We had the pleasure of visiting Florence to celebrate Jordan’s 30th birthday over Veteran’s Day weekend this past month. His requests for the trip were to stay at a Tuscan villa and to enjoy the local wine and food. So, of course, we did both. We had also originally planned a day trip to Siena, but failed to make it due to all the fun we had. The weekend consisted of a stay at an incredibly ornate Tuscan villa, a Florence food tour, sightseeing with new friends, and a pasta making class with LovexFood in the Chianti Hills outside of the city. We tend to prefer vacations outside of the city, but I have to say, we LOVED Florence!

Florence in Three Days| Italy

Villa Cora

We splurged a little for Jordan’s birthday weekend and booked a room at the incredibly luxe Villa Cora. The grounds were stunning and the rooms had real paintings, each with their own lighting! The views from the top balcony (which never closed) were breathtaking with the changing autumn leaves. The villa was just a bit south of the city, but they have a free shuttle that will take you in for free. We also walked back and forth a couple of times, and it was approximately at 30 minute walk (depending where you are, of course). Totally worth it!

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Pasta Making Experience – LovexFoods

I can’t believe we lived in Italy for two years and had not yet learned to make pasta! LovexFood just outside of Florence remedied that for us and it was THE BEST experience. I have an entire blog dedicated to this class here. If you’re ever in Florence, I highly recommend booking this experience. If you can book it on your first day (as opposed to your last, like we did), Luca and Lorenzo also provide you with recommendations for food and activities in the city. Don’t think twice about this one!

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Florentine Food Tour – Taste Florence

I’ve said it before – we aren’t tour group people! I’m always a bit skeptical to sign up for tours when we visit cities, but I have yet to be disappointed by a small group food tour. The Taste Florence food tour is no exception! Alessandro, the host, is incredibly knowledgeable and takes you to smaller shops that you wouldn’t normally visit on your own. A butcher, a bakery, a chocolatier, a wine shop, and the local vendors at the food market, were a few of my favorite stops. Alessandro teaches you about the Florentine life as much as he does about the food you’re eating. It felt a bit like I was hanging out with Anthony Bourdain, but with a bit of a different sense of humor. We really enjoyed this tour as well, and Alessandro also provides food and wine recommendations for every desire.

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The Sights of the City

We aren’t huge fans of museums, but we HAD to visit the David while here, and I’d recommend you do too! It was even bigger than I imagined. We also made a point to stroll around to see many of the more famous sights, including Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore.

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Ponte alla Carraia
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Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore
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Basilica of Santa Croce and Museo Dell’Opera di Santa Croce
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View of the city from Piazzale Michelangelo
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View of the city from Piazzale Michelangelo
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Ponte Vecchio
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Ponte Vecchio
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Arno River Bank
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Palazzo Pitti from Giardino di Boboli
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Views from Giardino di Boboli
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The David; Cheese and Sage Gelato

Florentine Food

One of the most famous dishes in Florence is the Florentine steak. So, we had to have one! I was also a huge fan of the cheese and sage pasta.

Our favorite restaurant locations included:

Coquinarius – for pasta

Casalinda – for the Bistecca (Florentine steak)

Mercato Centrale – for fresh food and a variety of food (check top level for a restaurant -type food hall).

Enoteca Alessi – for wine

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All in all, we had so much unexpected fun in Florence, I wouldn’t be surprised if we visited again one day!

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View of the city from Piazzale Michelangelo at night.

After living in Italy for almost two years, we figured it was probably time to learn to make pasta. In searching for the best pasta making classes for our upcoming trip to Florence, we found the LovexFood experience. The LovexFood experience is hosted by Luca and Lorenzo in their home in the Chianti Hills just outside of Florence. One of the most attractive aspects of this class for us was the fact that it was small group. With a max of ~10 people, we thought the hands-on experience could be right for us. And, it was!

We met Luca at the train station in Florence and hopped a train for about 15 minutes. Once we arrived, we met up with Lorenzo and they drove us to their beautiful home. We got started with the pasta making experience after quick introductions and a cafe. For this experience, they taught us to make ravioli with ricotta and pecorino in a sage butter sauce (my favorite) and cocoa tagliatelle with gorgonzola sauce (a fall pasta for special occasions). We also learned to make lavender panna cotta, which was amazing! Each class is different and Luca and Lorenzo are careful to accommodate for food allergies as well.

If you’re ever in Florence, I HIGHLY recommend you join this experience. Florence was cool, but hanging out with Luca and Lorenzo and learning how to cook was even better! Check out the photos below to see what we made and a peek into how we made it!

