I've been lucky enough to call the beautiful area of Val d'Orcia, UNESCO world heritage site, my home since January 2020. With the exception of three months of pause from exploring and discovering the area thanks to a little phenomenon you might have heard of, covid-19, I spend my free days driving around the sinuous wheat-covered hills surrounding the idyllic towns dotted throughout the valley. Here is my guide for what to eat, drink and see in two days (three nights).
There are many more places I would have liked to visit but didn't have the time, so use this more as an inspiration than something you must follow.
Dinner on the first night
Because our hotel was very central and we were exhausted from travelling, we wanted to find something close by for our first dinner and stumbled upon Settimo all'Arancio in the area of Colonna. The service was good and we did not have to wait too long for our antipasto, a 'carciofo alla giudea' (picture 1) and subsequent 'bucatini all'Amatriciana' (picture 1) sprinkled with Pecorino cheese, delicious! Overall, a very good, traditional Roman restaurant with decent prices for the central location it has.
Lunch on the second day
This time I relied on all the suggestions my followers gave me, and, feeling like a pizza, I went to Da Baffetto, a famous pizzeria in the area of Parione. I had no idea how popular this place was until we saw the long queue of people outside. It turns out the pizzeria is featured on many Spanish magazines and full of Spanish tourists. We waited a while for our pizzas, but it was a pleasant wait as we needed a break from walking around, and seeing the bustle of the open kitchen was entertaining. After roughly twenty minutes our delicious, thin crust pizzas arrived. I had ordered a pizza Margherita topped with zucchini flowers (picture 2) , and the person I was with a simple pizza Marinara (tomato sauce, garlic and oregano). What was especially pleasing was the lightness of the pizza, which didn't cause us to have an 'abbiocco' and allowed us to proceed with our sightseeing.
Dinner on the second day
This is the place to go if you're looking for the authentic, rustic Roman experience, of both food and venue. In the area of 'Testaccio' south of the Colosseum and Fori Imperiali you find Da Oio a Casa Mia.
I really wanted to try a pasta dish and a second course of meat, but portions in Rome are always huge. We got around this by splitting between two one portion of Carbonara one of their specialities, and then some delicious, huge, meatballs in tomato sauce all for myself. Both were excellent and I highly recommend trying the traditional Roman meatballs at least once during your visit to Rome.
Lunch on the third day
This was one of two lovely culinary surprises during our visit to Rome. Suggested by a Rome based food blog, we were in the area between Pigna and Colonna around lunchtime and decided to give it a try. Facing Hadrian's Temple, the view of Osteria Dell'Ingegno is breathtaking. I had the 'carciofi alla Romana' with sautéed potatoes (picture 3) and some delicious 'arancini' with shrimp served with a lovely tomato sauce. The most delicious surprise was the Panna Cotta I ordered as dessert. I consider myself a Panna Cotta expert, but never in my many years of tasting them had I tried something as delicious as this one. Softer and creamier than usual, and served with fresh berries and biscuit crumbs, it was heaven in a dessert. Delicious restaurant, and the one where we spent the most money, but nonetheless worth it.
Dinner on the fourth day
Osteria la Gensola was the second culinary surprise of our trip. Also highly recommended by some family friends, this traditional Roman restaurant with an influence of Sicilian cuisine can be found in the area of Trastevere, a street away from the river. We divided an appetiser between the two of us, tuna 'polpettine' with fresh tomato sauce. Words cannot express how delicious, soft and flavourful these were, I suggest them to anyone who eats at La Gensola. I then ordered some paccheri served with a delicate fish ragù, (picture 6) basil and Pecorino Romano. This is a definite must if you visit Rome and like fish.
Lunch on the fith day
Wanting to save the best for last, we went to Felice a Testaccio, which ten different people had suggested, on the last day for lunch. The person I was with instead on walking to the area of Testaccio, where the restaurant is, from the Colosseum. I don't suggest it as it was quite a hike, especially under the midday sun. I decided to order their speciality, tonnarelli with Cacio and Pepe. It was a big portion but my was it worth it! They were cooked to the perfect hardness, and the amount of sauce was just right. It was a little more trendy than I imagined, but the food was delicious and the prices very competitive.
