Mangia! Mangia! Part II

If you aren’t already dreaming of Italy from last week’s post, you will be after today.  After a full 3 days in Venice, we hopped our first train to Vernazza, Italy, with a quick stop over in Florence.  Florence had been on our list of contenders, but we had settled on Venice and the Cinque Terre. Since it’s located conveniently in between, we thought we’d take advantage of the train transfer and grab lunch and stretch our legs. We had a lunch recommendation from a friend, Osteria Santo Spirito, and were not disappointed with some of the best gnocchi we’ve ever had. It was our first “hot” day that we had and lugging 20 pound backpacks around took care of that pasta real fast! We set out to find Piazzale Michaelangelo, where we were assured to find the best view of Florence.  What we didn’t put together was the best view = the most steps…hundreds of them… but we made it, sweating and out of breath to one of the best views of our trip.

We grabbed the next train to one of the highlights of our trip – the Cinque Terre. If you aren’t sure what I’m talking about, it’s probably because what you’re seeing and what you’ve heard are different… Cinque Terre is pronounced (Chink-wa Tair-a). This cliffside string of five towns located on the coast of the Riviera and is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. Try Googling it – you won’t be able to tear your eyes away.  Before tourists discovered the Cinque Terre, these little villages were connected by walking paths.  Now, all of them allow at least delivery trucks into the town centers, but they’re still just as magical.  We decided to stay in the town of Vernazza which we much preferred over the bustling main tourist stop of Monterosso.  We got off the train in the evening and thought for sure Google Maps could find our inn – it could not. This is when we knew we had found the holy grail of off-road adventures.  We called our host who said he would pick us up.  Good thing because we followed him along winding paths up the hillside to find our little room at Camere Giuliano Basso, tucked away off the main (pedestrian) drag.  Our room was perfect and hand built by Giuliano himself.  After sharing with Giuliano that we were starving he suggested we follow him down to his family’s restaurant where we had one of our other top pasta meals of the trip.  The Cinque Terre is known for its pesto.  Served over handmade pasta with a little cheese – that’s really all a girl needs.

The next day we strapped on our tennis shoes and hiking gear – we followed Rick Steve’s suggested itinerary for tackling the Cinque Terre.  We caught the train to the first town, Riomaggiore where we learned our first lesson of travel. Don’t count on the accuracy of a travel book over a year old. Intending to catch the picturesque, coastal trail Via dell’Amore (trail of love) between Riomaggiore and the neighboring town of Manarola, we were told by a local shopkeeper it had closed do to landslides.  She pointed us towards an alternate path, warning us it would take almost two hours to traverse (compared to a 25min paved path we were planning for).  But guys, we’re fit, we’re young, and we had bellies full of pasta – so we set off towards the trail. We should have listened. This was a local farmer/winekeeper trail that steeply ran up the side of a mountain and definitely wouldn’t have passed any US safety codes. At its peak, however, we were rewarded with beautiful sweeping

We started at the ocean…

views of the ocean and a steady downhill descent. Seeking a much needed break, we caught the train from Manarola to the third town of Corniglia where we found ourselves a fantastic seafood lunch at A Cantina de Mananan.  The restaurant was quaint and we’re guessing a family owned joint.  It was just what we needed after that hike!  We set off for the next town, our basecamp, Vernazza. We read that this was one of the best trails and we weren’t disappointed.  Along this path we came across metal tracks running up and down the mountains.  We later learned these are for farmers to transport goods in little boxes up and down the mountainside – genius! Once arriving in Vernazza, we decided to tackle the last town, Monterosso, by train. Monterosso used to be the only place you could stay if visiting the Cinque Terre. A larger town than the others by far, it attracts those with large suitcases and a need for vehicular transport.  Between you and me, we were glad we weren’t staying there! On our final morning, we set off for one final exploration – the Belforte Tower of the ruined Doria castle.  From here, we captured the best picture of the trip. Enjoy!

“People don’t take trips, trips take people.” – John Steinbeck

 

 

Mangia! Mangia! Part I

TJ and I have been married for one year (already! Which means InnLove is closing in on its first year of travel posts!!) and we decided to mark the occasion with a trip to Europe, a first for both of us. The hardest part was deciding where to go. We had so many opinions, some good, some bad. Finally, we decided – one week in Italy and one week in France. Let the planning begin!

After a few reads by Rick Steves I knew we had three goals – hike the Cinque Terre, eat a lot and don’t pack too much in. A wise man (my dad) once said, travel like you plan to return. So we did. Join us on our first stop… Venice, Italy.

