la bella italia

florence

It’s late on Tuesday afternoon in suburban Glasgow. I’m sitting in bed, swathed in a polka dot bedspread whilst a sniffling Aaron quietly reads. He’s recently contracted his fourth virus since we disembarked our first flight at Charles de Gaulle, Paris. As I had it last week, I feel wholly responsible (despite division of cutlery, plates, cups and general breathing space, the hated thing still spread. Argh. Don’t you hate that?!).

So, in light of coughs, colds and bone-weariness, we jointly decided that today would be our rest day. Perfect for quiet reading, watching videos, photo editing and general blog-time with some decent wifi. As I type, I’m eating a punnet of sticky, luscious figs that cost me (wait for it) £1 for four (AU$1.80). Food is such ridiculously good value over here in Scotland. I’m already preparing myself for a shock when we return to Australian prices (insert sad face here).

Anyway, in light of this afternoon’s productivity, I’ve finally got enough photographs together share some of our Italian adventure with you all (I say some as… well, I’m guessing that you don’t want to see six hundred photographs of Italian cobbled streets. And even if you do, it might just surpass your monthly internet download allowance). We started our trip in the northeastern city of Venice before taking the train to the stunning capital of the Tuscany region, Florence. From there, we rented a cherry red Fiat 500 (classic Italian style) to explore the historical vine-covered landscape including Arezzo, Siena, Chianti and the fortress-town of Monteriggioni.

The final leg of our Italian adventure was an ItaliaRail journey from Florence to the Roman capital. Despite the impressive architecture, history and artwork, it was ridiculously hot, humid and overwhelmed with crowds. As a couple of native Italians have advised, don’t go to Rome in August. Just don’t (but… well, we did. And it was still beautiful, despite the drawbacks).

As per Five Days in Paris, this Italian post is more of a photo diary than a comprehensive travel guide. To be honest, it’s really difficult to find inexpensive, beautiful food in Italy (well, it was for me anyway, despite comprehensive research) and restaurants or cafes that you locate on the internet can take hours to discover on foot (due to poor or absent signage, winding roads and reluctance of some businesses to attract tourists). I’ve added a few notes where I can, but regardless, I hope that you enjoy this mini tour of Italy through our eyes.

canal

Venice

One of the most beautiful, almost-surreal places I’ve ever been to. How this city-on-the-water has survived for hundreds of years is quite remarkable. We stayed at a hostel called Ai Boteri which was value for money whilst still being clean, spacious and very convenient for most central attractions. There’s an unexpected city tax (which from memory was €2 per person per night) but it’s unavoidable when staying in Italian cities (Florence and Rome were the same).

One thing about Venice: there are mosquitoes EVERYWHERE during the Summertime. They attack you as you sleep (or don’t sleep, in our case. I had about 40 mosquito bites from the first night). Bring heaps of mosquito repellent or, even better, a mosquito net.

We also skipped on the classic Venetian gondola ride due to an 80-100 price tag (and lack of romanticism) though admittedly, the skilled gondoliers are quite impressive. We sat at the edge of the canal and watched them for about half an hour and, despite restricted amounts of space, shallow areas and boat congestion, there were no collisions. Very cool (just like me whilst selecting stone fruit. Ah, yep).

marketloveriverhouse

We also managed to find an amazing tucked-away bar (it had no signage so I have no idea what the name was) that served 6 mojitos every night of the week. Needless to say, we were happy to provide regular patronage, despite the tiny interior necessitating that we sit on the sidewalk. I’d definitely recommend getting ‘lost in Venice’ as there are so many tiny, beautiful venues (with cheap booze and delicious cicchetti, Italian bar snacks) outside of the main tourist areas.

mojitosign nikesDisclaimer: I take no responsibility if you thereafter fail to negotiate the Venetian maze of streets back to your accommodation. Your happy, cheap-ass mojito-drinking self won’t care. You’ll just do a ‘weird dance’ (as Aaron calls it) like me. I’m quite impressed that I was standing in one leg (I’m sure that you will be too Graz!). Oh, and mum, that wasn’t my cigarette butt.mojitoweirddance

Florence

In terms of the trio of Italian cities that we visited, Florence was definitely my favourite. The Renaissance architecture, great wine (gluts of Chianti Classico from the nearby wine region), gelato (La Carraia was our absolute favourite) and public art were present in abundance. The city was also big enough to thankfully diffuse the clusters of iPad tourists (I mean, seriously people! You’re seeing your holiday on a screen!).

