My Favourite 5 Places in Italy

Pompeii

After holding my breath for most of this year I can finally officially call myself Italian and will soon have my very own EU passport, something that will make life in Europe infinitely easier for me.

I’m beyond excited and grateful to become a citizen of such a beautiful country- not only do I cherish my Italian roots and everything my grandparents have taught and passed down to me, but Italy has by far been my favorite place to visit over the years. To celebrate the news I went through some of my photos from recent trips to Italy- here are the top five places in Italy that I’ve visited to date- I can’t wait to add more to the list!

In bold I’ve included links to separate posts on each of these places.

1.  The Amalfi Coast

As a beach lover this was always going to be high on my list. Stunning clear blue water dotted with islands and a coastline full of culture to explore. Highlights for me included the islands of Procida, Capri, and the castle at Ischia as well as the coastal town of Ravello, perched high above the sea.

 

2. The Aeolian Islands

Another stunning beach destination I loved visiting were the Aeolian islands off Sicily’s northern coast. The island of Lipari and the volcano and sulphur beaches of Vulcano were my favourites.

 

 

 

 

3. Venice

It wasn’t until my third trip to Italy, earlier this year that I finally got to visit one of the most romantic cities in the world. The winding maze-like canal streets were everything I had expected and hoped for. As well as the beauty surrounding me, I loved trying all the different local Bacari– cheap little bars serving delicious snacks and wine for as little as 1€ a piece.

 

 

 

4. Pompeii

Latin was my favourite subject in high school and visiting one of the most famous sites of Roman ruins in the world has been on my bucket list for decades. Last summer I finally got to the archaeological site and loved soaking up the history of the place.

Pompeii Ruins

5. Bassano del Grappa

This little town, an hour train ride from Venice is one of the Italian villages featured in Hemmingway’s A Farewell to Arms. I loved the enchanting old streets, buildings and bridge, as well as the stunning blue river and mountainous backdrop.

 

 

 

 

 

My first trip to Italy back in 2006… some things don’t change!

1934300_55774925144_9169_n_55774925144

1934300_55774930144_9437_n_55774930144.jpg

Bassano del Grappa: the perfect daytrip from Venice

A quick one hour train ride from Venice is one of the loveliest towns I’ve visited in Italy- Bassano del Grappa. The town has a beautiful green river running through it’s heart and is surrounded by rugged mountains (including Monte Grappa) and countryside. While the incredibly strong grappa is the most traditional drink of the area, my favourite was mezzoemezzo from the Nardini distillery by the Ponte Vecchio. The back room of the distillery overlooking the river is the perfect place to sit and read- maybe something of Hemmingway- his wartime experiences in Bassano form part of A Farewell to Arms.

Here are some photos from my visit.

Travel Budget: Venice

While Venice is definitely not the cheapest city to visit, there are a few tricks I learnt during my stay that saved me a tonne of money. If you plan to visit The City of Canals on a budget then this post is for you!

DSC04242-2.jpg

City: Venice, Italy

Travel Style: Budget

Currency: Euro

Daily Spend: 53.6€

 

 

Cost Breakdown

Accommodation: 3 nights = 51€

Stay in Mestre rather than Venice itself. There’s nicer budget accommodation options for half the price and it’s only a 15min train ride into the heart of Venice. You also get to experience the old town of Mestre which to me, felt like a more authentic local Italian vibe than touristy Venice.

  • 17€ per night for a 6 bed dorm room at Anda Hostel. This hostel is a stone’s throw from the train/bus station so it’s very convenient when arriving in the region and also to get into and back from Venice. One of the better hostels I’ve stayed in
  • If you want to save more money then stay at AO Hostel. It’s also very close to the train station and super clean and modern but has much less of a cool hostel vibe than Anda

 

Transport: 3 days = 36€ 

DSC04245

  • Daily return train tickets to Venice: 2.70€
  • Walking around the canals
  • One day water ferry ticket that will get you all around Venice and out to Murano: 20€
  • Airport bus/train: 8€

 

Food & Drink: 3 days = 74€

img_4697Eating at Venice’s traditional bacari is not only a great way to experience the local culture but also saves a lot of money compared to eating at a restaurant. In this post I list 7 of my favorites in Venice.

