Three weeks in Italy

Italy has always been one of those places on my bucket list, possibly because ‘pasta’ is my middle name.  I have seen some amazing images on Instagram over the years which influenced our itinerary and we were looking forward to exploring this place so enriched with history, culture and nature.

First up on our trip we spent the night in Rome at a cute little hotel in Fiumicino called La Mason Jolie.  This was the second time we had spent the night here as we initially flew into Rome before heading to Greece. The apartment is in a quiet neighbourhood, only 9 minutes from the airport with a few supermarkets and some nice eateries within walking distance. I’m going to call it, but one of our best meals in Italy was here.  (Shame I can’t remember the name of the restaurant.)

The following morning, we hit the road for a long drive (4 hours 50 mins) to Monterosso Al Mare, Cinque Terre.  Road trips are nothing new to us and the kids are well adjusted to being in the car for a reasonable amount of time so we were looking forward to seeing more of the Italian countryside from the car. We were also well adjusted to driving on the right hand side of the road (after Kefalonia) although it was a first being on a very busy highway with cars doing an average speed of 130-160kms/h.  We encountered toll booths on this drive and our first experience was rather frantic (not knowing which lane to enter or understanding the operator machine) but after doing it once we were good to go for the following 5 or so booths for the remainder of the journey. We stopped at a town on the way called Cecina for lunch at a little pizza joint before heading all the way through to our destination.

Two Nights in CINQUE TERRE

Where We Stayed: AIRBNB Apartment 5 Terre $720AUD for 2 nights – 3 bedrooms

Monterosso copy

We spent two nights in the Cinque Terre region and stayed in the beautiful town of Monterosso Al Mare in an apartment pitched at the top of the hill looking down to a stunning view of the town. The drive down to Monterosso is a tight one, a steep descent down winding mountains that leaves you hanging onto the edge of your (car) seat. Parking in Monterosso is also a tight one, and we were incredibly lucky to find an apartment that was walking distance from a multi level complex, parking just down the (steep) road. Even then, there were literally only two bays available so we were counting our lucky stars we got there when we did. As each of the five fishing villages are accessible via train, having a car is pointless so we left it in the carpark for the two days which cost us 30 euro a day. In my opinion, Monterosso is probably one of the most beautiful of the villages. Although it doesn’t have the same striking effect of houses attached to cliff sides, it’s quaint and less touristy and has a really nice vibe. We wandered the streets at sundown and loved all the pastel buildings, dainty shops and ocean views. Monterosso also boasts its own beautiful beach, as does ‘new’ Monterosso which has a huge beach club along the front of the town with colourful umbrellas and sun beds.

We walked to the train station early the next morning to start our day visiting the rest of Cinque Terre. As it was our first time using trains in Europe, it was quite confusing and we didn’t make use of the special ticket designed for the 5 Cinque Terre villages which would have saved us €18. Instead, we spent €4 per adult, €2 for kids over 4 for a one- way ticket, to the three villages and back. The trains were hectic but a much better option than hiking between villages (in my opinion)!
The first village we visited was Riomaggiore.  I was kicking myself we didn’t get there earlier in the morning as the sun was shining directly on the beautiful apartments on the cliff in the marina and made for some less desirable images. Despite this, it was beautiful to see and was probably one of the more beautiful and busy towns. The main street was steep and crowded and we stopped at a deli for fruit and water. (We accidentally got sparkling which the kids dislike. You really have to check that. Even if you think natural means ‘still’, it’s usually sparkling!) There isn’t much in the way of seating so we sat on some steps to eat our snacks.

From Riomaggiore, we then jumped on the train to Manorola. We didn’t see a lot of this village as the kids were pooped after the first one and we didn’t have the pram (because .. stairs)! Olive fell asleep on Tye and the kids were busting for a loo so we walked down to the waterfront and chose the first cafe we could see with a toilet. It just so happened that the cafe we chose was actually rated really high on google and with good reason; the food was delicious! We got hotdogs (I know, hotdogs–what?) But they were so good and so was the gelato! I always appreciate when we eat good food because sometimes it’s a real hit and miss when you’re travelling. Manorola has a cute swimming spot down by the water (but not really kid friendly).  The crowds got a bit much so we retreated back to Monterosso for an afternoon nap before hitting another village.

