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CIT - Europe with the best of Italy & France

 
                      

Team Member on Tour

April 2012: NZ - Dubai - France - Italy - NZ


DUBAI (U.A.E)
1 night: Dubai
Flora Creek Hotel

(Ancient Kingdoms)
 
Our hotel                           Our room                         Dubai by night                   Deira City Shopping Mall
   
The hotel is very close to the airport - only 15 minutes by car, which was a nice surprise.  The suites are huge, with a kitchen and bathroom with a bath! which was wonderful after the long flight.
The tour operators were great - I got quite sick, and had to spend some time at the Medical Centre in Dubai Airport on arrival, and they kept in touch with us and rearranged our transfer - nothing was a problem.
It was great to be able to check into our hotel as soon as we arrived - I can really recommend the 24 hour check-in system.  The fabulous Deira City Center Shopping Mall was a 1 minute stroll away, and we had a lovely meal and a great time window shopping there.
 
FRANCE
Peugeot 207 Eurolease
(CIT Italy)

our baby                   interior               1cm parking-on a corner!      at Tuscany villa          zebra crossing parking
   
What a great car the Peugeot 207 is - heaps of room for luggage and is surprisingly roomy.  We had my sister and her partner join us for 4 days in Tuscany, and they had no complaints about the room in the rear seats - even though my husband it 6 foot 5. 
The drivers and parking in both France and Italy is crazy, so having such a small car is vital.   On locking the car the mirrors automatically turn flat to the car which is so necessary with the parking situation - you literally park with only 1 cm to spare on each side of the car in a lot of cases
We found that zebra crossings were much sort after parking areas with the locals, and parking 2 deep was also common!!
As my husband had lived in Auckland he was able to drive on the Autostrada while I was happy to drive in the towns.  It doesn't take long to get used to driving on the 'wrong' side of the road, but we were a bit stressed for the first few days.  Having the car was ideal for tootling round Tuscany, but occasionally we left it behind and travelled by train or bus for a change of pace.
Both the pick-up in Nice and the drop-off in Rome went well - staff were friendly and helpful and most importantly spoke English.
We didn't like the GPS in the car - next time I would bring my TomTom from home
.
My Tips to other potential drivers is to (1) do your homework before you leave New Zealand - find out about the various types of roads, getting petrol, road signage, parking etc, and (2) upgrade to an automatic car, and I'm glad we did, as we had enough to cope with, without having to do manual gear changes.  Driving was definitely a 2 man job - the co driving was as important as the driving.  My husband needed me to advise what the GPS was doing, and tell him when to turn.  It can be very tricky getting on and off the Autostrada's - particularly with the ring roads - so you really had to concentrate.
 
Nice

1 night: Nice
Hotel Mercure
Grimaldi 3*
(CIT Italy)

    
Promenade des Anglais        Our Hotel                        Our room           Old town Nice        Street scene
This hotel is in a perfect position - only 2 blocks from the Promenade des Anglais, and a 20 minute walk to the Old Town.  We met some people who had arrived by train, and they said it was only a 20 minute stroll from the Train Station.  The hotel did not have their own parking, but there was a public car park 2 blocks away (cost EUR23 per day).  The hotel itself is a bit old fashioned, but the rooms have been refurbished and we had a BATH in our room! (quite rare in parts of Europe).  We had a full breakfast here (not just a Continental Breakfast) which was a good start to a day of sightseeing.  There was a great young guy in reception, who was very helpful.
Nice is a very funky town with some great shops and restaurants, but the highlights for us was strolling along the Promenade des Anglais and visiting the Old Town.

 
ITALY   
   
San Remo

1 night: San Remo
Miramare Continental
Palace 4*
(CIT Italy)

       
Our hotel                 Street scene              View from our room      San Remo Rally
This was an absolutely beautiful grand hotel - a bit of a 'faded lady'  in a glorious setting with stunning views from our balcony, and free parking!  I'm very glad we stayed here.  It was fascinating to wander through the hotel and the grounds (with some ancient Palms and other trees).  The room had a huge bed with lovely linen.
When we wandered into town we stumbled across the San Remo Rally finish line - I have never seen so many Porsche's together at the same time - it was absolutely fascinating.  After that we wandered into the old part of time, which had no cars, and had a lovely time promenading with the locals and having a coffee.  It was very festive in the lead up to Easter.

