Once in a while there are travel combinations that are just meant to be put together, and bearing this in mind, Italian Short Breaks have now created a new one for you.
The first is Milan and Lake Como. From March to October, this break is great for combining some culture in Milan with some relaxation and a gentler pace on Lake Como. Same as Verona and Lake Garda break, this incorporates a bit of both but is still fully tailor-made to you. In Milan we have added in our Private guided Duomo with Rooftop tour along with our Self Guided Audio tour of Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper fresco. After visiting The Last Supper myself, I realised after that I had missed most of what the guide had told me as I needed a few minutes to take in the faded fresco that has caused so much controversy, in regards to the identity of the person sitting to Jesus’s right. With the audio guide, you can marvel at the fresco, take your photos and then listen to the guide, all without missing a word.
For the ultimate experience, why not add in our Optional Extra night at the opera/ballet at La Scala. With La Scala being one of the most prestigious opera houses in the world, it feels a shame not to experience this first hand.
Once you have transferred to Lake Como, you have the option of either staying at Hotel Villa Flori near the bottom of the lake, or upgrading to Hotel Belvedere which is located in the middle where the three forks of Como meet. As you would expect, we include balcony view rooms overlooking the lake at both hotels, and with fine hotel dining and nearby sites to enjoy, you can craft the second part of your break how you want it. We do have some great options including boat tours to visit Bellagio and the nearby villas, or you can enjoy your time at leisure.
We recommend the spring/autumn for less crowds, calmer temperatures and stretching out the great weather.
Of course the website is only the start of the start of the story. If you want to add in more time in one or both places, add in a tour or maybe even add in another region, at Italian Short Breaks we can tailor-make your trip to suit you. Whether you are a first timer to the region or a seasoned traveller, there is always more to see in this beautiful location.
Click here to see our Cultural Milan & Scenic Lake Como Retreat break.
So you’ve decided you want to go to Italy for the opera, but now you have to choose which location. There is La Scala in Milan, La Fenice in Venice, the Puccini Festival in Lucca and the Arena in Verona. All offer fantastic experiences, but whereas the first two are in dedicated opera houses of stunning design, only the latter are open-air venues. Whilst the Puccini Festival takes place overlooking the lake and is very scenic, for first timers to the Italy region scene, I recommend Verona.
La Scala, Milan La Fenice, Venice (copyrighted to Michele Crosera) Puccini Festival, Lucca
Situated in idyllic surroundings being only several hours from Venice, Milan, Siena for the Palio horse race, Florence and for those wanting the lake, Lake Garda, Verona is perfect for those wanting either a short city break or looking to extend. Indeed we have many clients who return and extend their trip with Lake Garda or a second city. This little city offers a night at the opera (or two!) along with enough options to choose from to fill a few days.
But why Verona for the opera?
There is nowhere more scenic than enjoying a night at the opera in an open-air Roman Arena built in 72AD! Whilst the arena was built for a very different purpose, it makes the most ideal opera venue as the acoustics are amazing from whichever seats you sit in.
For us however, there can be no better viewing position than the Gold Central Stall seats, which are the best in the arena. Whilst the stone steps are more authentic, the reality of hours sitting on cold stone and the climb up to them, can be quite trying on the body, whereas the Gold Central Stall are on the ground, seated in plastic chairs with a comfy padded cushion. No climbing required! In fact, we love these seats so much, we offer all our clients a Complimentary Free Upgrade from the Central Stall seats (second best category) to the Gold Central Stall (the best).
So, why Italian Short Breaks?
While there are of course other tour operators offering Verona, we have plenty of good reasons why you should choose us. We specialise in special occasion breaks, so for us this begins from the moment you make contact with us. If you are worried about the thought of travelling the distance through the airport, please don’t. We can add in Special Airport Assistance for you. If it’s worrying that age can be a barrier, we can recommend travel insurance for the over 75 market. If however, you have never arranged a trip before, then don’t worry, this is our forte. Once we understand from you exactly what you are looking for, we can recommend specific hotels, tours or way of doing your trip that work for you. All of the team have been to Verona so we know the hotels and tours we are promoting, first hand. For example, we appreciate everyone is different and whereas some people might want a more modern hotel, you may be more interested in a traditional setting.
Perhaps you worry about being part of a group, in which case you will love our private airport transfers that transport you directly from the airport to your hotel without waiting on others. Or maybe, the thought of travelling without a group makes you hesitant about travelling. Again, you need not worry. Verona is a small, self contained safe city, and with our Verona Pass Card that helpfully comes with a map pinpointing all the free, beat the queues local sights, you will be happy to explore without a tour guide!
All of the hotels we recommend are within a 5-10mins walk from the arena; the main focus point of Verona. This means you can easily walk to the arena for your night at the opera, without relying on a bus or taxi. It also means you are free to wander around the local sights, restaurants and shops, all of which Verona has in high numbers!
And the main reason you would use us over others? All of our trips can be totally tailor-made to you. We don’t do set departures with set tours, we make your break exactly as you want it. If you want longer, shorter, more tours, a second night at the opera (or third, schedule permitting!), then we can arrange this for you. Similarly if you want a hotel nearer to the arena or to add on a second city or time on nearby Lake Garda, we can do this for you also. If it’s a case of making the most of that special occasion, we can certainly recommend some good options for making your loved one feel truly cherished!
To find out more about our Verona Opera packages.
Venice is one of those cities you can come back to again and again. For me I am lucky enough to say it is not one of those “Once in a Lifetime experiences” and is always a special place for me to return to – I never tire of “the old lady”.
In my view there is ONLY one way to arrive and that is on a private water taxi from the airport which will sweep you across to the main island and wend you through the back canals to the Grand Canal to your hotel. Sitting with the roof open at the back of the boat with the sun on your face in your own private boat as you zip up the Grand Canal it is hard to feel that life can get any better! Without doubt a magnificent way to start your Venice Holiday.
For those of you new to Venice we would recommend a private guided tour of the main sites such as the Doges Palace which includes a walk over the Bridge of Sighs following in the footsteps of prisoners as they were taken to the prison. Reputably it is called the Bridge of Sighs as the prisoners sighed as they took their last look at Venice through the windows of the bridge!
