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Friday, March 31, 2006

Tuscan Hideaway: Truffle Hunting at a B&B

In honor of or our March issue, a special report on Tuscan hideaways, we asked friends of Dream of Italy to tell us about their favorite spots in Tuscany. Seth Zurer of Select Italy recommends:

The Ankhura is a spectacular family-run farmhouse bed and breakfast perched right in the middle of Senese countryside. Our three-night package lets guests bask in the flavors of Southern Tuscany, with a guided truffle-hunt (assisted by Ugo, the wonder dog), a gourmet cooking class and optional visit to Italy's only truffle museum in nearby San Giovanni d'Asso, complete with a giant-sized walk-through model truffle. The three-night package costs $698.00 per person.

Tuscan Hideaway: Villa in Montalcino

Sheri Levitt and Naomi Finkelstein of The Villa People recommend:

Our recommended Tuscan hideaway is "Casa "R" in Montalcino (the home of Brunello wine) The villa is breathtaking in that it is nestled totally within the center of a vineyard and boasts 360-degree views. Each room has its own special feature such as fireplace, Juliet balcony or terrace.Typically charming and inspiring Tuscan kitchen and infinity pool, complete this vacation oasis. Sleeps eight.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

March Issue - Tuscan Hideaways

Our March issue is out and doubles as a special report on Tuscan hideaways. If you're not a subscriber and would like to buy this single issue, buy it this week and you will save $2. You can buy an immediate download or a hard copy mailed to your home. Here are the features that paid subscribers will be reading:

  • Salt, Sand, Serenity: A Tuscan Seaside Spa
  • This Historic Villa Takes 'Top Dog' Honors
  • Travel Experts Reveal Their Favorite Hideaways
  • Where to Buy Tuscan Real Estate
  • Rachael Ray's Wedding Castle
  • Golfer's Paradise: Villa Rental with Private Course
  • Maremma: Where the Tuscan Cowboys Roam

In honor of this special issue we have asked friends of Dream of Italy to tell us about their favorite spots in Tuscany. See a few suggestions below and we will be posting more in the coming days....

Monday, March 27, 2006

Tuscan Hideaway: Castelletto Di Montebenichi

In honor of or our March issue, a special report on Tuscan hideaways, we asked friends of Dream of Italy to tell us about their favorite spots in Tuscany. This recommendation is from Rosanne Cofoid of La Dolce Via Travel:

Castelletto Di Montebenichi is an enchanting little hotel (just 10 rooms), in the center of a medieval hamlet that was once a fortress, has been created in a 12th century tower. Located high on a hill above a valley in Tuscany, 28 km from Siena, Montebenichi is only a few km from the train station, offering convenient transportation to Florence. Comprised of private houses and one small restaurant, this quiet village is made entirely of stone.

The Castelletto opened as a hotel in 1998 and features rooms with original frescoes, a loggia where a bountiful breakfast is served, and sitting rooms filled with valuable antiques. Each room has a name, each has antique furnishings, and each is different in layout and decor. There is a beautiful swimming pool with a view overlooking the Tuscan valley, located outside the walls ofthe village that the owners have built exclusively for the enjoyment of guests of the hotel.

Tuscan Hideaway: L'Andana

In honor of our March issue, a special report on Tuscan hideaways, we asked friends of Dream of Italy to tell us about their favorite spots in Tuscany. This recommendation is from Anna Maria Sorrentino of Shop, Wine and Dine:

Maremma's uncompromising beauty , with its expanse of sweet rolling hills, stretches of dense pine woods, olive groves and vineyards is the picture perfect setting for Alain Ducasse' l'Andana. Formerly the residence of Duke Leopold II, l'Andana provides an authentic view and feel for southwestern Tuscany's life and rich traditions. Its d├ęcor in complete harmony with its surroundings, is the embodiment of understated elegance.

