Having recently traveled to Italy with Insight Vacations Luxury Gold, Aaron Drake is the first in a series of five travel writers to talk about his experiences. Based in St. Petersburg, Florida, Aaron is a global correspondent for ManAboutWorld, a leading online travel magazine for the gay community, as well as a contributor to several other travel magazines. Here, the alumnus of The Ohio State University and former editor of Gaycation and Frontiers magazines, talks about his impressions of Italy on the Ultimate Italy journey.

Aaron Drake

Aaron Drake, Venice © Gabriel Blanco Photography

Which city did you most enjoy on the Ultimate Italy trip and why?

“Venice was my favorite city. It was the last stop on the tour and there was something incredible about trading in our luxury coach for a water taxi that delivered us right to the doorstep of our hotel, Hotel L’Bauer. Such a beautiful, romantic city with a deep history – the majestic palazzos lining the canals, the live music bursting from the gondolas, the stunning St. Mark’s Basilica and 400 bridges that span the city. It was unlike any other place I have ever been.”

Was there the opportunity to experience LGBT culture in any of the places you visited?

“I didn’t experience LGBT culture specifically on this trip as I didn’t venture off the itinerary. There was so much to see and do that I don’t recommend skipping any of it. Insight tour directors and guides are experts in the areas visited, so you can count on having a fabulous experience and they can of course answer your questions about local LGBT culture. I couldn’t imagine feeling more comfortable or more welcome on a tour.”

Aaron Drake

David by Michelangelo © alxpin/iStock

Which of the hotels would you recommend for Man About World and why?

“Villa la Maschere in Tuscany was the most unique stay on the trip. A recently restored Tuscan villa that dates back to the 16th century, it’s the perfect combination of history and luxury. The five-year renovation stayed true to the original as much as possible, restoring many of the property’s original stuccos, frescos, statues and Venetian floors. And a leisurely walk around the hotel grounds soaking up views of the Tuscan countryside is just what you need to turn off the everyday noise and reconnect with yourself.”

What were your expectations of the trip and did your experiences live up to them?

“I’m not usually someone who loves to travel in large groups, but Insight was not at all what I expected from a group travel experience. Insight Vacations had more to offer than I could have arranged on my own as a solo traveler: luxury, class, local perspective and even impossible-to-arrange-on-your-own activities like getting to see the Sistine Chapel before the Vatican was open to the public. Even the “bus” ride was quite a bit different to what I had expected; the luxury motor coach that we traveled on across Italy was more akin to traveling on a train – comfortable seats, onboard Wi-Fi, charging stations and panoramic windows. The tour surpassed my expectations.”

Aaron Drake

Pienza Toscana © JanMiko/iStock

How did you find the Italian cuisine? Was there a particular restaurant that stood out for you?

“The cuisine did not disappoint. I did not eat a single thing during the entire trip that I wouldn’t journey the few thousand miles back to Italy to try again! The master cooking class in Tuscany at Villa Dianella was the most memorable meal on the trip, one the entire group worked together to make that was such a fun experience and brought us all closer together, and then ate together afterwards. When the cuisine becomes the experience, it doesn’t get better than that.”

If you could repeat one activity from your trip, which would you choose?

“Hands down, wine tasting in Tuscany. It was a bucket list item that was exactly what you would imagine. The wine and food was delectable, and I even had a moment during lunch and wine tasting at Ristorante le Maschere Enoteca looking out over the Tuscan countryside, where I remember thinking, I hope I can remember everything about this moment. The flavors, the scenery, the air, the sunlight — it was truly an inspirational travel moment.”

Aaron Drake

Venice flooded © Valentinrussanov/iStock

If tasked with creating the perfect one-day LGBT itinerary in one of the cities you visited, which places would it contain?

“The perfect one-day LGBT itinerary in Italy would consist of what I had the chance to experience in Rome: seeing the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the morning, a walk by the Trevi fountain, Spanish steps, the Coliseum and Pantheon in the afternoon. Cap the evening off with a dinner of pizza and champagne where you’re serenaded by two divine opera singers and a night out on the town experiencing the gay nightlife. It’s a lot to do in one day, but it would rank at the top of the list for perfect travel days.”

If Aaron’s account of Italy has you intrigued, take a look at the Luxury Gold Ultimate Italy itinerary.