Monday, June 28, 2010


This one’s got to be quick! That means I draw on my own photos.

Tuscany is a great place to overnight when driving, as we were, from Venice (in northeast Italy) to Rome (on the west coast). Normally one might stay in Florence, which was our first thought. But the hotel I fell in love with was in Lucca, about 45 minutes west of Florence. Though it was not in the original plan, we realized that by overnighting in Lucca, we were within striking distance to make a day trip to Cinque Terre.

The time constraints in travel often compel trade-offs. Others may choose differently, but having seen them both (even it if was for only two hours in Florence), I would choose Cinque Terre any day over Florence. Well, unless it was a rainy day!


Sorry to say, but this David was no Jew!

Facade of the multi-century-in-the-making Florence Cathedral

Hungry horse in Florence...

...and horses of a different stripe

Here are some photos from the town of Lucca, which we only saw at night:

The streets were empty, but there were a lot of nice alfresco restaurants.

The Church of San Michele, Lucca

The city is completely encircled by Medieval walls.

The ScheckTrek Hotel Pick: ALBERGO VILLA MARTA

A friend tried to convince my husband we should stay in Florence rather than Lucca. Al told the friend, “Vicki has a pretty firm hold on this hotel.” We didn't know until we arrived and saw this on the door that it was Conde Nast-recommended. No wonder it was so nice. And for only 99 Euros per night with breakfast! We had very little time in Tuscany itself, but staying at the Albergo [Hotel] Villa Marta, we were immersed in the Tuscan atmosphere. (Photos 1-3 below are from the hotel's website. Others: Schecktrek.)

Al waits patiently for the pictue-taking to finish.

It was a room with a view -- in fact, several of them.

You know you're in Tuscany when...

Bon appetit and sweet dreams till tomorrow!

And the bonus for staying in Lucca: Day trip to Cinque Terre!

The ferry approaches Monterosso, Cinque Terre

Along the Via Del Amore, between Riomaggiore and Manarola --
a most beautiful 20-minute walk

Vernazza, Cinque Terre (my favorite of the five villages)

Vernazza, Cinque Terre

Ciao, Italia!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Santorini, Greece

Santorini is basically what remains of an enormous volcanic explosion in the Aegean Sea. According to Wikipedia, “The island is the site of one of the largest volcanic eruptions in recorded history: the Minoan eruption (sometimes called the Thera eruption), which occurred some 3,600 years ago at the height of the Minoan civilization.” The eruption so reduced the mass under the earth’s surface, that roughly a 4.3 x 7.5-mile chunk of land sank, producing Santorini’s 1300-foot deep, water-filled caldra. The volcanic eruption may have caused a gigantic tsunami that wiped out the Minoan civilization on the island of Crete, 68 miles to the south; however, it did wonders for the future tourism of Santorini!

It’s been a little busy at work lately, so I decided to research some place small and simple this week. From where I sit in Southern California, Santorini seemed small and simple enough.

Now I know I was an idiot! But 454 hotels, B&Bs, specialty housing and vacation rentals later (and these are just the ones that have Trip Advisor ratings of a 4 or 5!) I am much wiser, at least when it comes to accommodations on this very special Greek island.

I could have switched sites and saved this for a week when I had more time, but by then my eyes had feasted on some of the most breathtaking views in the world – looking out over the Aegean Sea from heights of up to almost 1000 feet – and I was hooked! As one reviewer said of his hotel, “You will remember the view for the rest of your life.” So, in narrowing down the choices, I decided the winning hotel had to have a million-dollar view – and there are probably more than 200 of those to choose from.

Given that this is virtual travel, we’ll also insist on the pool and visually pleasing interior design, and we won’t be overly concerned about prices. However, if you were traveling there for real and wanted reduce costs, if you were willing to go with a décor that is only loosely so-called, you could find one with an Aegean Sea view and pool (still with TA rating of 4 or 5) for under $150.

In the budget category I’d like to give honorable mention to The Boathouse.

Typical of many of the lower priced hotels, The Boathouse is at beach level so doesn't provide the panoramic views for which Santorini is known. But it does have a sea view/beach access, decent décor, pool, great bathroom, and a TA rating of 4.5. Best of all, it has an average nightly rate of only $114.

And if $114 is too rich for the budget and a sea glimpse and so-so pool will suffice, check out Anna Traditional Apartments in Kamari for $78 a night. Very cute!

At the other end of the scale is Mystique in Oia. When I saw this photo, I thought this might just have to be the one!
These were also very enticing photos of Mystique.

But the pictures of the bedroom areas themselves were just a bit too…something. Or maybe not enough something. And for $1155 a night, I didn’t feel like compromising, even if it was just virtual money.

If one is willing to consider prices that are steep enough to match the terrain, one might want to look at vacation rentals, especially if traveling with family or friends. I liked the following two:

Deus Villa in Pyrgos for $804-$990 a night. With 5 bedrooms (it sleeps 10) and 3 baths, that might just be one of the better deals on the island if you have a crowd.

Malteza House, a luxury villa in ImerovigliWith Jacuzzi and pool, sea views from almost all rooms and a 360-degree view from the top viewing deck, this one goes for $734-1028 a night. It has 3 bedrooms and 3 baths, and sleeps 6.

Now for the winner: All things considered, I picked the Residence Suites in Oia.

With 4-star quality and 4-star TA ranking, this hotel delivers a lot for only $246. So in the end, I guess price did weigh in on my decision!