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Tour Report: Village Italy

Okay, our internet is back up, my laundry is done, and the lawn is mowed! So I guess I've run out of excuses and need to post the promised tour report. I'm going to have to do this in stages, and will post some reviews of hotels and restaurants in the appropriate parts of the Forum.

Just as a lead-in: We were on the June 26 - July 9 Village Italy tour. Our guide was Tricia Brady. There were 24 people on the tour, ranging in age from 16 to 76. And the group was very diverse, in terms of age. I think there were 3 people in their 70s, 3 or 4 in their 60s, the aforementioned 16-year old. The rest ranged from (I'd guess) mid-30s to late 50s. A nice mix. There were 7 couples; one mother-daughter pair; one aunt-niece combo. The rest were singles, and all were women! There were only 7 men on the tour. It was a great group; I don't think any of the singles felt left out, although of course I don't know that. A couple of them did seem to prefer heading off on their own on our free time, but nobody was ignored or shunned during meals and group activities. I hope.

All the hotels had air conditioning, and most had elevators.

Day 1: Our group met at the Hotel Fagiano, near St Anthony's Basilica. We all introduced ourselves, and met wonderful Patricia (Tricia) Brady, our guide. Tricia is from Scotland, of Irish and Italian heritage, and has lived in Italy for 30 years. She told us that she doesn't like the name of the tour, Village Italy; she would prefer it to be called "The Italian Experience." And that's just what she set out to give us over the next two weeks. Oh, one of the best things? Wine will be included at (almost) all group dinners!

We headed north toward the center of town to Ristorante Il Corte del Leone, for our first group dinner. Dinner was good. One of the recurring threads throughout the tour was that at most restaurants, the antipasti (starters) and primi (first courses) were always more interesting than the secondi - second or main courses. That was certainly true here. We had a zucchini and fish starter - delicious, and a combination few of us would have considered; the first course was spaghetti with olive oil, black olives, dried tomatoes, and garlic. The secondo was braised veal, with spinach and potatoes, and the dessert included strawberries. (I may be rather vague about the desserts, since I don't eat sweets. Sometimes I noted what people had, but not always. I was always served fresh fruit.) We wandered back to the hotel rather late. The included wine may have had something to do with that....

Oops, gotta go. I'll be back later.

Posted by
824 posts

Jane -

Sound awesome. Glad your home safe and sound. Hope all went well on our travel group meeting last weekend. Bring pics in August. I already have B & M scrapbook done. Working on my river boat cruise now. I will bring them.

It had soooo much wine on our two tours also!!

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4645 posts

Day 2: Breakfast was served at the hotel, a typical Italian hotel breakfast: breads, cold cuts, fruit (both fresh and stewed,) cheese, coffee. Often there's yogurt, sometimes cereals, rarely eggs. Oh, and sweets - cakes, sweet croissants. And coffee, always. Usually very good Italian espresso and cappuccino, also often caffé americano, which is just watered down espresso.

After breakfast, Tricia rounded us up and headed back north again, to the Scrovegni Chapel and Eremetani Museums, where we met local guide Christina. Christina gave us an overview of the Eremitani Museums (which include an archaeological museum as well as a vast pinacoteca, or gallery of paintings.) Then we finally got our chance to visit the Scrovegni Chapel, to see the amazing, ground-breaking Giotto frescoes. Some of the most important elements were pointed out to us, but mostly we were able to just enjoy the paintings for 20 minutes - in the summer season visitors are allowed in for 20 minutes, not just 15. This was for me a high point of the tour; I love early art, and admire frescoes greatly.

When our time was up, Christina led us to nearby buildings of the University of Padua, one of the oldest universities in Europe. We saw the testing rooms, sitting in the same seats the families of the candidates would have occupied as Christina explained the degree system to us, and elaborated on student life in Italy. We saw Galileo's desk - he taught there for a while, and were able to visit the famed Anatomy Theatre, where dissections of human bodies took place - all for the advancement of science, spitting in the eye of the Catholic Church.

When we finished there, we headed off to the center of town, to two of the main squares of Padova: Piazza delle Erbe and Piazza della Frutta. Tricia and Christina explained the roles of the squares in the life of the Padovans, with special attention paid to the Palazzo della Ragione, the center of medieval justice, which divides them. The inside (we didn't go in as a group) is covered with amazing frescoes; still vibrant after hundreds of years. (The original Giotto frescoes were lost in a fire.)

Then Tricia had a surprise for us: tramezzini and spritzes, both popular local pick-me-ups. Tramezzini are small sandwiches, on crustless white bread. Fillings include egg salad, tuna paste, and other local favorites. Spritzes are drinks consisting of soda water and bitters, usually. Aperol spritzes are the most common. We enjoyed our snacks, and all of us took advantage of this time to get to know each other better. The group was already beginning to come together. This was the last group activity of the day; Tricia turned us loose to explore Padova on our own. (Stan and I went back to the Eremetani Museums, to visit the Pinacoteca and other exhibits. We also went to the Chiesa degli Erementi the see the amazing restoration of Mantegna frescoes destroyed by the Allies - that's us, folks - in World War II.)

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524 posts

Ugh, laundry and yard work, glad it's done. Thanks for the trip report.i am anxiously awaiting the next installment(s).

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4645 posts

Day 3: Moving day! After breakfast we headed off to our bus, with baggage, to meet bus driver Mario. As is usual on RS tours, the bus was twice as big as it needed to be, so we could spread out comfortably. It did have wifi, although Tricia had requested we look up from our devices to see the villages and countryside. It also had "climate control," but not air conditioning. In other words, there was cool air circulating, but it wasn't frigid.

