A few weeks ago my family packed up our bags and embarked on a European summer vacation with stops in Paris, Tuscany and Rome. The majority of our trip was spent in a villa about 20 minutes outside of Florence in a little town called Impruneta. Here are a few of my favorite spots and activities from our week under the Tuscan sun:
Taste Florence Food Tour
Following a recommendation from a friend, we decided to do a food tour around Florence with Toni Mazzaglia, an American who has been living in Florence for 10 years. She takes you to some of her favorite restaurants, bakeries and markets around the city and you get to taste food that you would’ve never thought to try on your own.
Villa di Impruneta
Instead of staying in the heart of Florence, we decided to rent a villa in the hills of Tuscany for the week. The villa was breathtaking and gave us a place to relax after tiring (and hot!) days of touring the city.
Cooking Class at La Cucina del Garga
On our last day of the trip, we took a cooking class at a restaurant that carries a familiar claim to fame – a visit from Guy Fieri on an episode of “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.” We made bruschetta, bow-tie noodles from scratch with pistachio pesto, and chicken with a truffle cream sauce topped with avocado. Let me tell you, it was by far the best chicken I’ve ever consumed and I have been dreaming about it ever since.
Private Tour of the Accademia Gallery
Through an organization called Friends of Florence, we were able to set up a private tour of the Accademia Gallery to see the statue of David. The size and detail of this statue truly take your breath away. It’s a must-see if traveling through Florence.
Where have your travels taken you this summer?
Greece has been number one on my bucket list for the longest time! My family’s summer trip consisted of stops in London, Santorini and Mykonos. All very different, but if I could choose one place to visit again it would be Santorini. Although I was tempted to just lay by the hotel pool overlooking the ocean all day, there were so many amazing things to see. Here are a few of my favorite activities from my trip to Santorini.
Donkey Rides Up the Cliff
I might be lying when I say this was one of my favorite things from the trip, but it was absolutely something you need to experience. After being thrown on a donkey with no direction, you start the trek as your donkey races the others up the cliff. Don’t worry; the ride only lasts about 20 minutes and you get some great views as you make your way up!
The Black Sand Beach
A quick 15 minute bus ride from Fira, a day at the black sand beach in Santorini is a must. Although it’s a bit hot, the black sand is beautiful and there are plenty of comfy loungers with tiki umbrellas to rent for just 5 Euro. A variety of delicious Greek restaurants will bring everything from gyros to cocktails right to your beach chair. You don’t need much else other than a good book!
Sunsets in Oia
Watching the sunset from anywhere on the island of Santorini is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. However, if you aren’t staying in Oia, it’s worth a little trip to the north end of the island to watch the sun set. Be sure to head there early to get a good seat.
We happened to stumble upon Vanilla Restaurant but it ended up being our favorite meal of the entire twelve day trip. They serve a variety of authentic Greek dishes such as Musaka, stuffed peppers and chicken souvlaki. We ended the meal with a chocolate mousse that was one of the best desserts I’ve ever had – that’s saying something considering the sweet tooth I have!
After spending 11 days exploring Paris, London, and Dublin, it was safe to say I was exhausted – and OBSESSED. To anyone debating a trip abroad, put in your vacation days, save up, and do it. It was the best gift I could have given myself! To give you a taste of what your trip could have in store, here’s a snapshot of my favorite bits from lovely London.
A stroll through Kensington Gardens and tour of Kensington Palace
If you want to venture outside the city proper, Kensington is a beautiful choice. The breathtaking gardens are relaxing and enclose a gem of rich history: Kensington Palace. Stop in for a tour of their current exhibit. I took a walk through the life of Queen Victoria and immersed myself in the Fashion Rules showcase of royal attire. Save half an hour to explore the neighborhood near the palace, including the “Boulevard of Billionaires” for some serious real estate eye candy.
Afternoon tea at The Dorchester
A highlight of my trip! It’s a time-honored tradition for good reason. The setting is gorgeous and the never-ending supply of finger foods (The array of tiny sandwiches! The intricate cakes! And my personal favorite, the scones!) is second to none. Opt for the champagne seating and you won’t be disappointed.
Dinner at Mark’s Bar below Hix
Head to Soho for a casual-cool meal at this cocktail joint beneath Hix restaurant. Leather Chesterfields (always a good thing) and smoky mirrors whisk you away into an intimate and local setting. A nice way to feel like a true Brit after a variety of touristy outings!
Born and raised in Cleveland (go Cavs!), there will always be a soft spot in my heart for this city. Although it doesn’t always have the best reputation, I love going home for weekend visits and exploring new areas I didn’t venture out to when growing up in the suburbs.
West Side Market
Home of the best gyros I’ve ever had, the West Side Market is a staple in downtown Cleveland. It’s the city’s oldest public market and is home to 100 vendors that offer everything from baked goods, meats, flowers and prepared foods. Not to mention, the building it’s housed in is beautiful and it’s quite the spectacle on a Saturday morning.
Jonathan Sawyer, the most recent James Beard winner for Best Chef in the Great Lakes (sorry, Chicago chefs), mans the kitchen at this downtown restaurant. A must-have to order? The Buttered Popcorn Pot de Crème that comes with caramel and sea salt. My mouth is watering just thinking about it!
I’m an avid fan of brunch and if you’re the same way, Lucky’s Café is not a spot you want to miss. You really can’t go wrong with ordering here; everything is amazing!
Velvet Tango Room
The Velvet Tango Room is a great spot to grab a delicious cocktail. Each handcrafted drink is extremely unique – you won’t be disappointed with the libations and the general vibe the lounge gives off.
A cute neighborhood located in the suburbs, Chagrin Falls is the perfect little town to walk around in. With stores to pop into and beautiful waterfalls to admire, this quaint town is a must-see. You can’t leave without popping into the Popcorn Shop – a shop that was established in 1875 that sells popcorn, candy and ice cream!
A few of my best girlfriends are from New Orleans and after years of wanting to visit, I finally made the trip to the Big Easy this winter. Though I had heard many stories of this Southern hotspot, nothing compared to actually being able to experience the culture and charm of this beautiful city. There are too many amazing places to count in New Orleans, but here are a few of my must-visit spots:
Killer Po Boys
Located in the back of a side street pub, this is truly a hidden gem. Serving up classic New Orleans po-boys with an unexpected twist, this is the perfect spot to grab a sandwich to go. You can also grab a seat at the bar up front, and if you do, I recommend that you order up a frozen Irish coffee, (which you can also take to go, of course, because it’s New Orleans).
If eating and walking your way through the city has you longing to do some shopping, stop into Hemline. This boutique is full of trendy and fun pieces in a range of prices to fit any budget or style.
Lined with beautiful trees and sweeping moss, it’s hard to believe this park is in the middle of the city. Whether you want to go on a stroll, hop on the horse trail, or even visit the zoo and check out the giraffes, this is a relaxing way to spend your day.
Café Du Monde
A must-try on every tourist’s list, this place really lives up to the hype. With delicious coffee and beignets, it’s the perfect place to refuel after a day of exploring the French Quarter.
Located in the heart of the French Quarter, this three-story restaurant is the perfect date spot. With balcony seating that overlooks Jackson Square, this is an ideal restaurant to take in all of the tastes and sights that New Orleans has to offer.