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

A First-Timer’s Feedback

My friend Clare recently asked me to help arrange a family trip to Italy — for her and her husband, and their high-school-age son, visiting her older son who is spending a semester in Florence. It was their first trip to Europe, and they had an ambitious wish-list, but we hammered out a pretty fantastic itinerary that included something for everyone.

From the feedback below, it sounds like it was a hit. And I very much appreciate her sharing all these details/tips that will be of interest to other first-timers!

Hi Ann-

I am finally sitting down to write something up for you. This is a lot of information, but hopefully it can help someone who is thinking about Italy for the first time.


When we arrived in Rome, the driver you set us up with was ready and waiting and delightful! He dropped us off at Capo d’ Africa around 11 am. The individual at the front desk who checked us in was very friendly and said our room would be ready in about 15 -20 minutes. They also recommended a local restaurant and, though they encouraged us to make evening dinner reservations, we knew we would not make it to start dinner at 7:30!

We had a wonderful lunch that fueled us for the day. We took some time and walked down the Colosseum and some other areas – we basically explored and walked a lot until we were done. It did rain on us but that was okay – we were just happy to be outdoors. After walking around we settled in at the hotel a little more, went out to get some drinks and gelato and then hunkered down for a good night’s sleep!

Sunday we were off for the day and did a lot of walking before the mid-day Colosseum Tour. The surprise of having Brett join us in Rome for Dillon’s birthday was outstanding – he was shocked and SO SO happy to see him.  The Colosseum Tour was really great. Our guide was excellent – great information at a nice pace. Half of our group was an extended family with young kids so they left half way through – which actually made it a small group tour. We finished our day at a restaurant Dillon had picked before we went (from Trip Advisor). Food and drinks were good and it was a nice atmosphere. 

Monday Morning we were out early to the Express Sistine Chapel Tour. Your ears probably were ringing b/c you picked the PERFECT tour for us. Loved the small group – there were 5 of us. Rosa – our tour guide – was great. Her pace was so fast – but it really worked for us! Since Dillon and I don’t love museums – this was a fabulous way to see the Sistine Chapel, Vatican and St. Peters Square. I think LivItaly Tours does it right!  After that were were back to the hotel to check out and head to the train station. We had plenty of time and opted to walk – which took us about 25 minutes. 

NOTES: The hotel was great – room was oversized and we did not feel crowded with a cot. We did have to ask at the front desk how to keep the lights on. Clearly we were rookies! No A/C – had to open windows – which was a little strange with no screens! The included breakfast was good and service excellent. We also loved the location.

LaSpezia/Cinque Terre:

The train ride to La Spezia was beautiful – so much to take in. When we arrived we took a cab to the hotel and our room was ready. We were surprised by the size – Dillon’s cot was in a living room area – so we definitely did not feel crowded. It also had a beautiful view and we saw a few ships come in and out. Again, needed to open windows to cool down the temp! The hotel recommended a local favorite for dinner where we arrived at 7 pm and were their first customers! We walked along the water and just enjoyed the sites and made plans for the following day.

We decided to take the train from La Spezia to the farthest town in Cinque Terre (Monterosso) and make our way back. We had read a blog that recommended the hike from Vernazza to Corniglia – and decided that we would take that one. The blog indicated there were places along the way to stop for food and drinks. Unfortunately, we found out after climbing the stairs to the hiking trail, that it was closed. In fact, the only trail that was open was Monterosso to Vernazza. That was a bit of a bummer, especially since we purchased the hiking/trail pass. Instead we went back into town in Vernazza and enjoyed pizza and beer by the water. We made our way to each town by train. Corniglia we explore along the water, did not walk the 350 stairs to the town. Manarola was our favorite shopping town and we spent a bit of time exploring the shops. We returned to the hotel after a great day, played some cards and went for a walk to find something to eat. Much to our surprise, most places were closed for the night (8:30 or so), and by the time we got to a grocery store – it was closed as well. So we headed back to the hotel and had some snacks that we had in our bags and got a good night’s sleep! 

One thing we hadn’t planned for was having Euros for this location – we needed 15 for each trip to and from the train station. 

NOTES: Next time I think we might opt for the boat transportation from town to town instead of the train. We thought it might be too chilly, but the weather was delightful. Loved being in La Spezia, but if we went back we would probably opt to stay in one of the towns for something different. 


We arrived on time and Brett met us and walked us to the hotel. The room was not to be ready for a while, so we checked our bags and hit the town, It was so fun to be in Florence and I am glad you said to let Brett show us the town since that is where he has spent his semester. We saw many sights and Brett helped formulate our plans for Thursday morning while he was in class. 

Brett made reservations for a nice dinner for the four of us and his girlfriend. Probably in our top 3 meals of the week. Thursday we got up and explored a little earlier at Brett’s suggestion, to see the Duomo without the square being packed. We walked around and went up and enjoyed the views from Piazzele Michelangelo. We met Brett for lunch – he took us to his favorite sandwich shop where the owner knows him and then we saw where he lives. We had picked a pizza and gelato making class b/c Brett only had the afternoon and had already done a pasta class with school. This was a disappointment. The food was good and the boys and I enjoyed our time together, but we felt very rushed. Of the 3 hour experience, we probably only prepared and cooked for just over an hour. It was warp speed. Mark shopped and explored while we were in class. 