A boat trip to the colourful island of Burano and the glass blowing capital of Murano is popular, and we have sourced some smaller ones so as to avoid the big boat groups – though can of course can offer private as well.
A gondola trip is on most people’s agenda so as to absorb the atmosphere and gastronomy feasts await and we would particularly recommend the Met at the Metropole Hotel with its gourmet Michelin starred tasting menu.
For those of you who don’t mind paying for an experience then take to St Marks Square late at night and delight in a strawberry Daquiri as you breathe in the spectacular view and listen to the superb quartet playing jazz and musical classic. New York New York seemed to be a particular favourite and the later it gets the more you can enjoy the square without the hoards seen at midday.
However for many the beauty of Venice is striking out on your own and exploring. If you don’t want to explore too far just wander off the main tourist route and don’t worry about getting lost – that is part of the joy. You will come across plenty of tavernas to stop for a drink, and before long you will come across a sign that directs you to the Accademia or St Marks Square and gets you to a site you know or to a water bus to take you back along the Grand Canal. You will have gone beneath the Rialto Bridge on your arrival, but we would suggest you also take a waterbus down the Grand Canal at night and work your way forward to sit at the very front and enjoy the view as you travel up and down.
But in the meantime you will find unexpected joys. On my most recent trip I stopped at the side of a canal admiring the view. A working barge pulled alongside and the builders started unloading their materials. As they were working a group of gondolas passed down the canal accompanied by an opera singer. To my great amusement as they disappeared from view and the singing echoed back the builders started to join in at top volume. But in true Italian style it was the most wonderful operatic singing delivered by beaming builders – I challenge you to find a spontaneous moment like that in the UK! 10 minutes later I was dodging out of the way of a tradesman delivering his wares to a hotel on a hand cart whilst taking a photo of a rather unusual archway where one of the columns was actually a small cannon!
Away from the tourist bustle Venice is both beautiful in its peace and sheer beauty and shameful, as the slow slide and decay of the buildings is apparent. It is a bitter sweet sight. To round off a mornings wander we would recommend returning to the Grand Canal for lunch on the terrace at the Gritti Palace. Here sip prosecco and take time to experience the hustle and bustle of the Grand Canal.
We have a plethora of Venice trips that range from offering the perfect first time romantic Venice weekend break, to an exclusive Venice short break staying on a private island in the lagoon for those regular returners or the wonderful experience of arriving into Venice on the Venice Simplon Orient Express. We can tailor Venice trips to feature the opera at La Fenice Opera House, as well as breaks that offer you the chance to attend a Venice Carnival Ball dressed in stunning historical costume. Take a peek at our full Venice Holidays we specialise in the little details that make all the difference- for example choosing a hotel which has a water pier so you can arrive by private water taxi, rather than having to drag your suitcases up and down the many bridges over the canals!
Italy is a fantastic city for a visit, and that is why so many people each year flock to the main cities of Venice, Florence, Milan and Rome. At only around a 2hr plane flight, with gourmet cuisine and fine wine, beautiful weather and a wealth of history, an Italian short breaks, comes easily to mind, when planning your next trip abroad.
We can either choose a cultural city break, some much needed time on a scenic lake, taking in opera in many stunning indoor and outdoor surroundings, or perhaps dressing in style attending a top VIP ball at the yearly Venice Carnival. If celebrating a special birthday or wedding anniversary, the Venice Simplon Orient Express is impossible to disappoint, or for those with a love of history and horse racing, the twice yearly Siena Palio horse race is definitely at the top of your list.
One thing is for sure; any Italian short break has plenty to keep everyone entertained. With many of our clients now looking at other towns and cities to visit, and thereby extending their trip, it seems the perfect time to look at other wonderful places to visit, along with must-do experiences.
Our very good friends at Jen Reviews have been kind enough to share their latest blog entitled “100 Best Things to do in Italy.” It is a very comprehensive list of just some of the amazing Italian short breaks we offer, but also a good reminder of how much more this incredibly versatile country has to offer. There is indeed always one more trip to explore further!
Jen Reviews – 100 Best Things to do in Italy – https://www.jenreviews.com/best-things-to-do-in-italy/
Italian Short Breaks – A New Perspective
There’s nothing like a new year to make you reflect on what needs a bit of improvement, and for a while now our Italian Short Breaks website has been top of the list.
Whilst we know our once in a lifetime, tailor-made breaks are of a very high calibre, the old site did not embody the “WOW” factor of our amazing photos. In short; they didn’t do our breaks justice.
Although I still remember clearly working on the last site as a recent memory, it has actually been a crazy 8 years since we went back to the beginning and worked on a whole new design. Well, now we have done just that! The new site shows off our photos in a way that has the whole team excited, and we hope, you too!
What have we improved? Well, now you can see some of our recommendations on what to do to fill your time with our Optional Extras at the bottom of each day. For those who like to search by theme, you can choose from our Music & Opera, Festivals & Events, Scenic Trains, Private City Breaks, Epic Journeys or Special Occasion regions. If you know where you want to go but want help with how to make the trip work best for you, you can head straight to our Destinations section and click on Florence, Venice, Verona and so many others. Our breaks incorporate both the first timer to the region or the seasoned returner.
If you are the first, our Destination Guides on our main event-led breaks will tell you more about the region, accommodation, what to see and our favourite top tip for getting the most out of your Italian short break. If you have been before, then we have plenty of recommendations for how to personalise your trip to you. Remember, our website is an idea of what we can do and what we recommend, but all can be tailor-made to suit you, whether that involves a second night at the opera or a few days extension to a second city or lake. For those with a bit more time at their disposal, head to our Epic Journeys region, where seeing more of Italy includes three or even four cities.
Be sure to check out our Reviews from previous clients if you have not travelled with us before. This can be found at the bottom of our homepage and our region pages. Feedback is incredibly important to us and the main reason we are so confident in our Italian Short Breaks being once in a lifetime experiences.
