Postcards from Italy

Staff Inspiration: Sarah’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. After last week’s trip with Matthew Greenbaum, this week we take you on a dream trip with Sarah Blaze, Operations Associate for CIUTravel.

Sarah in Florence

(Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

Several years ago, Brian was singing with Opera Theater of St. Louis with a tenor named John Bellemer. John and Brian became friends so it was only natural that their wives would meet and join in the fun. John’s wife, Sarah Blaze, is a mezzo soprano, so with Brian (baritone) and Maria (soprano), we not only became friends, but formed a quartet. Through various connections, we were invited to sing on a few cruises in the Atlantic and Mediterranean as High C’s on the High Seas – bello, no? Over the years we stayed in touch, meeting in New York or Europe when singing schedules converged. When CIU needed to add to our team, Sarah was a natural first choice. Her effervescent personality and can-do attitude, together with her love of travel, are perfect for working with our travelers on custom itineraries. We hope you enjoy her trip to the Amalfi Coast.

Sarah and Maria Pre-concert

(Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

A Note from Sarah

In 1972 my father, a professor emeritus of English literature at Sonoma State University in northern California, took a year-long sabbatical, and he and my mother planned a trip for our family of four to Europe.

My parents, who both grew up in working class families in Queens, NY, had done very little traveling before they met, and were determined to begin. At the time, very few Americans were touring overseas, so other than the summer months when we encountered European families on holiday, we often felt like lone travelers finding new adventures wherever we turned. Our trip started with a cross-country drive from California to New York and then a flight to London, where my parents bought a small used camper and we spent the year driving and camping through Europe.

Because of the length of our vacation, time was not a concern, so while we had a basic travel plan, if we came to a location we loved, we would stay. Italy was an immediate favorite and I recall spending weeks in Florence parked at Piazzale Michelangelo overlooking the city (it was off season, so the nearby campground was closed); Venice, where we parked at a train station just outside the city and took a water taxi in daily; and Rome. In each city, we would set out early every day to explore, trying foods that were new to us; wandering through museums, churches, and historical sites; and attending evening operas with standing-room tickets that my parents often purchased the day of the performance. This was at a time before reservations and admission fees were necessary for historical sites. My parents would always give the suggested donation in museums and churches, but the cities were always ours to freely wander, finding new foods, listening as my parents stumbled over the language, pointing and gesturing when they couldn’t come up with the right translations, and learning and laughing with locals who were more than happy to help our little family on our crazy adventure.

I credit this time with many things, not least of which my ability to live in smaller spaces (helpful as a resident of NYC), the ability to adapt and feel comfortable in new situations, a great love of food adventures (particularly cheese), and the desire to spend more time in a given location to truly learn and experience that place when traveling.

I have returned to Italy as an adult over the last 15 years with my husband, who has performed as a professional singer in opera houses in Florence, Venice, Naples, Ancona, and Cagliari, giving us the opportunity to again live in a single place and make it our home for weeks at a time. However, these were primarily work trips, so when we first discussed our dream trip project at CIU Travel, my initial thought was to return to Venice and Florence which were the places of many of my most cherished childhood memories, and experience them as a true vacation for the two of us.

Sarah and John Capri

(Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

However, during this crazy time, I find myself wanting to be outdoors enjoying the sun and the water, combining our love of slow travel with our love of wonderful food and wine, cooking, hiking, and finding daily adventures. And, in spite of how much I loved our little camper as a child, a bit of pampering seemed like a wonderful addition. This is my dream trip to Italy’s southern coast.


Most trips to the Amalfi Coast begin in Naples, home of the nearest international airport and a major cruise port. Though many travelers use this southern city merely as a jumping-off point to head further south along the coastline, I know from my previous stay that the city has delights of its own to explore, so we would linger here for a few days to take in its highlights and soak in its famously vibrant atmosphere.

We would stay at the lovely San Francesco Al Monte, a former monastery overlooking the Bay of Naples not far from the historic center. This unique historic building has been completely renovated, though its original architecture is largely intact and the guest rooms have been created out of the monks’ cells. With a rooftop garden and small pool, it’s the ideal retreat from the bustle of the city after a day of exploring.


(Photo by CIUTravel via Flickr)

The next morning, my husband and I would take a deep dive into Neapolitan culture and cuisine with an insider’s walking tour that combines stops at some of the most captivating historic and architectural jewels in the heart of Naples with stops to taste the city’s iconic street food, including freshly fired pizza al portafoglio, ricotta-filled sfogliatella pastry, and authenticespresso at Caffé Gambrinus.

Pizza Margherita

(Photo by CIUTravel via Flickr)

In the afternoon, we would travel 2,000 years into the past with a jaunt to the ruins of Pompeii, the Roman city completely destroyed by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD. We would skip the stress and hassle of public transportation and instead reach the archaeological park with a private driver, meeting our specialized guide at the entrance for an in-depth tour of ancient Roman villas, baths, temples, and other treasures. It will be great to re-connect with Tony, who Maria and I met in 2007 and has been CIU’s go to guide in the area ever since.

