Italy - there is simply no place like it. La dolce vita, la bella Italia - home to opera, ancient civilizations, and my favorite food in the world, which goes far beyond pizza, pasta, and wine (but how glorious they are...). I have felt connected to Italy my entire life (I'm half Italian) and I fall more in love each time I go. A few caveats: you and I are not the only people who love Italy. Florence in July, for example, is packed with American tourists (all tourists, really!). Try going in the shoulder season - I love it in March, April, May, October, and November. Trains may or may not run on time. Italians definitely have their own timetable and this precise New Yorker has to let go a bit whenever I am in Italy. That is the beauty - sink into it and enjoy the serene sunsets, the extraordinary daily life, and the food - of course, the food!
Florence is a dream of a city - when you walk around a corner and see the Duomo peeking through the streets, it gets you every time. It's also one of my favorite cities for dining in the world. But heed the summer warning - the crowds are horrendous, it's hot, and there is a two-hour line for every museum. Book your tickets ahead (use this official site) and practice your patience (not my strong suit).
The sidewalks are ridiculously small. Be prepared to shimmy your way past hordes of people, or dodge speeding motorcycles and taxis by walking in the street. You get used to it. Forget your heels - bring cute flats or sneakers. I like to dress up a bit for dinner. And plan on an aperitivo every evening before dinner, especially when it's sunny - the Florentine sunsets are dramatic and so wonderful. This is a great article on the art of the aperitivo and places to go in Florence, written by Dina Honke of Olive Oil & Lemons.
Cafes & Coffee
Gilli - Favorite morning ritual in Florence: an amazing cappuccino and croissant with views of the antique carousel and great people watching. It's well-known and I love it.
Rivoire - Touristy but if you can grab a patio seat on a nice day, it's fun to have a view to the copy of "David." Known for their hot chocolate.
Ditta Artigianale - This could be straight out of Brooklyn or L.A. Fantastic coffee, free, fast WiFi, and lots of seats (they have an upstairs section, too) - a favorite for young Florentines. A few locations - I like the one near Palazzo Pitti.
La Ménagère - It could be in Santa Monica and I love it. Beautiful space with lots of tables to enjoy coffee/food, a restaurant, plus they sell flowers and home goods.
Rivalta Cafe - A lovely indoor/outdoor bar that attracts a local crowd along the Arno, close to the Ponte Vecchio. Perfect for an aperitivo.
Golden View Open Bar - A favorite in Florence for years (read: all my American friends know it) and it really has the best golden view of the Ponte Vecchio. Lots of small bites that are included with your drink during aperitivo. P.S. - The name makes it sound like it's on a rooftop. It's not. Also, if you want the best views, book a dinner reservation and ask to sit near the window.
Caffè Giacosa - Founded in 1815, this classic spot is known for inventing the Negroni. It is now owned by Roberto Cavalli. Love the outdoor tables.
Le Volpi e l'uva - Just around the corner from the crowds on the Ponte Vecchio, this is one of the city's most beloved wine bars showcasing only small, unique producers.
Don Nino - With all the tiny, crowded cafes around the Duomo, this one has great quick bites, coffee, and a picture-perfect view from the tables outside.
All' Antico Vinaio - I waited nearly an hour for a sandwich, which is ridiculous. It's a fantastic sandwich for five euros, though, and worth it if the lines are relatively short. The best one is La Favolosa.
Belmond Villa San Michele - Set in the hills of Fiesole (a 20-min drive from central Florence), this property has gorgeous terraced gardens, a pool overlooking the city, and an original facade designed by Michelangelo. If you can swing it, spend a night or two here, and the rest downtown.
Four Seasons Florence - One of my favorite properties anywhere. A ten-minute walk from the Duomo, it is an urban oasis with a private garden and beautiful pool, set within two centuries-old mansions.
Apartment Rental - I seriously loved the apartment we rented in Florence. It was a two-bedroom with a perfect location, spacious and comfortable, with a lovely, welcoming host - for around $230 a night total. Email me if you want the details!
I've done my gelato research in Florence. You really can't go wrong with any gelateria, but these are my favorites. Nothing blew me away until I tried Gelateria dei Neri!
Venchi - I like the location close to the Piazza della Repubblica. You are first captivated by the chocolate waterfall in the back, then annoyed by pushy tourists taking photos of it, then happy with your cup or cone of gelato.
La Carraia - Grab the mini size here for ONE EURO (all gelato is inexpensive in Florence!)!
Vivoli Gelato - Famous family-run gelato spot (since the 1930's).
Gelateria dei Neri - My absolute favorite, for the ricotta con fichi (ricotta with figs) - it tastes like a sublime, light caramel with tiny hints of fresh fig. Please try it!
Trattoria Cammillo - I ate here twice on my last trip and if I had only one night in Florence, I would come here. Family-owned for three generations. The pasta with peas is divine (and so is the chicken curry!).
Alla Vecchia Bettola - A 15-minute walk from the center and so worth it. This was my new favorite find in Florence - the chicken with artichokes, house pasta (penne alla vodka), spring peas, the table wine, EVERYTHING! Do not leave without having the tiramisu - I don't even like tiramisu and this was beyond.
