Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you! How about an unforgettable holiday with us at New Years’ Jazz in Italy?
What do we love about the Amalfi Coast? Well, there are the VIEWS – always astounding, always drawing oohs and aahs, whether we’re relaxing by the pool at our favorite Capri hotel, approaching iconic Positano from the water, gazing up at the majestic Duomo of Amalfi, posing before the Faraglioni rocks of Capri, watching Vesuvius fade into the distanceas we speed across the bay, pulling into Capri’s colorful Marina Grande before spiraling high above to Anacapri, or enjoying the vista from the Belvedere of Infinity in Ravello. We’ve taken in these views for nearly twenty years, and they still make us gasp anew each time!
Then there’s the food….a fritto misto fresh from the surrounding waters, a caprese salad created on the island for which it’s named,
pizza in the land of its birth, a lemon granita (a slushy) from our favorite cart up the hill in Positano,
fresh fish from the sea below us in Ravello, and that marvelous lemon-tinged lunch we learned how to make with our guests at Villa Maria Agriturismo, under the lemon groves above Minori, before enjoying it with yet another fabulous view.
We also love the history that surrounds us – that 13th century Moorish style cloister and loggia of the Duomo in Amalfi,the peaceful Villa San Michele, constructed in Anacapri for a Swedish doctor at the turn of the 19th century, incorporating relics from the ruins of a villa of Emperor Tiberius on which it was built,
the gardens and cloister of Villa Cimbrone, dating from the 11th century, and the mysterious 13th century passageways in Atrani and Amalfi, even more enticing after dark.
Is it any surprise that we chose this fabulous part of Italy to premier our Wonder Tours last spring?!
We’ll be back in April 2020 – why not join us and experience these wonders for yourself?
We often find ourselves spending a night in Rome on our way to or from other places in Italy, as we did last month, and we enjoy the opportunity to savor the sights and tastes of the city even with just an overnight.
We’ve found a favorite little four-room inn, Relais Cavour, housed in a Roman palazzo that is a ten minute walk from Rome’s Termini Train Station, from where it’s an easy trip to the airport. With comfortable well-equipped quiet rooms – excellent beds, a sleek bathroom, space for our luggage, superior wifi, and plenty of electrical outlets – it’s a perfect fit for a one night stay. Breakfast can be delivered to your room – there are a table and chairs in each room – or if you’re leaving early, in a to-go bag. The Monti district, a few minutes walk from the Inn, has gotten a lot of press in recent years regarding new restaurants and boutiques, and is well worth a wander. When we spent a night there last fall, I mentioned the district and Kirk found an old-Rome trattoria on Yelp that we tried out – and LOVED. One of the best Carbonaras I’ve tasted! When we were at the Relais in January, arriving from the airport just in time for a late dinner, we tried to remember the name to find it again – we’d just finished a few days in Malta following a private tour for a guest who was seeking out her roots on the Adriatic Coast of Italy so we hadn’t planned for Rome except for booking a room! Couldn’t find it on Yelp, so we just started walking in the general direction, and after wandering down one cobbled street that didn’t look quite right, we tried the next one and there it was, at via dei Capocci #4- Trattoria al Tettarello! I had that memorable Carbonara again, and Kirk enjoyed one of the best steaks he’s ever had, along with an excellent bottle of Rosso de Montalcino. With unbelievably good prices and a cozy intimate down-home dining room, it’s a place we’ll return to again and again! In addition to the fun Monti neighborhood, Relais Cavour is also within walking distance of Rome’s number one sight, the Colisseum! It was a pleasure to walk to that icon at sunrise last fall before heading for the airport for the long flight home. We circled the massive structure, stopped for one last good Italian coffee, and gathered our bags at the Relais to be on our way. Another Roman beauty is even closer – Santa Maria Maggiore, which we pass on our way to dinner at al Tettarello. And if you have a little more time, the Campo dei Fiori market, always a delight, isn’t too far. Nor is the glorious Pantheon, and just around the corner, Kirk’s favorite coffee pause – Sant Eustachio. So even with less than 24 hours, it’s easy to enjoy a mini Roman Holiday!
As we’re coasting into Italy our pilot announces that we’ll arrive not in Florence, as planned, but Bologna, due to extreme fog in our expected destination. Dreams of a delicious Tuscan lunch forgotten, we watch the hours tick by as we await our luggage (everything’s slowed to a crawl in Bologna due to all the re-routed Florence fights!), then load a couple of very cramped buses for the hour trip to Florence airport. Gasps of astonishment waft through the bus as we approach Florence and see the entire city under a heavy blanket of clouds – and this at nearly 4 pm!
