Welcome to another of my travel diaries. Today, this post will take us on an unforgettable trip. Destination? Italy; doubtlessly one of my favourite places to visit! Brazil is a country with a high number of Italian immigrants. Families from all over the country arrived in Brazil before the 20th century. I, therefore, have Italian blood from both my father and my mother. I was brought up with many influences from the Italian culture. In most of our family reunions, Italian food and music are commonly present. I have learnt to truly appreciate the country. In April last year, my parents, sister and I took my grandparents to Italy. The purpose of the trip, which took place during our one week spring break, was to proudly celebrate their 50th anniversary. We took a flight from Brussels to Rome; which lasted no more than 2 hours. Although we spent 3 nights in Rome, our main destination was Italy’s provincial regions. We spent 1 night in Umbria and 4 nights in Tuscany. These regions, in Central Italy, are famously known for their picturesque towns and charming Italian cypress trees.
In six days, we managed to spend the night in three different cities; travelling from town to town by car. After renting the vehicle in Rome, we drove to Assisi, in the region of Umbria. The car trip from Rome to Assisi took us 2 hours. The next stops were Florence and San Gimignano; both located North of Assisi in the region of Tuscany. The trip from Assisi to Florence also took us 2 hours. If you are travelling with young kids, these car trips should be of no inconvenience. The roads are well maintained, there are several stops, and the landscape is incredible. Even if they become a bit tedious, the destinations will surely compensate!
View from the top of San Gimignano – photo by: Giovana Van Haute
View from the top of San Gimignano – Photo by: Anna Luisa Van Haute
Assisi was our first stop. This town, home to 25,000 inhabitants, is famous for having once been home to Saint Francis of Assisi. Born at the end of the 12th century, he has millions of Christian devotees. My parents and grandparents strongly admire Saint Francis. This means that we deliberately included Assisi in our itinerary. I recommend this city for its spirituality. Regardless of their religion, most people will agree that the town possesses a peaceful, harmonious and revitalising energy. The main attraction is certainly the Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi. The building was consecrated in 1253, and has since then survived quite a few violent earthquakes; common to this region of Italy. Inside the Basilica the tranquillising atmosphere is even more powerful. Devotees from all around the world come to show their respect at Saint Francis’ tomb. When inside, just take the time to think about positive things. There is no fee to enter the Basilica, but if you’re planning a visit, make sure to wear comfortable shoes! Assisi, like most towns in Umbria and Tuscany, is on a hill. Additionally, some parts of the Basilica are accessed through stairs.
Day view of Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi
Night view of Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi – photo by: Anna Luisa Van Haute
After Umbria, we drove straight to Tuscany. We chose to start with the region’s capital; Florence. It is almost impossible to go to Florence without visiting the Ponte Vecchio. In English, this means “old bridge”. Ponte Vecchio is a medieval bridge over the Arno River. Historically, it’s known for being a commercial area, where trading of goods took place. Today, Italians have preserved the authenticity and uniqueness of this landmark by having traditional shops along the bridge. I’m sure you’ll find it an interesting attraction. Surrounding Ponte Vecchio there are amazing restaurants.
From the cities I’ve been to in Italy, include Rome and Milan, Florence is where I’ve had the best gastronomic experience. We’ve discovered restaurants that are certainly worth a second visit to the city! Two of them are called Trattoria Dei 13 Gobbi (address: Via del Porcellana, 9R) and Ristorante Buca Mario (address: Piazza degli Ottaviani, 16r). Both serve authentic Italian dishes as well as a delicious bistecca alla fiorentina. This is a typical beef steak from Florence. If you’re looking for something local, with fewer tourists, I strongly suggest Trattoria Dei 13 Gobbi. Apart from the pleasant ambiance and great service, I tried a delicious past with tomato sauce and mozzarella di bufala. The best pasta I ever had!
Insalata caprese at Buca Mario – photo by: Anna Luisa Van Haute
Mouth watering pasta at Trattoria dei 13 Gobbi – photo by: Anna Luisa Van Haute
Bistecca alla fiorentina – photo by: Anna Luisa Van Haute
To complete your adventure in Tuscany, I recommend San Gimignano. Sometimes known as the medieval Manhattan, this town is famous for its many towers. These towers, at the time they were built, were as high as skyscrapers are to us today. Approximately 1 hour by car from Florence, this small town has a lively and exciting atmosphere. Its charming alleys makes it one of the most visited towns in Tuscany. It’s such a small town that you only need a few hours to explore it. My tip, however, is not to rush. Spend at least one night at a hotel outside the city. I stayed at a lovely hotel 10 minutes away from San Gimignano’s city centre. It had a vast green area with swimming pool and deck chairs. Certainly very relaxing!
San Gimignano, the medieval Manhattan – photo by: Anna Luisa Van Haute