Travel Diaries: Italy

May 5th, 2022 marked 10 years married with my husband. Leading up to this milestone anniversary, we had a few ideas as to what we might want to do to celebrate. I thought we’d pick a long weekend and get away for a few days. Then a family member encouraged us to think bigger – it was 10 years after all! Our kids were at a good age to leave them with family and our businesses weren’t (as) dependent on our presence all the time.

Italy has been on my list for a while. It encompasses some of my favorite things – pasta, good design, wine, classic architecture, history, bread, art, the list goes on! Luckily, Kale was in agreement and we started to plan our anniversary trip. It was relatively close to our desired departure but we put our heads down and got to making some reservations. Now, I know you’re here for the design stuff. However, our experiences shape our perspectives and inspire us, which is why I share things beyond just design.

Our itinerary went through a couple of iterations based on accommodations and flights, etc. We eventually decided on Levanto (just outside Cinque Terre), Florence, Praiano (near Positano) and Rome.

I didn’t know anything about Cinque Terre other than several people told us WE HAD TO GO. The hiking, the cute towns, all of it was worth visiting. Kale, as you’ll see by the end of this post, is the ultimate AirBNB researcher. He found a cute little flat in Levanto at the top of a hill. There were many steps, but I won’t hold that against him. The thing is, Levanto is technically not in THE Cinque Terre, but it’s just outside of that. There is a train that connects all of the towns together and each town is about 5-10 minutes apart by train. Levanto isn’t sleepy, but it’s not bustling either. We walked everywhere and it was very easy to navigate.

We booked all of our tours through AirBNB, which I 100% recommend. It makes adventure planning so easy and convenient. You can read all of the reviews and it keeps all of your information and communication in one place. Our first tour was an e-bike tour through Ebikein Cinque Terre. Let me tell you, an e-bike is the best way to see the Cinque Terre. It’s also the only feasible way to bike it in my opinion – the hills are no joke! This was a great way to take in Cinque Terre while also working off some of that pasta from the night before.

The next day we took the opposite approach and checked out the region from the sea. We took a small, half day tour – did some snorkeling and ate more Fococcia. The weather was pretty warm for this time of year, so the crisp water was a refreshing reprieve.

Levanto highlight: Monterosso. This seems counter intuitive since we stayed somewhere other than what I’d consider a highlight. However, the Cinque Terre is quite busier than I think it was when alot of our friends visited. I was amazed at the post-covid, recently opened country crowds. Specifically during the day when the trains would bring in tourists from other areas. Because of this, Levanto proved to be a great choice as a home base as it wasn’t nearly as crowded. Monterosso was a short train ride from Levanto and is a town within the Cinque Terre. It is an absolute gem. I tried to take in every single detail of the church and cobblestones as it felt like it was frozen in time. While I don’t know what I was missing not staying there, I adored the morning we spent there walking around and taking it all it. It’s truly a very special place.

Next stop? Florence. We made short stops in both Pisa and Lucca on the way and both were actually way more noteworthy than I would have anticipated! Pisa definitely has more to offer than just the leaning tower. We took a stroll and some cheesy pictures, grabbed an iced coffee for the road. Side note: Italians don’t put ice in their iced coffee. They shake it over ice and serve it cold that way. It’s genius as it never gets watered down. Lucca is s small medieval town, 3 miles square I believe. We pretty much walked the whole thing in two hours. Kale had read about a sandwich shop that we ended up stopping for lunch in – Strabuono. The other thing Italians do better than everyone else? Sandwiches.

Florence is a dream. The history everywhere you turn is enough to take your breath away. Kale hit another homer with this killer AirBNB location. Trust me, you’ll want to bookmark that for future reference. Waking up in the morning to the bells of the Duomo is something I won’t soon forget. We did back to back adventures the days we were in Florence, followed by dinners and walks through the city looking for gelato at night. Gelato, in case you were wondering, is also something Italy does well. I recommend this sidecar tour of Florence, a glorious rooftop cooking class, and this horseback ride through Tuscany ending at a local winery.