 
Recco

1 night: Recco
Hotel Elena

   
            Our Hotel              Beautiful Rapallo         1st Pizza          Recco train station      Recco views
We stayed in Recco and visited Rapallo for family reasons.  CIT did not have properties in Recco (it is only a small fishing village) so we booked this ourselves on the internet.  We were a bit concerned, but all went smoothly.  Both these places are on the Liguarian coast, and very very close to the Cinque Terre.  We ended up taking a train from Rapallo to Manarola which was MUCH better than driving.  We found a lovely seafood restaurant close to our hotel - this was our first experience of a non english speaking staff and menu - which was a bit daunting with only 4 Italian lessons under our belt and our trusty phrase book!  Rapello is a very beautiful and prosperous place with a lovely seafront area for promenading, shopping and eating.  Recco was a lot smaller but also very picturesque .. and most importantly for us free parking!
   

Cinque Terre 


1 night: Manarola
Hotel Marina Piccola 3*
(CIT Italy)

  
         Our hotel                   Main street        Water front   Padlocks on Via Dell'Amore     Beautiful Manarola
We caught a train to and from Manarola from Rapello - which was a scenic 1.10 hours.  Lots of people in walking gear got on at all the stops along the way, so the train was full by the time we arrived in Manarola.  It was a very short walk from the station through the tunnel, and then down the main street to our hotel (which is the closest one to the water front).  Our room was small, but beautiful, with a balcony onto the main street.  Great for people watching!  It was a lovely sunny day, so we sat out and read for a while before wandering up and down the town exploring all it had to offer.  I only wish we had longer here.  It was so peaceful once the day trippers had gone.  The family who ran the hotel also owned the waterfront restaurant, and we had an absolutely fabulous meal here.  One of the best, and definitely the cheapest one we had in Italy.  After our meal we wandered out onto the Via Dell'Amore again to watch the sun set.  There is such a beautiful light at that time of day so I took heaps of photos.  We had a very early train the following day, so the owners arranged to open up the breakfast room early for us so we could have something to eat before we left - very kind. I would definitely recommend both Manarola and this hotel to anyone visiting the Cinque Terre.
 
Venice

2 nights: Venice
Hotel Orion 2*
(CIT Italy)
    
travelling light    Doges Palace           Venice mist...             and rain..      and sun on Grand Canal
We arrived in Venice by train (EUR43 each return) as the carparks were full because it was so close to Easter.  It was very easy to step out of the station and jump onto a vaporetto (EUR6.50) for a cruise along the grand canal to St. Marks Square.  What a lovely trip - I couldn't help myself, I took heaps of photos.  Our hotel was only 1 minute walk from St. Marks, so in the midst of everything.  We are right behind a church and next to a Ferrari and Cartier shop, with a gelato shop virtually outside our door.  Ideally situated for both shopping and sightseeing.  I was a bit apprehensive about staying at a 2* hotel in Venice, but because of our budget and this hotel's position we went ahead.  What a winner this hotel was - an absolute gem - it really should have a higher star rating.  It gets very very cold in Venice in the evening and morning because of the sea mist, so we wrapped up warmly and ventured out along the water front to the 'tail' of Venice and a meal in the Castello area.  The following day we visited the Rialto Bridge, the Seafood Markets, the Jewish Quarter and lots of churches and 'campos' in the Santa Croche area.  We took a guided tour (EUR30 each) of the Doges Palace, which also allowed us to see the inside of the "Bridge of Sighs" and adjacent prison.  We learnt such a lot from our tourguide, and would recommend this to everyone visiting Venice. Unfortunately due to a strike the day before, and huge queues on our second day we did not manage to get inside the St. Marks Basilica.
   
Bologna

2 nights: Bologna
Hotel Astoria 3*
(CIT Italy)
  
old town                Our hotel at night    Neptune's Fountain          portici                   Piazza Maggiore
Well, it was fun getting to this hotel from the Autostrada - Bologna is a very BUSY city.  We chose this hotel for it's position, and also because it has an internal guarded carpark (EUR12 per night).  I absolutely loved Bologna - the old city is fascinating, and everything is in the lovely red brick.  We stayed here both before and after our time in Venice, so left our bags and the car with the hotel.  Again helpful staff, great breakfasts, and a huge bed.  I thought the hotel was expensive - but because there are so many "Fairs" in this city all the hotels are expensive.  The hotel was only a 7 minute walk to the Train Station, and 10 minutes to the old town and Piazza Maggiore.  Found a leaning tower, lots of beautiful churches, fountains and buildings (all with covered 'portici'), and heaps of shops, bars and restaurants.  A very trendy city with lots of young people.  Had a great breakfast at the hotel here with fresh squeezed blood orange juice.
   
