Italy Vacay, In Pictures – Part II

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In my last post I gave an overview of our summer travel in Italy — the where, if you will — but what, exactly, did we do while there?

Well, first off, marathon training on vacation — let alone finding running routes in tiny towns with some crazy elevation changes — certainly proved interesting.

But I love checking out new places on foot, and Hubby was game to tackle some hills so we could enjoy the views (the shots above and below are from Taormina in Sicily).

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And as much as we love relaxing during a good pool or beach day (believe me, we had a few of those), we also like to “adventure” around. That’s how we ended up at the crater of Mount Etna, an active volcano.

Hubby’s the figure up top, leaning his full weight into the high winds; I ventured about two-thirds of the way up before turning back around so I wouldn’t get blown off the side of the mountain.

I’m all for getting a good rush, but sometimes you just have to know your limits!

photo 3 (2)Luckily, not all of our days were as adrenaline-filled; one of our favorite parts of the trip was grabbing a cappuccino and either people-watching or scoping out the scenery — or both — like when we stopped at this cafe near a swanky hotel in Ravello.

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And you can’t help but want to take in some of the culture when traveling in Europe. We’d heard rave reviews of the art in Florence, so one of the high points of our day trip there was the Galleria dell’Accademia and its sculptures.

One of the not-so-high points? The wait to get in to see David, which was about three hours for the ticket line, plus another hour and a half for the actual entry from there.

Here’s a helpful hint: Cut that time in half by paying a little more for surplus tickets from tour companies (shhh!).

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Speaking of buying…Italy’s small towns have some of the most wonderful shops.

This linen store had every pattern and color imaginable, and the store owner was all too happy to show us the goods (Hubby also made a friend).

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But the absolute best part of traveling in Italy?

You guessed it — the food.

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With our daily morning cappuccinos, I discovered a new obsession: sfogliatelle. They’re light, flaky, crispy ricotta-filled pastries that look like seashells (see in the background below).

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The pizzas are out-of-this-world with a thin, chewy crust and the most delicately-seasoned sauces. I like to keep it simple with basil, mozzarella and a drizzle of olive oil.

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One thing we weren’t expecting was the stellar seafood; I guess we take it for granted coming from the Bay Area, but this stuff was fresh.

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So fresh, for example, that this little lobster was walking around the seafood display case next to me before he was plucked out and cooked to order in Taormina.

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All the produce was super flavorful, too. In Italy, they don’t serve something unless it’s in peak ripeness, so you’ve got to try pretty hard to get a bad meal there.

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And that whole farm-to-table movement? Well, you can’t get much more local than in Tuscany.

One night, for example, the owners of the villa made us dinner, which began with bread that was baked in a stone oven and seasoned with rosemary growing on the grounds.

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Or this awesome meat-and-cheese spread from 13 Gobbi in Montefollonico where we sampled homemade mozzarella and a duo of prosciuttos, one of which was wild boar from the area.

A tip: If you go there, also order the pecorino pasta. Words don’t do it justice, so just watch this video of the owner working his magic to see what it’s all about.

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And as long as I’m on the subject of cheese, I can’t forget the lovely house-made burrata at La Porta, one of our favorite spots to frequent while in Monticchiello.

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But this dish from our day trip to Pienza featured one of my favorite things in the entire world: TRUFFLES!

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We capped off the trip with an experience that merged art and food at La Pergola, Rome’s only Michelin three-star restaurant.

From the atmosphere of the room to the table settings, from the service to the plating…it was a bucket-list kind of meal.

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And last, but certainly not least, was our gelato mission, which ended in a final tally of 15. It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it.

As a result, we’ve got some great memories (and a few extra pounds!) to carry us until the next trip.

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In the meantime, I’m on the hunt for some authentic Italian delicacies in Portland…so if anyone’s got suggestions, I’m all ears!

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Italy Vacay, In Pictures – Part I

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If you’ve been following along on Instagram, you may have seen some of the shots I posted from our recent Italy trip with Hubby’s family.

