day twelve / roma / italy

A little sleep in, some cuddles and a late-ish breakfast was very much needed for day twelve in wonderful Italy. Today’s adventures consisted of a day trip out to Tivoli to explore the gardens and ruins of Villa d’Este and Villa Adriana. Tivoli is a town in Lazio, 30km north-east of Rome. The train took FOREVER, stopping for approximately four minutes at each station. We passed the time learning Italian words and phrases through the Microsoft App.

Jumped off the train and took a fifteen minute stroll into the middle of town towards Villa d’Este. After buying a ticket, we made our way through the palace, admiring the beautiful paintings that covered every space on the walls. The path then spits you out into the top section of the incredible gardens, where you can wander around the park at your leisure, taking in the fresh air, mind blowing  water features and scenery. Villa d’Este is home to the Avenue of the Hundred Fountains which leads you straight to the famous Fountain of Tivoli.

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After spending a solid amount of the afternoon cruising around the park, we remembered the time and got our butts into gear. Once back up on the main street, we caught the bus, by literally one minute, to travel down the mountain to Villa Adriana. HOLY FREAKING MOLY! I forgot just how big this place was. No more than ten minutes away from Villa d’Este, lies the enormous, and totally underrated UNESCO World Heritage site, the size of a small village, full of glorious gardens and the most amazing ruins you have ever seen. Villa Adriana needs a larger part of the day than what we spent there, but it was incredible nonetheless. Hours and hours can be spent getting lost in this ancient, mystical place.

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Unfortunately the day ended way too quickly and we had to trudge back to the train station before we knew it. If we had stayed any longer, we would have been walking back to Rome! Back at the hotel, we washed up and got a bite to eat at the restaurant downstairs. They had delish pasta and limoncello to finish – Pop shotted his..

To re-iterate, if you are ever travelling to Rome, let alone Italy, Tivoli is worth the time, money and the effort. Tivoli is a wondrous place full of culture and heritage. Before this lesser-known place becomes discovered by the masses, I urge to spend the day here, getting lost in the peaceful, awe-filled sanctuary.

italy / day eleven / roma

I sneakily smuggled away some pastries for the road after our last breakfast at Corte de Francesi. We took a taxi to Brindisi airport (I swear they were going at least 140km/h), because we were flying past all the other cars. We checked in our baggage and boarded a plane to Roma! A bus trip to Termini and a short walk, and we were at what would be our hotel for the next six days, Alpi Hotel.

As soon as we arrive, Pop takes a nasty tumble on some of the steps in the hotel and bumps his head (which we later found out that he broke a couple ribs and ended up getting pneumonia; what a bloody trooper!). Not the best start, but we patch things up with a band aid and some ruby red strawberries, left by hotel staff with compliments, and continue on with our day. Obviously, we are very hungry again and grab some super tasty focaccias (Pizza Shop 341 SNC), which filled a good hole for the next kilometre.

Checking out the city on foot, we end up at the Trevi Fountain. It was amazing, but the place was crowded with so many tourists and people trying to sell stuff to you, that we continued on pretty quickly. Though, we did stop into an awesome store that let you build your own magnum ice cream; which of course we tried.

We moved on from the square and headed for the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj, an old palace gallery and home, partially open to the public, in the heart of the city. We had accidentally stumbled on to this magnificent place on our previous visit to Rome. We got some tickets and a portable handset guide, and wandered through the many rooms of the palace, admiring the incredible paintings that filled the ceilings and intricately detailed floors, not to mention the hundreds of artworks strung up through the gallery.

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We finished our day with a special dinner at L’eau Vive, a restaurant completely run by Carmelite nuns, to celebrate our first night in Rome. We started with asparagus and leek soup, then I had lamb chops with tomato, beans and this lovely creamy pepper and thyme sauce for main.

italy / day nine / maglie

Jord and I fit in another workout at the awesome hotel gym, then fill up at breakfast before some more train travel. Maglie was the destination, but we stopped off in Lecce on the way wanting to explore the town. Our bags went into a storage locker not too far from the train station and we walked into town. The town was full of gorgeous old sandstone coloured buildings and plenty of people. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to explore inside any of the buildings because most things were closed from 12.30pm til 4pm, which is exactly the time that we were there – of course! So we had a look around but decided to continue on to Maglie. We got some Gelato first though!

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Once in Maglie, we talked to some locals at the station and they directed us to our hotel, Corte dei Francesi. Once a tannery back in the day, now transformed into a very comfortable series of room and communal dining area, elegantly decorated in a  bohemian chic style. We dropped our bags off and went for a stroll around the town.

I noticed there wasn’t many kids, the place was quite lively and there was an abundance of shops, everything from food and wine, to high end shopping. I was intrigued in a little bottle shop where an array of oak barrels full of wine, lined the entirety of one wall. The man working there ran us through a wine tasting, talking to us about the local varietals. From memory, we tasted Negroamaro, Malvasia and Verdeca.

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After some thoughtful consideration, we went back to the hotel after having no luck finding somewhere to eat. The kind receptionist gave us some recommendations and made a booking for us. We were the only ones in the restaurant for most of the dinner as they had accepted us earlier than their opening time; as everyone eats dinner so late! I tried a dessert called Spumoni, it was delish!

 

italy / day eight / matera

After all the pasta and breads, olive oil and wine, I was so excited to get to the well equiped hotel gym downstairs, that I barely slept! Jordan and I headed down to basement and I had a really good arms session. We had a quick shower and then enjoyed a westernised style breakfast buffet, whilst going over plans for the day. Today we were going to Matera, in the small region of Basilicata, approximately an hour, by train, out of Bari. The ancient neighbourhood, namely Sassi, are a series of caverns carved out of limestone, nestled in a small canyon.

