Grand Tour of Italy | EF Tours Review

For most of us, Italy is a bucket list trip. We envision the beautiful architecture, the fantastic food, the great wines, the beautiful and majestic countryside and the age old Roman antiquities. In 2016 my son and I ventured to Italy for the trip of a lifetime, once again with the EF Tours group organized through Wilmington College.

If you’re going to Italy for the first time, this trip will be action packed and hit most, if not all, of the highlights on your bucket list. We started our trip in Rome, spending a few days touring the city and it’s Roman history. From there we headed to Florence, then Pompeii, then a visit to the Amalfi Coast and Sorrento with a quick day trip to the beautiful island of Capri, then back to Rome for our flight home.

The trip was beyond our expectations! Our tour director was, once again, the beautiful and enthusiastic Georgia from our EF Tour of Greece the previous year. Our group loved her so much that our tour coordinator requested her again, and we were thrilled to see her when she greeted us at the airport in Rome. Georgia speaks 8 languages, and can conduct tours in many European countries, including Greece, her homeland, Italy, Turkey and more. We are now Facebook friends and it’s wonderful to see her photos of Greece in my feed as a reminder of the friendship we made across the ocean. Georgia made sure we were on time, prepared and yes, that we all had our passports and our luggage each time we changed hotels.

Our Tour Director Georgia

Rome, Italy

The Roman Colosseum at Night

As it is with all EF Tours, after a full night of flying to your destination you hit the ground and start touring. This time though, we were held up for several hours in the airport while we waited for another EF Tour group to arrive. This group was from Davis and Elkins College in West Virginia, a place my partner and I had visited several years ago on a weekend getaway to the mountains. Small World.

Once we had all safely arrived we boarded our bus for an immediate tour of the city. I’ll never forget my astonishment of the antiquities we passed, just driving through the city. Ahead you’ll see the famous Colosseum located in the heart of the city, with traffic buzzing by on daily commutes. On your left? That’s the wall, built in 900 AD, that surrounds the Vatican, then up ahead you’ll notice the aqueduct arches that brought water to Ancient Rome, with modern citizens biking and walking along paths underneath and lying on the green grass, perhaps enjoying lunch.

Nothing really prepares you for the history and the importance of this culture to our modern existence. That Colosseum looks like our sports stadiums today. Those arches, they are everywhere in our modern architecture. To say I enjoyed Rome is putting it mildly.

Our Itinerary in Rome Included:

  • Bus Tour of Rome with stops at many of the famous sites for photo taking
  • Walking tour of Rome
  • Visit to Piazza Navona, built in the first century AD, complete with the famous Bernini fountain and the Pantheon, a former Roman temple and still a working church.
  • Visit to the Trevi Fountain, where my son and I tossed in a coin with the hopes that we’d someday return
  • Stop at Circus Maximus for photos
  • Visit to the Vatican Museum, including the famous Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Square
  • Free time on our own, which we used to go back to St. Peter’s Square where the Pope was in residence and speaking to the crowds there.
  • Group dinner in Rome
  • Guided tour of the Roman Colosseum
  • Tour of the Roman Forum where Caesar was cremated.

Rome Tour Review

Lodging: Good!Our hotel in Rome was tucked behind some side streets and flanked with beautifully fragrant rosemary shrubs. The room was small but adequate and the bathroom was clean and functional. I remember having some trouble with my keycard but other than that no issues.

Food: Great!As with all tours, breakfasts are included and we usually have one included dinner as a group per city. Our dinner was several types of pizzas with locally sourced ingredients and simple toppings like pancetta, mushrooms and herbs. That meal was fantastic.

Excursions and Itinerary: Exceptional! We had adequate free time to explore as well as an itinerary packed with all the highlights of Rome.

Pace: Fast, but with plenty of time to explore on our own. My son and I took a taxi back to Piazza Navona on our own to explore and have dinner one evening as well.