Tuscany Villa

7 nights: Tuscany
Podere Campinovi
(CIT Italy)

    
        farm cat                           courtyard                                   our accommodation
The Podere Campinovi is a beautiful villa in a beautiful spot.  It was lovely to have a week in one place, and a great base for day trips to other places in Tuscany.  During our time here we visited Pisa, Lucca, Volterra, Sienna and Florence.  Our villa had two bedrooms and two bathrooms, and had been done up to a very high standard - the best of everything.  We were missing our cat back in Christchurch, so appreciated the company of the 3 farm cats.  Two were wild cats, but the large black and white tom (who we christened "Antonio") loved to keep us company.  Read more ....here
 

Day Trip:
Pisa & Lucca


Pisa Duomo                     Leaning Tower           Dip,p                    Lucca Piazza Anfiteatro          Lucca cycling
Lucca is a lovely old town completely surrounded by walls/ramparts.  We took the advice of everyone we talked to, and hired bicycles at EUR3 per hour and set off to cycle round the park on top of the walls.  Lots of walkers and joggers, and a lovely way to literally get an overview of the town.  Checked out a few churches, side streets etc before having lunch and handing the bikes back in. 
We then set off for Pisa, finding a car park within 1 minute walk to the large area where everything is situated.  What a breathtaking sight - the Tower, Baptistry and Duomo all so close together.  We had great fun strolling round and taking lots of pictures.  Because we got there late in the day the queues were long, so we didn't get to go inside (but I have been to Pisa before and walked up the leaning tower).  Got home at 7 pm (Lucca is 126k from Colle di Val d'Elsa..so a big day trip, but oh so worth it!)


Day Trip:
Florence


River Arno                            David              Rooftops                             First View        Bobili Gardens      
We both loved Florence, and wished we had allowed more than one full day of sightseeing.  We decided to have a break from driving, and take the train.  However, due to not being able to find the train station easily and missing the train we took a bus - which ended up being quicker and much more scenic.  There is so much to see and do in Florence - but we made time to visit the Bobili Gardens as well as the "must see's" - a green oasis in the midst of a busy and vibrant city.
Day Trip:
Siena
     
Rooftop view                         Sienna streets   Cathedral               close up of building                         
Found a great underground parking lot just over the road from the train station.  You come out from the parking building near an escalator (actually there are 5 in a row) that takes you all the way to the old town - what a bonus!!!.  It was Easter Monday, so it was very crowded, but even with the huge crowds we loved Sienna.  The Palazzo del Campo is a great place to eat Pizza and people watch.  We visited the beautiful Cathedral of Santa Maria which was fascinating inside - all black and white marble.  Because you cannot take photos inside churches I bought some postcards, and then a whole book on Tuscany.  Lots of fountains, churches, squares and quaint little side streets to explore and photograph.
Day Trip:
Chianti Valley

   
A beautiful drive (hilly and very very twisty), and some lovely scenery and towns to visit.  It was pouring with rain this day, and because it was the Easter weekend most things were closed, but we got a sense of the area.  You need to book wine tasting visits in advance as there only two wineries that have 'cellar door' outlets (very different to NZ when you just rock up).
Day Trip:
San Gimignano

12k from our Villa
     
    Basking in the sun              Town Gate                   Square              Towers                  View from walls
The sun came out today, so I have very fond memories of beautiful San Gimignano and the countryside around it.  After finding a parking lot near the old town we wandered up and around the beautiful streets and gardens (with harp and guitar players and masses of wisteria) before arriving at the two main squares - Piazza della Cisterna and Palazzo del Popola.  The rooftops and towers were lovely.  The whole city is well maintained, and as Easter had just finished it was not at all crowded, which added to our enjoyment.  Paid EUR3.50 for entry to the Collegiate church with its beautiful Frescos on every wall of the Church.  My sister walked up one of the towers, and her legs were still shaking 1/2 an hour later during our coffee stop.
Day Trip
Volterra


