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img_4210If you can split it into two days (Saint Peter’s one day, the Vatican Museums another), even better. You could spend a year here, everyday discovering something amazing. One guide told me that as far as the Vatican Museums, if you spent one minute looking at every piece that was there, you’d be in there for TWELVE years!

So you are there for a day–to see the masterpieces that have filled your art history books: Saint Peter’s Square, The Pieta, The Sistine Chapel. Take a deep breath, relax, enjoy.

The key: AFTERNOON!!! The tour groups flood V.C. in the mornings. If you get to the Vatican Museums at 2, there may not even be a line. It happened to me in October.

Though you may want to go to Saint Peter’s on a Wednesday at 10:30 to see Papa if he’s in town.IMG_4185

It’s a rock concert! With free tickets! You can get them in advance, but if you’re last minute, go on Tuesday afternoon, to the right of the main entrance to Saint Peter’s, and up those great steps stand the Swiss Guards.

IMG_4149 For some crazy reason, the Guards act totally surprised when you ask them for a ticket. Why else would I be here? Then, with cordial ceremony, they hand you one.

So…the Basilica! The Pieta is to your right. Take your time…
And there you are, in this holiest of places that’s as big as two football fields. It’s worth it to take the steps to the top, at least once in your life.

It takes about 15 minutes to walk from there  to the Vatican Museums.

Which is why it’s so great that one of Rome’s best gelato shops is enroute: The Old Bridge…can’t miss it!

Best to make a plan for the Vatican Museums/Sistine Chapel visit for the AFTERNOON. Or there are those private after-hours visits, which cost much, but if you’re so inclined, you must do to enjoy this splendidly. Otherwise, choose your group. The standard audio tour is okay, but hardly anything is marked, the place is humongous, so it’s best, especially if it’s your first time, to get guidance.

For a group tour, I once again say, Context Travel is my favorite–they never take more than 6 in a group, and their docents are amazing.IMG_4234 For a tour that’s less expensive but with a bigger group, I went recently with Viator,  lead by Jeanette, who as one of the others in the group put it, is “a bit cheeky!”  She absolutely knows her art history and was totally entertaining.

Vatican Museum tips: 1. Be prepared: it is a very long walk to the Sistine Chapel–the last stop on any tour, group or private. 2. Read up on Michelangelo and the chapel before your visit, 3. There are 2 exits from the Sistine Chapel–the one to the right leads into Saint Peter’s–so it’s great to take that one and get into the Basilica without having to wait in line. The Left exit takes you back through the museum, a labyrinth (through a gift shop) to the museum entrance–perfect if you want to stay on the Vatican Museum side of Vatican City. 4. SEE THE PINACOTECA (Picture Gallery) in the Vatican Museums–it’s awesome! With paintings by Giotto and Caravaggio, and tapestries designed by Raphael which originally hung in the Sistine Chapel!

Also: The Vatican Museum gift shops are quite fine, but if you want a good choice of medals and mosaics, check out: Mondo Cattolico, which is to the left of Saint Peter’s as you approach the square.

My friend, the quintessential MOST EXCELLENT Roman Tour Guide, Iris Carulli, recommended this place to relax for lunch or a cocktail after your Vatican City visitimg_4300: La Veranda dell’ Hotel Columbus, Via della Conciliazone 33, 06 686 5435. It’s a gorgeous frescoed loggia, facing a garden…


Golden Day Fifty-Nine: Torino with Charming Chelsea Christensen

I was absolutely charmed when I discovered Chelsea Christensen’s blog, All Roads Lead to Pecetto. Chelsea is an American who moved to Italy for love, and she writes about her life in Torino with passion, humor, and gorgeous photos. She also has a online vintage clothing and decor shop on Etsy, Italian Postcards, where you can find such treasures as these beautiful Italian shoes for very reasonable prices!

I’m so grateful Chelsea has joined in to share a Golden Day in her beloved city of Torino. Here goes:

I love living in Torino. I often find myself walking around the city and wondering, why don’t more Americans know about this place? Here are a few of my favorite Torino secrets:  Torino has the second largest Egyptian Museum in the world. There are more master chocolatiers working here than in France and Belgium combined. Plus this city was not only the home to the kings and queens of Italy but also the first capital city. You can see that a Golden Day in Torino is easy to be had…

Wake up and have a cappuccino breakfast in the hotel NH Santo Stefano (Via Porta Palatina, 19). This modern hotel is so perfectly located it’s ridiculous. Just out the front door and to the left are the remains of the Roman Gate to the city, straight ahead is the Royal Palace and the church that houses the Shroud of Turin, and to the right is the oldest and most picturesque neighborhood, the Roman Quarter. Any way you walk, you win.

Full of caffeine and a nice breakfast, I’m off to the vintage flea market at Porta Palazzo (Piazza della Repubblica and Via Borga Dora).   Porto Palazzo is the largest outdoor market in Europe. It’s held every day accept Sundays. On Saturdays it gets even bigger spilling into the Borgo Dora neighborhood holding a vintage and antique flea bazaar–more info: Not only do I hunt for new pieces to add to my online shop but this is also a perfect place to find unique items for my home. I recommend stopping by this market if you would like to bring home a real one of a kind Italian souvenir from your trip. Remember when shopping that all prices are negotiable.

