Tantalizing Taormina

Sicily, in particular, Taormina, had been on my bucket list for a while. If you follow my blog, you know that I LOVE Italy and have blogged about many of the cities I have been to. So I finally decided that I could no longer put this off.  Being that Sicily is an island (the largest in the Mediterranean) we decided it would be best to leave it for the end of our 2-week trip throughout Italy, figuring we would be pretty exhausted (we were) and would benefit from relaxing by the hotel pool or beach. We flew from Rome to Catania and hired a private driver through Viator (very affordable) to drive us to Taormina. As usual, I must start with our hotel. We stayed at the NH Collection Taormina, located in the heart of town, a few steps away from Corso Umberto I and the city center. The room was spacious with a gorgeous bathroom and the best part was the panoramic view from our balcony, simply stunning. I would advise staying at any of the hilltop hotels, there are several nice ones to choose from offering magnificent views.  Here are some of the views from our room:


Views of Taormina from our room


More amazing views…


The infinity pool area overlooking the town


Our daughter admiring the views from the infinity pool


Our room

Taormina is full of quaint shopping streets, beautiful architecture, breathtaking sceneries and delicious food everywhere.  Here are a few things I loved in Taormina:

Stroll Corso Umberto I
Bordered to the north by Porta Messina and to the south by Porta Catania, the Corso exhibits many buildings from different eras. Also full of numerous shops, bars and restaurants, the cobblestoned, pedestrian street is always very busy, especially in the evenings. While you will encounter the obligatory typical souvenir shops, make sure you don’t miss some of the other boutiques selling some beautiful ceramics and high end items, typical of Sicily. The Corso is the main street in town, which also has many small alleys and side streets to discover, leading to more shops and eateries up and down some steps.


The many buildings on Corso Umberto I


Steps leading up to a beautiful ceramic shop right off the Corso


Balconies seen all over the Corso


Fruit stand on a side street in Taormina

Piazza IX Aprile              
Piazza IX April, Taormina’s main square, is a fantastic stopping point along your stroll on the Corso and a perfect place to enjoy a gelato while people watching. Make sure not to miss the  breathtaking views of the Ionian Sea and Mount Etna from the piazza over the water, truly spectacular! You can find many important monuments on this piazza, such as the early-18th-century Chiesa di San Giuseppe, which represents a beautiful example of Sicilian baroque, with its double staircase located in front of the entrance. Another beautiful church on the piazza is the Church of Sant’Agostino with a commanding presence and a terrace that overlooks the Messina Gulf. Also on the piazza is the Torre dell’Orologio (the 12th-century clock tower) which leads you through to the Borgo Medievale (Medieval Quarter) and eventually to the Piazza del Duomo.


The beautiful Chiesa di San Giuseppe


Also on the piazza, the Church of Sant’Agostino


Torre dell’Orologio (photo courtesy of continentaltaormina.com)


The piazza full of tourists in the evening

Piazza del Duomo 
The path on the Corso from the clock tower though the medieval quarter will lead you to the Piazza del Duomo, another great gathering spot. On the piazza stands the Duomo of Taormina, hence the piazza’s name. In the center of the square you will also find the Quattro Fontane di Taormina, a Baroque-style fountain featuring a centaur, representing Taormina’s city symbol. However, the statue atop the fountain isn’t a straightforward centaur. Not only is the figure female rather than male, it also only has two legs (the back two) rather than four. No one knows why the centaur is not typical but the people of Taormina have adopted the statue as the town symbol. You will find many folks sitting around the fountain in the late evenings, enjoying the crowds and having gelato.


Duomo of Taormina and the Quattro Fontane di Taormina


Sitting by the Quattro Fontane on a beautiful evening


Another view of the piazza


Another side street off the piazza


The Duomo at night

Pasticceria Gelateria D’Amore
One item you can find all over are cannoli, as they were originated in Sicily. We enjoyed many cannoli and gelatos in various places but we really liked Pasticceria D’Amore. The store has a window where one can observe them while they’re making the cannoli, and they offer a great variety of gelatos and pastries.


Pasticceria D’Amore


Cannoli with a variety of fillings being prepared

Greek Theater (Teatro Greco)
A visit to the ancient Teatro Greco is a must, especially if you love the ancient monuments and ruins found throughout Europe. Despite its name, the Greek Theater is actually an ancient Roman structure. The ruins you see today date primarily from the 2nd century A.D., although the theater was started in the 7th century B.C. Taormina’s Greek Theater sits high above the town’s famous beaches, so visitors who climb uphill to see the ruin are rewarded with gorgeous views of Taormina, the beaches below and the Mount Etna volcano.  Many events are held at the theater, click here for the schedule of artists, plays and concerts. This is also the venue for the Taormina Film Festival held every year in June.


Teatro Greco (photo courtesy of Akos Hajdu)


Another stunning view of the theater

Taormina Funivia  
The Taormina Funivia (cable car)  connects the town center with the beach at Mazzaro. It makes getting down to the beach or back to your hotel easy and quick, especially in the hot summer months. There are eight cable cars in the Taormina-Mazzaro Funivia system that are in constant rotation, depending on the season. During the busiest months, cable cars run every 15 minutes, and the trip from one end to the other takes less than five minutes.

cable car2

Cable Cars (photo credit unknown)

Here are some more photos of our trip for your enjoyment:


The stunning views of the sea from Piazza IX April


More amazing views from the piazza


And some more views…


Dinner at this delicious pizzeria


YUM! Pizza in Sicily!


One of the MANY cannoli we had on this island!


One of the side streets off Corso Umberto I


One of the gates into the old town, Porta Catania di Taormina


We started our stroll onto the Corso through the other town gate, Porta Messina di Taormina

Have you visited beautiful Taormina?  I would love to know what you enjoyed most!