In the evening, we jumped back on the train to check out Vernazza (said to be the most photographed of the five villages).  We wandered through the town and though very pretty, it did look much like the others we’d seen (they all sort of blur into one after a while) with similar souvenir shops, delis and multi-coloured apartments. What’s different about Vernazza is the open square by the waterfront and the old cathedral. Apartments wrap around the square with views of the water and the sunset turns the buildings the most beautiful shade of orange. We struggled to find somewhere decent to eat here as nothing opened til 7pm and lots of the restaurants were pricey! We found a little Italian place that served decent pasta, salad and hotdogs ha! We decided to head back home before it got too dark as we had a long, steep walk back to our place. The trains are good and come every 15 minutes but there was a huge delay on the line and it had us (and everyone else) waiting almost an hour. Safe to say the kids were buzzing by then and we were happy when we finally got home to bed.

Eight Nights in TUSCANY

It was a long drive again (3 hours 30 mins) from Cinque Terre to Sarteano, Tuscany, where we were staying but I was so excited for this next stay. Cue – 500 year old stone farmhouse. Tuscany also boasts some incredible thermal pools which I was really looking forward to exploring. We stayed in Tuscany 8 nights which was definitely enough. Because everything in Tuscany is quite spaced out, there’s a lot of driving involved to get from one place to the next.

Where we stayed – Charming farmhouse in Sarteano at $2000 AUD for 8 nights 4 bed / 4 bath

What we did:

SARTEANO

Our farm-stay was just a short drive from the town of Sarteano so we visited here often for trips to the supermarket, gelato and a dinner or two. The town itself seemed much less touristy and had a strong sense of community.  We wandered through the Commune which had gorgeous buildings, cobble streets and dainty cafes. It was nice to stay somewhere that wasn’t loaded with souvenir shops or tourist attractions but at the same time it meant that there wasn’t as much to do here.


BAGNI SAN FILLIPO

I saw a picture of these hot pools on Instagram over a year ago and knew I wanted to come here! Assuming the place would get busy quickly, and with a 40 minute drive to get there, we decided to leave early and arrived at around 8am.  It was pretty chilly which was perfect for the pools. The pools are just before the town of Bagni San Fillipo and paid parking is on the side of the road. We wanted to bring little as possible so opted not to wear shoes. Wouldn’t recommend as the ground is quite rocky! In saying that, I would recommend grippy footwear as the ground can be really slippery in the area. It’s a little walk from the road to the pools and there are portable toilets up near the road. As you start heading down to the main pool you will see some thermal pools closer to the top but keep walking to find the beautiful big thermal rock (known as the ‘white whale’}. We were one of the first people there and had first pick of the gorgeous pools. You will find signs that advise not to climb on the rock or bathe in the pools right under the rock as they may fall. There are lots of different areas to swim and people didn’t start arriving til around 10am so you could easily have this place to yourself for a few hours. We went for coffee and croissants in the town just after and it’s a cute walk also.

FIRENZE – FLORENCE

We saw the outskirts of Florence on the day we drove into Tuscany from Cinque Terre but because we had our luggage in the car didn’t stop for long. We opted to drive rather than catch the train into Florence as it gave the kids a sleep on the way there/back. We hadn’t done a lot of research and knew we weren’t going to do any tours as it would be too much for the kids but wanted to see it, nevertheless. I’m not a city girl and much prefer being close to the ocean but you just can’t not feel in awe when being in this city.  You can truly FEEL the history everywhere you look and although the day involved a lot of walking, it was definitely worth it.

VAL D’ORCIA AND MONTEPULCIANO

When I began booking Tuscany it was these two regions that really caught my eye. Val D’orica is the most scenic area of country Tuscany with cultivated valleys and picturesque villages. We took the scenic route to Montepulciano and it was beautiful seeing remote communes and the beautiful rolling hills.  Unfortunately it was less green than I had imagined (due to the time of year) so the imagery wasn’t exactly what I had hoped for but it was still beautiful. The drive to Montepulciano especially was gorgeous and the town did not disappoint. It was definitely a more touristy area with an abundance of gift stores and restaurants. The kids weren’t feeling it this day and we accidentally kept walking, and walking . . . until we were at the bottom of the village and the steep trek back wasn’t the most fun. I would recommend staying here for a few nights to really immerse yourself in this beautiful village.

