Have you ever wanted to experience Italy authentically but you don't have the time to plan it?  Then the #BellaVita Guided Tour by Collette Travel is the way to go!

This post has been sponsored by Collette. All opinions, text and images are 100% my own. This is my 2nd tour with Collette and I'm excited to share my experience with everyone!

La Bella Vita:

Yes, that sums it up! Collette has put together an amazing trip as part of their “Explorations” tours that embodies just that. Here is the website description that nails it perfectly:

The allure of Italy beckons with saturated vistas that inspired the Masters. Discover a majestic wine country where vineyards dot the valleyed landscapes, calling you to enjoy the flavors of their soil ripe with vintage character. Discover Florence, birthplace of the Renaissance and home to Michelangelo’s David. On a Vespa, zoom through olive groves, hillsides and vineyards to a castle for a wine tasting. Learn to make pasta in Bologna and see the city your way – on foot or from the seat of a bicycle. Stop and celebrate the gastronomic adventures afforded by Bologna and Parma, and explore the Alps-laden Lake Como and its legendary villas. This is Northern Italy, where la bella vita is alive, well, and mandatory.

Yup, pretty much!  This 9 day / 8 night tour had it all going on and we were on the go quite a bit. Yet I still felt like we had plenty of time to enjoy the stops. The only difficult part was leaving each stop.

Visiting Italy in September

Our tour was from September 1-9 and began in Florence, ending in Lake Como (approx. 241 miles/388 km). While hot at times (ranging from 80-85 degrees), it was pleasant, sunny every day, and the only time it would get a little too hot was around 2pm, especially if there was no shade and a lot of crowds. As I mentioned in my Rome blogpost, the great thing about visiting Italy in late August/mid September .. not a lot of crowds!

Florence

Cradle of the Italian Renaissance,” home of the Medici, Gucci and il Duomo. This city (as with all of them) deserves at least 5 days. We had approximately 36 hours and we saw SO much including the nearby Chianti Rufina region and a tour of Castello del Trebbio, an amazing countryside castle that featured a Chianti wine cellar & surrounding olive groves.  We also had a chance to tour visit to the Galleria dell’Accademia (Gallery of the Academy) with a local guide, Marzia Valbonesi,  who provided an expertly-guided journey through the museum’s halls revealing perhaps the greatest collection of Renaissance art on Earth, not to mention Michelangelo’s marble masterpiece, the David. Just to be near such famous work was inspiring. Bonus: for all tours, the guide purchases tickets beforehand so there is very little waiting in line. If you are in Florence, you definitely want to tour with Marzia –  you can reach her at  marzia.valbonesi1@gmail.com

You know who.

Hotel Pierre – we stayed at this lovely & centrally located – literally sitting in the middle of so many fabulous sights & sounds. My room faced the main street and the clock tower – amazing views! Oh, and the breakfast was to die for and they had mimosas on hand every day. Dreamy is all I can say!

Nothing better than connecting with online friends while traveling. I met up with Katarina Andersson of Grapevine Adventures who treated me to a night tour of Florence which included a stop Il Maggazino, a Osteria di Tripperia (look that up and you'll know how daring I was to dine there – it was WELL worth it). a night stroll over the Ponte Vecchio and a quick visit to the city's beloved icon, Il Porcellino, the bronze pig.

View all the Florence photos & videos HERE

Bologna

From Florence we took a quick train (35 minutes) to Bologna, the capital of the Emilia-Romagna Region. 

Bologna is made for walking.. and viewing arches!

We took a leisurely (although a bit hot since it was mid day) tour and had a chance to view many of the cities famous arches. But there were still many left to view (although we did get to view Porto San Vitalo (largo) on the way out of town.

Bologna is replete with so many sights and sounds and great food! We had a chance to tour Basilica di San Petronio and also check out Fontana del Nettuno (Fountain of Neptune) that was built between 1563 and 1566 by the Flemish sculptor Giambologna. As I mentioned in my blogpost on Rome, Italian cities have a multitude of public fountains that are such a delight (especially when you come from such a dry clime as Colorado!)

The crown jewel event for me was the pasta making class, taught by the amazing women of Italy Food Nest, featured in a lovely private mansion in the heart of Bologna. After a long afternoon of touring, we were treated to wine & refreshments on the patio, followed by a pasta making session.  Literally this is the stuff people dream about when they think of visiting Italy. We feasted on our accomplishments in the private dining room. To say that I felt fancy was a serious understatement. Look this company up if you go to Bologna.

I Portici Hotel Bologna

Our hotel was centrally located on a park and was a fabulous mix of classic & modern. All of the common areas were spectacular and they even have a private dining room hidden away that is a wine cellar with a glass floor. The dining room itself was fabulous!

View all the Bologna photos & videos  HERE

Quick stop in the Parma Region

We bid arrivederci to Bologna and headed north to Parma via a super comfy bus. I loved our train experience so far but it was nice to have a small private bus that was quiet & comfy!
We stopped at a local agricultural high school, the Institute “Lazzaro Spallanzani” Castelfranco Emilia, met with Guisseppe and his wife who have been teaching students for over 40 years. We had a chance to watch them make Parmesan cheese! (videos in the link below). We also were able to test taste Balsamic vinegar from a cask that was worth over $80K. That was some tasty and expensive vinegar!

ProTip – When traveling on the major highways in Italy, make sure to stop and eat at their truck stops (for lack of a better description. We stopped at one called an AutoGrill. You think I'm kidding.. aaaand, I'm not. The Autogrill is like a combination of Walmart, Grocery Store, Bar, and upscale buffet restaurant. I bought gifts, had 2 glasses of wine and a delicious pasta dish cooked on the spot.  We were too busy eating & shopping to take a pic of the Autogrill.


