La Dolce Vita
Doing Italy With Style

By Paul Sandry
Our World Magazine - May 2001

Italy with DavidTours [DavidTravel] was one of the best vacation trips we have ever taken.  My partner, Arturo, and I read great articles about their tours in Our World and other publications.  We spoke to David and some clients who had traveled with him, and we decided to book.  Now, we are hooked! 

Italy is famous throughout the world for many things; its cuisine, architecture, history, natural beauty, fashion, and its vibrant, stunning people.  It would be hard not to love any trip you take to Italy.  Many of our fondest memories are the result of this adventure with DavidTours [DavidTravel].  Our Italian tour director, Guido (it really is his name), was charming, brilliant, and always handled our every need.  We also had exceptional local licensed guides who took us ahead of long lines (imagine the ability to avoid the 4 hour wait to see the Statue of David), and brought the villages, art works, history and current culture to life for our group. 

Every restaurant was superb.  And importantly, at most of our included dinners, an amazing group of local friends of David's joined us.  We were fortunate enough to meet all sorts of interesting people, including high ranking diplomats, and an Italian soap opera star!  The gay maps and publications provided also gave us all exactly what we needed to explore the local gay scene independently, enjoying the bars and nightclubs in Florence and Rome.  And, by private invitation, we visited an embassy, attended a fun consulate party, joined a casual dinner party at a lakeside estate, and even had a private meeting with a high ranking Vatican official. 

We stayed in four exceptional hotels (3 nights Venice, 4 nights Florence, 3 nights Perugia and 4 nights Rome) during the 14-night visit, providing excellent bases for day trips and excursions en route.  During the tour, 26 gourmet meals were included (13 breakfasts, 6 lunches and 7 dinners), plus gelato at two of the finest gelaterias.  In Venice, we stayed at the luxurious Luna Hotel Baglioni.  DavidTours [DavidTravel] also uses the chic, new Ca' Pisani Hotel.  In Florence, we stayed at the Ferragamo Family-owned, centrally located Gallery Hotel Art.  It was magical, and I understand they typically don't take groups. 

We all fell in love with the old university town of Perugia, where we stayed 3 nights at the newly renovated Hotel Brufani, a 5-star gem and national landmark.  The tour culminated in Rome, now one of my favorite cities.  We had a perfect location at the highly rated Grand Hotel Palace, but future groups will stay at the luxurious Hotel Majestic, a member of the Leading Small Luxury Hotels of The World.  Both are located on the famous Via Venato. 

Every guide, driver, hotel and restaurant had been previewed and carefully chosen for excellence and style.  It was known we were gay, and everyone was very warm and attentive.  Our tours and excursions were never too long and we were always escorted by the finest local experts.  In Venice we had time to discover why Venetians call their city "La Serenissima" - the most serene.  Our city walking tour included interior visits to St.  Mark's Cathedral and the Doges' Palace (our guide got us past the 3 hour lineup).  The Basilica's main treasure is the Pala d'Oro, a magnificent gold bas-relief encrusted with precious gems. 

The Doges' Palace was built as a castle in the 9th century, rebuilt in the 14th century, and restored in the 17th century, creating a fusion of Veneto-Byzantine-Gothic-Renaissance styles.  We strolled (and cruised) St.  Mark's Square, nearby Sansovino's Libreria and the Ponte dei Sospiri (Bridge of Sighs), now a place for lovers to vow eternal love. 

We toured the Jewish Ghetto, enjoyed an "off the beaten track" guided city exploration, shopped for Carnevale masks, and visited the Collezione Peggy Guggenheim, where major names in modern art are represented in glorious surroundings.  And no visit to this city would be complete without a visit to The Gallerie dell Accademia, exhibiting the likes Giorgione's The Tempest and Titian's Pieta. 

One evening, Guido arranged to take us to a meeting of a local gay group where we were warmly received.  It was a great experience and many of the gay Italian men and woman we met shared their excitement of the recent World Gay Pride they had attended in Rome with us.  We also learned that because there are no gay venues in Venice it is very hard for gay and lesbian Venetians to meet and socialize.  Meeting our group of gay travelers was a special treat for this very kind young gay group. 

