Italy Trip Report: Roma, SML, Firenze, Milano

Italy Report

Just returned from a fantastic two week trip to Italy - Rome, Portofino/SML, Florence, Milan. Thanks to the wealth of information on WB, I was able to put together a solid itinerary of attractions and meals, and wanted to return the favor by adding a few of my own.

A little backstory before I get into the details - my wife has a gluten allergy, so our vacation meals always start first with understanding what options are available and what sacrifices, if any, would be required to dine at a particular restaurant. Fortunately, Italy seems way ahead of the US in terms of food allergen awareness, and nearly every restaurant we stepped into had some alternative for her (whether it be GF pasta or recipe modification). Also, we had our two kids (11 and 10) with us. Last, for anyone that may have been following along earlier, this trip was actually supposed to happen in the summer of 2022, but last summer is when the airlines were canceling flights left and right, and we had our first leg canceled the morning of our departure, which would have resulted in us missing 2-3 days of the trip, so we pulled the plug the morning of. So, while it was a huge gut punch at the time, it all worked out and I’m pleased to announce we were able to go this summer without a hitch. Here is a summary of everything we did, ate and stayed

Stop 1: Rome

Restaurants

  • Pizza in Trevi - Wife and I shared two GF pizzas - Amatriciana and La Bufalina. Both were exceptional and probably some of the best GF pizza we’ve ever eaten. Our daughter had the Fettucini with butter and truffle (she has good taste) and our son ordered a burger. Overally, a great spot for lunch that while right in the thick of the tourist attractions, was not overly busy nor egregiously priced.
  • Mama Eat - Acclaimed for being very GF friendly with a few locations throughout Italy. We have no recollection of what we ate, however, and somehow took no photos of any of the dishes (except our son, who ordered a steak). I recall ordering a few glasses of their house wine, but like the food, my brain seems to have not retained much else on the meal. I had originally wanted to try the Mama Eat Lab, supposedly a bit more upscale than this location, but it was a further drive and everyone was starving. Maybe next time we’ll try that instead
  • Zia Rosetta - After our tour of the Colosseum wrapped around noon, we walked over to Zia Rosetta for a casual lunch (very GF friendly). My son and I both had the Queen of My Castle sandwiches. Wife and daughter both had one of their daily special sandwiches. Great spot for a quick, drop-in lunch that was very tasty and reasonably priced.
  • Armando al Pantheon - This was a must-visit for me given all the praise for Armando on this and other sites I frequent. I was able to secure a reservation exactly 30 days prior to our date; I believe I could initially only snag 9pm, but after emailing the restaurant, they were able to get it moved up to 8pm. With my wife’s GF allergy, I was optimistic after reading some online reviews that they offer GF pasta options, however upon chatting with our server, he indicated that to not be the case. So I went with the Amatriciana, which was fantastic (afterwards, I did wish that I had instead opted for the Carbonara, however). My wife had one of their daily specials - braised oxtail, which she liked but said it didn’t blow her away. Kids had some kind of basic pasta with meat sauce. Wine was probably the highlight of this meal - Emidio Pepe Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. 2020 vintage for €58; a bit young, but couldn’t pass it up at this price. Overall, I enjoyed the meal, but felt as though it didn’t quite live up to the hype. Perhaps if we would have been able to try one or two more of their signature pasta dishes…

Attractions

  • Colosseum Tour w/Palatine Hill & Forum - Had originally booked a tour that included the Colosseum underground area, but a week in advance the tour company (book via Viator) canceled and tried to pawn us off onto another tour company. After some research, it seems this is fairly common as the underground tickets are quite difficult to secure so many of the companies pre-sell in hopes that they’ll be able to get tickets down the road. Quick pivot to LivTours, and couldn’t have been more pleased with the company and our guide. Very informative and kept it interesting for the kids during the ~3 hour tour. Would use them again
  • Vatican Museums - We booked an early morning breakfast at the bistro inside the Vatican, which granted us early access to the museums ahead of the massive crowd that was already gathering out front prior to 8am. Breakfast was American-style and actually quite good, although we were really there to skip the line. We power walked through the museums to keep pace ahead of the guided tour groups that were already inside, but took our time when we came to the Sistine Chapel, as I just wasn’t prepared for its beauty in person. Bucket list item checked

Hotel

  • Relais Donna Lucrezia - Cute, boutique hotel near the Trevi fountain (<10min walk); more like a B&B than a traditional hotel. Located inside a building that also contained commercial offices, the owner was very pleasant and ensured our stay was enjoyable. Breakfast was included every morning and quite delicious, and there were always snacks/cakes/coffee available throughout the day. Our room was spacious and made up with 2 twin beds for the kids plus a queen/king for the adults, with a small terrace with table and chairs that we used to drink morning coffee or afternoon glass of wine. Overall, we really enjoyed our short stay and I see why it’s rated so highly on the hotel sites, although if you’re used to more of a full-service hotel experience, there might be other options for you.

