The towering beauty of Pisa

I have been to Pisa in Italy many times. My daughter lived there for a year so I got to know the city quite well.

Last year I wrote an article about The San Gimignano Towers versus The Leaning Tower so I have now written an article about the town of Pisa itself.

Pisa, though famous for its leaning tower, has a lot more to offer than dodgy medieval building techniques.

The Tuscan capital is so old no one is entirely sure of its origins but it developed into an Etruscan settlement and archeological remains from 500 BC have been discovered and some estimates place its history further back than 1300 BC.

Sitting on the banks on the river Arno in beautiful Tuscany, Pisa has long attracted travellers and artisans that have added to its long prosperity.

‘Modern’ Pisa was first laid out in the mid-eleventh century and the city has retained much of its medieval appearance.

Pisa abounds with historical monuments and buildings many of which compete with the tower in beauty and historical interest, if not in fame.

In fact the Leaning Tower of Pisa is actually the bell tower of the cathedral. Started in 1064 by the architect Buscheto the cathedral is built in the Pisan Romanesque style in architecture, as is the tower.

The tower was begun over a century later and had all ready started to list when builders reached the third gallery level, another century passed before it was actually finished.

A must for any visitor, the tower and the cathedral sit in the Field of Miracles. The field takes up a large area the north-west of Pisa where four impressive buildings stand in gleaming white marble.

As well as the cathedral and its bell tower, the field boasts the circular Battistero (Baptistery) – the largest of its kind in the whole of Italy – and the Camposanto – a cemetery, also known as the Holy Field.

The four buildings are intended to symbolise the four areas of human existence. These being: health (the cathedral), reason (the Leaning Tower), baptism (the baptistery) and death (the cemetery).

Add to this already impressive list of attractions the Palazzo della Carovana, built by Vasari, the church of San Paolo a Ripa d’Arno, founded around 952, the Borgo Stretto, a neighbourhood where you can stroll beneath medieval arcades, the Medici Palace, the Palazzo Gambacorti, and the royal pace and it is obvious to see why many weekend breaks just don’t seem long enough.

Of course with such an historical city museums are also in abundance. The Museo Nazionale di St Matteo exhibits sculptures and paintings from the 12th century to 15th centurys, including the masterworks of Giovanni and Andrea Pisano, the Master of San Martino and Masaccio.

The Museo dell’ Opera del Duomoexhibits the original sculptures of Nicola Pisano and Giovanni Pisano as well as the treasures of the cathedral, and the Museo delle Sinopie has sinopias from the camposanto.

As you would expect food is of the usual high Italian standards and with accommodation to suit all budgets it can be a relatively cheap holiday, and a gateway to all that wonderful Tuscany has to offer.



Venice – just amazing ! – Holiday Review

Venice – a unique place that makes it a place that will inspire you for a lifetime.

I had heard lots about Venice before I finally decided to spend a short break in the city. I had this picture of Venice in my head; a picture of over commercialism and dirty smelly canals. How wrong I was, because the reality of Venice is far different to what I imagined. When you arrive at Venice airport you have several ways that you can travel to the city. The most expensive way is to travel by water taxi, although if you can share a water taxi this can reduce the cost. The advantages of a water taxi are that you will be taken from outside the airport to as close as you can get to your hotel. Also, the views from the boat as you arrive in Venice itself are staggering.

rialto Bridge

Other ways to get to Venice include buses or the public waterbus. The waterbus is relatively cheap but it takes longer than a taxi and will make several stops before arriving in Venice. But you will still get excellent views of Venice as you arrive from the sea.

If you can afford it I would recommend travelling by water taxi because it is a unique experience arriving in Venice this way. You will feel like a celebrity as you weave in and out of all the narrow canals and avoid the slower moving gondolas.

Venice Island

Before you visit Venice it is worth doing a little reading about the history of the city, because it makes fascinating reading. The first settlements on the Venice Lagoon islands date back to the 5th and 6th centuries, when the inhabitants from the mainland came to this swamp area to escape the barbaric invasions that followed the fall of the Roman Empire. Gradually small houses on stilts were built and eventually walkways were built on wooden platforms. Venice, from the beginning, was always an important trading area and many wars were fought over it.