On arrival, we picked up a map of the Sassi and a punnet of strawberries for our journey. We soon made sense of the layout, breaking it up into a distinct New Town, Old Town, and in my opinion, Very Old Town. The train station is higher up and you could basically follow any of the streets down towards the main square. From there, it’s more of a wander and get lost kind of situation. I loved this, as the small number of tourists that were there just dispersed and you were solely there to immerse yourself in the seemingly small, but literally huge Sassi.

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Mid afternoon refuel of pizza bread and fruit smoothie, and we were back exploring the Sassi. Closer to the ravine, deeper into the town, there were many empty grottoes ready for me to explore; semi fenced off but not really.

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After farewelling the enchanting Matera, we ate at one of the only eateries we could find in Bari, Tankard Gastropub. We put some washing on at the laundromat across the road, whilst eating some delicious ribs and salad. The person manning the venue was lovely and so helpful with the menu, even though he couldn’t speak a drop of english. It was one of the tastiest meals we had.

To this day, Matera is one of the most incredible, absolutely magical places I’ve ever been and is seriously underrated. If you’re going to Italy and not sure whether to go, as it is a bit out of the way, I’m telling you now, it is 110% worth it.

italy / day four / siracusa

Our time in Taormina came to a close, as our tummies attempted to settle in the bus ride back down the mountain to the train station. A semi early breakfast and quick getaway allowed us to be in Siracusa by lunchtime, after a two hour odd trip.  The trip into the city was very different to that of Taormina. A lot more industrial, fuel refineries, junk graveyards, abandoned trains, boats and shipwrecks. It was a light walk with our gear to the hotel, Caportigia. The boutique hotel that was once an old warehouse, was now fully refurbished with beautifully restored high ceilings and gorgeous decor. Once checked in – and changed into something a little cooler, we ventured into the new city. The short train trip changed the entire landscape and scenery. The area was a lot more open and flat with lots of sandstone coloured buildings and large paved walkways. We walked down to Ortigia, an island namely the historical centre of Syracuse. The scene was definitely european beachy, with only shorts and singlets in sight. There was also no shortage of cocktails/wine/juice bars.

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_MG_4930After a nice walk, we had a light lunch at the Sunset Bar, consisting of fresh sandwiches. My crusty bread roll was filled with buffalo cheese, speck, tomato and rocket. I finished my lunch off with some fresh strawberries and cream.

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Ortigia was filled with plenty of historical buildings with no sparsity of churches. After choosing a church to enter, I was told to put on a poncho otherwise I was not to enter (hahaha have you seen anything more ridiculous)

 

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I think the water was a little nippy

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After the church fiasco we dove down into some old war caves that ran underneath Ortigia. We wandered through the extensive tunnel system, very easily loosing ourselves in the mysterious place. It was unusually quiet with very little tourists. A relaxing and very interesting way to spend our afternoon.

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underground in the old war tunnels

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After a great day full of sunshine and exploring the beautiful Ortigia, we steered away from the touristy restaurants along the coast of the island, and headed inland to a little seafood restaurant recommended by one of the staff at the hotel, La Lisca. The staff there were friendly and more than happy to help with translating their daily changing menu, dependent upon the product available at the markets nearby. We requested that the kitchen simply send out a couple of favourite starters and staple mains for us to share. It was quite different to what we were expecting and it was exciting trying the unusual foods. At the end of the meal, one of the owners, that had been serving us all night, plonked a bottle of house made limoncello on our table and a couple of glasses for us to enjoy – best limoncello I’ve ever tasted!

italy / day three / taormina

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Ate a balanced breakfast of goji berries and orange jam crostata, then jumped on a bus to Casteloma, a smaller village, higher up the mountain. The bus took about twenty minutes, skilfully manoeuvring the bendy roads. The road came to a dead end in a square, where the bus dropped us off and turned around to make his next leg. It was much quieter once we reached the top. There weren’t as many tourists, and besides a couple motor cycles, there weren’t many vehicles either. The pathways between the old buildings were narrow and the majority of Casteloma seemed to be inside, asleep. This was perfect because we were able to pleasantly explore at our own pace.

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After following some signs to the outskirts of the town, we decided to walk down to Madonna De Rocca, instead of catching the bus. We started on an overgrown path that soon dissolved into suburbia. At first it didn’t seem very far, but we were soon mistaken, and ultimately, very confused about how on earth we were to get there. The homes were scattered all over the hillside and there was no clear path.

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view of Madonna de Rocca (on lower hill to the left)

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crazy trail down the mountain from Casteloma into Taormina
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Casteloma, high up in the mountains

Sweaty and exhausted from climbing stairs and walking on deserted trails, we stopped for a breather and an aperol spritz at a cafe nearby. Once rehydrated we continued a little further on from Madonna de Rocca to a castle that we had seen when we were back in Casteloma. Once at the top, we came to a locked gate (my favourite!), which was soon conquered by the great Pop, Jordan and Lily.

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Once sneaking inside the gates to some of the most spectacular views you have ever seen, we were getting a little peckish for something a little more hardy.  We walked down another ten thousand flight of stairs to the main street of Taormina. We ended up getting a couple pizzas to share at ‘Porta Messina’, after being rudely turned away from ‘Bellini’, for sitting down at a table and asking to share (this was for lunch at a simple cafe, completely empty). We filled our bellies and took a trip to the botanical gardens.

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After all the days we spent admiring the blue waters from above, we took a cable car down to beaches below. The sand was made up of shells and rocks, where Jordan and Pop skipped a couple stones. The place was crazy deserted, but I could see just how busy it would be in summer. After a little scouting and climbing, the sun started to disappear and we headed back up for a nice, last dinner in Taormina.

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