Paradise Perfected: Paris, Provence and Positano

Like what I did with the alliteration? In all seriousness, vacations don’t get better than this. A bucket list trip for me has been Provence and Positano, and of course, Paris is the cherry on top of any vacation and always a must when flying through Europe. I can smell it now, the windows of our Fiat rolled down, smells of lavender wafting through the air, the starchy salt of the Mediterranean on my bathing suit as I licked a gelato cone, and the thrill of standing on the bus, feeling as if I was on skis going around each tight corner of the Amalfi Coasts winding roads. Below is my itinerary for the pictorial summer vacation.

Here we go:

Day 1 – Read my post about a perfect day in Paris here. Get ready for Eating, Blisters, More Eating, and Loving Paris more than you thought was possible.

Day 2 – Take the early TGV from Gare du Lyon to Avignon. From the train station, there are car rental offices nearby where you will pick up your (likely tiny) vessel and set off to the one of the most beautiful destinations. Re-acclimate yourself with stick shift as you find your way to your first Provencal town of Gordes. This Roman city is guaranteed to take your breath away. It’s most likely lunchtime, so wander and find La Trinquette. A bowl of local olives will hold you over until you can order the most heavenly lunch you’ve had in a while. Make sure to order wine with your lunch – they’re all local!  When you’re finished, I recommend shopping in the town and picking up souvenirs such as straw bags, olive wood cutting boards and lavender essential oils. Time to get back on the road. As you make your way through the tree lined streets, driving through quaint Provençal towns, something starts to change. The straw fields of gold turn into lavender and sunflower fields. All the goosebumps. Before heading on to the hotel, stop at Abysses de Gordon to have a reality check of where you are. Continue on your way (about an hour drive) before checking in to Relais & Chateaux, Le Couvent des Minimes. Revel in the beautiful lobby before heading down to the pool surrounded by Hermes orange umbrellas. Slim Aarons, is that you? Dinner is available at the hotel’s Michelin-starred restaurant, Le Cloitre or their more-casual, but equally amazing, Le Pesquier Bistro. Get the Bandol rosé. You’re welcome. Enjoy your night under the stars and on terracotta rooftops.

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Day 3 – After having an espresso on your porch, and one last dip in the pool, it’s time to hop back in that Fiat and continue onwards (not before taking a photo in the property’s sunflower or lavender fields!) Stop in town and pick up items for a road trip snack. Drive about 1.5 hours through lavender heaven in the Luberon to Gorges du Verdon and prepare your senses to be delighted. The water is the most piercing, yet rich turquoise you’ve ever seen – guaranteed. You have time to either drive to a vantage point to look down on the gorges, or to take a dip in the water, rent a paddleboard or kayak. Bert and I opted to take a dip. If you haven’t caught on quite yet, the French really know how to live. Get back in the car and make your way to the French Riviera: Nice! We arrived to Nice in the early evening, dropped our bags at a hotel that was perfect for our purposes — clean, cheap and convenient to downtown and the airport. I took B to the ocean, showed him around the Old City and then stopped for moules et frites and some house red wine. Tomorrow it’s time for a new adventure.

Day 4 – It’s time for pasta, pizza and aperol spritzes: Take an early flight from Nice to Naples, Italy. If you have a lot of luggage, pre-arrange a car service before arriving to Naples – the taxi lines are quite long and the drivers make up a price on the spot. There is also the option to take a bus to a ferry, but since Bert had his entire suitcase from his month in Rome, we opted for a car service. We chose to stay in Positano because of our accommodations at the lovely bed & Montepertuso, Cole dell’ara. Cole dell’ara is actually the hilltop town above Positano, called Montepertuso. It is a lovely B&B run by Italian brothers Giacomo, Marco, and Pasquale with views so incredible you will need your travel companion to pinch you. Take in the incredible views of the city while drinking an aperol spritz and playing with the many cats that live on property. We were quite happy to coincidentally find that some of the cities highest-reviewed restaurants were in Montepertuso, just a quick walk from our accommodations. Tonight, dine at La Terra, a rustic family-owned restaurant with views that rival the hotels.

Day 5 – Hope you’re hydrated! Today is about to be a trip highlight. If you don’t speak perfect Italian, and don’t have connections, don’t even bother trying to call Da Adolfo. Instead wake up early(ish), throw on your sexiest Italian swimsuit and head down to the port. You are looking for a boat with a red fish. Tell the driver you don’t have a reservation. He will tell you they have no chairs. You say that’s ok. If you plan ahead (unlike us) bring towels for the rocky beach with hot stones, if you forget, don’t worry – you’ll be just fine. Da Adolfo is something you just must experience – run by tan, leathery skinned, attractive Italian men, Da Adolfo is something you will remember the rest of your life. This is the beach club of all beach clubs. Get a bottle of crisp wine, an ice bucket, and a reservation for the second seating at lunch (there are only two settings, and those with chairs aka that made a reservation in Italian, have the first seating). Enjoy jumping off cliffs into the clear turquoise waters before sitting at lunch (and getting attitude that you oddly enjoy) from the waiters. Order everything. They specialize in fresh grilled seafood. It’s hard to describe the experience here, but it’s basically like being at the best fraternity party of your life, but replace the men with sassy tanned Italians, the kegs with aperol spritz and painted-pottery carafes of wine. The crowd will make you feel like you’re in the Hamptons. Get to know the neighboring table, and pretty soon you’ll be a bottle of wine deep with them.

