On this page you can read feedbacks and stories of people who have travelled with me or who asked me to help them organise their trip to the Cinque Terre or Tuscany.
Elisse was in one of my groups, we travelled around Tuscany and the Cinque Terre together. She has written about her fantastic Italian experiences in her blog and I am happy that she is willing to share parts of her diary on my site as well! It's worth reading!
In September I spent 10 days in Italy, having (rather amazingly) won the "Tuscany & Cinque Terre" 8-day tour. The tour was excellent, thanks in Great measure to the fact that our Trip Leader had (& miraculously retained) her great sense of humor, the genetic ability (from her mathematician father) to divide restaurant bills by 11(!), and the patience of a saint! :-) The other members of the group were great, flexible, and full of good humor, and we shared a lot of laughter throughout the week, along with sore feet & a taste for grappa! We got to travel "with the locals" by train & bus, and to hike enough that (in theory) I shouldn't have gained any weight from all the wonderful food... I'd gone to art school in Firenze back in 1977 & lived there 1978-79. The last time I was in Italy was in 1981, & given that I truly never thought I'd be getting back to Italy any time soon, it was, in many ways, a rather magical week for me. Some highlights of the week (in no particular order) were:
1. Being able to speak my "Bad Italian" for the first time in 26 years! It was Wonderful to find that I could still speak enough Italian to make myself understood, AND (more importantly) understand at least 80% of what was said to me in return! I got a big kick out of being able to struggle through newspaper articles, read signage, and eavesdrop a bit on cafe conversations going on around me...
2. Learning that my 1970s & 80s Idols of Great Italian Pop Music, Renato Zero & Eduardo Bennatto, are still "known", and still creating & performing music! (I did feel about 104 years old when our 30-something tour leader had NO idea who Eduardo Bennatto or Renato Zero were! But in chatting to Italians over 30 on the train, I discovered that they ARE still known- and appreciated!)
I still have to laugh when I think about this conversation. Thanks, Elisse, for teaching me new things about Italy. I just love Renato Zero, especially singing together with my all time favourite Pavarotti: Click here to listen to beautiful "Il cielo". And Edoardo Bennato I knew without knowing it, I am sure everyone knows this song: Un estate italiana.
3. Wandering about Siena, taking it all in (again). Found the Pinacoteca, and wandered slowly past 100s of gilded 1300s Madonnas; found the Synagogue, with the plaque listing the names of the Jews deported and murdered during WWII. Sat in cafes on the Piazza del Campo, drinking my first-in-a-long-time capuccinos. Photographed the small Palio parades with the children in their fabulous costumes waving the colorful flags of their Contrade.
3a. The beautiful scenery on the train from Milan to Florence, but Especially from Florence to Siena. The landscapes were truly magnificent, and as tired as I was after the flight, it was glorious to see the vineyards and hills of Tuscany again, awash in the warm afternoon September light.
4. Getting to see and walk (at least part of) the gorgeous Cinque Terre, and through the beautiful little towns of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso, on the mountain path above the sea and along the beach & the Truly fab lunch of local anchovy-and-roasted pepper pannini & white wine at the annual Monterosso Anchovy Fest, truly one of the "great good meals" of life! I had never been to the Cinque Terre, and for me this was one of the major highlights of the trip.
4a. A lovely, delicate ravioli with Salsa Noci (nut sauce) for lunch, with a glass of house red, at a trattoria in Riomaggiore, sketching the view across the cobblestone street from my table.
4b. The adorable Mar Mar Apartment, down a winding lane in the center of Riomaggiorre. I enjoyed waking up to sunshine & the music of the church bells, and throwing open the shutters, pretending, for a moment this was really "my" apartment. And I loved the murals and mosaics by Benedetto that grace the RR tunnel and walls throughout town.
5. Stumbling into what turned out to surely be THE best wine-bar/salumeria in Siena: Antica Pizzicheria al Palazzo della Chigiana, at 93/95 Via Di Citta, the ring road right outside the Piazza della Campo. I think this place was really "the" find of my trip! The wines, house-made salamis and hams, cheeses, and crusty breads were EXCELLENT, and Antonio & Massimo were a delight! We had two great "tasting" evenings there, and the rest of the group wound up there and had a great time, as well! The paninno they made me for our picnic lunch the next day was truly great: wild boar proscuitto & peccorino on crusty bread. This place is worth going to Siena for!
5a. Finding Our Lady of the Good Trip Companions with her blue neon halo, as Maria & I walked back to the hotel, our last night in Siena.
5b. The great Happy World Internet Cafe in central Siena - my one, true bargain!
5c. The glorious installation of modern art horses on display all over Siena.
6. The luscious saffron-cream "house" pasta sauce at our first group dinner in a simple Siena trattoria.
7. Sketching by the pool at our beautiful Tuscan "villa" in Greve in Chianti - the first time I'd sketched in my journal in Many years. It was truly wonderful to sit in the sun with a glass of wine & sketch again. When Andrew pulled out his watercolors and began to paint, it really did inspire me to start sketching again.
8. Both the great & inexpensive local wine in its no-lable, cork-topped bottles, while sketching at the pool, & our fine Chianti Classico wine-tasting dinner at that same villa in Greve in Chianti. I especially enjoyed the "interestingly oaky" Chianti that Sue kept insisting "smelled like bad breath"! I will be forever hunting for Just that Chianti!
