TIPS & SUGGESTIONS
Matt is the expert planner in this – I am better at recapping, so I have to give him every ounce of credit for always planning the best trips and working out all the details with both our interests and travel styles in mind.
Matt and I shared (almost) every single meal on this trip. We wanted to stick to our budget, but also, with all the walking not feel full and uncomfortable. This was a great idea!
We don’t do museums like most people – we don’t stop and analyze every single artifact (if you do, that’s great!), but that should be noted for timing purposes because it allows us to typically do more in a day than if we spent a solid 2-3 hours in a museum.
So, we traveled from Switzerland into Milan and spent a few hours there; we both think this is all you need for Milan. We consider Milan to resemble New York (in a less amazing way, because we both LOVE NYC), so really we didn’t need much time. We had some lunch, walked to the Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele II (where all the bougie stores are at), and then to the Duomo. We then took a train to Florence.
Given it’s central location, we decided to make Florence our home base for 8 nights and take day trips to other cities close by as when Matt came last time he didn’t spend that much time in Florence and he wished he would. This was SUCH a good idea! Florence is beautiful, busy with tourists but not as big a city as Milan or Rome.
Our apartment at Palazzo Capponi, everyone’s point of jealousy, was OUTSTANDING. Major kudos to Matt for finding such a spectacular place. I kid you not, we went to rooftop bars, tourist plazas, and NOTHING compared to the 360 views we had at our terrace (pictures). Matt really wanted a place with a kitchen to be able to cook at some point, but this apartment completely exceeded our expectations!! It is family run and the staff is so accommodating and friendly! With various floors and outside terraces, it was private, central (about a mile from the train station and less than 5 minutes to the Ponte Vecchio Bridge) and just perfect!
Firenze Card ($$$)– This city museum card allows you to get into over 75 attractions, inclusive of all the main onces you typically see (Duomo, Galleria di Academia, Galleria Uffizi) for a great price of 85 euros.
**Sidenote: Matt is an avid hunter/history buff, so because of the Firenze card, we visited two really cool museums that we probably would not have found on any search had they not been included on the card. Our favorite was Museo Stibbert – this one is a bit out of the way but an extraordinary medieval armor collection!! The other favorite was a taxidermy museum called Specula – pretty sure we were the only ones in the entire place but it’s a ton of rooms with every species of animal you can imagine!
NOTE: the card is active for 72 hours from the first time you use it, so if you’re staying longer than 3 days, make sure you time it correctly so you can take advantage of all it has to offer.
Cooking Class ($$$)– We did the pizza & gelato class offered by WalkAbout Tours and it was so fun! You meet in the city and a bus takes you up to a farmhouse on the hillside just outside of Tuscany. You are welcomed with bruschetta and wine as you pick out the ingredients for gelato. Our group was about 28 people, but did not feel crowded. You prepare your gelato in groups of 2 and then go on to make your pizza. Chef Luca and Luigi are absolutely amazing, so funny, helpful, and entertaining. You then indulge in your pizza with beautiful views and follow it with a gelato bar of all flavors made. (Beer & wine are included throughout)
I’ Girone De Ghiotti: ($) This spot is one of the reasons we decided to start this blog. We stumbled upon it while we were looking for one of the more famous panini spots according to the internet. It was closed that day because we arrived on 6/24 which is La Fiesta de San Giovanni (plan accordingly if you’re going on that date as most things are closed), so we started walking and saw I’ Girone De Ghiotti; a place that did not come up in ANY of our searches, and yet, was the BEST panini we had. We actually ended up eating here 3 times, even after trying the other highly rated panini spots in town. This one is the best! Our favorite sandwich was La Batigol which had prosciutto, sheep’s cheese, and sweet onion cream (we still salivate thinking about it). It happens to us all, but the internet can be a double-edged sword. Don’t be afraid to explore and stumble upon that hidden gem that might be the best spot of the trip!! Disclaimer: La Batigol was listed as a special, so don’t hate us if it’s not available!
Golden View ($$)– If you’ve done any restaurant research in Firenze, you’ve seen this place and its amazing view. We went twice, total coincidence, but worth it.
Trattoria ZaZa ($) – One dollar sign but 5 stars; you’re doing yourself a disservice by not going here. Most pasta dishes are between 10-15 euros. The lasagna was the star, but everything we ate was delicious. Each room is unique and has interesting décor throughout.
La Carraia ($) – The best gelato we had in Florence (I say Florence because we had the best ever in Venice) but this one was great. Expect a line, but it moves quickly.
cinque terre & portofino
We should start by saying, we are not in shape and we know that, but even still we underestimated our physical abilities for Cinque Terre. We took the train to the northernmost village of Monteroso al Mare and hiked our way to Vernazza. It is very difficult, but well worth the views. The terrain is rough with rocky paths and no guardrail throughout most of it and doing this in the summer made it that much harder. We finally got to Vernazza and walked around for a very small amount of time, focusing on hydrating and getting fuel for the next leg of the trip. After taking a few pictures at the harbor and popping in to a few shops, we decided we’d be better off taking the train to the next village. Corniglia is the third village – important to say that whether you hike or not, this village has much higher elevation than the rest, therefore, requires you to climb over 350 stairs to get to the village center. Work your way to the ocean side of town and stop at Bar Terza Terra to soak in the view and enjoy a refreshing limoncello spritz.
Manarola – this village was our favorite of the five. It has beautiful views and a bigger feel to it. Come to Manarola hungry because you’ll want to stop at Nessun Dorma. It overlooks the water/village and has great food; DO NOT miss out on this restaurant if you’re in Manarola. The line appeared much longer than it really was, but it moves fast, so stick it out!
