One Week in Provence

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You may have remembered that I mentioned earlier in the spring that my sister and brother-in-law would be living in Geneva for the summer while she finished up her master’s degree. I’m happy, so pleased really, to report that her master’s is completely finished, which comes as a tremendous relief, I know. But, it’s also such a shame because it means she and her husband are no longer in Switzerland and I’m left moping about wondering what in the world we are going to do on the weekends now that they’re no longer here. Honestly, it’s not that bad, but saying goodbye to them a couple of weeks ago sure wasn’t pretty.

To cap off our summer together, and to truly celebrate both Courtney and Jared graduating from their master’s programs, we decided to go to Provence for a week with our parents.  The theme for the week was “relaxation” and we made sure to find an Airbnb with a big pool and lots of areas in which to lounge and nap. We liked that the location was quiet and removed from a big city center. But it was still easy to plan day trips to nearby hill towns and even the sea.

Overall it was a really, really lovely week. We read books, swam in the pool (my dad is the biggest water baby!), played Uno, cooked dinner, went out to eat, shared breakfast in the mornings on the patio, explored and relaxed. We talked about the babies and wondered aloud what it will be like when they arrive, everyone excited for two new family members with which to share all this fun and love. Thinking about that week makes me a bit weepy (not a challenge at all these days) because I love and miss my family so much. Spending such quality time with them was priceless.

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For every nice picture of Courtney and me there are always three that don’t make a whole lot of sense. Adam calls them “outtakes” but we call them “magic.”

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After a long drive from Geneva we decided we wanted our first full day to be spent at the house enjoying the amenities. We slept in and had a long breakfast on the terrace before parking it poolside for the rest of the day. We did venture out that evening for dinner at La Table d’Yves, a fancy restaurant on a vineyard that sits right next to Fayence’s famous aerodrome. You can sip a glass of wine on their beautiful covered patio and watch the gliders land. The food was delicious even if the staff were a bit stuffy.

The next day we drove about 45 minutes to Saint-Raphaël, a beachside town in between Cannes and Saint-Tropez. It was too hot to explore the old town so we spent most of our time at the family-friendly beach. There is a good stretch of public beach—and nearby Frejus has a lot of open sand as well—but we opted for an organized beach with loungers and umbrellas. The staff was very accommodating and we had one of the best beach lunches I can remember. The water was perfect for frequent dips and it proved to be a relaxing day at the beach, ending with a ferris wheel ride!

A quick note: cars proved essential for this trip. We rented them in Geneva and drove the whole way instead of taking a train there and picking up the car in Cannes or Nice. Public transportation among the small towns is unpredictable and infrequent and you’ll be limited to bigger tourist hubs if you opt for this option. I’d recommend renting a car instead and tailoring your countryside trip to include exactly what you want to see and allow for last-minute changes and additions. Just make sure you have navigation or google maps handy on your phone!

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Um, matching hats?? Yes, please!

The next day we went to Fayence, which was a ten-minute drive from our place, for their weekly market–a recommendation from our Airbnb host. We got there early not only to beat the heat but also the crowds and we all left with lots of local treasures and gifts. It’s a really sweet town and I’d recommend stopping there for a visit if you’re in the area.

We had our best meal at Le 8 and I urge you to stop there as much for the fun and gracious company of the hosts as the French food. The menu is limited to five or six dishes but they are all fantastic and the location is charming, to boot.

That afternoon we were all pooped from walking around so we relaxed–where else?–by the pool before grilling that night for dinner. In case you’re wondering, I read Among the Ten Thousand Things while we were there and really enjoyed it. A good, if slightly bleak, summer read.

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We spent a full day in Cannes and had fun trolling the old town and sipping very swanky cocktails (or, er, alcohol-free beer) at a ritzy hotel when the heat became too much. We wanted to go out on a boat this day but it was too breezy and they canceled all the trips. I’d recommend exploring Le Suquet for beautiful views of the sea and harbor and admiring the high-end shops, at least from the street. Before heading back we took a walk to check out the yachts and each picked out our favorite–maybe for Christmas this year!

