Italian Art, History & Cuisine
Italy has always been a dream of mine to fully explore. As we know 2020 the world has been hit with Coronavirus meaning travel has become limited and for some destinations impossible. During summer we decided to travel to Italy as it become a safe destination and on the UK's green list. It's important to note that when travelling during these times to ensure you check current laws and restrictions, be responsible, respectful and kind to your fellow travellers and locals.
GETTING TO ITALY
We flew from Belfast International airport to Milan Bergamo Airport with RyanAir. Passengers on the flight were spread out, temperatures were checked and everyone including crew wore masks at all times (unless eating or drinking). Upon arriving at Milan Bergamo Airport we jumped on a quick bus ride to Bergamo Train Station.
After looking at a few options to travel Italy we decided to travel via trains. Trenitalia offer high speed trains with a smooth ride between destinations. We upgraded to Business Class to ensure we had a little more comfort for work and distance between other passengers. Upon boarding each train we were given a pack of hand sanitiser, gloves, masks and water. You can find great train prices with the Trainline app.
Explore the romantic city of Venice in Northern Italy. This unique city made up of more than 100 small islands in a lagoon in the Adriatic sea has no roads, just canals. Take a gondola down the Grand Canal under the Rialto bridge and the Bridge of Sighs. Wander through the streets to be immersed in a rich history featuring Renaissance & Gothic Architecture such as St Mark's Basilica, Doge's Palace and Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute.
WHERE WE STAYED
There is nothing quite like waking up to a view of the Venice canals. I hunted high and low for a place that embraced the local vibe, was affordable and central. I came across Cristina's Airbnb called "Alloggio Casa Loredan 1". It was a private room and bathroom in her beautiful home with breathtaking views of Venice. Her house was full of art, with a lovely courtyard to soak up the sun and enjoy a glass of two of wine. (If you aren't on Airbnb use this link to save up to £50 on your first booking)
GETTING AROUND VENICE
What makes Venice so unique is that it has no roads, its just a maze of alleys, canals and piazzas. The best way to get around is to walk and explore. If you find yourself near The Grand Canal or wanting to explore nearby islands such as Burano then get yourself a Ferry Pass (Vaporetto). A one day pass is €20 per person. There are water Taxi's but be sure to check the price before boarding as they can become very expensive.
FOOD & DRINK
We won't lie we made a massive rookie error on our first day here as splash out some serious dough on restaurants with unbelievable views. As much as it was lavish and great the sting to our wallets really didn't leave the best taste in our mouths after. So let me save you some serious cash as tourist hotspots like Venice can get expensive for food and drink.
During the day visit a supermarket (Conad city is a great one) and grab yourself some cured
meats, blue cheese, sun-dried tomatoes and crackers and make yourself a little picnic next to the canal steps. It is legal to drink in public in Italy and there is a great drinks store (including massive bottles of Bellinis) next to the Rialto Bridge where you can sit on the waters edge and watch the gondolas go by. Try eating at Trattoria's, they are local less formal restaurants who offer delicious meals and great service for a fraction of the cost.
MUST DO THINGS IN VENICE
Of course there are so many things to do in Venice, with Covid we were slightly limited as some places had restricted opening hours and capacity.
Gondola Ride- €60-€100 depending on time of day per gondola
If you are visiting Venice you need to at least do a Gondola ride at least once in your life. The ride through the canals last around 30-45 minutes with sunset and night time rides are a little more expensive. You can bring a bottle of Prosecco and plastic cups to really enjoy the romantic experience. I would recommend thinking ahead and choosing a gondola ride around the destinations you would like to see. Anything around the Grand Canal near St Marks Basilica will be a little rockier. We choose a place near Rialto bridge which took us through the small canals and under the bridge itself.
Burano/ Murano- best as a day trip together on the Vaparetto
Burano is an island of Venice, famous for its lace and coloured houses while Murano is known for it's glass making. Jump on the ferry and stop at both these islands, eat lunch and explore the unique beauty of them both.
St Marco Square- tickets required for entry to each attraction
St Marco Square the heart of Venice features the beautiful St Mark's Basilica decorated in Venetian Gothic Architecture and gold leaf art. The Campanile offers the best views of Venice, while Doges Palace is now an impressive museum not to be missed.