   
This is an amazing town and well worth a visit.  Unfortunately we had thunder storms and torrential rain on this day, so spent a lot of time in a great restaurant we found.  The plan of attack was to scuttle out when there was a break in the rain (not too often) for a quick zoom round the streets.  Unfortunately, being a hill city, the water was also running down the streets we were trying to walk on.  Gumboots would have been very welcome on this day.  The wind was so strong two of our umbrellas 'died' within minutes of being put up.  It was such a shame we had this weather, as it was difficult to see the view, but the post cards I bought showed me what we missed out on.  This is another town I would definitely recommend a visit to on a trip to Tuscany.  I would go back again to see the Roman Ruins (above)
 
Umbria - Perugia

1 night : Perugia
Hotel Ilgo 3*
(CIT Italy)
     
church/cinema !!        town square                  Our hotel                         fountain close up          old building
The weather was not kind to us in Perugia, the heavens opening (and not closing).  But even allowing for the 'greyness' and 'wetness', Perugia is a wonderful place to visit.  The Hotel Ilgo offers a transfer from the hotel to the base of the escalators & lifts which access the old town, both in the morning and afternoon (but if you want the exercise it is only a 10 minute walk)We came back to our lovely warm hotel after our afternoon sightseeing, hung all our wet clothes around the room and headed down to the restaurant for an authentic Italian meal.  This was the first time we had actually eaten in one of our hotels rather than finding something in the town, but we had a great meal without having to brave the weather again.
   
Day Trip:
Assisi

 
The access to Assisi by car is so stunning.  You drive down a wide road (a rarity in Italy) and directly up the hill to one of the numerous car parks.  We went straight to the church associated with St. Francis of Assisi, which has monks on hand to answer any questions you might have.  The tour is well worth it.  After a quick visit to the information centre, and armed with a map we wandered the streets to all the main sights before returning to our starting point for a lovely lunch.  Assisi was one of our favourite towns in Umbria.
 
Umbria - Orvieto

1 night: Orvieto
Hotel Villa Ciconia
4*

(CIT Italy)
   
breakfast room    Cathedral frontage        octagonal tower          Our room !                          Villa exterior
What a stunning town Orvieto is.  Unfortunately we had to sightsee this town in the pouring rain on the day we arrived, so we made sure to go back to the walled city the following morning (when the sun was out) before we left.  The accommodation was amazing - like living in a castle with huge rooms and four poster beds.  The place had a beautiful pool area and wisteria covered outdoor breakfast area that would be great to take advantage of in summer.
 

Rome


3 nights: Rome
Aurelia Vatican
Apartments

(CIT Italy)
        
 Castel Sant'Angelo   Our apartment        Vatican museum        Trevi Fountain          us @ colosseum          
Ross and I were a bit worried about the drive into Rome (surviving the manic traffic, the Autostrada del Sole and the Ring Roads) so we stayed the night in Lake Bracciano the night prior so we only had a short drive (33 km) in the morning.  We survived!!!, but were pleased to arrive.  The Aurelia Apartments are in a quiet suburb on the outskirts of Rome, so we had heaps of parking.  The apartments are lovely and modern, run by a Kiwi and an Australian who are fluent in Italian, and had a fountain full of turtles in the courtyard !!  The apartment is modern and spotless, and the staff were fantastic - they give each new guest a 20 minute overview that includes the apartment and what to see and do in Rome, backed up by a typed booklet of information.  We found it so useful.  Also, reception sells the EUR1 tickets you use on the metro or busses of Rome.  While we were in Rome it was the annual "Culture Week" so all museums had free entry!!! (the downside of this was that it seemed like every school kid in Europe was there that week).  We both absolutely loved the Vatican Museum and the Castel Sant'Angelo.


Our Tips
  • Book the Venice car park building at least 1 month in advance - even more in advance if it's round Easter or Carnival ..... we didn't!
  • Do lots of research ahead of your trip - on the website or with a Fromers or Lonely Planet book.
  • Don't expect lockers at all train stations.
  • If you're travelling in spring like us, expect rain and take warm layers & a good umbrella.
  • It's not a race to see everything in a new city - take time to have a great coffee or meal, or chill out in a scenic spot like a garden.  If you can catch a concert then do so...these are the things memories are made of.

   

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