Having recently traveled to Italy with Insight Vacations Luxury Gold, Sandy Coughlin is the third in a series of guest writers to talk about her experiences. Featured by the likes of MSN, The Huffington Post, and FoodieCrush magazine, she’s also the face behind a fantastic blog on food, Reluctant Entertainer. Most at home talking about hosting parties, gardening, traveling, sharing hospitality and bringing people together, one of the secrets to her success is conjuring the sort of recipe that everybody wants to copy. Here, however, Sandy puts her cookbooks down and talks about her experiences on the Ultimate Italy trip.

Sandy Coughlin

Canals of Venice © DNY59/iStock

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

“I can’t name just one. The charms of Verona, Venice, and Burano were all delightful. I loved the water, the feel in the air, the shades of color, the history, the hotel and the food.”

From Tuscany’s vineyards to Veneto’s lagoons, there’s a lot of variation in Italy’s topography. Which part of the country did you find the most appealing?

“Tuscany. My soul expanded in its rolling hills.”

How would you characterize the cities you visited? Were some better for shopping, evening entertainment or dining, for instance?

“Rome was very romantic. I loved the shopping there and the history. Tuscany was incredibly peaceful. The villa in which we stayed was fantastic – quite the experience. The three days spent there truly felt like quintessential Italy.”

Sandy Coughlin

Vineyards © MarioGuti/iStock

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

“My expectations were high, since it was billed as a luxury, first class, five-star trip. Yet my expectations were more than met by the hospitality, the people, the hotels, the food, and the extra surprises that Insight Vacations threw in (opera singing was my favorite). It was organized incredibly well and was very classy.”

Italy has a strong artisanal culture, from leather goods to musical instruments. Did you see any artisanal crafts on your trip?

“I did indeed. I fell in love with many of the musical instruments. I was very impressed by the talent on display and the standard of music everywhere in Italy.”

Did you find food to be a big part of Italian culture? Did you discover a favorite regional dish during your travels?

“Well, every day I tried a new gelato flavor. I shared this on social media as #DailyGelato. But all the food was fantastic. The coffee and the wine were especially out of this world. Oh, and the pasta! The pasta!”

Sandy Coughlin

Italian gelato © tzahiV/iStock

Which hotel was your favorite to stay at and why?

“I really loved the hotel, Regina Baglioni, in Rome. Being able to walk to so many locations, attractions, shops, restaurants, coffee houses etc. was great. I loved all the amenities there too. I also loved the villa in Tuscany, Villa le Maschere, and the Venetian hotel, Bauer L’Hotel. It was amazing being right on the water with the noise of the boats bobbing up and down and tourists being serenaded.”

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

“Going on a gondola. We went at the perfect time; right at dusk, when it was so romantic and beautiful. I loved being serenaded on the water, the feel of the air with water lightly splashing the sides – I’ll remember it my whole life.”

Sandy Coughlin

Violin Maker working in Cremona, Italy © andrearoad/iStock

If you had to sum up in your time in Italy, what would you write?

“My trip to Italy was truly magical, a dream vacation with such a great ambience and so many surprises along the way that I never dreamed of experiencing. Insight Vacations prioritizes people with experiences, pairs delicious foods with wine, shares history with fantastic historians, and culture with dreams.”

If Sandy’s account of Italy has made you want to visit, take a look at the Luxury Gold Ultimate Italy itinerary.