We stayed at a B&B called Redenza Martin which was spacious, clean and centrally located. The lovely couple who run the accommodation were also very approachable in terms of travel tips and recommendations (factor in city tax which was about €2-3 per person per night).

florenceviewA tip when staying in Florence: definitely buy fresh provisions from Mercato Centrale. There’s a beautiful daytime fresh food market downstairs (with everything from cured meats and vegetables to fresh pasta and spices) and some great ready-to-eat bites upstairs in the evenings. I’ve included a few snaps below:

meat pastamakersalami marketfruitbalsamico

In terms of eating out in Florence? Well, let’s just say that non-touristy places aren’t very consumer-friendly. I did a lot of research prior to arriving in the city and half of the venues we wanted to visit were closed (on normal trading days, with no signage advising of a reason for the closure or when the restaurant might be re-opening). So, in want of a better option, we ended up eating at some very touristy pizza and pasta spots. The food was still good, but menus were in English and the produce wasn’t as authentic as we may have liked.

One successful venture did lead us to Da Vinattieri, a tiny hole-in-the-wall sandwich (panini) shop specializing in fresh Tuscan bread and porchetta.

outside

Unfortunately, there was a lot of inconsistency between our sandwiches and the bread of my panino was dry and hard (between me, Aaron and our friend Paul, we couldn’t bite through it. I actually hurt a tooth). Paul’s was brilliant though, with thin crusty bread and thickly sliced, fresh-roasted porchetta.

sandwichshop It’s worth a visit but don’t let your hopes skyrocket from TripAdvisor reviews (like mine did, *sob*. Half of my sandwich ended up in the bin… but I do hope you have better luck).pannini

Tuscany

If you’re planning a trip to Tuscany, hire a car. Non-negotiable. Apparently there are buses than run sporadically around the area but with the amount of ground you want to cover, you’ll spend half of your time at bus stops.

We stayed at an amazing Tuscan villa in an Arezzo vineyard and olive grove owned by the Messina family (who were happy to produce some amazing samples of their extra virgin olive oil and delicious Chianti DOCG wine). We attempted to visit the cellar door during our days in Tuscany but… well, after a few bottles of wine we got lost on the winding roads. Tuscany does that to you (definitely visit if you can, the wine is beautiful).

Over a few blissful days, we travelled from Arezzo to Siena, stopping in Lucca and most of the Chianti wine region before dropping our rental car back in Florence.

tuscanhillside sky

The countryside, people, wine and cuisine are incredible throughout the Tuscan region. Simplicity is definitely central to food in Tuscany, and some of our favourite meals simply involved a quick visit to some local stores to pick up thickly-sliced porchetta, Florentine salami (gloriously fatty, rich and delicious), fresh ciabatta, marinated vegetables, olives and Italian cheese.

Paired with deep red Chianti wine and peppery local first-press extra virgin olive oil, we were in absolute foodie heaven.

tuscanydinner meatIf you’re interested in wine tasting, there are quite a few Chianti Classico tours that run throughout the Summer months. We preferred to be ‘free agents’ (definition: roaming around the countryside until we drove past a cellar door) but still managed to gain quite a lot of knowledge about different types of Tuscan wines and regional differences.

Personally, traditional Chianti (pure Sangiovese) was by far my favourite wine from the region; rich and dark with subtle tannins. In contrast, the increasingly popular ‘Super Tuscans’ (Sangiovese mixed with a ‘Bordeaux Blend’ of grapes or various quantities of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, occasionally Shiraz) were quite unpredictable from one vineyard to the next. Worth trying but not quite as ‘specific’ to region.

I also fell in love with the gloriously sweet, sticky and syrupy Vin Santo, a dessert wine often served with almond biscuits (cantucci, similar to biscotti) for dessert. The process of dipping, crunching and sipping is a gloriously light way to end a meal.

Tuscan life truly makes one understand the term ‘la dolce vita‘.

flowerpots

meatceilingOn a side note: perhaps of interest to some (Stefano, I’m thinking of you!) is the rising popularity of synthetic corks (alternative wine closure) in Italian wine production. I actually hadn’t come across one until we set foot in the Tuscan region and I’m undecided on whether I like them or not.

I understand that some technical merits exist but… what’s the fun in uncorking a piece of plastic from a quality bottle of wine? Hm.  rubbercorkP.S. In Tuscany, there seem to be untended tomato plants growing all over the place, on roadside verges, in fields and other random locations in the countryside (far from fixed dwellings; don’t worry I didn’t raid anyone’s garden). Some have rusted stakes, others just sprawl over the nearby ground.

I like to think that an elderly nonna planted them there, long ago before the roads were built. Now they belong to everyone…tomatoes

flowers

Rome

We ended our Italian adventure with two days in the Italian capital, Rome. Many photographs were taken (mostly of the Colosseum and other such things) but as aforementioned, the hot, sticky, touristy aspect of the city was rather overwhelming.

