I visited the big purple Da Vinci in November staying for a couple of nights only. My daughters were going to a concert and I jumped at the chance to tag along for the ride.
The train journey was easy and fast enough. Great for me as I love train travel here in Italy and Europe. We were lucky enough to find a special offer on Booking.com but we went onto the hotel website and got an even better deal.
We arrived on a crisp, clear evening just before the sun went down. Check in was fast and easy but we were not offered any help with our bags. Another family checking in at the same time and with lots of luggage had to ask. This wasn’t a problem for the hotel who called for a member of staff to come and help immediately. Since we had small suitcases, we didn’t bother.
Our room was spotlessly clean, decorated in modern style and just like the photos. What a relief! The decor was modern and chic and we had a balcony which we didn’t use due to the cooler November weather. It would’ve been better in warmer weather, although the view of Milan is not particularly picturesque as Italian views go.
The only fault that I could find with the room is that being British, we do like a cuppa at all sorts of times of the day. There was a mini bar but we really wanted a cup of tea when we arrived and tea and coffee making facilities would have been great. We could call for room service but let’s face it a kettle and some cups, tea and milk would have left us feeling very satisfied.
The bathroom was modern and clean with a huge shower, no bath but that was fine for us. The decor was purple in keeping with the hotel’s theme and there were the usual bathroom freebies such as shampoo, shower gel, shower cap and soaps.
We didn’t realise on arrival that we were right next door to a very handy train station which was just one stop from the metro. When we arrived we’d wallked 900 metres from the Comasina stop on the metro which was fine as we didn’t have a lot of baggage but if we’d known that we could have travelled 1 more stop and then have access to a station which brought us closer to the hotel, it would have been better. The easy access from the hotel to the metro makes it fairly central to Milan city centre so I would recommend it if you want to see the city.
We didn’t eat dinner at the hotel but the menu was varied and looked to be reasonably priced. The restaurant being down in the basement area.
The tv whilst not complicated to work, promised lots of channels but was too time consuming to set up and we had Milan to see. The next morning we went down to the basement breakfast restaurant which was crowded. We found one of the last tables and helped ourselves to the buffet style breakfast. There was a huge choice from fruit to eggs, salads to cereals, cakes and juices galore. So many types of tea to choose from as well as coffee. I like a good breakfast so I made sure I ate well. The quality was good even for mass catering.
We didn’t try out the cocktail bar and it was only when we were leaving that we found where it was. It was downstairs near the check-in desk but set back and private. For some reason, I had it in my head that it would be down near the restaurant but it wasn’t. I will be going back there later on this year so I’ll review the bar and restaurant then.
Overall, a good stay., I’ll be going back, I’m looking forward to it and I’ll explore more of their facilities. I would recommend the hotel as a short stay, business meetings and for a stay of a week used as a base to explore further afield.
Every third weekend in the month Lucca holds its antiques market.
I love to go and explore the stalls and weave my way from piazza to piazza down the cobbled medieval streets.
There are a wealth of goodies to be found from paintings to carvings, murano glassware, furniture and yes, being Italy you can find a designer bargain from a pre-loved Italian handbag or stylish classic woolen coat. I did actually spot a Chanel quilted flap bag (unpriced) as well as Italian favourite brands such as Gucci and Prada on one of the stalls.
The weather here has been warmer than the seasonal norm here this winter and I knew it wasn’t going to rain. Perfect for browsing the antiques and also the sales which started here on 5 January and the rules are that they continue for 60 days. There are no flash sales here just twice a year, January and July. Incidentally the summer sales start on 7 July and run right up until 4 September.
Lucca is also perfect for trying out a new bistro or coffee bar and although I didn’t lunch, I found a sophisticated coffee bar on the Via Fillungo. I’ll have to get back to you with the *name as I hadn’t intended reviewing it. The cakes were not too special though and one was rather dry.
I did go to a great little restaurant with my lady friends the other day called L’Isola Che Non C’era, tel 0583 057384 for reservations. We had a great lunch for around 20€ with a glass of very good wine and a coffee after. No dessert as we were saving ourselves for a cake and coffee later that afternoon. The staff were pleasant and even though we forgot the time (we can really chat when we get going), we were not rushed and we actually left feeling a bit guilty for keeping the place open.
At the end of oir Lucca trip and being in antiques overload mood, we visited the Mercatino dell’Usato just on the outskirts of Lucca. It’s a treasure trove with tons of things. You need time and a warm coat, it’s freezing in there. Prices are fair with bargains to be had if you can find them. Items over two months old are reduced by 50% at the till and articles that have been there for a year or more have a whopping reduction of 75% at the till. Not all articles have this reduction. Some undated ones are the price on the label.
Outside there are statues and garden furniture, even old carriages but I like the inside with retro goods galore. It’s a great place for finding vintage pieces if you’re setting up a holiday rental or b & b.
The little bar is Il Bernino , the cakes were better this time too. Prices are 3.50€ for home made pastries and 2.50€ for home made cake. They also do some interesting looking cocktails with and without alcohol so I’ll be going back to try.
After planning this trip around a concert some months ago, it came up a bit too quickly and we were left panicking to book a couple of nights in a hotel and to get our trains organised. Have you ever done that? Always last minute and regretting not spending half an hour to find the accommodation and to get the train booked early to take advantage of those special offers that keep coming in on your phone.
