My Two Weeks in Italy: Rome

Aug 6, 2022

When you've been to Rome before, what do you do when you return? Shop, eat and drink on a rooftop. Oh, and throw a coin in the Trevi Fountain to make sure you return if you believe the myth. I actually forgot to do this! 

You can easily find the top sights in Rome with a quick google search so I won't go through all of them. I will tell you my favorite things to do instead. Our friends aren't really interested in touring historic sights, thank goodness since we've seen them all. We did a quick walk-by of them to take a photo outside. It took all of one morning and our first evening there. It's a good thing since we only were there two nights. 

Spanish Steps

Vatican City 

View of Spanish Steps from the shopping area

Honestly, I considered this a brief stop on our way to the Amalfi coast. I didn't enjoy Rome that much when I went last time, but I liked it better once I planned the trip for things I like to do instead of what is expected of me as a tourist. 

This was the nicest hotel in Italy that we booked. It also happens to be across the street from where I really wanted to stay. We had to watch our budget since we were in Italy for two weeks. I did the next best thing and booked a restaurant reservation at my favorite hotel. You can also go to the bar at the fancy hotels without staying there. 

Our hotel had an amazing rooftop bar. You will need reservations if you go at popular times. We went before dinner two nights in a row. It really was one of our top experiences in Rome. 

Terrazza Nainer - Rooftop bar in Rome | The Rooftop Guide

Terrazza Nainer - Rooftop bar in Rome | The Rooftop Guide

Since we saw all of the top tourist attractions by late morning on our first and only full day in Rome, it was time to enjoy a nice lunch and then shop! I didn't really need anything so I really thought it would just be window shopping unless something just grabbed me. I found lots of beautiful things that I would never wear or just didn't need. We also have most of the stores in Houston, albeit at more expensive prices because they are imported. I did get excited that there was a Pucci store, which I have never seen. I have always admired Pucci swimsuits, but never bought one because I feel like it's something I need to try on first. I happened to find one at the store I just loved, and it was almost half the price in Italy. I felt a little guilty buying the matching pareo, but I had to buy it because it matched. Plus, I never get rid of my swimwear so I knew I would regret not buying it.

I wore it the first day we were on the water in Capri. I folded it in half to make it short since it was so hot, but I like that I can wear it longer too in case I get too much sun on a trip. I'm not usually a fan of triangle tops, but this one is so comfortable.

That night we had dinner across the street at Hotel de Russie. The great thing about the location is that we were able to wear heels for the first time on the trip. 

The hotel's photo

My photo. They win. 

Can you believe my outfit is from Express? It reminded me of Dolce and Gabbana so much that I thought it would be perfect for a more formal dinner.

Another beautiful plate from Ginori!

Heavily edited photo due to shadows. I'm not going to let shadows ruin my photo! 

The next morning we went on a walk before we left for Capri. 

Piazzo Popolo-We had to roll our suitcases through here on the way to our hotel because there was a taxi strike for two days. I can't say I look upon this piazza fondly.

Borghese Gardens-We missed this last time and I was excited to see it, but honestly it was a bust. Most of it isn't taken care of well. These were the only picture worthy shots. 

I took a photo of the door of our hotel as we left that morning. Almost all of the doors have these studs on the bottom. I wonder if this is where Valentino got his inspiration for rockstuds?

We actually had a good time in Rome, which I wasn't expecting. I think the nice hotel with it's rooftop, the shopping experience and the dinner at a restaurant I've always wanted to visit made the difference. It may not be the top things to do as a tourist, but it is what all of us wanted to experience. Thankfully, we have traveling companions that have the same interests as us. Well, they didn't want to go to the Borghese Gardens so we split off that morning. That's also okay. Actually, they made the best decision because it wasn't that great!

Our next leg of the trip is my favorite, the Amalfi Coast!

My Two Weeks in Italy: Under the Tuscan Sun

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!