We ate pizzas in abundance whilst sipping on Peroni beer. We trekked to the Vatican City before deciding against spending four hours in a queue to enter the Sistine Chapel. The beauty, history and architecture of Rome is truly stunning but… well, Luigi, you were right. Don’t visit in August. You live and you learn.

rome pizzaSo that’s it. The end of another chapter of our massive European sojourn. I’m signing off from our now-darkened Glasgow bedroom before venturing to the kitchen for some leftover homemade chilli con carne (thank goodness for available kitchens, despite an absence of sharp knives).

wall

If you’d like to see more snaps of our visit to Italy (and the rest of our Eurotrip), click over to my Instagram account. Thanks, as always, for being interested in this Aussie girl, her food obsession and present wanderlust x

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79 responses

  1. Italy is my favorite place on earth, I would gladly go there and never go back to where I came from. Beautiful photographs, I love the food, the people, the architecture everything about it.

    • It’s amazing isn’t it Suz!! This was my first visit but like you, I fell in love with everything from the food to the friendly, welcoming people. Cannot wait to go back again! xx

  2. How wonderful, Laura! The views, the food and the writing… Makes me feel like I would be there myself. Many lovely greetings to you at Glasgow! So great to see in every new post where next your wanderlust has driven the two of you :-). Best and hugs

    • Thanks so much Claudia, apologies for the late reply. I do hope that you will visit Italy one day (if you haven’t already), I do think that you and Arne would love it. Lots of hugs right back to you xx

  3. What a beautiful post Laura, I was captivated on every word. And are very curious to know what your weird dance involves! ;) You photography is absolutely stunning and captures the tiny details that an amateur photographer doesn’t even notice. I hope you are both recovering from your travel ills, that is the worst part of travel and happens to us too. Safe travels xxx

    • Hahaha! I don’t think that my weird dance was very coordinated, it was more just bouncing from one side to the other with assorted arm movements! Thanks for the lovely encouragement, it means a lot. Sending you hugs and see you very soon when I get back! xx

  4. How lovely to read your post and see your photos! I was in France & Italy in June/July this year and it was just amazing! Like you said, the quality and low cost of the produce was enough to make me go weak in the knees. I found that some of the best meals that we had were in the most unassuming of places – one of the most memorable was La Zucca in Venice. Delicious food, so many gorgeous vegetarian options for those bored of pizza and pasta, and not outrageously priced – but definitely book ahead. The locals all know about this treasure!

    • Yes, definitely agree with you Sam… such gorgeous options everywhere! I wish that I knew about La Zucca earlier, I definitely would have gone to have a meal there. Next time! Thanks for the kind words xx

  5. Oh, poor Aaron! I am very lucky, because Billy seems to have a super immune system and he will even drink from my glass or kiss me even when I’m sick. The downfall is that while he rarely gets sick, when he does it is SICK. Hallucinations, man flu, the lot. Haha. Italy looks wonderful, I have only been once – before I was vegan – and I remember visiting little farmer’s markets and eating the most delicious pestos and cheeses. I had to sneak some pesto home in my luggage, it was so good. I only spent a day in Venice as there were no hostels available when I went, so didn’t get too much of a chance to peruse all the little alley ways. It was really beautiful, though I didn’t go on a gondola either. So expensive! x

    • Oh yum, I know exactly what you mean about the pesto! It’s so delicious!! Glad that Billy has a good immune system… Aaron normally does too at home, but it’s something about the air and the unfamiliar bugs over here I think! I do hope that you get back to Italy one day soon. I think it’s one of my fave places now xx

  6. Oh, my gosh! I loved this post! Such beautiful pictures, and as always, your descriptions make me feel like I’m right there (even though, sadly, I’m not). What a wonderful adventure this has been for the two of you–one that you will always remember. Enjoy the rest of your week, and eat something yummy for me. xx

    • Thank you Julie! I do hope that you will get there yourself soon enough, Italy definitely surpassed all of my expectations! Sending you hugs. I’m going home in two days now, argh… can’t believe it! xxx

  7. I’m effing impressed with the whole lot; you standing on one leg… Those meats… Ah those meats… The cracking pics (I have grown to take them as a given)… It all.
    I think your nails may need a touch up though :)

  8. So envious of your trip as I love Italy. I’ve been in Sicily, Rome and the Alps. Indeed it is hard to find bad food there… OK in Rome you can accidentally get way too expensive food, other than that its a food heaven. Beautiful photos Laura! xx

  9. Love cicchetti (so fun!). Venice was perhaps the biggest surprise of my life. I thought I’d hate it. But, despite the overly touristy nature, it was the most magical place I’ve ever visited. Florence, though, was one of my biggest disappointments. Awful food, throngs of tourists, just ugh. Did enjoy the Mercato Centrale, though. Despite the bad sandwich, your photo looks great!

