Just as Trip Advisor helped us with our planning, we thought we’d share highlights of our recent trip with you … here goes:
We flew in from Bangkok to Birmingham (to be with family for a few days) and then made the trip to Italy.
DAY 1 Landed in Florence where we got picked up and taken to Hotel Santa Caterina. We spent the day walking around Siena, visiting sights such as the huge Plaza del Campo surrounded by cafes and restaurants and the magnificent Duomo di Siena. The entire town was brought to life in the afternoon as we were lucky enough to witness the street parade – Tuscano Pride.
DAY 2 An introduction to The Tuscan Countryside – Made a stop at Buonconvento. The highlight here - two sweet little Italian men drove up to us in a 3 wheeler tiny van called an Ape. They saw us snapping away, pulled over and invited us to sit inside the little green Ape, and patiently waited for us to finish with our cameras. Landscape travelling from Buonconvento to Pienza was delightful. We were surrounded with fields of florescent greens, buttercup and golden yellows and straw brown. We got to Pienza at lunch time and all the restaurants were really full, but we did manage to secure a table at La Taverna di Re Artu. Had a fab lunch there and later gelato at Buon Gusto Gelateria. Monte Pulciano was our last stop for the day for a little wine tasting. Popped into Cantine De’Ricci, where we descended ancient stairs that opened up into a spectacular wine cellar with huge barrels, located within beautiful caves. That evening, we had a beautiful meal of spinach ricotta ravioli, wild boar, rabbit at Papei Trattoria back in Siena.
DAY 3 We were picked up today and driven to two small but lovely Tuscan towns, Monteriggioni, and Castelina in Chianti, complete with fortified walls, set within the gorgeous countryside. Then, Pisa and the city of Lucca and finally dropped off at the Cinque Terra coast. As expected, the hoards of tourists made Pisa ‘not so special’. My husband and I really liked Lucca, perhaps even slightly more than Sienna. Not as many tourists there, and rather charming. We checked into Pietre de Mare, at Monterossa towards the end of the day for two nights.
DAY 4 This was our only full day in Cinque Terra, and we had plotted out a route that would see us skipping Corniglia so that we could spend more time at each of the other villages. We started off by taking the first morning boat out to Riomaggiore for breakfast, then the train to Vernazza, where we had lunch at Antica Osteria Il Baretto. We then hiked back to Monterossa, stopped for an ice cold beer before hopping back onto the last boat for sunset and evening meal at Manarola. Tripadvisor posts had recommended this village for sunset, so we didn’t want to miss it. We were not disappointed! We then headed back to Monterossa (by train) for delicious walnut ravioli at a restaurant called San Martino Gastronomia, We enjoyed our stay at Cinque Terra very much. Each village has its own personality and was special in its own way.
DAY 5. We headed for the Italian Riviera - Portofino, Santa Margherita and Rapallo, and got dropped off, bags and all in Florence. The yacht-filled harbour of Portofino was very pretty and the must-do in our opinion would be to walk up to Castello Brown – not so much for the castle but for the views!
DAY 6 and 7 The historic city of Florence is indeed a very special place. The ancient city is filled with unrivalled richness of Renaissance art, sculpture and architecture. We wandered through a maze of streets to end up facing gorgeous piazzas, beautiful statues and fountains and majestic churches. Everything was just so breath-taking. We visited the Ufizzi, walked along Ponte Vecchio (where I couldn’t stop snapping), walked up to Piazelle Michelangelo, which accorded stunning, panoramic views, stood staring at the Duomo (did not want to queue so did not enter), watched an opera at St Mark’s church, and paid a visit to Mercato Centrale.
Our trip was made extra special because of our wonderful driver, Giancarlo Zito. Giancarlo helped put together our itinerary, with input from our end. We booked him for some days during our stay in Italy. He was always helpful and prompt with his replies via email prior to our trip, and during our visit, he was always punctual, passionate, considerate, and very friendly (and highly entertaining). He lived in the States for years and speaks perfect English. He even taught me how to eat spaghetti the Italian way! Being taken around by Giancarlo was like being taken around by a friend, and we are still in touch. Highly recommended!