My Two Weeks in Italy: Under the Tuscan Sun

Aug 6, 2022

Tuscany! The land of wine, T-bone steaks, scenery, history and sunshine.

This wasn't our first trip to Tuscany, but for some reason it felt different. Do you ever return to a place and have a completely different experience? That is how we felt on this trip. We stayed in Florence for only one night in August five years ago, and toured the gardens and museums. It was absolutely beautiful, but we were about to have a heat stroke. The odd thing is it is ten degrees cooler than Houston, but feels just as hot. Skip the summer months if you can!

Knowing how hot it could be in the summer we stayed near the Ponte Vecchio Bridge near all of the main sights. Our hotel had an amazing view of the Arno river, too. 

Instead of staying in the Tuscan countryside for the majority of our trip, we did a one day tour of three wineries instead. In retrospect, I wish we had stayed in the country. Florence is amazing, but I think once you've seen the sights one time you can relax and do the fun stuff aka wine tasting. My reasoning to stay in Florence is that the countryside is very sleepy. Make sure you book a resort that has a restaurant and bar. A pool is a must too if you go in the summer. 

We arrived in the afternoon and walked our friends to the Duomo. I mean, you can't go to Florence without seeing the Duomo or the Ponte Vecchio Bridge! 

Our friends then did some shopping while I had my daily gelato, and then we went back to our hotel to get ready for our dinner reservation at Natalino. I saw it recommended by a fancy hotel online, and noticed it had the Florentine steaks my husband had requested. I booked it with that in mind. I had no idea what I would eat, but ended up with the most most amazing lasagna ever. It was one of our least expensive meals as well. My husband shows off his steak to everyone. He cannot get it out of his head!

We walked around after dinner to the historic Piazza Signoria where an orchestra was playing, and then along the Arno River at sunset. It was absolutely magical! I take back what I said earlier. Stay in Florence as long as you do this in the evening. I almost get teary eyed thinking about her perfect it was. The beautiful architecture, the fountains, the people and the music all came together at sunset to create a spectacular evening. Maybe even a romantic one?

Imagine this sight with the fountain running and an orchestra playing in the background...

Then we went back to enjoy the rooftop at our hotel. There isn't a bar so we took the wine we bought earlier in Lake Como upstairs. If your hotel doesn't have a rooftop overlooking the river, definitely reserve a table at rooftop bar to watch the sunset.

The next day we headed out at 9am with a driver to make it to our first winery, Castello di Verrazzano. We stopped here five years ago for a quick wine tasting in the restaurant. We always said we would go back and do the full tour because it was so beautiful. 

However, I have to admit I was really bored on the tours this trip. They last way too long compared to American ones. I just want a brief overview and to taste the wine. Opt for a meal at the restaurant instead where you can pair the wine. After an hour we finally got to sit down and taste the wine, and the balsamic vinegar. We bought a way too expensive bottle of balsamic, but when in Tuscany...wear white. Just kidding! It does look like we're at a white party here.

Then we were off to our favorite, Tenuta Torciano! If you've followed me for a while you know that we not only visited this winery five years ago, but we had them do a wine party at our house the next year. It sounds super fancy, but it's free and they provide the wine. They just ask that you invite at least 12 people. We had a little over 20. We had it catered by a local Italian restaurant, and rented some tables to place by the pool, but the cost was minimal. It does look like Tuscany with the cypress trees in our backyard so it was the perfect setting. My guests weren't required to buy anything, but they broke sales records that night! I'm not surprised because Texans are known from Napa to Italy for their love of wine. So of course we had to go back!

One of the reasons I love this Tenuta Torciano is because they have wineries all over Tuscany so you can visit their main one in San Gimignano, but sample all of the varieties. I also love that there isn't a wine tour. We sat down and had an amazing lunch paired with so many wines that I couldn't even count them. 

My husband of course immediately drops red sauce on his white shirt. Thankfully, I always carry Shout wipes in my purse for this reason. 

Most of the people working there are part of the family that owns the winery. I absolutely love all of them! One even jumped in to help clean his shirt. 

We walked around the historic town of San Gimignano after this tasting. I wanted our friends to experience it. Montalcino and Montepulciano are very similar so you need to experience only one if you are short on time. I do wish we would have had time to visit Siena. We went on our last trip, and it is definitely worth it. I also regret not having enough to time to visit some of the wineries in Montalcino, especially Banfi

I heard San Gimignano is home to the best gelato in the world. I had to try it out of course. I will say it was the best we had on the trip. I should have taken a photo, but my brain wasn't working right because of the heat and crowds. 

Then we were off to our last winery, Antinori. I was excited about this one because I heard it was the best. However, between the sun, wine and food we were exhausted. I kept falling asleep in the van on the way. I did perk up when we got there a little because it's a beautiful modern winery. I wish we would have skipped the tour and just went right to the tasting area instead. The tour was so long that it was absolutely brutal to get through for everyone. I think out of the 15 or so people there was only one person that didn't seem to want to run out of there. We had three wines at the end of the tour, but they weren't that great. We ordered Antinori bottles twice at restaurants and they were really good. I'm not sure why they chose the wines they did for the tasting. 

