ITALY, SWITZERLAND, MONACO, FRANCE
I recently had the good fortune of being able to take a wonderful sojourn throughout Europe, traveling Around Italy, Switzerland, Monaco, and France, via Rail Europe. We took 12 trains throughout our entire journey, with only one delayed a significant amount of time, which amounted to what I would describe as an overall very positive experience.
My favourite activity while in Rome was a walk from the Coliseum, through the Forum Rom, to Piazza Venezia, then climb the stairs to the Campodoglio ( City Hall) and its Michelangelo Square. From there through little streets lined by Terracotta coloured houses, flowers hanging down the balconies, the symmetric display of half closed shutters.
My group also engaged in an early morning walk in the Villa Borghese Gardens: the Pincio gardens and the Piazza Napoleone – a big terrace overlooking the Piazza del Popolo and entire Rome – the waterclock, the Magnolias Avenue and then a visit to the Galleria Borghese (The gallery allows only a limited number of visitors per day, pre-reservation is a mandatory).
For food while in Rome we visited L’Antico Tevere in Trastevere – an area known for its restaurants – which sits by the Tiber river. The food was excellent, reasonably priced and authentic and the service (to put it lightly) was beyond reproach. I would recommend it to anyone.
We also visited the Food is Love restaurant. Located outside the city core this is a newly opened restaurant run by international chef Filipo Paolini. It features crisp modern décor, and the kitchen activities projected upon the wall for all to see so you may watch the preparation of your food. The menu was a five course meal chosen by the chef, which was definitely worth the visit. Probably best described as Italian gourmet dining that is not overpriced.
In Venice, the second stop of our journey, we were able to visit the three islands of Murano, Burano, and Torcello. Though it should be noted that any prospective traveller should book these through a tour operator, and not through the Murano glass factory as a trip to purchase glass products as we accidentally did.
While in Venice I was able to inspect the Hilton Venice and Hotel Londra Palace. The Hilton had in my estimation the best view of Venice from the Giudeca Island. The Hotel offers shuttle service free through the day, free of charge. It is mainly focused on a North American clientele, with a lavish breakfast buffet included in the price. The swimming pool is on the rooftop, overlooking Venice. Additionally it features large common areas and gardens.
The Hotel Londra Palace – the second hotel I visited – was a two minute walk from San Marco square, right on the water. It has very easy access to public transportation, including airport shuttles and water taxis. The hotel has all the elegance and comfort that you would expect from a Virtuoso property, with relatively large rooms and great amenities.
Our next stop was Florence, where I was able to visit the Helvetia Bristol and Relais Santa Croce. The Helvetia was by far the best hotel we stayed in during the trip, with dedicated and very professional staff, and a great concierge service.
The Relais Santa Croce can be best described as the charm of Florence and Tuscany. Situated in a former mansion, with painted and carved walls and ceilings, the receptionist, who is also the concierge checks you in then accompanies you to your room. I was upgraded to a suite, which was a two room apartment and a huge bathroom of White marble, subtle Tuscan colours, comfort and rich amenities. It was a great hotel to stay in and I would certainly recommend it.
My favourite restaurant in Florence was the I Ghibellini, an archetypical restaurant for the city, situated in a square featuring tables under umbrellas, and only a few minutes by foot from Piazza della Signoria. Best of all they serve the traditional Florentine T-bone steak.
After Florence we boarded the scenic Goldpass train for our scenic journey through the swiss alps via lucerne, Interlaken, and Montreax. This one day trip through mountains, lakes, and forests featured some of the most fascinating sceneries in the world.
We stayed at the Radisson Blu Lucerne, which was a five minute walk from the train station and the lake. It had a very pleasant atmosphere, large rooms, and was quiet. All in all the perfect place to relax after a day long train ride through the mountains.
In Geneva I stayed at the Swissotel Metropole, which is located across the street from the lake and its famous fountain “Jet D’Eau”.
On our way from Geneva to Paris we travelled through Monaco and stopped at the Horizon bar at the Fairmont Monte Carlo: a rooftop restaurant and champagne bar featuring fusion cuisine over looking the city that was quite affordable by Monte Carlo standards.
Our last stop was Paris, the famous city of lights where we rented a car and toured the city for three days. My favourite restaurant was Le Trocadero: A restaurant that is also a caffe, with the best view of the Eiffel Tower, best of all it was reasonably priced and excellent quality. We also visited the Louvre, followed by the Tuileries Gardens. After a long walk through the Louvre and Tuileries Gardens I found a ride on the nearby Ferris wheel to be a great way to complete the day (8 Euro for a 7 minute ride).
As a word of caution I would note that in hindsight it would have been more cost effective to have taken taxis throughout our three day stay in Paris than it was to rent a car, a lesson I will surely implement next time I visit.
Lastly the trip was finished off with some duty-free shopping at Charles-de-Gaulle airport in Paris while we waited for our flight back to Toronto Pierson Airport.