italy

CAPRI + SORRENTO TRAVEL GUIDE

almafi coast travel guide
capri italy

As if we didn't already adore the history, cuisine + lively personalities of Italy, it's Almafi Coast adds some of the most stunning Mediterranean landscapes in Europe to the country's resumé. The juxtaposition of the rugged coastal mountains against the sparkling sea is unparalleled, and you easily could spend weeks exploring all the amazing gems along the coast like Positano, Almafi or Ravello.

I've often been asked "What are the best towns to visit along the Almafi Coast?" To be perfectly honest, I'm still discovering the answer to that question by visiting as many as I can! But I do have some thoughts about a few you should consider: 

For for my particular visit this past October, we only had a few short days in between Santorini + Rome, so we chose to spend our time in Sorrento + Capri. 

I had already visited Capri with my brother last year, and knew I had to go back again when we were making our itinerary. Aside from being a summer favorite of holidaying VIPs, Capri is also a hugely popular day-trip destination because of a). those passing by on cruise ships or b). tourists staying on the mainland (I'm guilty of having been both). Regardless of if you simply visit for the day or stay for the week, you can't miss this Italian-chic island that was once Emperor Augustus' private resort and also the source of inspiration to some of Dolce & Gabbana's most iconic advertising. When planning your visit, be sure to include: 

 

CAPRI RELAX BOATS

Taking a tour of the island immediately upon arrival is my favorite way to get the lay of the land (not to mention, see some of the most iconic sights right off the bat.) On my first visit, I made the mistake of jumping on the first boat we saw. While the sights were still beautiful, we were crammed between tourists and scrambling to get the best seat we could snag). So this second time back, I made sure to do my research and find an alternate option. Enter Capri Relax Boats. Not only was I not squished between dozens of strangers, this time my friends and I had an entire (and incredibly nice) boat to ourselves (#upgrade). Our skipper was so great- not only did he take us on a tour of the entire island (and take dozens of pictures for us), he was a local who knew so much about the area and took us on a tour of the entire island. 

 

First, we stopped at the Blue Grotto, or Grotta Azzurra, which is arguably the most stunning + iconic sea cave in the world. The way the sun shines through water in the cave creates a blue reflection that illuminates it in a way that no words or pictures can properly portray. You simply can't visit Capri without seeing it for yourself. 

 

The last boat tour I did didn't stop here because it would be too complicated with that many tourists on board, so we had to take a separate boat ride back later. But since we used Capri Relax Boats this time and we were the only ones on board, it was no problem to stop on our way of the island tour.

blue grotto capri
capri relax boats blue grotto
blue grotto capri italy

 

Next up, we went to Il Faraglioni, which is perhaps the most iconic symbol of Capri. You'll likely recognize these rock formations as the stars of the Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue Campaigns (so naturally, we posed for pictures in front of it and pretended we were models). Our skipper was such a good sport and kept driving us around again and again so we could get all the shots we wanted (another perk you definitely won't get on a group tour). 

Whenever you do pass under the arch, legend says you are supposed to kiss your sweetheart for years of good luck + lasting love. My first go round was with my brother and this time with 2 girlfriends so I can't say I've participated in this legend yet, but hey- gives me a reason to go back again someday!

capri relax boats
capri relax boats capri italy

 

Our skipper also took us to the best beaches + swimming grottos and pointed out dozens of opulent villas belonging to affluent VIPs. It was hands down my favorite thing I've ever done in Capri (on either trip) and I can't recommend using them enough. Regardless of your budget, they have scaleable prices and are truly worth every additional penny you'd spend vs. a group tour. Do yourself a favor and book a tour. 

 

 

After porting from our boat tour, we took an open air cab ride up to AnaCapri (which I referenced last time I came to Capri as the most terrifying, yet beautiful, car ride of my life). Once you arrive, you can take a chair lift up to Monte Solaro, the highest point on the island. Typically, you'll get incredible views and bask in the sunshine, but on this particular afternoon, the clouds came rolling in.  

chair lift capri italy
capri italy

The view above is still pretty incredible, although if you visit in the summer you're likely to get a view that's more like this: 

 

After we rode the chairlift up and back, we decided it was time for lunch. The island is full of wonderful places to eat, but you have to try three things whilst visiting Capri:

1). Limoncello: the delicious (in my opinion) digestive that was invented on the island and is made from fruit from the local lemon grove. 

