They run the funniest little business in town! The Iconic Fiat 500 is finally available to hire.
I have always pointed them out to my husband and sighed longingly at their charm, (there is something almost 'expensive accessory must-have' about them, like the latest pair of Marc Jacobs).
This trip to Tuscany we got behind the wheel and did a convoy tour in one! Absolutely hilarious!
"Again again again!" I wanted to squeal like an over-indulged child as we said goodbye to Paola (our little red head-turner) at the end of the glorious trip.
As flash as Flash Gordon downloading Flashplayer in a flash flood (yes, it is that flash!), La Controra Flashpackers Hostel has got to be one of the best hostels I've ever stayed in!
The hostel is housed in an old monastery, and huddled around a palm-strewn courtyard that's ideal for barbecues. Shared rooms are light, airy and spacious, while a couple of doubles seem to open up on to their own terraces. All in all, it's more than a bit special. (And very reasonable, too!)
Running away from the Piazza Garibaldi down to the Piazza del Mercato are Naples' markets. In keeping with the city's general atmosphere, they're a noisy, chaotic affair (with more than a whiff of the mafia about them by all accounts!).
Watching the fish market at Porta Nolana - and every other specimen of market stall imaginable scattered across the area - is an essential Naples experience in and of itself.
To the west/southwest of Piazza Garibaldi
Possibly the dirtiest city in Western Europe, Naples is, in spite of this (or maybe because of?), an absolutely fantastic place. To see the best of the city, wander the Centro Storico and the Spaccanapoli, a dense, heaving, noisy hive of life.
Abandoned churches give on to grand, dilapidated squares; buildings lean over narrow alleyways, almost obscuring the light, while down below, eerie, flickering saints and virgins peer out of their alcoves. Totally unique.
Stretching from the Porta Capuana (in the east) to the Piazza Dante (in the west.
Relax those feet and be pampered!
With tired feet and an afternoon plane to catch, we decided to spend our final day indulging ourselves at the local Spa, Bagni di Pisa. It is located in the sumptious converted residence of the (ex) Duke of Tuscany.
We took a taxi from Pisa to the Bagni di Pisa spa (€20), had a soak in their warm water thermal pool, followed by a 'Thai foot massage' for me and a facial treatment 'Silk Thermal' for my friend.
Upon arrival we were given bathrobes and plastic shoes to wear.
We found the place welcoming and atmospheric, the staff are professional and definitely know their stuff. We left feeling fantastic, soothed and relaxed. A nice way to end our holiday.
We then took the train back to Pisa (the train station is a five-minute walk from the spa - €1.60 each, 9 minutes' journey), changed trains in Pisa Centrale for the five-minute journey to the airport, Pisa Aeroporto, for our late afternoon flight home.
Note: Bagni di Pisa also is a four-star hotel.
Bagni di Pisa Natural Spa Resort
Largo Shelley 18
56017 San Giuliano Terme,
Tel Spa: 0039 (0)50 8850432
Phone hotel switchboard: 0039 (0)50 88501
Nearest railway station:
San Giuliano Terme (on the web its: S. Giuliano Terme) - on the main Pisa - Lucca railway line
Note: there is no ticket office at S. Giuliano Terme - one buys the tickets from the ticket conductor on board.
The Osteria Piazzetta Cattedrale is a romantic little restaurant in the old town of Ostuni being opposite the beautiful cathedral. There is a really nice walk up the hill to get there through some little whitewashed streets.
This restaurant was top class, with delicious antipasto, amongst other dishes, really friendly service, nice decor with murano glass chandeliers and also very small and cosy, so perhaps it would be a good idea to make a reservation first. One of the best restaurants in Ostuni.
Via Arcidiacono Trinchera, N. 7, Ostuni
We found this quiet oasis, close to Ognina, that provided us with an ideal base for visiting Siracusa, the surrounding countryside and beaches. We thoroughly enjoyed the large beautiful garden (including a massive swimming pool) and the relaxed atmosphere - much appreciated after a hard day's sightseeing! The family were delightful and the breakfasts excellent.
You are sent photos of a beautiful modern apartment "newly refurbished" and when you get there you are conducted to a completely different flat filled with cheap and nasty reproduction furniture, artificial flowers and glass tat.
On top of this there is a lovely view from the balcony of major building works in progress in the street opposite. The 'owner' Andrea Scarpi tells you that the 'other flat' is unavailable but still expects you to pay the same price you were quoted for the smart one. The breakfast is not worth having - all long-life products, nothing at all fresh, and three people share coffee from an espresso maker for one. A complete rip off.
We just came back from Rome where we booked an apartment with Rome City Apartments. I'd like to let everybody know this has been for us (we were two family groups) a very positive experience.