A lot of time, energy and creativity, (not to mention patience and good humour!) has gone into this new website, from the Italian Short Breaks and our fantastic design team. We are so excited to be sharing this with you and we hope you love it as much as we do!
Click here for more information.
So you have put the money aside and decided this goes towards your holiday, but now you have to decide which country is top of your list. Not always an easy decision! So why Italy?
Well, out of all the countries in the world Italy is one of the safest places to visit. With only around 2hrs flight time for reaching the north and 3hrs for the south, it is also an easy place to reach without having several days to recover from jetlag. It is perfect for a long week or a two week relaxation. It is versatile enough that the culture lovers can take in a city break or an opera, those wanting fine cuisine have some of the best food and wine in the world, the sea and lakes are wildly calming, and with warm climates for most of the year, there truly is something for everybody. For those who have visited the main cities already, a hire car can be wonderfully liberating for visiting the hilltop towns in between, and you really can make a break your own. The people are friendly and you will be spoilt for choice with souvenirs!
That covers the “why Italy” part, but now having typed into Google some holiday options, a wide array of travel companies come up. Suddenly this can seem as time-consuming as changing your car insurance! Everyone is offering fantastic experiences and you worry about whether you will make the right decision. You could speak to friends and get their recommendations, but this is assuming they have been to Italy recently.
So why Italian Short Breaks? We have been around for over 11 years now and in that time we have really got to know our clients and what makes a perfect break for them. We specialise in special occasion tailor made trips, so often we can be as flexible as you need us to be. The website gives you an overview of what we recommend as a guideline only. We believe in feedback at every step of the process and have many clients who have requests which we look into to see if we can make a reality. If we consistently get bad feedback on a tour or a hotel, we change it.
We also know our breaks. We know the best ways to connect you between cities and make this transition seamless for you. This can be daunting to arrange by yourself. Whilst many of our competitors either look at the ground only arrangements, or the travel but not the tours, or even at adding the tours on and the price ramping up, we look after the whole package for you. If you have your own flights booked or don’t want private transfers as you have a hire car booked, we can also accommodate this.
Rather than sit in an office calling up pages of information on the computer, we have experienced the trips we sell first hand. From my own experience it is clear when you book with a travel company and they don’t know how near the hotel is to the centre of town or how long the transfer to the airport is. This can make you doubtful that the company you have booked with are the best.
The main questions I receive for Italian Short Breaks consist of can I choose which airline I fly with, does this include hold luggage, do I have to go out on set dates only? With the exception of our carnival and Palio horse breaks which are date specific, where there are airline options you can choose the airline you travel with, which airport and which date you travel out and back on, and yes, hold luggage is included. I can’t travel without a suitcase and I don’t expect my clients to either!
The next question I get asked and the reason why to book with Italian Short Breaks is the airport transfers. Many of our competitors opt for group bus transfers which can be up to 40 people at a time, and set hotels that are often not in the centre. This means you have to wait for everyone to be ready before you can leave for the hotel, and being stuck outside of the town can make you feel dependent on others to go for a wander. All the transfers we do are private to you meaning there is no waiting, and our hotels are in the centre so you can take yourself off for a walk or an explore. We understand our clients want to be treated as special and are not part of the group. If you are celebrating a special birthday or wedding anniversary, then this can get your trip off to a good start.
All the hotels we choose are authentic to the region so you won’t be offered hotel chains which have the same look and feel regardless of where you are. We always aim for small to medium hotels to keep the service more specialised to you.
Another reason to choose Italian Short Breaks is we have a very good reputation with our past clients, many of which return to do a further trip or trips with us. It is so important to find a company you trust that once you have, it makes sense to look at what further trips they offer that appeal to you. Unfortunately we have heard from clients when they have had a bad experience in the past and we have to work hard to restore their trust in us. It is always the best feedback received when they tell us we have achieved this.
There are no long-winded menus to go through when you want to call us, you get straight through to the department and even if we are on the phone, we will get straight back to you as soon as we are able. You will stay with the same client manager from the beginning to the end of the process, rather than start again having to explain your query with a different staff member each time. Once we know what you want to do, we send through a full trip proposal which includes all the initial information you need including flight details, prices, hotel options, along with the booking instructions. If the trip proposal is not quite right or if you have been tempted by one or several of our optional extras and want to extend your break, we can revise accordingly.
If you are still unsure, (I’ve saved the best til last!) we have exclusive access to many events which few companies do. If you want to go to the opera, with our Italian suppliers we are able to purchase the best seats for the opera, if attending a Venetian ball has always been on your wish list, we have three fantastic options with some of the best ateliers in Venice, where you can keep your costumes for the duration of your stay and not just the evening of the ball. If witnessing the historical Palio horse race in Siena is top of your list, we have access to a wide range of viewing options. If the Venice Simplon Orient Express is something you have promised yourself or a loved one, we have this too, but why stop when you land in Venice? We add a further 3 nights staying in 5 star Hotel Metropole, very close to St Mark’s Square and include a sunset gondola ride and a Michelin Stared chef gourmet tasting dinner.
And finally, we are always looking at revising our current breaks with new tours and adding in completely new trips when we hear about them. We have to feel passionately about the breaks before we share them. For those interested, please either like us on Facebook or sign up for our newsletter for these updates. We also use these mediums to advertise our other brands – Weekend a la Carte (Europe), Aurora Nights (northern lights trips) and Big 5 Safaris (Africa). Our newsletter goes out around every three weeks so we won’t fill your inbox every day with offers.
Click here to see some of our main breaks.
Several weeks ago I was able to visit our suppliers in Verona. It was great to look at new products with them, and see what could be done, and improved from our current core breaks. Italy is such a versatile country offering everything from opera, culture and history, along with fantastic cuisine, wine and of course the weather! With most parts of the country easily reached in less than 3hrs by plane, enjoying an Italian short break is so easy. We have already started working on these updates, however, it does take time to plan, along with regular contact with our suppliers!