We left for Ravenna, with one brief "comfort stop" on the way. In Ravenna we met local guide Marina, who showed us the amazing mosaics the town is famous for. These are from very early Christianity, as early as the 4th century A.D. Needless to say, they were spectacular, and Marina did her best to teach us the meaning of the symbols, and where the art fit into the Byzantine/Greek/Roman continuum.

After visiting the Galla Placida Masoleum and the San Vitale Basilica, we were free for lunch, with a bit of time to further explore Ravenna. Then back on the bus, for the longer drive to the hill town of Montefalco. We stayed at the Hotel Pambuffetti, outside the village walls. This is a very nice hotel, with big rooms, a swimming pool, and walkable paths in the gardens. After a group happy hour at the pool, Tricia led us up the hill into the village, pointing out features of interest. Then we were left on our own to find dinner, gelato, or buy a bottle of wine. Montefalco is famous for fine textiles, and several people visited the shops.

Day 4: Breakfast at the hotel; fairly typical, except inexplicably the coffee wasn't good. It was very weak. My solution was to order an espresso to add to my cappuccino; that worked pretty well. (The next morning I just ordered espresso, skipping the intermediate step.)

After breakfast we were back on the bus, off to nearby Assisi. Tricia introduced us to the Santa Maria degli Angeli, the church that grew up around the tiny church where St Francis preached and worshiped. Then we got back on the bus to visit the Basilica of St Francis. There we met local guide Giuseppe, who tried to share his passion with us. We saw many more frescoes, including some by Giotto and Cimabue, and visited the tomb of St Francis. Giuseppe put the art and architecture into historical and liturgical context for us, adding meaning to the beautiful structure.

We then had free time in Assisi, where we explored the town, climbed more hills, and found lunch. Soon it was time to head back to Pambuffetti, where we had more free time.

Later the group headed out to San Piedro a Pettine, the promised truffle farm. There we met Sara, one of the surprisingly young owners, and Bruno, one of the oldest workers on the farm. Bruno had two truffle dogs with him, which instantly won the hearts of many of the tour members. (Just as an aside: I don't think I saw a single one of our tour mates passing around pictures of kids or grandkids, but a number of them were showing off pictures of their dogs.)

Bruno and the dogs led us out into the truffle fields, after Sara had explained to us how the truffle farm works. Truffles are not domesticated, but can be seeded. But just planting truffle spores does not guarantee a predictable harvest, thus the need for the dogs. The dogs can find truffles, and they only find ripe ones. If the dogs say "There one is!", then indeed, there one is, ready to be harvested. Bruno and the dogs managed to find a fair number of truffles while we watched, wandering through the farm.

Then we tramped back to the main building, where dinner was waiting for us. Three kinds of wine, and a vast array of food: pecorino cheese with honey (and truffles), buffalo mozzarella over a thick tomato and bread base, scrambled eggs with truffles, then finally the first course: casarecce pasta cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper), and then pork medallions on mashed potatoes.

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940 posts

Oh Jane, this trip report makes me want to take the tour! Looking forward to reading more.

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4645 posts

I thought I would squeeze the rest of Day 4 into the last segment, but ran out of room.

As with many of our other meals, the appetizers and first course were much more interesting, more creative, and just plain better, than the "main course." After dinner, we were driven back to the hotel, ready for a quiet evening.

Day 5: Up early to pack; after all that wine last night we didn't get much accomplished. After breakfast, we were back on the bus, off to Deruta, where we visited one of the local ceramics shops. Deruta evidently sits on a seemingly endless bed of clay, and is famous for its ceramics. The shop we visited has been family run for many years, and does everything by hand, from shaping, to throwing, to firing and glazing. This was one of the "shopping opportunities" on the tour, but we were there to learn about Italian ceramics, and were under no pressure to buy. (Although many people did.)

From Deruta we went to Tenuta Le Vellete, a winery and agriturismo outside of Orvieto. One of the owners will be familiar to some of you; she's Rick Steves guide Cecilia Bottai. Cecilia led us through one of the building, even down into ancient Etruscan tunnels. The family used to store wine there; they still do, but just for their own personal use.

Cecilia explained the process of growing the grapes and making the wine, again showing an unexpected depth of passion for the land, the farm, the buildings - it was a very moving experience. Then we were off to the tasting room, where Cecilia explained we were not going to have a wine tasting, but a "wine experience." And indeed, we did. We sampled four wines, each with appropriate foods, including pizza, cheeses, salamis, and other local specialties.

This was also another shopping opportunity; but again, no pressure.

Then we were off to Orvieto, where we checked into the Grand Hotel Italia. After we settled in, the group gathered for drinks and snacks, then we went out for a group walk. Tricia acted as local guide in the Duomo, explaining the historical and artistic significance of the paintings in the chapel, especially the Signorelli frescoes. After the Duomo tour, we were on our own for the rest of the evening.

Day 6: The hotel breakfast wasn't as lavish (if that's the word I want) as the previous hotels; it was mostly sweets, but there was a little bit of cheese and cold cuts. This was supposed to be a free day to explore the weekly market held right outside our hotel, but Tricia had suggested we comb the market for items for a group picnic lunch. (We did have some free time after we had found our picnic items; Stan and I took advantage of the extra time to visit the Museo Claudio Faina, which has a wonderful collection of Etruscan artifacts.)

We held the picnic slightly below the main level of the city, using the walls as our buffet tables. It was a grand spread, with a glorious view. We had lots of fresh fruit, some dried fruits, wonderful cheese, roast chicken, roast suckling pig, bread, and of course, wine. After we cleaned up the area, we waddled back to the hotel.

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376 posts

Jane, this is fantastic trip report! I'm reliving this tour through you! Thanks. Looking forward to more! It's also fun to see the slight changes since I took this tour three years ago. Grazie!