Pasta Making with LovexFood | Florence

The final products

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A stunning Tuscan setting and their pet chicken, Ginger.
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Panna cotta, the pet chickens, cocoa tagliatelle with gorgonzola sauce.
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Ravioli with ricotta and pecorino in a sage butter sauce.

The pasta making process

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We started with just a few simple ingredients.

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Everyone learned how to make the pasta dough and received personal guidance from Lorenzo.
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Luca supervised and provided us with tips as we all rolled our tagliatelle dough.
Lorenzo impressed us all as he rolled the ravioli dough.
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Lorenzo demonstrating for Jordan how to seal the ravioli.
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They told me I have “ravioli fingers.” Highest compliments.
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The ravioli before going into the water for boiling.
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Jordan finishing up his ravioli.
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Lorenzo demonstrating.
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Luca guiding me in my pasta rolling and more ravioli making.
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Jordan using the pasta guitar to create his tagilatelle.

It’s been an unofficial goal of mine to visit as many of the Aeolian Islands as I can while living in Sicily.  Last year, we made our first visit to Stromboli island, where we spent seven hours scaling an active volcano just to look over the rim and watch it erupt right before our eyes. It was pretty epic!  This past summer, we relaxed on Salina island while checking out some of what Malfa had to offer.  We loved it. But considering there are seven Aeolian Islands (Vulcano, Lipari, Salina, Panarea, Stromboli, Filicudi and Alicudi), and we had only visited two, I knew we needed to step up our game.  So our trip to Vulcano island was born.  

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We usually travel on our own, but this time we decided to join a tour group here just to lessen the burden of having to drive, park, and do research.  Traveling gets exhausting when you add all of those factors in.   We are so glad we did the tour because the guides showed us some of the best local places to go.  We got to check Vulcano off of our list AND climb another volcano and look down into it’s caldera. 

If you’re looking for a bit of adventure (or just some pure relaxation), here are some things to know before you go! 

Vulcano Island Day Trip

Fun Facts

– Vulcano is the southern most of the Aeolian Islands.
– It’s approximately 8 square miles

– It’s home to one of the four active volcanoes in Italy
– It last erupted from 1888 to 1890

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Things to do

  • Arriving by hydrofoil is easy and only takes ~45 minutes.
  • You don’t need a car or transportation. Everything is close to the port.
  • All recommendations provided here were from our Sicilian guides


There are several hiking trails in Vulcano. We hiked the Gran Cratere (3.15 miles – pin info here). The hike is deemed “easy” online, but I would beg to differ. That being said, we did enjoy the hike and would definitely do it again. Once to the top, you can look down into the caldera, walk around the rim, and experience live sulfur vents. Note to self, they are stinky!!

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On one side of the rim, you can walk through sulfur fields which are quite stinky and hot, but really neat to see and experience. Our guides told us not to stop walking. We did and the result was REALLY hot air (aka a burn). So, yeah, don’t stop walking through the sulfur vents!

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Spa Terme di Vulcano

One of the most unique things you’ll find in Vulcano is this sulfur mud bath. It is SMELLY, but apparently has incredible health benefits. Since it’s a thermal mud bath, it’s a bit hot. Also, the smell is pretty bad, so I would recommend wearing a swimsuit you are fine with tossing because I doubt the smell will ever come out. Entrance was only about 3€. It was so hot this day, we didn’t end up doing it. But we want to go back when it’s cooler to give it a try!

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Lunch: Don Piricuddu

We had amazing pasta dishes and wine here. We stopped for a bite on our way to the spa directly after the hike.

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Piscine Geotermiche Vulcano

Vulcano is famous for its geothermal spas. We got a day pass to this one and enjoyed trying out all of the different geothermal pools. Just to note, this spa does NOT have lockers. So you need to keep your things by your pool chair. They do have many different pools to choose from, spa services, and a bar!

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Overall, this was a great day trip from Catania. If you have any questions, feel free to drop a comment or message me on Instagram: @mandalynrenee!

2019 has been a year of road trips for us and we have loved every moment!  Tuscany was our first official road trip of 2019.  The entire trip, we kept asking ourselves over and over why we didn’t do it sooner.  It was complete BLISS!! Of course, there was so much to see and do and we couldn’t conquer it all, so we have a second trip planned for fall. 

Because we had THE BEST TIME on this trip, I wanted to share our itinerary.  Planning our Tuscany road trip proved to be a bit more difficult than I expected, because I was set on seeing the Tuscany you see in the movies.  But since that part of Tuscany is the countryside, there isn’t as much about it on good old Google as I thought.  By the way, did you know that area is called Val d’Orcia?  I initially didn’t!