Impeccable service, poolside relaxation, golf, horse-back riding, spa treatments and exquisite cuisine, are just some of the reasons one must experience this beautiful oasis. L'Andana's strategic location also provides easy access to estates producing some of Tuscany's most coveted wines such as Ornellaia, Sassicaia and Morellino di Scanzano, all a perfect complement to the bountiful local cuisine. (Rooms start at 325 euros per night.)

New Budget Fights to/from/within Italy Launch This Week

According to BizTravelLife, today Virgin Express starts three weekly Boeing 737 flights from its Brussels hub to Palermo, Sicily. Wednesday, Virgin Express starts three weekly Boeing 737 flights from its Brussels hub to Palermo, Sicily. And on Friday, Ryanair begins four weekly Boeing 737 flights from London/Stansted to Parma.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Interested in Learning Italian On Your Own?

I received an e-mail today from a fellow travel writer who is looking for someone who doesn't currently speak Italian but would like to begin learning. Perhaps in preparation for a summer trip?

She would like that person to try a particular brand of books and tapes (she will be provide them and you are free to keep them as compensation) and report back to her in about 30 days with his/her impressions.

Sounds like a good deal to me! (UPDATE: We have enough volunteers! Thanks for your enthusiasm!)

Thursday, March 23, 2006

March Sponsors

The following companies have made Dream of Italy possible:

Casale Sonnino - 18th century villa outside of Rome

Chiantionline - olive oil from the heart of Tuscany

Dream of Italy Designs - fine Venetian glass jewelry created by the masters

Italia Rail - book your train tickets before you travel to Italy

Kublai - this Italy-based travel agency can handle all aspects of your trip

La Dolce Via Travel - custom trip-planning services for all areas of Italy

Villa Romano - beautiful Italian decor and gifts; trips to Tuscany

RSS & Travel to Italy

I have soooooo much work to finish tonight and I should be writing, but I just discovered the wonderful world of RSS and I'm now obsessed! I knew what RSS was before today BUT never downloaded a reader. Well, I have a reader (Google) and have even set up this blog with a RSS feed:

Join the fun and subscribe to a RSS feed from the Dream of Italy Blog!

Mussolini's Villa Opens to Public

After $6 million of renovations to restore decades of decay, Rome's Villa Torlonia, the home of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini and his family from 1925 to 1943, has opened to the public. Visitors will be able to see the the hidden bunkers and anti-gas chamber Il Duce constructed.

According to the AP, "While restoring the chamber, archeologists discovered it was built over a second-century Christian tomb, where they found three bodies. The area was a common burial ground in Roman times, housing mainly the sprawling underground corridors of one of six Jewish catacombs in the city."

Visits require reservations and take place in small guided tours. For more information, call (39) 6 6488991. The villa is surrounded by noteworthy gardens.

Starhotels Offers Spring Cultural Excursions

From April 14 to May 7, 2006, select Starhotels properties in Florence, Rome and Naples will be offering artistic excursions with every two-night stay. Guests can take in Modigliani (painting to the right) exhibit in Rome, the "Mythology and Erotica" show in Florence or a display of Titian's paintings in Naples.

In Rome, reserve a room at either Starhotels Michelangelo or Starhotels Metropole and with your two-night stay, you will also get two tickets to the Amadeo Modigliani exhibit at the Vittoriano Museum in downtown Rome features oil paintings, watercolors, drawings and one sculpture from the famous 20th century painter and sculptor.

The Museo degli Argenti in Florence 's Pitti Palace is the site Mythology and Erotica, running until the end of May. The exhibit showcases paintings, sculptures and sketches ofmythological and erotic poses and acts, including works dating from the first century B.C. to the 18th century. A two-night stay at any of Starhotels ' three Florentine properties, the Michelangelo, the Tuscany or the Vespucci, will gain entry for two into the museum. (Visiting Florence? Check out Dream of Italy's Special Report: Florence)

Naples will be the host of the exhibit Titian and the Italian Portrait of the 16th Century at its Capodimonte National Museum of Art. The paintings, on loan from various cultural organizations worldwide, highlight much of the work the artist created for the Pontiff family in the 16th century. The Starhotels Terminus will be offering two tickets to the exhibit with a minimum two-night stay. (You will want to try Neapolitan pizza. Read about the best pizzerias in Dream of Italy's October 2005 issue.)

