Access to Italy: Experiencing the Country in a New Way

The Vatican can be seen across the Tiber River from central Rome.

Steeped in ancient history, bursting with beautiful scenery, and home to some of the world’s most celebrated food and wine, Italy is a perennial favorite destination for travelers. Whether it’s their first or fifth time in Italy, bespoke Virtuoso outfitter Access Italy ensures its guests see the country in a way few other travelers can. We got a taste of the company’s offerings with a customized itinerary that we won’t soon forget.

Day 1: Rome

Upon arriving in Rome, we were greeted at the airport and whisked to Hotel Eden, a Dorchester Collection hotel overlooking the city from Via Ludovisi, just a few minutes’ walk from the Spanish Steps. Nice Touch: A bottle of chilled wine and a beautiful assortment of cheeses, chocolates, fresh fruit and other bites were waiting when we arrived in our spacious suite.

At Hotel Eden’s rooftop Il Giardino restaurant and bar, guests can savor classic Italian cuisine while taking in panoramic views of Rome. 

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Feeling refreshed, we made our way to the hotel’s Il Giardino bar and restaurant, where we were welcomed by Access Italy’s CEO Simone Amorico ([email protected]), and his brother, Marco ([email protected]), the company’s president. Local Connection: Our first surprise came that evening when Hotel Eden’s artist-in-residence, Andrea Ferolla, joined us for a few pre-dinner drinks. Ferolla treated us to a private viewing of his works as we sipped and snacked. 

Day 2: Rome 

Fortified by a creamy cappuccino from Hotel Eden’s elegant La Libreria lounge, we were greeted in the hotel’s lobby by our private guide and driver and delivered to the Piazza della Rotonda for an early-morning visit to the Pantheon. Wow-worthy Moment: Not only did we enjoy a private tour of the Pantheon’s sanctuary before it opened for the day, but we entered the building through a restricted door that led to an off-limits chapel. As we exited roughly 30 minutes later, a line of eager visitors snaked from the Pantheon’s entrance out onto the piazza.

Following our Pantheon visit, we met up with a local, professional photographer for a walk through the surrounding streets. As we strolled, he showed us how to expertly capture every long shadow, carved column and sunlit street with our DSLR. Confident in our new photography skills, we followed our guide to Sant Eustachio il Caffe for an espresso and a flaky sfogliatella pastry (translation: lobster tail), enjoying both while standing at the counter, just as the Romans do. Movie buffs will recognize the cafe from the film adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert’s best-selling novel Eat, Pray, Love, but its appeal transcends its Tinseltown ties; several locals confirmed that it serves one of the best espressos in the Eternal City.

Hotel Eden’s 2,174-square-foot Bellavista Penthouse Suite, which has a private lift and offers butler service.

In the evening, we recalled the day’s events over a seafood feast at Pierluigi, which opened in 1938 and is said to be the city’s first fish restaurant. Luxe Touch: Before dining, we were treated to a private wine tasting in the restaurant’s cellar, which is stocked with more than 1,500 labels. Let Access Italy’s reservations manager, Maria Scotto D’Apollonia ([email protected] or [email protected]; 011-18-884-995-513), know if you’re an oenophile because, in addition to wine tastings like ours, she can arrange a visit to Rome’s sleek, new eight-suite Hotel De’ Ricci, which was designed with wine aficionados in mind. Each of its eight suites features its own wine refrigerator, its wine cellar is stocked with some extraordinary, rare and special bottles, and many of its staffers are also sommeliers.  

The Coliseum, the largest amphitheater built during the Roman Empire, is one of the top tourist attractions in Rome.

Day 3: Rome and Tuscany

Our final morning in Rome began with a visit to the Vatican, where thousands of visitors queued in the February chill to enter St. Peter’s Basilica. VIP Moment: We skipped the winding lines, entered the Vatican’s campus through gates reserved for staff and other privileged people, and passed silently through the sacred Scavi, or Vatican Necropolis. Discovered in the 1940s, the Scavi lies beneath St. Peter’s Basilica and is home to the tomb of St. Peter, one of Jesus’s 12 Apostles. Note that, while you won’t be able to linger very long in the Scavi (in fact, you might have to hurry through), the experience is powerful — and practically impossible for travelers to arrange on their own.

At Vatican’s mosaic studio, artists create mosaics of the Coliseum, St. Peter’s Basilica and other Italian icons that are sold to private collectors or gifted to dignitaries by Popes. 

Nice Touch: After our Scavi tour, we were showed inside the Vatican’s mosaic studio, which is located a few doors down from Pope Francis’ private apartment and is not open to the public. There, artists painstakingly create intricate mosaics of the Coliseum, St. Peter’s Basilica and other Italian icons that are sold to private collectors or gifted to dignitaries by Popes. We watched as the mosaic artists placed tiny, hand-cut tiles onto their canvases with tweezers — and very steady hands. 

