A Travellerspoint blog


Mmm mmm Umbria!

Our last stop in Italy

sunny 29 °C

Florence (and therefore Tuscany) has always been my favorite spot in Italy. My first memories of Italy began there and I had so much fun as a student, and our good pals Hilary and Omar were married in a castello there some years later. So there have been some superb times had in Tuscany. Then after our great time in Cinque Terre, I thought that was my next favorite place. But can I not add Umbria as my new favorite region? It is too hard to choose, but Umbria brought us all sorts of delights over our last five days in Italy.

We stayed at a great agriturismo called Agriturismo Cioccoleta, just minutes outside of Orvieto in Bardano. The beauty of this place, despite its gorgeous farm full of grape vines, pumpkins, olive trees and more, despite its wonderful view of the town of Orvieto and despite the very large and well thought-out rooms and facilities, was Angela and her family. The made us feel like part of their family from our very first night. In fact, we were too tried to go out our first evening, so Angela let use her kitchen to make some pasta and we sat in the dining room where she was with her family. Her brother, his wife and children were visiting, so they had a big dinner in the agriturismo and shared with us wine from their own grapes, juicy tomatoes from their garden and even scrumptious sausage and salami from their pig! Here are some pics of the agriturismo.

There was a looong, bumpy road to the agriturismo

Angela, her husband Alessandro and their darling little boy of two year, Federico were fantastic hosts. They gave us great tips about town of Orvieto, booked us some meals at delicious restaurants and gave great suggestions of things to see.

Federico kindly let Zavian use all his toys! Here are the two boys together.

Zavian's first real swing! He loved it!

Naim and Zavian in the agriturismo's vineyard.

On our first night, then mentioned a small town of Civita. Angela and Alessandro gave us a few tidbits of information, such as it was a unique place, go at sunset, there are only a handful of residents that live there, but did not reveal too much and said it is better to go and be surprised. Our interest was peaked so on one of our evenings, we went. It truly was magical, and as it is only about 60 miles north of Rome, I would recommend it as an easy day trip. The surprise of Civita, is that this little tiny village teeters atop a vast canyon. It is an absolutely sight! There is only a footbridge that connects the town to its larger, sister town, Bagnoregio, and there are no cars in Civita. You enter the town through a cut in the rock made by the Etruscans 2500 years ago, and through an arch. There are no sights to see here, but beautiful little lanes and paths to explore, a small piazza and the amazing views. Much of this part of Umbria was formed by ancient volcanoes, and Orvieto itself is also set atop a volcano and very dramatic. I will let the pics talk for themselves!

Outside Gepetto's house from the recent remake of Pinnochio!

The rest of our time here was spent exploring Orvieto, eating the most amazing food and gorging on black truffles, sipping white Orvieto wine, and dodging the occasional rainfall. We also had a picnic on a little mountain park one afternoon and chatted with a local cheesemaker who runs an agriturismo for disabled people and their families- really cool!


Angela and Alessandro were married in the duomo and the frescoes inside are beautiful!

Enjoying some quiet time with baby asleep.

Even better with vino and a truffle and pork sandwich from Cantina Foresi outside the duomo.


Truffle pasta anyone? From the cave restaurant Le Grotte del Funaro.

Zavian making friends with the waitstaff, as always! Here with Diana from Girrarosto Buongustaio.

Another highlight from our time here was Zavian's 7 month birthday. Truthfully, he turned 7 months a week earlier, but we didn't have a printer, etc, so we are a little late. Oops!

And the final milestone from Italy was Zavian's first tooth! We had a few bad nights with little Z, only to realize that he was teething, poor guy! First tooth in Italy, wonder where the next one will come in!

Mmm mmm Umbria. Oh how I will your truffles, your homemade umbrecelli pasta, your porchetta. Your wine is divine. We packed our bags and headed for the airport. What a great two weeks in Italy. Ci Vediamo Italia!

Now on to Asia!