My Signature

Fabulous Florence

Florence is one of Italy’s most visited cities. Delectable food, magnificent shopping and some of the most beautiful works of art in the world. I have visited Florence a few times but always on very short trips so I still feel the need to experience more of it. Florence does not disappoint, plenty to see and do. I would also love the opportunity to explore more of the Tuscan towns, which make great day trips from Florence. I have been to Pisa, Siena and San Gimignano, which are all breathtakingly beautiful as well.  On our last trip we were fortunate to stay within the pedestrian area of Florence in the beautiful Hotel Calzaiuoli. Our room was spacious and very comfortable, not to mention it had a magnificent view of the Duomo from our window.  Staying in this area was wonderful as we were a very short walk from all of the sights.


Lobby of Hotel Calzaiuoli


View of the Duomo from our room window


Our room

Piazzale Michelangelo
Piazzale Michelangelo is my favorite place to visit in the city.  Not only can you catch a perfect sunset here, but the 19th century piazza has the absolute best panoramic view of Florence. The square is decorated with copies of Michelangelo’s sculptures, but it’s truly the view people come here to see. 


Enjoying this view!


Views of this amazing city from Piazzale Michelangelo


View of Ponte Vecchio

Duomo & Giotto’s Campanile
The Cathedral di Santa Maria del Fiore (The Virgin of the Flower), nicknamed the Duomo after the enormous octagonal dome on its east end, is the cathedral of Florence and considered by many as the birthplace of the Renaissance. There are many other Catholic churches in Florence, many of them associated with the Renaissance, including Santa Maria Novella, Santa Croce, and the Brancacci Chapel. However, the Duomo is the home church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Florence and the third largest church in the world (after St. Peter’s in Rome and St. Paul’s in London).

The Duomo dominates the Florentine landscape and can be easily spotted throughout the city.  Whether you are seeing it from the outside or inside, it is truly a beautiful piece of architecture not to be missed. Now I will warn you that if you are visiting during the peak of the summer months, the lines to enter the Duomo can stretch for hours in the summer heat.  I strongly recommend you purchase tickets in advance.




The front of the Cathedral


Artwork inside of the dome.

Once at the Duomo you must also visit Giotto’s Campanile, a free-standing campanile that is part of the complex of buildings that make up the Florence Cathedral.  If you are brave enough (and in shape) to climb the 144 steps to reach the very top (there are no elevators), then you will most definitely find incredible panoramic views of the city, not to mention a totally unique perspective from which you can admire the Cathedral and the Cupola of Brunelleschi (the dome).


Galleria dell’Accademia
The Galleria dell’Accademia, usually referred to as the Accademia, is without a doubt most famous for its sculptures by the great Renaissance artist, Michelangelo, primarily the magnificent statue of David within the Tribune. No doubt, most everyone visits David before leaving Florence. Again, if your time is limited, make sure you purchase advance tickets, as the wait times can be pretty long, especially during the summer.


The amazing sculpture of David.

But don’t get confused, as there is another statue of David situated right within the heart of Piazza della Signoria, however this is a replica that was placed here to protect the original. If you really want to see the original David you must visit the Accademia.


Entrance to Palazzo Vecchio on the Piazza della Signoria.

Ponte Vecchio
I love the Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge).  It is the oldest bridge in Florence and possibly the most recognizable bridge in Italy. The Ponte Vecchio is full of tiny little shops and stalls mostly selling gold jewelry and it’s always pretty busy with visitors. Make sure to wander the banks of the river Arno, as you can also find beautiful views of the bridge from there as well.


On my visit in 1992.


The beautiful Ponte Vecchio bridge.

And after you are finished seeing all the sights and museums, feel free to enjoy getting lost in this amazingly gorgeous city. There are so many beautiful little streets and open piazzas in Florence, with great restaurants, top designer stores, coffee shops and gelato places. Here are a few more photos from my trips:


The Church of Ognissanti (All-Saints Church)


Gelateria Perche no!…   An amazing little gelato shop around the corner from our hotel selling many flavors including lavender gelato, which I loved!


Basilica of Santa Croce, another one of my favorite sights in Florence.


Views along the Arno River.


Our daughter posing by the Leaning Tower.


Duomo di Siena


Piazza del Campo in Siena, regarded as one of Europe’s greatest medieval squares.


Typical shop in Siena


View of Siena from outside the city.


Walls outside of San Gimignano.


Typical ceramic shop in San Gimignano.


Duomo di San Gimignano


Hilltop views from a side street in San Gimignano

Have you been to Florence or Tuscany?  I would love to hear what some of your favorite spots are.

My Signature

Scenic Sorrento

If you follow my blog you’ll know by now that I have a bit of a travel addiction and I especially love to visit Italy.  I’ve blogged about Rome, Venice, Positano, Capri, Ravello and today I will share with you my adventures in Sorrento.  Sorrento is usually the base city for our visits to the Amalfi Coast, and even though it may not get as much attention as Amalfi or Positano, we love this quaint town.  It’s also situated on a cliffside as all of the Amalfi Coast towns, and also has plenty or history, beautiful sights, shops and restaurants.  But perhaps one of the things we love about it most is the hotel we always stay at, the Hilton Sorrento Palace.  I can’t say enough about this property, especially if you’re traveling with kids.  While it is not situated right in town, it’s only a 10 minute car or cab ride away, and it has all of the amenities you may need.  Let me just say, it’s definitely worth to spend the extra money and reserve a room with a view, because the views you will wake up to are absolutely stunning!  Take a look at this:

View from the Sorrento Palace Hotel

View from the Sorrento Palace Hotel

The hotel also has a great Kid’s Club with plenty of activities every day, situated right by the gorgeous multi-level pool area (again with stunning views of Mount Vesuvius), as well as a great poolside café, perfect for lunch or gelato snacks. Also worth mentioning is the amazing buffet breakfast served in the breakfast room every morning.  My daughter goes crazy over the freshly made crepe and pancake stations, not to mention any other item one can desire for breakfast.  And last but not least is the amazingly delicious rooftop restaurant, serving some of the best dishes we’ve eaten in Sorrento, and mind you, we are not usually big on hotel restaurants.

Hubby and daughter ordering their freshly made crepes at the breakfast buffet.