9. The AMAZING white truffle pasta sauce at that dinner. Truffles are "earthy" in the best way - like a good "peaty" single malt whisky, it's sort of like eating dirt - but in a really refined, gourmet way! :-) I lucked into this pasta by asking the waiter for "qualcosa interresante da qui"- what I hoped meant "something interesting from here"- and he suggested a pasta with truffle sauce. I then asked "white or black truffles?" so he'd think I knew more than I did, & when he said "white" I nodded sagely & smiled my deligh, and was rewarded with a Totally fabulous and utterly luscious dish of pasta. This is the kind of risky restaurant business that sometimes results in fabulous food; I've been lucky, but the truth is that I've Never eaten badly or had a bad glass of wine in Italy - ever. I've come to believe that it's not possible to eat or drink badly in Italy!
10. The delicious chingialle (wild boar) sausage & ham at our lunch at the terrace restaurant in the borgo of Montefioralle overlooking Tuscany and Robin's scrumptious desert (which she graciously passed around) of peccorino cheese, pears, honey, & walnuts! Yum! This was another "great good meal" that gave us all the strength for the rest of the 9-hour forced march (I mean "3-hour gentle hike") thru the gorgeous (and delicious!) olives and grapes of Toscana - singing Broadway show tunes with Andrew, a veritable mobile songbook of everything from Oliver thru South Pacific! Although I'd done the requisite "Chianti Winery Tour" when I was a student, I'd never actually walked thru Tuscany, past the olives and the grapes, much less sampled the odd (sweet!) grape, and so this was a totally new and wonderful way to see the countryside.
Yes, we did get a bit lost here, and the hike was somewhat longer than expected, but what amazing views we had, especially with the late afternoon lights!
10a. Noting the similarities between the southern West Virginia ATV trails & Tuscany, as we marched (I mean "hiked") the narrow, rocky path thru the forest, back to Greve.
11. Buying truly fine Chianti wine from the charming man who opened the church in Montefioralle for us and showed & explained to us the wonderful paintings and those Excellent red cherry peppers stuffed with anchovies at our "home-cooked" group dinner at the "villa" that evening.
12. "Limoncello & Grappa Nights" in Riomaggiore, when "Mamma" poured the first round of shots! Limoncello is the sort of overly sweet liqueur that must be served Ice Cold, preferably in frozen shot glasses, let the sugary-sweetness of it rot your teeth before you have a chance to become "tiddly", but it has a way of 'growing' on one, as does grappa, which I found to be Far smoother than the rotgut I recall from my wild Florentine youth. "Back in the day", grappa was a drink rough old men quaffed while standing up in rough old neighboorhood bars. This was, of course, before "foodies" got hold of it, before the invention of the word "foodie", actually.
13. "Armagnac Morning", following our walk about Siena, when Andrew & Maria did at least 4 snifters of it while their "livers were being watched" by Robin, who Does Not Drink Before Sundown - it's just not Done!
15. Learning several key Hungarian phrases from our leader, none of which I shall Ever forget!!
16. Getting to walk about Firenze again (as well as Pisa & Siena). A lunch of Gnocchi with Pesto in Pisa, & finding a corner cafe with the "perfect view" of the Leaning Tower, Duomo, & Baptistry.
17. Spending 6 glorious hours in the Uffizi in Firenze, seeing again the Botticellis, DaVincis, & Artemesia Gentileschi's painting, and having coffee up on their lovely terrace cafe overlooking the Duomo, walking again across the Ponte Vecchio, tasting again luscious Italian gelato, hearing extraordinary opera singing in the Piazza Republica, amidst the glittering backdrop of a carousel, & sitting again at Cafe Rivoire at night, listening to a brass band play by the Palazzo Vecchio, even tho' we had to shove 30 gazzilion tourists out of the way to do it all!
18. Sitting in as many little cafes as possible throughout Tuscany and the Cinque Terre, drinking cappucho after cappucho, watching the world go by, sketching and writing in my Trip Journal. But the absolute BEST part of my trip was coming home with a suitcase full of wine, pasta sauces, honey, Limoncello from Pisa & Monterosso anchovies, and being able to share it all with my wonderful husband!!!! Gorgeous as the clothes & shoes & jewelry in Italy were (and always have been), the Only thing I wish I'd had more money for was to buy and bring home more wine and sauces and other delicious things (Truffles! Cinque Terre peppers stuffed with tuna!) to enjoy with Dan. We cracked open that bottle of really great Montefioralle Chianti Classico the other night & had Monterosso anchovy-roasted pepper pannini on crusty, home-baked bread at our home/Inn, the Elkhorn Inn & Theatre in West Virginia - & now I REALLY have to lose 20 lbs!!
Elisse Jo Goldstein-Clark
Hello, I have been meaning to contact you all of our stay in Manarola (March 31 & April 1) and of course your great services of providing me much information on train travel and all. Our stay in Cinque Terre Manarola was absolutely perfect.... other than I wished we could have stayed much longer. My whole entire trip in Italy was good but found that the people in the Cinque Terre area, were the nicest people and everything was just so GREAT. The room was very accommodating, comfortable and the most PERFECT view.... also the restaurants were very good as well. Hope to make it back some day and will definitely stay longer. Thank You ALL so MUCH.
Grazie mille! Apartment was nice, porches and views incredible. Wonderful hiking, foccacia with Alberto, seafood at Dau Cila!
I would recommend Corniglia and the one bedroom apartment for everyone! We spent 3 nights there, so we had time to visit all the 5 main villages of Cinque Terre and if I came back, I would choose Corniglia again. Not just because it is in the middle but it is also the less crowded by tourists, which gives a nice charm to the city. The apartment is big enough, it is perfectly clean, the kitchen is well-equipped and the furnishing is just lovely, it is really traditional. From the window and from the common terrace the view is amazing either on the sea or on Corniglia. The owner of the apartment is really friendly, she gave us a lot of information, I can tell nothing but good about her. If you speak some Italian, it can be useful. A friendly owner, a nice and clean apartment with parking nearby, what else do you need? Just a couple of free days to go there!
For tours and boat rental you can find the reviews on the tour pages.