My favorite trip to Italy
Why do I say that? For a few reasons:
- No time change or jet lag! An unplanned benefit of my relocation and now being based in Europe.
- Perfect amount of time spent in each place.
- Combination of repeated and new experiences.
My itinerary kicked off with two nights in Florence, continued on with five nights at the agriturismo La Tavola Marche (my third trip there for yoga and cooking) and wrapped up with two nights in Bologna. I joined my friends Val and Brian from Twisp, WA, which was a treat in itself. They are not only good friends but excellent traveling companions — a combination that can be hard to find. I followed their itinerary, booked the same hotels in Florence and Bologna, and caught a ride with them to and from Le Marche. It was about a two hour drive from both Florence and Bologna.
Destination One: Florence
Let me start with a few caveats on my brief and perhaps minimally effusive remarks about my time here: it was August — so peak season in one of the top European tourist destinations — and I was there in the midst of a heat wave that saw temperatures peaking at 100 degrees. I had already visited Florence three times previously, so was fortunate to have already seen many of the top tourist destinations. But there are a couple things worth noting from this trip: I loved my hotel — which became a bit of an air-conditioned refuge in the heat —and I learned that it is good to pay attention to any signs of vertigo when exploring famous duomos.
The hotel we stayed at was Palazzo Guadagni, and the terrace alone was worth the stay. We also ate at a wonderful restaurant, which was highly recommended to my traveling companions, and it serendipitously happened to be just a couple doors down from the hotel. A great way to start our Italian immersion!
Our biggest tourist excursion was taking a guided tour of the Duomo, complete with a planned trip up to the top. But I probably should have read this warning first about what was involved beyond just a lot of stairs:
“Afraid of heights or claustrophobic?
If you suffer from a fear of heights or dark, narrow spaces, then a climb up to the dome might not be for you. The way up (and down) are basically narrow corridors built by the workmen who built the cathedral to be used by themselves for maintenance, they were never thought of as being open to the public. They are narrow, the steps can be steep and the entire climb is 463 steps. When you reach the base of the drum right below the cupola’s frescoes, you actually come out onto a walkway. It is less than a meter wide, there is plexiglass for protection and you can admire the immense size of the frescoes up close as well as LOOK DOWN about 40 meters into the central part of the cathedral. You are not exposed here and cannot fall — but if you fear heights, this part might be hard to manage. The climb up the dome is within the two domes so spaces are narrow, steps steep. People have different tolerances for heights so consider these points to decide whether to climb or not.”
I have climbed to the top of Notre Dame and did not have any issues, but when we finished the climb up the initial set of stairs to reach the first level of the Duomo and began walking around outside, I was too focused on holding onto the railing and attempting to breath evenly to enjoy the view. So I knew it was safer to turn back — especially when our guide told us that this was also the last chance to bail out. And in the end I was so glad that I did. Val explained later that as she continued the expedition, it was actually being behind the plexiglass wall looking down on the cathedral floor that was the most disconcerting.
Destination Two: Le Marche
This was really the heart of the journey, and the primary inspiration for embarking on this latest Italian vacation. It was my third round enjoying this combination of yoga and cooking in a relatively non-touristy part of Italy, and I loved it just as much. Each day started with yoga by the pool, led by Val (who also organized the trip), and then we were free to explore the surrounding area or lounge by the pool until dinner. The first evening’s dinner was an incredible five course meal that Chef Jason prepared for us, the next night was pizza night (14 of us consumed 18 pizzas, followed by tiramisu). On the following two nights the group split into two, and each learned how to prepare an amazing meal.
We had one group outing of wine tasting with local producers. We managed to make it to three vineyards which made for a rather long day, especially as the tasting started around 11:00 in the morning! And of course the tastings involved pairing with the appropriate “snacks” to show off the wine.
But pictures speak louder than words:
Destination Three: Bologna
This was definitely an unexpected gem, and one that is now on my list for a future visit. I did not know what to expect, except that it would be a smaller city than the usual stops of Florence, Rome etc and thus a new experience. People had told me that Bologna is renowned for its food, but I was not prepared for how beautiful it was. And after days of consuming some of the best food I have ever eaten at La Tavola Marche, maybe I was simply saturated with as much Italian culinary goodness that is possible to absorb in one trip. So I focused more on walking around the city, appreciating the architecture and soaking up the feel of it all. It felt like a truly magical place, so it was a wonderful way to end a fantastic trip.
Back in France…
Sasha stayed home this trip — which is a rare event these days for this girl who has logged quite a few international miles of her own over the last year! She was being well cared for in Genas by my friends Dominique and Eric. She did just fine without me, despite trying to jump into the car when Dominique took me to the Lyon airport the day I left. She was very happy to see me when I returned, but still liked to stay close to Eric… especially during mealtime. I think he was a little more generous with “les friandises” (treats) than I tend to be.
So the next chapter of my adventure continues… not sure where it will take me next but I am happy to be back, recommencing the deep dive back into life in la belle France.
Until next time!