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Village Italy Tour Review: April 22 - May 5

Pre-Tour

Stayed in Padua at tour hotel Albergo Al Fagiano for four nights before the start of the tour: Thursday 4/18, Friday 4/19, Saturday 4/20 and Sunday 4/21.

Friday 4/19
This was a day to relax and orient ourselves to Padua. We walked through the old town, and vendors were set up in the various piazzas.

Saturday 4/20
Day trip to Venice. We took the train from Padua to Venice, and had to stand the whole way. There were two cruise ships in port (I’ve heard that there can be as many as six ships visiting Venice at the same time). The crowds were huge, and it was impossible to get in to see St. Mark’s Basilica or the Doge’s Palace. In the afternoon we took the boat to Burano, and people working at the dock crammed us like sardines on the ferry. On the way back to Venice we stopped in Murano. Venice was much more pleasant in the evening after the cruise ship passengers had left. We were glad that we made the trip, since we had never been to Venice before. The train back to Padua was running a bit late, and when they finally posted the arrival track, many people waiting ran frantically to get on the train. Caught in the crowd, for a few moments we feared that we would be trampled. When they reached the track, most of the passengers tried to crowd onto the first few cars. We strolled down to the end of the train and boarded an empty car.

Sunday 4/21
Another relaxing day in Padua. The highlight was the Botanical Garden. This garden is a UNESCO site, and is supposedly the oldest in the world. Especially impressive was the new section which was a sort of greenhouse with various plant habitats. We think that the Botanical Garden deserves a higher rating in the Rick Steves Italy guidebook.

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Tour Days 1-4

Day 1: Welcome to Italy - Monday 4/22 5 PM
The tour began in elegant Padua (Padova) —Hotel Albergo Al Fagiano. (2 nights)

Day 2: All Day to Discover Padua - Tuesday 4/23

The tour hotel was quirky but fun, with artwork produced by one of the owners. We heard that Rick Steves was staying at the hotel, but we missed seeing him.

Day 3: Ravenna and Hill Town of Montefalco - Wednesday 4/24
Stopped in Ravenna to see the Byzantine San Vitale Basilica and Galla Placidia Mausoleum, then continued on to Montefalco. - Villa Pambuffetti (2 nights).

The mosaics shimmered in the subtle light of the Basilica and Mausoleum. This was a wow moment for a number of our tour members. We had a knowledgeable local guide to explain things to us.

The lodging in Montefalco is a former villa converted to a hotel. This might have been the best hotel on the tour.

Day 4: Assisi and Truffles - Thursday 4/25
Toured Assisi and the magnificent art-filled Basilica. Visited a local farmer and his specially trained truffle hunting dogs, and enjoyed a delightful farm-to-table dinner together (including the truffles).

Once again, an excellent local guide gave us lessons about Assisi and the Basilica. It was fun to see the dogs scurrying around finding truffles, which they were happy to do for a treat reward. Every course of the dinner included truffles (except for dessert).

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Tour Days 5 - 7

Day 5: Deruta and Orvieto - Friday 4/26
Saw a pottery demonstration at a family workshop in Deruta, followed by a wine tasting and lunch, and finished the afternoon high atop the nearby hill town of Orvieto, where we marvelled at the town's dramatic cathedral/ Orvieto (2 nights). Grand Hotel Italia
The hotel in Orvieto was modern and centrally located.

The artists were very skilled at hand painting the pottery. The wine tasting/lunch was mainly about food pairings.

Day 6: Umbrian Hill Towns - Saturday 4/27
Free morning in Orvieto. Afternoon hike up to the ultimate backdoor hill town, Civita di Bagnoregio. Then it was back to Orvieto for a free evening.
Civita di Bagnoregio was stunning, and we spent an appropriate amount of time there. In Orvieto we came upon a beer festival in the main piazza. A band was playing classic American rock with precise English lyrics. We started dancing, but the locals at the festival did not seem interested in joining in. After the band's set was over, we walked up to complement them on their performance. It was interesting to note that their conversational English skills were not as good as what we heard when they were singing. We also learned that the assistant tour guide on our Sicily tour (David Tordi) was in town. David is in a band that was playing at a local club that night. Later on, we reconnected with David at the club and listened to the band for awhile.

Day 7: Heart of Tuscany - Sunday 4/28
Visited the fascinating Etruscan Museum at Chianciano, then had a special Tuscan cooking lesson. We ended the day at our Tuscan country hotel, where we had a light dinner. Hotel Belvedere di San Leonino - 2 nights.