  • Breakfast: I opted for the buffet breakfast at the hostel for 6€. Alternatively you can grab a cappuccino and croissant in Mestre for around 3€
  • Lunch: bacari with spritz, 8€
  • Dinner: I alternated between bacari with wine (6€) and restaurants in Mestre- for example da Bepi seafood restaurant has an amazing 3 course dinner for 20€

 

Total spent:  161€ / 3 nights = 53.6€ per day

 

DSC04265

My favourite thing about Venice: Bacari

DSC04242-2

Venice is famed for being a city of water- of canals over streets. A place of romantic waterways lined with colorful buildings and gondolas flowing past- helmed by iconic blue and red striped gondoliers. A place serenely without cars. A place with beautiful and unique sights at every turn. Where pigeons flutter through the squares and artists make exquisite masks, glassware, lace and other art that is renowned throughout the world for it’s taste and near perfect craftsmanship.

DSC04226DSC04148

While I love all these aspects of Venice, there’s one thing that I love even more- the ubiquitous Bacari.

 

Bacari are the Venetian version of Tapas bars– places where locals and tourists alike take a small afterwork or post sightseeing drink and snack to recharge. Spritz and wine are the drinks of choice and are accompanied by small cicchetti– bite sized nibbles which are usually toasted baguette slices topped with delicious fish, cheese or cured meats.

There’s a range of bacari in Venice, with my favourite being the tiny traditional type that don’t look overly appealing from the outside but are full of delicious cheap eats that you enjoy standing. During my stay in Venice, my favourite thing was to explore as many bacari as possible.

Here are seven that I loved.

DSC04216

 

Bacareto da Lele & Arcicchetti Bakaro

Bacareto da Lele is the cheapest, most traditional and probably the most popular bacaro in Venice. A small wine is .70€ and a plate of traditional cicchetti of salami, cheese and bread sticks will set you back a whooping 1.6€.

But it’s actually the bar next door that’s my favorite. Arcicchetti Bakaro has a wide range of delicious toastie cicchetti for 1€ and wine for the same price. There’s often a line during the evening so try and get there in the afternoon.

On sunny evenings students take their drinks and snacks from both bars to sit on the steps of the Tolentini church or the banks of the canal.

Cantine del Vino già Schiavi  & Osteria al Squero

The location of these bars sets them apart from all the others I tried. Nested by the Rio de S. Trovaso canal in the Dorsoduro sestieri (district), these bacari offer the tempting option of taking your drinks and cicchetti out in the evening sun where you can perch on the walls overlooking the canal. At 1.2€ the cicchetti is slightly cheaper at the Cantine than Osteria and they also have an extensive range of wine on offer.

 

Bacarando

This was the first bacaro I visited and my initial awe of the place held up. They have a range of yum toasties for 1.8€, fried mozzarella blackened with squid ink (amazing!) and spritz for 3.5€. There’s also a nice courtyard and plenty of room inside to sit.

 

Bar All’Arco

Touted as the best bacaro in Venice, but lacking in comparison to the above options in my opinion. Cicchetti are 2€ and wine is 3€. It’s not bad and the two or three seats outside provide a nice vantage for people watching.

 

Bacaro Risorto

This place has a few seats inside with picturesque windows opening out to an intersection of lane-ways outside. There are also a few seats outside and lively music playing. Loo. Cicchetti are 1.5€ but spritz is a little expensive at 4€.

 

Enjoy! And if you’ve been to Venice- what’s your favourite bacaro?

Exploring Pompeii: a Latin nerd’s dream

DSC01921

DSC02019

Pompeii has fascinated me for over two decades and for many years it was the number one place I wanted to visit in the world.

This fascination was fueled by my Italian heritage and love of the ancient Latin language- my favourite subject in high school. When translating Roman texts, I was terribly intrigued to read Pliny The Younger’s description of the 79 AD eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, where the ash falling on nearby Misenum was so thick that he “rose from time to time and shook them off, otherwise we should have been buried and crushed beneath their weight”. In Pompeii itself the scene was much more horrifying with a firestorm of poisonous vapors and molten debris raining down on Pompeii and nearby Herculaneum and Stabiae. The inhabitants of Pompeii (estimated to be around 10,000-20,000) were suffocated and the towns buried for nearly two millennia. The excavations, which began in the 18th century have revealed the terrible history of the area, and it is harrowing to see the plaster casts of the volcano’s victims. Despite it’s horrible end, Pompeii provides an incredibly well-preserved and fascinating window into an ancient period and culture.

Exploring Pompeii

We decided to explore Pompeii in the afternoon, when the crowds had thinned and the sun was cooler. As my Roman history is quite rusty these days, we met a local archaeologist for an Uncrowded tour of the less known sites of Pompeii. I found the tour through AirBnB and it was the best tour I’ve ever done. And I’ve done a lot of tours. Roberto was extremely knowledgeable and passionate about Roman history, yet at the same time the tour was relaxed and easy-paced, full of smiles and laughs.

