We’re kicking off the week with another travel post!
A couple of weeks ago I told you all about the first portion of our Italy trip in my Travel Diaries: Tuscany post, and today it’s time for me to tell you all about our second leg, Venice!
I had been to Venice before, but no one else in the group (except my Aunt Carol) had. As we all know, it’s an unforgettable town and, albeit overly crowded most days out of the year, it’s a place you definitely have to visit at least once in your lifetime (and before it sinks!) When I found out Venice was only a two-and-a-half hour train ride from Florence, I knew this would be the perfect place to break up our trip.
So, without further ado, here are all the deets!
WHERE WE STAYED
Since we were traveling in a group of seven, we decided it would be most economical to rent a multi-bedroom apartment that could accommodate us rather than having to book upwards of four separate hotel rooms at any one establishment. In all of our travels, we’ve found that AirBnB’s (our other vacation home rentals) are by far the cheapest option when vacationing with a large party. We ended up finding this five bedroom apartment in the Dorsoduro region of Venice, which I must say was pretty ideal location-wise. It’s not a super-touristy area, but only about a 15-minute walk away from all of the city’s hot spots, like the Piazza San Marco.
The apartment itself had tons of old-school charm, not new and updated by any means, but hey, major points for showers larger than the typical submarine-like Euro showers you see most places. One thing to keep in mind when renting a Venice apartment is that often the “first level” is actually the second level. Due to the frequent flooding, there are really no residences on the ground floor. The narrow flight of stairs up to the apartment was a little challenging for some in our group (bad knees abound) but we managed. Also keep in mind that Venice is not very handicap accessible, and you will not likely find elevators in any of these apartment buildings.
Okay, on to what we did and, more importantly, where we ate!
We stopped here for lunch one day (it was recommended by our AirBnB host) and I just have one thing to say about it – calamari. It came as a huge serving and was fried in the lightest, airiest batter. They even fried the arugula they served it over!
We visited this museum of 18th century Venice per my mom’s request and I have to say I was unexpectedly impressed. It’s basically an old palace that you can walk through with gorgeous frescoes and furniture, different themes in every room. We saw some of the prettiest blown glass chandeliers here!
We settled on this restaurant after searching Yelp for something on the water very nearby to our apartment (some in the group were a little weary from exploring all day.) Although there was no outdoor seating and there was a small miscommunication with our reservation, the servers were incredibly nice to accommodate us and I must say the food was amazing. A bit pricier than most of our other meals, but in my opinion it was worth it!
Piazza San Marco
Just about everyone knows that this is a must-visit for anyone visiting Venice. Piazza San Marco is home to the Basilica di San Marco, one of the most beautiful cathedrals I have ever seen, and also the Campanile di San Marco (the square’s massive bell tower) and the futuristic (for its time) Clock Tower. Two tips when visiting this area:
Don’t plan on eating in the square unless you want to blow your entire vacation dining budget (we’re talking orange juice that costs 15 Euros.)
Be sure to visit the Loggia dei Cavalli when touring the Basilica di San Marco. This is the huge terrace that overlooks the entire square and is flanked by a herd of bronze horses. Truly breathtaking!
Aside from these highlights, we really just wandered around, stopping to eat gelato, shop, and pop into random places that caught our eye whenever we felt like it. Cappucinos and doughnuts/croissants every morning were a “must” as well.
One thing I would say about Venice (which you may guess from my recap) is to not go into it with a strict schedule. We planned to arrive at Piazza San Marco right when the Basilica opened so we wouldn’t have the WORST crowds or have to stand in an ultra-long line, but that was really the only thing we had planned. It’s such a busy city with so much going on that sometimes it’s best to just go with the flow and see where the wind (haha I just accidentally typed wine) takes you.
Tell me, have you been to Venice before? What did we miss?
So are you ready to hear all about my trip to Italy?
I hope so, because I’m so excited to tell you about it. And because we basically split our trip into two parts (five days in Tuscany and three days in Venice) I’m going to break it down into two posts for you. This will also make it easier for you to find all my recommendations when you’re planning your next trip to either of these areas!
