Narrowing down what I want to touch base on and show photographs of is going to be tough! There is just so much to show, but I will do my ten favorite stops, what I loved most about each and I will try to keep it to a few photographs per place.
Wish Me luck.
We went on this trip to celebrate the 80th birthday of my husband's great uncle, he still lives in the small village in Tuscany that my husband;s grandparents are from. And so does about 35/30 other cousins/aunts/uncles. My husband's 98 year old Nonno even made the trip with us. The two of us went out a week earlier with my in laws to see Venice before meeting up with the rest of the family. We stayed in a lovely village about 20 minutes outside of Venice, Montegratto. It helps when your father in law is fluent.
Venice. I will admit that Venice itself wasn't my favorite part of the trip. Way too busy when we were there in August, if you can, go during the off season. I still enjoyed myself. And, I cannot stress enough, don't get a private water taxi, get on a public one. Just as easy and way less expensive!!!
These are two of the Islands just off of Venice that you can take by a water taxi. Murano is the glass blowing capital of the world. You can pick up some awesome trinkets here. Burano is more known for its lace...and for being one of the most colorful islands in the world. The houses were stunning and so bright.
If you only have time to visit one of them...my vote is for Burano.
This enchanting city is full of universities and museums. Galileo taught at the university and a majority of The Taming of the Shrew by Shakespeare takes place here. One of my favorite sites is the Prato della Valle, the largest square in all of Italy and one of the largest in the world. It is stunning.
Montegrotto/Villa dei Vescovi
We stayed in the lovely city of Montegrotto, about a half hour train ride from Venice and about 15 from Padua. It is mainly a spa town for European tourists and everyone commented mutiple times how exciting it was to have Americans in town as there are not usually many staying there. I saw bourbon at the bar of our hotel one night and the bartender clapped and told me he had purchased it years before in the hopes an American would want it, well, this one did;) When we picked up our car at the end of the week, we checked out the beautiful Villa dei Vescovi, the summer home of the bishop of Padua.
Then, I just knew we were going to die with my husband driving on these tiny Italian roads. Spoiler alert, we survived and at the top of this mountain I snapped the most glorious sunset I have ever seen and then we came upon the walled city with the best name ever, Arqua Petrarca.
Lake Como Region.
Lake Como, what can I even say to bring justice to this majestic place? Words escape me. No questions asked, my absolute favorite place in all of Italy and it stole my heart. It took my breath away, on multiple occasions.
This is the small village we stayed in while in Lake Como. We had to walk down about 55 steps from the village center to the lake where our hotel was situated. It was small, intimate and bare bones. The family that owned it was incredible. The food was knock your socks off good, every single bite. The water ferries were super easy to grab right outside of our hotel entrance.
However, maybe the best part, Robert De Niro stays at this hotel when he comes to Lake Como and they have a huge picture of him in the lobby. Tony's nonno was the oldest guest they had ever checked into the hotel and they took his photo and are placing it next to the picture of Mr. De Niro. When we were leaving and heading to the family land in Tuscany, they ran after us and gave us wine and grappa to enjoy with our family upon arrival.
Bellagio and Cernobbio.
We went to quite a few towns in the surrounding area of Torno, but these were the ones that stood out the most to me. The pizza I got in Cernobbio was the most scrumptious meal I have ever had, at least pizza wise. The view of the Alps from Bellagio blew my mind.
This was the main purpose of this trip. To see family, to see where my last name originated, where lots of family still live. Family members I have met on their trips to the US and to our wedding, but so many more that, until this trip, were just part of a story I had heard. Now they belong to my story.
Nonno and Nonni are from a small village in Tuscany called Gassano. It is in northern Tuscany and about half an hour from Pisa and 45 minutes or so from Cinque Terre. Most of the family still lives in the sweet homes the families have lived in for hundreds of years. One cousin now owns an inn and vineyard and we were beyond lucky to be able to stay there for the duration of our visit. in the Inn at Pretola is located in Grangola, about 20 minutes away from Gassano. Robert, the chef...perfecto. It was perfecto.
Be still my heart. The sheer beauty of Como was my favorite place, but being in Gassano is what gave me all the 'feels', if you will. Our family, being with them in their everyday world, was the absolute best part of this trip. We arrived to the birthday party for Antonio and the food, oh my gosh, it just kept coming and coming. and it was incredible. We went to the village of Gassano and saw into their homes, built in the 1490s!!! We went to the top of the mountain and I discovered that yes, I can indeed get car sick. I vomited for a few hours and Nonno, at 98 years young, walked circles around me! I didn't even care, that's how enchanting this place and its people are.
The beautiful vineyard. The small church from the 1500's at the base of the family land. The bar. The view from Zia Maria's house. The castle that was at the top of the mountain and surrounded in a mist of clouds every morning when we woke up. I savored every part of it.
I had seen so many gorgeous pictures. I had heard multiple people describe it as heaven on earth. Coming from the ferry and the first moment that I spotted the bright homes jutting out from the cliffs, one glimpse and I was hooked. I did so love this spot. The gelato was heaven. My risotto bolognese was to die for. The boats dangling in the sea.
I must admit, of all the 'cities' we visited, this sweet walled one was easily my favorite. There was a slight drizzle to accompany the grey skies of the day, but nothing could dampen my mood. Actually, all of the colorful umbrellas were one of my favorite sights of the day. This was not a city I had really heard anything about before we took the trip and I cannot urge you to plan a visit to this charming place if you are going to be in Italy. Get here.
If you have a chance, you must see the tower and baptismal. It's almost surreal. You turn a corner and bam, there it is. It appears superimposed, even in person. I wish I had better verbiage to describe it, but quite honestly, it's just really freaking cool.
Calling this a trip seems to minimize what this experience was for me, for it was such a great adventure. Spending the time with my in laws, having my father in law teach me a few Italian words/phrases and actually being able to use them somewhat frequently (and correctly) by the end of our trip. These are memories that I will keep in my heart forever, but the ones that stand out to me the most are when my husband saw his family's land and where they came from the first time. I teared up witnessing that moment.
When we were leaving Gassano, Tony's great aunt, Maria, hugged me and kept squeezing my cheeks and calling me "bella" while she cried. I didn't quite understand what she was saying, but the love she had in her face, transcended language.
The other biggest memory maker for me was taking this photo. They have all been to Italy a multitude of times, but this was the first time ever that Nonno had all five of his children there together and this captured the essence of the moment perfectly. I only wish Nonni had been there in person to witness her kids, but we got signs from her all trip.