Other

  • It was near impossible to get a taxi anywhere in the city. The first day we were told it was because there was a bike race that closed down many of the streets nearby, but the next two days was much the same. Tried calling cabs via the various Italian taxi apps, using Uber, waiting at taxi stands, all to mostly no avail. So we ended up walking more than the kids wanted, but for some of the restaurants/sites further away, this did add an extra layer of stress trying to coordinate transportation ahead of scheduled entry times.

Stop 2: Santa Margherita Ligure/Portofino

We took the Freccabianca from Roma Termini to Chiavari, and the connected on to Santa Margherita Ligure for some time on the water. Turns out, this might be our new favorite place on earth and we are already planning to return in a few years.

Restaurants

  • Ristorante Pizzeria Kicks - we loved the pizza here so much, we ended up eating dinner there twice. All pizzas can be made GF. First night, my wife and I shared an octopus and potato appetizer, along with the GF Paraggi pizza (stracchino, pesto, ham); kids shared a margherita pizza. For wine, we went with a local white, 2021 Aimone Giobatta Vio Pigato Ma René (€26). No formal notes, but I recall it was crisp and refreshing after a long day of traveling in the heat. When we returned two nights later, wife and I shared the Burrata and Nduja GF pizza (€14), kids likely had the margh again. This time, we went with a local red, 2015 Tenuta Anfosso Rossese di Dolceacqua Luvaira (€28) - first time (I think) trying the Rossese varietal, and both of us found it the perfect pairing with the red pizza that had a slight bite from the sausage
  • Angolo48 - Night two in SML we dined at Angolo48. Located in a charming piazza a couple blocks from the sea, the food was really high quality and the service top notch. Started with beef tartare, I had the baked seabream (Ligurian style) for my main and my wife had eggplant parmesan (GF). Don’t recall what our daughter ate, but our son ordered pork ribs, which I found interesting that it was on the menu - he said they were the best ribs he’s ever eaten. Wine was a local Ligurian Vermentino, 2020 Cantine Lunae Bosoni Vermentino Colli di Luni (don’t recall exact price but around €30); again no formal notes, but I recall it paired quite well with my fish (which was fantastic), After dinner, we wandered into a gelateria right next to the restaurant which also offered GF crepes and waffles, so we were all glad we’d saved room for dessert (my wife especially)
  • Da I Gemelli (al molo location) - Visited Da I Gemelli for lunch while exploring Portofino (took the ferry over from SML, about 20min). After hiking up to Castello Brown, we were starving and luckily we were able to get a table right on the water. Being in Portofino, we knew the prices were going to be higher than SML, but I found the quality to be right on par with the menu prices. For lunch, I had the fish special - salt baked sea bream with potatoes and tomatoes…it was phenomenal. My wife had Gemini Risotto (with sole fillets), son is a 10yr old octopus lover so he had to get the octopus and potatoes, and our daughter had a pasta with red sauce. No wine for lunch (Portofino prices hit hard on the wine menu), but I did enjoy a great Aperol Spritz and my wife had a St. Germain spritz. Really a great spot for lunch, and next time I’d love to try it for a waterside dinner

Hotel

  • Grand Hotel Miramare - 5 stars all around! We had a sea-view suite with a terrace and separate living room from bedroom (kids shared the sofa pullout). Bottle of Ligurian bubbly and sweets in our room when we arrived. Breakfast buffet was top notch and always had a good rotating selection of GF donuts/croissants for my wife. Service was spectacular, both inside the property as well as the private beach club and pool area. About a 10min walk to the main shopping/dining district, along with the marina where you can catch the ferry to Portofino or Rapallo. 5 stars all around, can’t wait to return

Stop 3: Florence

We opted for van transfer from the coast to Firenze, as the train schedule was suboptimal and required several transfers with very little time between trains. We booked with Blacklane and the driver arrived early in a clean Mercedes van for the ~2 hour drive. Would highly recommend Blacklane all over the globe.