First off, it’s been far too long since my last Travel Diaries post. It’s been just about five months, in fact, since I brought you my Travel Diaries: Quebec City. We slowed down a bit in the New Year, after the craziness of the holidays, our wedding, and a ton of travel in between. We were also saving up vacation time for this big trip to Italy, which made it just a little bit easier to stay put knowing we had it to look forward to!
So, without further ado, here are all the deets for the Tuscany portion of our trip!
Where We STayed
For this first portion of our trip, we parked our luggage at the beautiful, historic Villa Fabbroni. Now, I may be biased, but if you are traveling anywhere in the greater Tuscany area, I highly recommend that you stay here. We found it thanks to friends of friends of friends, and the owners, Sergio and Stefano, quickly became dear friends of ours after my aunt and I first visited their property back in 2013.
Think of Villa Fabbroni as a huge step up from your average AirBnB. You can’t expect all of your average hotel amenities or daily maid service, but you CAN expect delicious meals prepared for you daily by Sergio and Stefano themselves (unless you opt to cook for yourself in your apartment’s kitchen,) as much estate wine and olive oil as you can manage, and the quiet, relaxing and friendly atmosphere of a country villa.
The villa is located just outside of Greve in Chianti, so if you are planning to do any exploring of the Tuscany area during your stay, plan on either renting a car (if you feel comfortable navigating windy country roads in a manual) or hiring Sergio and Stefano (if they’re available) to chaffeur you around for the day. Seeing as we had a group of seven and the guys had a big enough passenger van to hold all of us, we opted to have them show us around and are so glad we did. I’ll go into more detail about each of the little towns we visited below, but first I want to tell you about our cooking class!
The last time my aunt and I visited Villa Fabbroni, the group we were with had jam-packed all of our days with off-site adventures, so we really didn’t have any time at the villa. However, one night we were treated to a delicious four-course meal (as just about every dinner in Italy consists of this many courses….so much food!) prepared during a cooking class that Sergio and Stefano had hosted for another group staying on the property that day. As soon as we found out that S&S offered cooking classes, we knew we wanted to take advantage of it the next time we visited. And take advantage we did!
When we were planning our trip this time around, we made sure to block out a day to stay at the villa so we could spend the afternoon learning all of the regional cooking methods from two legit Italians. Guys, it was amazing! So much fun and I can’t wait to recreate some of the recipes we made and share them here on the blog. We made antipasti, gnocchi, bolognese, ravioli, and THE BEST stuffed pork tenderloin. Oh, and did I mention tiramisu? We seriously learned so much from them in just a few hours. So if you stay here, DEFINITELY book a cooking class! You will not regret it one bit.
Okay, enough about the Villa (although can you tell I can’t say enough good things about it?) Let’s talk about all of the other places we got to visit during our stay!
Where We Went (and ate!)
This quaint hamlet was quite sleepy and quiet when we visited, due to it being a largely agricultural-based town and it not quite being “farming season” yet. Sergio informed us that, in a few weeks, its seasonal residents would start trickling in and getting ready for the harvest season ahead, which lasts until about mid-October. We were, however, able to purchase some of the city’s famous wine which we promptly enjoyed back at the villa that afternoon.
Another quiet little town, albeit a tad busier than Volpaia as there are more year-round residents. There’s nothing incredibly significant about this area, but it’s sheer calmness and nearly empty streets made it that much more magical, and made for lots of great photo ops!
This was a MUST visit for me as we had gone on our last trip to Villa Fabbroni and I had absolutely fallen in love with two things there: the butcher and the wine shop of course! If you’re anywhere near Panzano during your Tuscany travels, you MUST stop in at Antica Macelleria Cecchini to get a taste of a TRUE Italian butcher. Complete with a glass of house wine when you walk in, a buffet loaded with samples of their seasoned salt and house lard spread on crunchy baguette, and music blaring from the speakers, this is a super-fun stop that you will NOT want to miss.