Hubby and daughter ordering their freshly made crepes at the breakfast buffet.

Dinner at the rooftop restaurant of the hotel.

Dinner at the rooftop restaurant of the hotel.

But enough about the accommodations and let’s get to the beauty of this town.  The cobblestone streets and narrow lanes that lead out of the Piazza Tasso, the town’s main square, include Via San Cesareo, the town’s primary shopping street, full of shops and cafes. If you return in the evenings, when vehicle access is restricted the central hub becomes one of the town’s most popular places for the traditional Mediterranean pastime of an easygoing evening stroll. And in typical Italian fashion, all of the stores and restaurants stay open pretty late.  Also on the main square is a terrific little snack bar, Bar Ercolano, that sells the most amazing gelato, our daughter had her nightly treat at this place. A small white tourist train (Sorrento City Train) also leaves from the square. For a few euros it takes you on a 30-minute round trip through the old town and down to Marina Piccola. But perhaps one of my favorite sights on the square is the Baroque Church of Santa Maria del Carmine, with its beautiful  yellow and white facade, stop in and take a look inside this gorgeous church. In the center of the square stands a statue of St. Antonino Abate, the patron saint of Sorrento.

Baroque Church of Santa Maria del Carmine


Another view of Piazza Tasso

Enjoying her evening gelato  at Piazza Tasso

Enjoying her evening gelato at Piazza Tasso

Finishing our train ride

Finishing our train ride

One of our favorite restaurants in town is the Michelin star rated Il Buco, (reservations strongly recommended).  The restaurant, housed in the wine cellars of an old monastery in the center of Sorrento, has some of the best food I’ve had anywhere in Europe, not to mention some of the most exceptional service as well.  The place is not easy to find,  as it’s tucked away on a side street off of Piazza San Antonino, but ask anyone and they will lead you right to it.  You can sit outside on the romantic cobblestone street, but we much preferred to sit in the stunning indoor restaurant, created in the beautiful, old cellar of the convent of Theatine monks, dating all the way back to 1400.  The dishes rotate on a nightly basis, and if you don’t particularly like anything on the menu, (our daughter is quite picky) they will try to accomodate you by creating something special with whatever fresh pasta, fish and ingredients they have for the day.  As they like to say…You are invited to discover all tastes and flavors of our tradition, reworked and revised to create exciting new experiences for the senses. The presentation of the food was also spectacular, and every meal and wine came with a perfect explanation of its components, ingredients and where it came from.  Oh and make sure you leave room for the delectable desserts. Needless to say, we went back for a second meal.

Il Buco Restaurant

Il Buco Restaurant

You will find many types of shops in Sorrento selling leather sandals, ceramics, limoncello and soaps, all sorts of goodies.  One of our favorite leather shops is La Conchiglia, where you can have your sandals custom made while you wait.  Take your time and stroll through the town and I’m sure you’ll find something you like.


Typical souvenir store

La Conchiglia leather sandal shop

La Conchiglia leather sandal shop

Gorgeous leather sandals made while you wait

Gorgeous leather sandals made while you wait

Lemon drinks, soaps and candles, all very popular throughout  the Amalfi Coast

Lemon drinks, soaps and candles, all very popular throughout the Amalfi Coast

Sorrento is also a great place to take day trips from, especially by ferry.  You can take a boat to Positano, Amalfi, Capri, and many other Amalfi Coast towns.

A view of Sorrento from the ferry

A view of Sorrento from the ferry

Here are a few more photos from our various trips for your enjoyment. Have you ever been to Sorrento? I’d love to hear what you enjoyed most…

My Signature


Bell Tower of the Sorrento Cathedral

Bell Tower of the Sorrento Cathedral


Kid’s Club activities by the hotel pool

One of the many pedestrian shopping streets in town

One of the many pedestrian shopping streets in town

Typical limoncello shop

Typical limoncello shop

Beautiful view from our room balcony at the Hilton Sorrento Palace Hotel


On Piazza Tasso, getting ready for our evening stroll


One of the many unique shops in this town


Beautiful scenery on our drive leaving Sorrento


Visions of Venice

Experiencing Venice is like falling in love at first sight. To many, Paris is considered the most beautiful city in the world. To me, Venice is. All of the beautiful architecture, the canals, the gondolas, I just find it amazing (it’s a UNESCO World Heritage property).  Since my first visit when I was fifteen, I always found this enchanting city to be very unique.  I love that you can walk everywhere, no need to rent a car.  But make sure you hop on the vaporetto (water bus) which gives you a wide angle view of Venice’s beauty that you just can’t get by walking around.  I also love to wander and get lost through all of the winding, narrow cobblestone streets, and the further you venture away from Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square), the quainter the neighborhoods become, San Polo being my favorite.  San Polo is a quarter of artists and artisans, with narrow streets and tiny “campos” or squares.  But what I love is that people actually live here in the tiny apartments above the many shops and restaurants, giving you a real neighborhood feel. Make the most of your time exploring through tiny alleys, across endless bridges, and make sure to just take it all in, while stopping for a coffee or gelato along the way.

Places to Stay We typically fly into Venice and take a water taxi from the airport.  I really like staying close to St. Mark’s square, as the location is very convenient.  This last time we stayed at the Residence Corte Grimani and were very pleased.  We stayed in a one bedroom apartment (which for Venice is huge) for the three of us, and our daughter was thrilled to learn she had her own bathroom. Situated steps from St. Mark’s, the property is very comfortable and we had amazing canal views from our windows.  I highly recommend this hotel if you’re traveling with children. Other nice hotels where we’ve stayed in the past are the Cavaletto and the Bonvecchiati, both very near to St. Mark’s also.  Important to note, it’s good to find a hotel that has water taxi or water bus access, so that you don’t have to carry all of your luggage through the cobblestone streets.

Residence Corte Grimani

Residence Corte Grimani Hotel, fantastic location…

View from our apartment window...priceless!

View from our apartment window…priceless!

