Later this year I turn 30, and I decided this would be my big year of travel! Lucky for me, my husband was totally on board. We knew we wanted to go to Europe, and after a lot of research and discussions, we decided to explore around Italy. My parents took a similar trip about 30 years ago, and one weekend when Grant and I were at my parent’s home, they pulled out a box of pictures, maps, and itineraries from their trip to Italy in the 80’s. It was so much fun going through it with them!
I reached out to so many friends and other bloggers for all of their tips and favorites for our itinerary of Florence, Positano, and Rome as we started our planning. I am so very thankful for the time they put in to send me their information because it takes serious effort, and our trip would not have been the same without their suggestions. Since their tips were so very helpful I knew, I wanted to try to keep notes during our trip and be able to share our favorites as well.
We found a decent price on round trip tickets to and from Rome so we left from Nashville with a stop in Atlanta then off to Rome. If you ever find yourself in the international terminal at ATL be sure to stop by One Flew South for a drink and appetizer which is where,Grant and I officially kicked off our vacation.
Once we arrived in Roma we successfully took the train from FCO to Firenze SMN, navigating trains, and finally we landed in Florence. Then we went to get the keys for the apartment we rented. It was near the Duomo, and was perfect for the two of us for four nights. A small studio apartment with a terrace that doubles the size of the studio. It looked out over the Duomo and was so nice to have a good bit of outdoor space in the middle of Florence. Plus being by the city’s center meant we never got lost.
Travel tip: These two apps are must haves
- Ulmon CityMaps2Go. Get this for any cities you are planning to go. It was a lifesaver!! Helped us get to and from our apartment, restaurants, museums, etc. without having to connect to WiFi.
- Rick Steve’s Audio Europe. Yes he is a goob, but this app is free and is full of tons of great, free information, walking tours, museum tours, etc. Just download the specific ones you want to listen to before you leave and you will have it all whether or not you have WiFi.
After settling into our apartment, we set out to do one of the most touristy things of our entire trip, the double decker, Hop on Hop Off bus. It was late afternoon at this point, and we wanted to do something to get our bearings without exerting too much energy since we started to run on fumes from the overnight flight. I had fairly low expectations for this one hour bus route, but it was not crowded; the weather was gorgeous, and we went to places and saw views that we wouldn’t have otherwise seen. So it was worth it and so nice to rest a bit while seeing our first taste of gorgeous Firenze.
That night we opted for an easy, pizza spot that had been recommended to us – Gusta Pizza. It was on the other side of the Arno so we walked from our apartment and were able to take in the sights of the Ponte Vecchio at night which was a treat. Gusta Pizza was the perfect, casual first night spot. Incredible pizza and wine. This place was bustling, but just be prepared for super casual – plastic cups instead of wine glasses type of casual, but out of this world pizza (with wine for 15 euros – done and done.)
The next day (our first full day in Florence) we messed up and slept in way too late.
Travel tip: Beat the Jet Lag
Upon arrival to a foreign country change your timezone manually if it doesn’t do so automatically and set your alarm for the next morning so you can get on their schedule – rookie mistake. We didn’t do this, I panicked at first but it ended up being ok.
We wandered over to Mercato Centrale and enjoyed perusing through the market on the first floor, tasting amazing samples, and buying wine to have on our balcony. Then we made our way upstairs for lunch. Upstairs is like an upscale food court full of a plethora of authentic Tuscan options. Grant got a pannino from one “station,” and I ordered bruscetta di buffala with tomatoes. It was heavenly. I already miss bruscetta with such fresh, good ingredients.
After lunch we poked through San Lorenzo market. I purchased a black leather clutch and a couple of scarves. As long as you have cash you can bargin, easily. We stopped in and out of little cafes and met a family friend of Grant’s for a drink at a funny, college-y bar near our apartment – JJ’s Cathedral. Then we changed for dinner and headed to Ristorante La Giostra.
La Giostra (need reservation) had been recommended to us by several people, and the setting was amazing – small, dark, candlelit. As our first “real” restaurant in Florence the ordering was hard and fast (later I realized this was the norm, but I was not quite prepared yet). We let our server select most things for us, and the carpaccio of grilled zucchini, tomatoes and parmigiana with pine nuts; papradelle with wild boar; and osso bucco were the shining stars of the meal. (People recommend the ravioli with pears here, but I was too flustered at the beginning to remember tidbits like this, darn! I also forgot to take pics here). We skipped dessert at dinner because I knew I wanted to stop for gelato on the walk home.