Whilst I was in Verona I also had some free time to explore this wonderful little town. On my last trip I did the main things that with your Verona Pass Card (provides free access to many local sights and included with our packages), you must do. This included visiting the Verona arena during the day, before all the wonderful sets are installed. For anyone who is in Verona in late June to late August time, just having a meal in one of the restaurants outside the arena, you will get a real flavour of just how incredible the acoustics really are.
The next must do is visit Juliet’s balcony. Whilst this in itself does not take long, I recommend a look inside the house and standing on the balcony. There is a small fee for entrance into the house, but it is worth it. My top tip; the courtyard that houses the balcony is the number one site that every tourist heads to. If you want to get a good photo, make sure you are there at opening time. I did this on my last day and I had enough time to really get the photos I wanted.
Whilst you may consider the Juliet part of your Verona tour over, a visit to Juliet’s house is also worth a look. Confusingly this is located around a 15 minutes walk from the balcony, but ideally close if you are staying at Hotel Firenze and the train station. This often overlooked house is a lovely way to spend an hour and without the crowds, it means you have time to really soak up the atmosphere.
The next two must do’s are a visit to Castelvecchio, Verona’s castle. After a walk through the museum, enjoy a stroll along the battlements for some great photo opportunities, before coming back down. I would definitely recommend around 2hrs to see everything here.
Click here for more information on our Verona Opera Lover’s Break.
The last option is the history museum. Again, largely overlooked just on the eastern side of the river, this museum is like a tardis! From the outside it looks rather small, built into a terrace-like structure, however, inside it goes on forever! As long as the school children are not visiting on this day, you can enjoy the museum without the crowds. Definitely allow several hours here.
Last time I stayed in Verona I stayed in Hotel Firenze, which is one of our main 4 star hotels in Verona. It is around a 10 minutes walk to the arena. It is tastefully decorated with many mod cons, including a built in surround system in the bathroom, so you don’t miss the news while freshening up!
On my recent visit I stayed at Hotel Accademia, the other 4 star hotel we are proud to offer to our guests. In the thirteen years of selling holidays to Verona, Hotel Accademia has always been our reliable, dependable constant. Located around a 5 minutes walk from the arena, in the shopping district, this hotel is perfect for those wanting to be in the middle of everything during the day, but with some peace and quiet at night. I have never stayed in a hotel that was so quiet! It was only when I went down to breakfast I was aware I was not the only guest! The service was professional, the food fantastic. Hotel Accademia is a more traditional, older style hotel, which feels perfectly in keeping with its surroundings. For those wanting a lunch or dinner inside, Hotel Accademia have their own restaurant. This is quite rare in Verona as most guests like to wander and see where their nose takes them. But after a long day exploring, it is good to know you have the option!
So, what did I do on this trip? Outside of my meetings I headed to Basilica of San Zeno. This pretty church is built on three levels, including the crypt of San Zeno. Once you have listened to the audio information, wander outside around the cloisters.
I also got to see the Teatro Romano, which unfortunately was partially demolished to make way for the road, but is still a lovely open-air arena. A word of warning if heading to the museum; there are steep steps and it takes around 15 minutes to walk to the theatre. I thought once I had entered the building I had finished climbing, but the steps continue up. While at the top you are awarded with lovely vistas over Verona and the river, it can be a bit exhausting and I did this in around 17 celsius heat; in the summer this may be even more of a challenge!
Regrettably I was unable to visit AMO, the main opera arena’s museum. This was only built after my first visit to Verona. Having heard that this museum houses some of the original opera sets and costumes, I was very keen to explore for myself. Unfortunately the day I arrived was the day the pieces were moved and the museum is only reopening now. A good reason to return!
But my travels on my Italian short break went beyond Verona. I also got to spend the day exploring nearby Vicenza. This city is famous for Andrea Palladio’s fantastic architecture, which is present in most of the buildings you walk past, as they are all his designs. I walked around Villa Valmarana and a short walk on took me to Villa La Rotonda. Both are a lovely, easy visit. La Rotonda you may remember was featured on Francesco da Mosta’s BBC’s ‘Top to Toe Italy’ as the building was is the same whether you entered from the east, west, north or south face.
Both these villas are just outside the main town. Heading into the town, I saw how easy it was to travel around. Vicenza is essentially one main street with plenty of smaller streets leading off to the left and right. Impossible to get lost even for me, this lovely little town is away from the bulk of the crowds, and has some fascinating buildings to explore. The main one was Teatro Olimpico; a wonderful petite theatre house which still plays occasionally to a set audience at certain times of the year.
The above combined with lovely weather, cuisine and wine, made the perfect fusion of why any Italian short break will live in the memory for a long time to come!
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For any opera fan, heading to the Arena di Verona for a Verona opera holiday, has to be at the top of your list. Every summer for late June, July and August time this fantastic open-air Roman arena opens its doors to some of the world’s most loved operas. But if you have never been before, you are sure to have questions on Verona itself and the packages we offer, so below is a list of twelve of the most popular questions I get asked:
1. Will I have to wait for the whole group to be ready before the bus transfers us from the airport to the hotel?
The simple answer is no! There is no group. We treat everyone embarking on a Verona opera holiday as an individual, so when you get to the Arrivals Hall in Verona your private driver is waiting with a sign with your name on it. He/she will then transfer you to your hotel. No waiting for the expected person keeping everyone waiting. This will be the same when you say Arrivederci to Verona and transfer back to the airport on your last day.
2. Is the hotel outside of town?
No. Whilst many travel agents/tour operators choose a 3 star hotel outside of the main city, we prefer 4 star centrally located hotels, where our clients are free to wander out for a meal or to explore. All our hotels that we recommend are hotels we know very well and can recommend according to your needs. Our two favourites – Hotel Firenze and Hotel Accademia are the ones we return to every year, assured they provide a top level service. Hotel Firenze is around a 5 mins walk to the arena and a bit more modern in a tasteful way, Hotel Accademia is in the quieter shopping district, older, more traditional and has its own restaurant. Both hotels have received praise from all our clients who stay there.
Alternatively if you want to really treat yourself or a special loved one, we also have some beautiful 5 star options – the main one being Il Sogno di Giulietta, one of the best relais’s in the world.
