We spend a lot of time in Italy. It is a country of joy and wonder at every turn whether you are marveling at the splendor of St. Peter’s or enjoying a pizza in Napoli. Italy is a special experience. However, if you are not careful, you will see the country without knowing it, and what you do see will be a shadow of its reality.

We have two advantages when we’re in Italy. The first is my wife’s family. They live in northern Italy; a sister in law in Rapallo in Liguria, a sister in law in Montevarchi in Tuscany and many brothers and sisters in the old Etruscan capital of Arezzo some 70 km south of Florence. That opens doors for us to wonderful experiences.

But the other advantage is one you can share with us: Giuliana Pinelli! She is a dear friend, like a daughter to us, living in Rome. She has a travel agency called Sense of Italy and she specializes in vacations and destination weddings in Italy. I don’t know how she does it, but she has found us accommodation and experiences that are amazing.

For instance, this past summer we were travelling with another couple and needed accommodation for four in Venice. Giuliana found us a two bedroom suite in one of the “palazzi” on the Grand Canal. Not just hotel rooms but a suite with two bedrooms, a huge living room, a dining room and kitchen and, across the front, 6 large windows that opened onto the Canal. And we were within sight of the Rialto Bridge!

This is the living room of our suite in which you can see the Grand Canal through the windows. This was truly amazing accommodation.

Two weeks later in Positano she put us into the Pensione Casa Guadagno. It was clean, the breakfasts were excellent and the people delightful. And the rooms were, again, a delight.

In Positano we had adjoining rooms with sliding glass doors onto a flower rimmed patio that over looked the Mediterannean.

Standing where we are in the above picture, later in the evening, we watched the moon come up over the sea and the lights of the Amalfi Coast. The air, even in late September, was warm and sweet, the lights in the homes built up the hillsides illuminated the hills and from restaurants above us music drifted down. It was absolutely enchanting.

The view from our patio at Pensione Casa Guardagno in late September 2012.

But last summer Giuliana really hit a home run: Villa Teresa in the Chianti Region of Tuscany. We stayed 5 days at this magnificent country Villa set on a hilltop surrounded by olive trees and the rolling hills of Tuscany.

Set on a hilltop in the Chianti Region of Tuscany the Villa Teresa commands a wonderful view of the rolling Tuscan country side. Behind the Villa and below it in the olive trees is a magnificent swimming pool set in secluded splendor.

This 19th century summer home of a Florentine nobleman has been modernized in every way from the ensuite plumbing to a modern stainless steel kitchen to a swimming pool to die for set amongst a grove of olive trees. 15 minutes by car to the finest wineries of Chianti, 40 minutes to Florence, by train 3 hours from Rome and 4 hours from Venice. An amazing base from which to explore. And of course, for us, near family in Montevarchi and Arezzo.

At the top of the Villa Teresa is a patio, visible at the top of the roof in the previous picture, from where the rolling hills of Tuscany stretch away in every direction.

And that was just this past summer. Giuliana is great! Whether you want to travel on a small budget or large, she can find what you are looking for. She can arrange a few inexpensive hotels or she can lay on a complete tour or wedding with limos and five star hotels. But tell her you want to see the real Italy. Tell her you want to experience the people, the language, the food, and she can create magic for you.