Well it seems as though there are many of us who share a fondness for Italy, particularly the places that Colin and I have visited! Thank you all so much for your lovely comments and stories of your own holidays and honeymoons – I have really enjoyed reading them.
I’ll be honest, it’s taken me ages to pull together the photos for this next blog, mainly because I have loved looking at them and reliving the memories!! : ) I will start where we left off last week, and that was journeying towards Florence. Once again the traffic was light, and the roads a joy to drive on, especially with so much to see. Our hotel was cheap and cheerful – bit like the Super 8 we stayed in while holidaying in Memphis, but the receptionist spoke perfect English and was most helpful when suggesting a restaurant for dinner that night. Il Gatto e la Volpe (The Fox and Cat) was right in the centre of town and we enjoyed fabulous pasta washed down with a bottle of Valpolicella! We mooched around a little, doing a bit of window shopping before chancing upon the Piazza Duomo which was beautifully lit, and then headed back, knowing that we had the following morning to explore properly.
The sun was splitting the pavements as we headed towards the Piazza di Signoria where there is a copy of Michaelangelo’s statue of David. The original was removed from the square some years back because it was deteriorating, but now has pride of place amongst the fabulous artwork on show in the Galleria degli Uffizi. As we were rather short of time, and there were mighty queues for the Gallery, Colin and I decided to visit the Piazza de’ Pitti with it’s beautiful Boboli Gardens instead, and we certainly had our fill of amazing masterpieces by painters such as Botticelli, Rubens, and Caravaggio. Some were quite faded, and unclear, but others were so vivid, the paint looked as though it would be wet to the touch. From there we walked to the Ponte Vecchio – the beautiful covered bridge that has the most incredible collection of jewellery shops on either side of it. I was in heaven looking at all the gold, silver, pearls and gemstones, but Colin managed to tear me away to get some lovely photographs!
Our next port of call was Genova (Colin loves Genoa cake!) but to get there we chose to drive through Tuscany rather than take the motorway. We had heard SO many wonderful things about this particular part of Italy we set the sat nav for San Gimigano, which is a small walled medieval hill town in the province of Siena. I don’t think I have ever driven through such beautiful countryside. Colin described it as a giant landscaped garden, and he was right. Wherever you looked there were field upon field of stunning yellow sunflowers, all with their heads turned away from the bright sunlight. Occasionally green rows of grapevines would break the sea of colour, and on most of the hillsides we saw picturesque little towns surrounded by Cypress trees.
The photos don’t really do it justice, but suffice to say we were completely hooked, and will definitely be returning. It was just on 3.30pm when we arrived, and this was the temperature!!! Completely still, and incredibly hot and sunny, we both found it quite uncomfortable to do anything much more than make our way to the Palazzo Comunale to have a cold drink and a sit down! Feeling somewhat refreshed, we did then walk through the narrow cobbled streets, and enjoy the, shops, churches, and traditional architecture, some of which dates back to the 13th Century. We returned to the car – which was literally like an oven – by 5pm, and decided to head towards the coast and the Port of Genoa – although the Italians call it Genova.
The little Motel we’d stayed in the night before paled into insignificance was we walked into the reception of the incredible hotel Colin had booked us into. It was right in the centre of the City adjacent to this huge fountain spouting purple water in the Piazza De Ferrari! Amazing. Our room was absolutely huge with seriously high ceilings, and about the size of a tennis court; we were delighted : )
Yet again we awoke to clear blue skies and sunshine, and after a fabulous breakfast in the very swish restaurant of the hotel, we went exploring in the Via Garibaldi, passing the Santa Maria de Castello and the Palazzo Bianco, and up towards the Albertis Castle. There was an antiques market set up in one of the squares, but unlike England, where you can usually find a bargain, the beautiful porcelain plate we enquired about was 200 Euros!
We were back on the road again by early afternoon, and drove through some beautiful towns and villages before arriving at Santa Margaretta which is right on the coast. The countryside is pretty hilly around this part of Italy, and so the buildings often face out to sea. What is fascinating to see is the use of Trompe L’Oeil and 3D painting to make the flat walls appear to be filled with shuttered windows. The houses themselves were incredible shades of orange, blue, cream, pink and pale green, and made for some of the prettiest streets I’ve ever seen.
With temperatures again in the low 40s the small beach was crammed with Italian families enjoying their Sunday afternoon in the sun. A swim would have been nice, but we were on a mission to visit Portofino, and having parked the car, we caught the bus to this stunning little town. You may remember that Colin and I took my sister Jenny and her partner Linda to Portmerion last year, and the entire premise of that incredible seaside village built on the coast by the Welsh architect Clough Williams-Ellis, is in Portofino. It is absolutely beautiful, with incredible architecture and colour. We ate in a restaurant that was on the waters edge, and this was the view from there. I had grilled shrimp which were just delicious, and as the sun started to sink into the sea, we decided to get the boat not the bus back to Santa Margaretta – a perfect end to a perfect day.
Our journey to Lake Garda, took quite a while, and we arrived in darkness, so had not really appreciated just how huge it was until the morning! I don’t think I’ve ever seen a lake that has a horizon! We had planned to take a drive around it, but were feeling pretty tired after our long day in Portofino, and once again, the temperatures were in the low 40s, and very humid. So, we opted for a pool day and lounged here making the best of the cool water and stunning view of the Lake. That evening we took the hotel shuttle bus to Sirmione which had been recommended to us. The air was still and VERY warm, and I had more hot flushes than Colin’s had hot dinners!! That said, it was a great night, with more beautiful views to look at and take pictures of – I particularly liked this one that Colin took of the sunset.
It had occurred to me a few days previously that we seemed to have seen pretty much all of the places we’d planned to, but had only been away for 10 days or so. I knew weren’t flying home for another week or so, and so I mentioned this to Colin who promptly produced two envelopes. One contained our homeward bound flight details on the 21st July, but the other was a flight to an unknown destination!! Well, unknown to me, but obviously not to him : )! I was beyond excited, and more than a little desperate to find out where we were flying to, but it was to stay a secret until we got to the airport, and so feeling thoroughly spoilt, we packed the car and set off to our final port of call in Italy, Venice.
I was going to continue with my travelog, but realize having read this back, that yet again it’s quite a lot for you to get through! I do hope you enjoy the photos and next time I will conclude and let you know of the amazing surprises Colin had arranged for me… Took my breath away – literally…
Looking forward to hearing from you as always : )
With my love, Ali xx