Andiamo in Italia!!

Ciao, ragazzi!

It’s time to hit the road again and, as usual, we have something special planned. (So what else is new?)

In just a few hours, AAC CPA and I will make our way to JFK where, early this evening, we’ll depart for a 3-week adventure. We’ll start with our usual BA flight to London’s Heathrow airport, and then we’ll make our way to London City Airport, where we’ll board a flight bound for Firenze. 

BA 747
Our winged chariot to fly us across the Atlantic on our way to Firenze

By this time tomorrow, we’ll be beautifully ensconced at the Portrait Firenze, part of the Lungarno Collection. This property is very close to the Ponte Vecchio, a landmark that no visitor to Firenze is likely to miss.

Portrait Firenze
Our digs in Firenze – yup, that’s the Ponte Vecchio practically next door

Florence - Duomo
The Duomo, one of the most famous sights in town

Our original plan was to stay in Firenze for 3 nights, and then fate intervened. The centerpiece of this vacation will be our rental of a villa near the town of Città di Castello in Perugia. We are sharing said villa with our wonderful and very glamorous friends, Christine and Marty. They have been to Italy on numerous occasions and “know the territory”. They’re also great fun.

Anyway, as I was saying – 3 nights in Firenze and then on to the villa. That was the plan until several months ago when Marty asked me for my opinion of James Taylor. I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit that I don’t have much of an opinion, as my musical tastes run mostly to theatre and classical music. 

It turns out that a good friend of Marty’s is Lou Marinia (a/k/a “Blue Lou” Marini) who, aside from being an extremely talented saxophonist, arranger and composer, also happens to be a part of the James Taylor band. And wouldn’t you just know that JT is touring Europe this summer. And what a coincidence that JT, along with Bonnie Raitt and the band, is going to be giving an open-air concert at the Piazza Napoleone in Lucca the night before we take possession of the villa! And, if Lucca is only an hour away from Firenze, wouldn’t it make sense to attend said concert, especially if Lou offered to “set us up”?

JT and Bonnie Raitt
James Taylor and Bonnie Raitt will sing in Lucca on Friday night

So, between our (now) 2 days in Firenze and moving onto our villa, we’ll have an exciting detour to Lucca to hang with JT, Bonnie and the band (well, maybe not “hang”, but you get the idea).

Alla Corte Degli Angeli
Spending the night in Lucca at the charming Alla Corte Degli Angeli

And, then, onto our Villa!

A word about the villa – AAC CPA and I have never done anything like that before. We’re tried and true hotel habitants. And we like it that way. However, when we started talking to Christine and Marty about spending some time together in Italy, the notion of having our own place seemed irresistible. So we all headed to the internets and one of us (I don’t recall who it was), came up with this place. If the reality is half as good as the pictures we’ve seen, we’re going to have a blast. 

Casa Sant'Anna Exterior - 01

I’ve established a good relationship with “La Padrona”, a British woman named Carole, and she’s been great, answering all of our questions and giving us lots of great tips about the area. 

The villa is beautifully laid out, features a 42-foot pool and a music room with a Beckstein baby grand. As Christine and Marty are in “the show business” and very musically inclined, we’ll have beautiful music wafting through the house. 

Casa Sant'Anna Sitting Room - 01
Our sitting room

Casa Sant'Anna Tapestry Bedroom - 02
One of the two master bedrooms


Casa Sant'Anna Bechstein Baby Grand
Our music room with Beckstein baby grand

Casa Sant'Anna Pool - 02
Our pool with stunning views of our olive grove

We also have access to a personal chef, who will be happy to cook for us on request. As AAC CPA has a birthday while we’re in residence, we’ll avail ourselves of her services.

The closest town is Città di Castello, a mere 8 kilometers away.

Città di Castello
The beautiful Cittá di Castello

After 10 days at the villa, AAC CPA and I will bid a fond “addio” to Christine and Marty and drive up to Venezia, one of our favorite cities in the world. This will be our 5th visit to this enchanted place and, rather than stay at our usual digs, the Cipriani, we’ve decided (on the advice of our very good friend, Billy Z) to stay at the Aman, located on the Grand Canal and just a short distance from the Rialto Bridge. 

The hotel, opened in 2013, is the former Palazzo Papadopoli and, we’ve been told, no expense has been spared. There are fewer than 25 rooms at the hotel and the location is superb.

Palazzo Papadopoli - 1890
Palazzo Papadopoli, ca. 1890

Palazzo Papadopoli - Now - 02
And, now, the Aman Venice with the Rialto Bridge in the distance

Aman Venice - Garden View
The hotel garden on the Grand Canal

Aman Venice Mirror Lounge
The Mirror Lounge

Aman Venice - Dining Room
The Dining Room

We have some really fun escapades planned for our 4 days in town, which I hope to share with you when they happen.

From Venezia, we’ll wing our way to London – our last stop – for 4 days. Lucky us – this will be our 3rd visit to London this year. We’ll be back at the Shangri-La at the Shard, our favorite property in London right now. And, over our last few visits, we’ve discovered that it’s located in a great neighborhood.

The Shangri-La, located on the upper floors of the Shard

Allora, that’s the plan. Some familiar things, some new things, and I haven’t even told you about our plans for eating. For the most part, you can’t go wrong in Italy when it comes to food (not to mention wine), but we’ve got some nice things planned.

