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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!

The first Orient Express train, or Express d’Orient, as it was called then departed Paris in Oct 1883 but its heyday was in the Roaring Twenties. The Orient Express train travelled throughout Europe and further afield offering glamorous socialites stylish travel to exotic destinations such as Syria, Constantinople, Budapest, Paris and Venice. Champagne, fine dining and socialising where high on the agenda on these “Grand Tours” and was very much one of the things “to do and be seen on”. The second world war put an end to this indulgent travel and indeed after the war flight took over as THE fashionable way to travel and its popularity declined until it stopped running in 1977.

James Sherwood set himself a mission to reincarnate the Orient Express travel. He bought two carriages at auction in Monte Carlo and has scoured the world tracking down the other originals. Not an easy task as over 1,600 carriages were destroyed during the second world war when impounded by Hitler who flattened them in order to use the base and wheels for transport of armoured vehicles.

The carriages varied hugely in condition and highly skilled craftsmen were recruited to work to painstakingly restore them to their original glory. A particularly lovely story is of Rob Dunn who worked on restoring the marquetry, which was originally worked on by his grandfather. Equally the original moulds were found at the Lalique glassmakers so that the stunning panels in dining car 4141 could be recreated. The project of bringing the train back to life took 5 years before the train again took to the rails as the Venice Simplon Orient Express in May 1982.

The Venice Simplon Orient Express is now the longest train in Europe – at full capacity it is 17 carriages long, of which 3 are dining carriages, 1 is the spectacular bar carriage and of course there is also the kitchen carriages and carriages for the staff on board.

Each carriage has a glamorous history dating from the 1920’s and each has its own individual characteristics so when travelling on the train look out for the detailed differences. It could be special hooks to hang and protect pocket watches, foldable brass candle holders, and the upholstery and marquetry design is different in each carriage.

Carriage 3309 is the oldest carriage, built in 1926 in Belgium and is the one that was famously stuck in a snow drift for 10 days in 1929 inspiring the renowned movie Murder on the Orient Express. Sleeping carriage 3425 is associated with King Carol who escaped Romania with his mistress in 1940, whilst sleeping carriage 3544 was used as a wartime brothel!

Despite their history and individual quirks the sleeping carriages are effectively the same, with nine cabins with their own steward and one shared loo, and each cabin has its own private wash basin. Each cabin is converted into bunk beds, with a short ladder to the top bunk, in the evening by your steward whilst you dine.

The steward will do all he can to ensure you have a trip of a lifetime and indeed has many hidden talents, such as sewing a ladies broken dress strap back on as we saw on our trip! A welcome glass of bubbly, afternoon tea and breakfast are served in your cabin. Expect fine china, exquisite pastries, and piping hot tea or coffee.

For those looking for a bit more space a Suite can be booked which is basically two cabins with an adjoining door that can be left open which certainly creates the feeling of more space than just two cabins. People then have the choice of using one as their living area and one as their bedroom, or having both lower bunks made up as beds for those that are not keen to climb the ladder!

Unexpectedly, and rather charmingly, there are real coal boilers that are still used in each sleeping carriage to heat the water. Indeed this is one of the reasons that the Venice Simplon Orient Express cannot go through the EuroTunnel due to the fire risk.

There is one different sleeping carriage which only has three cabins which are the spectacular Grand Suites with their own en suite bathrooms with shower, double beds, on tap champagne and the choice of in-cabin dining for those that would like more privacy. Themed after Paris, Venice and Istanbul these Grand Suites have a separate living area and as they take the equivalent of three standard cabins offer oodles of space. These brand new luxurious Grand Suites have been incredibly popular and book up very early indeed.

The three restaurant cars are called L’Oriental , Etoile du Nord, Cote D’Azur and all serve the same food though have very different atmospheres and decorative styles . Christian Bodiguel is the Head Chef and such is his love of the train that he has been 30 years onboard, serving up to 180 guests on each journey!!