As I’m not a strict planner, I had a TON of options for things to do and see on the itinerary so we could choose at our leisure along the way.  So in the itinerary below, I’ve provided the things we did AND the things we didn’t get to do.  You know, just so you have options :). Our Tuscany itinerary hits places that are: low-key, reduced crowds, and don’t have a TON of attractions. Whether you’re planning a trip yourself, or just checking out the photos, enjoy!!

Click here for the Google Map

A Tuscan Road Trip | Italy


We flew into Pisa instead of Florence (because it was cheaper).  While we were in Pisa, we took a short drive from the airport to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa.  It was BUSY and quite touristy! We spent about an hour there walking around and taking photos before we hit the road to drive south and work our way back up.



Along the way to our first hotel, we stopped in Arezzo.  Arezzo is known for its Renaissance art (see The Legend of the True Cross by Piero della Francesca in the Cappella Maggiore in the Basilica di San Francesco), medieval jousting (we did not see this), its famous film locations (e.g. Life is Beautifulsee Piazza Grande), and FAB antique shopping (seriously, bring a checked bag).  It was, like most of the towns we visited, quite picturesque.  It also wasn’t crowded, which was a HUGE plus for me. 



We felt Montepulciano would be a great base for us in the southern Tuscan area (we were right!).  We booked one night at Villa Poggiano (10/10 would recommend). 

The town boasted vast panoramas, ancient churches, and a plethora of Renaissance buildings. We had dinner at La Bottega del Nobile and enjoyed walking around and exploring the town.  Montepulciano is know for Nobile wine (vino nobile di Montepulciano) and its underground wine cellars. It is also known as the location of the Twilight sequel New Moon (ha!), so you can expect a few more tourists than in other Val d’Orcia towns. You can tour these cellars in the town and sample all the wines!!  This was one of our favorite stops!!  Here are some wine recommendations:


Villa Poggiano


We stopped in for a moment to wander one of the most beautiful medieval villages.  Not much to do here but we did wander around, buy some art, and grabbed a drink and bite to eat. From the city gate, you’ll be privy to absolutely stunning views across the valley to Pienza.


Bagno Vignoni

A small, thermal village which is unique in that its town square is a pool of hot springs!  You can’t swim in the main “square,” but you can swim in the Parco dei Mulini .  We didn’t swim, but we did visit and it was STUNNING seafoam green waters.  We spent a ton of time here just hanging out by the water. 

Winery: Podere Le Ripi

Bagno Vignoni


Once the summer home of Pope Pius II, Pienza is an ideal Renaissance town.  Don’t miss the street “Via dell’Amore” aka Love Street!  The main sights include: the cathedral, Piazza Pio II, Palazzo Piccolomini, Plazzo Borgia, and Palazzo Comunale. 

Brewery: La Fonte


San Gimignano

The “Town of Fine Towers.”  The “Manhattan of the Middle Ages.”During the 14th century, every well off family in San Gimignano built a tower to show its economical power. Today, 13 towers still remain.

San Gimignano had many more tourists than any town we visited in Val d’Orcia.  Thus, we were a bit more partial to the towns down south. However, there is tons to see and do here including: the Cathedral, which is considered to be one of the most well known in all of Tuscany.  The Vernaccia di San Gimignano, a white wine produced only here, is a must try.  

For dinner: Locanda la Mandragola – Amazing quality food. Make sure you arrive early if you don’t have a reservation.

San Gimignano


A small, yet extremely photographic and picturesque small town.  We randomly stopped here, but would come back.  At Palazzo Pretorio, you can tour a pretty enthralling medieval castle. Upon purchasing your ticket for the castle, you also receive entry to Boccaccio’s house.  I wasn’t super into visiting this house, but did it anyway (because free).  I was glad I did because it provided access to a tower overlooking the entire town! 

Winery: I Balzini



A walled town known worldwide for its alabaster hand-made objects is less popular than it’s neighbor San Gimignano, but nonetheless worth the visit.  It features the oldest town hall in Tuscany (Palazzo dei Priori) and a rather unique duomo (Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta).  The walls and gates of the city are Etruscan with many sections from the 13th century.  We also visited the Medici Fortress and walked around the Roman Amphitheater while there. 

We wandered into a tiny little wine shop that focused solely on selling small batch wines: Enoteca Scali.  They have a plethora of excellent wines on tap that you can taste, sample, or have a glass.  