We jumped back into the van to head to the Antico Borgo Di Tabiano CastelloThis place needs to be on your bucket list! Nestled in the rolling hills, this castle & the surrounding buildings are family owned. The guest areas and restaurant are just DREAMY and we also had a private tour of the castle with one of the owners which was delightful! Hearing the stories firsthand of the history of the castle, the efforts to keep it in its' wonderful pristine condition and also their recent endeavors with Beyond The Gates, made our visit so very extra.


View all the photos & videos from Parma & Emilia Romagna HERE

The final stop:  Lake Como

The town of Lake Como is delightful and picturesque.  I visited here in 1989 and honestly, it seems frozen in time. Meaning it looks GREAT for its' age!!  When you visit, make sure to include:

Hilton Lake Como – a former silk factory that's been renovated into a lovely upscale & modern hotel.

Stroll the paths around the lake – delightful any time of year

Como Cathedral  – yes, every town has a cathedral and this one is not to be missed.

Funicolare Como-Brunate – Give yourself time to take a ride and ascend 3500 feet from sea level for some of the best views in Lake Como! There are several bars, restaurants & shops and sights so plan on spending some time up top.

Bellagio – Pearl of the Lake

I can't do justice to this area. Same as Lake Como, it looks the same as it did in 1989, without the wear and tear – how is that possible? A truly delightful town with a fabulous view of the Rhaetian Alps. Do yourself a favor and take the slow boat to/from Lake Como – the history of the surrounding towns along with the picturesque views is well worth it. Our tour guide from Lake Como to Bellagio was Ettore Maria Peron and he was so delightful! A native of the area, he had so many great stories. If you are visiting Lake Como, definitely contact him for a tour: ettore.peron@gmail.com

View all the photos & videos from Lake Como and Bellagio HERE

Pro Tips for Visiting Italy

Know the basics:  Even on a guided tour, you'll want to know the basics (greetings) as well as basic important questions (where is the bathroom, how much does this cost, may I have more wine). I've also found it comforting to be able to understand and speak emergency phrases – trust me you'll want to know things like “where is the emergency exit” and “there is a fire” if anything ever goes down.

Don't wear flip flops. Just don't. I pack a part for kicking around in my hotel room or running to get more ice but… for public outings.  #JustDont.

Carry a light sweater – chances are, if you are in Italy, you will be visiting a cathedral or church. Most churches ask that you cover your shoulders and knees when entering. Some have temporary paper shawls but most don't. You don't want to be turned away from some amazing church eye candy simply based on your sleeveless top (although I'm sure it's cute)

RANDOM QUESTIONS

Do you need to be able to speak Italian in Italy?

It's a legit question, especially if you are planning a last minute trip. You can get buy with very little Italian. I stress “get by”. Because we had a wonderful local tour guide, we were spared the pain of trying to bridge the language gap. But you should, at the very very least, learn the basic command of common requests. Most of the tourist spots & restaurants speak English but smaller spots & off the beaten path shops & restaurants generally speak very little English. So you’ll want to get a basic command of the language. Especially if you are traveling alone – you need to be able to ask for what you need especially in an emergency. Oh and ask for more wine or where the bathroom is located (also important things that may constitute an emergency).

Is Italy Zombie Proof?

Overall:  YES

Most cities were designed to keep out marauders with a solid set of walls & gates.  However, most of those have been destroyed. In the cities and the countryside, most buildings have exterior doors & all courtyards are gated. Oo, also, the cities have the fabulous running fountains. If the underground water supply is kept pure, you have yourself a fighting chance.

However, in the cities, the streets are narrow. So, well, you might survive for a while if you make it inside safely!  #StuffIThinkAbout

Explorations by Collette:

The Explorations Tours are designed to be active and more intimate. The tour stops are carefully thought out and include a lot of active exploration. Our group had 7 people total which was a perfect size. Our tour guide, Luigi Arveda, put SO much thought into each stop, infusing his own personal connections along the way. The beauty of a personal tour guide is that you have someone who is dedicated to not only the best experience for those on the tour but also a personal connection to the area &  The Explorations tours would be great for families and/or close friends who enjoy traveling together.

Luigi Arveda – Our Amazing Tour Guide!

And now for the cool part:

If you are looking to book a Collette trip – Use offer code MIA100 to save $100 per person on all tours except Oberammergau Passion Play 2020 tours, Alaska Discovery, British Landscapes, Northern Lights of Finland, Antarctica, Magical Rhine & Moselle River Cruise, Greenland & Iceland: A Nordic Voyage. Offer valid on new retail bookings only made between 11/28/18 – 12/31/18 for departures through 4/30/20.

Offers can expire earlier due to space or inventory availability. Space is on a first come, first served basis. Offers are not valid on group or existing bookings or combinable with any other offer. Other restrictions may apply. Call for more details. 855.355.8687

Book at https://travel.gocollette.com

CST# 2006766-20 UBN# 601220855 Nevada Seller of Travel Registration No. 2003-0279

Subscribe & also leave a comment below – I love hearing from you!

4 replies
  1. Chef Dennis
    Chef Dennis says:

    I love reading your posts Mia, you do such a great job with the content!
    Going to Italy this year with Collette was the highlight of our year and I can't wait to travel with them again!

    Keep up the good work!

    Reply
  2. Gigi Peterkin
    Gigi Peterkin says:

    What a terrific round up of an amazing adventure. I feel like I got to visit all of my favorite places and see new destinations (Lake Como, OMG) – and it sounds like Collette is doing it right! Love the little touches the tour included, like the homemade pasta event, while still getting in all of the usual spots. Beyond the tour, your advice regarding brushing up on some conversational Italian is spot-on. I'm going to be day dreaming about getting back to Florence and trying out some new hotels soon! Bellissima bella.

    Reply

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