best way to end our beautiful honeymoon.

I can’t thank you enough and have been giving your praises to everyone I see. You planned the best honeymoon for Matt and myself and every place was better than the next.

If I could suggest two things:

1 – we did an AIRBNB experience in Rome and it was amazing their company is RomaEat

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g187791-d6728912-Reviews-Roma_Eat_Food_Experience-Rome_Lazio.html

what a great way to try local roman food

2 – Teatro De Sale – a dinner theater that I would go back to Florence just to go to again. worth looking into!!!!

Also – go on netflix and watch “somebody feed phil” and he does a segment on florence and venice and we went to both those restaurants! and they were amazing!!!

AGAIN…. I can’t thank you enough.

Fabulous Food and Ferraris

Cynthia and Alicia (mother and daughter) reached out to me about a family “escape” to Italy. They had a very specific window of opportunity, and a pretty good idea of the things that the two couples wanted to see and experience, but they wanted my help putting it all together seamlessly. Together, the three of us crafted an amazing exploration of northern Italy, with some history, some culture, some gorgeous scenery, lots of fabulous food and wine, and even a quick test-drive in a Ferrari 🙂  Can’t wait to help them with their next adventure!

Hi Ann,

Here is my synopsis of our trip! It really was truly amazing.

I really liked Aer Lingus as an airline. I thought they were efficient, clean and had all the amenities I want when traveling overseas. The only challenge we faced was having the layover in Dublin in the middle of the night for us. None of us were able to get much sleep at any point during the flights or in the Dublin airport, so we were totally exhausted our first day in Milan. But we pushed through and didn’t nap! On the way back, going through U.S. Customs in Dublin was a dream!

As I said, we were exhausted our first day! We arrived at the hotel and one of the rooms was ready, so we stored all of our luggage in that room, changed and headed out towards Piazza Duomo to start exploring and grab lunch. The Best Western Galles was my least favorite hotel, but I think that’s only because of the particular room Jay & I stayed in. It was on the ground floor, (very tiny, which we expected because it’s Europe, but this felt extra small!) and the bathroom and shower were very tiny too! My parents’ room was much better, on the fifth floor, was larger and had much more counter space in the bathroom. I have a feeling that the ground floor rooms were designed differently, but maybe it’s possible to request a room on the upper floors next time. Everything else about the hotel was great – the staff very helpful and breakfast was great – everything you could possibly want (just a little crowded on Sunday, but the week was quieter!)

Our first day, we had lunch in a restaurant in Galleria Vittorio Emanuele (pricey, but pretty and we were exhausted and starving lol). After lunch we strolled around there, went into some stores and then went to the Duomo Museum which was really cool. After the museum, we decided to head back to the hotel so mom and dad could check into their room. We changed for dinner and went to a place called Ristorante d’Oro (recommended by the hotel and only a five minute walk from there). We didn’t have a bad meal the entire trip, but this was one of the best! They had papa pomodoro (bready tomato soup) which is one of our favorites, and we had previously in Rome and Florence.

young couple with two wine glasses at lunch in Milan Italy

The next day, we went to Sforza Castle and toured the museum there and saw Michelangelo’s Pieta. We then strolled down Via Dante and had lunch outside along the way. We then met up with our group for the walking tour. This walking tour was great! Our tour guide was incredibly knowledgeable, especially when it came to the Last Supper – she told us so many things you would never know by just looking at it. The tour was the perfect length for us, and we were able to see the important highlights of Milan. We then had an aperitivo and later dinner. The aperitivo trend was one of my favorite things about this trip!

The next day was my favorite part of the whole trip – Lake Como. We took a 10:20 train to Varenna (the train was about an hour). Once we arrived in Varenna, we hopped on the ferry to Bellagio, with the plan to come back to Varenna later on. I have decided that Lake Como is the most beautiful place I have ever seen. The scenery is incredible. I could not stop taking photos! In Bellagio, we climbed the cobblestone steps and shopped along the way, visited a church and then did a 3 wine tasting with lunch at a place called Aperitivo Et Al – this was fabulous. Our waiter explained each wine we were drinking in great detail (and very good English) and the lunch was great! We then hopped back on the ferry and went back to Varenna. Varenna was beautiful too – we strolled along the passarella (pedestrian bridge right along the water), went into a few shops, took a ton of photos, climbed more cobblestone steps lol and then settled into a place right on the water for an aperitivo. We then went to dinner at Ristorante La Vista. This place was incredible. It sits up high and has beautiful views of the lake. We sat outside and watched the sun set. After a nice long scenic dinner, we headed back to the train at 9:37. I think Jay and I have our sights set on retirement in Bellagio haha! It was simply magical.