3. Is breakfast included:
Yes. All of our hotels are on a Bed & Breakfast rate. If you want the option of staying in, Hotel Accademia also has its own restaurant for lunch and dinner. Most of the hotels don’t have this option as Verona is awash with fantastic restaurants catering for your traditional pizza to your mouth watering seafood dishes. We recommend you let your nose take you!
4. Will it be very hot in Verona?
It is likely to be from the late 20c to mid 30c as an average, which can make the city very humid. Fortunately the Italian’s have an ice cream (gelato) shop on most corners, so why not indulge! We can also recommend some time on nearby Lake Garda for the perfect break from the humidity and the crowds. The refreshing waters on the lake are just perfect for a good unwind from work.
5. What can I do in Verona?
Verona is the perfect blend of having enough to do for 3-4 days but without you feeling like you are missing out if your trip is shorter or you move onto other cities. Your Verona Pass Card which provides free access to many of the local sights also comes with a map, so finding your way around is easy.
My top recommendations? Head to Castelvecchio (Scaligeri Castle), for a few hours wandering through the artefacts of the cities’s history and enjoying the views as you walk along the battlements.
Also not to be missed is Juliet’s balcony. The city is synonymous with Shakespeare’s doomed lovers Romeo & Juliet and you can visit both her balcony, (for a small charge €2-3 you can stand on it) along with her house located around 10mins walk from the balcony.
For gastronomy we can recommend Al Cristo for a wine tasting and either lunch or dinner. Located several streets above the arena, this is a good option to explore the local wines from the Valpolicello region.
There is also a National History Museum to visit. From the outside this tardis like building looks like a quick exploration, but the collection can easily keep you entertained for several hours.
Whilst of course no Italian city would also be complete without the usual blend of churches and even a Duomo, your next two stops must be opera based! The arena now has a museum which houses past sets and costumes including some worn by Maria Callas and many other opera greats. Lastly, head to the arena itself to see this incredible setting where in the evening you will enjoy the opera. By day with the sets removed you can marvel at this truly historical building, by evening the incredibly acoustics will transport you to the opera!
6. What can I do in the surrounding area?
Well, with Lake Garda only around 40mins away you can either do a day trip and explore Garda Island and scenic Sirmione, or for the ultimate advice, extend your trip by several days and enjoy the lake in your own time! We have some perfectly located hotels with balcony rooms looking over the lake. After several days of culture in the city, time to unwind on the lake is a great way to continue your trip.
Other options we can recommend include heading to Villa Novare for a wine tasting in the Valpolicello region. Located between Verona and Lake Garda could not be more ideal.
For those wanting spa treatments, the excellent Byblos for a massage, thermal pools and a whole host of other relaxing options, including a sumptuous meal are on offer.
7. What about if I want to explore other cities? Is this possible?
I get many enquiries from people wanting to explore other areas but worried about the logistics of how to do this effectively. With a regular, inexpensive train route or private transfers for those wanting to travel in style, this is not a problem. Verona is superbly located for time in Venice, Milan, Florence, and the three lakes – Garda, Como and Maggiore. It is also not impossible to travel onto Siena and see the twice yearly historical Palio race, Rome and Sorrento. If this is of interest, please let us know and we will be happy to recommend options. If you know one opera experience is not enough, we can recommend both Venice for La Fenice and Milan for La Scala, and put these into your break. Of course opera-schedule-permitting you could always take in a second night at the Verona arena instead.
8. Can I hear the opera outside of the arena?
Yes you can! The acoustics in the arena are incredible, but being an open-air arena means the restaurants outside the arena also get to hear the incredible music. When you hear you will find it hard to believe the arena has been around since 72AD with sound quality this good!
9. What do I wear to the opera?
The general rule is smart/casual attire, in other words you must be presentable and not wearing any denim or anything that could cause offence. Please remember that although the opera starts late in the evening (9pm for June and July, 8.45pm for August), it can still be in the late 20c up to midnight, so for this reason I recommend leaving the thick layers at home.
10. I am worried I might have someone very tall/with a big head in front of me and won’t see the stage?
No need to worry! The arena is built sloping down towards the stage, so there is never any issue in regards to visibility. Your Verona opera holiday will not be ruined by neck ache!
11. How good is the seating? I have mobility issues and don’t want to be high up or seated on stone steps?
We always focus on the gold central stall seating which is the best in the arena. Located on the ground about half way back in the centre from the stage, these seats give you the best full view of the stage. There are no steps to reach these. Unless you request other level seating we will always put you here. Whilst the seats are plastic as you are outside, they do come with a cushion for added comfort. If mobility is a worry for you, we do have set rows where there is a walkway in front so you are free to stretch out once the opera begins, and you can easily move at the interval without having to climb over other people. Alternatively we can choose an aisle seat for you.
It is worth mentioning that in keeping with the arena’s initial system, the seating still adheres to all odd numbers on one side of the arena and all even on the other, so when you collect your collect your tickets from Hotel Reception when you arrive, if you see Seats 2 & 4 you are still seated together!
12. And the final question that for the Brits comes out the most? What happens if it rains on the opera night(s)?
Normally Verona’s weather is surprisingly regular. In May they experience many days of thunderstorms which then clear out the atmosphere making for a good, hot, dry summer right through beyond September, however, two summer’s past they had what our Italian supplier referred to as a British summer! That season rain did fall in the summer months and some of the operas did not finish as a result.
The arena will do everything it can and will usually stop, take an additional interval, clean up the stage and then try to continue, and conclude the opera later into the night. Another perk of having a hotel within easy walking distance away! However, sometimes this is just not possible. The rule is if the opera starts and goes into the second act before it is rained off then there is no refund from the arena, however, we are happy to refund the price of the tickets to you. If the weather is so bad the opera cannot start or gets cancelled before the first act has finished then you can either exchange these for an opera the next night or we can refund these tickets.