Florence, Italy

After our whirlwind tour of Rome we boarded our bus and left for Florence, Italy. Florence is typically on everyone’s Italy list, and after visiting I can see why. It’s like stepping back in time to the middle ages, when the Medici family ruled the city and the Italian Renaissance was in full swing. I’m not sure I’ve ever been as captivated by a city as I was Florence. From the famous Statue of David by Michelangelo to the large and open public squares to the Uffizi Gallery to the leather gold jewelry shops straight from the 1500s lining the Ponte Vecchio, to the graves of Galileo, Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, and more in Santa Sroce, there’s plenty to explore and see.

Our Itinerary in Florence Included:

  • Guided walking tour of Florence.
  • Visit to the Uffizi Gallery
  • Visit to the Academia to see the Statue of David
  • Group dinner
  • Time on our own to explore

Florence Italy Tour Review

Lodging: Fair to Poor. I had the unfortunate experience of having a dead animal, probably a mouse, under my bed. When I reported it to the front desk they said “Madam that’s impossible, we check for that every month.” That, combined with the fact that it was not a non smoking hotel, made it impossible to sleep. Our tour director intervened and, thankfully, the dead mouse was removed by the following night, but the smoke continued. Our hotel was also located more than 35 blocks from the city, making it a long walk back to enjoy free time.

Food: Good! Our group dinner was simple but good, and the following night a group of us ventured back to Florence, walking the 35 blocks to the main square, for a true Italian dinner and wine.

Excursions and Itinerary: Great! We had plenty of time on our own to explore and excellent group activities such as museums and a guided tour. Unfortunately we could hardly understand our guide and it was raining so hard during our tour that she walked way ahead, making it difficult for us to keep up or hear her.

Pace: Moderate. Florence is a smaller city, making it easy to get around and see what you want to see and still enjoy the cafes and restaurants and shops.

Pisa, Italy

From Florence we headed for a day stop in Pisa to see the baptristy and the famous leaning tower. We enjoyed a guided tour of the baptristry and an hour or so on our own to explore and take photos before boarding our bus once again for our stop in Sorrento.

Amalfi Coast Tour Review

From Florence we boarded our bus again to head for a day stop in Pompeii, followed by a stay in Sorrento, a city along the Amalfi Coast of Italy overlooking the city of Naples. When checking into our hotel we were limited to our carry on only, as the trip to the front door included more than 200 steps down the cliffs. From both Pompeii and Sorrento you have great views of the majestic Mt. Vesuvius in the background that erupted in 79 AD, burying the entire city of Pompeii and preserving it almost in tact for us to discover centuries later and the beautiful island of Capri.

Our Itinerary on the Amalfi Coast Included

  • Guided Tour of the ruins of Pompeii
  • Walking tour of Sorrento
  • Group Dinner in Sorrento
  • Day cruise to the island of Capri

Amalfi Coast Tour Review

Lodging: Excellent. Our beautiful Italian hotel jutted from the rugged coastline and hugged the cliffs. I had a beautiful view of the water from my room.

Food: Breakfast was included as always but the rest of the meals were on our own. My son and I discovered a seafood restaurant right on the coast and enjoyed local fare and their famous Limoncello.

Excursions and Itinerary: Outstanding. From strolling the streets of the beautiful Sorrento to our day trip to Capri to our guided tour of the ruins of Pompeii, the sightseeing was breathtaking and overwhelming.

Pace: Fast, but we got to see so much that it didn’t matter.

From Sorrento we boarded a bus in Naples for the ride back to Rome, where we would spend one final day, and have one final dinner together, before boarding our flight home.

If you go with EF Tours to Italy

If you go, which I highly recommend, be prepared to do a lot of walking. The tour is fast paced and you’ll need good shoes to keep up. The trip covers an astonishing variety of sightseeing and trips to world heritage sites. It was beyond my expectations and I would go again if given the opportunity to see this beautiful country.

To see the rest of the photos of my trip visit my Google Photo Gallery, and follow me in Instagram on @offdutytraveler.

Cio and see you on the next trip!


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