As you enter Venice the first thing you will see are the incredible churches that dominate the skyline and the red coloured roofs of the houses. I was making the visit to Venice in July and the weather was very hot. If you visit during winter it is advisable to take a pair of wellies as the rising tides can cause flooding and you may well find yourself walking through St. Marks Square in a foot of water!

St. Marks Square

Venice is such a fascinating place. It is a city of winding narrow streets with pavement cafes and designer shops. You will need a good street map and a good sense of direction if you don’t want to get lost. The city is like a maze and the first time you leave your hotel you will get a sense of panic as you wonder how you will ever find your way back to your hotel. But, you always do so don’t worry too much. Getting to know the city on foot is the best way but you can always catch a waterbus, which gives you a chance to admire the unique buildings as you pass slowly by.

The must-see places in my opinion are St Marks Square; the square is unchanged over the centuries and can be seen on many of the Renaissance paintings. Just sitting at one of the (expensive) cafes sipping a cool drink listening to the beautiful music and watching the world go by is one of my favourite memories. The Basilica is well worth seeing, the beautiful gold interior is stunning and a trip up the Campanile (the Bell Tower) gives you the most fantastic views over the rooftops to the Lagoon and the islands. Another of my favourite places was the Bovola tucked away amongst the houses this snail shaped tower is in a quiet courtyard giving fantastic views over the terracotta rooftops.

Wandering along the traffic free pavements and criss-crossing the labyrinth of canals really gives you a sense of the history of Venice and so much is unchanged. The stylish palaces along the length of the Grand Canal, best viewed from the waterbuses, are fascinating. The nobility of Venice in the Middle Ages had seriously good taste when it came to designing their houses! One other place worth visiting is the island of Burano. Just a short trip by waterbus takes you to this brightly coloured little island where time seems to have stood still.

Venice canal

It amazed me to see everyday life on the canals……food delivered to the hotels by boat, police and fire boats, refuse collection by boats ,the waterbuses, we even saw some teenagers stopped for speeding in their boats. It was certainly crowded in some popular spots with large groups of tourists being herded around for example by the Rialto Bridge, the Bridge of Sighs and the Doges palace. The heat in the summer can be overwhelming, my advice is to carry a bottle of water all the time and to try and walk in the shade….easily done with all the little alleyways. We were warned that Venice could be a little smelly but apart from the occasional slight whiff of a drain it was wasn’t at all!

Venice is, by all accounts, sinking so go and visit whilst you have the chance, it is definitely my favourite city break destination and I can’t wait to return.

Sorrento Holiday Review

Italy is one of my favourite places. I have been many times before and have visited Tuscany, Lake Garda, Venice, Verona, Florence, and Rome. I’m just back from Sorrento which is near Naples on the Amalfi coast in southern Italy. The area is otherwise known as the Neapolitan Riviera.

We flew from Manchester airport to Naples. Naples airport is not too bad. It’s efficient at handling luggage, which is the main thing. Once out of the airport there was a coach waiting for us to take us on the 2 hour drive to our hotel in Sorrento.

The road to Sorrento from Naples follows the coast road. The first part of the trip is on a dual carriageway before you join the winding road that has spectacular views out over the sea. On the way to our hotel we passed, on our left, the amazing sight of Mount Vesuvius. The first thing that struck me was the fact that the area below Vesuvius is densely populated. Apparently, there are 1 million people living directly next to the volcano. Rather them than me was what I was thinking!

We stopped to drop off people at other hotels before we arrived at our hotel, The Aminta. The hotel is situated at the far end of Sorrento up a hill and round lots of hairpin bends and about a mile out of the town.

Our hotel room had a fantastic sea view out over the Bay of Naples. The Neapolitan Riviera has a reputation for having one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world and I have to say that I think the reputation is justified.

