Italy has won the title of my most favorite place on earth. It is incredible + truly leaves me at a loss of words. How could I do such a stunning countryside justice with my solely my fingers and this keyboard?
“One of the great joys of traveling through Italy is discovering firsthand that it is, indeed, a dream destination.”Debra Levinson
R O M E
We started our adventure off with 24 hours in Rome + let me just tell you….IT WAS NOT NEARLY ENOUGH TIME! All my sisters have been to Rome before and wanted to see other parts of Italy, which is fine by me as now I have Rome to look forward to in my future – dreams, begin!
We toured the Colosseum (it’s real name is The Flavian Amphitheater) and I soaked in the majesty of the architecture. As I travel Europe, one of the things that stands out most to me is the buildings they were able to design and build in those days. The workmanship is exquisite and it leaves me wishing we had a piece of history that old here in the states. We’re such an adolescent country.
We booked a private night tour of Rome with a lovely Italian man named Max. He was the definition of a gentleman as he insisted none of us open our own doors for two reasons. #1. “Because there is such a thing called chivalry” and #2. the Italians are CUH-RAAZY drivers and Max says “they run you over first and ask questions later. Seriously.” so he preferred to be at our sides to protect us. Max is a dual citizen of Italy and United States and speaks perfect English which was really nice as he chauffeured us around the city and gave us history and background on all the buildings and sites.
If you’re ever in Rome, book a tour here and ask for Max or Luca to get your fill of some genuine Italian hospitality.
C I N Q U E T E R R A
I am torn as to whether Cinque Terra or Tuscany was my favorite destination. My initial answer is Cinque Terra but then I look through pictures of Tuscany and I remember how it stole my heart. The landscapes are really so different with Cinque Terra being by the seaside and Tuscany being farming land + rollings hills that it’s hard to compare the two. So, for this portion of the post, let’s say my favorite destination was Cinque Terra and later on Tuscany will sneak up and take the lead.
Cinque Terra is a combination of 5 fishing villages situated on the northern coast. Most of the villages are built into the cliffside and every one of them have STEEP roads to climb because, well, it’s the cliffside. If you’re looking to travel here anytime soon, be sure to put your time in at the gym first.
We took a 4 hour train ride from Rome to Cinque Terra and it dropped us right at the base of our village, Manarola. As stated before, these villages have steeps roads to climb and seeing as how my sisters didn’t pack too lightly (I give Kelsey a free pass because she packed all her camera equipment to be sure we had the amazing pictures below), the 4 minute walk up these climbs with 50 lbs of luggage was quite the ordeal. I wish we’d gotten video of it. Luckily, we had an Italian man leading us to our apartment and he was kind enough to help them with their luggage.
The first item on our agenda after depositing our luggage in the apartment was to go visit the ocean! As these villages are all fishing villages, each one has easy access to the waterfront with pathways that are crowded with old school fishing boats. It’s really as though you traveled back in time when visiting these quaint, old villages. They are overrun with tourists, but if you are able to tune them out and observe the locals – the elderly who have probably called this place home for as many years as they’ve been on earth, the young families gathering at the village piazza once night falls to socialize and keep an eye on their children engaged in a game of soccer (each team sure they’re the winning team) – it paints a dreamy picture of what the village used to be and has me yearning to be a part of it.
Every morning, we’d walk down to the market to pick up some fresh artichoke hearts (to die for!!!), sun-dried tomatoes (like nothing you’ve ever tasted) and bread + butter. I know some people would not consider this a breakfast, but I thoroughly enjoyed my meal every morning especially knowing it came from the quaint little market that I’d entered with a greeting of “Buongiorno” and left with an “Arrivederci”. Just thinking about it makes me homesick for this place.
All five villages are connected to each other by a hiking trail called the Cinque Terra Trail and this was easily my most favorite activity we did while here. Heather, Kelsey and I started out one morning and spent 7 hours hiking and exploring the other villages (Vernazza has THE BEST gelato at a place called Gelato Amore Mio – SSSOOOO good!). The hike is pretty intense but the views from the trail are indescribable and worth any effort it takes to see them. Once on the trails you can see the horizion for miles and miles and miles – I’m really not sure there was and ending point – and the ocean is the most beautiful color of blue you can imagine. A vibrant, living, soul refreshing blue that you could gaze at for hours. As you hike, you come upon the other villages from a vantage point you can’t see from anywhere else and at one point on the trail you are positioned so that you can see all the villages in one panoramic view. As we exited the trail at the last village, hot, sweaty and exhausted, we were welcomed and tempted by the ocean calling to us and we all said, “What the heck!” and jumped in fully clothed in exercise attire. Happening in a place where women are topless, we probably seemed very strange but it was so refreshing we didn’t mind at all.