The hotel was in the middle of farm country, and the sunsets were beautiful.

The Etruscan museum was fascinating, and the local guide made the history of these mysterious people real for us in a humorous way.

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Tour Day 8 -10

Day 8: Tranquil Tuscany - Monday 4/29
This morning we'll headed out to Siena. Then it was back to our country hotel before dinner together.
Siena was the only place on the tour where we had already visited. We especially enjoyed the life-like Bernini statues in the Duomo.

Day 9: Hill Towns and Lucca - Tuesday 4/30
Our final destination today was the engaging town of Lucca, where, after an orientation, we were free to explore and find a local trattoria for dinner. Lucca (2 nights) Hotel La Luna
The hotel in Lucca was not quite at the same level of quality as the other tour hotels, although the location was good.

Day 10: Lovely Lucca and Olive Groves - Wednesday 5/1
This morning a local guidel introduced us to Lucca's elegant streets and historic churches, all surrounded by impressive Renaissance walls. Then we went to a traditional frantoio (olive oil mill), where we enjoyed a farm lunch.
As it was a holiday, we were joined by many locals as we strolled the walkway on the top on the city walls. Lucca has a vibrancy that has something to do with the range of ages in the local population. For example, there were many families with children, and retail stores catering to them.

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Tour Day 11 - 13

Day 11: Carrara's Marble and the Riviera - Thursday 5/2
We marveled at the marble with a local expert at Carrara's snow-white quarries. Then we enjoyed a scenic boat ride past the villages of the Cinque Terre. Our boat docked in Monterosso, and then we took a short train ride to Levanto. That night we shared a family-prepared seafood feast. Levanto (2 nights). Hotel: Albergo Primavera

My impression of marble quarrying is that it remains to this day a very dangerous undertaking. It was fortunate that the weather allowed us to take the boat ride from Porto Venere to Monterosso. To see the Cinque Terre villages clinging like sheep to the hillsides was awe inspiring. Also, we were able to take the boat without luggage, since the tour bus transported our belongings to Levanto. The village of Levanto was refreshingly untouristy. The buffet seafood dinner at the hotel was sumptuous, and the tour group partied into the night after dinner.

Day 12: All Day on the Italian Riviera - Friday 5/3
We took a "vacation from our vacation". We could choose to hike the cliffside paths, taking in the panoramic views between Cinque Terre villages, or pick a village to explore.

It was nice to have a day off during the tour. Our tour leader Ann did, however, schedule a happy hour at the hotel. Most of the hotels had a welcome drink for the group on arrival night.

Day 13: Lago d'Orta - Saturday 5/4
We made a beeline to Orta San Giulio and took a scenic boat ride out to Isola San Giulio. Later, we enjoyed an arrivederci dinner together. Orta San Giulio (1 night) - Hotel La Bussola

Lake Orta is one of the smaller lakes in Northern Italy, and is only about 20 miles from Switzerland. There is a monastery on Isola San Giulio that includes the Walk of Silence. Along the way, the walk had signs with meditative messages. Unfortunately, not all of the people walking observed the silence rule.

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Post Tour and Summary

Day 14: Tour Over After Breakfast - Sunday 5/5/19
Our tour guide helped coordinate transportation to the Milan train station. We walked around Milan, but since we had seen so many churches on the tour, decided to skip the Duomo.

Sunday 5/5/19: Milan hotel (near Milan train station) - Hotel Garda

Monday 5/6/19:
Took Malpensa Express train from Milan train station to Milan MXP airport. Flew on Air France to Paris CDG.

Hotel: Stayed at Ibis Styles Paris Roissy CDG hotel in the village of Roissy. Picture a 16th century French village surrounded by modern hotels with airplanes flying overhead.

Tuesday 5/7/19: Flew from Paris to Boston on Delta leaving at 10:20 AM. And arriving in Boston at noon local time. Everything went well at CDG until we passed through the final gate check. I was called aside for a random security check, and was the last person to board the plane. As ours was the only flight in Boston at noon, we cleared U.S. customs and immigration in 15 minutes.

Summary
The Village Italy tour was outstanding. Compared to other trips, the pace seemed relaxed and the overall vibe was mellow. When you visit major cities, it always seems that there is something else to see and do. Since this tour was all about smaller towns and cities, we had time to just relax and enjoy each stop.

Our tour guide Ann was excellent. We have had native tour guides on our other RS tours. Ann, being a transplanted American, was able to effectively compare and contrast aspects of both cultures.