As easy as it is to book these things through AirBNB, there are certain sights that you do need to buy tickets for in advance. We did miss the Duomo tour since there wasn’t availability (although staying that close to it definitely eased the blow). I managed to get a slot at the Uffuzzi Gallery and the Gucci Gardens. I enjoyed both very much and there wasn’t much of a line at either. We didn’t make any dinner reservations in Florence, we just decided to walk and find things that looked good. We stopped at a local bar for happy hour and ended up asking the bartender his recommendations for dinner. Which brings me to my..

Florence highlight: Osteria de’ Pazzi. We thoroughly enjoyed our dinner here, which felt like a quintessential Italian experience. The restaurant is owned by Paolo and his wife. She makes meal recommendations and Paolo serves, all while his deep singing voice fills up the restaurant and bounces off the arched brick ceiling. Nevermind the the food is actually amazing. We ended up meeting another couple from New Orleans and Paolo brought out the house limoncello to share. It was a lovely experience.

After three packed days in Florence and Tuscany, we hopped on a train to Naples. From Naples, we snagged a cab and headed south. You’ve probably heard of Positano, which is near the Amalfi Coast. We decided to stay in a hotel just for the convenience factor (also a pool) but options were slim pickings in Positano. We did however, find a great option in Praiano. Praiano is pretty much in between Positano and Amalfi. All three are a quick boat ride between cities. This whole region was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. The towns are like little ant farms on steep cliffs and you can access the sea by ancient stone stairways zig zagging through the buildings. We stayed at the Casa Angelina which was a slice of heaven.

We made a point to spend a couple of days just relaxing, which is basically exactly what we did and I don’t regret it for a second. The rocky landscape makes for clear, but deep blue water. It’s super salty, so you literally just float and it is blissful. I booked a boat ride for us to the Il San Pietro hotel to have dinner at the Zass restaurant one night, which was delicious. However, if I am being honest, the hole in the wall, family owned joint really blew my socks off. The arrabbiata was so good I dragged Kale back one more time before we left and we also ordered a pizza for the train ride to Rome. San Gennaro also makes their own melon-cello, which in my humble opinion is insanely better than lemoncello. We even came home with a bottle!

Praiano highlight: One Fire Beach Club. One Fire has a partnership with the hotel we stayed at, but I believe you can still visit for a small cover fee. Well worth it! The drinks were affordable, the food was good and the vibe was excellent. Such a fun way to spend the day!

We intended on heading to Rome around 2 in the afternoon, which we ended up pushing back as long as we could to squeeze every last minute out of Praiano. Kale and I bought tickets for the last train out of Naples, which then got delayed into Rome. We didn’t end up getting to our hotel until 2 am and we had a very busy last day planned for Rome. We managed to power through and woke up in plenty of time to make it to our 8:30 Vatican Museum tour.

When we first started planning our trip, I was pretty much game for skipping Rome altogether. I am actually really glad we fit it in. It’s certainly more crowded than Florence, but the juxtaposition of city life with ancient history was pretty exciting to me. The Vatican Museum was awesome. I’ve never done a formal Vatican tour (which I hear is better), but the art student in me LOVED the endless galleries and guided tour at the museum. It ended in the Sistine Chapel, which gave me a whole new perspective on Michelangelo’s talent and genius.

Later that evening, we had our last tour – a Vespa ride through Rome! What a fun and creative way to see this city. We got to see the Pantheon, the Coliseum and all of the city’s obelisks (more than Egypt!) in a two hour span. Our quick 30 hours in Rome was made that much sweeter by another great hotel stay. Hotel Locarno feels classic in the best way. The sweet outdoor courtyard off of the bar is the perfect spot to grab breakfast before starting your adventures. I highly recommend checking it out if you ever find yourself in Rome.

We packed in a lot for 10 days! We were ready to come home to see our kids and felt rested and reinvigorated. Traveling is really the best source of inspiration and we are so fortunate we had the opportunity to go and spend time together in a new city. To see a few of my suitcase staples for this trip, see below.


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xo, Aubrey

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