Posted by jknazef 10:42 Archived in Italy Tagged orvieto umbria civita Comments (1)

A stop in Siena, and sunflowers

sunny 30 °C

Our farewell to Tuscany included a stop in Siena. Despite many visits to Italy and it's proximity to Florence (just 1.5 hours drive at most), I have sadly never visited Siena. I can see my dear friend, Anna, shaking her head in disbelief. Anna has spent a lot of time in Siena, and her PhD thesis focused on St. Catherine of Siena, one of the two patron saints of Italy (the other is Francis of Assisi, in case you were wondering!). We could only stay for a few hours as we needed to be in Orvieto that evening, but it was fantastic and their duomo is gothic and amazing. Really different from Florence's, better one might say!


We explored many of Siena's streets and the Piazza del Campo, which is most famous for the Palio, a traditional medieval horse race run around the piazza twice each year.


Relaxing in Piazza del Campo

We also visited the Sanctuary of Santa Caterina.


Siena was gorgeous, and like many Italian towns, is not without many hills to give you a good workout. Oh my goodness. These streets were steep! Here I am huffing and puffing trying to push Zavian in the stroller. And also Naim!


We left Siena, but were really happy we stopped in briefly. Off to Orvieto now! We drove along the A2 , which has the biggest, and most stunning sunflower fields we had ever seen. Umbria produces a lot of sunflower oil, and one can see why. Zavian was asleep, so didn't get to participate in the pics, but Naim and I had fun!

Where's Waldo?


Posted by jknazef 10:05 Archived in Italy Tagged sunflowers siena Comments (1)

Tuscany...where la vita è bella!

all seasons in one day 26 °C

After four fun days at Lago di Garda, we went to my personal favorite part of Italy, Tuscany. That's where it all began for me. Having studied abroad in Florence for a semester and having studied Italian for some years (and this trip certainly highlighted all the bits I need to brush up on!), it always brings back lots of wonderful and fun memories. This is Italy for me.

We stayed about a half hour outside Florence in the countryside of the Chianti region in a small town called Rufina.

We spent three nights here, at a cute agriturismo called Il Pezzatino. An agriturismo is a particular type of holiday in Italy. It is basically a farm stay, where many of the foods, wines or items served come directly from the farm. They can be rustic, or quite luxurious, depending on where you stay. We had always wanted to try vacationing in Italy this way (and of course leaned towards as luxurious as we could and somewhere that had Wifi, of course!). We somehow managed to neglect photos of Il Pezzatino, but you can see their link and it was veyr pretty. We do have one pic of their dining room with a long table, which they served breakfast at every morning. Il Pezzatino had lots of wood beamed ceilings, and a real homey feel. Lots of apple, pear and walnut trees in the front, grapes growing in the back. They also had a cute dog named Pepe (pronounced "PayPay", exactly like Naim's mum's dog named Pei Pei!).


The weather was warm for most of our stay, although there was some rain, but it was nice and cooled it down. We drove around several little towns in the region, including the popular Greve in Chianti, which is the principal town in the wine district. Amongst wine and olive oil, Greve and the area is know for the Cinta Senese pig, which produces some outstanding pork, and is home to one of Italy's oldest and most renowned butcher shops, the Macelleria Falorni. It was a sea of prosciutto in there! Naim was in heaven.


Zavian loved Greve, too and chose to take a spin around town on a Vespa!

Being in Chianti, we had to take in some wine tasting. With the rain, it was the indoor activity of choice, of course! We choose a place called Casa Emma, and had a great afternoon. The great thing about Casa Emma, besides the lovely staff and vino, was their lunch! The recently completed a little osteria in the back, and they serve a lunch of Tuscan delicacies. We dined on crostini, omelette with sweet onions, local cheeses and salamis, prosciutto with melon, tuscan beans and a scrumptious torte polished off with vin santo!