Starving after all that shopping, I head to Obikà for lunch, also affectionately known as The Mozzarella Bar (Via Corte d’Appello 2, Open noon-3pm, 7pm-11pm, closed Monday evenings). The concept is brilliant. Everything is served buffet style. Take a tray and pick and choose your favorite delicacies from a beautiful array of salads, meats, breads, pastas, and of course many different kinds of mozzarella from different regions of Italy. It’s fresh, casual, and delicious.

My next stop is the Sassi Tram Station (Piazzale Modena 6, Corso Casale),  because I’m headed up the mountain to the Basilica di Superga. Getting to Surperga is really half the fun! Original 1934 train cars take you on rickety tracks up the 3,100 metres to the top. You can hike, but really the train is the fun and more unconventional way to get there. The ride is a bit like going back in time and can be bumpy and noisy but it’s totally worth it. It’s also a cheap ride costing only 4 euros for a round trip.

Superga is appropriately named because it has the word super in it, it’s cheesy but true. Torino’s most famous architect, Filippo Juvarra, built this enormous baroque cathedral on the request of King Vittorio Amedeo II who vowed to build a church here when Torino was liberated from the French in 1706. Its ornate facade, luminous dome, and inside opulence make you whisper upon entering. I love viewing the Savoy tombs in the crypt where 58 kings and queens and their various family members obviously tried to out-do each other in gaudiness even after death. From Superga you catch the most spectacular views of the city and even beyond to the Alps. I might even stay to watch the sunset to take some romantic pictures. Check out the Basilica website for hours and ticket info.

For dinner I head to Spaccanapoli Pizzeria (Via Giuseppe Mazzini, 19).  For this dining experience it’s better to bring friends because here you order pizza by the meter. One meter of pizza is equivalent to 4 individual pizzas. They have a variety of toppings but if you ask me, keep it simple for the best Italian pizza. The Margherita is traditional and consists of tomatoes, mozzarella, and fresh basil. To drink I’ll always take a red wine with pizza, Dolcetto is the local wine I love.
I’ll finish off this golden day with gelato from Vanilla (Via Palazzo di Citta 7/B, open 12:30-11:30 pm, closed Mon in winter). This artisan gelateria has the most unique flavors in the city. Flavors like red wine and cinnamon pear or my favorite sweet ricotta and caramelized figs. Buono!

Grazie Chelsea! I look forward to reading more of your adventures on All Roads Lead to Pecetto…



1. Small group tours (14 max). You get personal, caring attention every step of the way.
2. Custom-designed and led by author Susan Van Allen. You’ll have a fun-loving savvy traveler girlfriend with you all week to lead you to hidden treasures.
3. Full immersions into a destination, with Femme Friendly Focus. Staying in one spot for a while gives you the chance to deeply know it, and focusing on the HERstory of its culture and art deepens our personal connection to Italy.
4. Entertaining local guides share their expertise and insider’s perspective. My local girlfriends/guides love showing us their hometowns, and guests love getting to really know these lovely natives.
5. Fun activities with the locals: cooking classes, wine tastings, visits to artisan workshops. When you roll out pasta with a local nonna, or pick up a paintbrush in a ceramics workshop, you become a part of Italian tradition.
6. Blissful Spa Time — Following a tradition from the days of the Roman Empire! You’ll discover a fabulous, relaxing indulgence that many tourists miss.
7. Luxury accommodations for the week, where we’re welcomed like family. Each hotel inspires oohs and ahhs upon arrival, and reluctant departures…
8. A relaxing balance of group activities and time for independent explorations. We explore together at a relaxed pace (there’s time to stop and taste the prosecco), and each day there’s also time for guests to shop and experience the sights according to their desires.
9. Susan does all the planning and gives expert guidance so you can fully enjoy every Golden Day! I know you lead busy lives, and often do so much planning–leave this week to me and experience the true meaning of La Dolce Vita=The Sweet Life.
10. Perfect for Solo Travelers, Girlfriend Getaways, Mothers & Daughters. Friendships are formed amidst wonderful guests that last way beyond our week together…



Raves for Golden Weeks…



Susan Van Allen tour Golden Week in Italy for Women Only


Jolene B. – California

My thanks to Susan Van Allen for making her book come to life!!! I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of this Golden Week. Susan’s heartfelt desire for everyone to enjoy their time was evident each and every day. (Florence, 2015)

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Joyce, Virginia

What a wonderful trip. Susan made it all so enjoyable and fun – and always with the exclamation point to finish each day.  Our group managed to mesh very well. It is always nice to let people go at their own pace.” — Joyce Riley, Virginia (Florence, 2016)


Laura, Alabama

Susan made me feel like every detail of this week was planned for me personally. I did have reservations about going on a scheduled tour, but was delighted to see the activities were not rigidly dictated by time constraints. I was not rushed through to keep to a strict schedule, but allowed enough time to enjoy each activity. I also appreciated the amount of free time that was built into the schedule. It allowed me to personalize my experience in this beautiful city. Perfect. (Florence, 2015)


Deb, New Jersey

My week far surpassed my expectations. I can’t imagine a more beautiful place to visit and will definitely go back. The group was wonderful. Susan was terrific and I had tears in my eyes saying goodbye to Fiorella. A truly wonderful experience for me. (Southern Italy, 2016)

