Postcards from Italy

Staff Inspiration: Cristina’s Dream Trip

Join us over the next few weeks as we share our dream trips through Italy and Switzerland, aimed at informing and inspiring future jaunts to Europe. We begin with Cristina Tili, Operations Manager for CIUTravel and local contact for clients while on the ground in Italy.

Crisitna and a plate of mussels

(Photo by CIUTravel via Flickr)

Maria and Brian met Cristina 16 years ago at the Mercato delle Gaite medieval festival in Bevagna. She had been working as a translator and group leader for local tour groups, and they were immediately taken with her excellent English (occasionally tinged with a British accent) and organizational skills. Today, in addition to her role as Operations Manager, she often translates for cooking classes in Umbria and is the friendly voice on the other end of the line if clients need to get in touch when they’re on the road in Italy or Switzerland. Cristina is 100% Umbrian and proud of it. Any attempt to convince her that perhaps a dash of salt in the local bread wouldn’t be the worst thing will be met in the best case with confusion and in the worst case scorn. We hope you enjoy her dream trip through her beloved Bel Paese!

A Note from Cristina

Italian by birth and by passion, I have travelled up and down my country, always amazed by its unique beauty and wealth of art and history. The idea of drawing my dream itinerary in Italy was tempting and exciting.


(Photo by CIUTravel via Flickr)

While putting together a few ideas, I realized that my perspective has greatly changed over the past few weeks, when our lives have been completely turned upside down by the Covid-19 emergency. I found myself dreaming of going back to places I have already visited to see how they look without the crowds — the Uffizi, Vatican Museums, Colosseum, Herculaneum all (or almost all) to myself; the streets of Florence, Rome and Naples now quiet and totally enjoyable — and I decided that it is what I want to do.

I’d ask one of my tour-guide friends to go with me, as their insight is always precious and makes everything I visit come to life. And no holiday would be perfect without some time at the beach, to sunbathe and swim in the clear, emerald waters of our seas. As always, food would play a major role, as no journey is complete without the experience of the local food and wine. Italy has such a large variety of regional cuisines that are so deeply connected with their specific history and people that an Umbrian like me only knows them superficially and therefore must get to their heart by meeting the locals and preparing food with them.

Yes, this is what I want to do, and I am already dreaming of it….


I would begin in the cradle of the Renaissance, one of the most popular destinations in Italy and often so crowded in the high-season summer months that visiting can be a battle against the throngs. My dream room would be at the scenic Antica Torre di Via Tornabuoni in the heart of the historic center, a 13th century medieval tower turned boutique hotel, where I would schedule in a leisurely break each evening to relax and sip a glass of wine on the panoramic terrace overlooking the rooftops of Florence.


(Photo by CIUTravel via Flickr)

On my first afternoon, I would get my bearings with a guided walking tour through the historic streets of Florence, enjoying historic anecdotes and expert insights into the city’s most iconic landmarks. I would stop at the Accademia to take a peek at Michelangelo’s David — a masterpiece that I can never get enough of — before setting sail at sunset for a scenic boat trip down the Arno River on board a traditional “barchetto” piloted by one of the city’s few remaining “renaioli”, or historic boatmen, for a unique view of the city and its storied bridges from the water.

Florence from the Arno

(Photo by CIUTravel via Flickr)

The next morning, I would take a break from Florentine culture for a deep dive into its cuisine with a hands-on cooking class followed by lunch at the Contini Bonacossi wine estate just outside the city. With the help of the family cook, I would try my hand at a number of classic “cucina nobile” dishes from Tuscany before enjoying the fruit of my labors paired with wines from the estate.

In the afternoon, I would head back to the city for a final foray into the city’s cultural treasures with a skip-the-line guided tour of the Uffizi, making sure to take in the private art collection housed in the museum that was donated by the same Contini Bonacossi family in 1969 as well as masterpieces by Botticelli, Da Vinci, and Caravaggio.

