Hello friends! It’s been brought to my attention that many of you may not “ know” me personally, so I figured that I should remedy that 😉
First, the basics … my name is Ann Fantini. I’m an extremely proud Mom to three amazing adult children and one pretty awesome daughter in law. I’ve been married to a wonderfully supportive guy that also just happens to be handsome, hysterically funny and deeply kind for just over 33 years. Proof that you can find lasting love at a college keg party! We’re also parents to a very lively, rambunctious Black Lab named Rosie.
So, why am I doing this? Starting a travel/ lifestyle blog at this stage of my life? There is no one answer, so I’ll give you the most relevant and meaningful ones. The first reason is my incredible passion for travel and exploration. I’m one of those somewhat crazy, obsessive travel planners. I basically start planning a trip in my head every time I see or hear of a destination that’s new to me. At any given moment, I have 3 or more trips either in my head or actually physically mapped out.
The next reason is that I feel my perspective on travel and life in general may inspire others to explore the world around them and open themselves to new possibilities. Helping others plan trips and adventures is incredibly rewarding to me. I’ve been doing it for friends and family, so why not broaden my horizons and help YOU?
What many don’t know about me is that I was diagnosed with a chronic autoimmune disease in 1983, at the age of 21 ( in case you’re wondering my age 😉). Sjogren’s Syndrome is a disease that typically attacks the body’s moisture producing glands and organs. It’s known mainly for its classic symptoms of dry eyes and dry mouth but it can affect so much more. I’ve been very fortunate that so far, I do not have any major organ involvement . My symptoms have been for the most part manageable but they do still affect my daily life. In addition to Sjogren’s, I have fibromyalgia and a host of musculoskeletal and orthopedic issues. These issues have led to 2 major surgeries within the past 4.5 years. I’m a multilevel lumbar spinal fusion warrior and I’ve had a fully torn hip tendon anchored back the bone.
I’m sharing all this, not for sympathy or praise, but to raise awareness of invisible illnesses and also to help you understand my perspective on the things that I will be blogging about. My physical issues do affect me, but I refuse to let them DEFINE me. We all have our struggles, it’s how we face them and handle them that defines us. As humans, we are so much more adaptable and resilient than we sometimes realize. The underlying message for me is to try and stay focused on what you CAN do rather than what you can’t. Look for the victories in your everyday life.
One last thing to share is my passion for giving back. I am so grateful for the life that I have and feel very fortunate to have the time and ability to give back to my community. As a young mother I was always involved in my children’s schools and sports activities. I was still volunteering in our local kindergarten up until a few years ago when my physical issues made crawling on the floor or being climbed upon too difficult for my body. But as they say, when one door closes, another opens. That new door was the opportunity to work with Uncommon Threads. Uncommon Threads is an amazing women’s empowerment program that serves disadvantaged women in our local community and surrounding areas. This cause is near and dear to my heart . I’m so thankful for the chance to work alongside such a special group of kind, caring women and to help make a difference in the lives of so many❤️.
I think that’s enough about me for now. I’m really not used to talking about myself, I’d much rather hear about you! If you have any questions at all for me, whether about travel, lifestyle, chronic illness or anything at all…please reach out! I would love to hear from and get to know you!
Are you ready for my long overdue Sedona installment? If you follow me on Instagram ( which I hope you will!) , @tinitravelsblog, you’ll have gotten a taste of our trip already. In this post I will break it all down for you, so you can have a great 4 day itinerary to make the most of your time.
If, like me, you love a unique hotel experience that you absolutely must check out El Portal Sedona. This rustic boutique hotel built in an Arts & Crafts Adobe style is an architectural masterpiece. Each room is unique and decorated with furnishings hand picked to represent the authentic Sedona experience. The Inn is full of gorgeous handmade and antique items as well. If you have an opportunity to spend time with Steve , the owner, you’ll find him to have a wealth of information about local architecture, art and history. Your stay here will feel like you are being hosted in a stunning private home rather than a hotel or resort. The property is also completely pet friendly with several rooms offering direct access to outdoor pet patios.
Start your morning with the complimentary coffee, tea, juice and continental breakfast offerings such as yogurt, fruit, granola, and muffins at El Portal . If you prefer a heartier breakfast I suggest the 2 minute walk to The Secret Garden Cafe located in the Tlaquepaque shopping area ( more on that later ).
I always like to plan a some type of small tour or walk for the first day of a trip. Something that gives us an overview of the area and an idea of things/ places we might want to see more of. The Sedona Trolley was the perfect choice. They have 2 different routes to choose from, or you can combine both as we did for a discounted price.
By combining both routes we were able to get a great overview of many of the spectacular rock formations, hiking trails, areas of interest and visit the incredible Chapel of the Holy Cross.
After your tour you can spend some time in the Uptown area with its many shops, boutiques and restaurants. From my perspective most of them were quite touristy but it’s always fun to see what’s around!
If you like adventure, but are not quite ready for dirt biking through the canyons…you’ll definitely want to book one of the Pink Jeep tours.
There are several tours to choose from. In my opinion, and many others, the Broken Arrow Tour is the one not to miss! This tour takes you scrambling over impressive rock formations and on a thrilling ride down the Road of No Return. If it suits your time and budget, I recommend the combo Broken Arrow/ Scenic Rim tour. Our guide was fantastic and all Covid-19 safety protocols were strictly enforced!
After an exhilarating day with Pink Jeep Adventures, it was so nice to return to El Portal Sedona, change out of our dusty clothes and into our swimsuits. El Portal has an agreement with the neighboring resort Los Abrigados for use of their pool facilities, so off we went to relax and recharge.
Are you ready to hike?
We definitely were after fueling up with a delicious breakfast at The Secret Garden located in the Tlaquepaque village just steps from El Portal Sedona. We chose the Boynton Canyon Trail for it’s outstanding scenery and fairly easy terrain. As a spinal fusion and hip surgery survivor, I need to be realistic in my abilities…but will always push myself to reach my goals!
This trail was perfect for us at about 6 miles round trip with an elevation of 810 ft. Boynton Canyon is also home to one of Sedona’s vortexes right near the base of the trail.
There is no shortage of trails to hike in Sedona, so you can choose whatever suits your needs! Some of the most popular are:
Cathedral Rock- an easy 1 mile round trip and home to one of the area’s most famous vortexes.
Devil’s Bridge – this 4.2 mile trail has become one of the most Instagram famous trails for its stunning bridge formation. It’s also become one of the most crowded as well!
Fay Canyon – an easy 2.4 mile trail right in the heart of the red rocks!
We had planned a second hike but the weather took an unseasonably cold turn so… we decided on a short road trip to the tiny town of Jerome, Arizona
Jerome, once a booming copper mining town is now home to several galleries and the Mine museum . . Open 7 days per week and only a $2 admission fee, this quaint little museum is really more of an exhibit housed in a back room of a small gift shop, but it’s chock full of history and memorabilia and is a pleasant way to spend some time!
Jerome is also home to several wineries should you want to do any tasting! You can check out
If you like galleries, gift shops and restaurants you’ll love the Tlaquepaque Arts & Shopping Center located just steps from El Portal Sedona . With dining options from ice cream, to Mexican, a brewery, a fine dining French restaurant, chai & coffee shop and much more there is definitely something for everyone. We enjoyed a casual Mexican dinner at El Ricon and a lighter fare at Oak Creek Brewery & Grill.