Wine Tasting: Enoteca Scali


Val d’Orcia Region


Cities we wanted to visit, but didn’t make it to: Sienna, Lucca, Florence.

Maybe next time, Tuscany!

The Dolomites were on my “to visit” list for a long time, but I just didn’t know when to go to how to narrow down what to do.  The possibilities for things to do and see seem endless initially. Once we were able to narrow it down, creating the itinerary was a breeze. In case you’d like to visit the Dolomites (or are just curious about what we did), I’m sharing our 4-day road trip itinerary with you!

We take a lot of trips of four day weekends because it’s convenient with our work schedules.  This works perfectly for a short trip to the Dolomites, but if you have the option to stay longer, do it! The more time, the merrier!  


Day 1


We flew into Venice (Marco Polo) airport, because that was the most convenient and cheapest option for us.  You can also fly into Venice (Treviso), Verona, or Innsbruck, Austria for short drives.  Milan and Munich are other options that are a bit further away. For more detailed information on transportation, see “How do I get there?” here.

Rental Car:

After flying into Venice, we rented a car.  We are Hertz Gold Card members (do it, it’s free!), so we don’t have to wait in the hours of lines to rent a car.  It’s an incredibly nice service to have (and for free!) and saves us a ton of time.

Views on the drive in


We hopped in our rental and drove to our hotel in Cortina.  From Cortina, we visited Tre Cime (~45 minutes) and Lago di Sorapis (~20 minutes).  The town is much more built up than I thought it would be and has lots of shopping.  To be honest, I was a bit surprised by all of the designer shops!  If you need any additional gear, you can always stop at a shop in town.

For more about where to stay, see “Where should I stay?” here.



Tre Cime di Lavaredo –  You could definitely spend DAYS hiking here, but we opted to arrive a few hours before sunset for two reasons: reduction of crowds and getting to watch sunset and hike back in the dark.   This was my absolutely favorite hike of the whole trip.  It was vast and stunning and a relatively easy one! The paths are wide and a bit rocky with some sheer drop-off cliffs. The views were STUNNING as everything is wide open and you can see for miles.

Get a pin and more specific details about visiting Tre Cime di Lavaredo under “Where are the places I must see in the Dolomites?” here.


Day 2

We spent the morning shopping and eating before we embarked on our evening hike.


Lago di Sorapis – This hike is the complete opposite of Tre Cime di Lavaredo.  It’s very leafy and with several walks thought the forest and a tiny, one person path.  I would 100% recommend visiting here in the early morning or evening, as it would be pretty annoying to be stuck in the hiking conga line.  This hike was harder and a bit more dangerous.  Jordan liked this hike more than Tre Cime.  The lake at the end made it worth it!  A helpful tip is to bring bug spray.

See more details about how to find Lago di Sorapis, under “Where are the places I must see in the Dolomites?” here.


Day 3

From Cortina, we drove west toward Ortiesi for our last night. Along the way we drove though the old Dolomites road which included several small towns, Passo Sella and Passo Gardena.  We made sure to stop along the way for some photos and just to enjoy the general splendor.  There are many gondolas and hiking trails to stop off on along the way if you have time!

For more about Passo Sella and Passo Gardena, see “Where are the places I must see in the Dolomites?” here.



After arriving at our hotel, Alpenhotel Rainell, we decided to relax at the spa and pool until dinner.  The views from this hotel were worth it!


Day 4


We awoke early (I’m talking 4:30AM) to drive to Alpe di Suisi for sunrise views.  We were sleepy, but the 30 minute walk to my view of choice was easy and we were rewarded with some killer views!! 

Learn more about visiting Alpe di Suisi by reading “Where are the places I must see in the Dolomites?” here.


After returning to the hotel, we checked out and drove over to the Seceda lift.  We purchased two lift tickets and up, up, and away we went.  The views are the top were completely incredible and we definitely wanted more time here. 

Read more about how to reach Seceda under “Where are the places I must see in the Dolomites?” here.


After two hours at the top, we took the lift back down to the car and drove the three-ish hours to the airport. 

We had several places we wanted to see but didn’t get to (due to time and my unwillingness to deal with people), so we will return once again! Check out some additional places to visit by scrolling all the way to the bottom of the page and reading “Places we didn’t have time for, but want to see when we returnhere.

Could you pack in more than we did? Absolutely! Would you want to?  Well, that’s totally up to you!

