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 ~ Italian Treasures with Cinque Terre  ~     

Cinque Terre

     Italy is my favorite place in the world!

     Each year I visit, exploring new areas and returning to others I especially enjoyed.
I like the ease of escorted tours as it allows me to sit back and enjoy the scenery rather than having to navigate traffic or look at maps.   
Usually I sandwich a tour in between some relaxation time on my own near the water.

     The first escorted tour I ever took was called "Italian Treasures" by Globus it is a great package!
It not only covers the "big three", Rome, Florence, and Venice, but also some special places like the Cinque Terre.
The ease of having VIP skip the line tickets and tours is great for places like the Vatican.
     The tour began in Rome and the group enjoyed VIP skip the line tours of the Vatican, St. Peters, and the Sistine Chapel as well as an overview of the city and then the Colosseum.
My husband and I "played hooky" from the activities and went to Lake Bracciano for the day with my dear friend Stefano who lives in the area.
It is perfectly fine to skip group activities when you are on a tour, nothing is compulsory it is your vacation. 

It is important be polite and let the tour director know what is going on, but, if you would prefer to go shopping than visit a church go for it!
I treat tours like a buffet, I take what I want and leave the rest, they are a great value, getting me where I want to go with great hotels and inclusions.

Later that day we relaxed at my favorite square, Piazza Navona enjoying the fountain of the four rivers before going back to the hotel pack to head out of the city the next morning.

Fountain of Four Rivers~ Piazza Navona Rome ~ Video

    After Rome, the tour headed north to the walled city of Lucca, you have to get up and walk on the walls it is like a park up there!
Plus, from the ramparts you can see that there are three versions of the walls, the one you are walking on and two other inner ones dating back to the Middle Ages.
The city itself is in fantastic shape, look for the statue of the Archangel Michael on top of the basilica. 
Because of the walls the city is fantastically preserved and one of the best examples of Medieval architecture in Italy.
The walls also create a natural amphitheater and many famous bands from around the world travel to this small comune to perform, the Rolling Stones were slated to arrive a week after my trip. 
     From Lucca we headed to the port city of La Spezia for one of the highlights of the tour, a boat trip to the Cinque Terre. 
The colorful houses clinging to the cliffs are something you are not likely to see many other places, it is such a shame most American's miss this treasure.
We stopped at three of the towns ending in Monterosso al Mare.
The group was going to have lunch after free time, I opted to go swimming instead which was a great choice. (I wore my bathing suit under my clothes.)
Here is a tip if you visit Monterosso, walk towards the rocky formations at the end of the beach.
You will come across "il Gigante" a massive statue of Neptune carved into the mountain created back in 1910.
He is missing his clamshell and his arms, a casualty of the war, but is still an impressive sight to behold.

Cinque Terre to Portofino video ~


     Exploring Tuscany we stopped in Siena and my favorite hilltop Tuscan town San Gimignano followed by a wine tasting at a castle in Greve in Chianti.
The castle is owned by the Verrazzano family, the same people responsible for the bridge in New York.
The views over the vineyard are just beautiful and we were able to go down into the cellars and see all of the ageing barrels, the wine was delightful as well!

     On to Florence, where the group did the VIP tour circuit seeing David etc.
I went shopping as I have been to the city many times, you can get great deals on leather and gold in Florence.
When you do visit David, be sure to look at him from each side not just straight on.
Michaelangelo was always putting hidden messages in his work.
If you look at David from one side you will see that he looks fearful as he is approaching the giant, his brow is furrowed and eyes afraid.
From the other side he looks angry like he is ready to take revenge.
If you then look at him straight on you will see that one eye is fixated on something in the distance while the other is looking in the direction his head is turned.
This was the artist explaining how we all have two sides to us, a good and an evil one.

I highly recommend you try some Chianina beef while in Florence, which is famous for a cut called Bistecca Fiorentina which is immensely huge, you can get something smaller and still be having the same cow.
     We headed toward Venice with a stop in Verona on the way, it is a lovely town with a great opera theater that looks like a mini colosseum.
The huge props for the opera were out in the piazza which felt surreal walking by them. 
I get a kick out of people who get so excited to see "Juliet's balcony" in Verona, Juliet is not a real person, Shakespeare made her up.
There is a statue of Juliet by the balcony, it is said that if you rub her right breast it will bring you luck in love, it is very shiny!
The central piazza is very special with frescos and a fountain that has a ancient statue as a centerpiece.
 We entered Venice in style via private water taxi, I have been to Venice many times before so I skipped the included tours opting to get a Vaporetto pass instead. 
With a Vaporetto pass you are free to travel to travel all through the lagoon, we went to Murano, Burano, and to some lesser known areas.
Venice does not have to be touristy if you know where to go.

Venice and Verona ~ video 

     After two nights in Venice we were off again on our way to Assisi.
Our hotel in Assisi had sweeping views over the Umbrian countryside it was just breathtaking.
The Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi is quite interesting, it is three churches stacked on top of each other.
It has been hit by several earthquakes but never destroyed, the frescoes are quite impressive.
We stopped at the mountain top village of Orvieto on our way back to Rome, the Cathedral there has the most beautiful chapel.
The ceiling is said to have been the inspiration for the Sistine Chapel.
The detailing was stunning, it tells quite the story!

Orvieto ~ video

In Rome we had a great farewell dinner at an opera restaurant that night.
It was quite funny and not dry or boring, everyone would enjoy it even if opera is not your thing.

This is a great all-around tour of Italy, we headed over to Sicily for a week afterwards to relax and enjoy the beach which was a perfect ending to our time in Italy.


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Ann Castagna Morin

Southampton, MA
Luxury River Cruise & European travel specialist

I have had a sense of wanderlust since I was a child, always yearning to go off and explore the world.

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