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Country Roads: Bologna
Country Roads:
La Serenissima

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 recipe.

building on the Grand Canal at night, Venice

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.

the Grand Canal, Venice at sunset

So, where are we? Why, in Venice, on the Grand Canal, beginning the final leg of this wonderful, eight-day, Insight journey.

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.

Carnevale mask

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.

gondola parked along a waterway, Venice

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.

various scenes of the Grand Canal in Venice

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.

interior of the Hotel Bauer, the Basilica of St. Mary of Good Health, the Baroque facade of the Church of San Moisč and a gondola near the entrance to Harry's Bar

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 service.

The staff is discreet and the service at the B is simply impeccable.

a room at the Hotel Bauer, Venice

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!

a row of gondolas at the Riva degli Schiavoni with the San Giorgio Maggiore in the background

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.

a bottle and glass of chilled Lugano

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!

dishes at the Ristorante La Principessa

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?

a sgropin or sorbetto - a Venetian dessert of semi-frozen smoothie

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 water).


Related Articles:
Escape 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

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Let Tom know what you think about his traveling adventure.

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Feedback for Destination Bosnia: Inside Sarajevo's Tunnel of Hope

Spent time in Sarajevo in the fall of 1973…beer was excellent!

--- David

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Hi Tom,

I must say, you're photographs are always amazing. They are top notch. You bring so much class to Traveling Boy. It's photographs like yours that make me want to go out and do my own traveling. Please don't get tired of sending us your amazing adventures. It's such a delight for the soul.

--- Raoul, Whittier, CA

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Hi Tom:

I'm also an American living in Italy. I've read with interest your blog and articles. I'd like to speak with you regarding residency and citizenship for Americans in Italy as you do seem to have a great deal of knowledge on all of these subjects. Would it be possible to give you a call on the phone? If so, please let me know how to reach you. If not, I can ask my questions via email.

Thank you!

--- David

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Hey Tom – Wow! Love those photos – they are so super that they make me A) Want to start eating NOW. B) Go there myself. C) See all that pristine beauty that looks so restful and peaceful. Great story, superb pix!!! Bravo!!

--- John, Los Angeles, CA

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Feedback for Destination Southwestern France: Saint-Émilion

Good job, Tom, and timely info. St. Émilion is in the list of places Jim Hayes and I will visit in September 2014. If we get the chance, we will exploit your experience to enhance the trip!

--- Bobby Harper, Dameron, MD

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Feedback for Vicenza Walks – Monte Berico

I lived in Vicenza for 4 years in the U.S. ARMY from 1963 to 1967. A wonderful place to explore. Palladio’s works are amazing. Have been back twice since and find new places to visit. My favorite is MONTE BERICO where I have some wonderful photos of my family.

--- Dr. Albert Pizzi, Hanover, MA

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I liked the new TB particularly the Vicenza article that took me back as a youth when we lived in Naples and travelled up there for a baseball tourney (U.S. Military Bases dependent schools played each other.)

Took me back to the plaza.

--- Bill

Feedback for A Canterbury Trail (Sutri)

Very interesting note. I have wedroned which route the early pre-Christian and Christian pilgrims travelled to Rome from England. Is it still possible to travel the Francigena trail?

--- Pawel

You can find out more info on walking tours of Via Francigena at this site: Thanks for stopping by and commenting..


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Good article, enjoyed reading it. Saved your recommended sights for future use.

--- Dardenne Prairie, MO

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You're going to be great at this Tom. Congrats.

--- Donna Vissa -Montreal

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