Jihane’s field notes from Italy

Jihane shares her experiences from her research trip to Italy.

One trip. Four destinations. And plenty of memories – and insights. Recently, we sent Jihane – one of the luxury Travel Experts from our London team – off to Italy for spot of field research. After all, trying and testing every element of our bespoke trips is an essential part of ensuring they are perfect for you, our travelers. First to Como, then Venice and Florence, before finishing off in Cinque Terre.

After relaxing beside mesmerizing Ligurian bays and eating her way across four distinctive gastronomic regions, we asked Jihane to share what she loved most about a country that remains among our firmest favorites. Between uncovering Renaissance masterpieces in the Uffizi Gallery and embarking on private speedboat adventures at sunrise, we couldn’t wait to find out how she got on.

Over to you, Jihane.

Lakeside elegance at Passalacqua

After a short flight to Milan, I left the bustling fashion capital behind and headed north towards a glistening lake encircled by luscious mountains. Or Lake Como, as it’s also known. Passing through the picturesque pastel-colored towns of Cernobbio and Moltrasio, steeped in historical Italian charm, it wasn’t long before I arrived at the water’s edge – and at one of the most beautiful hotels I’ve ever seen, Passalacqua. Once an 18th-century aristocrat’s home, here nobles drabbed in their finery would come for a night of music and dancing in the candlelit gardens overlooking the lake. A unique (and utterly breath-taking) place to stay.

With golden furnishings, original 18th-century parquet floors, high ceilings decorated with intricate stucco patterns, and windows looking out onto the lake – our gorgeous suite (named after Bellini’s famous opera, Norma) was like something out of a fairy tale. And it didn’t stop there. Stepping outside, I felt as if I was Alice in Wonderland. Descending a series of terraces, the hotel’s gardens were nothing short of enchanting. My favorite part? A lakeside parterre made of tiny hedges forming artfully maze-like patterns, dotted with antique white chairs fitted with orange cushions. I found this to be the perfect place to savor a cup of freshly made espresso as the sun rose over the mountains. And the perfect place to sip a cool glass of champagne as it set.

If you’d like to experience the natural beauty and elegant luxury of Passalacqua for yourself, our luxury Travel Experts will be sure to arrange a stay at this stunning hotel. Between winding stone walkways, sunlit olive groves, glistening fountains, and ancient cypress trees, its palatial gardens will leave you speechless.

Lake Como by private helicopter
lake como shoreline

Exploring Lake Como in style

Stepping off the hotel’s private jetty, I set out on a private boat tour to see the lake in all its splendor. Sitting back, relaxed, on a vintage wooden Riva boat, I saw everything from the Casino Royale film set of Villa del Balbianello to the wisteria-crawled Villa d’Este and the medieval centro storico of Varenna. Darting across the glittering waters, one moment I was marveling at the terracotta skyline of elegant Como, the next I was gazing up at snow-capped mountains and a red terraced walkway named the ‘walk of lovers’. This really was a great way to experience the beautiful, contrasting landscapes of Lake Como. On water, in style.

The sheer size of the lake really took my breath away. As did the vast number of beautiful villages built into the surrounding hillsides. Often overlooked in favor of the lake’s renowned historical city, exploring by boat really allowed me to discover many hidden lakeside treasures, like Nesso and Argegno, which I simply wouldn’t have seen otherwise. If you’d like to take to the waters and experience another side of Lake Como yourself, just say the word.

Lake Como boat tours
Boat tour of Lake Como

A world of glass

Leaving Como behind, I headed east to my next stop – the dazzling waterways of Venice. Where stunning architecture meets gondola-filled canals, I couldn’t wait to explore. Our guide – Lorenzo – was so welcoming and knew so much about the history of the city. Between showing us the iconic sites like St. Mark’s Basilica, the Doge’s Palace, and the Bridge of Sighs, he took us to the best spots for a taste of some local delicacies. My favorite dish? Risotto al nero di seppia. Essentially a black-colored risotto cooked with cuttlefish ink, I loved the flavors of white wine, parsley and (of course) fresh cuttlefish.

The next day, we set off to learn how to make glass in the glassblowing capital of the world – Murano. A short water taxi ride from Venice, this renowned island had been on my to-do list for a while. And it was worth the wait. Skipping the crowds, Lorenzo took us on an exclusive tour of the glass factory before introducing us to a glassblowing master who demonstrated this ancient art just for us. The entire demonstration was absolutely fascinating, and it was great to see the results at the end with all the intricate and colorful decoration.