Check the Tlaquepaque website for any special events as they host many cultural experiences throughout the year!
Our favorite dining experience in Sedona was at the beautiful Dahl & DiLuca Italian restaurant. This meal was truly a treat for the senses, a stunning setting, divine food and superb service. I highly recommend, especially for a special occasion!
Sedona is not known for its nightlife, so you won’t find any real party scene ( especially during Covid-19) ..not that we were looking 😉
But there is Mooney’s Irish Pub which was perfect for us and they even provide a free shuttle service ( just tip the driver!). Mooney’s offers indoor and outdoor seating, and an eclectic menu.
Lastly, if you have time either to or from the airport in Phoenix, I would recommend a stop at the well preserved Montezuma Castle built by the Sinagua people nestled into the limestone cliffs . A $10 entrance fee also gives you access to the Tuzigoot National Monuments within a 7 day period.
I hope this installment has provided you with some information and inspiration to plan your own Sedona Escape!
After 7 long years…I mean MONTHS of staying home, we decided we felt safe and secure enough to venture someplace new. Travel during a Global Pandemic is certainly not to be taken lightly. I made sure to do my research using government sites such as The CDC and local state sites such as Coronavirus.health.ny.gov. I encourage everyone thinking of traveling during this time to do their due diligence and PLEASE follow ALL safety precautions that have been put in place.
The Finger Lakes region of NY, USA is comprised of eleven long narrow lakes that, you guessed it, resemble fingers. In fact Native American legend tells of the Great Spirit looking down favorably on the region and offering a blessing by placing his fingers upon the land. Thus creating impressions which filled with water to create the lakes….A beautiful story, but doesn’t account for the extra lake ?
The area is well known for its vineyards, it’s State Parks, and its charm. It is also home to Cornell University, Syracuse University and Ithaca College, along with several smaller schools of higher education.
Where to stay:
There are so many small towns in this region that it can be daunting to choose a location to call home for your stay. The bigger towns and cities such as Auburn, Canandaigua, Geneva and Ithaca will definitely have more options for lodging, dining and amenities. However during this summer of COVID-19, I was really looking for a quiet, low key get away without crowds.
Cue Hammondsport, NY! In beginning my search for where to stay on TripAdvisor, as I always do, I came across some information on Hammondsport. As soon as I read that Hammondsport had been named “The Coolest Small Town in America” by Budget Travel in 2012…well I was sold! In fact Hammondsport was put on the map by motorcycle and aviation pioneer Glenn Curtiss in the early 1900s when he became the fastest man on earth and a bit later the “Father of Naval Aviation”. It was Curtiss that brought aeronautical and dirigible companies to Hammondsport beginning around 1907 . This led to the area becoming known as The Cradle of Aviation.
In general we prefer smaller boutique hotels and inns to larger, chain or business class accommodations. And that’s just what you’ll find in Hammondsport. There is a wide range of choices between Inns, Bed & Breakfasts, AirBnB, and even a couple of midsize hotels. I use TripAdvisor to do my research and read reviews. I will typically then book directly through the hotel or inn’s website for the best pricing.
I chose the Moonshadow Bed and Breakfast based upon their abundance of rave reviews and frankly the friendly nature of the owners Jeanette and Steve who bought the property just a few years ago and have created a unique, warm and welcoming environment.
In addition to the eclectic yet soothing decor ( it’s a bit Southwestern, a bit Zen, and a bit country farmhouse rolled into one!), our room named SOL, and on the first floor for anyone with mobility issues, had a beautifully updated bathroom with oversized shower. High end toiletries and luxurious bedding added to our comfort.
Included in your stay ( 2 night minimum) is a fabulous breakfast each morning, lovingly prepared by the owners using local farm fresh ingredients. Even this non breakfast eater was cleaning her plate!
The grounds of Moonshadow are just as impressive, with a sloping lawn overlooking Keuka Lake complete with a tree swing, chaise lounges and a fire pit area for cool evenings.
As an important note, masks were required at all times inside the inn’s common areas and hand sanitizer was readily available. There are just 5 guest rooms total, and all guests complied with the safety precautions. Breakfast was well spaced with each party/ room having their own table to dine at. Very important details during these unprecedented times.
Things to Do:
One can not visit The Finger Lakes without visiting at least a winery or two! Keuka Lake has it’s own designated Wine Trail . Check the website for maps, information, events and up to date COVID-19 news.
Next on our list of Things to Do was Watkins Glen State Park. This oasis lies right in the middle of the town by the same name. The park is small, only about 2 miles of land but it contains some 19 waterfalls along its Gorge Trail. During our time, masks were mandatory and the trails were one way to avoid crowding. It was the perfect way to work off some of the wine and food calories. There are campsites available and day passes to enjoy the Olympic sized pool.
Saving the BEST for last! The absolute highlight of our visit was the surprise SUNRISE HOT AIR BALLOON RIDE that I arranged through Liberty Balloon Company as an anniversary gift for my husband . This family business has been ballooning together since 1977 and was founded by a former US Navy Aviator. Lance, our pilot was one of two sons in the family business. We met on the lawn of an Inn in the town of Canandaigua just before sunrise. We were able to watch the balloons being set up and inflated while learning the history of the business and of aviation in the area. And then it was Up, Up and Away…
This was truly a bucket list experience for me and if you’re like minded, I highly recommend it!
Other things to do in the area :
Visit the Curtiss Museum of Aviation, visit the Finger Lakes Boating Museum
Enjoy swimming, seaplane rides, paddle boarding, kayaks, and fishing . There are typically several small festivals and events throughout the year…but due to COVID-19, check local sites like Corning & The Southern Finger Lakes before planning.
You’ll find several restaurant options in Hammondsport, everything from pizza to fine dining, most are in the downtown area surrounding a lovely park area which had live music playing the nights we were there. Most restaurants had outdoor seating available and were following all the current safety guidelines. All in all, we found the area to be the perfect place for a safe and relaxing long weekend get away! I’d love to hear if you’ve been to the Finger Lakes ?
Hello friends, it’s been a hot minute since I’ve written! Thank you Global Pandemic..not 😩.
So what’s a travel blogger to do when one can’t travel? Why, revisit past trips of course! Honestly, I’m so thankful for this age of technology that not only brings the world to our fingertips but makes it so much easier to look back on past travels and adventures. This has seriously been sustaining me during these stressful and unprecedented times. So let’s talk Greece !
For this installment, I want to focus on how to plan your own personal Greek adventure. If you’ve been following me either here or on Instagram @tinitravelsblog then you’re most likely aware that I prefer to do all our travel planning rather than go through an agency or tour company. I do utilize tours but I prefer to book them directly.
So that being said..planning our Greece trip was my first time booking multiple modes of transportation in multiple locations. This can seem daunting, but I’m going to break it down step by step for you!
Step 1: Time & Budget
Determine your budget and length of your trip. Remember that when traveling abroad from the US you will typically arrive the following day. So a 7 day trip really gives you about 5 full days as you arrive on day 2 and most likely will lose day 7 as a full travel day on the return. We were able to plan for 10 nights in Greece, 11 nights away total. How many days you have will guide you in deciding how many locations you wish to visit. In general I prefer at least 2 or 3 nights in each spot. We really enjoy getting to know an area and immersing ourselves in the culture, rather than a quick see the sights and leave visit. That is our preference, but you can let your time, budget and travel style speak for you.