The Golden Week in Santa Margherita Ligure was terrific. Susan put an excellent trip together, filled with many interesting tours seasoned with a variety that everyone would enjoy. Her shopping, dining, and other recommendations were always to perfection. It was like we all become a family during our stay. — Liz, New Jersey (Italian Riviera 2016)

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Debra, Massachusetts

Susan Van Allen did a phenomenal job as our leader. The group of women was delightful. (Florence, 2016)

Susan Van Allen, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go, Italy Tours, Italy Travel, Women's Tour

Helen, Maryland

Dear Susan, I can never thank you enough for that wonderful adventure we got to share with you. It is right at the top of my favorites….it was just so beautiful there you simply have to see it to believe it. This is the only time in my traveling life that I really wanted to stay. I think I should quit traveling now because I have seen the best with the best. (Southern Italy, 2016)

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Julie, Canada

I loved our Golden Week! Susan goes above and beyond to make sure everyone is having a good time and does her best to accommodate every need however necessary. The group size is ideal and having Fiorella as our guide was excellent. I hope to do another tour with Susan and would not hesitate to recommend these tours to friends. (Southern Italy, 2016)

A marvelous trip from start to finish.”– Carole V, New York (Southern Italy, 2014)

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Diana V, Oregon

Perfection! You gave us what you promised and then some. I think the biggest compliment was that I didn’t want to leave” (Southern Italy, 2015)


Lisa – Illinois

Fantastic! A great combination of busy and relaxing. (Tuscany, 2012)

The trip renewed my spirit on so many levels…Susan was a wonderful tour host.” — Renee, New York (Florence, 2016)

Susan Van Allen, Women's Tours to Italy, Italy Travel, Women Only Tours

Gale O, Vermont

After spending several days with Susan I came to realize her love for Italy is as deep as the Mediterranean, she is as warm as the sun that sets in Capri… (Southern Italy, 2014)

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Chris, Massachusetts

Susan is an inspirational guide who creates an aura of beauty and joy in some of the most beautiful places in Italy! Truly fell in love with Florence—so much so that began to plan a return trip with Susan almost as soon as we returned. Highest of recommendations only! (Florence 2016)

I wish I could have stayed longer. I’d love to know about the next trip! — Dee, New York (Italian Riviera 2016)


Helen S. – San Francisco, California

This trip was clearly designed by an artist–everything flowed along beautifully, a delicious transformational experience of La Dolce Vita! (Tuscany, 2012)

Susan was terrific throughout. Thanks to everyone for a wonderful, memorable experience.”– Jo, Alabama (Florence, 2015)

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Lynda, Massachusetts

Susan’s humor, knowledge and surprises really made this vacation one of my very favorites! (Tuscany 2013)

Everything was fantastic! Susan was a great tour leader and we all loved her enthusiasm. I would go back in a minute…” Gloria L, New York, New York (Southern Italy, 2014)


Cynthia- Madison, Mississippi

Italians really know how to enjoy life. I would love to do this once a year! (Tuscany, 2013)

Women's Tours to Italy, Italy Travel, Small Group Tours to Italy

Rita, Florida

Amazing…All my passions were enlightened at each breathtaking step…I recommend it highly. (Tuscany 2012)


Gayle, Arizona

I absolutely adored every enthralling, enlightening aspect of my Golden Week experience in Tuscany–a glorious time of female bonding and fun, as well as a feast of our senses absorbing it all! (Tuscany, 2013)



In Collaboration with Perillo Tours, America’s Leading Tour Operator to Italy for 70 years.
To reserve your space, or for more information, contact Irene today at: or 855-784-7687.

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These beautiful summer days have me dreaming back to days on the island of Ponza, aka The Roman Capri…The 7km squiggle off the coast of Lazio may look minor on the map,…

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but Ponza has long been a major summertime paradise for pleasure-seeking Romans. Its port is one of the most enchanting in the Mediterranean, where travelers can hop on boats for rides around a dramatic rocky coastline, stopping to sun and swim at dreamy beach coves and indulge in fresh seafood at rustic eateries.

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Unlike Capri and so many other popular Italian summertime destinations, Ponza remains truly Italian, folksy, and budget-friendly. Spicy history adds to its allure: Homer wrote that Circe lived here and seduced Odysseus to stay for a year, Pontius Pilot bred moray eels in the island’s caves, and it was a place of exile for naughty empresses and Fascists, including Mussolini.

We reached it by ferry boat from the Lazio port town of Formia, ( — Slow boat takes 2-1/2 hours, fast boat = 1 hour 20 minutes), arrived, and checked into the nearby Piccolo Hotel Luisa…

Ponza, Susan Van Allen, Italy Travel, Women's Travel

Ponza, Italy Travel, Susan Van Allen, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go, Women's Travel

Where Luisa, her mamma and bambina were a delight…

Ponza, Susan Van Allen, Italy Travel, Women's Travel, Italy, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go

And breakfasts delizioso…

Ponza, Italy Travel, Susan Van Allen, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go

The best way to explore is by boat…We hopped one for the closest beach, Frontone…

Susan Van Allen, Ponza, Italy Travel, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go, Women's Travel

Ponza, Italy Travel, Susan Van Allen, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go

Where Enzo served us the most fantastic grilled tuna…

Ponza, Italy Travel, Susan Van Allen, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go

An easy bus ride along a winding road took us to Piscine Naturali…

Ponza, Italy Travel, Women's Travel, Susan Van Allen, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go

where it was glorious to swim in natural pools formed by the rocks…

Ponza, Italy Travel, Susan Van Allen, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go