If there is one single thing I knew I must do while living it Italy, it was visit the Dolomites. After posting a ton of photos on Instagram (check them out here), I realized that many others dream of visiting as well. The planning and researching stages of this trip were a bit tedious (as with our trip to Ireland), since I didn’t really know from the beginning which places were a “must see” in the Dolomites. Thus, I thought I’d write about exactly what to see and how to visit here!

What are “the Dolomites?”

From my Instagram stories, I’ve had many questions about the Dolomites. To clarify, the Dolomites are located in northern Italy and are a part of the Southern Limestone Alps. One thing you will realize very quickly is that everything there has two names – one in Italian (as they are in Italy) and one in German. While you’re there, you feel like you are in Germany. The towns have a very Bavarian feel and many people wear traditional Bavarian attire. Just think of it as a place where you can order both pasta AND apple strudel at dinner.


When should I visit?

Summer is the most popular time for hiking, as the weather is warm. August is the busiest month, so I would aim for June or July. September to October are fall colors time and November begins the ski season. If you choose to visit in a shoulder season, you will find lack of accommodations and restaurant options. Thus, it is important to plan accordingly.


How do I get there?

There is no airport in the Dolomites! Thus, I would recommend driving. We flew to Venice (Marco Polo, but you can also fly to Treviso as well), rented a car, and drove 2.5 hours north. You can also fly into Verona, Innsbruck, Milan or Munich. I’d recommend you Google Map it. Here is a great “how to get to the Dolomites” resource here with more information.

When flying in and renting a car, I’d highly suggest ensuring the rental car office will be open when your flight arrives 🙂

Where should I stay?

Great question! This was the most difficult one for us to answer for ourselves. Cortina d’ampezzo is a great base for Tre Cime di Lavaredo, Lago di Sorapis, Lago di Braies, and Cinque Torri. Ortesi is a great base for Alpe di Siusi, Seceda, and Lago di Carezza. Passeo Gardena and Passeo Sella are between the two towns, so you can stop in on your way though.

There are a ton of other towns to stay in, but these two are general “hubs.” You can also stay in the rufigos, but to do this, you need to pack SUPER LIGHT because you’ll have to carry all of your stuff up the trails with you. So, keep this in mind (and make a reservation in advance).

Where are the places I must see in the Dolomites?”

Tre Cime di Lavaredo


I’m listing Tre Cime di Lavaredo first because it is probably the most iconic place in the Dolomites and it was my personal favorite to hike.

To get to Tre Cime, use this pin here. You will park right at the peaks, but to see them properly, you need to walk away from them (because they are just so huge). On your way up to the parking lot, you will reach a booth with an attendant. The fee for parking is 30€ per car. I know, it’s outrageous, but totally worth it for the views.

We arrived at Tre Cime around three hours before sunset. This was just as everyone was hiking back to the car to head home for the day. However, we had sunset views in mind, so this worked perfectly for us.

From the parking lot, walk toward Rifugio Lavaredo on top of the hill. Once you reach it, you just follow the path after it. Then you are on your way! We walked for about two hours until we reached Rifugio Locatelli (the third one on the path). Then, we stopped for a while before heading back in the dark.


There are many other paths you can take and hikes you can do here besides this one. For example, instead of walking to the first rifugio, you can walk away from it for additional stunning views (like, Paternsattel). You can also keep walking past Rifugio Locatelli if that is your jam. Many options for exploration here.

For lodging on site, you can camp in the parking lot or stay in a rifugio. We opted not to do either (as I’m not really down with group sleeping hostel style). Also, these rifugios offer meals, so you can stop in and grab a beer or food. Note, they are cash only!!!!

There are some incredibly steep drops here, so if you are bringing kids, make sure they don’t walk too close to the edge! Paths are very wide, so this should be doable.


Lago di Sorapis


This was the most popular place I visited (according to my Instagram replies, at least). Everyone seems to be in love with the light blue waters here and I can’t blame them.

To reach Lago di Sorapis, park on the side of the road at the Passo Tre Croci (click for pin). There will be a big field (probably with horses or cows). The trail begins at the end of that field. To know you are going in the right direction, look for signs for trail 215. You will follow 215 all the way to the lake. This is most certainly a trail that I would want to do in either the early morning hours or late in the evening (and walk back in the dark, as we did). The path starts out wide, but narrows quickly to a one person at a time path. There are also some areas where you must hold on to a wire rope, as you are walking along the edge of the mountain with no fence (sheer drop-off).

For this hike, I would not bring small children (unless you plan to carry them). As I said, the path is narrow, and the drop offs are steep!




