Our italy trip was booked on the heels of a whim–after a late night conversation to venture outside of our comfort zone of Paris and try somewhere new (for me, having had a personal love affair with Paris since my first trip at 17–memorialized by a Mona Lisa print I bought at the Louvre on that trip, hauled back, and have hung in every house I’ve lived in since–I would have been satisfied never traveling anywhere else). So we set out to hit the highlights of Northern Italy: Bologna, Portofino, Cinque Terra, Dievoli Vineyard in Tuscany, and Florence.
Paris being a very low-key, slow-paced holiday for us–one where we always come back renewed and refreshed–Italy, as it turned out, was just the opposite.
Feeling certain pressures to take advantage of what may be a final hurrah before baby no. 2 arrives, and that driving desire ‘not to miss anything’, we tried to pack as much as possible into our 11 day Northern Italy tour. We also used Airbnb for the first time instead of hotels for most of the trip–and especially enjoyed the larger accomodations (particularly travelling with a 2.5 yr old), added kitchens, and cost savings (in most cases, they were about half of what the hotels in the area were).
Here’s the lose itinerary we followed in a two-part post:
Bologna Highlights Route 1 (~24 min walking in order of proximity; don’t miss the gelato!)
- 1. Two Towers (The Asinelli Tower/The Garisenda Tower): The two towers the traditional symbol of Bologna, stand at the strategic point where the old Aemilian way entered the town.
- 2. Basilica Santuario Santo Stefano: Locally known as Sette Chiese (“Seven Churches”)
- 3. Archiginnasio of Bologna: One of the most important buildings in the city of Bologna; once the main building of the University of Bologna, it currently houses the Archiginnasio Municipal Library.
- 4. Fountain of Neptune: Situated on the Piazza della Signoria (Signoria square), in front of the Palazzo Vecchio.
- 5. Piazza Maggiore: began as the “platea communis”, the place where people gathered and the market was held.
Route 2: Great for kids
- Giardini Margherita: small beautiful lake filled goldfish and turtles. The park sells ice cream, balloons and cotton candy
- La Sorbetteria Castiglione – An award-winning source of gelato in Bologna, English menu provided
Also check out the food markets, which Bologna is known for (the birth place of Bolognese sauce):
- Bologna Market & Food Tours: Explore Bologna’s rich gourmet food history, taste mortadella, ciccioli, chocolate and much more….
- Cycling and food market tour: include light lunch and wines
We picked up a car at the Bologna airport and made the drive to Portofino. Driving in Italy was a little stressful at first–there were toll roads and the GPS was spotty, but we picked up a TIMM/SIM card in Bologna so used the iPhone directions as a secondary navigation system. Also, Portofino, along with Cinque Terra, isn’t designed for driving (literally, you cannot drive in the towns and have to park on the perimeters and walk)–but worth the effort. The Bump is 7.5 months in this picture–I felt fantastic with all the walking we did; I think my body appreciated breaking up my usually sedentary daily routine of sitting at a desk:
Portofino was our second favorite of the five stops we made in Italy. The food was unbelievable there (although the most pricey of all the towns we visited), the views spectacular, and the energy contagiously calming and peaceful.
In both Portofino and in between the five towns of Cinque Terra, the neighboring villages are connected by gorgeous walking pathways built into the mountains. The “one” road that drives through the town is narrow (barely fitting 2 cars) with no sidewalks (although lots of people do walk on the roads); and the walking paths among the hills go on for miles and miles. This photo was taken while we were walking home from dinner back to our hotel–which was also built into the moutain–along the connecting, well-lit moutain paths. Just as I was taking it, the moon began to rise over the moutain to make an unexpected appearance.
This was the view we enjoyed at our nightly dinners:
And, of course, our main activity during our 11 day trip to Italy, which I happily partook in while pregnant: Pasta!!
III. Cinque Terra
Our next stop was Cinque Terra or the Five Lands,” which comprises five villages: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. We stayed in a wonderful Airbnb apartment in Vernazza that even included toys for Judah, and, on one day, took the train to the next town to explore. My husband had been to Cinque Terra before, and I loved hearing about his prior trips and sharing his excitement for the 5 cities.
Cinque Terra has such a distinctive look and feel, walking along the textured colorful streets provided endless entertainment. Vernazza, the town we stayed in, also had a wonderful playground for children in the main square and nightly shows for kids along the beach.
The views along the moutain paths were breathtaking.
Happy Labor Day! Next up, Part II of our trip to the Dievoli Vineyard and Florence…