couple standing by the water at the bottom of cobblestone steps in varenna-lake-como

The next day we got up, had the hotel call us a taxi, and took our train to Bologna. We found the trains this entire trip to be extremely easy to use and on time. We got off our train, and walked right to the Starhotels Excelsior. This was by far my favorite hotel. It was the most modern and very spacious (we did end up upgrading to deluxe rooms for another 20 Euros per night because those rooms were ready, but we were anxious to drop our suitcases and change our clothes). The breakfast here was equally great. We then set out for the day to explore. I have to say, I LOVED Bologna! Such a cute, quaint and old city. We strolled down Via dell’Indipendenza. It was a little late for lunch, so at first we had trouble finding a place that was open until we happened upon this place that looked like a deli. The owner was there and welcomed us in even though he was about to close. At first we had trouble with this menu – it was centered around this food called “Tigella”. ??? The owner swooped in to help. We soon learned the Tigella is local to Bologna, and is this type of bread (kind of like an English Muffin) that comes in all kinds of flavors (wheat, white, truffle, etc.) The owner ended up giving us a tasting of everything. He brought us three baskets of Tigella bread, then three plates of meats and cheeses to make sandwiches with the Tigella. It was INCREDIBLE – I am attaching a photo of it. This was the best lunch we had the entire trip! After lunch, Jay and I climbed one of the towers of Bologna (mom and dad opted out of this one lol) 498 steep steps to the top, but so worth it. The views of the city were incredible! After our descent, we did a little shopping, then went back to the hotel to change for dinner. We had dinner at this really cool place that we had found during the day (I forget the name of it though!)

an overhead view of a table with meat, cheeses and breads in bologna Italy

The next day was the Food & Ferrari Tour. What an incredible day! I cannot say enough good things about this tour. I am so glad the guys wanted to drive Ferraris because it allowed us to experience this amazing tour. First of all, our tour guide, Olga, was hands down the best tour guide I have ever had on any trip I have ever been on. She was so nice, accommodating to everyone on our tour, so knowledgeable, and most importantly so enthusiastic about everything we were doing – you would never know that she does this almost every day! We went to a Parmesan factory where we got really lucky because the inspector was there, so we got to see how they inspect the cheese. We then went to the prosciutto factory, where again, we got really lucky because the inspector was there too! At each of these places, Olga took us through the entire factory step by step, then we did tastings of each with endless amounts of Lambrusco (Olga just kept magically pulling bottles out lol!) We then went to the balsamic vinegar factory which was SO COOL – I had no idea how they make it, and we are now all balsamic vinegar snobs. We had another incredible tour from the owner (and his 5-year old daughter too – so cute!) and then another tasting there – balsamic vinegar on cheese, balsamic vinegar on gelato….on everything. It was awesome! Then on to the Ferrari museum! The car that Jay had reserved to drive was not available, so he ended up selecting another one, the California Turbo (that came with a passenger – yay for me!) Dad also selected a passenger car. While waiting for the test drive, we toured the museum and Olga, being amazing again, took us through the museum and gave us a tour. The test drive was….scary…exhilarating…thought we might die…but ultimately we lived to tell the tale lol! Jay drove with the instructor in the front seat and me in the back seat. They take you through the town of Modena…on the very narrow roads…with other cars on the road…and at certain points let you go as fast as you can (the instructor was pushing Jay’s leg down on the gas HAHA!) Jay absolutely loved it. I had fun too, but was kind of glad when it was over and we were still alive haha. We then were to head to lunch with the rest of the group. Because we were the only ones to do test drives, the rest of the group had already gone to the restaurant so Olga sent the bus driver back to pick us up (again, so accommodating). We met up with the rest of the group, had an amazing 7 course lunch and lots of wine (which I needed after that test drive LOL). After lunch, we went up to the kitchen were two women were preparing stuffed tortellini by hand for that night’s dinner. They let us in the kitchen to observe and we actually got to try to make some tortellini with them! After that, we headed back to Bologna and were dropped back at our hotel at around 6:00. We went to our rooms, then went to dinner close by on recommendation from the hotel.

getting into a ferrari on vacation in Italy getting into a ferrari on vacation in Italy