The most amazing/blissful experience was boating around the island, thanks to Barcaioli Ponza, gasping at the rock formations…Pilates Grottos…

Ponza, Italy Travel, Susan Van Allen, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go, Women's Travel

The ever-changing colors of the sea…

Ponza, Susan Van Allen, Italy Travel, Women's Travel, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go

Ponza, Italy Travel, Susan Van Allen, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go, Women's Travel

with a stop on the beach of nearby Palmarola island…

Ponza, Italy Travel, Susan Van Allen, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go, Women's Travel

Ponza, Italy Travel, Susan Van Allen, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go, Women's Travel

While we were swimming, the boat’s captain made pasta, to eat on board in the shade of a cove, a natural cathedral…

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There were perfect evenings at the harbor for sunset cocktails…

Ponza, ITaly Travel, Susan Van Allen, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go

AND the most extraordinary dinner by starlight at Ristorante Eea…

Ponza, Italy Travel, Susan Van Allen, Women's Travel, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go

Ponza, Italy Travel, Susan Van Allen, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go, Women's Travel

I hope you get to this Paradise soon…

Susan Van Allen, Italy Travel, Ponza, Women's Travel, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go


AND more extraordinary places to visit in 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go…


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Each of us have special things in our lives that rock our worlds. For me, it’s when I meet my readers in person or get an email like this one, telling me how my advice brought joy to their trip to Italy.
Katy and Mark are travelers I met at the New York Times Travel Show in January. They bought 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go, followed my Golden Day advice on their recent trip to Venice…and had an extraordinary, personal experience–even at the height of tourist season!
Here’s what they wrote…
We took your suggestions and visited Santa Maria Della Salute, taking us to the Dorsoduro section, an area we hadn’t explored but loved because it was so less crowded.
Santa Maria Salute, VeniceSalute Altar
And we also went on the hunt for the Church of Santa Maria dei Miracoli, again taking us to a neighborhood we hadn’t been to. As you described, it was an absolute treasure and a bit of a miracle that we found it!
Santa Maria Miracoli, Venice
We admired it from the outside and then soaked up every inch inside as we shared the church with just one other couple.
Santa Maria Miracoli, Venice
Ceiling Detail

Ceiling Detail

Santa Maria Miracoli, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go
By the time we left the church we were ready for lunch. Following your Golden Day suggestion we set out to find Fiaschetteria Toscana. If this was Marcella Hazan’s favorite Venice restaurant we knew we would be in for a real treat. And it did not disappoint! We ate outside in the little square across from the restaurant, enjoying a delicious lunch.
At the end of our meal I went inside the restaurant to use the restroom and mentioned to the waiter how we happened upon the restaurant and showed them the paragraph in your book. The waiter suggested that I repeat the story to the owner, which I did. The owner thanked me and told me that his wife was friends with Marcella and with that she appeared at his side. Her husband then repeated the story to her and she confirmed that Marcella was her friend and she thanked me profusely for coming to the restaurant. 
I returned to my table and shared the story with my husband as we finished up our wine. A few minutes later, the owners wife appeared at our table with an envelope of photos with her & Marcella. She then proceeded to tell me that she and Marcella had been friends since they were little girls. She told me that she was a treasured friend and that she missed her dearly. She then showed me a copy of Marcella’s first cookbook, which Marcella had autographed for her. She thanked me again for coming to the restaurant and sharing the piece in your book with her. She said that I had brought back her friend, in doing so. At that point I had to hold back my tears. It was such a wonderful, heart-warming experience, that all happened because of your Golden Day tip. This happened, a week ago Friday, and was the highlight of our time back in Venice. 
I just had to share this with you!!!
Many thanks,
Katy & Mark  Petrochko
Grazie Mille to you, Katy and Mark, and to all you readers out there who’ve shared with me your Golden Day experiences!  You are an inspiration as I return and discover more and more of Italy’s boundless treasures and wonderful natives.
CLICK HERE for the latest edition of 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go…
Susan Van Allen, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go, Women's Travel
Buon Viaggio!

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Golden Day 136: Bernalda, Basilicata with Dream of Italy’s Kathy McCabe

On a hilltop in the southeast corner of Basilicata, sits the medieval village of Bernalda…

BERNALDA -= OVERVIEWI became intrigued by this spot in 2012. That’s when Francis Ford Coppola opened his newly-renovated 5-star Palazzo Margherita here. Coppola’s grandfather Agostino was born in Bernalda, and left in 1904, never to return.


I’m grateful to have a friend who visited– Kathy McCabe, Editor of Dream of Italy newsletter, and Producer/Host of the fabulous PBS Dream of Italy TV series. She’s here to share her experience of this extraordinary place…

BERNALDA - KATHY McCABE“The town itself is like being in Italy in the 1950s,” she says. Coppola calls it “the real Italy.”

