Approximately four weeks after our wedding we were scheduled to fly to Milan to start our 18-day honeymoon to Liguria, Tuscany and Lake Como. We could hardly wait for our return trip to this beautiful country!
After an overnight flight into Milan we picked up our rental car and proceeded south through Genoa before turning eastwardly to head to Santa Margherita. After studying our map and a light dinner we made our plans for the following day of exploring the Ligurian sea coastline. With the warmth of a brilliant sun we made the short drive to Portofino (population 416) for a day of exploring this charming village followed by a boat ride around its peninsula.
Following the cruise, we wound our way southward on the E80 running parallel with the Riviera Ligure di Levanti to Porto Venere. Upon our arrival, we boarded the ferry to the Cinque Terre villages of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Varnazza, and Monterosso. The mountainous terrain steeply plunges into the ocean and from the vantage point of the ferry we were able to see the multi-colored structures of each village that, in total, comprise the Cinque Terre National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
At the last village, Monterrosa, we decided to get off and have lunch before making the return trip. We arrived with no plans, no research and, after spotting a chef pulling a round terracotta pot out of a wood burning oven we chose to stop for lunch. When we inquired about the contents of the terracotta pot, we were graciously told that it contained spaghetti Ciak, the restaurant’s specialty. While enjoying a bottle of the Cinque Terre white wine (a crisp white), a steaming bowl of perfectly cooked prawns, mussels, and Branzino (seabass) floating in a densely flavored tomato sauce smothering a nested handful of al dente pasta was delivered to our table. To this day we still talk about this meal – it was delicious!
Fully sated we retrieved our car and continued our southerly drive for approximately 1-½ hours into Tuscany to the historic center of Lucca, enclosed within its well-preserved Renaissance walls with broad, tree-lined walkways along the tops of the 16th and 17th century ramparts. After checking into Palazzo Alexander we walked through this charming village enjoying the beautiful architecture of Lucca. Once again had a memorable meal of quattro formaggio (four cheese sauce) over al dente prepared pasta shells at Stella Polar.
Upon leaving Lucca we headed to our favorite Italian village, San Gimignano, where we settled into our HIGHLY affordable, extremely clean lodging above the Il Pino restaurant. Francesco, the third generation owner of Il Pino personally welcomed us and throughout our 7-day stay would advise on where and specifically what to eat as we were exploring the villages of Tuscany. The Tuscan countryside during late Fall is hazy, chilly, and quiet. The labors of harvest are over and the villages are resting from their summer and early fall labors while preparing for the winter ahead.
One of our excursions was to the hometown of Saint Francis and Saint Clare of Assisi and while wandering through this village we were rewarded with an unexpected drumming and flagging competition. While enjoying a Sunday afternoon sipping Vernaccia in San Gimignano’s Piazza della Cisterna, a trattoria guest told us about the Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore, located approximately 45-minutes away. The next day, with our map carefully marked, we headed out through the rolling Tuscan countryside filled with vineyards, orchards, and herds of sheep to find the Abbey. This Benedictine monastery is still operational and the monks, dressed in white in honor of the Virgin Mary are seen as you tour the property. The cloister is decorated with 35 large frescoes painted by Lucca Signorelli in 1495 and completed by Antonio Bazzi in 1505 depicting the life of Saint Benedict. Today, the monks produce wine, honey, and herbal remedies. During certain services they also perform the Gregorian chant. During our 2010 visit we had the opportunity to hear this service sung and it was incredible.
After a week of living above Francesco’s kitchen in San Gimignano we headed north on the A1 into Florence where we dropped off our rental car. From here on, we would explore the remaining part of Italy via train, boat, and on foot.
While in Florence, we joined a city tour with Sireon Tours that included the Michelangelo Piazza, Duomo, Uffizi, Ponte Vecchio, and the Galleria dell’Accademia. During the day we were given time for lunch in the Piazza della Signoria and as we sat at our outdoor table watching people come and go we spotted the Gentleman in the Butterscotch Scarf. This was also the lunch in which we saw the pigeon kicking a bread touchdown from a plate of abandoned lettuce at a nearby table. This was one smart pigeon! Isolating the bread away from hands that would ultimately remove the plate.
One of our Florence highlights was visiting the Basilica of Santa Croce where so many of the Renaissance leading figures are buried or honored, including Galileo, Dante, Machiavelli, Rossini, and Michelangelo. Guarding its entrance is a monumental statue of Dante. One of the joys of travel in Italy in late Fall is the weather and the signs of abundance even within the shop windows. There are hardly any tourists which leaves a traveler able to blend in and feel more like a local, experiencing what it must be like to live in these ancient cities and cultures.
And so, our 18-day honeymoon began to wrap up as we arrived on Lake Como and checked into the Villa Belvedere (see High School Graduation Trip in 2004) where we had to Blame it on the Mussels after a day of touring Tremezzina and the Villa del Balbianello that was built by Cardinal Angelo Durini in 1787 and was used by Allied commanders at the end of WWII. Villa Balbianello is available for weddings and events but with a reservation you are able to tour it on those days in which they are not booked. The complex, surrounded by Lake Como, consists of two residential buildings, a church, and a portico that overlooks the dock.
After 16 blissful days in Italy we made our way to Milan for our flight home.
Mary Beth I have a passion for creating and experiencing unforgettable moments and sharing those with others. I hope that this story has helped you experience one of those moments.