As I stated earlier, the purists on this site will rise up at the thought of a package deal but it was too good to pass up. Started when New York son call about two months ago to say he had spotted this deal on TravelZoo.com for seven nights in Tuscany, car rental, and direct flight from New York to Rome for $1299. For an extra $200, two nights could be added at a hotel outside of Rome with an extension of the car rental. This fit our son's schedule because it was basically two weekends and week between. We hesitated at first thinking the price was too good but son said it was now or never. He called at 11 am New York time and the deal was sold out by 2 PM which appears to be common as our son had been watching this site for some time. We flew to Rome on a Thursday night and came home on Sunday afternoon a week later. He is with an international bank in New York but it hard to get away for more than a week at a time.
Continued ..... The first seven nights was in the Castello Di Montegufoni (Montegufoni.eu). It is a thousand year old castle located about thirty minutes from Florence and a part of the agriturismo system in Italy. At one time the castle was a very large estate with many service buildings. These buildings have been converted into cottages. The size of the doors and stonework gave evidence that our cottage had once been a stable or barn. We had five bedrooms, three baths. The baths were very modern and up to date but the shower was small. The four of us had ample room. It had a small kitchen that was only adequate for breakfast and light meals. No TV or telephone and was typical of most self cater that we have encountered in Europe in that you provide everything beyond basic soap and toilet paper. No daily maid service. All tile through out so it was very clean and beds were great. I think Trip Advisor had given the place four stars. While it would not compare to a four star hotel it was a five star experience. It served as a great base for exploring the Tuscany countryside. The only surprise was an 80E cleaning fee when we check out. But at that price, who is arguing?
One more time The castle had a restaurant that was average but a nice place to catch a coffee and dessert after a long day. Free Wi-Fi was available in the castle in a large common area that probably was the dinning hall at one time. We used our seven days to explore the many hills towns and the wineries in the area. We hit Siena, Volterra, San Gimignano, Montalcino, Montepulciano, plus a number of really small, off the beaten path towns. Our son had research a number of the better wineries in the area and made the necessary reservations. Most of these better wineries require an advance reservation and a fee. There were some walk ins available but not many. In Montepulciano we met the coppersmith, Ramalo Cesare, that Steves discusses in his Florence & Tuscany book. We had recently moved into a new house that has a very heavy Tuscany look of tile roofs, towers with a stucco and field stone exterior finished. The space over the fireplace is very large so we were hoping to find some artwork that would fit that space during this trip. Didn't really know what we were looking for or wanted but just hoped that we would spot the perfect piece. We did. On the wall outside of Cesare's shop we spotted a huge (40" in diameter) copper plate that was just perfect. We did have to have it shipped. (It arrived in two weeks via the Italian and US postal services.) It was a terrific afternoon as he showed us his workshop and a small museum that featured many of his award winning pieces. He did not speak a word of English but we had few problems communicate with gestures, pointing, guesses, and our very limited, single word Italian. He is 77, third generation coppersmith, and no sons. When he is gone it is done. Of course, we have pictures with him, the copper plate, his workshop and some of his other pieces. That copper plate now hangs over our fireplace with huge memories attached to it forever.
We did spend a typical tourist day in Florence and were very careful to park is a garage area some distance from the center of town. The last two nights was in Hotel Villa Vecchia on the outskirts of Rome. While the hotel was excellent as a hotel, the location left a lot to be desired. It was on the south side of Rome and handy for the airport but we had to drive about fifteen minutes to the next to last stop on the B metro line. Easier enough to do since the stop had a large parking garage that was very empty on a Saturday. While this was our sixth visit to Rome, it was only the second visit for our son and for Jacque her first visit. We did the tourist things and revisited some of the old sites, like the fountain, and the steps. Could not get close to the Vatican because new pope was doing something and the avenues to the Vatican and the plaza itself were packed with a couple hundred thousand people. Our last meal in Italy was at Ristorante il Gabriello. It was excellent in an upscale setting. The next day the car drop at Hertz in the airport was easy and T-5 took all of 15 minutes to get through for a noon departure on Delta. The service on Delta even seemed a notch better than two years ago on a similar flight to New York. The food was much better. We had Economy Comfort on return. Love the term. We now have Economy, Economy Comfort, Business, and First Class. Or is it Economy Un-Comfort and Economy Comfort?
Grab it while you can. Good for you Frank. It's good to know that those deals I see on TravelZoo are legit. Could you tell us more about what you did, saw, ate, discovered.
I will post some observations later and a list of the better wineries. Would love to attach some pictures.
Wonderful report! Thanks. Good reminder to stay tuned in to travelzoo.com.
I have been so curious about your trip. Good for you! What a deal and there's nothing wrong with doing a trip like that. I would be all over it!!
Really enjoyed reading about your trip Frank, thanks! So great you found the copper plate, and how you found it makes it extra special.
Excellent trip report Frank! I also watch the TravelZoo deals but wondered if they were too good to be true. What was the source/agency for this trip? Thanks for posting - sounds like a great way to spend quality time with your son!
Frank, We just returned from this same trip - we weren't able to add on the extra days (time constraints) but I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment of Montegufoni and the great deal we got. We went to the wine tasting at Castello di Verrazzano which we enjoyed greatly. A number of guests at Montegufoni were enjoying the travelzoo package as well!
We were able to travel to CT, Florence, Lucca, SanG and Siena. Great trip with memories galore!
I said I would post some additional observations when I had time. First one - immigrations at Rome. While we have spent nearly a month in Rome over the past several years, we realized we had never come through Rome as our entry point. May avoid that in the future. We had a margin experience with immigrations. Our plane landed around noon from New York. Don't know how many other planes were there but it had to be more than one judging by the mob trying to get through immigrations. It took over an hour to clear immigrations. There were only two officers on duty. Unfortunately the crowd was well beyond the set up lines so there was a fair amount of shoving and pushing as the mob tried to funnel into the two lines. The was an officer pulling families with children and some elderly people out of the pack and moving them to the front. For the most part people were orderly but no one yielded an inch. I think we would have done better had we stayed to the far left of the pack. Our car rental under the package was through Hertz. Pick up was smooth and the package included all of the extra insurance. Supposedly because we had a party of 4 on the package we were given a bigger car. We had a four door, Hyundai i30, diesel, with auto trans although the reservation package had indicated it would be a standard trans. Great car. Used about $150 of fuel during the week. Forget to record the number of miles but we drove a lot. The car was comfortable for four and the truck held exactly four carryon size bags. No more !! We had our own GPS, a mid range Garmin nuvi 2595 lmt with Italian maps. It worked well and was absolutely critical for finding our way through all of the little roads. I don't know how we could have done it will a paper map. The car return was equally smooth with Hertz. Running out of characters so will post another observation later.
Thank you for posting this report. I get emails from Travel Zoo so I'll keep watching for deals that sound too good to be true! I didn't know anyone who had used them before so its good to know they are legit.
Hi Frank, Sounds like it was a fabulous trip! If you have time, I'd love to know some of the vineyards you liked the best. We leave in two weeks and the wine is pretty much our main reason for going to Italy. It's hard (for me at least) to figure out which vineyards are the best to visit. Thanks!
This is one winery you have to see. Just outside of Florence http://nyti.ms/18gkEwX
Sounds wonderful Frank, did your rental car come with a GPS and if so was in included in the fee?