Make Your Next Trip Extraordinary

We felt we were peeking into a rarified world of fresco ceilings, breathtaking tiles, and hand-painted furniture that would be a museum by any other name
Jessica Tolmach | July 29, 2023
Jessica Tolmach

Jessica Tolmach and her husband, Bruce, exploring Pienza during their WOW Trip in Tuscany. Photo: Zac Plett

Maria handled a multi-region, multi-person, multi-interest trip to Sicily, Florence and Tuscany wonderfully. Her attention to detail was particularly appreciated as we tend to squeeze into our trips just about as much as each day can handle.

We initially were doing just a week at a villa in Tuscany (with our 5 adult kids and their significant others), then expanded to include an additional week in Sicily with stays in 3 different regions—including a few days on an Aeolian island—and a weekend in Florence in between. All our transfers, ferries, small planes, cars, drivers, and guides were organized flawlessly and pulled off without a hitch. The guides were all knowledgable about art, architecture and history, which are our main interests. In addition, Maria acknowledged that large villa-renting was not her forte, so she collaborated with Patrice Salezze to find our dream spot—which she did! Patrice then secured a private chef for us and pointed us in the direction of some fabulous local spots in the area. Maria handled all the day activities, Patrice handled the villa. It was a great partnership.

Four special highlights that Maria secured for our group during our Tuscany stay: a spectacularly situated apartment in Siena overlooking the town square for perfect viewing of the wild, medieval, spectacular Palio horse race and dinner with the family who graciously opened their home, and shared wine, food and stories of the history of the races over the centuries. Another highlight was an outing with a truffle hunter and his dog into the hills and woods where the dog found truffles, and after we were hosted at their farmhouse overlooking the valley while they served us a multi-course lunch of truffle-focused dishes that were scrumptious, along with their own wines. We also adored a private tour and lunch prepared for us at a little-known but spectacular vineyard in Chianti with tastings paired with each course. And last but not least we will all remember forever our lunch at an agritourismo farm with a most generous host and chef that happily went on for hours on a glorious afternoon on their patio on the edge of their fields where we were served mind-blowing grilled meats and the best lasagna and tiramisu any of us has ever tasted. (My boys wanted to stay and work on the farm and never come home! And I got his grandmother’s recipes!) This trip in Tuscany was a first introduction to Italy for most of our kids and a 65th birthday celebration for Bruce and we wanted it to be memorable—it was just that!

P.S. Maria treated us to a WOW Moment that was truly WOW. We had a private tour of a villa in Noto, owned and lived in currently by a rare antiques collector who had refurbished and renovated this exquisite and over the top 100+ room villa unlike anything we’d ever seen. Most of the villa is not open to the public, by invitation only, so we felt we were peeking into a rarified world of fresco ceilings, breathtaking tiles, and hand-painted furniture that would be a museum by any other name. But it was a private, lived-in home where we were treated to a cocktail hour in the owner’s dining room with prosecco and appetizers. A treat! Thank you Maria.

A balanced trip of cultural sightseeing and fun activities inside, outside and on the water
Mark Mazzatta | July 20, 2023

We recently returned from an extraordinary 15-day introductory touring trip of Italy for my family, arranged by Maria Gabriella Landers. After an initial discussion of objectives, Maria did an excellent job of planning a balanced trip of cultural sightseeing and fun activities inside, outside and on the water. During the planning phase, Maria was especially helpful (and patient) to decide where to travel and the duration of each stay. Execution was flawless, and it was huge value having a digital personal itinerary (w/contacts and maps) and Cristina, our local operations manager, a text away for any last-minute needed changes.

After the overnight flight to Milan, we literally hit the ground hiking from Santa Margherita Ligure to Portofino, keeping our active boys moving while acclimating to the new time zone. Although a little risky with potential jet lag, this was a highlight, hiking through the high serene hills for a couple of hours, with only the sounds of birds and a young wild boar, and descending upon Portofino on foot. Portofino was a treat, and the next full day at sea on a captained 40-foot boat to swim and visit the coastline at our leisure was awesome! Having lunch and snorkeling at San Fruttuoso was fantastic.

