I’m back from our 3 week Italian adventure!
Despite now struggling through the dreaded ‘welcome home’ jet lag, I’m feeling an abundance of gratitude reminiscing on our travels. We had a wonderful time venturing around the country, soaking up the Italian summer sun, culture & of course savouring traditional Italian dishes.
Read on for a taste of our time in Italy.
Our trip began in Venice, catching the water taxi into the city of 118 submerged islands. Of course, we also took to venice by water for a cliche, but fun gondola ride.
Otherwise, we explored the city by foot and enjoyed the Venice walking tour to take in the history and skip the line to admire the incredibly beautiful mosaics in St Mark’s Basilica. We had clocked up so many steps on our second day, that my sandals broke. Despite that funny set back, getting lost wandering the historic Calle (streets) of Venice was a highlight.
Food wise, here in Venice I enjoyed the most mouth watering seafood I’ve ever tasted!
Florence & Tuscany countryside
From Venice, the train took us to our next destination, Florence. This small city was beautiful! We took a walking tour to appreciate the history, also a hop-on-hop-off bus to arrive at the must-see lookout over the city’s rooftops, cathedrals & flowing Arno River. Unfortunately we were in town on the wrong days and missed the recommended ‘Eataly’ fruit and veg markets in Florence, so I’m going to have to return another day.
At the end of our Florence stay, we hired our first car and drove around the stunning hills in Tuscany countryside and stayed at B&B Coppi II with the most spectacular view over the vineyard & olive tree laid Tuscany hills. We were also a 5 min walk into the medieval castle of San Gimignano (see pic above). It was incredible to visit these massive historic castles still standing on hilltop towns of Tuscany & imagine the lives they protected back in the medieval days.
It almost took us a day of driving (we may have taken a few wrong turns), but we also made it to the city of Pisa to visit the iconic Leaning Tower Of Pisa. Although the city itself isn’t anything special, the grounds around this attraction are full of flourishing green lawns and you can get some great shots of the leaning icon.
After dropping our car back to Florence, the next train stop was the breathtaking Cinque Terrra, where we stayed at a hillside B&B called Nettare II, boasting incredible sea and hillside views. A hire scooter (along with lots of walking) was our mode of transport to check out the 5 small fisherman villages of Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. We loved having the scooter here, as we were able to enjoy the stunning (and sometimes scarey) driving views along the cliff top roads (you can see the Cinque Terra towns within 1-2 days), but also park much easier in the busy villages.
I had planned for us to take on some of the walking trails between towns, but the heat was intense and besides, there were many steps to be taken to reach the seaside towns, as the parking is much further up the hills. The alternative is catching trains between the towns.
An experience I won’t forget is cooling off with a dip in the refreshing Ligurian sea in each of the seaside villages. Although there were many steps to reach, my fav was swimming off the rocks at Cornelia. We also visited the beach in Monserento, which has the most beautiful blue water and looking around at the surrounding hills is surreal, however the beaches themselves are extremely crowded! I’m extremely grateful for the space we have to relax beachside here in Australia.
While staying in this area, we also scootered into the Portvenere Harbour and watched the boats and yachts come in. Just another pretty place to take in.
Back on the train it was and onto the iconic city of Rome. When in Rome… we took the hop on off bus to visit the magnificient Colosseum and ancient ruins of Palentine hill. We’d recommend a walking tour here to skip the big lines. Although the history of Rome is incredible, it wasn’t our favourite place in Italy as it was way too busy for our liking!
Bay of Naples & Amalfi Coast
From Rome, the next train stop for us was Naples where we picked up hire car number 2 and drove down the coast to the seaside town of Vico Equense. We loved it here, as it was much quieter and mostly full of Italian locals. Our hotel had views of Mount Vesuvius as well as a private beach we swam at daily. Here it was relaxing just wandering around the town, taking in the Italian way of life. I even found a local shoe maker who custom made me a new pair of Italian leather sandals, without speaking a word of English!
From Vico Equense we took a trip to Pompeii (having a car we could avoid the trains which were standing room only), to discover the town which was devastated by the volcano of Mount Vesuvius. Archeologists have done an amazing job to recover many building, tools and even casts of people who were caught in the eruption in 79 AD. Climbing Mount Vesuvius was also on our list of things to experience while in the area, but due to the dangerous bush fires, the National Park was unfortunately closed. Next time!