Day 1 - Tuesday 3rd April
We arrived in Florence at 11am after having taken the 9:30am train from Milan Garibaldi. What a great experience! The train was very fast, just long enough to have a nap and a good breakfast. We walked to our hotel (walking is the easiest way to get around Florence, due to all the traffic and general chaos). We were staying right next to the Mercato Centrale, and decided to eat there for lunch. Unfortunately we visited during the busiest hour and finding a table was quite difficult. What's great about the Mercato Centrale second floor street food space is that there are so many types of food to choose from. You were provided with an excellently designed map at the entrance, detailing all the different food stalls and seating areas. I had a platter of vegetables and mozzarella, which was delicious until they poured diluted-olive oil onto it, and a huge ragù Arancini from the Sicilian stall. After lunch we decided to walk around the city and take it all in, taking advantage of the beautiful day. Before beginning our tour we stopped for coffee at the historical Pasticceria Sieni, where we ate our first Cantucci. We walked from the Mercato to the Basilica di San Lorenzo where we visited first the Cappelle Medicee and then the Basilica itself and the cloister. From there we walked through the Piazza del Duomo, all the way down to the Ponte Vecchio (which was hell to cross) and ended up at Palazzo Pitti. We wanted to visit it but unfortunately there was an endless queue.
Our first dinner was at the highly recommended ristorante Perseus, where we were treated like royalty. Waiting for us at the table when we arrived was a huge bowl with fresh, raw vegetables dipped in olive oil, a pinzimonio. Whilst we were deciding what to order a delicious smelling, freshly made 'schiaccia' was brought to us, which we devoured in the space of 2 minutes. I ended up ordering stuffed zucchini flowers as an appetiser and then we all shared a 1.5kg Fiorentina steak (1st picture) which quite frankly is the best steak I've ever eaten. It was tender, full of flavour and salted to perfection. We paired the food with an excellent bottle of red Tuscan wine. What really impressed us from the experience, and made it special was the 'extra' things which were brought to us as soon as we arrived, making us feel very well cared for.
Day 2 - Wednesday 4th April
The weather forecast had predicted rain and indeed, it was raining. We went to visit a few churches and museums, and stopped for lunch at Trattoria San Lorenzo, which 4 different people had recommended. The restaurant is situated next to the Basilica di San Lorenzo, a beautiful location. We were seated upstairs, in a bright and quiet room, from which we were overlooking the Piazza and church. I ordered casarecce with artichokes and Tuscan Pecorino, which were so delicious and full of flavour. Everyone else ordered Pappa al pomodoro (third picture) and spaghetti with garlic, tomato sauce and breadcrumbs. It was a rainy afternoon so we headed over to the Museo Degli Innocenti, an immensely interesting and interactive museum, which used to be an orphanage. I highly recommend visiting it as you learn about Florence from a different perspective. The museum also has a beautiful terrace with a cafe from which one can admire Brunelleschi's dome and the wider city. Around 8pm we headed to the Palazzo Vecchio to visit it. I suggest visiting the Palazzo vecchio, especially the Salone dei Cinquecento. The Palace is open every day till 9pm, a great time to go to avoid all the insane queues! After a great visit we crossed the river and walked for thirty minutes to the Antico Ristoro di Cambi, which a few people had recommended. We were feeling slightly skeptical as we walked towards it because we were leaving the centre, but as it turned out we found ourselves in a quiet, non touristic area of Florence which we otherwise would not have seen. The restaurant was lovely. Authentic, rustic and full of locals, it was bustling with people and delicious wafts of bistecche, cheeses and pasta sauces. We ordered many different antipasti: tomatoes with olive oil, prosciutto crudo cut by hand and lardo. Then we had artichokes filled with meat and grilled lamb chops. Everything was so delicious, and the location and staff so nice. We had a great meal which we ended with cantucci and vin santo, obviously.
Day 3 - Thursday 5th April
We had a VERY early start in order to be first in line for the Uffizzi Galleries. And thank god we did. At 8:30am there were already 50 people waiting in line. We visited the great gallery, with the luxury of having few people around us. After two hours we were done and quite frankly exhausted. Taking advantage of the beautiful day we walked up to Piazzale Michelangelo to admire the view. Just before the Piazza we found a rose garden from which one could admire an even better view than from above. You could see Florence's centre adorned by gorgeous roses and hills. We crossed the centre and headed towards the Trattoria Mario, which I had read about on Lonely Planet. It is a highly frequented trattoria, being featured on Lonely Planet, but nonetheless very authentic. We waited for 15 minutes to be seated, and ended up sharing a table with a lovely American couple. The trattoria was chaotic but in the best way possible. Posters of the Fiorentina football team were hanging everywhere, alongside photographs of members of the team with the restaurant staff. We ordered a cheese and cured meat platter with prosciutto, two types of salame, olives, Caciotta cheese and another Tuscan cheese. I then had some scrumptious tortelli filled with potatoes in homemade ragù sauce. The American couple left soon after we arrived, and they were replaced by two American girls who talked about how 'authentic' the place felt. They then proceeded to say that 'it just looks like the place where authentic Italians would come and eat'. Thanks. I guess?