Stay tuned, amici, and – if you can’t be bothered with these blog posts – you can definitely find me on Istagram – jefftakespix

Ciao, ciao!!

Travel Flashback: Lunch at Locanda Cipriani

Today, I thought I’d share with you a favorite travel memory of AAC CPA’s and mine. In August 2010, we traveled to Italy for a couple of weeks and visited Rome, Venice and Cernobbio on Lake Como.

One of our best experiences on that trip was a magical lunch we had at Locanda Cipriani on Torcello, a sleepy and sparsely populated island (with only a few dozen permanent residents), located on the northeastern side of the Venetian Lagoon.

Locanda Cipriani was the inspiration of Giuseppe Cipriani who, in 1934 purchased a wine shop, which he then transformed into a small locanda (inn) with just 6 rooms surrounded by a magnificent garden. The Cipriani family owns the Locanda to this day.

Ernest Hemingway bestowed great fame on the inn in his book Across the River and Into the Trees, which he wrote during a visit there. With his imprimatur, Locanda Cipriani became a magnet for world-famous celebrities. When we were there, we visited their photo gallery, which includes pictures of the Windsors (yes, THAT family) who visited in May, 1961. It is said that the Locanda is the only restaurant that Queen Elizabeth II has visited privately.

So it was with great anticipation that we departed from our hotel (the famed Cipriani on the island of Giudecca) by water taxi for the 45-minute ride to Torcello. The hotel’s illustrious “doorman”, Roberto (there is no door, actually, as you’ll be arriving to or departing from the hotel either by water taxi or the hotel’s private launch), arranged for our water taxi and told us that we would very much like our “driver”, who the doorman referred to as “Blue Eyes”. And to prove it, Roberto made “Blue Eyes” remove his shades to prove it! And he did!

Venice Doorman
Entrance to the Cipriani and its doorman

Venice - Blue Eyes
“Blue Eyes”

Venice - Depart
Departing the Cipriani on our way to Torcello

The ride to Torcello was very beautiful and exciting as we sped across the lagoon past many other islands along the way.

Venice - Arriving Locanda
Arriving at Locanda Cipriani

Venice - View from Locanda
View from the inn

We asked “Blue Eyes” to return for us in about 2 hours and stepped inside. We were warmly welcomed and shown to our table in a beautiful garden setting.

Venice - Arbor
The garden at Locanda Cipriani

The menu at Locanda Cipriani is a typical for the region. Here’s what we had:


Venice - Tomatoes
Pomodorini ripieni di verdure in agrodolce con salsa “carlina”
(Ripe tomatoes stuffed with vegetables in sweet and sour sauce)

Venice - Figs
Prosciutto di San Daniele e fichi freschi di Torcello
(San Daniele ham with fresh figs of Torcello)

We skipped the Primi and went directly to the Secondi:

Venice - Lamb
Costolette di agnello dorate al rosmarino e misto di erbe aromatiche, con papate salate in padella
(Golden lamb shops with rosemary and mixed aromatic herbs with salted potatoes in the frying pan)

Venice - Entree
Filetto di branzino dorato in padella con zucchini trifoliate del litorale
(Golden filet of sea bass in the frying pan with three-leafed zucchini of the coast)

And, of course, a bottle of vino:

Venice - Wine
A lovely Fiano di Avellino 2008

Did we possibly save room for some dolce? You bet we did. And a cappuccino for AAC CPA.

Venice - Dessert
Millefoglie in porzione con crema Chantilly
(Individual Napoleon with Chantilly cream)

Venice - AAC
A very satisfied AAC CPA with his cappuccino

Let me tell you that the service was perfect: relaxed, polite, casual and very correct. We were made to feel like special guests and I can’t imagine a more serene setting for this perfect lunch.

After lingering over our dessert, we still had a bit of time before “Blue Eyes” picked us up for the return trip to our hotel; we walked around, visited a church and just generally marveled at this jewel of an island.

The trip back was uneventful except for the amazing views:

Venice - Relaxed AAC
AAC CPA soaks up some rays in the water taxi 

Venice - View Duomo
Lagoon view on the way back to the Cipriani

Venice - Back Home
Arriving back at the Cipriani

If, in the above photograph, you look at the top right, you’ll see our room, which had its own private balcony overlooking the lagoon. How LUCKY are we??

Venice - Balcony
AAC CPA on our private balcony doing some laundry, Italian-style

So, should you find yourself in Venice – the jewel of the Adriatic – I strongly encourage you to make a special trip to Torcello and have lunch at Locanda Cipriani. I won’t lie to you: traveling there by water taxi is not cost-effective (there are less expensive but much more time-consuming ways to get there), but I guarantee that you will have a very unique experience and seeing Torcello and the Locanda will be a wonderful memory for you to cherish.

And, should you want to blast a hole through your hotel budget, a stay at the Cipriani is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I’m just sayin’.

TRAVEL TIP:  Locanda Cipriani

TRAVEL TIP:  Hotel Cipriani 

CULTURE TIP:  NY Times Review: Across the River and Into the Trees

CULTURE TIP: The Other “Blue Eyes”