Step 2: Destinations
Choose your locations. For a 10 day trip, I stick with no more than 3 different locations to stay. You must take into consideration the travel time between destinations as well as getting settled in new accommodations. I don’t want to spend too much time getting to and from places, I’d much rather be exploring… or even relaxing. Though on some trips, Greece being one, the getting there can be part of the experience.
I do my research on locations through TripAdvisor and good old fashioned travel guide books such as the Eyewitness guides, Fodor’s, and Lonely Planet. I will typically purchase a pocket size travel guide to refer to while traveling.
I knew that I wanted to visit Athens and 2 of the Greek islands. Santorini had always been a dream destination of mine, so that was automatic. Choosing the next island took some research.
Many first timers to the islands automatically opt for Santorini and Mykonos. They are probably the most well known and most photographed of the islands.
After doing some reading, I realized that I really wanted our second island to have more of a contrast to the beautiful yet touristic Santorini. I wanted to see more of the local flavor . The island of Naxos seemed to offer everything I was looking for. Just about 1.5 hours by ferry from Santorini, with a charming Old Town Port area of tavernas, restaurants and shops, plenty of midrange accommodations and miles of sandy beaches.
Athens would be our third and final stay. Originally I planned to begin our trip there, as that’s where we would fly into and out of from the states. However, I realized I’d rather be there at least a day ahead of our return flight in case of any transportation issues etc… So it made more sense to start our adventure on Santorini, and end in Athens.
Step 3: Accomodations
Once you know where you’re going, you’ll need to figure out where to stay. Sometimes Step 2 & 3 are reversed…you may have your heart set on a specific hotel or resort so that will determine your destination.
Once again I will typically begin my search on TripAdvisor . I read reviews and check availability and pricing . Isn’t the internet amazing?? I do visit the hotel/ resort website and often book directly that way.
On Santorini we stayed at the incredible Filotera Suites in Oia known for its fabulous sunsets and beautiful pedestrian way. I would HIGHLY recommend this charming boutique hotel with cave style rooms directly overlooking the sea. Absolutely everything about our stay was perfection.
For the island of Naxos, I wanted a midrange smaller hotel within walking distance of restaurants and a beach. I foundBoutique Hotel Glaros on TripAdvisor and new immediately that it was perfect. Located an easy walk from the Ancient City and Port with all its varied eateries and shops, and situated overlooking St. George’s Beach, it ticked all my boxes. Decorated in crisp whites and modern lines, it was a nice contrast to our quaint old style cave room in Santorini. Our room was spacious with a sitting area and a lovely balcony overlooking the sea.
Two other reasons we chose Naxos were #1 it’s beautiful sandy beaches ( the beaches on Santorini are black volcanic rock..cool but not great for extended beach time) and #2 it’s proximity to Mykonos and Delos, making day trips possible! Hey I went all the way to the Greek Islands so I had to at least SEE Mykonos, even if I didn’t want to stay there, right?
Our last hotel stay was the Acropolis Museum Boutique Hotel. Again chosen mainly for it’s location of being within walking distance of the Acropolis and the Ancient Plaka district of shops and cafes. Unfortunately though technically in walking distance of those areas, the hotel is located on a very busy main road in the metro area of Athens.
This is the only accommodation that I can not recommend. The front desk staff were lovely, but the hotel itself was dark and dreary…even a bit musty. Our bathroom was not appealing at all…it was broken down and neglected..even dirty unfortunately. My advice on finding a better place to stay would be to expect to pay a bit more in metropolitan areas to get the type of accommodations you prefer. Also remember that reviews are completely subjective to the reviewer’s perspective. One person’s 5 star might be another’s 2 star experience..it all depends on what you’re used to and your expectations. Recently we’ve been utilizing Airbnb for city stays, especially if only for a couple of nights. My 3 C’s for accommodations are CONVENIENCE, COMFORT and COST 😉. I’m definitely willing to pay more for more comfort and convenience.
Step 4: Transportation
Now that you have your destinations and accommodations set or at least in mind, it’s time to plot how you will get there. I always start with flights. Many times when traveling abroad it will make sense to fly INTO one airport and OUT from another. Do your homework by looking up maps and utilizing the Travel Forums on TripAdvisor to search or ask itinerary questions.
For this trip we would be flying in and out of Athens. I use sites like Expedia to begin my search. You can compare all the airlines flights, times, fares in one place. Once I find the flights that I want, I will also check the individual airline website…sometimes there are advantages to booking directly through the airline, like if you are a member of their rewards or mileage club.
So now you have your flights all set, YAY!! This is when I get really excited lol. Next you need to plan your travel between each destination. Again, do your research….I learned we could take a ferry from Athens to Santorini but it takes close to 8 hours. After an overnight flight from the states that was not appealing.
The best option for us was to catch a flight that would get us there in under an hour! We used OlympicAir and found a very reasonable flight with timing that worked well. We arrived in Athens from the US at 9:15am on Delta. We booked an 11:45 am flight to Santorini and arrived in paradise at 12:35pm!
The rest of our transportation was by Ferry. Greece is well known for its efficient ferry system that provides transportation between the islands. The most popular is Blue Star Ferries which is who we chose.
Our ferry from Santorini to Naxos was approximately 2 hours and the price is currently around $25/ ticket. There are different price points depending on class of ticket, reserved seat etc. You can find all the info on the Blue Star Ferries website above.
Our next ferry would be from Naxos to Athens, again on Blue Star. This is a longer ride, approximately 5.5 hours. But the ferry itself is comfortable and an enjoyable experience with a food service and bar area. Again current prices can be found on the Blue Star website. We left Naxos at 9:30am and arrived in Athens at the Piraeus Port 3pm. Upon leaving the ferry there are numerous taxis available to take you to your accommodations.
This turned out longer than I anticipated so I will save the Things to Do in each location for another installment.
I hope this post helps you and gives you the confidence to book your own adventure. Whether it be Greece or anywhere else, the methods I use typically remain the same…sometimes the order of steps is different but the plotting follows the same general rules. As with all trip planning, flexibility is very helpful 😉. You may encounter obstacles that force you to make a change, but it’s all part of the adventure!
That being said..I pray we are safely off on new adventures soon!
Have y’all visited Austin, TX? Well you should! This was a long weekend get away with friends. Our criteria was, easy to get to, warmer temps than New England, good food and nightlife.
Austin ticked all the boxes, so off we went! JetBlue offered direct flights from Boston at very reasonable prices making the trip easy and affordable.
We rented a condo unit through AirBnB that was perfectly situated on 3rd St within easy walking distance of most of downtown.
Because we had limited time, we chose to pre book a few small group tours to make the most of our 3.5 days. If you’ve read my blog before you know that I’m a huge fan of TripAdvisor for research, planning and booking. What you may not know is that AirBnB also has suggested activities for the area you’re staying with links to reviews and booking. Between the two sites, we booked 3 activities that we really enjoyed!
You may have heard the slogan “ Keep Austin Weird” right? I love that sentiment because it speaks to the city’s creative soul. But did you know the Official motto of Austin is the “ Live Music Capital of the World” ? On any given night, one can find over one hundred venues showcasing live music.