We did end up making reservations for our train to Bologna for the next day. Brett was looking online and everything was booking up b/c it was Good Friday. In hindsight, we probably should have booked in advance.

NOTES: Hotel De La Ville – This probably was our least favorite hotel. The room was very cramped with the pull-out couch. And the temperature was hot, with no window to open. I think we also just felt like we were in a cave b/c there was no outside light. The breakfast was good and the service friendly.


Hotel location was perfect for our stay. After checking in we took a walk to the main square area and found a cafe. We sat outside, enjoyed some drinks and snacks and played cards. There was live music on the square, and the church across the way had a choral group perform for Good Friday. Brett had selected a place for dinner, and we headed there on our walk back. It was a small local place. The food did not have “plate appeal” – but Mark said it was his favorite of everything he ate during the trip. 

Again, your ears should have been ringing all day Saturday – that Food and Ferrari Tour you booked for us was SO FUN! It ended up being a 10 hour day – but it was relaxed and so enjoyable. Our guide was excellent – very funny and very knowledgeable. We had 18 people and it was a great size. We opted not to drive a Ferrari – 150 Euros for 10 minutes seemed crazy. Although if all 4 of us could have gone in one car we would have done it! The family restaurant where we had the meal at the end was great – delicious food at a relaxed pace. The location was beautiful farmland. This was definitely a highlight of the trip!

NOTES: Unahotels Bologna Centro – this hotel was fine – and they turned on the AC for us! woohoo! The guy at the front desk must have been used to angry Americans b/c he was flustered and apologizing through our check-in. We just kept smiling and telling him there was nothing to apologize for. Rooms were clean and basic. I would compare to a Fairfield Inn. The size of the rooms was generous and the breakfast was good.


The high speed train to Venice was fantastic! Very comfortable and kids were happy for WiFi! Again, we arrived early and the hotel checked our bags – it was going to be a few hours until our rooms were ready. We left the hotel armed with a map and walked around the city. We checked the menu at the place we had made dinner reservations at and the kids said to cancel it. Ha ha. We made our way to where we knew we needed to be Monday morning and hit a lot of dead ends – but enjoyed ourselves walking around. We grabbed a bite to eat in the main San Marco square (tourist trap!), enjoyed some live music and relaxed. We headed back to the hotel and checked in, and got settled. After that we walked around some more and picked a place for dinner. This probably was our least favorite meal of the trip, but the service was good. 

Monday morning we were off to the Murano, Burano and Torcello Tour which we really loved. We decided to buy water bus tickets for the day – and that is how we got to the meeting spot. We liked being the first tour group of the day – it meant smaller crowds in Murano. The Glass Blowing was fun and we did some great shopping. After we were done we took the water bus around and saw Venice from different perspectives, and got out a few times and walked. It was a fun way to explore! We grabbed some food and made our way back to the hotel so Brett could pack up and catch his train.

Hotel Santa Chiara – Great hotel (our favorite showers of the trip!). Clean and friendly. It was a nice location. They also were willing to turn on our AC. 🙂 The only person who was not friendly was the person at the desk at 4:15 AM when we checked out. No wonder he is on the overnight shift! ha ha.

We were leaving before the buses started service – so they assured us that taxis are always out front. We waited in the rain for a few minutes and then I asked the hotel to call one for us since it was raining pretty hard. We made it to the airport in plenty of time to get some breakfast and relax. 

The flights home were fine – though we were late into London and had only about 25 minutes from when we deplaned to get to our connection – and it was a hike. It took us about 35-40 minutes to get through security and get to our gate. But we made it! 

Here are some things that came up that we didn’t expect:

  • Public restrooms are few and far between in most places. When you have a chance to use one – use it. And make sure you have small denomination Euros on hand to pay for them! (I’ll pay a buck for a bathroom anytime if it is as clean as the ones we used were!)
  • We planned for 250 Euros – and did have to take more out. I would probably have planned for 350 next time. 
  • The A/C – or lack there of. We found that most hotels do not turn it on until it is 78 degrees outside. We were thankful that our last 2 hotels saw a desperate woman in her 50s! Ha ha.
  • Hotel rooms were larger than we expected.
  • Language was not a barrier. In fact, everyone we had to speak to spoke English. That was a relief.

How can we thank you??

  • The organization of all of the documents for us was amazing. It is just how I would have done it if I planned myself. THANK YOU.
  • You picked perfect tours/experiences for us – the only one we didn’t like was the one I reserved! Ha ha! 
  • Lots of good advice in the information you sent us that made us feel prepared.
  • Also – what we loved overall was that each of the places we went felt different than the last place. So we really had 5 different experiences. And while we are not accustomed to that much moving around – it all felt very well planned out. Only an expert could have planned this for us!
  • It was the perfect trip for a first time to Italy. We know we’d go back to Cinque Terre. And then explore other southern locations next time. 

And now we need to start thinking about our next adventure!

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 🙂


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!


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


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


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!


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


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.

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!



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)