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Our last full day was spent close to home. Courtney, Jared, and Dad explored a nearby hill town for lunch, while Adam, Mom, and I stayed back to read and swim. Of course, once everyone got back it was time for a little burst mode action by the pool. I need to find a way to get all the images into gifs because scrolling through them is one of my new favorite pastimes. I love the energy!

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That night we drove back to Fayence for dinner at Restaurant Le France, how typical! We had an excellent dinner here and celebrated our parent’s 35th wedding anniversary exactly one month early. It was fun to hear them talk about their wedding day and some of their favorite moments throughout their marriage. We also talked a lot about our childhood and it is so funny to hear what everyone remembers–it’s often so different from what is crystalized in your own memory. I would highly recommend this place for dinner, and snag a table outside if you can.

That was Bastille day, July 14th, and we purposely stayed close to home that day and night to avoid crowds and traffic. We woke up early the next morning to hit the road and were devastated by the news that 84 people had been killed in Nice the night before. It was heartbreaking and incredibly sobering after an idyllic week spent together. The world is a very scary and confusing place right now and it’s hard to imagine a time when we won’t be bracing for the next tragedy. It was a chilling reminder to hold your loved ones close and not take for granted all that we’ve been given.

Day Trip to Blausee

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Our friends Claire and Brendan were here for a week and I’ve just recently received confirmation that they are back in the loving arms of their three beautiful, hilarious children. And while that makes me blissfully happy, I do sorta wish they were still here. They are one of my very favorite couples and their bright energy and non-stop laughs make them ideal guests. Claire and B, you are welcome any time.

We dodged a lot of rain while they were here but managed to get out for long walks around the old town, a trip up the Gurten for disc golf and trail walks, bocce in the Rosengarten, many a beer at our favorite local bar, and a couple of day trips, including one to Blausee. It was originally Claire’s suggestion, and Adam and I had never been so it was the perfect place for us all to explore.

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The mineral-rich lake is one hour from Bern, reached via train and bus. You can also drive there easily and park in the big lot in front of the entrance. I think we were all a little surprised to find a turn-style entrance into the lake and forest but it’s become a popular destination, meaning there’s a small CHF 8 entrance fee and opening/closing times you’ll want to be mindful of. Inside the forest you’ll find a restaurant, hotel, and spa, all of which are beautiful. Each summer they hold an open air cinema, which looks like a fun night in the woods.

There’s a local organic trout farm that feeds into the lake, though you can’t fish or swim in it. But you can go out on a glass-bottom boat and see through the crystal clear water nearly to the bottom of the lake.

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We packed a picnic lunch and enjoyed sandwiches by the lake before taking off on the connection of trails and pathways. All the walks are very easy and would be fun and suitable for little ones; it took us just over an hour to walk all the trails. We relaxed at the restaurant with some cold drinks and a beautiful view of the lake before catching the bus back to Bern.

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I loved this day! Blausee (which literally translates to “Blue Lake”) is a very easy day trip from Bern and was so relaxing and peaceful. We had perfect weather and great company, making it an afternoon to remember.

A Boat Ride on Thunersee

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Last week I was joking with a friend who lives in LA that we finally reached 70 degrees and people were freaking out. It’s funny because it’s true. Friday through Sunday were blissfully perfect: 72 degrees and sunny. I think we all know by now how fleeting the beautiful weather can be in spring (the foreseeable forecast predicts rain every day for the next ten days and temperatures in the 50s) so we had better enjoy it while we can.

Adam and I have been talking for quite a while about taking a boat ride on the Lake Thun [“Thunersee” in German (pronounced TUNE-er-say). There are lots of different offers, from a Sunday morning brunch cruise to a Friday night fajita fest, but we went for the standard cruise from Thun to Interlaken, a two-hour ride. With a half-fare card the total is CHF 21.50 and if you get in line early enough on these especially lovely days you can snag a table and bring a picnic as long as you sit outside. (You can also reserve a table inside in advance, but you can’t bring your own food or drink.) We packed up bread, meat, cheese, fruit, Cheez-Its (!), and some cold drinks and met our friends Paige, Bryce, and Phil for the ride.