What better way to kick off our stay than with a Live Music Crawl ? This tour was run by Austin Detours. With over 270 music venues within Austin, this tour promised to show us some of the real authentic venues and skip the cover bands. And boy did they deliver! The meeting point inside a hotel lobby was an easy walk from our condo. There we met our guide and the other guests. I believe there were 12 of us total. We piled into a clean, comfortable van and off we went.
Our guide for the night was Brent and he kept us entertained with lots of fun facts about the history of the Austin Music scene. The first stop was C-Boy’s . A really cool venue with a dive bar sort of atmosphere complete with disco ball.
We spent about an hour rocking out to a great local band. Loved the vibe here and would definitely recommend it as a cool music venue.
Next stop was the Saxon Pub. This venue was larger, and had a bit more of a club vibe..reminded me of places we’d visit during our college years to hear good rock and roll.
We met some really nice locals that were kind enough to share their corner table. The band here was not too memorable except for the fantastic keyboard player…who actually played with the previous band at C-Boys, then made a hasty exit to play his next gig at Saxon Pub! Not my favorite spot of the night but we certainly enjoyed ourselves.
Saving the best for last…our guide Brent made a last minute itinerary change when he heard that “ Birdlegg” was playing at The Skylark Lounge. This spot was definitely a bit off the beaten path. As their website says “ if we didn’t tell you where it was, you’d never find it”
Don’t be put off by its outward appearance and location…this lounge…part dive bar, part blues venue was 100% legit and our hands down favorite venue and music of the night! We were so fortunate to see legendary ( if he’s not, he should be) blues man Gene “Birdlegg” Pittman.
This amazing entertainer does it all, singer, songwriter, absolutely incredible harmonica player and story teller. If you have the chance to see him…anywhere…it’s worth the trip/ticket!
On top of that, the crowd was lively and friendly and the staff went out of their way to please…the chicken sandwiches out back were great too😉.
Another notable music venue was The Continental Club. The Continental has been a staple in the Austin music scene since 1955 when it opened as a swanky supper club. It later became a burlesque club and eventually became one of the premier live music venues in the area. This club is the real deal with past performers such as Stevie Ray Vaughan, Junior Brown and even Robert Plant. We greatly enjoyed the Latin style sound of The Iguanas, a New Orleans based band, on the night we visited. Located centrally on South Congress St, there are typically multiple shows a day/ night.
Another iconic club in Austin is The Elephant Room. Predominantly a jazz venue with music nightly it’s located on Congress St. Unfortunately we did not have time for a visit…all the more reason to go back!
In addition to it’s music scene, Austin also has a number of really cool secret speakeasys. If you’re into prohibition history and cocktails or just want something different and fun to do, I can recommend this great Secret Speakeasy Tour that you can find at Goodtrip tours. Our guide Ryan was really knowledgeable about the history of speakeasys in Austin. We visited 4 different venues, each with it’s own individual vibe and character. Ryan was great to hang out with and we had a fantastic time with the 3 other guests on our tour…exchanging our emails and numbers by the end of the night. In addition to the tour, Ryan will provide you with a map of speakeasy locations and instructions to get past the door… so you can visit on your own if time permits. I’ve already had 2 friends visit some of the bars that we enjoyed the best.
The clear favorite of this night was J. Stephens, also known as Austin’s haunted speakeasy. We loved the atmosphere and the bartender was friendly , entertaining and served up some very creative cocktails!
Rainey Street Historic District is another popular area for nightlife in Austin. This neighborhood close to the convention center began as a residential area consisting mainly of small bungalow style homes. The homes have now been converted into a plethora of bars and restaurants. You can find everything from upscale, inventive dishes at Emmer & Rye, to 50+ Texas draft beers at Craft Pride, to food trucks serving grilled cheese and frozen bananas. In addition to food and drink you will find plenty of live music happening most evenings.
Awesome cocktails at The Half Step bar on Rainey St
And I can’t talk about Austin nightlife without mentioning the notorious Dirty Sixth St. This section of the long Sixth St stretches from Congress Ave to I-35 and is closed to automobile traffic each night, essentially becoming one large party. If you’ve been to Bourbon St in NOLA, Dirty Sixth is tame by comparison. It is home to many bars and restaurants catering to the party hearty crowd. You’ll find plenty of $1 & $2 shots, street entertainers and live music. Despite its name and reputation, you’ll also find some really great places..notably the Parkside ( 301 E 6th) which offers a great happy hour and The Parish ( 214 E 6th) which might be one of the best music venues at the best price in town!
Food and more food!
Austin is home to some AMAZING food! I’m just putting that out there!!
To get a good taste of the city’s food offerings in our short stay, we once again opted for a tour. We booked the Food Truck Tour with Austin Eats . Our guide was the very personable Scott, and when he promised that we would not go hungry…he was not lying! We thoroughly enjoyed our time eating our way through the city. The term “ food truck tour” was a bit misleading as most of the venues were actual brick and mortar restaurants..though some began as food trucks.
The first stop was a truck, where we sampled a treat called Kolaches for the first time. Who knew that Austin had a large Czech population?? These savory meat pastries are worth the line at Kerlin’s BBQ truck!
Our next stop was my fave of the day…La Barbecue . If you’ve researched barbecue in Austin, you’ve most likely heard of Franklin Barbecue. Well, the owner of La Barbecue is a former employee of Franklin’s.
We feasted on huge platters of pulled pork, ribs, pickles and cole slaw. Scott even provided us with take out bags and encouraged us to fill them up for later! Did I mention that all food an beverage was included? This included a cooler on board the bus that was stocked with beer, ciders and water.
Other stops for food and drink were Kebabalicious which was a nice break from barbecue..try the falafel, and Craft Pride on Rainey St. Craft Pride focuses on..you guessed it…craft beer with 54 taps of Texas beer. They also make some very creative pizzas…the Reuben pizza was a hit with our group.
I’m realizing now that I may have jumped the gun on declaring La Barbecue my favorite stop….that was before we got to the Churro Co. This little food truck was the bomb!!
Before moving on I need to also mention how very accommodating Austin Eats and our guide Scott were. We had mentioned my lactose intolerance when booking, and Scott went above and beyond in providing me with suitable choices..he even got me my own entire pizza made with dairy free cheese! Thank you Scott and Bravo to Austin Eats!
In addition to the food tour, we had several other great restaurant experiences in Austin. We enjoyed happy hour at La Condesa
And to continue the Mexican theme, we had great meals at Guero’s Taco Bar on So. Congress St.
More to Enjoy!
If you’re thinking that our trip revolved around eating and drinking…well you might be right😉. However, we did get to see some other sides to Austin.
Austin is known for having a very artistic and creative population. You will see evidence of this in the variety of murals and street art throughout the city. On our next visit, I would love to do an actual street art tour. This time, I really enjoyed the element of surprise whenever we came across something special!
Austin is also a very green city. There are plenty of open and green spaces to enjoy, especially around Lake Austin, Lady Bird Lake and the Colorado River which flows through the city. You can hike or bike along the River, rent kayaks or floats, or just stroll and stop for a drink at Alta’s Cafe. Zilker Park and Auditorium Shores are lively spots for games and outdoor concerts.
