Sunday, July 28, 2013


Town of Talloires on Lake Annecy
Canal leading into Lake Annecy
Italy has many long tunnels but the Monte Bianco (Mont Blanc) tunnel from Italy into France definitely takes the prize: 7.215 miles long.  It also has an astronomical price: 41.40 euros one way (about $55.00). Begun in 1957 and completed in 1965, it is one of the major trans-Alpine transport routes.  Italy relies on the tunnel for transporting as much as 1/3 of its freight to northern Europe. 

St. Francois Church 1610 Annecy
Our first stop in France was Lake Annecy, known as the Venice of the Alps.  14 km long (just under 9 miles), it is the cleanest lake in Europe, a tremendously popular summer resort attracting bikers, boaters and hang gliders.  

Palais de I'Ile
The town of Annecy was occupied as early as 4000 BC. Today, its canals winding through 16th century buildings are lined with restaurants and shops.   

Le Thiou River
The Palais de I'Ile sits on the River Thiou, one of the shortest rivers in France, and has been a residence, fortress, prison and museum.   

The drive to the small city of Beaune was rather adventuresome.  Our GPS which we rely heavily upon led us on a roundabout route which crossed through logging forests and was eventually blocked by a fallen tree across the road.   
Notre Dame Cathedral Beaune
Hotel-Dieu Charity Hospital

Vineyards surround Beaune

 When we finally found our way over the mountain and onto a toll road, the driving was much easier. However, in Europe the toll booths are not attended and one must pay with credit card; we've done so a number of times.  On this occasion, the machine chose to keep our American Express card.  It took a while to get a human being to appear, open the machine and eventually discover the whereabouts of the card. 
French princess: her cart says 'Shopping Gourmand' 
Biking the Grand Cru Route

Beaune is a very nice walled city with several claims to fame.  One is that it is the heart of Burgundy wine country.  Beyond the old town are vineyards as far as the eye can see.   One day we drove through the surrounding vineyards and villages.  The next day we joined a bike tour along the famous Grand Cru route to nearby villages.  The tour concluded with a wine tasting. 

Beaune is also known for Hôtel-Dieu, a magnificent medieval charity hospital founded by the Duke of Burgundy in 1443.  It is now a museum with exhibits that reflect its history. Thanks to donations over the years, the Hôtel-Dieu now owns 63 hectares of valuable vineyards and holds the world’s most famous wine auction every November. 


Wednesday, July 17, 2013


Peschiera del Garda

Walls surrounding Peschiera del Garda 
Ruins from the Roman era
The northern lakes of Italy, formed by glaciers at the end of the last Ice Age, are incredibly beautiful. Over the course of two and a half weeks, we visited 5 of them.  

First stop was Peschiera del Garda at the foot of Lake Garda.  At 34 miles long, it is the biggest lake in Italy. The town was once an important military center and is virtually an island in the lake surrounded by 16th century fortress walls.  However, Peschiera del Garda's history goes back to the bronze age and the foundations of buildings from the Roman era were recently discovered. 

Borghetto on Mincio River
Close by is the charming little hamlet of Borghetto. Situated on the Mincio River, it is listed as one of the most beautiful villages of Italy. 

Next stop was Lovere on Lake Iseo, smallest of the major Alpine lakes at 20 miles long.  It is not as well known as Lakes Garda, Maggiore and Como, but just as beautiful.   
Medieval center of Lovere

Lovere sits on the northwest corner of Lake Iseo with stunning views of the towering peaks that surround the water.  It would be impossible to drive around the lake without the many long tunnels that cut through granite mountains 

Our hotel offered a walking tour of the city where we saw the 3 different sections of the town: medieval, renaissance and modern.  They must not get many Americans here.  Our young tour guide was so surprised that we were from the U.S. that he kept pointing us out to locals along the way saying, "From Floreeda.  Floreeda!"  
Entrance to tunnel through mountain on Lake Iseo

In the middle of Lake Iseo is Mont Isola, the largest European lake island.  We took the passenger boat there one day stopping at lakeside villages along the way.  On the island, we were able to follow a tranquil path along the water from one village to another. 
Menaggio on Lake Como

Our hotel on the main square
View from our terrace

Lake Como is Italy's 3rd largest and deepest lake.  It has long attracted the rich and famous - artists, writers, aristocracy. There are many huge, elegant villas along the shores of the lake. Nowadays it may be best known because George Clooney has a home there.    