Restaurants:

  • Ciro and Sons - ate here for dinner on our first night in Florence. Another place certified by the Celiac association and everything on the menu can be made GF. We sat outside under a covered area despite the light drizzle. Food and service both outstanding. I had the filet with arugula and parmesan which came out in a covered dome filled with smoke. Might have been one of my favorite dishes on the entire trip. My wife had the GF carbonara, our daughter had the gnocchi and our son had traditional spaghetti with meat sauce. Wine was a supertuscan produced by the family of the restaurant owners. Didn’t blow me away, but still a great value at around €25. Great spot - highly recommend
  • Parione - this was one I was really looking forward to based on recommendations from others on this board - and it did not disappoint. The night before our reservation, we were talking to the maitre d at our hotel and mentioned Parione the next day. He highly suggested we request a table in the basement wine cellar, so we passed the request along to the concierge and we were pleased to be seated down there when we arrived. For starters, we had the eggplant and zucchini carpaccio - interesting dish I’d never seen before and despite not being a fan of zucchini, I really enjoyed the dish. Our daughter, not a big steak fan, ordered penne pasta for dinner, while the rest of us shared a GF penne with black truffle (usually a gnocchi dish but they use flour in their gnocchi so substituted with penne) and of course, the bistecca with crispy potatoes and white beans. The steak was perfectly prepared to my liking, but wife and son prefer something more well-done, so they ate the outer edges and left me with the red center. It was delicious, but SO MUCH food - we left probably 1/3rd of it behind. Parione has a deep wine cellar with generally fair prices - we went with 2018 Poggio Landi Brunello di Montalcino which was recommended by the somm and paired perfectly well with the steak (recall it to be around €90 so perhaps a 2x markup from retail). Overall, a very memorable dinner and certainly a restaurant we’d look to visit again next time in Florence.
  • Ristorante Lorenzo de’ Medici - like Ciro and Sons mentioned earlier (GF friendly, with generally everything that can be made GF), but not nearly as good. No formal notes, but our least favorite meal in all of Italy.
  • Belcore - this place was a GEM. We had originally made reservations elsewhere but after the letdown that was Lorenzo the night before, we called an audible and found Belcore on The Fork (think Yelp meets Opentable - very commonly used by restaurants in Italy). We read the very high marks and booked a table for 8pm, which automatically came with a 20% discount by booking via the app. WOW - this place really over delivered on all fronts. Service - 10/10 (I’m certain the proprietor is the main server and he was great). Food - 10/10. We started with beef tartare w/quail egg as well as a plate of assorted cheeses. For mains, my wife had cuttlefish ink risotto with shrimp (one of the best dishes on the entire trip) and I had the sea bream which was baked in paper with veggies, also delicious. We had plenty of wine and champagne before dinner (see St. Regis champagne sabering) so we went with BTG options (I had two glasses of red, wife had a single glass of white; no idea what either were but happy with what the owner poured for us). Overall, an outstanding meal that came to €135 all-in after the Fork discount. May have been one of the best QPR meals of my life. If you’re in Florence, this is a must-visit IMHO
  • Foody Farm - we wandered in here for lunch on a walk back to our hotel after some morning shopping. Located right along the Arno, it hit the spot for a light, healthy lunch that offered something a bit different than what we’d been eating for nearly two weeks. I recall eating a mezze platter and kids had burgers. Cool, casual spot
  • Il Palagio - 1 Michelin star dinner on our final night in Florence. We picked Il Palagio due to it being inside the Four Seasons and we figured hotel restaurants might be more accommodating to smaller children than standalone Michelin restaurants - they even had a kids menu! Here is the rundown - appetizers: “Steamed & marinated aubergine, Maremma pecorino cheese, laurel and spicy tomato ice cream” AND “Grilled lobster glazed with hazelnuts, fish and crustaceans emulsion, apple and raspberry”. Primi: “baby spinach risotto, ‘Puffarello’ De Magi blue cheese, capers and lime”. Secondi: their signature meat dish is a Beef Wellington, which cannot be made GF, so the chef prepared us each a filet with the same Wellington sauce (Tuscan cured ham, seasonal truffle and Vin Santo sauce) without the breading. Kids split a cheese pizza, our son had a steak, and our daughter had some penne pasta. First of all, we ordered way too much food. Between the dishes we ordered, amuse bouche (I think there were 2), bread service, we were both unable to finish our steaks. But everything was divine, with my favorite being the lobster appetizer and the spinach risotto. For wine, I had my eye on another Emidio Pepe (this time a white), but the somm steered me to a Trebbiano that we both loved - 2018 Valle Reale Trebbiano d’Abruzzo Vigna Del Convento Di Capestrano. I think the price was around €140, which was less than the budget I discussed with him initially, but we were both pleased with the wine and are going to seek some out back in the US. Last, they bring out a dessert cart at the very end of the meal and you can select 1 or more of these “mini” desserts which they place on a small checkerboard plate - great presentation. My wife and I, both completely stuffed, had just one each while the kids each grabbed a few. For our kids’ first Michelin experience, we were really happy with the service, attention to detail, food quality, and children’s accommodations. Next time we’re in Florence, we will be back