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4645 posts

Still on Day 6: Having stoked the burners, so to speak, with that magnificent lunch, it was time: Civita de Bagnoregio. For those of you who are unfamiliar with it, this is the almost abandoned village that's at the top of a long hill that comes after a long bridge. It's prominently pictured in many of Rick's books. Tricia had warned us that it was even harder than it looked, because before you could go across the bridge and up the hill, you had to get through the town of Bagnoregio proper - about a 20 minute walk - then down about 100 steps (actually 81 - I counted), then down a longish hill to get to the base of the bridge. Rick doesn't mention all of that in his books. Ahem.

I'm proud to say that of the 24 of us, 19 decided to try the climb, and all 19 of us made it! Once we got to Civita, we wandered around the village, most of us had a celebratory beer, and a number of us even walked partway down the other side of the bluff, to visit some points of interest there. And as Tricia had warned us, the way back was much harder. But we all made it, and were warmly greeted by the 3 folks who had come along on the bus, but had opted to cheer us on from a bar at the top of the infamous staircase. (2 people were sick, and had stayed back at the hotel.)

Feeling pretty proud of ourselves (I know I was; I have trouble with hills, and had decided that I would go as far as I could, without feeling bad if I had to stop partway up. But I made it!) we went back to Orvieto, where we gathered again (some of us, anyway) for drinks and snacks, mostly picnic leftovers. Then we were free for the evening, most of us heading back into town to find dinner or just enjoy the sights. It was a beautiful evening, unlike the previous night which had been rainy and dreary.

Day 7: Up early to pack, then down to breakfast. We walked down to the bus (buses can't come into Orvieto; we took an elevator to get from the parking lot to the main town; stairs and escalators on the way out.) Our first stop was at the Etruscan Museum in Chianciani Terme. Local guide Roberto led us through the museum, which is totally run by volunteers, and once again, tried to share his passionate feelings about the land, the history, the people of that part of Italy. We then went to the nearby agriturismo La Pietriccia, where we met owner, farmer, chef Stefano. He served us a light snack, while he told us about the organic farm he runs there. The farm is nearly self-sufficient; Stefano buys only such staples as salt, sugar, and some spices. Things he doesn't raise himself he barters with the neighbors.

Stefano led us through making our lunch, consisting of ravioli, pesto, sausage, an egg and carrot starter, a baked potato and onion dish, and lemon cheesecake. A nice experience.

Then we were off to our next hotel, Villa Il Poggiale. This place is very nice; I suspect it must be on the list of "Don't tell Rick" hotels. Since we had had a large lunch, dinner was "only" an expansive buffet of antipasti, including several kinds of pizza, wonderful focaccia, grilled vegetables, bruschetta, grilled meats, cold cuts, and the best vitello tonatto I have ever had, or ever expect to have. The only downside of this place is that it is the only venue at which the wine is not included. But somehow we suffered through.

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4645 posts

Okay, I need a break. I'm loving doing this, but my eyes are beginning to glaze over. I'll pick it up again tomorrow, probably late in the day.

Thanks all of you for your comments; they helped spur me on.

Kim, I can't wait to see your scrapbook. And yes, I remember - the Barcelona/Madrid tour was also vino incluso!

Posted by
8 posts

Hi Jane. Thanks for the trip report! My wife and I just signed up for this tour next May so really enjoying reading your insights to this tour. It will be our first RS tour, in fact our first organized tour of any sort. We typically plan our own trips so this will be new to us.

Looking forward to more of your trip report!
Jerry

Posted by
11613 posts

Jane, a great report! Looking forward to reading about the rest of your days in Italy!

Posted by
362 posts

OMG, this is a fabulous trip report! If we like RS tours (our first one is later this month), we really want to do this tour.

Curious - when did you do laundry? Or did you?

Posted by
2908 posts

What a delicious sounding experience! Thanks for sharing your trip report with us.

Posted by
524 posts

Loving your trip report. Wayne and I have discussed retaking this tour 2019. I don't know if I want to wait that long. Your report is making me want to go today! Cecilia is another one of our favorite guides. We had her for Rome. Stephano is such a character, we still quote him.

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714 posts

Did this tour about 7 years ago, love hearing about the updated version. Makes me want to do it all over again!

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1952 posts

We, too, had the fabulous Tricia for our VI tour. It was a wonderful tour and you've brought back many terrific memories. Like others who replied before me, it makes me want to retake the tour. It's one of the best! Thanks for taking us along!

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176 posts

Add me to the list of those who have enjoyed the VI tour - back in 2015 with Tricia. We have wonderful memories of our fall time there!!

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4645 posts

Okay, I'm back. I'll try to finish this off tonight if I can. To answer the laundry question first, though: we did laundry in our room about every 4 nights. We usually planned it for the first night of a two night stay, so that everything would dry. There were a couple of commercial laundry opportunities on the route, but we just hand washed our things. On the more active days, it was not unusual for us to rinse out one shirt each, and perhaps some undies even if we didn't wash anything else. The weather was unusually warm, so our cooler weather clothes sat in the closet, while our lightest clothes got a real workout.

Day 8: The hotel served a good breakfast: several meats, cheese, scrambled eggs, boiled eggs, fruit, cereal, juice, yogurt, breads, and, of course, sweets. (This hotel takes the "Best Food" award, by the way.)

After breakfast we were off to the bus to visit Siena. Tricia led us on a group walk, talking quite a bit about the famous Palio, which we had missed by one day, and the social importance of the contrade, the local competitive neighborhoods. After this introduction, we were turned loose to explore Siena on our own. Stan and I headed for the Duomo, then after lunch went back to the Crypt of the Duomo. I mention this because the artwork in the Crypt is transcendent. There are ancient, early Christian frescoes, and an amazing Pieta: it's the first statue of this type I have ever seen that showed Mary crying as she held her dead son. I couldn't tear my eyes - or my heart - away.

