Please sign in to post.

Village Italy 9/29/14

** Warning! Long report! Stop reading now if you don't like details.
Overall: This was a terrific tour! I loved being off the beaten path for some of the time and being on back roads and in the country. The people we met were wonderful and welcoming and seemed happy to see us.

Group: As usual the RS group was a lot of fun. There was one solo traveler. I had a single supplement but was traveling with my brother and SIL so the solo person had a single accommodation with no extra charge. She was very happy about that! The group was all couples except for the solo traveler and me plus a Mom/daughter duo but I felt like most everyone was open to mixing with others. The welcome dinner certainly had the talking/laughing level of a farewell dinner! As always with a RS group people were interesting and interested and had sharp wits. I enjoyed hanging with people for aperitivos!

Activity Level: The most strenuous day was Civita di Bagnoregio where we walked a good distance thru town to the causeway/bridge, then over the causeway. I did not realize how deep the gorge was that we had to cross and my height chicken kicked in. Yikes. The reward at the end was a semi-deserted town, bruschetta and a bunch of cats. It was not my favorite but I did not find it physically taxing altho many did.

Guide: Trina!! Yea!! I did this tour with my brother and SIL. We had done Heart of Italy in May 2013 with Trina as our guide and we were thrilled to be able to travel with her again. She is a marvel. I always feel slightly guilty that I don’t take notes during her talks about history because they are marvelous. She was surprised to see us and said that is the first time she’s ever had repeaters. She didn’t run away or try to get someone else assigned to the group so I guess it was OK. She has such a fun and inquisitive nature. If someone asked a question she didn’t know the answer to she was immediately on her phone looking up an answer. It was fun to watch her with the farmers and small business owners along the trip. They obviously enjoy her as they just beam when they see her coming!

Local guides: Awesome as usual. We had local guides for Padua, Ravenna, Assisi, Chianciano Etruscan Museum, Lucca, Carrara and I probably missed one! For me one of the hallmarks of Rick’s tours is the quality of the local guides. In particular I liked the Assisi guide but they were all passionate, informative and interesting.

Hotels: The hotels were great. In Montone I wound up being assigned to an apartment which was huge! They were all well-located except for Levanto. Well, the Levanto hotel was well-located for Levanto, but if you are visiting the Cinque Terre then you should stay there not in a nearby town. I had stayed in Monterosso twice previously and would have preferred the selection of restaurants there to the ones in Levanto.

On Being Vegan: Trina was super about being proactive with restaurants for vegan meals. There were some times in the smaller locations that they did not really understand vegan. At one point the people went out of their way to make a dish without cheese but it included egg. I ate it as the restaurant was so happy they had tried to accommodate us. You just can’t hurt people’s feelings sometimes. Interestingly the best vegan food was at the truffle hunt farm with Mama and her friends cooking in the kitchen!

Posted by
8248 posts

Sights/Experiences: I loved the experiences on this tour. It was very different from my other RS tours in that there were so many tastings and demos. On a previous tour I hated the demos in Venice because I felt like the vendors had an expectation we would purchase. (I NEVER felt like the RS guide expected us to purchase!!) On this trip, I felt like the vendors/farmers/artisans were extremely proud and just wanted to show off their products. We tasted truffles, honey, olive oil, wood fire toasted bruschetta (and olive oil, lol) and wine. We had a cooking lesson and talk about eating local, organic food. We watched ceramics being made, had a lesson in making stained glass, toured the museum at the Carrara marble quarry. We also did the requisite churches, frescoes and mosaics. It was all so much fun!

Wow! Moment: Hands down, the truffle hunt! Well, WE didn’t hunt truffles, Rocco the dog and Sergio the farmer did but it was such fun to watch. The dog was hilarious (still sort of a puppy and quite excitable), Sergio quite funny even though we couldn’t understand a word and the farmhouse dinner made by Mama was delicious and the best food I ate the whole time. The amounts of homemade wine were copious. Mama, her friend and her son’s Mother in law were the cooks and then entertained us with songs afterward. I suspect there was red wine flowing in the kitchen as well. I also loved walking down thru his vineyard and garden to the grove of oak and mixed hard woods for the truffle hunt. So very nice to be off pavement and in a rural setting! Pack a small flashlight as you will need it to get back down the farm road to the bus after dark and also plan to wear a sturdy pair of shoes.

Itinerary suggestion: I loved Orta San Giulio but it seemed like a really awkward place to end especially with just one night. I did think this area was beautiful and so very different than what we had seen before. However, the train station is a cab ride away in a different town, has no station so you have to buy your ticket before you get to this area, only goes a couple of times a day and the requires a change to get to Milano. The guide had to start figuring out exit strategies on about day 3 so if people were agreeable and schedules meshed she could pair people up in taxis to Milan. For my money I would skip Cinque Terre (especially if you are not actually ~staying~ in a CT town) but I know that location is kind of a signature of Rick’s. I would add one night to Orta and one night for a spa session in Chianti. If you are going on this tour, I recommend you budget in money for a cab ride to Milan. Five of us shared a cab to a hotel near the Duomo in Milan and it was about 150€…which was well worth it in the pouring rain we had that day. I would also suggest you not schedule your flight out the same day you leave Orta San Giulio. Give yourself a morning to see Orta San Giulio and then the afternoon to get to the airport or central Milan prior to your flight.

Posted by
8248 posts

Gelato/sorbet: I don't eat dairy but all the fruit sorbets we came across were vegan. The very best was the Gelateria Artiginale Eliot on the Piazza in Orta San Giulio. Oh my. Be still my heart. Pear sorbet. Green Apple sorbet. To die for. Second best was Trina's husband's favorite gelateria in Orvieto where I had white peach sorbet. Also runner up was green apple sorbet with calvados for dessert in Milan. I'll add just a touch of Calvados said the waiter. Ok, I said. Yum!

