Italy with Villa Vita International 

By Carla Pancheco
This item appears on page 28 of the January 2017 issue.

I took my daughter and son-in-law on their first trip to Italy, Sept. 10-22, 2015. I worked with an agent to design a private tour, including Rome, the Sorrento area, a train to Florence and some time in the Tuscan countryside. We were joined by a friend in Florence, adding details that needed to be worked out.

Gina Ruggiero of Villa Vita International (Phoenix, AZ; phone 866/590-8181 or 623/680-0853, email or visit offers customized vacations and workshops in Italy and was a joy to work with. 

I outlined what we wanted to see and a desire for centrally located hotels so we could walk or taxi to many locations. We wanted airport/hotel transfers plus guides and entry tickets at major sites as well as drivers from Rome to and around the Sorrento area and, once we left Florence, around Tuscany. Gina made valuable suggestions and delivered a smoothly seamless package.

Very familiar with Rome and Florence, I handled many of the less-structured daily plans there. We packed a lot of activity into our available time.

All of the drivers and guides Gina provided were English-speaking, excellent, professional locals. We particularly enjoyed talking one on one with them about current events and life in Italy and found their advice about restaurants better than that of any guidebook. 

For the Naples National Archaeological Museum, the Uffizi Gallery and Pompeii, we had private guides. While we joined with others on tours of the Vatican, Colosseum and Forum, the groups were small.

Our hotels — Albergo del Sole al Pantheon (Piazza della Rotonda 63) in Rome, Hotel Continental (Piazza della Vittoria 4) in Sorrento and Hotel Il Guelfo Bianco (Via Camillo Cavour 29) in Florence — were ideally located and had quiet rooms and helpful staffs.

In the Tuscan countryside, a short ride out of Florence, we were based at Il Borgo di Villa Bossi-Pucci (Via Romita 2A, Montagnana 50025, Montespertoli, Florence, Italy;

We had a modern, comfortable, roomy condominium, with a view over the rolling hills of the Chianti countryside, generous breakfast baskets delivered daily and dinners at nearby restaurants. The staff was welcoming and met every need.

From there, we were driven to San Gimignano, Siena province, through the wine country, including a stop in Gaiole and a tour of one of the larger wineries.

With the favorable euro/dollar exchange rate, this all cost around $7,000 per person, including upgraded economy airfare (San Francisco-Frankfurt-Rome and Florence-Munich-San Francisco). While more than some package tours, the cost was well worth the difference for the convenience and personal attention.

If you’re looking for a personalized tour of Italy, I highly recommend Gina Ruggiero as your planner.

Walnut Creek, CA