Sensational is a good word for San Marino as it effects all the senses with it’s otherworldly atmosphere. Arriving in this fifth smallest country in the world you feel like you’ve almost left the planet for a land that lives in the sky, with castles and fortresses like something from a Renaissance fairy-tale.
We visited San Marino by bus from our school in Recanati, it was one of the weekend tours included in our school programs and started with a stop in the small university town of Urbino. We began our adventure here in this walled city in the Marche region south of Pesaro, nestled in the hillsides of the pre-Apennines. We had a few hours to tour the town, its famous Palazzo Ducale and museum but we opted to wonder the town taking some pics of the surrounding countryside and visiting one of its many excellent cafes to try some local delicacies. It was a quick visit but we thoroughly enjoyed our stop here.
Every year Venice celebrates Carnivale in a big way, attracting revelers from all over the world to partake in the pre-lent celebrations that happen all over the world. This year the kick off was on Saturday the 11th with the water parade starting festivities that will continue until the 28th. We mis- calculated the dates as most of the activities peak next weekend with all the big costumed balls and events throughout Venice reaching a climax on the 24th for Fat Tuesday but nevertheless we are having a ball! Don’t miss my video on the spectacular Water Parade and Carnivale kick off in Venice, Italy- bottom of this post.
The last town we visited before starting school was a town called Imola which turned out to be a big surprise. We hadn’t expected much and were a bit worried as we knew nothing about the small city. We had booked an Airbnb there simply as a base to explore Bologna, Ravenna, Ferrara and Verona, some of the towns we had wanted to visit. We weren’t finding any accommodations in Bologna within our budget so we moved our search to Imola and found a great apartment there. Well our apartment turned out to be fantastic and the town even more so!
We spent 12 days in magnificent Milan, Italy and had an even better time than expected in this amazing city. It’s the financial hub of Italy in the more prosperous north and one of the worlds great fashion capitals. It’s a mix of the newest and greatest with the old classics being the foundation of the city. (Don’t forget to watch our video at the bottom of this post)
Another perfect day trip from Milan is the town of Bergamo, it’s a beguiling city with Romanesque, Renaissance and Baroque architecture. It’s known for the juxtaposition of it’s upper ancient city- Citta Alta which can be reached at two different levels by funicular and it’s lower, more modern city. There was so much to see here, so leave early in the morning for a full day and plan to return to Milan later in the evening. Trust us -you’ll need a full day! Even better if you can stay over night or take a weekend as it’s one of the most beautiful cities in all of Lombardy and top of our must see list. Below is a short video of our day in Bergamo and continue reading for all you need to know about this wonderful city.
The best day trips from Milan; #1 Lake Como-Como,Bellagio & Varenna, #2 Bergamo
If you have time to pull yourself from your Milan adventures and want to explore some of the other towns reachable on a day trip then read on. Milan is a great base for exploring the Lombardia region and is also very close to Switzerland which can be reached by train in a little over an hour. Here are a few suggestions on some side trips that we really enjoyed and think you will too!
Here is our countdown to New Years in the Piazza Duomo in Milan, Italy so you can see what New Years is like here. Hope you have a blast tonight and be safe. All the best for the New Year! Click on the pic below to open the video.
We reluctantly left the warm sunny coast of the Italian Riviera and headed to Turin in the Northwest of Italy with Italia Rail on one of their faster, Freccia trains. As we headed into the hills we left behind the sunshine and became shrouded in a blanket of grey, foggy clouds and drizzling rain that became the backdrop for most of our Turin sightseeing. Turin is the capital of the Piedmont region in northern Italy known for its refined architecture, many museums and cultural exhibitions, its miles of Portico covered streets, its café life and love of the Aperitivo.
If you find yourself in the Italian Riviera, you must take a day trip to the picturesque towns of Santa Margherita and Portofino to see how the other half lives. It’s a playground for the rich and famous where the well heeled pull in on their yachts for the upscale shopping, cafes and restaurants. It was one of our favorite stops and incredibly beautiful, just how you’d imagine a quaint, Italian seaside town. Check out the video of our day trip below, then continue to read about how it unfolded and how to make the trip yourself. At the bottom is a link to our picture gallery of Santa Margherita and Portofino.
From Lucca, in the heart of Tuscany we boarded a train for about a 1:50 hour trip to the small city of La Spezia, in the province of Liguiria and the gateway to the Italian Riviera. We were most excited about visiting this area after watching Rick Steve’s videos on the Cinque Terre about a dozen times and it did not disappoint.
We arrived to the most spectacular weather for mid December. It was 15-16 degrees Celsius everyday and sunny without a cloud in the sky. It turned out to be a fantastic time to view this area as we didn’t have the crowds that inundate this area in the summer, it was like our own private viewing. The weather gods were on our side as the locals told us they got hit with quite a bit of snow on Dec.17th four years previous although unusual for the area. The only downfall was it wasn’t quite warm enough to swim although we did see an older couple rocking a speedo and bikini for a swim by Portofino. We were so tempted as the beautiful blue waters were calling us and it seemed warm in comparison to the Rocky Mountain lakes like Windermere that we’ve dipped our toes into in the summer.
Click to read more and open our video below from our visit to the Cinque Terre. Scroll down to continue reading about everything you need to know about visiting the Cinque Terre.
We arrived by train from Florence following a little over an hour journey. Our Airbnb host was gracious enough to pick us up at the train station and in minutes we were at our new temporary residence. The train station is conveniently located near the center of the city and a few minutes’ walk into the old walled center where most of the exploring is to be had.
We had a glorious day in Pisa, the sun was shining and it was plus 15 degrees Celsius without a cloud in the sky. We left in the morning from Lucca and walked to the train station where we boarded for a 30 or so minute ride to Pisa. From the Pisa train station it’s another easy walk of about 25 min. to the Piazza dei Miracoli where the Tower, Cathedral, Baptistery and main tourist sights can be seen. Pisa is easy to get to and well worth a day trip. The nice weather just added to the enjoyment of the day, we wished we had packed a picnic for the park area surrounding the Cathedral but we relished just laying in the campo and taking in our surroundings.
Check it of the list…. Florence is now done and we off to our next stop, Lucca tomorrow afternoon. Florence has been great, we took it all in at a leisurely pace and opted to just wander the streets viewing the sights of the city as a five day resident. Our Airbnb apartment was fabulously situated, we just had to walk out our front door, over one of the bridges and we were in the thick of the historic center.
Five days goes by so fast and suddenly our stay in Siena had come to an end. We throughly enjoyed walking its cobblestoned streets and taking in all the history that is the foundation of this medieval city.
Saturday morning we boarded a bus from Rome to Siena and a few hours later settled into our 3-star hotel for a five day stay. We happened to be perfectly situated steps from the old city center so we dropped our bags and walked out the front door to explore. In minutes we knew we were in the heart of Tuscany, walking the medieval city and it’s labyrinth of narrow, cobblestoned streets.