We then had a private tour by Carlo of the winery and tasted some great wines. Naim became a little celebrity while there as one of the staff loved his Norm (from Cheers t-shirt), which says "Drinking is the Norm" (so cheesy) and took photos to add to Casa Emma's facebook page! If you want to combine good food and wine (who doesn't?), then we would definitely recommend Casa Emma to anyone looking for a small winery and nice people. And the rainy day ended with a rainbow- perfect!


Since we were so close, we had to visit Florence as every time I go to Italy I must return there! We started the day with a trip down memory lane to stop at NYU's Florence campus where I studied. I really wanted to show Naim and Zavian, but unfortunately we didn't realise that you can't get in these days without an appointment, so were sadly turned away at the gate. :( The Italians working there did make it clear however that this was not an Italian rule, but in fact, "thiiis iiis American security, signora." We were so not surprised.

Nevermind. So we got back in the car and headed down for the centre. Parked in Piazza della Libertà and walked towards the duomo. We enjoyed all the touristy spots- the duomo, various piazzas, various churches, Ponte Vecchio, etc.


The highlight of the day, however, was the most random and unplanned meeting. We were almost on our way out the city, when we stopped near the duomo for a drink and to give Zavian some milk. I was feeding him a bottle and then saw a young boy who looked slightly familiar, but didn't think too much of it and didn't even mention to Naim. Then I saw his brother and father, and then realized it was some of our extended family, who live about 10 minutes from my parent's house! The Moholkar family were on their last day in Florence, just minutes from their hotel and on their way to Venice. It was such a great surprise to see them, in Florence of all places!


We had a delicious and fun time in Tuscany, where life certainly is beautiful!

PS, I forgot to include pics of Naim's amazing bistecca fiorentina (Florentine steak). Here it is. Oh, might I also add that Naim was not able to finish the steak, and wanted to take home the leftovers. But the truth was, as he said quietly to me, was that he really wanted to clean that bone properly (Tasmanian devil style) and wanted to do that in privacy. If anyone else has every seen Naim eat a chicken leg, rib or something similar, you will understand why.

Being cooked...

...and the final product!

Posted by jknazef 09:58 Archived in Italy Tagged florence tuscany chianti rufina Comments (2)

Lago di Garda

with a side trip to Verona

sunny 27 °C

The next morning after breakfast we set off for Lago di Garda (Lake Garda). Lake Garda is Italy's largest lake and one of the north's most visited locations. We hadn’t really spent much time looking into Lago di Garda, so didn't know a tremendous amount about it. We choose it as we had never been to the lakes up north in Italy before, and thought it might be cooler that our original plan to stay in southern Italy. And certainly cooler than Greece. We may have lived in Scotland, but we don’t want fried baby! Hehe!

We spent 4 days in the town of Bardolino, towards the southern tip of the long lake. Bardolino is a great place. Where it bordered the lake, it had a long and stunning boardwalk where you can sit and enjoy your dinner al fresco, have a gelato, like Zavian did, or just enjoy a nice walk. There are lovely little shops and everything is open late. It is a great place for families. Most people take a ferry to visit the some of the other towns that border the lake. There were a lot of tourists everywhere, especially Germans. Many of the menus and signs were in Italian and German. As a nice old Italian lady told me,” they invaded us once before, and now they invade us again as tourists.” It was no joke!



We stocked up on groceries as our apartment, Blue Lake Bardolino, had a kitchenette. The apartment was pretty good. We had private parking, a lift, and a private terrace where we ate most of our meals. Naim’s dad was planning to join us there for a few days, as he was not that far away at his home in France, but got a bad cough and couldn’t make it. We missed him!

Naim chilling on the porch, trying the surf the web, but it was poor. Hence, I am behind on blogging!IMG_0707.jpg

The next day, we decided to visit the nearby city of Verona. It was gorgeous. It’s huge ancient, arena hosts opera at night during the summer, which we could have loved to do if it wasn’t for baby’s bedtime. We saw a very strange pink baby man who made baby noises in a high pitched voice who was odd and somewhat scary!