2). Torta Caprese: a flourless almond + chocolate cake that bares the island's name.

3). Caprese Salad: the iconic salad we all love that's comprised of simple, fresh + local ingredients: mozzarella, tomato, olive oil and basil. 

 

My personal favorite place to eat on the island is Al Capri. Not only is the food incredible, but the views are incredible!

 

Once you cover your bases on everything else above, enjoy strolling the streets, shopping for souvenirs, and soaking up as much of the local beauty as you can muster. If you're only there for the day, be sure to check on the ferry times to ensure you don't miss the last one (which varies depending on the time of year). 

capri italy

 

While Capri was an amazing day trip, we opted to stay on the mainland for the sake of convenience. After doing a bit of research, we landed on Sorrento: a beautiful resort town that straddles the cliffs overlooking the water to Naples and Mt Vesuvius. We found it to be a great home base for exploring the region's highlights (it's right in the middle of Capri, Positano, Pompeii, etc.-- even though we didn't make it to all of those places). The town is incredibly charming + fun to walk around (especially to shop for souvenirs like limoncello or custom made sandals). 

capri italy
grand aminta hotel sorrento italy

When looking for lodging, we wanted to find someplace that was convenient, had great views and embodied the glamorous culture you associate with Almafi. I opted to partner with Grand Hotel Aminta Sorrento because they were all of the above (while also offering competitive prices I thought people would appreciate). Gianfranco, the hotel manager, was great about helping us arrive safely to the hotel. While Almafi is an incredible area, most people arrive via Naples-- which is known for pick pockets and other not-so-great stereotypes. While our original plan was to train to Naples and then take the local train to Sorrento, Gianfranco advised us a taxi was a better option, as the local train has even more of a reputation (plus you don't save that much by train- assuming you're traveling with other people). Immediately upon arrival, we grabbed some bellinis and started soaking up our view. 

grand aminta hotel sorrento italy
grand aminta hotel sorrento italy
grand aminta hotel sorrento italy

Aside from the view being incredible and the staff being so wonderful to us, we also loved that they have a shuttle that transports you to and from the hotel and Sorrento's city center every 30 minutes. Driving a car along the windy cliffs of Italy can be a bit unnerving, so thanks to this shuttle you truly don't need a car whilst visiting Sorrento. 

grand aminta hotel sorrento italy

 

 

We also loved their delicious breakfast buffet (I may have gone a little overboard on the pastries... but #Italy). If starting the day with a ton of sugar isn't your thing <boring> they also have a wide spread of eggs, bacon, cereals, fruit and everything else you could want. The same dining room also is open in the evening if you prefer to stay in rather than hit the town for dinner. 

breakfast at grand aminta hotel sorrento italy

Aside from the wonderful service, helpful + friendly staff and sweeping views-- I even loved the little details like the local artisanal ceramic tiles that adorn the floors + showers. Staying at Grand Aminta Hotel Sorrento was a wonderful experience and someplace I'd recommend to anyone visiting the Almafi area!

grand aminta hotel sorrento italy
grand aminta hotel sorrento italy

Last but not least, be sure to pack a few essentials with you when you go: 

-A chic one-piece (I feel like I saw so many Italian women wearing these.\)

-Designer Italian sunnies (I bought these in Sorrento but you can steal the same look here)

-Basic international travel essentials like I share here. 

-A fedora and sandals you can wear with your suit or your outfit.

 

While both of my Almafi trips have been short + sweet, I've loved them both and definitely plan to go back again someday! If you're looking to experience a scenic beach vacation mixed with Italian culture (and cuisine-- obviously) then be sure to add these spots to your list! And as always, feel free to ask any questions you may have that I didn't cover in the comments below. 