The other must-visit in Panzano is the Accademia del Buon Gusto, where you will have a wine-tasting experience like no other. Stefano (not the same Stefano that runs Villa Fabbroni, although they are in fact good friends) is the quirky, passionate owner who will take you on a journey through all of the vineyards of Tuscany and beyond, in just his little, stuffed-to-the-gills wine shop. He relates many of the wines he tastes to stories depicted on canvas by a local artist (which he also sells,) stories that will leave you cracking up and with a hilariously memorable experience that you’ll be telling friends about for years to come.
The largest town in proximity to Villa Fabbroni, although it’s really just a huge plaza surrounded by cute artisanal shops, restaurants and, of course, another butcher! Although not as lively as Antica Macelleria Cecchini, Antica Macelleria Falorni is much larger with a huge range of offerings, from freshly butchered meats to house charcuterie to a whole cellar filled with cheese, this was a great spot for us to stop on our first day and stock up on snacks to take back to the villa with us for the rest of the week.
And for all you food bloggers/kitchenware snobs out there, this is also a great town to shop for unique, handmade wood pieces and beautiful Italian pottery. Just take a loop around the square and you’re bound to find something!
Although my parents, aunt and me had all been to Florence before, we felt it was a must-see for the newbies in our group. Before even stepping foot into the city, Sergio and Stefano took us up to San Miniato al Monte, a stunning church (where my aunt and I had actually attended a beautiful Mass on our last visit) with expansive views of the entire city. Most visitors to Florence know to go to the Piazzale Michaelangelo for these gorgeous views, but skip the massive crowds and lines of tour buses and drive a little further to the church. You’ll get the same panoramic views and less than half the crowd!
After snapping our obligatory photos of the city from above, we headed down and got dropped off right outside the city walls (you need a special permit to drive in the streets of Florence, so if you don’t have one be ready to walk!) We started out at the Sant’ Ambrogio Market which is a smaller version of the well-known Mercato Centrale. We then made our way through the city and eventually to the city center to gawk at the impressive Piazza del Duomo, where you just might end up with a huge kink in your neck from looking up at the massive, incredibly intricate architecture that looms over the city.
We’d worked up quite an appetite traversing the rather large city on foot, so we stopped into Antico Ristorante Sasso di Dante for a late lunch before making the hour and a half drive back to the villa. Be sure to order the broiled Gnocchi with Creamy Gorgonzola sauce. I guarantee you will NOT be disappointed.
Oh! And I can’t forget what began our daily love affair with an afternoon gelato stop – right outside of Florence’s city walls, be sure to stop in to Badiani for a couple of scoops of what we determined was THE best gelato of our trip (and we tried a lot of gelato.) It’s worth trying to find a parking spot on the city streets!
Another area that some of us had been to before, but that we definitely wanted to revisit on this trip. Not only is this what could be considered the heart of Tuscany’s wine trade, it’s also a great city to wander around aimlessly, take in the beautiful views down the random alleyways, and pop into shops for some great souvenirs. TBH, we spent most of the day wandering and shopping, although I did stop for a Nutella crepe. We also had a delicious lunch at Caffe Poliziano (seated on an outdoor terrace overlooking the countryside outside of the city walls) and picked up some chocolate truffles at Dolce Vita to enjoy for dessert at the villa that night. On our way out of town, we stopped in for a tasting of the area’s best wines at a little Enoteca, and were sure to stock up on more bottles for the villa (and for packing in our luggage to take home!)
And, all too quickly, that sums up our time in Tuscany! What do you think, did we hit some of the best places or do you have more recommendations? Be sure to stay tuned for a recap of the rest of our trip on Travel Diaries: Venice in the near future! xo
I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that we’re all in recovery mode from a fun and festive weekend. Am I right?
My family, for one, is keeping the New Year’s party going for a couple more days up in Tahoe, but I realize that many of you are stuck with facing work either today or tomorrow, so I thought I’d cheer you up a bit with a quick recap and LOTS of photos from my trip to Quebec City a few weeks ago. Sound good? Great, let’s do it!
