29 November 2016
Look Into Transportation Passes
Do some research about where you're going and how long you're staying to determine whether or not a transportation pass might benefit you. In certain cities it is extremely beneficial and cost effective. Like in Venice, for example, the rates for water buses and taxis are outrageous if you don't have some form of a transportation pass. Even if you are only there for a couple of days, it could save you hundreds. If you are under the age of 29 then you qualify for the Rolling Venice Card which is a 3-Day tourist pass for 28 Euros (about $30 dollars) that includes unlimited use of all local public transport.
Be Wary of Lunch Hour and Mondays
This is a big one for first time Italy or Europe travelers. Always check the hours of a business before organizing two ferries and a bus route to get to your destination (oops). BEWARE THE ITALIAN "RIPOSO". This mid-day tradition closing of various businesses and sometimes even restaurants varies from city to city and business to business so it's always better to double check. It can run anyway from a half hour to a couple of hours usually between noon and four in the afternoon.
Another little known nugget of knowledge is that a large portion of business and restaurants (usually not in major touristy areas, but still occurs in places like Burano and Montalpulciano) are closed on Mondays. I found this out the hard way after making my way all the way to Burano from Murano only to find the historic lace shop I wanted to visit (along with several other businesses) was closed. My suggestion? Spend Mondays exploring architecture and beaches and maybe even hit up a local grocer in the morning and pack a picnic for the day. Some of my best days in Italy were spent stocking up on fresh meats, cheeses, wines, breads and fruit in the morning and spending the whole day driving around stopping here and there, taking in Italy's beauty.
You're Supposed To Get Lost
Yes, of course visit all of the famous shops that you've heard so much about or seen 100 times on Pinterest. But take some time to just get lost. I had a list of places that I had to go while I was in Italy, but my most memorable experiences were getting lost in the alleys and finding a restaurant with pizza that changed my life. Or hitting a dead end that brought me to the canal, but being able to watch a woman across the way singing to herself and hanging clothes up to dry. It's the getting lost and letting the city just swallow you up that's going to create the most lasting memories and the biggest impact.
Know Your Basics
I feel like a lot of Americans just assume that in most major cities (Venice, Rome, etc) throughout Italy, that a large majority of people will speak English. Sure some do, a lot of the younger generations. But a large majority DO NOT. It's beneficial and polite to know your basics. Even if you're not good at it, even putting in the effort makes people a lot more apt to help you or put in the effort to understand you. A simple "please", "thank you", or even "help" while holding a map can do wonders. And for you're benefit I've put together a cheat sheet for the basics you must know before traveling to Italy. Just click the image below to download.
Yes, You Can Drink The Water
And I'm not just talking about faucet water here folks, there are various public water fountains all over Italy that are perfectly safe and acceptable for the public to use. And on a hot day, when you've been walking for hours and a bottle of water is 3 Euros, you will be grateful for these fountains. We kept water bottles on us and then just filled them whenever we came across a fountain. And not only useful, they're usually beautiful as well.
When In Tuscany? Rent A Car
I'm not usually a car rental advocate because I feel like it's a waste of money. But when it comes to Tuscany it is definitely worth it. Sure, there are tours that go all over Tuscany but to be honest they're just as expensive if not more expensive than a rental car and don't give you the freedom to get off the beaten path. Rent a car, pick some villages and cities you want to hit, and make your own path! We knew we had to Montalcino, Montalpulciano and Montecatini Val di Cecina. But after that, we just drove wherever the wind decided to figuratively take us. If we saw a random hot spring in the mountains? Stopped. A secluded tree lined country road? Drove it. I can't recommend enough. Plus it makes the whole packing a picnic option a lot more feasible.
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21 November 2016
Bosco Della Spina
I stumbled upon Bosco Della Spina by means of a happy accident. I last minute had to book a reservation close to where I was, which was in Tuscany where there wasn't a city in sight. A little under an hour's drive from Montalpulciano, we found an AirBNB close to where we were. So, we booked it and in less than fifteen minutes we were pulling into the tree lined parking area at what was the only commercial business in Lupompesi. There were no shops, no stores, no restaurants. Before checking in, we decided to take a little walk around town in hopes of finding something to eat (this was before realizing Bosco Della Spina had some of the BEST FOOD we would have in Italy).