Before that, however, we stopped to walk around Thun, a very quaint city on the edge of the lake. Before moving here 6 years ago, I imagined this is what the scenery would be like: a modern mountain town on a lake, surrounded by snowy peaks.

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Thun is only 20 minutes away by train and it’s almost silly that we don’t come here more often. The old town is charming, and I’ve still never been to the castle, but I’m really interested in finding myself on the lake more often. In fact, if you were daring enough (and many, many people are), you can actually float down the Aare river starting in Thun and find yourself in Bern a few hours later. It’s a very popular summer activity and I won’t be too surprised if it finds its way onto our agenda this year.

And even if it doesn’t, I hope we’ll be back for another cruise.

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What’s a spring activity you’re looking forward to? Adam’s smoked pulled pork and we finally took our boat ride so I’m feeling pretty good so far. I’d love to get to the Rosengarten for a picnic dinner soon and fill up our flower boxes on the balcony!

Easter Weekend in Copenhagen

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Over Easter weekend, Phil, Adam and I, along with our friends Paige and Bryce, went to Copenhagen for the long weekend. Phil was the only person who had been there before so it was a treat for us all to see a new city together. It was cool and modern and bustling compared to Bern. I loved the architecture, those beautiful bike lanes, and the friendly people. Also, we ate such good food while we were there!

You may remember that we went to Amsterdam over Easter weekend two years ago and were pleasantly surprised by how alive the city was during the holiday weekend. Copenhagen was a bit different, and I think we were all surprised to find how seriously they took the religious holiday: stores were closed all day Thursday, Friday, and Sunday (though that’s normal), and though we left on Sunday night, it appeared as if they would be closed on Monday as well. So! That’s all to say, if you’re planning on a religious holiday weekend there, be prepared for a lot to be closed.

IMG_3850IMG_3854IMG_5237IMG_5241IMG_5243After checking into our Airbnb, which was on the border between the Frederiksberg and Nørrebro neighborhoods, we rented bikes and cycled to the Nyhavn port. The beautiful old port house have since been renovated into touristic restaurants and shops, but it’s fun to see some of the old ships lined up. This is also a great spot to start a canal tour if that’s something you’d like to do.

We found a couple of nearby trampolines for a quick bounce before heading to Christiania, a self-proclaimed autonomous district in the center of the city. Here you will find commune-style living, wooded pathways, cheap beer, and a “green light” district. It’s a quirky (and popular) place to visit during the day.

After a long day of cycling and walking around we had dinner at Thai Pan, a cozy restaurant right around the corner from our apartment. It has a view of the pond and I imagine it would be a great place to sit outside when it’s warm. I can say, however, that their food was excellent if you’re looking for delicious Thai.

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Friday was cool and drizzly so after a slam-dunk brunch at Mirabelle we cycled over to Den Blå Planet, Denmark’s national aquarium to escape the less-than-pleasant weather. Everyone, and I mean everyone, had this exact same idea and the aquarium was absolutely packed. I think we were the only adults there without children, and it was certainly an experience to visit the place during peak hours on a cold and rainy holiday. There were a few tanks of note (I loved watching the sea otters groom themselves), but it was really too crowded to enjoy much.

We headed back into town (note: you can take your bike onto the metro during all hours, except during rush hour, 5-7pm) and landed at Mikkeller for some tasty Danish beers. It’s a very cozy beer bar and brewery and we stayed here, mostly to enjoy an adult-only atmosphere, for a couple of rounds. Øl & Brød, the restaurant by the same group, is located next door and the menu looks fantastic if you’re looking to stay in the neighborhood for dinner.

That night we had a special dinner at RADIO. It’s a modern and relaxed restaurant located near the Forum metro stop, and three blocks from our apartment. Jesper, the head chef, once worked as a sous-chef for Noma, which was named the best restaurant in the world three years in a row. One can choose either a three- or five-course dinner, with optional wine or juice pairings. The three of us opted for five courses and loved it. I think we all agreed it was one of the best meals we’ve ever had: warm squid and celeriac “pasta”; cod with fried chicken skins, grilled romaine, and lumpfish roe; beetroot with dehydrated olives and smoked cheese; free range pork (so good it will make you weep) with grilled leeks; and carrots with camomile ice cream, caramel and meringues. The menu changes every two weeks so you’re always eating the freshest ingredients and they take such care with it all. It was a gorgeous presentation in a very comfortable restaurant and we’d highly recommend the experience.

