We had an excellent trip to Italy from May 15 to June 15, and enjoyed the entire time we spent there.
On June 1st we drove to Ravenna in the rental car that you arranged for us. Europcar gave us a BMW 120 diesel, which had plenty of power and got good mileage on the expensive European fuel. I was pleased that they gave us such a nice car.
We stayed at Ravenna Centro Hotel, and it was the nicest hotel room on the trip. Ellen at the desk welcomed us, and spoke fluent English and Italian. She was a real pleasure to talk to, with a great attitude. Parking in the centro was a bit odd, and a bit of a hike, since it was down near the Basilica of San Vitale, but it was very workable. The World Heritage mosaics were wonderful, and I took lots of pictures for keepsakes. Our favorite mosaic sites were the Basilica of Santa Apollinare in Classe, the Basilica of San Vitale, and the capella in the museum. Dinner at Il Melarancio was terrific, in spite of slow service - the food was spectacular. All in all, we enjoyed Ravenna a lot. On the way back from Il Melarancio on Friday night, we found a band playing in the main piazza and stood around listening for an hour before heading back to the hotel.
Driving to Chianciano Terme took a while, since we took the scenic route through Gualdo Cattaneo, Bastardo, and Bastardo Estupido before going on through Orvieto and finding Palazzo Bandino. It rained much of the way, so it wasn't perhaps as scenic as it might otherwise have been. We found Palazzo Bandino without any problem, and Emanuela got us checked in and set up for dinner. Dinners were quite nice (we ate there all three nights) and the company was congenial. Breakfasts at Palazzo Bandino were just about as good, particularly the omelets, which were exceptional. Palazzo Bandino was a little remote, but we successfully used it for visits to Montepulciano, San Quirico d'Orcia, Pienza and Montalcino. This was a beautiful area to drive in, one of our favorites for the trip, and we visited Villa La Foce to tour the gardens on our way back to Chianciano Terme and Palazzo Bandino. On another day, we went to Siena for the day and enjoyed our visit to the Campo and the Duomo, plus driving around the Crete Senese countryside.
Finally, we left for Florence, again taking the scenic route, visiting Monteriggioni and San Gimignano before fighting our way into Florence, where it only took two passes around the block using the GPs in order to figure out where to turn the car in. Turns out that you pretty much pull up on the sidewalk, grab your bags out of the car, sign the paperwork with the assistants in the teeny Europcar office, and get the heck out of the way. Then we decided to take a cab to Fresco Palace since we were hot and sweaty, and this was just as well, since there are red and black numbers on many old Florentine streets (they're not the SAME number, of course), and the driver had to call his office to find the doorway.
Once there, we were welcomed by Daisy and taken to our huge room on the second (third in the US) floor. Fortunately, there was a lift, and we don't carry large suitcases, no matter how long we're gone! Daisy and Daniela (the owner) treated us wonderfully during our five night stay, and arranged a taxi to pick us up at 4:30AM on our last morning to get us to the Florence airport for our horribly early flight to Frankfurt. They also recommended Za-Xa Ristorante near the hotel as being both good and reasonably priced, and it was so good that we ate there three times! Turns out that we had eaten there on our previous visit to Florence with Elderhostel, which took us there because it prepared excelled Tuscan food. And they still do! I had a chicken dish with truffle sauce that was just superb. And let's not forget the excellent gelato at Grom, over near the Duomo.
The other things we did in Florence included two cooking lessons arranged by you - one at lunch where we worked as teams to make the pasta by hand, and another two days later where we again worked as teams to make a nice dinner. These were fun experiences, working with nice people (all of them Americans, some on their honeymoons), and we enjoyed them tremendously.
Bill and Linda B.
All of the museum tickets purchased worked out fine; we got prepaid entrance to Vatican and a guided tour through Doges Palace (Palazzo Ducale) in Venice. I think the Doges Palace guided tour is well worth it, because it goes through interesting parts that are only available with the tour.
In Venice we stayed at Ca D'Oro which was very good given the price, with small rooms typical of Venice, and an adequate breakfast. It was very quiet, tucked away on a side canal in Cannaregio, yet a short walk to the vaporetto. Overall a good hotel choice.
And Ravenna Centro Hotel remains one of my favorites. Exceptionally friendly staff, with comfortable, clean, spacious, quiet rooms.
Once again, thanks for everything!