Bernalda, Basilicata, Kathy McCabe, Susan Van Allen, Italy Tours, Women's Tour Italy

The unassuming Palazzo Margherita entrance opens to “a surprising oasis”…lush, blooming gardens, fountains…

Bernalda, Basilicata, Palazzo Margherita, Susan Van Allen, Italy Tours, Italy Travel, Women's Travel

The 9-room hotel feels more like a home, stunningly designed by Coppola and daughter Sofia, in partnership with French interior designer Jacques Grange. Local artisans and restorers worked to incorporate original elements (floor tiles and chandeliers) of the 1892 palazzo, and every guest room is unique. Here’s Sofia’s room:
Bernalda, Susan Van Allen, Italy Travel, Italy Tours, Women's Travel, Kathy McCabe

A highlight of Kathy’s stay, offered free to every guest, was a cooking class in the Palazzo kitchen, where it’s delightful to learn the local pasta specialty: ear-shaped orechiette
Bernalda, Basilicata, Susan Van Allen, Italy Travel, Italy Tours, Women's TravelAnd for after dinner entertainment, there’s a screening salon, with a selection of 300 classic Italian films and documentaries…

If you’re not staying at Palazzo Margherita, you can still go to the Cinecitta Caffe, next door, that’s open to the public. When Coppola is around, you’re very likely to find him sitting there.

Bernalda, Basilicata, Francis Ford Coppola, Italy Tours, Italy Travel, Women's Travel, Susan Van Allen

Kathy’s interview with the award-winning director at the Palazzo will be featured in Season 2 of PBS’s Dream of Italy series…

Bernalda, Basilicata, Palazzo Margherita, Francis Ford Coppola, Kathy McCabe, Susan Van Allen, Italy tours, Italy travel, Women's Travel

Exploring Bernalda, you can also enjoy a visit to the 15th century Castello….

Bernalda, Castello, Basilicata, Palazzo Margherita, Kathy McCabe, Susan Van Allen, Italy tours, Italy Travel, Women's Travel

Refresh yourself deliciously at Gelateria Novecento, Corso Umberto Primo 246…
And go to Barbacoa, Via Carioli 7, 338 739 830, that serves high quality grilled meats and has an extensive collection of wines…


Grazie Kathy!

We’re looking forward to seeing more of this in the upcoming PBS Dream of Italy show…To read Kathy’s full story of her stay at Palazzo Margherita, and for great insider’s advice about Italian travel, subscribe to the Dream of Italy newsletter,



Golden Week:
Italian Riviera and Florence

PREMIUM Golden Week: For Women Only –
Italian Riviera and Florence
September 22–October 1, 2017

A NEW 8-night adventure, in 2 extraordinary locations, custom-designed and hosted by author Susan Van Allen, for women to enjoy Italian pleasures to the max!

Susan Van Allen, Women Tour Italy, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go

What’s Included
    • Entertaining hosting and guiding by author Susan Van Allen, focusing on Italy’s celebration of all things female
    • 8 nights at First-Class Hotels,
      4 nights Hotel Continental in Santa Margherita Ligure
      4 nights Plaza Hotel Lucchesi in Florence
    • Transportation by private minibus, including arrival transfers
      from Genoa airport or train station and departure transfers to Florence airport or train station
    • Daily buffet breakfast at the hotel
    • 4 multi-course dinners, with wine
    • 1 cooking class in Portofino, followed by lunch
    • 1 ceramics painting class
    • Guided tours of the Cinque Terre, San Fruttuoso Abbey, Florence Historic Center, Santa Maria Novella Basilica and Cloisters, and Uffizi Gallery, by charming local experts, with whisper headsets included
    • Entrance fees to museum and monuments
    • Gratuities for group activities: guides, drivers, and servers at group meals
    • Travel journal and optional writing workshops
    • $25 Donation to Friends of Florence, for art restoration projects
What’s Not Included
    • Airfare
    • Meals not specified in the itinerary
    • Optional Travel Insurance
    • Everything not mentioned under “What’s Included”
Rates: $4890/per person, double occupancy
$5590/per person, single occupancy
Small Group Tour: 14 guests maximum
To reserve your space, or for more information, contact Irene today at: or 855-784-7687.
The week is expertly designed with a balance of planned group and free-time independent experiences
CLICK HERE for Golden Week Testimonials
Brief Itinerary

Day 1: Friday – Depart USA to Genoa, Italy
Day 2: Saturday – Welcome to Your Golden Week
Day 3: Sunday – Taste the Italian Riviera, in Portofino
Day 4: Monday – Discover Extraordinary Cinque Terre
Day 5: Tuesday – Experience Magical San Fruttuoso / Sunset in Camogli
Day 6: Wednesday – Welcome to Florence, via Lucca
Day 7: Thursday – Discover Florence and Its Treasures
Day 8: Friday – Be a Florentine Artisan / Marvel at Masterpieces
Day 9: Saturday – La Dolce Vita Day
Day 10:Sunday – Arrivederci Florence

In Collaboration with Perillo Tours, America’s Leading Tour Operator to Italy for 70 years.
To reserve your space, or for more information, contact Irene today at: or 855-784-7687
Detailed Itinerary
Golden Day 1: Friday, September 22 – Departure from USA 

You’ll be packed (with my tips), and full of joyful anticipation…



Golden Day 2: Saturday, September 23 – Welcome to Your Golden Week

Benvenuta! You’ll be met by our private driver at the Genoa airport or train station and transported to our paradise-of-a-base: the Hotel Continentale in Santa Margherita Ligure.

SANTA MARGHERITA - HOTEL CONTINENTALE - DAY TWOThe views from your room’s balcony will take your breath away: sparkling harbor, elegant palm trees, and wonderful town.

