Fiesole

Just a short bus ride from Florence up into the hills brings you to the town of Fiesole. The quick side trip lays fabulous views of Florence at your feet. The city is laid out before you as a marvel of the Renaissance in Tuscany that it is.

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The first thing you see upon arrival is the Medieval Cathedral.

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We spent the day exploring the ruins of the Teatro Romano an archaeological site that includes a temple, the Roman theatre and the Baths.

The Roman Theatre was built somewhere between the 1st century B.C. and the 1st century A.D.  The half-round ampitheatre allowed easy seat access and was used until the 3rd century A.D.

The thermal baths date back to the 1st century B.C. and included a Frigidarium to cool off after your hot bath, a Tepidarium which was the lukewarm space and a Calidarium the hottest water which was warmed by two ovens.

The Etruscan walls partially enclose the city of Fiesole and were a defense against enemies until 1125 when Florence conquered Fiesole.

After exploring the town on an insanely hot afternoon we walked partially down the hill to grab lunch at the Belmond San Michele. This is a very special property in the Belmond chain and again overlooks the city of Florence.  It was well worth making a reservation to join them for lunch. The property is stunning and I cannot wait to go back so I can experience the property properly as a guest!

Remember when travelling get off the beaten track! If you can’t afford to stay somewhere plan to go there for lunch. No restaurant that I have ever visited denies non-guests lunch.  Just make a reservation!

Then back to Florence!

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Lake Como – Villas on the Lake

Did you know Lake Como is only about an hour’s ride from Milan? There are numerous grand villas that line Lake Como.  Taking the slow ferry gives you a glimpse at a few!

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Villa on the lake
Lake Como villa
This screams Italy to me!

Villa Balbianello in Lenno is one of the most scenic residences on the lake and is famous for its terraced gardens.  It was originally built for Cardinal Angelo Durini and sits high up on a hill overlooking Bellagio and the lake. The Loggia Durini is a popular wedding venue. This location has made its way into a variety of movies like Casino Royale and Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones.

Villa Balbianello, Lenno
Lenno
Loggia Durini

Grand Hotel Tremezzo besides being a magnificent hotel has a floating pool! This historic property was recently renovated and very popular on the Lake. Enjoy the restaurants or the spa.  Terrace dining has you looking over to Bellagio. While here be sure to stop next door and visit Villa Carlotta. Built in 1690 it features a lovely Italian garden. Again, if you are taking the ferry to Bellagio or Varenna you can hop off in Tremezzo to visit here.

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Grand Hotel Tremezzo, floating pool

Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni is another lovely spot to stay, just lunch or grab a drink. The Villa was built back in the 15th century. The park is not part of the property and the Gardens at Villa Melzi are time better spent.

Villa Serbelloni

Villa D’Este originally had a female convent on this site but it was later demolished to make way for a private residence.  It too has beautiful gardens.  In 1873 it was converted into a hotel and it has seen the likes of many celebs!

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Villa D’Este in Cernobbia

Did you miss the beginning of this series on Lake Como? Here is a link to Part One- Lago di Como – a series

Lake Como – Bellagio – Villa Melzi

If you visit Bellagio be sure not to miss the famous gardens of Villa Melzi. The gardens are open to the public but the 19th century neoclassical villa is not. It is said these gardens were a favorite spot for Franz Lizst, the famous composer and pianist and quite possibly where he wrote one of his most famous pieces, ‘Dante Symphony’. This Villa was built to be the summer residence of Francesco Melzi d’Eril, one of Napoleon’s men.

As you enter you come upon this serene Japanese inspired garden and the Grotto.

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Japanese Maples

Next you encounter the Moorish Pavilion with its sculptures and cypress trees. A pretty spot to rest a minute or just hop out of the sun. The views both north and south are lovely.

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Villa Melzi Moorish Pavilion

Farther along towards the Villa is a lovely Plane (Plantanus x acerifolia) tree lined path with modern benches. A quiet spot to enjoy the views of the lake and the towns across.

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Modern benches arch

Right in front of the Villa is the Terrace and Lake Landing. The columns frame the views toward the Swiss Alps.

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Terrace and Lake Landing looking towards Switzerland

As you wind your way around you link back to the beginning via a series of paths lined with specimen trees and statues.

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Ready for more Lake Como?

Lago di Como, a series, part 5

There are so many things and places to experience on Lake Como that I could go on and on! Here are a few more sites from the city of Como located only an hour by train from Milan and perfect spot to call home base for visiting the lake.

 

 

Did you miss Lago di Como, part 4  

Lago di Como – Part 3; Lago di Como – Part 2 Brunate; Lago di Como – a series

Lago di Como, a series, part 4

On the shores of Lake Como in the town of Cernobbia is the 16th century Tivoli Palace named, Villa D’Este.  This former palace from the Renaissance era was converted to a high end hotel in 1873 and consists of the Villa and a 25 acre park.  Be prepared for stunning views of Lake Como!!Cernobbia Villa D'Este-1

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Also on the shores of Lake Como in Como is the Hotel Albergo Terminus which dates back to the 19th century.  The views of the lake are fabulous and its central location in the historic center next to Piazza Cavour, the piers , the funicular and a small train station makes it very convenient.

