Scotland. It’s been on my “to visit” list forever and I just knew I HAD to make it happen. So, with very little lead time, I planned and booked it. Was planning something like this last minute a bad idea? Well, it honestly depends on your budget and flexibility, but we were able to make it work. While in Scotland, we prioritized Edinburgh, Glencoe and surrounding areas, and Isle of Skye. I’d honestly like to go back again one day, because there is just SO MUCH MORE to see!
The highlight of our trip to Scotland was definitely our time on Isle of Skye. All of the other places we visited (Edinburgh, Glencoe/Fort William) were amazing, but Isle of Skye was utterly breathtaking!
We spent three full days driving all around the island, hiking as much as we could, and taking in the sheer beauty of Scotland’s nature. We saw waterfalls, cliffs, flora and fauna, a plethora of sheep, and even the occasional highland cow! There were unlimited views and minimal people, especially compared to some of our other European ventures. The Scottish people were INCREDIBLY kind and overall, I really have nothing but good things to say about the entire adventure. I’m so grateful for the opportunity for visit such a magical place!
Anyone who follows along with me on Instagram knows I’m quite *obsessed* with Etna. However, we have mainly just visited her northern side. From winery visits to our skiing a volcano adventure to this pretty cool hike I did with my friend, Rachel, all Etna adventures have been on her north side. For this long weekend, we decided to check out more of what she has to offer on her south side.
We drove up to the southern cable car station, but did not elect to go up by cable car. Instead, we stopped just down the street from the cable car station near the Silvestri Craters. The lower crater is within view of the parking lot, so it felt natural to start there. The upper crater has two paths. Take the one to the left, as the incline isn’t as insane as the one on the right.
Overall, the hikes were easy (except for the insane incline to get to the top of the upper crater, but there is a way around that). Easy access, easy to hike, and the views were breathtaking. I felt as though I was on Mars most of the time.
Check out some of my favorite images from the experience below.
Christmas markets are one of my favorite experiences in Europe. Since Sicily is so warm year around, it makes getting into the holiday spirit a bit difficult. So, I found the perfect flight that left after work on Friday and returned on a Sunday evening. We jetted off to Frankfurt with the intention of meeting up with and old friend and taking the train down to Strasbourg, France for some Christmas market fun. Turns out France had a major transportation strike that weekend. So, instead of renting a car (totally do-able if that’s what you wanted to do), we decided to check out the markets in the Römerberg part of Frankfurt instead. I’m so glad we did because it was one of our favorite markets thus far. Last year, we visited the markets in Berlin and Budapest and we loved those too! The atmosphere in Frankfurt was just perfect for the holidays and we had a wonderful weekend hanging out with Max and drinking Glühwein!
Our second stop on our Scotland road trip was the village of Glencoe in the Scottish Highlands. We spent two nights here and explored nearby attractions such as the Glenfinnan Viaduct, Dunvegan Castle & Gardens, and Loch Ness, while in the area.
Coming from the city of Edinburgh, I couldn’t help but stare at the remarkable peaks that stood before us as we drove into Glencoe. With a clearly marked parking area, Glencoe offers many trails and hikes that can take you all the way up Buachaille Etive Mor and Bidean nam Bian. Be sure to bring your hiking shoes!
Not far from Glencoe is the Glenfinnan Viaduct, in all of it’s glory. Definitely check the schedule online prior to visiting if you want to see the steam train before you go. Also, it’s important to know there is a bit of a walk to the Viaduct from the parking lot, so allow for plenty of time prior to the train passing. We also visited Dunvegan Castle & Gardens on our way to Isle of Skye. was one of my absolute favorite stops on the trip, although I must say, the fog rolling in when we arrived might have had a little something to do with it. Loch Ness was a must see for Jordan. It was absolutely lovely and I know we both would have liked to have spent a bit more time there.
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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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
All in all, we had so much unexpected fun in Florence, I wouldn’t be surprised if we visited again one day!
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!
I’ve dreamed of Scotland for so long, this past summer, I insisted we go. Note to self and others, don’t plan Scotland on a whim. It worked out and was lovely, but I can’t say it was cheap or that accommodation was easy to find. Be that as it may, we had a blast running around the city and countryside just trying to take it all in. Much like the Dolomites, Scotland was vast, expansive and simply breathtaking.
Our first stop on our 8-day trip was Edinburgh. Twenty-four hours there wasn’t nearly enough, but we also had plans to meet up with a friend. If visiting Edinburgh, I’d definitely allot at least two days (or more!) to see all the sights and take it all in.
Edinburgh Castle – You’ll certainly see Edinburgh Castle in Edinburgh, as it dominates the skyline of the city from way up high on Castle Rock. It was quite pricy to enter (~£50), so if we had to do it all over again, I probably would have just enjoyed the view from the outside!
Edinburgh Gin Distillery – You’ll have to have a reservation for this one! We didn’t, but we did visit the gift shop to buy some spirts and other little knickknacks.
Arthur’s Seat/ Holyrood Park – Arthur’s Seat is an extinct volcano and is part of Holyrood Park. It was quite impressive to see such nature literally right next to the city. We walked here and wished we had more time to explore the area more before it got too dark.
The Royal Mile/Old Town – The Royal Mile is the Main Street of Old Town Edinburgh. It was quite busy, but lined with many great shops and near many of the great attractions!
Victoria Street – If you like Harry Potter, there are quite a few attractions in Edinburgh and Victoria Street is one! This two level street is pretty cool just to look at, but also appeared as Diagon Alley!
Circus Lane – A picturesque and lovely street to walk down and snap a few photos
Forage and Chatter – We just casually walked in to this delicious restaurant for lunch without a reservation and got lucky! It’s a super cute little restaurant that serves local dishes, much of which is foraged.
The Perch – My friend, Natalia, recommend this restaurant and we met here for dinner. It was delicious (they had the mac and cheese) and I just had to try the Haggis
There were so many other things to see and places to eat, but we didn’t have enough time to see it all or do it justice. Until next time, Edinburgh!
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.
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 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
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!!
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!
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!
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.
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!
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!!
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 Beautiful – see 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:
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.
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
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
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.
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
Cities we wanted to visit, but didn’t make it to: Sienna, Lucca, Florence.
Maybe next time, Tuscany!