4 Days in Tuscany: Wine Country Itinerary

Honeymoon Part 2

Let me first just say that we still can’t decide where we liked best in Italy. Amalfi vs. Tuscany? Can you really even compare them?

After making our way from Positano to the Napoli train station, we cruised up to Florence where we rented a car and had a hellofa time navigating the roundabouts and making it out to the highway. While in the southern region, we stayed in Chuisi for three nights and took day trips to Montalcino, Pienza, and Montepulciano, all of which I would highly recommend visiting. On our last night, we stayed in Florence, so we stopped in Siena on the way back up north. I wish had more time there, but we overslept and had to rush back to return our car on time. Guess we just have to go back!

Before I get to the highlights of our trip around Tuscan wine country, here are a few things to note:

  • A little PSA about the Autostrade. This is a toll road where you take a ticket on your way on to the highway and insert that ticket into the machine when you get off on an exit and then pay a fee based on the distance you went. Make sure not to go through the express lane and also follow signs for change versus card since they are two different lines.
  • If you like history, many historical places don’t have much information about them. Thank goodness for Matt’s international plan or he wouldn’t have known what year the church of Pienza was built in!
  • While driving on the straight roads in Chiusi, we oddly felt like we were in Lodi, CA.
  • Brunello comes from Montalcino. Sangiovese from Montepulcino. More on that later.

Chiusi

We spent three nights at Poggio Piglia in Chiusi, which was such a treat. First of all, the property is absolutely amazing. Grape vines and olive trees galore, a large vegetable garden, tons of lavender, sage and rosemary, and plenty of space for morning and evening walks. The service is incredible, the breakfast display was almost too pretty to dig in (but we did of course), and while it’s pretty far south, it forces you to drive all around the region which I would say is a great thing. Poggio Piglia was also the only hotel we stayed at that didn’t nickel and dime us for small extras like a poached egg in the morning, tea at night.

Montepulciano

Montepulciano is essentially the wine capital of Tuscany. Italian wineries must follow strict rules based on their region. Here, they produce wines with at least 75% Sangiovese. Wines labelled DOC have an even higher Sangiovese content and DOCG is the highest at 100%. Most importantly, we learned that because of this high quality stuff, it was literally impossibly to get a wine hangover. In the US, winemakers don’t have to follow rules like this, so it’s no wonder that after 3 glasses, you might end up with a pounding headache.

Another thing to note about wine tasting in Tuscany…you might think this would be incredibly easy and you can just show up and be welcomed with wine and charcuterie platters. However, it’s quite the opposite. A lot of wineries have certain tasting hours and only take reservations. We were turned down by multiple during their open hours because they already had a few people there. Being used to America where restaurants and bars are all about packing the house, Italy was all about quality of service and never overcrowding their spaces.

This is nice and all, but where can a girl get a glass of vino?! Luckily, after about an hour and a half of driving around, we ended up finding three wineries right in a row that were not only open, but also open to having us there.

Needless to say, Google isn’t always right. It isn’t always open a the time it says it is, there isn’t always food. Just play it safe and call ahead. Also, most wine tasting rooms don’t have snacks and they also have you tour the cellar before you taste…without a glass of wine.

  • Cantina Tombesi. 5 euros for a glass of nobile and 9 euros a cheese and meat platter while you sit and chat in a cute little cellar/market.
  • Veduta Panoramica. While wondering the streets of downtown Montepulicano, we saw a sign that said Panoramica. I don’t speak Italian very well, but I definitely know what that means. Picture time!
  • Talosa Tasting Room. Great wine and a huge cellar that seems to never end, complete with an old tomb.
  • Avignonesi. I would say we have pretty high standards for cheese and charcuterie platters. Avignonesi’s light lunch chef’s platter blew every pleasant thought about any other board out of the water. I’m talking about mmmm’s and oh my god’s in between each bite. We topped that off with their delicious Avanti Sangiovese/Merlot plus a wasp sting on the side. Sorry Matt!
  • Poliziano. Wine so good, we just had to ship ourselves some. Still hoping we weren’t just drunk and thought it was better than it really was.
  • La Grotta. My coworker recommended this restaurant as the best meal he had in Italy. We were running a bit low on energy by the time we had dinner here so we took most of our meal to go but it was quite good.
  • Vino Mobile. Next door to La Grotta, this cute little shop is run by the sweetest woman ever. Turns out her husband is from Brea, CA so we sure had a lot to talk about! Takeaways include cured meats, pasta seasoning mixes, spicy chocolate, and a bunch of other delicious items.