 

I have lots more to share on the blog in the coming weeks, including: travel guides for Rome, Santorini + Brussels, Post-Travel Remedies (how to recover after a long holiday) and what I'm really excited to announce: my next set of travel plans! Lots more adventures coming your way in 2017... 

 

Until then, wishing you a happy + productive start to the week (and the year!)

xo, 

Whitney

almafi coast travel guide

Venice Travel Guide

VENICE TRAVEL GUIDE

Happy Tuesday! I'm currently cozied up in the cutest coffee shop in London and SO happy to be reunited with my dear friend Haley, from Sequins & ThingsAfter a month of non-stop travel, I'm so ready for some R&R (and especially time to catch-up time with her!) She's also living "across the pond" for several months like I am, but instead of traveling non-stop- she's calling London home. Lucky for me, Haley happens to be the kindest soul on the planet, and is taking me in at her (adorable) flat in London for a little while. She's one of my best friends and we live in different cities back in the states, so I couldn't be more excited that we're getting some quality time together (and that it's in London!)

Now that I can stay put (for at least a little while) I'm hoping to play some serious catch up on all the traveling I've been doing the last few weeks. I've already shared my Lake Como and South Tyrol experiences on here, so today I'm recapping the last stop on my northern Italy tour I took with my friend Tillie: VENEZIA!

 

I've heard lots of mixed reviews about Venice. People have told me it's dirty or touristy or not worth wasting my time. But even still, I couldn't shake the desire to see this iconic lagoon town nestled in the Adriatic. While Venice is by no means the "perfect destination", I'm so glad that I didn't listen to the critics. It was an incredible experience and somewhere I'll always remember. 

Contrary to the advice I received, I definitely recommend that you pay it a visit. For starters, it's no secret that Venice is sinking- so it won't be around forever. But aside from any urgency due to natural forces, Venice is an incredibly unique and beautiful city- unlike any other you'll visit. And it's easy to tack it onto another trip, because you don't need to dedicate a ton of time there in order to see and do everything (we were there 4 nights and it was plenty of time). In fact, you can easily replicate the 13 day trip that Tillie and I did together (which includes Lake Como, South Tyrol and Venice) and the routing is perfect. 

No matter how you slice it, this Italian gem is absolutely worth seeing and someplace you should plan on visiting at some point in your lifetime. So when you go, here are my Venice recommendations: 

 

STAY

Where is the best place to stay in Venice? It depends on your price range! We stayed at a couple different places to be able to speak to multiple budgets. 

SAN CLEMENTE PALACE KEMPINSKI

san clemente palace kempinski venice five star luxury resort
SAN CLEMENTE PALACE KEMPINSKI VENICE ITALY
san clemente palace kempenski hotel venice italy
san clemente palace kempenski hotel venice italy

Venice was the last leg of our trip, so by the time we arrived we were pretty worn out from lots of hopping around. Lucky for us, we were checking into San Clemente Palace Kempinski, a five star luxury hotel located on it’s own island in Venice and a proud member of Leading Hotels of the World

The property was pristine. All of the landscaping was perfectly manicured. All of the staff was sharply dressed, spoke English and couldn't have been more kind and helpful. Every detail from the outdoor heated pool, to fitness facility, to the elaborate breakfast provided to all guests (complete with mimosa bar- swoon!) was absolutely impeccable. 

Staying on a private island may sound inconvenient, but it was actually quite the opposite thanks to the private and complimentary boat system that runs directly to and from the Hotel and Piazza San Marco (aka the center of all the action). Boats are prompt, clean and comfortable (a nice break from the public ferry!) And if staying away from the city center concerns you, let me set the record straight. Venice is a bustling city with lots of tourists (especially in August when I was there), so it was such a breath of fresh air to feel some tranquility and seclusion from all the chaos.

All in all, I was highly impressed by everything and loved every second of my time here. If there is ever a time to splurge on a luxury accommodation, San Clemente Palace Kempinski is it. For more information, visit their website here

san clemente palace kempenski hotel venice italy
san clemente palace kempenski hotel venice italy
san clemente palace kempenski hotel venice italy
generator hostel venice

I’m very fortunate to be able to travel some of the places that I do because of my job, but trust me when I say I know how to travel on a budget. While saving up for a five star hotel and splurging can be totally worth it, it’s still not realistic for everyone. So in the spirit of seeking out options for all, we traded the luxe life for a hostel experience (in hindsight, I'll probably flip-flop the order of the two next time!)