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Our friends Paige and Bryce arrived from Geneva on Saturday at noon so we met at Torvehallerne KBH, a giant food hall located just outside the Nørreport metro stop. Inside each of the markets are dozens of food stalls carrying produce and ready-made items you can enjoy on the outdoor seating. Four of us went for Vietnamese, mostly because it’s something that is both delicious and impossible to find in Switzerland, and the bahn mis and steamed buns did not disappoint. Phil got fish and chips, which were just as delicious. We actually ended up here twice and it could easily serve as a meeting place or just a fun spot to relax and sample lots of local fare.

After lunch we walked to Stroget, a neighborhood packed with shops and boutiques. My friend Paige was specifically hoping to visit Royal Copenhagen’s flagship store and we managed to walk around inside and each pick up a matching vase. I had never heard of the gorgeous china before, but I’m happy to have a new, unique pursuit : )

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Lots more cycling ensued over the afternoon–we really earned all those treats– and we ended up at Warpigs Brewpub in the meatpacking district. The pub is a sort of sister restaurant and brewery to Mikkeller, so you’ll find a lot of the same beer flavors and vibes. What is totally unique to this place is their Kansas City barbecue! We sample some ribs and pimento cheese with hushpuppies (damn!), but they had loads of delicious-smelling barbecue on the menu and it would have been so fun to try it all. They have four different sauces–Carolina Gold, Kansas City, Alabama White, and Texas–and we were proud to discover they refill the Kansas City sauce the most. Obviously!

Dinner was just around the corner at Paté Paté and it was another big hit. They specialize in modern European dishes, served in a small-plates, tapas style. We went a little nuts and ordered a bunch of different plates for the table (smoked salmon, turbot, oysters, lamb, Danish mozzarella), yet still managed to finish it all, plus two desserts. Everything was outstanding, but we especially love the vibrant, boisterous atmosphere. It’s hard to find a place in Switzerland (at least in Bern) that has a young, hip energy, where you can be loud and a little ridiculous. It was fun to just have a big night out, which makes us sound like a bunch of old farts, but whatever ; )

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Phil flew out early Sunday morning, so the four of us went to The Standard for a fancy brunch, complete with edible flowers and a view of the canal. Technically we ate at Almanak, one of the four restaurant/bars in The Standard. It had a contemporary and cool interior and great views.

Afterward we walked through the botanical garden and geological museum. As I mentioned earlier, not much was open on Easter Sunday so there were actually quite a lot of people walking through the garden and park, which was nice. We had wanted to go to the Arken Museum of Modern Art, but didn’t budget enough time. We’ll be sure to check it out, as well as the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, on our next visit.

Adam and I flew out that evening and arrived back in Bern around midnight–long day! But, Copenhagen, we loved you! What a fun city with so much to do. I’d love to go back in warmer weather and enjoy sitting outdoors and maybe visiting the seaside.

Have you been? What else would you recommend? It’s such an easy flight from Zurich and I can definitely imagine visiting this city again, perhaps as a part of a larger Scandinavian tour.

A couple of helpful guides:

Our Weekend in Amsterdam

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IMG_0733It’s hard for me to imagine a European city I love more than Amsterdam. It has incredible culture, remarkable architecture (oh, how those buildings lean!), friendly locals, and an increasingly diverse and delicious restaurant scene. Let us not forget about those bike lanes; I’m in love with them. I suppose the weather could be a bit more reliable but if that were the case we would literally all be living there and it wouldn’t be quite as comfortable.

We had a great, breezy weekend there full of strolling and eating. A lot of Europe has been experiencing an “Indian summer” so we were there at a great time. It rained a couple times, but we heard it was relatively warm compared to what it’s usually like, and walking along the canals was really lovely.