    • Oh, I loved Florence! I just tried to ignore the tourists though, they were absolutely everywhere in Italy. I loved Venice but it seemed kind of… unreal? Not that that’s a bad thing! Thanks for the kind words x

  10. Home sweet home! I’m from Tuscany, I live in Paris and studied in Glasgow… but nothing compares to my green tuscan hills and olive trees, thanks for this gorgeous post and photos!! I loved reading it.

  11. Oh, I love revisiting every one of my trips to Italy through yours, Laura! The mojito bar in Venice – was it near the “squeri”? (That is where they were repairing the gondole.) If so, it might have been out favorite cicchetti bar, too, where we had cicchetti with tuna and cocoa! Ugh, the mosquitoes! Too many all over Italy, if you ask me! We now travel with soft window screens and thumb tacks to protect ourselves. Even in October in Venice we were tortured at night!

    I am so glad you enjoyed Florence, as it has never been my favorite (although you can always count me in for some Porchetta and gelato!). For me, it was way too crowded… Oddly, I liked Rome better. But maybe that is because our apartment had air conditioning! :) Now I understand your comment in my cantuccini post! Now you can make them at home in Austrailia! They really (to me) tasted like the ones we had there.

    Rome in the summer is beastly. And I would never stand in line for the Sistine Chapel (or the Louvre, or anywhere). There is so much to see that are equally as beautiful. Far more astounding to me was the ceiling of Sant’Ignazio… (And have you seem the Monna Lisa? What’s all the fuss about?)

    Arezzo, we loved – we managed to be there for the jousting festival. Magical. But, all in all, we loved Lucca. We dreamed of living there before deciding on Tucson. I hope you enjoyed it. While not as exciting as some of the other places, it has a quality of life that we like.

    Thank you for sharing all those incredible photos! And it is fun to know what you look like! :)

    • Yes I think that it may have been David! I can’t remember exact details but it sounds familiar! And I think if I return to Italy (hopefully I will) I might follow your lead and bring soft window screens also. The lack of sleep and the frustration of the mosquitoes was unfortunately all to prevalent! As for your cantuccini post, I am so excited to try them… not too long til I get home now, I’ve got the link bookmarked! Thanks so much for sharing your recollections of Italy. So fun to share and compare notes. And yep, I’ve seen the Mona Lisa a couple of times now and it is definitely unremarkable. I’m not sure why it’s so world renowned and hallowed. But there are plenty of other global phenomenons that I don’t understand either (i.e Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte!!! What the?!) so… well, I guess that’s humans for you! So good to be friends with you. And also fun to see you on Insta (now we both know what each other looks like!) xx

  12. Oh wow Laura, Italy looks amazing. But seriously, who needs Tripadvisor when they’ve got you? You should get a share in their business or something …
    I’m sorry there seem to have been disappointments – you always hope everything would be perfect but I guess even the Italians have their faults ;). At least there were beautiful things too. x

  13. Hi Laura– I came across your post this afternoon, when I was in a rush– So I saved it for this evening so I could pour over all your amazing pics!! What fun! What food! I’m a big fan of market photos.
    Florence is our favorite in Italy as well.– Loved the Duomo Museum–small and magnificent. And all the De la Robia (sp?) ceramic pieces. The river, the views, the gelato!!
    And we went to Rome in June last time and it was hot and crowded as well! maybe December???
    Thanks for sending out all your pictures– so fun to relive it all. Looks like you had the most beautiful time… and P.S.– glad for your take a a day off in Glascow– sounds cozy and restorative… Love your post!! xoxo

    • Thanks so much for the lovely words Rhonda, I loved reading your recollections of Italy too! Ah, the gelato… I miss it heaps! I do hope that you get another chance to visit soon. Hugs xx

  14. Hey Luara! It looks that you hasd a lot of fun exploring, traveling & eating your way through Europ! Ha! Beautiful pictures, bright colors & great adventures too! And don’t forget about the glorious foods & drinks! xxx

  15. Wow, amazing post! I felt nostalgic by reading your words and your time spent in beautiful Italy, my second mother country. I lived in Venice for a month and despite the overcrowded touristic areas, i loved it! Such as Rome, which now it is incredibly dirty and messy, and Florence! And do we want to talk about the food? Here in Amsterdam I am really missing it! The colours, the smell, the taste… such a different story.

