Aug
10

Auto Plan Holidays offers a wide range of Lake Garda Hotels in many resorts along the lakes shoreline. Lake Garda has a host of small resorts, which are rich in history – some Roman settlements and others with medieval castles and imposing buildings. All of them surrounded by spectacular scenery.

The lake is split into two regions. In the north is Trentino, ruled by the old Hungarian Austrian empire until 1919, when during the Great War the Austrians lost the region to the Italians. In parts of Trentino the German language is still spoken by the local population although Italian has of course been the official language for almost 90 years. North of the lake is the Dolomites – these flat-topped mountains are delightful and hide green valleys and alpine villages yet are all within 20-30 minutes drive of Riva del Garda.

The vast majority of the lake is in the region of Verona and we offer a number of resorts along the southern shores. Verona of course is well known for its open-air opera in the original Roman coliseum, and is also the background to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

Visit Venice. The accessibility by rail to Venice is also a factor in choosing a Lake Garda Hotel, because fast trains connect from Pescheira del Garda to Venice – and the return cost is about 25.00 per person (less for under 12s).

Garda, is a small town, situated within an inlet and offers cobbled streets, some traffic free with tiny squares, and a small fishing port. There are several historic palaces that can be visited and a wide range of sports, walking paths and mountain bike rentals are possible. We offer three properties, all of which offer a swimming pool and easy access to the lake-good value is the Hotel La Perla which up to 12 July offers half board for 57 per person in a double room per night; Apartments too – and in similar situations we also offer one and two bed roomed apartments Rentals in June from 59 per night per unit.

Bardolino, which is half way down the lake, is a pretty resort with pedestrian areas free of traffic and a wide choice of restaurants and an area known for its excellent light red wines. We offer four-star hotels The best being the Spa Hotel Caesius with rates that start from 72 pppn on room and breakfast and also offers some special Spa treatment packages for both “Her & Him” For more modest costs are our one and two bedroomed apartments in the resort on offer from 47 per night.

Peschiera; this charming resort has a fortress surround by the lake’s waters and is the most southerly resort on the lake. One of the advantages staying here is the main line station, which offers quick access by rail to Verona, Venice and even Milan at reasonable prices. There is also a theme park “Garda Land” ideal for young families. We have one hotel and seven apartments offers.

Lake Garda offers such variety – Lakes, Mountains and even Venice within easy reach but more important offers value for money holidays.

