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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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

 

Lago di Como, a series, part 2 -Brunate

When you are in the city of Como, Italy on Lake Como don’t miss the chance to ride the funicular up to the small town of Brunate which sits 2346′ above Como. Of course, if you are in no hurry you can hike up! The funicular opened way back in 1894. The breathtaking views of the lake and the town below can’t be matched anywhere! While there walk around or hike to the Volta Lighthouse for more outstanding views.

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Funicular to Brunate
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View from Brunate north towards Switzerland
 
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Como Catheral from Bunate’s Panoramic viewpoint 

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Sitting high on the hill is the Church of Sant’ Andrea Apostolo in Piazza della Chiesa. This quaint lovely church is another nice place to stop and admire the view.

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Church of Sant’ Andrea Apostolo

Stay tuned for more from Lake Como! Did you miss Part 1? Lago di Como

Ready to go on to Lago di Como – Part 3

Lago di Como, a series

If you have been to Como, Italy you couldn’t have missed the steel sculpture, a gift to the city of Como designed by Daniel Libeskind.  The contemporary sculpture called “The Life Electric” dedicated to Alessandro Volta is located at the very end of the Diga Foranea pier.  Day or night this is a lovely spot to sit and look out over Como, the funicular up to Brunate and the surrounding waterfront.  The sculpture was designed to connect three of the five natural elements: light, wind and water highlighting the connection between the sky, the lake and the mountains which of course, typify Lake Como’s surrounding landscape.

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Stay tuned for much more about Lake Como! Part 2

The Cinque Terre

The Cinque Terre can be found between Genoa and Pisa and is an easy train ride from Milan or Florence.

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The 5 towns of the Cinque Terre are a UNESCO World Heritage Site stretching for 6 miles on the Italian Riviera but are very different from their glitzy neighbors.  We will explore each of the towns as we go.

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Monterosso coastline

Many people who plan to visit these towns also plan to hike at least part of the trail so I’ll start there. Heads up- starting April 1, 2019 a new law takes effect banning hikers from wearing flip flops or face fines. This seems like a no-brainer to me since I had on hiking boots but we saw many people who probably decided on the spur of the moment to hike part of the trail and were not prepared either with the proper footwear, water, snacks, first aid for bees, cuts, etc.

Hiking trails are available from Monterosso to Vernazza to Corniglia.  Recently the path has been closed between Corniglia , Manarola and Riomaggiore due to landslides so be sure to check if they are open. You can hike in either direction.

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We hopped the local train from Santa Margherita Ligure, our home base, to Monterosso al Mare and hiked to Vernazza then after lunch grabbed a ferry to Manarola. Plan your time wisely! It was insanely hot when we were there in early September and we encountered quite a few hikers.  Move over and let people who are quicker pass.

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This was the easy part!

Don’t overestimate how much you can accomplish in one day! The hike is strenuous, no matter your age, and exhausting!

Don’t forget to enjoy each town you do visit remembering why you went there in the first place. This section of the Italian Riviera is breathtakingly beautiful but sadly, too much tourism, like in Venice, is threatening these gorgeous places.  Be considerate and don’t ruin it for the next guests.  The area is fragile and needs to be preserved for us all to enjoy. Goes without saying in my book!!!!

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Make sure when buying your tickets for ferries or hiking that you are paying for the right thing.  We were sold hiking tickets in Monterosso but after hiking about 15 minutes up a steep hill we were told at a checkpoint that we had the wrong tickets- more money and too late to turn back!

Be prepared as things run slowly here! Our train back was well over an hour late unlike the Trenitalia trains that run all over Italy.  The local trains are not as prompt where the Trenitalia trains are very prompt!!! Don’t be late! No one will wait for you! Buy your tickets in advance is great advice!!

Your choices are limited for staying in one of the 5 towns for the most part so you might consider staying nearby and making day trips to the Cinque Terre and Portofino. Some towns to consider are: Santa Margherita Ligure, La Spezia, Levanto, and Rapalo. Leave the car elsewhere.

