Aspen & Beyond
When in Rome, or anywhere in Italy for that matter! Back from Italy!
With Covid dissipating, or at least being accepted as a new normal, it seems like this is the summer for Europe, and specifically Italy. Who knew???!!!
There are many travel blogs on Italy especially some of the places we visited including Capri, the Amalfi Coast and the hot spot everyone is talking about…Puglia. I would love to add some insight, but with influencers and the internet it’s hard to discover anything new. However, I can tell you how our family likes to vacation in Europe.
I wouldn’t call it adventure travel but more “active travel.” We like to be doing. I want the kids to be moving and for all of us to be disconnected from our devices. Personally, I think one of the best ways to see Europe is by bike, followed by a well-deserved (and maybe a little indulgent) beach vacation, bookended by some sightseeing in a historical European city. We have followed this itinerary a few times with great success. This June we celebrated our daughter’s high school graduation and my husband’s 50th with such a trip.
We started with a 6-day Backroads bike trip from Puglia to Basilicata. We cycled along the Ionian Sea and Adriatic Coast, through fishing villages, ancient ruins, charming towns, olive groves, orchards, and vineyards. This trip was designed for families with older teens & young 20’s. On our trip we met four families whom we would spend the next week with sweating, laughing, eating and drinking. Meeting and connecting with new friends added another dimension to our experience.
One of the nice things about an organized trip is that decisions are made for you. A “vacation” from logistics and decision making in exchange for an adventurous and sometimes physically challenging trip. Above are historic towns we visited and some of the sights we took in. If planning a trip to this region, I would put these on the list and book a night or two at the following 5-star resorts.
I guess I am late to the party. Even in early June this region was busy with day trippers. But the beach clubs and restaurants were civilized. We could get a reservation, did not wait in any lines, and had a wonderful experience. With a little effort, we found places that were far from the crowds. If you have the flexibility, I may try late May or September/October when the weather is still beautiful, and less people are traveling.
I really enjoyed staying in Anacapri, far from the bustle of Mariana Grande. One of my favorite things was riding in the open-air taxis going up and down the narrow winding road connecting Capri to Anacapri. It was like being on a rollercoaster! The views were stunning, I felt like Sofia Loren in her oversized sunglasses and Hermes headscarf.
The plan was to relax on the Amalfi Coast after our rigorous bike tour. We relaxed, but we kept exploring by hiking, cliff jumping and playing tennis at a red clay court high above the sea. The trek to Villa Jovis from town was amazing as we saw Italians walking to the market with their rolling shopping carts (no Whole Foods parking lot to contend with), working in beautiful gardens and orchards right outside their villas, and spectacular views. Think of the Bluff walk in Sconset with more to see and a better workout. On the day we did the Old Walk of the Forts, along the coast from Blue Grotto to the Lighthouse at the far end of Anacapri, we were rewarded with views of a dramatic crashing sea. Mount Solaro is a relatively quick but steep hike like Smuggler Mountain in Aspen but with a single seat chairlift to take you down the mountain. (You can also take the chairlift up if you like.) Mount Solaro is the highest point on Capri with 360-degree views. This was a great way to begin each day as the trail head was steps from our hotel near Piazza Vittoria in Anacapri.
Both 5-star hotels are located in Anacapri within walking distance of each other. Caesar Augustus is nestled on a cliff edge overlooking the Bay of Naples and the Amalfi Coast. The luxury hotel occupies a 19th-century villa. If you don’t stay at the hotel, I recommend having a drink on the patio. The views are incredible.
Capri Palace is a sophisticated, luxury hotel with a Michelin-starred restaurant and a renowned medical spa. Rooms are spacious and bright. Their beach club Il Riccio was one of our favorites and breakfast was fabulous. The staff and service at both hotels are top-notch.
The food was divine. There is a reason the same few places were repeatedly recommended and they are not to be missed! At Aurora, the pizza was so light and crispy I regret not ordering my own for just an appetizer. It truly was the best pizza I have ever had.
Da Paolino is the “lemon” place where you dine al fresco under a ceiling of lemon trees. The staff was fantastic, and the dessert room was a treat for the kids. Go to Buonocore for gelato. I recommend all’amarena, which is a vanilla gelato with ribbons of amarena cherries or ask for a combination of caffé and crema and a homemade cone that is still warm. Also don’t forget to sample a few pastries from the bakery inside. Delicious.
Classic iconic Italian beach clubs perched on craggy rocks at the edge of the sea. La Dolce Vita.
Il Riccio and La Fontelina are both located on Isle of Capri. La Conca del Sogno and Lo Scoglio one must take a boat to if staying in Capri. Arriving by boat is a special experience. We had a terrific captain who grew up in the area. He made all our reservations, and it was fun going up to the hostess and giving his Italian name. They would respond with an enthusiastic “Oh, Christian! Come right this way. We have the best table for you!”
Spending a day together relaxing, swimming, and eating fresh coastal Italian food was the perfect antidote after six days of cycling. Most of these lunches ended with one of us declaring “That was the best meal I have ever had!”
To be honest, I was looking forward to this part of the trip the least, but Rome took me by surprise. I fell in love with the Eternal City. Rome is a city like no other. The history, beauty, and grandeur of times past is everywhere. We arranged two private-tours, one of the Vatican and the other of the Colosseum, Pantheon and Roman Forum. The tour guides were excellent, we were able to enter the Vatican museums early, skip lines and avoid the crowds. I would suggest finding a highly recommended tour guide.
But what we really loved about Rome was discovering it for ourselves. Walking down narrow cobblestone streets opening to markets and grand squares, stumbling upon a palace, church, fountains, parks, museums or a 2,000-year-old column in the middle of the street. There are treasures everywhere! Rome is a city with layers of history, art, architecture, as well as friendly locals and great food.
We stayed at Baglioni Hotel Regina, former residence to Queen Margherita of Savoy. The hotel’s central location on Via Veneto is one of the most elegant addresses in Rome within walking distance to Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, the Spanish Steps, Villa Borghese park, and exclusive shops and boutiques.