Phil and I have been lucky enough to have visited Italy three times previously. Our first trip was to Rome in 2004 which also happened to be my first trip to Europe and it was a magical experience. Then, a short fifteen years later, in 2019, we took a road trip up the Adriatic after beginning our trip in Raiano, in the Abruzzo region. Raiano is where Phil’s mother was born and where his grandparents were from. We were hosted by Phil’s mother’s cousin, Sandra and her family, including Phil’s great aunt, Fernanda, who is the sister of his late grandmother, Giovannina. We most recently traveled to Florence from Gijón this past September (which I wrote about here).
Italy is a wonderful country to visit. The people are friendly, the food is delicious, and the country is beautiful, not to mention the rich cultural and artistic history. I highly recommend anyone considering a trip there to rent a car if you can. Seeing the country and stopping in cities and towns a bit off the beaten path is not only fun but also typically less expensive than sticking exclusivity to big city tourist destinations. If you have a limited amount of time, of course see Rome, Florence, or Venice (in that order of importance, in my opinion). Full disclosure, I have never visited anywhere south of Rome so take my recommendation for what it’s worth. I guess that just means we’ll have to keep going back until we’ve explored the whole boot.
As mentioned, Phil’s mother, Marie, was born in Raiano. She left at age two with her mother and brother to join her father, Attilio, in Chicago where he had already been living for a couple of years. Marie had never been back to Italy. The fact that Phil and I were already in Europe and could join her there relatively easily seemed like the perfect recipe for her visit. Phil and Marie began discussing the possibility and before I knew it, Phil had a plan and a rough itinerary for the journey and the flight tickets were purchased. We were going back to Italy!
We would start in Rome. I loved Rome when we visited in 2004 (Oh geez…that was almost 20 years ago!) and was very excited for the opportunity to go back. Phil and I had five days to ourselves between parting ways with my aunt and cousin in Edinburgh and Marie’s arrival in Rome. Instead of trying to cram in another destination between trips, we decided to get to Rome early and decompress a bit. We chose a rental apartment in a neighborhood outside of the city center which was a 20ish minutes via train or cab away from the hustle and bustle.
As it turns out, we would need those five days to recuperate from covid. So instead of seeing the sites of Rome, we ate soup in bed and watched a lot of Netflix. Instead of staying in our rental with us, we booked Marie a hotel right across the street from the Vatican (she saw the pope her first day in Rome!). Phil was able to join her the day after she arrived and they toured the Vatican and St. Peter’s basilica together (Phil wrote about our time in Rome here). The following day, and our last day in Rome, I was able to join them for a tour of the Colosseum and Palatine Hill. We also revisited Trevi fountain (which was even more spectacular that I remembered) and the Pantheon.
I feel very lucky we had the extra days in Rome before Marie’s arrival that allowed us to recuperate and I am also glad I was well and able to see the Colosseum. It was the number one site I wanted to see on the trip. When Phil and I were in Rome all those years ago, it was the one major site we didn’t see. We tried to peak in from the outside but as it was the last day of our trip and we were poor twenty-somethings, we couldn’t afford the entry fee.
After Rome, we rented a car and drove to Pescara, a lovely city on the Adriatic Sea in the Abruzzo Region, about an hour’s drive from Raiano. Marie remembers her family talking about Pescara as a summer beach vacation getaway. We were there just before the busy season kicked off in Pescara which made for very affordable accommodations as well as a less congested time on the beach.
We stayed in a nice hotel right on the beach. We’ve come to realize our favorite hotels seem to be ones that are nice but about 20 years past their prime. Everything is clean and in good condition, but a bit faded. The service is typically quite good plus they often offer free, tasty breakfast buffets as a way of enticing guests. The Hotel Promenade fit the bill perfectly.
We enjoyed our first two days there so much, we decided to scrap our original plans and stay for two more days. We sunned on the beach and splashed in the (cold) ocean, enjoyed delicious seafood and local cuisine, drank a lot of Prosecco, and had a day trip to Raiano and Sulmona, home to the famous Italiana Confetti (delicious candy covered almonds). I was unfamiliar with these almonds until I met Phil and his family. They are a part of Italian tradition and are a staple guest takeaway of any good Italian wedding.
After bidding arrivederci to Pescara, we were off to Florence. On the way, we made a stop in Perugia, famous for their delicious chocolates (as well as the Amanda Knoxx/Merideth Kercher murder scandal as I was informed by Marie, who loves true crime stories). The chocolates are indeed quite delicious (and we neither witnessed nor were party to any crimes while there).
Next stop: Florence! Marie is a woman of many interests and in addition to true crime, she loves the Medici family (and the series about them on Netflix). The Medicis are a famous family who moved to Florence and became the most powerful and influential family in Tuscany for several hundred years. Florence was a must for Marie.
As I mentioned, Phil and I were just in Florence last September. We’ve jokingly been referencing the movie Something About Mary in relation to having a second trip to Florence so quickly after the last. In the movie, while lying about being an architect and where he’s designed buildings, Matt Dillon’s character asks, “Have you ever been to Santiago, Chile?” to which the Tucker character responds, “Twice last year.”
After Florence, we headed to the town of Rapallo on the Amalfi coast. But first, a quick stop in Pisa! Rapallo is very near to the famous city of Portofino. Rapallo more affordable and much less crowded than Portofino so it met our needs perfectly.
In Rapallo we stayed at a Best Western which may literally be The best Best Western. It was amazing. It felt like a fancy five star hotel (we broke our general rule of staying at the oldy but goody hotel). The staff were fabulous, the breakfast buffet was restaurant quality, and they had a spa. Not to mention that we had two balconies with sea views! While in Rapallo, Phil and I celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary. As an anniversary gift, I had a massage (my first since 2019) and a pedicure. It felt so luxurious.
Rapallo was beautiful with the sea and mountains surrounding it. A highlight of the trip was taking the funicular to the top of the mountain where we visited the beautiful hilltop church of Sanctuary of Our Lady of Montallegro. We also grabbed an Aperol Sprtiz (have I mentioned how much I deeply love Prosecco?) at a super cute boutique hotel-restaurant with sweeping views of the sea and town below.
We finished our whirlwind trip in Geneva. We stayed just over the boarder in Annemasse, France, a diverse, working lass suburb of Geneva (Phil and Marie took a day trip to Chambery France to visit her aunt which Phil will be writing about soon). Switzerland is the second most expensive country in the world (Bermuda is number one. Who knew?). An espresso which costs about €1.25-2.00 in most European cities, is €5.00 (actually 5 Swiss Francs but it has pretty much the same value as the Euro and in fact both Francs and Euros are routinely accepted in most business establishments in Geneva).
The two highlights of Geneva for me were the boat cruise we had on Lake Geneva and the amazing French Dinner we had at Côté Square Restaurant. It was expensive but totally worth it. You only live once and how often do I get to have a fancy French dinner in France er, well Geneva (which was once France)? Plus, it was absolutely delicious; in the top three best meals I have ever eaten.
We had such an amazing time on our trip. What I enjoyed most, even more than all of the lovely places, food, and even more than the Prosecco, was getting to know my mother-in-law. Phil and I have been together for 22 years. We have never lived close to his mother. We have of course visited Chicago and Marie visited us both in St. Louis and in Long Beach but we have never really had much one on one time. In fact, I was honestly a bit nervous about so much togetherness prior to our trip and three weeks is a long time and a LOT of togetherness. I’m happy to report there were no fights or really any disagreements. We laughed a lot and really enjoyed each other’s company. I couldn’t have asked for a better Italian getaway or better travel partners.
Next stop: Turkey! Stay tuned.