We wandered down side streets and alleys and after a while started to feel like we had stepped through the twilight zone. We saw maybe one other person, walking from their car to their apartment. Other than that the town seemed completely empty. We had just reached the edge of the South side of the town when out of nowhere it started down pouring. Despite the sun and the butterflies and the warmth, it was pouring. We waited it out under a nearby tree and after about ten minutes the rain slowed and eventually stopped. The sun was just starting to set and cast a misty glower over the rolling hills, illuminating fragile spider webs between the trees.
After a few moments of taking in the beauty we remembered the truly important part of our walk, we were absolutely famished.
Normally I start these hotel reviews by talking about the hotel itself, and trust me, there is plenty to say about this place. But I will never forget the food. When we did finally check in, we were happy to find that there was an on-site restaurant that served breakfast (included), lunch and dinner. We took our bags to our room and quickly hurried back downstairs. We didn't see any other guests but we caught a glimpse of two young men in the kitchen, one who promptly came out to take our order.
I ordered the first white wine I saw (typical) and ordered mushroom risotto. Two things to note here. I have never had risotto before. And I was so absorbed by how delicious my food was I have absolutely NO IDEA what my boyfriend ordered. It was one of the best things I have ever eaten. I ate as much as I could before sitting back and taking a look around. Half of the restaurant is all windows, some of which look out onto the terrace which is seats on one of Tuscany's signature rolling hills. There is a large fireplace in the center of the restaurant and modest decor that made you feel like you were home again.
When we came down for breakfast the following morning, we found we were not alone for once. There were a few other couples seated around us. I was waking myself up with a cappuccino when we were slowly brought out various breakfast pastries, FRESH out of the oven. Flaky croissants, plump fruit, and some kind of pastry with chocolate on one side and Italian cream on the other. I have seen pastries like this before in America but none that TASTED like this. I don't know what is up with this Italian cream but I dream about this damn cream. And the chocolate was real chocolate. The perfect bittersweet kind that perfectly complemented the sweet pastry dough it was wrapped in. I have had plenty of creams and custards but nothing compared to this pastry. I could only eat one but you can be DAMN sure I wrapped the rest of those up in napkins, stuck them in a box and brought them with us on the rest of our journey.
A BRIGHT IDEA: During my next stay at Bosco Della Spina, I plan on trying to coordinate with the chef and inn keeper to perhaps put together a picnic basket lunch for us that we can take out into the Tuscan countryside. Might be a good idea for others to ask about as well?
There are a few different room types, but since we were only staying for the night we opted for one of the smaller options on the second floor. A big comfy four poster bed facing shuttered windows, a small kitchenette, a very interesting laid out bathroom with a large shower, but best of all was the window. In the center of the living room wall that faced the side of the inn that drops down into the Tuscan hills, was a giant brick lined window. We didn't really discover just how much we loved this window until early the following morning.
We took a shower, cuddled up under the comfy blankets and fell asleep early. Still suffering from jet lag, we woke up the following morning around 4:30am. We wandered into the living room area and could see the fire few rays of the sunrise illuminating the far off hills. We grabbed a few blankets and climbed onto the brick windowsill. We sat there together in silence, taking in the beautiful view, the misty morning haze, the sunrise that slowly cracked gold along the horizon. We watched a storm roll in and out in the distance and slowly watched the small Italian village around us come to life. It was the most relaxing and peaceful morning I have ever experienced. And for that reason, I cannot wait to go back.
TIP: Make sure to ask for a top floor room so you can get the best view! And don't forget a swimsuit!
The next morning, being fully rested, we were able to explore the grounds a little more. We had breakfast early so the sun was still making it's way above us when we walked down the stairs through the tunnel of ivy that led to the terrace. There was a large outdoor seating area with a gazebo like structure made out of vines and ivy. If you walk past this area, parallel to the drop off that the property is situated on, you will come to a beautiful infinity pool. It was too cold to swim while we were here but if you swim up to the edge it looks right out over the hills. It's a stunning view if you can't tell from the photo. I could easily spend a few hours perched on the edge of this pool on a warm Summer night, watching the sun's glows fade and the fireflies move in.
Rooms Starting at $63*
*price based on current exchange rate