Susan Van Allen, Women Tour Italy, Liguria, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should GoYou’ll have time to relax, and perhaps enjoy the hotel’s private beach, pool, or spa. In the evening we’ll gather on the hotel terrace to toast the Golden Week ahead.

day-1-welcome-dinner-hotel-continentalSusan will give you tips for your travel journal, so you can create a treasured souvenir of the adventure.  We’ll dine in the hotel’s restaurant, enjoying the first of many memorable meals, featuring the traditional flavors of Liguria with a backdrop of the sparkling, starlit sea.

Meals Included: D

Golden Day 3: Sunday, September 24 – Taste the Italian Riviera, in Portofino…

Buongiorno! Wake up and smell the caffe. Enjoy an abundant buffet breakfast in the hotel’s dining room with mesmerizing sea views…get used to such extraordinary mornings for the rest of your week.

day-4-breakfast-at-hotel-continental-santa-margherita-ligureWe’ll begin the day with a stroll down the hill for an orientation to Santa Margherita Ligure. The town’s historic center is a beautiful mix of colorfully painted neoclassical buildings, a stunning Baroque church, and delightful shops, caffes, and restaurants.

Susan Van Allen, Women Tour Italy, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should GoThen we’ll hop a ferry boat for a short ride to Portofino—a tiny, gorgeous seaside village that’s a choice yacht-stop for jet setters.

PORTOFINO - PIAZZETTA SHOPPING - DAY THREEWe’ll be welcomed here into a local kitchen for a fun, hands-on cooking class, to immerse ourselves in the Italian Riviera’s extraordinary flavors, including making Genovese pesto. 

day-2-portofino-cooking-class-pesto-makingLunch will follow, enjoying the fruits of our labors. Then we’ll have time to relax in this jewel of a spot, perhaps wandering up to Castello Brown, (setting for the film Enchanted April),  and shopping in Portofino’s legendary designer boutiques.

We’ll ferry back to Santa Margherita where the evening is yours to dine on your own, with my recommendations. Choices range from lively pizzerias to chic upscale restaurants.

Meals included: B, L

Golden Day 4: Monday, September 25 – Full day in Extraordinary Cinque Terre

The extraordinary stretch of coastline called the Cinque Terre (meaning Five Lands), is comprised of five colorful fishing villages that cling to the rugged coastline, surrounded by vineyards and terraced gardens.

Susan Van Allen, Cinque Terre, Women Tour Italy, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should GoWith our guide Simona, we’ll have an insider’s experience of these unique villages, traveling by train and/or ferries to see such wonders as the Riomaggiore castle, Gothic Church of Santa Margherita in Vernazza, and the Capuchin Monastery in Monterosso, stopping along the way to take in breathtaking views. There will be free time to wander the enchanting pathways of the villages with our guidance, for shopping, a caffe break, and lunch on your own.

_fab4804After this exhilirating day, we’ll transfer back to Santa Margherita Ligure, where you can enjoy the sunset and a relaxing dinner at the hotel or harbor.

Meals included: B

Golden Day 5: Tuesday, September 26 – Experience Magical San Fruttuoso / Sunset in Camogli

This morning is free for you to experience Santa Margherita Ligure at your leisure. You may opt for a swim at the hotel’s private beach and lunch on the terrace, a spa treatment, journal writing workshop, shopping in town, or visiting the elegantly decorated Villa Durazzo and its surrounding gardens.

20160930_115238776_iosIn the afternoon, we’ll take a short ferry ride to one of the most magical spots on the Ligurian coastline: San Fruttuoso. This secluded bay can only be reached by boat or hiking. The setting is dreamlike: sparkling turquoise waters and a stunning 10th century Abbey which we’ll tour with our guide Simona.

day-4-windows-of-san-fruttuoso-abbeyday-4-boatingWe’ll continue by boat to the village of Camogli, that got its name from case delle mogli=house of wives”, as it was a fishing village named for the women who managed things here while their husbands were away at sea. The soul of Camogli from days gone by remains—the harbor is full of fishing boats, there are little shops where Liguria’s best focaccia is fresh-baked, and artisan workshops. Camogli is ideal to visit at sunset, so we’ll settle in at a traditional seaside restaurant, to enjoy dinner with a marvelous view.

day-4-camogli-at-sunsetAfter dinner, we’ll be transported by private driver back to Santa Margherita Ligure.

*In case of bad sea/weather, the visit to San Fruttuoso bay will be replaced with a visit to the villas and gardens of Santa Margherita Ligure village.

Meals included: B, D

Golden Day 6: Wednesday, September 27 – Welcome to Florence, via Lucca

In the morning, we’ll depart Santa Margherita Ligure and head through the stunning countryside to Florence. Along the way, we’ll stop to visit one of Tuscany’s most beloved towns: Lucca.

02_lucca_seen_from_torre_guinigiThere we’ll be guided through its pedestrian-only historic center to admire splendid Gothic and Romanesque churches and have a relaxing caffe break in a pretty piazza. There will be time for shopping Lucca’s artisan boutiques and lunch on your own.

Florence, Italy Tour, Women Tour Italy, Susan Van Allen, Small Group TourWe’ll arrive in Florence in the late afternoon and check into the Plaza Hotel Lucchesi–a luxurious, historical property from 1860, set right on the River Arno. You’ll have time to get settled and explore as you wish, before we take an evening walk to a nearby cozy trattoria for a dinner of Florentine specialties. 