The hotel Aminta is a very good hotel in my opinion. It is suitable for anyone wanting a quiet holiday, although there is a little bit of traffic noise from the busy road. It takes about 30 minutes to walk down the hill to Sorrento town but there is a free bus service that runs every hour. Continue reading “Sorrento Holiday Review”

All roads lead to magnificent Rome

While all roads may no longer lead to Rome, many of the cheap flights from UK airports do, with the Italian capital now firmly established as the ideal choice for a weekend break.

Though its attractions are many and varied, Rome is in essence a living, breathing museum, showcasing the height of the Roman civilization alongside the glories of the Renaissance.

Legend has it that, after being raised by a she-wolf, twin brothers Romulus and Remus founded the city in 753BC, after which it expanded rapidly across seven hills to become the centre of the Roman Empire and later the home of the Papacy and capital of the modern Italian republic.

A fortunate combination of excellent workmanship by the builders of yesteryear, alongside minimal damage from the countless wars the city has witnessed- including World War II – means that countless buildings and structures remain largely as they were hundreds of years ago.

Most iconic of all is the Coliseum, the ancient equivalent of Wembley Stadium, where Emperors and citizens alike witnessed gladiatorial combat and recreations of epic battles – though the infamous persecution of Rome’s enemies, including the Christians, took place at the nearby
Circus Maximus.

Despite years of being plundered for material for other projects, the Coliseum still stands proud in the heart of the city, with tourists able to stand in the heart of the arena to contemplate history, as well as enjoy the contemporary kitsch of posing for a photograph with local men in Centurion outfits. 

Perhaps more impressive, though certainly less well known, is the Pantheon, the ancient temple to all of Rome’s Gods and now a functioning Christian church containing the tombs of the artist Raphael and the Italian kings Umberto I and Vittorio Emanuele II. 

In amidst all the history, Rome is a buzzing, modern and contemporary city. While Milan may be hailed as the fashion capital of Italy, its southern rival is not far behind, with numerous chic boutiques offering
the latest in designer fashion, including Prada, Dolce and Gabbana, Armani and Gucci on the classy Via Condotti, with all stores open well beyond the UK-norm of five o’clock.

Likewise, the opening hours for Roman restaurants and bars take some adjusting to. Turning up anytime before ten o’clock for dinner is purely the habits of the tourists, with the locals preferring to dine on the finest pizza and pasta dishes well into the early hours, all washed down
with locally-produced wine.

For those feeling a tad guilty at the decadence Rome invites its visitors to indulge in, salvation is at hand. Created with the signing of the Lateran Treaty in 1929, the Vatican City, the smallest independent nation in the world and heart of the Catholic Church, is found within Rome’s walls.

At its heart lie St Peter’s Basillica, the largest church in the world boasting design input from, amongst others Michelangelo, Bernini and Barbieri, from where the Pope himself performs mass every Sunday when he is at home.

As if that wasn’t enough to confirm the Vatican City’s status as the sole Unesco World Heritage country, the Vatican Museums display the cultural treasures held by the church, including works by the masters of the Renaissance, Da Vinci, Raphael, Caravaggio as well as Michelangelo’s
frescos on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

Given the sheer scale of the attractions of Rome, visitors should throw a coin over their shoulder into the Trevi Fountain to ensure their return. However, legend also states that throwing two coins guarantees that the traveller will return married – well, it’s worth a go, isn’t it?!

Glamorous yet charmingly simple, Sardinia has it all

Formula One boss and successful entrepreneur Flavio Briatore and his model fiancee Elisabetta Gregoraci are the latest in a long line of big names to choose the beautiful beaches of Sardinia to get away from the pressures of an A-list lifestyle.

While Flavio’s famous Billionaire’s Club is on the Italian island, the loved-up couple instead opted to move away from the glamorous resort and explore the unspoilt beaches and rugged coves which makes the Sardinian coastline arguably the most spectacular in the whole of the Mediterranean.

Though St Tropez may often make the headlines, Sardinia’s Emerald Coast has enough glamorous resorts to keep royalty and movie stars happy, while the fabulous bars and restaurants are beyond compare.

