O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?


Guest Post by Damien Martin

Italy Specialist, Great Getaways Travel


Lovers of Italy, have you been to Verona?

I’m a trivia lover (Did you catch me on JEOPARDY last year?) and will share some Italian trivia with you. In the famous quote that is the title of this post, do you know the meaning of the word “wherefore”? Hint: It doesn’t mean “where”.  Juliet wasn’t asking where Romeo was, she was questioning his purpose. Speaking of purpose,  I want to share my love of Verona with you, the setting for Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Verona is for lovers. The setting of three Shakespeare plays about love, most notably Romeo & Juliet, and birthplace of the Roman romantic poet Catullus, Verona exudes ancient and medieval charm.

Lovers of Italy and History Unite!


Situated on the banks of the Adige River, Verona is home to a Roman theater from A.D. 30 that is still used for operas and concerts to this day. With a capacity of 30,000 (though for safety, attendance is capped at about half that), the arena boasts a super-sized stage so large that sets need to be custom-made and once accommodated live elephants during performances of Aida.

Juliet lovers, check this out!


The city’s other famous landmark is the Juliet’s House, a 13th-century home that belonged to the real-life Capulet family (as evidenced by the symbol of the hat, the family crest). Profess your undying love from Juliet’s balcony, hang a letter to your sweetheart from the walls of the courtyard or even rub the breast of Juliet (a statue, not a person) for luck. But try to visit early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid the throngs of star-crossed lovers pressing up close in the, shall we say, intimate courtyard.


2 hotels for you’ll love


If the balcony is a little cramped for your declarations of love, the rooftop terrace at Virtuoso-preferred Hotel Due Torri (a 14th-century palazzo just steps from a Roman bridge and theater) provides sweeping views of the city and surrounding hills and is a perfect place to hold a wedding or just enjoy a beautiful sunset.

Outside the city, Relais & Chateaux property Villa del Quar is built on a site that has been offering rest to weary travelers since A.D. 47. A stretch of the Roman road Claudia Augusta still runs through the property, along vineyards growing yielding three varieties of Valpolicella wine.
Within easy reach are the Alps, Lake Garda, Bologna and Venice, Verona serves as a gateway to Italy’s northeast if your passions run farther afield. So raise a glass to your loved one and toast to Verona, city of romance.

Italy’s Lake District – AMORE!

By Damien Martin, Italy Specialist


Lake District Amore!

You know I love Lake Como but it’s hardly the only beautiful lake in Northern Italy. Move east along the bottom edge of the Alps between Milan and Venice, and you’ll find two other gems of Italy’s Lake District,  Lake Iseo and Lake Garda.

Lake Iseo

Lake Iseo is a Renaissance painting that has come to life

You know those Italian Renaissance paintings that feature lush, mountainous landscapes? That’s Lake Iseo. Enjoy the view from the patio of the VistaLago Bistro or Michelin Guide-recommended LeoneFelice at L’Albereta (the Virtuoso-preferred boutique hotel in Erbusco). The vineyards stretch to a shimmering lake. Be awed by a ring of snowcapped mountains, crowned by a tall green island rising out of the water. It’s no wonder the founders of the winery next door chose the name Bellavista, “beautiful view.”

 Christo creates art in the Lake District

This summer thousands even got to walk on water, thanks to artist Christo’s “Floating Piers.” Christo put 220,000 high-density polyethylene cubes into the lake, covered by 100,000 square meters of yellow fabric. Several people swarmed the area to see the Floating Piers and overwhelmed public transportation. Typically, though, Lake Iseo is quite tranquil.


The Spa at L’Albereta, a reason to visit the Lake District

L’Albereta itself means “the plantation,” a perfect name that highlights the rows of trees lining the property.  The Espace Chenot spa program offers comprehensive wellness programs complete with aromatherapies and bio-light menus. The spa offers 3-, 4-, 7- and 14-day programs. Of course, if you need a cheat day, just head over to Bellavista for some of the sparkling wine the Franciacorta region is famous for.


Lake Garda

Continue east toward the border between the Lombardy and Veneto regions, and you’ll hit Lake Garda. Lemon houses dot the shores, adding a vibrant yellow glint to the verdant hills. On the western bank is the Vittoriale degli Italiani, the victory monument of the Italians. It doubled as the home of writer and war hero Gabriele d’Annunzio. In reality, Mussolini gifted the home to d’Annunzio in exchange for retiring from public life. The hillside holds a mausoleum, amphitheater and an intact navy cruiser.

Navy cruiser at Vittoriale degli Italiani

I found d’Annunzio’s home more surreal than the warship.  There are two waiting rooms, one for welcome guests and another for unwelcome ones (guess where Mussolini had to wait?). While the  windows offer stunning lake views, d’Annunzio kept the shades drawn because his eyesight was failing. Countless books and religious iconography litter the walls. D’Annunzio died at his desk  and it remains untouched. Though the poet didn’t dine with his guests, he kept a statue of a favored pet turtle, which had died from overeating, on the table as a reminder to guests to not wear out their welcome.


Lefay Resort and its incredible spa

Be sure to visit Lefay Resort and Spa,high up on a hilltop with a panoramic view of the lake.  Select a treatment from the nearly 70-page spa menu. You may want some “calm” after visit D’Annunzio’s home!