Meals included: B, D

Golden Day 7: Thursday, September 28 – Discover Florence and Its Treasures

After a lovely breakfast, we’ll go deeper into exploring the range of treasures that abound in Florence. In the morning,  we’ll follow our entertaining local guide on a walk through the historic center, stopping at the Piazza Signoria and Piazza Duomo to admire the amazing architecture, enjoying a caffe in the Piazza Repubblica, and then we’ll land at the first Florentine Basilica, that glorifies its feminine  inspiration: Santa Maria Novella.


Highlights  inside include gorgeous Renaissance fresco cycles in the Tornabuoni and Spanish Chapels. We’ll end our tour at the Santa Maria Novella Pharmacy, a wonderland of beauty products, that was founded by the basilica’s Dominican monks over 400 years ago.

There will be free time for lunch and shopping on your own, before we meet in the late afternoon for a visit to the Accademia Gallery to stand awestruck before one of the world’s greatest sculptures: Michelangelo’s David.

Statue of David

Michelangelo’s David

The evening is on your own, to enjoy an optional journal writing workshop, perhaps a sunset aperitivo on the hotel’s divine rooftop, and dinner with my recommendations.

Meals included: B

Golden Day 8: Friday, September 29– Be a Florentine Artisan / Marvel at Masterpieces

Ceramic making has been a tradition in Florence since Renaissance days. We’ll begin the day with a hands-on experience of  this craft at Sbigoli Terrecotte, a family run shop that’s been turning out masterpieces since  1857. An artisan will lead us in learning the basics of ceramic painting, and each of us will create a piece to take home for a precious souvenir.

Golden Week in Florence, Italy for Women Only Tour, Susan Van AllenThere will be a break for shopping, sight-seeing, and lunch at your leisure.

In the afternoon we’ll meet at one of the world’s most famous museums: the Uffizi Gallery. We’ll be guided through splendid rooms, focusing on masterpieces that glorify females—by such greats as Giotto, Botticelli, and da Vinci, and take a leisurely break at the terrace caffe, with its magnificent view.

Sandro Botticelli's "Birth of Venus"

Sandro Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus”

Tonight, a fortifying Florentine meal may fit the bill. Those who wish to join me for a Dutch treat dinner may come along to one of my favorite trattorias, where the specialty is bistecca=beefsteak, exquisitely done in lively surroundings.

Meals included: B

Golden Day 9: Saturday, September 30 – La Dolce Vita Day

This is your day to immerse yourself in La Dolce Vita, and experience Florence according to your desires, with Susan’s guidance to assist you. There are still more museums and churches with masterpieces to enjoy, shopping opportunities ranging from high fashion to outdoor markets, or you may want to take a ride out to the Chianti countryside (for additional cost).

Susan Van Allen, Women's Travel, Italy Tours, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should GoIn the evening, we’ll gather for our final celebration of this inspiring week: a Farewell Dinner at a restaurant set next to the starlit Arno River.


Meals included: B, D

Golden Day 10: Sunday, October 1 – Arrivederci!

Our driver will transport you to the airport or train station, where you’ll depart with Golden Memories of our time together…


Meals Included: B

“My thanks to Susan Van Allen for making her book come to life!!! I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of this Golden Week. Susan’s heartfelt desire for everyone to enjoy their time was evident each and every day. “– Jolene B, Florence, 2015
CLICK HERE for More Testimonials

*Itinerary subject to change. If because of weather or unforeseen circumstances changes need to be made, replacement events will be equally as awesome as above.

*Activity Level: Bring comfortable walking shoes! Though we explore at a relaxed pace, with breaks to savor the atmosphere, please consider the following to be sure this trip is right for you:
–Our hotel in Santa Margherita Ligure sits on a promontory, about a 5-minute leisurely curvy walk to the Santa Margherita Ligure historic center and harbor.
–Most of our excursions are in pedestrian-only towns,  along cobblestoned streets, there are marble-floored museum visits, and the Cinque Terre day includes walking up and down stone steps.
–In Florence, the itinerary does include mini-van transportation for walks longer than 20 minutes from our hotel. You also have the option to take a taxi (at your own expense) for the shorter city walks, which we can arrange for you.
–For those with motion sickness, precautions should be taken for the longer drives and ferry rides in the Italian Riviera.

For more information, and to Sign Up for this Adventure, Contact Irene at Perillo Tours:, 855-784-7687 (10am to 6pm, Eastern Standard Time)

Would you like to arrive early or extend your Golden Week? Irene can arrange for discounted hotel rates. Just ask!


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Italian Riviera and Florence

GOLDEN DAY 135: Acerenza, Basilicata, Part Two

Outside Acerenza’s historic center, grazie to Salverio Cancerllera and Antonella D’Andria, I met some of the village’s finest artisans…In a cave at Le Cantine del Grillo..
20160527_160122624_iosThere was rich, soulful Aglianico…straight out of the barrel…
20160527_154701275_ios20160527_154946114_iosNext was Il Re dei Panettoni=King of Panettone, Vincenzo Tiri, at his humble, family run bakery…

20160527_162528374_iosVincenzo rocked the Panettone World, twice winning the Grand Prize in Milan for this Christmas time sweetbread…a triumph for this young, 35-year old baker in a remote southern region, AND quite a surprise, as Panettone is a specialty of the north…


Making Vincenzo’s parents in this family run bakery, (since 1957), very proud…


Tiri’s panettone is a taste bud revelation. He’s a genius/master, starting with dough that rises for 40 hours, mixing it with local products–candy-ing fruit from the nearby orchards. This one that I tasted was flavored with white chocolate and espresso=DIVINE and not just for Christmas!


