Our vacation to Europe started off as a visit to Paris for my sister in law’s college graduation. It quickly turned into a two-week, two country vacation. Here is how we did it!
Where we went: Paris, Rome, Cortona (Pergo), and Venice.
I admit to being nervous about a multi generational international trip. Yes, I was also nervous about traveling with my in-laws for two full weeks. I heeded the advice of my coworker David and took some “alone moments” with Heather, Giovanni, and Isabella. I organized this trip for all 13 of us. Not something I recommend. My advice: Use a professional Travel Advisor. I know a few if you need a recommendation.
Europe Express (***Disclaimer I now work for Europe Express) – We booked air, transfers, hotels, and some sightseeing through the groups department. Bottom line, THEY GET IT! They deploy at TEAM (sales & operations) to plan and execute your group. Because they have offices in Europe, I was provided with around the clock service and assistance when needed. Air: We flew Air France nonstop from Seattle to Paris. The experience was simply divine. As you would expect from Air France. At 5 years old, Isabella even liked it.
Paris – Les Jardins du Marais was our home in the city of lights. Located in the heart of Paris’ trendy Marais district, brimming with art galleries, chic restaurants and designer boutiques, the luxurious Jardins du Marais Lifestyle boutique hotel is close to many historic landmarks, including the Place des Vosges, the Musée Picasso, the Carnavalet Museum and the Bastille. A haven in the centre of the city, the Jardins du Marais has 265 fully renovated rooms and suites overlooking lush private gardens, which add charm and character to this “little village” and create an ideal setting for leisurely strolls. Decorated in contemporary, the lounge, bar, and restaurant are perfect for business meetings or stylish events, with a contemporary and harmonious blend of elegance and comfort.
We got multi day passes for museums, the metro, hop on and hop off tour (this came in handy w/ a 5-year-old), and river cruise tickets through Europe Express. We also booked reserved time slots for the Eiffel Tower. Highly recommend you do this in advance. While Heather & I had been to Paris years ago, this was a great way to see the city with our kids.
Rome: Our accommodations in Rome was the trendy Palazzeto Degli Artisti. The Palazzetto degli Artisti was born from a new idea of hospitality which combines all modern comforts together with an innovative spirit in an atmosphere of ancient beauty. The building was built at the beginning of the nineteenth century, in the heart of ancient Rome, in the very characteristic historical quarter of Rione Monti. From the rooftop terrace you can enjoy a breathtaking view and your gaze gets lost amid the ruins of the Foro Romano, Piazza Venezia and Colosseum. Location, location, location!
We rented three Vespas so that we could explore Rome from a different perspective. Not for the faint at heart, but VERY FUN! This was the best $45 we spent. We booked our Vatican & Colosseum VIP entrances through the AMAZING Select Italy! On our second day in Rome I whisked Heather, Giovanni, and Isabella off for a private cooking lesson. Cucina Romana, booked through Select Italy was a high point of this trip. When in Rome… Cook as the Romans do! Many of Italy’s classic dishes were created and perfected here in the capital city. Learn how to cook alla Romana, spend some time with the master chefs at La Cucina di Casa di Valeria Cooking School, where we participated in the preparation of a traditional Roman meal using fresh and seasonal ingredients. This school is known for teaching young Italians who have moved away from their families how to cook authenticly. You are not a client here! You are a guest in a dear friend’s home who happens to be teaching you how to cook. Perfection. Our favorite Rome restaurants: Trattoria Otello alla Concordia (recommended by a dear friend who is a famed travel writer) & La Bottega del caffe: These were the best meals we had in ITALY. Hands down!
Pergo (Cortona): After a few days in the eternal city, we boarded a train we booked with Rail Europe (1st Class) through Europe Express to our Villa in Pergo. A town at the base of Cortona. We were guests of some dear Seattle friends who rented La Ripa (this villa) for a year. The only word that comes to mind to describe this villa is HEAVEN! While you can’t rent it, A Season Away is who I recommend you call in order to rent a villa. My friend Kevin Abell owns A Season Away and his team knows how to ensure you have the right villa and a great Villa Host!
We booked the Gelato & Vino experience through Select Italy and it was so much fun! It may sound like a strange combination but gelato and wine are two of Florence’s best creations. Why not explore them together? Our evening began with a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the world famous gelateria, GROM, where owner Mario introduced us to “Italian ice cream.” Next, we visited the historic wine bar Enoteca Alessi, where our tasting began. In the company of our own private guide, we embarked on a tasting menu that included four wines, various appetizers and three different types of gelato. This 45-minute private tour and tasting experience was a great way to learn about the food and wine of Florence, and ideal for any level of foodies!
After that it only got better with our final selection from Select Italy! My wife’s two sisters and future brother in law joined us for the full day Brunello di Montalcino Wine Tour and it was simply beautiful. Noble and seductive, Brunello di Montalcino is a grand red wine that is born in the heart of the hills around Siena. It is the work of one man, Ferruccio Biondi-Santi, whose patient efforts first brought this wine to light in 1888. We celebrated his invention on this full day wine excursion to Brunello country. Departing and returning to our villa (they can pick you up from your Florence or Siena hotel or villa) first stop is the spectacutlar Talenti Vineyards. A visit to the cellars and a guided wine tasting of their fine Brunellos was included. Riccardo Talenti’s love for his winery forces you to fall in love with life all over again. This was followed by a walking tour of the village of Montalcino. Here we were captivated by picturesque, narrow streets surmounted by the medieval fortress, La Rocca. Lunch at the Taverna Grappolo Blu in Montalcino introduced us to authentic local dishes like the thick, hand rolled spaghetti called pinci. After a delicious lunch we headed to the organic winery, SanPolino. In a serene setting of rolling hills blanketed in olive groves and vineyards, the British owners maintain the modern art of organic farming. We purchased lots of wine and perfect olive oil.
Venice: Heather and I could not take our girls to Italy without a quick overnight visit to Venice. Upon our arrival, we zipped off to lunch al fresco at the Westin Regina & Europa. It is our favorite Venice spot for lunch. The chef knew we were coming and prepared a special three course menu just for us. Yes, we felt we had ARRIVED! Afterwards, we checked into our favorite hotel in Venice, Hotel Danieli. This hotel is how I want every hotel to be. The service is a great combination of attentive and relaxed. Just what you need when you are on vacation. Our last bit of perfection was a private mask decorating lesson with the Mask Atelier at Tragi comica. We organized this through Charming Venice. This Destination Management Company can arrange conventions and private excursions that you can’t get through other Destination Management Companies. Exclusivity and high touch service is what they do best!
We returned to La Ripa for a final two nights to celebrate my in laws’ 30th wedding anniversary. Icing on the cake!
What I know for sure, travel connects through shared expierences and my family is more connected having had this vacation!