Some comical points along the trail:
- There is a section of the trail known as the “Cat Sanctuary.” Some local sets out a certain amount of cat food every morning and as hikers travel through, they stop to feed the cats. The sanctuary is home to about 15 cats who just lounge around in the shade on top of some wooden structures made by who knows who.
- There is an elderly local man who brings a juicer (extension cord and all) and sells fresh squeezed orange juice to the weary hikers passing by.
The last thing I have to mention is Guvano Beach. This is a nudist beach we read about and since Heather, Kelsey and I badly wanted to experience the liberating sensation of swimming naked in the ocean, we decided to venture to Guvano Beach. During pre-planning, Kelsey had mentioned that we would have to walk through an abandoned train tunnel for approximately 20 minutes, but somehow it didn’t register that we would be WALKING FOR 20 MINUTES THROUGH A DARK, ABANDONED TRAIN TUNNEL. I seriously thought my last day on earth had come and that it was time to meet my maker. I was imagining the worst, hyperventilating and grasping Heather so tightly that I’m sure I was cutting off her circulation. About half way through, we came to a platform where people used to board the train and all of a sudden it sounded as though there were footsteps following us. My time had come. I was dead. Needless to say, I survived my vivid imagination and we finally escaped the tunnel to the brilliant sunshine of day and the nudist beach known as Guvano Beach.
T U S C A N Y
After four days in Cinque Terra, we took another 4 hour train ride to Tuscany and picked up a rental car. As we drove into the little village we were staying in, the sun was setting and painted the whole sky with hues of pink and orange above the luscious green, rolling hills of the countryside. The WHOLE sky! It was one of the greatest sights I have ever seen with my own two eyes. We pulled off to the side and soaked it all in.
We stayed at an old Italian villa with the most beautiful courtyard. Full of bushes and flowers. Old buildings and a gravel drive. It was as dreamy as I could have imagined and filled my soul with joy.
Tuscany is a vast countryside with green, rolling hills for as far as your eye can see. Miles + miles. The hillsides are topped with my new favorite trees, the Italian Spruce – these cone-shaped trees that sit atop the hills as though it is their responsibility to guard the villages. I voiced my thoughts of cutting one down, strapping it to the plane and bringing it home, but Heather shot that idea down.
My other favorite thing about the countryside are the sheep! The farmers put them out to pasture and there’s just something so lovely about them. One day, we passed a hillside full of sheep with the farmer in his ancient, beat up car herding the sheep through the pasture. COMICAL! Just like something you’d see in a movie. Sadly, I somehow didn’t get any pictures of them so you’ll just have to imagine.
We visited Siena and a bunch of other quaint villages with a culture and people that take you back to a time rarely experienced. These villages are all built on hills and the road are very steep. It was incredible to watch the elderly locals climbing the streets, taking it nice and slow, eventually getting to their destinations. How I wish I could speak Italian to enjoy a conversation with them and ask them about their life.
The main piazza in Siena (the town square) was one of our favorite spots in Tuscany. It’s an oval shaped, shallow bowl where everyone gathers to rest from their sightseeing adventures. It’s the best place for people watching in Tuscany and we visited two days in a row. Twice a year, the plaza fills with thousand is spectators for the Palio de Siena – a crazy horse race where it’s not uncommon for men to be thrown while maneuvering the sharp turns and the horses cross the finish line with no riders. In the olden days, the only rule was there were no rules and men were poisoned, injured and murdered even before the race began.
Sadly, my time in Italy came to and end and I had to return home but it will always be a place I love. I’ll return one day and I’m already looking forward to the memories I’ll make then. Sometimes you find yourself in a place you’ve never been and yet it feels just like coming home. Italy is one of those places for me. ❤
All photo credits to Kelsey Roberts.