If any of you guys follow my personal Instagram account, @abbycopleston, you may have noticed that I was in Italy last week… I KNOW.
It was a week full of wine, pasta, walking, sightseeing, cheese, bread, pizza… and more wine. Aka, my dream world. Seriously, everybody needs to book a trip (or several) to Italy in their life… there’s a reason why it has such an incredible reputation.
This trip came about when my good friend, Jules, found a deal on flights to Europe through Delta last November. We had always talked about booking a trip together, and she studied abroad in Florence and has been DYING to return. So, when she found an unbelievably cheap roundtrip flight from JFK to Rome, she texted me and asked if I’d be down. I had been on Long Island running errands for LMP and driving between Target and Ikea and Seri’s house, and at each stop I would jump on my phone to answer Jules’ very persuasive texts. I’m normally a stickler for planning (hence the job of party PLANNER), but the decision to go to Italy felt like exactly what I needed at the time, and the price was so right that I pulled into a Panera, whipped out my computer, hopped on their wifi and BOOKED IT.
Panic & excitement soon set in, but not one ounce of regret. After a few months of planning, we came up with an itinerary, and decided to hit 3 places – Florence, Cinque Terre and Rome! We flew into and out of Rome, and took trains between each destination. The trains in Italy are very easy, clean and affordable… but I learned my lesson about packing too much! When you’re changing trains with only 5 minutes until your next departure, you definitely regret bringing those extra shoes.
STOP 1: FLORENCE, Wednesday – Saturday
We decided on Florence as our first stop, since Jules studied there and I had already been there twice, once with friends and once with my parents when I was studying abroad. We thought it would be a nice place to recover from our jet lag, eat, relax, and gear up for the more fast-paced last few days of our trip. I recommend all of the staples on the standard Florence itinerary – climbing to the top of the Duomo, walking along the Ponte Vecchio, visiting the Uffizi Gallery, strolling though the Boboli Gardens, but here’s some suggestions for some other special spots…
Piazzale Michelangelo: This Piazza overlooks the river and all of the city of Florence. It is a bit of an uphill hike, but the view is beyond incredible, and a great way to justify drinking an entire bottle of wine at the top! I’d recommend heading up a half an hour before sunset, bringing wine and snacks, and staying up there until after dark when you can enjoy the view of the city lights.
Strolling along the Arno at night: The Arno is the river in Florence, and it is a beautiful place to walk along, especially at night!
La Giostra: This place was recommended to me by our former LMP intern, the lovely Juliana, and it was my favorite meal of the whole trip! It was a touch fancier than my usual meal out, but so worth it. The atmosphere and food were both incredible – I got a seafood risotto that I will dream about for the rest of my life.
Caffé degli Artigiani: Jules and I stumbled upon this little bar while wandering on the South side of the river, and ordered wine and apertivi, and sat outside overlooking the Piazza della Passera. We loved that spot so much, we came back 2 more times. It’s quiet and removed from the touristy areas of Florence, but not to far off the beaten track.
Acqua al Due: I ate here when in Florence with my parents, and it was worth the trip back. They make some killer marinated steaks, and are most famous for their blueberry variation. Jules and I got the tasting menu to share, and tried and sampling of 5 different house special pastas and 3 steaks. To die for.
Gustapanino: This was definitely the most popular picture I posted during my trip, and for good reason. Gustapanino (attached to Gusta Pizza) was a spot I went on one of my previous trips to Florence, and was recommended to me by almost every person who has been there (lookin’ at you, Kim, Kathleen and Juliana). Its cheap, and their paninis are fresh and delicious. I mean – just look!
Leather Market: I’m a sucker for a good leather jacket, so this trip brought on the purchase of a SECOND black leather jacket. I have no regrets. I also got some gifts for friends and family – purses, a wallet, bracelets. My advice? Get there early, so avoid crowds, and haggle. I got my beautiful jacket for a €100 less than list price, quite easily!
Kiko Milano: I have a bit of an obsession with makeup, which Jules noted, so she insisted on taking me to Kiko Milano in Florence. And OHMYGOD i’m glad she did. I got a ton of fun makeup, including pink, teal and purple eyeliner, AND glitter mascara, which will be popping up in future LMP photoshoots!
STOP 2: CINQUE TERRE, Saturday – Monday
I was most excited for Cinque Terre, since I had never been to the Italian Coast before, and it did not disappoint. The whole time we were there, I felt like I was in a movie. We stayed in Monterosso al Mare, the largest and northernmost of the 5 towns, in a beautiful Airbnb that used to be a wine cellar.