We have rented the apartments Helios2 and Mirkos which are located in the same building in Via della Stelletta; one (the Mirkos) is on the first floor and another one (the Helios2) on the second floor. The apartments were pretty new and designed/furnished in a modern/stylish way, and this is quite surprising as they are located in the very centre of Rome where everything is so old and full of history. But at the same time it was really pleasant to stay in those apartments where, honestly, we could see that the owners had put so much attention to details.
We were quite worried to rent apartments as we had always stayed in hotels before but as we have one child of four and the couple we travelled with have two children aged two and four it was a necessity as four hotel rooms would have been out of our budget or, alternatively, in two hotel rooms (one for each family) it would have felt like in the metro during the peak hour. But finally everything went smoothly.
It was a great vacation for us (except for the weather as it has been raining nearly all the time) and, after buying good umbrellas, we have been able to enjoy all the beauties of the city . Also the food is fantastic and we recommend the Quinzi and Gabrielli restaurant that is located in Piazza delle Coppelle, a few metres away from the apartment, where we had a great dinner, although a bit expensive.
A combination of the Italian words agriculture and tourism, these farmhouse accommodations are ideal for families of all sizes. And don’t worry about staying on a typical farm, these locales often feature extensive amenities more along the lines of a high-class resort and are an ideal choice for families with children of any age.
The setting is rural, with all the picturesque features you might expect from staying under the Tuscan sun. The condo-style living arrangements come well equipped, with kitchens and living rooms that give families a spacious home base.
Most have swimming pools and you can also find full resort amenities with an onsite restaurant, tennis courts, a fitness centre and myriad other features.
There are more perks that come along with Italian farmhouse living. The owner or manager of the property may live onsite and serve as a point of contact to help your family with anything you need - from planning activities to offering general guidance about the region. Most are conveniently located so your family can sightsee for part of the day, touring neighboring towns and experiencing the local culture and history of Tuscany, and then relax at the pool for the afternoon.
Some Agriturismi offer structured onsite activities such as Italian cooking classes, horseback riding, and wine and/or olive oil tasting. Many properties serve their very own farm-harvested food in an onsite restaurant, so you won’t need to worry about cooking up meals - unless you’d like to showcase your new Italian cooking skills. Some accommodations even offer daily housekeeping, so you’ll be able to focus on the fun stuff.
Unlike the isolation you could expect if your family rented an independent villa, Agriturismi provide a wonderful balance of services and privacy. Well-located throughout Tuscany, it is easy to explore the surrounding areas. Most options are small with family-focused services including babysitting and equipment rental, making it easy to relax and experience the best Tuscany has to offer, both onsite and off.
Two recently renovated apartments, both capable of taking four plus baby. 18 metre swimming pool. Located 10 minutes outside San Ginesio at the village of Santa Maria D'Alto Cielo with stunning views of the Sibillini mountains. The most relaxing place I've ever been to.
This is the real Italy, totally unspoilt by tourism but within easy reach of both the Adriatic riviera and tourist attractions like Assisi and the Frascati caves (outstanding).
The apartments are very well equipped (including DVD and satellite TV) and very clean. Welcome pack on arrival will keep you going until you can get to the shops.
Tolentino is the nearest supermarket, but for smaller shops and the real Italy then visit San Ginesio with has a multitude of local produce and also some fantastic restaurants at, by most standards, ridiculously cheap prices.
Don't forget the suncream - you'll need it.
Nearest airport is Ancona www.casafenice-lemarche.com
It's the king of kitsch in Rome. For all your hard-to-find knick-nacks and crazy gifts, this is the only place to go in Rome. On three floors, it's a splash of fun and colour in Rome, with a funny staff and loud music. It's open every day until 1am - kids will love it.
Via Santa Maria dell'Anima, 29 across street from Piazza Navona (it's 20 metres from Piazza Navona)
The Ostello (Hostelling International) is a few miles from the old city but has good transport links and great views over the valley. All the rooms are ensuite and a maximum of 8 people.
Coming by train to Bergamo station walk out of the station and straight up the road towards the funicular (about 10 mins walk) take the funicular up and the bus to Ostello stops right outside the station, the bus will then take you right to the Ostello's door. This by far the easiest way to do it believe me!
This is a special restaurant located in a beautiful position in the middle of Lake Como, close to Menaggio and in front of Bellaggio.
It serves a special non democratic menu at about 40 euro from starters to desserts, every day it varies from seamenù, to traditonal menù, or literary one inspired by romance such as Montalbal and Manzoni.
The boss is very friendly and speaks a little English. But what you eat is really great. We have been during Easter twice and we had great cusine.
via Regina, 57
22010 Griante CO
Terrific restaurant down a quiet street in historic centre of Ravenna close to S. Vitale. Manages to get the balance right between seriousness and informality, with real enthusiasm in its service and pride in its ambitious and eclectic cooking and selection of wines.
Via Gamba, 12
Tel/fax +39 0544 215393
A series of open-air concerts in Lucca, Tuscany each July, the main 'venue' being Piazza Napoleone, also known as Piazza Grande.
