My mom, my sister, and I spent several years trying to go to Italy on a girls’ trip. The Covid pandemic certainly did not do us any favors. Growing up, my family traveled quite a bit around the United States and Mexico, but no further. Life and busy schedules can get in the way of traveling overseas. At the start of 2022, Covid restrictions began to lift and calendar openings aligned like stars in the sky. We jumped at the opportunity that we’d discussed for years. A week-long trip exploring the beauty, flavors, and culture of Italy.
Flight to Italy
April 26, 2022
With cheap flights comes long layovers. But no matter, the allure of experiencing a new country provides enough adrenaline to push through multiple airports, subpar airplane food, and lack of sleep. We flew out of Minneapolis around noon, and after layovers in Toronto and Frankfurt, we landed in Rome around 10 AM local time. The time difference from Minnesota to Italy is 9 hours, so it essentially felt like 2 AM to us. I cannot sleep on airplanes, so it felt like I had pulled an all-nighter. But flying over Italy was unlike anything I’d ever seen. Upon landing, I don’t think it was my airplane coffee that gave me a swift kick in the butt. I believe it to be the views of the Italian Alps and Mediterranean Sea.
April 27, 2022
To kick off our girls’ trip to Italy, we took a sketchy ass, unmarked, white van from the airport to IQ Hotel Roma. We dragged ourselves into our hotel room and worked up the enthusiasm to change for our first afternoon in Rome. I had booked us a 1-hour tour of the Coliseum. In the moment, I was glad that our only activity for the day. To say we were exhausted is an understatement. Plus, navigating a foreign country is very draining. Luckily, we were able to walk along the cobblestone streets to the Coliseum with little trouble.
The Coliseum had so much history and stories behind its travertine walls. A 1-hour tour around the ancient structure was more than enough. We got what we needed out of the experience, and were able to find a little street café on our way back for a bite to eat. I can’t recall the name of the restaurant where we dined, but it was nothing worth mentioning. We learned our first day that you can’t just sit down at any restaurant and get the true taste of Italy. I highly recommend researching restaurants ahead of time. That way, you won’t be disappointed.
April 28, 2022
After a long and rejuvenating night of sleep, we were ready to take on a full day of Rome. But first, coffee. We walked across the street from our hotel to a cute little café that was packed with Italians pounding espresso shots. For a cup of black coffee, I ordered a “Café Americano”, or American coffee. Italians are known for their slow mornings. They start their day by drinking cappuccinos and sharing pastries with their loved ones. So you can bet we looked like typical Americans ordering our breakfast “to go”.
Our first stop was a tour of the Vatican. I am not Catholic, but the carefully painted ceilings, abundance of sculptures, and impressive architecture of Vatican City were not lost on me. Our tour guide was lovely and super knowledgeable. We used Vivicos International Travel and I would recommend them if you’re looking for a friendly and upbeat, English speaking tour.
The remaining afternoon, we made the 2 mile walk back to our hotel with several must-see Roman sites. These stops included Piazza Navona, a public square bustling with both tourists and locals. We claimed a bench to admire the large sculpted fountains. Afterwards, we saw the Pantheon, a former Roman temple built in 609 AD. To follow, we squeezed our way through a crowd to the Trevi Fountain. Obviously we did the cliche ‘toss a coin over your shoulder’ video.
Seeing Rome was necessary. I believe everyone who travels to Italy should make a stop in Rome. However, it is very tourist driven, and you need to put in the effort to find the local hangouts. We did some research to find the locals’ favorite neighborhood for dinner, and found Trastevere.
We weren’t the only ones who discovered the area of Trastevere, because many of the restaurants we tried were booked with reservations for the night. Luckily, we stumbled upon an incredible restaurant called Pasta e Vino. The line was short and the charismatic host kept us occupied with jokes and complimentary cups of champagne. For dinner, we shared a bottle of Chianti, and ordered a couple different pasta dishes. I tasted the best slice of lasagna I’ve ever had in my life. It was so full of flavor. Then, our waitress presented us with a “regalo de la casa”, aka a frozen and creamy lemon dessert. Also incredible. We had finally found the Italian cuisine we heard so much about. Use the link here to drool over the Pasta e Vino menu.
April 29, 2022
As I mentioned above, Rome is a necessary stop for first-time travelers of Italy. But it was crowded, so we felt that a day and a half was plenty of time to explore it. On the fourth day of our girls’ trip to Italy, we dragged our heavy suitcases to the main train station in Rome and journeyed to Cinque Terre. The train station was surprisingly confusing, mostly because we had never navigated a foreign train station before and we were in a rush.
Of the five colorful towns that make up the coastal region of Cinque Terre, we chose to stay in Manarola. Which in my opinion is the most beautiful. But I don’t think you can go wrong with any of them. Plus it’s easy to get from one town to another by train. My mom, my sister, and I booked a room at Hotel Marina Piccola, a locally owned and operated stay right in the heart of Manarola. We were mere steps away from an amazing view of the sea.
We spent the day exploring Manarola. For lunch, we split a massive platter of seafood risotto and discovered a new favorite beverage, the sweet and tangy lemon soda. With full bellies, we shopped around town. We wandered into the cutest boutiques and shops full of limoncello. We also meandered down to the rocky shores of Manarola and took in the ocean. I remember savoring the warmth of the sun on my face. I remember wondering what took me so long in my life to get here.