Our next stop was Florence and there is nothing like a sunset in this tuscan city. Florence is home to many masterpieces of renaissance art and architecture. The beauty of the Duomo, a medieval cathedral with an iconic red dome takes centre stage. Walk across the river Arno on the Ponte Vecchio and see the sites of the Palazzo Vecchio and Basilica of Santa Croce. Watch street artists draw portraits and visit Michelangelo's masterpiece; The Statue of David.
WHERE WE STAYED
Right I think I have found the perfect place (and super affordable) to stay in Florence. Welcome to The Artist's Studio, these studio loft style room is small but offers the best views of The Duomo . Situated 5 stories above the main street, get yourself a bottle of wine, make yourself a platter and enjoy the view. (If you aren't on Airbnb use this link to save up to £50 on your first booking)
GETTING AROUND FLORENCE
Most of the points of interest we wanted to visit in Florence were within walking distance especially as we had such a central accomodation. There are public transport and taxi's/Uber if you need.
FOOD & DRINK
Much like Venice depending on where you eat can vary in price. We opted to make a breakfast in the room, eat from small sandwich bars for lunch and treat ourselves to some local cuisine for dinner.
MUST DO THINGS IN FLORENCE
There is so much to do in Florence and its surrounding area, from vineyards to galleries. We were limited on time and made the mistake of not pre-booking attractions. Key attractions such as Uffizi Gallery and The Duomo we were unable to visit inside but we certainly enjoyed from the outside. With Covid we were slightly limited as some places had restricted opening hours and capacity.
Watch the Tuscan Sunset - free
Piazzale Michelangelo is high up on the list as a way to watch the sunset over the Tuscan hills. Grab yourself a bottle of wine and watch the sky turn gold. The most beautiful thing was how everyone clapped to celebrate the day once the sun set. Alternatively if you are staying in the airbnb I recommended this is all at your doorstep.
The Statue of David - ticket required
Michelangelo's masterpiece the Statue of David stands at over 5 metres tall in the Galleria dell'Accademia. If you have a keen eye for art this is a must do while in Florence. We took a tour with Get Your Guide, our guide was so lovely and gave us such a better insight into all the work in the Museum not just the Statue of David.
The Street Art- free but do think about purchasing their work
There is no doubt that Florence is a city fully emerged in art. The street art in Florence is a little different, its chalk side walks, caricatures, quirky street signs. If you want a unique souvenir head to The Duomo or Uffizi Gallery and get yourself some art created by a local artist.
Walk the streets of the ancient romans in the eternal city called Rome. The capital of Italy his a historic city with impressive monuments and archaeological sites. Visit the Colosseum where gladiators fought for their life, then visualise life in the Roman Forum. Wander through the Vatican City and take in the art, history and beauty of St Peters Basilica.
WHERE WE STAYED
I have always loved staying at Hostels, they bring together likeminded travellers and always great fun. For Rome we chose The Generator Hostel, as i have stayed at their Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Stockholm locations. Unfortunately due to Covid the rooftop bar, the restaurant and main bar were all closed. This meant the hostel did not offer any food and being in the area it was made it hard to eat out close to the accomodation. Besides this its great value, clean and the staff are amazing.
GETTING AROUND ROME
Rome is a big city and at the peak of Summer temperatures hit the early 40's. This meant walking was a little more difficult. The city is full of electric scooters to hire, taxi's and public transport.
FOOD & DRINK
Rome during August is normally a hive of activity, we had the pleasure to visit Rome without the crowds due to Covid. This was such a unique experience but it did mean many eateries were closed or empty. All seating was outside, which was beautiful and relaxing. One of our favourite restaurants was near the Roman Forum with a great bar over looking the Colosseum called La Biga.
MUST DO THINGS IN ROME
Give yourself some time to get through everything in Rome, there is so much to see and do. We allowed 4 nights and was able to absorb much of what the city has to offer. With Covid we were slightly limited as some places had restricted opening hours and capacity.
Colosseum - ticket required
Well you cannot go to Rome and not visit the Colosseum. This 2000 year old archaeological site is listed as one of the 7 wonders of the world. You can get rather cheap tickets to enter yourself or if you are like us we got scouted into a tour group when we were standing out the front. It was a great tour, with a guide who was full of character.
Roman Forum - ticket required
This tour guide also took us to the Roman Forum. If you do not have a guide you are likely to miss some key interesting bits in here. The Roman Forum is like stepping back in time and seeing the streets and remains of how the ancient romans lives. It's hot in here in Summer so bring a bottle and fill it up at one of the free water fountains across the forum and city.
