Italy | May 15 - May 31, 2023

Janis P.
South Salt Lake, UT | Reviewed on Jun 07, 2023

I have travelled to Europe many many times but this time, I felt like a VIP! From the very first moment when my travel companion, Debra, and I, Janis, were met at the airport by a nicely dressed man who drove us in a Mercedes to a beautiful modern hotel in Milan, I was impressed. And first impressions count! The hotel in Milan was perfectly located next to the train station, which made it so easy for getting around, especially to the city center. Our room was lovely. Great way to begin our trip! We did spend more than an hour that first afternoon trying to find the car rental location, in preparation for the next morning. We didn't have the name of the local agency, even though I had inquired, only the umbrella company. And the local agency was located a couple of blocks away from the train station. We did finally find it, but it was a struggle. When we picked up the vehicle the next morning, it was very dirty inside. It had not been cleaned at all. And it had no gas.
So we had to immediately fill it. This was the only low point in our trip.
We proceeded to Merano and spent three nights there, really enjoying the little town I had booked accommodations in: Marlingo.
So, then we left for the KimKim portion of our trip, stopping first in Bellagio. Our accommodations were in the old part of the town, in a neighborhood all locals knew, so even when we got lost walking, we were kindly directed to our accommodations. (I'm now going to rate the activities and guides on a 10-pt scale, with 10 being outstanding.). The first morning our guide Silvia showed up at our hotel, exactly on time, and we set off for some incredible hiking with her. She was wonderful and we enjoyed her and her knowledge of the area immensely. She even brought a coffee heater with her and snacks so we could overlook Lake Como on our break. I can't say enough good things about Silvia. What a gem! (10!)(However, we puzzled over how much to "tip" all of our personal guides and drivers. That would be a good thing to include in trips for visitors like us, especially since it was just the TWO of us.)
The next day, we walked to the bicycle rental, got fitted for e-bikes and met our guide Philip. He was also FABULOUS! He took us all over, on steep roads, through narrow streets and on to the top of the mountain, where he recommended a restaurant, which we ended up reserving for that night's dinner. When I had a little accident the next day, I was able to contact him for a dental recommendation. He too is a gem! (10!)
Then we moved onto Stresa. What a lovely old 'classic' hotel, and right next to the ferry to the islands. Very convenient.
Without any guided tours there, however, it didn't have the same engaging 'personality'/ambience for us as Bellagio did, because of Silvia's and Philip's warmth and charm.
Next, we drove to Alba and our hostess at Cortiletto d'Alba was extraordinarily warm and welcoming. She couldn't do enough for us, including showing us where the free parking was! Our meals there (breakfast was included, but we also had dinner there two evenings) were wonderful. Each of our accommodations was so unique from the previous. We truly enjoyed the variety. Silvie was our guide through Alba, and she was very knowledgeable and we learned a lot. (8). Finding the restaurant for lunch was a little confusing, but it was delicious. That morning, driving into the hills for the wine tasting was a real adventure, as the roads there felt more like old narrow 'wagon trails.' But we found it, and joined six others in a lovely wine tasting with the most sensational views. It was phenomenal. (10!) Having both been in Tuscany, separately, on trips a few years ago, we relished the beauty and the quiet of the Piedmont. There were few people - not like in Tuscany. We'd go again in a heartbeat!!
And the truffle hunt: what an experience that was! We were again picked up by a driver in a very nice car, up to where we met the trifalau and his girl dog Buca. The driver left, and the three of us plus Buca tramped through the woods. When the trifalau (Carlo, I think) gave the signal, Buca began sniffing around through the woods, starting to dig when she smelled a truffle buried deep in the earth. We found two truffles, and learned SO much about truffles. It was an experience I've wanted to have for years; this was exceptional! (10!)
Then we drove to Genoa, where we were met by our driver who drove us to Monterosso. What a joy not to have to schlept our bags onto a train. Again, VIP treatment and we loved it!
And we so enjoyed our accommodations in Monterosso: perfect location in the village and the host was so kind to us. Francesco was our guide from Corniglia to Vernazza and he was excellent and very caring. (9)
The pesto making experience was such GREAT FUN! Both being cooks, we appreciated all the little insights Simone told us about the hands-on process. We each got an apron, we were fed heaps of food for lunch, and every couple received a half bottle of Cinque Terre wine. (10!)
The sunset cruise was a little disappointing. We didn't have the name of the company, only the name of the boat. Locals tried to help us, but told us the boat (by the name we had - Guiliana) was moored in Monterosso. It was only with the help of six locals that we finally connected with the right boat company. It was other guests scheduled for the same boat that made our departure even later. There were 14 of us plus the driver/guide. Most people had to sit on the flat padded part of the boat, but we chose the rear where we could sit with our feet on the boat's floor (much more comfortable). The appetizers (foaccacia) were stale and tasteless. We fed the pieces to the seagulls. The guide opened up 11 bottles of Prosecco but Debra and I only drank a few ounces as it wasn't very good Prosecco. The sunset was beautiful and the guide told us a bit about each of the five towns. (7)
The driver back to Genoa was right on time (actually early) and he dropped us at the appointed places, Debra to the airport and me to the train station, for my trip to Nice.
Jessica was a joy to communicate with and make such a customized plan. I was impressed by AXUS - what a helpful and informative app! I can't recommend Jessica enough. During the trip, Barbara too was such a help, and always available despite the hour of our needing assistance or clarification. On a scale of 1 - 10, STORYWALKING gets an 11!