First, the quick backstory. Ever since I started working for myself full time, my friend Johanna and I have been talking about planning a trip using her flight attendant benefits. Now that I don’t have to “report” to anyone (well, in person at least) for work, it’s much less stressful having to fly standby to take advantage of her airline employee benefits.
Because she flies for American, the closest airport we could fly into was Montreal, which is about a three-hour drive from Quebec City. We initially planned on taking the train into the city, but after some further research we decided to rent a car (well, SUV – we needed that four wheel drive!) This allowed us to make the trek from Montreal to Quebec City at our own pace, and it also allowed us to get out and explore a bit more than we would have been able to if we were relying on public transportation. It was such a good decision on our part!
We got in on a Wednesday morning and didn’t even end up checking in to our hotel until mid-afternoon. So, I’m going to pick up on our first half day (once we arrived in Quebec City) and go from there. And I’m going to let the photos do most of the talking!!
Checked into the Chateau Frontenac, where we stayed for just one night. Highly recommended. We were able to get the room on my credit card points so we didn’t have to shell out, and it is THE landmark hotel of Quebec City. Please, please, please be sure to stay here if at all possible. Plus, they have the cutest dog!! //
Explored the Old Town of Quebec City //
Had drinks and appetizers at 1608 – Chateau Frontenac’s wine and cheese bar //
Spent the afternoon warming back up at the Siberia Station Spa(We don’t have any photos of this because we probably would have gotten thrown out for busting out our cameras, but trust me when I say this is a MUST DO. You pay for a day pass and get to hop in and out of their numerous hot tubs, cold tubs, saunas, steam rooms and yurts for as long as you want, as long as you’re quiet! This was so relaxing and the perfect thing to do after our morning of snowshoeing in 10-degree weather.) //
Made our own version of “poutine” at the loft for dinner (I’m so sorry I don’t have pics of this, but it was basically hashbrowns topped with onions, raclette and a variety of sausages…so funny, but delicious!) //
Breakfast from Paillardto get our croissant fix //
Explored Ile d’Orleanstasting at quite a bit of the local wineries and cideries because they were the only things open. It was a blast but I definitely want to go back in the spring, summer or fall when you can see all of the farms and crops.
Explored Basse-Ville, the “Lower Town” of Old Quebec with tons of cute shops and restaurants //
And on the last day (Day 5) I was up at the crack of dawn to catch my flight home. The whole trip went by so fast and I can’t wait to go back and see more. Maybe in above freezing temperatures next time?
I know, I know, you can hardly believe it. But it’s happening, folks! I’ve been traveling to so many amazing places lately that it’s been hard to keep up. And I’m finishing this Napa and Sonoma post just in time to jet off on my next adventure….to Quebec! I can hardly wait to eat poutine and drink beer and see all of the Christmas lights (and snow!) and maybe give tobogganing a shot? Has anyone done that? OMG it looks like so much fun, I really hope we can squeeze it in!
But before I take off on this next adventure, I feel that it’s absolutely necessary for me to share all about my latest trip to Napa/Sonoma with my gal pal and fellow blogger Hana-Lee of Wander & Wine (check her out!) Seeing as I’m a food/travel blogger and she’s a wine/travel blogger, we figured it was absolutely necessary to plan a joint trip up to Wine Country and really do it a solid. We pooled our resources, reached out to our contacts and before we knew it we were headed north on our quick, two-day excursion!
We left Santa Barbara early on a Tuesday morning and made it to Sonoma by lunch. We spent the day in this more western valley before driving over to Calistoga to check into our hotel for the night. We spent the second day on the Napa side, mainly focusing on the Calistoga area so we didn’t have to do quite as much driving on our one full day there.
I know that in my last Travel Diaries post I shared a lot of photos as well as where we ate and what we did in pretty much bullet point format, but today I’m going to give you a quick rundown of everything because there is so much to talk about. Literally every person that hosted us at all of the wineries and restaurants we visited had such a wealth of knowledge, it would be a shame not to pass it along to you. So here goes!