If you opt for changing the tickets this is dependent on you still being in Verona the next night, there being an opera on you want to see, and still seats available. If you would prefer a refund then you need to contact our suppliers (details are located on the “Contacts” section of your travel plan) and leave the tickets at Hotel reception. Our supplier will then collect the tickets (they are based around the corner) and once they confirm receipt, we will action your refund.
We are hoping that the weather holds, however, it is always best to know worse case scenario, and for this reason we would recommend taking with you a plastic, summer mac. This can fold up small in a bag, and ensures you are fully prepared.
With all the above answered, now all you need to do is dig out the passport and suitcase and look forward to your Verona opera holiday!
Click here for more information on our Verona Opera breaks.
Everyone knows a Verona Opera package includes a night at the stunning Arena di Verona, but are you aware of what else can be done in the immediate vicinity? There is quite a list!
Within Verona itself there is the excellent Verona Pass Card providing free access to many of the local sights. Taking into account end to end Verona is around a 20-30mins walk, these are all within easy distance. There is Castelvecchio, the magnificient castle where as long as the interior you can walk around the battlements, there is Juliet’s balcony celebrating Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers (touching Juliet’s left breast is meant to make you lucky in love!), there is even Juliet’s house. Strangely Juliet’s house is located south of the arena and balcony, but is still worth a good look around. You can visit the arena during the day before it is transformed into any one of the main operas performed that evening. There is also a rather good National History Museum which has tardis-like qualities from the inside as the outside looks like an hour to see the whole thing. I found it was a good few hours instead!
Of course being Italy there are 2 churches and a cathedral, all worthy of your time. For shoppers there is Piazza delle Erbe, the local market where you can buy food or souvenirs, or head up to the top of the tower (you need good walking shoes and determination!) to enjoy a panoramic view of the city. You can also do this on the battlements of the castle if heights are not your thing! There are of course plenty of wonderful shops aside from the market, and a plethora of wonderful eating establishments from a quick bite to 5 star.
For those wanting a wine tasting we can recommend Al Cristo where you get to taste 3-4 locally produced wines. If you wanted to add a lunch or dinner, this is also possible.
But there are so many experiences to enjoy on your Verona opera package without travelling too far. Villa Novare is perfect for those wanting to escape the city, enjoy a wine tasting at a beautiful mansion. Set in the Valpolicello, (local wine region), the visit is as much about the surroundings as the wine. Being located only around 20-30mins drive from Verona makes this an easy morning/evening out.
If you want to leave the city for a bit longer, I can definitely a day on Lake Garda. Begin your trip with a private transfer to the harbour to collect the boat to Garda Island. The tour is conducted usually by a member of the current family in residence on the island. They will show you the landscaped gardens, part of the house and the incredibly views back to the mainland. Then once the boat has docked, your private driver will take you onto Sirmione for some lunch (paid locally) and time to explore. Sirmione, located on the bottom of Lake Garda is a mecca for tourists in the area, but with good reason. Lovely shops, restaurants with winning views over the lake, and entrance via the castle drawbridge are all rather special! This is around a 45mins drive from Verona. Every year we have so many people opting to split their time between Verona and Garda, and with good reason!
If however, you want to explore the Veneto region, Venice is around 1.5hrs by train and even this is easy! The train station is located at the bottom of Verona and with regular trains to Venice, you have the option of gondola rides, visiting St Mark’s or even heading to Café Florian for a much cappuccino to take the weight off!
A Verona Opera package can be so much more than just opera, although of course the arena is incredible with its own acoustics to match!
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A Venice holiday has the potential of a wide range of experiences. These can accommodate the first timer to this floating city or the seasoned traveller wanting to return for a special occasion with a loved one. Below are a list of the main experiences we can recommend – there is certainly something for everyone!
To really see Venice at its best is to be a part of the carnival. Every year thousands of people flock to see the wonderful array of costumes, but we can do one better! We have the choice of 3 fantastic carnival balls to attend, all in lavish period costumes. There is the Tiepolo Ball for those wanting the most traditional ball, the Mascheranda Ball for the ultimate party ball, and the Doges Ball; the most prestigious VIP ball on offer.
The Venice Simplon Orient Express
If the thought of queuing at the airport fills you with dread, why not let your holiday begin before you arrive in Venice, by travelling on the Venice Simplon Orient Express! This re-mastered train is the epitome of The Roaring Twenties and a wonderful way to begin or end any trip. Five star luxury throughout and hard to beat for a special birthday or wedding anniversary!
A gondola ride is an absolute when you have a Venice holiday, but why not go for the ultimate experience and have a sunset gondola ride? With the day time boats having departed, Venice is a little more peaceful and you can soak up the atmosphere how the city is meant to be seen; by boat.
Tour of the Islands
Venice is so much more than just St Mark’s Square and the immediate areas. A trip by boat to the islands of Murano, Burano and Torcello provides a real understanding of the history of this fantastic region. See glass blowing, lace making and some of the original churches and the cemetery.
La Fenice Opera House
Many people think of La Scala in Milan when they think of opera but Venice has its own fantastic opera house. Same as La Scala there is an opera on most days of the year with a reduced schedule around August and Christmas time only. There are operas to suit both the opera beginner and the connoisseur. We recommend the stall seats highly regarded as the best seats in the house!
Musica a Palazzo
If on the other hand you would like to witness some opera but in a smaller surrounding and without stretching the purse strings quite so much, we can definitely Musica a Palazzo. This stunning palace houses smaller scale operas and love duets to a reduced audience by performing right in front of you! You will feel part of the scene and come away wanting more.
St Mark’s Highlight Tour
If you are a beginner to Venice then a private guided tour of St Mark’s is a good idea. We do include a St Mark’s Card which provides free beat the queues access to both the Doges Palace and St Mark’s Basilica, but if you really want to understand the history of Venice, having your own guide is invaluable. They will take you around both the palace and the basilica including witnessing the prison where Casanova was albeit temporarily housed!
Gourmet Tasting Dinner at The Met
And finally after all that exploring and culture, why not head to The Met Restaurant, conveniently located within 5 star Hotel Metropole, for your gourmet tasting dinner. The meal is prepared by the Michelin Starred chef and you have the choice of 2 tasting menus based on the same ingredients, but cooked in entirely different ways – contemporary and traditional. We would recommend you order one of each as it is fun to compare!
