Postcards from Italy

Our Favorite Hotels: Hotel Savoy Florence

As we mentioned recently in our Accommodations in Italy post, it isn't always easy to judge the quality of a hotel in Italy without vetting it in person. The Italian star rating system can often be misleading, and hotels that look landmark and luxury on paper can turn out to be dingy disappointments on the ground. In short, even the Grandest of Dames sometimes need to “have a little work done”, as they say, which is why we were very excited to get a sneak peek at the Hotel Savoy Florence after a its glorious new facelift.

Read More…

Day Hikes in the Swiss Alps

Switzerland is one of the world's most popular hiking destinations, and after just a glimpse of its stunning Alpine scenery, you'll understand why. But it isn't just the gorgeous mountain vistas that draws hiking and walking enthusiasts from across the globe: it's also the ease of its user-friendly trails: well-marked, lined with a system of mountain lodges with excellent food, and impeccably maintained. You could walk for days without needing much more than a light day pack to keep you going.

Hiking sign at Höhbalmen(Photo by Björn S... via Flickr)

That said, not everyone wants to spend their entire holiday on the trails. Luckily, there are a fantastic day hikes in the Swiss Alps, as well, letting you set out for a few hours to enjoy the mountain views with their rushing waterfalls, dramatic glaciers, local wildlife, and flower-filled meadows during the day but be back in town ( with glass of wine in hand by sunset.

IMG_4684-4686 - Gimmelwald - View from Wylern-Gehren(Photo by thisisboss via Flickr)

Here are a few magnificent day hikes along easy-to-follow trails that can be hiked in either direction; many also have a fun funicular, gondola, or cogwheel railway to whisk hikers up to a scenic elevation to set off. You can bring a bag lunch if you like, but these routes are lined with Alpine lodges serving filling meals and snacks to keep you going for hours.

Read More…

Authentic Amalfi Coast: Traditional Ceramics from Vietri sul Mare

The Amalfi Coast is one of the most popular destinations in Italy, and it’s easy to see why. With its dramatic coastline, colorful fishing villages, crystalline turquoise waters, and hidden sea coves and grottoes, this stretch of coast south of Naples is simply stunning. That said, after more than half a century of intensive tourism—the masses began rolling in after the post-war Jackie O/Brigitte Bardot jet set put this area on the map—it can sometimes feel as if the local culture of this historic coastline is buried under layers of grand hotels, luxury yachts, and chic cocktail bars from Positano to the island of Capri.

Travel slightly further afield, however, and it’s easy to discover the more authentic side of the Amalfi Coast, including its stellar cuisine, scenic donkey paths-cum-hiking trails, and, of course, traditional artisan crafts. Among the most storied of these artisan crafts is ceramica di Vietri, or hand-painted ceramics from Vietri sul Mare.

Vietri sul Mare(Photo by Elicus via Flickr)

Read More…

Rome on Two Wheels: Vespa Tour

Along with the Colosseum and Leaning Tower, nothing is more iconic of Italy than the Vespa. This timeless scooter was created in 1946 by the Piaggio company to meet the demand for a modern, affordable mode of transportation for the country's rapidly urbanizing post-war population. Since then, the Vespa has remained one of the most beloved vehicles of convenience in Italy, from retirees puttering to the market in banged up originals to urban hipsters buzzing about town in spotless faux-vintage models.

Nowhere is this more true than Rome. Due to the city's heavy traffic, limited parking, and—let's face it—theft problem, many Romans eschew a car and opt for a smaller and less expensive scooter to get to work, school, or simply out and about. Though there are certainly higher-end, full-optional scooters that almost edge into motorcycle territory, by far the scooter of choice is the plucky Vespa, and nothing delights more than spotting a candy-colored Vespa parked jauntily in a narrow Roman backstreet or against the backdrop of one of the city's most famous sights.

(Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

If the Vespa is the Roman vehicle of choice, it follows that the ideal way to explore the Eternal City like a native is on the back of one of these classic “wasps”. We did just that on a recent tour that combined the fun novelty of zipping through the streets of Italy's capital on two wheels with the undeniable pleasure of some of the city's best street food. If you'd like to do the same, here are some of the basics: Read More…