I’ll be honest: I’m not much of a “car guy.” I’ve never changed a flat tire or leafed...
Our Room with Two Views
Join my daughter and me on a splendid journey through Italy, with lodgings in some of the country’s finest hotels.
Our bags are the very last ones off the carousel. By now the line in the Venice airport to purchase water taxi tickets is lengthy. We had nearly missed our connection in London’s Heathrow this morning, following an overnight flight from the U.S. I turn to my daughter, Elizabeth, to see tears streaming below her sunglasses. She’s tired, overwhelmed. “Oh, honey, it’s all going to be fine and fabulous,” I say (and hope). Her first trip to Italy is off to a choppy start. The public transportation service boat is packed, hot and makes several stops before we arrive at the heart of Venice, Piazza San Marco or St. Mark’s Square, which is crowded.
“It’s going to be a breeze from here, surely,” I think as we lug our bags from the boat in search of the Hotel Cipriani dock. And voila. Within minutes the speedy private motorboat arrives to whisk us in style across the lagoon to the famed Orient Express hotel, situated on its own island. Framed by gardens, the hotel exudes a peacefulness not easily found on the busy streets of Venice.
It’s a destination within a destination, one of several we would enjoy on this trip aimed to accommodate two different styles of travelers. I’m from the school of go and see and do – and sleep only when you must – while my 26-year-old daughter is more inclined to kick back and relax.
I prefer trips. She likes vacations.
In a nod to her preference (and to dry her tears), we officially begin our stay in Venice with a late and leisurely lunch outdoors near the Olympic-sized pool at the hotel before heading back across the canal. We begin our adventures at Piazza San Marco. Armed with guidebooks (and cameras), we explore the narrow streets and bridges where gondolas meander the canals and laundry hangs from second-story windows.
At the Cipriani, our days begin late and leisurely (the vacation part) over a fabulous buffet breakfast served al fresco with a view of the sparkling canal and the architectural lace of Venice across the way. For the seeing and doing, we spend fantastic days exploring the incredibly beautiful (but very busy) city of Venice, as well as the distant (and less tourist-populated) islands of Burano and Torcello.
Next up, Florence. My list of things to see and do in this magical city filled with art and architecture is indeed long (the trip part). We head first for Villa San Michel, another Orient Express hotel and a former 15th-century monastery nestled above Florence in the hills of Fiesole. As we alight from the cab, Elizabeth says, “Can’t we just STAY here?” Were it not Florence, I would agree. » The hotel is incredibly lovely and peaceful, a work of history and art in its own right. Its façade is attributed to Michelangelo. Our room with a view overlooks exquisite gardens.
But there is work to be done. Sights to be seen. Photographs to be taken. After a soothing cup of tea, we return to the heart of Florence. Crowds are not as thick here as in Venice. The art, the architecture, the history are absolutely stunning. And a couple of street markets provide reasonable shopping opportunities, rife with beautiful leather, jewelry, scarves and sundry other treasures.
We continue our new tradition of a relaxed start to our days with the divine breakfast buffet, and we take a seat on the loggia. Florence lies below us, its signature Duomo centering the vista. We’ve established a pattern that works for both of us: a vacation-esque breakfast followed by fast-paced and thorough sightseeing, the pinnacle of which is Michelangelo’s mesmerizing David. Unlike Venice, where we loitered in the evenings, we head back to Villa San Michel at the end of the day to savor the peace. The sliver of moon is suspended in a star-lit sky. The Italian garden flickers with candlelight. A grand piano accompanies the tinkle of china and crystal as diners savor meals as artful as they are divine.
In an unprecedented move on our second of three nights here, I say, “Let’s just not leave the property tomorrow. This place is too beautiful, plus it’s a piece of history, architecture and art in its own right.” You would think Elizabeth had won the lottery. An entire day of vacation ahead! We relish it, beginning with our now traditional leisurely breakfast, followed by a day at the heavenly pool perched at the pinnacle of a hill. The views are spectacular. The weather is perfect in this piece – and peace – of paradise. “She may be onto something, this vacation business,” I think.
Next up, a train ride to Naples where a car fetches us for a curvy, two-hour, scenic drive to Ravello, a tiny gem of a village dramatically suspended above the Amalfi Coast. Arrival at Hotel Caruso is reminiscent of another of my favorite Orient Express destinations, Hotel Monasterio in Cuzco, Peru. Situated on a narrow cobblestone side street, just as in Cuzco, this grand (but much smaller) hotel is immediately welcoming. Formerly an 11th-century palace, Caruso underwent a US$30 million restoration before opening in 2005. Its view is priceless. The restoration uncovered intricately beautiful frescos on par with others we have seen in cathedrals and art museums.
We savor a cup of tea and a magnum of a view before walking the scant steps into the heart of Ravello. The village is small; the piazza populated by kids playing soccer and a bride and groom who have just exchanged vows in the 11th-century cathedral. We begin our second day with leisurely breakfast al fresco. The view competes with the food. A stroll into Ravello offers opportunities to tour magnificent gardens and browse thorough shops on cobblestone streets. On our third and final day here, I’m off to neighboring Positano, while Elizabeth opts to spend her day at the dramatic infinity pool, perched at the edge of forever.
Last, but certainly not least, we travel to Chianti, near Siena, to Castel Monastero. Opened in July 2009, this former medieval village, surrounded by vineyards and olive groves, is absolutely lovely, peaceful and surprisingly remote. The two restaurants here feature the food of famed British Chef Gordon Ramsay. Frankly, there seems little reason to leave. We spend a couple of lazy, beautiful, sunlit days enjoying fabulous food, the deserted piazza and three black-bottom pools.
Our two weeks in Italy offered us both a myriad of treasures, while we each came to treasure the other’s style. Elizabeth embraced sightseeing (art, history, architecture). I came to appreciate vacation days, leisurely spent.
MORE INFORMATION www.hotelcipriani.com