Escape to Italy

Posted by Mary Jo Almeida-Shore On April - 30 - 2017

By:  Dr. Mary Jo Almeida-Shore

Few places are as rich with both, history and natural beauty as Italy. From varied landscapes including rugged mountain terrain, sapphire oceans, verdant valleys, vineyards and bustling cities- Italy’s got it all.  Lest we forget the beautiful and vibrant people, and the food… Mama Mia- the food!  A lifetime of visits would hardly be enough to take in the magnificence of this spectacular country, we’ve created an itinerary of favorite experiences in ten days.




Luxury hotels abound in Rome. When traveling on a budget, especially with a family, Trilussa Palace Hotel Congress & SPA offers clean, comfortable accommodations with plenty of rooms and the most attentive staff in all of Rome. They will help you with any and all tour and restaurant accommodations 24/7. The daily gourmet breakfast buffet is the perfect start to every long day of sightseeing. The hotel is located just a short tram ride from the heart of Rome- where you can walk to all of the major attractions and a short walk to Trastevere- where you can find numerous authentic restaurants, bars and shops, where the locals hang out.


Aperitif and Relax

Hotel de Russie is part of the Rocco Forte collection. The outdoor garden is stunning and flanked by the hotel’s very own orchard! Via del Babuino, 9



Meridionale (Trastevere)This chic yet quaint restaurant boasts 1960s decor- you will feel like you are eating in your Nonna’s kitchen. Pastas are exceptional- the best in Rome. Service is attentive and the prices unbeatable.



For seafood, atmosphere and dining with Rome’s social set- Assunta Madre Via Giulia, 14. The upscale restaurant boasts good food and even better scene.


Any time of day, until just after midnight, head to Salumeria Rosciolli- an outstanding wine and cheese selection and exceptional food. The carbonara and pizza Blanca are musts. Be sure to make a reservation in advance if you’d like to sit to eat inside the small restaurant.


Rome late night

Lounge on the roof at Hotel Locarno Via della Penna,22


Then party and dance at Raspoutine- Rome’s outpost of the upscale Parisian nightclub.


Two other good places for cocktails are Salotto 42 Piazza di Pietra (small place) and Zuma rooftop bar atop the Fendi building.



To get acquainted with Rome in comfort, see the sights from the rooftop of the Big Bus tour. The buses are clean and comfy the guide is informative. It’s a great way to become familiar with the city as a whole before venturing on your own to visit the major attractions.


Skip the lines with Viator tours, which offers a wide range of your options throughout Italy. The Colosseum tour allowed for visiting without waiting and learning all about its rich history. The Colosseum tour also includes a tour of the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. The tour costs just a bit more than buying the ticket on your own and spares you the waiting and the hassle.


Visit the Pope on a Wednesday (for mass) or Sunday morning (for a blessing).


Tickets are free but must be requested in advance by fax and picked up the day before or early in the morning before the mass.  Contact Viator at


Go see Michelangelo’s Moses at San Pietro in Vincoli. The masterpiece is so lifelike that the sculptor is rumored to have chipped it at the knee upon finishing it, striking it with his hammer as he demanded it to “parlar.” Also at the church, see Saint Peter’s actual chains, which are on display.


Spend the day luxury shopping around the Spanish Steps after the perfunctory photo and coin toss in front of the Trevi Fountain.


Spend lots of time in the piazzas- our favorites are the Novona and Popolo. Eat your weight in gelato and have an espresso at every corner to combat the fatigue and jet lag from all of the waking I you are sure to be doing.


Rome after Dark, a subsidiary of City Wonders also offers a number of tour options for visiting the Vatican at night- or skipping the line during the day. This is highly recommended – as there’s just never a good time to go on your own without experiencing massive crowds.





Il Guelfo Bianco

This beautiful hotel will make you feel right at home with comfortable, modern amenities and unique colorful rooms with authentic decor in every nook and cranny. Antonella, the hotel manager, is a delight and will be sure your stay in beautiful Florence is perfect. The hotel offers a gourmet daily breakfast featuring authentic dishes and pastries.



Second floor of Mercato Central – just near San Lorenzo market (where you can shop leather and Florentine souvenirs- be sure to bargain). This fancy food court serves the most authentic Florentine dishes, cheeses, pizzas and treats at authentic prices.




This stunning cafe offers a wide array of complimentary tasty bites from 6-8 or so. Just pull up to the bar, order a libation and nosh away. You may also sit at the outdoor terrace for people watching and refueling.



Colle Bereto (Piazza Strozzi 5/R)

This elegant upscale nightclub and lounge is the place to go for a big night on the town. Email Gabriele ( to ensure a table at the outside terrace before the exclusive nightclub upstairs opens for dancing until early morning.