The next day we got up, explored the park near the hotel and took a walk through an antiques market. Then hopped on the train to Venice! Venice was so beautiful, again I could not stop taking photos! We grabbed a porter and a water taxi and arrived at the hotel. Duodo Palace was so beautiful and has so much character! The location of this hotel was definitely convenient – we never had trouble finding our way back to it and never had to walk too far to any sights. Our rooms were ready, so we checked in and dropped our bags – oh, and about those keys – real keys with a huge tassel that they keep for you at the desk – so cool! The rooms were again small, but the bathrooms were a lot more spacious than the one in Milan. The breakfast here was also very good, and a bonus – they had mimosas here! After checking in, we headed out for lunch to a place on recommendation from the very helpful hotel staff. I wish I could remember the name of it, but dad and I had the best gnocchi we’ve ever had! We then strolled around, went to St. Mark’s Square the Rialto Bridge, and eventually had dinner again on recommendation from the hotel.

young couple standing on the Academia Bridge in Venice

The next day, we had our walking tour of Doge’s Palace and St. Mark’s Basilica. Finding our tour guide was a little hectic, but then we figured it out. This group had about 5 tours in 5 difference languages starting at the same time, so it was crowded but we eventually figured it out. Our tour guide was very good and very knowledgeable. This tour was a larger group of people than our previous ones, and everywhere we went there were already a lot of people, so it just felt a little more crowded, but that was Venice in general. Doge’s Palace and the Bridge of Sighs were both incredible. St. Mark’s Basilica was also quite amazing to see, but we all agreed that the tour through there lasted a little too long. After the tour, we grabbed lunch outside near our hotel/La Fenice Opera House and then visited La Fenice – so beautiful! We then headed towards the Rialto and did Gondola rides. This was so much fun – they took us along the Grand Canal and through some side canals. We then did some shopping in the Rialto area. That night, we decided to have dinner by the water near the Rialto (these restaurants might be tourist traps, but hey – “when in Venice” right? and the food was of course superb!).

a coung couple on a gondola ride in Venice view of Venice from a gondola in Italy

Our final day in Venice, we went to the Academia Gallery and Peggy Gugenheim Museum (we got a little lost getting to them, but who doesn’t get lost in Venice lol). This was also the only day that we had a little rain on the entire trip! The Academia Gallery (mostly Renaissance art) was amazing, impressive, and so worth it! The Gugenheim (modern art) was not so impressive. It was extremely crowded and tiny (it was Peggy’s former house), but I also think I am biased because I do not like modern art lol. However, there were three paintings that I wanted to see, so once we saw those we headed out. We then had lunch at an adorable restaurant next to the Academia Bridge – amazing paninis! After lunch, we decided to head to Murano. We took the Vaporetto – so cool! We went to the glass museum on Murano which was amazing and then did a little shopping. We then headed back on the vaporetto and got off a St. Mark’s Square. We had an aperitivo at Harry’s American Bar, which is where the Bellini was invented and which Hemingway frequented in the 1940s. We then headed back to the hotel, and got a recommendation from a restaurant. However, when we got to the restaurant, they didn’t have any openings until very late. We happened upon another place called Roso Rosso, who had a table for us available a half hour later. We put our name in, and settled in a nearby bar for another drink (this was the theme of the trip – wine at every opportunity!) Roso Rosso was one of my favorite restaurants – I had THE BEST lasagna I have ever had.

The next day we were picked up by our private water taxi – we were expected them to arrive right outside of the hotel, but instead they were parked in a different canal, so the attendant walked us (about 5 mins) to the taxi. We had to drag our suitcases, but the attendant helped us with them over the one bridge we had to cross, and it really wasn’t too bad. We were dropped at our car, arrived at the airport and on our way home. 🙁

Finally, I have attached a few photos for you. All in all, this was such an incredible trip. It was exactly what we wanted – we were able to see all of the highlights, stay extremely informed and have a ton of fun all while doing a few small tours but mostly exploring on our own. The food, wine, scenery and sights were all amazing. We couldn’t have asked for more perfect weather. It was sunny and in the mid-60s every day, except for our last day in Venice. The Italian people were also all so friendly and helpful. We of course were always overly cautious but honestly came away with the feeling that the Italian people are really very genuine and want to help you. The breakfasts at all three hotels were great, but most importantly the hotels were all clean, comfortable, staff very helpful, and in perfect locations for what we wanted to see. It was so convenient to have our trains and private transfers booked ahead of time as well. I cannot thank you enough for planning this wonderful “escape” for us, Ann! Jay and I have our sights set on another European adventure sometime next year, so don’t be surprised to be hearing from us again soon lol! Thank you again for everything you did for us, and please let me know if you have any questions!

Alicia

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)