Believe it or not, it was my first time staying at a hostel (I've always been an Airbnb kinda gal when sticking to a budget). But even though we had just been so spoiled at San Clemente Palace Kempenski, I was still impressed by the accommodations at Generator Hostel.  Rooms are pretty bare bones, but offer everything that you need. And the public areas are actually quite impressive- designed with a similar feel to a boutique hotel. You can opt for a shared room with other travelers (as anyone who has done hostel travel knows) or you can also get a private room (which is what Tillie and I did). If you're looking to meet other travelers from around the world, hostel life can be a great experience (although we did feel slightly "old" for that scene!) I'm looking forward to staying with Generator again during another adventure I have planned... stay tuned! 

 

 

EAT

Looking for the best restaurants in Venice? Check out these favorites of mine: 

CIP'S CLUB AT BELMOND HOTEL CIPRIANI

belmond hotel cip's club venice italy

Dining can be tricky in Venice. If you want a spot with a great view of San Marco or the Grand Canal, you’ll often find yourself at a tourist trap with somewhat subpar food. But if you hop just across the canal to Giudecca, you'll find Hotel Belmond Cipriani where you don’t have to compromise the quality of your food or your view. Cip’s Club offers delicious food and stunning views of Piazza San Marco from across the water (and it’s much quieter than all the chaos happening over there). I loved our lunch there and everything we ate.

 

Start with a glass of prosecco from their impressive wine list and the "Carpaccio Classico Cipriani" (thinly sliced raw prime beef seasoned with a signature sauce).  For your main, I recommend the "Filetto di Branzino al forno, Limone e Finocchio (delicious baked sea bass with lemon and fennel). And whatever you do, don't leave without trying their heavenly tiramasu- I could have eaten four of those things...

 

I adored our time there- but especially the time we spent chatting with Luana, my contact at the hotel. She joined us for a cappuccino after our meal to tell us more about the property and what a wonderful company Belmond is (we also discussed things like Italian men and what a war it is to be tempted with gelato on a daily basis... gelato usually wins). We loved everything about our lunch and Belmond experience so much that we actually returned twice more: once for a cappuccino and again for dinner by the pool. So if you're looking for a tranquil, scenic and delicious place to dine in Venice, be sure to pay them a visit (or three!)

belmond hotel cips club
belmond hotel cipriani tiramasu venice italy

 

We also had a little fun snapping some pics along the waterfront next to Belmond after lunch- so many little gems tucked around every corner! 

venice italy streets
venice Italy streets
giudecca venice italy
*Photo via foodspotting.com

*Photo via foodspotting.com

I had so much fun shooting with Siza, a Venice local who is a photographer I was connected with through Flytographer. Aside from providing me with lots of great photographs to remember my trip by, she also gave me lots of recommendations for where I should eat in Venice. One of them was Antica Adelaide, a quaint hole in the wall that's tucked away in Cannaregio. Antica Adelaide is an old osteria serving authentic (and delicious) lagoon fare with unique menu items you won't find at every other restaurant. Since pasta is made fresh, they request that at least 2 people order a dish in order for them to prepare it- so be prepared to agree on a menu item with your travel companion. But be sure to try some seafood while you're there! Venice has a wonderful seafood selection and Antica Adelaide was some of my favorite (although being that it was a cozy little hole in the wall, it was also pretty dark- luckily I found this photo from foodspotting.com to give better representation of the experience than the dark and blurry photos I attempted to capture!) 

 

TRATTORIA ALLA MADONNA

TRATTORIA ALLA MADONNA VENICE ITALY

This gem was another recommendation from someone during our travels, and we loved our experience. Trattoria alla Madonna is located right around the corner from Rialto Bridge and offers traditional Venetian dishes (including a plethora of fresh seafood in a casual atmosphere. Every day, fish and vegetables are carefully chosen and worked into the menu to ensure freshness and optimal taste. We had a wonderful evening there, and our server was hysterical (he appeased our many photo requests and took wonderful care of us throughout the entire meal). 