If you’re fortunate to visit Austin between late July and early November, you will have the chance to see one of Texas’ top tourist attractions..the Austin Bats. During this time period an average of 1.5 million bats , the largest urban bat colony in the world, reside under the So. Congress St bridge. The bats emerge nightly from crevices under the bridge and go out in search of food. You can join the huge crowds that gather before sundown to watch this spectacular event.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief trip to Austin! It’s such a vibrant place with so much to offer …I’ve barely scratched the surface here. This is a city that most certainly warrants multiple visits. I’m confident that we will be back.
“ You have a lot wrong with your back “ , not the words one wants to hear from an orthopedic surgeon. Yet satisfyingly validating after suffering for years and basically being told to suck it up, or keep using bandaid treatments rather than fixing the real issues.
My diagnoses included 3 levels of unstable Spondylolisthesis ( the vertebrae have moved out of place and shift with my movements). Multiple herniated discs that were compressing nerves, a synovial cyst ( from that shifting and rubbing) bone spurs and arthritis. I had tried all conservative treatment over a span of about a decade. In the 3 years prior to my surgery, I had upward of 16 different steroid injections. Typically only 3 injections are recommended per 12 month period. My quality of life was greatly affected and I was worried about the effects of all the steroids on my bones and connective tissue ( with good reason, it turns out). So hearing “ when did you want to have surgery?” was pretty much music to my ears. Despite my surgeon telling me that he only recommends surgery for about 20% of patients…he was telling me that YES he was confident that he could improve my quality of life!
The even bigger surprise was that instead of the single level fusion I was prepared for in my mind, he was suggesting a multilevel fusion. This would entail fusing 4 adjacent vertebrae to stop all movement from my 3rd lumbar level to my sacrum ( top of your butt). Due to the degenerative nature of my issues, a single level just would not hold up nor provide enough stability. It took a while for me to wrap my head around this news.
My biggest concerns were how this would affect my mobility and would I be able to continue doing the things I enjoy? When you fuse levels, they basically become one solid mass of bone. So instead of your spine being able to bend at that point, it is fused together and can not bend. I tell people it’s like trying to bend your thigh..it doesn’t 😉.
Thankfully, I had a wonderful online support group that helped me through all my fears and anxiety. I won’t get into any more nitty gritty details but on May 26, 2015, I underwent a 5 hour surgery in Boston. Recovery was tough. This is a major surgery and the path to healing is long. It can take up to 18+ months for a fusion to be solid.
I was fortunate to have in home physical therapy for my first few weeks post op which I believe really helped set the tone for my recovery. As with any situation, I truly believe in the power of positive thinking! I never let myself believe that things would not improve. I did my exercises, I followed my restrictions ( no bending, lifting or twisting for 4 months!) and listened to my body. I was diligent about eating well, enough protein to promote healing and taking my Calcium and Vit D supplements.
I was cleared to begin outpatient physical therapy at 3 months and made that my job! I’m blessed with a very supportive family and wonderful team of caring therapists. They knew my goals and assured me that I would reach them. Because of all these factors and of course my skilled surgeon, I was able to plan a weekend get away and even do some easy hiking at 4 months post surgery.
At 9 months post surgery, I boarded my first post op flight ( 2 flights actually) for a much anticipated Bahamas vacation!
That trip would set the tone and momentum for my future. Since my surgery, I am back to all my normal activities ( some with modifications) . Am I pain free? Nope, I will always have issues, but by listening to my body and taking appropriate action I’m able to move forward in a positive way. The key for me is not letting my physical issues define me. It’s acknowledging them and tackling them that allows me to keep on keeping on!
Before my surgery, I did not know what my future held. I was completely drowning in a cycle of debilitating pain unable to do the most basic tasks. My surgery not only gave me my life back but it showed me what I am capable of. Since my surgery, I have traveled to Italy twice, Spain, The Bahamas, DisneyWorld and Universal in Florida , Costa Rica and more. Highlights for me were hiking a skilled level trail in Cinque Terre and zip lining in Costa Rica!
My hopes in sharing my story is to inspire you to not give up. Use your mind as a tool, regardless of what you’re facing. Accept help from others when needed ( not always easy for me). Be grateful for what you can do rather than disappointed in what you can’t. And just keep on keeping on❤️
So I’m starting this chapter with an oops and an apology! As most of you know, I’m quite new to this whole Blog, Gram thing 😉… as well as being technologically challenged. So I had about half of this post written, photos added etc… and totally forgot to save it as a draft 😫. I popped on to finish up and POOF it’s gone! So I apologize for taking so long between posts AND I’m accepting tutoring on how to navigate WordPress and write a successful blog 😘
Now on to Costa Rica!
Are you dreaming of a tropical get away? Someplace with beautiful beaches, wonderful local cuisine, friendly people, and lots of varied activities? Maybe someplace family friendly? Or perfect for a honeymoon ? Are you a nature enthusiast? Or a thrill seeker?
Well Costa Rica has it all! This Central American country has coastlines on both the Caribbean and the Pacific. Roughly one quarter of it’s area is made up of protected jungle and rainforest just teeming with wildlife. The temperatures remain hot throughout the year, with the only distinct difference being rainfall. Rainy season typically runs from May to November , with dry season running December to April.
We chose March as the perfect month to escape the cold New England weather and explore the Guanacaste region along the Pacific coast. This area is known for it’s beautiful beaches and it’s biodiversity.
Once we decided on Guanacaste, it was time to choose our accommodations. We were traveling with another couple, ( fun, fun, fun ) and we all agreed that a mid priced smaller resort would suit our needs. We wanted beach access, with restaurants and nightlife within walking distance. We did not rent a car on this trip…more about that later😉.
As usual for me, I began my research for accommodations on TripAdvisor . It’s so simple to use the filters for price and amenities.
This region on of Costa Rica is popular with tourists and boasts lots of options for accommodations. Everything from simple huts on Airbnb to bigger resorts on the busy and well known Flamingo Beach or luxurious villas with chef service available.
We opted for Bahia del Sol, a boutique hotel resort directly on the shores of Playa Potrero. Our room rate included daily A La Carte breakfast, complimentary morning yoga classes, and free WiFi . We saved approximately 10% by booking directly through the hotel website, bringing the cost to about $160/ night . Our room was very spacious, though a bit dated. There is a newer block of rooms that were much brighter and more modern…this would be my choice for a return visit!
The resort itself is just lovely. A beautiful oasis with lots of vegetation, and animal life to observe. You could hear the howler monkeys at certain times and we fell asleep to the sounds of waves crashing…it doesn’t get much better than that!
The hotel also boasts a spa, a small swim up bar and a very nice open air restaurant . I would not hesitate to stay there again.
As I mentioned there are a lot of options at various price points in this area.. so it’s very easy to find something to fit all budgets and needs! My best travel advice, regardless of where you’re headed, is do your research! There is so much information at our fingertips, so use that to your advantage when planning.
We loved the Playa Potrero neighborhood. We found several really good restaurants within easy walking distance…literally right down a small dusty side street! Some with live music or other events at night..so it was perfect. I’ll list some of our favorite spots a bit later.
We knew we would want a guide for some excursions so we opted not to spend money on a rental car. This worked out especially well due to the number of restaurants and activities within walking distance of our hotel. Bahia del Sol does offer to arrange airport transfers for a fee ( along with other concierge amenities). Their transfer rate is approximately $95 each way from Liberia Airport. Liberia ( LIB) is the closest airport to this region.