But I got a lot of questions about where we went and what we did, so I thought it’d be fun to do a little visual recap here on the blog!

Our first stop was Ischia, which Hubby and I hit solo because it was recommended by some friends of ours. It’s billed as a locals’ getaway, which means it’s just as beautiful as nearby Capri, but much less crowded.

Although it took — literally — planes, taxis (yes, plural) and a water taxi to get there, it was well worth it.

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We stayed at a family-owned resort called Giardino Eden, and since it was early in the week, we had most of it to ourselves for sunbathing, swimming in the Tyrrhenian Sea and chowing down on all the amazing, fresh local fish.

And although we didn’t get a chance to hit up any of Ischia’s famous thermal pools, we did take a day to scooter around the entire island to scope things out. Then it was back to the hotel to nap some more in the sun.

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Well-rested and adjusted to the time change, we headed to stop no. two, which took us south to a city called Taormina in Sicily. We hopped on an EasyJet for the short flight from Naples to Catania, and settled in at the Hotel Villa Diadoro.

The shot below is the view from our balcony, which overlooked Mount Etna (still active and steaming!), as well as the bay of Naxos. We did a little adventuring around this area, which I’ll share more of in my next post!

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From Sicily, we flew back to Naples and headed over toward the Amalfi Coast to Positano, which we had briefly visited while staying in Sorrento during our last trip.

This leg we decided to wing a bit, however, so we didn’t book our hotel — the Conca d’Oro — until the day before. It turned out to be a great spot, but they don’t call it the “Vertical City” for nothin’; it was 107 steps from from the street to the hotel lobby!

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It was another 578-ish (we lost count) steps down to the local beach, where we hung out during one of our days there. And there may or may not have been some good shopping done along the way… 🙂

We hit our fill of tourists pretty quickly, though, especially since it was high-season and the streets are pretty small, so the next day we decided to escape up the Amalfi Coast via scooter to Ravello, which had one of the most incredible views I’ve ever seen.

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For stop no. four, we headed to Tuscany to meet up with Hubby’s family at a villa they had rented for the week.

We’d all been to this area before together and fell in love with it, so this time we wanted to kick back, relax, explore the tiny hilltop towns and fill up on all that amazing food (and wine!) for which they’re famous.

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One of our day trips, for example, took us to Pienza, which is a village that was rebuilt by Pope Pius II into an ideal Renaissance town — intended as a retreat from Rome and representative of the first application of urban planning.

My sister-in-law and her hubby led the way as we poked around the little shops down each alley and took in the sights.

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The closest town to us, however, was tiny Monticchiello, a pretty little medieval village in the heart of the Val d’Orcia.

There’s a restaurant there called Osteria La Porta that Hubby’s family has been going to for years — and we again frequented it on this trip in the mornings for cappuccino, between jaunts for gelato and one evening for a fantastic dinner.

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Our villa itself was a remodeled 18th-century farmhouse, but the property also housed a vineyard, olive grove and several other buildings, including an old 16th-century church and rectory tucked in back of everything.

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One item on our to-do list was a day trip to Florence while in Tuscany because we weren’t able to hit it last time. But after checking two sights off  list — Michelangelo’s David, as well as the Florence Cathedral — we had enough of the crowds.

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Before we knew it, our fifth and final stop had arrived: Rome!

Last time we hit all the major highlights, so this was a quick two-night layover before our flight home.

On the schedule? One final Italian feast at Heinz Beck’s LaPergola with Hubby and his parents, which turned out to be one of the only times I’ve been so full I haven’t been able to polish off the last of my dessert.

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There was one more person we had to see, though, before we could consider our trip complete: Pope Francis.

He happened to be in town and was scheduled for his usual Sunday blessing in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican; although it was difficult to see him (upper window, second from right) and tough to understand (all in Italian), it was still a special experience for Hubby, his mom and me to share.

photo 1 (7)Those are the highlights in a nutshell, but stay tuned for my next post, which will cover more of our excursions — and eats — while overseas!