While in the area, we also took a trip to discover the beautiful island of Capri (just South of the bay of Naples). A scooter got us around here to, which was perfect to experience the full island plus enjoy a swim with the Italian locals at Faro Beach, all within an afternoon and before catching the ferry back to Serrento.
After checking out of our hotel Astoria in Vico Equense, it was time to take a drive along the famous Amalfi coast. Although taking almost a full day to travel the short distance through Sorrento, Positano, Praiano, hilltop Ravello and Amalfi (due to the sheer amount of bends, bumper to bumper traffic & dangerous cliff top drive), it is something you must experience on a visit to Italy. The coastline is nothing short of breathtaking. But a word of warning, there is very limited parking in the towns and along this coastline!
Puglia & Basilicata
After our Amalfi experience we travelled on with our hire car, across the country, (passing truck after truck full of tomatoes), to the traditional and less touristy part of southern Italy. At this point in our holiday, we hadn’t arranged any accomodation, as we wanted to see what we liked the look and feel of at the time.
Home of the tomato and olive trees, southern Italy is less touristy. It was nice to take in the authenticity and not be bombarded with sales gimmicks. We next arrived in the trello town of Alberobello. Trelli are stone buildings with hut style roofs made from stone without mortar and wandering around this town felt like we were in a fairytale. We also drove on to visit the 3 white cities of the Puglia area- Locorotondo, Gisternino and Martina Franca, passing through the Italian olive tree country.
In the city of Matera (pic above), part of the Basilicata region, we wandered around the old town and explored the 9000 year old Sassi (cave dwellings). That’s right, they were cave men!
Before heading back to Naples to return our car & train to Rome for our flight home, the seaside town of Castellammare was a pleasant surprise. We had a hotel room upgrade at Hotel dei Congress, boasting mountain and sea views. Here we took the cable car up to the top of the mountains and took in the panoramic city, sea and mountain views for just $8 euro. Although I was put out of my comfort zone, it is highly recommended for the incredible views and a fantastic end to our Italian adventure.
Over the years I’ve learnt that stressing about being 100% strict with my diet choices (when eating out & travelling), places a greater stress on my body than just going with the flow & enjoying delicacies here & there.
After asking locals what their typical meals are, I embraced their signature food in each of our Italian destinations. Besides, they encourage the motto “when in Italy, eat our food”.
Our Italian adventure of course included croissants, bruschetta, local cured meats, worlds best (literally) gelato in San Gimignano, pizza, pasta & my favourite-seafood dishes when near the sea. Yep I tried it all, guilt free!
Throughout Italy I was impressed with how locals use the land so well, to provide fresh produce for their families and communities. We spotted tomatoes, eggplants, zucchini, basil, vineyards, citrus, fig and olive trees galore in little back and front yard patches, on (very) steep hilltops (on the Cinque Terra & Amalfi coast) and it seemed they took advantage to grow their own produce when given the opportunity with their own patch of land.
I smiled seeing trucks drop off fresh fruit and veg produce to small road side markets in old wooden pallets & the fresh seafood delivered on trolleys to the restaurants each morning in Venice.
It was inspiring to see our B&B hosts at Nettare II produced their own honey from the Ligurian bee (same as the disease free Ligurian bee on KI), they also grew their own grapes, figs, tomatoes & olives for themselves. We were pleasantly surprised with a thank you gift of a bag of fresh (organic) figs & grapes.
Our B&B hosts, just out of San Gimignano in country Tuscany, had 100 acres filled with vineyards & olives, which they use to harvest their own grapes in September & olives in November (their Autumn) to produce organic wine & olive oil. We got to enjoy this flavoursome olive oil as part of our breakfast each morning.
My Italian diet
Ok, so you’re wondering what I ate?
Breakfasts were included at each of our hotels & B&Bs, where I selected fresh fruit, nuts & plain yoghurt or high fat protein sources of cheese & bacon. I was pleased at a couple of hotels when I saw green beans, cooked cabbage & green salads were on offer. Otherwise, this is when I would also enjoy a croissant with extra butter or fresh bruschetta (with fresh tomato, mozzarella cheese & drizzled with olive oil) …. & of course an espresso.
When staying in pesto & anchovy country on the Cinque Terra, I made the most of our B&B kitchenette and made fresh salads with anchovies, artichokes, olives, lettuce, topped with locally made pesto and the most flavoursome fresh Roma tomatoes I’ve every tasted! My mouth is watering just thinking about it.