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Day 6 – Today is all about Italian cooking. After enjoying the breakfast spread of fresh fruits, lemon and plum cakes, hard boiled eggs, and the most delectable bruschetta, sign up for the foraging class at Cole dell’ara. The first half of the day you will spend with the eldest son, walking around Montepertuso and learning the history of what ingredients are indigenous to the region and the art of Slow Food. After gathering arugula (rocket, for the rest of the world) from the sidewalk, pumpkin flowers from a vine near the handrail, and fennel from the ground – make your way back to the B&B where you make a meal with all the ingredients you just foraged – and trust me there are a lot. I discovered my favorite Italian delicacy on this day – more than gelato – drumroll please…. mozzarella broiled on top of a lemon leaf. Never have I had a more delectable flavor grace my tongue. We also learned how to make orecchiette pasta, a vegetable quiche, apricot preserves and a fresh tomato salad, all from ingredients that we foraged during our hike. That evening we went down to the beaches in Positano and took a well-deserved nap on the pebbles.

If you’re hungry, back on top of the mountain, treat yourself to a family-style dinner, at La Tagliata. This two-storied restaurant is a crowd pleaser. Each person gets their own bottle of wine (unlimited) followed by never ending plates of appetizers, pastas and meats, all for 30 euros per person. A steal and so delicious.

Day 7 – Enjoy soaking up the sun at another popular Positano Beach Club – Bagni d’Arienzo. You know the drill now, you take a boat from the main port in Positano, and spend all day soaking up the sun and swimming in the ocean. This beach club is more family friendly and all around more mellow. It’s lovely.

 

Day 8 – This day was a toss-up for us – take an expensive ferry to Capri or explore the rest of the popular seaside towns via ferry. We heard mixed reviews about Capri in its peak season and while people raved about the beauty – they prepared us to be ready for lines. It was the end of the trip, and we were running out of $$$, so we decided to explore the other seaside towns. Side note: the ferry to Capri was approximately 60 euro RT, whereas our transportation to the seaside towns in total was about 30 euro. We took the high-speed ferry to Amalfi. Amalfi is a small town – quite touristy but incredibly charming. You can walk the entire city square in about 20 minutes. Buy your hand-painted pottery and limoncello here. Our favorite seaside town, was quiet hilltop Ravello. This medieval town has winding streets that are asking to be explored. Ravello boasts big inviting piazzas intersected by store-lined side streets. It has its own magic. If we had more time, I would’ve visited Portofino and Capri, but I guess I’ll just need to come back. The entire coast feels like make-believe, a beautiful dream. It’s time to make your way to Naples for your morning flight.

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I didn’t know cities like Naples existed in Italy. To be honest, the only thing I appreciated about it was the pizza – other than that, it’s dirty, a bit rough, and a bit seedy, but the pizza is worth the trip. Bert and I waited in line for Naples “best pizza”, established in 1870, L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele. There is guaranteed to be about 100 people in the street waiting in line for this pizza – pro tip: go in and order and your Neapolitan pizza will be ready in a few minutes. They only serve two kinds, classic margarita (basil, tomato sauce and mozzarella) and sauce pizza. The pies are only 5 euro and I recommend drinking a Peroni while waiting in line. After all, it’s your last night in Italy.

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Tuscany + Umbria, IT

The contrast of green vineyards and purple mountains, the smell of firewood and fragrant pasta sauces, the feeling of buttery soft leathers, and looking out my car window to yellow mossed trees beside salmon-colored homes, are all familiar feelings and sights from Italy.

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Italy was undoubtedly beautiful. As my dad would shift around each turn, I saw a different delightful surprise, whether it be a field of grazing sheep or a small cottage tucked under a large tree.

I was greeted by my parents in Pisa, already telling me of the pasta they had for me at the hotel. Let me tell you, the pasta was cold—but, it was amazing. It was such a nice change from the french food I’ve been having: liver pâtes, omelets, baguettes, quiche, croque madames. Oh, but of course seeing my parents and sister topped the pasta any day.

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Our trip then consisted of waking up in a town, driving to our next town (which normally happened to be placed upon a hill) and then drive to our next town where we would spend the night.

Here was our itinerary:

Pisa—>Volterra—>San Gimignano—>Sienna—>Montelcino—>Orveito ->Todi —>Spoleto—>Assisi—>Florence

As a traveler who has now planned a few of my trips, I need to give my mom props for executing such a well orchestrated trip. She had everything planned out in advance and it all worked out in terms of timing and places visited.

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Instead of speaking about every part of my trip, I am going to give some highlights besides the most obvious of getting to spend time with my family.

1. Staying in a Tuscan Farmhouse B&B in Sienna. Not only were the views breathtaking, the hospitality incredible, and great company but, they also had 6 day old kittens.

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2. Watching my dad navigate the narrow and windy roads while driving through the country side. I had no idea he could drive stick!

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3. Going on my first vineyard tour and trying wine from San Giovasi grapes followed by a fabulous lunch.

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imageThe family saves all their wine dating back to 1940’s. They drink it on special occasions. image

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4. Rushing to a thermal hot springs nestled in the mountains and taking a dip just before closing.

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5. Drinking Grappa. My dad ordered me this Italian specialty, a strong liquor made from the skins of grapes. In the small restaurant, where the waiters and patrons felt like family, the restaurant watched my reaction to the taste. I took it as a shot, because, well it came in a shot glass. I look around the restaurant and everyone was sipping theirs.

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imageWhere the Palio horse race takes place in Siennaimage

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6. The food. Particularly, coming across an amazing restaurant that happened to be empty. On my last night, we walked around in the rain looking for a restaurant all the Italians said was “not obvious,” we never found it, but came across a gem and had it to ourselves. image

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imageDad enjoying some cheeseimage

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