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Albergo Terminus

Did you miss  Lago di Como, part 3

Lago di Como – Part 2; Lago di Como – Part 1

Lago di Como, a series, part 3

Travel to any town in Italy and you will find beautiful churches. The Como Cathedral as it is known, is the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta and dates back to 1396. Architecturally fascinating, it mixes Gothic, Romanesque, Renaissance and Baroque features. This is a very important Gothic church in Northern Italy. This Roman Catholic cathedral stands in the Piazza del Duomo a lovely spot to people watch, have a drink or just hang out!

The Cathedral features a Rose window and a very impressive green Rococo cupola dome. The main portal stands between statues of Como natives as well as sculptures of Adam and Eve. The exterior also has sculptures of five other saints. Near the Rose window you will see a statute of God surrounded by other statues.

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Just another Monday evening in Como! Boys playing cards 🙂

The cathedral has ancient tapestries and paintings and is worth a stop inside.

The Coin department store near the Piazza has a cafe on the roof with lovely views of the Cathedral.

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It’s Spritz time somewhere!

Lake Como sits near the foothills of the Alps on the Italian-Swiss border and is only an hour by train from Milan. The city of Como makes a great home base to visit the other major towns on this lake like Bellagio and Varenna but there are many special towns lining this lake. If you can, hop the slow ferry getting on and off checking out towns like Cernobbia, Lenno and Tremezzo.

Stay tuned for more from Northern Italy! Did you miss Part 2? Lago di Como, part 2

Ready to go to Lago di Como -Part 4

 

Bologna- a Food Lover’s Paradise

When you think of Italy most people think art, history, gorgeous landscapes and FOOD!

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The city of Bologna is a foodie paradise! The old centro storico is lined with ancient shops with the most amazing fresh cheeses, meats, breads, oils, vinegars and wines. OKAY to be totally honest we tried everything! First stop was a small shop our guide brought us to where we sampled mortadella on freshly made small baguettes.  We never tasted anything like it! If you think mortadella is bologna you care seriously mistaken.  My husband was hooked and has been on the hunt for some ‘real’ mortadella ever since we came back.

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From there we had Parmesan cheese, my weakness, we tasted balsamic vinegars, (checked!) and shipped lots home.  Of course, olive oil, biscotti etc. Then to add insult to injury she brought us to a wonderful little restaurant for a lunch we will never forget! Da Cesari, a Bologna staple since 1955. The original Eataly is located here in the centro storico too.

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You may know Bologna as the home of the Two Towers {(Le Due Torri Asinelli Tower (right) and Garisenda tower (Left)} and as the capital of the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy.

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The city’s architecture is unique in that early in the 13th century all walkways were covered so in the rain you could walk and stay dry all around the city – like umbrellas!

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This is a lively college town and an easy train ride from either Milan or Florence. You arrive right near the center of the city basically near the Porta Galliera and the Piazza XX Settembre an easy walk to the historical center. Pass right by the bronze statue of the Italian General and politician, Giuseppe Garibaldi and across the street the theatre.

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Teatro del Sole

Don’t just confine yourself to only the historic center. Walk out into other neighborhoods and explore. There are many churches, restaurants and shops to experience away from the crowds.

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Basilica Di Santo Stefano

Maybe stay in an ancient tower now a B&B!

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The town center is Piazza Maggiore and the adjacent Piazza del Nettuno.  All of this town’s important buildings are around these two squares but please don’t just confine yourself to this small area.

The Basilica began in 1390 and still isn’t complete. The two Towers- Le Due Torri, made famous by Dante in The Inferno tower above the city. Towers were a symbol of power and wealth and you see this all over Italy, especially in towns like San Gimignano. It is possible if you are up to climbing 500 steps one of the towers, Torre degli Asinelli is open and provides commanding city views. ( see above) Not for me!!! Too claustrophic 🙁

 

Like many cities if shopping is your thing head to Galleria Cavour to check out top designer labels.

On our way back to the train we cut thru the Giardino della Montagnola while dodging oncoming rain.

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Did you know Bologna had many canals like Venice? I bet you didn’t! You can still get a glimpse of them today on Via Piella.

 

Bologna is totally worth either a day trip from Florence or Milan but we wished we had stayed at least one night.  Most towns really reveal themselves after the day’s crowds are gone and make for the most memorable experiences.  Lastly, I cannot stress enough the benefit of using local guides.  Their knowledge of history and local food and events is invaluable and they are well worth the money.  You miss so much otherwise that you just can’t get from guidebooks alone. We never would have found this hidden gem without a guide! Look at all those family crests! there were thousands of them!

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Biblioteca Communale Dell’Archiginnasio

We also saw the remains of the original city walls. Ancient history right at your feet. Very moving.