Hiking: This is a no-brainer, and the reason that people flock to Cinque Terre. There are trails connecting all 5 towns, and people can choose the red (hard) or blue (easy) trail to hike between them. The idea is to hike between all 5 cities in one day, which is totally doable. We had planned on hiking the blue trail and heading south from Monterosso to Vernazza, then Corniglia, then Manarola, and ending in Riomaggiore, and then taking a boat back up to the Monterosso al Mare to drink wine and collapse.
Unfortunately, most of the blue trails were closed, so we had to do the red trail first thing, from Monterosso to Vernazza, which was almost entirely uphill on stone steps for 2 hours straight. It was beautiful, and so worth it, but my legs have never hurt so bad in my life. We ended up making it to 4 of the 5 cities, skipping only Riomaggiore. Each city was extremely beautiful, but Jules and I both agreed that our favorite was Manarola – it was quaint, quiet and beyond beautiful!
Chilling on the beach in Monterosso al Mare: The first day we got to Cinque Terre, we were exhausted from the train ride, and decided to grab a blanket, a bottle of sparkling rosé, and chill on the beautiful beach, which was a 5 minute walk from our Airbnb. It was the perfect spot to read and enjoy the incredibly blue ocean. We didn’t go in the water, but plenty of people were swimming, so definitely bring your bathing suit!
Trattoria da Oscar: This place was recommended to us by our Airbnb host, and it was a very small, cute little spot around the corner from home. I recommend the linguini with clam sauce.
Enoteca Internazionale: This was a little store/ restaurant where we picked up the keys to our Airbnb, and it was so cute that we wen’t back as soon as we were settled for wine, prosciutto and bufala mozzarella. They had an excellent selection of white wine, which is typically my go-to, and I had been craving it after all of the red wine we were having.
Pizzeria La Smorfia: Delicious, cheap, straightforward pizza place. With wine, of course!
Bar Enrica: This was a little wine bar at the base of the trail in Manarola, at the top of the city. It was so picturesque and an excellent place to people watch and enjoy a hard earned glass of wine.
STOP 3: ROME, Monday – Wednesday
I’ll state the obvious first… the Coliseum, Vatican City, the Spanish Steps, the Trevi fountain, the Sistine Chapel, the Pantheon… all worth seeing! I didn’t pay to go inside and tour any of them, because our time in Rome was so short and the lines were always long, but if you have time you definitely should!
The Spanish Steps
Since Jules had already been to Rome, we also made it a priority to explore some less-touristy areas, based on recommendations from random travel blogs. They turned out to be our favorite stops along the way!
Quartiere Coppedé: This is a very small group of buildings, called “The Fantasy District”, entirely designed by architect Gino Coppedé with influences of Art Nouveau, Baroque and medieval architecture. It was a little bit of a trek, but beyond worth it. Jules and I spent some time there taking pictures and picking which building we’d be living in when we can have our second homes in Rome (HA!)
Street Art in Ostiense: I’m a sucker for cool street art, so we trekked out to where the locals live to visit the Ostiense District and their extensive collection. The neighborhood that these murals were in is mostly an area that locals live in, and was full of cool bars and restaurants
Trastavere District: We walked through this neighborhood across the river on our way to Vatican City, and upon some research found out that this is where a lot of young locals and college kids live. It was chock full of cafés, bars and restaurants.. and incredible gelato spots! When I come back to Rome, I will for sure be staying here.
Locanda del Prosciutto: This place makes the top 3 list for meals in Italy. We came here because of the fact that it had “prosciutto” in the name… can’t go wrong with that! We each got wine and shared this incredible charcuterie platter.
Arco di San Calisto: Jules and I had walked through this beautiful Piazza in Trastavere on our way to Vatican City, and made a note to come back to it for dinner. When we did, this beautiful little archway on a side street was all lit up with bulb lights, and we snagged a table outside at this cute little place.
My advice? Book a trip to Italy. Now. It lives up to the hype. Most of the time, I felt like I was in a dream. That might have been aided by all of the wine drinking, but still! Thanks to Jules for being an excellent travel buddy, and for teaching me to ALWAYS order a bottle of the vino rosso della casa, or house red wine. Not one time did I regret that!
Feel free to reach out for any more suggestions or if you’d like more info on any other the places I suggested! Make sure you eat gelato every day, drink all of the wine, eat plenty of prosciutto and mozzarella, and never turn down the bread. EVER. Happy traveling, eating, drinking… etc.