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Day tours in Italy: Florence, Siena, Rome, Amalfi Coast, Naples

Four of us, two couples, spent almost three weeks in Italy in October/November. Especially if I have at least someone else to split the cost with, I really like finding a private guide who can tailor a day to fit what I really want to see. Here are our experiences with several guides and small group tours in Florence, Siena, Rome, Sorrento, and Naples.

Florence: Florence Tours - Artisans in Florence
This was a miss for me. From the pictures on the website and my active imagination, I was expecting a look into some historic old-world craftsmen’s studios. It was more of a shopping tour — paper shop, leather school, ceramic shop, perfume shop. Paola our guide was a native Florentine and spoke perfect English. I had visited Florence many times and was looking for something different to see. In hindsight, we should have booked her for a tour of historical sights. I think she is probably a very good guide for Florence, but I chose the wrong tour.

Antonella is possibly my all-time favorite guide, in many years of traveling! She is fun, knowledgeable, and enthusiastically opinionated. Her specialties are actually wine and food tours, but she gave us a wonderful walking tour of Siena, including the Duomo and the church of San Domenica. She was great at explaining the history of the Palio. As we walked she pointed out emblems of the animals representing the districts of Siena. (In many visits here, I had never noticed these!) She also showed us her favorite trattorias on the Campo and left us with a list of restaurants to try in the evenings. She guided RS himself last summer and hopes she will be in Italy 2015. Next time I’m in the area, I will definitely sign on for another of her tours. Highly recommend!

Rome: Pristine Sistine
This is a four hour tour of the Vatican Museum and St. Peter’s. It was worth the ticket price to be in the Sistine Chapel at 8 AM when it opened, with only the company of a few dozen people and no guards bellowing “Silenzia! No photos!” Any tour of the museum leaves me wanting to see more, but this is a good overview of the highlights. It was hard for me to do only a quick pass through of the contemporary art collection, but there’s always too much for one visit. The starting point of this tour is at a coffee shop near the museum. They sorted us into groups of about a dozen, and we got Cecillia for our guide, who was excellent. The group tour is a good value since the group is kept small. This was my second tour with this company, and both guides were very good. When I took their Driving Tour of Rome a few years ago, my daughter and I were the only two on the group tour.

Rome: Off the Beaten Path
This is a great tour to do after you’ve seen all of Rome’s biggies. Tony, the American ex-pat owner, was our guide, and we covered a maze of backstreets from Campo di Fiori through the Jewish ghetto over the Tiber to Trastevere.

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Sorrento: Amalfi Coast private tour with Rafaelle Monetti [email protected]
I did the Amalfi Coast on a big bus when I was a student and it’s taken me 40 years to recover. My husband and I are both intrepid drivers with EU licenses and have driven all over Europe, but driving oneself on this road would not be fun. (You can’t take your eyes off the road, you can’t park, and you will be looking directly into the sun for half the trip!) A private driver for the day is not cheap, but it was a great day! An hour each in Portofino and Amalfi town, and two hours in Ravello for lunch were just right for us. Rafaelle was a careful driver who stopped frequently for Kodak moments, and he was very pleasant and friendly to spend a day with.

Naples: Adele De Benedictis (I connected with Adele through Hotel Decumani de Charme. She is also on FaceBook.)
We had only one afternoon and evening in Naples before flying out early the next morning. I wanted to see some art, some churches, and some street life without carrying a map and guidebook. Months before, I engaged a guide recommended in RS, but our last three weeks had involved a series of emails between us. She wanted me to use her driver (about doubling the already significant price) and I wanted her to understand that I wanted to walk the streets, not drive the outskirts. When this guide had a last minute emergency and had to cancel, my hotel recommended Adele. We were in Naples on a Tuesday, when all the art museums are closed, but Adele understood what I wanted to see. Tourist season had ended, so she offered to do a four hour walk for a very reasonable price. She’s a native of Naples, and she was our window into a city she clearly loves. Loved the time we spent with her!