We toured some beautiful churches and streets and had a lovely lunch in a cafe. The city is considered a world heritage site by UNESCO, and is probably most famous for Shakespeare's play, Romeo and Juliet, which was based in Verona. A highlight was definitely visiting the balcony of Juliet's house.

Statue of Juliet
Juliet's balcony

We spent the rest of our days mostly lakeside. We explored some of the other towns, Sirmione (gorgeous, but packed with tourists), Riva del Garda, Lazise, by both boat and car. We do think that Bardolino was by far the prettiest and were really happy we stayed there.


Decisions, decisions...
Divine seafood risotto

Our final lakeside adventure was a cable car summit to Monte Baldo in the Italian Alps. You have a spectacular view of lake Garda. Thank god we brought a jacket for Zavian, as it was freezing up there! Monte Baldo is 2,218 m (7,277 ft) high. The ride up and down was rather lengthy, as you go up half way, then have to get off and then queue up for the next cable car to the top. It took almost an hour each way, although they advertise it is 10 minutes! But the views...fabulous!


So far in Italy, Zavian has coped amazingly well. Bedtime has definitely become interrupted as most places don't serve dinner until 7:30, so he usually gets overtired, screams and cries in the middle of dinner and one of us takes him outside to rock him to sleep. Then he wakes up when we get home, and of course, wants to play for a while before he is ready for bed. Then milk and back to bed. We felt really bad, so we made quite a few meals at home in Bardolino and let him sleep. But we think he is used to his 8:00 pm nap and wakes up to party with us later anyway! Oh well!

Posted by jknazef 11:00 Archived in Italy Tagged verona garda bardolino Comments (3)

Hidden Gems of Cinque Terre

sunny 28 °C

On our last full day in Cinque Terre, we visited the final two small towns, Monterosso and Vernazza. Along the sea, we watched teenage Italian boys jump off a paved platform into the sea and get pushed up by the waves back onto the platform and land on their feet. Zavian also learned a new trick, how to hide in his stroller. Luckily, we found him. :) He also filled in temporarily for a dwarf! Lots of people seem to have little ceramic dwarfs from Snow White in their gardens or doorsteps. Zavian fit right in.


We had a relaxed evening and per the recommendation of our new friends from the inn, Frank and Ninita, we went to another teensy tiny hillside town for dinner (as I write this I can't recall, its name, but will find it!). Frank and Ninita have spent a lot of time in Italy, as they can drive from Frankfurt where they live. Frank is an ears, nose and throat surgeon and Ninita used to work for NATO. Frank loves to motorcycle on holiday, so they have a special car that allows them to store the motorcycle inside and they can drive around, and then use the bike whenever they want. Pretty cool! Dinner, was nice, although we weren’t exactly sure where it was once we parked the car. We saw a lady walking and asked her where the restaurant was. She said there was only one place trattoria in the wee village, and pointed us in the right direction. To our surprise, Ninita and Frank were there, and we enjoyed chatting with them during our meal. They were both interested to hear how people from so far away were able to find these obscure, tiny places like L’Antico Borgo and Zita restaurant from the previous night. They had only found them in a special German book that is not translated into other languages. Naim borrowed Frank’s book one night, but it was in German (doh), so we couldn’t read it! We did all our holiday research on the internet, but we had to call a lot of places from the US to find our availability and information. I am sure both Naim’s family and mine will agree we spent a lot of time researching, bargaining and creating a humungous itinerary with every detail of our trip. Naim’s mum and sister Sulin also helped us do some research, and I still think Sulin should consider a career as a travel agent. She would be amazing!

