Browsing Category

Italy

4 unique places you MUST stay at on your Italian adventure

I had been dreaming about travelling to Italy ever since I watched The Lizzie McGuire Movie some 12 years ago. I mean who wouldn’t want to be a famous pop star in Rome with a handsome Italian driving you around on a cute mo-ped eating pizza topped with cheesy goodness? Well, in 2015, my dream of going to Italy came true, just minus the dramatic school trip, falling in love and singing in front of thousands of people at a pop concert, but I can reassure you, it was just as brilliant. If I could pin-point the highlight of the trip, it would have had to be the accommodation that we stayed in. My mum is the absolute queen of all things holiday planning so it’s fair to say that we had some of the funkiest places booked for our three-week adventure. So in recognition of my Mum’s brilliant skills, this post is dedicated to all of the wonderful places that we stayed in so you can make the very most of your Italian dream.

Note: We travelled as a family of 5 so these accommodation options are more suited to a family or large group.

Ocean View at Cinque Terre: Waking up to the sun shining through the windows is how I would choose to wake up every day, but to be able to open your eyes and see straight out over the Mediterranean Sea from the cosiness of your bed is something else. This is what we were treated to while staying in the coastal town of Cornigla; one of the five villages that make up the picturesque Cinque Terre. We spent four nights staying in this sweet little holiday cottage that was surrounded by nature’s goodness and very few tourists. The cottage was fully serviced, so we were able to head up to the village to buy some fresh produce and cook some Italian pasta for dinner (or breakfast), drink ridiculous amounts of Sauvignon Blanc, laugh over card games and watch the sun go to rest all from the comfort of our own balcony. It was the dream! Although we had difficulties with our Internet for the majority of the time, it was definitely a blessing in disguise. I spent a lot of my time here writing post-cards, sharing stories with my family and reconnecting back to nature. There are three bedrooms, one with a set of bunk beds so it’s ideal for a family of five. To read on about Cinque Terre, I’ve done up a blog post ‘Tips & Tricks: Cinque Terre’. Plan to spend 4-6 nights here.

A horse farm in the heart of the Tuscan Countryside: I am going to be straight up and say you’ve probably got no idea where on earth Rapolano Terme is and that’s totally fine, I had no clue either and I had to google the place to jog my memory #guilty! Rapolano Terme is a quaint commune in the Province of Siena, just a short 20 kilometres north of Florence. If you are looking for a complete escape to the Tuscan countryside, then this is the prime spot for you and the journey to get here will justify that. For three nights we stayed at Capannacce a Horse Farm run by Teo and her family. The two-storey, two-bedroom house accommodated for the five of us with a large sized living room, fully equipped kitchen and an outdoor seating area with quite possibly the greatest hammock for all those nanna naps. Teo was so lovely and did everything to make us feel right at home, we even got to have a big tour of the property, where we learnt about the history of the farm and got to meet the beautiful horses. There was even freshly baked goods for us when we arrived for the duration of our stay…the bread was to die for! The rural property oozes with charisma (and mosquitoes) and is definitely a one of a kind experience in the Tuscan countryside.  Plan to spend 2-3 nights here. 

Castle stay in Certaldo with Air BnB: I feel like there is a part of me that can officially say I have experienced royalty after staying in a castle whilst in Certaldo, but it wasn’t all of what one would expect. It definitely wasn’t a ‘royal’ experience but it sure was one for the books and hell yeah, I can now tick off staying in a castle and so can you! Certaldo is a very small, medieval hill-side town in the province of Florence and is accessible by car, foot, or funicular. Although there isn’t a huge list of things to do or see here, it is a great spot to stay to explore San Gimignano and go wine tasting. I will admit, it was pretty cool opening the gates and having everybody turn their heads to look at us driving through the castle entrance (and yes I did give them the royal wave once or twice, I know, rub it in why don’t you Sophie). There are quite a few restaurants and cafes on the one strip in Certaldo, but we noticed that there was a huge inflation on the price due to all of the tourists that come up for the day, so we utilised our traditional Italian kitchen and had breakfast, lunch and dinner atop our very own roof-top. My fondest memory of the whole trip was the night that we sat up on the castle roof-top at sunset with a deck of cards, fresh wood-fired pizza and the bottles of wine that we had carefully sourced from our wineries adventure earlier on in the day. Be careful not drink TOO much though, because there is a very steep ladder to get back down when you are finished. It ain’t easy, but it’s so worth it. If you are looking for comfort, this is not the place for you (there is no heating/cooling and there are plenty of mosquitoes around), but if you are after an experience, YOU NEED TO STAY HERE! Plan to spend 2 nights here.