However, the charm of Sardinia is that it remains largely unspoilt, with visitors able to find their own secluded beach or explore the olive groves or some of Europe’s oldest archaeological ruins, dating back to 1700BC, without seeing another tourist.

Indeed, out of season Sardinia is the perfect Mediterranean for the more adventurous traveller.

Getting around the island can be charmingly shambolic as the trains move at a snail’s pace through the stunning countryside and the language spoken by the locals can baffle even visitors from mainland Italy.

Perhaps the highlight of a trip to Sardinia is the drive along the Emerald Coast from Olbia to Stintino, with the road clinging to the rugged cliffs, looking down on the azure waters, perfect for Sunday drivers and Formula One chiefs alike.

Enjoy the charm and elegance of Portofino

Just like most retired couples, the Blairs have been taking it easy since Tony stepped down as prime minister.

However, while many settle for a week’s caravanning in the south of England, the couple have been soaking up the sun on the French Cote D’Azur and the Italian Riviera, courtesy of their good friend Bono.

The U2 front man, who became close to Tony through his campaigning for Africa, played host on his yacht in the Italian fishing village of Portofino, well regarded as being one of the most beautiful of Mediterranean ports.

Easily accessible for those without their own boat from the nearby city of Genoa in the north-west of the country, the village has long since counted tourism rather than fishing as its major industry after the British and French aristocrats of the 19th century put it well and truly on the map.

So picturesque is Portofino that it has been recreated as the idyllic harbour village at both Tokyo’s DisneySea theme park and Universal’s Orlando Resort, though it would be impossible to reproduce its natural charm and easy-going nature which make the village stand out from its Riviera neighbours.

Befitting its status as the summer destination of choice for the great and the good, Portofino boasts high-class accommodation, with the best rooms coming with views over the azure Mediterranean crashing onto the rocks, while the cuisine and locally-produced wine really is fit for a king or former prime minister.

One highlight is to take a trip out to sea with one of the fishermen to get a true appreciation of the beauty of the Italian coastline while also being sure to check out the underwater statue of the “Christ of the Abyss” put into the harbour in 1954 to protect the local sea-farers.

How to get to Portofino

Fly to Genoa. Portofino is 45km east of Genoa airport on the A12 motorway.

Alitalia, British Airways and Ryanair all fly to Genoa and then you get get public transport, a taxi or hire a car to get to Portofino.

Braving the Volcanic Eruptions of Mt Etna

Sylvia Kenny, of Leeds City College Travel & Tourism department, has just returned from a holiday on the island of Sicily and in this guest blog article she tells us how much she enjoyed the island and her trip up Mt Etna, despite the daily volcanic eruptions!

Leaving behind the green and pleasant land of England in August (particularly green this year after all the summer showers!!) it was quite a shock to find ourselves looking down on Sicily from the air and to see the arid, brown landscape. On arrival, we experienced showers of a different kind – the air was filled with fine, volcanic ash. We discovered Etna had been active throughout August – there were a series of small eruptions daily.

We were based inland from Taormina on the slopes of Mount Etna on an agri-tourism complex (a working vineyard and farm with rooms and self-catering apartments). The restaurant on site served delicious home cooked food with home produced wine. The meals included many local specialities and the emphasis was on simplicity and flavour. We enjoyed views of the coast and Mount Etna from the large swimming pool.

Our visit to Taormina was well worth the effort and made much easier by the park and ride facility and the fact that everything in the historic town is within easy walking distance. Taormina is spectacularly perched on the side of a mountain with stunning views of the Gulf of Naxos below and Mount Etna behind. We started our tour with a visit to the Teatro Greco– a near perfect amphitheatre. We wandered through the historic streets and enjoyed the gelati shops and the delis on the Corso Umberto. When you want to escape the crowded streets you can visit the public gardens, a lovely tranquil place designed by Lady Florence Trevelyan Cacciola, an 19th-century Scottish aristocrat. If you have time, you can descend to one of the many beaches using the cable-car.