We’ve kept in touch with the owner, Gianni, of the apartment we’ve rented to let him know of our delays (can we rave once again about T-Mobile and their invaluable plans? No extra charges for texts and data wherever we travel!), and he meets us with a smile and takes us to our spacious home for the next few days. Before we even unpack we find the closest hole-in-the-wall and order a pre-dinner snack – oh those delicious Tuscan sips and tastes!
Then back to settle in to the apartment, located just over the Ponte Vecchio in the Oltrarno district – a superb location! If you’re looking for a comfortable, well-located and well-priced Florence spot, we sure recommend Guicciardini 10! After dinner we stroll across the foggy old bridge and from one favorite piazza to another, enjoying the mysteriously misty Christmas lights.
We wake up to the Florence we are familiar with – bright and sunny! Crossing the city to an old favorite, Teatro del Sale, we renew our annual membership, then stroll the fabulous Mercato Sant’Ambrogio before lunch at the Teatro. There’s something for everyone in the market – fresh fruits and vegetables outside, beautifully prepared meats, creative appetizers and cheeses inside, and out the back door the antiques stalls that used to be set up by the old fish market. Here’s Kirk’s description of a row of intriguing antipasti platters: “Found in a Florentine market: An assortment of ground meaty stuffings wrapped in thin “leaves” of dough. Cook in the oven and serve to admiring guests. Also there are tons of meaty cheesy vegetably things tied in strings with bacon or sewn together with toothpicks to be cooked and presented together. You don’t see this stuff in Italian restaurants in the US. Gotta be here for the real deal. Yum.”
We’re happy to find out that photos are now allowed at Teatro del Sale, where the chef shouts out what’s coming from the oven or stove-top from the kitchen window, dishing out ribollita, a warming stew, from a giant pot.For years the creative owner, Fabio Picchi, honored with a bust and photos above the wood-stoked oven and still cooking up a storm, would gruffly deny any photos, but now allows us to snap to our heart’s content. Baking pans and oval platters of pastas, vegetables, roasted chicken, and my favorite olive-drizzled focaccia (I could fill up on just THAT for lunch!) keep filling the table and our stomachs, with plenty of serve-yourself wine and water.
Fresh clementines, a bowl of rich whipped cream for tall twirly cookies, almond cake, and diamonds of Cibreo’s (Picci’s elegant flagship restaurant, from which all of the others developed) melt-in-your-mouth chocolate cake sate our sweet tooth.
A reviving cup of Illy coffee in the library and we’re ready to hit the streets again.
Creative shop windows catch our eye as we walk to Piazza Santissima Annunziata with it’s unique monkey fountain, then back to Piazza del Duomo, full of so many memories. We had this view when we took Kirk’s dear mother to Florence, and rented an apartment so close we could almost touch the cathedral. And the soaring bell-tower always reminds me of climbing to the top with our grandchildren a few years later. From Kirk: “Here’s 30 seconds from the center of the Roman center of Florence. Romans tended to build near a river or a spring (preferably a hot spring) in a checkerboard pattern. There was usually one main east-west street called a decumanum and a north-south street called the cardo. You can see down all four directions from this point.”
As the sun sets we make it to Piazza Santa Croce, another favorite.F-lights, a holiday celebration of creative lighting on Florence icons, delights with art-class drawings projected on the simple facade of Santo Spirito, and near Palazzo Pitti colored balloons float above the street behind a marble column erected by Medici ruler Cosimo I in 1572 to commemorate his victory over Siena at the Battle of Marciano in 1554.Our time’s gone much too quickly – just enough hours to say hello to favorite spots – but before we go we can’t miss the Mercato Centrale, where we stock up on Tuscan specialties for our New Year’s Eve feast in Rome. And before the train speeds us south we peek into Santa Felicita at a Pontormo Annunciation, walk along the river to Torre San Niccolo, and are surprised by a rhinocerous hanging from the ceiling inside a beautiful palazzo, the city’s science museum.Bye-bye balloons, thanks for the party!
Goodbye Lake Garda – it’s been a pleasure! We’re on our way west to another of northern Italy’s string of beautiful lakes, Lake Maggiore, where we’ll spend our remaining days. From there it’ll be an easy less-than-an-hour drive to Milan’s airport when we have to leave.
We searched long and hard for a lake-view spot and oh did we find it! Clinging to a steep hill over the village of Baveno, Fausta’s holiday apartment gives us what we’re looking for…and the view’s so enticing we don’t want to stop and unpack! But those suitcases can wait – we’ve arrived as early as possible since it looks like today will be the only rain-free day to enjoy the lake.