We thought that the local guides were the best we have ever had. The experiences we had lived up to the categorization as a Cultural Connection tour.

And of course, there was the food and wine...

This tour group was great fun. This tour was probably the most special of the six RS tours we have taken because we met and connected with another couple before the tour started. Others on the tour probably thought we were longtime friends. We got along so well that we are planning to go with them on the RS Best of England tour in 2020.

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3768 posts

Thanks for sharing your trip report, Bob, and what you enjoyed! That tour includes a lot of lovely towns! How fun to meet another couple and already plan for your next trip!

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8248 posts

What a fun time you all had!

I wish when I had done this tour I had known enough to go early to Padua. (It was early on in my RS tour "career", hahaha!) Like you I really enjoyed the Botanical Gardens. Wow, the new greenhouses were just fantastic and I also enjoyed the older outdoor garden area.

Amazing and appalling about the crowds you encountered in Venice!

I like how you eased your way back to Boston via Paris. I decided after the VI tour - spent a night in Milan and then took one of the crack of dawn flights out to Amsterdam to get back to the Northwest - that that would be my plan if I ever needed to fly home from a location that does not connect to one of my usual international airports.

Thanks for posting!

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2466 posts

Thanks for a great review! This was one of our favorite RS tours. Sorry to read about the mob scene in Venice, one of our favorite cities in Europe. Other than going off season I don’t see a remedy in sight. Hope that the RS tour folks have other “village” type tours in their skunk works. Spain, France, Village Italy Part 2?

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And a Big gold medal to Bob for putting his report in the proper format so that it stays together, and the use of some paragraphs and bold highlight that makes it a pleasure to read. Well done --- PS The content was great also !!!!

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Thanks for taking time to write a review. This is a RS tour that really interests us.

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Thanks, Bob. I loved the format of your report. VI was one of our favorite tour - perhaps our most favorite - and I loved the conciseness of your report. (My reports tend to be very long and wordy.)

We too went early and spent several days in Padova, although we spent the pre-tour days at a differnt hotel. I'm so glad we spent the extra time there. We got Padova passes ahead of time, and they were well worth the money.

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Loved reading this report! Hope to take this tour someday, your descriptions make it sound irresistible. Thank you for all your efforts!

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600 posts

Great report! I didn't know about the Botanical garden in Padua, I will have to check it out. Sounds like a wonderful trip.

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What a terrific report, Bob. We took this tour as a family (kids, grandkids, my sister) some years ago to celebrate one of my (more significant) birthdays. It was such a great time. Ann was actually the tour "assistant" with our guide, Trisha Brady. Both guides were terrific and we had such a good time with the entire group. This was one of my favorite tours, too, mostly because I could feel the peacefulness of the villages, towns and smaller cities plus all the more local, hands on experiences (wine tastings, olive oil, truffles, Carrara cliffs of marble, etc.). We, too, enjoyed the Botanical Gardens of Padova and agree with you. We spent a few days in Venice pre tour so the quiet beauty of the Gardens was most welcome! We also loved our stay at Montefalco and agree with you about La Luna-probably my least favorite hotel for any of the 22 tours I have taken. I love the way you did your report. Thanks for taking the time to post it and letting me relive this awesome tour!

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Thanks for posting this report (and, as Frank says, doing it in such an easy to read format).

"When they reached the track, most of the passengers tried to crowd onto the first few cars. We strolled down to the end of the train and boarded an empty car."

This trick works all over the world. It always amazes me how people cluster together, and don't spread out along the train platform - but they don't, so if you do, it makes boarding and finding a seat much easier, particularly if you have luggage.

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3 posts

I loved reading this very detailed review. This trip is now at the top of my list for next year.

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1017 posts

Thanks for all the kind comments. I don’t feel like the trip is truly over until I write a report.

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33 posts

Great report, Bob. My wife and I took that tour 4 years ago and it was wonderful. David Tordi was our guide and what fun we had! Wine, food, music and dancing. Oh, yeah, sightseeing too. Wishing you continued happy travels.

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Having taken the Village Italy Tour 5 years ago, I really enjoyed hearing about your experience. It was interesting to see the itinerary has changed just a bit. Glad you made some new friends tho. We are really hoping for that when we do Best of Europe next month!

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7 posts

Bob I have read your report over and over. We are on the October 19th tour. Thank you for sending me this link and responding to my post. Your report has heightened our excitement about our tour.