I just got back from 2 weeks in Italy for my honeymoon. Since I had some food assistance from this board, I wanted to return the favor. This is some highlights (and not so highlights). Some of it is food related, some of it not. I hope nobody minds too much...
Water taxi from airport: If you can afford it and you've never been to Venice, this is the way to go. My wife had never been and the look on her face was one of sheer amazement for the entire 45 minute ride. And we pulled right up to...
Hotel Danieli: We had a gorgeous room overlooking the lagoon (it's no longer the grand canal at that point) with a terrace for sitting on. Service was decent, but who could worry about such a detail in such a gorgeous place.
Peggy Guggenheim Museum: Definitely worth a visit. Even if you don't like art, the house itself and it's setting are breathtaking...Just sit on the patio area overlooking the grand canal and watch Venice as it lives and breathes...
Harry's Bar: Great fun. Great bellinis. Good fun. RIDICULOUSLY expensive.
Cip's Club @ Hotel Cipriani: Decent pizza, expensive but nowhere near Harry's Bar. Lots of fun taking the cipriani launch over from the Piazza San Marco.
La Colonna: Maybe our favorite meal in all of Italy. Found in the City Secrets book (see below). In the middle of a working class neighborhood in Cannareggio. SCRUMPTIOUS food...from seafood pasta to a simple pasta pomodoro to a caprese salad to melon-cello (an offshoot of limoncello) as a gift from the chef at the end of the meal. Every bite was incredible. Calle de Fumo, Cannareggio.
Gondola ride at night: Touristy? Sure. But you gotta do it. Mysterious. Wonderful sounds echoing off the walls - couples fighting, cooks cooking, people in outdoor cafes. Great fun.
Secret Tour of the Doge's Palace: Really interesting. See all kinds of things the rest of the tourists would never know were there. Most interesting to me was being in the ceiling of the great hall (can't remember the real name) and seeing these hundred year old timbers splayed in every direction, holding up tons of weight, each still silently doing their job.
Scala Reale tour: we did the roma antica tour - colisseum, forum, etc. it was a nasty rainy day, but it was still fantastic. to do these monuments without a knowledge-able tour guide would be a waste. most people would have no idea what they were looking at. and our scala reale tour guide was fantastic - personable and extremely knowledge-able. he read from poetry and text from the roman era that described sites we were looking at.
Hotel de Russie: just beautiful. expensive, but worth it for something like a honeymoon. perfect location off the piazza de popolo. wonderful beds. exquisite area to have drinks/food in a courtyard behind the hotel.
Pizza Migliore: on a street near the vatican. sells pizza by the etto (100 grams). recommended in a book called City Secrets (see below), but the book has the wrong address and wrong location on the map. i got so lost trying to find it, i don't know where it is. but it is delicious...maybe best pizza in all of italy...stand up...very few seats...street food - and wonderful!
City Secrets - Rome: a fantastic resource of little known spots and great inside information on the better known spots. except for the problem noted above, it was our best guide book.
Buca di Ripetta: a fantastic unassuming restaurant a few blocks from the de Russie. Very few americans, so you're treated like a king. Fantastic food.
Hotel Lungarno - wonderful room overlooking the arno. apparently the hotel where "a room with a view" is set. in terms of furnishings and staff, this was the nicest hotel we stayed at in italy. the desk people, bellmen, bartenders, etc, were ALL top notch. and the rooms were beautiful. we were orginally put in a GORGEOUS room on the 8th floor with an incredible view of the duomo, but then after unpacking and settling in for a nap, we heard a strange LOUD noise. we realized we were on top of the elevator shaft. we were moved to a lower floor (and a more expensive room), ever more gorgeous (and no noise), just no duomo view...
Duomo: Having just read "Brunelleschi's Dome", this was the first thing i wanted to do in florence. We were in awe of the cathedral from ground level and then began the trek to the top. Jenn is a little claustrophobic and quite afraid of heights to boot, but she wanted to climb to test herself. There were many points where she wanted to turn around, but when we got to the top she was so glad that she made it and so amazed by the view. I now had to re-read the book to figure out what i saw.
Osteria Santo Spirito: A wonderful little funky restaurant on the Piazza Santo Spirito. Great food, some straightforward, some very inventive. With a young, hip sort of atmosphere. Lots of fun.
Cantinetta Antinori: Good, but nothing wonderful. I'm not sure I'd go back.
4 Leoni: Around the corner from the Lungarno (and difficult to find, we just happened upon it). Jenn was not feeling well, so we skipped, but it LOOKED great. For whatever that is worth.
Villa San Michelle - Fiesole: Worth the taxi ride up the hill, worth the expensive tab for dinner. If you don't want to pay for dinner, just go for drinks. The view is to die for.
Baldovino: Decent pizza, nothing more nothing less.
Pazzi Chapel at Santa Croce: While all of the tourists who don't know better are being herded into the main cathedral at Santa Croce, this is (in my mind) the place to be. A GORGEOUS but extremely simply chapel designed by Brunelleschi, this is a place where you can actually get a minute of meditation without being disrupted by a tour guide's scream or the flash of a camera. And the acoustics are perfect, somebody came in while we were there and started singing in a beautiful voice - not a professional, just a fellow visitor - it was extraordinary.
San Gimignano: Took a day trip to the countryside, this was the low light of the day. FILLED with tourists even though we went late in the afternoon when everybody say it clears out. Too many people to enjoy anything.
Chianti: Absolute beauty and perfection throughout most of this region. Just drive and explore.
Le Sirenuse - Just a fantastic hotel. Perfect location. Wonderful furnishings. Very nice and attentive service. Incredible views from the rooms. In the season they have this terrific hotel boat that goes out every afternoon and every morning, taking you along the coast or out to the islands off the coast. It is the most perfect way to a) sightsee and b) sunbathe. When we were there in mid-september, there were rarely more than 3 other people on the boat with us. And then when they stopped service a few days early for the season, i complained and they hired us our own boat. That's what i call service with a smile.
da Costantino - Up the hill from the main part of town. If you want to go, have your concierge call and they will send a car down to get you - NOTE: even if you are VERY energetic, it's TOO far to walk - it would take hours. Nice views, good food, terrible lighting. They could do wonders with the place if they turned off the lights and bought a bunch of candles.
Taverna da Leone - Just past San Pietro, going out of town. Can walk from San Pietro after having a drink. Walk is less than 500 meters, but can be a little hairy as there is no sidewalk. As above, terrible lighting. BUT incredible food. Wonderful breads and pizzas. Incredible homemade pastas with seafood sauce. A Neapolitan that we met on the hotel boat said this was the most authentic Neapolitan food in town. Who am i to know whether she was right, but boy was it good.
O Caporale - Down by the beach, all the way to the left up an alley (if you have your back to the water). They have a great pasta special - Caporalessa - which is a baked pasta with eggplant and mozzarella and all sorts of other yummy vegetables, etc...
San Pietro - We went for a drink on their breathtaking terrace. I think even if i went back and had more money, I would stay at Le Sirenuse again. It is VERY far out of town - don't believe anyone who tells you it's an easy walk. They have a shuttle, but i think that stops early. And it's a lot more hotel-like than Le Sirenuse. At Le Sirenuse you kind of feel like you're staying at someone's VERY nice house. This is more like a fancy schmancy hotel. Just my opinion. For whatever it's worth.
Ravello - we went to Ravello to see a concert. not sure if it was worth the taxi fares there and back ($150US after tips). concert was fine, but we're not great classical music afficianados.
Cumpa Cosimo (ravello) - Fun little local restaurant. Good food, not wonderful. Much entertainment to be had walking the lady of the house order everyone around.