I did my research and found a better price through Costa Rica Best Trips. We paid $150 round trip + gratuity. Costa Rica Best Trips is a tour company that offers a variety of excursions. Because of the consistent excellent reviews, we chose them for our excursions as well as transfers. Best decision we could have made!
Excursion #1 was a customized trip to the Arenal Volcano, a 2 hour rainforest trek, zip lining and a visit to the La Fortuna hot springs.
This was a full ( long) day beginning with pick up at our hotel around 6:30am. Our guide, Rodrigo, arrived on time and ready to go. Let me just say, if you are looking for an exceptional guide with extensive knowledge of Costa Rica, it’s history, landscape and especially it’s ecology and wildlife then Rodrigo Vincente is your guy! Rodrigo was personable, engaging and so fun to spend the day with. He never rushed us and kept us thoroughly entertained throughout our 14 hr day!
Arenal is a few hours drive from Potrero, so be prepared! This excursion included an amazing breakfast of gallo pinto ( typical rice dish of Costa Rica) overlooking Arenal Lake. The perfect way to fuel up for the day!
Next stop was the rainforest and it’s hanging bridges. It was at this point that we realized how fortunate we were to have Rodrigo as our guide. I swear the man could talk to the animals! We were in awe of our surroundings the entire time.
After our 2 hour rainforest trek it was time to for the real adventure! An exhilarating first time zip line experience high above the forest! I was a bit nervous at first, but once I got the hang of it, it was all systems go! Wow, is about all I can say. Whether you’re experienced or not, I highly recommend a zip line course while visiting CR… despite the unattractive helmets 😉
The next stop was at Los Lagos Hotel and Spa for a delicious plated 3 course lunch followed by time in the hot springs. I was just a bit disappointed in the springs as it was a very resort like atmosphere with man made falls and more like a theme park than the natural pools I was expecting. The pools are all fed directly by the rainforest springs and heated from the volcano though! The water certainly felt amazing and it was a great way to relax after a fun filled day!
We piled into the van, full, tired and relaxed to begin the drive back to Potrero arriving well after 8pm. Rodrigo even stopped along the way so we could watch the sunset! If you’re heading to Guanacaste, do yourself a favor and reach out to Rodrigo at firstname.lastname@example.org you will not regret it!
Two days later we were back on the road with Rodrigo for Excursion #2.
For this tour we chose a Jungle River Cruise. Once again Rodrigo arrived on time with a smile and warm welcome. We rode out to a national park and refuge stopping along the way when Rodrigo would spy howler monkeys or macaws in the trees… such a treat!
We arrived at the Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre Cipanci and boarded a small boat for the cruise on the Tempisque River. The river and it’s surroundings are home to an amazing array of wildlife. We saw everything from crocodiles, to monkeys, to herons.
After departing the refuge we ended our tour with a visit to an authentic open air restaurant for what we all felt was our best meal of the trip! Cooked entirely in cast iron over open flames. We feasted on chicken in salsa,beef, rice, beans and handmade tortillas…so good!! We even sampled mango that Rodrigo gathered on the side of the road.
Excursion #3 was our final “ booked” outing. We had an absolute blast on a Sunset Catamaran Cruise with Panache Sailing. The catamaran was pristine, the staff were fun and interactive, the drinks flowing and the food was surprisingly really good! We’ve been on some boat trips where the “ snacks” are a flight sized bag of chips 🤣. But Panache provided wrap sandwiches, fruit, and fresh salsa and chips! The biggest surprise was bumping into a friend from high school that I hadn’t seen in almost 40 yrs..on a catamaran in the middle of the Pacific Ocean! What are the chances??
The rest of our time in Costa Rica was spent soaking up the Pura Vida lifestyle. Pura Vida means simple or pure life and it certainly embodies the spirit of this country.
We relaxed by the pool, walked the beach, ate and drank our hearts’ content. I will share some of our favorite spots in the Potrero neighborhood for food and drinks.
The Beach House was our go to spot. An easy stroll down the beach from our hotel and some of the friendliest staff and best food. Try to book ahead for the Costa Man ( Darin Talbot) live show on Sundays at sunset. So much fun! Ask for Gustavo as your waiter and tell him I said Hola! Definitely sample the Chiliguaro shot…yum!
The Shack was another great spot to grab a cold drink and authentic meal. Located a short walk down the side street from Bahia del Sol. We enjoyed yummy Arroz Tipico con pollo while watching cows stroll down the street🤣
For dinner, we really enjoyed El Castillo, literally right across the street from our hotel. A varied menu, with lots of fresh seafood choices and nightly specials. They have live music some nights as well.
If you’re craving something other than typical Tico ( Costa Rican) meals. I can recommend La Forketta, Italian restaurant. They have everything from wood fired pizza to pasta and fresh seafood in a nice casual setting.
And my final recommendation is more for nightlife than food..though it is a restaurant and has nightly specials. Perla’s Pub is a fun venue to hear music or participate in game nights such as trivia or bingo. Our first visit they had a great live band playing.
Well this turned out longer than expected , but only because there was so much to love about Guanacaste, Costa Rica. I hope you’ve enjoyed and are maybe inspired to visit ! There are so many other areas to explore, so I’m confident this will not be our last visit. Until that time comes, I will work on channeling Pura Vida in my daily life…while I dream of rainforests and Chiliguaro 😉
The obvious gift choice is luggage right? I recently purchased this Amazon Basics underseat carry on bag and absolutely love it! It’s lightweight, holds a lot, easy to maneuver and it fits under an airplane seat…so for me it doubles as a foot rest…win/win!
A jewelry organizer makes a great gift for the fashionable traveler . I recently used this one, also from Amazon. I absolutely love that it lays flat for space saving packing. The inside is very well designed to keep all your items safely secure and free from tangles!
I love a crossbody bag for travel. It’s the perfect way to keep your valuables close and keep your hands free! This Kate Spade one is sized right to carry the basic necessities and the slim shape makes it great for travel. This one is on clearance and final sale, but anything similar would make a lovely gift!
The Eden Poncho from Kerisma is one of my most prized possessions for travel! I either wear it on flights or roll it up into my carryon. I can use it as a light blanket over my legs ( much better than those yucky airline blankets) or keep my shoulders warm. It’s a nice layering piece for almost any climate. It can be styled so many ways, You can even throw it over a blazer. It comes in a wide variety of colors, so there’s something to suit anyone’s taste and wardrobe!
On the top of my list of stocking stuffers for travel enthusiasts is an international adapter. Having more than one is always convenient so it’s bound to be appreciated even if it’s a duplicate item! This one I found on Amazon is a reasonable price point and gets great reviews.
An electronic reading device is practically a necessity while traveling, at least for me! The days of carrying and packing multiple bulky and sometimes heavy books for those long flights or lazy beach and pool days are long gone. I always have a couple of books on my device for any trip. This Kindle Paperwhite available at Amazon makes a perfect travel companion!
Packing Cubes! Need I say more? If you haven’t used packing cubes before, you must start! I was skeptical at first. Being an experienced traveler, I considered myself pretty adept at packing . Let’s just say that using cubes really upped my game. Honestly they are like magic, somehow you can magically fit at least 25-30% more in your suitcase! Suffice it to say that these would make a wonderful gift for any traveler on your list.
