Our Mini Italian Roadtrip: Part 1
Buongiorno! I'm super excited to share more about my recent trip to Italy with you guys, so I've taken some time off from posting my usual OOTD posts in order to get this recap together ASAP. I'd never been to Italy before this, and I was completely blown away by the beautiful architecture, art, history and, of course, the FOOD. Between all the pasta, pizza and cappuccinos I inhaled, I definitely came home carrying a few extra pounds, but I have zero regrets!
Flight And Hotel Details:
We booked this trip via Gate 1 Travel, which was the same company we had used to plan our Thailand adventure earlier this year. They tend to offer some amazing deals from time to time, and we were able to score roundtrip flights from JFK to Milan (on Emirates, no less!), a car rental with unlimited milage and hotel for six nights all for around $500 per person. Of course, with a deal that sweet, there are a few catches, but we were well aware of them before booking. The biggest drawback was that, save for one night in Milan, the bulk of the stay was at the Hotel Minerva Palace in Montecatini Terme, a small town in Tuscany that's roughly a 4 hour drive from the Milan airport. So A., that's a LOT of driving, and B., while Montecatini was very scenic, it wasn't exactly the ideal hot spot for a couple of big-city lovers like ourselves. But since the deal was so affordable, we booked it anyways, knowing we could branch out from our small town HQ and stay in other nearby cities, such as Florence and Venice.
Since we were headed straight to Montecatini as soon as we arrived and had a long drive ahead of us, we figured we'd get wifi access set up at the Milan airport. We purchased a SIM card package at a foreign exchange kiosk, spending a total of €40 on a deal for two SIM cards, one of which was loaded with 3GB of data, and the other which had 5GB of data and limited minutes for domestic and international calls. All we needed was our passports to purchase the cards, and then we also had to wait two hours before they actually activated.
We kicked off our Italian road trip with a four-hour scenic ride from Milan to Montecatini. Our first night was spent at the Hotel Minerva Palace, which is definitely not the fanciest or newest hotel, but it was clean and comfortable, and we were totally down with the €2 glasses of wine at the hotel bar. Since we were a little jet-lagged, we kept it low-key on our first night, getting pizza at Pizzeria Mordi e Fuggi (so good!), grabbing a post-dinner drink and then heading to bed.
We woke up bright and early and after grabbing coffee (seriously, the coffee in Italy is soooo good!) hit the road to Florence, where we'd been invited to come stay at the Glance Hotel, a relatively new and centrally located hotel in the city. We arrived at around noon and since check-in was at 3, we dropped off our bags at the front desk and decided to do some sightseeing first. The front desk staff at Glance was super helpful--they provided us with a map, highlighted all the must-sees and even suggested swinging by the nearby Mercato Centrale for lunch (more on that in a bit!).
Since Florence is pretty compact and walkable, it was easy to see a whole lot in a short amount of time, and honestly, it felt like every street and square had something beautiful to admire. Such a gorgeous city to wander around in! We hit up the Duomo first, walked over to Ponte Vecchio and then swung by the Accademia Gallery to see Michelangelo's David.
After hitting up the major sites, we realized we were starving so we headed over to Mercato Centrale to grab a quick bite. Seriously, if you're in Florence and want a delicious meal (without overpaying at a tourist trap!), this spot is the place to go. The ground floor is a market, featuring lots of stalls selling grocery items, plus a few food stalls, while the second floor offers a more upscale (but still relatively affordable) cafeteria-style setting, with tons of food options and even wine and craft beer bars. We ended up eating here more than once, favoring the no frills, crazy cheap Nerbone stall on the ground floor and the gelato upstairs.
After stuffing ourselves silly at the Mercato, we headed back to the hotel to check in and get a little R&R. And let me tell ya, after lots of driving and walking around all morning and afternoon, our room at Glance Hotel was a perfect oasis. Everything was clean, modern and comfortable, and the spa-like bathroom with rain shower head was definitely a nice perk. We were also totally impressed by the breakfast spread--lots of fresh-squeezed juices, delicious fruit tortes, a good selection of breads and cheeses and even locally-sourced honey. If you're looking for a reasonably priced--but still super luxe--hotel in central Florence (seriously, it was a short walking distance to everything), I highly recommend Glance!
And P.S., It's also important to note that the hotel has an amazing rooftop, complete with an outdoor pool. While it was obviously too cold to take a dip during our mid-February visit, it was still a beautiful spot to take in a gorgeous view of Florence. Stunning!
Feeling refreshed after showers and a quick cat nap, we headed back out to our next adventure: an in-home pasta making class. We booked our class via Curious Appetite for €125 per person, which was a bit of a splurge for us, but figured was worth it for an authentic, non-traditional cooking experience. We met our teacher, Patrizia, in her beautiful Florentine apartment, and learned how to make a traditional Italian meat sauce and prepare fresh tagliatelle, gnocchi and spinach ravioli. Just a heads up, this class was very long (around 6 hours, counting dinner!) and not as hands on as some other classes I've taken, but it was also very thorough. We definitely felt confident enough to attempt to make our own fresh pasta once we got home, and I'm veryyyy proud to say we succeeded. :) After making and eating our pasta feast, we headed back to Glance and called it a night.
We were up early yet again, and took advantage of Glance Hotel's generous breakfast spread and delicious cappuccinos. Then it was back in the car for our next stop, which was Antinori nel Chianti Classico, a winery located around 40 minutes outside of Florence. Now, this winery isn't what you typically think of when you imagine the Tuscan countryside--instead of a quaint farmhouse-style building, the Antinori facility is a huge masterpiece of modern architecture built in 2012 and packed with futuristic interiors. We took a tour of the facility (info and prices for tours/tastings/lunches are available here), and ended it with a two-wine tasting in one of the winery's tasting rooms, which are glass-enclosed and jut out over the wine cellars. Definitely the coolest place I've ever enjoyed a glass of wine!
After our wine tasting, we made a quick pit stop at the hotel before jumping back in the car for an evening out in San Miniato, where we were meeting friends. San Miniato is a quiet, romantic Medieval town, and after all the tourist hubbub in Florence, it was nice to escape to a place where there was more local flavor and the tourists were few and far between. Our friends showed us a small shop where we stocked up on olive oil and balsamic vinegar (at prices MUCH cheaper than in Florence, I might add!), and then treated us to an aperitivo with delicious wine and snacks. Honestly, I don't know how the Italians do it--their aperitivo snacks are so hearty and generous, it makes it so hard to save space for dinner! And speaking of dinner, our friends then drove us to an amazing restaurant out in the countryside called Da Delfina, where we enjoyed course after course of some of the best food we had on our trip. Basically, the theme of our trip so far was to eat, drink, eat, drink, then eat some more and go to bed completely stuffed. :)