Hotel Reviews
Right next to the train station; you can go anywhere in Europe from here!
Cleanliness & Comfort
A beautiful and modern hotel, filled with art - really a knockout!
Andirivieni Bellagio Guest House

Authentic, charming accommodations. Free parking right at the entrance. Good staff. Terrific location.

Authenticity & Character
Cleanliness & Comfort
Hotel Royal

Classic, old style hotel - very elegant - beautiful location. Free parking on site. Right next to the ferry to the islands. Fabulous breakfast buffet. Our room had a lovely balcony.

Authenticity & Character
Charming "old world" feel
Just off the water, a short walk to the main portion of Stresa along the water
Cleanliness & Comfort
B&B Cortiletto d'Alba

The staff is so warm and welcoming; truly exceptional people. Location is perfect, very close to the old part of Alba. There is free parking, although it can be difficult to find. Delicious food, for breakfasts, and dinners are exquisite (make reservations; it's popular!)

Authenticity & Character
Cleanliness & Comfort
Hotel Stella della Marina
Authenticity & Character
Clean and modern. Lots of stairs however!
Host/owner/manager is such a hard worker; he does it all; and very friendly.
Cleanliness & Comfort
Activity Reviews
Wine Experience

I forgot to include this in my overall review. Perhaps it's because it wasn't much of a event. The vineyard owner was late. She took us through her family's vineyard, describing different methods of growing the vines. Then set us up at the table with the first of four wines to taste. Then she was through with us. Establishment was short staffed and the wine shack is on the public trail. So it took us a while to figure out that we weren't going to be served the other three wines unless we asked at the wine shack. The employee apologized and tried to make up for our being ignored. The wines were just okay.

Quality of Experience
Guides, Drivers and Staff
We had to wait a long time for a bus because the first bus was too crowded. And the only way down after the event was to walk, or wait two hours for a bus. Good thing we were prepared with good walking shoes and walking sticks - otherwise I would not have been able to cope with the rocky steep trail. I don't think this was worth it.
Cinque Terre Trekking Adventure: Explore Italy's Coastal Wonders
Bellagio peak: Monte San Primo
The Ghisallo Family E-Xperience

Philip gave us four hours.

Alba & Barolo Exclusive Experience
Pesto Experience
Cinque Terre Sunset Boat Tour
Local specialist: Jessica Proietti
Jessica Proietti
Local specialist in Italy | Replied on Jun 08, 2023

Dear Janis,

thank you very much for this detailed review and for your confidence in traveling with us!
Your feedback helps us to accomplish our goal to create truly wonderful experiences for all.