Oh Italy! I don't even know how to begin describing our trip to beautiful Italy in November. It was a dream.
We were gone for 9 days. We flew into Rome late on a Friday evening, rented a car and had a few hiccups getting to our hotel a couple of hours away (including losing our ticket for the toll roads, having no euro and not speaking Italian- but never fear, we made it through unscathed with a little help from the nice gentleman at the toll booth... if not a little scared out of our ever living minds!) We learned very quickly to take special care of our toll tickets.
Tuscany was first on our list, and we made our way through a couple of medieval villages, including Montepulciano and Monticchiello. We got terribly lost in the circular city of Montepulciano but it was breathtaking! I could NOT get over Tuscany. The olive trees, the yellowing grape vines, the cypress tress and the rolling hills every where you turned, and if that wasn't enough, there is a medieval village/castle stacked on top of almost every hill. It's to die for.
We drove to San Gimignano after Florence and it was picturesque and we loved wandering around in the drizzly rain, climbing up the castle walls with the wind whipping and taking in all the glorious Tuscan views and the towers of San Gimignano. We even had gelato in the beautiful town square at dusk. It was magical. And a little chilly. Also we ate a lot of gelato.
Siena stole our hearts! It was so beautiful. We stayed at the Borgo Grandaie and loved it. The grounds and breakfast were spectacular! We loved our room and taking walks in the mornings before driving to the mall to park and then ride about 7 sets of escalators up to the city center to eat or to look around. It was so crazy cool. The escalators are covered and after the first three floors of mall, the rest is just straight covered escalators taking you up up and up.
The Siena duomo was awesome. We bought tickets to tour the inside and climb to the top to see the city. I LOVED the black and white stripes and the seriously detailed artwork inside. Everything was painted or carved from ceiling to floor.
We also climbed up this facade to the duomo (you can see the people up on two different levels). The views from up there were magical and the sun had peeked out and you could see Siena and the surrounding countryside. We could have stayed up there for hours!
Monteriggioni was another favorite (seriously, they all were). It was overcast and rainy but I couldn't get over driving along the picturesque roads and castle town popping up out of nowhere. So cool. We purchased tickets in Monteriggioni that allowed us to walk on the actual castle walls! We realized at this point that we really love getting awesome views. It stopped raining eventually and we had a blast and got some beautiful photos.
*looking over the top of the castle walls
We did a LOT of driving and went through many toll booths and road trip snacks. Our favorite snacks were grapes, proscuitto, schiacciata (an oily soft bread like focaccia) and cheese! Toll booths weren't our favorite but they did make for nice roads on those long drives.
On our way to the Amalfi Coast, we made a detour to Civita di Bagnoregio. It's was founded by the Etruscans 2,500 years ago! It was originally part of the cliff, but pieces of it are slowly crumbling into the valley, making it an island. It is only accessible by the footpath. I was out of my mind giddy when we parked and started walking up. I had researched and wanted to visit Civita and wasn't sure if we would be able to fit it in but I'm so glad we did! The village is tiny but so so beautiful with flowers in pots and vines climbing crumbling walls, not to mention the cats roaming everywhere. Also the views were obviously out of this world.
* I was the only willing subject so excuse the many photos of yours truly!
We drove into Sorrento during a foggy, rainy night. Which would have been fine, had the roads not been ridiculously windy. The locals drive fast, pass on blind curves at night in the fog and pouring rain. Needless to say it was a white knuckle 45 min drive to our hotel. The views the next morning were outstanding though so it was worth it! You can just see part of Mt. Vesuvius on the left.
Once up and going, we took the twisty coastal road again and headed to the Amalfi Coast. We drove and marveled and oohed and ahhed and tried to not get in a wreck. The road is so small and full of pedestrians, mopeds and other cars. We eventually parked in Amalfi Town, got gelato and wandered. Then we headed back toward Positano and looked for parking. We ended up parking on the side of a cliff, hugging it as close as possible. It wasn't really what I would consider parking, just more of a very narrow shoulder. After pulling in our side mirrors, we set off walking along the cliff road trying not to get hit and find the steps down to Positano. We eventually found them and walked and walked and walked down so many steps and got to the beach just before sunset. It was very beautiful. And then we had to walk back up and along the cliff in the dark to find our car. WHAT an adventure!
After our adventures through the Amalfi Coast, we decided to explore Sorrento a bit. We went on a fun little hike with breathtaking view of Mt. Vesuvius. There were also old Roman ruins to check out.
We headed to Rome the next day and had a bit of a problem. Our long-term parking fell through and we wasted half a day trying to figure it out. So there we were in a train terminal with a day and a half left in Italy. The forecast for Rome the next day was pouring rain. If we parked at the airport and took the train back to the city, we would have lost almost an entire day with only one very rainy day in Rome. So. We got back in the car and looked at each other and said we wouldn't mind going back to Tuscany and on to Cinque Terre (which had a glorious forecast) and so off we went! And I wouldn't change a thing about it..we saw so many amazing places in that day and a half! We will have to come back some day and visit Rome.
It was so great to be driving back through Tuscany and I kept wanting to stop and take pictures. I don't think I ever did truly capture the landscape, but I tried. We stopped in Pienza to look around and I had a masterful sandwich with prosciutto and the local pecorino cheese. We also grabbed some pizza and an Italian Napolean. Mmmm. I was a happy girl. And Pienza was sooo delightfully quaint.
My friend's parents set up dinner reservations later that night for us at the most lovely restaurant in Pistoia where they live. I had lasagna with bechamel sauce (from heaven) and Landon had roast pork. After, our new friends met us in the city center and showed us around and bought us gelato. They were such fun and so friendly! We stayed up so late chatting and hanging out with the locals. It was such a highlight of our vacation.
After our lovely stay with our local friends, we stayed the night in Montecatini with the cutest hotel at a great price. We woke up early and drove to La Spezia, parked with seven hours in the meter and hopped on a train to Cinque Terre with our Cinque Terre passes. We LOVED Cinque Terre. The weather was exquisite. We ended up hiking between the first two towns...straight up and over a mountain. It was unreal beautiful and the hike was crazy hard but we took it a few steep steps at a time. We then took the train to the next two towns and hit Vernazza at sunset. We got plenty of gelato and loved just roaming the streets and taking in the sparkling turquoise sea and colorful houses.
After our epic adventure and so so much driving, we hopped back in the car and grabbed a hotel about 45 min from Rome for our last night. The next morning, we headed into Rome, returned our little Lancia Ypsilon unscathed and flew home! We really loved having a car and being able to roam and drive where we wanted, other than in the Amalfi Coast. That was seriously death-defying. If we were to go again, we would take ferries from Sorrento to each of the towns to avoid having to find parking and brave the roads.
We loved all the salami, prosciutto, gelato, pasta, pastries and gelato. Our favorite gelato combination was amarena (cherry) and coconut! It was such a delicious trip!