Italy Travel Guide
When you think of Italy, what comes to mind? The food and wine? The fashion and leather? The renaissance art? The Tuscan countryside? These are all things I imagined Italy would be, and to my surprise, my mind could never have imagined all of what Italy has to offer.
After traveling to Italy this fall, we have some wonderful travel suggestions to share. We spent the majority of our time in Florence but stayed in a beautiful woman-owned hotel in the town of Montecatini, about an hour train ride to Florence. Our last day in the beautiful country was spent on the Borromean Islands, exploring the stunning gardens and architecture. But more on all of this later.
WHERE TO STAY
Montecatini is the spa capital of Italy. The town is located between Milan and Florence, which we accessed by high speed rail. Besides the spas, the town was full of small restaurants, each with outdoor seating, and skin care boutiques.
Hotel Puccini, Montecatini
Located literally in the middle of it all, Hotel Puccini a family-friendly hotel complete with a dine-in restaurant and bar. Everything about the hotel was as European as I could imagine - espresso machines everywhere you turn, tiny bathrooms, and old fashioned elevators so small only one person could fit. Definitely would recommend this hotel for a romantic vacation, the dining room was all white and red with roses on each table and the furniture in the waiting area were all red leather armchairs and loveseats reminding me of Valentine’s Day. The only negative was the lack of air conditioning, but it definitely didn’t ruin the stay!
WHAT TO DO
Florence is known as the capital of the Renaissance, so naturally the city is full of churches and museums, most of which were converted from Medici family mansions.
Uffizi Gallery, Florence
The Uffizi Gallery is easily one of the most well known museums in Florence as well as the largest. It has one of the most spectacular collections in the world. The artwork is arranged gallery-style: the hallways are packed with statues and lined with portraits at ceiling level. Botticelli’s famous works “The Birth of Venus” and “Primavera” are both housed in the museum, as well as masterworks by Michelangelo, Raphael and Titian. The sheer amount of art is overwhelming, so it’s best to schedule out a good portion of a day in the gallery.
Borromean Islands, Stresa
Located about 50 minutes from the Milan airport is the Italian town of Stresa. Stresa is near the Swiss border and is the home of the Borromean Islands on Lake Maggiore. Isola Bella is the most visited of the islands due to its Borromeo family estate. The estate has been opened up as a museum which allows visitors to roam the mansion and its beautiful garden. Even on a cloudy day, the immaculately landscaped grounds are breathtaking, making the islands are MUST for anyone wanting a different take of Italy.
WHERE TO SHOP
The Leather School, Florence
Picture a 400 year old functioning church with a shop and production space for leather goods attached. This is the leather school. The school is packed full of student-crafted wallets, duffle bags, purses and belts, all priced well below their market value. There is no other place in Florence to get a forest green, braided leather, tri-fold wallet for $120, or in the world, for that matter. The school offers free engraving and the chance to watch the students assemble a custom-made belt right before your eyes.
Ponte Vecchio, Florence
This is the only bridge connecting both sides of Florence that is strictly pedestrian only is lined with jewelers and their shops, most of which are exclusively selling gold. The bridge is located right across from the Uffizi Gallery providing beautiful views of the Arno River, all while temping tourists and locals alike to purchase florentine-styled gold earrings and necklaces.
The Ferragamo store is located in a centuries old, block-long building with the designer’s museum housed in the basement. While the prices may still cause sticker shock, the interior alone is worth the visit. Plus, it’s considered shopping local if the designer’s homebase is Florence, right?
WHERE TO EAT
Grand Hotel Illes de Borromees, Stresa
Looking like a more pastel version of a Wes Anderson film, the Grand Hotel Illes de Borromees is the definition of gilded luxury and detail, with Ernest Hemingway setting his novel “Farewell to Arms” in the hotel after visiting. The lavish decor and architecture of the hotel definitely outweighs the gourmet food being served in the formal dining room, still making the Grand Hotel Illes de Borromees a destination worth adding to the itinerary.
Ristorante W.O.W., Montecatini
Located at the top of Montecatini Alto is Ristorante W.O.W. This excellent seafood restaurant offers panoramic views of Montecatini through its wall of windows, but it’s the journey to W.O.W. that makes the restaurant so great. To get to Montecatini Alto you must take the Funicolare, a single cable car, from the base of the mountain to its peak. The car’s capacity is about fifteen and encourages passengers to bring their own to-go drinks from the bar located in the Funicolare station. If you get the chance, it is recommended that you travel to the top before sunset, providing the most spectacular views of Tuscany imaginable.
Faith Kelnhofer is a new content contributor for JUGs! Learn more about her and the rest of our team on the 'about us' page.