Aug
10

The area encloses Lake Iseo, Valley Camonica, Montecampione ski resort and the lower Alps. To understand better the fascination of this area, we shall embark on a virtual tour of discovery. The first place of call has to be the City of Bergamo, not only because of the airport, but also because I would rate it up there with the best in terms of culture, sites and experience. High claims I admit so I’ll explain why.The train and bus station sits like a pedestal to the expansive central avenue with some excellent shops and restaurants but the cream on the cake is the fortified old medieval high town (Citt  Alta) reachable by cable car at the top of the main street. It is still today one of only four Italian cities (with Ferrara, Lucca and Grosseto) with the old town centre still totally surrounded by the walls that have maintained intact their original aspect over the centuries. The lack of cars is a blessing although scooters wizz past you at regular intervals. Standing on the old cobbled streets looking at the Old Square (Piazza Vecchia), with the Contarini Fountain and Palazzo della Ragione (the Reason Palace), you can still hear every evening at 10.00pm the ‘Campanone’, or bell tower, ringing out to recall the past when these bells announced the nocturnal closing of the fortified doors of the city. On the other side of the Reason Palace there is the large white building of the New Palace that hosts the Angelo Mai Library. For the energetic, you must climb the Torre del Comune (City tower) as the views are worth the hard work but careful of the narrow steps as it’s a long way down. Nearby the famous Romanesque Santa Maria Maggiore Basilica holds the tomb of Bergamo’s favorite son, the musician Donizetti.Bergamo Citt  Alta also hosts a Botanic Garden and is the centre of the prestigious university faculty of Foreign Languages and Literature, and there resides a sort of Italian Cambridge antmosphere as students bussle past, late for their classes. Before descending, I recommend a visit to the Rocca (old castle) as there are also beautiful views from the castle walls and a large cannon reminds you of the real reason for this hilltop walled town.sOn the way back to the station, stop in the Accademia Carrara Gallery in Piazza Giacomo Carrara 82. you will be surprised to find such a variety of masterpieces, from Botticelli and Raffaello to Bellini and Donatella, all illuminating these ancient walls .The bus station has handy buses every 30 minutes to Lovere port on Lake Iseo. The lake surprises most people as it winds majestically for over 18kms through the lower Alps and hosts Europes largest inland Island, Monte Isola, with it’s characteristic Sanctuary of the Madonna of the Ceriola sitting like a beacon on the highest elevation of the Island. Lovere was recently voted as one of Italy’s prettiest borghi (picturesque villages) and apart from the obvious bars and restaurants, I particularly recommend a walk along the bank of the lake down to the port with the odd duck or swan to accompany you on your way. The ferry point in the centre is a great place to set off on a trip around the lake or take an evening cruise with live music to accompany an evening meal onboard.Next stop is a 15 minute bus hop north to Boario spa town in Val Camonica, famous for it’s bottled mineral water and used by many as a central location to explore both the lake and mountains of this idyllic location. Boario’s name is thought to derive from an ancient Celtic word for “ancient water” and the valley itself has the unusual fact that it contains the highest concentration of ancient rock carvings in Europe and is indeed a UNESCO World heritage site. At the head of the valley on the western side is The Alps largest national park, Parco dell’Adamello, rich in flora and fauna with numerous lakes and valleys. Staying in one of the many parks lodges is back to nature at its best.Just above the town is Lake Moro. Unspoilt and nestled like a cup in the palm of the mountains. Walking round the edge of the lake is a favourite past time of many and the occasional deer or Kingfisher are a reminder of the natural beauty of this area. Waking up in the morning wondering what to do is not a problem as the area is teaming with activities, places of interest and history. Activities include the usual canoeing, windsurfing, ferry boats, multi pool complex and horse riding but also the more exhilerating treetop rope parks, indoor go carting, paragliding, canyoning and rock climbing ! To get the most I recommend hiring a car locally for a couple of days and bringing health insurance !The rich history of the valley is reflected in its castles and villages with their quaint churches centrally located as if the villages themselves were but an afterthought. There are many stories abound the valleys dramatic past. One story recounts that in the time of the “witch hunt” in 1510 the bishop Paolo Zane came to the valley and accused hundreds of witch craft with the subsequent sad consequence. In fact the then rulers (Venice) sent another Bishop to investigate…not the numerous witches but Bishop Zane himself !Excellent pasta, pizza and wine are a staple of the Italian cuisine but digging deeper their are some exquisite local delicacies to discover in every region. In the Camonica valley it’s Casoncelli (A home made type of Raviolli), wild boar stew with Polenta, Strinu (a type of sausage) and Tagliata, delicate slices of lightly cooked beef often served with rocket salad and Parmesean cheese. Every village in the summer has a weekend street party where they serve these dishes along with music and barrels of wine. Fortunately there are a lot of villages so summer seems an endless festival of food!Winter calls for a trip up to the Montecampione Ski resort situated just above Boario and lake Iseo. The trip itself is a discovery, as between the tree lined roads appear spectacular glimpses across the lake and over the valley and Alps beyond. The resort, although large and stretching over 3 stations with some 80kms of piste, is mainly used by Italian day trippers from Milan which leaves most weekdays surprisingly quiet and ski passes much lower than some other “famous” resorts. Even better there is available locally, snow mobile hire, snow shoe excursions , ice climbing, Heliski etcOur trip ends with a picturesque train journey from Boario down to the bottom of the lake to the actual village of Iseo. Also voted amongst Italy’s top 20 villages, it sits along the lake with a large pedestrian area behind. Many people from the surrounding area go down to sit outside a bar sipping a cocktail and watching the sun set behind the mountains reflected in rays of orange and red across the lake…unforgettable.For my work I have travelled extensively throughout Italy and personally the “branded” locations like Lake Garda, Milan, Venice, Florence and Rome, I find much the worse for wear from over development of tourism, sometimes to the detriment of their local culture. They remain “must-see” places, yet, for a real “slice of Italy”, I’d head for the hills and the lesser known Lakes of Lombardy.sFor a more complete destination guide to the area see www.monticolo.it