There are two servings of both lunch and dinner, and you will be impressed at the extremely high standard of fresh food and service entirely produced on the train from two tiny kitchens. A particularly popular meal is the lobster brunch that is served on the return journey from Venice to London. Food tolerances can be catered for as long as the team are pre-advised and the team on board will go out of their way to ensure you have a fabulous meal. Expect expert wine advice, immaculate service and superb food. You will not be disappointed.

The beating heart of the train is the 3674 bar carriage. Recently refurbished it oozes elegance, conviviality and elegance. Here people gather pre and post dinner to listen to the pianist who will be playing well known favourites from the musicals as well as jazz numbers. Here is where the magic of the train touches people as strangers connect and exchange travel stories. Here is where you show off your finery from full floor elegant dresses, to flapper dresses with feathers and bowers and chic cocktail dresses.

Finally the cabins for the staff are newer and date from just after the second world war and the way to spot the difference as you are walking along the corridor is that there is no inlaid marquetry in the woodwork.

Every winter for four months the train stops running and the carriages are revived and freshened up in France to ensure they maintain their intricate beauty and elegance. Based on a certain mileage, which equates to about every 7 years, each carriage is also taken out of service and totally stripped down and lovingly maintained. The carriages external brass-work is also removed and polished; a task that takes 10 days!

The joy of the Venice Simplon Orient Express is the ability to travel in style and elegance with no stress, to unwind and watch the magnificent scenery that passes. Each journey is timed so that you will see the best scenery before it gets dark. The train passes a range of different scenery depending on the journey, and we particularly enjoyed the vineyards framed by dramatic mountains on the Venice to Prague journey. We hope this has given you enough information to inspire you to want to go – we can certainly strongly recommend it! Please Click here to see some of the superb Venice Simplon Orient Express breaks that we offer so you can have that once in a lifetime experience.

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.

Every year Venice is inundated with tourists visiting at the time of the Venice Carnival, however, most of these people are spectators only. To have exclusive access to a masked ball, you have to have the perfect package.

Italian Short Breaks have spent many years searching and perfecting the best of the Venice Carnival packages on offer, and we love the below three. But what makes each of these special is the tailor-made luxury trip around this.

One of the main highlights is your fantastic costume! Each of the atelier’s we use are world class and the costumes they create are incredibly detailed. The costumes are in keeping with traditional carnival colours so expect plenty of golds, reds and greens. For the men, clip on buckles can be added to their dressy shoes, ensuring no pinched toes! Of course half of the fun of carnival is the rest of the accessories. Our atelier’s are great at helping you to complete your perfect carnival look, however, some items like masks and jewellery can be bought at home and taken with you.

Other items that can be purchased or hired include capes and wigs. For anyone unsure on make up or hairstyles, most of the atelier’s offer a professional hair and make up service which takes place at an agreed time in your hotel room.

When you take to St Mark’s Square to promenade you will truly feel like a king or queen!

For more information please click here.

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!

Venice Carnival

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!

Gondola Ride

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.

Every year sees thousands of people flock to Venice to witness and take part in the Venice Carnival, however, most of these people will be confined to taking photos of the attendees in their beautiful period costumes. For those who want to attend the Venice Carnival but don’t know which ball to choose, this is the perfect guide!

The Mascheranda Ball

The Mascheranda Ball is the ultimate party ball! For those who want to dress up and participate, then this is the one to choose. There are competitions through the evening including who is the best Casanova of the Night, along with first class entertainment including jesters, clowns and acrobats. All of this takes place in the stunning Palazzo Pisani Moretta, which features some of the most beautiful frescos in Venice. Make sure to wander around the Noble Rooms where the ball takes place to see them all.

After your arrival welcome drink, you have the choice of either dining in one of the side rooms or in the main hall. The side rooms are smaller and you are around tables of 8-10 people in total. After your Michelin Star dinner you are free to wander to the main hall for the entertainment and dancing. Alternatively for an additional supplement you can dine in the main hall while the entertainment takes place around you and the Baroque band are near, ensuring you never miss a thing.

Once the dining has been completed the Master of Dance gets you up on your feet to learn some of the main Venice Carnival dances. This usually includes the cotillion and minuetto. From midnight the disco and DJ begins on the ground floor where you can either dance 21st century or continue in the 18th!