Even after having lived in Napa for three years AND getting married in Sonoma last summer, I had never been to this iconic restaurant in the Sonoma square. Boy had I been missing out! The food is typical wine country fare, nothing too creative, but what makes it special is the quality of ingredients used in every dish. They even make their own charcuterie here, and I’m kicking myself for not asking if they sell it so I could take some home with me!
We were so lucky to get hooked up with a special tasting here, as it’s most definitely not your typical tasting room experience. Johanna, the assistant winemaker, showed us around the winemaking facility (which is shared with a few other producers) and told us how they make their whole-cluster Pinot Noirs. We then headed up to the “offices” to taste through a slew of 2014 Pinots from various vineyards. Unlike Kutch, most wineries remove the grapes from the stems before fermenting, so the whole cluster technique that they are using is very unique. If you ever get the chance to try wines made using this method, you’ll notice it tastes earthier and a bit more tannic, more similar to the Burgundian style.
Three Sticks has been getting a decent amount of press lately, and deservedly so. We visited their (somewhat) new tasting facility, The Adobe, located right in the heart of downtown Sonoma. The Adobe is hardly new though, it was built in 1842! It’s been lovingly restored by the Three Sticks family, which you can see in every single detail from the wallpaper in the bathrooms to the original kitchen. Being in Sonoma, Three Sticks is also heavily focused on Pinot Noir, however we were duly impressed with the white blend and Chardonnay as well. I have to say that this was my favorite winery of the trip, and I can’t wait to bring family and friends back to try!
After our tasting at Three Sticks, we headed back to Calistoga to check in to our hotel (more on that below) and grab a late dinner at Evangeline Napa. This restaurant is fairly new and wasn’t around when I lived in the Valley, but it’s just what Calistoga needed. Modern and intimate, showcasing French Creole cuisine, it’s a great spot for “fancy” comfort food.
After hearing some buzz about it, the hubs and I had tried to make it here on our last trip to Napa, but to no avail. Since we were staying at the hotel that this restaurant is housed in this time around (Indian Springs Resort) there’s no way we could pass it up. We grabbed breakfast before heading out for a day of wine tasting, and it was the perfect filling, balanced meal to keep us going. Annnddddd….you pretty much HAVE to order the Candy Cap Churros. ‘Nuff said.
Our tour started here bright and early, so I was grateful for a little tour of the property before we sat down to taste any wines. We hopped in the golf cart and made our way up the side of the canyon (they are the only canyon vineyard in the Napa Valley) and spent a good half hour just listening to the family’s story and taking photos. It didn’t hurt that we were there at the perfect time of year for all of the leaves to be changing color, but the property is gorgeous and I’m sure it would be photogenic at any time of year. Plus, it’s a family-run winery with great values, a talented winemaker, and no ambitions to get really huge. Definitely worth a visit, just be sure to make an appointment in advance!
Four words to describe this place: Ralph Lauren rustic chic. Designed by the well-known Wine Country Architect, Howard Backen, this newly opened tasting room just off of the Silverado Trail leaves no nook or cranny untouched. There are numerous locations to host tastings here, and we just happened to be lucky enough to snag the couch-sized outdoor swings on the patio overlooking the entire Napa Valley. Each wine in our tasting (a Chardonnay, a Pinot Noir, a Cabernet Franc and Zephyr, a Bordeaux blend) was paired with a small bite, which complimented the wines’ flavors beautifully. I kind of wanted to stay there and swing gently on my chair, sipping wine the whole afternoon, but we had more tasting to do!
At our final tasting of the day, we were greeted by Dan Petroski, who has been the head winemaker at Larkmead since 2012. It was such a treat getting a tour of the winery from the winemaker himself, and hearing about his journey from working in the high-paced media industry to now not only making the wine for Larkmead, but also for his own label, Massican. Our tasting immersed us into the world of Cabernet Sauvignon, with Dan showing us three different Larkmead cabs, made from three different vineyards with three different soil types. It was fascinating tasting all of these side-by-side and being able to notice the differences in palate firsthand.
