Once again, this post is long over due. Back in September, a group of my friends and myself traveled to Italy to celebrate all of us turning 30. #YearOf30.
The vacation was a total of nine days including one travel day. Trying to plan a vacation like this can be extremely cumbersome, but easy to do. Check out my post on “How to Plan a Group Vacation”. Because this was one of the best experiences of my life and I want to share every detail about our journey, I am going to split this up into two posts.
We arrived in Rome International Airport (FCO). Only three-quarters of the group traveled together, and we planned to meet up with the rest at our villa. I had arranged for a van to pick us up and take us to our Italian home.
Where we stayed: I found this villa through Luxury Retreats and it looked just like the pictures. The villa was located in 30 minutes from downtown Siena, way up in the rolling hills and winding roads. The villa came complete with six bedrooms, five bathrooms, two living rooms, a full kitchen, a pool, a grill, washer/dryer and a onsite concierge person to assist with our needs. Literally, this was the most stunning home I had ever seen. Shout out to Luxury Retreats for offering THE BEST customer service around. Anything I needed, they were always able to assist.
I had also arranged for a private chef to come to our home and prepare a nice meal for everyone. They arrived on time and went to work in our kitchen, while we all had a chance to kick back, relax and drink the wine I had pre-stocked for us. The dinner was wildly delicious and fresh. Another shout out to Tuscan Chef for putting together a wonderful meal! You are fabulous and everyone should contact them for private meals.
We started our day trip to Cinque Terre. Because of where we were located, it was quite a trek to get to our destination, but when we got there, it was all worth it. Cinque Terre stands for five towns. It sits on the coast near La Spezia. Each town is unique and unlike the others except for the multi-colored homes. There is a hiking trail that will take you through all five towns, or you can take a regional train to each town as well. It only takes about three-five minutes to get to the next area. This region is also known for their fresh pesto. Make sure to grab some for your friends and family back home. It is delicious!
Because we were only there for a day, we only had about eight hours to explore, but the towns we made it to were Monterosso (the best beach town and the largest out of the five), Vernazza, and Corniglia (we hiked from Vernazza). You cannot go wrong visiting any of these towns. The water is unlike anything I had ever seen, before.
This was an open day at the villa to just hang out and chill. Our home was near a five-star boutique hotel called Hotel Fontanelle (expensive but worth the stay if you are not in a villa). We walked up the hill and stopped at the hotel for lunch. The tomatoes and pasta were so light and fresh.
We wanted to explore downtown Siena and work our way through the small town. The entire city center is walk-able and can be done within a day. We found a great spot to buy different kinds of truffle and had dinner in an old cave called Antica Osteria da Divo. Spectacular wine selection and the risotto in a Parmesan wheel is a must try. Half the group went home while the rest of us partied at a nearby bar and watched the Italians sing Karaoke to the Spice Girls.
Day trip to Florence. I am obsessed with Florence. It will forever and always be my favorite city. The people, the style, the history and the food is where I love to submerge myself. Here is where we went to my favorite leather good store, which happens to be located in a monastery. If you ever have the chance to go, ask for Vito. He’s the best salesman there is and I promise you will walk away with the most buttery leather jacket you will ever find. We also met up with my mother, who managed to make her way on this vacation. We showed my friends the famous Duomo and my favorite, Centrale Mercato. Side note: you can pay an extra fee to go up the duomo and get the best views of Florence. Centro Mercato is where I go to by my dried pasta called, Il Forino.
The group stops by my mom’s hotel where there was a rooftop bar for some evening cocktails. The hotel is conveniently located blocks away from the Duomo and the Uffizi Museum. The service is slow at the bar, but the drinks are stiff and the views are breathtaking. After cocktails came dinner next door at Yellow Bar. Great pasta and pizza that won’t bust your budget.
The day of my birth! My friends were beyond amazing and had decorated the house in the middle of the night, so I woke up to balloons and confetti! I really do have the best group of friends anyone could ever ask for. To celebrate my 30th, I made this day our wine tour day! Unlike Napa, the wineries are spread out miles apart from one another, so to be cognizant of our time, I only selected two wineries that were near our villa. The two that were chosen were Badia a Coltibuono and Castello di Ama. These were selected based on a best wineries list found in Food & Wine Magazine. Badia a Coltibuono was by far my favorite. The grounds are perfect and our tour guide was so personable, friendly and knowledgeable. She took her time to explain every nook and cranny in the estate. Part of the tour was meat and cheese pairing as well as an olive oil tasting. One thing that I learned was to not purchase olive oil from an estate such as this until harvest season in November. Olive oil does not last long and shouldn’t be purchased if it’s over 6- 12 months old.
Castello di Ama was nice and incorporates tons of different art installations. Unfortunately, the wine did not match our satisfaction as the other vineyard. After the tastings, we returned home and had another private chef prepare our departure dinner. The ladies handmade the pasta and seared fresh fish. It was the perfect conclusion to the first part of our vacation. Check out my next post about part two of our vacation!