Dan Hesler here. You sent my wife (Jill) and I on a two week vacation to Italy and Greece last month. It was absolutely wonderful. I wrote 50 pages of narrative while traveling, but I think that would be a little more feedback than you really want. I thought I would give you my impressions on the various hotels and expeditions we used, for the sake of future travelers. It was all great, but you probably could use something a little more nuanced than that.
Florence: The Residenza Vespucci was just as charming as it could be. The location was fine; it was a little noisy at night, but I think all of Florence is probably like that. Aurelia and her family were charming, and the room was excellent. I suppose that if someone were looking for a generic ""four seasons"" experience, it might have seemed a little casual, but if that's what you want, why go overseas? We loved the Residenza Vezpucci, and would recommend it highly.
The cooking class we took with Francesca Di Leonardi was one of the highlights of the trip. Even if you don't care about cooking (which I don't), it was tremendous experience. Whatever it was that we were doing for 3.5 hours, we talked, laughed, and drank wine while we were doing it, and it ended up with a nice meal. What's not to like?
If I had to do it over again, I would completely discard any American tastes I might have in cars, and rent the smallest thing they rent out. With the streets in Florence and Sienna, as well as the way people drive and park there, our Mercedes diesel might have been bigger than it needed to be. It wasn't a problem, but it is a thought.
Our hotel in Sienna, the Borgo Grondaie, was very nice, the staff were helpful, and the grounds were gorgeous. The wine tour was tremendous, and Valentina was wonderful. Like the cooking class, I would recommend it highly for anyone, whether they are particularly into wine or not. Getting into the backroads of tuscany and hanging out with Italians, even if we were paying them for the experience, would up being more memorable than cathedrals, which start to all blend together.
I liked taking the train into Rome. It was relatively stress free. I am sure I could have driven into Rome, but it might have been stressful. Our Vatican tour (and tour guide) were wonderful. That is an experience that you really want someone to tell you the stories as you see the sights.
Our hotel in Rome, the Suites Piazza del Popolo, was tremendous. The room was fine, Marco was great, but we adored the neighborhood. In a city full of tourists, it felt like there weren't many when we went home at night. The restaurants were wonderful, we met lots of nice people, and I can't say enough about it. Marco's bed and breakfast, like Aurelia's in Florence, was totally charming. In general, we fell in love with Italy.
Santorini, we had slightly mixed feelings about. On the one hand, it is stunning beautiful. On the other hand, even though it is clearly a ""couples"" destination, it still had something of a Daytona-Beach-at-spring-break feeling to it. That's great if you like that sort of thing. (Jill would go back again, I am not so sure.) The coolest thing we did at Santorini was walk from Fira to Oia. It was a serious three hour walk, through hills, but it was secluded and beautiful. The hotel Ira (on Santorini) was nice. Manish was lovely to us, and he says hello. The room was great, and the view was spectacular.
In Athens, the Hotel Amalia was spectacular. It did feel like the four seasons. Of course, that is a different experience than the idiosyncrasies of a family owned bed and breakfast, but it was marvelous.
All in all, everything was great, and thank you so much for putting it all together. I do not know when we will next travel overseas again, but we will not hesitate to call you again, nor to recommend you to anyone. Kayla Zeigler at Destination Europe - You have been wonderful