Transport back in time at Volterra Monastery: I’m not a religious person but I do believe that it’s important to gain an understanding on relevant religions when experiencing a new destination, which is why I was so pumped to be staying in a Monastery. Chiostro Delle Monache is hidden a kilometre from the historical Etruscan walls of Volterra; a medieval town with an atmosphere so timeless that you’ll feel transported back to the 4th century. The monastery offers a Bed and Breakfast option – which we utilised being a larger group, as well as a more affordable dormitory style accommodation, catering for solo travellers. The B&B rooms have a private bathroom and range from doubles to quadruples. If you are travelling in Winter, then have no fear because they have central heating to keep you snug at night BUT if you are travelling in Summer then unfortunately brace yourself to be sharing a teenie tiny portable fan between the lot of you. I drew the short straw and got the bed furtherest away from the fan, and I’m telling you now, it was one sweaty night. But after all, you don’t stay in a monastery for the luxury, you stay in it for the experience and this sure was a mighty cool experience. Plan to spend 1-2 nights here. If you do plan on staying at any of these gorgeous and unique accommodation hotspots in Italy please feel free to share with me your stories and photos. I’d love to hear your thoughts! Also, if you would like to see more photos I would be more than happy to share – I just was uber silly and decided to take them on my phone instead of my high quality, beautiful camera. Damn Sophie, you silly silly girl! 

All the love in the world,

Soph xx

This blog has been verified by Rise: R10bcf7e89d04d5df87ad6fcdce072fad

 

 

 

Self-guided tour to Murano and Burano

If you so happily happen to have a few days in Venice, be sure to take a self-guided tour of the two most popular islands in the Venetian Lagoon; Murano and Burano. One thing that is extremely important however, is that no maps are involved. Get that? NO MAPS. NO GPS. Firstly, by wandering the cobbled streets unknown you are able to get a more localised feel to the village, drifting away from the tourists that swarm the canal side come Summer holidays. The photographs also tend to look a lot more beautiful when there are no selfie sticks photobombing your shot. If you are worried about getting lost, there is no need to be. Both islands are very small and there are multiple landmarks that you can familiarise yourself with to help make your way back to the ferry port. Without further to do, here is your one stop guide to the beautiful islands of Murano and Burano.

Transport

The cheapest and most economical way to get to the islands is via the ACTV ferry. There are multiple lines that loop the Venetian Lagoon and come very frequently, so no need to keep on an eye on the watch, unless it’s nearing night fall (there are still night time services, however these aren’t very frequent).

Services that run to Murano:

  • 4.1 and 4.2 – This service has a lot more stops than the ones suggested below, however because of this, there are a lot more ports that you can jump on at that may be suitable for you. The main stops are at Piazzale Roma bus station and Fundamente Nove. For more information: http://europeforvisitors.com/venice/articles/vaporetto_routes2_table.htm
  • 3 – ‘The Diretto Murano’ is the speediest option, being that it takes off from Piazzale Roma bus station and heads direct to the island of Murano, stopping at all five ports on the island.
  • 12- Departing from the Fundamente Nove, the service 12 runs direct to Murano, then goes on to Torcello, Mazzorbo, Burano, Treporti, and Punta Sabbioni.

