Expert: Harlan and Kara deBell, "Travel Siblings," Valerie Wilson Travel
Length of trip: Eight days
__Highlights:__The art and architecture of three Italian cities, plus shopping, eating, and of course, a gondola ride in Venice
DAY 1: ARRIVE IN ROME Check into the St. Regis Grand Hotel, Rome, and spend the rest of your first day getting pampered at the hotel's spa and enjoying the opulent Old World elegance of the place. (Even the standard rooms have hand-painted frescoes!)
DAY 2:ROME Spend the first half of the day in Vatican City. See Raphael's Transfiguration, the Raphael Rooms, the Belvedere Garden featuring the famous Laocoön and His Sons sculpture, and, of course, the restored Sistine Chapel, famous for Michelangelo's ceiling and the Last Judgment fresco.... Walk to St. Peter's Basilica and take in Michelangelo's dome, his statue Pietà, Bernini's magnificent Baldacchino, and the tombs of the Popes.... Continue on to the Colosseum and get a taste of what it might have been like to be a gladiator doing combat in the Amphitheater Flavium.... Stop for an al fresco lunch at 'Gusto, which serves fantastic pizza.... Visit the city center, starting at Piazza Navona then heading to the Pantheon.... End the day at the Spanish Steps; take in a gorgeous view of the city and sample delicious cuisine on the terrace of nearby Ristorante Mirabelle.
DAY 3 TO 5: FLORENCE Take a two-hour train ride to Florence and check into the Villa La Vedetta, a boutique hotel housed in a neo-Renaissance villa that has a gorgeous view of the city.... It's easy to self-navigate the art and architecture Florence is known for: Start the day at the Uffizi Gallery, where you'll see masterpieces by Giotto, Botticelli, Raphael, da Vinci, and Michelangelo, among others.... Walk to the Piazza della Signoria, home to an outdoor sculpture gallery. Nearby, you can see impressive works of art like the gold "Gates of Paradise" doors of the Baptistry, Giotto's bell tower, and the famous Basilica di Santa Maria dome, by Brunelleschi.... Visit Accademia, where you'll see Michelangelo's David.... If your tastes lean more toward wearable art, window shopping at the famous jewelry stores lining the Ponte Vecchio is a must—we particularly like the Orlando Orlandini Atelier.... If you're into shopping, make the 40- minute trip to countryside outlet The Mall for big savings on designers like Gucci, Giorgio Armani, and Bottega Veneta.... We love riverside restaurant Borgo San Jacopo for dinner, or, for an exceptional view of the city, try the Tuscan fare (like the super-rich warm blue-lobster fillet with goose liver and herb sauce) at La Loggia restaurant at the Villa San Michele, a former monastery.
DAYS 6 & 7: VENICE Travel by train to Venice and check into the Hotel Danieli, formerly a 14th-century palace— the rooms are gorgeous and so Italian, with details like silk-covered walls and Murano glass chandeliers.... Wander narrow side streets that snake along the canals, and take time to pop in and out of shops and cafés along the way.... Enjoy a private tour (booked through Italian Dream Incorporated Travel) of Venice's most famous islands, Murano, Burano, and Torcello. In Murano, tour the Museo del Vetro for a century-by- century tour of the history of glassmaking. Burano is a fisherman's island known for its brightly colored houses and lace-making school. In Torcello, the last stop, see the island's beautiful cathedral, with its magnificent mosaics.... Stay in Torcello and enjoy dinner in the garden at Locanda Cipriani. On your second day here, be sure to see La Fenice opera house and the modern art at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, located in the heiress's former home.... End the day with a private gondola ride on the canals— sure, it's touristy, but a visit to Venice is simply not complete without a ride in a gondola.... Sample traditional Venetian recipes at Ristorante Antico Pignolo, a hidden gem just a few yards off Piazza San Marco—the seafood risotto here is superb! Finish your trip the way café society would have back in the day: with the signature bellini at the world-famous Harry's Bar.
__DAY 8: FLY HOME