Personalized luggage tags make a great stocking stuffer. There are pretty much endless varieties available on Etsy. I particularly like these for the color and script options!
A portable charger. Let’s face it, running out of battery is never fun..least of all while traveling. We use our cell phones constantly for directions which can drain your battery so quickly! Plus the 1000s of photos I take in a day doesn’t help! Enter the Ankor PowerCore 10000 to the rescue! I guarantee this will be an appreciated and much used gift!
I may have saved the best for last. These Bose wireless headphones provide customizable noise cancellation, superior audio and you can interface with Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa with the touch of a button. You can even customize your colors! I must say that these sound amazing and look very cool!
I hope this list has been helpful! I’ve tried to include a variety of price points, so hopefully you will find something that fits your needs. As an avid traveler, I can assure that I would be completely thrilled with anything from this list😉
Cinque Terre, that magical place on the Italian Riviera, translates to Five Lands and is comprised of just that. Five distinct villages make up the region of Cinque Terre. These tiny villages are both quaint and distinctive. In recent years the area has gained popularity with day trippers and cruise ship passengers, causing the tourist crowds to swell during popular vacation times. For that reason, I do highly recommend staying in one of the villages for at least a couple of days. This way you get to experience the true personality of the villages once the crowds have left for the day.
The five villages of Cinque Terre from North to South are Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza,Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore.
Monterosso al Mare is the largest of the five and has more options for accommodations and dining. We chose Monterosso as our base for those reasons and also because we were arriving by train and there are direct trains from Milan to Monterosso. If staying in any of the other towns, you would switch In Monterosso and board the Cinque Terre line.
Hotel Pasquale was our choice of accommodations in Monterroso based on the numerous reviews found on TripAdvisor . I loved that it was ocean front, easily reached on foot from the train station and it included breakfast. The hotel is small and charming, built into the rocks of the cliff. The staff were incredibly warm and friendly. A bountiful breakfast was served that even offered fresh eggs cooked to order.
Vernazza is thought by many to be the most picturesque town. For that reason it also tends to be the most crowded with hordes of tourists flocking to get that perfect Instagram shot😉. Personally I found each town to be just as picturesque in their own unique ways. Vernazza has a bustling seaside area that is a wonderful spot to grab a snack, meal and drinks to quench your thirst, especially if you’ve come by foot along the hiking trail ( more on that later).
Next down the line comes the town of Corniglia. Corniglia is the only village that is not accessible by water. The town itself is built on a promontory that is 100 meters high. All the towns are accessed by the Cinque Terre railway. From the station in Corniglia there are 33 flights of stairs to reach the town. Unbeknownst to us..there is also a shuttle bus😉. But honestly, the climb up the stairs added to the whole experience for us!
Manarola is the next village and one that I found particularly charming. It is thought to be the oldest of the towns and is the second smallest. There are climbing, winding paths to reach shops and restaurants built along the cliff sides. And of course the views are killer!
The most southern village is that of Riomaggiore. The climbing streets and paths of Riomaggiore are bustling with shops and cafes, while the Harbor is filled with colorful boats.
The Trails and Getting Around
All five villages are part of the Cinque Terre National Park and a UNESCO World Heritage site. The villages are connected by a network of hiking trails that are very popular for both novices and experts alike. Unfortunately portions of the trails have been closed since storms and flooding in 2011 devastated the area. To get accurate up to date information on which trails are open, go to Parconazionale5terre.it.
To use the trails and the Cinque Terre trains you can purchase a Cinque Terre Card which entitles you to use of the trails, the trains, WiFi service, local buses and costs about 16 euro/adult for a one day pass. These can be purchased at any of the Cinque Terre stations or in advance online again at Parconazionale5terre.it
The trains run very frequently ( typically every 20-30 minutes) and stop in each village. These towns are tiny and most are 5-10 minutes apart by train. It is possible to visit all 5 towns in a day but I don’t recommend it. In order to really appreciate your surroundings, I suggest visiting over at least 2 days. There are also ferries that run between the towns, except Corniglia. The ferries are dependent on weather/sea conditions therefore not as reliable as the trains. We had 2 different boat excursions planned that unfortunately did not happen due to the sea conditions.
We were able to hike the trail from Monterosso to Vernazza. This is considered a Skilled level trail and proved to be challenging in areas. But oh, it was so worth it!
I can say that the food and wine after hiking was especially rewarding!
Food and Drink
This region of Liguria is most well known for its wine, olive oil, focaccia , pesto and seafood. You will find plenty of Focacceria where you can grab a mouthwatering thick warm slice of this hearty bread topped with anything from olives to cured meats.
You will also find a lot of Friggittoria selling paper cones of mixed fried seafood. Anchovies are especially prevalent and apparently nothing like the tiny tinned ones that we see here in the states. These make for easy eating while strolling.
Of course one can sample delicious fresh pasta all over Italy and Cinque Terre is no exception. Definitely try a seafood pasta and something with pesto, while you are visiting! We spent 4 nights in Monterroso and our favorite meal was dinner at L’ancora della Tortuga. This was an upscale fine dining experience with very reasonable prices, exceptional service and the most amazing setting. Make a reservation in advance !
The local wines were our main choices while dining. The whites are especially good and always very reasonably priced! You will find plenty of wine bars to sample different varieties.
We loved the atmosphere at Nessun Dorma in Manarola. This outdoor venue sits along the cliff side and serves up wonderful cocktails, wines and beers alongside heaping platters of bruschetta, antipasti and paninis. You can sit at long communal tables and make new friends while sampling an array of goodies!
We also enjoyed Enoteca Eliseo in Monterroso. This busy spot has outdoor tables as well as a small interior space lined with shelves upon shelves of wine.
A Day Trip
If you have time there are several options for day trips from Cinque Terre. I was debating between Portofino ( to the North) or Porto Venere ( to the South). Finally deciding on Porto Venere, if only because it seemed the less touristy of the two!
Originally we had planned on an easy ferry ride to Portovenere, alas the seas did not cooperate and they were not running that day. Thankfully the train station was just a short stroll away. To get to Porto Venere by public transportation, you take the regional train to La Spezia. From La Spezia train station you can buy bus tickets at any Tabacchi shop and ask for the nearest bus stop. This was the one and only time we’ve had some confusion in using public transit in Italy. We got a bit lost trying to find the bus stop that was supposedly a five minute walk away. After about 20 minutes and stops at 2 more tabacchi for directions we found it! A very crowded 30 minutes later we had arrived!
Porto Venere is a popular tourist destination with roots that date back to the first century BC. It is said that the name refers to a temple to the goddess Venus which was sited there. There are numerous sights to see here including the Church of San Pietro, Doria Castle and the Bay of Poets. The Bay of Poets gets its name from the English poet Lord Byron who once lived here and would swim across the bay to visit fellow English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. Shelley would go on to drown while sailing on the Bay in 1822.
Today the picturesque town is home to artisan and souvenir shops, restaurants and cafes lining the harbor and its main shopping avenue Via Capellini.
We had a wonderful time exploring Cinque Terre and beyond. I know it sometimes gets a bad rap as being overly crowded, touristy or even dirty, but we did not find that to be the case. We found beautiful scenery, delicious food, charming locals and quiet evenings!