Additional memorable experiences included:
– Visiting the Ferrari museum and test driving Ferraris on the streets of Maranello
– Touring the Accademia sculptures, the Uffizi and cruising the Arno with a renaioli and our private guide Elvira
– Leisurely driving through Tuscany with our lively driver Francesco, stopping for a wonderful private tour and lunch at a vineyard with its owner Diana
– Staying at a palazzo in Montefalco: Maria was right — this is the balcony of Umbria and the views are unforgettable!
– Fly fishing (and catching/releasing brown trout!) in tranquil Borgo Cerreto with a very fun guide named Luca
– Sightseeing through ancient Rome including the Forum, Colosseum and Vatican museums with very knowledgeable private guides (Valerie) and no lines!
– Riding on the back of Vespas, seeing unique neighborhoods and parks in Roma
– Learning to row a Batela in Venice w/our own rowing instructor and having cicchetti (appetizers) and wine
– Touring and climbing to the top of the Clock Tower in Piazza San Marco

Maria chose excellent hotels for our stays, and the rooftop bar lounge and pool in Florence was a great way to end every fun day. We thought having private guides and transportation (car and water) made the trip much more memorable, as we received personal attention/treatment and allowed for personal interaction with locals to better understand the culture and way of life.

South of Rome, Sicily and the Lake region are next!

Italy was busy with travelers...but I can honestly say that it did not affect our plans at all as Maria had it coordinated and timed out so perfectly
Andrea Phillips | July 18, 2023
Andrea Phillips

Andrea Phillips and family tasting their food after a private cooking class at Casa Gola in Umbria.

My family of four, with two teen girls, had a wonderful and action-packed trip to Italy in mid to late June covering Umbria, Tuscany, Florence, Bologna, Lake Como and Milan, planned with Maria. We stayed at hotels that were the perfect fit (like the one in Florence that had a rooftop pool to beat the heat!), had the best rooms and locations and such personal service, all due to Maria’s connections. Our transportation coordination around the country was flawless and that had to be a challenge with the many, many day trips we had planned and the 6 stops to transfer to! Maria’s local ground support, Cristina, was absolutely amazing throughout the entire trip and very accommodating to help out if we needed something altered. Plus she was our fabulous guide on our day trips in Umbria. The many other guides along the trip were also very friendly, passionate about sharing their knowledge, and did their best to keep our teenagers engaged on the tours. We had another family with three teenagers join us for parts of our trip and Maria and Cristina helped coordinate our joint stays, activities & reservations. Italy was busy with travelers while we were there, but I can honestly say that it did not affect our plans at all as Maria had it coordinated and timed out so perfectly.

This trip was also to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary and Maria had suggested two stops along the way that were very special. Wow, were they ever! Borgo Santo Pietro, a working farm & wellness resort in west Tuscany, and Grand Hotel Tremezzo, near Bellagio in Lake Como. Both resorts resembled something made out of a dream. Beautiful landscapes, amazing service, delicious food, gorgeous rooms, and so many amenities. At Borgo Santo Pietro, you had the feeling of being in a fairy garden wherever you went and around every corner, there was something new to discover. The staff was amazing and there was so much to explore and do. Bicycles & e-bikes, animal-tending sessions, exploring the gardens and farm, tennis courts, the spa & classes, eating the farm-to-table food in their lovely restaurants, all set in a serene oasis in the heart of Tuscany. We did not want to leave! The other amazing stop was the Hotel Grand Tremezzo, which is a standout feature on any Lake Como ferry ride with its striking architecture, gardens and in-lake floating pool in front, so actually staying there was quite a treat! The inner decor of the hotel and outer gardens were magical and so were the concierges and staff that were always ready to help. We enjoyed the spa, the many pools and casual restaurants and even had a private wakeboarding session one morning on the Lake! That is a memory that will never be forgotten and made this stop my girls’ favorite! Maria also arranged a great private boat tour to visit Bellagio and the famous villas of the lake with a lovely private guide, who had access to go inside the villas and educate us on all of the historic collections and stories. It was fascinating!