 

While Venice has many other renown seafood restaurants, I found the ones above to be less touristy (and less expensive!) without compromising the quality or experience. 

 

 

DO

HARRY'S BAR (HOME OF THE ORIGINAL BELLINI)

harry's bar original bellini venice italy

You've probably had a bellini at some point in your life, so why not experience one at the place where it originated? Harry's Bar is a 1930's known for it's creation of the bellini (along with impressive celebrity clientele over the years). Pop in for one before heading to a sunset gondola ride (like we did) and toast to the fact that a drink this delicious exists for us to enjoy. 

 

GONDOLA RIDE

venice gondola ride italy

Everyone dreams of a Venetian gondola ride. But much to my disappointment, I didn't realize how expensive they are! A quick 30 minute ride starts at €80- yikes! We almost let the high price tag keep us from doing it- excusing it away with things like "I guess it's touristy anyway- it's not like Venetians actually ride in them..." But deep down, I was sad. But after a Bellini at Harry's Bar, we were already drinking the touristy Kool-Aid and thought we'd give our negotiation skills a whirl. While batting your eyelashes still won't bring that price down, we were lucky to bump into a couple from Barcelona who asked if we wanted to share a gondola. Splitting the price between 4 instead of 2 makes it way more reasonable, and it was fun to chat with them a little (and have extra sets of hands to take pictures for each other!) In hindsight, I'm so glad we didn't miss out on the experience. Some things are straight up tourist traps and aren't even really worth the hype, but in my personal experience, a sunset gondola ride was worth every penny. Don't miss it. 

 

SAN MARCO SQUARE AT NIGHT

san marco square at night venice italy

While you'll likely visit Piazza San Marco, or San Marco Square, during the day, be sure to go back at night time. Not only will you find it to be much less crowded than it is during the day, but lots of the cafes have string quartets playing romantic Italian music. Sit under the stars, order some gelato, and soak in all the Italian clichés you can muster. 

 

RIALTO BRIDGE

rialto bridge venice italy

The Rialto Bridge is the oldest one in Venice and a must-see during your time there. It's a bit touristy, but is incredibly beautiful and romantic at night. There are lots of beautiful cafes nearby if you want to try one for a drink (I personally can't promise anything about the food if you decide to try one for dinner, but you can't go wrong with at least an apertif to soak in all the beautiful ambiance). We popped by on our way to dinner at Trattoria alla Madonna (and yes- we are wearing matching pink coats, but no- we do not sell Mary Kay). 

 

GRAND CANAL

Last, but certainly not least- be sure to wander around the streets near the Grand Canal so you can soak in the view (I personally loved the quiet streets I found near Dorsoduro right behind Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute, where Siza and I wandered and shot a lot of these photos. Let yourself get lost + explore all the canals, the stunning architecture and countless gelato stands (still haven't found one I didn't like). 

A special thanks to my friends at Flytographer for helping me capture my Venice experience! Flytographer is a great company that connects you with professional photographers in over 190 cities around the world so that you can capture your travels in the manner they deserve. It's especially great for family portraits, engagements, or just gallivanting around solo like I did :) 

 

VENICE TRAVEL GUIDE

Venice is fantastic and left me with so many memories that I'll always cherish. As always, you know where to reach me if you have any questions: theblondeatlas@gmail.com. 

 

My computer is now dying and my stomach is growling, so Haley and I are off to find some lunch in London before meeting up with friends for dinner and drinks tonight! You can follow along on our adventures via Snapchat: @alyson_haley and @blonde_atlas. 

 

Thanks for stopping by and have a great day!

xo

Whitney

Lake Como Travel Guide

lake como travel guide

Buongiorno from Italy! I can't believe I’m already a couple weeks into my 3 months in Europe- time has flown by. Today I’m catching up on work at a cafe in Milan before I swap out travel buddies and head to my next country, but I’ve spent the last 14 days roaming around northern Italy with my friend Tillie. Our first stop? Lake Como. 