CASCATE DEL MULINO

Another big drive to get to these thermal pools and we left it until the afternoon so had a feeling it would be relatively busy… It was pumping! Finding a car park was chaotic enough.  They have plenty of parking available but it was flat out! When we got to the pools, we knew it wasn’t really our vibe (we prefer early mornings and having the place to ourselves ha)!  But we had driven so far so had to jump in! These pools are quite remarkable and boast an incredible waterfall at the top. It’s slippery and lots of people wore their reef shoes. (The kids kept their salt water sandals on.) Despite it being so busy, there were lots of spots to find your own little pool and plenty of mini spas with rushing water. A slight downside to these pools were the mosquito lava that looked like little red worms. They made it feel a little ‘icky’ (for me) and although I wouldn’t let the kids put their heads under the water, regardless, it made me feel even more reluctant. No one else seemed bothered by them, and the further up the pools we went, the less we saw of them. The thermal pools have toilets and also a little cafe that serve some hot food, drinks and ice-cream so you could definitely take a towel, a book and spend the day there!

sarteano
Saturnia thermal pools

Six Nights in PRAIANO

Another long drive (4 hours 40 mins) to get to our second last destination, Praiano.  The drive through Naples was busy with lots of traffic and some eye opening views of the surrounding buildings and apartments.  Our GPS didn’t take us the coastal route and instead we cut through the mountains which felt like worlds away.  We drove through some tiny towns and got our first real taste of the roads here on the Amalfi.  We were happy when we finally came down the steep mountain slopes and found ourselves on the coast (not without a few tight corners).  I had a feeling I would love the Amalfi Coast but oh my, it beat any and all expectations. It is SO beautiful! We decided to spend a little more on our accommodation here because I figured, ‘if we’re on the coast, we want to have ocean views’. So I booked through HomeAway and couldn’t have been happier with our spot. The interior of this place was a rattan lovers’ dream with colourful tiles throughout, a dinky but functional yellow kitchen, and being perched on the cliff made for the most incredible views!

Where we stayed: 3 bedroom apartment in Praiano at $2700 for 6 nights sleeps 8

Where we ate:

We shopped at supermarkets a bit here and found the best gnocci from a local grocer. After cooking this at home, we almost couldn’t justify eating out! I definitely recommend buying some local brands for pasta, sauces etc and fresh vegetables and cooking at home if you can.

l Rifugio dei Peccatori Praiano – An amazing quaint delicatessen with the best home-made meals. We came here twice and loved the feeling of familiarity.  The staff were gorgeous and gave the kids treats.  They also let my husband Tye help himself to their chilli bush out the front.  If you are after authentic ready-made Italian meals or roast chicken, this place is for you.

What we did:

AMALFI

One rainy morning, we took the SITA bus on a day trip to Amalfi and somehow managed to escape the rain entirely. The buses come every 15 minutes or so and are a good way to get from town to town.  You can get tickets from nearby wine shops and mini markets. The drive takes around 25 minutes but I recommend jumping on the bus early to beat the crowds and traffic. Amalfi town is beautiful and you could easily spend longer than a day here. It’s much busier than little sister Praiano and with good reason as there is a beautiful waterfront, plenty of shopping, eateries and incredible architecture to catch your eye. We happily spent several hours here before catching the SITA back mid afternoon.

AMALFI COAST BOAT TOUR

Driving the Amalfi Coast is one thing but seeing it from the ocean is something else, and I highly recommend hiring a boat, whether it be for a few hours or a whole day.  We went with @PositanoBoat_Charter and had an amazing morning on the water with Danielle who shared much of the Coast’s history with us.  He took us all the way past Amalfi to a beautiful blue lagoon cave, a stop for a little swim and then all the way down to Positano for lunch at Da Adolfo (which was amazing)!