Aug
10

Saving money is not hard to do while traveling in Europe. For my husband and I, the thing to do is to have your own car so we always rent one to travel. What you want is a mid-size or small car, depending on your needs, and it should be standard for it is better for saving gasoline, and I believe renting an automatic costs more also. Also, if you fly into Frankfurt, Germany the cost of a rental car drops by about 25-30% of what you would rent one for in France. Paris, France by the way, is only a five or six hour drive from Frankfurt by car.

Stay off the toll roads in France and Italy.

For sleeping accommodations, we almost always stay at a pension or gasthaus (bed and breakfast). They are always very nice and inexpensive, starting around 30-40 Euros a night double occupancy including breakfast. The breakfasts are always very good, consisting of a variety of meats, rolls, jams, cereal, fruit, and milk, coffee, and tea or juice(plus you can take an apple or banana with you for a snack). These places are always clean and the people are friendly. So there is your breakfast taken care of right there.

For lunch, we stop at a local grocery store and get salami, rolls, cheese, and juice, and when we are out traveling we find a place along the side of the road and eat. We carry a basket with our things in it and eat from the trunk of the car. We also carry two fold up stools, and the car usually has a let down from the back seat where you can put your meal. You see all kinds of activity, there are hardly any bugs to speak of, and the open air is very nice.

For your dinner meal there is always a restaurant in one of the larger towns to stop and eat at for a hot meal. Never anything expensive.

A lot of attractions are free in Europe: some museums, the open-air museums, castles, windmills. Very rarely is any money asked to view some of these things. There is so much history out in the open: castle ruins, old churches, beautiful villages, rivers, bridges, street markets, seasonal markets; we once came up on a tank trap from World War II when we stopped at a service station; we were in a cemetery once looking at the names and we got locked in and had to crawl over the fence; also a cemetery with a jewish area in it; all sorts of things to see without spending money.

To save money on hotels in cities like say Venice, stay out in a surrounding town or village, take the train in (we did and the train trip cost us about 6 Euros), spend the day and come back to your room later in the afternoon. Our room cost about 50 Euros there. And there was a nice restaurant at the hotel.

We visited a beautiful town north and west of Venice named Asolo. We walked all around, saw all sorts of historical and beautiful sites and we got to park close to everything and it did not cost a thing. Robert Browning lived in this village at one time. We had our lunch with us.

If you will be taking pictures and who wouldn’t, your digital camera is the one to take with you. You will need an adaptor, battery charger and extra batteries, but if you have some of these things already, it is the cheaper way to go. And if you are carrying your laptop with you anyway, you get to see what photos you have taken. Just think of the cost of film and developing. (However, my Minolta always comes with me, nothing can replace my Minolta for beautiful pictures).

Have fun saving money and enjoying yourself.

Aug
09

Knowing a few things about the restaurants and the way they charge you will help you to get the best service and pay only a reasonable amount for it. While one would like to say that all eating spots are fair and list everything upfront, sadly, it is not so.

There are a number of places that put a footnote in the menu saying tat a certain dish is only to be ordered for two. That means that either you end up wasting the stuff or that your companion eats something he or she did not really order.

Most Venetian eateries routinely add a service charge of around 10 to 15% to your bill. You can take it that the tip has been added. Unless the service is exceptional, there is really no need to pay an additional tip. Remember also that by law you are required to take a receipt from the restaurant after your meal. I do not think you will be ever required to produce it anywhere; it is to ensure that the owner does not cheat on his taxes.

So if a local guide tells you that the custom in Venice is to tip 15% after a meal, you know whose side he is on!