My next stop? The showroom (and the gift shop). Here there were displays featuring every single piece of art the factory makes – and it was beautiful. Hanging from the ceilings were brightly colored chandeliers and delicate baubles, lining the shelves were animal figurines, elegant vases, and endless forms of sculptured glass. After seeing the Millefiori jewelry (a glasswork design meaning ‘a thousand flowers’), I settled on buying a circular pendant made up of these tiny colorful glass flowers. A small, beautifully authentic souvenir.

Romantic evening in Venice
Glass blowing in Murano, Venice
murano glass italy

Seeking the flavors of Florence

Driving south, we went in search of rolling hills and Renaissance treasures – and gelato. Said to be the birthplace of this cold, creamy treat, the cobbled streets of Florence are dotted with some of the best gelaterias in Italy. Or so they say. Naturally, I went to see for myself – with an expert guide, of course.

Led by the very knowledgeable (and very lovely) Anna, we sought out the best artisanal gelato this enchanting Tuscan city had to offer. Tucked away down hidden side streets or in lesser-known and more tranquil piazzas, we uncovered the locals’ favorites. I was really surprised (and excited) by the vast variety of flavors to choose from, sampling everything from courgette (yes, you read that correctly), lime and basil, Amarena (cream and black cherries), lavender, to white chocolate and cinnamon – even flavors of famous deserts like tiramisu and panettone. But my favorite has to have been the pink grapefruit. Sweet and creamy with a slight tang of bitter citrus – it was the most refreshing thing I’d ever tasted.

But Florence is not simply known for its gelato. Also the renowned birthplace of the Italian Renaissance – this city boasts artistic gems and architectural masterpieces at every turn. And after sampling almost every gelato flavor I could lay my hands on, Anna took us out to truly explore this historic and cultural hub. The best part? Our private tour was completely tailored to our unique interests. Exclusive access to the Uffizi Gallery’s typically inaccessible Vasari Corridor? Check. A climb up the Duomo’s 463 steps? No problem – well, not after a few breathers at any rate. Between marveling at the many jewelry shops that line the Ponte Vecchio and watching the sunset from Piazzale Michaelangelo over the River Arno and the surrounding rolling countryside – it’s easy to understand why this charming city captivates so many. Myself included.

gelateria italy
ponte vecchio florence

Sunrise adventures in Cinque Terre

For my final destination, I headed to the Italian western coast to discover an array of gorgeous tiny fishing villages – Cinque Terre. Clinging rather precariously to a stretch of rocky coastal cliffs, these five brightly colored villages were truly breath-taking. Particularly when seen by boat. And at sunrise.

Taking to the calm glistening waters, we set off to explore each one. Getting there early in the morning to avoid the crowds meant we could really feel the authentic atmosphere of this beautiful part of Italy. Passing rugged cliffs, verdant green hillsides, and hidden caves, I loved how the landscapes would gradually reveal each small bay with their pretty, traditional houses, almost as if trying to keep them a secret.

After our private boat tour, we stepped foot on land again in the picturesque seaside village of Manarola – my personal favorite. Wandering through olive groves, lemon trees, terraced vineyards and narrow streets decorated with hanging pink bougainvillea, we spent the afternoon exploring and looking out upon glittering seascapes scattered with tiny fishing boats. And sipping on Campari granitas. A perfect way to end my trip.

manarola cinque terre italy
ligurian sea italy

Final thoughts

Italy is such a charming and romantic country, one that enchants at every turn. With stunning landscapes that range from rolling Tuscan hills and sprawling historic cities to shimmering seascapes and glittering lakes – each region offers something different, something unexpected. And with just a single visit you feel as though you have only just scratched the surface of this beautiful land. There really is something for everyone and we’ll take you wherever you want to explore. The Dolomites, perhaps. Or the Amalfi Coast. Or the ancient city of Rome – you get the idea. Just ask our luxury Travel Experts and they’ll arrange an unforgettable Italian getaway specifically tailored to you.

Curious about Italy?

Relaxing rural retreats, romantic ancient cities, or majestic mountain trails – our trips to Italy are always bespoke, created for you. North. South. East or West. Or all four – the choice is yours.