Posted by
1939 posts

Hi Pam. I've enjoyed reading your other trip reports but we (my family and I) are taking this tour next June so it's especially interesting. Reading about your tour experience makes me all the more excited about our choice! Thanks for such an enthusiastic and fun-to-read summary of your adventures. I can tell you really enjoy "traveling with Rick"!

Posted by
8248 posts

Oh, have fun Andi! Yes, Rick's tours are a good fit for me.

BTW, I tried to see all the relics I possibly could on this trip so wound up with jaws, tongues, vocal chords, thumbs, heads, etc. Also saw tunics, nails, corporals and other assorted objects.

Posted by
4361 posts

The Relics Tour - wasn't that the name of the last tour by the Rolling Stones? (rim shot; I'll be here all week; don't forget to tip your waiters...)

Gosh, Pam - it's starting to get really tiring listening to you whine, rant, and complain about these Rick Steves Tours ;-) You've ruined my day again, making me sad and droopy 'cause I'm not going on a RS Tour soon :-(

(sniffle) Thanks a lot (LOL!).

"You just can’t hurt people’s feelings sometimes." If only there was a lot more of that in this world...

Posted by
8248 posts

LOL Eileen! Yes, it does sound vaguely elderly rock and roll-ish!

The people were so darn pleased that they fixed us something special and were so sweet how could you disappoint?

Posted by
4361 posts

"The people were so darn pleased that they fixed us something special and were so sweet how could you disappoint?"

...yet people do just that all the time :-(

And gee - apparently neither your arm nor leg fell off (!)...and 'their's' wouldn't, either. Pick your battles, People :-D

(a) Be grouchy but 'right', or (b) let some things go, eat the eggs, and go on to write Glowing Reviews for RS Tours...

I'm envisioning Keep Calm and Be Like Pam! T-shirts...perhaps the back could say 'Eat the Eggs - it's OK!' OR - one could customize it - 'Bath down the hall is A-OK!', 'I'm not sure what that entrée was, but I'm glad I tried it!', 'I wasn't crazy about the long bus ride to Paris, but WOW! The Eiffel Tower!', 'There were an awful lot of stairs, but What An Experience!' ;-)

[Of course I would never advocate eating something you know you're allergic to or if have an extremely strong conviction about avoiding a certain food - that is a completely different situation - just saying that 'reeds that bend don't break'...and are happier. And we all like happy reeds, don't we? I thought so.]

Posted by
919 posts

Pam, thanks so much for your summary of the Village Italy trip. I love details, so found myself on a virtual tour with you. Hubby and I will be doing this trip next fall, in addition to two weeks on our own split between two different agriturismos and a few days in Venice. Since I am the one doing all the planning, I can easily picture most of the trip in my mind, but i will now be sure to have my husband read your account so that he can join me in salivating as we look forward to next year.

Posted by
8248 posts

Patricia, we started with a few days in Venice and the train to Padua/Padova was easy. I had not taken an Italian train before so was not prepared for the hassle factor in the train station. Make sure you have smaller bills so you can use the machines altho there is a kiosk where I believe there was a person making change.

Definitely have umbrellas and a waterproof rain layer with you, and since you are from OR I suspect you will not have to purchase a jacket, lol.

Eileen, you are such a hoot. The restaurant for our farewell dinner did have stewed donkey on the menu (not served at the farewell dinner as far as we know) and realistically I could not have forced that down for ANYone.

Posted by
4361 posts

Stewed donkey......see T-shirt above:

'I'm not sure what that entrée was, but I'm glad I tried it!'

Sometimes ignorance IS bliss - at least until after dinner...

Yeah, gotta give you a pass on that LOL!

Posted by
3137 posts

Pam,
I found myself nodding in agreement with your characterization of Civita da Bagnoregio. It's one of RS's enthusiasms that, to my mind, is completely inexplicable. About ten years ago, when he first started puffing it, we were staying nearby. We decided to visit, and found pretty much what you describe, strenuous walk to see an almost deserted (I would add, uninteresting) town; and no bruschetta since we were on our own. Glad to read, however, that you enjoyed the other towns. We are going to Italy, in April, for the 16th time; and we just love the small villages and the vibrant life that still obtains in them.

Posted by
8248 posts

Rosalyn, glad to hear your thoughts. One of the things I loved about the smaller towns is that they are not inundated with tourists (well except for CT) so I found the people warm, friendly and eager to share their way of life. With all your visits it sounds like you have found a place you like!

I see Civita is on the cover of this year's tour book and really you cannot tell how much of a drop off there is nor how steep that bridge is. After our visit was finished I thought maybe in my excitement to see it I had looked past the steep factor, but no I don't think I did. Plus all the talk about having to reinforce it so it doesn't completely crumble, yikes!

Eileen!!!

Posted by
4361 posts

My turn? ;-)

"About ten years ago, when he first started puffing it..."

Rosalyn, I think Rick has been 'puffing it' for longer than ten years...8^D

I recently asked someone who's taken RS's Village Italy Tour about her feelings on CdB; she really liked it. I don't know that I'd hate it, but I just feel like I've already done it. I've watched RS travel videos for decades now, and I can't help but feel that I've 'been there, done that'. I think I'd rather do most anything else than take the (precious) time and effort for CdB.

Posted by
1939 posts

We were there (Civita.....) on our own about 10 or so years ago and quite loved it. We hiked down below and into the Etruscan caves. Not even sure if you are still able to do that but it was amazing back then. Taking this tour next June so it will be interesting to compare visits.