Mid-afternoon, the group headed back to the Villa. If there was a downside to this stay, it was that the hotel was not in walking distance of a town. So there was less opportunity to get out and explore on our own; we had to stick to wherever the group was. But the grounds were lovely, and the amenities included a spa and a swimming pool. Also this was the only stop where wine was not included with our meals; it was available, and not unreasonably priced, but we did have to pay for it.

Dinner was excellent: another shot at the antipasto bar, two primi courses: a very good rigatoni with chopped beef, and cannellini with burrata and another fresh cheese. There were also two secondi: grilled chicken with arugula and shaved grana padana cheese; and eggplant "meatballs," which were so good even my eggplant eschewing husband enjoyed them. Dessert was a house-made chocolate torte (I had fresh pineapple.) Once again, we waddled off to our room, although many of us took the wine bottles and headed for the beautiful terrace area to enjoy the evening.

Day 9: The morning in this place is beautiful, a living ad for the good life in Tuscany. Many people got up early just to enjoy the dawn and watch balloons launched from a nearby valley.

After breakfast, it was back to the bus; we're moving on. Today was "guide's choice" day, and Tricia had chosen Volterra, her favorite hill town. She gave us a walking orientation, which included an overlook of a Roman archaeological site; then we visited an alabaster workshop. This is another family business, and is famous for its work. (Another shopping opportunity.) After the demonstration, we had some free time; Stan and I headed off to the wonderful (and big) Etruscan Museum, but we didn't have nearly enough time to do it justice. We joined friends for a nice lunch, then rejoined the rest of the group.

The next stop was Lucca, where we'll spend two nights. Our hotel was Albergo La Luna, inside the walls and close to the old Roman amphitheater. The amphitheater has been "repurposed" as a public square, with apartments in the old walls and many shops around the base.

After a survey of the main sites in Lucca, led by Tricia, we returned to the hotel for Welcome to Lucca drinks and snacks. The rest of the day (evening, really) was free for folks to find dinner, relax in the bar, or just rest.

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Day 10: After breakfast at the hotel, we set off to meet our next local guide, Gabriele. He showed us parts of the town that Tricia hadn't, and led us for an informative walk on the city walls. Again, he was very passionate about his community, and worked hard to share that passion with us.

Next we were back on the bus to visit a local frantoio, or olive oil press, for a demonstration and lunch. The demonstration was more than that; it was a complex lesson in olive horticulture and processing. The frantoio is owned by a group of local farmers who have combined forces to keep the old ways alive. After the lesson, we retired to a room over the press for a delightful lunch. We had some excellent prosciutto, salami, both raw and roasted vegetables, crostini with olive paste or chicken liver, a farro salad, white beans with tuna, red wine, marsala wine with a local sweet bread, fresh fruits, and all the olive oil we wanted. This was, for me, the best lunch on the tour. And another shopping opportunity; olive oil was available for sale. The frantoio sells a some of its production, although most of it goes right back to the farmers. Any profit is reinvested in the frantoio.

After lunch it was back to Lucca, with the rest of the day and evening free. Lucca is a great walking town (it's level!) and has some first rate church art. I highly recommend the archaeological dig that's actually underneath the San Giovanni Church. For me, that was a real wow moment. Several of them, in fact.

Day 11: Back on the road! This morning we're headed to Carrara, the famed marble quarry. (Or many quarries, actually; we'll just visit one, Cava Fantasciutti.) Local guide Anna gave a history of the quarry, and explained how the process of quarrying marble works; it hasn't changed much at all over the centuries. There were some very interesting exhibits in a sort of outdoor museum there. She also talked about the importance of the quarries to the town itself, which has little other industry. Seeing how the marble is shipped out to other ports - for example to Florence and Rome for Michaelangelo and other Renaissance sculptors - was fascinating. (Another shopping opportunity. Stan wanted to buy marbles - you know, aggies, shooters - but they didn't have any.)

This is also the day we head for the Cinque Terre. After we left Carrara, we drove to Porto Venere, which, while not one of the CT villages, is a gateway community. We had some free time there to find lunch and to sightsee, then we joined the group to take a ferry to Monterosso, the northernmost village. This was a great way to get an overview of the CT, and was a cooling and relaxing respite on a hot day.

At Monterosso we caught the train to Levanto, a village north of the actual CT, where we headed right to Hotel Primavera, where we'll stay for two nights. We were treated to another "Welcome" drink, then given time to freshen up before dinner. Then the group was served a very nice dinner at the hotel. The chef wanted us to experience a range of local specialties, so dinner was a lavish buffet: there was trofie pasta with pesto, risotto, fried calamari, a great seafood soup, braised rabbit, roast beef with gravy, tempura vegetables, cheeses, braised cabbage, vitello tonnato, profiteroles, and 2 kinds of wine.

After dinner many of us headed to the hotel's terrace just across the street; others had an early evening. This was our longest day, and by far the most tiring.

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Day 12: A free day! No scheduled meals or activities! And it was welcome. This has been a very active tour, and folks are flagging. For the last couple of days we've noticed some people being a bit more critical, or complaining. I attribute it to the fast pace of the tour; even with all the free time, we are kept so busy that we're getting tired.

Most people on the tour stayed in Levanto this day. Only one person that I know of took the train back to the Cinque Terre villages. Many of us walked about a 2 mile trail to another tiny village; some people headed for the beach. And some did both: walking or bicycling in the morning, followed by an afternoon on the beach.