Churches  As with most major Italian cities, Venice has many gorgeous churches to visit.  My favorite of course is Basilica di San Marco, one of my favorite churches in all of Europe and one of the finest examples of Byzantine architecture in the word. Words cannot describe this amazingly beautiful sanctuary, it’s truly a must see.  Another church I love in Venice is the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute, with its prominent position at the tip of Dorsoduro, where the Grand Canal merges with St. Mark’s Basin.

Basilica di San Marco

Basilica di San Marco

La Salute

Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute

Gondola Rides We visited at the peak of the high season in August, it was extremely busy and the crowds were everywhere.  Though I have to admit, as much as I love my gondola rides, the tourist crowds were making us feel like we were in a Disney World queue. But a gondola is just one of those things that a visitor to this lovely city should experience. Venice is all about the water. I definitely recommend visiting in May or September instead.  But this was our daughter’s first trip to Venice, so of course we had to take her on a gondola, which she loved.

Gondola rides...

Gondola rides…

Food Finding delicious eateries in Venice is not a problem.  There are tons of great restaurants to choose from, yummy gelato places (Venchi being out favorite), and many pizza and fast food spots to get a quick meal, throughout the entire city.  I had not been to Venice in many years prior to this visit last summer, and I was pleasantly surprised to not see any Starbucks, Burger Kings and only one McDonald’s further out in the Cannaregio neighborhood.  Some of our favorite restaurants which we frequent on every visit are Antico Martini, Le Bistrot de Venise and Trattoria Da Mamo.  And if you’re looking for a quick bite and don’t have time for a sit down meal, you have to try Dal Moro’s Fresh Pasta To Go (Calle de la Casseleria, 5324 in Castello). The pasta comes in a little white takeaway box with a fork and napkins, and it’s up to you to find a place to enjoy it.  The pasta is really fresh, made when you order it, and very reasonably priced for Venice.

Dal Moro's Fesh Pasta to go

Dal Moro’s Fresh Pasta to go…

Another great place is Acqua & Mais (Campiello dei Meloni, 1478, San Polo) a Venetian take-away delicatessen where you can taste the seafood directly from the Rialto market. The specialties include the “scartosso” real Venetian mixed fried fish served in a paper cone so that you can enjoy it while strolling through the streets of Venice.  Windows allow a full view of the cooks while preparing the food and prices are again very reasonable for Venice.

Acqua & Mais  fresh seafood to go...

Acqua & Mais fresh seafood to go…

Paper Shops As many of you know, my love of stationery products comes alive when I’m visiting Europe, in particular, Italy.  Venice has many gorgeous little shops selling handcrafted marbled paper, embossed stamps and beautiful pencils and notebooks.  The most common one you will find is Il Papiro, this is a chain with various locations throughout Italy, several within Venice, and even shops in Palm Beach and New York.  But there are a few others to look out for as well.  I really wanted to visit, Legatoria Piazzesi, (Campiello de la Feltrina near Campo Santa Maria del Giglio, San Marco 2511), Italy’s oldest paper shop, which has been making books and paper since 1951.  Unfortunately, it was closed during our stay, and apparently it’s closed a lot from reviews I have found on the internet.  The collages in the window were beautiful and I read somewhere that the artist says that they are portraits of the tourists she sees walking by her shop! I would have loved to buy one, maybe next time (because of course, they will be a next time).

Legatoria Piazzesi, the oldest paper shop in all of Italy...

Legatoria Piazzesi, the oldest paper shop in all of Italy…

Another great paper shop we stumbled upon was Il Pavone, di Pelosin Paolo (Campiello dei Meloni, 1478, San Polo).  This paper store had an incredible assortment of beautifully marbled paper in all sorts of color combinations and patterns, as well as swirls of colors on notebooks, pencils, frames, decorative boxes, stationery and even sheets of wrapping paper! But perhaps the best part of our visit was when the shop owner led my daughter and I to the tiny back room for a quick tour of his workshop where he hand paints every item he sells in this adorable store.  Of course we made a few purchases…

Il Pavone Paper Shop, amazing to watch the shop owner make the marbled paper.

Il Pavone Paper Shop, amazing to watch the shop owner make the marbled paper.

La Ricerca (Ponte delle Ostreghe near Campo Santa Maria del Giglio, San Marco 2431) is another beautiful little paper shop selling leather-bound photo albums, address books, pencil pouches, you name it (by now you’re probably wondering how many of these places did we shop at).  And according to Fodor’s, new products are introduced often so that no two visits to the store are ever the same.

Glass Last but certainly not least, I love all the tiny glass shops in Venice.  No matter which street you turn on you will encounter at least a few on each block, selling various glass items such as these:

Beautiful glass sold all over Venice…

More beautiful glass...

More beautiful glass miniatures..

One store that has some beautiful glass items, and very special hand painted Christmas ornaments is Eredi Giovanni Pagnacco, right off St. Mark’s square, definitely worth a visit.

Beautiful handpainted glass Christmas ornaments...

Beautiful handpainted glass Christmas ornaments…

You can also visit some glass workshops and watch demonstrations if you’re interested. Vecchia Murano Glass Factory, in the heart of Venice, just a few yards from Piazza San Marco, is one of the lagoon’s biggest and most famous artistic glass factories. You can visit the store which sells all types of glass items and some very pretty glass jewelry, and skip the glass making demonstration.

The beautiful glass jewelry available at Vecchia Murano.

The beautiful glass jewelry available at Vecchia Murano.

However, I recommend you visit the island of Murano if you’re looking for a specific piece.  Day trips to Murano and Burano are great if time permits.

Here are a few more photos of our trips for your enjoyment:

One of the many gondola stations.


The beautiful St. Mark’s Basilica

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Another gondola station with Santa Maria della Salute in the background…

Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo, with its unique staircase…

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On the Ponte dell’Accademia


The beautiful wooden Ponte dell’Accademia, linking Dorsoduro to San Marco.