Other Tuscan Favorites

Bagno de Vignini. Okay, this was so cool. Bagno de Vignini is one of the many Tuscan hot springs and happened to be located on our way to Montalicino. Matt was very skeptical about the coolness of said hot spring, but I was determined to find it. It didn’t help that Google Maps had us take a very sketchy back road to get there (second dirt road after you turn off the main highway) and we weren’t sure if our tiny smart car would make it back up the way we came. Turns out there’s a paid parking lot above, where you can overlook the hot spring, but we thought it was pretty awesome to be able to cruise around below, even though portions of the walkway were flooded.

Pienza. Pienza is a small town with an incredible long walkway overlooking the hills of Tuscany below. It’s definitely worth a stop for some gelato or a quick snack!

La Fortezza in Montalcino. This old fortress charges 2 euros to take in some breathtaking views. It’s quite the maze inside, with various rooms connected by tunnels…so cool!! There’s also a wine tasting room inside.

Cafe Corsini in Montalcino. Located somewhere in a small park with some weird dolls in Montalcino, this cafe was cheap, had GREAT food and there were a lot of locals eating there. Yes, the dolls sound weird and they were, but the outdoor cafe is really quite lovely. I got the tartufina (panini with prosciutto, truffle cream, and argula) and braesaola salad (thinly sliced raw beef, salad, pine nuts, tomatoes, and balsamic cream sauce) and was in heaven. Are you drooling yet? Oh and the brunello. Don’t forget the brunello.

Florence

We arrived in Florence at about 2:30 pm on a Friday and had to take the 9:00 am train to Milan so we didn’t get much time there. In our short time there, we walked all over the north side of the river. It’s truly an amazing city full of breathtaking architecture. I already can’t wait to go back and see more of it.

Sesto Rooftop Bar at Westin Excelsior. I know, I know…the Westin is not a legit Florence bar, but hey, we’re all about rooftop drinks. With views of the river, duomo and city, we couldn’t ask for more. Ask for the cookies with your drinks. Yum!

Uffizi. A couple we met in Positano said we had to go here and luckily, we were able to buy tickets at the door and cruise around. Although we didn’t realize the entire museum showcases heads and statues made of marble, it was amazing! But let’s be honest…there’s really only so much time you can spend looking at various people from the shoulders up before you start going dizzy.

Palazzo Gamba. I didn’t realize this when I booked, but this apartment looks directly at the Duomo. There’s nothing in between you and the Duomo except the street below. Needless to say, we thought this place was pretty rad. Since it’s located right in the middle of Florence, it’s a bit loud, but totally worth it for being central. Did I mention you can stare at all the intricate details of the Duomo from your bedroom and living room windows?!

Until next time, Italia!

P.S. You can read my Amalfi Coast recs for Positano, Sorrento, and Capri here.

ClaudettesCorner

12 More Binge Worthy TV Shows

It’s been about a year since my last post on my favorite shows to watch, which means I’ve obviously watched a bunch more since then. Matt and I have concluded that while there are rarely any good movies coming out these days, TV shows have really upped their game. Hence, we stick to those for the most part, especially shows about murder, true stories and history, or just plain old juicy drama.

In 2017, we discovered many more fantastic seasons to keep us entertained:

Tin Star: 1 Season on Netflix

Talk about a crazy show. You have a drunk sheriff on the hunt for vengeance in a beautiful small town in Canada. Each episode flips back and forth from the end of the episode to what happened earlier that day and how everything transpired.

