Planning a Vacation to Italy

I recently had the pleasure of planning a vacation to Italy, and more specifically, Tuscany and the Amalfi Coast.  The planning process is the part I relish the most, especially the anticipation leading up to the trip.  Our group of 8 (of which we’ve now coined ourselves the Crazy 8’s), was a perfect mix of family members and lifelong friends.

Day 1 – Our Arrival

We arrived in Tuscany late at night on a Sunday and stayed at The Hilton Grand Vacations Resort, Borgo Alle Vigne.  This beautiful resort is nestled on a vineyard located in the rural Tuscan province of Selvatelle.  The Tuscany sunsets are gorgeous and although the resort is very private, there are some quaint little villages located close by, such as Peccioli, Palaia and Terricciola.

Our son and his girlfriend had arrived a few hours before us and welcomed us with some fresh Italian meats, cheeses and bread as well as some local wines and beer.

Day 2 – Chianni, Tuscany

Since the roads in Tuscany are very rural, this allowed us to easily rent a vehicle to get around.

On our first day, we made the decision to take a drive to explore the area.  Finally, we happened upon a quaint little town called ‘Chianni’.  This town boasted some beautiful architecture which symbolized true Italian culture.  We found a little place called ‘Anna’s Bar’ and settled in there for a few hours to enjoy some local wines.  The owner, Rocco, made us feel so welcome and although the kitchen was closed, he offered to make us some delicious panini sandwiches.  Their quaint little terrace offered spectacular views where we enjoyed some great conversation and much laughter.

Day 3 – The Accidental Tourist

On our second day, we attended a cooking class near Florence.  Although the venue is located in Tuscany, it is much closer situated to Florence.  I later learned that the size of Tuscany is actually as large as that of California.

Each of us were taught how to make pasta from scratch.  The tour was called ‘The Accidental Tourist’ and the venue was outstanding.   The farm house was located on the side of a hill overlooking the farms and vineyards that surround Florence.  Our gracious hostess, Mila, took the time to explain the history of the house and how it had been in her family for centuries.  The house’s characteristics were stunning and the views, breathtaking!

After we made the pasta, our wonderful cook, Louisa, invited us to the table where we proceeded to eat the most decadent meal.  We were served 6 courses, including spinach pasta, tomato pasta, toasted bread and olive oil, Italian pizza, and a potato and egg frittata.  The meal was complimented with coffee and dessert a few minutes later.  This was an outstanding experience and I would highly recommend it to anyone who is visiting the area.

Day 4 – Florence to Amalfi

Rather than waste time in a car to make our way to Amalfi from Tuscany, we decided to take advantage of the inexpensive flights.  Alitalia offers direct flights for around $200 one way per person, and we felt that this was a good investment for the time we would save getting to our new destination.  Beware, however, that these flights do not include the cost of luggage so be prepared to pay an additional 55 euros for that.

From the Naples airport, we hired a car service to bring all 8 of us (along with our luggage) to our house rental on the Amalfi coast.  Our rental home did not disappoint and it offered more than enough room for us to feel right at home.  There were markets within walking distance so we were able to purchase groceries and supplies.  Our house was located high on the coast, which allowed us to have a stunning view of the Mediterranean from the terrace.

Day 5 – Amalfi

We all hopped on the (SITA) bus and headed down the coast to spend the day in Amalfi.  You can purchase bus tickets for 1.30 euros at most local markets. I’ll be honest that the ride down is not for the faint of heart.  The roads wind back and forth across the hill down to the town with about a very narrow road that has to be shared by small cars, larger vans, commercial vehicles and local (SITA) as well as tour buses. It requires patience but again it was a reasonable price and gets you into the town.   By the end of the week, we were somewhat used to it, but it was a bit unnerving at first.

Upon arrival, we acclimated ourselves to the area below and explored some of the shops.  As well, we inquired on tours to neighboring areas in order to plan our excursions for the next few days.  The group found a great little breakfast place called ‘Savoia’.  Each day, Patricia and Massimo provided us with a wonderful start to our day.  We indulged in mimosas, cappuccinos and decadent Italian pastries.