Beautiful gondolas


One of Venice’s many bridges…

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More gondolas…

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Near the Rialto Bridge…


Photo taken from the water taxi…


The beautiful clock tower on St. Mark’s Square…


The Doge’s Palace


Gondoliers waiting for their next customers…


Beautiful buildings in San Polo…


The beautiful Rialto Bridge…

The beautiful Doge's Palace and the pink lamps...

The beautiful Doge’s Palace and the pink lamps…

Enjoying a late evening stroll through St. Mark's while having some gelato...

Enjoying a late evening stroll through St. Mark’s while having some gelato…


Carolina loving the gondolas…

St. Mark’s Basilica

Us on the sqaure

Hubby and I on St. Mark’s Square…

Have you been to Venice?  I’d love to hear what you enjoyed most…

Ravishing Ravello

On one of our many trips to Italy, a few years back, we discovered Ravello.  What makes Ravello so remarkable is its height, Ravello sits very high above sea level and therefore benefits from the most phenomenal Mediterranean views.  It has beautiful gardens, elegant villas, and hosts the famous Wagner Arts Music Festival every year.  There are so many restaurants to enjoy, luscious gardens to explore, and walks or hikes that take you to discover Ravello’s pathways and trails.  In 1996, Ravello was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Ravello's Main Square

Ravello’s Main Square

This amazing, little gem can be seen in one day, but I recommend to take several days to really enjoy it.  As with most of these gorgeous seaside Italian towns, there is so much to see and do, but here are my top 5 favorite attractions and activities if you’re spending a day in Ravello:

A visit to the Villa Cimbrone Gardens
Villa Cimbrone occupies the most breathtaking position on the entire Amalfi Coast, perched high above the sea.  The gardens are what most people visit for, with its many statues, temples, fountains, natural grottos and of course, the spectacular Belvedere of Infinity from which the view sweeps wide to take in a panorama of the coast.  The villa was actually converted into a hotel and is considered by many one of the most beautiful gardens in Italy.  But even if you’re not a hotel guest, the grounds are open to the public for a small fee.







Strolling the Villa Rufolo Gardens
A 14th century tower marks the entrance to this villa, famed for its beautiful cascading gardens. The historic villa located right in the center of Ravello, is one of the most popular travel destinations in Campania. The gardens are truly magnificent, commanding panoramic views packed with exotic colors.   It is said that the German composer Richard Wagner was so struck by the beauty of the Villa Rufolo gardens during his visit in 1880 that he used them as the inspiration for the magical garden of Klingsor in his opera Parsifal. Following the pretty pathways through the gardens leads you to the famous Belvedere overlooking the coast. Enjoy the colorful flowers and stunning views looking down the coastline toward the seaside towns of Minori and Maiori. If you visit during the summer months, you’ll find a large stage constructed on the Belvedere where the main concerts of the Ravello Festival take place.  Definitely something to experience!



Ravello Music Festival

Ravello Music Festival Photo Courtesy of Flickr

This part of Italy is famous for its lemons, which are very juicy and smell fabulous.  Although lemons are used to make the sweet but tangy liquor all over the Amalfi Coast, Ravello is known for some of the best in the area.  I always enjoy a glass of  limoncello, because I really love the taste, traditionally served as a cold after dinner drink.  I even like the creamy version a bit more.  I’ve never had a chance to visit the factory, but f you have the time, you can experience how it’s made and enjoy a nice tasting at the Limoncello Factory (Via Trinità, 37).

Walk the center of town
This town is very charming, but can get quite hot in the summer months.  Make sure you stop for a quick snack or a delicious cool gelato while you’re strolling around and taking in the scenery. There are many good restaurants and gelato places throughout the center of town.  You’ll also love admiring the beautiful rustic architecture of Ravello by following its quiet streets of colored stucco houses, lemon groves and wrought iron gates.

Ceramics, ceramics and more ceramics
While beautiful ceramics can be found all along the Amalfi Coast towns, what initially brought us to Ravello, was a recommendation of a ceramics shop by a dear friend. Knowing that I love ceramics, and that I pick up new pieces on every trip, he suggested we visit Ceramiche Cosmolena di Margherita Di Palma (Via della Marra 15/19).  Of course, hubby was a bit afraid of this visit, with good reason.  Margherita can sell ice to an Eskimo.  After my first visit there in 1999,  she somehow convinced me that I needed to make some purchases and I left with an entire 8 place setting of gorgeous ceramic dinnerware (shipped to our home of course).  Did I need it…no, but boy is it beautiful and we use it to this day!  As if that weren’t enough, we returned for one additional piece on our 2009 visit, and of course, I left with quite a few more pieces to my set.  She is charming, but beware, she is a great salesperson and will convince you of buying her entire shop. But in her defense, her ceramics and linens are breathtaking!  The store displays autographed photos of various Hollywood celebrities with Margherita up on the wall, also prior customers.  Ceramiche offers an unbeatable stunning selection of pottery and ceramics that can be shipped to any place throughout the world.  Stop in a take a peek!

The beautiful patterns on my dinnerware!

The beautiful patterns on my dinnerware!

More beautiful ceramics

Ceramiche Cosmolena

The one thing I would love to experience on my next visit to Ravello is a cooking class with Mamma Agata. She has cooked all her life and now runs a cooking school out of her home in Ravello, which is quite well-known. She has even cooked for a number of celebrities and has a fantastic cookbook for sale. I found Mama Agata’s recipe for limoncello on a wonderful blog called The Italian Dish, which is loaded with wonderful Italian recipes.  Click here for Mamma Agata’s limoncello recipe.

Have you been to Ravello, and if you have, what have you enjoyed most about it?

Captivating Capri

When in Italy, visiting the beautiful island of Capri should be on everyone’s itinerary. Every time we vacation at the Amalfi Coast we take the ferry from Sorrento and spend one full day in Capri. The island is simply breathtaking, one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited.

Arriving at Marina Grande

Once you’re off the ferry, which leaves you at Marina Grande, if you’re not familiar with the island, or you’re visiting in August (as we usually do), it can appear chaotic at first. But have no fear, it’s pretty simple. The quickest way to travel to the center of Capri from the port is by the island’s funicular, a little train which makes its way up to the center through the island’s lemon gardens in just 3 minutes.