After lunch our group split up, and we went to visit the Museo Gucci. The museum is situated within a beautiful old building, but the interiors are completely modern. We got in for free, being two students and one senior. Although the museum was very interesting, it showcased all the different Gucci collections across the years, there were very few explanations, which was disappointing. On the ground floor was a huge store selling everything Gucci from coats to shoes to shopping bags (for the modest price of €100). After our visit we made our way to the Ferragamo Palace where there was a temporary exhibition in the basement about the brand's history.
For dinner we went to the well-known I Tuscani 4 (the fourth of a chain of restaurants in Florence, mainly serving the Florentine steak). We wanted to have another delicious steak on our last night in the city. We soon learnt that the restaurants have a very eco-friendly mindset (even though they only sell meat) and for that reason all the tableware was made of recycled materials such as wheat bran. Although their intentions need to be applauded, I think steak is the wrong food to eat on plates which are not exactly sturdy. We ordered a beef Fiorentina steak with a delicious mix of grilled vegetables. The restaurant also sell extra bones (the yummiest part of a steak), stating that if you're sharing a steak with someone, there is only one bone, which is unfair. So they sell you another one. Slightly pointless and expensive but still cute. Out of all the restaurants we went to during our trip this was my least favourite one, although the food was still excellent.
Day 4 - Friday 6th April
Another early start! This time to be first in line to visit the Duomo's bell tower, designed by the famous Giotto, and the Baptistry facing the Duomo. We climbed the 422 steps leading up to the top and the view was breathtaking. Worth getting up early to avoid the crowds and the heat. The Baptistry was equally beautiful, and quick to visit. Not quick to visit, however, was the Duomo. It was still closed so we queued for one hour in the cold, and what a disappointment it was once we were inside. No one had told us that to see the entire church you actually needed two separate tickets and two separate queues. The ticket we had only let us see the back of the church (aka the entrance) which had not decorations or affreschi, and the small museum below the church which showed the ruins of the previous church. We were extremely disappointed by our visit to the Duomo, especially because to see the chapel one needed to book a time slot weeks in advance, meaning we could not even see it from below. Feeling cold and disheartened we headed to the Mercato Centrale to buy some edible souvenirs (mainly Cantucci and cheese) and have a quick lunch on the street food level. This time I braved the queue for the fresh pasta stand and got myself an AMAZING plate of spaghetti with pesto, potatoes and string beans (2nd picture). My mum got herself a fresh plate of raw gamberi rossi, which I highly recommend.
After lunch we visited the Botanical Garden which turned out to be the perfect destination on such a hot day. We looked at all the various plants and stumbled upon a table made from a tree stump with benches around it in the middle of a weeping willow. We sat down and didn't move for about 3 hours, enjoying the quiet and shaded spot. Feeling peckish we decided to cross the city again and go to All'Antico Vinaio, the acclaimed sandwich shop. Not being peak lunch hour we only had to queue for 5 minutes before we were served by two very friendly sandwich makers. My sister asked for a focaccia bread panino filled with prosciutto, Pecorino, rocket salad and tomatoes. I was not going to eat anything until I saw the soft, creamy cheese someone had put in their panino. I ended up ordering a smaller one in regular bread with prosciutto, the cheese I had just seen, diced courgettes and sun dried tomatoes. Words cannot describe the heavenly taste of the panini, I just wish we had eaten them earlier during our trip (so to have time to eat two).
Perseus (great dinner location)
Trattoria San Lorenzo (great location and food)
Antico Ristoro di Cambi (outside the centre, delicious food and location)
Mercato Centrale (busy but great food and vibe)
Trattoria Mario (great place and food, super cheap)
All'Antico Vinaio (best panini ever, few places to sit)
Pasticceria Sieni (historical cafe with delicious Cantucci)
Scudieri (historical cafe in Piazza Duomo)
My Sugar (award winning Gelato near the Botanical Garden)
Museo degli Innocenti terrace cafe (great view of Florence and the Duomo)
I was lucky enough to visit Capri during a very hot June, which I was spending in Milan. Capri was the perfect three-day getaway. We flew to Naples from Milan Malpensa on Easy Jet. Our flight was at 7am, which we were happy about because it meant having almost a full day in Capri. We had a hilarious taxi drive from Naples airport to the port, the taxi driver started signing 'Despacito' and telling us we should eat a lot of fruit.