Hotel

  • St. Regis Florence - this was a bucket list hotel for me, but sadly, it didn’t live up to the hype I was expecting. Don’t get me wrong, the building is beautiful - it’s a 1400’s-era palazzo converted into a hotel right along the Arno. However, the service, for one of the crown jewels in the Marriott portfolio, was very spotty during our 5 night stay. My SNA request for one of the rooms (we needed two since max occupancy is 3 persons/room) was denied the day before arrival. I inquired at check-in and was told the hotel was completely sold out, which may have been the case, although it certainly didn’t feel busy. The rooms were spacious for European standards, and the morning butler coffee service was a nice touch, especially since there were not espresso machines in the rooms. The adults’ room must have backed to a main pipe in the water stack, as we could hear running water from above anytime someone flushed or ran the shower. It was quite annoying, especially in the middle of the night. Some parts of the service shined - Eduardo (may have been the maitre d) in the lounge was awesome. He brought the kids Italian Fanta every evening when we stopped by for the nightly champagne sabering ritual. My son and I both got to do the sabering honors on back-to-back nights (he did better than me). Morning breakfast service had a nice spread of European staples (fruit, cheese, pastries, as well as a made-to-order omelet station. On our last morning, just before checking out of the hotel, the server that day asked my wife if she wanted GF French toast. She of course said yes, but wished the same would have been offered the previous mornings. This server (her name escapes me), also gave my wife a to-go box filled with GF croissants for the journey ahead that day - another nice touch but also another example of how some of the staff went above and beyond while others seemed rather indifferent. Overall, we enjoyed the stay, but given the reputation and price point, the hotel seemed to fall a bit short of what I was expecting. Next time, I’ll likely try the Westin across the palazzo or the Four Seasons

Other

  • Chianti Wine Tasting and Truffle Hunt - We booked the “Truffle and Snuffle” tour with Under the Tuscan Sun Tours and loved every minute of it. Our driver picked us up at our hotel and first stop was about 1.25 hours away at Corbucci Winery in San Gimignano. We were greeted by Francesco, the proprietor, who walked us through probably 10 different wines from his portfolio, all while we enjoyed a delicious homemade pasta lunch (yes, they even had GF for my wife). Our favorites were an ‘orange’ Trebbiano and a few of his red supertuscans and chiantis. We ended up ordering a mixed case plus some olive oil and spirits; ordering was simple and all of the prices were all-in, landed to our door in the US. They even offered to hold the wines until the fall to avoid the long global trek in the dead of summer. After lunch and wine tasting, our driver then took us about 90 minutes in the direction of Pisa to Trattoria Santa Lucia, a property with a hotel, winery, restaurant, farm, and most importantly, vast wooded acreage. Here we met with the owner and a truffle hunting expert (and his dog, Mika), where we walked through the forest following the dog as she hunted for truffles. During the ~1 hour walk, Mika unearthed 4-5 decent sized black truffles. After the truffle hunt, we went back to the main property where the owner, Cossimo, treated us to two bottles of wine and a massive cheese/meat spread. We ate and drank outside on the covered patio for about 45 min, and then our driver took us back to the hotel. Overall, it was such a fun day (about 6-7 hours in total), and well worth the cost (about $450 for my wife and I, plus another $100 for each kid).

Stop 4: Milan

This was a positioning stop for us, as we were leaving back for the US on an Emirates flight out of MXP→JFK. Aside from walking around the shopping area near the Duomo, we didn’t get a chance to see much of the city in our ~24 hours. It definitely seems like a fun city and likely one we’ll explore further (perhaps with a mix of Lake Como, etc) on a future trip.

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great report!
sounds to me like the miramare would have been enough for me :wink:

We really liked Foody Farm but it was quite a while ago and since had a bunch of poor reviews so I didn’t recommend it.

Glad it worked out!

Great report

Santa Margherita Ligure is so wonderful. We stayed up the hill in San Lorenzo della Costa for a few days last summer and enjoyed the hell out of ourselves.

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Great to hear about your trip David and that Da Gemili was a hit. Terrific write up, thanks for sharing.

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Great report! I really liked that you sprinkled in some pricing info. It would be nice if all trip reports did that, as price is a consideration for most of us.

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I love Blacklane. I always use them when traveling overseas for their reliability.

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