Italy is one of those places that gets in your soul. The culture is so rich you can’t help but take in every part of it during your time there. I visited Rome, Sicily and Puglia last year with my family and want to share my experience with you in case you are planning to visit there this summer or some time in the near future. This part of Europe is a favorite of mine (my 5th trip there) and is rich with the most incredible, art, cooking, traditions and history. These experiences are so impressionable that you can’t help but bring some of them back into your home country.
I used an incredible luxury travel company called Lux Voyage to help me plan this trip including activities and restaurant reservations. I was also lucky to have been able to meet up with my blogging partner Janet Gunn and her family for part of the trip!
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First up we stayed at Gran Melia Rome, a nice family-friendly hotel in the ‘heart of the eternal city’ - close to the Vatican in Rome. The Gran Melia has delicious food with a restaurant run by one of Italy’s most famous chefs. It’s well-priced and very conveniently located if you plan to spend time in Vatican City. The green oasis and beautiful pool area brings peace and quiet to a bustling city. I also recommend staying at the JK ROMA if you want to be in the historic center of Rome near the Trevi Fountain, The Villa Borghese and the designer boutiques of Via del Corso. We stayed in Rome for two nights!
With so much to explore in Italy, where do I start? Well, the Vatican is an absolute must-see at least once in a lifetime! We took an early morning tour (earlier the better) to the Vatican City, one of the most sacred places in Christendom, it attests to a great history and a formidable spiritual venture. A unique collection of artistic and architectural masterpieces lie within the boundaries of this small state. At its center is St Peter's Basilica, with its double colonnade and a circular piazza in front and bordered by palaces and gardens. Here you can also visit the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel! All this in one morning and we then took a tour after lunch through the Jewish Ghetto. Hidden in the heart of the city, it is one of the best attractions in Rome (and also one of its least-known). As the oldest Jewish community in all of Europe, this beautiful, thriving neighborhood is as central to the history of the city as it is to the Jewish faith.
“Best pasta in Rome” at the authentic Taverna Trilussa
What a treat! Italy is renowned for full flavor, olive oil, herbs, fresh mediterranean living and I love it!
When in Rome, we had dinner at Dal Bologese, in piazza del Popolo. A true Italian experience, where sophisticated Romans mingle with models and celebs at this historically chic restaurant. Dine inside, surrounded by wood panelling and exotic flowers, or outside, serving timeless cuisine serving dishes of the Emilian tradition: including tagliatelle Bolognese and tortellini in broth. We also found the “best pasta in Rome” at the authentic Taverna Trilussa. A high end, rustic taverna famed for serving pasta in steel pans!
SOUTHERN ITALY: SICILY & PUGLIA
A 3.5 hour flight after our time in Rome to Catania we checked into Belmond Grand Hotel Timeo in Taormina where we spent three nights and then went to the sister beachside property, the Belmond Villa Sant’Andrea. Taormina is a renowned resort area in Sicily; a small and elegant town with balconies covered in flowers, ancient ruins, and views over the sea and towards the volcano, Etna. Plus, there are some cute boutiques to shop and no shortage of great restaurants. Another great way to experience Taormina from its most privileged point of view is to take out a boat for the day!
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Day trip to Volcano, Mount Etna
Our last stop in Italy was Puglia (pronounced “Pulia”), staying at the 5 star hotel Borgo Egnazia. Here ‘nature is powerful, peace is intense, harmony is full’ and it certainly was! This beautiful and unique destination is a visionary interpretation of a typical Puglian village, surrounded by olive groves within the gorgeous landscape in Southern Italy. You get your own designated concierge who will guide you and offer the best in local and authentic experiences there. The service is impeccable and a stay there is certainly a “bucket list” experience. Another great small boutique hotel worth a visit is La Perschiera—this 13-room five-star (adults only) hotel offers sea views from every room within its own private beach. We went for lunch and spent some beach time there.
In Puglia, the heel of Italy’s boot and the home of Italy’s pasta, we embarked upon a full-day journey. Beginning in Alberobello, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, discovering its unique prehistoric trulli houses. Afterwards we continued to Locorotondo taking in its luminous white houses, charming churches, and panoramic views of the Itria Valley. Then continued to Ostuni one of the most beautiful towns in Puglia, extending across three hills, and known as "the white city" for its dazzling white walls and white-painted buildings. The genuine charm of these white-washed villages were simply beautiful. Our stop in Locorontondo, known as one of the most beautiful cities in Italy continues with everything in bright white apart from the blood red geraniums that fall from the window boxes. The streets are paved with smooth ivory stones, with the church of Santa Maria della Grecia as its sunbaked centerpiece.
I highly recommend taking a bike tour through the olive-tree covered countryside of Puglia! The culture of olive oil is one of the region's greatest treasures. Starting from Albergabici in Montalbano we experienced the region’s famous “Apulian gold” - an underground olive oil factory, and flourishing olive farms. Extra virgin olive oil of Puglia is one of the most famous products in the world for its taste and it’s quality! The Borgo Egnazia with it’s full service concierge set up this tour for us from their property and it was well worth it.
A little more casual, was our lunch spot in Puglia at La Taverna del Duca, serving excellent apuglian cuisine and in Taormina we encountered Tischi Toschi a small family run restaurant with a relaxed Sicilian atmosphere serving locals with their fresh authentic flavors and recipes.
Lastly I wanted to note the brand new restaurant, Casa Gioli in Taormina mixing Sicilian art and upscale cuisine set in a splendid location.
WHAT TO PACK FOR A EUROPEAN VACATION
During this trip I took some of my favorite casual chic outfits - think straw hats, flowing dresses, white jeans, swimsuit and comfy sandals.
Tips to remember for your trip to Italy
• Wear light layers, beach cover ups and tunics. Comfortable shoes a must!
• Bring jeans or light-weight athleisure pants if you plan on visiting Mt. Etna or take a bike ride
• Pack a straw hat and fanny pack (not your grandma's!). They also sell amazing hats in Italy so you can pick one up there too!
• Visit the Vatican early morning and book your Museum tickets in advance online from the Vatican website!
Or you can set up a private behind the scenes tour BEFORE the Vatican is open through Lux Voyage.
• Pack your Skyroam for safe wireless everywhere! Use code GLOWGIRL10 for 10% off your skyroam!
Have fun, eat well and embrace the romance of this beautiful country!