We woke up the following morning and went on a Best of Tuscany tour with Art’viva. There were 12 of us in a Mercedes van with our tour guide, Giuseppe, a nice, talkative, walking encyclopedia – the perfect tour guide. We went to Sienna, Monteriggioni, and San Gimmenano with at stop at a vineyard for lunch in between. The Tuscan countryside was gorgeous, but this daytrip was a bit touristy for me. Here is the rundown: Sienna was cool and very medieval. We learned a lot about the horse race and their neighborhood rivalries. Plus their Duomo was insanely gorgeous (go inside here to check out the floors alone), and we stopped by an idyllic little butcher so Grant could get a sandwich.
Next we went to a tiny town of Monteriggioni. It was teeny, tiny but really cool to see such a small walled little community that rests atop of rows and rows of olive trees.
We headed to a vineyard for a tour of the wine making process and a lunch with wine pairings. My favorite thing I learned from this vineyard was about the DOGC label on Italian wines.
Travel/life tip: Selecting Italian wines
- If selecting Italian wines look for DOGC on the label. DOGC means that, regardless of price, the wine has gone through the most strict regulations and guidelines in the industry, has been tasted by a committee, and is guaranteed to be from the region it states. The acronym is usually near the neck/cork of the bottle.
From our vineyard tour we went to San Gimmenano, the cutest and most touristy of all three towns. The views of the countryside from San Gimmenano are incredible, like everything you see in movies and read about in books. We stopped for gelato at the “gelato world champion’s” gelateria. It was the best gelato I had the entire trip, and eveyrone else wanted a taste because the line was long. I had raspberry with rosemary and limon and the combination was delicious.
After returning to Florence we went back to the apartment, regrouped, and headed out for dinner. We walked to Trattoria ZaZa, but the line was extremely long, and it started to rain so we popped into a small cafe. We split an order of bruscetta and a bottle of (DOGC) chianti, and called it a night.
I warned Grant that our last day in Firenze would be a busy one and it was. We started our morning with Rick Steve’s Renaissance walking tour from the Duomo to the Uffizi, with a pitstop for a cappuccino. It was great to learn about the places we had walked by the past several days (originally we were meant to do this on the morning we slept in).
Travel tip: Buy tickets ahead of time
- Buy your tickets for the Uffizi online before you leave for your trip and print out your voucher. We toured the gallery with the masses, but it was absolutely worth it. Again we used Rick Steve’s audio guide while in the museum, and it was perfect – plenty of information without being tied to a tour group.
The works of art here are mindblowing – Michelangelo, Rafael, Botticelli. Not to mention that the views from the Uffizi were gorgeous! Grant laughed that half of the gallery was dedicated to Mary in a blue dress, and I understood his sentiment. There were quite a few paintings of the Madonna with child, and yes, she did wear a blue dress in almost every one.
From the museum we grabbed a sandwich at I Due Frattellini. It will be hard to ever knock this sandwich off of it’s pedestal as my very favorite sandwich of all times. The bread and ingredients were both perfect. I ordered the No. 26 which contained bresola, arugula and caprino (soft goat cheese). For 8 euros we each got a sandwich and a water. This is basically a little walk up window where you order and either eat your panino on the curb or take it to go.
We took our sandwiches across the Ponte Vecchio to the Boboli Gardens. The gardens were very large and full of lush, green hedges, pea gravel, statues, an amphitheater, and…bathtubs?
From here we walked back across the river to the Santa Croche and finally stopped for a little break and some wine.
We wore our tennies and walked over ten miles this day, but needed that wine break. Wandering back towards our house we decided to go ahead and get packed up before we headed out for the evening.
We went to the Westin Excellsior’s rooftop for a drink and to watch the sunset. There were a lot of American’s, but the sunset and the views from the rooftop were worth the cost of a couple of drinks (next time I would not order bottled water, that ended up costing 7 euros).
From the Westin we walked to our final dinner reservation in Florence at the small and wonderful, Enoteca Pitti Gola e Cantina (need reservation). This was the best meal and experience we had while we were in Firenze. It is a tiny wine bar and restaurant that truly only has about 20 seats. The three owners work almost every night and are all so helpful and informative. They helped us select our courses and wines. Dishes included – fried squash blossoms, some sort of egg, mushroom fondue wonderfulness and house made pastas each paired with the best wines I have ever tasted – not to mention is ended up being reasonable. Typing this out is embarrassing because it all sounds so rich, again thank goodness for all of the walking. If we had gotten to spend any more time in Florence I would have definitely come back to try their set lunch with wine pairings. I would recommend this restaurant to just about anyone, and am so appreciative of the recommendation.