Next stop, Stresa, from where we ferry to Isola Bella, the beautiful island. We stayed in Stresa a few years ago, but didn’t get to the island and today’s our chance! It’s the perfect time of year to enjoy the gardens, terracing down the islet.The entrance to the gardens is through the palace at the far end…but it’s the Italianate garden that’s the draw, covering nearly half of the island. The stretch of tacky souvenir stands from the garden exit to the ferry stop detracts from the beauty of the island – look up and enjoy the architecture to avoid them! And be sure to wind through the narrow cobbled lanes of the old village – a riot of color and creativity! From the terrace of the palace take in the view of Isola Pescatori, with a larger town and a couple of hotels. Ferrying back to Stresa, we admire the pull-up-and-eat restaurant, which was doing a brisk business as we strolled by, and wave farewell to Isola Bella, bella indeed! Remembering the flower-lined lakeside path of Stresa from our previous stay, we enjoy it once again,then return to our own bella spot for an evening apero.The view is as intriguing as our delicious dinner…as the lights twinkle on across the lake. Kirk wants to head up that funicular on the right tomorrow!
Still watching as the night darkens…enjoy the show!
After the stressful night and day of travel, all we want to do is relax and explore this charming town we’ve ended up in…we’ll drive along the lake to see more tomorrow. We had noticed a cute coffee shop as we walked around last night, and stop by for breakfast this morning. Our two pastries and cappuccinos, relished in a cozy nook, come to a mere 5 euros – we can’t make breakfast at home for that! One of the pleasures of being in a less-discovered town!
Caffeinated, we set out to see the sights, climbing up to the castle to gaze at the lake sparkling beyond.Tempted by the display in Ruffino’s window on the main square, we stock up for the next few days…home-made pastas, cheeses, salumi, a vivid bottle of orange Aperol for apertif-time, and for dessert some limoncello and a flat crunchy Sbrisolona, the almond shortbread cake we sampled a few years ago in Mantova, a few miles south of us.
Spreading the map out on the table, we plan our upcoming explorations, take a nap, then nibble some olives and nuts with our Aperol Spritzes on the garden terrace.Our lazy day finishes with a lake side stroll – this is the perfect place to begin our Italy Lake District Ramble!
Arriving in Desenzano, crawling up a narrow cobbled street barely wide enough for the car til we find our apartment, we settle in and take a deep breath, so relieved to be here after what was the worst 24 hours of travel we’ve ever experienced. Our flight from Marseilles to Venice was repeatedly delayed, then cancelled (no emails or notice, we were able to find out only by searching Google flights and asking other exhausted passengers who had been waiting for hours when we arrived at the airport around midnight) and the Monday night departure turned into a Tuesday afternoon departure. After minimal communication (there were NO staff of the airline at the airport, only a company charged with caring for their passengers – each time they attempted to contact someone in the company in Spain it took forever) the airline put us up in an airport hotel – we got to bed around 2 am. We certainly can NOT recommend Volotea Airlines!
Picking up a car after finally landing in Venice, we made it to Desenzano, on Lake Garda, in the late afternoon Tuesday. Our spacious apartment is right in the historic center, with everything we need within walking distance. Eagerly we begin figuring out where we are, finding the main piazza, crowned with a church and lined with enticing boutiques, then the picturesque port, waterside eateries doing a brisk business.Our time-honored trick of finding a restaurant a block off of the main drag works perfectly once again – Osteria Di Vino is a little treasure!Fragrant with truffles, my tartare is perfectly accompanied with a local red.
Falling into bed after that excellent dinner, we’re so thankful to be here!
Slip into the window seat in our aisle and join us on our search for a symphony of views, flavors, culture, sounds, and friends. We'll let you know when we hear the harmony we seek - whether in a WOW classical concert, an awesome night of jazz, a magical vineyard or olive farm, or an outstanding bistro, trattoria, wine, garden, or experience. From our delightful maison de village near a Languedoc beach* to a canal-side string ensemble in Amsterdam, you'll read and feel like a real local.
The best way to describe us (Kirk and Anne Woodyard) is that we're interested in the stories that make the places we visit come alive.
We've visited Europe more times than we can count, learned some entertaining stories there, and met some warm and helpful people who also enjoy the wonders of music and life in Europe. Between our music-related travels, we split our time between our homes near Washington DC and in the the south of France. We look forward to sharing these stories and friends and experiences with you.