For anyone planning a trip to Cinque Terre, we would highly recommend staying outside of the 5 tiny villages. They are small very cute, but somewhat isolated as walks between, if possible, can be 1.5 to 2 hours in length. Otherwise you must take a short train ride in between, and trains do not run all night. The town of Levanto, about 10 mins down the hill from where we stayed, is considered the gateway to Cinque Terre, and we were originally looking for accommodation there. It was so busy, we couldn’t find anything, so we had no choice but to look slightly further away. It was certainly the best choice (if you have a car). You cannot beat the amazing views, the feeling of being tucked away in a secret spot that other people don’t know about, but still close to Cinque Terre. Aside from our German friends, there were never any tourists where we ate and prices were cheaper. And we certainly cannot say enough about our fabulous stay at L’Antico Borgo.

Posted by jknazef 10:41 Archived in Italy Tagged terre cinque Comments (2)

Cinque Terre and the Walk of Love

28 °C

We left Rome in the late afternoon, on the 19 July. Everything seems to take a lot longer than expected here in Italy, or maybe this is just what happens when you have a baby. In any case, everything takes forever.

We left for what will be our longest drive while in Italy. We made three stops and hit some unusually wet weather. We were heading north towards Cinque Terre, to a hilltop location up winding and dark mountains. Upon entering the tiny village of Dosso around 10:30 pm, we parked outside and took our bags down a paved, but very steep path towards our B&B, L’Antico Borgo. For this time of night, the B&B was buzzing. A group of 5 English women travelling together sat in the living room planning out their next day’s adventure. An Italian couple had just returned from their day out and there were a few people sippng wine on the terrace. You could hear something going on in the kitchen and the entire place had the most amazing smell of cakes baking for tomorrow’s breakfast. The warm and exuberant signora took us up to our room, which was spacious and they had made up a cute little bed for Zavian. We quickly settled in for the night.

The next morning was bright and sunny as we headed downstairs for breakfast. We took a table on the terrace and were treated to a fantastic view. The previous night’s arrival in the late evening had not revealed how high we were in the mountains and the perfect view of the town of Levanto below us. The B&B was adorable, but by far, it was the staff that made the stay superb. We enjoyed cappuccinos and the most delicious breakfast, far better than you can normally expect in Italy! There was an assortment of homemade cakes, cereals, cheeses, salamis, fruits, freshly squeezed juices, homemade yogurt, breads and more. This place was tucked away in the mountains, a complete gem! Here are a couple pics of L’Antico Borgo.


Breakfast on the terrace every morning

View from the terrace

The signora helped plan our visit of the area. Cinque Terre is a UNESCO National Park site and protected marina of 5 small fishing villages, each with their own charm and tiny street and alleyways to explore. You can take a train to visit the towns (only about a 5 minute journey to each), walk or bike between them. From afar, each of the villages have a characteristic pastel coloring and are peppered along the coastline. You can visit a few in a day, so on our first full day, we took the train to Riomaggiore, walked from there along the Via dell’Amore to Manorola, and then took the train to Corniglia.


The Via dell’Amore is a great walk, paved well, and hugs steep cliffs with gorgeous views of the sea and some of the other villages far ahead. Along the walk, you see lots of love-related signs, art, sculpture and graffiti. You also see along the walk thousands of padlocks affixed to fences, doorways, anything. The pathway's legend holds that it was a meeting place for lovers from the two towns, and is now a favorite site for tourists to place their locks and throw the keys into the sea.


We ended the day at a little local restaurant, Zita, in the neighboring village of Lavaggiorosso. Zita was a family-run place, and the beauty of eating there is that they have no menus. You choose from the various pastas, meats and vegetables they have that day and drink the only wine they serve. You eat very well, pay very little, and meet lovely locals. We met a nice Italian couple about our age who gave us some tips about Lake Garda, our next stop in Italy, a nice family with their cute 9 month old boy, Gabrielle, and the restaurant owner’s father, who told us about his travels all over the world while in the Italian navy. We also met Frank and Ninita, a couple from Germany who were also visiting the area. It turns out Frank and Ninita were staying at L'Antico Borgo, too, but we only learned that upon returning home after dinner, and they gave us some great suggestions for our upcoming trip in Lake Garda.

Posted by jknazef 16:23 Archived in Italy Tagged terre cinque amore Comments (1)

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