As there’s so much to take in and hidden things you wouldn’t notice without a guide, I can’t stress enough how highly I recommend getting a guided tour- even if you do spend some extra time exploring alone.

DSC01924

We learnt things like how to identify where shops were from the grooves in stone at the front of the buildings (from ancient roller doors), detailed information about each room of the bath houses and how sailors arriving in the port town would find their way to the city’s brothels (first picture below!).

Practicalities

Entry costs: 15€ for adults. You can’t leave and come back in, so if you want to explore on your own before meeting a tour group and have phone reception you could meet your group inside the gate. Note, there are several entry gates so make sure you’re inside the right one!  Tip: on the first Sunday of every month entrance is free.

Getting there: there are two train options from Naples which both cost around 3€ for a one way fare. The circumvesuviana train is quite old, dirty and crowded and tickets can’t be bought online (as far as I found), but only at the station. However the advantage of this train is that it arrives very near to the entry gate Porta Marina Inferiore (2 minute walk).

TrainItalia is a much cleaner, comfortable train and can be booked online. It arrives in the modern town of Pompeii which is a 20 minute walk to the entry gate Porta Nocera. However, the nearby town is actually really beautiful, and you can walk to the archeological site via a tree-lined street full of markets and delicious icecream shops.

So my advice would be to arrive in the modern town of Pompeii via TrainItalia and then when you are exhausted from exploring, leave by the nearby circumvesuviana.

DSC01915

Enjoy exploring!

Island hopping along Italy’s southern coast

With ridiculously tempting azure waters, rich Roman history and delicious Mediterranean food, it was not a difficult decision for me to book a somewhat last minute summer holiday to Italy’s southern coast last month. As August is peak season, I spent more time than usual planning an itinerary in order to avoid the worst of the crowds and deal withe the heat. The end result was an amazing island hopping adventure, from Naples, down the Amalfi coast to Sicily. Predominantly traveling by sea, we were able to avoid hot, crowded buses, trains and crazy Italian drivers whilst soaking up the Mediterranean sun with a refreshing sea breeze.

DSC02823

If you’re thinking about traveling to Italy in summer, then I hope this post gives you some inspiration about places to visit and ideas on how to plan your trip to be as hassle-free as possible.

1 week Island Hopping Itinerary

37705687_10160801666450145_9055360522622337024_n.jpg

Start your trip with a few days in Naples to get acclimatized. Here you can visit the famous archaeological site of Pompeii and eat some of Naples’ most popular invention- pizza. Antigua pizzeria Michele is an institution and touted as the best pizza in Naples. Serving the delicious food since 1870, the pizzeria is famous for it’s traditional style of pizza, using only the best quality ingredients and keeping things simple in the way Italians do best. There are only two pizzas on the menu. Unfortunately we decided to visit late on a Saturday night- the busiest time all week, and there were crowds out on the street waiting for the famous pizza. Try to go at a less busy time.

From Naples head out to the island of Procida

By boat:  Naples –> Procida       €20pp for a 30min ferry  

While this island is relatively small compared to neighbouring Ischia, it was packed with history and beautiful places to explore. I loved climbing high above the town to old churches with stunning views and of course, enjoying Aperol Spritzers with a sea breeze and killer scenery. Its size also makes Procida much more accessible and peaceful that Ischia and I would definitely recommend staying several days and then day-tripping to Ischia and Capri.

DSC02154

DSC02192

DSC02249

Day trip to Ischia

Boat:  Procida –> Ischia       €12pp for a 15min ferry 

By far my favourite thing to do in Ischia was exploring the medieval Aragonese Castle and swimming in the amazingly clear water beneath it. This impossibly picturesque castle is perched on a small rocky volcanic islet just off the coast of Ischia and is accessible by a stone causeway. The original castle dates back to 474 BC, yet it’s peak era was at the start of the 18th century, when the islet housed 2,000 families and included vineyards, farming areas, houses, churches amongst other buildings. While much of the castle was later destroyed by British shelling in the 19th century, it is still an immensely impressive structure with much to explore.

DSC02289

castle.png

There are two ways to get up to the main castle, firstly a meandering Game-of-Thrones-esque tunnel climbs up the inside of the castle, and as a second option, there’s a lift to the top, making the castle also accessible to less mobile visitors. Within the castle there are two cafes, both boasting stunning views and cold drinks to refresh you after wandering around the ruins. On the far side of the island you’ll find olive groves and a small chapel with views out to nearby Procida.

color castle

DSC02358

Entry to the castle is 10€, with opening hours from 9am to sunset in summer, which was 8.30pm when we visited at the peak of summer. After exploring the castle, there’s no better way to end a perfect day than a swim in the crystal clear water at the base of the castle. Follow this up by an Aperol Spritzer and seafood dinner at one of the nearby restaurants and you’ll never want to leave.