The Tunnel: 2 Seasons on Netflix

Murder, twists & turns and an overall psychological thriller. We were hooked to our seats the entire time.

The Fall: 2 Seasons on Amazon Prime

All about your classic charming family man / serial killer and trying to catch him. Creepy, thrilling and the perfect show for all of us crime show lovers.

Ozark: 1 Season on Netflix

First of all, Jason Bateman is the lead character, so that’s awesome. While he’s not his typically funny self, he plays a great dad turned money launderer in Ozark, Missouri. Totally want to have a lake day here, just without all threats and drug lords.

Goliath: 1 Season on Amazon Prime

Billy Bob Thornton plays a drunken lawyer up on a case against the law firm he originally founded.

Animal Kingdom: 2 Seasons on Amazon Prime

A story about a far-too-close family of four men, their mom and their nephew, all living under one roof and doing crazy things like robbing Camp Pendleton.

Z: 1 Season on Amazon Prime

Did you know that F. Scott Fitzgerald ripped off his wife in a lot of his writing? All of the drama and their volatile relationship unfolds in this show, set in the 1920s with Christina Ricci (Zelda) at the forefront.

The Crown: 2 Seasons on Netflix

The true story of Queen Elizabeth II as a young queen with plenty of royal drama to keep you intrigued. I completely forgot about this show until I saw a billboard on our Thanksgiving road trip. Season two comes out December 8!

American Playboy: Hugh Hefner Story: 1 Season on Amazon Prime

If you want to learn the history of Playboy, or just get a new view of the 1950s on, this one’s very interesting. After watching this on a flight to and from Puerto Vallarta, I have so much respect for his story, how he helped start the sexual revolution and his overall badassness.

Don’t Trust the B**** From Apartment 23: 1 Season on Netflix

If you need something on in the background or a few laughs at the end of a long day, this show is perfect.

Girl Boss: 1 Season on Netflix

The Founder of Nasty Gal is featured, chronicling how she started her business by buying unique threads from thrift stores and selling them for 3x the price on Ebay.

90 Day Fiance: Too Many Seasons to Count

When we first put this show on, I thought it was going to be about couples who had recently met and got married really quickly. Nope. It’s about Americans bringing their fiances over to the US on K1 VISAs. And they have 90 days to get married or their counterpart will be back on the plane. SO MUCH DRAMA.

Got some other binge-worthy shows? Send them my way!

ClaudettesCorner

Three Days on the Amalfi Coast

Honeymoon Part 1

One of the best parts of getting married? The honeymoon! After much thought, we decided to embark on a European tour over two weeks covering London, Italy, Switzerland and Paris.

As the designated travel planner, I researched tons of cities and regions, but after many trips with Matt, we luckily know what we like and don’t like, so it was fairly easy to figure out where we’d want to go. In Italy, we chose the Amalfi Coast and Tuscany, which were both much more amazing than we could’ve imagined.

Before I get to our favorites, here are some interesting things to note about Italy, mostly related to food:

  • Bread, napkins, and olive oil are an automatic cover charge at pretty much any given restaurant. That means if you eat every meal out since you’re traveling, you will be welcomed with three baskets of bread throughout the day.
  • Most restaurants don’t open for dinner until 7:30 pm. For those of us who are hungry every two hours, this takes some careful planning and preparation to make sure you can survive the hours leading up until dinner.
  • Just like bread, cheese and meat are staples in every meal. Luckily it’s not processed because if I ate like that in the US I would have easily gained 20 pounds while on our trip.
  • Most bars give out potato chips or peanuts with your drinks, but don’t serve food.
  • All bathrooms are for guys and girls. And many don’t have toilet seats. Luckily I am a pro-squatter.
  • Just like Mexico has homeless dogs walking around, Italy has cats. Tons of cats.
  • Italians know how to maximize their planting. Every public street has loads of fruit trees growing things like blood oranges, pomegranates, and lemons. Our hotel in Sorrento had kiwis growing on the pathway leading to the front door!