En route to Florence, we visited Pomposa and Ravenna.  Picturesque Pomposa Abbey was founded in the 8th century as a Benedictine monastery.  One of our favorite stops was Ravenna, which was chosen almost 16 centuries ago as the capital of the Western Roman Empire, and still retains many of its ancient buildings.  Our visit included the Basilica di San Vitale and Sant'Apollinare Nuovo (both built in the 5th and 6th centuries and graced with fabulous original mosaics). 

On arrival in Florence, we visited the Uffizi Gallery and The Academy of Fine Art.  The Uffizi has an unparalleled collection of art; highlights include Botticelli's Primavera and Birth of Venus and Leonardo da Vinci's Annunciation.  The Academy of Fine Art is the venerable home of the Statue of David, an awesome experience along with other masterpieces by Michelangello.  Our personal art historian offered great insights on the art, including a gay history of Michaelangello! 

In the Florentine style, we enjoyed a wonderful, extended meal with wine.  Further explorations included the Pitti Palace, and just one and a half blocks from our hotel, we strolled the Ponte Vecchiol; the landmark bridge built in 1345, superb for people watching, shopping and brilliant sunsets.  There was an optional excursion to Pisa that we skipped to allow time to wander and shop in this beautiful city. 

Next was the perfect Tuscan day visiting Castellina, San Gimignano, a delicious lunch, and wine tasting in Chianti.  The rolling hills covered with olive groves and vineyards, fields of sunflowers, and villages with cobblestone streets sprawl the land.  Our group loved San Gimignano, a 13th century walled city filled with beautiful churches, palaces, towers and squares.  En route to Perugia, the "Green Heart of Italy," we discovered Siena, a living masterpiece of art and architecture.  Even in Italy, few places are as aesthetically harmonious as this old town, including a visit to the Prior's Palace, famous for its 14th century frescos and beautifully carved 15th century paneling.  In the afternoon, our faces glowed with smiles as we settled into our beautiful, traditionally decorated room at the Hotel Brufani affording commanding views of the lovely hills of Umbria. 

We met wonderful residents of Perugia, including local and foreign students from the university.  Overseas attendees come to Perugia for its top ranking Italian language school.  A warm gay couple included us in a dinner party at their home.  Day trips included a visit to the enchanting village of Assisi, home to St. Francis, who died there in 1226.  Our walkabout included an examination of the Basilica of St. Francis, famous for spectacular frescoes illustrating the saint's life.  Back in Perugia, we relaxed, preparing for our next destination, Rome. 

David's friends were a delight sharing their private Rome with us.  With Guido and local guides we enjoyed sightseeing at the Coliseum, The Roman Forum, the Trevi Fountain and the Vatican, including the newly restored Sistine Chapel. 

A day trip from Rome took us along the famous Amalfi Coast to Pompeii and Sorrento.  Pompeii, buried in 79 AD when Mt.  Vesuvius erupted, provides a fantastically well-preserved portrait of daily life in the Roman era.  This was followed by a lovely lunch along the coast and on to Sorrento, high on the southernmost peninsula of the Gulf of Naples and along the arresting bluffs of the Amalfi Coast.  I now know why the Amalfi merits superlatives for its rugged beauty.  Another perfect day! 

We had a day at leisure to shop and wander the streets of Rome, deciding to enjoy some serious antiquing. 

Our farewell dinner was excellent, and a wonderful opportunity to meet new friends.  Afterwards, our group and the locals decided to check out the eternal city's Saturday nightlife. 

If you are want the finest in quality and attention to detail, you won't be disappointed with DavidTours [DavidTravel].  I have studied a lot of tour itineraries and have never seen itineraries that are so well designed - never exhausting or overwhelming and always balancing touring time, leisure time, group time, transit time, and free time.  I enjoyed Italy so much that I am encouraging DavidTours [DavidTravel] to form a second tour there consisting of Southern Italy and Sardignia.  We are already considering our next DavidTours [DavidTravel] journey South Africa & Botswana!