Another iconic Dolomites peak, Seceda, is breathtaking! To reach the top, you can simply take a cable car from Ortesi (this is what I would recommend). It is 17€ one way or 34€ to return. The hours for the cable car are limited (08:30 – 17:30 in summer) and a ride to the top takes approximately 30 minutes if you time it right. You will first take a gondola and then board a cable car that takes off every 15 minutes. Just be careful not to get stuck up there if you aren’t prepared for the 2+hour hike to the bottom.

If you choose to hike up, you can park at the Praplan Parking lot. The hike is relatively steep and takes around two hours.

Once at the top, you can walk (uphill) for approximately 10-15 minute to get the best view of the Geisler Peaks. There are also endless hike possibilities here as well.

Seceda is open for skiing in winter as well.


Alpe di Siusi


This Alpine meadow is absolutely worth visiting. As the largest high-altitude Alpine meadow in Europe, Alpe di Siusi is home to some worthwhile views.

To reach the top. You have two options: drive and hike or take a cable car. The cable car is located here . Like Seceda, the hours are limited, so it’s important to plan accordingly. If you choose to drive and walk (as we did), it is very important to note that there are many driving restrictions associated with Alpe di Siusi to preserve its natural beauty.

To drive, park at the Compatsch parking lot and then walk the remainder of the way. A good path is to follow the road to the ADLER Lodge Alpe. It is incredibly important that you don’t drive past the Compatsch parking lot AND that you don’t drive to or from the Compatsch parking lot between the hours of 09:00 and 17:00. This is because this road is restricted usage. Both driving past the parking lot and driving to and from the parking lot after 9 and before 17 will result in fines upward of 150€. We drove here at 04:30 and left by 06:30 (for sunrise) and did not have to pay a parking attendant. However, parking for the day at that lot is 18€.


Passo Gardena & Passo Sella


During our drive from one hotel to another, we drove through both of these mountain passes. The roads wind back and forth up and down the mountains and the views are simply stunning. We pulled off the road quite a few times to soak in the views and take a few photos. There are a plethora of hikes and gondolas around the area, so you have plenty of options to choose from if you elect to do more than just pull over.


Places we didn’t have time for, but want to see when we return:

  • Lago di Carezza – There is no hike to get to this spot. You can park right next to the lake. It has green waters and is flanked by pine trees and tall peaks.
  • Lago di Braies – I’ve heard this spot be compared to the Eifel Tower in Paris – it’s the classic Dolomites place to visit. However, with this sort of fame, you know it HAS to be busy! Lago di Braies is one of the largest and deepest natural lakes in the Dolomites and also one of the most popular. There is a parking lot just a short walk from the lake. However, if you visit in the afternoon, you will have to leave your car in town and take a shuttle because of the sheer number of people visiting. Because of this, we did not visit on this trip.

    You can also rent a beautiful wooden boat and float out on the lake from June to September (10:00 to 17:00). It costs 18€ for ½ hour and 28€ for 1 hour. I have been told that if you want to rent a boat, you will need to be there before opening to snag one, as they are sold out very quickly.

  • Baita G. Segantini – A small pond that provides incredible reflections of the surrounding mountain ranges. It’s a 30 minute walk from Passo Rolle.
  • Cinque Torri – Rock climbers favorite! Also just good for viewing.

One thing I’ve learned about myself this year is that I tend to befriend strong women.  Alexia is one of those women; she’s a mom of two, a fellow photog (check out her work here), an avid gym-goer, and oh, did I mention she just finished her first degree?  I honestly have no idea how Alexia does it all, but I am so thankful that she finds time in her hectic schedule to hang out with me!

You might remember Alexia from this adorable family shoot in Ortigia last year.  This time, the kids stayed home!  Shane took Alexia out in their newly acquired vintage Fiat convertible for an intimate picnic overlooking the Ionian Sea.  It was the perfect romantic date.  Thanks for letting me tag along, you guys 😉

Alexia + Shane | Italian Fiat Picnic


Besides Sicily, we had only visited Naples and the Amalfi Coast within Italy before traveling to Rome. While we love Italy and are super excited to eventually “see it all,” we have been putting off many of the key cities until later. We mainly want to visit Italy in off season so that we can try to avoid the crowds. I say try because that absolutely may not be possible, as with our trip to Rome.

Prior to visiting the “eternal city,” I received mixed feedback; some people LOVED it and others HATED it. I was determined to be in the LOVE camp from the start. We decided to visit during a long weekend in February with unusually warm weather and enlisted the help of Katie of Planes, Trains and Babies to pin down an itinerary and tours. I honestly felt SO RELIEVED that I did not have to plan this trip, as there are SO many things to see and do in Rome, it’s hard to choose.