POSITANO

One early morning, we decided to catch the SITA bus again and beat the crowds to Positano.  The bus stop is a little out of the main town strip so expect to do some walking. (We, of course, came completely unprepared and in our swimmers and sandals.) Somehow, we managed to wing it and found our way to the beachfront almost instantly.  Despite it being early, the sun was already radiating on the colourful buildings and the ocean was calling our name. The sand was black and the beach lined with sun beds and umbrellas. Boats were already docked at the jetty with people coming and going. It was a much less relaxed vibe than sweet little Praiano but after seeing so many beautiful photographs of this place we were happy to be here. Expect to pay a large price for a sun bed (much more expensive than Kefalonia anyway). We weren’t planning on swimming long so dodged the sun beds and found a little spot with a few others near the front of the beach.

After a swim, we wandered the streets of the town, searching for the perfect focaccia and eyeing off the ceramics.  At a small market stall, I found Stirling Silver jewellery for a nice price.  We kept on walking and walking, taking in the views and the ambience of this incredibly aesthetic place while stopping at odd shops along the way.  Finally, we reached a point where the only way was UP and so we started the incline to the nearest bus stop which involved over 6,590 stairs! Just when it felt like our legs would fall off, we reached where we needed to be and patiently waited for the bus.  Traffic here is hectic and after waiting 30 mins for the bus, we realised it was at max capacity and we’d have to wait for another. We contemplated walking all the way back down to another stop but it was hot and our legs were sore. Another 25 minutes passed and finally our bus arrived. The roads were still a mess and it took us close to an hour to get back to Praiano, sweet, sweet Praiano! it was good to be home.

 

Three Nights in ROME

Where we stayed:  Beautiful sunny apartment in Prati-Vatican 2 bedrooms at $900 AUD

This spacious and newly renovated apartment was perfectly positioned and sat directly on top of the best gelato shop…. convenient! We were able to walk to the Vatican from here, and see many sights, as well as stroll the nearby streets for shopping and yummy eats.

What we did:

After Florence, we realised that if we wanted to explore the city to its fullest we would have to organise a sightseeing tour so we did just that. It cost roughly $50 AUD per adult for a two day ticket on the hop on/off city bus.  On the first day alone we walked to the Basilica, Castle Sant’angelo, the PantheonTrevi Fountain (which was empty unfortunately as it was being cleaned at the time) and lastly the Colosseum.  Being so late in September, it was cooler and we managed the big walk quite well. We did end up jumping on the bus and doing a full circuit of the city to see what we missed.  This was fun for the kids, but also a little exhausting as by the end of it they were frustrated and irritable.  Safe to say we were happy when we finally jumped off the bus and did the light walk back home to the apartment.  I definitely recommend a bus tour and wish we had jumped on it first thing in the morning.

The following day we decided to walk again rather than utilise our bus ticket (don’t ask me why) and headed to Villa Borghese Park.  There was light rain on this day which made it a tad awkward and we rushed the park a little but saw some beautiful statuary and a man-made lake where you can hire boats to paddle around in.  We decided to take the kids to Bioparca di Roma while my folks headed to the National Art Gallery of Rome.  The zoo wasn’t cheap but it was well worth it and you really got to see the animals up close (much closer than at our zoo anyway). The highlight for Tye and myself was seeing unique animals we’d never seen before or even knew existed.  We spent roughly 2 hours at the park before heading back and beginning our trek home which was …long. Not a memorable walk as the kids were tired, hungry and irritable.  We wanted to eat the best food Rome had to offer so as we were walking we looked up highly rated restaurants for lunch which led us to La Base.  When we walked in here we were somewhat filled with regret as it was dark and the walls were covered with Pop Art.  But our waitress was incredibly friendly and this place has the biggest menu we have ever seen and delicious cheap eats. We left feeling glad we made the stop and recommend it if you are in the area.

Other eateries worth mentioning are:

TED Lobster and Burgers – Loved the vibe of this place and it had the best homemade chicken nuggets for the kids.  (They’ve never had nuggets before so this was a nice introduction.)

Tommi’s Burger Joint – Really delicious burgers and grass fed/organic. Had a nice chat to the owner of this place too.  He was really down to earth.

Il Sorpasso – Had to come here after the 1600 amazing reviews on google.  It did not disappoint. We had to wait for a table and it’s not really kid friendly but we had share plates and all enjoyed the food. The menu was almost completely in Italian and we got conned into drinking their homemade wine but it was the perfect way to spend our last night in Europe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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