Amalfi Coast

If I had one word to explain the Amalfi Coast, I would have to use magical. Between the views, the cascading bougainvillea, and the crystal clear water, it’s quite the vacation spot.

While in the Amalfi region, we stayed in Sorrento for one night and Positano for two nights. While they look close, traffic adds on significant amount of time, and therefore getting around the Amalfi Coast is pretty expensive. The bus is a cheaper option but of course takes even longer.

We found that every website acts like everything is so close but in reality, it takes about 45 minutes to get to and from anywhere you want to go. I thought we would be bopping from town to town, but unless you want to spend your trip savings on transportation, I would definitely recommend choosing one or two places as a home base and make sure they are close to any other city you want to go.

Transportation Costs

  • Car from Naples airport to Sorrento – 110 euros / one hour
  • Car from Sorrento to Positano – 80 euros / 45 minutes
  • Car from Positano to Naples train station – 120 euros / one hour
  • Ferry from Sorrento to Capri – 76 euros / 25 minutes each way

Sorrento

  • Ristorante Fuoro. The lemon shrimp pasta was the best pasta dish I’ve ever had in my life. Top that off with the caprese salad and a bottle of Fuore Marisa Chrome Costa D’Amalfi and we were in absolute heaven.
  • Hotel Favorita bar. We were in awe of the architecture and design. On level two there is a secret garden which is perfect for a night cap and there is also a rooftop bar but we didn’t make it over when it was open.
  • Villa Angiolina. We loved staying at this adorable boutique hotel. It’s affordable and easily walk able to the downtown area.

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Capri

There are two options for getting to the main part of Capri from the ferry landing: hike up the hills or take the shuttle. We opted for hiking up the hills which would’ve been pretty miserable had it been summer, but luckily we were in need of a little post-night out sweat, so it worked out great.

What we didn’t know about about Capri was how much upscale shopping there is in the main part of town. To avoid the crowds, we cruised around the smaller backstreets and hiked up to the Arco viewpoint and saw about three people on our way there.

  • Le Camerelle. While the food wasn’t great, we liked being able to see views of both the water, mountains and the town from here. Plus, it’s super cute, great for people watching, and the white wine is delicious.
  • Giardini di Augusto. For a very small fee (I think it was two euros each), you can get check out this beautiful garden perched on a hilltop and get some pretty spectacular views of Capri.

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Positano

  • Chez Black. The pizza here is incredible. I went for the buffalo mozzarella pizza since mozzarella di bufala is apparently extremely popular in Italy.
  • Le Terrazze. Drinks on a cute outdoor patio with awesome sunset views.
  • Lucibello boat charters. For 120 euros, we chartered our own wooden boat for 5 hours. This turned out to be an amazing way to check out the Amalfi Coast – from the water! It took us about an hour to get to Amalfi, where we got out and grabbed lunch. On our way back, we grabbed some cheese, meat and wine from a couple local shops and had ourselves a little boat picnic in the cove near the Emerald Grotto.
  • Fly Bar. This extremely cool lounge is above Music on the Rocks, the late night hot spot in Positano. It’s pricey, so you may as well splurge on your 19 euro cocktail instead of paying 14 euros for their (light) beer. Worth it for the views and atmosphere!
  • Max. A friend recommended this place for dinner and we were blown away. As a huge fan of Cucina Enoteca, I had to get the ricotta stuffed squash blossoms of course and they did not disappoint. Max doubles as a cooking school, in case you want to make an activity out of it.
  • Villa Rosa. With some incredible views of the ocean and the classic adorable-Positano-houses-on-the-hillside, this boutique hotel serves breakfast on your own private patio. The perfect honeymoon spot. Not to mention it’s in a great location, across from 1 Michelin-star restaurant La Sponda and up the street from the main downtown area.

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Stay tuned for my next post on Tuscany!

 

ClaudettesCorner

10 Wedding Tips from a Just-Married Gal

So…I’m married!! And the wedding was AWESOME. Getting married in my parents’ backyard was quite the undertaking but it was so worth it for how amazing everything turned out.