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IMG_0745After Adam and I checked into our Airbnb we immediately set out for De 9 Straatjes–The 9 Streets–a great shopping and dining neighborhood. When we arrived at the southern edge of the area and took one look at the shopfronts and signage, Adam rightly declared that these nine streets have more cool in them than the entirety of Switzerland. It was fun to be surrounded by good design and more current styles.

We made our first stop at Café de Pels, a typical brown cafe. It’s a cozy spot perfect for fueling up before shopping. We had sausage, mature cheese and beers, but I can also recommend their bitterballen since we went back on Saturday and had them as an appetizer. HOW did I not know about bitterballen and where can I get a good recipe?!

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IMG_0736We did lots of meandering and even picked up a couple of souvenirs. Phil’s flight landed in the evening and we met him for dinner at Wolvenstraat 23, an Asian place with funky decor and cool tunes.

The next day Phil had to work (whomp whomp) so Adam and I headed out toward the Jordaan neighborhood, which is where we stayed last time we were there. I’d highly recommend it as your destination because it’s so quaint and homey.

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IMG_4717We stopped in Typique, a letterpress shop along Haarlemmerdijk, itself a great street for shopping and dining. We met René, the artist and craftsman and ended up coming home with a beautiful monotype of the Dutch seashore. It’s a special reminder of our trip and we both think art makes a great souvenir.

On the next block over we stopped for lunch at Restaurant Teun. I opted for a giant salad and mint tea to help offset the cheese, beer, fries, and other delicacies from the trip, but everything on their menu looks great. It’s also a hotel if you’re interested in staying in the area.

IMG_4725After walking, walking, walking, and a freak rain storm in the afternoon we met up with a couple of friends of mine from college at Café Pieper, another brown cafe that was just two blocks from where we were staying. It was established in 1665 and still retains all the charm of the 17th century. Great beer, low ceilings, wood everything, and a friendly bartender. It was perfect!

We then walked over to Café George for dinner before our CHVRCHES concert. It’s a New York-style French brasserie that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner all day from 11-11. We managed to squeeze in for dinner without a reservation, but I would recommend trying to reserve a table if you can. It was quite full when we got there and still bustling when we left for the show. Our concert was awesome, by the way. The band put on a great show and we had loads of fun dancing and being crazy. It was very sobering, however, to walk out and immediately find out about the tragedies in Paris. Indeed, I shudder thinking about how we had just been in a concert hall, where the same thing that happened at Bataclan could have happened to us. It’s yet another reminder not to take our liberties and freedoms for granted.

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IMG_0786The next morning we had plans to visit the Rijksmuseum, but sleeping in came in first on the priority list so we went out for brunch instead at…Café George. I’m not kidding! We had just been there but it was so, so good and we are always looking for brunch spots since they are an anomaly here. We had fresh fruit, eggs Benedict, scrambled eggs, and a croque madame, all very delicious.

We did finally manage to get over to the Rijksmuseum, which is just a tram stop or two away from where we had brunch. It’s a beautiful collection and we did the multimedia tour which helped make sense of it all. We spent about two hours there but I could easily see how might find yourself for an entire afternoon. Adam especially likes the Dutch masters so it was great to see so many of them together.

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IMG_4748After a quick rest at the apartment we went to Brouwerij’t IJ, along with everyone else in the city. It was completely packed but it’s no surprise given their great selection of beer and snacks. It was pouring outside at this point so the outdoor seating was no longer an option, but I imagine it’s always this full during the early evening hours. Go for the beer and stay for the grillworst and mature cheese.

For dinner that evening we went to Restaurant de Struisvogel, which is in the basement of a shop in the 9 Streets neighborhood. It’s a teeny tiny place—only 34 seats—so reservations are essential. Everything here was so yummy and comforting, and I loved the ambiance. There’s something so cozy about a tiny bistro with wooden tables and chairs and dim lighting. How romantic for the three of us : )

Amsterdam, we love you! It is such a magical city and I’m always delighted to visit. One of these days we’ll finally go when it’s truly warm outside…

Have you been? What did you think of it? Next time I’d love to see the Van Gogh museum and actually make a visit to Keukenhof, the tulip fields.