Eventually we were drawn to Mount Etna. There are many different ways of visiting. You can take a tour from Catania or Taormina. As we were based on the slopes of the mountain we decided to drive to Rifugio Sapienza and to take a cable-car to 2500metres (29 euros pp). From here you can take a guided tour or explore the lunar landscape of black lava on your own. Get there early to avoid the crowds and be prepared to feel the effects of the high altitude!!

Catania is famous for its markets, particularly the noisy fish market (La Pescheria) and the food market withmountains of cheese and fruit. The city is very busy and parking is difficult so it may be worth travelling in by train or bus.

If you hire a car it is well worth paying the extra cost of the CDW. The Sicilian drivers are very aggressive and do not obey any of the rules of the road – they never stop at stop signs or roundabouts. All the cars look as though they have been in numerous accidents and you feel like you will be next!

There are many things to see and do in Sicily but it is also a great place if you just want to relax.

Here are some photographs of Sicily that Sylvia took whilst she was on holiday.

The Best Hotels in Rome

We are often asked where is the best place to stay in Rome. Well, I say to them it doesn’t matter where you stay because you are in one of the most fascinating cities in the world with an incredible history. All you need is a bed because all you will remember about Rome is the city itself not the hotel!

There is so much history to see in Rome that it is like walking into a time machine. I remember that on my first trip to Rome I was having a guided tour of the Roman Forum. It was a hot day in July so I took a short break in the shade and was leaning up against an ancient arch. A few moments later our tour guide told me that I was leaning against The Arch of Septimius Severus which was built in 203AD. This was an arch built in dedication to Emperor Septimius Severus and his sons. The Roman legions used to march through this arch with slaves from their conquests. Nearly 2,000 years ago if I had been standing at the same spot I would have been obstructing them!

Back to where to stay in Rome. Well, there is an abundance of hotels and many 4 and 5 star ones. In this article I will tell you where you should be staying if you want the best hotel in Rome.

Hotel De Russie

The Hotel de Russie is a luxury five-star hotel located in the heart of the beautiful city of Rome between the Spanish Steps and Piazza del Popolo on the Via del Babuino. The hotel is within easy walking distance of Rome’s key attractions, fashion houses and Via Condotti. The Vatican City, with St Peter’s and the Sistine Chapel, is just a ten-minute walk from the Hotel de Russie while Piazza Navona and the Trevi Fountain are also within easy access.

Our opinion – Great location and elegant luxury. Expensive but worth the money

Villa Spalletti Trivelli

This is an elegant hotel in a classical villa.

In the heart of Rome, Villa Spalletti Trivelli is unique among the historic residences: a splendid Italian garden, elegant and refined drawing rooms furnished with genuine antiques, exclusive Wellness Centre, sumptuous rooms with every comfort…

Villa Spalletti Trivelli offers 12 cosseting rooms and suites, elegant cuisine and relaxing spa therapies, all located minutes from the Fontana di Trevi, Quirinale and the Spanish Steps and situated within its own private gardens.

Our opinion – If you are looking for something special with exceptional 5 star service then hotel this could be for you. The hotel consistently comes out top with several hotel review sites.

The St. Regis Grand Hotel

The St. Regis Grand Hotel, Rome, is a 5 star deluxe  hotel and was named on Condé Nast Traveler’s 2005 Gold List . It has recently gone through a restoration and offers travellers the best in service and luxury hotel rooms. There are deluxe, lavish interiors and an serious exterior, creating an inviting atmosphere. This landmark hotel offers beautiful hotel bedrooms in the heart of Rome, within walking distance of many historic sites including the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain and Via Veneto. The Colosseum, Roman Forum, Piazza Navona and fine stores of Via Condotti are also located nearby.

If you have never been to Rome you need to make plans to go. Give Global Holidays a call on 0800 433 2300. If you want to know more about this amazing city have a look at this excellent quality video below.



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What’s the best way to get to Lake Como from Milan airport ?

We are an independent travel agent and every day we provide advice for our customers about their holidays. One of today’s questions was about the best and cheapest way to get to Lake Como from Milan airport. This is the advice we gave our customer.