Stan and I walked to the neighboring village, Bonassola, with tour mate Debbie; there are beautiful views along the way. After a drink we explored Bonassola a bit, then headed back to Levanto. Stan and I then spent much of the afternoon exploring Levanto itself, and finding a place to have a nice dinner.

Day 13: Back on the bus, but people are rested and in a better humor. I think we all enjoyed the day off, although a surprising number of people are sporting scrapes, bruises, and bandages. (Bike accidents, rough walls in the tunnels along the walking trail, and rocky beaches.)

Today we headed north, through Genova, to Orta and the Hotel La Bussola. Tricia led the group into town, where we split up for lunch. Then we took a boat to Isola San Giulio, to visit its famed church and walk the meditative Walk of Silence. After the boat deposited us back on the mainland, we were free until dinner.

Stan and I, and two other friends, went to Monte Sacra, a wonderful experience. It is a very steep climb - worse than Civita - but worth it. On the mountain is the St Francis Trail, an amazing series of delightful chapels decorated by local artists with frescoes and statues. The sequence of chapels tells the story of the life of St Francis. Highly recommended.

Then it was time for our Farewell Dinner, held at the Ristorante Venus in Orta. Our starter was stuffed zucchini flowers served on gazpacho; the primo was pasta bolognese; the secondo was a baked chicken breast with a sauce seasoned very lightly with, I think, turmeric, and presented with cherry tomatoes and arugula. Dessert was strawberries and ice cream. Lots of wine, of course.

I was surprised that the group did not reassemble back at the hotel for farewells. This was partly because people were tired, with some having an early departure time the next day. And a number of folks were drawn in to a local concert on the square, and didn't get back to the hotel for hours.

Day 14: Although this counts as one of our tour days, the tour is officially over after breakfast. Tricia had arranged transportation to Milan or the local airports, and some of the group left as early as 4:00 a.m. We were in the 8:00 group, so were served an early breakfast. Our cab (a minibus, really) delivered us to the Milan train station about 9:30. There we said goodbye to guide Tricia, as well as 6 other tour mates. It's over!

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1608 posts

This was so fun to read. Thank you for taking the time to do this and being so complete in your experiences. It's the kind of information future travelers will need.

Posted by
4556 posts

This was a wonderful report. I took this tour 11 years ago and it was excellent; it sounds like it might be even better now.

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2265 posts

Thanks so much for this detailed and enthusiastic Trip Report, Jane. Really wonderful and helpful! I have often hoped and planned to do this type of journal or trip report, only to find my good intentions faltering on the first or second tired evening. Thankfully, my many photos become my journal.
I love Italy, and I love visiting small towns and villages. I have considered the Village Italy Tour several times, and your report certainly brings it to life. What makes me hesitate is that I have already visited almost all of places included, and if returning to some, like Assisi and Ravenna, I would want to spend more time than just a stop during the day.

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362 posts

Thanks again for this wonderful report and for answering questions! I'd love to do this tour. It goes to so many wonderful places in Italy!!!

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4645 posts

Thank you all for your comments and questions. I'd like to make a few general observations about the tour, and I'll probably be adding more comments as they occur to me.

This is a wonderful tour. For years we have been hearing people say that Village Italy was their favorite tour, and now we know why. What made it special? For me it was not just visiting some of the more out of the way places, it was the people we met and the insight into so much of Italian heritage and culture.

When our group first gathered on Day 1, Tricia said that to her this tour represented the Italian Experience. Tricia, driver Mario, all the local guides, and the proprietors of the shops and enterprises we visited all sincerely wanted us to walk away with a piece of Italy in our hearts, as well as in our minds. I found myself using the words "passion" and "passionate" in the tour report - words I generally shy away from. But having met people like Roberto in Chianciano, who begged us to understand how much the Etruscan experience had shaped modern Italy; or Stefano at the agriturismo carefully detailing the work, care, and love involved in organic farming, and why it was not only important, but crucial; and Cecilia at the winery, who held us spellbound with her stories of the buildings in which she works and lives - I now know what the word "passion" means.

The catalogue describes this tour as "moderately active." Uh, no. We've been on 11 RS tours, and this one is the most active, or perhaps I should say most strenuous of any except the 21 Day Best of Europe. So many of the activities take place in hill towns, adding to the activity level. In fact, several of the folk in our group were disgruntled, feeling they had been misled about the degree of difficulty. I would up the level to "more active." And I do think the tour description should make it clear that most of the villages we visit are actually hill towns, where everywhere you want to go is uphill from where you are!

Some people have asked about bus time. Yes, there's a fair amount of time on the bus, but Tricia used the time wisely. We would get lessons on Italian history, economy, political situation, immigrants, and more. And she was not shy about sharing her own opinions! Bus time is also rest time, which on a tour this packed with activity was always welcome.

I also agree with those who have noted that we don't spend enough time in many of the places. I agree. That's probably my biggest criticism of Rick Steves tours in general. But what we're getting is more like a tasting menu than a full meal. We get a hint of what Ravenna meant in the 4th century, and a taste of how St Francis and his friend St Clare changed the world.

There is plenty of free time on the tour, even if you're too tired to take full advantage of it! The only places where we hopped off the bus, toured whatever, and hopped back on were the pottery and the marble quarry. And even there we had a bit of free time. Everywhere else we were turned loose to explore for ourselves, or just sit and people watch.

This is a great tour, with a wonderful itinerary, and I cannot praise our guide Tricia enough. I may have to quit saying that Best of Florence was my favorite tour!

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524 posts

Want to chime in with there is (or was) a great self wash laundromat in Lucca. When we were on the tour, it was in walking distance from the hotel. Thanks for the review, it has renewed my passion to retake this tour!!

