This is the blog for Dream of Italy™, The Insider's Guide to Undiscovered Italy, a paid subscription travel newsletter. Dream of Italy™ (www.dreamofitaly.com) has been recommended by USA TODAY, National Geographic Traveler, U.S. News & World Report and American Way. Editor Kathy McCabe has helped thousands of travelers get the most out of their visits to Italy.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Special Thanks to Our July/August Sponsors

An Italian Pet Report

Are you an animal lover? Ever wonder about Italians and their pets? While many Italians are passionate about animals – and indeed even travel with their cats and dogs – according to the Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera, animal abandonment reaches a high during the summer months. Here are some facts about Italians and their pets :

  • 6.9 million dogs, 7.4 million cats, and, in total, 59.5 million pets are owned in Italy. It is calculated that Italians spend roughly 3 billion euros per year on their four-legged friends.
  • Unfortunately, a good number of animals are abandoned every year in Italy, particularly during the summer months. You will see many of these poor dogs and cats particularly in southern Italy -- do them a favor and feed them a little something or give them some fresh water. The new law 189 allows for up to three years of imprisonment for abandonment of mistreatment of household pets.
  • Since October 1st of last year, European Union citizens are obliged to obtain a passport for their pets, (dogs, cats and ferrets only), when traveling from country to country.
  • All airlines have their own particular regulations, but animals (in crates of the appropriate size) are allowed on most all flights. Alitalia even allows small dogs to travel with you in the cabin! Once in Italy, keep in mind that boats, ferries, and Eurostar trains only allows small dogs on board. Most metropolitan buses allow dogs on board in the rear compartment of the vehicle—but they must have a ticket!
  • If you’re traveling by car with dogs, keep in mind that many rest stops do not have facilities that cater to animals, so it’s a good idea to bring your own food and water dishes for your pets.
  • Visit http://www.travelpets.com/ for a listing of Italian hotels that allow pets.

    -- Cailin Birch

(Cooper, in the photo above, is the official Dream of Italy dog. Due to his passion for food and la dolce vita (i.e. lying in front of the air conditioner right now), this humble fox terrier is sure he was an Italian in a former life. If you ever call the Dream of Italy office, you might just hear him bark -- he likes to alert us that the phone is ringing.)

Monday, July 25, 2005

What Fate Roman Stones?

Rome is caught between tradition and modernity; the famous basalt cobblestones that have lined the city streets since the 17th century may soon be replaced by smooth asphalt in all but a few piazzas and strictly pedestrian areas, according to a report by the Associated Press. This change in the historic landscape of the city has elicited mixed reactions from Romans—many feel a strong attachment to the historic cobblestones, which are a part of the city’s character, yet also recognize many of the problems they also cause.

The sampietrini, or “little stones of St. Peter’s,” are easily displaced, creating large potholes in the streets. Laying and repairing the stones is both an expensive and labor-intensive process, and the number of people trained to do so is rapidly diminishing, as well as the availability of the cobblestones themselves. Even more serious is the effect that the vibrations created by motor traffic passing over the stones have on the surrounding palaces, cathedrals, and monuments.

Maurizio Galletti, an official at Italy’s Ministry of Culture who is responsible for Rome's architectural heritage, said the vibrations had actually caused some small fissures in the frescoes of Rome’s grand Renaissance palaces. So Rome may be moving more toward the 21st century, but fear not, this tradition is not lost—the picturesque stones of Piazza Venezia, the large square in the heart of Rome, will be left in place. -- Cailin Birch

(Photo of Via Appia Antica courtesy of the Italian Tourist Board.)

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Preview: Dream of Italy's July/August Issue

The July/August issue of Dream of Italy will be out next week. If you're a paid subscriber, you'll be reading the following articles:

  • A Food Lover's Tour of Modena Begins with Balsamico
  • Emilia-Romagna's Best Restaurant
  • Spotted in Siena: A Dog's Tale of the Palio Horse Race
  • Beat the Crowds: Tips for Watching the Palio
  • The Latest Italian Cookbooks
  • Bargain Beds in Florence: This Family of Hotel-Residences Offer Incredible Deals

If you're not a paid subscriber, subscribe today and the July/August issue will be your first issue PLUS we'll give you a copy of our special report on Venice (published in May) and the guidebook The Collected Traveler: Venice ($28 value) FREE! Note: If our Web site is acting up (as it is at this moment!), call us toll-free at (877) OF-ITALY.

Rome Wins Hearts

"What's your favorite city in Italy?" That's the question I'm asked most often.

And my answer is always -- ROME.

That's the city that has captured my heart. I know there are Venice people and Florence people and you can sometimes tell a little bit about a person based on what city they chose as their favorite in Italy.

Turns out the readers of Travel + Leisure agree with me. They chose Rome as their favorite city in Europe in the magazine's World's Best Awards 2005. Rome was also voted as the third most popular city in the entire world, led only by Sydney and Bangkok.

Florence ranked second most beloved in city in Europe and fourth in the world. (Our special report on Florence -- published last month -- is available in our Dream of Tuscany folder which includes special reports on Chianti and villa rentals.)

Venice, didn't rank worldwide, but was voted fifth favorite city in Europe. Love Venice? Plan to visit La Serenissima soon? Subscribe to a year of Dream of Italy and receive our special report on Venice (published in May) AND the book, The Collected Traveler: Venice for FREE ($28 value!) Remember that ALL paid subscribers get online access to ALL of our back issues (25 in total!)