For such a small, albeit perfectly formed, town, this event has attracted some big names over the years - Oasis, Paul Simon, David Bowie, Neil Young, Van Morrison, Alanis Morrisette, Black Eyed Peas, James Brown - to name a few, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Concerts usually begin at around 9pm; it's still warm, and the main square is closed off from early evening. During concerts most of the bars and shops around the square remain open, and the majority of the events are standing only - but not all.
The official website is notoriously late in announcing the lineup, but for 2008 some names are confirmed already - Sheryl Crow, Leonard Cohen, Alicia Keys, Chicago, Erykah Badu and Mick Hucknall. The latter is a fixture by now, be it as himself or Simply Red. Elton John is also a frequent visitor. It's rare for tickets to sell out, so you can usually be sure of showing up and buying on the day, but the official site also explains how to get tickets.
Below are some links - the official site, a blog post about the 2008 festival, and our favourite site for Lucca hotels:
Lucca, Tuscany, Italy - main venue is Piazza Napoleone, inside the famous city walls.
This restaurant can be a bit hard to find but worth the effort. Tiny little place with the tables close to one another. Our waiter was wonderful. He brought the pasta dishes in the pot they were cooked in and sang while he put it on the plate, giving us each a taste of each other's meal. Very reasonably priced for the Pantheon area. Two courses with wine for two people was 55 euros. Reservations are recommended.
Via delle Colonnelle 5, 00186. +39 06 6793842
Not a pub, but a bed & breakfast near the Colosseum. The rooms are beautiful, as lovely as we have seen in four-star hotels. The host couple is very kind. They helped us plan our time and suggested some great restaurants.
It is a residential retreat and martial arts centre, offering guidance and tuition in meditation and martial arts, and where instructors and teachers of martial arts, yoga, pilates, dance or any other activity can take their students for a training camp or retreat. It is an incredible place.
The staff are wonderful, the facilities (I went there on a memorable long weekend of self-defence training for women only, taught by the owner) are superb. The food is local produce prepared in-house, and the welcome is unbelievable.
The owners have assembled a great team of helpers, and they are really good people. The house and gardens are gorgeous and the surroundings are breathtaking. The cost of a stay with them is low, and is great value.
The Metta Centre
Contrada Villa Saline
Penna San Giovanni(MC) 62020
Venice is my most favourite city in the entire world, but when you are fed up of being jostled and barged into, when you become invisible to the ocean liner troupe let loose in the city for a few hours, where can you go?
Take the vaporetto or ferry from the Fondamente Nouve stop on Venice’s northern shore and travel 10km north-west across the lagoon to the tiny, windswept island of Torcello.
Deep channels run between the mud-banks and are marked by bricole, wooden poles lashed together and emerging from the water. The channels are busy with all sorts of craft - rushing water taxis, vaporetto ploughing along full of city workers, huge dredgers keeping channels clear and fishermen looking for shrimp.
The landscape opens out as you enter the lagoon. It’s often misty, often mysterious. The sky and water merge. Brine laden winds caress you. All at once the quiet of the lagoon becomes unearthly. A feeling of deep relaxation is within you, which can be strangely energising.
This silent island was the first in the lagoon to be settled by Veneti after the collapse of the Western Roman Empire and Germanic invasion. It was virtually impregnable and became an attractive refuge for merchants and tradesmen. The population once exceeded 20,000 but by the 12th century the lagoon had silted up and Torcello became inaccessible and malarial. The inhabitants left, and literally took their fine residences with them, leaving a littering of architectural debris.
Just a handful of residents remain in this tranquil backwater. The two churches of Torcello stand in magnificent isolation around the overgrown piazza - the church of Santa Fosca alongside the oldest building in the lagoon, the cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta founded in the 7th century. Its exterior is devoid of splendour, yet within are Byzantine treasures - the 13th century Madonna in the apse and the west wall decorated with a huge 12th century mosaic depicting the Last Judgement. The massive stone shutters of the windows turning on huge rings of stone cause the whole building to resemble a retreat from the enemy rather than a house of God.
The roughly crafted campanile is to be climbed in the early evening, up strangely sloping ramps. The throat catching beauty and loneliness of the lagoon becomes apparent. John Ruskin called it, “a waste of wild sea moor of a lurid ashen grey”. The mudflats and marshes are choked. The silted-up waterways are now homes to herons and egrets. Trees, reeds and broom grow over what was once a settlement. With imagination, this place is timeless. Just rest and sigh. Enjoy this place with an open mind and a willingness to get lost.
As you speed back to Venice for your evening meal, take a moment, turn, and catch that ‘Turneresque’ light. Watch the buildings of the island melt into the lagoon.
Torcello is the perfect antidote to glamorous Venice. There’s time for quiet contemplation, which too often nowadays can elude you in Serenissima.
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