There's also a restaurant that has a beautiful view. The menu wasn't our favorite so we opted to have dinner in Florence that night. One thing I realized is that Americans don't eat just enjoy one cuisine. We are probably the only people in the world that have a variety daily. It makes it hard to travel to one country for so many days, and have the same cuisine even if it is amazing. My husband was craving Tex-Mex and happened to find a place in Florence that served it. Well, it is more Baja, but close enough!

The next morning we had time to walk around the city before we left for Rome on our train. We stayed in the shopping area, but I hadn't been really interested yet in going in any stores until I saw Ginori! I absolutely love their dishes. I have always had my eye on these, but I found some that I even like better. I haven't looked online yet to see if I can find them here. I have an art piece coming in for my dining room that is between blue and green in color so I want to see how it looks before buying them. 

So then we were off to Rome!

My Two Weeks in Italy: Lake Como

Jul 26, 2022

After Venice, we headed to Lake Como. We took a train to Milan, and arranged for a driver to pick us up at the station and take us to Bellagio. One thing I learned about Lake Como is that it doesn't really matter where you stay on the lake. Bellagio is the most popular, but Como is probably the most convenient location because there's a train station there that allows you to skip the driver. However, I say just stay at the hotel that most appeals to you because you will spend most of the time boating on the lake. 

We stayed at Hotel Metropole, which is at the end of the main road in Bellagio. It is extremely convenient for catching the ferry around the lake, and there are a ton of restaurants right outside the hotel. We had the most amazing room at this hotel. It was a corner unit on the second floor with an enormous patio. In front of us we had the most spectacular lake view, and to the right we had a view of Bellagio. Ask for Room 112! The only complaint I have is that the shower is super tiny.

Here is the view from our room to the patio.

We opted to have after dinner drinks out here with our friends the two nights we were here because we weren't going to get a better view at a restaurant!

The first day we had a quick lunch, changed clothes and caught the ferry to Villa Balbianello. It has been on my bucket list for years after saving so many photos of it on Instagram. It's where parts of Casino Royale and Star Wars were filmed, but honestly I know it best from an iconic Slim Aarons photo. 

1980-1989 Art Print featuring the photograph Villa Del Balbianello by Slim Aarons
Fine Art America

One of the reasons I changed is because I knew this was going to be one of the most picture worthy spots on our trip. I was sweating bullets in this long dress, but it was worth it. I'm not the kind of girl who usually wants photos of herself, but this day I had no shame. I handed my phone over to my husband so many times to make sure we got every bit of scenery in the backdrop. He didn't get the significance like I did, but he could tell it was important to me so he was a good sport.

This last photo! It shows the scale of it, and how beautiful this place really is. We opted for a tour, but honestly the inside isn't nearly as impressive as the gardens. I wish we would have just bought a garden ticket. Also, catch the boat ride to the villa instead of the uphill 20 minute walk. I'm fairly fit, and it was a little tough for me. I thought my husband was going to pass out!

The next day was our full day in Lake Como. We opted to rent a boat all day. We had to ferry to Varenna to pick it up, but it's only a 15 minute trip. I'm glad Bellagio was sold out of boats because I got to experience this beautiful town. 

I loved seeing the swans! This town is much more quaint and less expensive than Bellagio, but so charming.

We went from Varenna all the way down to Como, which is just one of three legs of the lake. It took almost all day once we stopped for lunch. I did dip in the water to cool off, but I got right back out because it was a little too cold for me.

Villa Balbianello from the water

A popular spot to jump off the bridge with the waterfall in the background. 

I love the wooden boats on this lake. 

We stopped at this small town for lunch. There's a beach club here, but it's just really loungers overlooking the lake. Almost all of the towns on the lake have a beach club you can stop at for lunch. Reserve in advance if you want to use the sun beds.

Oddly, we had the best Pina coladas ever here. They have a cream foam on top that's amazing. My husband had a limoncello spritzer. We were trying to get lunch reservations at Villa d'Este. It's one of the most luxurious hotels in the world, but the restaurant isn't great about picking up their phone. This was such a nice lunch that I'm okay that it didn't work out. 

This was the most relaxing day we had on the trip after running from site to hotel to train since we landed in Venice. If you don't want to rent a boat you can go town to town via ferry. The beaches are rocky so we preferred the water, plus the scenery of the hills and homes are amazing from a boat. There are also other villas you can visit, but one was enough for me. We did everything on the itinerary except the lunch at Villa d'Este so the next day we moved on to Florence!


My Two Weeks in Italy: Venice

Jul 22, 2022

I am back from Italy! You may have seen my Instagram posts and stories, but I'm sharing all of the details of our trip. You can also go back and view all my stories on Instagram. It's highlighted as "Italy 2022" in my profile information. 