Lake Como is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Europe. The southern tip of the lake lies about 40km north of Milan towards the border with Switzerland and it is surrounded by mountains and forests.

If you are arriving at Milan’s Malpensa airport the the easiest way to get from the airport to Como is by using the Malpensa Express train. You will need to catch the train to Saronna and then transfer to the LeNord train to Como. The train from Milan airport runs from Terminal 1 and the whole journey takes about 1hr and 20 minutes.

There is a bus station just over the road from Le Nord Como Station where you can catch a bus to all the towns along the west coast of Lake Como. The cost of the train journey is about 9 Euro.

If there is a group of you we can arrange a mini bus that takes upto 8 people. The cost of a return mini bus from Milan Malpensa to Como is £300, but if there 8 of you that only equates to £19 per person each way and you will be dropped off at your hotel. If there are 2 of you travelling from Milan to Lake Como then the cost is £200 return using a private taxi so it is much cheaper to travel by train although if you have luggage it is not as convenient.

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The Italian Lakes – Beauty at its Best

The Italian Lakes are one of the most beautiful parts of Italy and maybe even Europe. I love going to the Italian Lakes because there is a mixture of wonderful scenery, large expanses of water, historic towns and great Italian restaurants.The Italian Lakes occupy the northern part of Italy but, in fact, they also cross into Switzerland and Germany. The Italian Lakes consist of Lake Garda, Lake Maggiore and Lake Como. George Clooney has a villa on the shores of Lake Como but he is not the only famous face to be seen in this beautiful area.

Lake Maggiore

Locarno is located at the northern tip of Lake Maggiore and the town is actually in Switzerland. The scenery here is hard to beat and the town itself has a mixture of luxury hotels and excellent restaurants. Locarno is a peaceful town and there is not much to do apart from admire the stunning scenery and dip your feet in the cool water.

There is one trip, however, that you should take when you are in Locarno and that is to take the funicular to Santuario della Madonna del Sasso  which is a church that sits on a clifftop above Locarno. The views of Lake Maggiore from here are unbeatable.If you are driving south out of Locarno you should take the amazing road that follows the Maggia River. Apart from the incredible scenery you will see pretty villages and huge waterfalls.

There are plenty of stopping places where you can get a drink and a snack and breath in the Alpine fresh air. If you want to stop for a walk beside the lake, you should stop at Ascona where there is an excellent waterfront promenade and many cafes.

Lake Como

If you want to explore Lake Como there are plenty of winding roads for you to drive on but you won’t see much if you are the driver as you will need to keep your eyes on the road. The best way to see Lake Como is to take a ferry, and there are plenty of them that chug around the towns and villages on the shores of Lake Como.If you want to see one of the areas most stunning villas then you should stop at Villa Carlotta in Cadenabbia. The villa and the grounds are stunning and a visit here will give you a glimpse of times gone by.

The town of Bellagio is situated on Lake Como and is best accessed by ferry. There are plenty of restaurants along the waterfront but they can be expensive. You can then take the ferry to the village of Varenna where the houses are built into the steep mountain and colourful flowers in summer make it look like a picture postcard.

Lake Garda

Lake Garda is probably the most visited of the Italian Lakes and you have the added attraction of being close to the beautiful city of Verona where you can go shopping in one of the many designer shops or go to the famous Verona outdoor opera.Lake Garda itself is stunning. The town of Riva is situated at the far north end of Lake Garda and small villages and towns are scattered along the Garda coastline. Bardolino is a pretty town with some reasonably priced hotels and plenty of waterfront restaurants and at the south end of Lake Garda is the town of Garda itself with its Medieval walls.

All the towns on Lake Garda are linked by a water bus and I can recommend that you use this as it makes it much easier to get around and at the same time you get to see more of the beautuful area of Lake Garda.Here at Global Holidays we can organise your holiday to the Italian Lakes. We can use any airline including the budget airlines and put together a low priced holiday to the Italian Lakes for you.

Just call us on 0845 299 4450 to speak to one of our friendly sales consultants.

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