So, if you are planning a trip to Rome yourself, you may be thinking, “Should we really book tours?” “Is February a good time to go?” “Was a long weekend enough time?” Read on to find out!


Our Itinerary

Day 1

We arrived in Rome mid-day. It took us about an hour to get from the airport to our hotel and then we hopped on the metro to grab some lunch. Katie recommended the cacio e pepe pasta at Hotel Eden Il Giardino and it did NOT disappoint. We then paid a visit to the INCREDIBLY packed Trevi Fountain before heading back to our hotel to get ready for dinner.

cefalu-sicily-travel_0021.jpgYikes! Lighting was terrible and the Fountain was packed, so it was a quick gawk and coin toss before we moved on.


One piece of advice Katie gave me was to pre-purchase tours for Rome. We don’t really consider ourselves to be “tour people,” but we trusted the travel expert, and guess what…. we were SOOO glad we did! Rome ended up being packed, which was unexpected. Tip: My advice is do not go “in season.” Even in February, it was overwhelming. Busy season in Rome is a no for me.

Our first tour (and my FAVORITE!!!) was a food tour of Rome by LivItaly tours. Perhaps I loved it because it wasn’t in a jam packed area, but our guide, Jill, was absolutely amazing! We started out with traditional aperitivo (wine and a charcuterie plate), moved on to some traditional Roman fried food (like the Jewish artichoke), experienced true Roman pizza (it’s super thin, square and incredibly tasty), sat down for another round of cacio e pepe pasta, and finished off the night with some unique gelato flavors – like pine tree (AMAZING)!



While walking from place to place on the food tour, we also received a mini tour of the city. Our stops included the Parthenon, the turtle fountain, and the location where Ceasar was killed. Jill also told us about all of the little gold walking stones we were seeing in front of the houses in the Jewish Quarter. Sadly, they represent the Jews whom were taken from the homes where they are placed. The gold stones detail names, arrest dates, concentration camps, and assignation dates.



Day 2

On Day 2, we got up early for a Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica small group tour (6ppl max). We ended up being the only ones on our tour, so it was basically a private tour!

If I had to do it all over again, I would do the following things: show up earlier than the time they tell you to meet, walk straight to the Sistine Chapel – don’t stop – and, pay extra for a longer tour that includes the museums.

Tour groups are the first to enter the Vatican, but there is still a queue at security. By the time we made it to the Sistine Chapel, there were already quite a few people inside. If we had been earlier, we could have visited the chapel with less people. With that being said, because you run to the Chapel when you get in, it’s best to have a tour to see the rest of the Vatican museums on your way out. Our tour led us right to St. Peter’s Basilica, meaning we would have to pay again to re-enter the Vatican museums and I was not keen about doing that.

Also, as a side note, you can make reservations to visit the underground of the Vatican/St. Peters, but you have to do it directly from the website and FAR in advance. Additionally, you can visit the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, but EVERYTHING at the Vatican is CASH ONLY! So, don’t be like me and forget to stop at an ATM before you go.

Another thing to know is that it is forbidden to photograph the Sistine Chapel.  There are private tours in which photos ARE allowed, but they cost upwards of 450€ per person!!! We opted not to spend our life savings on that, so you won’t find any Sistine Chapel photos here. Sorry!


The Vatican Museums



St. Peter’s Basilica



After we had our fill of the Vatican, we wandered straight down the street to Castel Sant’Angelo. We were starving and ready for lunch, but opted to check this place out while we were in the area. It was a good choice. In my opinion, this is a SOLID place to visit just before sunset. You get an amazing view of the Vatican AND Rome. It’s incredibly beautiful and well worth the entry fee. My photos 100% do not do it justice, as it was midday with the brightest sun.


Castel Sant’Angelo


For lunch we dropped in to a local old-school trattoria, Dino E Toni.  Once we were seated, the food came out of the kitchen.  We didn’t even have to order.  It was great and inexpensive.


Day 3

For our last day in Rome, we booked a tour of the Coliseum, Roman Forum, and Palantine Hill. This tour lasted three hours. While I was intrigued by all of the history, about half way through I was starting to check out. Despite the fact that the tour lasted three hours, we missed many things I wanted to pause and explore more. I think that’s why I wasn’t such a fan of this one. What was super cool about it, is that we got to go out on the Coliseum stage like the gladiators and check out the underground, where they kept the animals, etc. It was a little bit creepy but sooooo informative. I really loved this part of the tour.