Travel time to Murano from the time you leave the final port in Venice is approximately 25 minutes. Once again, this will vary slightly, depending on which service you decide to take.

Services that run to Burano:

  • 12- This is the most viable option to get to Burano. When in Venice, this leaves from Fundamente Nove and when in Murano, it leaves from Murano Faro.

Travel time from Fundamente Nove to Burano is approximately 45 minutes.

I would strongly advise that you purchase a one day travel pass for 20 euros. Even though this might seem pricey, it is the cheapest option available. The ticket lasts for 24 hours from the time you first validate it and can be used on all ACTV ferry and bus services throughout Venice and surrounding areas.

Murano: If what drew you to Murano was the history and exquisite talent behind glass making then there are many glass making workshops still running around the island. Workers wait by the ferry ports to guide travellers to openings and demonstrations that are free, so keep your eyes peeled and ears opened for them when you jump off the ferry. Or if you are like me, and came more for the beauty of the village, you will not be disappointed. Murano is made up of 7 small islands that are all connected by arched foot bridges, so it is best that you avoid rushes and head to the island and start venturing as early as possible. Be sure to look out for Campo Santo Stefano. This really jumped out for me, I mean, a massive starburst made completely out of Murano glass? It is absolutely remarkable! This spot makes for a really cool photo opportunity as the  clock tower from the 18th century stands directly behind the sculpture. Talk about unreal!

The starburst sculpture made entirely out of Murano Glass with the magnificent clock tower in the background

The starburst sculpture made entirely out of Murano Glass with the magnificent clock tower in the background

Burano: if you are tossing up between spending more time on Murano or Burano, then hear me out. BURANO is one of the most exquiste little villages I have ever stepped foot on. So I 110% think that Burano not only deserves, but requires more time to see all that it has to offer. The island of Venetian lace, is loaded with buildings in every coloured shade of the rainbow and pint sized stores selling beautifully designed lace and accessories as well as hand-crafted masks and a variety of arts. From the moment I walked off the ferry towards the village, I felt welcomed and my soul was filled with pure delight. Apart from grabbing pizza and gelato (compulsory when you are in Italy, right?) I didn’t even think to let go of my camera. In result of this, I returned back to Venice with 300 photographs of just Burano and an extremely vibrant Instagram feed. I didn’t necessarily tick any ‘landmarks’ or ‘sights’ off when I visited, but if I’m going to be honest, I don’t think it’s fundamental. What striked me about Burano was the enduring bright, bold and beautiful houses that lined the cobbled paths one after another. Contrast after contrast, the colours blended into one and made it one hell of a sight to see.

So feast your eyes, for a very bright yet beautiful series of photographs taken on the islands of Murano and Burano.

Burano Burano Burano Burano Burano Burano Burano Burano Burano

Thats me on the bridge courtesy of self-timer and a tripod!

Thats me on the bridge courtesy of self-timer and a tripod!

Burano

This slice of heaven was from Devils takeaway. It is 3.5 euro's per slice, but is extremely satisfying and definitely filled the spot for me!

This slice of heaven was from Devils takeaway. It is 3.5 euro’s per slice, but is extremely satisfying and definitely filled the spot for me!

_MG_2486 Burano

Overlooking the clock tower in Murano

Overlooking the clock tower in Murano

 

 

Tips & Tricks: Cinque Terre

Prior to stepping off the train into Corniglia, the middle village of the five Cinque Terre towns, I had absolutely no idea on the proximity of Cinque Terre and whether there were separate villages or if it was one big village filled with happy Italian families and buzzing, sun kissed skin tourists. So look no further than into your little guide to travelling and staying in Cinque Terre! I promise it’ll peak the top of your list of places to return to in the near future.