Many visitors are surprised to see a plate of pretzels on their table and cannot (naturally enough) resist munching. Everyone assumes that the plate is complimentary. It is only when you get the bill that you realize that you are billed for each pretzel you eat! If you are not careful, you can easily double your bill this way.

In almost every trattorie (a small and simple eating place), and rosticcerie (a common Italian snack bar) you will find a place to sit and a counter where you can just stand and finish your meal. There is a difference in costs between the two. And the difference can be substantial. Most people simply pick up their food and walk. If you choose a restaurant with a view of the canal, good seating and table service, you can expect to pay about twice what the menu shows by way of service charges. So choose accordingly.

There is no dearth of watering holes in the city and you can find some really good ones on the Campo di Santa Margarita. This is an area favored by students from the university and is especially active on weekends.

Enjoy Venice, stretch your euros and have fun. After all this is what you are here for is not it?

Aug
09

Lesser Town in Prague is truly an architectural treasure chest. It was founded in 1257 on the slopes bellow the Prague castle and it is the part of Prague least affected by resent history. If you are looking for something medieval, this is the place to be. You will be surrounded by history, museums, theatres, high-class restaurants and fashion boutiques. You can find here a lot of nice and neat hotels. Everything is easily accessible by foot, though the centre is very well connected by trams and 3 subway lines. But parking might be difficult to find and a permit is required.

The historical core of the city is situated on both banks of the Vltava River. The hotels in Lesser Town have their own atmosphere which is ensemble by this mythic place. You will have a wonderful view from each of them. Lesser Town located on the left river bank, with its unique architecture and antique cobblestone streets, unchanged for centuries, is home to lots of foreign embassies, gardens and best restaurants. What can you find here exactly?

Charles Bridge (Karluv most)

Named after the Emperor Charles IV in 19th century the Charles Bridge is Prague’s most familiar monument. Designed by Petr Parler, it was completed in 1400 and it connects the Lesser Town with the Old Town. Although it is now pedestrianised, it withstood wheeled traffic for 600 years. There are thirty statues on the bridge; many of them have been replaced with copies. Originals are kept in the Lapidarium of the National Museum and at Vysehrad. The magnificent Gothic Old Town Bridge Tower was designed by Petr Parler and built at the end of the 14th century. It is considered the finest Gothic tower in central Europe, mainly for its decoration. There are marvellous views of the Vltava River Valley. The Prague hotels with the view of the Charles Bridge are the bests. 

St Nicholas Church (Kostel sv. Mikulase)

St Nicholas Church is the dominant of the Lesser Town Square and one of central Europe’s finest baroque buildings. It was begun by Kristof Dientzenhofer, continued by his son Kilian and finished by Anselmo Lurago. The statues, frescoes and paintings inside the church are by leading artists of the day, such as Karel Skreta and Johann Kracker. 

Kampa Island (Kampa)

Known as the Venice of Prague, Kampa Island has been formed by a branch of the Vltava called the Devil’s Stream (Certovka). Originally there were only gardens on the island but it was also used for washing clothes and bleaching linen. In the 17th century the island became well known for its pottery markets. Today it is an elegant part of Prague with a village-like character. A lot of myths are narrated in Prague about this place. Make your holidays special and find yourself a cute Prague hotel in this area. 

Petrin Hill (Petrin)

With a height of 318 m the Petrin Hill is a network of eight parks offering magnificent panoramas of Prague. Most of the vineyards from the 12th century were transformed into gardens and orchards by the 18th century and today it is a great place for quiet walks easily accessible from Hradcany and Strahov or by funicular railway from Ujezd. Up the hill there is an observatory, the 60m high Observation Tower – an imitation of the Eifel Tower, the Hunger Wall that was built by the poor of the city in return for food in the 14th century, the Mirror Maze, the Church of St Lawrence and the wooden Church of St Michael. 

If you really want to enjoy your stay in Prague, relish the atmosphere of the historical centre of the town, you should look for a charming hotel in Prague´s Lesser Town.

Aug
08

The sleeping city in Italy is called Venice.