In the evening, we would head to Borgo Marinari, the tiny fishing hamlet set at the base of Naples’ majestic Castel dell’Ovo along the coastline for a traditional seafood dinner in one of the many family-run restaurants that sit shoulder to shoulder along the waterfront.


The next morning, we would set sail by private speedboat directly from the Naples port across the bay to Capri, one of the most beautiful and cosmopolitan islands in the Mediterranean. We would treat ourselves to a room at JK Place Capri, the island’s flagship design hotel that captures the “dolce vita” spirit for which Capri has been known since Jackie O. and other celebrities put it on the map in the 1960s and 70s.


(Photo by CIUTravel via Flickr)

Though the pool, spa, and sumptuous terraces make it tempting to spend our entire time on the island holed up at JK Place, we would tear ourselves away for a scenic stroll at sunset, stopping to take in the view over the island’s northern coastline.


(Photo by CIUTravel via Flickr)

The next day, we would dedicate the entire day to exploring Capri by land and sea, beginning with a private mini-cruise in the morning to take in the coastline with a local skipper. We would stop to visit the famed Blue Grotto, exchange a kiss for good luck under the towering Faraglioni, and drop anchor in some of the hidden coves to swim and snorkel to our hearts’ content. We could even arrange for a simple picnic on board, featuring the island’s famed caprese sandwich (tomato and mozzarella) and Limoncello made from local lemons.


(Photo by CIUTravel via Flickr)

After returning to port, we would spend the afternoon exploring the island by land – from the chic boutiques and artisan workshops in Capri town to the stunning Villa San Michele with sweeping views across the Bay of Naples. We might even take the chairlift up to the top of Mt. Solaro from the town of Anacapri for a 360-degree view over the island and plenty of panoramic hiking trails to explore.

Amalfi Coast

After our romantic island getaway, we would head back to the mainland for a few days along the Amalfi Coast, setting off with a private water taxi from Marina Grande on Capri directly to the port in Amalfi, where we would catch the hotel shuttle for the thrilling trip along the famed Amalfi Coast highway 163 to Monastero Santa Rosa, a CIU Travel favorite set on the clifftop high above Conca dei Marini. This exquisite 17th-century monastery is now one of the most stunning luxury hotels on the Amalfi Coast, with stylishly understated guest rooms occupying the historic nuns’ cells. We would spend our first afternoon and evening exploring the property’s delights, from its spa and jaw-dropping infinity pool set directly on the cliff’s edge, to the in-house bar and restaurant featuring dishes prepared with vegetables and herbs from the hotel’s own garden.


(Photo by CIUTravel via Flickr)

The next morning, we would don sun hats and sturdy shoes and take on the “Path of the Gods”, one of the most scenic hiking trails in Italy. We would join a local guide in Agerola and the trail head and walk the two to three hours to Praiano, where we would stop for a seafood lunch overlooking the coast. Afterwards, we would have a driver pick us up for the return drive to the hotel, where we could rest and rejuvenate in the spa and pool.

Il Buco, Sorrento

(Photo by CIUTravel via Flickr)

After a day on land, it would be time to get our sea legs back with a day cruise along the Amalfi Coast, setting sail from the port in Amalfi for a private boat tour past the coastal highlights. We would stop to explore Positano by land, swim in the quiet coves accessible only by sea, admire some of the most striking stretches of coastline in the world, and anchor at a seafront restaurant for lunch overlooking the water. One of the advantages of a private boat is the complete flexibility, so we could fit the pace to our mood that day, lingering to swim and snorkel or taking more time over our leisurely meal without having the stress of a set itinerary and schedule.


(Photo by CIUTravel via Flickr)

Our final two days would be dedicated to Italy’s beloved southern cuisine, first with a cooking course at Don Alfonso, a Michelin-starred restaraunt in Massa Lubrense on the Sorrentine Peninsula. With the restaurant chef, we would prepare a complete traditional lunch from antipasto to a meat or fish “secondo”. Our meal would end with an indulgent dessert prepared by the in-house pastry chef, followed by a private tour of the restaurant cellar which dates from more than 2,500 years ago and holds the restaurant’s extensive wine collection. The following day, we would enjoy a private tour of a local farm that produces mozzarella cheese and gourmet specialties made with the coast’s famous lemons, with a walk through the property with the host and plenty of delicious samples.


(Photo by CIUTravel via Flickr)

After recharging body and soul with the delights of southern Italy, we would be ready to head home with plenty of wonderful memories and new experiences to cherish. See you at the beach!

Sarah loves the beach

(Photo by CIUTravel via Flickr)

Travel Specialists

Maria Landers

Brian Dore