We were able to tour all the villages in the central area of the lake by boat.  I think Bellagio with its elegant shops and Menaggio (where we stayed) were the nicest.  Our room overlooked the main square and the lake.   

From Lake Como, we drove to Lake Maggiore, the longest of the lakes (about 40 miles) but second in overall size. Partially in Switzerland, Lake Maggiore also attracted the rich and famous in years gone by.   It was featured in Ernest Hemingway's novel "A Farewell To Arms."
Promenade in Bellagio

Bellagio on Lake Como
While we were in the town of Stresa, we took the cable car and chair lift to the top of Mount Mattarone, almost 5,000 ft above sea level. Unfortunately, the haze prevented clear photos but we could see the shadowy outlines of several lakes surrounded by towering mountains.   

We found the town of Stresa to be a little too touristy so cut our visit short and moved on to the lovely lake of Viverone.  Well off the beaten tourist path, we enjoyed a peaceful, relaxing few days there.  
View of Stresa & Maggiore from cable car

On top of Mount Mattarone

On July 19, we say "Arrivederchi, Italy" and drive into France.  After 2 months and 4 days in this beautiful country, we cannot answer the common question:  What was your favorite?  We loved the variety of our stops:  the northern Italian Riviera, Tuscany, Umbria, the Adriatic coast and the Alpine lakes.  We found the hosts and hostesses of our various lodgings to be incredibly warm and hospitable.  More often than not,  when we asked the check out time, the answer was, “When do you want?” 
Pool at Hotel Marina

View of Lake Viverone from hotel
Italy, like most of Europe, is enduring financial hardship at this time.  You would never know it!  We saw more Audis and BMWs on the roads here than anywhere.  Coming from Palm Beach County, that’s saying something.   Of course, the young people suffer the most; unemployment is high.  Many long to come to America - especially Miami thanks to CSI Miami. 

There is still so much more of Italy to see that we are already thinking about coming back next year.  In the meantime, we look forward to saying "Bonjour, France." 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013


View from our hotel in San Benedetto del Tronto
Biking in San Benedetto del Tronto

There are close to 62 million people in Italy and during the summer, many of them can be found on the east coast of Italy.  One seemingly endless beach runs along the Adriatic Sea.  Lined up across the sand are beach chairs and umbrellas...  thousands of them.   

Italian Water Fountain
Families frequently travel together - children, parents, grandparents and even great grandparents.  By the time we arrived, school was out and children were everywhere.  It is hard to believe that the 2012 birth rate in this country was only 1.4 -- well below the replacement level of 2.1 children per couple.   

The first coastal resort we visited was the town of San Benedetto del Tronto situated at the center of the Italian peninsula.  The name of our hotel was quite fitting: Hotel Relax.   A very long biking and walking path ran beside the beaches, around the marina and through the town.  We enjoyed riding different sections of it every day.   
Arch of Augustus 27 BC - Entrance to Rimini's historic center

After several days, we moved up the coast to Rimini, the most popular of all the beach resorts.  Here, as at Hotel Relax, all our meals were included.  For the most part, the food has been good although I can't understand how people eat as much pasta as the Italians do and not weigh 330 lbs.  

Restored wall surrounding town of San Marino
Rimini is renowned for its 15 km long, sandy beach. Over 1,000 hotels serve the tourists who are almost exclusively Italian.  Founded by the Romans in 268 BC, Rimini has an impressive old city and is also proud to claim Federico Fellini as its native son.    

View over the valley from Mount Titano 
Palazzo Pubblico San Marino

Only 20 minutes by car takes you from Rimini to the Republic of San Marino, the 5th smallest country in the world.   Surrounded by Italy and only 24 square miles in area, it has much to boast about.  It is the oldest republic in the world, has the lowest unemployment rate in Europe and no national debt.  It is ranked #3 of 191 nations in healthcare.  

Charming walkways through San Marino 
Founded in the 4th century, San Marino sits atop Mount Titano and is home to about 32,000 people. The old city - also called San Marino - is a UNESCO World Heritage site and beautiful to visit.  Even though it was a cloudy day, the view from  Mount Titano which is 2,424 feet above sea level, was magnificent. 

 Now we leave behind lazy days lounging on the beach and head north to Italy's lake region.