In early September, my wife and I found a deal on business class flights. We got two business class seats to Venice for less than $6000! Italy here we come! We knew where we wanted to go – Venice, Florence, Rome – but weren’t sure how long to spend at each place. Solution: relax, play it by ear, book hotels a few days in advance, and use the train or rent a car to get from city to city. It worked! I wouldn’t try it during high season, though.

Business class on Turkish Air was excellent! The meals and service were great, and we got about 5 hours of sleep, which left us ready for a full day of Venetian sights. Ah, those iconic images of Venice: a lone gondolier gliding atop a gold and pink reflection of the evening sky, or arched stone bridges joining narrow, twisting passageways that disappear behind tall, pastel buildings. Venice is, simply, a stunning city. Please take my advice and gain the gondola perspective of this city. Just lay back and cruise through the canals. You’ll thank me for it.

Gondola Ride in Venice, Italy

The historic and lavish Hotel Danieli, with expansive views of Saint Mark’s Basin, was the perfect resting place for our two-night stay. Only two nights, you ask? Yes. You see, Venice, for all its uniqueness and attractive character, is also quite small. Much of this city can be covered in a day. By the end of day two, we had folded up the map and were well off the beaten path. We had heard about the incredible restaurants in the Jewish quarter and were looking to leave the tourists behind. Success! We found Osteria Al Bacco and Gam Gam – one for dinner, the other for lunch the next day. We were enamored with Venice, but call of Florence was too strong to stay… We boarded the train.


Two and a half hours later, a limo service collected us from the train station and delivered us to the Savoy, located walking distance from nearly everything you want to see in Florence. Honestly, there’s no better hotel if your goal is to see the great Florentine works of art and architecture. We stayed close the first two days, seeing everything around the Piazza Duomo and the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. On the advice of friends, we bought the Florence City Pass, which allowed us to by-pass massive lines at all the city’s attractions. Trust me: the Florence City Pass is worth it!


By day three we had decided to extend our stay in Florence. We were glad we did; we were able to see everything we wanted – Galleria dell’Accademia, Palazzo Vecchio, Palazzo Pitti, Giardino di Boboli and a performance of Gregorian Chants at San Miniato al Monte. In all, we stayed six days in Florence. Not only does this Renaissance city offer so much to see and do, but it’s also the perfect launch pad for Tuscan tours.


On day five, we headed to San Gimignano for a wine tasting at Castello di Brolio. This historic winery is famous for its Chianti Classic – and rightly so. Neither of us are wine experts by any stretch, but we left the gorgeous hilltop estate of Castello di Brolio with a much deeper knowledge of the history, culture, and production of wine. Fascinating! And delicious!


From here we headed south through Siena for Rome. Siena is a must-see Tuscan town. Sadly, we only spent a few hours here (but we will return); my wife was ready to hit Rome: “History and culture are well and good but if we can take that in while shopping at Rome’s hot spots, then why not get there early.” I couldn’t argue with that logic.


You’ve probably gathered by now that hotel location is our top consideration when traveling. That is why we booked Hotel Splendide Royal in Rome. It’s walking distance to Villa Borghese (I love their Caravaggios and selection of sculpture), the Pantheon, Spanish Steps, and of course Via dei Condotti, the street featuring Dior, Bulgari, Louis Vuitton, Max Mara and many more. The hotel itself is beautiful – stained-glass windows, marble floors, elegant lighting. It’s a virtual showpiece all on its own, and its restaurant, the Mirabelle, provides the best view of the Roman skyline.


We hit as many cultural landmarks as we could. The Colosseum, Palatine Hill, and Vatican City, which was so crowded we cut our visit short, were tops on the list.  But Rome’s list is rather long. We stayed five days total and that was not long enough. It’s hard not to fall in love with Rome. I think my favorite activity was just walking through the city and uncovering a lively piazza or massive architectural ruin. Our evening wanderings led us to many a patio bar where we could just sit, chat, and meet locals and other tourists. Rome casts a spell on the unassuming traveler. We intend to return next year.