Earlier in the evening, consider Sesto on air at the Westin Excelsior Terrace for breathtaking views of Florence.



Go to mass at the Duomo. There are a number of masses on Sundays which will allow you to gaze at the world’s most magnificent dome all while keeping holy the Lord’s day.


Visit the Accademia to marvel at the marble! Not only is Michelangelo’s most famous masterpiece, David, on display, but a number of his other works which show the evolution of the sculptures from the marble blocks are there as well.


Stroll around the Duomo and shop all of the high end shops. Get lost meandering through the piazzas.


Keep your eyes peeled for Clet Abraham’s whimsical designs on the street signs above your head. Follow him on Instagram and be on the lookout.


Cross the Ponte Vecchio for stunning views and cross back and forth the multiple bridges taking lots of photos.



Cinque Terre -Best day trip from Florence

Book through City Wonders for an unforgettable, luxury five star experience of this majestic region which features quaint villages atop jagged cliffs that meet the ocean. Enjoy sweeping views of the coastline from a ferry and travel to and from the region via luxury coach. Chris Picariello will make your personal arrangements. (


Whenever possible, request Pia Jensen as your guide. Get an early start on an amazing day trip to the Italian seaside. Admire nature’s artistry in Liguria, a spectacular region and home of Cinque Terre – the much acclaimed string of seaside villages along the Italian Riviera. Steep terraces adorned with colorful homes and vineyards, rugged fishermen reeling in their daily catches, and the region’s most famous flavor – pesto.


Sit back and relax during the 2.25 hour ride via comfortable, air-conditioned coach. Your guide will entertain you with tales of the area as you cross two regions: Tuscany and Liguria. Both are rich with history, cultures and traditions that deserve to be told. Upon arrival, you’ll be escorted to a quaint and comfortable public boat. Set sail along the coast line, breathing in the fresh sea air and admiring a view like no other. Tailoring your adventure to the most beautiful sites, such as: Poets’ Gulf via a beautiful cruise. This colorful, evocative and unique coastline is dominated by green hills and clear waters. Vivid villages overlook the sea, charming to behold. It’s no wonder that this area was so greatly beloved by poets and writers such as Shelley, Byron, Petrarch and Montale. It’s from their quills that this place took its name. 


The cruise through Poets’ Gulf will bring you to the town of Portovenere, one of the most stunning places on the west coast of Italy. You’ll notice fishermen’s boats docked daintily by the beach, colorful homes peppering the scenery, an old castle looming on the horizon, churches standing omnipresent. It’s quite breathtaking. Enjoy free time to explore this beautiful village on your own. 


After a pleasant 1.25 hour cruise, the boat stops at Monterosso, the largest town among the Cinque Terre. Dine on a local dish as you please and be sure to pick up a jar of pesto to take home. Our favorite was Pesto de Bajeico.  Stroll, shop, sit, swim (don’t forget to pack your swimsuit just in case you’d like to take a dip in the sea) or even hike. To make the most out of this experience in the Italian Riviera, City Wonders offers an optional 45 minutes light hike, for those who want to see the Cinque Terre mainland and coastline from a different perspective. Let your tour leader guide you through the terraced vineyards, the ancient olive groves and the spectacular panoramic views that will stay in your memories forever. After the hike, you will still be able to enjoy free time and wander around the charming town of Monterosso.


Next is a train ride to the charming town of Vernazza, characterized by its narrow streets and small square looking out over the sea. The final destination, Riomaggiore is a  tiny village perched high atop a cliff dropping straight into the sea, which affords sweeping views of the tiny harbor, full of colorful boats and vibrant natural formations. Once again, take your time to amble around the area on your own and discover everything fate has in store for just you. 


A short train ride goes back to the luxury coach to Florence after a remarkable and unforgettable day.


Get more information and book it here:

**Both tour companies, City Wonders and Viator offer a multitude of tours throughout Italy.



Pitti Imagine Uomo

Pitti Imagine Uomo

If you are fortunate enough to visit Florence during fashion week (around the second week of June) you will be treated to a number of fabulous and fashionable public events.


Our favorite was the Palazzo Pitti Sounds and Lights- an incomparable evening organized by the Centro di Firenze per la Moda Italiana in conjunction with the main sponsor Unicredit. On a stage, twelve grand pianos were lined up in the Piazza Pitti in front of the Pitti Palace. The pianists performed in unison for a spine tingling hour -with melodic harmonies perfectly synchronized, mixing classical and modern music – think Mozart to Coldplay- in this one-of-a-kind setting.


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