P.S. Part 1 and Part 2 from our trip last year.

Italy: Wine Tasting, Sienna, and Pisa

IMG_0534On our last full day in Italy we decided to stick close to our home base and go wine tasting in Montepulciano. I mentioned before that it’s wise to call ahead to a winery and either book a tasting appointment or at least confirm that the tasting room is open, but we scrapped our own good advice and just went for it. Honestly, I think we got lucky but if you’re willing to be turned away at a winery or two then why not head out on the open road and discover what’s out there?

Early afternoon on Friday we set off for a specific winery that completely escapes my memory at this point, but they turned us away because we didn’t have an appointment. We back-tracked a bit to Lunadoro, which had a sign out front saying they were open. Good enough for us! We drove up a narrow, gravel driveway (very typical for the area) and found the winery in the very back of the property. Though they looked closed, they were more than happy to have us visit and Barbara served us a number of tastings, which were wonderful. We brought home a bottle of their Eclisse for a special occasion.

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She recommended we visit Avignonesi for their cellar and wines, but we only managed to enjoy the latter since we didn’t have an appointment. Their tasting room is open all day so we were able to pick a corner booth and enjoy a flight of their wines. Had the weather been better I would have liked to sit out on their patio, which looks like a lovely place to take in the surrounding hills.

IMG_0485Lastly, we stopped by Poliziano on our way back into town. This winery, along with Avignonesi, is one of the biggest producers in the region so you’ll probably be directed here by your hotel or host. The tasting room is also open all day so I imagine you can stop by anytime as long as you aren’t in a big group. But, for a tour of the property and cellar you need an appointment. We tried some nice wines here as well and snagged a couple bottles for home.

Overall it was a fun afternoon of learning about Vino di Montepulciano, the region’s most distinguished wine, as well as Rosso di Montepulciano and other local varieties. I should mention that this was a completely self-guided tour (see here for more good info) and we always designated a driver to keep us safe on the windy, narrow roads. So, when you’re out there, make good choices : )

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Saturday was Phil’s day! Earlier in the week we each decided on a non-negotiable, a sight or experience that was a must, and Phil’s was the Leaning Tower of Pisa (mine was Orvietto and Adam’s was Brunello wine tasting in Montalcino). We decided to visit Sienna very quickly in the morning since it was somewhat on the way. Sienna is a beautiful medieval town with incredible history. Of course it is completely overrun with tourists on the weekend (we were there on a Saturday morning…yikes) so I would recommend a visit on a quieter weekday. I don’t necessarily recommend running in and running out like we did, but a quick visit to the top of the tower, overlooking the famous scallop-shaped square was totally worth the mad dash.

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IMG_0524Following this speedy adventure we headed way west toward Pisa. It’s an uneventful drive, especially after the beauty of central and southern Tuscany, but we were there in under two hours so it’s an easy trip to make if you have the time. We went specifically to see the leaning tower…along with a million other people. It’s no surprise that this area is always laden with tourists so just enjoy the ride. We relaxed at a cafe for a little while after seeing the tower, but I can’t imagine spending much more than a couple hours in Pisa. It has a mostly manufactured charm. Still! Go to see the tower if it’s on your list. It really is beautiful and quite the spectacle.

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IMG_0547Cheesing out super hard might be one of my favorite activities here. You can’t help but be inspired : )

Italy, we LOVE you! I mean, we really, really love you. What a special place. Have you been? What were your favorite places to visit? Next time we go I want to head way south and visit the Amalfi coast…

For more on Italy:

Italy: Montepulciano and Orvieto (and Radicofani)

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IMG_0093If you are planning a trip through central Tuscany, might I politely suggest finding a nice farmhouse or villa for your stay? And might I further suggest Montepulciano as your base? Because it is perfect and wonderful.

