Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Trip to Italy with Mary Liz Wheelis, hosted by the Bettoja Family - November 9 to 18, 2017

We flew overnight to Rome connecting in Dublin, my first time on Aer Lingus, and I was impressed by the service and hospitality of the flight crew.  Since we had exit row seats in economy there was plenty of legroom and we were very comfortable.  At Rome Airport we met up with Mary Liz Wheelis of TVL Marketing Solutions, who represents independent properties including the Bettoja family owned hotels in Rome.  Upon arrival at the Hotel Mediterraneo, we met our hosts and fellow travelers for tours of the three boutique hotels owned and operated by the Bettoja family since 1875. The hotels are across and adjacent to each other on via Cavour and are very conveniently located just a short walk to the Rome Termini train station, and 15-20 minutes walk to the Colosseum, the Forum, the Trevi Fountain, the basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, and many other places of interest in Rome.

The Hotel Mediterraneo is a 4.5 star hotel built in the 1930's in Art Deco style with magnificent views of Rome from the Roof Garden restaurant where we were treated to a sumptuous reception and dinner. The hotel features mosaics, artwork, inlaid panelling and an amazing floating marble staircase, and offers 251 spacious rooms and suites.  The second restaurant on the premises is the breakfast room which is panelled and adorned with intricate wooden carving and two eye-catching chandeliers. This room serves as a Banquet Hall for special events, and there is also and a conference center which can accommodate 150 people. This is a non-smoking hotel, and breakfast is included in the room rate. For Superior Rooms and Suites breakfast is served in the Roof Garden Restaurant where guests can enjoy an amazing view of Rome.

The Hotel Massimo d'Azeglio directly across the street is a 4 star property which originated in 1875 when Maurizio Betttoja decided to open a restaurant above his wine cellar. The Restaurant has been in continuous operation for more than 100 years and is a well known landmark in the city. The hotel has 185 rooms including a suite we saw with a private wraparound terrace and to-die-for views of Rome.  Perfect for a honeymoon or romantic getaway. There is also a Conference Center that can accommodate up to 180 people.

The Hotel Atlantico is also 4 star and has 69 rooms on 5 floors also in an Art Deco style. Guests share the breakfast rooms and restaurants with the Hotel Mediterraneo which is connected and accessible through the Lobby. There is a smaller conference facility here.  The selection of food and wines for all the hotels is supervised by members of the Bettoja family, who are very involved with the daily operations.  Many of the staff at all three hotels have been there for many years, creating a homey feeling of warmth and relaxation.

The morning after we arrived we piled into a minibus for an orientation tour or Rome, which included stops at some of the major sites including the Trevi Fountain and ending at the Vatican.  My husband and I then joined a tour of the Vatican Museum and St Peter's followed by dinner at a local sidewalk restaurant recommended by the Concierge.  A liter of water, a liter of wine, bruschetta and a doesn't get much better than that! The following morning we met with our group and guide and enjoyed a wonderful walking tour of the area around our hotel, including Santa Maria Maggiore, some shopping and a stop for expresso and gelato.  With some free time in the afternoon, my husband and I took a taxi across the Arno to a piazza where there were stalls selling colorful arrays of pasta and olive oil, scarves and leathergoods, and we also stumbled upon a wonderful Leonardo da Vinci exhibition.  In the afternoon we spent a few hours at the Borghese Gallery followed by, you guessed it...a liter of water, a liter of wine, bruschetta and a pizza!

Our last day in Rome we were free to explore, and I had booked a tour of the Colosseum including the underground chambers, the arena and upper tier, and then across to Palentine Hill and the Forum.  The Colosseum could hold between 55K and 80K people and was designed so they could all leave the arena in 10 minutes.  I don't think that could be achieved very easily today :)   

We were treated to a wonderful dinner on our last night in Rome with the group in the wine cellar of the Hotel Massimo D'Azeglio.  What a special venue and it would be the perfect venue for a private gathering or special celebration.  We were very fortunate to have shared this wonderful experience in Rome with a great group of people, and many thanks for generous hospitality extended to us by the Bettoja family.  A heartfelt thanks to our wonderful guide Gracelyn with Through Eternity, and the drivers, and especially to Mary Liz Wheelis for putting this great trip together.

Following our 3 nights in Rome, my husband and I took the high speed train to Florence to spend an extra couple of days.  Just a 5 minute walk around the corner from the train station, we arrived at the Grand Hotel Minerva where the Sales Manager welcomed us and took us for a tour of the hotel.  The hotel's 100 rooms have recently been refurbished as have the public spaces, which are filled with art and light and there are great views of Florence from the higher floors.  There is a rooftop pool bar and sundeck, and comfortable common areas where you can relax, read or make new friends.  There's a bar next to the main restaurant, and when weather permits, also an outdoor restaurant directly on the piazza. The location is perfect in the old town on a lovely piazza right next to a splendid church Santa Maria Novella, and within a 10-15 minute walk of everything in the old city.  

With just a day and a half to explore Florence we hit the ground running and that afternoon had a guided tour of the Galleria dell Accadamia, climbed up inside the Duomo as well as the Exchange and the Bell Tower, and enjoyed exploring the narrow, cobbled streets.  Returning to the hotel, after a drink at the bar we enjoyed a delicious dinner at La Buona Novella Bistrot Italiano and then my husband was presented with a surprise birthday cake to round out our special dinner.  So sweet.....!

Our last day in Florence started with a guided tour of the Galleria dell Uffizi, a walk across the Ponte Vecchio, lunch at a sidewalk cafĂ©, a walk around Bobbili Gardens, and a private tour of Pitti Palace and the Palatine Gallery.  
(David says Hi..!)

The Concierge had recommended a 15th century Taverna for dinner, which had been the workshop of one of Bronzino's students.  We were the only people in the restaurant which I think they had opened just for us, so it was a very special evening consisting of many courses, delicious local wine, and great conversation with the Maitre d'.

The following day it was time to leave Florence and I treated us to a private car and driver booked with Mario, the owner and MD of Privilegeitalia, a distinctive concierge company offering a wide array of VIP services.  Mario kindly upgraded us to a Mercedes no less, and our driver Vincenzo was terrific.  We stopped for a couple of hours to explore Siena and then had lunch in Orvieto at a small Trattoria Mario had recommended.  

Our last night was spent at the Rome Airport Hilton Hotel so we could be on site for our flight the following morning.  The Airport Hilton could not be more conveniently located, being attached to the airport and just a few covered minutes walk to the terminal. It was a great trip and a wonderful experience, and we are very grateful to Mary Liz our host, who happens to be almost a neighbor so we are planning to get together for dinner soon!

Nikki Perkins, CTA
Travel Exchange - A Virtuoso Agency
2 Sconset Square, Westport, CT 06880
T# (203) 221-3500  C# (203) 912-4641