Postcards from Italy

Meet Our Guides: An Inside Look at Pompeii with Tony

Last week, we began a short series of posts highlighting our favorite guides in Italy and Switzerland. The series kicked off with Elvira, our top Florence guide and insider who knows the city’s highlights and hidden gems by heart. Elvira is just one of our carefully selected stable of professional guides whom we have entrusted with countless clients over the years.

This year, we are missing out on reconnecting with these guides as we lay low at home waiting for travel to make a comeback; our guides are also missing travelers from the US, and many have very little work this year as international tourism has bottomed out.

Antonio(Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

We decided to take advantage of their relatively free schedules this summer with a number of interviews that touch on what each guide loves about their jobs, their cities, and their clients. This week we talked with Antonio Somma, known affectionately as Tony, who has taken scores of our travelers through the ancient city of Pompeii at the foot of Mt. Vesuvius. In addition to being a wonderful guide, he is an avid S.S.C. Napoli football fan and has accompanied clients to San Paolo Stadium for matches. Tony and his wife Carla are excellent cooks and have hosted guests for a home-cooked lunch. On a more personal note, Tony has a lovely lemon tree in his garden that supplies the lemon peel for our annual batch of homemade limonello. He is generous with his time and passionate about where he’s from. In somma, Tony is a true Pompeiano.

Napoli Game with Tony(Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

Stay tuned for more guide interviews to come!

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Meet Our Guides: An Inside Look at Florence with Elvira

Of everything we miss about not traveling to Italy at the moment (the food! the wine! the food!), perhaps it’s the people that weigh heaviest in our thoughts. Over the decades, we have made dear friends, bonded with our clutch of neighbors, and are on a first-name basis with our favorite shopkeepers and restauranteurs. Though our families are in the US, we have a second family in Italy that we can’t wait to see again.

Among those we miss checking in on is our select group of professional guides, whom we have carefully cultivated over time and to whom we entrust our clients to make anything from the Colosseum to the peaks of the Dolomites come to life. One of the joys of our jaunts through the country is reconnecting with these guides and catching up on what is new and fascinating in each one’s area of expertise.

To give you an idea of how special our guides are, we’ve decided to begin a short series of posts highlighting the best of the best! Due to the restrictions in international travel, tour guides in Italy have very little work this year...we are making a bit of limoncello out of lemons by taking advantage of this rare moment of free time for a short interview with our favorite guides.

Elvira(Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

We are starting off with Elvira, our go-to Florence guide who has shown dozens of our clients the highlights and hidden gems of this Renaissance city. Stay tuned for more guide interviews to come!

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Switzerland’s Surprising Islands

Landlocked and most famous for its soaring Alpine peaks, Switzerland may not be the first country that comes to mind when considering an island escape. As cabin fever sets in for many of us who are still limiting short and long jaunts outside the home, our bookmarked destinations for future trips begin to stretch beyond the A-list sights we’ve been dreaming about for years to include lesser-known but no less dazzling locations.

Brissago Island(Photo by Josef Grunig via Flickr)

Switzerland’s islands belong in this latter category, undiscovered jewels scattered across the country’s placid lakes and often outshined by the showstopping nearby mountains. Home to everything from lush botanical gardens and picturesque castle ruins to storied hotels and restaurants, these islands offer a unique way to experience Switzlerland’s natural beauty and historic charm.

Here are the five most beautiful and accessible Swiss islands to explore on your next trip:

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Keeping Cool Like an Italian

In normal times (remember those?), the lion’s share of our clients scheduled their Italy trips during the summer months. Though summer is an ideal time to visit—with long hours of sunlight for sightseeing, clear days for exploring outdoor archaeological sites and medieval villages, and balmy evenings for dinners alfresco—these torrid months also bring soaring Mediterranean temperatures and scorching sun that can be uncomfortable for much of the day, especially in the south and major cities.

(Photo by CIUTravel via Flickr)

Air conditioning is slowly becoming more common in Italy, but a surprising number of sights and businesses still do not have any sort of cooling system beyond open windows and fans. Indeed, many Italians avoid air-conditioning like the plague, believing it causes all sorts of ailments from stiff necks to digestive issues. Instead, Italians tend to use a number of life hacks to combat the heat, from how they dress to how they schedule their days.

ice-cream-tower-montefalco(Photo by CIUTravel via Flickr)

You may not be headed to Italy this summer, but the Italian heat is quite probably headed to you now that we are in July. Sure, you could crank up the a/c for the next few months to stay cool, but for the sake of the environment—and as a fun cultural experiment—we suggest you try some of these tricks of the trade from the Bel Paese to make it through the dog days of summer.

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Italy and Switzerland Without the Crowds: Our Top Memories

Now that Italy is opening back up domestically after a few months of coronavirus-related lockdown and travel restrictions, Italians have been enjoying the rare opportunity to admire their country’s iconic sights without the crush of foreign tourists. Stories highlighting “Italy without the crowds” - a nearly empty Vatican, peaceful Cinque Terre, Pompeii with just a dozen visitors - have made headlines across the globe and produced once-in-a-lifetime photos.

We’ll let you in on a secret: visiting Italy’s top sights without the crowds has always been possible, even before COVID-19 threw a wrench into the gears of international travel. Tourism in Italy is very seasonal, so if you visit during the quiet winter months, you can enjoy some of the most popular tourist sights in the world virtually on your own.

colosseo-crowd-roma-cr-ciu-travel(Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

During the high-season summer months, we are busy with clients traveling through Italy and Switzerland, so we often plan our research trips outside of the peak travel times, which also gives us a chance to speak with local guides and hotel general managers who are too busy during the high season to even say hello. As a result, we've seen much of Italy and Switzerland perfectly socially distanced, long before it became a household term.

As the world readjusts its schedule in reaction to the coronavirus pandemic, consider an off-season trip to Italy or Switzerland as a safer, less crowded alternative to the traditional summer holiday. Not only will you be able to enjoy the beauty of these two countries with peace of mind, but you can also savor the slower pace and more personalized attention that winter brings.

If you have to keep in contact with the office during an off-season trip, the time zones make it easy to take that morning zoom meeting right after lunchtime. Just be sure that you have your data sorted before departure, as off season travel may require more connectivity.

Going through our travel photos over these past few months, we’ve been reminded of our top crowd-less memories in Italy and Switzerland, and wanted to share them with you!

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