I flew into Milan and the plan was to meet Tillie (we had different flights) at a health food store we found directly across from Milano Centrale station before hopping on our train to Como.  When I turned on my new international phone, it alerted me that I was roaming - so I spent my first hour in Europe on the phone with my provider to sort out the miscommunication and get put on the correct plan (glamorous, right?) Don’t get me wrong-I was never naive to the fact that spending three months in Europe was going to present me with some complications (I mean, just five days in I had already missed a train and had a wonky wheel on my suitcase). But I sure did hit the ground running with some stress upon arrival. So needless to say, I was extremely relieved to finally arrive- I truly can’t think of a better place to have kicked off my three month adventure (sure to come with many more speed bumps).

I’ve heard people talk about Lake Como for years now, and it’s always sounded magical. In case you’ve never heard much about it, let me paint the picture for you: take all the architecture and cuisine that you love about Italy, add the scenic mountain majesty of Switzerland that makes you drool (because it’s only a 10 minute drive across the ridge) and top it all off with the fact that George Clooney has a place there. 

It's only an hour train ride from Milan, so it's super easy to add to the front or back end of a trip if you're already flying out of that airport. But even if you don't have any vacation plans already in the works, just go ahead and add this dreamy destination to your list of places to visit. And once you start planning? Here are some things to do in Lake Como (and things to know in general) you simply can't miss. 

 

STAY

VILLA MATILDA

villa matilda lake como torno italy
villa matilda torno lake como italy
villa matilda lake como torno

First if you're wondering where to stay in Lake Como, I have you covered. There’s no question that my trip was as great as it was because of Tony and Shirley at Villa Matilda, in Torno. I write a lot of hotel reviews on here and try to provide the best recommendations that I can for when you book your travels. But I want to be sure that the volume of reviews that I’ve done doesn’t water down my sincerity when I say how much I advise you stay here. 

 

For starters, most accommodations in the area will either be “budget” lodges or will cost at least €600 a night. Villa Matilda is a perfect combination of the two, offering affordable rates (rooms start at just €200) but offer amenities even beyond luxury competitors (like a full functioning kitchen, terraces with views, a heated pool, secured gated protection, free parking, etc.) In addition to the price point, I adored the location (Torno). It’s pretty common for tourists to stay in larger or “more popular” towns like Como or Bellagio, but I wouldn’t have traded our experience in Torno for anything. I loved getting a more "local" experience and having a more peaceful ambiance, but still having everything we needed with equal convenience. 

 

But beyond the extremely competitive pricing and ideal location, what Tony and Shirley offer in hospitality is invaluable.  

villa matilda lake como torno italy

Tony picked us up from the ferry and helped us with all our luggage, provided us with dozens and dozens of fantastic recommendations for food, and because he and Shirley have lived there for so many years, they are a wealth of knowledge about the entire area. Additional bonus: they have another house in the states and are fluent in English. I can’t tell you what a luxury it was to have someone who knew the area so well that spoke the same language. But aside from how willing he and Shirley were to help point us in the right direction and enjoy our time in Torno, they were wonderful humans and so fun to get to know.

I’ll never forget the very first night of my three months abroad, we sat with Tony and Shirley and some other guests that were on holiday at the Villa's pool for an aperitif (Aperol Spritz of course). Our new friends from Cornwall talked to us all about what it’s been like in the UK since the “Brexit” decision. They picked our brains about the upcoming election in the states. We laughed and shared stories (while drinking more aperitifs and eating lots of prosciutto and cheese). It’s moments like that night that I hoped for when I decided to book this trip. I’m so thankful that I had not only such a beautiful place to stay, but such great company to spend our time with.

I could literally write an entire blog post just dedicated to Villa Matilda: our breathtaking view of the Lake that we would admire every morning while drinking coffee in the kitchen, our rooftop terrace where we drank Chianti and watched the sun go down, or the pool overlooking Lake Como where we relaxed multiple times during our stay. 

villa matilda lake como torno italy
villa matilda pool lake como torno italy

If you’re interested in taking a trip of your own (which I can’t recommend enough) and have any specific questions that I didn't address, visit www.villamatildatorno.com or go ahead and contact Tony to inquire about a booking (info@villamatildatorno.com). I promise you won't regret it.