DSC02363

DSC02474

DSC02472

A day trip to Capri

Boat:  Ischia –> Capri   €26pp for a 1 hour ferry      

This island has long captivated my imagination, with an idyllic combination of history, culture and elegance emerging from impossibly blue water. Capri also has a reputation for being a little pretentious- it’s touted as the playground for the rich and famous, and comes with a price-tag worthy of this clientele. As such, rather than stay a few night, we opted to spend a day exploring the best parts of Capri.

As it was peak season I booked a boat tour in advance through AirBnB for 40€ pp for 3 hours- you can find it here. This tour was bloody fantastic and provided the perfect combination of swimming and snorkeling through several of the famous grottoes (sea caves) and relaxing on board the boat with cold drinks. Compared to some of the other packed tourist boats I saw jetting around, ours was super relaxing with only 7 of us on board.

DSC02773

After boating around the island I’d recommend visiting the famous Giardini Di Augusto on the southern side of the island. It’s a brisk 15min walk from the port up a footpath that cuts through the hill to Piazza Umberto. Here you can catch stunning views of the bay amid some ever so trendy cafes and shops. From the piazza it’s less than 10 minutes to walk (slowly so you can take it all in) to the Giardini Di Augusto where the views are unparalleled. The tiny 1€ entrance fee gives you access to the beautiful, vibrant gardens with benches to relax on and terraces to take in the views below.

DSC02783
The view from Piazza Umberto
DSC02828
The view from Giardini Di Augusto
DSC02831
Crazily tempting water

On the way back to the port be sure to stop at the best ice cream place on island- Buonocore Gelateria. My cousin had recommended this place and it definitely did not disappoint! They make the cones on the spot and are famous for their brioche (also freshly made) icecream sandwiches. One of the few places in the world where I liked a flavour more than plain chocolate- definitely try the Fantasia di Capri!

Continue on to the Amalfi Coast

The Amalfi coast is famed for towns such as Positano, Ravello and the eponymous Amalfi town. We decided to skip the overly touristy Positano and Amalfi due to the summer crowds and price tags. It was a great decision because Ravello was my favourite part of the trip and much less hectic than neighbouring towns.

37742680_10160801716940145_711714924631425024_n.jpg

Boat/bus: Capri –> Amalfi    €26pp for a 1 hour ferry  followed by a rather expensive half hour €50 taxi

\

See my post on Ravello to find out what to do and see here and why it was my favourite town in Italy.

If time permits travel on to Sicily

We then continued our seaside adventure on the large southern island of Sicily, where my favourite aspect was a visit to the Aeolian Islands. We took a large ferry from Salerno to Messina in Sicily. Check out my next post for details of getting around Sicily and where to visit.

Practicalities

Getting There and Around: I flew from Helsinki to Naples for around €150 one way. There are many international airports in Italy, so depending where you’re coming from and what you want to see there are numerous options. Once in Italy, we traveled predominantly by boat and I booked all our ferries with direct ferries, with the total for the entire trip around €85 pp. Avoid buses if you can. They are overcrowded, hot and operate on an unpredictable schedule. On the other hand taxis are very expensive, so weigh up what most import for you – saving money or comfort. But ideally walking and boating are the way to go.

Best time to go: While we still had a great time in August, I would recommend going in shoulder season (June, early July, September) when it’s still warm and happening but not as hectic, expensive or hot as peak season (August).  If you do go in August then book well ahead- accommodation, transport, day tours. Things book out.

Length of stay: We spent a week hopping around the coast but you could easily spend two or three times this amount and not get bored!

Language Barrier: Italians are less willing to speak English than many other European countries (Especially Scandinavia where nearly everyone speaks perfect English), and in areas with more local tourism and less foreigners English is not overly fluent. Luckily Italian is a very easy language to learn some basic phrases and your efforts to speak the local tongue (especially with some overt hand-gestures) will be highly appreciated.

Take Cash! Many places (especially taxis) only accept cash (euro) and many ATMs were not working, so be prepared.

Food and Drink: is super cheap and delicious, especially if you can find more local, less touristy restaurants. Naples was the cheapest (Ravello the most expensive) where a (huge) glass of house red was 2€ and an amazing pizza 4€. Caprese Salad is amazing, eat this whenever you can. Same goes for drinking Aperol Spritzers. Limoncello ones are even better.

