2013 was the last BMW Tour.
We had a total of seventeen people in seven cars jump in and out of a drive down the length of Italy. We started in Munich and one of our accommodations was the famed Excelsior Hotel. The drive to the Wörthersee in Austria was through the, "Sound of Music" country. It was fun and scenic on a sunshine filled day. We took a boat trip around the entire lake. Our next stop was the spa town of Abano Terme as we made our first stop in Italy. Our hotel boasts the largest mineral water Jacuzzi pool in Europe and Abano is only thirty minutes by train for a day trip to Venice. The next stop was my special treat, Bella Tuscany. The village of Castellina-In-Chianti is a perfect home base for the wonders of Tuscany; Florence to the north, Siena to the south, San Gimignano and Volterra to the west and the classico chianti vineyards to the east. We had a lunch at the best, Badia-In-Coltibono. I also had a chance to visit with two great friends, Patrizio, who guided us to the best of the best in this region on our early trips, and Tiziano, the master chef, whose former restaurant, Gallopapa, remains in our hearts the finest dining experience in Italy. Dining at Gallopapa was not just a meal but an event. You can still enjoy a pizza with Tiziano at the little restaurant across from our hotel. Our next stop was the island of Elba, Napoleon's first exile. When you experience the beauty of the place you will wonder why he ever left. A drive back through Tuscany put us in the spa town of Chianciano Terme. We used this as a home base to visit Montepulciano and Pienza. We had an interesting tour of the Archeological Museum in Chianciano and a meal in Montpulciano where the owner serenaded the ladies in our group. We were most charmed by the town of Pienza, the architectural dream of Pope Pius II where the streets are named for the emotions. We hung out on the Via Del Amore (the street of love). We kissed on the Via del Bacio, (you guessed it), the street of the kiss, and hugged on the Via del Abbraccio, and spent as much time as possible on the Via della Fortuna for good luck. From the outer walls of the city you get a perfect view of Val d'Orcia.
On to the eastern coast of Southern Italy, an area not much frequented by American tourists. Grottammare has a broad beach promenade and we biked to the next village south. We also hiked miles to the ancient hilltop part of the town with great views of the coastline from a tower restaurant. Our next stop was a gotta-go-back-to location called Trani. We stayed in a ducal palace on a piazza overlooking the harbor. In the evening the fishing boats pulled up to their moorings and offered fresh fish, squid, octopus and eels to the locals. This village had the biggest passeggiata (evening walk) of any village I've seen with thousands of locals and visitors strolling the evening streets. Every morning we had an airshow by the starlings. These small birds fly in crazy maneuvers with no air traffic control. We took an hour drive south to see the trulli village in the city of Alberobello. These beehive looking houses were ancient residences. On the last day in Trani, I met the Duke. He lives on his own floor of the palace. He was thrilled to have visitors from 'belle isole Hawaii' in his home but I had to say to him, 'look where you live'.
Now on to the West Coast with the towns of Sorrento, Maratea, and the drive to Sicily. Our hotel in Sorrento was on the high cliff above the sea. You walk down to the beach through a stairway and caves in the rock. The climb back was torturous but I did it four times. There is a lift but I was paying the dues from too much food abuse. Sorrento was a chance to reconnect with my Italian family. My aunt, my cousin with her husband and daughter came down from Naples and joined our group at a nearby pizzeria. The pizza in Naples is considered the best in the world. The next day some of us made the hydrofoil trip to Naples while others toured The Isle of Capri. Pompeii, Positano, and the Island of Ischia are also good day trips in this much to see area. The drive to Maratea can be easy or challenging. We took the challenge and drove the Amalfi Coast. The passengers were treated to spectacular scenery but the driver must be alert to a narrow roadway with shear cliffs, tour buses and motor scooters passing within inches. There were cars sticking out into the road and almost no place to pull over until you got to the infrequent towns. I would not have made the drive any other way. Maratea is a sleepy little beach town halfway between Sorrento and Sicily. Their claim to fame is the erection on a hilltop of the largest statue of Christ outside of Rio de Janeiro. It sits miles above the town but we could see it from our hotel.