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4645 posts

And thank you, Debra, for giving us the "heads up" about the hill towns. I trained for this tour, and am glad I did.

Posted by
1952 posts

Jane, having done this as our family tour a couple of years ago, I would agree with everything you say. Tricia and Mario were our dream team and I know exactly what you mean when you use the words passion and passionate. Oh, yeah...and then there's the wine............and the food.........and the folks......(both on the tour and all the guides). Just a wonderful, wonderful time all 'round and I would highly recommend this tour to everyone. By the way, because I live at 6300' altitude, I didn't find this tour any more strenuous than the tour for Greece (and I'm a few years older now!).

Posted by
4645 posts

Andi, it occurred to me this morning that I had forgotten to comment on our tour mates, except for their ages. It was a great group. We "knew" two of them ahead of time, because we had exchanged information on this forum, but everyone else was new to us. Everyone managed to be cheerful most of the time - even the 16-year old! There was a little grumbling from time to time, of course, but nobody was obnoxious or overbearing. We all got along very well. A couple of people had physical challenges that made the tour more difficult, but they stuck it out. When an activity was going to be too much for them, the Civita climb for instance, they gracefully declined to accompany us. They did wait for us at the top of the return hill, and gave us props and hugs when we got back.

Thank you, tour members of the June 26 - July 9 Village Italy tour. It was a blast. Shall we do it again?

Posted by
8397 posts

Oh Jane!! What a wonderful Trip Report! I was able to relive my VI trip along with yours. Different guide, some different stops, but still that same feeling of an Italian Experience! I love that characterization.

I agree with the activity level as well. In the tours I have done it also was 2nd only to 21BOE in strenuousness. Strenuosity? Strenuful?

I so appreciate your taking the time to post and including all the details you did. It will be so helpful for others in trip planning and yes, for those of us who might take a second run at it!

Posted by
440 posts

Thanks Jane a great report, I will definitely be posting a report when I get back from Spain in October.

Posted by
698 posts

Well, Jane, you've sealed the deal for us! 2018 will be the year of the Italian Experience There is one that will work well for us...now to keep fingers crossed that our work will allow us to go for what will be more than 2 weeks. We aren't retired yet which turns out to be good news considering the shopping I will most likely be doing :)

Posted by
4645 posts

Kathy, you're in for a treat. Everyone I know who has taken this tour has loved it, and for most it's their favorite tour ever. The only one that seems to be serious competition is the Best of Ireland.

Posted by
3555 posts

Thanks for such a detailed and thorough trip report about our VI tour, Jane. You and Stan did a lot of stuff that I wouldn't have done at half my age! One big advantage of even small blocks of free time is that we can see other things that we want to see like y'all, or not, like me.

I'm glad you mentioned the strenuous nature of the walking we did. I had no problems with stairs in Rome, Ravenna or Venice before the tour or in Milan after. But the slopes of those hills you mentioned, both up and down, were a big challenge for me, especially at the speeds the group was going.

Anyone who physically can, should do some serious training like you did before they take this tour. They also should expect the physical activity of this tour to be much greater than they can possibly imagine.

Having said that, I think it was a great tour. I was able to see and do all the things I wanted to see and do. And my tour mates were most gracious in helping me when I was willing to admit that I needed it.

Posted by
10020 posts

I took the tour earlier this year. Most of my fellow tour members and our guide said the tour should be marked as more strenuous than it is.

I mentioned this to someone who works in the RS office and was told they rate tours on distance and how rough the walk is--not necessarily hills.

To show just how popular this tour is, some of the early 2018 departures (May) are already full.

Posted by
4645 posts

Lo and Frank II: I had been warned about the hills on the tour; thank goodness! I'm surprised the office doesn't take hills into account. I can walk for hours - and miles - on level ground, but have a surprising - to me - amount of trouble on hills. That's why I devised my own simple training program before we went. And I did recommend in my evaluation that the "activity level" of this tour be upped. Several people in our group were a bit upset about how strenuous some of the activities, even orientation walks through some of the villages, were.

And Lo, you're right about the free time blocks. That's one thing we've always appreciated about RS tours. And unless the group is traveling from one point to another, a person can always choose to opt out of any activity, as some of our group did on the Civita hike.

Posted by
1182 posts

My gosh, Jane what a great report. It's trip reports like this that prevent me from even contemplating trying. Great detail and a fun read. As others have already mentioned it makes me want to take the tour again.

FYI, For those who are contemplating this tour or are already signed up, Tricia "owns" this tour. She does this trip and no others and has done so for a number of years. So if you're going there a pretty good chance she will be your guide. She also does something I wish more of the RS guides would do. On the very last full day from Levanto to Lake Orta she spends about 90 minutes on the bus to summarize the tour. She reminds us of what we saw, its significance and how it relates to other things on tour. It really refreshes the memory and you realize how many things you did on the trip.

Thanks for the great report.

Posted by
384 posts

Really enjoyed this report! Thanks for putting in so much detail. It allowed me to experience it vicariously, which I appreciate because your honest and candid description of the strenuousness (thank you) has convinced me that it's not the tour for me. I've signed up for a moderate-paced RS tour instead.

Posted by
4645 posts

Rocket, I can't believe I forgot to mention Tricia's last-day summary. It was wonderful. I took notes; it provides a great overview of what we did and why those things mattered. (Now, if I could find those notes...) She also provided a list of books that she had mentioned or referenced during the tour, as well as a few more that she thought we'd enjoy.

And by the way, Tricia is cutting back on her tours. You're right that she's only doing Village Italy, but she's cut back on the number of tours a year she does. She says she's only doing five this year.