Click here for more information on our Venice breaks.
One of the best stages of planning an Italian short break is when everything is booked and your trip is just round the corner. But whilst making the most of your time abroad is essential, so is making sure you pack correctly. For me half of this is making sure everything fits in my suitcase and I don’t have to worry at the airport bag drop line that my bulging case is over the usual allowance. I’ve yet to learn the secret of hand luggage only!
Other ways to help both with packing and to be prepared on your Italian short break include the must do summer waterproof with hood jacket, (I don’t know where I would be without mine!) and sun block for when the sun comes out. My personal favourite is a fold down water bottle, which makes itself instantly recyclable, along with taking up less space in your bag as you drink, and making sure you have plenty of change for the public toilets. An easy tip here is most coffee shops will let you use their toilet when you buy a cappuccino or an ice cream.
For those like me that love photography it is the usual indecision over how many lenses to take. I try and only take the one main lens, but I do struggle in regards to the obligatory aches endured by hours of having the camera around my neck. I have found a solution to this one! There are straps you can buy which work as a cross-body setup, which means the weight is distributed better, the neck is free from aches, and you have a better control of the camera by your side. I bought one on Amazon for around £30. These straps are padded as well, which with mid-size to full size cameras and hours of walking is definitely a plus!
Another way to save the shoulder aches and reduce the weight of your suitcase is city guides. The days of lugging around huge volumes on holiday are largely gone, but the information is still relevant. There are some great apps out there for providing all of this information through your phone or tablet as well as offline maps. No one likes roaming fees!
If you are travelling around Florence and are staying near the River Arno, I definitely recommend taking some antihistamine cream with you. I was there last September and with the warm temperatures and the windows opened, woke up to a few pesky stings. I have tried on other trips the special anti-mosquito bracelets but the smell of the chemicals was just too strong for me!
The added bonus with apps is the information is updated regularly, whereas your weighty door stop could be a year out of date. The main cities usually have a specific app, but one of the best ones I have found is Mtrip. This app provides weather and public transport which your printed city guide cannot do. But one of the best options I have found is the information on local sites which the offline maps direct you to along with providing opening hours and an approximate cost for entrance to these sights. If you want more functionality or even just checking what is within easy distance to you, the app also has a recommended travel plan for your dates, grouping them by region so you are not walking the ends of the city. This app is great for keeping you up to date with your flights and any changes, along with reminding you when you can check in.
The last thing to mention to help you enjoy your Italian short break is to remember in church your shoulders and knees must be covered. For women this is easily done in regards to either a thin, light cardigan or buying one of the many beautiful colourful scarves that Italy is famous for and wrapping this around your shoulders.
The above should hopefully ensure you have a wonderful Italian short break!
Click here for more information on some of our favourite City Breaks.
Recently I got the chance to escape my desk for several weeks and embark on my own Italian short break. The trip began in Venice and wound its way through Florence, Rome, Sorrento and Sicily. Along the way there were also day trips to some of the lesser known cities which just proves how every city in Italy has its own personality and plenty of history.
Returning to Venice, the starting point of my Italian short break was wonderful. There is always so much to see in Venice that it is best to be prepared and focus in on exactly what you want to do. For first timers this involves St Mark’s Square, for those returning for a second trip or maybe a seasonal returner to Venice, La Fenice Opera House or a tour of the islands of Murano, Burano and Torcello.
The first thing that you always notice with St Mark’s Square is how crowded it is. Most of the people are headed to the main two attractions; the Basilica and the Doges Palace. Whilst the Basilica is free to access, the crowds are not so time friendly, especially for the spring and summer months. There are two way to avoid sometimes excessive queuing for both buildings. The first is by having a Venice St Mark’s Card. This 24hr card provides free access to both sights by way of heading to the Pass Holder Line. This card will only cost you €18 per person and whilst the Basilica does not take long to visit, the Doges Palace does need around two hours, making this card very relevant. The palace itself is beautiful, but there is just as much going on below the ground in the prison accessed through the Bridge of Sighs. The other option is to have a private guided tour. This means no queuing and a thorough understanding of everything you will see.
Arriving on the day into Pisa I once again met the crowds present in Venice. This time however it was still possible to easily find your way around and I did everything I wanted. The buildings around the outside of the church and the Learning Tower are worth a visit. The frescoes are still largely intact, although you might not want to look too closely at the Dantesque vision of Heaven and Hell!
No less beautiful and steeped wildly in Renaissance art is Florence. This city actually packs in probably the most sights in a relatively small place. Having previously spent two weeks there on a different Italian short break, I tried two methods of making the most of my time. The first involved Florence’s equivalent Pass Card, which lasts for 72hrs and provides access to most of the local sights. The cost does make a bit of a dent in the wallet at €72 per person, so you really want to make the most of the three days. Another plus is free access to the buses with the Florence Pass Card. The other way to see Florence’s main attractions is having a Priority Line Pass, which I did for both the Uffizi Gallery and the Accademia Gallery, the latter to see Michelangelo’s statue. I think I would probably still be queuing if I had turned up without a Priority Line Pass!
Onwards to Rome! Again even in May the crowds were already in force in the coliseum, which was worth a visit. Time-wise this does not take too long out of your day though, so very easy to cover the Roman Forum as well. At the time of my visit the Spanish Steps were going through refurbishment, so I was unable to see them in all their glory, but there is always another trip!
After a sweltering day in the heat I arrived in Pompeii for a tour of this incredibly preserved city. The views across Pompeii and the remains of the statues left partially intact made for some interesting photos, including the one below! I don’t think I appreciated just how vast Pompeii was before my visit.
Heading to Amalfi I got to see the coastal roads around Sorrento and Ravello first hand. I’m glad I wasn’t driving as the views around every corner were very distracting! Both places were beautiful, and I particularly recommend the Villa Rufolo Gardens in Ravello. When I came out I had a bit of time to shop and that was when I got to do an impromptu limoncello tasting offered by one of the shops as you walk down the main shopping street. I still have not made my mind up which I liked the most – lemon, melon, chocolate, pistachio or cream flavour!