If you need help I can refer you to a few agents who specialize in Italy 🙂

 

The Italian Riviera – Santa Margherita Ligure

Santa Margherita Ligure is part of the Ligurian region on the Italian Riviera. We stayed at a wonderful hotel called the Imperiale Palace Hotel.  We chose this specifically because they had both a pool and a beach area so we could unwind after two weeks of traveling around Italy and it was close to the train station and a quick walk into town.

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Imperiale Palace Hotel (pool and beach below)

Here and in Portofino you find the outside of buildings painted with Trompe L’oeil frescoes typical of this part of the Riviera during the Art Nouveau period.  They used the painted exteriors to identify and distinguish their homes. Painting fake balconies, 3D effects, window sills, etc.

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There are many lovely hotels here and in this old fashioned town there is more room to spread out than in The Cinque Terre or in Portofino.  It is a great place to make your home base when staying in the area.  Day trips to Portofino, Genoa, The Cinque Terre and Milan are easy day trips from Santa Margherita Ligure. You can catch a boat to Portofino or the Cinque Terre from the Pier right in town and buses run daily down to Portofino as it is a very short trip.

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Portofino

We arrived via an easy, convenient train ride from Florence. The old town center is so charming with shops, bars and restaurants lining the streets while its glitzy neighbor, Portofino is filled with yachts and movie stars.  Santa Margherita Ligure has a beautiful harbor and beaches with room to enjoy it all since the crowds typically head to Portofino and The Cinque Terre.

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The Cinque Terre is any easy train ride from Santa Margherita Ligure so you can go for the day.  This area is well known for its 5 quaint towns.  You can swim, shop, eat or hike your way from town to town.  The scenery will take your breath away.  Sadly, these towns are very crowded with tourists just like us. Be considerate and don’t ruin this beautiful place for the next group to come. We headed down to Monterosso and hiked to Vernazza (be prepared and dress appropriately and bring water and snacks) then a ferry to Manarola and the train back to Santa Margherita Ligure in time to hit the pool for a quick swim and cocktail!

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Vernazza

Be sure to spend time wandering around in Santa Margherita!! Loved it!

There are farmers markets to enjoy near the Basilica in Piazza Caprera.  Fresh fruits and veggies but the flowers were calling my name!!

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There are statues of both Christopher Columbus and King Victor Emmanuel II in town commemorating the town’s history.

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We walked into town to the Basilica of Santa Margherita.  Be sure to go inside!! The Italian Baroque interior is ornate and the altar features a statue of Our Lady of the Rose since 1756.  The inlaid marble floors and glass chandeliers are remarkable to say the least!

After the Basilica we walked up to Villa Durazzo with its Italian and English Gardens and Chiesa Di San Giacomo Di Corte – wow- gorgeous! They were decorating for a wedding.  It’s well worth the walk up the stairs!! Also the views of the entire harbor are striking.  This Baroque church dates back to 974.

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Harbor views

As you wander you will find other gems: some were closed when we stopped by in our wanderings.

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Oratorio di Sant’Erasmo
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Chiesa dei Frati Cappuccini

This was the last stop in our two week adventure this time and a nice place to slow down and revel in living in Italy, even if just for a few weeks!!  We will return!!

Have you been? I’d love to hear your favorite places.

 

 

Portofino, Italy

Well Portofino is probably the most photographed fishing village on the Italian Riviera! Whatever you have in mind, relaxing is in store since there is not much to actually DO here! Be prepared to just stroll around the boutiques, the harbor and walk up to Castello Brown maybe and of course, don’t forget people watch!

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The yachts that grace this picturesque harbor are luxurious to say the least but it is also full of small fishing boats.  Don’t forget this was always a fishing village!

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It is worth the short hike up to Chiesa di San Giorgio and Castello Brown.  The views from both spots will not disappoint you!

Chiesa di San Giorgio has had a commanding presence over Portofino and the Ligurian Sea since it was constructed in 1154 or perhaps even earlier.  This Romanesque church was sadly bombed during WWII and then reconstructed in 1950.

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Chiesa di San Giorgio
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Chiesa di San Giorgio

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Castello Brown was well suited as a defensive site and was used as such since the 15th century. There are 2 methods to ascent to the Castle. You can walk up the steep staircase or take the winding path up.  We walked up the stairs and down the path which opens up the best panoramic views of this town.

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Castello Brown

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Don’t miss a chance to walk around this picture perfect town!  The brightly colored buildings just beckon you in. Sit and sip in the Piazzetta or at a seaside bar in the U-shaped harbor or grab some gelato, always a favorite.

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Don’t miss the Chiesa di San Martino in town with its beautiful bronze doors is just up the hill off the Piazza.  Note the mosaic on the landing made from rocks gathered on the shore.

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Portofino is a very convenient day trip from Genoa, Milan, the Cinque Terre or the towns just above it of Santa Margherita Ligure and Rapallo.  We made Santa Margherita Ligure our home base to travel the Riviera heading to The Cinque Terre, Portofino and exploring the wonderful town of Santa Margherita Ligure.

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See Santa Margherita in the distance

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If you are looking for luxury; look no further in Portofino than the Belmond Hotel Splendido.  This is a luxury hotel built in the 1920’s and sits on a hill overlooking the sea and its lovely gardens.

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