Posted by
8 posts

Hi Jane, Caroline here...a tour mate on Villages of South England..great tour report... thanks to recommendations from Debra and your descriptions of all the activities you experienced, I signed DH and I up for the one May tour with space available...anxiously awaiting confirmation.
Where do you think your next trip will be?

Posted by
4645 posts

Caroline! Hi! Debra was the one who gave us the final push to take VI as well. She and Wayne talked it up on our South England tour, and convinced us to try it.

We've been thinking about next year; it's a milestone anniversary year for us, and Stan wants to celebrate by redoing the 21 Day Best of Europe. So we've been planning on that for some time. But then the other day he said, "If there's another tour you'd rather do, we can do that." So I'm torn; I'd really like to do either the Best of South Italy, or Eastern France. We'll probably do the BOE; it was so sweet of him to come up with the idea. I'd like to encourage that kind of thinking.

Posted by
12 posts

Thank you for such a delightful and informative trip report. We are scheduled for this trip in October. I appreciate the "hill" information. I am very active but avoid hills at all cost, just don't care for the hills! So I guess my project starting hmmm, next week, will be hills. I know it will be harder for my husband but he will pursue or sit it out. He is a trooper!

Posted by
524 posts

Jane, the Southern Italy tour is good, too. There were many interesting sites with Matera and Pompeii being the top, in my opinion. The buffalo farm was great fun, and the meal was delicious. I quite enjoyed Naples, yes gritty, but just a wonderful vibe. I think it is so sweet of Stan to make your anniversary special,G go ahead and retake your 21 Day.
Hi Caroline, I hope you enjoy the VI Tour half as much as I did. If so, you will still have the most memorial tour experience ever.

Posted by
4645 posts

Debra, I think you're right. BOE it is! I felt churlish and ungrateful when I even suggested another tour.

Posted by
2316 posts

Thank you so much for posting this trip report. I enjoy planning trips too much to consider an escorted tour, but you sure made this tour sound mighty appealing!

Posted by
8 posts

I agree, Jane, that the 21 Day BOE would be the best choice....It is such a diverse experience with different countries and all they have to offer in terms of art, history, food,and people you meet in each city and village.
Gerry and i loved the Villages of Eastern France tour. especially the three day stays in many of the villages. There was time to explore on our own and get to know each area better. It is a more relaxed less active tour, although one could add hiking and walking especially in Chamonix and Vaison la Romaine. Lots of delicious food and wine!

Hi, Debra....we hope to get our confirmation for the Village Italy Tour soon. Thanks for encouraging it. We were going to go this year, but 4 of our friends who had never done a Rick Steves tour wanted to go to Scotland. They are now enthusiastic believers and will be doing another RS tour in 2018!

Posted by
12 posts

Question if you don't mind, did the hotels provide shampoo and soap. We are signed up for the Oct tour and I am working really hard at packing light! Thank you!!!

Posted by
4645 posts

Yes, 12025rose, all the hotels provided small toiletries. In some cases, there was a dual purpose body wash/shampoo; in others they were separate. The towels were adequate. Italian hotels don't provide wash cloths, but we just use the smallest towel as a wash cloth.

I think they all provided shower caps, as well, but I'm not sure. DH doesn't have enough hair to use one, and I have too much!

Posted by
10020 posts

Our hotel in Padua had soap about the size of a quarter and one of their old towels literally ripped in half as I was drying myself.

Posted by
4645 posts

Frank II, I remember your having posted that about the towels, so I paid particular attention to them at that hotel. They were, as I say, adequate. I don't remember the soap; I used the body gel.

Posted by
114 posts

Jane, what a great report. We were 2 or 3 tours ahead of you this year (May 17 - June 8th). Our weather was fantastic, no rain except at dessert the last night. We had a different hotel in Tuscany but over all our trip matches your experience word for word. We did have a slightly younger set so I never heard any grumbles about the activity level. We did have a cdifferent guide and driver but it sounds like they are both cut from the same cloth. We had such a great time we are doing the Scandinavia tour next year.

Posted by
4645 posts

Mark G: It's hard to imagine any tour being better than this one. They set a high standard!

Posted by
58 posts

Hi Jane,

Thank you so much for sharing your trip report on RS Forum - since I didn't take copious notes like you did, it was wonderful to relive the many wonderful experiences we had on the trip! You mentioned many smaller details that I had forgotten about! I hope you and Stan are doing well, and are looking forward to your "BOE" anniversary tour next year! I'm not sure that I'll be going on a tour next year, but I'm going to try to go to either Ireland or Greece. My roommate, Karen, said she'd like to go on another trip with me, which was very sweet of her to say. Took a few days for me to get over jet lag (always does coming back from Europe). I enjoyed meeting you and Stan, and hopefully will meet up with you on another tour one of these years!

Debbie

Posted by
4645 posts

Thanks, Debbie. We certainly enjoyed meeting and traveling with you, as well. I'll bet we keep in touch.

Posted by
8 posts

Jane, thanks for your VI review. We have recently booked this for next May and are now looking forward to it even more! I note our tour is already full (as are many of the May 2018 tours) and maybe your review takes some credit for that!!

Can I ask if you did anything pre-tour? We are intending to arrive 3 days early and are lucky enough to have already done Venice, Rome,Florence, etc. so looking for other options. We are thinking of visiting Verona and maybe one of the lakes but are open to all ideas.

Thanks again for the detailed review. I have done a few of these myself for our travels and I know they are very time consuming!
Jerry

Posted by
4645 posts

Hi, Jerry. Yes, my DH said we should be expecting some kind of bonus from Rick Steves, after we noticed several people posting that they had signed up for the tour after having read my report! But we're still waiting...

We arrived three days early as well, and spent the entire time in Padova. We had bought 2 three-day Padova Passes online, which give you free entry to many museums, as well as free rides on public transportation. It wasn't long before the passes paid off.