Sign for the funicular

Sign for the funicular

Or, if the queues are too long, as they often are in the summer months, you can take a bus, or my personal favorite, catch one of the famous open air taxis up to the center of Capri.

Open air taxis available by the funicular station on Marina Grande

Open air taxis available by the funicular station in Marina Grande

Of course, you can also walk if you feel up to it and it’s not too hot. The taxis and buses will leave you at Piazza Umberto I, better known as the Piazzetta, the heart of Capri’s social life. There are numerous bars and cafes on the Piazzetta, perfect for people-watching and enjoying a cold drink on a hot summer day. On the Piazzetta is the 17th century Torre del Orologio with its beautiful clock, believed to be the old bell tower of the cathedral. Right off of the Piazzetta, are the main shopping streets where you can find many designer boutiques.

Torre de Orologio on the Piazetta

Torre de Orologio on the Piazzetta

If you would like to see the entire island, boat rides are offered that explore the coast. The amazing rock formations, called the Faraglioni, are truly a magnificent sight.

Faraglioni rock formations

Faraglioni rock formations

The boat ride can also take you to the famous Grotta Azzurra (Blue Grotto), a sea cave along the coast of Capri known and admired by all for its brilliant blue color. Once you arrive near the grotto, you will be transferred into small wooden rowboats. Because there is no headroom, it is common for tourists to lie on their backs in order to clear the entryway. Warning: in the six times or so that I have visited Capri, I have only been able to enter the Blue Grotto once! This is because many times there is a 2-3 hour wait for one of the rowboats, during the busy months. Other times, it is impossible to visit, and the boats will not take tourists, if the sea levels are too high. The last time we tried, we had our hotel in Sorrento call the port in Capri very early in the morning to see if they were taking boats to the grotto. Although they were taking passengers that day, once we arrived at the grotto, there was a 3 hour wait for a rowboat. If you have your hotel check on a particular day, my recommendation would be to take the ferry to Capri as early as possible, as this will cut down your wait time for the rowboats. If you’re staying in Capri, you already have an advantage and can get on the earliest boat out to the grotto.

Top; my only visit to the Blue Grotto Bottom; Rowboats with people lying down

Top; My only visit to the Blue Grotto
Bottom; Rowboats with visitors lying down as they’re entering the grotto

To experience the “other” Capri, far from the glitz and glamour of the Piazzetta, you’ll need to take the 3 kilometer winding road up the cliffs to Anacapri (my favorite area on the island). Here, in the picturesque historic center of Anacapri, you’ll discover a very different island with smaller streets, peaceful piazzas, and beautiful bougainvillea all around. The bus or taxi will leave you at Piazza Vittoria, full of tourist shops and cafes. Piazza Vittoria is also where the Via Giuseppe Orlandi commences, a pedestrian road which winds its way right through the historic center of Anacapri.

Piazza Vittoria, Anacapri

Piazza Vittoria, Anacapri

One of the most memorable things we did in Anacapri was take the chairlift up to Monte Solaro, the highest point of the mountain (1,932 feet) with 360° views. The first time I came across this chairlift was back in 1996, when my husband and I first visited Anacapri. He right away wanted to take the ride up, and I remember telling him not all the money in the world would get me to ride this thing! So he didn’t go either (I felt kind of guilty). Fast forward many years later, on our first trip here with our daughter, and of course they both went on it. I was once again terrified and decided to window shop while they took the ride up. Near the chairlift is the other shopping strip with hotels and more famous historical sites. Well as they say, the third time’s the charm. On my next visit to Anacapri, hubby and daughter begged me to take the ride, and promised I would not regret it. Boy, were they right! I couldn’t believe what I had been missing. The chairlift is a 10 minute ride up but there were definitely a few moments, especially when it tilts upwards towards the end, where I felt my heartbeat speed up. But once you arrive at the top…priceless, the most spectacular views of the Bays of Naples and Salerno around. You will not want to forget your camera on this ride! There is also a cafe at the top, so you can spend some time taking in the views, while sipping a cool drink and taking photos (always taking photos), before you take the ride back down.

Left; Going up to Monte Solaro Right; Coming back down

Piazza Armando Diaz is considered the center of life in Anacapri, where the locals can often be found relaxing. In the center of the piazza, is the Chiesa di Santa Sofia, which is beautiful. The church was constructed in 1510 to replace Anacapri’s old Parish Church of Santa Maria di Costantinopoli.  Definitely worth to take a look inside.

Chiesa di Santa Sofia

Chiesa di Santa Sofia

While all of Capri is full of designer boutiques and shops selling all sorts of items, I have to single out my two favorite stores. The first one is Margherita Boutique (Via G. Orlandi, 144). Walking down the pedestrian Via G. Orlandi, you continue past the church of Santa Sofia, and the boutique will be on your right hand side. They sell beautiful cotton clothing with prints of anchors, Capri pants, beautiful lively blues, representing the sea surrounding Capri and also prints of cancelli (the wrought-iron door elements found in Anacapri).  They also carry beautiful leather bags and some carry-on luggage pieces, of which I bought a few (couldn’t resist)!

Boutique Margherita

Boutique Margherita…my daughter picking out her bag!

The other shop my daughter enjoys stopping in every time is La Bottega Caprese (Via G. Orlandi, 26), right on Piazza Vittoria. This shop sells custom-made leather sandals, where the owner himself, measures your foot and creates the sandal on your foot, after you’ve chosen the color and style of straps. She really gets a kick out of choosing her own sandals. They’re a bit pricey, but what isn’t on this island?

La Botegga Caprese

La Bottega Caprese owner making my daughter’s sandals…

Delicious Caprese salad and beautiful limoncello bottles for sale.

Delicious Caprese salad and beautiful limoncello bottles for sale.