It is divided into six zones namely San Marco, San Polo, Cannaregio, Dorsoduro, Castello and Santa Croce. The zones do not really have strict divisions, but they are characterized in different ways. San Marco has the Basilica and Piazza. San Polo is a down to earth area where the locals live and hang out. Cannaregio is home to the historic. Dursoduro contains students and the cities university. Castello has the beautiful Giardini and the Venice Arts Festival. Santa Croce is next to the station.

Venice is the only European city and one of the few in the world to have its public transport located entirely on the water. Run by Actv Company, the timetable constantly changes, depending on the tide. The main waterway in Venice is shaped like an S. This means that if you want to travel from San Marco to Rialto by boat, it will take you twice as long as it would to walk. The Grand Canal has only three bridges, but at certain points along the canal you can hire a gondola to cross the stretch of water; this often saves a great deal of time.

If you prefer taxis, the water cabs have very different charges to the more generally found land taxi. You should always tell the driver your destination and find out the price before stepping aboard. Gondolas are also subject to additional charges. They will charge you for an hour even if your trip only lasts fifty minutes.

When you compare Venice to other major cities of the world it is rather quiet. There are several reasons for this. The first is the high average age of its citizens probably the highest in Italy. The second is the relative difficulty there is to get around. This is not a place for cars and other private means of transport and a boat ride is not really ideal for an evening out. Finally, there is a lack of space in Venice, so everything is very cramped.

By nature Venetians enjoy entertaining friends in the privacy of their own homes. As a consequence, there are very few restaurants which stay open until late. Campo Santa Margherita in the summer is an exception to this rule. The presence of hundreds of students on their summer holidays transforms the square into a pleasure pavilion, with restaurants, live music and extemporaneous art exhibitions.

In comparison with other Italian cities hospitality in Venice doesnt come cheap, this may be due to the romantic environment.

Aug
08

Berlin, quite surprisingly, has more water surfaces and bridges (650 approx) than Venice, Amsterdam and Stockholm put together! This beautiful capital city and heartbeat of Germany, Berlin is a fascinating place year round with a vast array of attractions to entice all visitors to it again and again especially in the Winter months when its 7 Christmas Markets are out in full force. From traditional markets selling Christmas arts and crafts including hand-blown glass objects, jewellery to mulled wine and cinnamon buns, visiting these markets is a fantastic and fun lead up to Christmas for all the family.

Sightseeing is intense in Berlin…from the remnants of the former Wall to the Brandenburg Gate to Checkpoint Charlie, there is a lot to see in Berlin. A short city break is usually not enough to take in all the historical sights of this legendary city and a second visit is usually imminent on any first-time traveller’s agenda. The transport system in Berlin is, justifiably, known as one of the most efficient in Europe and connects Berlin with the rest of Germany and European countries.

With so many airlines operating routes to Berlin’s main international Tegel airport and a whole crop of low cost carriers now flying to Schonefeld Airport too, it’s never been easier to visit Berlin. Berlin specialists, www.myberlin.co.uk offer fantastic, low prices for a city break to Berlin. They combine cheap flight and discounted hotel packages at top quality hotels including the 5 star Westin Grand Hotel. Check out the offers now as these prices are unbelievably excellent value for money and are not going to be around forever!

As Berlin is just an hour’s flying time from the UK, it makes for the perfect city break, both midweek and weekend. Whether for shopping, sightseeing or for the Christmas Markets, Berlin also makes a great culinary break for food lovers. Try authentic sauerkraut, spicy sausages, schnitzels and pretzels washed down with one of the 800 varieties of beers found in the Bavarian region of Germany. I would recommend you visit Berlin at any time of the year but more so at Christmas when the city is lit up by thousands of twinkling lights and the air is crisp with a hint of snowfall beginning to cloak the city with its velvety texture – that’s the best time to go to Berlin!

Aug
07

Amsterdam caters from everyone and its variety of accommodation reflects its popularity with options ranging from youth centers to luxury hotels. Amsterdam was founded in the year 1200 and used to be a fishing village based around the Amstel River. It was built with many canals with around four hundred bridges over them.