The real star of the spa at Lefay is the infinity pool, which seems to hang out over the cliff and blend with the lake. On a clear day, you can see Sirmione, home of the Roman poet Catullus, who called it the “gem of the islands and peninsulas.” I, for one, would be hard-pressed to argue.

About the breathtaking photos of Lake Como – they’re real!

by Damien Martin, Italy Specialist


Lake Como is a true beauty!

It’s not that reading descriptions and viewing pictures of Lake Como can’t prepare you for its beauty. It’s more that those pictures are so stunning you halfway convince yourself that they can’t be real, that no place can really look like that. Until you get there.

Como Villa d’Este gardens

Elegance defined

Carved by glaciers, ringed by the Alps, dotted with ornate villas and a playground for the rich and famous since Roman times, the lake is just one of several in northern Italy, but its unique elegance steals the breath right out of you. You can find Renaissance architecture in lots of places. You can find alpine lakes in fewer places. And you can find lush sculpted gardens in still fewer places. If you want them all, you go to Lake Como.

Como Villa la Cassinella

Best views are from the lake

Your first glimpse comes from the road that winds its way around the lake — and if you’re driving up from Milan on the weekend, you’ll have plenty of time in heavy traffic to admire the view — but Lake Como is best enjoyed from the water.

Como Bellagio from Capella degli Alpini

Bellagio – the pearl of Lake Como

Head over to Bellagio, the pearl of the lake, situated on the peninsula that divides the water into three forks and find your own gems in its many boutiques. Grab lunch on Isola Comacina and take part in the traditional toast that staves off the curse placed on the lake’s sole island by a medieval bishop. Soak up the old-world glamor of Villa Melzi, Villa Carlotta and Villa del Balbianello. Wave to George Clooney as you pass his villa in Laglio.

Como Staircase

Dining, hiking, and to-die-for views

If you still have energy, you can burn off some calories — trust me, there are plenty of calories to come by — hiking one of the many trails with panoramic views offer yet another perspective. The sight of Bellagio ringed by the three forks of the lake is simply spectacular.

Como Pool at Grand Hotel Tremezzo

Lake Como is a MUST!

So before I run out of adjectives attempting to describe the beauty, let me just say this: Lake Como is absolutely something you need to see for yourself to truly appreciate. As they say (whoever “they” are), “Seeing is believing.”

Want to know more about Lake Como? Let’s talk! Ciao! Damien

No words … heartfelt prayers

#Pray for Nice

Boundaries divide – Travel unites

When I meet someone, whether from another city or another country, I have the opportunity to be a citizen ambassador. Interacting with another human being, looking into each other’s eyes has a lasting effect and perhaps it will counter anything negative that they might have heard about me, about my country. Traveling is a privilege to share who I am and to gain more insight into others. I believe with all my heart this helps foster peace.

We pray for Nice and for the world. Spread love. Help others. Live in peace.

Unforgettable Milan

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Milan – the fashion and financial center of Italy

Damien Martin, our Italy specialist, recently returned from a wining, dining, hotel inspecting tour in Italy. Enjoy his blog post about Milan and contact Damien for expert advice on traveling to Italy.

Milan – A blend of nationalities

Walk around Milan and you’re liable to encounter people from all over the world. About 20 percent of the residents of Italy’s most cosmopolitan city are foreign-born. What you won’t see — at least relative to Italy’s other destinations — is a lot of Americans.
Sure, many Americans fly into Milan on their way to Lake Como — and who could blame them? — but the fashion and financial capital is worth taking a couple of days to explore.
Hosting the 2015 Universal Exposition and this year’s Champions League final — the Super Bowl of European soccer — have helped raise the city’s international profile and revitalize certain areas. This being Italy, there’s plenty of history, too.

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La Scala, Duomo, and Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II – Ahhh, Milan!

Clustered within a few hundred feet of each are the city’s main sights: the famed La Scala opera house, the many-spired Duomo and connecting the two, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, one of the world’s oldest shopping malls.
While the Galleria offers enough haute couture to overhaul your wardrobe, it just scratches the surface of Milan’s high-end shopping. The whole city is more or less an open-air mall, from the Via Montenapoleone area — where you’ll find Armani, Ferragamo and Versace storefronts — to the arts district of Brera.

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Leonardo da Vinci called Milan home

The most famous artist to have called Milan home is none other than Leonardo da Vinci and no trip would be complete without a viewing of “The Last Supper.” But make sure to get tickets well in advance — entry is restricted to 25 people per 15-minute viewing. The limited numbers and a series of air locks are to preserve the fragile masterpiece as well as possible.
Because Leonardo painted on the dry wall instead of into wet plaster, the paint began fading almost as soon as it dried. Unlike fresco, the technique allowed Leonardo to make alterations as he worked. This technique resulted in the brilliant capturing of one of the Bible’s most crucial scenes. Centuries of amateur retouching and a few years spent exposed to open air after a World War II bombing didn’t help matters much.
For a much more relaxing supper, head to the Navigli district for a spritz and some risotto alla Milanese (the key ingredient is saffron) next to the scenic canals that were once the lifeblood of Milan’s commerce and are now a nightlife hotspot. You have Leonardo’s design to thank for that, too.

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