Access Italy can also arrange after-hours visits to the Sistine Chapel, among other exclusive Vatican experiences.

Day 4: Tuscany

Ready to leave the urban buzz of Rome behind, we made our way to the Tuscan countryside, where we checked in to the newly and stylishly renovated Monteverdi Tuscany.

Monteverdi Tuscany is home to an art gallery, musical performance space, a spa and a cooking school.

The boutique hotel occupies several stone buildings within the medieval village of Castiglioncello del Trinoro, in Tuscany’s bucolic Val d’Orcia region, and is home to an art gallery, musical performance space, a spa and a cooking school. After checking in to our Luxury View Suite, we spent the remainder of our day enjoying an al fresco lunch and local wines on the terrace, soaking in the underground heated pool and relaxing with a massage at the Monteverdi Spa, and, in the evening, feasting on homemade Tuscan fare during a private dinner inside Monteverdi’s six-bedroom villa, Muri Antichi, prepared by chef Giancarla Bodoni. (Bodoni is also the instructor at Monteverdi’s Culinary Academy.)

Monteverdi’s six-bedroom villa, Muri Antichi, has a kitchen, a casual dining room and a living room, complimented by modern art and convenient gathering place.

Day 5 and 6: Tuscany

Tuscany is one of Italy’s most celebrated wine regions, and we visited two of its most special producers. An hour’s drive through rolling hills took us to Podere le Ripi, a biodynamic winery in Montalcino owned by Francesco Illy (of Illy coffee fame) and known for its coveted Brunello di Montalcino. Head winemaker and CEO Sebastian Nasello showed us around the winery’s vineyards and its Golden Cellar, the latter of which was conceptualized and constructed over the course of 12 years using only ancient building methods in order to create a harmonious place for the wines’ production and storage. What we loved: After our tour with Nasello, we were treated to an extensive private wine tasting, complete with a family-style lunch — and a surprise visit from Francesco Illy himself.

Monteverdi’s Culinary Academy has a teaching kitchen with individual 
modules for up to 12 students, as well as indoor and outdoor dining space. 

Day Two of our Tuscany leg took us to Tenuta di Trinoro, a winery in Sarteano — just minutes from Monteverdi Tuscany — that produces a very limited quantity of age-worthy reds from French grapes using Bordelais growing methods. Pinch-me Moment: Tenuta di Trinoro typically is not open to the public and doesn’t offer tours, which made our private vineyard tour, al fresco wine tasting and leisurely lunch in owner Andrea Franchetti’s villa all the more memorable.     

Monteverdi’s Luxury View Suites have wood-beamed ceiling and views of the Val d’Orcia.

Days 6 and 7: Florence

We spent the final days of our Italian sojourn in Florence, where we checked into the spectacular Four Seasons Hotel Firenze. Our jaw dropped at the sight of our suite’s soaring, vaulted ceilings, 17th-century frescoes, silk wallpaper and palatial bathroom whose centerpiece was a royal-worthy marble tub. (Rooms and suites are spread out between two buildings; we suggest staying in the hotel’s original, main building for a truly lavish Florentine experience.) Tip: The hotel is home to Florence’s largest private garden. We recommend taking a walk through to enjoy its fragrant blooms and dozens of sculptures, which is just what we did before heading to the hotel’s exquisite, Michelin-star restaurant, Il Palagio, for a multi-course dinner with wine pairings.

Four Seasons Hotel Firenzes Renaissance Suite (above) has a vast, art-filled bathroom whose centerpiece is the free-standing soaking tub.//Photo by Peter Vitale / Four Seasons

After skipping the line and enjoying a private, guided tour of the Galleria dell’Accademia, we zipped past a growing queue of visitors at the Cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore, otherwise known as the Duomo, and straight into its sanctuary. Next: The most thrilling experience of our entire Italian journey. From the sanctuary, we ascended a restricted, spiral staircase and emerged onto the Duomo’s roof — an area of the building that the public isn’t permitted to access. There, we savored jaw-dropping views of Florence as we made our way around the Duomo’s façade — treading carefully along narrow ledges and peering down at the swelling crowds below.

Our final evening, we wistfully recalled the week’s VIP experiences over dinner at La Bottega del Buon Caffé, the Michelin-star Florentine restaurant of the Relais & Chateaux Borgo Santo Pietro, a luxury hotel set on an organic farm in Tuscany. Chef Erez Ohayon’s seasonal “farm-to-plate” fare — artfully prepared and plated, and served in a comfortable, welcoming dining room — was a perfect reflection of our week spent experiencing Italy’s many wonders the way few travelers do.

The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, otherwise known as the Duomo, is one of the most visited sites in Florence.//Photo by Richard Waite / Four Seasons

Access Italy offers customized itineraries throughout the country based on travelers’ interests. Planning lead times vary by destination and duration of the desired itinerary, but Access Italy suggests reaching out around five months prior to arrival.

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