The Vatican City- free to visit Basilica, ticket required for Museums
The Vatican City is the smallest country in the world and home to the Catholic church. If you want to fully explore this place allow a day to see the beautiful museums which house the Sistine Chapel and Michelangelo's "The Creation of Adam". Due to Covid the entry from The Sistine Chapel to The Basilica is now closed and you will now need to enter separately.
Pantheon/ Trevi Fountain- free to view from outside
The Pantheon is a former Roman temple, now a Catholic church built nearly 2000 years ago and features a large dome with a hole in the centre. Nearby you can find the beautiful Trevi Fountain, which is the largest Baroque fountain in the city and one of the most famous fountains in the world.
The Capuchin Crypts- ticket required
The Capuchin Crypt is a small space comprising several tiny chapels located beneath the church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini. It contains the skeletal remains of 3,700 bodies believed to be Capuchinfriars buried by their order. The Catholic order insists that the display is not meant to be macabre, but a silent reminder of the swift passage of life on Earth and our own mortality. (image from google as you cannot take photos inside)
Piazza Venezia- free or ticket to very top
The Piazza Venezia is known as the 'geometric centre' of Rome. For the 360° Rome view, make your way to the very top for a panoramic platform. To reach the platform you will have to take an elevator for 7€ per person.
THE AMALFI COAST
Soak in the sun and relax in this slice of paradise. The Amalfi coast is a 50km stretch along the Mediterranean Sea. Lined with colourful beach umbrella, colourful buildings under the dramatic steep cliffs in the region of Campania. We stayed in Atrani a 7 minute walk from the town of Amalfi.
WHERE WE STAYED
We stayed in Atrani during Ferragosto, which meant accomodation was a little harder to find. Luckily a new Airbnb become available and we couldn't of been happier. Located a 2 minute walk from Atrani beach, Gregory's Vintage Airbnb was the perfect place to call home for 4 nights. This private room and bathroom (share with one other guest room) has a balcony over looking the main street and up to the steep cliffs. Gregory was so helpful and had his own guide to Atrani which you can find here (If you aren't on Airbnb use this link to save up to £50 on your first booking)
GETTING AROUND THE AMALFI COAST
To get to the Amalfi coast we took a train to Salerno and then a ferry boat to Amalfi. This allowed us to see the little towns spotted along the coast and take in the views. Once in Amalfi it is a short walk to Atrani. Alternatively there are buses and ferries to other destinations available. We also took the ferry via Positano and Capri to get back to Naples.
FOOD & DRINK
The Amalfi coast is known for its amazing and I mean amazing food. We treated ourselves to seafood risotto from Le Palme which is on the sea front. Visit the local fruit store and team up some peaches and local white wine for a refreshing drink to top of the day at the beach.
MUST DO THINGS IN ATRANI
As the first part of our trip was so fast pace in Venice, Florence and Rome we decided to relax for a few days in Atrani. This meant we did miss a few days to explore Trevello, Capri, Positano and Sorrento however we did make the most of being in this slice of paradise.
Visit Amalfi - free
Amalfi is a 7 minute walk from Atrani. The walk offers beautiful views dotted with stunning restaurants and bars.
Atrani Beach - € 22.50 per spot
Head down to the beach early and book yourself a spot at the beach. In peak summer this fills fast, so don't miss out. It will give you two sunbeds, a table and umbrella to enjoy your day floating in The Mediterranean sea. You can bring your own picnic, drinks and lounge about in the sun.
Naples, a city in southern Italy, sits on the Bay of Naples. Nearby is Mount Vesuvius, the still-active volcano that destroyed nearby Roman town Pompeii. Dating to the 2nd millennium B.C., Naples has centuries of important art and architecture.
WHERE WE STAYED
We splashed out on our last night in Italy and stayed at the Royal Continental Napoli Hotel. This 4 star sea front hotel offers amazing views , a rooftop restaurant and pool. Due to Covid we did need to book a space at the pool and pay a small fee each.
GETTING AROUND NAPLES
We were not in Naples for long so opted for Taxi's (ask for it to be on the meter where possible). There are trains and some places within walking distance depending where you are staying.
FOOD & DRINK
For dinner we utilised the hotels amazing views and booked prime position at their rooftop restaurant. There are loads of amazing places to eat in Naples.
MUST DO THINGS IN NAPLES
Naples has a rich history with loads of archeological sites, museums, galleries, castles and street art. We were limited on time and decided to focus on just a few.