Day 6 – Positano

One word describes this region – DREAMY!

The group decided to take the ferry boat to Positano, which I would highly recommend as the views of the coast are a ‘must see’.  We arrived just before lunch and headed over to a restaurant called ‘Chez Blacks’ which was recommended to us by some passengers on our boat.  The pizza and gnocci there were so delicious so we made a mental note to return another day.

The group split up into pairs and each group did something different for the day. Some sat on the beach while some shopped and others hiked.  I personally hiked up and was pleasantly surprised at everything I saw along the way.  There were shops, restaurants and historical landmarks to keep us entertained.  Once we got to the top, we went to a little restaurant and sat  outside.  We ordered a lovely bottle of local Amalfi red wine and enjoyed that while we took in the stunning backdrop.

Day 7 – Rest Day and Fiordo di Furore

The group unanimously decided that we should have a rest day whereby we would purchase some groceries at the local market and make our own dinner, since we had a fully equipped kitchen and dining area.

Some members of our group ventured out to do some exploring of the local area of Furore, which is where our house was located.  They happened upon this beautiful area called  Fiordo di Furore. It’s actually a ria – a narrow gorge cutting inland from the sea, created by the Schiato stream that runs along the mountain to the sea. A cluster of old fishermen’s houses cling to the cliffs. Also known as the fjord, it is also the oldest part of Furore. The main village now stands 300 meters above, in the upper Vallone del Furore.  This is the village that we stayed in.

Day 8 – Capri

The island of Capri was equally as stunning as Positano.  The rock formations were astounding and the architecture, breathtaking.  I hiked up the hill and from there, we took a bus up the mountain even higher.   We had lunch at the top in Anacapri at a delicious little pizza place.  Truthfully, there was really nowhere we dined in Italy that disappointed.

When we arrived back to Amalfi, we walked along the waterfront until we found a wonderful restaurant called Marina Grande. This was truly the highlight of all of the  meals we had since we arrived. It provided the perfect ambiance, a delicious menu selection as well as  superb customer service. We would highly recommend this place if you’re celebrating a special occasion or simply for a relaxing dinner. We recommend the linguini piazza and the seafood risotto. Guido, our waiter, made certain that each and every one of us had a wonderful experience. The food was superior to any other place we had dined to date, if that was even possible!

Day 9 –  Shopping in Amalfi

We took a taxi back to Furore to have dinner.  The restaurant was called L’Incanto and there, we were treated like royalty.  The menu boasted a variety of pasta, pizza and other Italian food. Our hosts Giuseppe, Carmine and Nicholas made our experience a memorable one.

On this particular day, some of us decided to take the (SITA) bus down to Amalfi to do some shopping. We returned to the Savoia café where we had breakfast most mornings and Patricia and Massimo brought us our usual mimosas and cappuccinos. We wandered around and purchased some souvenirs and took in the Amalfi backdrop once again.  The locals were very friendly and accommodating and mostly everyone spoke English.  Since the buses going up and down the hill do not run that often, we took a  taxi back up in time for dinner,  Once again we prepared a scrumptious meal consisting of fresh fish and Italian local wines.

Day 10 – Positano

On our last and final day, we decided to return to Positano, since it was so beautiful and we wanted to take it in one more time before we left.  We decided to take a bus over this time in order to see more countryside.  We all agreed to spend the day on the beach since the weather was beautiful.  The set-up was perfect as the restaurants along the beach had very comfortable seating arrangements which allowed us to put our feet in the sand  and the waiters came directly to take our orders.  Needless to say, it was quite the day!

Day 11 – Arrivederci Italy!

As in the words of Dean Martin’s hit song, ‘Arrivederci Roma – It’s Time For Us To Part’, our hearts were heavy as we said goodbye.  So many great memories and experiences were captured on this vacation, some of which we will never forget.

Arrivederci Italy – until we meet again!!!

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