This was our second trip to Italy. We re-visited some of our favorites and added a couple of new destinations. My husband and I traveled with another couple, which made it so much more fun. Neither of them had ever been to Europe so it was fun seeing it through their eyes. Our itinerary was Venice, Lake Como, Florence/Tuscany, Rome, Capri/Positano. Venice and Lake Como were new to us, and we absolutely loved both. 


Our first stop was Venice, which we had never visited. We left it out of the last trip after hearing from many people it was not worth it. I still wanted to go there despite the negativity, but only planned two nights in case we didn't care for it. We absolutely loved it! It's a beautiful city. Two nights were perfect for our group with everything we wanted to see. Our sightseeing list included the Doge Palace, St. Mark's Basilica, The Rialto Bridge, The Grand Canal and a gondola ride.

We arrived by water taxi from the airport that we booked online about a month or two before our trip. You can also take a bus, which is less expensive. However, since we were traveling with another couple we were able to split the cost. It's also a great way to start off a vacation! We also took it to the train station when we left for our next leg of the trip to Lake Como.

It's a great way to see the canals of Venice, too. 

The boat dropped us off right at our hotel since it was on a canal. We stayed at Hotel Dona Palace, which is right around the corner from St. Mark's Square where the Basilica and Doge Palace are located.      It's a boutique mid-range hotel. In my opinion it's worth it to stay at a lesser hotel if it means getting a bigger room. Hotel rooms in Europe are notoriously small. Some of our showers were so tiny that I couldn't even shave in them so check those out as well. 

Our favorite part of the hotel was the patio on the canal. We enjoyed a drink there every night before and after dinner. Here is the view from our window. Breakfast is included, and we happened to be right around the corner from the buffet on the second floor. I always took a second cappuccino back to my room to finish getting ready for the day.

Our first night in Venice-We ate around the corner from the hotel at a highly rated, but inexpensive restaurant called Rossopomodoro. We had a Caprese salad and a pizza, which was wonderful. They have a Naples style pizza that is considered the best. The house wine was also amazing. We laughed that we never got a bad glass of house wine then entire time we were in Italy. 

Of course we had to check out St. Peter's Square since it was right around the corner. I have a video of it on my Instagram stories. 

We came back for a drink out on the patio and watched the gondolas go by. There's a video on my Instagram stories of it as well. 

Restaurant tips:

-Most restaurants open at 7pm in Italy. We're used to eating early so we always went as soon as they opened, which is perfect if you don't have reservations. The busiest times are between 8-9pm. Rossopomodoro is open all day so we could go as soon as we got there so we didn't fall asleep. 

-The restaurants on St. Mark's Square are more expensive, but great for people watching. We avoided them because there was no shade, and would have been uncomfortable in the sun. The side streets are shaded and much cooler. The weather was perfect in the shade, but could get hot in the sun. If you do go when it's cooler I would recommend Caffe Florian for a light breakfast or snack. Another one we considered is Quadri. Make reservations if there is an event in St. Mark's Square. There was a concert our second night, and a table without a reservation is impossible. Italian's love to say "it is impossible." 

-There is a lot of fine dining in Venice. It was a little too highbrow for our taste with lots of black squid pasta and octopus. We were happier with pasta and pizza. Our plan was to visit the bars at the Aman, Hotel Daneli or Cipriani for the ambiance since the restaurant menus didn't appeal to us. Most of those places charge a small fortune for one drink, plus a cover charge. It's worth it to get a feel for luxury hotels without the four figure a night price tag, but keep in mind some of them require reservations for even the bar. We ended up skipping them because we loved our quiet little patio at the hotel so much. 

Our first full day in Venice we got up early to see the Basilica, walk along the Grand Canal and tour the Doge Palace before lunch. 

Doge Palace

View from the Bridge of Sighs in the Doge Palace-Prisoners would walk along this bridge and sigh at their last view of Venice.

The Grand Canal

Bridge of Sighs from the Grand Canal

We had lunch and then took a little nap at the hotel. In the afternoon we walked to the Rialto Bridge, took a tour of a museum that was included with our Doge Palace ticket and stopped for gelato. 

Before dinner we hopped on a gondola ride. There are many areas you can get on a gondola ride, but we chose a smaller canal behind St. Mark's Square. We were all nervous about the choppy waters on the Grand Canal. It costs 90 euros for a 30 minute ride at sunset that we split between the four of us. Talk to your guide first to see if they offer commentary or singing. It's all the same price. I've heard some people say gondola rides aren't worth the cost, but I have to strongly disagree. We loved it!

Rialto Bridge

Our guide was quiet at first, but as we asked questions he began to give us a history of Venice the entire ride. 

We headed out to dinner after our gondola ride and then listened to an orchestra perform in St. Peter's Square before having our late night cocktail at the hotel's patio. It was a full day, but we took a couple of breaks at the hotel after lunch and before dinner. It's nice to have that option since we were so close to everything. If you are interested in touring other islands, such as Murano, you would definitely need another day or two. 

The next morning we were a little sad to leave such a beautiful place, but since we saw everything we wanted to see it was time to move on to Lake Como.