From the soaring, spectacular Amalfi Coast to the rolling, vineyard-blanketed hills of Tuscany, newly-wedded Mr. and Mrs. Muller shared their honeymoon with a group of strangers and had a fabulous time.
Two years ago we chose Milan, the fashion capital, as the starting point of our 10-day honeymoon tour of Italy. After traveling solo for so many years it was my first time joining a tour group, and not just any tour as my wife sold it, but an exclusive honeymoon couples tour of the greatest tourist towns and sites of Italy. As my practical Asian wife put it, this way we wouldn’t be fighting in a hire car, lost somewhere in the Tuscany hills, but instead enjoying every carefree moment of a fully-guided honeymoon experience.
On hearing the plan I changed the arrival schedule and my wife and I flew in the night before, rested up in the airport hotel and then met the tour group on their arrival (after 16 hours of flying time) at Milan airport at 9am the following morning. Feeling 100 percent refreshed, unlike my new tour compatriots, we were ready for the full-day tour schedule, which would see us spend the morning in Milan, have lunch in Verona, and arrive in Venice around 10pm the same evening.
A few hours of window-shopping the luxury brands of Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, which then led out to the Piazza del Duomo and the Milan cathedral. We traversed the gothic spires, gargoyles and upper ramparts of the fourth largest cathedral in the world. Then we were off to our next stop, the tour bus, of course, featured high-speed wi-fi so we could all upload every stage of our trip to Facebook. Remember in this technological age if it isn’t posted on Facebook it never happened.
“Verona, what light breaks on yonder window,“ I imagined as I stood in the Cappelletti’s courtyard and got a glimpse of Juliet (actually a tourist) on the balcony above. In the bazaar around the corner was a local musician playing on a full-sized grand piano, each keystroke resonated through the market square and I purchased his CD for 10 euro so I could listen to the sounds of Verona on what would be the only train ride on our trip through the Italian countryside to Venice.
It was late in the evening when we reached the Venice train station and walked to the wharf to take the boat on our final leg of the day’s journey. Our fellow honeymooners were nigh on exhausted and could barely keep their eyes open on the trip through the canals to the Ca’ Dei Conti luxury boutique hotel.
We spent two days in Venice; the tour was especially timed so that we would be there during the moon’s lower tidal phase. Venice, especially between autumn and spring, is prone to Acqua alta, severe flooding on the moon’s monthly high tides. It’s best to plan your Venice trip taking this phenomenon into consideration otherwise you’ll be knee deep in water at the St Mark’s Square.
We walked in the soft light of dawn, weaving through the laneways along the canals in search of perfect Venice spots for pictures, such as the ornate Rialto Bridge that spanned the grand canal. Nothing could be more romantic than boarding a gondola in Venice, the gondolier singing sonnets like Pavarotti while steering down small canals and out into larger waterways. This was one of those places that sees a thousand tourists yet you can still imagine yourself somehow lost in another time in history.
Tickets for all venues on our tour were pre-booked group tickets and the great thing about this was that we had priority, jumping the long queues at every tourist attraction. It was no exception at St Mark’s Basilica, my Asian compatriots filed through the turnstile no problem, but as I came through last I was stopped by the ticket inspector and told flatly that my white face wasn’t part of this group. I yelled out to Kiki our tour leader and she came back to save me from the gatekeeper. He continued to eye me suspiciously and grudgingly relented to allow me through. While everyone in our group was laughing, I got a slap from the wife, who said I shouldn’t be at the back of the group and should stick to the front of our Asian bubble or be left behind in the western world.
One Tall, Hot Italian Coffee Please
In Florence we spent the afternoon in the Uffizi museum, with over 2 million visitors a year it’s the 25th most visited art museum in the world. The museum is said to house the largest single collection of Renaissance art anywhere, with priceless works by famous artists such as Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Raphael, Sandro Botticelli and Leonardo da Vinci. The next morning we traveled to the leaning tower of Pisa, where no Italian trip would be complete without the corny, “keeping the tower from falling” travel snap.
