Just a one hour flight from beautiful Budapest to Venice, Italy! Skyler had never been and how can you really visit Italy without 32 hours in Venice?!! You can’t. So we prepared ourselves for heat waves, the mass of tourists, men in striped shirts rowing boats and restaurants charging an arm and a leg for pasta. To our surprise, we managed to keep cool the evening we arrived by grabbing bow-front seats on a water bus (not to be confused with the very chic and $$$ water taxis) and toured around the gorgeous floating islands. Venice is totally mesmerizing from the water, to the colorful buildings hugging each other, all framed by a neon pink sunset. From the starting point, all the way to Lido beach and back, we chatted with people hopping on and off, and eventually were recommended a good mom and pop trattoria. Of course, we did not find the exact one, but around a dark alley and through a maze of dimly lit streets, we sat down at a little restaurant with no more than 6 tables, mostly filled with cigarette smoking, espresso drinking locals. And then the best buffalo mozzarella we have ever filled our mouths with arrived. It was melt in your mouth mozz and it clicked we were in Italy.
After all these months of traveling, through all terrains, cultures, climates… we were in Italia, and loving it! Skyler ordered a dish worth writing about: homemade flat pasta filled with melted parmesan and chopped radicchio. The contrast of salty and bitter, melty and crunchy, dazzled our taste buds.
We had a late train out of the city, which left us with most of the day to explore. We walked through the hot sun and down stone streets, across the famous canal bridges, wowed by how romantic and intense it all was. Of course we visited with pigeons and sights at St. Stephen’s square, along with 84,598,234,834,789 other tourists and grabbed a late afternoon bite and Aperol Spritz (the first of MANY) before we hustled back to grab our bags and head for Lake Garda.
Venice is overwhelming in so many ways: heat, business, expense but most importantly, beauty.
This is where it’s said the Italians come to vacation and it’s true. We did not hear any American accents, a very stark contrast from Venice, but instead it’s serves as their summer camping/lake getaway. Bardolino is a delightful, chic, tiny town situated on the gorgeous Lake Garda. Our days were filled with swimming in the fresh, clear water, after negotiating the rocky beaches, biking the coastal path and eating. Pizza is the most economical meal in Italy. Five to eight Euro will get you a pizza that two can share! Topped with mushrooms, fresh sausage, cheeses and basil. The gelato was also dangerous and we made sure to partake in the danger every night.
After a long day of swimming, sun bathing, biking and relaxing, we would head out to a trattoria and enjoy the local guitarists playing while sipping our favorite Italian aperitif.
If we were to come back, this is the place to splurge and rent a boat, not only to have a day on the water, but to explore the other surrounding towns along the rim of Lake Garda.
And we thought Lake Garda was beautiful… Cinque Terre is filled with five plus coastal towns, all decorating the rocky cliffs like sorbet-colored frosting. We stayed in one of the smaller villages, Riomaggiore, and enjoyed hiking the thousands of steps up and down our apartment. It’s no mystery why everyone has such a beach ready body here. Riomaggiore, like the other four terres, has one main street where the osterias, markets, wine shops, boutiques and bars are all lined on. Our first day was spent hopping on and off the water ferry to get off at each of the cinque terres and try out their beaches and towns.
First up was the most popular and largest village, Monterosso. Filled with colored umbrella beaches, lounge chairs, two main streets and fancy restaurants, we took to jumping in the crystal clear water and cooling down. It was 90 plus degrees after all. Feeling revitalized, we took the ferry to Vernazza, a tad smaller than Monterosso, but filled with the most colorful houses, it shows size does not matter. There is not beach here, but that doesn’t stop the Italians. Everyone had their towels laid out on boulders – or the boat ramp – and was swimming in the cove. Just unbelievably gorgeous. The ferry was getting quite crowded at this point and although we managed to grab rooftop seats, we couldn’t wait to enjoy the next terre.
It is also possible to take a train to and from each town. After a couple days of staying in Riomaggiore and soaking up the rays, we rode the train to the furthest village and followed the famous coastal hike that brings you through each town. We passed through creeks, waterfalls, vineyards, tomato vines, dudes selling lemonade through a fence from their properties, gorgeous views and olive groves. It was a highlight of our stay and offers such a remarkable vantage point of Cinque Terre. One of both of favorite moments was climbing up the many steps to the cliff-side restaurant, overlooking the ocean and ordering a meat and cheese plate, along with a carafe of house wine and losing ourselves to the exotic blue of the Italian Riviera. Cinque Terre is just what you imagine.
So now we know why Diane Lane wanted to bask under its sun. Ever since Leah saw the movie she claims it has been a dream to do as Diane did and restore an old crumbling villa in the remote hills of Tuscany. Obviously after watching the film back in Denmark, Skyler (Leah’s movie pick) agreed we would need to create this 2001 classic.
Honestly, it looks exactly like the movie. What a cool stretch of land. Vineyards on top of vineyards, and strewn out grape vines linked arm in arm, only interrupted for the rare stone villa. We stayed in a gorgeous, perfectly distressed Agruiturismo (working farm/vineyard) called Fattoria di Rignana, converted from a centuries-old cathedral. Although no tools were necessary, out bathroom was down the hall. Breakfast was served on a massive old dining room table filled with warm croissants, jams, basil, goat cheese, granolas, yogurt, dried meats and coffee. Since our villa was also a working winery we had access to the best pool-side rose you could ask for. So we would grab a bottle, throw in an order of the afternoon tapas (melons, prosciuttos, mozzarella, olives, eggplant, etc.) and relax while staring at the rolling hills. It was hard, but we ventured out a bit and wine tasted at a couple other vineyards. We learned a lot about Chianti, Chianti Classico, Brunello and Super Tuscan. The best wine we tasted, by far, was the Chianti Classico from the villa we were staying at. It was full, jammy, and amazing.
I wish I could integrate this next part as beautifully as the olive trees melt into the bursting purple of the grape vines. However, I must caveat a bit of drama is about to follow. Skyler, bless his heart, volunteered to revisit his manual driving lessons from 15 years back and save us half the money to rent a little stick shift Fiat 500 and maneuver through the gravel roads of Tuscany. Leah’s hairdryer would have provide more horse power than this little coupe. Every hill invited praying and leaning forward to try and shift weight as close to the front of the car, in hopes of not stalling and rolling backwards. Not one to kiss and tell, but stalling and rolling back can be remedied with a glass of vino.