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Santa Margherita Ligure

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Portofino

Monterosso al Mare

This town has a beautiful stretch of beach where you can just hang out and relax and then explore the town’s architecture in both the New town and the Old town or just start your hike.

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Monterosso al Mare

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Monterosso- play time!

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Monterosso al Mare coastline

Vernazza

This town is so picturesque with its beautiful natural harbor and tiny narrow cobblestone streets and cute restaurants flanking the small Piazza. Linger along the breakwater built only in 1972 that surrounds the harbor. Take in the sights in Piazza Marconi and watch the boats come and go as children play in the waters.

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In case you didn’t hike in from Monterosso be sure to take a few extra minutes to find the narrow stairs that mark the start of the trail that lead you up to the most quintessential view of Vernazza.

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Vernazza

The harborfront church of Santa Margherita is unusual for its east facing entry rather than the more traditional western orientation.

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Santa Margherita church

This town dates mostly from the 12th and 15th centuries. The color of the buildings are regulated (known as ‘Ligurian pastel’) MAGICAL!!!

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Just like many parts of Italy the hillsides around the Cinque Terre are dotted with olive and wine vineyards. Be sure to walk uphill in each town to avoid the crowds of the waterfront.

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Manarola

Manarola is the last town we visited as it was already late and our train ride back was about an hour and then we were delayed another hour plus. The town seems to hang in a ravine and is relatively quiet. These towns all seem to hang on the cliffs like on the Amalfi Coast and Positano. Manarola is probably the steepest of the 5 towns. Be sure when there to head uphill out of the harbor area where the crowds are less dense. The hills here are also covered with vineyards and lemon groves. For lovely views late in the day head up the trail towards the town’s cemetery.

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Manarola

Sadly we did not have enough time or an extra day to get to Corniglia or Riomaggiore but here is some information on both. Next trip!

Corniglia is the only town not on the coast. Wine is still the lifeblood of this town as it was in ancient times.  The hike from here to Vernazza is a challenging, hilly 1.5 hour hike. Check to see if the trail is open to Manarola before setting out!

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Corniglia

Riomaggiore offers lovely views back on the harbor from the breakwater. Have fun just strolling from the train station down to the harbor.  This town is very photogenic especially just around sunset.

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Riomaggiore by Kevin Mercier http://www.kevmrc.com

(sorry I couldn’t get there this trip) here is a great shot by Kevin Mercier

Where is your next trip?  My wish list is so long and made even more complicated by all the towns I really want to revisit. Hard to complain! See you in our next town 🙂

If you are planning a trip to Italy I have blogs on many towns some which I have visited 2 or 3 times often employing guides so I don’t miss the local highlights that most tourists miss.  Guides are well worth the extra money.  If it is pricey for you, consider some less expensive meals or forget the souvenirs to compensate.  You won’t be sorry.  Travel Agents who specialize in Italy can help you with guides, train and travel arrangements as well as affordable accommodations in convenient locations so you don’t waste too much time checking out your location.

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 🙂

 

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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Time to Order those Bulbs!

Okay I know you are thinking: WHAT!!! It’s still summer, but in many parts of the country bulbs go in the garden in the fall from late September until frost so start perusing those catalogs now and get your orders in.  If you have favorites, you’ll want to order them quickly in case those special bulbs get sold out!

If you are on Instagram you can’t miss all those lovely photos of fields upon fields of tulips just waiting to be sent to us 🙂

Here are just a few varieties and collections for you to consider when planning your spring garden.  Combine Daffodils, Muscari, Alliums, Hyacinths, Tulips, and Camassia for a long lasting display!

Moris Gudanov
COLORBLENDS- Moris Gudanov Tulip

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Allium Globemaster- my all time favorite!

 

Bulb Sources: COLORBLENDS     Old House Gardens   

White Flower Farm     John Scheepers

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