Corniglia Corniglia Best Mojito Belforte Ristorante Manarola  Monterosso              

Getting there

Coming from the romantic city of Venice, I jumped on board a train to La Spezia, which is the closest town to Cinque Terre. From there, it’s about a 15 minute train ride to the first Cinque Terre town of Riomaggiore. Once there, it only takes about another 5 minutes extra to get to the next town, and so on so forth to get to the other villages.

Accommodation 

As I spent this leg of my European trip with my family, I was able to stay in an Air BNB property on the hillside of Corniglia, with bedroom views over looking the glistening turquoise water. It was absolutely breath-taking. Beside the spectacular oceanic views, the next best perk to staying in the Air BNB in Cinque Terre was having access to the kitchen and an area to unwind in. Most nights we went up to the delicatessen and chose out some fresh pasta, pesto and roma tomatoes, whipped up a storm back at the property and ate to our hearts content whilst watching the sun go down, off course with a glass or two of wine. Just perfect.

Moving around

The best way to get around to see the five villages is by train. Each has their own station and it’s a matter of minutes until you are at the next village enjoying a gelato on the waterfront. Be sure to always buy tickets as rail officers do come around frequently and the fines are hefty if you get caught riding without a ticket.

If you fancy something a bit more active and have some time to spare, I couldn’t recommend highly enough taking the walking trails in between the towns. With views along the entire trail overlooking the crystal clear waters and the rocky mountain terrain, there is no better way to sweat off any unwanted pizza and pasta calories. The trails are kept in good condition all year round, but during summer the trails do get crowded so be sure to set off early in the morning to avoid the tourist rush.

The five villages of Cinque Terre

  1. Riomaggiore: the first of the five coastal villages from La Spezia. I didn’t spend much of my time here in Riomaggiore but from what I gathered, it has a hustle and bustle unlike many of the other towns. With relatively easy access to the water, it’s a great spot to go swimming in the little nook of the water valley.
  2. Manorola: definitely is one of my favourites out of the five Cinque Terre towns. With a large area to swim in, with easy access and multiple rocks to jump off to cure any adrenaline rush, there is every reason to flock to or even make base for accommodation in Manarola.
  3. Corniglia: by far the quietest town of the five, so be prepared for total relaxation and to break a sweat walking up to the village. From the train station there is 300+ steps to get to the top of the village, so you could probably understand why it’s the less visited out of all the towns. This was my favourite thing about Corniglia. Locals populated the area, unlike tourists which gave a very authentic touch. Not to mention being much higher above sea level, the views are spectacular, so grab a mojito, order some pizza and watch the sun go down.
  4. Vernazza: A hotspot for swimmers, watersport hire and buzzing pizza bars, this village will leave you wanting more. Be sure to book a table at Belforte Ristorante – the tables go quick and you will see why when you get there for your reservation. It’s definitely a lot more expensive, but for all the right reasons.
  5. Monterosso: if you don’t mind crowds of tourists, then this place is for you. Everybody flocks here for a very good reason though, with the only village that has long, white sandy beaches and umbrellas to lay under. If you do decide to stay here, be prepared to spend a little bit more money on dining and general expenses.

The worlds best gelato!

It was a very proud and fulfilling moment finding the worlds best gelato in the small historical village of San Gimignano in Tuscany, Italy. Of the three weeks that I spent in Italy, each day that passed didn’t go astray without at least two gelato’s- what a great time that was. It’s definitely fair to say that my waistline could feel it to, but…’when in Rome!’ You will be greeted by a very long line stretching out into the centre of the piazza, but don’t be put off, it’s worth every single minute of the wait. From the basics of strawberry and vanilla to cheese and wine flavoured gelato (yes you heard correctly, WINE!), Gelateria Dondoli has it all. After a day of wine tastings, I avoided the alcoholic flavours and went straight to sorbets and it was a great choice. Gelateria Dondoli’s high ranking of being the world’s best gelato definitely sticks to its title and left me wanting to return to San Gimignano just for round two and I am sure you will be in the same boat too.