Category Archives: Italy

Lucca – Tuscany’s best kept secret

Being very close to Pisa (40-50 kms), Lucca was also a destination in our 3-day trip to Tuscany, the primary goal of which was visiting Le Cinque Terre.

Lucca is claimed to be Tuscany’s best kept secret – a place which is less touristic than Pisa, but featuring many and truly beautiful medieval buildings, small streets, spacious squares, cute little shops. Moreover, it’s a perfect place to visit with small kids – the old town is mostly pedestrian, very green and peaceful, with many gardens and places for relaxation. As you can guess, it was flooded with bikers too!

Pisa – the biking heaven

Manarola, Le Cinque Terre

If you’re a keen traveler  there’s no way you haven’t seen this famous picture of Manarola village in Le Cinque Terre (the Five Lands, from Italian).

Exactly this pic has made Le Cinque Terre a wanted destination in my trip list. I did one attempt to visit it last summer, in August, but the hectic traffic and crowds along the way quickly changed my mind. So, my next attempt was a month ago, beginning of April.

I usually keep to a busy touring schedule so I decided to combine the visit to the dream Five Lands with a visit to the nearby Pisa and Lucca. A group of four, we set our ‘base camp’ in Pisa by renting a good apartment from airbnb, and planned a day for each of the places we wanted to see.

Capri – the island of sirens and lemons

Visiting Capri has long been a dream of mine. Ever since I read in some of those boring airline magazines an interview with an airplane pilot, who, being asked what’s the best place on earth he had seen, responded: Capri.

Oh well, I haven’t seen the whole world (yet), and I can’t say whether or not it’s the best on earth. But I truly liked it! Even more because we visited it in the low season (February), and could enjoy its splendor in full.

Rome was a great starting point for a tour to the island of sirens (as it was called in Greek mythology), being a low-cost air destination, and just couple of hours drive from Naples. Naples, together with Sorrento, is a starting point for ferries to Capri.

Biking in Rome – how and where

I love biking the European capitals. First, because they are huge and walking the distances on foot or driving in hectic traffic/finding parking spot is no fun. The bike combines the convenience of a fairly quick transport, the option to avoid the traffic and stop/park anywhere you want to take a look, and is a perfect way to keep fit even while on vacation 🙂

They say in Rome the traffic is too heavy for biking and it’s generally dangerous to bike. It’s not. You just need to be careful, but the drivers in general are quite attentive.

Sicily inside out: Final part: Agrigento and Palermo

After a tiring 3-hour evening drive from Ragusa, Noto and Modica (for approx 130 km distance, there are no highways in southern Sicily yet) we reached Agrigento. Even when you approach you see the gorgeous lighted Valley of Temples – the major and quite large attraction of Agrigento, for which we had planned to spare 3-4 hours.

Agrigento city itself is not something special. What I liked is it’s positioned on a small hill, with the Valley of Temples below it. So when you walk/drive along the streets (there were interesting restaurants and bars in the city, but nothing more special) – you can always enjoy magnificent views to the Valley.

Sicily inside out: Part 6: Noto, Modica

After Syracuse, our final destination was supposed to be Agrigento on the south coast. Still, perhaps not wanting to finish our vacation yet, we were eager to see some more beauty spots on the way. Modica and Ragusa were on the way, but it wasn’t clear (according to our guide) which one was more worth seeing. The puzzle was ‘solved’ by our host in Sicily who recommended seeing a 3rd city, Noto by all means! OK – what could we do, we decided to visit all three of them on the rough and narrow road to Agrigento!

Sicily inside out: Part 5: magnificent Syracuse

Syracuse was the city in Sicily I had been waiting to see with utmost interest. It’s the birthplace of the greek mathematician Archimedes, and had marvelous sights according to the guides.

The Old Town of Syracuse, spread over the island of Ortygia (connected to the mainland by a bridge for more than 2,500 years) is the area with most historical sights, and that’s where we headed right after arriving. It has so much to see, and yet just walking around all those impressively white-ish buildings, with large streets and squares made the stroll magical, plunging you back into an atmosphere of the past.

Sicily inside out: Part 4: Catania

Catania is Sicily’s second largest city, with a population of over 300,000. Like any big city, Catania looked really unattractive, messy, noisy and busy at first. Our accommodation was very centrally located, but on an awkward, sofa-flooded commercial street. And amid the sofas – big barrels for baking chestnuts, something observed all over Sicily but most popular here in Catania it seems. True and authentic Sicily! 🙂

Due to its closeness to Etna volcano, Catania had been destroyed twice in the 17th century, following a lava eruption first, and then earthquake. After that the town was reconstructed in Baroque style using a a cheap and much available building material – lava! That’s the reason Catania is a grey city and is well known in the world for this.

Sicily inside out: Part 3: Taormina

After an early morning breakfast, with a breathtaking view of the sea around Cefalu, we headed to Taormina. From Cefalu to Taormina it’s 200 km through Messina. Messina is the city that’s closest to mainland Italy, and they are right now working on the bridge connecting it to the mainland. If finished, this 3.3 km bridge would be the largest suspension bridge in the world!

Since we didn’t want to drive just the highways, though, and see hardly anything from inland Sicily, we decided to take a more direct but very curvy road passing just next to Etna, and thus reach Taormina.

Passing through inland Sicily offers much different sights than what we saw the first day. Green valleys, awesome mountain views, small and not so luxury villages, ruined houses, roads under construction (including ours 😉 . It’s obvious that Sicily is working hard to become a comfortable and shiny touristic destination – but I’m glad we saw it before that 🙂

Sicily inside out: Part 2: Enjoy the beach in Cefalu

Cefalu (the name derives from the ancient greek word for ‘cape’) is a small and very beautiful city on the North coast of Sicily, just an hour drive east of Palermo. It was the first stop from a 5-day Sicilian vacation in November.

They say Cefalu is a very touristic place in the summer, the most touristic Sicilian town after Taormina actually. And I believe it, judging by the fairly large number of tourists in November (the tourist season in Sicily is between May and September, with these two months claimed to be the best for visiting this piece of paradise).

For a small town, Cefalu offers a lot – lovely old town with cozy small streets, trattorias, and amazing little shops for souvenirs and traditional Sicily sweets (canoli and some fruit-like calorie bombs :)).