The last part of the trip was in Taormina in Italy. I had plenty of time here to enjoy the main town, got to witness a wedding, (ironically a wedding reception was held at my hotel that evening – different bride and groom!) and the open-air amphitheater. Whilst gaining access to the amphitheatre was a surprising €10 the view looking through to the bay was well worth the expense.
So, what a trip! As always an Italian short break promises great weather, food, wine and culture – what more do you need?!
Click here for our recommendations on Grand Tour Adventures.
We all know that Italy is a fantastic destination with short flights from the UK, great culture, food, wine and wonderful weather, but do you know the things not to do when you’re on your Italian short break? I went through a list and whilst some of them are well known, others are quite revealing. So if you want to escape on your Italian short break blending in with the locals, here are some things to be aware of:
Did you know all of these? I confess I did not. But now you know you can be viewed as a local. If only learning the language was so easy…!
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The Siena Palio horse race is a fantastic historical event which takes place in Siena twice a year. During this time you get to see the build up to the race, enjoy watching the selection of horses, jockeys and districts chosen to take place, get a full introduction to the history of the race, along with an open-air good luck dinner, along with witnessing the thrilling race itself.
But the town is perfectly located for much more than just a few nights enjoying the Siena Palio race, before returning home. Florence is a short drive away and boasts some of the best galleries in the world with the Uffizi and Accademia Galleries. With the nearest airport to Siena being Pisa, it is highly expected that either on arrival or departure as your flight times permit, you will spend an hour or two exploring the Leaning Tower.
For those who love the opera you are spoilt with not one but two incredibly scenic options. You can either attend the Verona opera in an open-air Roman arena with amazing acoustics, or head to Lucca where on the Torre del Lago overlooking the lake, the Puccini Opera Festival is held. For Verona the opera season begins around the last week of June each year and finishes around the end of August. Popular operas include Aida, Carmen, Turandot and Madame Butterfly. For the Puccini Festival the season is shorter and runs from mid July to mid August, with main operas including Tosca and La Boheme.
Sometimes though a holiday is as much about exploration as pre-planned excursions, which with a hire car provides ample opportunities. Siena is very near to some wonderful towns including San Gimignano, which is an easy day walking through the medieval town looking at the remaining towers, enjoying some shopping and if you are brave enough wandering through the torture museum!
Depending on how well you know the region, if you wanted to stay a few nights in the countryside, Hotel Le Fontanelle is an excellent option and has incredible vistas, indoor and outdoor pools and a choice of rooms with some including private gardens and balconies.
Recommended activities near the hotel are varied and include wine tasting, cooking lessons, a picnic for 2, horse riding, hot air ballooning, Ferrari test driving, and even a return to San Gimignano for a gourmet dinner in one of the remaining towers, complete with a soprano to serenade you with song as you arrive.
For first timers to Tuscany or regular connoisseurs, the Siena Palio race is only one reason to visit this beautiful region.
Click here for more information on our Palio Siena breaks.
There are three main types of travel. The first are the beach holidays. Flights, car hire and a hotel/villa and you’re all set. These are great for when you just want to get away and have a relaxing break. They are perfect for those that don’t want to plan and just decide as they go what they do with tomorrow. This is the sort of trip for someone who wants to keep full control of their schedule. They are simple, easy trips. Pick a beautiful location and half an hour on Expedia, and it’s all done.
The second category is the full set tour package. Whether it is a case of you travelling alone, wanting to meet new people, or whether you are just unsure how to put together everything you want to do, these are the breaks for those wanting someone else to plan out the A’s to B’s. It could be a case of too much to organise or just not knowing how. City breaks are easy to organise, but how about a trip to the arctic on a northern lights holiday? How do you organise a husky sled tour? Or maybe you are travelling around. Organising a trip to Golden Triangle India trip say, would be quite daunting for most people. This is where the tour package excels; it gives you effortless travel without the worry. Trying to arrange this sort of trip would feel like a comparison search for new car insurance at the end of the day, and that rather defeats the point of a wonderful holiday!
But there is a downside to the second category. What if you don’t get on with everyone in the group and you spend part of your coach or cruise trying to avoid set people? Also, it means many early starts, which feels contradictory taking into account that for a few days/week etc you want to escape the alarm clock! Lastly, whilst you’re happy to get up early for a tour you are looking forward to, there are always parts of the ground programme you have no interest in, and that’s when getting out of bed early, packing the case and checking out of your hotel to be driven to the next place, just feels like too much hard work.
Onto category three. At Weekend a la Carte most of our clients have done many of the previous types of trips, and they know what they want. This includes hassle-free travel and to be looked after, but not to be part of a group and have no say on their itinerary. Everything we do is bespoke travel, reaching from an African Big 5 Safari, Venice Carnival package, Northern Lights trips, to city breaks. We know you want control of your holiday, but we also know you want someone else to work on the finer details. Most of our travellers are celebrating special birthdays and wedding anniversaries. These are our forte. We know how to make your trip special. You won’t be waiting for others to get on the bus, we won’t take you places you have no interest in, your hotel won’t be away from all the local sights.
The travel dates, hotels and duration are for you to decide. We are very flexible! We have many clients who want us to arrange ground only and then leave them to their devices, and if you want a second tiger safari on your Golden Triangle India holiday or a second night at the Verona opera, we can do this. We have been doing it for thirteen years, and are constantly looking at ways to improve our breaks, extensions being one of the main ways. We really do have something for everyone. Why not take a look?
Weekend a la Carte – a chocolate box of trips including Slovenia, Russia, Prague, Jordan, Morocco and Vienna.
Aurora Nights – northern lights inspired trips to Sweden, Norway, Iceland and Greenland.
Italian Short Breaks – Verona Opera, Venice Orient Express Train, Venice Carnival and the Siena Palio.
Big 5 Safaris – South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique and Namibia.
Now the only hard part is for you to decide where your next adventure takes you!
Click here for more information on our Italian Short Breaks.