Day 1 - 19th June
At roughly 10:30 am we caught the hydrofoil from the port to the Marina in Capri. The ride was roughly 45 minutes long, and it was hilarious to see large groups of South American's screaming every time the boat hit a wave (which happened every 30 seconds).
We then took the train which goes up the mountain, to reach the other side of the island, which is were we were staying. A word of warning for whoever wishes to visit Capri: PACK LIGHT. There are barely any cars, and many, many steps, so you have to carry your luggage around the town yourself. We walked through the town of Capri, towards the Faraglioni. Just before them was our hotel 'Villacore'. A lovely villa transformed in a Luxury B&B with a small amount of rooms. The rooms themselves are nothing extraordinary, but the rest of the house is. White walls and gorgeous, colourful tiles adorn the living and breakfast room. The view is also great, looking right into the deep blue sea.
We spent the rest of the day at the Bagni Da Luigi, which are situated right below the breathtaking Faraglioni. We payed €25 euros per sun bed and €15 for a light lunch of bruschette and fresh fruit. Diving into the (freezing) sea was easy thanks to the small pier the bagni have. There are very few ways to reach the sea in Capri, as it is so steep and rocky, and the few places available have been set up with restaurants and high-priced sun beds. After having spent a lovely afternoon swimming and sun bathing, we climbed the thousands of steps back to the main path (I don't suggest doing this during the hottest hours of the day). We then went for a lovely, long walk around the uninhabited part of the island, where we managed to see the famous Casa Malaparte. The walk consisted of thousands of steps and was quite challenging, especially considering the fact that we were wearing flip flops. We eventually reached a breathtaking arch (picture 5) called 'Arco Naturale' which is totally worth the walk. Around 8:30 we crossed the town to go to eat at Ristorante Panorama, where we waiter 20 minutes for a table. This restaurant is probably much better at lunch, due to the beautiful view it has, which can't be enjoyed at dinner time. It was very chaotic and the food was nothing special. We were slightly disappointed but too tired from all the walking to complain.
Day 2 - 20th June
We woke up quite early, having booked a half-day boat trip starting at 9:30am. We had a delicious breakfast overlooking the B&B's terrace, with the fresh morning breeze coming in. The hotel owner and manager had booked the boat trip for us, it was going to be the three of us with a skipper on a traditional boat from Capri called a 'Gozzo'. The boat met us at the Bagni da Luigi, and from there we began our trip round the island. The Gozzo was extremely comfortable, we had loads of space to lounge around, and plenty of space in the shade. We stopped wherever we wanted for a swim, and the skipper brought us to see many beautiful caves which are dotted around the island. Being a small boat we were actually able to enter many of the caves and see close up the stalagmites and beautiful colours. We brought focaccia and small pizza with us as we had been told that there was no food on board, just plenty of drinks. The trip round the island lasted around 4 hours and we had a lovely time, I really recommend it to people who want to see the island in all of it's beauty. The Gozzo dropped us off at Bagni di Luigi again and we had a quick lunch, a delicious dish of spaghetti with fresh tomato sauce and basil, and a slice of the famous 'torta Caprese'. We went back to our B&B, got changed and went for a walk up to the 'Villa Jovis' built by the Roman Emperor Tiberius in AD 27. The magnificent ruins have a breathtaking view of the mainland and the Amalfi coast. It was unfortunately closed for the day, I suggest checking the opening times if you wish to visit it. Walking back down we stopped at the restaurant and pizzeria 'Lo Sfizio' where we had the best meal of our three-day stay. We had fried antipasti, pasta with fresh tomato sauce, mozzarella and basil, spaghetti with moscardini (picture 2) and paccheri with mussels, clams and parsley. If you visit Capri you HAVE to eat at Lo Sfizio. Limoncello to finish, obviously.
Day 3 - 21st June
On our last day we only had a few hours to spend in Capri before we got the hydrofoil back to Naples, where we would be spending another two days. We walked through the town of Capri and reached the top of the historic 'Via Krupp' (picture 4), a winded path which has an elevation difference of 100m. Unfortunately it is closed as a section of it is too dangerous, but one can still admire it from above.
from long weekends away to month long travels and trips.