We visited the Palazzo della Ragione, the Duomo, the Baptistry, Museo del Risorgimiento, the Basilica of St Anthony, the Scrovegni Chapel, all the museums associated with the Scrovegni, including the archeological museum, the Pinacoteca, and Palazzo Zuckerman.

The next day... just kidding! Those sights, as well as lots of walking around, exploring the Piazze delle Erbe, della Frutta, and dei Signori, were of course spread out over the three days. Not all the places we visited were covered by the Padova Pass, but except for the Scrovegni Chapel, places that weren't covered were free, if I recall correctly.

And yes, the tour goes to Scrovegni, but I love frescoes, and knew I would want to see them more than once.

We loved Padua. We didn't see everything we wanted to, but that's okay; something to do next time!

Posted by
208 posts

This is a fantastic, detailed tour report. We're scheduled for the tour in late Sept/Oct of this year. We took the Greece tour couple years ago and found that walking poles would have been very useful for some the the trails and paths. Would you recommend that we bring our walking poles for this tour. The main issue is balance going up and down irregular paths since my wife wears "rocker bottom" shoes. Thanks.

Posted by
1025 posts

Jane-

Thanks for the tour report. We are considering this tour for 2018 (probably fall). If we could only go on one more RS tour, Village Italy would be it.

Posted by
4645 posts

David, I don't know about walking poles; many of the roads were steep and cobbled. I suspect the poles may well help, but I've never used them. Or rocker bottom shoes. Someone else want to chime in here? I do remember that on our Villages of South England tour, one of our tour mates had walking poles, and she said they made the trip possible for her. On steeper or uneven paths, she was able to keep up.

Posted by
8 posts

Thanks Jane. Appreciate the pre-tour details! You have helped many of us with this review!
Cheers!
Jerry

Posted by
5 posts

I'm scheduled for this tour next month, reading your account is filling my heart with excitement while, based on the comments about degree of difficulty, my arthritic knees are getting really concerned. I hope a month is sufficient time to train for really strenuous hills. I do hike regularly and I know I can make it, but I may be really slow :) Did you see people packing hiking poles?

Posted by
4645 posts

lchadwick1112, no, nobody in this group had hiking poles, but at least 3 people had trouble with the hills, and opted out of the Civita di Bagnoregio walk. (The other person who opted out stayed behind with his wife, who had injured her knee just before the tour.)

Did you notice Lo's post, near the top of this thread? She comments on the difficulty level, and you might want to send her a PM. She's been candid about what she could and could not do, and I'm sure would be glad to advise you.

Jane

Posted by
208 posts

Thanks so much for the detailed report, Jane. I know you said you did laundry in the room, but do you happen to remember how what's the longest number of days between laundromats or hotel laundries? I wish RS would provide that info so we know how many changes of clothes we need.

Posted by
2834 posts

To any of you who have been on both the Village Italy and the Eastern Europe tours, how did the Eastern Europe compare to the Village Italy for strenuousness? Thanks.

Posted by
10020 posts

Laundry:

Padua--not sure
Montefalco--small town--no laundry, no time anyway.
Orvieto--hotel has laundry service that wasn't too bad price wise. Probably a laundromat nearby.
Chianti--you're in the middle of nowhere. No laundry
Lucca--a laundromat about a 5-10 minute walk from the hotel
Levanto--a laundromat 5 minute walk from the hotel.

Posted by
503 posts

Just an FYI for those who asked about the use of hiking poles. While I have never used them so have no direct experience, while on the Best of Eastern Europe tour last year there was an elderly couple who used them. They told us that they never used them at home but wanted the extra stability while walking on cobbles. They both said that they helped a lot.

Posted by
208 posts

Re: Laundry. We just got the price list from our Orvieto hotel and you could buy new clothes for what they're charging - they charge (a lot) by the piece! It is possible to take a bus into the newer part of town and end up near a self-service laundromat, but we're wondering if it's worth the effort as opposed to buying more quick-drying clothes before we leave. Has anyone who's been on this trip tried doing the laundry in the newer part of town?

Posted by
1136 posts

Sounds like a wonderful trip, Jane! I thoroughly enjoyed reading about it!

Posted by
10020 posts

David & C.......Orvieto is a hill town. The "new town" isn't really in Orvieto. Is is down the hill from Orvieto. It's not like you can drop the clothes off and then go sightseeing. It would mean going up and down the hill. By bus or funicular. A few times. Or you could spend a few hours seeing the inside of an Italian laundromat.

If you refuse to wash out a few things in the sink for a day or two, then go with bringing more clothes. But if you are using a laundromat, why do you need quick drying clothes? They have dryers.

I had the hotel launder a pair of jeans.

Posted by
764 posts

Thanks for the great report. I took the same tour with the wonderful Tricia a few years ago. I really enjoyed it. Much of the itinerary seems the same. I am glad you enjoyed it.

Posted by
1952 posts

Answering Cala's question comparing Eastern Europe tour to VI as regards which is less or more strenuous. In my own experience, I would say the Eastern Europe tour is quite a bit less strenuous due to what's been reported here in earlier posts-the hill towns on VI tour. The EE tour has some "hilly" places (both Prague and Budapest Castle areas) but not as many as VI. I just returned from the EE tour and it was terrific! VI a few years ago but still among my (many) favorite tours.

Posted by
3833 posts

Thanks for your detailed & wonderful Trip Report, Jane! We've been to some of the towns you toured, plus we've been on the RS Best of Italy tour and also fondly remember Cecilia and her family winery tour & wine tasting paired with foods.

Now I'm hungry for more Italy & Italian fantastic food!