Road Trip: Nice to Torino, Italy

We had three trips planned for the second week of November, each depending on what the weather was going to be like. Either we’d fly to Naples (cheap EasyJet flights out of Nice) and explore the Amalfi Coast, drive east along the Liturgia Coast, or go northeast to Piedmonte in Northern Italy. On Monday morning the weather looked best for Piedmonte so we rented a car, booked the hotel rooms and were off early Tuesday morning. We had already done our homework for all three destinations so we knew what we wanted to see and do.

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Bretagne: Part IV (Fougeres & Vitré)


Our travels today took us from Dol de Bretagne southeast to Fougeres and Vitré. Both are towns with chateaus and medieval castles, and some of the best examples of them in France. They are two of our favorites. It’s so difficult to have favorites in France, as there are so many wonderful French villages, but these two rank up at the top.

Fourgeres is divided into two, with a lower part encompassing a medieval castle and town, and the upper, more modern town of Fougeres. A good way to start is in the upper part of town and then work your way downwards to the castle. You can walk through the public gardens of Place aux Arbres, which features terrific views of the castle medieval town below, and features hundred different versions of ferns (Figueres translates to fern). As you go walk through the gardens by way of a footpath you’ll make your way to the lower part of town (actually more scenic as most of the upper town had burned down in a fire in the 18th century) and the castle. As always, grab a map at the tourism office.

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Ultimate Room Service at Manoir de la Begaudiere, Brittany

Room at Manoir de la Beguadiere

Our special in-room dinner service began with a wonderful massage for both of us, which was just what we needed after a long day of exploring medieval chateaus and towns in Brittany. It was followed by a fire lit in the large fireplace in our room, served with a demi-bouteille of champagne and appetizers. As the last sips of the champagne went down, the Manoir staff re-appeared to set up our table with salad plates, a bottle of Bordeaux and a wooden cutting board with a large raw coté de Boef steak and aluminum wrapped baked potatoes. They then set up a special grill in the fireplace and left us with instructions that when we were ready, to grill the steak five minutes each side and reheat the already baked potatoes. We followed the instructions shortly after and the end result was a fantastic dinner for two by the fire in our room. Quite something. Oh yes, almost forgot. Dessert were to small pots, individual-sized with an apple crisp topped with chocolate chunks. A few minutes on the grill and we had hot dessert to finish off an unforgettable dining experience at the Manoir de la Begaudiere.

Cooking dinner at Manoir de la Beguadiere

Tuscany One-Week Tour

Piazza (Plaza) della Signora, Florence, Tuscany

In October of 2011 we visited Tuscany, first flying into Vienna for a few days and then taking the train over to Florence. We stayed in Florence for a couple of nights, then rented a car and drove down to Sienna on Highway SR222. This a beautiful drive with a number of places worth visiting along the way. From Siena we did side trip visits to Monteriggioni, Colle di Val d’Elsa, San Gimignano and Volterra. After a couple of days in Siena we drove down to Montepulciano, staying at a chateau just outside of the town, called Dionora. From here we visited Montepulciano, Pienza, San Quirico and Montalcino. A week was just about right, with three days in Florence, two days in Siena and two days near Montepulciano, to become quite familiar with Tuscany and discover which places we like best to come back for a longer visit. Here’s some of the things we recommend.


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Venice, Italy

We started our 2011 Tuscany trip with first a visit to Venice and ended it by driving down to Rome.

Venice is Venice. Nothing quite like it anywhere else and it should be on everyone’s bucket list. The problem with it being on everyone’s list is that it can be terribly crowded, and there isn’t a lot of room on some of those streets. Or I guess they aren’t streets but actually sidewalks and promenades.

If you go there, try to go when it is off-season, or as much off-season as Venice gets. Summer months, vacations times, school breaks and long weekends, check the calendar well before you make those reservations. We were there in early October and it was still crowded, but doable. We kept away from the main fairways as much as possible but even then, all we could think was, wow, if this is October, what is August like?

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Sailing the Italian Coast


Island of Ponza

In June, 2008 we left port in Dubrovnik, Croatia on a friend’s 54′ Jeaunneau sailboat for the Italian coast on the other side of the Adriatic Sea, down into the Ionian Sea and around the “Boot” of Italy. Our final destination would be Corsica while the boat would continue on to Barcelona. We sailed overnight, stopping briefly in a small port along the way at the bottom of the boot, but then continued on to our real first port of stay, in Messina on the island of Sicily. We spent a few days here, with a one-day car rental trip down the coast to Taormina, a beautiful hillside town about 50 km. down the coast from Messina. Quite a road getting up to Taormina, with its very windy road zig-zagging back and forth up the hill amongst lemon groves, battling with taxis and buses all the way as to who was going to get to go around the corner first.

After Messina we sailed out of the Straits of Messina northwards to the town of Tropea. A very picturesque town, nestled right next to the shore on its craggy cliffs, cliffs that actually turn into the walls of homes as the rise upwards. There was a nice port at the base of Tropea and we very much enjoyed walking up the winding stairs into the town to walk its narrow streets. The specialty here is there purple onions, which are fantastic. We ate well in Tropea.

After a few days there we were once again on the water heading north, this time to the Amalfi Coast. Amalfi is another cliffside town, as are nearly all the towns on this coastline. This is the type of coastline you see in Italian movies, with the highway winding along a coast which hardly leaves room for a highway, let alone towns. We docked in Amalfi and spent a few days exploring the town and area. We drove up to Ravello, a beautiful town built up high in the hills above the Amalfi Coast, lined with luxurious hotels and sporting panoramic views of the coastline. We do want to return to this area, and include Positano in our tour. Would love to do this one by motorcycle or a small convertible, as there just so much to see while driving the coast.

When leaving Amalfi we made a stop in Capri. Although it looks impressive from the sea upon arrival, we found it just way to built up for tourism. Many cruise ships dock here so the streets are loaded with people and its turned into more of an outdoor shopping center with so many name-brand shops and tourist-type restaurants (meaning poor food and service). We had a lousy lunch and we are ready to get out of there.

Next stop was the island of Ponza. We stayed a few days here, enjoying the escape from the crowds of Capri and Amalfi and relatively slow pace of island life. We very much enjoyed renting scooters and touring the island. Our next stop was another island, Elba, which offered much of the same as Ponza, and was another place we very much enjoyed touring on scooters, with much more to see on Elba because of its size.

After Elba we headed over to Corsica, landing in Bastia. Beautiful port in Bastia and excellent food and wine. This is where we parted with our friends, they leaving for Barcelona and us taking the train over Corsica to Ajaccio. This train ride is quite something, climbing up into the mountains with still snow-capped peaks before back down to the shore to Ajaccio. From here we caught a plane over to Nice for a few days. Quite a trip; we covered a lot of sea miles over about a three-week period. Great trip with lots of great memories.

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Old Dubrovnik’s small port

We were in Dubrovnik in the early 2000s, as the departure point for a sailing trip through the Dalmatian islands near Dubrovnik. We spent a few days here, inside the walled city, before heading out to sea. Dubrovnik is a coastal walled fortress/town, with the ramparts still in place and you can walk them and get great views of the town and surrounding sea. The main promenade/street is the Stradum, lined with shops and restaurants.

Dubrovnik was seriously bombed during the Serbian/Bosnian war and it was just being restored when we were then. When you walked the Stradum, it all looked fine, but on the side streets you could look up and that a lot of work still had to be done and that the shelling had been heavy and serious. I understand that today nearly the whole town has now been restored.