Heart of Italy
My wife and I booked this tour with anticipation, we were picked up at 5am by taxi at our local pickup point and driven to the Stretton Interchange picking up another couple along the way. At the Stretton Interchange we boarded a feeder bus that took us to Stop 24 in Kent where we met our main tour bus, we then drove to Reims in France via a ferry crossing from Dover, here we met out two Drivers Mark and Lee, they then drove us in turns overnight to our destination.
We arrived approximately 2pm the next day travelling for around 33 hours in all. It is very hard going, the coach is comfortable if you are average size, but you do get plenty of stops en route, approximately every two and a half hours.
On arrival at the hotel you are allocated your room, your suitcase from picking up at first point (TAXI in our case) is taken care of by the drivers and was delivered to our room, a great touch in my eyes.
The room we had, 507, was spacious with its own ensuite. It was very clean with two single beds, wife not too happy about that, there was a small safe (broken), a fridge and extra blankets in the wardrobe. The shower over our bath had no curtain and the water blew hot and cold often to burning point, the toilet seat was loose, other than those issues the room was great.
In the main area of the hotel you had a small bar at one end, the barman was polite and very friendly, you buy your drinks on a tab paying your bill on the morning of your final day, drink prices are what you expect in a hotel.
The dining room breakfast room is down two flights of stairs, there are lifts to all floors. In the dining room you are allocated a seating spot which you use for all meals. We shared our table with a great couple and their grandson who we got to know well over the week, we had some great laughs a lot of which was over the food.
Your meals consist of a soup (no choice, it's what is on that day), most where good but often luke warm or cold on only one day out of six was it really hot. This is then followed by a pasta dish, again no choice and again often cold and in my opinion over cooked. The main meal was a choice of 3: a meat dish, a fish dish (with bones so be careful ) the third choice being an omlet as my wife is vegiterian she had very little choice, she also does not eat eggs. You get your main meal served almost everyday luke warm, the vegetables are brought out around 10 minutes later. I can't see why these can't be put out first as they come out in a portable hot plate unit and you serve yourself. There is also salad put out daily. The dessert is one choice. Two nights it was like a jelly based blamonge, another was creme caramel, another mixed fruit and the others that good I've already forgotten to a distant memory,. On the whole the food is around 4/10 yet a few simple changes could so easily change this. Breakfast on the other hand was very good: a great selection of cereals , boiled eggs, meats, youghurt, drinks and the waffle machine was well used by me!
Right, moving on to the tour, the main place you stay in is Chinciano. The hotel is on a hill and if you have problems with walking then take note! It is a spa town and has shops, bars and cafes, it was being prepared for the season whilst we were there. There is a noddy train that you can take that shows you the new town and old town. At 7 Euros this is very good value you can hop on and off at certain stops. The full trip is around 45 minute, there is also a local bus stop outside hotel. The town was very clean.
Now the excursions: 3 are included and I'll do those first. The first one is on Monday and is a half day, leaving around noon, this trip is to Siena, a medieval town with narrow streets. It is a lovely place and a great start for the week to come.
On the Tuesday it's an early rise as you have to leave hotel at 7.30am for a visit to Rome. Whilst in Rome there is an optional tour guide, if you haven't been to Rome before then you should do this tour, our guide was superb and very funny, We got to see almost everything you could in one day, this was a fantastic day out. The optional tour is £20 per person but money well spent in my eyes. The third trip is on the Friday to the city of Florence, again with an optional guided tour at £11. This again was very good, the usual guide was not available so we had a stand in, he was very good and had a real love and passion for his job, it's good when a guide makes good eye contact and draws you in, we had a wonderful day here at a very steady pace. It is very crowded in Florence and be very wary of pickpockets.
Optional tours are:
Wednesday: the Hidden Tuscany trip at only £15 per person is a great trip, we got to see some lovely places and fantastic scenery and views. We would both highly recommend this trip.
Thursday's trip was to Assisi and Lake Trasimeno. To me, this was the best day of our holiday,. I loved Assisi, it's an absolute gem. You really must do this optional tour, I promise you will not regret it! The views, the pretty streets and the churches are to die for, I really can't say any more. Why this is not in the main package I don't know, but at only £26 per person it's fantastic value, late afternoon we stopped by the lake for an hour to relax and watch the world go buy with a nice cold drink.
On all trips out either Mark or Lee drove, even on their days off the Driver came along. As for these two guys I must say they are an absolute credit to Shearings, they were polite, helpful and very knowledgeable, serving hot drinks the whole week, they are really exceptional and again a credit to the company.
On the Saturday you need to vacate your room by 10am but they don't rush you, you settle your bills and the you can have a few hours for your last look around before departing on journey home at 1pm.
To sum up, if you haven't been to any of the places it is well worth doing all the optional excursions and guided tours they are great value, the Assisi trip is a real must. As a tour, this is exceptional value for money. It has been well thought out and is executed to a great standard.
Down points are the travel, the meals (could so easily be improved) and if you have disabilities or find it hard to walk distances or up very steep hills then maybe this trip won't suit.
Positives, clean hotel, fantastic days out and superb drivers. On all parts of the journey we felt safe and secure at all times, and the guides were very good, again many thanks to Mark and Lee for making our trip so enjoyable and a thanks for the lovely people who joined us on our adventure, my end score would have to be 9/10 dropping one point for the meal issue. It was a superb trip, a note to Shearings we will be joining you again, if you are considering doing the Heart of Italy tour don't think twice in booking this trip, but do make sure you do the Assisi extra at least. This review is my personal experience and I have been honest in all views of this trip.