Rome via Pitigliano

After two days taking in the best of Florence, I would head south to Italy’s capital city — working in a quick stop at the historic hill town of Pitigliano to take a stroll through the town and its storied Jewish Ghetto with a guide and relax over lunch. (Video by CIUTravel)

After settling into my luxe digs at the new Hotel de la Ville set just above the Spanish Steps and featuring one of the most panoramic rooftop bars in the Eternal City, I would soak in Rome’s La Dolce Vita vibe in the most iconic way possible: on board a zippy Vespa scooter. The “Food Lover’s Ride” is a great way to explore Rome’s historic neighborhoods and local foodie outposts without getting footsore, and you have an expert driver so can concentrate on taking in the views rather than navigating the city’s famously snarled traffic.

Forum at night - Rome

Photo by CIUTravel via Flickr)

Over the next two days, I would explore both the marvels of the Vatican Museums (including the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica) and the ancient treasures of the Colosseum, Roman Forum, and Palatine Hill with a guide for a better understanding of the UNESCO-listed jewels and their historic and cultural significance. I would be sure to schedule in a Rome by Night tour to admire some of the city’s most famous sights dramatically lit and stop to snap photos to capture the romantic side of Rome after the sun sets.

Naples and the Amalfi Coast

For the final leg of my dream trip, I would hop on the high-speed train for the hour-long trip from Rome to Naples to take a deep dive into one of Italy’s most historic and vibrant cities. My dream hotel here is the Grand Hotel Santa Lucia, set directly on the Bay of Naples along the promenade for great views over the Mediterranean. I would relax here on my first evening, settling in at the restaurant for a meal of classic Neapolitan seafood dishes.

The next morning, I would join a local guide for a foodie walk through Naples’ bustling historic center, a warren of narrow lanes lined with artisan shops, street food stands, and lots of local color. I would be sure to stop for a steaming hot pizza al portafoglio, sweet sfogliatella pastry, and bracing espresso at Caffé Gambrinus.

Baba classico

(Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

In the afternoon, I would head out of Naples with a driver to take in the ruins of Herculaneum, a smaller (and, some would argue, better-preserved version of crowded Pompeii). With a guide, I would explore the remains of ancient Roman homes, temples, baths, and other captivating structures to truly appreciate their history and significance.


(Photo by CIUTravel via Flickr)

After a fast-paced week of touring, I would be ready to slow things down and dedicate a few days to pure R&R, so the following morning I would set sail on a private yacht for a cruise along the Amalfi Coast. We would stop at leisure while skirting the coastline, diving into the crystalline waters for a swim or docking in Positano and Amalfi to sightsee and shop on land. We could even head as far south as Vietri sul Mare to tour the famed ceramic shops or Cetara for an unforgettable meal.

The Aeolian Islands

To cap off my dream trip, I would cruise across the Mediterranean to the UNESCO-listed Aeolian Islands, eight small volcanic islands off the northeastern coast of Sicily that are known for their idyllic coastlines, dramatic volcanos, charming resort towns, and relaxed pace.


(Photo by Flrnt via Flickr)

I would unwind with a swim along some of the islands’ best known beaches over the next two days, including the white pumice beach on Lipari, Cala Junco on Panarea, Pollara in Salina, and Calette Piscità on Stromboli – leaving time for a soak in the thermal mud baths on Vulcano.


(Photo by HopeHill via Flickr)

I would also be sure to schedule time to explore the highlights of this picturesque clutch of islands on land, including a jaunt across the island of Lipari on a scooter, a shopping trip through Panarea’s exclusive boutiques, and a scenic hike on the volcanic slopes of Vulcano.

Reggio Calabria

My final stop would be the little-known gem of Reggio Calabria, a unique coastal town that sits just across the Strait of Messina from Sicily. I wouldn’t want to miss the Museo Nazionale della Magna Grecia, home to the magnificent Riace Bronzes dating from the 5th century BC that were found in the waters off Riace in the early 1970s and are considered among the world’s most precious artworks from southern Italy’s Magna Graecia.

I would end my visit with a stroll along the city’s waterfront, lined by stunning Liberty buildings that were constructed after the city was razed in a cataclysmic earthquake and tsunami in 1908, taking in the view of Mt. Etna’s steaming volcanic peak across the strait and stopping to enjoy lunch featuring Calabria’s famously spicy cuisine before heading back north towards home.

Travel Specialists

Maria Landers

Brian Dore