My feeling is that with a little thoughtful planning you too can experience the true charm of Cinque Terre and all it’s natural beauty!
The first step in planning a visit to Lake Como is deciding which of the charming towns you’d like to use as your base. The mid Lake area is arguably the most desirable location. It is easily accessible by car, train and ferry. It is also home to the most well known and interesting little villages. The most widely known is of course, Bellagio. Bellagio is famous for its celebrity sightings, designer boutiques and grand villas . Though wonderful to visit, we wanted a quieter vibe for our accommodations. The beautiful and quaint town of Varenna checked all the boxes for us. Other beautiful mid Lake towns include Menaggio, Cernobbio, Lenno, and Tremezzo. All of these are easy to access by ferry, so it’s really just a matter of finding an area that suits your needs and budget. After staying in Varenna, I’m happy to say that I’ve found my home away from home on Lake Como.
Varenna is very easily accessed by train, our mode of transportation for this trip. It is a 1 hour direct train ride from Milan ( our first stop on this particular trip) and very reasonably priced. I always book our train tickets in advance when possible through Trenitalia . I prefer printing a paper ticket but you can also use an e-ticket on your phone. Be aware when looking up train schedules on Trenitalia that the station names will be in Italian, even after you switch the site language to English. So Milan Central is Milano Centrale.
The town of Varenna is quite small and unless you’re traveling with a lot of luggage you can most likely walk to your accommodations. Check with your hotel or rental host beforehand to plan whether you’ll need transportation from the station.
In researching accommodations, I came across Hotel du Lac and knew immediately that I needed to stay there. In fact the entire trip ended up revolving around the dates that they could accommodate a 3 night stay in September. I’m not a fly by the seat of my pants traveler. I have particular wants and needs in our accommodations, so I always plan ahead. I would recommend booking your lodging about 6 months in advance if you’re able. Many of our destinations are very small geographically and hotels/ rentals can be quite limited.
Being waterfront on Lake Como was non negotiable for me. I had to have a view! I needed to be within easy walking distance to the train and ferry. And importantly, I wanted someplace comfortable and welcoming. Hotel du Lac proved to be absolutely perfect!
We booked a Superior Deluxe Room and were beyond pleased with it. The room was spacious with a comfortable queen bed, sitting area, desk, large bathroom with tub/shower, balcony and the most beautiful views we could hope for! It’s not a budget hotel, but the rates were moderate and a sure value for the quality of service and accommodations.
The hotel also boasts a wonderful restaurant that is open most days for lunch and dinner. The menu is creative and the portions quite generous.We enjoyed lunch on the terrace that was quite delicious!
Everyone from the front desk staff , to the servers and housekeeping staff were warm, welcoming and very helpful. I loved walking in and being greeted with a friendly smile and genuine conversation. Hotel du Lac went beyond meeting all our expectations and I wouldn’t hesitate to stay there again!
What to do?
We spent our first afternoon in Varenna exploring the area. We strolled the lakefront shops and soaked up the ambiance of just being there. We eventually made our way to Villa Monastero. Villa Monastero lies just south of the center of Varenna and is home to beautiful botanical gardens as well as a museum. It was originally founded as a convent in the 12 century, closing in 1596 and in 1946 it was opened to the public. Unfortunately the museum was closed the day we visited, but the gardens alone are well worth a visit. Absolutely breathtaking views intertwined with statuary, fountains, architecture and of course gorgeous plantings make it an almost surreal experience.
Villa Cipressi, an luxury hotel and spa in Varenna, is also home to impressive botanical gardens. Sadly, it was closed for a private function ( I can only dream about having a private function there!) on the day we would have explored. I guess we’ll just have to go back 😉
We also spent some time in the lovely Church of San Giorgio right across from the main square. Consecrated in 1313, the church is a small masterpiece of Lombardy architecture.
If you enjoy ancient churches, definitely pay a visit to the little Church of St John the Baptist. It is tucked in a corner of the main square and we almost missed it entirely! The Chiesa di San Giovanni Battista is truly a remarkable gem. The Romanesque structure was built prior to 1150 and the remarkable unrestored frescoes that adorn the walls date back to the 14th century. So glad we happened to stumble across this treasure!
Villa Carlotta in Tremezzo is another gorgeous botanical garden and museum to visit. The splendid villa was originally built as a private residence in the 1600s by the Marquis Giorgio Clerici. The home, now a museum houses some magnificent artwork including the famed Last Kiss of Romeo and Juliet by Francesco Hayez.
Other activities include taking a private boat tour of the lake or even renting your own boat to explore.
You can take the train into Switzerland for the day ( on my list for our next trip).
Visit the lower lake area and the city of Como itself.
Hike to the Nesso waterfall in Varenna ( the weather was not cooperative on this trip..so yet another reason to go back 😉).
Our next 2 days in Varenna were spent exploring some of the other mid lake towns. A mid lake ferry pass can be bought right at the terminal, with options for a round trip ticket or an unlimited ticket for the day. Pricing is in the 8-16 euro range per person. The ferry’s are quite convenient coming typically every 20-30 minutes and the staff at the terminal are very helpful.
We thoroughly enjoyed Bellagio despite the rainy weather. The weather most likely contributed to our enjoyment as we found it much less crowded than guidebooks had led me to believe it would be. The area around the ferry terminal is indeed touristy but once we wandered inland we found charming quaint streets and shops. There are many options for food and drink to fit all budgets. We sampled some delicious wines at Apperitivo et al .
The other towns we visited were Menaggio ( very quiet compared to the other villages) and Tremezzo ( home of Villa Carlotta).
Where to eat?
I must say we had some amazing meals in our 3 days !
Our absolute favorite, maybe of any meal anywhere in Italy, and must visit in my mind was Il Caminetto. I had read about Il Caminetto on TripAdvisor and it was the only restaurant that I made advance reservations for. Reservations are a must! This authentic and rustic restaurant is located in Perledo which sits high in the hills above Varenna. It is owned by the husband and wife team of Chef Moreno and Rosella. Rosella picks you and any other guests up at a very convenient meeting point in Varenna and chauffeurs you through the steep winding roads to the restaurant. Our meal itself was just fabulous. Fresh homemade pasta ( with the best ragu I’ve ever tasted!) mouth watering grilled meats, fish and vegetables. Everything is homemade including the ice cream and pastries. Wine list was plentiful and very reasonably priced. Service was warm and friendly. At the end of the meal Moreno, comes by the tables to chat and bring his limoncello. The perfect ending to an unforgettable experience. Once all guests are ready, Rosella whisks you back down the hill to Varenna. An absolutely memorable evening! Next time I plan to sign up for one of their cooking classes 😉
Other restaurants I can recommend in Varenna are :
Varenna Mon Amour…Cool interior blend of old and new. Lovely meal, moderately priced. Call for a reservation a day or two before.
Al Prato…again try for a reservation a day or so ahead. Very popular spot with friendly service ( they sat us outside with complimentary Prosecco when our table was not ready on time ). Authentic local dishes and lovely wines.
Ristorante du Lac…creative menu, beautiful lake front setting with outdoor dining available.
Bar Il Molo…lively lakefront casual spot with outdoor seating. Great for sandwiches, pizza, salads and drinks.
In closing it is safe to say that Lake Como and Varenna in particular stole my heart ❤️. Will I be back?? I most certainly hope so!