We were excited to be returning to Italy as it had been two years since our last visit. We had not taken this trip with Emirates before and I must say the experience was second to none. The hospitality of the crew was outstanding and meal service great too. The aircraft was spacious and quiet, we will do that again!
Bologna, Emilia Romagna
I had travelled to Bologna several times before, but this time was different. This time there was a greater sense of connection to my ancestry. My mother was born in the Emilia-Romagna region and grew up in Bologna. It was great to see family, it always is, and we (my husband Campbell and daughter Madeleine) picked up where we left off on our previous trip two years before.
Bologna is the gastronomic and the ‘slow food movement’ capital of Italy. The cuisine in Bologna represents Italy at its finest with Tortellini, Tagliatelle and Lasagne at the core of its traditional cuisine. Bologna’s 12th century skyline was renowned for the more than 100 towers that lined it, now in the centre of Emilia-Romagna’s capital, our apartment overlooked Le Due Torri, the best known of the twenty towers that remain. This arched medieval city is spectacular; Piazza Maggiore, Il Duomo and the Basilica of St Petronis it is also the epitome of fashion houses, I was in heaven soaking up the colours and styles of the coming seasons.
As it is the gastronomic capital of Italy, it would be remiss of me not to share a few local favourites; La Terrazza, In Cucina Café e Bistrot, Drogheria della Rosa and Ristorante Cesarina located in the Piazza delle Sette Chiese (Piazza of the 7 churches) is a must.
Ravenna, Emilia Romagna
Ravenna was next on our itinerary. Known for its colourful mosaics and home to the tomb of the famous Italian poet Dante Alighieri, we visited family, the Basilica of San Vitale and other surrounding churches, we did a little shopping on via Cavour before a day out at Mirabilanda theme park, a definite must if travelling with children. Ravenna is also famous for Garganelli, a traditional pasta I once made as a child with my grandmother. When in Ravenna, you must grab lunch at Ca da Ven and treat yourself to Garganelli alla Panna (or al Ragu) first starting with a platter of Prosciutto con piadine, my mouth waters at the thought of this Romagnolo delicacy.
Travelling by car in Italy gave us the flexibility we needed. Our next stop was to visit more family, followed by a local beach-stay at Milano Marittima. This is always a regular-stop, as my recollection of visits to Italy as a child bring such fond memories of the Cervia, Cesenatico and Rimini coastlines. We stayed at the Majestic Hotel, which caters superbly for children, they have activities on the beach daily. It was here that we met Claudia, a lovely lady from Bergamo. Bergamo is a town north east of Milan in the Lombardy region, it is where my grandfather was born and raised and a city that I have not yet visited. Claudia told me that my grandfather’s surname originated from the town where she was born and that we should make the time to visit. Three days later, we were in Bergamo.
What an incredible part of our journey. Bergamo is truly understated and hidden treasure! The Citta Alta (the higher city) is accessed by the Lower Funicular and the scenery is overwhelmingly spectacular. Surrounded by a Venetian wall, the Duomo di Bergamo, Basilica di Santa Maggiore are both majestic cathedrals located in Piazza Vecchia. We met Claudia and spent the day together, that evening spoilt by the local cuisine in an unsuspecting restaurant in a quaint yet cosmopolitan town.
We sojourned once again to Bologna en-route to San Gimignano. The Italian sun was steaming so we decided to bypass Florence and head straight to the south of Tuscany.
San Gimignano, Tuscany
San Gimignano, known as “the city of beautiful towers” is located south-west of Florence. Surrounded by 13th-century walls, we stayed in the heart of Piazza della Cisterna at the Leon Bianco hotel. It was an adventure, navigating our car through the narrow streets we were permitted to drive into the central piazza for only 15 minutes, just enough to drop off our luggage. We were then required to park the car outside of the city walls. There were crowds of tourists and much laughter to get us through the city streets, the backdrop of scenery overlooking the Tuscan hills was breathtaking.
If travelling to the south of Tuscany, you must visit Pienza, a town in the province of Siena located amongst Val d’Orcia. An Italian friend once told me he left his heart in Pienza and I now understand why. Located 15 km from Montepulciano and 20km from Montalcino, it’s situated in the heart of Tuscany’s famous wine producing district and is still relatively unknown to tourists. Pienza presents a superb example of Renaissance architecture and in 1996 was declared by UNESCO as a world heritage site. Val d’Orcia, is the valley in Tuscany that extends from the hills south of Siena to Monte Amiatait and is the capital of pecorino cheese. The landscape is stunning and only enhances the Renaissance architecture of Pienza.
Porto Cervo, Costa Smeralda (Sardegna)
After few more nights spent at my “home away-from home”, Bologna, we flew to Olbia in Sardegna. This was the final leg of our journey and we were ending our trip in style. Our destination Porto Cervo, the capital of Costa Smeralda. Wow! This was amazing, and we experienced the most remarkable lagoons and coastlines of the Mediterranean. We booked an apartment at Case della Marina and the hospitality was charming. We were treated to seaviews and had the chance to experience both the new and old Marina’s. Porto Cervo is home to the mega-yachts, and is in the district of Arzachena.
For the next eight days we sailed the waters, each day with a new and spectacular experience. There were fourteen of us onboard the boat, including the skipper. Each morning we would wait for the weather update and the skipper would plan our voyage through the turquoise lagoons and heavenly beaches. One (of many) highlights was sailing the Maddalena archipelago located between Corsica and the north-eastern Sardegna before anchoring and taxiing the smaller boat to the shore for ice-cream at one of the waterside trattoria’s. It is only in more recent years that the Maddalena archipelago has been discovered by tourists as it was formerly the home of a NATO naval base. La Maddalena, Caprera, Budelli to name a few, are amongst the most beautiful beaches of the archipelago.
San Pantaleo, Arzachena
Not to be missed is the charismatic, small town of San Pantaleo. Every Thursday, the colourful market boasts local produce, local fashion and hand-made jewels. Our final night was spent watching the sunset on Phi Beach. Phi Beach is an Open-Air Club located in front of Napoleon’s military fortress, hosting a Michelin star restaurant, Giancarlo Morelli’s Pomiroeu. My husband had seen Phi Beach mentioned on numerous occasions through his Instagram feed however, we couldn’t have anticipated how good it could be! With Europe’s finest DJ’s playing the latest summer tunes, there was no better way to end our trip than to dance!
And that’s just what we did.
Bologna, we will return soon.