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Italy's cocktail of delights! Author Wendy Holden takes a Grand Tour by train to Venice for punchy negronis and heads on to Rome for its museums
'A thing of beauty is a joy for ever.’ The poet Keats could have been talking about a really good Negroni.
We were in Rome, where the poet’s life ended, and about to walk into the bar of a leading, long-established hotel. How would the Inghilterra score on the Negroni-ometer?
Rome was our third stop on a Grand Tour by train. We Eurostarred from London to Paris where, having shoved our rucksacks in Gare de Lyon’s handy left luggage office, we spent a day wandering and lunching before getting the overnight sleeper to Venice.
Ancient wonders: The magnificent ruins of the Roman Forum
To emerge in the morning from Santa Lucia station on to the Grand Canal is one of the world’s great experiences. Like stepping into a widescreen film, all colour, bustle, and glorious light.
Under a bright November sun, the air was fresh but not freezing. There were people around but nowhere near as many as in high summer.
We walked around the Accademia art gallery and barely saw another living soul trying to work out what Hieronymous Bosch was on about in the wonderful collection of his works on show.
Having visited Venice many times, now I like to wander round, stopping occasionally for a nibble or a snifter.
The Grand Canal in Venice makes for a picture perfect photo, with colourful buildings lining the water
Grand entrance: The view from the Santa Lucia train station in Venice on to the Grand Canal
Which is how, one evening, I found myself sitting in a bar opposite the Santa Maria dei Frari, watching a hipster barman, arm high in the air, pour the ingredients for my Negroni into a chunky cut-glass tumbler containing just one huge round ice cube.
For those unacquainted with this particular libation, a Negroni contains equal parts gin, (red) vermouth and Campari.
It was invented in Florence in 1919 when Count Negroni asked for a slug of gin in his Americano in place of the usual soda.
Negronis are now a fixture in all hip cocktail bars but not every hip cocktail barman has quite cracked the art of making one. Not even in the drink’s native land.
From the perfection of the Frari version, the next night, in the bar of Venice’s illustrious Teatro delle Fenice, mine was so heavy on the gin that the second act of the opera was almost impossible to follow.
And for those still with me from the first paragraph, it is my sad duty to report that the Inghilterra’s effort was weak in the extreme.
Cheers: The legendary negroni was invented in Florence in 1919 when Count Negroni asked for a slug of gin in his Americano in place of the usual soda
A fresco in Rome's National Museum is just one of the treasures on display
Getting to Rome by train was much less of a disappointment.
The fast new Freccia Rossa service travels down through Padua, Florence and Bologna before drawing into the cradle of civilisation and seat of the Caesars.
After the sybaritism of Venice – sublime beauty at every turn – visiting Rome can seem more of a job of work.
But few other jobs are quite so much worth doing. The Keats-Shelley House is a favourite, with an ever-growing collection of great Romantic memorabilia.
The Capitoline Museums, with their sublime view over the Forum, are unmissable. But there’s always something new – or rather, old – to discover.
Rome's Spanish Steps are a top tourist spot
This time it was the Ara Pacis, Augustus’s ‘Peace Arch’ and Imperial propaganda in marble.
Here’s a tip for those travelling by train from Rome’s central Termini station to the city’s Fumicino airport.
As two of the city’s greatest museums – the Palazzo Massimo and the Baths of Diocletian – face the station, it’s worth getting a late flight.
You can then park your luggage in the museum lockers and spend the day reading the amazing curses in the witch’s well and admiring Empress Livia’s famous Garden Room frescoes. Intoxication of a different sort, perhaps.
Wendy Holden’s Last Of The Summer Moet is published by Head of Zeus, priced £18.99.
Eurostar (eurostar.com) return fares to Paris start from £58.
For onward rail travel to Italy, visit loco2.com.
The Gritti Palace, Venice, has rooms from €470 (£415) per night. Visit thegrittipalace.com.
Hotel d’Inghilterra, has rooms from €270 per night including breakfast. Visit slh.com/hoteldinghilterra.
Great Rail Journeys (greatrail.com) offers a range of rail holidays to France and Italy.
Belmond (belmond.com) offers an overnight journey aboard the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express from London to Venice from £2,129.