Adam was tasked with finding our lodging for the week and he did such a terrific job picking this spot that it might be his job forever! Really, though, it was in a great location, just outside of town but close enough to a supermarket where we could pick up ingredients for breakfasts and dinners at home. He found it through the Agriturismo website and we’d recommend checking there if you’re planning a similar trip, anywhere in Italy.

We liked Montepulciano, perhaps one of the bigger Tuscan hill towns. There are lots of shops and wine bars, not to mention exceptional views from the fortress tower within the city walls.

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IMG_0103It is hilly! Our guidebook said it would “push our quads to their failure point”, but I’m proud to say that we’re all in good enough shape that that wasn’t an issue. But stops at the city’s numerous wine bars helped break up all that trekking. As I said, there are many, but we would highly recommend La Bottega del Nobile. They carry over 300 labels of Tuscan wine, along with other Italian varieties. Over 60 of these are on tap and you can taste as many as you’d like. You’re given a card with whatever euro amount you choose and simply insert it when you’d like a try— the amount will automatically be deducted. Samples are offered in three different sizes so you can have just a taste of something new or a glass of an old favorite. You’ll find Paolo working the rooms, offering suggestions and little-known facts.

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IMG_0356We had one meal here, which really wasn’t that good, unfortunately, but otherwise took our meals either at home or at other cities. So I can’t really say much about the dining in Montepulciano. If I ever have the chance to go back I’d love to try out a few like La Grotta and Osteria Acquacheta.

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IMG_0152On Monday we visited Orvieto, which is an hour’s drive from Montepulciano, and actually located in Umbria. It’s another beautiful hill town that was originally founded by the Etruscans, well before those pesky Romans showed up. You’ll spot it immediately from the highway, as the volcanic cliff it sits on is quite dramatic. I visited this city with my family eight years ago and it was a treat to revisit it. It’s very busy during the day, but I’d love to stay overnight sometime to see the city in all its charm.

We visited the cathedral, which is a must. It’s probably one of my favorite churches. The striped travertine is stunning and the carvings on the facade are exceptional. They were created in the 14th century and tell almost the entire biblical story over four panels. Unfortunately the mosaics were covered by scaffolding, but they are striking as well. It’s a beautiful space.

Afterward we went for lunch. I had picked two restaurants (Trattoria del Moro Aronne and Osteria Numero Uno) and both were closed! Typical Monday in Europe, especially in tourist towns where restaurants will stay open on Sunday to accommodate additional crowds. So, do your research beforehand. We ended up a Restaurant Le Duca by chance and it was fantastic. Porcini mushrooms are a local seasonal favorite and they were so good along with the regional pasta, pici. When you’re in Orvieto it behooves you to try the local white wine.

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There are hundreds of caves that lie below the city, but most are private cellars and basements. You can take a tour of the larger public caves, which we did in the afternoon. Otherwise we spent the day walking and walking, pausing for gelato and cathedral views.

That evening we planned to go to Montechiello for sunset views and dinner in town. Instead, we were forced to take a detour on one of the area’s long, windy roads and found ourselves in Radicofani. One of my favorite things about Phil is that when he sees a tower, or any tall structure, he has to find a way to get to the top. So you can imagine how our plans changed upon seeing this from miles and miles away:

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The fortress in Radicofani sits atop a hill so high that on a clear day you can see it from Siena, 60 kilometers, or 37 miles, away. It dates back to the 10th century and offers some of the best views of the Val d’Orcia. It costs a few euros to enter and the grounds are well maintained and really, the view is stunning. We explored the area for a bit before heading into down to find dinner. I’ve never seen a ghost town quite like this, but it was charming and idyllic all the same. There was only one restaurant, La Grotta, and though we were initially the only diners, the place filled up with locals and other random tourists. In fact, it was one of our favorite meals of the week—authentic, delicious and simple flavors.

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IMG_4390My biggest takeaway from this day is that it’s important to remain open to new agendas and destinations. We had never planned on going to Radicofani, much less even heard of it, yet we had a lovely afternoon and evening there. Having a week to explore a region allows for a looser itinerary, which can be such a luxury. It’s more about the journey than the destination sometimes, though it’s hard to imagine going wrong in Tuscany.

More photos and highlights to come!