Coliseum Tour



Roman Forum and Palatine Hill



Coliseum at Sunset



Our Hotel

We LOVED The H’All Tailor Suite!  I decided to book this particular hotel because of their breakfast. The hotel’s Michelin star restaurant serves and individualized breakfast.  It was really incredibly and I would definitely stay here again. Also, our room was HUGE!


I’ve written about quite a few of my favorite areas to explore in Sicily – Agrigento, Mount Etna, San Vito Lo Capo… the list goes on. But one place I’ve featured before (see Maddie and Justin’s farewell to Sicily shoot here), but never really talked about, is Cefalù. If you pick up a travel book about Sicily, the photo on the cover is likely to be Cefalù. That’s because Cefalù is insanely beautiful and 100% worth the visit if you are planning a trip on island.

cefalu-sicily-travel_0020.jpgPhoto: Jordan Gilles


Cefalù is approximately two hours from our home, so we can make a fabulous day trip out of it. For everyone who doesn’t live in Sicily, it’s on the Tyrrhenian (north) coast. If you are flying in to Catania or Palermo and want to visit, it’s probably best to rent a car. Cefalù also holds one of my favorite hotels in Sicily, Hotel Kalura, so making a long weekend out of a visit is definitely well worth it.

So what are some of my favorite things to do in Cefalù?  Great question!  Here are my top 5:



Top Five Things to do In Cefalù


1. Leisurely stroll around the town and take in the splendor.

As I mentioned before, Cefalù is easy on the eyes. Part of the fun of going there are the views!



2. Pay a visit to Cefalù Cathedral.

One of Sicily’s most important structures from the Norman domination, Cefalù Cathedral will not disappoint. Built in 1131 (what?!) is decorated with some of the best preserved and earliest mosaics in Sicily. If you take a look a the image of Christ below, you will notice that he is holding his hand in what could be misinterpreted as a “gang sign.” This is actually a depiction of him blessing the congregants, as he is “holing his fingers as the faithful do when making the sign of the cross.”



3. Hang out or take a swim in the crystal clear waters of Spiaggia di Cefalú.

The beaches in Cefalù tend to be a bit rocky, but boy, the waters are gorgeous!



4. Take a hike.

La Rocca offers over the top views of Cefalù – literally. The hike takes about an hour (and isn’t a leisurely stroll, so don’t do it if you aren’t wearing proper shoes). As an extra perk, you will pass the ruins of Temple of Diana on the way up.



5. Enjoy delectable Sicilian cuisine.

Our personal favorite spots to grab a bite are Enoteca Le Petit Tonneau (at sunset) and La Brace (for dinner). Thanks to Maddie and Justin for recommendations of both!


Out of the many day trips we have made in Sicily, our visit to Agrigento was probably my favorite. While Taormina has classic Sicilian charm, and San Vito Lo Capo is a beach town of dreams, Agrigento just utterly fascinated me. Agrigento is a hilltop city on the southwestern coast of Sicily. There lies the ancient city of Akragas (582 BC), which you can visit in what is known as the Valley of the Temples. Sounds like there would be many temples located in this valley, right? Well, there are many temples – eight to be exact. But, the location is not in a valley, but instead on the top of a hill overlooking Agrigento. What strategic placement!

The temples available to visit include the Temples of:

  • Hera
  • Concordia
  • Heracles
  • Olympian Zeus
  • Castor and Pollux
  • Hephaestos
  • Demeter
  • Asclepius (the God of Medicine).

All of the temples were built between 510 BC and 430 BC and are in varying conditions. As you can see in the photos below, some of the temples are incredibly well preserved.

Ticket prices range from 10€ to 15€, depending on which ticket you purchase (park only, or combined with garden or combined with archeological museum). You can purchase your tickets ahead of time here or at the park. You must also have euro cash to pay for parking (varies on time you spend there). Upon entering the park, you must go through a security screening. No drones are permitted.

Just west of Agrigento, you can find another of my favorite attractions, Scala dei Turchi (also known as the Turkish Steps; pin here). The Turkish Steps are natural cliffs of white marl that have been carved into “steps” with centuries of wind and rain. The bright white color of the steps in contrast to the turquoise waters of the sea are simply stunning. You can drive by and view the steps from the top (there is a pull off with an overlook) and travel down to the beach where you can start at the bottom and climb up! You get to the bottom, you simply need to park and enter though the nearest lido – Lido Scala dei Turchi (entrance was free, but we did not go in season.


Valley of the Temples

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Turkish Steps

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