    x

    • Oh wow, a month! I can definitely understand how you loved it, Venice was such a beautiful place to visit. I’ve never been to Amsterdam but I do hear that it’s beautiful too. But once you’ve got the travel bug you’re always wanting to keep travelling! Thanks for the lovely words xx

  16. Italy is absolutely my favorite country to visit. I was there for a month a few years ago, and going back next fall for a couple of weeks just outside Venice. Can’t wait! And I’ve always wanted to visit Scotland. I’m part Scot, and it would be wonderful. Your travels sound so great – thanks for sharing some of your beautiful photos :-)

    • Thanks so much Susan. Oh, I do hope that you get to Scotland one day! Aaron has some Scottish heritage too and it was wonderful for the both of us to see where his family name is from, the tartan and history etc. It’s a gorgeous country too… the scenery is stunning. Thanks for the kind words xx

  17. Your post makes me hungry and jealous at the same time, but I forgive you. It all sounds marvelous Laura (even the bad bits, like dry sandwiches). I remember when we were in Milan, Clint ordered a porchetta panini (may be it’s something about porchetta paninis – conspiracy theory alert!) that was so fatty he couldn’t eat it… this coming from the man whose mantra is “fat is flavour”. It was a tragic lunch as we had already set out in our car into the countryside before we realised. There we were in one of the food meccas of the world, him with his inedible buttie and rumbling tummy surrounded by fields and not a osteria or trattoria in sight. I had to share my rather delicious slice of pizza with him. We laugh about it now. What an amazing adventure you’re having.

    I hope yours and Aarons sniffles ease up soon so that you can enjoy the rest of your journey. I loved Glasgow. It would be a wonderful place to enjoy some down-time.

    • Yes, the porchetta is ridiculously fatty. It’s basically just pork belly rolled up and roasted as far as I understand. Our friend Paul adores it but I had to pick it apart when I gave it a go! It’s funny how some travel hiccups become laughable. We’ve collected a few ourselves now!! Thanks for the lovely words and for checking in with me Jen. Hugs xx

    • I know what you mean Dedy! It’s a hazard of travelling! We felt the same but then… after a while, you do miss the beautiful things from home. Thanks for the comment :)

  18. I love Venice. I’ve been there many times and I think I will go back next year. This year I went to Sicily- already second time in a row, and my favorite was Siracusa and Ragusa Ibla. Have a look at my post about Siracusa food market and Modica and its chocolate. Beatiful pictures by the way- some parts of the North of Italy are still on my list of places to go!

  19. Your images of Italy make me want to travel back to Tuscany and explore more. I spent a summer abroad in the small town of Cortona, and it was one of the best summers of my life. I made art, I took photographs, I ate, I drank and soaked in the good life. So happy y’all had the opportunity to travel through several cities during your tour and that you got to experience the beauty of Italia!

    • Yes, do it Erin!! Once little one is old enough to travel, that is! Italy is definitely ‘the good life’, particularly in the balmy summertime. Thanks for the lovely words xx

  20. Wow what a beautiful trip so far!
    Your photos of Italy are just so beautiful :)
    Venice is just like a dream isn’t it. And what a fun as adventure you must both be having!
    Driving around Tuscancy would’ve been so amazing! (especially in that fiat :D )
    hehe i would love to see tones of pictures of italian cobblestone streets, even if it did use up my internet download :P
    hope you enjoyed your relaxing day off and can’t wait to see more of your travel pictures!
    xxox

    • Thanks so much lovely. Haha… yes, each street was more beautiful than the last so the pictures piled up! Thanks for the lovely words. I do hope that you get to drive around Tuscany yourself one day soon! xx

  21. I was just in Italy last week and reading your post this evening with all these beautiful photos just made me smile! How wonderful it was that you were able to tour all around and visit these amazing places…and eat all this gorgeous food! Dipping biscotti in vin santo is my favorite!!

    • Thanks so much Dearna, I feel exactly the same. I think it’s one of my favourite destinations now, I cannot wait to go back (hope that you manage to make it over there soon too!). Hugs xx

    • It’s so amazing isn’t it Brydie! I just re-watched Jamie’s Italian series and I’ve fallen in love with the culture all over again. Real food from scratch. Beautiful, healthy and whole. Ah. I want to go back already!! xx

      • I don’t have the book but now I want to add it to the collection… I’m a bit in love with the Italian food philosophy! It’s such a great series, I loved seeing it again… particularly watching the little ones who were so involved in cooking from scratch! So inspiring.

    • Hahaha, yes! I made my own spelt pizzas the other day for that exact reason! Now I want a woodfire oven for pizza and sourdough (though i do need a backyard first!) xx

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