After a very long day of planes, trains and auto… vaporettos, we finally made it to the island of Lido, where we checked in to our amazing hotel the Grand Hotel Ausonia & Hungaria. This place is like taking a fabulous step back in time. Lido is the beach vacation island of Venice, so had you been visiting this hotel in August, it would be packed with beach-goers. For us, it was quiet and perfect.

Our first day in Venice we went on a tour, but not just any tour… I was a not raised in a tour-goer family, so this was a little strange for me. I stumbled upon a company called Urban Adventures, which specializes in off-the-beaten-path “locals” tours. This particular one was ranked among the best of the best of tours around the world and we found out why. We joined our small group (very important) of fellow tourists and we set off, discovering Venice with the eyes of “locals” lead by our fearless guide, Claire. We rode a gondola, but the Venician kind – standing, packed in like sardines, crossing the canal. We tasted 6 glasses of wine, paired with 6 cicchetti (Italian tapas) at small tucked away locals pubs around the city. After our tour, Claire spent some time with us discussing what we wanted to do with the rest of our time in Venice, which I’m glad we did because she led us to one of my favorite parts of our entire trip…

The next day, TJ and I set off for Burano. No, no. Not Murano…where they make some of the worlds most beautiful glass. BURANO, Murano’s neighboring island. I cannot give this island justice through words. It is one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen. The colors of the buildings are enough, but that mixed with the little boats moored to the door steps, the hand made lace (the islands specialty) fluttering in the breeze out of windows and on store displays….it’s almost too much to handle. I could have spent my entire day there, despite the island being fairly small. Per Claire’s suggestion, we headed straight to the Gatto Nero to make a lunch reservation… another choice we couldn’t have been more thankful for. We eventually settled in for one of our favorite meals of the entire trip. ENTIRE trip, people. Venice is not known for its food. Keep in mind we were heading to Paris… Michelin territory. This little foodie oasis in Burano was the opposite of everything one might have expected. The service was on point, the wine affordable and delicious, but the seafood risotto… OUT OF THIS WORLD. Truly a meal that will never be forgotten.

We did a lot of touristy things in Venice too – went to Harry’s Bar (where the Bellini was invented), visited St. Mark’s Square, etc. but those things were not what made this trip one for which we would return to Venice. I’ll give myself credit for two things – finding our hotel (booked as a member of TravelZoo) and finding our tour with Claire. Everything else, I give Claire full credit for. And in the end, isn’t that more than a city could ask for? A local that impacts a tourist so much they want to return? And for all of you day dreamers and visual learners, don’t forget to check out the 2017 Visual Adventure Gallery, because combined we took 800 pictures… I narrowed them down for you, but there is so much more I couldn’t squeeze into this post.

Until next time, Venice…

“People don’t take trips, trips take people.” – John Steinbeck

 

Un Bon Voyage

Looking for a different Caribbean Getaway! Check out La Martinique!

Oh, the beaches! @ La Martinique

Friends.  I have fallen Inn Love. You know when you find one of those places that after you visit, you just keep dreaming about it?  You even consider packing up and moving?  My goodness – I have found it.  It was by chance. A delightfully inexpensive (OK, this was a Christmas present from my parents, so it was free, but even so…) trip to the far reaches of the Caribbean could not have been more perfect.  I know many people choose “safe” Caribbean destinations – they speak English, an all inclusive resort with American food, etc. People, I’m telling you. BREAK THAT HABIT. Go beyond English and all-inclusive and you find the true majesty of travel. There is something so fantastic about feeling like a local in a place as beautiful and rich as this.

This island is situated between more well known, St. Lucia and Dominica and is part of the Lesser Antilles. It’s a fantastic place for Americans to travel because as a a region of France, its currency is the Euro and the current exchange rate is ($1=.93 Euro!!), but even better than that are the high standards of French cuisine. You can be at a little run down, beach

side cafe and the food is far better than what you would find in the States…and we all know how important that is to me! So come along with me and discover the French island of Martinique.

Looking for a different Caribbean Getaway! Check out La Martinique!

Oh, the beaches! @ La Martinique

I like giving my readers gifts, so here is one.  Now, don’t go blabbing to all of your friends. This is our little secret. 