We were surprised with our WOW Moment early in this trip. We were given a special opportunity to be dressed up for the night in the Foligno Quintana traditional costumes for their festival later in the week. That was a unique experience and one that we would never have been able to arrange or even be allowed to do without Maria’s network in Italy. Thank you Wendy and Maria!

We had many other activities that were also highlights. In Umbria, we went canyoning through a roaring mountain river, had an in-depth local cooking class, a gelato-making class, and went truffle hunting with the cutest, yet very talented dogs. In Siena, we had lunch on the exact alleyway where the Mille Miglia Race of Classic Cars were driving through to enter the Il Campo (definitely because of Maria’s connections in Italy!). In Florence, we climbed the Brunelleschi Duomo, took a lively pizza-making class, saw the awe-inspiring David & the Uffizi Gallery, and took a relaxing Arno River boat ride. In Lucca, we rode bikes around the medieval walls where we crossed paths with a special parade of classic Fiat 500’s. In Bologna, we visited one of the world’s oldest universities, and in nearby Maranello, drove Ferraris through the streets of the town where they are made! In Milan, we had the privilege of being able to see the Last Supper, which was breathtaking. Needless to say, we were very busy on this trip!

It was a trip full of variety, which I had specifically asked Maria for when planning this vacation last fall, and she delivered! My family (and the friends who joined us) were thrilled with our stops and most of the planned activities. When we needed to change a pick-up time, tour length, or cancel a nice dinner reservation for something more causal, Maria’s team was more than happy to help out to make this a wonderful trip catered to us. When we head to Italy again, I will definitely have Maria help me plan our route around the country, but next time, we will stay longer than 3 nights at each stop to really experience the culture and have some more free time to explore on our own!

Perfect for the food tour we were hoping to experience
Crystal Harrison | June 18, 2023

It was amazing! The choices of destination stops were perfect for the food tour we were hoping to experience. April was a great time to go, it was definitely cooler than we thought it would be, but we beat the summer crowds. Especially in Venice, we were able to roam around freely after the large afternoon tours left.

Maria did a great job planning our main destinations as well as stops along the way, hotels were gorgeous and guides/drivers were so friendly and knowledgable. She was very attentive even through all the COVID delays. We truly appreciate her hanging in their with us through it all.

Lake Como was an amazing must-see, especially the boat tour, anyone who goes to Northern Italy really must stop here. The Ferrari Museum in Maranello held truly beautiful historical and current models. My husband is a huge Ferrari fan and while I am not a huge car enthusiast like he is, I thought it was still a wonderful tour and would go again. Maria added so much value to our trip. We would have never found all these experiences on our own. The drivers were amazing, we would not have wanted to rent a car and navigate some of those roads on our own. We felt truly special and welcomed by all we met.

We would suggest being careful on the timing of back-to-back food tours. We had gone to the Prosciutto di Parma factory and then traveled to Bologna for a walking tour that then involved more cured meat samples. Both venues were so generous with the samples, we were so stuffed.

We loved finding and exploring the true Venetian Mask Shops, away from the port and St. Mark’s Square. We got to meet the father/daughter team running the shop and making the masks. We bought several masks to take home as gifts for friends/family.

The pit-stop between Venice and Lake Como in Verona was a great way to break up the long drive and see a working coliseum still actively used for concerts and plays/operas. We have now been in 2 of the 3 coliseums in Italy. Guess we need to plan to see the 3rd!

The 2023 WOW List: 86 Top Local Fixers in Countries Worldwide

by Wendy Perrin | January 22, 2023

How to Get an Extraordinary Trip: Wendy’s WOW Approach

by Wendy Perrin | January 1, 2023

Wendy Wants To Amp Up Your Trip!

by | January 1, 2023

Where and When to Travel in This Unprecedentedly Busy Year

by Wendy Perrin | August 20, 2023

How to Get More For Your Miles and Points in 2023

by | January 31, 2023

10 Top Dream Trips for 2023

by Brook Wilkinson | February 1, 2023