Today, Amsterdam is the nominal capital of the Netherlands. The “Amsterdam Hidden Treasures” project aims to allow Amsterdam visitors the chance to discover some of the city’s lesser known tourist attractions. This year, it is focusing on the areas of art, history, performance, fashion and design.

Amsterdam boasts a plethora of cultural treasures and museums. It is houses over 50 museums, although not all of them are famous. You are sure to find a few of the more famous Amsterdam’s museums in the Museum Quarter, such as Rijksmuseum, the Stedelijk Museum, and the Van Gogh Museum.

Visitors should make a point of seeing Rembrandt’s House, the Maritime Museum, and the Amsterdam Historical Museum. Another hidden jewel is a hidden church in the attic of a canal house called the Amstelkring Our Lord in the Attic. These museums are just to mention a few. You will also find the Concert Building in the Museum Quarter.

The Royal Palace is open for visitors during the summer months. This 17th century building is still in use by the queen and is therefore beautifully maintained. All visitors should take the time to walk around the popular Dam square. The Leidseplein and Rembrandtplein areas are wonderful areas to walk around during the day. Street performers, acrobats, arts and music will entertain you as you walk during this bustling part of town. Stay here until nightfall and notice all the locals attending their favorite
theatres, cinemas and clubs in the area.

The Oude Kerk is a popular tourist spot. It is an old church with little houses attached to its sides. Architectual enthusiasts will enjoy its Gothic-Renaissance style and it is definitely worth the view. After the Oude Kerk, follow the narrow vaulted passageway to the quaint Begijnhof, which is a garden is surrounded by many old structures. This is where you will find a medieval church and the oldest house in Amsterdam.

Amsterdam’s natural treasures

Amsterdam has a lot on offer for fans of natural beauty. It boasts the oldest Botanical Garden of its type in the world, which was built in 1682. You can take a boat cruise or canal tour along the rings of canals. Take part in a bike, boat or walking tour of the city, a truly excellent way to see the historical sights.

Amsterdam offers many accommodation options, ranging from luxury boutique-styled hotels to self catering rental apartments and youth centers. Campgrounds that offer bungalows are also an option during Summer time.

Aug
07

Rome – ‘The city of Ceasars, romance and la dolce vita’ – A.Moreton.

Rome was not built in a day and has the spectacular treasures to prove it. Rome has provided the pretty backdrop to many a Hollywood movie: Three Coins In The Fountain, Seven Hills of Rome and Roman Holiday to name but three.

It’s the city of the Caesars, of romance, the city of la dolce vita and long sunny days, the city of endless art, churches and museums, fountain-splashed piazzas and majestic monuments to its golden age of empire. Those monuments will already be familiar to many – the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain, St Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel. But one of the greatest pleasures of exploring Rome is the number of times you stumble across hidden corners, wonderful viewpoints, evocative street scenes and touching vignettes of daily life.

The ancient town of Tivoli is the most popular one-day excursion from Rome. Some 20 miles from the city centre, it’s known for two main sights, the Villa d’Este, a Renaissance villa celebrated for its
Gardens, and the Villa Adriana , a vast villa and grounds created by the Emperor Hadrian.

Trains run from main termini to Tivoli, but this can be a slow journey.

Buses depart every 10 or 20 minutes from the Ponte Mammolo Metro station (Line B). The journey time is 50 minutes. If you have time to spare, Frascati offers a cool, calm retreat from Rome’s heat and hustle.

The Villa Aldobrandini was built at the end of the 16th century and was one of the few old buildings to survive the bombing during 1943 and 1944 that destroyed 80 percent of old Frascati. The villa itself is closed to the public, but some of the grounds are open and offer excellent views of Rome in the hazy distance. Trains depart from main termini every hour and the journey takes 30 minutes.

Helpful Hints about Rome

Language
Italian is delightfully easy on the ear and relatively easy to learn. A few polite phrases might break the ice. Try Buongiorno (Good morning) or Bueno sera (Good evening). Come sta? (How Are You?) or Quanto costa? (How much?)

