Orient Express Italy and IC Bellagio Educational Trip
Stephanie Miller-Murphy is the owner of Travel With Stephanie, and helps clients in Mandeville, Covington, and New Orleans, LA plan their perfect luxury vacation.
April 4 – 12, 2013
I have always loved the quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson “Life is a journey, not a destination”. My recent Italy tour was such an amazing journey this quote came to mind many times during the week. However, this journey was very much about the destination as well!
Our journey began in Florence when we arrived on Friday, April 5th. Our driver took us past the grand city walls of Florence that encompass the ancient and very beautiful City Center. We were headed to the Villa San Michele, an Orient Express Italy hotel which is nestled on a hill in Fiesole which is a small hilltop town on the outskirts of Florence. Arriving at the Villa San Michele takes your breath away as the Michelangelo inspired front facade of the hotel comes into view.
We found ourselves surrounded by trees and terraced gardens overlooking the city of Florence and the Arno Valley below.
From the surviving 1502 fresco of the Last Supper to the teraced gardens and heated pool, Villa San Michele is a feast for the eyes. Formerly a 15th Century Franciscan Monestary, today it is a fascinating hotel.
The Villa San Michele has a wide variety of guest room and suites to accommodate everyone from couples on their honeymoon to families with children.
The outside Loggia offers al fresco dining while enjoying incredible views across the Arno Valley and Florence.
We went on a guided walking tour of the City Center in Florence our first afternoon. We saw the highlights including the Piazza della Signoria, the Piazza del Duomo, the Romanesque baptistery with its beautiful gilded bronze doors and the Ponte Vecchio with its tantalizing jewelry shops.
Our second day we were in for an amazing treat as we embarked on an exploration of the Tuscan culinary tradition in the Villa San Michele cooking school. Chef Atillio di Fabrizio is among greats in Italy, having spent time in his home country, France, Britain, Switzerland and America.
After enjoying our lunch that we cooked we headed out for an afternoon excursion from Florence to the hills of Tuscany. We stopped in many beautiful towns along the way as we headed to Castellina in Chianti for a visit to the Brancaia Winery. For dinner we stopped in San Donato in Poggio and experienced the Trattoria La Toppa, a typical neighborhood restaurant. Delicious!
Sunday morning we checked out of the Villa San Michele and headed out on the next leg of our Italian journey. We caught the Eurostar Train to Naples. Upon arrival to Naples we were whisked away to the Pizzeria Brandi for an authentic lunch. Dating back to 1889, the paaziolo (pizza chef) was so renowned for his pizza that he was invited to prepare it for the royal family who had never tasted it. He created a pizza with mozzarella, basil and tomatoes – the colors of the newly unifies country’s flag. He named his creation pizza alla margherita in honor of the first queen of Italy, Margherita di Savoia.
After lunch we enjoyed a walking tour of the Streets of Naples enjoying the atmosphere and culture led by our expert local guide.
We then headed into the mountains and arrived at the amazing Hotel Caruso in Ravello. Located on the highest point of the medieval town of Ravello, the hotel is perched on a cliff above the sea overlooking the Amalfi Coast. Upon entering the lobby of the hotel I realized immediately how special this place it.
The Hotel Caruso has the most magnificent infinity pool I have ever seen!
That evening we enjoyed a fabulous aperitif and delicious Mediterranean dinner in The Belvedere Restaurant at the the hotel. It was particularly magical in the Amalfi moonlight.
The guest rooms and suites are all very unique and have all of the amenities you would expect from an Orient Express Hotel.
The next morning we were in for a very adventurous day! We left the Hotel Caruso early in the morning and drove down through the valley to the Port of Amalfi where we met our Captain and boarded our private boat. We enjoyed one of the most special and unique excursions I have ever experienced. Our Captain took us along the Amalfi Coast as we took in many beautiful towns and villages that line the coastline headed towards the Island of Capri.
Upon docking at Capri we had four hours to spend on the island. Our group divided and conquered with some going shopping, others choosing to enjoy coffee outside taking in the views. I decided for some adventure and headed to the top of the island with Tom, our Orient Express Host. After taking the Finicular from the dock to the City Center of Capri we boarded a small shuttle bus that took us further up the island to. We then boarded a chair lift and took a 12 minute ride to the very top of Capri. The views were amazing!
The next morning we said goodbye to our friends at the Hotel Caruso to continue our journey. We began with a visit to the Pompeii archaeological site. Pompeii was buried under cinder and ash in 79A.D. with the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Pompeii provides us with first class evidence of how the way of life was in a Roman City during the time of the Roman Empire.
After our Pompeii tour we headed for the Naples airport and caught our flight to Catania, Sicily. Our driver pointed out the highlights, the main highlight being Mount Etna, as we drove up the mountains headed towards the beautiful town of Taormina and the Grand Hotel Timeo. The hotel and grounds are beautiful beyond words.
That afternoon we went on a guided walking tour of the town of Taormina. Toarmina is situated on a rocky plateau on the slopes of Monte Tauro. The downtown center represents a variety of historical periods, from the early Greek settlements and the Roman age, to the remains of Byzantine and Medieval construction up to the 15th Centruy Catalan buildings and 17th Century Baroque churches and palaces.
The highlight of our walking tour was the Teatro Greco (Greek Theater) which is literally next door to the Grand Hotel Timeo. Built in the 3rd Century by the Greeks and later on completely remodeled by the Romans, it is the second most important and largest theater in Sicily, surpassed only by the Greek Theater in Siracusa. The view was breathtaking with Mount Etna in the background.
The next day we were off on another adventure to Mount Etna. This volcano is one of the world’s most active volcanoes and has been erupting for several million years. It has more than 400 craters, split all over the Catania County. We drove though several Sicilian towns and visited some old lava flows. We went up 7,000 feet and walked the Silestri craters. On our way back down Mount Etna we came across a herd of the cutest goats!
Our last night was very special. We had a wonderful dinner hosted by the Grand Hotel Timeo. During dinner Mount Etna had an eruption complete with lava! It was stunning to see and quite beautiful.
Our journey through Italy has come to an end but I will always remember fondly the new friends I made, the new places I visited and the experiences we shared as a group. I am excited to share my experiences and knowledge with my clients. Thank you Brownell fro this opportunity!