VILLA MATILDA TORNO ITALY LAKE COMO

 

 

 

EAT

It's no secret that Italy is brimming with yummy food. So what are the best restaurants in Lake Como? Here are a few of my favorites: 

ORANGERIE RESTAURANT AT CASTADIVA

We spent our first full day on Lake Como visiting CastaDiva (a luxury resort about 10 minutes south of where we were staying in Torno) and it certainly set the bar high for the rest of our trip.  I’ll speak to the spa in the “Do” section, but you don’t want to miss eating outside on the terrace at Orangerie Restaurant.  

Their award-winning Chef Gennaro Esposito (boasting 2 Michelin stars) "knows how to fish the gastronomic treasures of the Lake Como area to build courses that satisfy the senses." Every course we experienced had a blend of ingredients to create a unique dish unlike anything I've ever tried. The wait staff was incredibly knowledgable and friendly, and made a point to explain every course in great detail. And the cherry on top of all the deliciousness was the incredible view. I could have easily sat on that terrace and drank rosé all day. So if you need a break from pasta, pasta, and more pasta and want to experience gourmet dining with sweeping views, be sure to pay them a visit. 

castadiva lake como l'orangerie
villa lario lake como restaurant
villa lario lake como restaurant

The weather in Lake Como was pretty much perfect, although we did have one rainy day. We opted to retreat to Villa Lario, a small luxury hotel about 20 minutes from Torno for lunch. We were greeted by Diego, the manager who welcomed us right away with a glass of prosecco and seated us in their restaurant- which offers modern Italian cuisine. All their pastas are homemade, the fish is caught fresh, and lots the vegetables are grown on the property. Everything was fantastic and had a twist on the traditional Italian dishes you're used to ordering. Not only are they great if you’re looking for a meal with incredible views and a luxurious setting, but their chef also leads Italian cooking classes every week. If I can learn to cook like that, I might never eat out again.

 

 

 

RISTORANTE HOSTERIETTA

ristorante hosterietta como
ristorante hosterietta lake como black truffle

I don't understand how any human couldn't love truffle. After raving about some delicious truffle honey Tony served us during happy hour at Villa Matilda, he told us we had to have dinner at  Ristorante Hosterietta (and because of it I will forever trust him at his word.) They specialize in truffle (but not the diluted truffle oil we're used to in the states- the actual Italian delicacy). The food was incredible, and the setting couldn't have been more idyllic. I highly, highly recommend it to anyone visiting Lake Como. And if there is a wait? No problem. Head around the corner to the roof of COIN Department Store for a spritz overlooking the Duomo (a fun little trick that Shirley from Villa Matilda taught us). 

coin rooftop como italy
HOTEL SUISSE RESTAURANT
hotel suisse restaurant bellagio

For our last night in Lake Como, Tony made a reservation for all of us to eat at Hotel Suisse Restaurant in Bellagio. Guido, Tony’s friend who owns the restaurant, greeted us with a warm welcome, and the entire staff took wonderful care of us throughout the evening. Guido is actually a local from Bellagio (which I found to be surprising in a town that's full of tourists). We sat on their beautiful rooftop patio overlooking the lake and watched the sun go down while we drank aperitifs (you guessed it- more Aperol spritz). Tony ordered a fantastic bottle of wine from Verona for us to have with our meal. All the food that was sent out was delicious and extremely high-quality. Paired with the beautiful atmosphere, it made for such a great evening. I definitely recommend eating here when you visit Bellagio (and I’d suggest making a reservation- it seemed to be a popular place!)