And finally, it was time to meet The Magician=Antonio Saluzzi at his workshop…Décor Saluzzi…

20160527_181101529_ios-copyFollowing age-old traditions, with passion and incredible skill, he creates…

20160527_172506992_ios20160527_173349338_ios20161116_210835935_iosA lovely agriturismo nearby is La Loggia del Monaco , beautifully set in the countryside with  with a view of Acerenza on the hill in the distance, a great restaurant…

20160527_145000559_iosAnd welcoming host, Rocky Calitri…

Go and visit this treasure of Basilicata! One of the treasured  Borghi Piu Belli d’Italia in this beautiful country…



Last May, I had the great pleasure of discovering Acerenza, Basilicata…Basilicata, Acerenza, Borghi Piu Belli, Italy, Women's Travel, Susan Van AllenAND to meet the mayor=Sindaco Fernando Scattone! The hilltop treasure is one of a group of villages designated by I Borghi Piu Belli d’Italia=The Most Beautiful Villages in Italy, which includes small hidden places up and down the boot that have maintained their architectural, cultural, and culinary traditions over the centuries. The Roman lyric poet Horace, born near Acerenza, described this spot as “an eagle’s nest”, perched above fertile plains, olive groves, surrounded by rivers.
20160527_100628028_iosI can walk from one end of the walled medieval village to another in about ten minutes…
20160527_072939640_iosBut it’s so pleasant to take my time and stop to meet the welcoming locals, for a caffe at Fossato…

Basilicata, Acerenza, Caffe, Susan Van Allen, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should GoAt the bakery…

Basilicata, Acerenza, Susan Van Allen

And then there’s Antonio, who shows me around the impressive Museo Diocesano–where stunning Greek vases and religious treasures are displayed…

Basilicata, Acerenza, Susan Van Allen, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go

20160527_082241233_ios20160527_085154239_iosThe blockbuster attraction of Acerenza is its eleventh century Cattedrale, dedicated to the Madonna of the Assumption and Saint Canio.


It’s architecture was inspired by the Abbey of Cluny in France, and it remains one of the finest examples of Clunaeic-Romanesque architecture in all of Italy. Some say that the name of the region, Basilicata, came from this church, that was classified as a Basilica in the Middle Ages, when Acerenza held the area’s judicial power. Steps below the sanctuary lead to a Renaissance crypt–gorgeously sculpted and frescoed, shown to me by my lovely guide, signorina Antonella D’Andria of the ProLoco,

Acerenza, Basilicata, Borghi Piu Belli d'Italia, Susan Van Allen

In the crypt is the tomb of Sant’ Canio. His staff, that can be seen through this glass enclosure, has been known to miraculously move! Though not while we were there…


For an extraordinary lunch, just around the corner from the Duomo, is Ristorante al Duomo, (Largo Glinni 13, 0971 741402), where excellent local wine and specialties are served…cured meats and mozzarella…

20160527_105922579_iosHomemade pasta with spicy sausage and mushrooms…
Basilicata, Acerenza, Susan Van Allen

A luxurious place to spend the night, in nearby Forenza, is the Masserie del Falco


that has a spa, cooking school, surrounded by splendid rolling hills…and outdoor dining…



20160526_175552017_iosStay tuned for more on Acerenza…in the meantime, for more info:

GOLDEN DAY 133: Matera, Part Two…The Prehistoric Side

As amazing as it is to see the side of Matera that has been continuously inhabited and is being revitalized…on the other side of the ravine is the chance to see the Prehistoric Caves of Matera…

matera-italy-2Especially with Michelantelo Camardo, who lives in the Sassi and is passionate about the exploration of this natural treasure…

Michelangelo Camardo

Along with us was Antonella and expert guide Cesare, who opened the door to this church built into the rock, Cristo La Selva..where musical concerts are held during the summer season…


CRISTO LA SELVAAnd further along was this fantastic grotto…and place for a picnic…20160526_142858508_iOS

AND if you’re looking for a great B&B in Matera, my fabulous friend, Travel and Destination Wedding Photographer Johanna Jacobson of Ambient Image, has this advice for La Corte dei Pastori:

Susan Van Allen, Women's Travel, Basilicata, Italy, Italy Travel

I loved this little gem carved into a cave.  It’s located in the Sassi, next to some great restaurants, but nevertheless super quiet and private.  Zero humidity issues even though you are sleeping in a cave.  You would never know one of the top tourist attractions is a church “rupestre” located just above your heads. It’s well worth upgrading to the larger suite and calling them directly to book – they upgraded us for very little with a better price than online booking sites.  The location is quiet and stunning.  The owners are “real” Italians – in fact if you don’t speak any Italian it could be a bit difficult to communicate regarding parking or locating the B&B, but it’s worth it.  Parking is a bit tricky – you can park for a few hours nearby in the actual Sassi to unload your things and then you’ll likely have to park about 10 minutes away in a lot.

Grazie always to all of you who lead me to hidden treasures of bell’Italia!

P.S.–If you’re planning a destination wedding in Italy, check out



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