Also included in the package deals are an American buffet breakfast, free accommodations for children under 16 when staying in their parents ' room, a delayed checkout time and a free Italian daily newspaper. For reservations, call (800) 816-6001 or visit www.starhotels.com

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Joe Knows... Flying to Italy

As I mentioned in a previous post, travel industy experts are predicting a busy summer for travel to Europe. Yet, seats on planes to Italy always seem to be at a premium during the summer. When it comes to anything airline related, I always turn to my friend Joe Brancatelli of Joesentme.com (by the way, members of his site get a special deal on susbcriptions to Dream of Italy). The following are Joe's tips for securing summer plane tickets to Italy:

  • Look for a connecting flight. Obvious best cases: London, which has immense service from the U.S. and lots of good connections throughout Italy. Dublin is also good in the cities where Aer Lingus flies (Chicago, NY, Boston, LA) because of its flat, fairer fare structure.
  • Delay. Delay. Delay. Avoid the summer months, where travel to the beach destinations and Tuscany are impossible. As you suggested last year, Rome in summer is a bargain, but, as I've said, Rome in summer is a tourist trap, not really Rome. I'd wait for the November 1-December 15 window and the Jan 1-March 1, 2007 window.
  • Understand the wacky realities of Italy. Almost all U.S. service goes through Milan and Rome, which are both relatively empty in peak summer months. But the flights are full because everyone headed north or south starts there. So empty big cities in summer do not mean empty flights TO those cities.
  • Fly business class. Continental has already launched its summer sale and it will bring the price of flying to Rome up front under $2,000 roundtrip. Since coach flying could be $1,100 or $1,200 the couple of extra bucks is WELL WORTH the cost.

P.S. - Besides "flying," Joe also knows Rome. I hope to get him to share some of his latest finds in the Eternal City.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Mickey on the Med

Is Europe ready for this? I'm not sure. But at least they will have more than a year's warning. That's right folks, Mickey Mouse is hitting the Mediterranean. Disney Cruises announced today that it will offer 10- and 11-night Mediterranean cruises on Disney Magic during the summer of 2007. Italian ports of call include: La Spezia (Florence), Civitavecchia (Rome), Naples and Olbia (Sardinia).

I may be making fun of Mickey (shame on me as I visited Disney World more times than I count while growing up) but Disney is only jumping on the Med cruise bandwagon. More and more cruise lines are offering Mediterranean sailings, even Carnival Cruises entered the market last year. And trust me, while visiting European ports, I have actually seen a few passengers far cheesier than Mr. Mouse.

Disney's itineraries depart from Barcelona -- also a trend for Med sailings. I believe Barcelona is only second to Miami in the amount of cruise traffic in and out of its port. Starting rates for the Disney itineraries range from $2,399 to $3,499, based on double occupancy.

Cruising can be a great way to see multiple European countries as well as explore Italy. If you're looking for something a bit more upscale, consider Silversea. I sailed with them two summers ago (you can read about in the September/October 2003 issue of Dream of Italy) and it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Book Early for Summer Travel to Italy

USA TODAY is among the media outlets reporting that summer travel to Europe looks to be up over past years, with travel to Italy especially popular. (Why? Dollar more stable, Olympics coverage provided PR.) Travel reporter Laura Bly featured yours truly in her article Friday.

Laura's query got me thinking about what travelers can do now to get ahead of the crowds and make their summer trips to Italy more enjoyable. I will jot down a few ideas now -- and bring you some suggestions from friends of Dream of Italy in the coming days:

Booking flights: There never seems to be enough seat capacity for summer flights to Italy. That means book as early as possible. It can pay to look into new/seasonal flights being added this year as they only recently opened up for booking. This is particularly true if you are using miles -- a hint I always follow -- much easier to find seats on new routes that started taking reservations a year ago.