Dinner followed later that day at my favorite restaurant on the trip, Nessun Dorma. It is a trendy outdoor restaurant built on the rocky hills of Manarola and faces the ocean. They played loud party music, switching between Spanish and American songs. The vibe itself was worth a visit. We ordered colorful cocktails. Then we split a bountiful charcuterie board and the “Tricolore” bruschetta. It was a picture perfect evening.
April 30, 2022
Our agenda for a full day in Cinque Terre was to see the other four towns. It was ambitious yet achievable. We started by taking a train to Corniglia, the town just north of us. There, we were forced to climb a couple hundred steps to get up to the town. My advice? Wear comfortable shoes and be prepared for how hilly the area can be.
Following our exploration of Corniglia, we felt optimistic enough to hike a mile and a half over to the next town, Vernazza. After all, the whole area is a national park, so we had to make the most of it. The trail is of moderate difficulty but is so worth it for the views. The first half is all uphill and the other half is all downhill. The halfway point (or top of the hill) is home to a whimsical little juice bar. It was the ideal resting place, and the smoothies were refreshing.
After the hike and walking down about a million stairs, we found Vernazza. It is a town right on a harbor and also home to some incredible views. It was the busiest of the five towns. We sat at a patio restaurant right on the water and ordered Peronis on tap. From there, we took a train to the northernmost town, Monterosso al Mare.
Monterosso is known as the beach town and it is just that. We strolled past colorful beach shops and made a pit stop for gelato, which we enjoyed by the ocean. All the little towns of Cinque Terre are so unique from one another, and we only got a taste of each one. But I appreciated their differences and beauty.
For dinner, we went to the final town, Riomaggiore. I believe it is known for its nightlife, though I can’t speak for that part as we were only in the mood for a nice dinner. We ate at La Cantina del Macellaio, a restaurant known for its good meats. Naturally, I had a salty cheesy pasta called pici di pasta fresca cacio e pepe. It was delicious with a full-bodied glass of wine.
May 1, 2022
It was tough leaving Cinque Terre. The beauty is unmatched with its mountains right on the sea. All of us wished we were staying another day.
Moreover, we arrived by train to Florence on Day 6 of our girls’ trip to Italy. Our first stop was a quick bite to eat for lunch before wandering the streets of Florence. Although crowded much like Rome, I enjoyed walking around Florence a lot more. The streets are more pedestrian friendly. I wasn’t fearful for my life crossing the street. Throughout the day, we walked into multiple shops, admired the famous Duomo cathedral, and even squeezed in a much needed catnap. We had no agenda, and sometimes you need that when you have a busy travel itinerary.
That evening, our hotel concierge at Hotel Spadai recommended a pizza place for dinner called Sophia Loren. The restaurant has an award winning pizza on the menu and after eating there, I believe it. Sophia Loren is a must visit if you ever find yourself in Florence. We ordered 2 pizzas to split and were so obsessed that we ordered a 3rd. The vibe was chic and classy. The pizza was to die for.
May 2, 2022
On our girls’ trip to Italy, we really wanted to see the Italian countryside, so we reserved seats on a bus tour to Siena, San Gimignano, and Pisa. Each of these cities are unique in their own way and are part of the Tuscany region. Throughout the day, we hopped on and off the bus at the allotted times scheduled by our tour guides. It was the perfect amount of structure while still having freedom to do our own thing. Plus it was nice having a ride and not worrying about navigating Tuscany on our own. We toured a historic cathedral in Siena, shopped for goodies in San Gimignano, and posed for embarrassing pictures at the leaning tower of Pisa. I purposefully chose not to include the Pisa pictures in this blog post.
In addition, the tour included lunch at a Tuscan winery where we sampled multiple types of wine with meats, cheeses, bread, and a full serving of pasta. Everything at the winery was amazing and we ordered olive oil, balsamic vinaigrette, and wine to ship to the United States. You can’t find that kind of quality back home.
May 3, 2022
For the last day of our girls’ trip to Italy, we toured multiple Tuscan wineries with the Chianti Safari wine tour. We rode in a massive vehicle that looked like an army green Jeep and a tour bus gave birth to it. The purpose of this vehicle was so our group could off road through the Tuscan countryside. The views made up for the motion sickness that I fought throughout the trip. When the tour guide prefaced that we take Dramamine before the trip, I should’ve taken her advice more seriously.
Despite the tummy sitch, we had an incredible day visiting 3 different wineries and touring their properties. We learned about the process of wine and olive oil making. These wineries have been passed down for generations and I found the history admirable and also quite fascinating. Much like the previous day’s tour, the wine and food was top notch. We were spoiled with more bruschetta, meats, cheeses, and pasta. While Chianti and Chianti Classico are the staples of Tuscany, we also got to try some fantastic white wines and Rose on our trip. Italians take quality very seriously and it shows in their wine recipes. It’s something they take a lot of pride in. Overall, it was an experience I’ll always remember. Sipping wine with my two favorite gals. A view of the Tuscan hillside. It was the perfect final chapter to an unbelievable vacation.
To wrap up our last evening, we ordered cheeseburgers and french fries from Uber Eats like the grease-loving Americans we truly are. Then we climbed into the hotel’s king-sized bed and watched The Lizzie McGuire Movie. Sing to me Paolo!
May 4, 2022
Our last day in Italy consisted of flying home and much to my surprise, actual sleep on a plane. Like our departure, we pushed through layovers in other countries. Despite the exhaustion, we brought home so much more than just a couple bottles of wine. My mom, my sister, and I were bringing home memories we would always have. We brought home an appreciation for a beautiful and diverse country. We know we’ll return someday for another girls’ trip to Italy.