Currency and Tipping
The Italians use the Euro, made up of 100 cents. Tipping is not expected for all services, and rates are lower than those elsewhere. As a general guide, cabs: round up to the nearest 50 cents; restaurants: around 2 Euros 50; porters: 1 Euro a bag.

Dress Code
Rome can be extremely uncomfortable in the high summer, with temperatures of over 35 degrees Celsius in July and August. Light clothes and sensible planning will prevent you becoming hot and bothered in the Roman fray. Top restaurants might demand formal dress for dinner, but for the majority, it’s smart casual.

Safety
Rome is generally safe, but take precautions. Pickpockets are the main worry so carry money and valuables in a belt or pouch, wear your camera, leave valuables and jewellery in the hotel safe and avoid gangs of street children.

Travel
Many of Rome’s sights can be visited on foot – there are organised walks taking in monuments and other places of interest on the way. There’s also a small, efficient (but crowded) subway system that will take you to the outskirts of the city.

Hotels
There are hundreds of Rome Luxury Hotels available so shop around online for your favourite.

Venice – ‘A city built on water with unequalled beauty, which was once the World’s greatest trading empire…’

Nothing quite prepares you for Venice. You can read about it, see film of it and listen to people enthuse about it, but only when you’re actually on the Grand Canal with the wind in your hair watching a Venetian sunset will you fall under its magical spell.
This is truly a place like no other – a city built on water, where the main streets are canals; there’s traffic, but not as we know it. It’s also a city rich in art, sculpture and music. But there are many other faces to Venice.

The shopping here is as good as anywhere in Italy with all the designer names, as well as crafts such as jewellery, glass and fabrics. There are chic bars and a vibrant nightlife and little surprises round every corner. Wander from your intended route and you could find yourself in a small but beautiful piazza – there might be a little restaurant, a chapel or a shop selling Carnival masks. This is a city for art-lovers and romantics … and anyone who wants a brief escape from the age of the automobile.

The main trips out from the city of Venice are to the islands of Murano and Burano. Murano is like a miniature version of Venice itself, but with more modest palaces and fewer churches. Everything here revolves round the glass manufacturing industry which has been established here since 1292.

A visit to the Glass Museum or one of the many galleries is well worthwhile. Visitors to Murano might like to visit Burano on the same day. This has traditionally been a lace-making centre and the houses here are painted in a rainbow of blue, red, peppermint, russet and yellow – colours that are attractively reflected in the waters of the canals. Both islands are reached by waterbus – the journey’s about 40 minutes.

Helpful Hints about Venice

Language
Italian, with a Venetian accent. Italian is delightfully easy on the ear and relatively easy to learn. A few polite phrases might break the ice. Try Buongiorno (Good morning) or Bueno sera (Good evening). Come sta? (How Are You?) or Quanto costa? (How much?)

Currency and Tipping
The Italians use the Euro, made up of 100 cents. Tipping is not expected for all services, and rates are lower than those elsewhere. As a general guide, gondolas and water taxis: between 5 and 10 per cent; restaurants: around 2 Euros 50; porters: 1 Euro a bag.

Dress Code
Summer isn’t necessarily the best time to visit Venice. Apart from the crowds of tourists, the air can be unpleasantly humid. But if you are there in July or August, light cotton clothes would be ideal, with some warm jumpers for evenings on the canals. Good walking shoes are a must.

The best time to visit is from late April to early July. In the late spring, it rains less often, the air is mild and the long days allow you to dine out of doors in the light of the setting sun. If you time your visit to coincide with the famous Carnival (February), remember that the Adriatic coast is often cold and windswept. Take coat, gloves and rainwear. And in the winter and autumn (fall), remember that high tides can cause some flooding of piazzas, so make sure your shoes are fully waterproofed! Except in the very best restaurants, smart-casual is the accepted dress code.

Safety
Venice is not a dangerous city, apart from pickpockets in the most touristy areas. The usual precautions apply: carry money and valuables in a belt or pouch, wear your camera and leave valuables and jewellery in the hotel safe.