 

DO

SPA AT CASTADIVA RESORT

castadiva spa
castadiva spa lake como water

As previously mentioned, our first full day in Lake Como was spent visiting CastaDiva, and they did not disappoint. Along with our lunch at Orangerie, we spent some time relaxing in their spa, the largest one in the Lake Como area. Their unique treatment rooms mimic various elements: earth, air, fire and water. I got to see all of them (each design unique to it's respective name) and had a massage in the water room (complete with my own aquarium- swoon!) Regardless of what treatment you decide to partake in, you can relax in a variety of incredible areas like their salt bath, sauna, or relaxation room (which happens to be on glass floors on top of Lake Como so you can see the water below you). I recommend spending an afternoon there like we did, so you can relax and enjoy both the spa and restaurant while soaking up views of Lake Como.  

 

 

VARENNA TAXI BOAT + VILLA BALBIANELLO

varenna taxi boat

You'll quickly realize that getting around Lake Como is best by boat, however the water taxi's aren't always the easiest to navigate (see my pro tips below for an easy solve there). I knew while I was there that I wanted to do a smaller boat tour (not crammed on some giant ferry) that would show me some of the towns, and I'm so glad I found Varenna Taxi Boat. We did a small group tour (less than 8 people) that took place on a beautiful open air speed boat. We departed from Varenna but saw several surrounding towns by water (including Bellagio, Tremezzo and San Giovanni). But the highlight of the tour was stopping at Villa Balbianello- a stunning property where a number of movies have been shot (Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones, Casino Royale, and A Month by the Lake). Everything about the Villa and the grounds was absolutely breathtaking- arguably the most beautiful thing I saw during my time in the Lake Como area.

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After spending about an hour exploring around the Villa, we got back on the boat for some more exploring on the water. Our tour guide Luca spoke great english, was extremely informative, and had some good jokes too. I loved seeing Lake Como this way, and would definitely recommend them to anyone visiting the area. 

 

As I'm putting these guides together while I'm in Europe, I wanted to include a dedicated section to provide some miscellaneous pieces of advice. Traveling abroad comes with more areas to navigate than traveling domestically, so hopefully you find these "bonus tips" to be beneficial. 

 

BONUS LAKE COMO PRO TIPS:

  • If you want to venture to other towns for meals, do so for lunch. Most water taxis stop running between 6:30 and 8 (and cabs are NOT cheap) so while you may be able to make it to dinner, you may get stuck with a pricy trip home. 
  • Download the Gestione Navigazione Laghi app for seamless water taxi schedules and transfer information to make getting around extremely easy. 

*Shoutout to Tony at Villa Matilda for teaching me both of these!

 

BONUS ITALY PRO TIPS: 

  • As in many parts of Europe, be sure to clarify if you want still or sparkling when you order water (and be prepared to pay either way- it's usually all bottled). Italians prefer the tasted of bottled mineral water over tap water (and just FYI- it contains a small amount of sodium for taste) so don't go jumping to conclusions that they're trying to rip you off when the bill comes. The tap water is safe to drink, so if you're like me and want to stay hydrated at low cost, carry your own bottle in your purse and fill it up at a fountain or from the sink as needed. You can always try asking for "acqua del rubinetto" aka tap water, but don't put up a stink if they don't cooperate. You're the one being difficult in this instance. 
  • Attempt conversational phrases as a common courtesy. Even if you just say "ciao" (it's hello AND goodbye, so you're just plain lazy if you don't) and "grazie" (thank you) it shows you respect their culture and you won't seem like an ignorant American who assumes everyone in the world speaks english. 

 

Long story short, Lake Como is pretty magical and someplace I loved visiting. There's really something for everyone, and I could have easily spent much more time there than I did. If you have questions I didn't address, feel free to ask me! (theblondeatlas@gmail.com). 

 

One final note: starting next week (needed a few weeks over here to get my bearings) I'm going to start posting twice a week on the blog. Tuesdays will be my dedicated travel posts with detailed guides about each destination I'm visiting while abroad. Later in the week (every Thursday or Friday) I'll be sharing more about my experiences while living abroad.

 

There's tons of stories and recommendations coming to life every day that I'm here, so I wanted to find a way to categorize everything so if one interests you more than the other, you'll know when to tune in. Anything specific you want to hear about? Let me know!

 

I have lots more to share, but I'm out of espresso so that's all for today. Thanks for stopping by! 

 

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