NOTE: Our Web site is ACTING UP! Please call us toll-free to subscribe (877) OF-ITALY.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Odds and Ends

  • Tom Cruise and his captive Katie Holmes are in Rome this week as the expert on things psychiatric films scenes for Mission Impossible 3. That reminds me that I need to order my "Free Katie" t-shirt.

  • Do I dare say I had some of the best Italian food I have ever had in Washington, DC Monday night? I think so...Where? A new restaurant named Dino. I'll be reviewing it here next week.

  • I'm always telling people to book way in advance to see The Last Supper in Milan. Same thing applies to visiting Florence's Uffizi, especially with the rush of American tourists in Italy this summer. Rick Steves does a nice job of summing up how to make reservations for these sites.

  • One of the reasons I am bummed about not going to Italy during the summer months this year -- I won't miss the crowds however -- is missing the chance to see an opera at Arena di Verona. If seeing a massive operatic production under the moonlight in one of Italy's best preserved Roman amphitheaters doesn't make you an opera fan, nothing will.

Monday, July 11, 2005

New Ravello Hotel Offers Special DOI Deal!

I attended an event two weeks ago at the Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C. sponsored by Orient- Express Hotels, Trains & Cruises. The company brought its top sales and marketing people from around the world to tell travel agents and the press about their latest offerings. I had the pleasure of meeting the delightful Andrea Filippi, regional director of sales & marketing for the group's Italian hotels, including Hotel Cipriani (Venice), Palazzo Venramin (Venice), Hotel Splendido (Portofino) and Villa San Michele (Florence).

Most importantly, he introduced me to the newest property in the group -- the renovated Hotel Caruso in Ravello, overlooking the Amalfi Coast -- which had just opened two days before! And best of all, he made an on-the-spot offer of a special deal for any Dream of Italy readers who would like to stay there!

From now until the hotel closes for the season in early November, mention Dream of Italy and receive a 4th night free when you spend three nights at the hotel! Filippi emphasizes you can receive this deal whether you book through your travel agent or through the hotel directly. He will inform his staff of this offer immediately. The offer is based on room rack rates and cannot be combined with any other special deal.

Next door to the Palazzo Sasso and sitting on a cliff above the sea, Hotel Caruso has a total of 54 rooms, including eight suites, 28 junior suites and 18 double rooms. More than 90% of the rooms have sea views and 15 rooms have private gardens. The hotel's open- air restaurant, The Belvedere, has a 360-degree view of the Amalfi Coast. Among the Caruso's luxurious amenities -- an infinity pool, gym and spa. Room rates begin at 420 euros per night, including breakfast.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Book Train Tickets Ahead of Time: ItaliaRail.com

I love trains! My grandfather was a railroad engineer for 52 years and I grew up listening to his stories and could probably sing "I've Been Working On the Railroad" before any other song. I especially love to travel by train in Italy. Don't get me wrong -- I'm one of those people who actually likes to drive in Italy -- but there's no better (and usually cheaper) way to get from one Italian city to the next. I'm a particular fan of the Eurostar trains.

The most common questions people ask me about Italian train travel are: 1) Do I need to book reservations ahead of time? and 2) What's the difference between 1st class and 2nd class? To answer the second question first -- on Eurostar, there's not much of a difference. First class gives you a little more room -- for yourself and your luggage -- and you're given a free drink. I take such pleasure in train travel that I would like the optimum experience and usually spend a bit extra to travel in first class.

Now -- as for booking ahead -- here's when I think it pays to make reservations (and I'll tell you about a new option for booking from the U.S.) --
1) when you absolutely MUST get somewhere at a certain time -- say you're coordinating a train to get you to the airport for your flight home
2) if you're not an experienced traveler and like everything set up in advance
3) if you're traveling on a weekend, on a holiday weekend or on/near an Italian holiday weekend 4) if you're traveling in August (when Italians are traveling en masse themselves)
If you're a fairly intrepid traveler, you can book all of your tickets when you arrive in Italy but this might be cutting it close (especially if you fall into any of the above categories).

That's why you should know about ItaliaRail.com, the first North American Web site to offer a comprehensive, online selection to making reservations on the railroads of Italy at the lowest prices in the market. (Any of you who have tried to navigate the Trenitalia site are probably jumping up and down at this news!)

According to the folks at the new venture, "ItaliaRail.com now offers U.S. and Canadian consumers the same access to booking railroad tickets and passes as Italians have in their own country, and at the lowest price available in North America. At ItalialRail.com, consumers can make reservations online for travel throughout Italy, purchase train tickets and get documents to their doorstep within a few days. Travelers obtain not only regular city to city tickets inside Italy, but they can even get the convenient Trenitalia pass, which allows 4 to 10 days unlimited train travel throughout Italy during a span of 2 months."

If you use the site in the near future, please let me know how you liked it!

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Attention: Cat Lovers

Friends of Roman Cats, a nonprofit San Francisco-based group dedicated to helping homeless and abandoned cats in Italy and the U.S., is running its second Cats and Culture Tour of Italy. The tour will combine some of the best Italian cultural sites with some of its most interesting cat colonies. All profits from the tour will go to our programs to help the homeless cats of Italy.

Since 1991, Italy has had a law that bans killing healthy homeless cats and dogs (who also suffer tremendously, especially in the south). Stray cats live quite openly and are fed by numerous gattare (cat caretakers); others are cared for in sanctuaries. The FORC tour will visit some of these sanctuaries and observe how a different culture deals with its free-ranging cats.

The tour covers Venice, Padua, Florence, Arezzo, Bagno a Ripoli, Orvieto and Rome. The land-only portion of the 12-day tour is $ 2, 595 per person, plus a $300 tax-deductible contribution to FORC.