One thing is for sure, on your visit to Capri, you have to try a Caprese salad (first created on the island in the 1950s).  The delicious mozzarella cheese combined perfectly with the tomatoes and basil is amazing! Capri is also known for its lemon trees grown throughout the island. Not only do these lemons form part of the beautiful scenery, but they are also used to produce limoncello, a sweet, lemony, liquor prevalent on the island. Delicious any time of the day.

Have you visited the Isle of Capri? If so, I would love to hear what you enjoyed most!

Here are a few more photos of our trips, enjoy!

Hubby relaxing in a cafe on the Piazzetta, back in the day on our first trip there!

Hubby relaxing in a cafe on the Piazzetta, back in the day on our first trip there!

Views of Capri from the chairlift

Views of Capri from the chairlift

Gorgeous views from Monte Solaro

Gorgeous views from Monte Solaro

On the ferry...

On the ferry…

The open air taxi

The open air taxi

Typical street in Anacapri

Typical street in Anacapri

View from Monte Solaro

View from Monte Solaro

View of the dome

View of the church dome

View of Capri from the chairlift

More views of Capri from the chairlift

Arriving at Marina Grande

Paradise in Positano

“Positano bites deep. It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you are gone.” – John Steinbeck

Positano, often referred to as the “Jewel of the Amalfi Coast” is in one word, idyllic. The landscape will completely overwhelm you.  I first visited this magical, seaside town with my husband many years ago, because a friend recommended it to us.  It was love at first sight…needless to say, we’ve visited quite a few times.

Beautiful Positano

Beautiful Positano

After flying into Rome and picking up our rental car, we started driving south. Many folks prefer to take another flight to Naples and then a train into Sorrento. But my husband loves to drive in Europe, and we like having our own car which gives us flexibility to visit other nearby places, at our own leisure without schedules. The first time we drove there, I was a bit worried about hubby driving on these foreign highways where speed limits are mere suggestions. Well, the highway ended up being the least of my worries. Once you pass Naples and start approaching the Costiera Amalfitana, the roads become progressively narrow and begin to hug the coastline. I was happy that our rental car was super compact, as these are tiny mountain switchback roads with steep rocky cliffs, and the smaller your car is, the easier the drive (trust me). The roads twisted and turned and as we approached Positano, the switchbacks combined with the height of the coastal cliffs, the stress of the speeding Vespas cutting us off, and the questionably teetering tour buses, all on these narrow, two-way streets, made my heart stop a few times. If you don’t like stressful driving, do yourself a favor and DO NOT drive on the Amalfi Coast, especially at night.  However, I must recommend that you experience this drive at least once, the scenery is priceless, something that needs to be seen in person because no photo can do it justice.  Though it was truly stunning to take in, after a while I was glad to leave our car parked and check into our hotel.

Hotel Poseidon

Hotel Poseidon

The famous luxury hotel in town Le Sirenuse, is the place to stay (it is amazing and our dinner at Ristorante La Sponda, was delicious with again, amazing town views).  We stayed at the Hotel Poseidon, also recommended by our friend, and let me say, I don’t think it has much to envy, given rooms are one-fourth the price.  It was beautiful, our room had a large outdoor patio with a balcony facing the famous Positano views, and there were plenty of amenities as well.  Once you’re at your hotel, you might as well forget you have a car, unless you want to drive to nearby Ravello, Praiano or Amalfi, because everything you will do in Positano is by foot, it is an incredibly vertical town (get ready to have a daily workout).

Everyday we strolled the little streets and took in the shops, the food and the once again stunning sceneries. The first thing I wanted to see up close and personal was the very famous Positano landmark, the Chiesa di Santa Maria Assunta, with its green and yellow mosaic tiled dome.  It’s even more stunning in person.

Chiesa di Santa Maria Assunta

Positano has many good restaurants and cafes.  We love to frequent Buca di Bacco, at the foot of the hill, right on the beach.  My husband loves the fresh local seafood in this restaurant (well, in all of Positano) and I of course love the pastas…gnocchi, tagliatelle, fusilli, orecchiette, you name it, all deliciously prepared with yummy sauces. We also love their fritto misto di pesce, a delicious dish composed of several types of fish, shrimp and calamari, even my picky daughter likes it!

Fritto misto di pesce

Fritto misto di pesce

Another great restaurant that we enjoy very much, not only for their amazing dishes, but also for the setting and views of the church dome, is Ristorante Al Palazzo located in the Hotel Palazzo Murat (another great hotel choice). We’ve enjoyed many dishes at this restaurant, but this is one place where we try to make room for dessert, they are just as amazing as their meals!

Dinner at Ristorante Al Palazzo

Dinner at Ristorante Al Palazzo

Shopping is another must in this cute little town, with the numerous quaint boutiques selling very stylish beachwear, custom-made leather sandals and plenty of beautiful ceramic and pottery stores. I highly recommend a quick visit to Umberto Carro (Via Pasitea, 30), they have amazingly beautifully crafted ceramics.  Art lovers in Positano can find creations by young local artists who exhibit their works in the Galleria Idee d’Arte (Via Pasitea 76), which has a wealth of original collector’s items. We did some shopping here as well. Delikatessen (Via dei Mulini 5, 13, 15)  is a gourmet haven to delight your palate. It sells local products, from wines to little marzipan fruits, biscuits and babas, but also lemon-scented handmade candles, artificial flowers, handmade dolls, limoncello bottles and table linens…something for everyone!

Galleria Idee d’Arte

Galleria Idee d’Arte

Beautiful ceramics shop

Umberto Carro…beautiful ceramics shop

Positano will always be one of our favorite vacation destinations.  Here are a few more photos from our various trips to this magical town…enjoy!


Following a bus on the drive out of town…can you tell how narrow the roads are?

Ristorante La Sponda Photo courtesy of Le Siranuse

Ristorante La Sponda
Photo courtesy of Le Siranuse


Umberto Carro ceramics


More ceramics and pottery

Having dinner at Buca di Bacco and enjoying the view…


Typical clothing shop in town


The drive on the coast, photo taken from our car!

Poseidon View 2

View from our room in Hotel Poseidon…priceless!