Looking back, I have a few tips for future brides:

  1. Try out your first dance song ahead of time. We had picked the song “At Last” by Etta James about a year before we got married. It wasn’t until we drunkenly tried it out in our living room two weeks before the big day that we realized it was way too slow and totally not us.
  2. Don’t DIY everything. At a certain point in time, it’s really important to give yourself a break. We had planned to make our bouquets the day before the wedding, but last minute I decided I didn’t want us to stress over it. I was fortunate to have a friend of a friend who was able to arrange them and we picked up the flowers ahead of time.
  3. Keep your future hubby involved. Go over the major timeline items with him and let him know what’s what and the significance of each. You might have to do this a couple times in the hopes that at least 50% sticks.
  4. Garters come in two! You will have two garters…one to keep and one to throw. Make sure your future hubby knows which one to toss (the one further down your leg and closest to him).
  5. Re-communicate any important details with your vendors the week of the wedding. It was really important to me that we had an anniversary dance that started with my grandparents who had been married 51 years. They had picked the song “Something” by the Beatles but our DJ thought that meant anything by the Beatles and he didn’t happen to have the right song the night of. Luckily my grandparents quickly picked out Hey Jude and started off the dance floor, but I wish I had discussed this is further detail with our DJ ahead of time.
  6. Make sure your immediate family knows to sit in the reserved section. We didn’t have anyone to tell our families, so no one ended up sitting in the front row except our parents…oops! If I could do it again, I would have our younger cousins, who know our family, guide my grandparents to their seats.
  7. Take pictures with your bridesmaids on our phone. I barely have any photos of us because I left it all to the photographer to take care of. This is great and all because I know they’ll be awesome, but waiting 5-10 weeks for professional photos with your girls is way too tough.
  8. Hire a day of event coordinator. I cannot stress this enough. If your venue doesn’t have someone to set the tables and add your decor, you need to hire someone to at least coordinate this on the day of. I used to intern as a wedding planner and I saw so many families struggling to do all the last minute tasks on the day of the wedding. Let your mom, aunt, and grandma enjoy your special day too!
  9. Stick with your hubby for the night. My husband and I host a lot of parties and we always joke that we never see each other during them. While this is okay for any other day, try your best to stick together and get as many photos with your guests as you can. We talked about this ahead of time but still ended up being separated most of the night except on the dance floor. Another thing to note…it you want posed photos with guests other than your family (versus just candids), make sure to let your photographer know ahead of time.
  10. Don’t sweat the small stuff…or the big stuff. With so many details, things are bound to go wrong or not as planned. I promised myself that starting the week of the wedding, I wasn’t going to stress about details and would go along with pretty much any suggestions or questions asked of me. Whatever makes life easier for you, your family and wedding party, do it. And like everyone says, no one will notice what goes wrong except a couple people so you may as well just relax and enjoy every minute because it really does go by way too quickly!

Happy planning!

ClaudettesCorner

Shaved Beef, Potato & Arugula Salad

Thanks to a Trader Joe’s taster, I’ve discovered a super easy, filling and delicious salad that I have to share with everyone who didn’t get a sample from the Aliso Viejo location that day…so probably everyone.

Matt has a no-salad-for-dinner rule because he’s always hungry 30 minutes later so any time I can pack enough protein and carbs in one, I’m all for it…especially when it takes 15 minutes to make.

Ingredients:

  • Shaved beef (new Trader Joe’s item)
  • Mini potatoes cut in chunks
  • Arugula
  • Horse radish
  • Ranch dressing

Instructions:

  1. Cook the potatoes and season with a pinch of salt and pepper by steaming and throwing on the skillet with some olive oil.
  2. In a skillet, cook the shaved beef. This basically involves tossing it around in some olive oil until it’s cooked to how you like it (i.e. medium rare).
  3. Mix 1 part horse radish to 2 parts ranch dressing.
  4. Toss everything in a bowl and voila!

If you try it out, I’d love to know what you think!

 

ClaudettesCorner