After being teased by such a delicious breakfast (and not having eaten a real meal since then) we decided to pop in again for a quick cocktail and some appetizers before heading to dinner in St. Helena. Yum! We sat at the bar, ordered a drink, and let the bartender choose which appetizers to order us. Let’s just say the blue cheese-stuffed dates we had were reincarnated by yours truly for Thanksgiving appetizers last week 🙂
Yet another place that I am ashamed to say I never visited while I lived in the Valley, even when it was right in my own backyard and directly on the route I took to and from work. So sad, because I now know that I was really missing out. The wine list alone is to die for, which is conveniently presented to you at your table on an iPad. And, even though it’s technically a steak place, let’s not look past the amazing appetizers, salads, and soups. In fact, we were way too full to even order a steak, but you can bet it’s at the top of my list for the next time I go back there!
We hit the road early on Thursday morning to head home, but not before stopping for a quick breakfast first. Dean & Deluca is the perfect place for a gourmet grab-and-go (because, when in Napa, right?) There’s a full espresso bar, baked goods and (my favorite) breakfast burritos. If you’re looking for a quick, transportable breakfast or lunch, this is the place you need to go!
I have to admit, back in the day, I always brushed this place aside, thinking that it was old and run down. Well, after a 2014 expansion and renovation, I’m happy to say that this is no longer a place that should be overlooked or ignored. Not only does the resort now boast a hip and happening restaurant (see above,) it also has every activity under the sun (we’re talking bocce, bicycles to rent, ping pong and, of course, the naturally-heated mineral pool!) plus a full-on spa. We didn’t have time to make it to the spa during our short time there, but we did take a dip in the mineral pool and, boy, was it a treat after my long run in 39-degree weather that morning. The entire grounds are very peaceful and relaxing, so I’d definitely recommend this place as a relaxing, quiet getaway with a significant other or couple of gal pals as opposed to a hip, wild party scene (but then, do you really ever find that in Napa?)
So that was our trip in a nutshell! As always, we barely felt like we scratched the surface and already have a long list of other places we need to try the next time we are up there. What about you? Do you have any recommendations of places we need to check out (whether eating, drinking, or some other activity) the next time we’re in Wine Country??
And if you’re headed to Wine Country and looking for even more suggestions, be sure to check out the Travel Diaries: Napa post I did a couple of years back. A lot of the great places I recommended then are still around and as tasty as ever!
After much too long of a hiatus, I’ve got oodles and oodles of Travel Diaries comin’ your way!
I figured after a weekend of nonstop eating you might be ready for a little break from the recipes, so today I’m telling you all about my trip to Honolulu last month. Don’t get me wrong, you’ll be hearing and seeing plenty about food in this post (since we basically ate our way through the entire island) but it’s at least food that you can look forward to on your next trip and nothing you have to worry about eating right away 😉
I’m still trying to figure out the best format to tell you all about my travel adventures, so please feel free to comment below about what you’d like to see more or less of! For today, since I have so many amazing photos to share, I thought I’d keep it simple and minimize the chatter. I also broke it down by day so I can stay organized and make sure I don’t miss anything.
As I mentioned above, we were most blown away by our dinner at MW Restaurant. Just about everything we had there was spot-on, including the desserts. The owners are a husband and wife team (Michelle, the wife, is the Pastry Chef, and Wade, the husband, is the Head Chef) that came from long stints at Alan Wong’s, so you know they’re making good food.
We also really enjoyed our (few) non-eating activities. I’d been to the KCC Farmer’s Market many times, but it was such a treat to actually get to go out to Kahumana Farms and see all of the fresh produce being grown. We sadly didn’t make it to their organic cafe this time around, but I definitely want to try it out on our next trip!
So what do you think? Is there anywhere we missed? What should I start putting on my list for the next time we’re on the island?