Plastic is prolific: This broke my heart. So much un-necessary waste. and not many recycle bin options (again, I’ve been spoilt in Finland). Take your own drink bottle to avoid single-use plastic bottle waste and have coffee in real cups- after all on holidays you have time to sit and drink 🙂  Oh and when asking for no straw point and the straws on the counter and make obvious ‘no thanks’ gestures- simply asking for no straw rarely worked for me.

I’d love to hear about your experiences traveling in Italy!

Aeolian Islands: an unmissable Sicilian adventure

Nestled in the corner of the Tyrrhenian Sea off the north-east coast of Sicily, you’ll find the Aeolian Islands. This volcanic archipelago is comprised of eight main islands; Lipari, Panarea, Salina, Vulcano, Stromboli, Filicudi, Alicudi and Basiluzzo. Named for the demigod of the winds- Aeolus, the islands are famous for their volcanic action and thermal ‘healing’ waters, attracting around 200,000 tourists a year.

 

39515122_677641452607999_3440894112679591936_n

dolphines.png
Dolphins circling the boat on the way to the Aeolian Islands

 

I first heard about the famous island of Stromboli from a fellow Aussie I met in Naples. She described an island which regularly produced a flow of larva into the sea, creating a spectacular contrast between fire and water and earning the island the nickname of “Lighthouse of the Mediterranean”. Not surprisingly, the famous eruptions and flow of lava is best viewed in the evening against a dark sky, with several tour companies offering evening cruises. While I didn’t have a chance to visit Stromboli during my trip to Sicily, I did get to two of the other islands in the archipelago and absolutely loved the experience- I can’t recommend the Aeolian Islands highly enough!

Part of the reason I was unable to get to Stromboli was the lack of information or tour options I was able to find online. The only day trip I could find left from the eastern side of Sicily, at Taormina and involved a 1+ hour coach trip to get to the northern town of Milazzo, followed by a full day of island hopping and then another coach back. It sounded dauntingly exhausting.

So we decided to stay in Milazzo for a few nights, where I managed to find an amazing AirBnB directly across from a beach with the clearest green water I’ve ever seen. As is the case in much of Italy, Milazzo encompasses both fascinating ancient history and stunning scenery. Our apartment was also located beneath a large cliff, on top of which  castle ruins perch on a site that was first fortified in 4,000 BC, and has experienced a rich history ever since

 

It was then our AirBnB hosts that then recommended two local companies (Tarnav and Navisal) that offered a range of trips out to the islands from the Milazzo port. These options were not only so much more diverse than the single option I could find online but also so much more affordable. I definitely recommend staying a few days in Milazzo, as the perfect jumping off point to explore the beautiful and varied Aeolian Islands as well as exploring the town, castle and deliciously clear sea.

 

 

Lipari

The largest and most populated of the Aoelian Islands, Lipari is a wonderful spot to spend the day. There’s a charming port town with a plethora of restaurants and cafes offering cool drinks, Italian lunch fare and of course gelato. The castle ruins perched above the town offer stunning coastal views and there’s also a church and museum to explore. The winding streets provide an immersion in the local culture and there are also many shopping opportunities. If you have more time, the further reaches of the island, including four other villages, can also be explored by foot or bus. 

lipari.png

lipari1

church2.png

museum lipari

church.png

 

 

Vulcano

As you might guess from the name, the big attraction on this island is a volcano crater. This volcano is one of four non-submarine active volcanoes in Italy, with bright yellow sulfur gas and powder visible from the top of the crater. It’s around an hour walk from the port, firstly along a quietish road and then up the side of a mountain to the crater. Here you can spend another half hour or so walking around the crater and taking in the scenery. While I met many other people climbing up the mountain, I only came across one other person exploring the crater itself, adding to the eerie vibe of the place. The climb also rewards you with stunning views of the port town, beach and neighbouring islands.

foot-volcano2.png

39500056_445154282642655_1702933959970652160_n

39515122_677641452607999_3440894112679591936_n

 

I then rushed back down the hill for a quick dip in the thermal ‘healing’ waters of the beach before getting the boat back to the mainland. The water was warm and a little waxy feeling. A one point my foot moved the sand away and the rock beneath was so very hot- definitely an interesting experience! There’s also a sectioned off mud bath area that costs a few euro to enter and a few more if you want a shower afterwards. The mud is purportedly great for your skin and many people slather it on and bake in the sun.

hot beach.png

retouched

39409173_510707439377848_2669668610821062656_n

39467575_689557304758612_3996898429673406464_n

 

 

I hope one day you also get to explore this stunning Archipelago. Next up, Ravello- my favourite town in all of Italy!