Strongest memory: On one of our last days in Florence, my family all had independent activities planned. The others were doing various day trips, but Andy and I wanted to stay local and do something relaxing. We packed a picnic blanket, our sketchbooks (to clarify, I’m not an artist and the occasions on which these appeared were few and far between) and lots of water, as we knew the forecast was supposed to be hot. We stopped at Sforno Bakery on the way and purchased some fresh bread and other goodies for our picnic later that day. We spent the majority of the day wandering the gardens, lazing and drawing, napping and eating. It was pure bliss!
Memorable meal: Collectively speaking, every single home-cooked meal we had in Milan makes up my recollection of the most memorable meal. We were blessed to be staying with family friends across the four days, who absolutely showered us in incredible hospitality and amazing food memories. On our last night, we dined all together at a local trattoria, but the nights prior, Marika cooked us some of the best amazing Italian food I think I have ever tasted. Fresh pasta, cooked just right, with the perfect amount of sauce is something I will never get sick of. Fresh figs and cheese, local meats and salad to our hearts content. Everything seemed simple, but if I tried to make it myself I just know it wouldn’t be the same! We were incredibly spoilt on one particular night: Marika sourced a whole bunch of mini desserts from a patisserie down the road – they were almost too beautiful to eat.
Best activity: Hiking the paths of Cinque Terre, knowing that local limoncello, pizza and the sparkling blues of the Adriatic sea are always waiting for me at the end. Each of the five villages is connected by (at least) two paths: one coastal and one inland. The inland hikes tend to be longer and steeper, but you are rewarded with backyard views of olive groves, vineyards and the beautiful valley spread out in both direction. The coastal paths are a lot more crowded (as I think they tend to be slightly easier), but they are a much less of a time commitment – there is still a fair few stairs to climb however! Most of the villages have dinky little swimming spots, so jumping in at the end of each leg is a great way to stay cool. Not to mention that it’s probably some of the bluest water in the world. And what better way to dry off then with a delicious local snack in hand?
Favourite place: Cinque Terre is one of my favourite places in the whole world, so this was an easier question than usual to answer. So often when I see famous sights, I am surprised (or not surprised?) by how much they differ from my expectation. Cinque Terre however has always lived up to what I expected and I love everything about it. Each of the five villages are unique, and manage to maintain a quaintness despite their huge popularity with tourists. Basically what the area offers are some of the things I love most in life: eating, walking, swimming and scenery. I have now been to Cinque Terre twice and would have no hesitation in going back again. I have now stayed in Vernazza and Corniglia; although I think Vernazza is probably the best of the lot, I would choose to stay somewhere different again next time… I think!
Unforgettable sight: The view of Florence from the Piazza Michelangelo. The piazza is on a hilltop about 25 minutes walk from the city and provides panoramic views of the city spread out below. Florence is such an iconic city, even people who have not been there are usually familiar with the orange roof tops, bell tower and Duomo that make up the city’s skyline. It is a view I could never get sick of.
Strongest memory: Whenever called to think of Italy, the memory that’s always first in line is of the seaside piazza in Vernazza. It may not be authentic Italy (at least not anymore), but it matches a certain Italian idyll that anyone who visits the country as a tourist will be familiar with. Al fresco dining, sunsets on the Mediterranean, autumnal tone facades and weathered white brick. With our accommodation choice, we opted to trade interior ambience for location, which meant that our front door opened onto the piazza itself. Naturally, we spent a lot of time there. We saw it from almost every angle – including from the ocean during one of our many swims in the small natural harbour.
Memorable meal: This one ties in with the memory of the piazza above. On our first night in Vernazza, we stepped out of our front door and immediately had the choice of about five different restaurants. We chose the one that sat closest to the sea – our table was balanced on a flat slab of rock that was being lapped at by the ocean waves. We ordered cavatelli pasta and seafood, and got lucky with a particularly tasty house red. This meal may more closely align with the quintessential Italian tourist experience than authentic Italian life, but sometimes the staged experience is hard to beat.
Best activity: This is a tough one. Italian towns and cities can be an immersive experience, such that it is easy to spend a lot of time in them without actually having to resort to specific activities. I struggle to even name many activities that we did, besides walking. Consequently, my answer to this question is going to be one of the essential functions of the human experience: eating. Eating is a bit more fun in Italy – mixing and matching combinations of pastas and sauces, pizzas that are simple and delicious, and a celebration of sweet foods that include some of my favourite desserts – tiramisu and cannoli. This is a boring answer, I apologise.
Favourite place: This award goes to an entire city – Florence. Florence was stifling while we were there, but every street we walked down and every site we visited looked beautiful in the brilliant sunshine. The Boboli Gardens are a nice curated green space that provides a much needed green balance to the inner city. The river has a kind of brutalist appeal, and the old quarter is packed with buildings of historic and aesthetic interest. We spent three days here and I left with the sense that there was still a lot more that I would have happily seen.
Unforgettable sight: On our first day in Cinque Terre, we took a train from Vernazza to the neighbouring town of Corniglia, and hiked back to Vernazza through the hills. The climb had some challenging aspects, and we gained a decent amount of elevation in the process. The payoff was that on our approach into Vernazza, we were treated to an incredible, almost bird’s eye view of the seaside town, with the spire of the town’s historic fort in the foreground. The mix of the towns colours, set against the vibrant blue of the sea, inspired a couple of great photos, and my unforgettable Italian sight.