I am sure that everyone has a location that is on their bucket list for places they want to visit at some point in their lifetime. I think of myself as kind of a wanderlust and while my bucket list of vacation destinations is pretty long Italy was definitely at the top. Luckily for Kevin and I we have best friends, who happen to be our business partners, who also share that same love of travel. One tipsy night in 2017, as we are discussing our impending 40th birthdays the idea of an Italy trip was discussed. Almost a year later our plans were brought to life when we landed in Rome for the first leg of our Italian Vacation.
The best thing about traveling with our friends is that we are on the same page when it comes to planning our trips. Our philosophy is not to plan. When we landed in Rome we had only booked our hotel stays in Rome, the 7 night stay at our Agriturismo, the Vatican Tour and the Colosseum Tour…that was it..for a 10 day stay in Italy. And even those previously booked events changed because we hate having our schedules planned for us and prefer to wing it!
If you have never been to Italy, particularly Rome, you are in for the shock of your life. I have never been in a city where the people, every single person, drives so erratically. There will be a 3 lane street where the cars are driving 5 wide and there are still Vespas weaving in and out of cars up onto the sidewalks and back into the street. We landed in Rome on Friday morning so our timing wasn’t perfect but it was still pure insanity that not one Italian was even phased by.
The city itself is absolutely breathtaking. The ruins are amazing to see, the buildings are thousands of years old and look like they are right out of a magazine, there is SO MUCH HISTORY in this city, I could have stayed for many more days! Our first night was my favorite night in Rome. Our hotel was amazing. When we arrived at around 9am we were greated by friendly staff, shown to the ruins that the hotel is built into and offered our first glass of wine and complimentary tiramisu…which was AMAZING! One of the reasons we don’t plan much in advance is because we don’t like to be held to having to be somewhere at an exact time incase we would rather do something else, which is what happened day 1. Not even realizing how tired we would be we scheduled our tour of the Vatican that day at 3pm in the afternoon. After a 10 hour flight, very little sleep, a headache from bad airplane wine and no shower or nap because our rooms were not ready we were exhausted. However, not to be slowed down by lack of sleep and determined to make the best of day 1 we pushed through and decided to make the 45 minute walk over to the Vatican from the Roman Forum. The good thing for us was that we had 4.5 hours to make the 45 minute walk so that is what we did. We stopped for food at this cute tiny cafe around the corner from our hotel, had our first cappuccinos to help wake us up and set off for Vatican City. The walk was great, we wandered in and out of the tiny streets, took in the architecture and stopped in some great little shops for browsing whatever they were selling. In Vatican City we happened to find this great little wine bar called Wine Bar de Penitenzieri that had a good amount of people coming and going so we decided to stop there for our first of many glasses of Vermentino and some delicious pasta dishes. Two things you hear about Italy that are 100% true is that the food and wine are amazing! We found that to be true within our first few hours of being in Italy.
After our lunch and wine break it was time for our Vatican tour. The Vatican as a building is beautiful and to hear about the power past Popes had is just eye opening. They were treated like Kings, hence the reason the Vatican looks like a castle. Growing up in the Catholic church and going through 12 years of catholic school you tend to understand how important the Pope is. But I didn’t fully realize until I walked through the Vatican. I am going to be honest here and I may be struck down for this but I didn’t love that tour. It could have been my sheer exhaustion coupled with a tour guide who spoke so softly his voice was putting me to sleep as I was walking through the rooms, but we couldn’t wait to get out of there and even cut our tour short. We of course went to see Michelangelo’s painting of the Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s Basilica, and they were beautiful but we didn’t feel the need to take the 3 hour guided tour.
After arriving back at our hotel and deciding to not take a nap and just push on through the day so we got showered up, went to the Italian Happy Hour our hotel offered us and then hit the streets to try to find an amazing Italian Pizza. We started our night down the block from our hotel at this cute little piazza that had a great fountain, open bars and great shops. We had a couple drinks, did some window shopping around the piazza, found some great flooring inspiration for my farmhouse renovation and then decided to find dinner. You would think that being in Italy you would be able to find great pizza at every turn, but surprisingly that is not the case. Our pizza that night was actually terrible and we didn’t even finish them. My advice when in Italy is to just eat Pasta! You can not go wrong with Pasta or the wine!
On Saturday we woke up and went to get our rental car to make our trip up to Volterra in Tuscany where our Agriturismo was. I am not lying when I say Kate and I were scared to death getting in the car with our husbands behind the wheel and having to navigate through Rome to get to the highway. However, Saturday morning turns out to be the perfect time to drive in that city if you have to. The traffic was much lighter than normal and therefore I didn’t feel like I was going to lose my life at every turn.
Our next stop on our treck to Volterra was Orbetello. Orbetello is more of a higher end area, and it is obvious. You drive through the arches to the town and it is basically set on the water. There is a main street that you walk down for shopping and eating and there are a few blocks on each side that eventually lead you to water. One great thing about Italy is that from the hours of about 2pm-5:30ishpm the streets are basically empty. We arrived in Orbetello around 5pm so the main street was empty. With in a half hour it came alive and there were people everywhere walking their dogs, meeting up for drinks and appetizers and shopping. That seemed to be the theme for the rest of our trip.
Because it was getting dark and we still had a good 2 hours until we would be in Volterra we set out around 6pm. The drive to Volterra was great except for the roads through Tuscany are VERY windy….There are pin turns often and the region is pretty mountainous. It was great that the boys were happy driving because Kate and I were not about to get behind the wheel. After a 2 hour drive we finally arrived to our Agriturismo in Volterra where we would stay as our home base for the next 6 nights.
When we arrived in Volterra we were starving. The family who owns our Agriturismo also owns a well know and highly rated restaurant in town called Del Duca. So as we were checking in to our rooms Genuino, the owner of the farm, called their restaurant and told them we are coming over. If you ever have the pleasure of visiting Tuscany you must go to Volterra and have dinner at Del Duca. When you go make sure you order the Truffle Carbonara…It was AMAZING!!!! It was so good that we as a table ordered 2 more portions and split it between the 4 of us. It was probably one of the best dishes that we ate our entire time in Italy and it was only our 2nd night there.
Funny Story and fun fact…Let me preface this and say that Italians are not taught English in school so not everyone knows how to speak English. Most of the older generation does not speak English. The next morning at breakfast we were talking to Claudia, who is the daughter of Genuino, and had been our main contact for booking our trip. In Italy there is this thing called the ZTL, Zone Traffic Limited. Most of the cities in Italy are built with stone walls surrounding them. These walls served as their means of protection back when the towns were built in the 1300s. As a means to keep traffic and tourists out of the ZTL there are cameras set up that will ticket anyone who doesn’t have a certain pass on their car to designate them as a resident. Well, when Genuino who is Claudia’s father, told us the previous night to go over to the restaurant, we had no knowledge of the ZTL nor had we known that you definitely should not drive right through the city arches if you did not live there. Since he does not speak English and we do not understand Italian he was not able to communicate this at the time. So us naive Americans piled into our rental car, typed the restaurant address into Google Maps and followed the road into Volterra…which took us right through the city arches and right through the ZTL. Thankfully the cameras in the cities are shut off at 7pm (which Genuino knew) and we were well past that time when we drove through the city. It wasn’t until the next day when we actually toured Volterra in the daylight that we realized that we drove basically down the main street in town where there is almost NO traffic because it is a ZTL..we got quite a laugh from our realization of what we had done.
It’s hard to believe that up until this point we have only been in Italy 2 full days and have visited 4 cities and have experienced so many laughs… Stay tuned for details on our week in Tuscany and our return trip to Rome.
Thanks for reading!