The Tiepolo Ball

In comparison the Tiepolo Ball is for those who want a more traditional ball and features a higher level of period dancing. The ball still takes place at Palazzo Pisani Moretta, but make sure when you take in the frescos you look up! The ceiling fresco was painted by Tiepolo himself and is titled “The Meeting of Mars and Venus.”

Venice Carnival 2020 celebrates the 23rd season for this prestigious ball and is sure to promise something extra special!

The dining options are the same as that of the Mascheranda Ball, however, whilst at the first ball you have the option of fish or vegetarian, for the Tiepolo Ball they have now introduced three menus; meat, fish or vegetarian.

Then you have plenty of time to learn the traditional dances with the Master of Dance. If you can still feel your feet at the end of this, take to the live DJ and disco for the last few hours of the evening before the ball finishes.

For more information on the Mascheranda Ball

For more information on the Tiepolo Ball

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:


  • When visiting churches and other holy sights, you must have your shoulders and knees covered at all times. If the heat feels too oppressive for a cardigan, use the excuse to buy a pashmina and drape this around your shoulders. You will stay cool and look very fashionable!
  • Ask the waiter for parmesan cheese on your seafood pasta. Mixing cheese and seafood in Italy is never done. Also, don’t let an Italian witness you cutting your spaghetti with a fork or knife!
  • Don’t expect your pizza to be served with plenty of meat options. Pork is considered the only exception with chicken and beef a no-no. The pork comes in variants usually including prosciutto, and salami.
  • Chicken and pasta do not mix. The Italians feel strongly enough about this rule that out of dozens of pasta sauces available and in use, not one is with chicken as an ingredient.
  • Don’t leave your bread upside down on the table. It is considered bad luck and disrespectful towards the owner of the table.
  • For an Italian eating dinner before 8pm is unheard of. If you get peckish before this time the pasticceria’s will serve hot chocolate and pastries to see you through to the appropriate time. From 7pm an aperitivo is acceptable.


  • Don’t expect timings to be precise! Whilst it is always good to be on time and some places like viewing The Last Supper in Milan insist upon it, you might be waiting when your scheduled tour begins later than planned. This is the case for businesses and shops also, which typically close for lunch but vary on which two days of the week they remain shut.
  • Be street-savvy! Number One on everyone’s must do Venice list is a romantic gondola ride, but the gondoliers are aware of this and tourist prices can range from £45 to £90 if you don’t shop around.
  • Tipping is great for showing your appreciation but it isn’t expected and if the service is not as you would expect it to be, then it is fine to just pay the cost of the service.
  • Don’t overdo it! Human nature is to rush out, buy all the guide books and look at all these great itineraries declaring Rome can be done in a day, but the reality is far from it. The heat and the crowds often make this impossible, plus who wants to spend their holiday fielding from site to site as if at a work conference? Focusing on the main sites of interest to you and whether you can either get a private tour or a beat the queues timed pass, mean you get to enjoy the sites without losing time.
  • Don’t start your first ever Italy adventure off the beaten track. Begin with the main cities – Venice, Rome and Florence and then enjoy the small towns of which Italy is famous for.
  • If you are likely to be out all day, it’s a good idea to take tissues with you. Only some public restrooms have a stock of toilet paper.
  • Make sure you carry some cash with you. Credit cards are not always accepted and frowned upon if spending less than €10.
  • Don’t go home without looking at the leather shoes! Italian shoes are known for their exceptional quality and longevity, caring for your feet for years. Ignore the euro exchange rate which is not always in your favour for this one purchase!


  • Driving in Italy is one thing, but driving around the Amalfi Coast is not for the faint-hearted. Where possible take taxis or enjoy the walk if nearby.
  • If you’re thinking of taking public transport, make sure you validate your ticket before boarding.
  • It’s almost impossible to pay for petrol with a credit card, so use the cashpoint before a journey and pay in cash.
  • Don’t rely on Google Maps. It is hard to feel confident when Google thinks the best way to reach your Florence hotel is by driving over the Ponte Vecchio! The bridge is for pedestrians only. Stock up on maps instead.

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…!

Click here for more information on our Venice trips.


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.

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