When eating out for lunch & dinner we always ordered either a large salad or traditional grilled veg (eggplant, zucchini, fennel and capsicum) to share. We actually found the food hit and miss. I learnt that trying to order the ‘healthier’ options was not always the freshest choice. I made the mistake of ordering seafood in the inland towns & cities, where tinned tuna and seafood stick featured in a couple of my salads (you can imagine my disappointment). Otherwise, the fresh salmon, tuna, octopus, shrimp, mussel and clam dishes in Venice, Cinque Terra, Vico Equense and Amalfi Coast were sooo good!
If fresh fish with salad or veg wasn’t an option, I decided to eat what the speciality dish of the restaurant was and therefore pasta and pizza dishes crept in. It was good to see many cafes and restaurants using seasonal foods, despite listing another out-of-season vegetable on the menu.
I managed to find an organic store called Rialto Biocenter on our walking adventures in Venice, where I stocked up on fresh organic fruit. We also happened to walk by a smoothie and juice bar in Florence called Shake Cafe, where I excitedly ordered a green smoothie.
Over the days we drank loads of water & when dining out I actually only treated myself to a few wines the whole trip. We’d always order sparkling water and add a drop of lemon essential oil, if fresh lemon wasn’t an option. After busy days exploring, this was a much more hydrating option.
Being in tune with my body, I noticed having a carb heavy diet throughout our trip contributed to the following changes:
- I had a dull headache most days
- My dreaded hypoglycaemia symptoms returned and I drove my hubby crazy as I often reminded him I was hungry, despite the large (carb filled meals) we were enjoying
- Sluggish digestion. To ease this, I used my digestive essential oils topically with coconut oil and massaged these into my belly each night
- I got puffy, particularly in my face
- Needless to say, I now don’t fit as comfortably into my jeans 🙂
Some positives noted on our trip:
- I slept better. I was equipped with my blue light blocking sunglasses and eye patch to promote sleepiness at night, as well as lavender essential oil & magnesium chloride oil spray to help relax my body. Aside from this, I think the increased carb intake at night helped with my serotonin and therefore melatonin production. Remember, melatonin is the hormone responsible for sleep quality
- My stress levels were non existent (apart from navigating our way through crazy Italian traffic in our hire car)
Holiday Health Support
To support my body while enjoying Italian delicacies:
- We walked… & walked some more. The walking tours were a great incentive to get extra steps in over the day.
- I supplemented with:
- Digestive Enzymes- these were on me the whole time & I took 2 high strength (practitioner only) caps with each meal
- Probiotics. Much to my disappointment, I left mine at home in the fridge, so I bought an over the counter brand in Italy and took these each night before bed
- Liver support. As we were indulging in some wine & sweets, I took a high strength Silymarin (St Mary’s Thistle) tablet with dinner each night. I also took a Glutathione support supplement, which provided both liver and antioxidant support (flying creates lots of unwanted free radicals in the body)
- Essential oils. A respiratory blend helped counteract the plane trip and hotel air con, after waking up stuffy. Lavender on my pillow helped with sleep & lemon in water first thing & with meals, not only tastes refreshing but also supported my stomach acid levels. If you want to learn more about essentials oils for your health, head over here.
- Multivitamin, with activated B vitamins. I wasn’t getting in as many veg as I would have preferred, so I took this with breakfast each day
- We had loads of vitamin D rich sunshine. It was obvious Italians are not scared of the sun. They love a good tan! Swimming at some of the busy local beaches in the Ligurian sea & off the Amalfi coast, locals would be wearing very little & embracing the sunshine for hours. We would expose ourselves in bursts at the start of the trip, as coming from our winter our skin had not built up enough protective melanin to be out in full sun for hours on end. You can read more about this topic here. I also found it hard to go without sunglasses (I don’t wear them when I can avoid it), for the same reason. By the end of the trip, I wasn’t wearing sunnies and was able to be out in the direct sunlight for most of the day without burning
After spending 3 weeks in Italy, we have experienced a mixture of iconic tourist destinations, traditional living, stunning scenery, delicious (and some not so) cuisine, refreshing swims and reenergising sunshine. You can see more pics across on instagram.
Although I enjoyed embracing the Italian way of eating, I’m certainly now ready to up my veggie intake, cut out the sugar, go easy on the grains and support my health with a nourishing detox.
Are you ready to join me & foodie Malissa Fedele for a Spring Cleanse? Register here to be first notified about our cleanse, filled with nourishing recipes and nurturing activities to kick start your health for the spring & summer months ahead.
Love, health & happiness,