Trattoria Le Antiche Carrozze - Perfect for a long lunch in the center of Florence, right across from the Ferragamo museum. Get the spaghetti pomodoro, pappa al pomodoro (tomato bread soup), and grilled vegetables. You'll be sitting with Italians, even though it's close to all the sights.
Cibreo - I've had a couple of memorable meals here - if it's your first trip to Florence, this place is a must.
Cantinetta Antinori - Tucked away in the 15th-century Palazzo Antinori, this is a wonderful lunch or dinner spot on a first trip to Florence, owned by one of Tuscany's famous wine families.
Irene at The Savoy - A gorgeous dinner with a view onto the Piazza della Repubblica. The spaghetti pomodoro is unforgettable.
Buca dell'Orafo - You walk downstairs to a tiny cave-like room, likely packed with Americans. We all heard about it somehow. The food is delicious - and please have the apple cake at the end.
see & do
Boboli Gardens - The gardens behind the Pitti Palace are lovely for a walk - they are hilly and not meticulously maintained. But the sculptures and layout is beautiful.
Museo Galileo - Great for kids (I'd hire a kid-friendly guide next time) and adults. You'll see just how far ahead they were in Florence and during the Renaissance. Fascinating!
The Accademia - For David. In all his great, glorious beauty. I can't get enough of him. Please read Irving Stone's The Agony and the Ecstasy, a biographical novel of Michelangelo's life, before you go to Florence!
Bargello Museum - My favorite museum in Florence for the stunning sculptures - don't miss Donatello's Bronze David or Michelangelo's Bacchus (one of his earliest works) and Pitti Tondo (made after David). The building itself is also pretty stunning - you enter into a courtyard.
Climb the Duomo (or the Tower) - Both are great workouts (more than 450 steps) and incredible views. Don't go if you're claustrophobic.
AquaFlor - Beautiful perfume shop near Santa Croce - a small entrance door belies the labyrinth of rooms within. I bought the tomato leaf home scent.
Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella
Antique Carousel in Piazza della Repubblica - Take a ride, even if you don't have a kid!
Dreoni Giocattoli toy store - Open since 1923, this is a kid paradise with a labyrinth of rooms to explore.
(And yes, the Uffizi Gallery. Buy tickets ahead of time!)
LAKE COMO, ITALY
Lake Como, Italy
Lake Como is so special, one of the most beautiful places in the world. It's jaw-droppingly gorgeous and surprisingly big. It takes an hour to drive from Point A to Point B depending on where you are (for example, Bellagio is at least an hour from the main town of Como). The architecture is gorgeous and so Italian. You're one hour from Milan, 45 minutes from the Swiss town of Lugano, but you won't want to go anywhere once you settle in Como. I highly recommend staying in Tremezzina at the Grand Hotel Tremezzo or one of the smaller B&B's on the lake. You won't regret it!
The main town of Como is pretty cute but I like spending time in the smaller villages and towns along the lake. Still, if you find yourself in Como - here are some recommendations: Gelateria Lariana, La Colombetta, Osteria L'Angolo Del Silenzio, Pane e Tulipani
A must - Il Gatto Nero (Cernobbio): Definitely have a long lunch here. Try to book a reservation before. The view is incredible (see photo above) - it' s a twisty, windy ride up and so gorgeous. A favorite of George Clooney, of course.
Near Cernobbio is the Villa d'Este, another gorgeous resort on the water. It is worth it to stop for a drink or coffee. When we went, it was free to just park in the garage, so don't valet! The views - wow! Eat lunch at Il Gatto Nero and then go down the hill to have a drink or coffee here.
In Tremezzina, the Grand Hotel Tremezzo is one of my favorite hotels in the world. Wander in the back gardens, have a drink on the terrace, or enjoy dinner here. The general manager, Silvio, is truly amazing. There is also a great wine bar in Tremezzina called Cantina Follie. It is charming and very local. Go to the top - there's a nice terrace.
Next door to Grand Hotel Tremezzo is the Villa Carlotta - worth it to see one of Como's grand old villas and beautiful gardens.
About 20 minutes from Grand Hotel Tremezzo was another one of my favorite places for lunch or dinner (get there early enough for sunset and it's incredible). It's called Locanda La Volpe - and it's just so cozy and fabulous and the outside seating has an amazing view!! I am all about the views.
Definitely get over to Bellagio for lunch or just a lazy day of wandering on the cobblestones - there are many public ferries and any hotel can help you. It's very close to Tremezzina. I love the tired aging beauty of Villa Serbelloni (a grand old hotel) on Bellagio and also bought a new summer bag at Saraceno - beautiful bags and interesting jewelry.
Book at the very famous Locanda dell'Isola Comacina on an island - it's decades old. They serve the same lunch they've served since 1947, I think. After you arrive by boat, you are led on a short tour of the island and they a long lunch (fish from the lake, roast chicken, oranges and vanilla gelato and more). Cash only. Everyone talks about this place.
A boat tour is really worth it, to see places like Villa Balbianello from the lake.