We, (the we is me and my daughters) scoured all the cheap booking sites for information to find the perfect hotel. You know cheap ‘n cheerful prices but with luxury comfort.
We booked one hastily but afterwards found some bad feedback. Okay, mum to the rescue. I went back and found the Hotel Da Vinci in Milan. It looked great and if you booked through their website the offers were the best you could get. So before booking anywhere in the future, I’m going to find a great place through the cheap booking sites and then go direct to the hotel’s site to see if I can get a better deal.
Hotel booked, on to the train. I’ve done a lot of travelling the last few years up and down to Rome and also up to and through the south of France. I normally like to check out Italo since they are fast, comfortable, have free wifi and a movie carriage. If you register with them and download their app, you get information on special travel offers which are usually just fab especially if they have first class tickets with a special offer, sometimes even cheaper than some of the second class tickets and with complimentary snack and drink.
We didn’t really book early enough to get the best deal but I got 3 return tickets for 48.80 € each, not at all bad. That and with under 20 € to get from our local station to Florence to pick up the train, I think we did very well.
On the day of our travels, we picked up a train around 9 am to get us to Florence around 11.30 which gave us an hour to pick up a snack and have a potter around some of the station shops.
At Florence SMN station, the departing platform for Italo trains is normally only announced just 5 minutes before the train gets in so you can relax and mooch around for a long time. Just be ready for a last minute rush to get to your platform and positioned for the right carriage. The Italo trains nomally come into platform 9 and above.
Once on the train we were had seats round a table. Great for me, I could work. We were in the movie carriage but I wasn’t really in the mood so I didn’t plug in my headphones. The journey was fast and uneventful seeing us in Milan in 1 hour 50 minutes and feeling fresh.
Milan station is a very grand building, inaugurated in 1931. We needed a 2 day pass to use local trains and metro and we were easily able to buy one at a newsagent within the station before going down the escalators to the metro which was simple to navigate.
We picked up our train and got off at Comasina with a walk of about 900 m to our hotel. Good job we had our GPS!
Checking in was easy. There were four people on the check in/out desk.
Although I speak fluent Italian, the staff spoke great English and were very helpful. One negative was that there was nobody designated to show us to our room and help with bags without asking. We were fine with small suitcases but there was an American family with a lot of baggage who had to ask.
That said there was no problem with that and a member of staff obliged.
One thing to remember is that there are daily taxes to be paid on checkout which aren’t included in the price. In the Hotel Da Vinci this worked out at 5€ per person per day.
We were on the seventh floor. I admit that during our journey I was just a little anxious that our room wouldn’t match the lovely photos on the hotel’s website.. You know, the most beautiful room only in the photos and all of the others, bog standard.
When we opened the door of our room, we couldn’t have asked for more. It was just like the photos. The beds roomy, well, enormous and a balcony with a view looking out on that part of Milan which was semi rural. It would be lovely to sit out on a late afternoon in summer sipping an ‘aperitivo’ before dinner but since we were there in chillier November, that didn’t really matter.
I’ll be writing more on our stay at the Hotel Da VInci in Milan and also our Milan experience in a later post.
Volterra is a place I hadn’t visited before so when the opportunity arose to go and see this very medieval hill top town, as usual, I jumped at the chance.
You may have heard of it. It is an important location in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series although most of the important scenes were actually shot in Montepulciano, another place on my must visit and report on list.
After the fabulous views all around this place, I was struck initially about how sensible it was organised. I mean, there is actually a carpark (paid parking) under the town. We had no trouble in parking and it was easy to find our way into the main part, inside the walls.
First impressions, alabaster. There is a lot of alabaster here. There is the Alabaster Museum to visit where there are over 300 pieces of art from the 18th and 19th centuries. There are also more than a few alabaster shops where you can buy some quite classy pieces for the house or just a simple holiday souvenir. You also have the chance to see the alabaster being worked in one of the workshops there.
There is also a museum of torture which greets you with a huge werewolf. You may think is fun to visit as I did, but I found it to be quite heavy going due to the subject matter. It is, however, very well organised and interesting although afterwards, I was more than ready for a tasty glass of wine in one of the chic wine bars that dot the place.
Lunch was in a lovely trattoria down one of the little cobbled side streets, tagliatelle al tartufo washed down with a local glass of white wine and finished off with a slug of espresso.
I visited Volterra in winter time. This place gets pretty crowded in the summer and in winter you get a feel for the real town. There is a traditional Saturday market too. In the the winter it is in the Piazza dei Priori and in the summer in the Vallebuona in front of the Roman theatre. Yes Volterra has a bit of everything. Roman and Etruscan history and remains. It even has a state prison, cleverly disguised as what I thought was some sort of ancient and well-preserved castle. I hurried away when I realised!
What did I like about Volterra in winter? I like the fact that you could feel the medieval ambience there. It is a well organised place but with chic little bars down fascinating streets as well as some cool up-market shops there. You wouldn’t have the same intimacy in the summer when the crowds are pulling you in all directions and the heat can be stifling.
Summer? Yes, actually I can’t wait to go in the summer and see the change, and of course report back.
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