My husband and I were planning our first trip to Italy, with time in Florence, Tuscany and Lake Como. We were taking our grown daughters and their husbands/boyfriends. Fortunately, we have an exceptional travel agent in St. Louis and she was amazing in lining things up with our three hotels and our airfare. We also have many friends who've traveled to Italy so we had oodles of recommendations, but the trip really took shape when we started working with Elisabetta Marchi, an experienced guide in Florence and Siena. We were specific about our preferences...whenever possible, we wanted to dine al fresco...we would prefer "locals" spots over tourist meccas...we were interested in half-day tours and wanted to start early each day...we did not want to drive ourselves...we wanted private tours so we could adapt and change it if necessary. When we arrived in Milan, Elisabetta had a driver for us and it was all A+ from that moment forward!
In our trip planning, we had the Academia, Ponte Vecchio, Santa Croce and other highlights in mind. We can't rave enough about our guide, Tiziana! She and Elisabetta had customized a walking tour for us and it was PERFECT -- they are terrific listeners! It is not just "one size fits all" like so many tours. Our guide was funny and smart and energetic -- and flexible. She handled the timed tickets for us and still modified things along the way, based on our comments. I must also mention one of the true highlights of our trip: Elisabetta knew that this was an anniversary trip for us so she asked if we were interested in a photographer who could take photos of our entire family. We thought it was a terrific idea and she introduced us to Alberto. I wish I could attach some of his photos to this review. He suggested that we opt for photos of our Florence walking tour and they are ADORABLE -- beautiful candid (and some posed) shots in that incredible setting!!!
We also had specific ideas like a cooking school for all 6 of us. I had done some research on the classes offered through our hotels and they seemed fine. When I mentioned this to Elisabetta, she proposed a class at Mama Cooking School in Florence -- the couple who runs it is amazing, the chef was adorable and talented, our feast was incredible and the facility was beautiful. The class was less expensive than the hotels' and it was the most fun experience that we had!! We have recommended this to everyone!!
I had also mentioned to Elisabetta that we would like to spend some time in the countryside, perhaps in Chianti. Again, I had done some research and found some cheese tastings...Elisabetta recommended a trip to Corzano e Paterno. She arranged the driver...Leonardo was a safe driver and very entertaining... the tour and tasting was AMAZING and in an incredible setting...and Elisabetta arranged lunch for a us at an outdoor restaurant (formerly a stable) and we could have cried because the lunch was sooooo delicious. We toured Greve in Chianti along the way -- all ideas from Elisabetta.
I know this review is extremely long but I also wanted to rave about another idea from E. On our way to Lake Como, she suggested that we take a detour to Parma. We LOVED it! We actually toured (and lunched at) a prosciutto factory -- no one does that!!! Once again, the guide she chose for us was so knowledgeable and fun...it was a perfect way to break up the day and to see more of the countryside. She had also arranged our beloved driver so it was an extremely entertaining travel day.
Okay, the last thing I must exclaim about is the guide she found for us in Cernobbio. For our first morning, we thought it would be great to have a private tour of Lake Como. Anna lives in Bellagio and she was outstanding. She was soooooo good...we learned so much about the area...she recommended lunch spots and gardens that we wouldn't have chosen...and the balance of our trip was exceptional, thanks to her.
Here are the headlines of what I have told my travel agent and my friends about Elisabetta: She is a terrific listener and she truly cares about matching clients with their activities/guides. She is incredibly smart and is a fabulous emailer (and so darn funny too!). She follows up on everything -- everyone she arranged for us was EARLY. We didn't have to follow up with anyone (but I had their contact info just in case). Prior to our trip, she prepared a spreadsheet for me -- including the method of payment -- so I knew how much I would need for each tour and whether I needed Euros or a card. On every prior trip, there was always a guide who kind of "phoned it in" or was just doing a standard tour...we can't even name a favorite person from our Italy trip because they were all outstanding. We learned so much from each driver and each guide. We can't thank Elisabetta enough for all of the work she did for us!!! Grazie!!!!
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