Treasures of Italy with Maria

By Edward Pinsky
This item appears on page 30 of the October 2019 issue.

In 2012, as a way to celebrate my granddaughter’s Bat Mitzvah, my wife and I took our immediate family to Israel. Five years later, it was my grandson’s turn to celebrate, so as his Bar Mitzvah approached, my wife and I told him we would take him and the family anyplace he chose. Jake chose Italy, much to everyone’s delight.

In my immediate family there are seven of us, spanning three generations. At the time of our 2017 trip, my wife and I were healthy and fit 70-year-olds, my daughter, son and daughter-in-law were all in their 40s, and the two grandkids were an 18-year-old college freshman and, of course, the 13-year-old middle schooler, Jake.

The trick was to find a tour that everyone would enjoy. We also wanted to include visits to sites related to our Jewish heritage.

In ITN’s classifieds section, “The Mart,” there was an ad entitled “Italy, Your Personal Adventure,” placed by Treasures of Italy (Asti, Italy; phone +39 0141 294 801, email or

In the ad, company owner Maria Rizziello said she would help “design your perfect tour and escort your group or family (2-7 guests).” She also promised a “relaxing pace, fantastic dining, exceptional wines and unique accommodations” and “travel as you wish without the worries and stress of independent travel.” Maria would more than make good on every one of her promises.

Since we didn’t want to tour Italy in the summer, the only other time when everyone could travel was over the 2017 Christmas holiday. Over the span of a year, Maria and I emailed back and forth, hammering out a tour. It was divided into four 3-day segments.

Upon Maria’s suggestion, we would spend the first few days in the mountaintop village of Pitigliano, which I had never heard of but which Maria informed me was once known as the “Little Jerusalem” of Italy. The next three days would be spent exploring Rome, then we would travel to Pompeii to satisfy Jake’s desire to see Pompeii and Herculaneum. The final three days would be spent at Lago Bracciano, another place with which I was unfamiliar but that Maria promised would be well worth our stay.

Both Pitigliano and Lago Bracciano proved to be highlights — absolutely wonderful locales to visit and explore.

Most of our meals, either in hotels, in cities or on the road, were included in the tour price, and every restaurant, trattoria and pizzeria that Maria took us to was great. She allowed us to select anything on the menu and then expertly chose the wines to go with what we ordered. She often ordered regional specialties that she said we had to try, and inevitably they were absolutely delicious.

All four of our accommodations were family-owned and -operated, and Maria had personal relationships with all of the owners. At each hotel, as in many of the included restaurants, Maria was welcomed more like a visiting cousin than a customer, and that warmth was extended to my family as well.

• In Pitigliano, we stayed at the unconventional Hotel Ceccottina, on Via Roma, in the center of the mountaintop village.

As far as I could discern, there was no indication that there was a hotel anywhere on the street, but the owner and his wife greeted us outside and took us through an unmarked door leading to a staircase to the second floor, where the hotel was located. With another helper, they insisted on carrying all our luggage up the stairs.

All the guest rooms were spacious, comfortable and rather attractive. Since there was no breakfast room, each morning Maria took us to a local bar (coffee house) to eat.

• Our second accommodation, Hotel Regno, on the busy Via del Corso in the heart of Rome, was within easy walking distance of the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps. My initial impression was one of disappointment, as the small hotel seemed tired, and there was no real place to sit in what passed for the lobby.

However, the infectious good humor and warmth of the people who manned the front desk put a smile on my face. Also, our room was spacious and clean and led to a large private balcony overlooking the rooftops of Rome. We would have enjoyed the balcony more if it were not December. Still, I thoroughly enjoyed our stay at the Regno.

• Like the previous two hotels, Hotel Amleto was in the very center of the city, this time Pompei. There, Maria’s personal relationship with the owners proved advantageous.

Maria had arranged a traditional Italian New Year’s Eve feast for us in a nearby restaurant, but the restaurant had an emergency and had to shut down for the night. Our host got on the phone and found us another restaurant willing to accommodate eight on New Year’s Eve!

Hotel Villa Clementina sat on a small estate outside the lake town of Bracciano. Even in winter, the villa grounds were lovely, but what made this old villa so special were the guest rooms, each decorated with hand-painted murals depicting scenes from Roman and Italian history or mythology.

Dinners at the villa were memorable even by Italian standards. Every course was special.

Our 12-day tour, including all breakfasts, some lunches, eight dinners and all site admissions but not including airfare or insurance, cost 18,235 (at the time, near $21,690) for the seven of us. That was about $3,100 per person — a very reasonable amount, considering all that was included as well as all the extras Maria threw in, such as those regional specialties and wines she ordered and paid for.

We all ended up having a marvelous vacation, something I hope my grandkids will remember fondly for the rest of their lives.


Montrose, NY