As we moved into north central Tuscany, our bus wound its way up to the medieval town of San Gimgnano, situated on a hilltop overlooking sweeping views of olive groves and farmlands. Legend has it that the best ice cream parlor in Italy can be found by following the cobbled streets to Piazza della Cisterna, the inner square inside the old town. Owner Sergio Dondoli, a member of Italy’s Ice Cream World Championship team, creates signature flavors such as saffron cream gelato and white wine Vernaccia sorbet.
We woke up early, our breath billowing in the crisp cool Tuscan air at hotel La Badia di Orvieto, and the group set out to the majestic town of Civita di Bagnoregio. Many years ago the area around the town collapsed and today it can only be reached by a manmade walkway. The town looks surreal as it sits isolated on a plateau overlooking the barren mountains and valleys of the Tiber River below.
When we reached the coastal city of Napoli we stopped for wood-fired pizza then caught the late night car ferry to the picturesque island town of Capri. We traveled by cable car to visit the upper levels of hotels, restaurants and designer shops. We stopped by the Capri & Co. watch shop on Via Camerelle run by the Staiano family, where local affordable jewel encrusted designer watches can be purchased for as low as 60 euro.
The next morning we made our way back down to the harbor and took a vintage 1930s style wooden speedboat around the bay to a famous cave on the cliffs at water level called the Blue Grotto. We boarded onto a small twoperson rowboat and had to duck down into the hull while the oarsman, using metal chains, pulled the boat inside the belly of the grotto. The water was a fiery electric blue color and all the rowboats circled inside for about five minutes as everyone tried to get a clear picture of the water in the lowlight of the cave.
Taking the ferry again from Capri, we traveled to the citadel town of Amalfi in search of high quality virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, limoncello candy and liquor. We stayed the night in the Villa san Michele cliff top hotel and the evening seafood meal over looking the sparkling lights of the Amalfi coast was only rivalled by the daytime morning breakfast sea view. The bus picked us up in the morning and spirited us along the scenic Strada Statale 163, the only coastal road that travels out of the region. We descended down the other side of the mountain with a view of Mt Vesuvius and the ancient city of Pompeii below.
The last long bus ride ended in Rome, where we took two days to visit two capitals within a city—Rome and, of course, the Vatican City, the smallest country in the world.
As we entered the tight security of the Vatican Museum a sea of tourists propel the crowd through the halls, which were filled with countless masterpiece murals painted on every wall and ceiling. The crowning jewel of the museum journey ended at the Sistine Chapel with Michelangelo’s famous fresco painting, The Creation of Adam, one of the most widely-recognizable paintings ever created. Taking photos of it is banned and ushers furiously tell hordes of tourists to refrain from talking and snapping in the Sistine Chapel. The exit led out to St Peter’s Square with the Swiss Guard in colorful uniforms looking out across the square at the central Vatican Obelisk, which was taken from Egypt to Rome by Caligula in AD64.
Ancient tourist attractions in Rome leave you in awe at the history and sophistication of the former Roman Empire. The Colosseum, where gladiators fought to the death to please the Roman crowds is a monstrous arena complex, one can only marvel at what it must have looked like in its former glory days some 2,000 plus years ago. The Pantheon is another amazing structure, built in its present form around AD126; it is the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world. The dome’s apex has a central opening to the sky called an oculus; the diameter of the interior dome and the height to the oculus are the same at 43 meters, and a perfect sphere could fit in its interior. The only natural light in the Pantheon comes from the entry way and from the oculus, with its sunlight moving in a reverse sundial effect around the inside of the dome. We were told the best coffee in Italy can be purchased at the Tazza D’Oro coffee shop close to the Pantheon, but what I later learned was the real reason why we visited this coffee shop, Kiki was told it had the handsomest Italian barista in Italy. All the girls in our tour lined up to get a photo with him, including my wife!
A honeymoon should be a once-in-a-lifetime experience and I can honestly say the tour of Italy was a fantastic memory that will be cherished in my older years. Italy, with its vivid history, culture, amazing food and warm hospitality, is the perfect choice to experience an exotic polar opposite of the hustle and bustle of Asian life. And, of course, the wife was actually right about the tour experience because we never had one fight during the entire honeymoon Italiano adventure.
Images by David Muller