We detailed some of the new services in the February issue:
  • Delta starts flights between Atlanta and Venice June 6
  • Delta started seasonal service between Cincinnati and Rome March 1
  • US Airways starts daily service between Philly and Milan May 30
Then of course there's Eurofly - the airline that brought seasonal service to the U.S. last year. They're adding flights from New York's Kennedy to Rome. They already had flights between Kennedy and Bologna, Naples and Palermo.This will help with capacity and what a nice change to have direct flights from the U.S. to southern Italy.

Ground transportation: In terms of rental cars, automatic transmission (favored by Americans) cars will be in demand. Travelers will want to book some of their train travel ahead of time ESPECIALLY if they are traveling on summer weekends or ANYTIME during the month of August (when Italians vacation en masse). Italia Rail (a DOI sponsor) sells Italian train tickets to the North American market.

Note: Our friends at Italia Rail just came through with a nice offer for Dream of Italy subscribers. Buy any rail pass before April 30, 2006 and receive a 5% rebate. Log-in for details on how to claim the rebate.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Brangelina to Wed in Italy This Weekend?

There's a distinct buzz in the air at Lake Como today. Rumors are rampant that Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt will tie the knot there this weekend, either at pal George Clooney's lakeside home in Laglio or at the luxurious Villa d' Este Hotel.

The Associated Press spoke to the wife of Laglio's mayor who said, "There's a lot of movement at the villa, a lot of people there." She also noted that her husband would be happy to marry the couple even with just an hour's notice. Hmm...

Win a Trip to Italy!

My friend and fellow travel writer Barbara Benham has come up with a fantastic concept for a blog -- travel contests. In addition to giving the details of various contests, Barbara shares some of her vast travel knowledge in each blog entry. Italophiles listen up! Barbara has found two contests offering a trip to Italy as the prize. One will send you to the 2007 World Pizza Championships (yum!) and the other on a weekend getaway to Rome. Buona fortuna!

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Preview: Dream of Italy's March Issue

I am having a blast editing our March issue -- a special report on "Tuscan Hideaways." We've scoured Tuscany for little-known gems -- hotels, villa rentals, vacation experiences, real estate. The good news is that not all of Tuscany has been overrun by tourists, you just need to know where to look...

Our March issue is out next week and here's what paid subscribers can look forward to reading:
  • With a Legacy Featuring Michelangelo and Machiavelli, This New Villa Hotel is Top Dog
  • Saltwater + Seaside +Serenity = Sumptious Tuscan Spa
  • Rachael Ray's Wedding Castle
  • A Golfer's Paradise: Villa Rental Featuring a Private 18-Hole Course
  • Riding with Tuscan Cowboys
  • Buying Your Own (Affordable) Tuscan Hideaway

Monday, March 13, 2006

Italy May Be Crowded This Summer

The New York Times reports that summer bookings for travel to Europe are way up over last year. If you're planning to visit Italy this summer, plan ahead to get the best flights and accommodations. Here's what the Times says:

Among Europe's capitals, Rome, above, is expected to be particularly popular. The city was ranked No. 1 among European cities and No. 6 among international destinations booked so far by Americans in 2006, according to a survey of 363 Carlson Wagonlit Travel associates in the United States, up from No. 9 last year and No. 11 in 2004.

Friday, March 10, 2006

In Case You Missed It...February Issue

The February 2006 issue of Dream of Italy is now posted on the Web site and can be downloaded by paid subscribers. Here are some of the articles in this issue:
  • On The Road with St. Francis of Assisi
  • An Insider's Cheat Sheet to Milan
  • Rome Film Festival Slated for Fall
  • New Hotel Joins Capri's Posh Line-Up
  • Airlines Announce New Flights Between U.S. and Italy

Sound interesting? You can buy a copy of this issue only (save $2.00) or subscribe and receive access to this issue as well as 30 other back issues and 10 future issues AND receive a Torino 2006 pin as our thank you!

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Back in Action!

Torino was so intense, we had to take a rest after the trip, but we're back and will be blogging about "all things Italian travel." So check back a few times a week and we'll have new tanatalizing travel tidbits for you!