Adrian Park in Rome
We’ve been to Rome several times and we keep coming back. What makes Rome so special? It’s hard to put into words, but I’ll give it a try.
Arch of Constantine
Everyone knows that Rome has plenty of famous ruins such as the Forum and the Colloseum. But what I love about the Eternal City are the unexpected ruins one finds around every corner. On my most recent trip, I discovered a new neighborhood for me, The Ghetto, the old Jewish quarter not far from the Pantheon. Besides a vibrant neighborhood with fun eateries, this area is home to Portico di Ottavia, a lovely portico built by Augustus in 27 BC. From the Portico, one can take a nice walk and visit the nearby Theatre of Marcellus. Just a few blocks north you can find the Largo di Argentina with four beautiful temples and the famous Roman cats.
Chiostro delle Monache in Volterra, Tuscany
Whether you are traveling in the countryside or want to explore a great city like Rome, Italy offers a comfortable and economic option for accommodations — a convent or monastery stay. Thanks to its Catholic heritage, Italy has an abundance of convents and monasteries throughout the country. In popular cities like Rome and Florence, the convents claim prime locations that are centrally located, yet often, on quiet side streets. Fortunately for us travelers, these renovated buildings are usually a great bargain compared to their competition.
The Appian Way
Almost everyone who visits Italy for the first time includes Rome in their itinerary. We give ourselves three or four days to see the most important sights and we leave the city exhausted and overwhelmed by all of the history and art (and food) we’ve consumed in too short a time.
Hopefully you’ll have a chance to return to Rome. When you visit the eternal city again, you can move beyond the crowded and touristy areas and savor more of the smaller gems of this amazing city. Once you’ve gone where the guide books say to go, you can now choose your own path—hopefully, with a slower pace. We’ve been lucky enough to return to Rome four times and we still are amazed at what we discover. Next time you venture to Rome, you might consider these other venues.
Most Americans who travel to Italy don’t think about hiking here, but they should. Italy has more than 30 National Parks and even more regional parks — all with miles of hiking trails. Each time we visit this amazing country, we include an area with good hiking. We always try to explore a new region, but sometimes we just have to return to a favorite spot. For a wide variety of easy, medium or challenging hikes, it’s hard to beat the Val Gardena, in the Dolomite Mountains. Here are a few reasons to check out this amazing valley.
Beautifully maintained and well-marked hiking trails
The distances are marked in minutes and hours, which is quite helpful. They also include the time it will take to get to the next Hutte/Rifugio for a bite to eat or a refreshing drink.
Alpe di Suisi Valley
Get your free hiking map from the TI or at any of the Funicular Stations. Some trails are wide enough for mountain bikes—others are steep and narrow.
Cathedral of Cremona
If are arriving in Italy by way of Milan, you might consider spending a few days in the delightful town of Cremona. I wrote a bit about Cremona awhile back, but that was only after a short day trip there. If you have the time, spend a few days to discover this quintessential Italian town.
We found a lovely apartment in the town center, not far from the Museo del Violino, The Violin Museum. Cremona is famous for its violin makers and above all, the Stradivari Family, who first started making violins in the early 1600’s. Visit the museum to learn all about the history of the violin and see wonderful multimedia presentations about how violins are made. This is where you can see some of the famous violins of both the Stradivari and Guarneri masters. Most weekends you can catch a short concert in their beautiful auditorium. Check their website for the many special concerts of the Stradivari Festival or other musical events.
A Courtyard in Arles, France
I’ve been on a bit of a break this past year, but there are more stories to tell. During my break from blogging, I pursued another passion—sketching with pen and ink and watercolors. I found some online courses through Sketchbook Skool and it really helped me stick to a practice of doing a bit of art each day. Keeping a sketchbook really adds another dimension to one’s travels. It helps to slow down and get a better sense of place. There’s nothing more relaxing than sitting in a beautiful piazza and listening to the musical sounds of the Italian language while sketching.
A piazza in Reggio Emilia
Now that we are back in Italy, look for more posts about our adventures. We are slow travelers, so we stay in one place and make an effort to explore the roads less traveled.
We’ll also venture into northern Portugal at the end of our trip. Stay tuned.
Everyone expects to eat well in Italy—after all, it’s where the Slow Food Movement started. Most restaurants and other food venues have been providing “fresh and local” for generations. However, there are a few tips to avoid those who cut corners and may disappoint.
The Daily Specials
Don’t settle for the restaurants that are close to a major tourist attraction. If you see a choice of menus in several different languages (English, German, etc), move on. Just a few blocks away you might discover where the locals go. Search for a chalkboard menu or something similar that lists the daily specials. If it’s all in Italian, don’t worry. Most waiters know enough English to explain their fabulous local dishes.
A local helped us find this great spot in Sicily