We traveled to Martinique on a relatively new low-cost European airline called Norwegian Air. I see your eyebrow furrowing.  THAT’S RIGHT. Norwegian Air. Don’t believe me?  As of writing this, you could leave Friday, January 27 and return February 3 for $250 round trip from Baltimore. THAT IS INSANE!  Don’t worry, this isn’t a paper plane with a monkey for a pilot, the service and comfort of this airline is top notch.  The *only* downside is luggage restrictions. You get one carry on bag that must weigh no more than 10KG (~22 pounds). Don’t worry though, what more do you need than sunscreen, a bathing suit and sandals?  (Sidebar: On this note, please do not be concerned that I only own one dress as you’ll think from photos. This is my bathing suit coverup! And, when every restaurant is on a beach, why wouldn’t you always have a bathing suit on and snorkeling gear ready? That’s what my carry on consisted of! Priorities, people!)

We arrived at our HomeAway property – a 3 bedroom villa overlooking Les Anses-d’Arlet complete with a kitchen and private pool. In traditional Runion (that’s my maiden name) fashion, we had just enough time to have a fabulous dinner. We arrived at L’Escale, a beautiful restaurant tucked down off of a hillside, surrounded my nature.  It was at this restaurant where I was reminded that the French love their cheese. I, of course, ordered my first of, probably 10, Salade au Chevre Chaud (Warm Goat Cheese Salad!).

Looking for a different Caribbean Getaway! Check out La Martinique!

La Martinique

In our family, my dad and I are the explorers. Luckily, TJ was up for a stroll, so the three of us set off the first morning to find the boulangerie (bakery!) – essentially the most important thing any French island has to offer. Also lucky for the fitness fanatic in me, our villa was on top of a very steep hill and the boulangerie … at the bottom (in the photo, you’ll see me on the road and the boulangerie is by the water).  Each morning, we hiked this hill in search of croissants and a baguette to start the day off right. On that first morning, we were up early enough to see the local fisherman pull up to the town center with the daily catch. We bought this one night to grill at home and it was delicious and fresh and only 16 euros!

We spent the next day discovering our new neighborhood.  Martinique has quite a history.  One of our favorite stops was in Le Diamant which had an over look

Looking for a different Caribbean Getaway! Check out La Martinique!

Le Diamant, Martinique

of Le Diamant Roche (Diamond Rock). Can you imagine, this rugged rock sticking up from the water was a fort which housed a hospital and more???

We arrived in the village of Le Diamant and found lunch at La Voille Blanche where for the first time I tried Marlin…raw, and it was phenomenal. In addition to my obsession with goat cheese, I now wanted to eat anything raw on the menu as did my sister. Our trip basically consisted of rotating Salade au Chevre Chaud and Beef, Marlin or Tuna Tartar. Every dish was served with so much color!

Looking for a different Caribbean Getaway! Check out La Martinique!

The food in Martinique is OUT OF THIS WORLD @ La Voile Blanche

Mid week we discovered the most perfect beach, Anse Noire (black sand beach!).  Nestled in between two cliffs, this nearly private beach isn’t so easy to access. If you don’t have a boat, the only

Looking for a different Caribbean Getaway! Check out La Martinique!

A slice of paradise – Anse Noire, Martinique

option is down a flight of about 100 stairs. We arrived early with snorkeling equipment as we were told this was one of the best snorkeling beaches on the island.  Unfortunately, I don’t have an underwater camera, so it’s left to my memory.  The only thing I brought back from that excursion was very burnt shoulders from hours of slow swimming!

Other than sunbathing and eating, my mom really wanted to do a boat excursion.  We found Louis at La ronde Pecheur who took us on a 4 hour boating, snorkeling and snacking trip.  We had a beautifully sunny day on the water and got to do some great snorkeling in areas only accessible by boat. If visiting the area I would highly recommend him!

The final day in Martinique was heaven.  We finally learned what the locals knew – you must get to Chez Fab et Claude early for a beach side table.  We saw Claude a couple of days prior, literally running to and from, singing in French, taking orders. He was marvelous. His energy level was 10x mine (can you imagine!?) and he was happy as a clam.  There is a reason he has regulars. The food here is top-notch and you cannot beat the setting.  I had the Poulet Boucane  – a creole BBQ chicken with frites (fries!).  His is the best. Served with a shot of local Rhum (rum!) and a berry cobbler. I adored Claude, I hope to be like him one day.

Looking for a different Caribbean Getaway! Check out La Martinique!

The food in Martinique is OUT OF THIS WORLD @ Chez Fab et Claude

Our trip finally came to a close. I write this entry just a week after our return and gosh do I miss it already.  Part of me hopes I have convinced some of you to add this to your bucket list, but the other part of me hopes it remains my little treasure to return to.  But if you go, brush up on your French, order things you don’t understand and take plenty of sunscreen. I promise, you won’t regret it.

Looking for a different Caribbean Getaway! Check out La Martinique!

“People don’t take trips, trips take people.” – John Steinbeck