Poseidon View

Enjoying wine at sunset on the balcony…


One of the many sandal shops in town


Inside view of the Chiesa di Santa Maria Assunta


Fruit stand on the road


We love this delicatessen selling great souvenirs and food items


Ceramics with a view…

If you’ve visited Positano or have plans to, I’d love to hear what you enjoyed most. I guarantee you will fall in love with it just like we did!

My Signature

I Heart Rome

I often wonder if in another life I was Italian? I recently took one of those silly Facebook quizzes, which told me the country I belong in is Italy. This wasn’t surprising to me.  I have been blessed with many opportunities to travel, but my love affair has always been with Italy.

My husband and I are avid House Hunters International junkies, and every time we watch an episode with a family relocating to Florence or buying a vacation home in Amalfi, I secretly wish it was mine! I simply love everything about this country, the beautiful rustic countryside, the architecture, the history, the people, the language, which I hope to one day master, the shopping, the food…

The first Italian city that my husband and I visited together was Rome, so I am dedicating my first travel blog post to the Eternal City…

Fontana di Trevi

Fontana di Trevi

Rome is as beautiful as all of the travel books, websites and blogs will tell you it is, but as with most things, seeing is believing. It’s a very busy, lively city, with a lot of activity going on everywhere you look.  On the same block you will find an old ancient ruin alongside a modern building housing a chic boutique or a tiny car dealership!  My favorite areas are the open “piazzas” such as the Fontana di Trevi, Piazza della Rotonda, Piazza Navona and the Piazza di Spagna (the Spanish Steps).  You can spend hours just sipping a drink (or in our daughter’s case having a gelato), and people watch.

I could go on and on with this blog post, as Rome is one of my favorite spots in Europe, and I‘ve visited many times but I will only highlight a few things that I feel I must share with you.  The rest of the journey will be yours to discover on your own.

Hotel Albergo del Senato, Piazza della Rotonda, 73, Roma  A few years ago, we found a hotel located on Piazza della Rotonda, called Albergo del Senato.  One of the best features of this hotel is its location, literally in the center of Rome, within walking distance to almost everywhere, located on a pedestrian square.  We always book a triple room, so our daughter has her own bed, and most of these rooms face the square, with a view of the Pantheon out your window (however, be sure to request your room facing the square, as it is not guaranteed).  Needless to say, you can just open your window, and you become part of the scenery.  The first time we stayed here, our daughter was fascinated with the sounds coming off the square, and all of the people sitting around just talking and having gelatos!  Speaking of gelatos, there are a few places right downstairs, two steps away from the hotel’s entrance.  Not that we ever spend much time in our hotel rooms when we travel, but whenever we were in our room, we would find her hanging out of the window, just taking it all in, this was her favorite spot! And as far as most European hotel rooms go, the rooms here are not small, and they’re very comfortable and clean.

View of the Pantheon from our room window...priceless!

View of the Pantheon from our room window…priceless!

One of the family rooms we've had, very spacious.

One of the family rooms we’ve had, very spacious.

A stroll around the neighborhood of Trastevere is another must.  Hubby and I spent one entire day on one of our trips just getting lost on the winding streets and experiencing a more typical neighborhood, away from the tourist crowds.  The district has become somewhat popular with the nighttime crowd as well. The beautiful main square, Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere, houses one of the oldest churches in Rome, and it is beautiful. Make sure you bring your camera.  You will also come across some traditional eateries that are not in any tourist books, be adventurous and try one.  These off the beaten path restaurants are usually the best meals you will have on your trip.



In the heart of Rome is Piazza Navona, a charming area where painters sell art and street performers sing opera.  The main attraction here is the trio of fountains that adorn the square. I wouldn’t recommend any of the restaurants right on the piazza, as they are mostly “tourist traps” and as such, very pricey for mediocre food at best.  However, you can sit for coffee, wine or gelato and enjoy the scenery.

Piazza Navona

Piazza Navona

Piazza Navona

Piazza Navona

Regardless of your religious beliefs, a visit to Vatican City and St. Peter’s Basilica cannot be missed.  Years ago, my husband and I attended a Papal Audience with Pope John Paul II on St. Peter’s Square.  This is something I had wanted to do for a while and it was very special.  You can get tickets (free of charge) in advance if you prefer to get good seats, as it can get quite crowded at certain times of the year.

Papal Audience with Pope John Paul II

Papal Audience with Pope John Paul II

If you’re planning on visiting the Vatican Museums, and seeing the priceless works of Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel, it is strongly recommended to purchase tickets in advance online, as the lines outside can sometimes wrap around the entire wall of Vatican City, and the wait can be as long as 3 hours.  Especially in the summer months, the heat can be unbearable while waiting for entrance to the museums. It’s usually best to go as early as possible, to avoid the crowds.

View of St. Peter's Basilica from Via della Conciliazione

View of St. Peter’s Basilica from Via della Conciliazione

Ristorante la Rosetta ,Via della Rosetta, 8-9, Roma  We’ve had many good meals in Rome, but we always return at least once every visit, to Ristorante La Rosetta. This is a very good seafood restaurant and we love it.  On one of our visits we had a prawn and shrimp appetizer, hubby had seared grouper and I had the sea bass. Carolina had buttered pasta, as usual, but her favorite part of the meal was of course, the dessert!

Carolina enjoying her delicious three chocolate mousse dessert!!

Carolina enjoying her delicious three chocolate mousse dessert!!

Ristorante La Rosetta, steps from the Pantheon.

Ristorante La Rosetta, steps from the Pantheon.

Have you been to Rome? What was the best thing you experienced there? I’d love to hear!

More pics for your enjoyment!

The Colosseum

The Colosseum

The Roman Forum

The Roman Forum

Castel Sant'Angelo

Castel Sant’Angelo

VIew of the Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II

Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II

Typical Cafe in Trastevere

Typical Cafe in Trastevere

Carolina's favorite shop...Bartolucci

Carolina’s favorite shop…Bartolucci

Piazza della Rotunda

Piazza della Rotonda