Story and photos by Tom Weber
For the past six days I've been living
the sweet life, and doing so on someone else's euro.
Totally content with my business-class
legroom seat and onboard WIFI connection, I've been riding inside a
comfortable motorcoach with the rest of my band of merry media
guests of Insight Vacations (Insight) on one of its Country
Roads of Italy itineraries as it rolled through Umbria and
Tuscany. Together, we've seen, experienced and tasted so much, but a
bit more sweetener is about to be added to this la dolce vita
As Insights' German-built chariot, a quickly
fading footnote in our rubber-meets-road antics, resets its odometer
for a new adventure somewhere else in the Bel Paese, we're already
safely and happily aboard private water taxis, gliding along in single-file
formation under the cover of darkness, passing by ornate palazzi
where rich merchants once lived, as we make our way to our digs for
the next two nights: the Hotel Bauer, a five-star luxury property fit
for ol' Casanova and modern-day jet setters alike.
So, where are we? Why, in Venice, on the
Grand Canal, beginning the final leg of this wonderful, eight-day, Insight
La Serenissima (the most serene),
centuries ago a powerful, majestic and innovative maritime republic
that was a leader in trade between Europe and the Orient, and bridged
the social, political and cultural divide between the two geographies,
is still world renowned for its canals and, more importantly, her ability
to take your breath away no matter how many times you visit.
If you've only seen Venice from afar, as
the backdrop in a Hollywood movie or as part of the storyline in a fast-paced,
edge-of-your seat thriller novel (think Inferno by Dan Brown),
she's more hypnotic than you could ever imagine.
Hiding behind a Carnevale mask,
she's alluring, captivating and mysterious.
Built entirely over water, Venezia sits
atop an archipelago of 118 small islands in a shallow lagoon that empties
into the Adriatic Sea in the Veneto region of northeastern Italy.
She's separated by an assortment of canals,
like the Grand Canal (called Canalasso in the Venetian dialect)
the doge of La Serenissima's waterways that slithers
through the city like a giant S-shaped serpent smaller ones called
a rio that merge into the bona fide ones, and the narrowest and
shortest of canals called a riello.
And, there are more than 400 bridges, some
architectural masterpieces, and all negotiated free-of-charge on foot,
that link Venice all together. Of course, you can float around town,
too: economically, via traghetti and vaporetti (public ferry boat-buses),
or expensively, via gondola (with or without a musical serenade) and
private motoscafi (motor boat taxis), like ours.
Under the watchful eye of Belinda, Insight's
wonderfully talented tour director-slash-storyteller, we plan to cross
over and squeeze under as many bridges and push through as many canals
around La Serenissima as we possibly can over the next 36 hours.
But first, I've gotta check in at the hotel,
clean up, then head right back out as I've got a dinner date with a
princess and I don't want to keep her waiting.
Established in 1928, the Hotel
Bauer (the "B") is an Insight gold-level property
and a Leading Hotels of the World that stands along the Grand
Canal with an unfettered view of the impressive La Salute
the Basilica of St. Mary of Good Health is right next
door to the Church of San Moisè and its incredibly ornate
Baroque facade, surrounded by high-end fashion boutiques, only a short
stroll to St. Mark's Square, and is just down the calle
(street) from Harry's Bar Hemingway's favorite Venetian
watering hole. One more thing, there's a gondola landing right outside
the entrance, adjacent to the B's private dock where we arrived.
A restored 18th century palazzo
(palace), the B has an urban vibe to it with its art deco-inspired public
interiors showcasing original works of art by local artists.
Upon arrival, guests are greeted with a
complimentary box of fruit-flavored candy sitting on the nightstand
just waiting to be opened.
Many of the rooms and suites, 109 in all,
have views of the Grand Canal or the bell tower of St. Mark's Square,
but all are elegantly appointed and complimented by the nightly turndown
The staff is discreet and the service at
the B is simply impeccable.
The price for a night in this palace ranges
from 900 to 1,500€ for a standard room, but, if you travel with
Insight, that rate dramatically drops as the daily cost throughout the
entire Country Roads journey averages out to about 220€
per person. Your per diem price includes transportation, transfers,
baggage handling, most of your meals, art-history guides and surprising
"signature moments" when you least expect them.
Now that the "product placements"
are out of the way, let's go eat. I'm starved!
That dinner date with a princess that I
mentioned earlier? I wasn't lying. Our band of merry media, temporarily
split into two groups because we're so many, will dine at different
Venetian restaurants tonight. I'm assigned to Team Princess and that's
where we're headed: Ristorante La Principessa (La P), just a
short walk from the Bauer, through St. Mark's square over to Riva degli
Schiavoni that fronts the Grand Canal Basin and a camera-ready view
of San Giorgio Maggiore.
The wait staff at La P is courteous, friendly
and super fast as stocky, dark green bottles of chilled Lugano, a dry
white from the Cà dei Frati winery around Lake Garda, are delivered
almost before we get situated around la tavola. The first glass
poured, this dinner party is now officially underway. Cin cin!
Most of Team Princess orders first and
second course dishes of fish. Makes sense since we're looking straight
at the Adriatic, so we might as well cast a virtual line out there for
the catch-of-the-day, right?
Our group has bonded really well over the
past few days, so there's lots of food sharing involving fork stabs
at tablemates' plates. Care for a nibble?
We cap our evening of fine dining at La
P with the quintessential Venetian dessert-slash-digestive: Sgropin,
as the locals call it, or Sorbetto as it's known around the rest
of La Penisula. It's the semi-frozen smoothie that aristocratic
fats cats of old inhaled during and/or after a large feast.
The Sgropin is a mixture of lemon
sorbet, Prosecco sparkling wine and vodka. It goes down real easy and
makes you feel like you haven't eaten at all.
Turns out the Most Serene Republic of Venice
thought of everything way back when, including this alcoholic version
of Slim Fast!
With a light drizzle falling and strong
winds kicking up, we blow through St. Mark's Square back to the hotel
where we retire to the bar for a rowdy nightcap.
Somebody on Team Princess mentions to no
one in particular: I've had enough. I'm going to bed.
Without missing a beat, someone else on
the squad responds: Goodnight, principessa!
For complete information on Insight
Vacations' 12 Italian premium and luxury-escorted itineraries and
over 100 journeys throughout Europe, just click HERE,
or call toll free (888) 680-1241, or contact your travel agent.
See you tomorrow as we walk the plank to
experience Venice's seasonal pastime: AQUA ALTA (high
to Giudecca; The
Good Humor Man of San Gimignana; Scorgiano:
A Dark and Foodie Night; San
Gimignano: Scraping the Tuscan Sky; Chianti
Pours Forth from Fonterutoli