SICILY… its Italy but then again it is not. We settled for three days in the town of Milazzo because of its convenience to the hydrofoils we were to take to the Aeolian Islands. Milazzo is not a real tourist town but it has a grand hilltop fort and a wide sandy beach on the Mare Isole Eolie. In front of our hotel was a fisherman’s market with fresh catch displayed for sale every day. In the evenings we would see the fisherman repairing their nets. Our grand experience was the Aeolian Islands. We took the first ferry without our cars to the island of Lipari. The town is a great place to explore on foot. We ate at Ristorante Al Pescatore, the island’s famous seafood restaurant. Marty and Susyn found the famous pastry and gelato store, Pasticceria d'Ambra.
We hired a boat to take us to the three volcanic islands that were my goal for the entire tour……Vulcano, Panarea, and the famous Stromboli. Vulcano is the island that gave its name to all volcanoes. It is famous for its mud baths (fanghi) and its still smoking main crater. We didn’t land on the island but we swam in the warm clear pools that surround the coast. Next was Panarea. I want to stay here in the future. The island is beautiful with whitewashed houses and a population of only 300 people. It owes its fame to the Hotel La Piazza, which in the summer attracts the international jet-set. The terrace by the pool is the place to be for an aperitif. There are only a few small electric cars, beautiful walks and unique swimming opportunities in the many surrounding coves. The restaurants are surprisingly excellent. Stromboli, is the most famous because of the movie by the same name and was the setting for the scandalous lover affair between Ingrid Bergman and Roberto Rossellini. There is still a bar there named, “Remembering Ingrid”. The center piece of the island is the active volcano. We hiked up about a quarter of the volcano to a square which is the starting point for trekkers climbing to the top. People will climb to the summit even though this is one of the most active volcanoes in Europe. After a late meal we headed to our boat for the ride back to Lipari. About a quarter mile off the Stromboli harbor our boat captain stopped the boat for a look at the summit. The volcano obligingly blew its top for us. What a spectacular sight.
It was time to head for home but we had two more stops to make. We took the long ferry ride from Palermo to Genoa then drove to Lake Orta. Orta has become my favorite Italian lake for its pastoral setting, warm waters and quaint island in the center. Our hotel there, Hotel San Rocco, is a 5 star gem with the most agreeable staff. They love us Hawaiians who make the trip from our paradise to theirs. Sirmione on Lake Garda was our last stop on a most pleasurable trip.
2012 was our last big tour of France.
We had a total of seventeen people in six cars jump in and out of a complete counter clockwise circle of France, thus the name,
The French Revolution.
We started in Munich and one of our accommodations was a brewery Hotel. The drive to Strasbourg was a crazy assortment of traffic jams, detours, and high speed autobahn driving. It was still fun and scenic on a sunshine filled day. Our next stop was Epernay in the heart of the Champagne area of France.
We toured some famous and not so famous champagne houses; all were good. The drive to Tours took us through the Loire Valley, the summer chateaux of French royalty. In our next stop, Tréguier on the Brittany Coast, we hit the famous cold, grey North Sea weather. On a clear day you can see the English Coast. We had a hard time seeing the edge of the bay fronting our harbor side hotel. We drove down the west coast of France to our favorite French Island; Ile De Re. The island is famous for the best oysters in Europe, a gourmet sea salt, and donkeys who wear pants. Our next stop wax Biarritz, home to the best surf in Europe and a broad sandy beach. The city has a real Hawaii connection and has hosted famous old surfers like Duke Kahanamoku and more recently, Fred Hemmings. This is the Basque country of France. On to Provence passing by some of the mountain stages of the Tour De France. Our stay was in Nimes at a country hotel. We moved on to one of the most charming towns in the south of France, Bormes Les Mimosas. La Londe-les-Maures is where our friends, Gilles and Pascale have their vineyard, Chateau Les Valentines. One of the highlights of our trip was a Provencal lunch in their garden. We also ate at the famous Mamy Moules, but sadly Mamy has passed away after fifty years of shucking mussels in La Favière, the seafront part of Bormes. We next traveled to Villefranche-Sur-Mer and the famous hotel Welcome. Olivier, the major domo of the hotel remembered us from previous trips and took great care of us.
We witnessed a spectacular fireworks display in Monaco.
This next stop, Lake Orta, is a go-back-to spot in Italy. Almost unknown to tourists, it is physically beautiful, has clean, clear water and our hotel treated us with excellent service. Our last stop was Nyon on Lake Geneva. It was a scenic and convenient spot for the dropping of our cars in Geneva.