Travel
Venice itself is not so big and the best way to explore it is on foot. A good map is essential and it’s useful to locate and remember a few landmarks like the Rialto Bridge and St Mark’s Square to help you get your bearings. If you do want to go farther afield, you can either take the vaporetto or the motoscafo. The former is big and rather slow, but offers fine vistas of Venice from its open deck. The latter is low over the water and faster, with a smaller deck. You can use it to go to the islands of the lagoon. The Venice Public Transportation company, ACTV, has a useful website with full details of fares, routes and times

Hotels
A huge selection of Venice Luxury Hotels available so shop around online to find the one that suits your needs.

Florence – ‘Located in the heart of Tuscany, Florence is considered the birth place of the Renaissance…’

Few nations, let alone cities, can boast of having nurtured such a remarkable heritage of artistic, literary, scientific and political talent as Florence, or Firenze. The roll call of artists and writers who lived and worked in the city is extraordinary – Dante, Donatello, Botticelli, Michelangelo and Machiavelli, to name but a few.

Renaissance Florence remains very much intact and in evidence at every turn. However, its historic palaces, great churches, exquisite sculptures and countless other works of art are not crumbling relics but still a vivid and functional part of everyday life – worked in, lived in, prayed in, prized by present-day Florentines and accessible to all.

Florence is far from being austere and haughty. Alongside the museums, art galleries and historic churches there are designer shops, beautiful piazzas, chic restaurants and cutting-edge clubs. It’s a city of a thousand secrets.

Independent travel to nearby cities is easy. Regional train and bus services cover the whole of Tuscany. Take the No 7 bus from Santa Maria Novella railway station for the little hill-top town of Fiesole for an escape from the city’s summer heat and wonderful views over Florence and the Arno Valley.

Roughly 50 miles west of Florence lies Pisa, the birthplace of Galileo and home of the fabled leaning tower. It can be reached by train from Florence’s mainstation, Santa Maria Novella.

Siena, 21 miles south of Florence, is a mediaeval hilltop city with a maze of narrow winding streets that have survived virtually unchanged from the 16th Century and earlier. It can be reached by Sita’s regular express bus service. If you’re in Italy on July 2 or August 16, it’s worth going out of your way to see the palio, a traditional bareback horse race that’s been held in the Piazza del Campo in Siena since the 13th Century. It’s hot, crowded and utterly crazy!

Helpful Hints Helpful Hints about Florence

Language
Italian, with a Florentine accent. Italian is delightfully easy on the ear and relatively easy to learn. A few polite phrases might break the ice. Try Buongiorno (Good morning) or Bueno sera (Good evening). Come sta? (How Are You?) or Quanto costa? (How much?)

Currency and Tipping
The Italians use the Euro, made up of 100 cents. Tipping is not expected for all services, and rates are lower than those elsewhere. As a general guide, cabs: round up to the nearest 50 cents; restaurants: around 2 Euros 50; porters: 1 Euro a bag.

Dress Code
Florence can be extremely uncomfortable in the high summer, with temperatures of over 35 degrees Celsius in July and August. Cotton and linen clothes are best for coping with the summer heat, but you’ll want a sweater or jacket for the cool evenings in spring and autumn (fall).

In winter, you’ll need warm clothes, a waterproof jacket and an umbrella. Comfortable walking shoes for the cobbled streets are highly recommended. Remember to wear respectable dress for Florence’s churches including something to cover bare shoulders.

Safety
Florence is generally safe, but take precautions. Pickpockets are the main worry so carry money and valuables in a belt or pouch, wear your camera and leave valuables and jewellery in the hotel safe.

Travel
You can easily get around the tourist areas of Florence on foot. The longest walks take twenty minutes at most as the important monuments and museums are contained within half a square mile. Hiring a car is not advised, but you’ll see many young Florentines on scooters and if you’re brave enough and can stand the competition, these can be hired for about 30 Euros a day. If you’re taking a cab, use only the official white taxis with a ‘Taxi’ sign on the roof.

Hotels
There are a wide selection of Florence Luxury Hotels available so shopping online is your best bet to find the perfect choice.

Aug
07

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