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Thursday, August 22, 2019

The VIP tour of the Vatican.

View from hotel terrace in Capri.

The author, Rachelle Stepner of Five Star Italy, with her husband Saul, at the beautiful Piazza Navonna in Rome.

Trevi Fountain in Rome at night.

For me, visiting Italy for the first time was falling in love at first sight. My first trip was many years ago to Capri and the Amalfi Coast. I chose that region because the scenery is considered to be some of the most breathtaking in the world and, no doubt, it is. Being there was like living in a dream. The mountains, the sea, the flowers, the colored houses—everything is in technicolor. I couldn’t imagine a more beautiful place on earth. We stayed at a hotel that was literally built into a cliff and was suspended over the sea. I never wanted to leave and I only wanted to return. On my next trip to Italy, I “forced myself” to try something new. We visited Rome and Florence and I quickly learned that each region casts its own magical spell on you and has something different to offer. That is why Italy became my repeat vacation destination. The more I read, researched and learned about it, the more I wanted to go and explore new places. So, each time I returned to Italy, I would visit a new region while returning to some of my favorites.

Over the years, I have gotten numerous phone calls from people seeking advice while planning their own Italian vacation. Word got around that I was the unofficial “Italy expert,” as anyone who knew me knew how passionate I was for all things Italy. I was happily doling out advice to anyone who called or wanted to meet with me to help plan their trip. As I tell everyone, I can talk about Italy 24/7.

It’s because I had so many people calling me for advice on their vacations that it naturally led me to developing the idea for Five Star Italy. I thought why not take my passion and turn it into a business? Not only did I feel such a sense of satisfaction when people took my advice in planning their trip, but I was truly thrilled to see people fall in love with Italy the way I did. The most satisfaction I’ve had is when I gave advice to several people regarding which particular regions to visit on their first trip. People don’t usually have enough time to hit all the major regions so it becomes a big dilemma as to which ones to choose. I’ve helped people think it through and gave my advice based on what they were looking for (culture, relaxation, both etc.).

The concept of Five Star Italy is to deliver a service that I, myself, would want and expect when planning a trip. Five Star Italy is your personal Italy travel concierge and planner who can arrange and organize every aspect of your trip (other than plane tickets). I provide completely personalized and customized itineraries, drawing on my firsthand experience of having visited Italy numerous times and having researched—and continue to research—extensively, so that I am always looking for the best of the best. If you researched and planned your own trip to Italy, chances are high that you would have a wonderful, amazing time. However, what Five Star Italy strives to do—in addition to offering the convenience of doing all the researching and booking—is to create an experience for you that exceeds your expectations. Since I am able to draw upon so many first hand experiences and so much research, I am able to offer my clients tips, advice and experiences that you can’t find from a guide book or from Google. I refer to myself as an “Italian travel concierge” because a concierge tends to the client’s every request and strives to give them a personal experience. Nowadays, it’s very easy for anyone to book travel online. However, for a trip to be truly exceptional, it’s all about the details. It’s knowing what to expect every step of the way. It’s knowing how to fully maximize your time. It’s knowing when to go where and for how long. Those are details I can provide for my clients because I have personally experienced it and because I am passionate that every detail of a trip should be tended to. It’s very time-consuming researching tours, tour guides, drivers, hotels, itineraries, day trips etc. In short, planning the “perfect” vacation can be stressful. That defeats the purpose of a vacation. The months or weeks leading up to your dream trip should be filled with excited anticipation. It is almost as if your trip is not limited to just the time you have booked to be away but also includes the time leading up to it because it is something you are greatly looking forward to. So, the planning process should be fun and stress-free. Five Star Italy is there to do just that—provide you with all the information so all you have to do is choose. Should we take a boat tour along the Amalfi Coast or a driving tour? Or both? Should we do a day trip from Florence to an authentic kosher vineyard in Tuscany or do a private VIP, skip-the-line tour to see the David? It’s like being presented with a menu of dishes prepared by a Michelin-starred chef and all you have to do is decide what you’re in the mood to eat.

There are so many places to visit in Italy, each one so different from the other, that you can keep going back, visiting new regions and have a completely different and new experience each time. It has the cities—Rome, Florence and Milan—each with its own unique architecture, ancient sites, museums etc., and then there is Tuscany with it’s medieval towns and painting-like landscape. There is the Italian coast, which is known to have some of the most breathtaking scenery on earth. And, of course, there is Venice, which is a sight that everyone should see at least once in their lifetime.

Italy is also unique in that just about all of its popular tourist destinations have kosher restaurants. That is why it is a go-to vacation choice for the Jewish population. There aren’t many countries in the world where you can travel from city to city, region to region and be able to dine in authentic, gourmet restaurants that are strictly kosher.

Italy is one of the most popular vacation destinations because the combination of beautiful scenery, culture, food and shopping is irresistible. Other destinations may have the beauty and culture but not the cuisine. Or, they may have the food but not the shopping. And, on top of all that, Italy is also home to many of the most top-rated hotels in all of Europe. So, in short, it has everything you need to create a dream vacation.

The name Five Star Italy comes from my belief that all service you receive—from drivers, tour guides and, of course, hotels—should be five star. Five Star Italy strives to provide nothing less than a five-star experience in the planning of a client’s vacation because every moment you spend on vacation should be a memorable one. I understand that each trip you take should be the trip of a lifetime.

By Rachelle Stepner


Rachelle Stepner of Five Star Italy, an Italy Travel Concierge company, can be reached at [email protected] and on Facebook @fivestaritaly. Stepner is a Teaneck resident.