After lunch, we got our second wind and wanted to hike to the last village, Riomaggiore where we chose to spend the night. This portion of the hike contains “Lover’s Lane” which we really wanted to see, but was unfortunately closed, so we had to take the train instead. Matt found this amazing hotel, The First, where we stayed in the Luxury Honeymoon Suite. Yes, we splurged a bit on this one, but it was so worth it! With a balcony overlooking the entire village, it was worth every penny! Another disclaimer: there is no elevator and the stairs are very steep. We would advise to not bring heavy luggage here.
Overall, Cinque Terre is a unique and beautiful place. It has a relaxed feel and breathtaking views. FYI: The pictures you see online are filtered, so don’t be disappointed if the colors aren’t as vibrant as you’re expecting, but don’t let that discourage you.
We decided to incorporate Portofino since we were staying in Cinque Terre the night before and it was only about an hour train ride. Portofino is very small and one day is more than enough to get it done (unless you want to hang by the beach which we didn’t). We took the bus from the train station into Portofino which offers a lot of cute stops along the way if you choose.
We ate at Ristorante Stella; had the traditional pesto lasagna and calamari.
We also had a glass of Santa Margherita (Jacky's favorite wine) since this town is right next to the train station.
Rome for us resembles another Milan, so while most people say you need to stay here for 3 days, we decided to do a day trip and it was perfect. We got in really early and walked around the entire day.
NOTE: if you’ll be doing the Vatican and Basilica, shoulders and knees must be covered.
We went to the Vatican/the Sisteen Chapel (purchased a skip the line tour to make the entrance line faster), St. Peter’s Basilica, Trevi Fountain, the Forum, and the Colosseum (also did a skip the line tour for this which allowed us to enter through the Gladiator entrance).
If you’re in Italy, Venice is a MUST. This unique city is comprised of over 100 small islands in a lagoon, with only boats and your feet as the two modes of transportation.
We stayed at Pensione Wildner. It was right on the main canal and had a great view overlooking it. Small hotel, pretty typical of Venice, but great location.
We took a private water taxi from the train station to our hotel, which was about 80 euros. This is expensive but a good option when you have a lot of luggage and it also gives you a nice introduction/view of the entire island right when you get there.
Their public water taxi is another great way to get around and they offer a 48 hour pass for about 30 euros per person. It includes a lot of stops, which allowed us to visit Murano (glass blowing) and Burano (colorful island). Since we decided to splurge on the private water taxi in, we decided to take this back to the train station on the way out (it took about 45 minutes, but it ran as early as 5:30am) Disclaimer: the water taxi is not very crowded in the early morning, but gets busier as the day goes on.
Harry’s Bar – the creator of the Bellini. NOTE: they are 22 euros a piece, but the complimentary olives alone are worth the visit. You won’t regret it!
Boutique del Gelato – we came here 3 times! The gelato changes daily and it was the best we had the entire trip! We found this spot on Somebody Feed Phil (a Netflix show we recommend) and it was everything he claimed it was!!
We tried to make all of our meals include seafood, all of which were amazing, but our favorite spots were Trattoria Rivetta, Cantine del Vino gia Schiavi, and Il Paradiso Perduto. If you still need pizza when in Venice, you can check out Farini (it’s a chain so there’s a few spots, but it’s good stuff).
You can’t leave Venice without doing…
Rialto Bridge – monumental/the largest bridge in Venice. This one is huge but offers great pictures.
Bridge of Sighs – connects the prison to the interrogation rooms and it’s said prisoners will sigh with the view as they walk by to their possible execution.
Gondola Ride – we completely recommend this!! Prices range from about 80 euros to 120, but it was very well worth it. NOTE: We suggest doing a gondola ride in the smaller channels throughout the city, rather than on the grand canal as the water is rough, very busy, and does not provide the typical Venice feel like the back channels do. This is romantic, beautiful, and a good small tour in a private environment.
The best thing about Venice is getting lost in the streets, spending your days walking around and just taking it all in. Don’t overpack your schedule while in Venice – leave time to walk around and let the streets take you where they take you.
Unfortunately, we only had half a day to spare before the end of the trip, and we chose to spend it at Lake Como. The reason this is unfortunate is because we wish we would had allotted much more time! Lake Como combines the nautical Italian feel that so many other cities offer but adds the majestic mountain views of the north. The best part about Lake Como, is that this was where we decided we wanted to try this travel bloggers thing out!
We traveled Venice -> Milan -> Como (this was all about 5 hours with travel time, train delays or departures, etc). Getting to Como is pretty easy but seeing the other villages on the Lake require a little more effort. We chose to spend the little time we had in Bellagio. There are no trains operating around the lake so your options are taxi, bus or boat. We chose to take the fast ferry on the way to Bellagio.
We got in line, but the 1:30pm taxi was sold out, so we had to wait for the next one at 2:20 – these fast ferries take about 45 minutes; the slow ferry takes two hours. We had to take the slow option on the way back and at first were nervous it would be way too long, but the slow paced boat allowed us to soak in the amazing views and truly relax. Also, the slow boat had a bar, so the views are always more attractive when you are sipping on a spritz!
Bellagio is small but breathtaking . We had lunch at Ristorante La Punta which gave us unreal panoramic views over an excellent meal. After our late lunch we explored around, got great pictures, soaked in all the views, and stopped in for a drink at Aperitivo Et Al Bar .This bar is not only a refreshing place to stop but the view from just outside the front door is one of the best in Bellagio. Be sure to add this to your itinerary when you go to northern Italy.
We are already looking for a date of when we can get back and dive in to all that Lake Como has to offer.